Independence Days Update

Sharon December 7th, 2008

Ok, it has been way too long since I’ve done one of these.  As always, the more I write about something, the less I actually manage to get done of it.  So as I’ve been immersed in the final writing of _Independence Days_ (it’ll be done in three weeks - yay!!!), I’ve been giving the actual challenage short shrift.

 I’ve also got quite a lot of new readers, and I want to invite those of you who haven’t been playing along to consider joining in - it is a great project, and a great way for me, at least to break down all the gazillion things I’m supposed to be doing. 

The idea is that instead of letting the whole thing get too intimidating, or feeling like we’ve got to devote hours and hours we don’t have to preparing, preserving, storing and making ourselves and our families more secure, if we do a little bit each day, or each week, we’ll get a lot further.  For me, the discipline of the Independence Days Challenge has been deeply inspiring - and it has resulted in more progress than waiting for open blocks of time, or when I struggled to figure out which of 20 things I hadn’t done I should be doing. 

It has also been really helpful in ways I didn’t expect - I find myself less hostile to the chores I don’t enjoy, because I know I only have to do a little bit each day.  My small steps at Independence have a sense of mindfulness, an awareness that I missed when I only thought of big projects as real accomplishments.  And most of all, the work of writing down what we’ve accomplished, and eliminating all the caveats “but I didn’t…. I never got to…. but I still have to…”  leaving all that stuff out, and simply saying “I did these things” has been heartening.  They provide a measure - life is always full of things you haven’t done, mistakes you’ve made, lists of what’s still waiting.  Sometimes it takes a moment of looking carefully at what you have accomplished to really grasp that you are making progress.

Want to participate?  Just join in.  Report on your blog, or in comments here.  And no, you won’t be able to do everything every day - but do what you can, and be proud of that.  Remember, little stuff counts - planting one seed, harvesting one pepper, trying one new recipe, cutting down on your garbage one new way - those things are accomplishments, and they deserve honor.

Here are the categories of the Independence Day challenge.  And for those of you who have been participating, I’ve added one new category, bringing us up to 11 categories.  Each day/week we’re going to try to :

Plant Something: A seed, a transplant, a tree, a bulb, some mushroom spores - could be in the earth or in a container, but the point is to green the world a little more, and plant useful plants everywhere you can.

Harvest Something: A sprig of mint, a bushel of potatoes, lettuce from a container on your windowsill, 500 acres of wheat, enough sprouts for a sandwich, enough cucumbers for 10 quarts of pickles, wild asparagus, cultivated carrots - you name it.  It could be something you planted, something growing wild or something you glean from someone else’s fields (with permission, of course), but the idea is to try and make the best use of the food around you.

Preserve something: Whether you live in a cold, snowy place like me, or a hot dry one, odds are good that you have a season where not too much is growing.   That’s when preserved foods step in to fill the empty spots, so you can still eat locally and sustainably without relying on the industrial food system.  You could be canning raspberry jam or hanging up bunches of wild thyme to dry.  You might be putting turnips and carrots in a cold place, or braiding garlic to hang in your kitchen.  Maybe you are drying hot peppers in the sun, or storing nuts in a dry, squirrel proof place.  You might be canning venison or freezing eggs for winter, fermenting kim chi or pickling olives.  Everything you do to make yourself food secure during those times of scarcity is one less thing you need to rely on corporations for.

Store something: Most of us are never going to grow or produce everything we eat - and most of us probably don’t want to.  So not only do we need to preserve the food around us, but we also will be getting some things from farmers, from stores, and from importers.  The challenge is to buy these things with as little impact on the planet as possible, and whenever possible, giving our dollars to people and institutions we want to support, rather than those that undermine and harm us.  The best way to buy many staples that we can’t produce is in bulk, and ideally (not everyone can afford this, but if you can, you should) direct from producers, or fair traded  - bulk purchasing minimizes our costs, it cuts down on packaging, and it allows us to have a reserve of food.  But that also means that you have to find a place to store it, and to do so in a way that won’t result in the loss of good food. 

So every day/week we’re going to try and build up our reserves a little, to store food and related items that help us prepare for difficult times and also buy well.  You could be putting adzuki beans or spelt in 5 gallon buckets you got from the store, putting vanilla beans in a mason jar you scavenged, storing a case of canned goods,  or finding space under the bed for extra toilet paper.

Manage Reserves: Whenever you’ve got stores, they need occasional attention, or things can get spoiled, lost or ruined.  Part of the Independence Days project is to make sure things don’t get wasted.  If we spend a little time checking on our reserves, we’ll catch that bruised apple that really would spoil the rest of the barrel, notice when the squash has a soft spot and needs to be cooked and eaten, or frozen for later use.  We’ll make sure that the stuff in our freezer doesn’t disappear to the bottom, and that we’re using the older canned goods and olive oil before the newer.  It takes only a few minutes to write the date on things, to check that nothing has spilled or gotten knocked over by the cat, and that you aren’t running out of anything, but it is so easy to let this little chore go.  This way, we keep what we have.

Cook Something New: It is hard to realize how much hangs on something as ordinary as cooking.  But it does - the ability to cook, and cook well can be the difference between food security and insecurity. Prepared and processed foods simply cost more - both in literal food costs and in later health costs than basic staple ingredients.  Living from your garden and bulk purchasing requires a different set of cooking and eating skills - most of us are used to using processed ingredients and shopping regularly - cooking from your pantry and your local foodshed is very different, and if we don’t know how to do that, we won’t be buying and eating locally, or we will buy some food reserves and let them go to waste because “they aren’t what we eat.”  Most importantly, it is eaters, not farmers, who decide how our agriculture will work.  If we don’t choose to eat the foods that are sustainable and locally grown in our communities, we will not have local farms to feed us if supplies are disrupted. 

So every week, we’re going to try and cook a new recipe or two, one using in-season, home preserved or local ingredients.  We want to expand our repetoir, take full advantage of the fact that local, homegrown, home preserved and sustainably purchased foods taste better and are better for us.  This takes some practice - so whether we’re trying out jam recipes or working on ways to make our classic recipe for stew with home-raised goat meat, trying to figure out how to use the sauerkraut or what to do with the kohlrabi, or even just another great potluck recipe - we’re working on trying to cook and eat Independently and well,

Prep Something: Those of us who are concerned about hard times and coming difficulties are often storing not just food and toiletries, but things that are cheap and abundant now, but may be scarce in a crisis.  In an extended power outage or natural disaster, some things disappear from store shelves, and we might need more of things we ordinarily don’t use a lot of like candles, batteries and blankets.   We might need new tools - ones that allow us to live without power, for example.  And because not everyone does prepare, a lot of us want to be able to help extended family, neighbors, friends, even strangers.  So we plan now, and add a little extra.

Prepping might involve building up a supply of needed medications in case pharmacies are closed for a while.  Or perhaps buying extra blankets so that without central heating, you and your neighbors will all be able to keep warm.  It might involve making up emergency kits so that if you have to evacuate, you have what you need.  Or putting up rainbarrels so that you can irrigate the garden and wash the dishes even when the power is out.  Anything you do to make yourself and those around you more secure is prepping.

Reduce Waste: We waste more than 25% of the food we purchase.  We waste even more packaging and energy.  And every time we do that, we take fuel that future generations will need and throw it away, we warm the planet, fill up landfills and add pollution to our environment.  Living sustainably means making sure that we keep waste to an absolute minimum - that we find ways to make sure that everything we possibly can gets used wisely and well.  There’s an art to this taking care of what we have.  It also saves us money and time - we don’t have to shop as often if we eat all the food we buy and grow, we don’t spend as much on heating if we make sure our leaky windows are closed and caulked.  We cannot be independent from energy companies and supermarkets if we don’t make the best possible use of what we have.  So each week, we try to cut down on waste - maybe eating more of our leftovers and tracking what’s in the fridge better, or making sure all the lights are off in rooms we are not occupying.  We try and buy things with less packaging, and make sure we are composting all our food waste, or feeding it to some creature - worms, chickens, etc…  We cut out wasted money from our budget and cut back on wasted time as well - we try to find ways to make our precious time count.

Learn a New Skill: So many of the things people used to know how to do for themselves have gotten lost over the years, as corporations have taken over the production of everything from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (available now with the crusts pre-cut off) to socks.  But what if we can’t afford the hefty mark-up for premade PBJ or supermarket bread?  What if we need to cut back our budget?  What if we can’t afford or drive to or find socks or beer or a quilt for our bed, but we’ve got fleece, barley and yeast and scraps?  Even if we don’t want to do it every time, the ability to make our own, fix our own, build our own, mend our own, tend our own and grow our own may be essential as we face an economic, energy and climate crisis.  Most of the time, it is cheaper to make your own, or fix the broken thing than to replace it.  For a long time, we’ve been able to simply throw things away, not thinking about the ecological, economic and personal costs of this way of life, but no more.  So it is time to relearn the skills of the past - time to learn how to darn a sock, build a raised bed, make a quilt or fix your own clogged pipes; how to stretch a meal for 4 to feed 6, how recognize a medical emergency and how to sing on key. Some of these are hard, some easy - all of them are hard for some people, and easy for others.  But every week we can work a little more on our personal competence, and thus, our security.

Work on Community Food Security: None of us can be secure if our neighbors are going hungry, either morally or practically.  So not only do we need to have a reserve of our own, but we also need to help teach these lessons in our communities, and to help existing institutions that provide a safety net continue to do so even in hard times.  So we work together on making our communities more secure - this could be as simple as talking to a neighbor, family member or co-worker about why we store food and how to get started.  It might mean making donations of money or goods to local food pantries, homeless shelters, and soup kitchen, or helping out a neighbor in need directly.  We could be out starting a community garden, or helping a friend start her garden, recruiting members for a new local CSA or Co-op, or making sure our local planning board remembers the need for greenspace and farmland around our town or city.  Maybe we’re passing on skills to our kids or someone else’s kids, teaching a class, or preaching about food security in the pulpit of our church.  Whatever we’re doing, we’re trying to keep our community as secure as we can.

Regenerate What Is Lost: This one is new, and stems from my concern that in our attempts to protect and preserve ourselves in hard times, we’ll forget about making our choices truly sustainable, that is, something that not only we can do, but all the generations that follow us.  That is, not only do we have to do a little each day to protect ourselves, but we need to put back a little each day into the system, making it a little richer than before.  We’ve stripped the earth, and stripped the social and communal structures of our lives that support us, and support our future.  Thus, we can’t just do less damage - we have to do more repair, to give our posterity a future.

What does that mean?  It means that we make sure we’re adding organic matter to our soil even as we’re growing vegetables.  It means we don’t just plant a tree for each one we harvest - we plant an extra one as well.  It means we let some areas of our yard grow native plants to make space for native pollinators.  It means we reach out and tend a little space that belongs to no one, protect land that is already wild.  It means we do a little more to build community than our share, that we are kinder than we have to be to someone we don’t always find it easy to like. It means we choose a little less than our rightful share, so that someone who can’t use less can have what they need, it means we try a little harder to enable a decent, humane and just future.  In Judaism, we call this “tikkun olam” or the repair of the world, and it helps me to put it daily upon my agenda.

Ok, here’s my list for the last few weeks:

1. Plant something - Garlic and bulbs in pots and self-watering containers.  I had some garlic and flower bulbs that didn’t get planted this fall, but I didn’t want to waste them, so the boys and I planted them in containers and decided to see how they do.  We’re going to gradually force the bulbs starting in February, to have bright spots around the house.   If this works well, and I can force enough inside, I’m thinking of selling pots of forced bulbs around the spring holidays next year.

2. Harvest something - kale and leeks.  It has gotten very cold lately, and that’s about all that’s left in the garden - the collards finally bought it.  Boy do they taste good, though.  Oh, and some of the herbs I brought in for the winter - I finally remembered to pot up some thyme, because fresh is so lovely.  I’ve got rosemary, my lemon verbena plant (which is trying to take over the entire house), mint, chives, sage, gotu kola, bacopa, rau om (vietnamese coriander), and salad burnet.    My attempt to keep basil going all winter has yet again failed miserably - it is just too cold in my house.

3. Preserve something - Apple and pear sauce from the pears I picked up at the local state park and the apples we bought early in the season that were getting mushy.  Dried pears (still using those up).  Pear butter.  Pear wine (it remains to see how this will taste).  Apple and pear vinegar.  Cider syrup (reduce cider over low heat until it gets thick and appley, add cinnamon and serve on pancakes or over ice cream - mmmmmm….)

4. Store something: 20lbs of dried cranberries (got a good deal on bulk, and my kids are addicted to them - they are even fairly local), hazelnuts, yeast, rabbit pellets for the angoras, cat food.

5. Manage Reserves: Am in the process of finally moving everything that isn’t frozen out to the porch - November was very up and down - first warm then cold then warm, so we had to go back to the icebox (our fridge is kept cold with ice packs from our freezer - saves lots of energy and money) for a while.  Now I’m getting things organized so that everything is in one place.  I also need to clean out the food storage closet, but that’s going to have to wait until the book is done.  But I’ve thought about it - does that count ;-) ?  Oh, and am neatly collecting my pile of seed catalogs (they’re out early this year!) for January, when I’ll have time to appreciate them.

6. Cook something new - Pulled lamb, from the lamb we got from our own pastures.  Yum!!!  Like pulled pork, but kosher. 

7. Prepped something: Bought a ton of used homeschooling books in Boston, including a whole batch of Hebrew language textbooks that the boys will use later.  Upped our stash of candles and lamp oil for winter power outages.  Bought a replacement mantle for our Aladdin lamp. 

8. Learned a new skill - am working on getting more than two stitches on a needle when quilting.  So far, not so good.  Until I finish this book, that’s about it, although I’m working my way through a book on plumbing for the seriously incompetent in preparation for my first competence project merit badge.

9. Worked on community food security: Began putting together a committee to green up my synagogue - they don’t know it yet, but food is going on the agenda ;-) - including making use of some of the shul’s underutilized greenspace.  Agreed to write a column for a local paper’s new online segment - food will again be a major topic.  Am plotting a neighborhood swap/preparedness group come January, but must finish book….

10. Reduced waste: Sucked it up and decided to pay for recycling pick up - our local dump doesn’t take a whole bunch of things, and we’ve been hauling them into town and dumping them at a friend’s house.  Decided to stop wasting time looking for things and get organized, but so far, deciding is as far as it has gotten ;-) .

11. Regenerated: Upped our donations to charity as much as we can, tried to help someone I can’t stand with a problem I know something about, even though I’m appalled by her solutions (no more details than this, since I don’t want anyone to know who she is), offered to help a friend put in a garden this spring for the first time as a holiday gift.

Ok, how about the rest of you?


32 Responses to “Independence Days Update”

  1. sueinithaca says:

    Let’s see -

    I just put up some pickled beets (vinegar and sugar), and started lacto-fermenting carrots and daikon. This can count both as preserving and managing reserves, since I used up all of the vegetables in the back of the fridge that were left over from the summer CSA (the winter CSA started this week).

    Learned something new: I appear to becorrectly making kombucha this time. I’ll know for sure in a few more days.

    Planted something: nope. I have some garlic that I intended to plant, but it hasn’t been above 25 for a week or so, so it’s too cold at the moment. I’ll probably regret this in the spring.

    Harvested something: again, nope. We did participate in Thanksgiving turkey slaughter, which may count. It was informative and fascinating, and my daughter wants to do it again.

    Local Food systems: Sold memberships to my winter fruit CSA and began distributing fruit this past week. Spent quite a bit of time ladling honey into mason jars and portioning out forzen blackberries :-) Managed to trade fruit shares with several local farmers, so will be getting bison meat and eggs this winter.

  2. Susan says:

    Wow. I feel good about my accomplishments, thinking that I’m participating in your challenge, then I read all you’ve done.

    Well, here goes. Plant something — I planted my garlic in the last days of November, mulched heavily, and already have sprouts (which I didn’t want this time of year!) because it’s been in the upper 60′s.

    Harvest something — a couple tomatoes, lots of green chiles, habaneros, mint.

    Store something — went a little crazy when I finally got my grain mill and bought about 5 lbs of everything grindable they had in the bulk section of the market. Learning a new skill I guess would go with this one, grinding grain is well, good exercise! And recipes need tweaking when working with whole grains rather than milled flour, I’m finding.

    This is a great challenge, Sharon. It keeps me honest in where I am vs. where I would like to be, keeps it manageable, and gives me a good roadmap to follow.

  3. Lisa Z says:

    I can’t wait till the competence project update because I’ve been doing some sewing. And I’m so.proud. of myself! (Can you tell?)

    I might try to do an Independence Days update on my blog, though here in Minnesota the gardens are under snow and it’s, like, 11 degrees F. outside.

    I did find a book on Edible Landscaping at the library, and I’m perusing it for ideas to, yet again, expand the front yard gardens.

    Also, at our neighborhood Christmas party last night we made a tiny dent in the gallon of Rumtopf I made last July when I was given a case of cherries. I guess that’s “Managing Your Reserves”! Unfortunately, there’s still at least 3 quarts left so much will be given away in pint jars for Christmas gifts.

  4. Judy says:

    I may join in. I have been following you and others in their Independence Days updates for a while. What a great challenge. I like the new category.

  5. AnnaMarie says:

    My list is a little different but here goes:

    1. Plant Something - Ground is frozen and no room yet for indoor seedlings.
    2. No harvesting, see above about frozen north *g*
    3. Preserve/Storage - Got everything that could possibly be tasty to a mouse in a mouse proof container. Potatoes are in washing machine, apples are in dryer (hand washing works for me and this keeps me honest).
    4. Manage Reserves - We are going through certain foods more than others so I’m re-arranging spreadsheets for our every 3 month shopping trips. So far only composting true scraps for November, not food that we forgot except one basket of squash that got frozen in the barn.
    5. Cook something - all November meals were in house and from scratch.
    6. Learned to successfully do laundry by hand and rinse it well within a day’s chores.
    7. Reduced landfill waste to one 30 gallon trash sack for the month of November. Recycled four rubbermaid totes of goods for the month. Now working on only one 30 gallon trash sack for 2 months.
    8. No community involvement yet.
    9. Working with elderly neighbor on decluttering her vast home of, well, stuff by helping her sell it on Ebay.

    I am still working on getting our Kw under 400 per month, this seems to be a set point for us and I’m nor understanding why since the only two appliances are the range and the hot water heater. Lighting is pretty minimal (energy saving lightbulbs) and we’re both on laptops so where in the heck are we spending it!!! At .17 cents per Kw I really want to get this down a bit further.

    Overall I’m pretty happy since we have reduced our waste a ton, I recycle lots of packing materials in my Ebay job and we are down to about 10 gallons of gas usage a month. I wonder how low can we go? What should I strive for? Is there a list somewhere? Inquiring minds and all that!

  6. Texicali says:

    Planted Something: Cover crops and Fava Beans.

    Harvested: Potatoes, a few rasberries, limes.

    Preserve/Storage: Made sauerkraut. Can’t really claim any credit for that, my wife did it pretty much by herself. Will be trying our hand at Mead today.

    Community Food Security: This is the one I am excited about. I have been thinking about getting into agriculture on a full time basis for some time. Just been trying to figure out when the best time would be. Reading Sharon and the Automatic Earth regularly has convinced me that sooner is better than later. So, I am taking an internship with a local farm/food security/youth education non-profit. They have two farm locations, run a CSA, teach classes in gardening skills, teach cooking in local schools, have set up small farmer’s markets in underserved neighborhoods, and a few other activities. So, three more months of land use planning and then I will launch my next career. Pretty exciting for me. I will learn farm-scale growing and the marketing/sales/CSA skills needed to make farming financially viable.

  7. bryan says:

    My wife & I grew up with snowy winters but are living in the wet tropics temporarily.

    We look for and harvest public mangos & coconuts. It’s mango season so we’ve eaten hundreds, frozen many, made mango chutney. Picked up 25 coconuts from a neighbour (with a huge suburban food garden). Parts for a solar dehydrator sit but now during “the Wet” things will just go mouldy. A banana slowly grows in the backyard but since we’re house-sitting we have not planted anything. A few excess kg of rice in steel tins to keep out the damp & bugs.

    However we formed a group called “FoodCare” to defeat the industrial food system. After some head scratching we U-turned from wasted letters to government to Permaculture Blitz’s - once a month 10-30 people show up and destroy a lawn, then plant something edible. A few free movie nights to get “the Public” to notice.

    My University education was aiming for genetic engineering; I now buy my Organic Bananas from a professor with the same background! We now know what to do with banana blossoms and loufas, paw paw(papaya), jack fruit, dragon fruit, durians, but taro still has us stumped. The compost bin always seems to be on the verge of exploding with it’s ecosystem of fruit rinds feeding maggots eaten by green tree ants; The 500 or so green tree frog tadpoles in the backyard are just starting to show legs so if we’re lucky there will soon be an army of mosquito eaters. Unfortunately we loose a few each night to the lizards, one of whom fell into the pool at this instant so I’d better go rescue him.

    My pilot job involves burning Jet Fuel to help produce Pearls so I know I’m in trouble: My hobby is riding and fixing bicycles so I live with a fall-back.

    After years of looking my wife & I just bought 60 acres of farmland in in a cold place (I’m betting will get warmer) 4 km from the center of town. A community that I think can be made into something survivable, with some relatives, lots of greenies and thousands of km from any cities.

    Now the only issue is getting this up and running 5 years too late and 15,000 km away. Here is where the risk of Peak Oil and Societal collapse runs into the decisions I made as a 15 year old and the modern economy. Do we try for a quick driving tour of Australia before that option is gone forever?

    Phrases like Dichotomy, Manic Depressive, environmental Cassandras, worrywart, mitigation, lifeboat run through my head surrounded by a society of air conditioners, big cars driving fast and the new suburbs planned 20 km out with no public transport (well, a few buses). At least we burn natural gas, not coal for electricity here.

  8. TheNormalMiddle says:

    Mine is really simple but I’m just getting in the groove with this.

    I planted my garlic a few weeks late, but my little herb garden outback isn’t frozen yet, so I did it this weekend. My harvest will be a little late but I can handle it…nothing like fresh garlic in the summer!

    Budget is ridiculously tight with dh on shorttime and me getting paid once a month. I am going to take about $50 and go to the store and get some canned and frozen veggies, dried rice and beans to start stocking up better. We just haven’t been able to do it.

    I am trying to cook ahead for the next few weeks—-Christmas and 3 birthdays in our house in the next 2 weeks AND my daughter is having some surgery at the children’s hospital so this will save me time when life gets really busy really soon.

    Need to sign up for my CSA before Jan. so I can take advantage of a cheaper rate.

    At least I’m getting started….

  9. Jenn says:

    I’ve been writing about this in a bit more detail over at my blog, but right now my main efforts are focused on things that can be done without a garden since I don’t have one, and even if I did it would be under a foot of snow right now. So, I haven’t planted or preserved much, but I have added to my food stores, picked up some more supplies (flashlight, crank radio, lamp oil, blankets, canning jars, manual grinder, washboard), tried some new recipes, and started organizing my pantry and home in an effort to make everything fit and still have room for activities. It feels like there’s a lot to be done, but I try to remember that every little bit helps.

  10. Shaunta says:

    Plant Something: I’ve been disheartened that my first attempt at gardening (this past spring) was just about a complete bust. I did learn a lot though. I’ve been making room in our extra kitchen (we rent both sides of a duplex) under a window for setting up some things to grow indoors this winter/spring.

    Harvest Something: Again, my garden failed miserably. So nothing here.

    Preserve something: I’ve decided that this winter I’m going to buy fresh produce in bulk when it’s in season, on sale, and from a neighboring state, and process it. I asked my husband to buy me a pressure canner for Christmas. I bought a huge box of oranges from California (I’m in Nevada) and I’ll be making a big ol’ batch of Marmalade.

    Store something: I’ve been stocking up on my grocery store’s loss leaders for the last several months. I bought two cases of big cans of pumpkin for 99 cents a can (it’s normally about 3.00 in my area.) That sort of thing. We’ve got our stores up very nicely that way. This week it’s peanut butter! YUM.

    Manage Reserves: I made some turkey soup using the left overs from Thanksgiving. We cleaned out our freezer and moved some cold-store stuff out to our unheated laundry room. As I mentioned, we live in both sides of a duplex, so we have two unheated laundry rooms which means we have plenty of space for cold storage.

    Cook Something New: I’ve been making a big double batch of soup every Sunday for the upcoming week. Today I made Pumpkin Tomato soup and it’s unbelievable. Last week was a turkey soup with Brussels sprouts and brown rice. And the week before Tortilla soup. Mmm.

    Prep Something: I bought three big boxes of matches. We also got the kids bicycles and a wagon for Christmas, and a family gift of tents and sleeping bags.

    Reduce Waste: My family has made a New Year’s resolution early to stop buying individually packaged drinks.

    Learn a New Skill: I think making soup from scratch counts. I’d never done it before.

    Work on Community Food Security: We went and looked at a house for sale that’s directly behind my parents-in-law on a rural road. It would be a family compound. In the process of looking at it, I spoke a lot to my MIL about how important having food security is and we made plans for working together to make sure that we and our large extended family are taken care of in the case of a disaster. Most of our family lives in Las Vegas, which is worrying because it has to be one of the least sustainable places on Earth.

    Regenerate What Is Lost: I spoke with another woman in town about the possibility of starting a community school. I’ve worked to keep up my reputation as a teacher, even though I’m a counselor now, so that in the event that the schools close I’ll be in a position to help start a community program for keeping education going.

  11. Michelle says:

    I’m still a beginner but here’s what little I’ve/we’ve managed to do:

    Plant something: We planted several raspberry bushes in the front yard.

    Harvest something: Nada.

    Preserve something: Nada

    Store something: We are ramping up our food storage efforts. Still don’t have a lot, but are making inroads.

    Manage reserves: We do rotate food stock out as new goes in. Currently, that’s all we need to do in order to manage what we have.

    Cook something new: I made a moderately edible turkey casserole. Plan to tweak the recipe into something better since I have turkey to burn. I also hope to make a lentil kielbasa soup in the slow cooker this week.

    Learned a new skill: Does math count? Because I’ve been reviewing math in anticipation of tutoring at-risk kids. I did 2 fraction workbooks and have a pre-algebra one waiting. I also have a herb book as I’ve decided to learn about herbal remedies and hope to (after the holiday madness) learn how to make salves and tinctures etc…

    Prep something: Umm, no. Nothing new here. Someone mentioned matches, that’s probably a good idea. What I’d like to do is look at moving from electric lights to solar lanterns or LED lanterns, but that’s on the wish list.

    Reduce waste: We are pretty good about electric usage and water. I reuse water whenever possible and try to capture water for reuse from running faucets and am weighing the impact of simply nuking water hot for warming bottles vs. letting the water run until its hot. I was shocked to see our gas usage was up, I have no idea why as we’ve been actively conserving for the first time ever and I have not once bumped up the thermostat like I used to. Maybe the basement gas fireplace is a problem? We only use it when we are down there, I don’t know. Maybe it’s an energy sink.

    Also, I don’t know if this counts, but for Xmas, I have either bought local, bought green,bought fair trade or reused.

    Work on Community Food Security: I’ve been reading about the transition town (do I have the name right?) project and thinking about what I could do locally. I also found a local PO group and hope to go to a meeting, but am leery since they seem to be of the militia gun toting PO ilk, which is not my demographic.

    Regenerate what is lost: Nada.

    So much more to do!


  12. Fern says:

    Planting: Planting onions every week, for scallions over the winter. Starting sprouts every week for cooking and salads.

    Harvesting: Harvesting green onions for cooking as needed, as well as sage, rosemary, and oregano from the herb garden, harvesting sprouts. Have WAY too many mung bean sprouts.

    Preserving: Didn’t preserve a thing.

    Storage: Got a bit more coffee, and ran into a sale on dry kidney beans so got lot of them.

    Managing reserves: Dug out grease pencils, now using them to date leftovers in plastic containers in fridge and containers and bags in the freezer.

    Cooking new: introduced the family to radish sprouts. They weren’t impressed with them at first, but love them in miso soup. Tried bean sprouts in korean scallion pancakes, that went well.

    Preps: Got a kerosene lamp from Freecycle.

    New skill: installed programmable thermostat, my first forey into wiring.

    Community: donated to food bank, schmoozed with neighbors.

  13. Kelli Brew says:

    Planted: Transplanted baby lettuces from flat to garden. Sowed carrot seeds (we’re in North Florida).

    Harvested: Lettuce.

    Preserved: Blanched and froze mustard, collard and turnip greens.

    Stored 15 lb. bag kidney beans; 25 lb. bags white and whole wheat flour; 50 lb. bag sugar; three cases canned tomtoes.

    Managed Reserves: Reorganized refrigerated produce and marked on refrigerator door what needed to be eaten first. Used frozed green peppers to make room for incoming frozen greens.

    Cooked something new: Added chopped turnips (prolific at local market) to soup this week - very tasty and a little sweet.

    Prepped something: Tricky for us, since we live in a “house of hospitality” that provides necessary items to folks who are already in an emergency situation - and are constantly depleting our supply. I did buy some drastically reduced soap at a local store to save for the future.

    Reduced waste: Made fridge list of things that are put in by date - also made handy masking tape and a sharpie marker for marking jars of leftovers with name and date.

    Learned a new skill: Not this week…

    Work on Community Food Security: Worked in garden with children at a community center, made soup from local produce for our weekly cafe (“soup kitchen,” taught neighbors to bake bread.

    Tikkum olam: Taught college students and neighbors to sew on a sewing machine and cut out clothes from a pattern - using repurposed fabric (sheets).

    Thanks for making the space to write about these things, Sharon. It’s vitalizing to hear what others are doing.

  14. Shelley says:

    Well, I just learned how to make chapati bread. Wow! It’s so incredibly easy! I feel so silly that I’ve actually paid money for them in stores these past few years. We are Orthodox Christian and we fast from meat during Advent so I have been learning to make a lot of food that is cheap and nutritious….and Indian food is high on that list. I made East Indian red lentil dahl and these chapati’s. Everything I used can be stored dry for eons and the entire nutritious meal cost maybe a dollar for all of us. A dollar! Wow!

    I recommend the cookbook I got it from called Extending the Table. It’s all kinds of nutritious foods from indiginous cultures around the world…the third world, we call it. All of these foods are simple, made from storable things, very inexpensive, and just good stewardship in general.

    And chapati’s are sooo yummy!

  15. Bruce says:

    GREAT post! But, as to recycling, rather than PAY for doing it, why not GET PAID for doing it? In most cities there is a recycling business (heck ours has one with a population of 3,200). They pay 10 cents/lb for batteries, 50 cents/lb for aluminum, 4 cents/lb for steel, and so on.

    As to food storage, please read our posting on how long regular, store-bought, food will store (100+ years) at (this page is a business-killer for us, but we want you to be prepared).

    Best regards,


  16. Gail says:

    Hello from Colorado
    All of this in no particular order.

    Harvested some greens from my cold frame experiment! Tiny little spinaches, but I was so proud. I cooked some beans on the fireplace insert on the cold day when we kept the fire going. Roommate brought dozens on pears home from the food bank and I dehydrated them. He loves them and now won’t eat the canned ones. I bought firewood. I also invested in a paper shredder and am using it for chicken bedding and to increase the carbon in the compost pile. The market for recyclables has apparently collapsed … I am trying to think of creative ways to deal with this. I bought another oil lamp at the flea market. I traded in my old Xmas lights at the city utilities event and bought LEDs instead. I am reading Garbageland and Just in Case. I am making crib sheets from old flannel sheets bought from the thrift store, also diapers. Since I have, quite unexpectedly, had a quite profitable year, I am giving back 10% to local charities $50 at a time. I also invested by joining the local living economy nonprofit. I have hardly been to the grocery store these past few months. Eating out of storage is so easy! Sewer line problems persist, so, more or less, I’m trying the cloth wipe approach. Not too big a deal. Saves on TP.

  17. sealander says:

    It’s summer here down under:
    Planted: zuchini, pepers, tomatoes, pumpkin…..way behind on all that stuff as we had a very late unseasonal frost in November. Very very dry right now so not having much luck with direct sown seed, even with regular watering.
    Harvested: raspberries, tayberries, eggs, greens, herbs for tea, corn salad and mizuna seed. Nothing much else available right now…the spring ‘hungry gap’ has, ahem, stretched into early summer this year. Better planning required next time. And less cats digging up my carrots :)
    Preserved: made a pile of Christmas chutney for gifts (apple-walnut-raisin), and strawberry jam (strawberries are cheap right now). Dried strawberries, asparagus, mushrooms and nectarines.
    Cooked something new: Going to try making apricot sauce to go with the pork tonight.
    Learned a new skill: Have mastered youghurt making, now I need to figure out how to make the family eat it.
    Reduced waste: started feeding paper towels and cardboard toilet rolls to worm farm.
    Prepped: Stored water bottles with filters.
    Community: Donated to City Mission foodbank.

  18. Susan in NJ says:

    Plant: Potted up oregano, lemon and english thyme, chives, parsley and a lettuce volunteer for inside

    Harvest: potatoes, rosemary, thyme, sage, green onion tops, basil leaves

    Preserve: dried basil leaves; roasted pumpkin seeds; froze homegrown pumpkin pulp, local cranberries, and cooked local turkey

    Store: two half bushels of apples, 10# onions; a makeshift root cellar- chest full of roots and similar from the last farmer’s market; chocolate from a sad going out of business sale

    Manage: Started and am working on keeping current a notebook inventory system and labelling the incoming stuff; checked the various storage areas for temp/humidity and moved/cooled w/ ice packs as necessary; babying along some outside herbs until I can process them or ‘weatherize’ them

    Prep: Got a crock to make sauerkraut; expanded water storage; started swimming again now that the outdoor gardening is winding down

    Cook New: celery root, ginger & potato soup; pizza w/ homemade yeast crust; braised kale and turnips; a new apple coffee cake recipe that needs more tweaking; cooked a fresh turkey for the first time

    Reduce Waste: nothing particularly new, except for scavenging my neighbors soda bottles out of their recycling bins for water storage. Straightened up the compost bins and bagged up leaves for when there’s more room therein.

    New Skill: no

    Community Extension: Found a local winter meat/cheese/eggs program; cooked and ate a really local thanksgiving; lent Sharon’s book to my assistant and got copies for my SIL’s; waved to my neighbors and smiled; donated canned goods and $ to food banks

    Regenerate: working on end of year contributions

  19. Edward Bryant says:

    Found some nice blewits that had come up alongside the chicken tractor. Yummy with omelets.

    Inoculated these purple beauties years ago and they just keep coming. They move around though, so you must keep your eyes open…accidentally stepped on some others while making a new spot for the chicken tractor to move to next; bummer.

  20. Shira says:

    Rosemary and winter squash out of the garden went to the food bank. Sausage made and frozen. The cider has stopped bubbling and I really need to get it out of the primary fermentation bucket and into bottles. My friend’s goat ate a bunch of windfall apples and I hoping that it will help control the coddling moth by interrupting their life cycles.

    The garden is down to kale, leeks and bok choi, but it’s great to have green stuff. The deer ate the beets. “Planting” has taken the form of drooling over the seed catalogs that have started to arrive. Seed donations are tight this year. I saved seed last fall for my beginning gardeners, and it’s a good thing, as what I have already may be what they get.

    Shira in Bellingham, WA

  21. Rob says:

    Plant something: Planted some new chives

    Harvest something: No but used some garlic scapes

    Manage something: Made up a container of Cocoa Mix and one of Russian Tea, (not for gifts)
    Cook Something New: OK, Here goes-


    4 strips of Morningstar Veggie bacon strips
    3 slices of tomatoLettuce
    About 1 tbsp of mayo2 slices of bread

    Prepare veggie bacon per directions-Spread mayo on bread- then layer the lettuce, tomato and cooked veggiebacon.For a little zip and tang, add some Chipolte or Hot Sauce.

    I also made Rachel Ray’s “Love Birds” –Chicken in Puff Pastry with Fig- I couldn’t find fig preserves so I used dried figs cut up instead

    And I made Sugar Free Peanut Brittle

    Work on Local Food Systems: Just buying local apples at the green grocer, about it

    Re-Cycle, Re-Use, Re-Duce, Repair or Compost something: Got some Fir tree Boughs for free when my mom’s apartment complex cut down a bunch of trees and made Door Boughs out of them for my mom and myself; Of course threw what I didn’t use in the compost pile; recycled some printer ink cartridges and two cell phones- sent them in to PetsMart’s Charities. I got a mailer at the local petsmart and sent them in- Not only recycling but helping out homeless pets as well! TWOFER!
    Learn a skill: Learned how to Clarify butter and how to make (distill) Rose Water

    Regenerate: Well I guess recycling a cell phone ans 4 spent ink cartidges to help Pets Smarts’ Charities would count. Wouldn’t it?

  22. Laurie in MN says:

    I made bread yesterday for the first. time. ever. And it turned out pretty darn good! Yay, me! :) Plain old white bread, but it’s a start.

    Trying a new recipe for potato soup in the crockpot tomorrow.

    We must not keep the house cool enough — the basil is struggling along nicely, as is the rosemary, which has gotten really *leggy*, but seems to be surviving on the short amount of wintery sunlight coming through the east window in my studio. (Can’t move the plants anywhere else — my Boy Cat *loves* basil! I’d have no plants and sick kitties all over my house.) The oregano, oddly, seems to be enjoying the new situation now that I’m watering it on ITS schedule. Hey, as long as I get through winter with live plants to put back in the garden, I’ll be happy. I’ll probably need some advice on how best to transition them back to outside, however….

  23. Kati says:

    My participation in the Independence Days challenge has unfortunately ground almost completely to a halt for the winter. It’s just too cold out to grow anything, and even the couple of house plants I have (including one pepper plant from this past summer that’s survived till now) are in decline due to the lack of sunlight we get this time of year. There’s just not enough light to grow plants well inside, even on the East side of the house (no windows on the south side). Certainly no planting going on.

    Harvesting: very close to harvesting the 3 peppers from my pepper plant. They’re a hungarian sweet red pepper (look like a chili pepper) that I think may turn out to be the peppers that paprika comes from. The hubby is looking forward to trying one just to munch on. I’m looking forward to saving the seeds from these 3 for next year’s planting, hopefully passing some seed on to other folks. I recall you mentioning something about the seed from consecutive generations of plants resulting in hardier plants than the parent. I’m hoping this holds true enough that my pepper could be grown outside for most of the year this coming year, instead of inside on my kitchen window-sill. And MORE peppers next year. Enough to REALLY result in a jar of paprika. *grin*

    Preserved: Not in a while, and now waiting for those peppers to ripen completely. Hopefully this week I’ll get to dehydrate them then grind them into powder and store. The sauerkraut I was trying to make didn’t take, and has all gotten kinda moldy looking (more mildewey, actually) IN the jar, IN the fridge. *sigh* That’s 3 heads of cabbage gone to waste.

    Managed: The usual canned goods and fresh fruit (apples, sweet potatoes, squash) rotation. Unfortunately the hubby brought home 3 (yes, THREE) large cabbages from the garden at the the inlaws place, and they sat on the washer in my laundry room (the coolest area of the house) and went bad so quickly that I didn’t have time to get anything done with them. They wound up at the dump. *sigh*

    Stored: Actually, haven’t gotten to store very much lately. No fresh goodies to preserve this time of year, no garage saling to be done. Yarn, fabric and canned goods from the grocery store are pretty well all I can find to store. And even then, we’ve been EATTING from our stores lately because the financials have finally hit us. Not terribly hard, but hard enough to make this christmas a slim one and require me to keep my weekly grocery shopping to a rather bare minimum. But I HAVE taken the chance to store things like pumpkin and cranberry sauce and pie filling, while it was available.

    Cooked: I made stew and used some home-grown potatoes, and some foraged (from my back yard) lambs-quarters, as well as some moose that a friend gave us when his family moved out of state. The carrots, celery and onion were all store-bought, though. (Not that stew is a NEW recipe for us, but using the home-grown goodies, except the moose-meat, was new to me.)

    Prepped: Unfortunately haven’t had the $$ to do very much prepping in the last month or so. I buy an extra box of matches, a 3-pack of sternos, or a baggie of 50 tea-lights when I can spare it from the grocery budget, but that’s pretty well the limit lately. My mom sent me an early birthday present of a $100 GC, and I’m going to use it probably to buy a couple of prepping books (Your _Depletion and Abundance_, Sharon, and that Kathy Harrison “Just in Case” book, which was already on my wishlist before you mentioned it the other day).

    Reduced: Nada. Again with the, everything is frozen solid bit. Unfortunately my compost heap froze solid, as did the bucket that I throw fresh stuff into that sits right outside the back door, before I could get it all stirred up and put to bed for the winter. Which means I’ve got no where to put any new waste stuffs, except the trash bin. And our city is horrible for the recycling, though I feel really crappy now every time I put a tin can in the trash.

    Local Food Systems: I bought a single little jar of locally grown jam and in talking to the lady who was selling them, found out that not only is there a farmer up in the hills growing apples now (which really don’t grow very well around here), but also cherries and pears.

    Learn New Skill: haven’t had time between homeschooling and work and hockey. But I suppose just learning how best to school my daughter may qualify.

    Regenerate: Um. Nope. Will try in the future though.

  24. ehswan says:

    I like this comment stream; seems like a viable future. As for what I have done. My dad died and then my mom nearly died and I came and got her and brought her to where I live in central Kentucky where she and I and 7 cats and inumerable birds and other creatures are thriving, thanks to her. It seems that life thrives where there is love.

  25. Prudent Homemaker says:

    Harvested: all the rest of the tomatoes from the garden. We got our first frost yesterday. I’ll probably harvest some turnips for dinner tonight.

    I will preserve tomato pickles this week.

    We are getting snow, which is unusual for her, so tonight I will probably be wrapping my citrus trees-a new skill for me.

    I’ll be mending and sewing the rest of this week. I am sewing handkercheifs from an old sheet for Christmas gifts.

  26. Mangchild says:

    I’d love to join! Little late for the first 2 weeks I know, but seeing others blog about this has inspired me to take the plunge, even though it is daunting. Deep breath, and into the pool I go!

  27. Independence Days Challenge: Week 3 « Living In A Local Zone says:

    [...] Challenge) Tags: 2009 garden plan, canning, Independence Days Challenge, local in the world, news Independence Days Challenge.  I know, I’m very late posting this one, but ooof, its been a tough week or so mentally at [...]

  28. Independence Days Challenge: Week 4 « Living In A Local Zone says:

    [...] mindfulness, potatoes, questions Well, not really Week 4, but Week 4 reporting in for the Independence Days Challenge.  Its been… well, better than it has been! I’m back on the bandwagon for this [...]

  29. Dweller on the Threshold says:

    [...] (and forgetting) my own categories this week, I’m going to rely on the rubric for the Independence Days challenge as I do my (hopefully) weekly [...]

  30. Dweller on the Threshold says:

    [...] 7, 2008 in Uncategorized There are two new categories to Independence Days, so I’m going to add them here as an addendum to my last [...]

  31. Anonymous says:

    nice one…

  32. Anonymous says:

    i am really interested to read it. it is intersting and awesome……

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