Four Months of Fresh Greens

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Current Affairs, Finances, John Cheek, Politics | Posted on 10-11-2008

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by John Cheek

In the four months since we started Fresh Greens we’ve seen bad news for the housing market turn into really bad news for banks into even worse news for us all. We’ve watched old divisions turn hot in places like the Congo and a new conflict erupt in Georgia. And now we’ve elected a new president as well as re-electing and ousting various members of state and federal legislatures.

Here in Oklahoma, voters held on to a Senator not particularly interested in sustainability, but I’m not really interested in writing that story now. Barack Obama and Jim Inhofe may well do great or terrible things for our communities and our planet. Both remain to be seen, just like the effects each of us may have on the stretches of earth where we walk and the much more distant places where our decisions echo through the years.

In his victory speech on election night, the President-Elect called for a “new spirit of sacrifice.” I can only echo that plea, and pray that we have not forgotten how to be a people of work, ingenuity, and prudence as all three will be taxed to great measure in the coming years. Last week Bob wrote about a food crisis that may very well be following the current economic disaster. Sadly, both crises are due to a vicious blend of greed and irresponsibility that have become the staples of American economy. The very fact that we can call our system of commerce ‘economy’ is insanity itself. A multitude of financial talking heads have gotten rich telling people what ought to be absurdly obvious: “Work hard” and “Spend less than you make.” Really? We need to read a book or go to a seminar to learn that?

When Phil Gramm suggested that we were a nation of whiners in reference to the financial crisis, the press savaged him and John McCain for insensitivity. That’s the way of presidential politics, but really, he wasn’t far off. I would say toddlers instead of whiners. Toddlers demand that they get what they want, when they want it. Toddlers will continue to eat poisonous fats and sweets until they vomit. Toddlers will scream and cry when not allowed to buy the newest toy. Credit cards. Processed food. New clothes, new cars, new houses. We’re babies, and it’s time to grow up.

Elections matter, and I hope the most recent ones will see our state, local, and federal governments move back in the right direction. What matters more, though, is every one of us, working, eating, teaching, living every day. We don’t need a saviour; we need to get to work.

Next Up? The Food Crisis

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Bob Waldrop, Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Locavore, Organic Gardening, Tips | Posted on 07-11-2008

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by Bob Waldrop  

First came the oil crisis, followed by the financial crisis.  Will a food crisis be next? The conventional food industry is at risk of the various credit woes plaguing the industrial economy.  Pilgrim’s Pride, the nation’s largest poultry producer, is on the verge of bankruptcy, but they can’t find debtor in possession financing for Chapter 11 (reorganization). They may thus be forced into a Chapter 7 bankruptcy where production stops and assets are liquidated. Large wholesale inventories could then be tied up in bankruptcy court.  The financial press  reports problems in arranging financing and payment for large international food trade shipments. I’m hearing news of shut-downs of poultry CAFOs along the east coast.  If something does happen with the food system, just like the energy and financial crises, it will happen quickly and for most people, without warning.

Now is  therefore a good time to review the seven elements of home and community food security:

(1) prepare meals from basic ingredients; (2) buy local foods; (3) grow some of your own food; (4) food storage; (5) home preservation of food; (6) eat with the season; (7) frugal supermarket shopping.

(1) Prepare meals from basic ingredients.  Many, if not most, of us are short on time.  Take-out or frozen supermarket entrees often seem like a good idea. But such “convenience” comes with a high cost – money, nutrition, and taste. My Better Times Almanac internet edition has lots of info about preparing meals from basic ingredients..

(2) Buy local foods.  If we want a more sustainable, just, and humane agricultural system, there must be a market for the products of a sustainable, just, and humane agricultural system. Purchasing local foods does several good things: you get nutritious and healthy food that tastes very good, you help grow a local food system, and you support rural families and communities.

(3) Grow some of your own food.  Gardening is less work than most people think, and is best compared to growing money in your back yard. Fall is the time to get ready for your spring garden.

(4) Food storage.  Store what you eat and eat what you store. Keep some of your household savings in food – at least 3 months, and more is better. Besides food security, “investing” in food storage makes good economic sense. Grocery prices are fluctuating rapidly—food storage can insulate you from price-mood swings at the supermarket. 

(5) Home preservation of food. Buy and grow extra vegetables, and preserve them for good eats during the winter.  Contact your county extension office for scientific information about home food preservation.

(6) Eat with the season.  Eating the same foods 365 days a year is actually a boring diet. As the seasons change, so should our menus. Summer greens are great for summer, but out-of-season greens are hauled long distances and produced with hazardous chemicals and poisons. During winter, look for innovative salads made from root crops and cool season veggies.

(7) Frugal supermarket shopping.  The local food market at present is not big enough to supply all food here, so some supermarket shopping is necessary.  Supermarkets, like casinos, are designed to separate you from your money. The more times you go to the store, the more money you will spend, so minimize shopping excursions. Always shop from a list, and beware of impulse buys.  Eat before you shop. Carry a calculator with you and do the math (price per ounce, pound, quart, gallon, etc.) to ensure you get the best package size. Often, generic and store brands are as good, and sometimes better, than brand names.  “Made in Oklahoma” brands support the local economy. The Best Choice, Always Save, and Clearly Organic label foods come from a cooperative of independent grocery stores, and that helps support a diverse local retail and wholesale food system.  In Oklahoma these labels are typically available at the locally owned stores. See my article, “Winning at the Supermarket Casino,” for more ideas.

Family and community food security doesn’t just happen. If this is new to you, develop a plan and start making incremental changes on a set schedule to increase your family’s food security.  If you have been working on a program like this for some time, keep up the good work! Remember what my grandmother Opal Cassidy used to say, “Y’all get the right eats, you hear?”

Financial Trends—Food Trends

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Community, Current Affairs, David Brooks, Family, Finances, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Locavore, Social Justice | Posted on 26-10-2008

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by David Brooks

Americans have watched in awe as the financial markets have taken a rollercoaster ride that few expected, or knew how to handle. Families are making adjustments in spending so their paychecks will make it to month’s end. It is not surprising that how well a family eats is more and more based on finances instead nutritional choices. The reason is simple; food is purchased with the families’ finances and finances are struggling. 

One thing we know for sure is that no matter what the state of the economy people are going to eat. Unfortunately, money is often the determining factor in the quality of food that is chosen. From the corporate side we know that when money is tight people select less expensive food that tends to fill them up.  This trend is what makes the sale of Chips, white bread, and pasta increase while the sales of lean meat, fresh produce, and healthy beverages decline. The trend is also apparent in the restaurant business. Sit-down restaurants see their business slow while restaurants with a drive through show strength. Steak gives way to Pizza in tough financial times. However, during the 3rd quarter of 2008, even the fast food groups showed a decline in customer count as well as a decline in the revenue going through the registers.

If this recession continues, those that thought about a garden in 2008 will probably start digging in 2009. The families that worked hard this summer planting, gathering, freezing and canning, will have the opportunity to eat well, and healthily, through the tough times. 

The company I work for partners with the Regional Food Banks of Oklahoma to supply food for kids that do not eat well, or at all, from school lunch Friday until school breakfast on Monday. These kids are now receiving a backpack on Friday with a weekend’s supply of nutritional food that needs no preparation. The number currently receiving backpacks on Friday is a little over 11,000. The waiting list has grown from 2,000 to 7,000 this school year. It is a sign that people are struggling and that next year more families should read this blog, and consider growing a garden.

The food business is constantly monitoring and even attempting to change the food trends in the world. I thought you might like to see what the pundits are saying about the expected trends for 2009:

•    In marketing terms, “organic” has gone mainstream. “Local” will be the term for 2009. Consumers want to know where their food came from and restaurants are beginning to brag about local sourcing. Hence the growth in farmers markets, and community supported agriculture.

•    Unfortunately, the ideal of from-scratch cooking has been set aside for convenience and speed. Encouraged by pre-made sauces, frozen entrees and other conveniences, people will be buying, or assembling, many of their meals. Cost will be high for such convenience.

•    As eco-sensitivity has grown, consumers have questioned whether eating organic grapes from Chile is a particularly “green” choice. In the future, people will want to know how far their food traveled, and the closer the better.

•    There is a chance that “local” will see the same dilution that “organic” has seen once the big box retailers get involved. There were so many labels claiming organic origins in 2008 that consumers doubted the validity.

•    Another predicted trend is the growth of vegetarianism. Deborah Madison’s book “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” was re-released recently after having sold over 300,000 copies.

•    Watch for a rating system that will keep score of the “good-for-you-ness” of food.

•    Expect more from probiotics, a fancy word meaning friendly bacteria that is good for the gut. So far yogurt is the expected source, but soon to hit the market will be: cheeses, supplements, milk, and even chocolates.

•    Functional Water (vitamins and minerals added) will continue to be the rage.

•    As companies try to make products more healthful, notice that “low-“ a favored prefix for calories, salt and fat will be replaced by “crunchy” and “crispy.” Some products will taste bad, but apparently they will be fun to chew.

•    Last but not least, the trend for America to become even more obese is expected to increase. As consumers purchase foods that fill the belly but are not necessarily healthy, this trend is a natural result of these financial times.

The world food supply is still strong. Distribution, or lack of it, is why parts of the world remain hungry. It is no surprise to people reading this blog that good food is still grown in the backyard, and food laced with chemicals we can’t pronounce, or explain their function, is the primary item on the grocer’s shelf. 

Should these financial troubles continue—and they will—we should all grow more, and share with others at the local farmer’s market. Sometimes good ideas actually do catch on.

One last note: “locavore” was chosen as WORD OF THE YEAR by the New Oxford American Dictionary. It means one who eats locally grown food. 

Sustained Finances

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Bob Waldrop, Community, Current Affairs, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Jennifer Gooden, Organic Gardening, Tips | Posted on 17-10-2008

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by Jennifer Gooden

I, like everyone else it seems, have spent more time than usual thinking about the economy over the past few weeks. As I write (Monday 10/13), the stock market is rallying after a week of freefall, and photos of i-bankers looking relieved abound on internet news sites. 

I wish I could share their optimism. Instead, I think further tough times are on the horizon, so I have turned to two sources for advice: Bob Waldrop, an admired local advocate and fellow Fresh Greens blogger, and the Survival Podcast, a resource to “help you live the life you want, if times get tough, or even if they don’t.” Since financial stability is essential to sustainability and self-sufficiency, I thought I would pass along the advice I have gleaned from these sources.

Background

Bob Waldrop, known to many interested in sustainability in Oklahoma, has become a trusted source for many in our region. We’re lucky to have him. Bob’s publications are charming in their old-fashioned wisdom, and his messages of frugality and compassion are more important than ever in our current environment. 

I found the Survival Podcast a few weeks ago and have become a fan. While I disagree with the author on some key issues (particularly climate change and politics), I have found the podcast to be a good source of information about practical planning and preparedness. Over the past two weeks, listening to the podcast has become part of my regular routine.

The Recipe

I find it reassuring that multiple sources, based on different perspectives, point to the same solutions for prosperity in times good and bad. In a nutshell, here’s the recipe for financial sustainability:

1.    Curb spending. Keep track of all expenditures for a month or two, and evaluate what can be cut without forfeiting your quality of life. 

2.    Eliminate debt.  Pay off all debt, and enjoy the freedom that comes from being in the black. The Survival Podcast lauds Dave Ramsey’s “debt snowball” strategy. I concur.   

3.    Keep three months of food in the house. On Bob’s advice, I have been purchasing extra flour and grain from the Oklahoma Food Coop every month, which I use to make bread.  Following Jack’s advice, I have added a variety of grains, legumes, pastas, and canned and frozen vegetables to my stored food. I eat a lot of these foods anyway, so I just buy extra when I go to the store. I find that having an abundance of food in my household makes it more fun to cook and pushes me to try new recipes. 

4.    Grow a garden. I began with the principles of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening and went my own way from there. Anticipating even greater demand for the food coop’s limited fresh veggies next year, I recently added four new garden beds; one is planted with fall greens while three are lasagna gardens, which trick worms into doing the hard work for me. 

5.    Build community. Both of my sources emphasize that it is difficult to build trust during times of crisis. The time to get to know your neighbors is now.

I would be interested to hear what strategies others are following to prepare for uncertainties in the future. If you have more “ingredients” to add to the recipe above, post a comment to let us know what is working for you.

Parsing Proposed Changes to the Endangered Species Act

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Current Affairs, Endangered Species, Politics, Public Works, Science, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 13-10-2008

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by Tricia Dameron

In August, the Department of the Interior proposed self-described “narrow” changes that would revise the consultation process (Section 7) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as clarify the lack of interplay between greenhouse gas emissions and the role of the Act.

As it currently stands, the Act requires federal agencies (referred to as ‘action agencies’) to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (referred to as ‘Services’) on planned projects—such as dams, highways, mining, logging—that may affect plants and animals (or their habitat) that are listed on the endangered or threatened species list. Informal consultations are required if there is no effect or if the effect is insignificant or impossible to measure; in any case, a consultation (formal or informal) is required. The rule change will require action agencies to consult with the Services only if the project will likely harm a listed species.

Mark Howery*, a wildlife diversity biologist in Oklahoma, summed it up by saying, “Right now, the USFWS has the final authority for determining what actions constitute a significant impact to endangered species and which ones don’t. Where there is a conflict in interpretation, the burden of proof, so to speak…falls on the other federal agencies. I believe that if the proposed rule change takes place, what it will do is shift that burden of proof on to the USFWS when there is an interagency dispute.”

What do these changes actually mean? Has the Department of the Interior tried to foresee the unintentional (or perhaps intentional) consequences? After reading the proposed changes, I am left with more questions than answers. Below is my attempt to parse some issues of importance to me.

What good will result from these changes?

Ken Collins is a biologist with the USFWS and does consultation work in Oklahoma. He says the changes could reduce the consultation and litigation workload. “The FWS is often sued on decisions we make or assist in. If the Federal action agency would make the determinations, as outlined under the new regulations, future lawsuits would likely be directed at the Federal action agency who made the determination and not the FWS.”

What incentives encourage the action agencies to conduct a fair assessment?

Litigation. ESA watchdog and interest groups that initiate litigation will have to navigate the bureaucracy of multiple agencies, rather than just two.

What about agencies that do not have in-house biologists?

“[M]ost agencies other than Forest Service, [Army] Corps [of Engineers], and [Bureau of Land Management] typically have very few biological staff in house. They would either need to hire additional staff or allow consultants to gather information and discuss the possible effects. The final determination would still be made by the federal action agency in those cases,” says Collins. The proposed rule assumes federal agencies have acquired adequate expertise from working with the Act for nearly 35 years, but it requires no qualifications on behalf of the staff conducting the self-consultations.

What about the provisions related to climate change?

The proposed rule summary states: “[T]here is no requirement to consult on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions’ contribution to global warming and its associated impacts on listed species….GHG emissions from building one highway are not an ‘essential cause’ of any impacts associated with global warming. Moreover, any such effects are later in time, but are not reasonably certain to occur.” The revised ESA will not acknowledge the complicated situation presented by climate change and will not attempt to mitigate losses of species or habitat due to climate change or the causes of climate change.

Rather than conduct a thorough overhaul of the ESA or leave it to its successor, the current administration is hastily pushing the mutated ESA through while many constituents are consumed by the economy and the elections. Neither is there hope for Congressional deliberation—the changes do not require [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rulemaking] Congressional review or approval.

Oklahoma has 19 of the 1,358 threatened and endangered plants and animals.

The public comment period for the proposed rule ends Wednesday.

 

*Editors Note: Mr. Howery agreed to speak with Fresh Greens as a private citizen. His comments should not be construed as representing the views of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife or any other state agency.

The United States of Effective Air Conditioning

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Current Affairs, Energy | Posted on 10-10-2008

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by Chelsey Simpson

During the second presidential debate on Tuesday, a woman who grew up during the Great Depression11199
asked the candidates, “What sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American Dream and to get out of the economic morass that we are now in?”

Excellent question. 

In his answer, Senator John McCain mentioned eliminating vague government “projects.” Then he pointed out that as Americans we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to.

Senator Barack Obama’s answer was slightly more specific. He criticized President George W. Bush for telling people to “shop” after 9-11. He then mentioned energy conservation and admitted that we need real leadership in this area.

I think that Obama is on the right track, but I was still disappointed in the candidates’ answers because, in classic political style, they took the path of least resistance and gave an answer that would pacify the masses. But if we are tired of pandering, (and actually I don’t think most Americans are) we have no one to blame but ourselves. Anything less than blatant optimism and full-throated encouragement of the myth of American entitlement is met with accusations of unpatriotic behavior.

When I graduated from Cameron University in 2004, I was thrilled and honored that National Public Radio’s Linda Wertheimer would be delivering the commencement address. She said many things of value, but the one that stayed with me was her suggestion that we make the best of every situation. “You are entering the world at a difficult time, and you might not be able to go out into the workforce and make a lot of money, and that’s okay,” she said (I’m paraphrasing here). “So go out into the world and do what you can do: serve your country, start a family, follow your passions. There will be time for other things later.”

The crowd booed her. Members of my own family deemed her a “downer.” Apparently it is anti-American to suggest that things in general—and money in particular—are not instantaneously available to us at all times. But can you blame us? All the evidence supports this view of the world. Infertility is now a treatment, and “On Demand” is the name of our television service. There are entire stores devoted to cabinet hardware. We buy our meats de-boned, de-skinned and often pre-cooked. Today buying a yoga mat for my mother-in-law, I lamented the fact that there were only five to choose from, and the one I wanted was in color I didn’t like.

I haven’t been around long enough to say this from personal experience, but I suspect we haven’t always been this way. I love to hear people tell stories about the days when things like bananas and oranges were special treats. It might seem strange to be nostalgic for an absence and a craving I never knew, but longing and anticipation are sweet fruits in themselves, and they are in very short supply.
To be more direct, I think that the presidential candidates should have looked into the camera and told all of us that what we want and what we need are very different creatures. In a world where 2.6 billion people do not have access to a toilet of any kind, we should be prepared to put on a sweater if we are cold, carpool even if it is not as convenient, and stop eating foods grown half a world away.

Avocado
I can hear the chorus now: Yes, we could do those things, but the fact that we don’t have to is what makes America great. Really? Is that how we have decided to define ourselves? Should we be known as The People of the Perpetually Ripe Avocado?
The United States of Effective Air Conditioning?

I hope not.

Generation to Nowhere or Generation Grown-Up?

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Current Affairs, Science, Shauna Lawyer Struby | Posted on 03-10-2008

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by Shauna Lawyer Struby

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”       - Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

The above is an ancient perspective, derived from a philosophy extending back tens of thousands of years. According to the Basic Call to Consciousness, in an address given by the Hau de no sau nee, a/k/a the Iroquois Confederacy in Geneva, Switzerland in 1977, from the above ancient perspective, modern humanity is seen as …

“an infant occupying a very short space of time in an incredibly long spectrum. It is the perspective of the oldest elder looking into the affairs of a young child and seeing that he is committing incredibly destructive folly.”                                                           

1868Now flash back seven generations ago—140 years—it was 1868, two years after the end of the Civil War and a scant nine years since the drilling of the first modern commercial oil well near the town of Titusville, PA in 1859. In California, the oil industry was taking off (ala There Will be Blood). As the Industrial Revolution, fueled by coal-fired steam engines, roared across the continent, American Indians were forced from their native lands and onto reservations, and the magnificent bison, North America’s largest land mammals, were slaughtered by the millions, almost to the point of extinction.

By the end of the Industrial Revolution—generally considered to be sometime in the early 1900s—virtually every aspect of daily life had changed for American families. Due to industrial agriculture, food supplies swelled. With more food, population skyrocketed, and the modern world gave birth to many beneficial health and medical advances along with Coca Cola, computers, umpteen varieties of Ritz crackers, just to name a few of an increasingly complex array of consumer goods and technologies, and so much more, all embraced by modern humanity as the best thing since… well…probably the wheel, fire and sliced bread, not necessarily in that order.   

                                                                                                    2008

Fast forward to 2008. The earth is home to 6.7 billion people. Ocean ecosystems are in decline. Bird, bee, and fish populations are also in decline. Clean air and water, adequate energy supplies, resource depletion, all are an increasing challenge, and climate change is morphing so fast that almost daily researchers release new studies documenting the rapid and alarming rate of change.

If this were the plot of a disaster movie, we’d be pegging the unnamed extras doomed to expire. But life in 2008 is not a movie, and we are the unnamed extras along with countless other species.

By any measure, modern society is indeed the young child committing incredibly destructive folly, seemingly without much forethought. Where do we go from here?

Maybe it’s time to grow up.

Growing up means managing more than one thing at a time. It means thinking beyond today or five years or even 10 or 20 years. It means liberating our minds from failed ideologies and dogmas and embracing creative, cooperative and analytical ideas for solutions. It means building resilient, regenerative, sustainable communities and rigorously applying these standards to proposed endeavors. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it means considering the impact of whatever solutions we propose on the next seven generations.

Growing up isn’t always easy. Yet, as most of us who’ve done it know, it is an opportunity rich with potential and deep meaning. By incorporating the wisdom of the Great Law of the Iroquois into our lives, by using our imaginations to collectively innovate and evolve toward regenerative, sustainable, resilient communities, by finding a way of being in the world that, as the architect William McDonough says …

“loves all the children of all species for all time,”

not only can we change our communities for the better, but rather than going down in history as the Generation to Nowhere, we can become Generation Grown-Up.

Her2148e’s to thinking about 2148.