Death of a Community

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Family, Farming, Finances, Homesteading, Ron Ferrell | Posted on 16-01-2009


by Ron Ferrell

The topic we all are really uncomfortable talking about is our pending, inevitable demise. As a society, we don’t do a very good job of incorporating the dying process into the living process. Most everything we see and hear feeds our obsessions with staying youthful, (anti-aging, a face as free of wrinkles as a baby’s behind) all of which really translates to, "I DON’T WANT TO DIE!"

Well, die we will. It may be premature and sudden or ugly and prolonged, and there is no graceful way to face the ultimate challenge. Death. The challenge falls to the caregivers and the loved ones left behind to deal with the aftermath of a life gone before us. 

As I stood in a rolling prairie cemetery last Saturday at my mother’s funeral, it dawned on me how utterly amazing it was that the early settlers to this county ever survived their first winter in this bleak, desperate place.  It was grassland that needed to be destroyed in order for these wayward people to grow food for their survival and eventually thrive as a community called Rhea, Oklahoma.

I wanted to say to all of my nieces and nephews and everyone who came to pay tribute and lay to rest a woman they loved, that at the top of this hill stands a marble tombstone honoring another woman who came to this hillside in the late 1800’s desperate to claim something of her own in order for her family to survive. My Great Grandmother Martha Ferrell, along with her 3 sons, and not much else, parked a covered wagon in the middle of the section so that each wheel touched the corner of a 160 acre plot in order for the 4 of them to collectively stake their claim to a section of land…the very land where I was raised. 

These new settlers to Indian Territory lived in, or perhaps more accurately camped at, this spot for over 2 years before having the resources and the will to build a one room, half dugout with logs cut on the banks of the Canadian River a couple miles away, and then dragged to their property with teams of horses. Their water came from the spring fed creek, carried in buckets to their camp site. 

Looking north from the cemetery up a wide spring fed creek stands a small white farm house that my parents built for their new family. Standing beside that house is the house that my Grandfather and Grandmother built for their family before it. 

Silent beacons to every family connected to this same prairie landscape are the hundreds of tombstones telling small bits of family histories, all connected to one another in many ways. Family and community were synonymous terms for those early settlers. Every family’s survival depended on the commuity’s collective success, and second only to shelter, food was the key to staying alive. The ability to grow food and preserve food was probably the biggest challenge facing these early settlers. 

One of my parent’s biggest challenges in raising 8 kids on a red dirt hill was growing enough food to keep us alive for a year at a time. We used the same row-crop equipment to grow food that we used to grow cotton and feed grains. Other than salt, sugar and some other staples, we grew and preserved most everything we ate. 

A successful garden demanded full participation from every family member, and your neighbors. I remember my mother canning vegetable soup with one of our neighbor ladies. We had home grown vegetables for every meal in those days, eggs and meat that we raised on my great grandmother's homestead farm. 

Our Mother, like most Mothers in our community, cooked 3 full meals, everyday. It was just what they had to do to survive, and they did it with skill.

So in this uncertain time, wondering what we'll do if times get tough, we need to pause for a moment and reflect on what those who have gone before did to survive. They sustained each other as a community, and now we are burying that community, one wonderful soul at a time.  

Sustainability is a word invented to describe our worst fear: that we cannot sustain our current trajectory without some major hardships, if at all.  Those early settlers faced the same fear daily. But they did survive, with grit, determination, and lots of hard work. Are we up for the task?

All You Can Take With You

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Current Affairs, Family, Film, Finances, Food and Drink, Nancy Love Robertson | Posted on 19-12-2008


by Nancy Love Robertson  

Part 1
Sometimes little gems of truth come at me from unexpected places. Take this quote for example: “All that you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” This quote hangs below a picture of Peter Bailey, the founder of Bailey Brothers Building & Loan.

“Who’s Peter Bailey?” you might ask. For those of us who cherish film and consequently hang on holiday traditions through movies, Peter Bailey is the father of George Bailey, the protagonist in It’s a Wonderful Life.

I surprise myself every year about this time. Somehow in all of the busy-ness of the holiday season, I find the opportunity to steal 130 minutes, time I’ve decided to climb off of the merry-go-round and indulge myself and my family in a bit of nostalgia and sentimentality. In fact, I never tire of re-living the life experiences of George Bailey and the goodness of his guardian angel, Clarence, who finally earns his wings after helping George through a profound life crisis. Even though I know how the movie ends, I always cry when all of George Bailey’s friends extend themselves to a man who has given selflessly and loved large.

Last Saturday night was our night to watch It’s a Wonderful Life, and the quote – “All that you can take with you is that which you’ve given away” –jumped off the TV screen, demanding my attention.

What does this mean? How will this notion manifest itself in my life when it’s time for me to take something with me?

Part 2
My brother-in-law, Rod, held a family meeting via e-mail back in October.  The father of four grown daughters and grandfather to a 2½ year old Mighty Mouse named Cal, I consider Rod the steady hand in my family, and when he speaks, I listen. His message was simple: Given the economic crisis that is gripping our planet, let’s let Christmas 2008 be about family, friends, good times, love. The subtext was, “No presents.” It didn’t take me long to speak for the Robertson-Short side of the family. “We’re in,” I cried, in my best e-mail voice. It was a dog pile from that point on and unanimous! There is no stress of holiday shopping, only cooking problems to solve, which, to me, is the best kind of holiday stress.

Part 3
So far, this is the best holiday season I’ve experienced in years, perhaps the best ever in my life. I have a partner I adore, and family and friends I’d throw myself under a bus for. I dig the notion of not acquiring more stuff, as well, and I relish the idea of not contributing to the commercialism that has plagued this time of year for too long.

So, it’s back to the basics for the Robertson-Short, Warner-Welker-Ellingson-Holton, Robertson-Farha-Patrick households. Rather than root around in search of more stuff, I’m responding to e-mails about what’s on the Christmas Day menu and whether to bring champagne or full-bodied cabs as well as which game we’re going to play as a big ol’ family. (Pictionary is becoming a holiday favorite, by the way!)

Part 4
As I was sharing the It’s a Wonderful Life quote with an out-of-town friend last night over dinner, I identified what the quote means for me: I’ll be taking love with me. Like George Bailey, I’m the richest person I know. I feel so much love for the people in my life, and I don’t ever want a day to come when those closest to me ever wonder whether I love them because loving them is the most sustainable thing I’ve ever done. Besides, when you’re the richest person you know, who needs more stuff to take with you anyway?

Buy Less, Buy Local, Buy Well

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Business, Community, Finances, Tricia Dameron | Posted on 01-12-2008


by Tricia Dameron

How is it that a country with such pride—heck, we’re proud about how much pride we have—has become so dependent on other countries? Somehow the pride is ignored or repressed as we pass through the big-box sliding doors. Why is this acceptable? How did we get here?

My brain has been assaulted by these questions for the last few days. I know the basic answer: it’s more profitable for U.S. corporations to set up shop in countries with a cheap and plentiful workforce and meaningless or nonexistent environmental and occupational safety standards. Americans demand cheap products, so we export the external costs of our voracious appetite for stuff. Every time we purchase these products we are saying, “I approve this behavior. In fact, let me encourage it.”

I have little appetite for something I used to enjoy—shopping. On Black Friday my mom and I were walking around Hobby Lobby. I could not find a single item that was made in the United States. I laughed at the irony of a pack of red, white, and blue stickers with patriotic sayings like, “America be proud!” The tiny words on the label read “Made in Taiwan.” As I walked around earnestly searching for something, anything, made in the US, I thought of the anthem by James McMurtry: “We Can’t Make it Here.”

That big ol’ building was the textile mill that fed our kids and it paid our bills
     But they turned us out and they closed the doors
     We can’t make it here anymore


I’ll stop lamenting about my trip to Hobby Lobby, though, and start seeking out alternatives. I suspect the classic “vote with your dollar” saying still applies. When my husband and I first joined the Oklahoma Food Co-op, our orders would be about $25-$50. Three years later, the monthly orders constitute the majority of our grocery budget. To accommodate for increased food expenses, we decided to cut back in other areas because supporting local farmers and eating clean food is a high priority. Now we need to attempt to make sustainability a priority in all our purchases. Part of this is buying less. But we all need stuff at some point. You can dumpster dive, buy or trade on Craigslist, or buy used. Another option to consider is supporting local businesses and buying handmade. On December 6th in Oklahoma City, there will be an opportunity to support both at the Deluxe Indie Craft Bazaar. All of the 50+ vendors are Oklahomans and all items are handmade. If you can’t make it to Deluxe, you can always shop local and support crafters on Etsy and the Co-op (where there is more than food). There will certainly be exceptions and missteps, but overall, when I need something I’ll look to these alternatives. I’ve already found that my perceived “needs” can be moderated based on what’s available. I believe we can incite change with our purchasing decisions.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has compiled the top ten reasons to support local businesses:

Local Character and Prosperity
Community Well-Being
Local Decision-Making
Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy
Jobs and Wages
Public Benefits and Costs
Environmental Sustainability
Product Diversity

Do you have anything to add to their list? Have you tried to avoid purchasing anything in particular? What factors inform your purchases?

‘Tis the Season…Already?

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


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.

Four Months of Fresh Greens

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


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.

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


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.