‘Tis the Season…Already?

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Family, Finances, Lindsay Vidrine, Tips | Posted on 14-11-2008

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by Linsay Vidrine

Lately we’ve been bombarded by dismal reports about the economy, and every newscast comes armed with a “special news series” on how we can stretch our dollars further.

Other Fresh Greens contributors have discussed great strategies for saving money, so I don’t want to belabor that point. That said, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about ways to celebrate the upcoming holiday season while also staying within your financial means.

I come from a ridiculously large family, (eight grandparents alone, not to mention my husband’s equally large family) so the holidays typically involve a lot of gift giving. Over the years we’ve had to get creative with expressing our love through gifts, while not breaking the bank. One strategy that helps is drawing names instead of buying a gift for every individual. We’ve found this is a great way to get in the giving spirit without the stress (financial or physical) of buying for everyone.

Another helpful tip is thinking outside the box—as in the big box retail store. I have to say some of the most memorable gifts I’ve ever given or received have not come from the mall. For example, one year my aunt put together a three-ring binder with family recipes for all of my siblings and cousins. It was so simple and inexpensive in design, yet extremely meaningful for us. Each recipe noted the family member whose kitchen produced it and a family tree so that future generations can make the connections. Even those of us who are not particularly crafty could pull this off smoothly.

Over the years, other great non-traditional gifts have included making a charitable donation in someone’s name and “adopting” a street, whale, or other animal on behalf of a relative. And don’t forget much-needed contributions to food banks or clothing and toy drives.

For those hard-to-buy-for types, I pick up some tasty handmade treats from the Oklahoma Food Coop or a Made In Oklahoma company. With so many wonderful baked goods, jams and even wines, these goodies are sure to please while supporting local producers. I also like to give the gift of Oklahoma through gift certificates to one of our state parks or a subscription to Oklahoma Today magazine. At just under $15, these Okie t-shirts are another one of my favorite things this holiday season.

This year I’m also brainstorming how to make our son’s first Christmas special. At only four months old, he won’t really understand gifts, so I think Santa can skip our house this time around. Instead we’ve discussed planting a tree to mark the occasion. Then each year we can take his picture next to the tree as they both grow.

Before the holiday season gets into full swing, I hope you’ll take some time to think about unique ways to give without stressing yourself out or breaking the bank in the process. I’m sure many of you have other great ways to give green without spending a lot of green, and we welcome these ideas in the comments section.

Eating Together, the Locavore’s Call to Community

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Community, Family, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Locavore, Robbie White | Posted on 31-10-2008

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by Robbie White

I want to share one of my favorite authors, Tilden Edwards. His book, Living Simply Through the Day was published originally in 1978 and revised in 2007. He brings together Buddhist and Christian teachings advocating for a simpler way of living, attentively and intentionally.

“How we eat is a barometer of our sense of life at the moment.” —Living Simply Through the Day by Tilden Edwards

Tilden Edwards’ words on eating in his guide to simple living in the contemplative tradition remind me anew why I teach table manners to my children and why we try to sit down to a meal together whenever possible. He affirms that one’s satisfaction in a good meal is not to be judged by the abatement of physical hunger alone. A meal should satisfy the need for meaningful fellowship and spiritual connection as well as filling the empty stomach. Consider breast-feeding, which is, of course, the ultimate meal experience, uniquely reserved for infants. Mother and baby spend countless hours of nursing gazing into one other’s eyes, feeling heartbeat to heartbeat and skin to skin. Mother’s milk is perfectly designed to meet the nutritional needs of the baby. The baby learns trust in the spiritual bond created in the nursing relationship. And it is the ultimate sustainable meal!

Alas, eventually we must look beyond mother’s milk for our sustenance.  However, the most basic meal can be as satisfying. I remember one chilly fall day after a friend and I had spent the afternoon leading a bunch of high energy Camp Fire Kids in a meeting at my house. I had made a pot of beef stew for my family and it was simmering in the crock pot. She was trying to gather her tired and hungry kids and head home. I invited her to sit down and eat before heading out into the cold. Together we enjoyed a delightful meal of homemade stew, rolls, and cold milk. I don’t even remember the recipe I used for the meal. We didn’t have fancy dishes or candles or linen napkins, but the food was hot and filling, the company joyful, and the hospitality blessed us all, givers and receivers. I recall that evening as one of my favorite times. My friend headed home with her kids peaceful, smiling, and full.

“[The] sacramental quality [of eating] easily is blurred in the way food comes to us day by day: the impersonal mass packaging of a supermarket, the rush of a fast food carry-out, the press to sell you more.” —Living Simply Through the Day byTilden Edwards

Edwards’ comments on mass marketing of food encourage me to keep seeking out more meaningful ways of provisioning my household. The Oklahoma Food Coop [http://www.oklahomafood.coop/] is a great help with this.  Many resources exist to find locally produced foods for our tables and products that sustain the environment. Many of them have been mentioned by contributors on this blog. And if you haven't learned about Splendid Table's year long experiment in eating locally, Locavore Nation, check it out soon!  It will challenge you to try just a little bit harder.

One last thought from Edwards on gardening, which is the most sure method of eating locally:

“Growing food allows us to participate from the very beginning: planting and watering a seemingly dormant seed or tiny plant, watching it grow in to maturity, picking this little miracle and using it to nourish our bodies.  Such a process allows us to be a part of that amazing cycle of life.”

As the growing season tends toward autumn, I can only dream of spring. For now, I think I will plant some herbs inside to keep myself connected to the miracle and keep reading Fresh Greens for words of wisdom from my fellow bloggers!

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. 

Happy Hour

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Family, Food and Drink, Lindsay Vidrine, Locavore, Travel | Posted on 29-09-2008

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by Lindsay Vidrine

As a new mother of a three-week-old baby boy, my life has recently been upturned. When I sat down to write this post it was difficult to decide what topic to choose. There are many sustainability-related topics to explore when it comes to parenting a newborn – cloth versus disposable diapers, formula vs. breastfeeding (the ultimate organic/local dining experience), and so on.

But in the limited time I have to write this post, I’m going to focus on something I’ve been missing over the last nine months – happy hour. Before the pregnancy test displayed a plus sign, my husband and I enjoyed trying out locally produced wines and beers. Luckily for us, Oklahoma has a wide variety of producers so we were never short of new products to taste test.

Regardless of your palate for wine or brew, there’s plenty of fun to be had experiencing the places where these beverages are made. There is something about walking through a vineyard at sunset or hearing the story of the land directly from the family that owns and picks the grapes that turns a tasting into a full-bodied experience.

The same goes for local beer producers. Micro-breweries typically have intriguing background stories that bring their beer to life. In addition, their smaller size often provides an agility to produce seasonal brew flavors that the big, corporate breweries don’t bother making.

So the next time you find yourself standing in a liquor store aisle trying to find the perfect pairing for dinner, pick up an Oklahoma wine or beer in addition to that old favorite, or even better, make a date to check out a local winery. Many host harvest festivals and a regular line up of events and musicians in addition to tours and tastings.  

Follow these links for more information on Oklahoma wine and beer:

www.chocbeer.com

http://agritourism.travelok.com/adventure.aspx?Level=AdventureType&ID=15

www.oklahomawines.org/

http://travelok.com/brochures/index.asp
Order a free Oklahoma Wineries brochure, and while you’re there, check out the Land Bounty brochure as well for U-pick farms and other local agritourism experiences.

A Letter to Wendell Berry

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Community, Family, Farming, Home and Garden, Kristen McCarty, Music | Posted on 26-09-2008

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Dear Mr. Berry,

Your
words gradually called myself and my husband from our city life, from
the tar and concrete roads, from long lines of cars and fumes, the
grind of engines marking the country like an audible map, from the
soul-splitting everywhere noise, from conveniences such as Wal-Mart and
fast food restaurants on every corner, to the beauty of a farm near
nothing and no place. Eyes and mind opened by your words and ideas, we
began to dream our own inescapable dream. We could not ignore or forget
the truth we found in your poems such as The Want of Peace and The Peace of Wild Things.

We
found a lovely bit of land. We designed a simple farmhouse and built it
together- singing through exhausting weekends and late nights to
complete it. Every board was chosen and nailed with love and joy and
frugality. My husband has built almost every piece of furniture in our
house, and I have sanded and stained and finished it. I want to live on
this land and in this house for the rest of my life. (Love has
conceived a house, and out of its labor brought forth its likeness- the
emblem of desire, continuing though the flesh fall away.
) Our porch
faces west, and in mornings and evenings we often sit and eat, talk and
read together or just enjoy a comfortable silence, and look down the
hill to our vegetable garden, a greenhouse, a clothesline, a chicken
house and a trail of walnut trees and a creek. (How fine to have a
long-legged house with a many glassed window looking out on the river-
and the wren singing on a winter morning
!) Our daughter and our
chickens run wild together through the yard and this summer they
learned to share watermelon with one another.

We
consider ourselves Mad Farmers, and we often chant to ourselves, as
well as his other words of wisdom, his Liberation Front. We consider
ourselves the keepers and protectors of our 12.5 acres of land, and do
our best to live the story of Eden in reverse. We are healed by putting
our hands in the dirt. Our faith is renewed by the seeds we plant. We
are driven wild with joy when we carry our fruits and vegetables into
the house to eat and share with friends. This is our third year of
farming- and every year we learn a little more about what we are doing.
We have had to learn mostly from books as no one we know can teach us.
The first time my husband killed a chicken, he held the book open with
his boot and followed the directions as he went about his work. This
summer we learned to can and preserve our produce, and our shelves of
jars are the prettiest thing I have in my house.

We
now have pigs, chickens, goats, turkeys, two hives of bees and a very
lazy cat. We milk our goats and gather our chickens' eggs. Our two year
old daughter loves to help, and I can't wait to teach her about the
miracle in a tiny seed. We wish there was a way we could support
ourselves totally by the farm, but at this point we haven't figured
that out, so for now Micah builds and I nurse. Then we farm and parent
as well.

I was twenty-four when I discovered your writing when a friend handed me Jayber Crow. That's where it all began. From there, I went on to your poetry, much of which I now have in my mind and heart. Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community was next, and I cannot say how helpful it was to read that so close after 9/11. Most recently, I finished The Memory of Old Jack,
and to date, though I am a voracious reader and lover of literature and
poetry, I have never read anything that created a desire in me to
improve my character and live a better and more meaningful life. We
have had to buy multiple copies of your books so we could loan them
freely and unbegrudgingly to friends who now love them as well.

We got married when we were twenty-one, and being young with many horrible reflections of marriage in the culture around us, The Country of Marriage
was invaluable to us. I cried the first time I read the section that
begins, "Our bond is no little economy, based on the exchange of my
love and work for yours…" I immediately sought out my husband, sat him
down and read it to him. Soon after, I had it memorized, and I know
that it has reminded me of precious and wise things at life-changing
moments throughout our marriage.

One
of our favorite sayings is, "Practice resurrection." A musician friend
of ours (Tim Youmans) wrote a beautiful song with the same title and
sentiment in mind. These words are helpful in a world that at times can
drive me to despair and tempts me to hopelessness. To be sane in a mad
time is bad for the brain and worse for the heart- yet still we carry on and do the small work we can do.

The
world is indeed a holy vision, and we work each day for the clarity to
see it. We have lived through many personal tragedies in the past few
years. Many mornings joy did not come. But we thank you and thank God
for opening our hearts to what the world and the soil can teach us
about ourselves, God and man. Thank you for your words that have
changed our lives.

Peace
and joy and healing to you as you practice resurrection. Perhaps we
will meet someday in that other Kingdom and sit and talk for a while
after our day's work is done-

With love,

Kristen McCarty

Mothering Sustainably

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Family, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Robbie White | Posted on 15-09-2008

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by Robbie White

It is late and dark, and my house is mostly quiet. For once, my
teenage daughter is sleeping when I am not. I remember being a
teenager. I thought I knew it all. First I was sure that every can of tuna was killing a dolphin somewhere, then that McDonald’s was destroying
the rain forests. Imagine being a teenager who chose not to eat at
McDonald’s. Years later, I still don't know if my advocating and
boycotting had any effect at all on the environment, although I am
fairly certain that every fast food meal I chose not to eat was a step
in the right direction.  

If I could write a letter to
myself at 17 and redirect my efforts…what would I say? I would
encourage my youthful self to resist the de-localization of our economy
caused by Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy. There are so few hometown
merchants any more. I would tell myself to learn more about
gardening, preserving and canning.
Like all mothers and
homemakers around the planet and throughout history, I spend a good
deal of my time procuring supplies. I buy all the food and household
items for myself, my husband and our three children. As I was mentally
mapping the day recently, I thought about how the idea of eating
locally has altered my consciousness. I wanted to make chicken tacos. So, I needed to buy meat, tortillas, and cheese. My fridge at home
already contained the vegetables for this meal: lettuce, tomatoes,
peppers, freshly made guacamole, onions, and beans. I was excited
because this was a new recipe and my youngest child has recently
expressed a love of all things spicy. If his pronouncement holds
true, whole new worlds of cooking could be opening up for my family. As
I continued to plan for chicken tacos, I could not help thinking that
the most costly ingredient on my list was the chicken. I was shocked to realize that I had reflexively defined “cost” as
the cost to the planet. I had successfully internalized the fact that
producing meat uses much much more of our planet’s resources than
plant based products.

All my life, products have been chosen for their cost
or quality or possibly nutrient value, depending on the phase of life
we are discussing. As a young adult, when I first began
helping my mom with the shopping and cooking, she taught me how to get
the most for my money by planning ahead, buying in bulk, looking for
sales, stocking up and occasionally using coupons. All of these are
great habits. Later, as a young mother, I began choosing products not
only based on economic value but for the organic qualities of food such as environmental purity, steroid and antibiotic presence and
nutritional content. All of these priorities were woven into the
economics my mother taught me. Now, in my fifteenth year as a mother
and homemaker I have added yet another layer of complexity to the
decision making process—the sustainability test.

As I go
about my busy American homemaking and mothering, I am often staggered
by the amount of time I do not spend at home doing either job:
homemaking or mothering.  I drive, shop, volunteer, attend meetings,
and take my kids places. Being home is a luxury lost to the mists of
time when my children were infants and preschoolers. I do long for the
days when I made bread, yogurt, baby food (frozen in ice cube trays)
and even teething biscuits. Now, though, I can give my older children something as
important as the long quiet days playing in the sandbox. I can give them
the perspective to be activists as teenagers and adults. I can talk with
them about choices and their impact. I can show them that every choice they
make does affect the planet we live on, that recycling, buying local, voting
responsibly and living sustainably are all important.
I look forward
to reading your comments about passing sustainable practices on to
our children and how you integrate your values into everyday decision
making.

The Longhouse Gene

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Chelsey Simpson, Community, Family, Home and Garden | Posted on 25-08-2008

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by Chelsey Simpson

When I was about seven, my mother read a book to me about Native Americans, and I fell in love with the idea of living in a longhouse. The book said that several generations of the same family would live together in one home, where they worked as a unit for the common good.

At the time I lived about half a mile from my grandparent’s farm, where my father, my uncle and my grandfather maintained a herd of Holsteins and harvested wheat and cotton. Most evenings I was allowed to help my father feed the calves their bottles. I still remember the smell of every corner of the barn–the earthy manure of the milking stalls, the chemical musk of the medicine cabinet, and the damp, sweetness where the milk was stored.

GetAttachment-1
The land that the farm sits on has been in my family since Oklahoma’s land run days; I am generation number five. Even when my mother and father moved further south to establish a dairy of their own, the land they bought was still family land, and the house we lived in was built by my great-grandparents. The school I went to was tiny (I was one of only 10 children in my grade.), but when my grandmother grew up on the same farm she attended a one-room schoolhouse that also served as a community gathering place for social events of all kinds.

Essentially, I was already living in an extended longhouse.

Nearly twenty years have passed, however, and I still feel the same pull towards community that I did then. I lust for situations that force people to band together, even if chaos is part of the result. If this trait I have can be inherited, I’m sure I got it from my father. Our family life was always peppered with situations that others might have found strange.

A few years ago, for example, my dad became friends with a man who worked at a paint store he frequented. Before long, he was part of the store’s bowling team, and later that year he let the man and his family move into our house while they did some remodeling on their own home. It was only supposed to be temporary, but when the holidays came they were still there, so we put up two Christmas trees and carried on. It was a confusing situation to explain to outsiders, so I came to refer to them as “the other small family who lives in my house.”
GetAttachment

For people like my dad and I who have the Longhouse Gene, postmodern society can seem like a sterile place at times. One of my favorite NPR stories is about a seltzer deliveryman in New York City who knows he represents the end of an era. Referring to the beauty of his archaic profession, one of his oldest clients says: “[In the 1940s] everybody had different men in their lives. You had the seltzer man, you had the milk man … these were the people in your life. It’s a different world today.”

In modern America it is usually totally unnecessary and sometimes impossible to know the people who produce the products we buy. I’m not going to make any arguments about carbon footprints or local economies because I’m not an expert in those areas. All I can tell you is that I like the way it feels to live my life on a more local, personal scale. I like unraveling 100 years of American ingenuity that has brought us the one-stop wonder that is Wal-mart and the homogenization of Tide detergent.

Volunteering with the Oklahoma Food Co-op isn’t the easy way to get my daily bread, but it is the fun way. Every month I see 70-80 members of my own community at the co-op’s Edmond site. We share recipes and gardening tips. I see their children grow. This evening about 20 of us are meeting at Kam’s Kookery for a class about canning and food preservation

My Longhouse Gene can hardly wait.

Do you have a “Longhouse Gene”? What’s your favorite way to satisfy it?