Archive for October, 2008

Recipe Contest Winners!

Sharon October 31st, 2008

Remember our recipe contest?  Well, we’ve selected 8 winners - one for each chapter.  Each of you will have a recipe in our book _A Nation of Farmers_ and will get a free, double autographed copy.  And to everyone who entered - thank you!!! We got some great new recipes to try - there were more than 70 recipes posted!  Yum!

 Meanwhile, if you won, I need you to email me at [email protected] and tell me two things.  First, send me your full name and address (the book won’t be out until March or April, so don’t expect it to appear immediately ;-) ).  Second, I need to know how you want to be credited in the book - we’ll put the recipe in with an attribution (ie a name - do you want to be in with your full name, your internet, id, whatever?) - we’ll do it however you want, but I do need to know.

 Here are the winners:

1. Shelley for “Alaska Root Stew”

2. Shaunta “Gallos Pintas”

3. Chile’s “Urban Chicken”

4. Dani: “Wild Fennel and Dandelion ‘Risotto’”

5. Lynn “Kale Chips

6. Jena “Oatmeal in a Thermos”

7. Colleen “Methglin”

8. Gina “What the Heck am I Going to Do With All these Cherries Crisp”

Heck, that sounds like one heck of a pot-luck dinner.  Congrats to the winners and thanks to everyone - a lot of the recipes that didn’t get in would be in if we didn’t have a word limit on our already-long book!  Thank you all!


Just So You Don't Think I Complain About All My Media Coverage

Sharon October 31st, 2008

Everyone was pretty nice about my bitching about the Times article about us.  So I just wanted to point out that I do get some really good and well done press sometimes, and truly appreciate it.  I particularly am grateful for this lovely Voice of America piece, and the author taking time to really get it right.  I really enjoyed the interview with the author, and she wrote a terrific piece, with an emphasis on how the shifts that are coming in the US are really shifts towards Americans living much more like the rest of the world. 

 Thank you Faiza Elmasry, both for the sympathetic article, and restoring my faith in the media ;-) .  Here’s the piece:



Most "Preppers" are Men? Ha - Check the Kitchen!

Sharon October 31st, 2008

So I found this article from Details Magazine on “Preparedness Style” (gotta love that) over at Savinar’s site, and mostly, what amused me about it was the insistent message that this is a guy thing.  “Preppers” (I actually hate that term, but what the heck) are “guys in suits” and “most are men.”  Then we get some examples of how their wives don’t really understand them.  They derive, we are told, from the old Dudes with shotguns awaiting nuclear war, but these are stylish, urban dudes with Starbucks coffee in their storage.

To be fair, it really isn’t a bad article, but I thought it would be fun to explore the question of whether “preppers” as a broad category, really are mostly men.  Because I have the suspicion (I can’t prove it, but since the article doesn’t even bother to do more assert it, I don’t know that I have to) that if you look carefully enough, and think carefully enough about preparedness, you’re going to find that women are more present than anyone thinks.

Let’s start on the bookshelves - who is on the library list for most people trying to be prepared to live in a harder future?  Well, the hardcore types probably own Matthew Stein’s _When Technology Fails_, James Talmage Stevens’ _Making the Best of Basics_ and Cresson Kearny’s _Nuclear War Survival Skills_ - which would be right on the shelf next to Carla Emery’s _The Encyclopedia of Country Living_, Anita Evangelista’s _How to Live Without Electricity and Like It_ and Kathy Harrison’s superb new classic _Just In Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens_.  Heck, they might even own one of my books :-)

It is true there are more male preparedness authors, narrowly construed, than there are female ones.  What do I mean by “narrowly construed?” Well, the thing is, “preparedness” in a lot of ways comes down to and overlaps with a lot of really basic, domestic kinds of things.  A lot of preparedness really comes down to food, water, health and safety.  And these territories also overlap with an awful lot of stuff people who aren’t preparing for anything do.  Cooking, gardening, seed saving, making do, saving money, repairing things, building, first aid, etc… - these are relevant to millions of people who wouldn’t call themselves “preppers.”  So the partial list above assumes a rather narrow category of thought - people who explicitly and primarily write and teach how to do things in case of rough times.  And it is definitely true that those authors are more often men than women - although there is a solid contingent of smart women involved.

If you add in the range of authors who cover skills you might want even if times aren’t bad, but that are extremely useful to people who might need them, the scales come out a lot more evenly.  Suzanne Ashworth, Carol Deppe and Raoul Robinson’s spectucular books  on seed saving and plant breeding are well worth the investment - whether you are concerned you may have to rely on your saved seed, or whether you simply want to adapt crops to your conditions and reduce pesticide dependency.  Glancing over my shelves, the scales aren’t perfectly balanced - there are more guys in books on building and shelter and more women on cooking - but what you get a pretty solid balance.

But that probably doesn’t tell you much about the ordinary prepper, who, after all, probably doesn’t write books.  Is he really a guy?  Does he really wear a polo shirt, and if he does, will anyone date him ;-) ?  Or is it just possible that the gender balance is closer than you think?

Again, I think we come back to this question of broadly or narrowly construed.  Obviously, this article is concerned with the style issues of the young, urban professional survivalist.  And there’s a lot of references to how cool they are and to all the stuff they buy - their stash of Chilean wines, their Starbucks coffee, their waterproof Ipods and vaccuum packed quail.  But sort out the lifestyle stuff, and what you really find are a lot of references to food.

And that I think is what’s really interesting about this.  Underneath the cool gadgets, the camo and the wine racks - that is, the things that make this kind of preparedness spiffy enough to make _Details_, (the message being - these are paranoid nutcases, but cool, well dressed ones), the blunt reality is that preparedness is about that uber-chick thing - making sure everyone has dinner.

“Eric, a 32-year-old CPA in Northern California, is so concerned about his stores’ going to waste that he has his wife and children do regular tastings of freeze-dried foods and MREs, so they can decide what they do and don’t like. “Why have it if they’re not going to eat it?” he says. Unfortunately, his family proclaimed all of the MRE fare—except for the chocolate-chip brownies and chocolate-peanut-butter spread—“gross.” So Eric has squirreled away M&Ms in bulk to keep the kids quiet. For himself, he as a case of vodka. “If the shit hits the fan, I might want to tie one on,” he says.”

This is not the article’s first reference to MREs, either.  And this seems to be what makes a real guy prepper - they don’t preserve their own food, and they aren’t going to eat dried beans.  They’ve got manly MREs, or freeze-dried food, or pallet loads of canned goods from the grocery store.  Or if they do preserve things, they are weird things, like vacuum packed quail (a major staple of my pantry, of course) and canned pasta (!?!?!).  With the exception of one gardener who makes salsa and something with zucchini, the way we know that these are narrowly construed preppers is, well, that they don’t cook much.

Now consider what would happen if you were paying attention to me, or to Kathy Harrison on this subject.   Harrison explores the questions of MREs and dehydrated meals, and concludes that they are expensive and extremely high in sodium.  She recommends basic staple foods, most available at grocery stores or coops, and growing and preserving as much as you can yourself.  That’s not that different from my recommendations.  But underlying both of our assumptions is this - you can cook, at least enough to feed yourself.

And that’s important, I think, because preparedness, at its root, is more than anything about making sure people get dinner.  Yes, we can prepare to fight off zombie attacks, build earth shelters in case we lose ours (although odds are most of us will move in with a friend or relative), learn how to handle background radiation - but the first tier problems most of us face - and the ones most people prepare for first, are the ones we’re familiar with - what will we eat?  How will we cook it?  How will the hungry kids get fed?  How will we keep the food and water coming in a supply disruption, or when we’re too poor to buy it? It isn’t that no one needs a gun or potassium iodate - it is that generally speaking the first question you will encounter in most crises is “Is there dinner?  Do I get any?” 

And that question isn’t traditionally a guy question.  Historically speaking, most of the people figuring out how to make sure everyone gets food, and that there’s enough to go around and that it keeps coming in are women.  Most of the cooking in the US is still done by women.  I suspect a lot of the emphasis on the manliness of these guys is to cover the fact that preppers are really doing something quite feminine - they are worrying that the time might come when they and theirs go hungry - and they are trying to ensure that it never happens.  Not just by abstractly providing money, but by getting down and dirty with their food - by finding ways to fill the pantry, by canning or buying or storing - by taking over those roles their wives don’t want to handle.  And where they haven’t quite made the connection is at the ultra-central point of cooking.  Because that’s a survival skill - kids who won’t eat MREs can’t live on M&Ms.  And those who don’t have the money to spend 10K on preparedness, as one person in the article did, need to know that you don’t have to.  You just have to be able to cook. 

But cooking is the preparedness skill probably least recognized.  Matthew Stein’s terrific _When Technology Fails_ has the best bibliography around.  It has sections on identifying edible worms, making bowls from pottery, spearing fish, and a host of other useful skills, along with a fabulous bibliography of relevant materials.  And it contains not a single section on how to cook, nor any bibliography of cookbooks.  The assumption presumably is that that’s too basic to be a survival skill.  But unfortunately, that’s wrong.  We’re a nation who doesn’t cook very well in general, and men particularly often lack that skill (let me be clear, I’m talking statistically - my husband is a superb cook, my father is a superb cook , I’ve always lived around men that cooked, and don’t in any way diminish their gifts.)

The inability to cook in both men and women is the single greatest factor driving us towards hunger - our immensely destructive industrial food system is in very large part a product of a society in which most people don’t cook. The processed food industry, the markets for corn syrup and continuous soy and corn, the reduction of nutritional value and taste in produce varieties - all of these things are the product of the way we eat. The reason most of us need preparedness is that we face disruptions in the industrial food supply that depends so heavily on fossil fuels. The dangers we face cannot primarily be prevented at the agricultural level - averting the disasters all of us are preparing for depend on a society in which most people either cook or eat in restaurants that use sustainably produced, local whole foods.  And since most of us can’t afford to eat out or buy dehydrated food, that means both preparedness for a disaster and averting it in the first place depend, in large part, upon how we eat.

And that’s why I suspect that if there was some useful way to establish who all of the “preppers” really are, you’d find that there are a LOT more women than people think there are. Not just hanging around my site, but stocking up at the grocery store and filling their pantries because that’s what they always did, and what their Moms and Grandmas did.  They probably don’t wear polo shirts, and they live everywhere, not just in the city, and style magazines probably won’t ever profile most of them because their work is too ordinary to be counted.  Maybe they do this because Mom always had a big garden and canned a lot, or because their grandmother remembers the old country ways, and they do too.  They are cooking from scratch - and keeping extras around.  They are teaching their kids to eat from their pantries and what Mom or Dad sets in front of them.  They are canning and drying and pickling, and sharing recipes over the internet.  They are the 30% of American women who really cook - they bake bread and make soup and fill their pantries.  And yes, some of them are men - about 15% of American men also really cook. 

Now most American cooks, male and female, don’t store food - but a surprising number do keep some extras around, just in case.  They probably don’t even think of themselves as “preppers” - maybe they call themselves homesteaders, or traditional, maybe they are tied to an ethnic, religious or cultural tradition that suggests that some kind of reserve and self-sufficiency are essential.  Around me the Hmong, Somali, Russian and Polish families are out there with the Mennonites, Amish, Quakers and Mormons, the farm families, the homesteaders and those who are a little worried about the future, filling their pantries every year.  They do it for different reasons - because they can remember hard times themselves, because they always have, because their faith or their culture requires it, because they aren’t so far removed from an agrarianism that reminds them that this is how it always was.  Maybe they do it because they aren’t ever going to see their kids or grandkids go hungry, or because the food is better.

And if you decided to define “prepper” as “someone who is prepared for uncertain and difficult times by having a reserve of basics at hand” I think what you’d find is that close to half - maybe even a majority of this nation’s and the world’s preppers are women.  Look at the bunkers, and the yuppies, and you’ll see a lot of guys.  Check the kitchen, however, and the story changes.


All the Crappy News That Is Fit To Print

Sharon October 30th, 2008

Ok, if you haven’t scrolled down and read my happy thought post (“The one thing…”), do it now.  Now’s a good time to hang on to your own happy thoughts too.  Put the liquor away and hide all the sharp objects.  Because just in case you haven’t noticed, the news kind of sucks.  I wouldn’t do this to you unless I thought it was really important that you know this stuff.

First there’s the stock market.  Isn’t that good news, you ask?  After all, it had a big rise, and as I write this, is up a little bit.  I think you want to take a look a Ilargi’s post from Wednesday over at the Automatic Earth, though. His case is that this isn’t good news at all:

Wherever I look this morning, Asia, Europe, Wall Street, I see journalists and analysts claim that bargain hunters are causing the rising stock prices. They’re not. There is something different going on.Prices these days fall when and because large investors need to sell assets in order to get cash. Prices rise when large investors need to cover their shorts.

The investors involved in both cases are largely identical, though not entirely. It’s important to understand that while, obviously, price drops cause loss of capital, price rises are now the result of the same. Everybody still tries to hide their losses, but it’s getting much harder. That’s what happens in casino’s: there comes a point where you have to show your hand. And when things get bad, sometimes you have to show both.”

Understanding that the rallies are as much a part of the disaster as the crashes is counter-intuitive, but I think it is also important.  In the same sense, my own case is that the bailout money (which is reaching banks this week) is actually bad for us - not just because it is our money and indentures our kids, but more importantly, in a very direct way.

 Then there’s Karl Denninger’s latest piece, which besides some probably intelligent advice, includes something I hadn’t realized - the fact that if you accept a deal to “save” your home by using a refinance, you probably will be signing up for permanent debt-slavery.  I think it is really important that this information get out, since almost no one I’ve talked to realizes this - that you could be on the hook for your house FOREVER - whether you get to live in it or not.    Please pass that information along to all of your friends and neighbors and anyone else who might get hooked from a bank’s “kindness.”

“See, a refinance, which this is, converts your mortgage into a recourse loan. That means if you take their “great deal” and then default later on (e.g. you lose your job in the upcoming Depression) your wages can be garnished forever and, if you earn more than the median income, you can’t even get rid of the debt in bankruptcy.”

Emo Phillips once joked that he was pretty sure the guy hammering on his roof was sending the message that he was a paranoid little weirdo in morse code to him.  Now I realize seeing bad guys everywhere makes you seem nuts, but quite honestly, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it really pretty much does seem to be the case that nearly everything the government or corporations say they will do to help you is just another way of raping and pillaging.  Better be paranoid than be screwed yet another way from Sunday.

Ok, all that is just a little bit bad.  The really bad news of the day isn’t about the economy at all. It is that levels of methane in the atmosphere rose dramatically in 2007 - and no one has any idea.  All the theories are pretty damned horrible though.  If this trend continues, we are in serious trouble - and the more so since the economy threatens to drive climate off the front burner altogether.  Finding out why right quick should be on the front agenda - but is unlikely to get there.

“Methane, the primary component of natural gas, has more than doubled in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, but stayed largely stable over the last decade or so before rising in 2007, researchers said on Wednesday.

This stability led scientists to believe that the emissions of methane, from natural sources like cows, sheep and wetlands, as well as from human activities like coal and gas production, were balanced by the destruction of methane in the atmosphere.

But that balance was upset starting early last year, releasing millions of metric tonnes more methane into the air, the scientists wrote in the Geophysical Research Letters.”

Ok, all this sucks.  And there’s certainly plenty of lesser bad news out there - like the fact that farmers are having trouble getting credit to plant wheat, or the growth in joblessness.  And in a sense it doesn’t change anything - we still need to start working on our informal economy jobs, on growing food locally, or having a reserve.  We still need to consolidate with family and yell and scream at injustice.  But depressing as it is, knowing what is happening is valuable to - we can’t respond, we can’t even hope to respond, without knowing.  Maybe our response won’t be enough - but we can and must try.

Ok, that said, the pep talk does sound kinda stupid.  So instead of leaving you with hope, I leave you with Monty Python

“Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown/And things seem hard or tough…

And people are stupid, obnoxious or daft/And you feel that you’ve had quite enough… 

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the ‘Milky Way’.
Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.
We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go ’round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.  - Monty Python, the Galaxy Song

There.  I’m sure you feel all better now.


Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear!

Sharon October 30th, 2008


Hurry, hurry, Mary dear/fall is over, winter’s here.

Not a moment to be lost,/in a minute we get frost!

In an hour we get snow!/Drifts like houses! Ten below!

Pick the apples, dill the pickles,/chop down trees for wooden nickels.

Dig the turnips, split the peas,/cook molassses, curdle cheese/

Churn the butter, smoke the hams/can tomatoes, put up jams.

Stack the stove wood, string the beans/up the storms and down the screens.

Pull the curtains, close the shutters/ Dreadfully the wild wind mutters/

Oil the snowshoes, stoke the fires./Soon the roads are hopeless mires.

Mend the mittens, knit the sweaters,/bring my glasses, mail my letters.

Toast the muffins, brew the tea,/hot and sweet and good for me.

Bake me donuts, plain and frosted…./What, my dear?  You feel exhausted?

Yes, these winters are severe/Hurry, hurry -

Mary, dear.

- N.M. Bodecker

There’s a pattern to my autumns.  They start out with a burst of enthusiasm, as cooler days hit and I get ready for cold weather foods and activities.  I start splitting wood and stacking it with enthusiasm, canning fall foods, root cellaring.  And then, somewhere around mid-October, I get distracted by other things, and the preparations slow down.  Intellectually, I know there’s a lot to do before winter, but we’re usually having good weather, and there’s plenty to do, and usually a month and more of good weather coming. Then, in early November I usually have an “oh, crap…we’re almost there” moment, in which I take the last week or two of decently warm weather to catch up on all the things I’ve let go - gathering kindling, getting the quinces in, digging the late root crops, planting bulbs and garlic, getting the animals’ winter shelters set, etc…

Then there’s this year.  From Sunday to Tuesday lunchtime, it poured here.  But I was still in my mellow mode.  The rumor was that there might be a bit of snow in the higher elevations - technically that’s us, but usually that means the Adirondacks and high parts of the Berkshires, not the hilltowns. 

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, it started to snow.  It snowed and snowed.  By Wednesday morning there was 7 inches of heavy, wet snow over us.  Ok, we shrugged, but it won’t last - it was supposed to be 50 yesterday.  Ummm…nope, it finally broke 32 around noon, and then went back down to 27 by about 12:30.  Today’s supposed to be even colder.  So instead of the last weeks of autumn’s glow, we’ve got January outside (yes, I know this is too warm for January, but I haven’t gotten adapted to days in the 30s yet.)

So I’m a bit in panic mode here - here I’ve been lazing away my October days, doing a little desultory preparation here and there, and now I’ve got to pray for enough warm, dry days to not only melt the snow but dry up the ground from the 4 inches of rain we had before that.  Because I’ve still got bags of daffodils to plant, more garlic, wood to haul out of the woods (and I’d do it with a sled, but those four inches of rain and unfrozen ground make that a job I’d just as soon wait for dryer days to do), more splitting, stacking, banking, moving.  The angora bunnies came into the house during the snowstorm, because while their ultra-warm fur means they can handle the cold, their unprotected shelter was filled with wet snow (we usually move them over to the barn in early November).  The goat shelters are up, but not fully winterized - not a big deal, we could just move the girls back to the barn, but they’d rather be out and about.  Yesterday I frantically dug about in the closets finding boots and mittens and snowpants, something I normally don’t do until after the Halloween costumes are safely stowed away for Purim (this year the guys are Robin Hood and the Merry Men - Simon is Robin, Eli is Little John, Isaiah is Will Scarlet, and Asher is also Robin Hood, although his brothers keep telling him he has to be Alan a Dale - but he’s having none of it). 

I’m just praying that things dry up enough to get the garlic and bulbs in without rotting, not to mention enough to make digging the turnips and beets less disgusting (right now it wouldn’t be so much digging as mud-wrestling.)  My poor fig is outside with a blanket over its head and snow on top of that - I’m hoping it survives, because we haven’t wrapped it for winter yet.  It is safe to say that I’m feeling more than a little like Mary in the poem there, although without the annoying spouse (Eric is also working flat out).  Instead, it is the other man in my life - old man winter -  doing the pushing.

Next week has a lot of days in the 50s, so we’re probably fine.  But it is a good reminder of just how rapid the transition from season to season can be.  And as we enter not just a season of cold weather, but a winter of discontent and Depression, it becomes more and more urgent that live the seasons as they really are - not just cranking the heat and shifting to greens from California, but adapting to the realities of our climate.

That doesn’t have to be unpleasant.  In fact, except for the frustration of having been slacking, I’m enjoying my little snow days - there’s a fire in the cookstove, and stock bubbling away.  It is warm as toast next to the stove, and cool enough that my hot tea feels good in my hands while I type and read the news.  The thing is, I like stacking wood on the cold days of autumn - it warms me, it feels good to set my body to something useful.  I love gardening in fall, I like to dig in the cool moist soil, I like the warmth of the leaves I collect from along the street, and the smell of autumn earth.  I like to load hay, and my kids like to climb up in the hay barn in search of the nests the hens make.  I like to put the garden to sleep for the winter, tucking it under its mulch, and dreaming of next year. 

I look forward (not yet, but usually) to the first snow of the year, to the knowledge that it is time to turn inward, to concentrate on the things I’ve been ignoring while the outdoors summoned me so powerfully to it.  Now is the time to clean the messes I’ve been ignoring and work on indoor projects desperately needed.  And like everything in its season, it has a sense of rightness, of pleasure in the doing.  I don’t know how to explain it - you all know I’m no great housekeeper, nor is cleaning my favorite task - but somehow as winter begins, it feels right.  

The brussel sprouts will be sweet with frost when we dig them out from under the snow.  The fig will probably survive a couple of cold days and await our insulation.  The bunnies spent a pleasant night in my office bouncing around and driving the dogs crazy, and will be cozily ensconced in the barn shortly, with the cozy noises of chickens, ducks and goats around them.  We’ll bed the animals more thickly, seal the windows, put down the storms, get used to mittens drying on the top of the warming oven.  It’ll all happen - we just aren’t quite ready yet.  But it is a good reminder to hurry, hurry, Sharon dear.


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