Probably An Unpopular Suggestion But…

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in the Madfarmer, Transportation, Travel | Posted on 09-10-2009


by the Madfarmer


The only major downside I have discovered from living in a rural area is that I must travel long distances every day. I am not able to support my family as a full-time farmer yet so I still have a “regular” job. Considering I live in the middle of nowhere, I have a daily commute between 30-100 miles. Traveling those distances really cancels out many of my attempts at sustainable living. However, I am a country boy at heart and cannot afford to have enough land in an urban setting to do all that I want to do with my farm.


Therefore, I was forced to research my best option for fuel efficiency. Everyone knows the new hybrids get fantastic gas mileage. But not all of us can afford to shell out $30,000 for a new car. So I began looking at solid used cars to see what kind of fuel efficiency I could find. One car that I stumbled onto was the old Geo Metro. (Now let me stop right here. If you gain any of your self worth through the type of vehicle you drive you may want to stop reading this now.)


I discovered that a Geo Metro could get between 40-50 mpg. That’s better than some hybrids! I quickly began to scour the papers for a Metro. One week later, I found a 1995 Metro for $1,500. I was able to pay cash, save on insurance, and get 45 mpg. I drove the car for 2 years before it finally kicked the bucket. Inspired by this new knowledge, my next vehicle was a 2000 Toyota Echo. I am still driving this car today. I paid $3,500 cash and it gets 38 mpg.


Not everyone will be willing to make this decision. But if you are stuck with a long commute and don’t need to impress anyone, do a little research and see what you can find.


Some other suggested fuel efficient old cars*:

2000 Honda Insight (51mpg)

2001-02 Toyota Prius (41mpg)

2000-05 Toyota Echo (38mpg)

1998-02 Chevy Prizm (32 mpg)

1998 Mazda Protégé (32mpg)

1998-2000 Toyota Corolla (32 mpg)

1998-2001 Acura Integra (32)


*Taken from Consumer Reports 


And it’s too bad we don’t have many of the cars they drive in the UK  

Bigger Versus Better

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Endangered Species, John Cheek, Philosophy, Sustainability, the Madfarmer | Posted on 06-10-2009


by John Cheek


49630_cowboys_titans_football Professor George Lakoff, a linguist at the University of California, Berkley, has argued that language is structured around an indeterminate set of conceptual metaphors. Some of these metaphors are common aphorisms such as, “Life is a journey,” while others, such as, “Form is motion,” are explicitly spoken less often but are still important in the way we think of things.


Imagine driving on a two-lane highway through a verdant stretch of Oklahoma wheat fields in early spring. You might describe the scene this way, “The dusty road ran fortuitously between newly green fields.” But wait, the road ran? Roads don't run; they don't move at all, (forgetting for the moment the chunks that have fallen out of the I-40 cross-town in recent years…) but it's not uncommon for us to describe the form of a static object in this way. In fact sometimes we would struggle to describe form at all if we were restricted from using the conceptual metaphor.


Another conceptual metaphor that affects not just our language but our psychology is, “Size equals significance.” Think about “big discoveries,” “huge developments,” or just the screens at Jerry's World in Arlington. Unfortunately, I think this conceptual metaphor is a danger to sustainable thinking/living. Here are a couple of places where I think we should be careful about letting the size of things decide there importance.


Last Tuesday the banner headline on the BBC homepage read “Giant fish 'verges on  extinction.'” The story reports that a three-year search for the Chinese paddlefish has failed _46444231_paddlefish1 to yield a single sighting, the last paddlefish having been spotted in 2003. Now, I think it is important and grave when any species is on the brink of perishing, but why does the paddlefish warrant a front page story? Because it's the largest fresh water fish in the world? Think of how the threat to polar bears has caught the public attention where the plight of smaller creatures is ignored or even mocked (I found a spotted owl last week. It was delicious.). Now, I'm not suggesting this isn't an important story, but given how crucial creatures as small as bacteria are to all of the biological processes that keep us alive, you'd think we'd have equal appreciation for the little guys.


Another area where bigger is often presumed better is in business. We are impressed by profits in the billions and international distribution. This isn't meant to be a screed against corporations or business in general, just an invocation to look to the little guys. Large companies serve an important purpose in our society to be sure. It's hard to imagine how any of us could participate in the blog without a few big corporations. That being said, small companies present some unique advantages.


Think about a trip to the grocery store. If you’re interested in sustainable living, then you likely look for products labeled “Organic” or “Fair-Trade.” Those labels inspire some confidence that the food you buy is produced in a healthy, sustainable, and just way, but that confidence is pretty weak compared to my confidence in the quality of the food I take home from the Mad Farmer's fields. When I buy locally, from a producer I know, I'm not just helping local economy and decreasing my carbon footprint, I know that what I'm getting is the very thing I set out to get, much more than any label could ever show me.


So, as we go about trying to decide what's important to a sustainable life or a sustainable community, remember that size isn't equal to significance. Some things may be “too big to fail,” but they might also be too big to succeed if quality and sustainability are the goals.

The Tomato Blog

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Home and Garden, the Madfarmer | Posted on 06-08-2009


by The Madfarmer


By now most of you should be enjoying a few life-changing bites of naturally-grown, heirloom tomatoes. Some of you are growing them, others may be buying them at a local farmer’s market. But none of us should miss out on these seasonal beauties. I have a few brief words for those in both groups, followed by a recipe we discovered to enjoy these tomatoes at their simplest and tastiest.


First for the growers; Keep your tomatoes watered and picked and they should keep producing into early fall. As soon as they die, pull them up and compost them into their own compost pile. Use this tomato-based compost on your tomatoes next year for a bumper crop. Tomatoes are narcissistic and LOVE to be grown in their own compost.


For the buyers/eaters; Check out your local farmer’s market and try to find a tomato you’ve never heard of. Try something bold like Jersey Devil, Giant Oxheart, or Nebraska Wedding. Cherokee Purple is still my ultimate favorite. A perfect one looks like a rare steak when you slice it up. Mmmmmm. But it’s also almost always a safe bet to get any variety named after an Aunt (such as Aunt Ginny’s or Aunt Ruby’s German Green). Most heirloom tomatoes were bred for flavor and are not disease resistance so they can sometimes be hard to find. But once you do you will experience a taste sensation you will not soon forget.


Now for a (loose) recipe:


3-5 lbs of heirloom tomatoes (good variety of colors) sliced into bite size pieces

Scatter them about several plates (Usually one per person- but you might want extras)

Add a hefty dose of salt (tomatoes are mostly water)

Add a bit less than hefty dose of cracked pepper

Sprinkle on some dill weed

2-3 splashes of red wine vinegar (or balsamic works too)

A few drizzles of olive oil

Top it off with some shredded parmesan or goat cheese


Let me know how it works!

A Butterfly Flaps Its Wings, And…

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Community, Home and Garden, the Madfarmer | Posted on 12-05-2009


by The Madfarmer

I was thinking this week (after I planted my 73rd tomato plant) about how small decisions can radically alter the lives of those around us. It was only five short years ago that my wife and I lived in a small patio home in OKC, and I had never grown any type of vegetation on purpose. But a casual interaction with a friend of mine changed the course of my life forever. My friend lives in Houston, and he had planted a 6' x 5' salsa garden. I think he had two tomato plants, a four foot row of onions, some cilantro, and a jalapeno pepper plant. I thought it would be fun to try something similar. So I went back to our 20' x 20' yard in the suburbs, removed a little sod, and planted a tomato plant. One little tomato plant was all I needed to fall head over heels in love with gardening. Now you can't keep me out of the garden, but just a few years ago I knew nothing.

I tell this story because we never know what will become of the seeds we plant in the lives of others. Small conversations may be the impetus one needs to begin a new course on life. A simple comment about how you choose not to use paper napkins just might be all it takes to spur your entire office into a way of life which produces less waste. Offering a neighbor a free pepper plant could irrevocably alter their life. Offer a friend a book, or better yet encourage your existing book club to read something by Wendell Berry or Barbara Kingsolver.  We all have stories such as this. Someone around us encouraged us to view the world through green eyes, or to plant that first plant, or to start buying organic food. And now we will never be the same.

Follow the Trash

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Nature, Podcast, the Madfarmer, Waste Management | Posted on 02-02-2009


by the Madfarmer

I recently came across a podcast about trash. It doesn’t sound interesting but I actually found it quite enlightening. For example, in the northern Pacific Ocean there exists a gigantic, slowly moving spiral of currents known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Besides being filled with phytoplankton it is also the world’s largest landfill. It has given birth to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and scientists estimate its size as two times bigger than Texas. Plastic constitutes 90 percent of trash both there and in all the world’s oceans. The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.

Now I don’t generally categorize myself as a tree hugger, save the whales type of guy. But I do try to remain connected to my actions even if I don’t see the direct consequences of them. We too often don’t consider our impact on the world because society successfully insulates us from the results. Remaining connected to our decisions and their direct or indirect consequences should cause us to think twice about everything we do. If I toss this plastic bottle into that trashcan, what happens next? Where will it go once it is emptied? How long will it stay there? Where will its final destination be? For many of those plastic bottles they will end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This type of thinking should revolutionize our decision-making. If I buy this generic coffee, who am I actually paying the money to? If I buy the shirt that was made in Indonesia, am I financing child labor? If I eat beef from a confined animal feeding operation, what am I actually putting into my body and the ground?

These are questions many of us already ask on a daily basis. Continually educating ourselves and others around us about our choices is making a difference albeit at a remarkably slow pace. Ask yourself and those around you a few more questions than usual. The answers may make a difference.

A Forgotten “Green” Product: Elbow Grease!

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Energy, Homesteading, the Madfarmer, Tips | Posted on 27-10-2008


by the Madfarmer

I realized today that although I consider myself a “greenie,” I really am not as green as I think. Sure I buy organic milk and recycle what I can, but I think the deeper concepts of living green get lost in the marketing. In all my efforts to buy and use “green” products, I often forget that one of the greenest things I can do is use less. Of everything. Or use what my grandpa called elbow grease.

I remembered this as I was using my chainsaw (?!) to cut down some fallen trees on our property. When the chainsaw ran out of fuel after about fifteen minutes, I felt lost. Well what am I gonna do now?  It honestly took several minutes for me to think about the large ax I have in the garage. The first thoughts that came to mind were the obvious ones: Wow, that will take forever. And it will wear me out. And getting more gas would be so much faster and easier. But in the midst of these defeating thoughts I remembered my grandpa’s long lost ideal.

So I spent the next hour hacking away at those same trees. And then instead of firing up the tractor to drag them all to the fire pit, I meticulously dragged each one across the yard, using copious amounts of elbow grease. Sure I was a little tired at the end of it all, but I didn’t use any fossil fuels. I also got a little workout.

Now I know that not every reader of this blog has fallen trees to get rid of on their property. But I think the employment of elbow grease can be utilized in a variety of circumstances more appropriate for this audience. For example, I know there are “green” versions of Roundup that can be used to kill weeds. But another method that works is bending over and pulling weeds out by hand. There are also “green pesticides” you can use to kill garden critters like potato bugs. But something else that works is taking a cup full of soapy water to your potato plants and picking them off one by one to die a long slow soapy death. It’s quite satisfying. Or you could invest in a variety of “green hand tools” like a Garden Claw instead of a rotary tiller, a scythe (or a reel mower) instead of a gas-powered mower, or an old-fashioned rake and broom instead of a leaf blower. Yes, these will make your job more difficult, and it will take longer. And yes, virtually everyone you know will make fun of you or wonder why you are being so inefficient. But at the end of the day you will have made a difference, and you will feel better for it, both mentally and physically—at least after the soreness wears off.

The Madfarmer Says, “Eat Your Greens!”

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Farming, Food and Drink, Home and Garden, Organic Gardening, the Madfarmer, Tips | Posted on 12-09-2008


by the Madfarmer

To reinforce the name of this blog, I felt it only appropriate to use my first blog post to encourage and/or teach you how to grow your own fresh greens.

Fall is the perfect time for anyone to grow a small or large patch of greens just about anywhere. Do you have an empty spot in your flowerbed or some extra room around existing plants? Those are both perfect places to start. You could also use an empty flowerpot and may have good luck since the lettuce seeds won't have to compete with weeds.

Choose a spot that gets lots of sunlight even if it’s not full sun. They can tolerate a little shade especially now since it’s still rather hot.

Get a packet or two (or three or twenty) of your favorite greens' seeds. Right now in my garden I have Freckles Lettuce, Lolla Rosa Lettuce, Early Mizuna Mustard Greens, Bon Vivant Lettuce, Pak Choi, and Mache. Any variety should work. Choose the ones you like to eat. You now have two options: Broadcast the seeds over the area you have chosen to plant or start seeds in cells or peat pots for transplanting in a couple of weeks. (I do both.)

If you choose to broadcast your seeds, first add some compost to the planting site and mix it into the top couple of inches of soil. Take a pinch of seeds in your fingers and spread them across the area like you are salting your food. Cover lightly with about 1/8 inch of compost, water, and you’re done.

For seed starts, I always save those little plastic six-pack cells I get from the nursery when my wife buys flowers. They can easily be used over and over to start your seeds. Fill the cells (or small pots) with a soil-less seed starting mix and drop two or three small seeds in each cell. Cover with more of the soil-less mix and water. In a few days you should see sprouts. When they are about an inch tall they are ready to be transplanted to the growing site.

In Oklahoma our inaugural frost is typically around November 1st. Since we have approximately eight weeks until then, you should easily be able to harvest your greens before the freeze. Most greens can be harvested about an inch above the soil level and will grow into more fresh greens in a few weeks. Gardeners call this cut and come again. With a little TLC you can even grow them late into the fall by covering them from the frost. It isn't the cold temperatures that kill greens as much as the frost on the leaves. If you can cover your plants with a cloche (mason jar or milk jug turned upside down over your seedling) you can grow on into the winter with no problem. You could also fashion a small cold frame but instructions for that might wait for my next post.

Viva Fresh Greens!