Archive for April 28th, 2009

Independence Days Challenge, Year Two!

Sharon April 28th, 2009

Returning to your regularly scheduled program, time to really get started on the second year of the Independence Days project.  For those of you who participated before, the goal is to see if you can do even more than last year.  For those of you who are new to this, the goal is make sure that you make a little progress every day (or week, or whatever) towards your goals, and that you get to see and record that progress.  I think a lot of us have in our heads the idea that putting up food, or getting into the garden has to wait until we have time.  But of course, that time rarely arrives.  Thus, I’ve found it tremendously helpful to simply do a little bit each day.  It is also enormously useful to my morale to know that I got a little ahead in my goals that day - even when it is hard to believe it.

I wish I could take credit for coming up with the idea, but I stole the idea, the name and a lot of good other things from Carla Emery, author of the absolutely necessary _Encyclopedia of Country Living_ now in its 10th Edition.  Carla died a few years ago, and I was lucky enough to know her.  In the “all hands on deck” situation we’re in, I think her ideas and words are still desperately needed, even if she can’t be here herself:

“All spring I try to plant something every day - from late February, when the early peas and spinach and garlic can go in, on up to midsummer, when the main potato crop and the late beans and lettuce go in.  Then I switch over and make it my rule to try and get something put away for the winter every single day.  That lastas until the pumpkins and sunflowers and late squash and green tomatoes are in.  Then comes the struggle to get the most out of the stored food - all winter long.  It has to be checked regularly, and you’ll need to add to that day’s menu anything that’s on the verge of spoiling, wilting or otherwise becoming useless. 


People have to choose what they are going to struggle for.  Life is always a struggle, whether or not you’re struggling for anything worthwhile, so it might as well be for something worthwhile.  Independence days are worth struggling for.  They’re good for me, good for the country and good for growing children.”

When you do it piece by piece, a little at a time, when you start building in the time and space into your life, it turns out that the big struggle - for Independence Days - isn’t really such a day-to-day struggle at all.

In _Independence Days_ (which will actually be out in July, earlier than I expected!), I wrote on this point,

All of us need to devote some energy to fighting battles that will probably be lost, simply because we have an obligation to fight the good fight.  But most of us can’t live on a steady diet of tilting at windmills.  We also need to do work where we know we can accomplish something and where we know we matter.  That’s why I think food preservation and storage matter so much.  Ultimately, we are talking not only about the fairly manageable question of what to have for dinner, about about transforming our society, our use of energy, our food culture, and, of course, all of these things are a large part of our culture as a whole.”

It is easy to forget how important this “little stuff” is - easy to think that your little garden doesn’t matter very much, or that your preparations won’t be enough.  But we should also remember the exponential power of saying “no” and doing for ourselves.  The corrollary of the fact that every calorie of food takes 10 of fossil fuels is that every stir fry or salad you eat from your garden saves 10 times the oil as the calories contained within it.  The fact that almost every packaged ingredient uses 7 times as much energy to create that packaging means that your choice to buy bulk oatmeal just saved 7 times as much energy as the package contains.

In 1944, American Victory Gardens grew as much produce as did every vegetable farm in the country - fully half US produce came from home gardens. And while no one was sufficient, all together were something big.  Every bite of food you grow, every bite you preserve, every bit of waste you reduce is a contribution to a larger project - keeping everyone fed.  Every bit of compost you add to your soil, every bit of organic matter, every tree you plant is a contributor to a larger project - storing some of our emissions in soil, so we can have a future.  Small things are the roots of vast and powerful ones. 

Every kid who tastes a cherry tomato or a strawberry from your garden comes away with something that they take back to their homes and forward to the future.  Every neighbor who stops to chat as grow on your lawn or water the peppers in containers on your stoop is a new connection in your community, and a potential future gardener.  Every seed you plant multiplies and produces a hundred, or a thousand more seeds for next year (not to mention the food).  Every dollar you save you save on groceries that goes to the food pantry means your plot feeds not just you, but others.  Every time you point out that you are storing food and preparing for a different future, even if people don’t get it, a seed is planted somewhere in the back of their heads, where they realize…people kind of like me think about this stuff.  The future depends on a whole lot of little things.

I’ve quoted this poem from Marge Piercy before, but I think it bears repeating:

….Alone you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousands, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no, it starts
when you say “We”
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
-Marge Piercy “The Low Road”

As Carla says, you have to decide what you are going to struggle for.  This is where I’m putting my struggles - and my pleasures, because there’s nothing better than food you grow or preserve yourself, the sense of security and the ability to be generous that accompany a full pantry, the pleasure of serving others a good meal.

Ok, on to practicalities.  How do you sign up?  Post a message in comments!  When do you report?  I’m going to try and go back to weekly reports, but you should do it when you want to.  I’m deeming Monday as my official reporting day, because it means that I can tell you what you did on the weekend, and make it look good, but you should do it when you want.  Where do you report?  In comments here, or link to your blog!  Do I have to do every category every day/week?  Yes, absolutely, and if not, I will send my personal thugs over to your house to break your kneecaps ;-)  (note the smiley - the real answer is - No, of course not, do what you can when you can!) 

Is there a cool graphic?  There was last year - La Crunch made it for me (thank you Crunchy!) and I’m sure someone here can post in comments and tell you how to find it and put it up (I’m a techno-moron, so I’m not very helpful.)   What if I can’t do it one week?  So, you get up and do it the next week.  Should I tell you what I didn’t do, how I failed?  Absolutely not - this all about what you *did* accomplish - so even if it is one thing (and remember, btw, I’m a part-time professional farmer, so if you look at my list and think “oh, Sharon did this and all I did…”  you are doing it wrong - remember, until the International Olympic Committee makes gardening and food preservation a sport, you are officially forbidden to treat it like one ;-) )

Ok, overwhelmingly, people liked the categories, but a small minority felt (and I agree) that there were too many of them, and that they weren’t clear.  So I’ve decided to consolidate them somewhat, but keep them.  If you hate the categories, well, since I’m a lazy dictator, you can just go ahead and not use them.  So here they are:

1. Plant something - I doubt this one needs a lot of explanation.  Obviously, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are doing a lot of this right now, but it should be a reminder that gardening isn’t “put in the garden on memorial day and that’s it” - most of us can grow over a longer season than we do, and even if you live in an apartment, you can sprout seeds.  So keep on planting!

2. Harvest something - some people are full swing here, but even if you just picked the first dandelion from your yard, it counts if you ate it or saved it.  Don’t forget to include food you forage - whether from wild marginal areas, or even just from the neighbor’s trees that he never harvests (ask, obviously).

3. Preserve something - this starts around now for me, as asparagus, nettles and rhubarb are up.  Canning looks like a big scary project if you have to can a truckload of green beans on a hot day in July.  Dehydrating seems overwhelming if you have to pick the pits out of 4 bushels of plums in a single afternoon when you’d rather be doing something else.  And yes, sometimes everything comes ripe at once, some big jobs can’t be avoided, and you just put on the loud rock and roll and go at it.  But a little at a time is possible, you can be canning corn relish while you are washing up from dinner, or stick the strawberries in the sun to dry on your way out the door.

4. Reduce waste - This category covers both the old “Reduce Waste” and “Manage Reserves” group.  Once you’ve got food, whether purchased or home preserved, you have to keep an eye on it.  In this category goes making sure you use what you buy or grow, cutting down on garbage production by minimizing packaging and purchasing, composting, reducing community waste by composting or feeding scraps to your animals, and taking care of your food storage - everything from keeping records and writing dates on jars to checking the apples and making sauce when they start getting soft.  BTW, reduce waste also refers to money and energy - stretching out your trips to the store and not “spending” gas on your food, cutting your grocery budget and reducing cooking energy.

5. Preparation and Storage - This is the category where you report the stuff you’ve done to get ready that isn’t growing/storing/preserving food.  That means the food you buy for storage, the things you build, scavenge, rescue and repair that get you further down the path.  Did you get a good deal at goodwill? Scavenge some cinder blocks for your raised bed building project? Find a grain mill on Craigslist? Buy some more rice and put it away?  Inventory the medicine cabinet? Pick up a new book that will be helpful?  Tell us!

6. Build Community Food Systems - Great, we’re all doing this stuff at home.  But what did you do to help spread the message, because that may even be more important.  Did you talk about your victory garden at your kid’s school?  Offer to share space with a neighbor in your sunny yard?  Bring a casserole over to the family that lost their job or moved in?  Donate to your food pantry?  Teach the neighbor kids to make yogurt?  Offer to teach a canning class?  Show someone else where the nettles are growing wild?  Talk about your food storage or gardening plans?  Share a plant division or seeds? 

7. Eat the Food - Sometimes I think people have more trouble actually eating their garden produce or CSA shares than they do growing or buying them.  Ultimately, eaters have more power over our agricultural future than they know - farmers can’t necessarily lead the way - they have to sell what eaters want.  So cooking and eating are the way we will change the food system.  This is where you tell us about the new recipes you tried, or the old ones you adapted to new ingredients, about how you are actually eating what you store and store what you eat, or getting your kids to try the kale.

I’ve taken out most of the other categories, particularly “learn a skill” because I’ve got another challenge coming up later on that one.  I think seven is the maximum number I can manage personally. 

Ok, come Monday, I’m going to want to hear what you’ve been doing.  Welcome to Year 2 of the Independence Days Challenge!