Posts Tagged ‘localvorism’

Wednesday are Community Day here at Taking it to the Streets

My paternal grandparents were farmers in Doon, Iowa. They had a family farm with different animals (chickens, cows and pigs is what I remember) and raised different crops. Grandma had a huge garden, even after they moved to town.  When it was harvest time they’d get together with their friends and go from farm to farm. While the men harvested in the fields as a team, the women canned, smoked meats, quilted.

In what we call “the Sixties” which actually occurred mostly in the 70s, there was a small but notable “back to the land movement” with homesteading hippies.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang Joni Mitchell’s lyrics in “Woodstock” – “We’ve got to get back to the land and let our soul free.”

According to Wikipedia “In the 1930s, 24 percent of the American population worked in agriculture compared to 1.5 percent in 2002”

But there’s a new phenomena arising – a very different “back to the land” that doesn’t involve “tune in, turn on and drop out” lifestyles. In fact, it more likely involves minivans, soccer playing children, iPads and Starbucks.  “Urban homesteading” (which often occurs in suburbs) is a term being bandied about for the increasing numbers of people who want to take a more active role in producing the food they eat.  From back yard gardens, to keeping chickens and bees, to smoking your own meat, canning, drying food. 

When I went to the workshop put on by the McHenry County Transition group (mentioned in this post) there was information about creating your own solar energy source, canning, soap-making, beekeeping, creating community – an entire panoply of skills that were once the province of only rural folks.  Yes, some of the people attending lived in very rural areas, but the suburb my friend and I are from is far from rural, however bucolic it may appear to be.

I think this movement which fits hand-in-glove with the localvore and sustainability movements which also interest me, is a sensible response to both the ills of the world (as the Transition Town movement talks of – the confluence of Peak Oil and Global Warming) but also with some really good generational synergy – the ambitious sometimes driven members of my generation – the Baby Boomers – are starting to mellow; and the younger generations seem much more focused on connecting with life and one another – not as driven by “success” and greed.  It’s a nice confluence.

I like the idea of getting back to basics. And what is more basic than food, really?  In a world that seems more and more corporate and inhumane, taking back our lives, starting with what and how we eat seems a truly radical act.

Tackling urban homesteading on my own seems pretty daunting to me.  But I remember Grandma talking about those canning parties and quilting bees and getting together “to put food by” and it all sounded very warm and friendly and enlivening.  I could very much welcome that.

Of the 18 posts I’ve tagged “Food” the ones below seem most connected to this topic. So if Urban Homesteading and “rolling your own” (crepes that is – now what were YOU thinking?) interests you, pop in on these topics and please add to the conversation!

Something’s in the Kitchen with Diane (a Whole Lotta Somethings, actually)

More Cohousing Lite – Cooking Parties

Power to the People – Let’s Turn this Country Around!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Farmer Jane

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Mondays are Physical Day here at Taking it to the Streets

And Tuesdays are  “Idea” day – today, my friends you get a Two-Fer, as I just finished reading Farmer Jane:  Women Changing the Way We Eat by Temra Costa.

What a lot of great ideas!  The book is divided into six sections, each with several profiles of women who are doing cool work around that topic.  The sections are:

  • Building new Farm-to-Eater Relationships
  • Advocates for Social Change
  • Promoting Local & Seasonal Food
  • Networks for Sustainable Food
  • Urban Farm Women
  • The Next Generation of Sustainable Farmers

At the end of each chapter, after reading 3-5 stories of women involved in the topic at hand, there is a “Recipes for Action” section with action tips for Eaters, Farmers and Food Businesses.  Additionally, there’s supplements (aka Appendices) and resource listings in the book and a really great Farmer Jane web site .

While I truly enjoyed the entire book, the “Building new Farm-to-Eater Relationship” section and “Urban Farm Women” probably spoke the most to me.  As someone who is becoming passionately interested in localvorism, hearing of women farmers starting their own CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) was really inspiring.  I LOVED the suggestions for eaters in this section (I’ve greatly shortened them):

  • Join a CSA
  • Start with a small committment and grow it (i.e., shop at Farmer’s markets once a month before you commit to weekly)
  • Shop at your locally owned natural foods store or even better, a member or worker-owned food co-op)
  • Start a food-buying club
  • Encourage more local foods wherever you eat or shop
  • Help those in need (check out www.foodnotbombs.net )
  • Can and preserve  foods

I was excited both because I’m doing some of these things already – but also because I’m not yet doing many of them – more opportunities to make a difference! In my own life and health, for sure – but also in this goofy world.  Every carrot that doesn’t have to be hauled on a truck from California is one more bunch of oil we don’t have to buy from bad guys.  And one more job closer to home.  And hopefully, if I’m buying from local Farmer Janes or Farmer Nicks, it won’t be loaded up with all sorts of horrid chemicals either (like baby carrots in their chlorine baths…)

The other section I loved was the urban farming one.  There are some very innovative women out there making big changes in the world – one empty lot at a time.  Just check out what Willow Rosenthal started with City Slicker Farms! Starting with an $11,000 empty lot in Oakland, CA she has gone on to six little urban farms in Oakland, as well as the highly innovative Backyard Garden Program: “The Backyard Garden Program builds food self-sufficiency by empowering low-income households to grow fresh produce where they live. Low-income households interested in growing their own food apply to this free program.  Our staff then tests their soil for contaminants. Based upon the soil analysis and what the household wants to grow, the household makes a garden plan with our staff.  Together, the household gardeners and City Slicker Farms’ staff and volunteers build a garden in only four hours.”

I LOVE this concept!

But wait! There’s more! They do education, advocacy and consulting too.

And that’s just one of the stories in this highly inspiring book.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we can do in my little neighborhood. Already some of us are banding together.  5 households banded together and bought chicken and egg ‘shares’ for the winter (a poultry CSA, I guess) – prepaying Farmer Nick for a set amount of whole chickens and dozens of eggs (for instance my friend Bill & I split 3 chickens and one dozen eggs per month).  Our friend Jen took delivery of them all and then we worked out delivery from Jen’s house in a nearby town to where the rest of us are a few towns away. 

In the past I’ve split a CSA share with my neighbors Pete & Julie.  Last year going to Farmer’s Markets worked out better. 

It’s fun to take back our health and our economy and our lives by the very crucial issues of where we get our food.  I’m not quite ready to turn into a gardener (though you know? I think I’m getting closer…) but getting healthy food that is healthy for me, the planet, the animals I eat and the economy – that’s pretty important to me.

So this book was a great resource for me.  What part appeals to YOU?  And how are you changing the way you eat – for health, the economy, Mama Earth or just because it’s so much tastier and more fun?  Tell us!

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Today, for your consideration, I’ll point you to some of the blogs I read about health, nutrition, wellness and food.

Agrigirl’s Blog – I LOVE Tammy McLeod’s blog!! If you like food, like reading about localvorism, sustainability and enjoy good writing from an insightful woman you’ll love this blog as much as I do. Plus she has a neat ‘signature’ in that she ends each blog post with a relevant recipe.  Today’s offering is about the herb rosemary and its medicinal uses.  Check out Agrigirl!

Ayurvedic Adventure – My dear friend Alan Myers is continuing his recovery from a bout of cancer – he is in India working with Ayurvedic practitioners and blogging about it.  I’ve always really loved Alan, but after all of these years of knowing him as a dear friend, reading his blog is opening up a whole new Alan to me.  What a deep, insightful guy. And what new things I’m learning about healing!  I hope he keeps blogging upon his return from India!

The Heart Scan Blog – I came across this one when I was ardently trying to prove that the current “anti-wheat” movement was a fad, misguided and just wrong.  After reading Dr. William Davis’s blog, I stopped eating wheat.  He says it’s the cause of much of the heart disease in this country (he’s a practicing cardiologist in Milwaukee) and adequately answered my prior rallying cry “humans have been eating wheat for thousands of years” – yes, but they weren’t eating one species – they had variety – and they weren’t eating it by the bushel-full.  A good blog, albeit very one-pointed.

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Tuesdays are “Information/Ideas” day here on Taking It to the Streets – often showing up as book reviews.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s recent book is really a masterpiece and a perfect-for-me book:

– Gorgeous, accessible, beautifully writing
– Funny! I wasn’t expecting that. Kingsolver is a firebrand, passionate activist – and she’s writing on serious topics, but good gracious this is a funny book.
– Her passion about food, nutrition, health, the environment and what I consider to be TRUE family values is visceral. I can’t imagine reading this book and feeling ho-hum about it. Her arguments are compelling, her way of presenting them is at times inviting, at times challenging. It’s not a ‘sit back and just take it in” book – to me this book compels action.

The book chronicles one year in the life of her family as they “abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural life – vowing that, for one year, they’d only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it.”

So they took the localvore thing to a whole new level – actually growing/raising a LOT of their food, putting food up (canning and freezing) – in many ways, living like my rural grandparents.  Food politics as well as nutrition are passions of mine and I felt as though I had thought about this topic a lot so I was surprised to learn as many facts as I did in the book.

The book was co-authored by Barbara, her husband Steven Hopp, their elder daughter Camille.  Their younger daughter Lily (9 at the time of writing) was prominently featured in the book – my favorite character along with a wild turkey named Lolita (the part about turkey sex was laugh out loud funny).

For those of us who have read The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan, we are aware of the nightmares of industrial food – the sad, scary parts of our food supply that are so hidden from us.  But I think a lot of folks picture the kind of farm my grandparents had or the one they sang about as toddlers (you know where your quarter pounder comes from – Old McDonald’s…) when you think of farming.  If you even THINK of farms as where food comes from.  Of course for a lot of people what they eat is very far removed from both farm and food.  Even so, with all that I read on this topic, I didn’t know that turkeys don’t typically live past four months old and that turkey babies aren’t made my turkey mommies and daddies having sex any more – it’s all artificial insemination. 

While I’m not sure I’m ready or willing to work as hard as they did to raise ALL of my own food or to eat only locally, the book’s evangelism definitely hit home with me.  I’m either doing a CSA share this summer (Community Supported Agriculture) or doing Farmer’s Markets combined with my friend Bill’s generous garden bounty. 

She talked a lot about the cost (in all ways) of shipping food all over the planet – the oil involved to get bananas or kiwis here.  And while even St. Barbara didn’t give up coffee, her family DID give up tropical fruits.  I’m not ready to eschew bananas as yet, but I AM being much more diligent about not buying strawberries in the winter, or any other things that would have shocked my farm-wife Grandma.  Buying locally makes sense to me.  Growing your own, makes sense to me.

I’ve been eating less and less processed food.  Not so many boxes or bottles or cans in my life.  More cooking. Simple meals that taste great, are cheaper than packaged stuff. And I’ve lost 22 lbs since I started focusing more on the health of Diane and of the Planet.

Even if you don’t intend to grow your own food, make your own cheese (I DO want to try that one!) or eschew anything – I still think you’d benefit from this book.  My interest in this subject has been growing, but I started small. the changes I’m going to make now are small – did a lot of Farmer’s Markets last year, intend to do more this year.  Maybe start a compost pile to give to Bill the Garden Guru.  Get a rain barrel.  Cut down on non-local foods.  Go to restaurants (like Duke’s in Crystal Lake, IL) that use locally grown, hormone and antibiotic free animal products and local produce.

The Earth needs us to pay more attention. Our bodies need us to be better stewards.  Plus, you know? Locally grown, fresh REAL food tastes SOOOOOO much better.

Really, this is one of the 2 best food books I’ve read (Omnivore’s Dilemma is the other one).  All of Barbara Kingsolver’s books are great, but this is my favorite.  Have you read it? What did YOU think?

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Building on yesterday’s post here’s my initial proposal to start a TRUE revolution in this country.  The America I grew up in was the leader of the world in virtually all measures – not a plutocracy, with people’s day-to-day quality of life falling behind. I think we can use the Army of the Unemployed to turn this ship of state around.  Please dialogue with me – this is simply an initial offering.


  • LifeSchool – learning what we REALLY need to know; each one teach one
  • BodyShop – real HEALTH with CARE – taking back our bodies, not turning them over to BigPharma
  • Earth Forces (the REAL “Green {Hats}”)
  • S.O.S. – Save Our Society

Program overview

We all have talents and abilities.  The unemployed, the retired and the generous have time to donate.  There are ghost-towns of empty buildings available.  Instead of “wasting time in the unemployment lines, standing around waiting for a promotion” (nod to Tracy Chapman); instead of waiting for the government or (imho, worse yet) the corporations or the rich – let’s roll up OUR shirtsleeves ala Greg Mortenson and turn this ship around.  So this is all about things regular people could do by, for and with each other (remember the Gettysburg Address).  OUR country – not the rich people’s or the corporations (or, to give a nod to my friends on the right – of the government).


Let’s set up free schools with volunteer teachers and administrators (or – someone who can write grants, write a grant to get money for building space and a SchoolMom/SchoolDad – someone to organize the thing).  “each one teach one” – people who know things can teach people who want to learn those things.  I see 5 initial curriculum:

  • Strengthening your Self (personal skills, including a tie-in to BodyShop)
  • Strengthening your Relationships – relationships of all kinds:  parenting classes, negotiating skills, marriage-strengthening, getting along at work, etc.
  • Work and Money Skills – Create your own job, find a job, job skills, money 101, investment classes, frugality, buying a house, anti-foreclosure classes
  • LifeSkills – cooking, plumbing, fix your car, write a grant, gardening, etc.
  • Save the World – getting beyond yourself to help your community, the world, how to make a difference, setting up your own Grameen-Bank-like skill/money co-op, etc.

BodyShop (REAL Health CARE – taking charge of your own health)

  • Natural Healing classes of all kinds (herbs, Chinese medicine, ayurveda, first aid)
  • Fitness Camp – personal training you can do at home with very little equipment or info about cheap gyms, etc.  Free classes (spin, aerobics, circuit training)
  • Food & Nutrition – cover basics, nutritional defense for specific diseases, build your immune system, fast and easy nutritious meals, eating healthfully when you’re broke, good food for people who don’t like to cook, etc.
  • Cooking classes – beyond just educating – big kitchen, group cooking, hands-on fix a meal.  Use Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution idea – learn a meal, then teach your neighbor.  Eating healthfully, inexpensively with meals that are tasty and easy/fast to prepare.
  • Emotional Health – things YOU can do to help with what ails you – EFT, support groups, exercise, nutrition, mentoring

EarthForces (Green Baseball Hats? – smile and nod to the other Greenhat guys…)

  • Classes on sustainability
  • Green your home
  • Habitat-for-Humanity like group to focus on weatherizing homes for the poor, elderly, infirm, etc.
  • Johnny Appleseed Corps – tree planting  – help people, public spaces, unused land – fill it with trees
  • WaterWorks – water conservation – from in your house to in your country – water action!
  • Garden Guerrillas – turn this land into food  – teach gardening, encourage community gardens, ask to put gardens in unused land, etc.

S.O.S. – Save our Society

  • Take back Food:  localvorism, CSAs, food co-ops.  Move AWAY from the industrial agriculture that is killing us and is outrageously inhumane to animals.
  • Take back Money:  Buy local! Say no to Big Box stores
  • Take back Money, Part 2:  barter economy, skill banks, stop outsourcing your life

What’s Next?

Your “yes, we can” ideas.  I’m sure some of you have 100 “that will never work” ideas, which you are welcome to ponder while we move into action ala Greg Mortenson.

What I’m interested in:

  • Feedback on these ideas
  • YOUR ideas – what else can the army of unemployed, under-employed, retired or generous folks do with their ‘spare’ time?
  • Interested folks.  You don’t have to be local.  I somewhat suspect Chicago is not the only town that could use an initiative like this.  Start a school/movement/group in YOUR town!
  • But if you are local and would be interested in seeing what we could collectively create let me know – send an email to lifeschool.chicago@gmail.com

“We can change the world.  Rearrange the world.  It’s dying.” (nod to CSNY for lyrics, nod to YOU for wanting to change the world).

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I was at the home of my friend/neighbor/acupuncturist Lisa on Friday.  One of the many things we share is our interest in localvorism (eating locally grown foods) and eating healthfully.

Lisa told me she has a new friend who is a master of getting the maximum use out of everything.  Her friend is “a starving artist” and like many such people, fueled by both creativity and ‘poverty’ (of funds only – obviously her friend is very wealthy with ideas and depth) she is a master at ‘using things up.’  Lisa gave the example of when her friend was over to help Lisa in the garden – the tomatoes were droopy so Lisa wanted to go buy tomato stakes. Her friend pointed out the plethora of sticks in the yard and said “why buy stakes?  your yard is full of ’em!”.

So this friend is also a master at making use of all food.  Lisa and her husband are both busy professionals and they have 3 school age kids and 2 dogs and at least 2 cats – a very busy household indeed.

So Lisa and her friend cooked up a deal where one Sunday a month the friend will come over and she and Lisa will spend the day cooking – using up what in my family is called the “mustgo” – all the food that “must go” or it will spoil.  Lisa will get innovative uses for her food that might otherwise have gone to waste and the friend will get a week’s worth of meals.

I like that idea. 

I like the idea of communal cooking simply because it’s really fun.  I like to cook but there are parts of it that seem tedious to me – and chopping tons of veggies is just always more fun with companionship.

My Dutch/Scottish parts love the idea of “waste not/want not”.

And my cohousing/hippie self loves the idea of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” (thanks Karl).

So I was glad to get invited to that cooking party and I’m thinking of what else we neighbors can do this winter to be more neighborly/share resources/share our lives more fully.

How about you?  Do you have cooking parties with your family/friends/neighbors?  Split a CSA share?  Buy the “buy one/get one free” even when you won’t use the second one so you can give it to someone?  How do you ‘do’ food in a sharing way?

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I haven’t written about food in a while, and yet I eat it every day.

Real food now, exclusively.  In fact, since I’m not eating any processed food, the lack of sodium combined with summer’s blazing heat and my naturally genetically low blood pressure caused me to almost faint twice a few weeks ago.  Which led the chiropractor/nutrition guy I’m working with to give me an unusual dictum:  eat more salt.  So I added (check this out) – potato chips to my regime.  The kind with just potatoes, salt and oil. Yeah, I know they’re fried.  But that’s my only ‘junk food’ these days.

So I’m 5 weeks into this new regime I’m on, some of which I see as a permanent part of my life (the no sugar for sure, the no wheat most likely and jury is out on no dairy).   The part about doing 2 nutritional shakes per day in lieu of real food – that’s a temporary gig, for sure. 

It’s all giving me a chance to get WAY conscious about food and to change my mind while I change my body.  Since I’m simultaneously working out 2x/week with a personal trainer my body has some opinions about all this change. At first there was a lot of protest, now there’s some acceptance and some delight even – and the need for more sleep. That last surprised me, but it seems to be true.  I think the body – like the mind that thinks it’s the boss of the body – are ‘going thru them changes’ and adjusting to it all.

There have been some surprises.

Getting off sugar wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I have known since 1976 (when the book Sugar Blues came out) that sugar is a drug.  I wrote about this in another post, so I won’t belabor it, but we even declared it as a drug as we crossed back into the USA from Canada way back in my wild hippie youth.  Did not amuse Mr. Customs Man and didn’t get me to drop it when I’d outgrown the whole idea of drugs of any form being anything but a bad idea.

I had a lot of trepidation (me, the queen of hyperbole being so nondescript here! HA! let’s say – ‘near terror’) about letting go of one of my two final drugs (no plans – as in ZERO – of giving up caffeine…).

But it wasn’t a very big deal at all physically.  Emotionally, I was angry, cranky and rancorous, which I sort of expected.  But that too passed (well, now I’m no more ornery than usual!).

I’ve been surprised that I haven’t craved my old treats.  It could be partially because I eat plenty of fruit – which I did in the past, too.  I’ve been a fruits & veggies girl for quite some time – it was just that I ate cookies & cakes & ice cream and whatever in addition to my healthier choices.  Now watermelon tastes crazy treat-like and a banana seems pretty woop-de-doo.  Fresh berries – major yum!

What has been harder has been wheat & dairy especially in my favorite combo thereof, pizza.

Like I said, jury is out in my mind about dairy – I’ve never felt it was healthy to eat as much of it as I used to, but I”m not convinced it’s baaaaaaaad either.  And no goat cheese?  No brie?  no Greek yogurt?  Say again why we should go on living?

Wheat though.  Hmmm.  I have to say I love great bread.   I’m not a sandwich person and most store bought bread is not worth much to me.  But a good crusty bread – yum.  However, I’ve been reading more in The Heart Scan Blog about the effects of wheat, and well, it’s disturbing.  I need to do more reading, more research and more checking in with my body, but what I’ve read so far makes me think that a sensible person would at least radically cut down on wheat.

With sugar, as with heroin and the other opiates which it resembles in its effects on our hormonal systems, I don’t think “oh, just a little” is a very good solution.  Just like a “a little line of cocaine” is probably not such a great idea for a cokehead or “just one shot and a beer” for a recovering alcoholic.

But that’s all future talk and I’m so into the one day at a time and what I’ve been noticing these past five weeks is how different my refrigerator and pantry looks.  And while I don’t want to keep doing this 2 shakes a day craziness, I must say it makes meal prep and cleanup WAY easy :).

And I’m discovering that when I focus on real food, food, as Michael Pollan would say, that my grandparents would recognize, and I’m not dulling my palate with junk – wow, food tastes GREAT!  Tonight I made swordfish, on which I put slices of mango.  I sautéed some onions and garlic and Swiss chard from my friend Bill’s garden (and put my secret spice on chard —-shhh! nutmeg!).  Boiled up some beets from Bill’s organic compost-only garden but by the time they were done, I was full.  A few hours later I wanted a little snack and I had a small bowl of watermelon cubes.  Yum!

We’ll see what I think of this new food-life once fall and winter come. But now, during the height of summer’s harvests, it’s just one delight after another.

Michael Pollan’s prescription is a good guideline for me.  I’m starting with the first part:  Eat real food.  The “not too much” – well, I’m closer there…. The “Mostly vegetables” – sorry, Michael, I may never get there.  But who knows.  If you would have asked the Sugar and Dairy Queen here if she’d ever walk away from those major food groups I would have told you “no way!” 

How about you?  Are you eating differently?  If so is it due to the desire for better health & vitality?  The localvore and slow movements (and people like Michael Pollan) waking you up?  the economy forcing you to cook more and eat less processed food or eat out less?  What’s up with YOU and food these days?  I really want to know!

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