Archive for March, 2010

Stake Your Acre Challenge!

Sharon March 25th, 2010

I’m not the challenge queen – that title could go to her Crunchiness , with whom you can freeze your buns, change your menstrual supplies and do a host of other moderately sexualized activities for fun and ecological profit or to Chile, who is currently preoccupied with moving house but regularly gets folks using their sun ovens, eating more locally and moving more. In all these years, I’ve only done the one, my Independence Days Challenge, now in its third year.

But I feel it may be time to diversify – I’ve been mulling over other possible challenges for a bit, and finally one came to me that feels right. I’m calling it the “stake your acre” challenge. And the sum of it is this – I want everyone who can to find an acre of land and tend it. There are so many profound pressures on the land and people around us – our places need us to take more responsibility for them, for keeping them safe, clean, humane, wild….

But, you argue, I don’t own an acre of land. And that, my dear friends, is precisely the point. This is not about private ownership – the only and best way to tend what is damaged on the planet is not to own things privately. That is a luxury for those of us who are either fortunate enough to live in rural areas where land is cheap, or lucky enough to be rich or have family connections to land. Not all of us have the power of ownership, but that’s ok – this is about taking responsibility for your acre, and the living things within it – plant, animal, human, wild. You don’t need a contract to do that. Maybe you can’t do anything about your neighbor’s acres – or maybe you can do something by getting involved, by modelling, by talking, by offering to help, by being a better neighbor, or simply by caring about a place that no one has ever looked at as a whole before.

In fact, even if, like me, you own land measured in acreage, I’d encourage you to stake an acre that isn’t fully your own – one that your road runs through, one that encompasses at least one neighbor if you can. Or one that at least makes good habitat for wildlife. This is not about possession, but about finding a manageable space and making it better. It isn’t about permanence – that is, if you move or change acres, go home from school or lose your home, just pick a new acre – there are more than enough that need someone to love them. Don’t pick the prettiest, best, already best cared for spot, if you can avoid it – the ugliest, dirtiest spots and the ones that need us most.

You can use google maps or pace it out, estimate or count city blocks, but choose an acre that surrounds you, is connected to your home, apartment, dorm room, and claim it. Make it yours, Stake your space (you need to plant a flag claiming it in the name of Mars, but I won’t stop you if you want to). Does it have to be an exact acre? Nope. And if you live in midtown Manhattan, maybe that’s too much – it can be half or a third. The point, however is a space beyond our private property, one large enough to offer some variety of people or creatures that live on it, and to offer some need.

Now what? What do we do after we’ve paced out our acre? Well, in the simplest terms, make it a better place. All of us have a limited amount of time and energy and resources, but each of us, adopting a manageable space as our own home can do something to improve it.

What can you do? Well, a lot of things. Clean it up, for starts – perhaps your acre needs someone to pick up trash or call a meeting to help neighbors learn about low-toxicity ways to treat lawns. Maybe it covered mostly with asphalt and needs some green to reduce the heat island effect and clean the air – maybe you can pass out potted tomatoes to neighbors, get the city to plant more trees, start a neighborhood garden or throw seedballs into the vacant lot. Maybe you can get your neighbor to reduce his spraying, or you can cut back on yours, and the chemicals you are putting into the groundwater – and talk about the benefits. Maybe you can learn about soil remediation and clean up heavy metal contamination on vacant lots, or make sure that the local kids aren’t playing on a lead-contaminated playground. Maybe you can make sure your animals aren’t contaminating the creek. Maybe you need to know more about the local ecology, and can talk to local resources, learn about water quality and plant life. Maybe it is time to walk your neighborhood, and see what needs to be done.

What else can you do? You can make it serve wild creatures, increase its biodiversity by planting new plants and making habitats for those already here – maybe you can plant native plants to attract birds and pollinators, begin keeping bees, plant trees that offer food for wildlife, reduce speed limits to keep wild creatures from being run over, create wildlife corridors, get people to bell their cats to protect songbirds. You can grow food for wildlife, or food for humans so that wildlife can grow in rural places – or both – a pasture, a forest, a swamp can serve all of those purposes.

What else can you do? What about the people there. Do you know the inhabitants of your acre? Do you look in on elderly and disabled neighbors? Do you talk to each other? Do you have common needs and wants? Maybe you can start a neighborhood assocation, throw a block party, start an internet group for sharing or bartering, get together to save money on food or have a kids clothings swap. Maybe you can talk about neighborhood watch or community gardens or something else. Maybe you can carpool or pick up groceries for someone who doesn’t drive. Maybe you can offer a hand, trade work weekends with others, babysit so someone can go on a job interview, offer a helping hand – and accept one. Maybe you can share something, or offer techniques to reduce carbon or pollution emissions. Maybe you can just share space companionably.

What else can you do? Can you meet some need with what’s already in your acre? Maybe there’s someone who can fix shoes or who would be grateful for a little money to help you clean or do yard work or fix your roof. Can you keep your dollars local by supporting local businesses. If there aren’t businesses, how about supporting local kids? Can you trade your skill at piano teaching for your neighbors’ gift at mending? Can you grow a business, start a cottage industry, grow food that your neighbors need on your acre? Can you help someone else do so?

Most of all, you can learn to love it. You can watch it. Measure it. See how the seasons change. You can talk to the people inside of it and see the way the wild creatures live. So much of the damage we’ve done comes because we do not even know what lives nearby, upstream, and who we might hurt by our actions. Learning and seeing are just as much our challenges as doing.

You aren’t going to do all these things magically, instantly, immediately. That’s too much for just one person. But one person, taking responsibility for a piece of land can do a lot. And you can and should partner with others – those who can stake out other, overlapping acreage, or those who want to help you with yours.

It isn’t a magic bullet or a perfect solution, but a hundred people tending a hundred acres and talking about it with their neighbors could improve a hundred acres – reduce pollution and trash, make space for wild creatures, give clean food and a helping hand to neighbors, build stronger communities on a hundred acres… and that’s no small thing. Just a drop in the bucket, of course, compared to what we need, but who cares? Drops eventually fill buckets.

And a thousand people, on a thousand acres – now that’s something to be proud of – protecting and tending a thousand acres is something any conservationist would be proud of. And the bucket gets a bit fuller.

I don’t have any grand illusions that this can save the world. But so much of what has happened has come because we didn’t look carefully at what we had, assumed that others would protect the world, assumed that things were someone else’s responsiblity. Staking your acre is about taking responsibility – not because you own it, not because you have to, but because you want to.

How much should you do each week? As much as you can – for some people, that’s a lot. For some people that’s a little. For some that’s a lot. But report and tell us – where is your acre? What did you do this week? What are you planning on doing? Maybe try every week to do a little something that makes your acre cleaner for everyone, and something for the wild things and something for the humans in your acre.

If there’s someone out there who wants to make up a cool logo to post, that would be awesome. Even better, if there’s someone who wants to set up a cool mapping system so that you can mark your acre and see other people’s acres and who is near you, that would be even more awesome.

Again, it isn’t a magic bullet. But an acre, well, that’s something. I ran a CSA off an acre once. I lived a whole life in a city in just a few acres once. And drops in buckets eventually fill them up to overflowing.

Food Storage and Preservation Class!

Sharon March 25th, 2010

I’ve had a lot of people ask when I was going to run food preservation and storage again, and ta da! I am.  I’m doing it as a six week course, run asynchronously online on from April 15 to the end of May.  I’ll put material up on Thursdays, but you can participate at your leisure.

The class will cover everything from the very basics of setting up a food reserve to more advanced food storage, the reasons for storing food and water, how to handle medications and special diets, deal with kids and elders, and how to save money doing it.   We’ll also cover all the major food preservation techniques, in time for the preserving season.  We’ll cover water bath and pressure canning, drying, season extension (ie, keeping food fresh longer), root cellaring, lactofermentation (ie, making fermented pickles, saeurkraut and kimchi and other fun stuff), basic dairying, preserving in salt and making liqueurs and other alcohol based treats and lots of other good stuff.  We’ll talk about how to take the next step in seasonal eating, insulate yourself from high prices by preserving and storing what’s in season and cheap and otherwise eat better for less.

Cost of the class is $150 or equivalent barter, but I also have five scholarship spots available for low income participants on request.  If you’d like to donate a scholarship or part of a scholarship so someone else can learn these skills, just let me know.   Email for a spot or more info at [email protected].

Independence Day Update: Drip. Drip. Drip.

Sharon March 23rd, 2010

The most important thing that has happened this week at our place is melting.  First we had record high temperatures, then we swung back to cooler weather, but with rain.  The four feet of snow that we started March with are now patchy bits, a lake in my backyard (happens every year during meltoff) and my creek rushing like a white water river. 

Otherwise, a combination of recovering from illness and exhaustion meant that mostly we kept things pretty quiet.  We’re doing spring cleaning to get ready for Passover and that’s taking up a good bit of time too.  Everyone came out and enjoyed the sunshine and the spring like weather.  Each day we walk to see if the peepers are peeping (not yet) and look at the daffodils and crocuses.  Not much is in bloom yet, but the pussy willows in the marsh are going, and that alone gives hope.  The redwings and spring birds are back, the wild ducks are in the marsh marigolds, and there’s hope.

You need hope, since the northeast has a season between winter and spring – mud.  For the better part of a month in March and early April, the world is grey and beige and wet and mucky.  Keeping floors clean is hopeless, at least if you’ve got kids and dogs.  Life is a swamp, and you just kind of go with it, knowing that in a few weeks, all will be green again.

We usually try and clean out the barn by mid-March, but things have been so wet that navigating into the garden is nigh-impossible, but the bunnies are clean at least.  The two does that were bred at the beginning of the month will kindle in a week or so, giving us our first litters of rabbits, if all goes well.

The plans for new raised beds and farmer’s markets are burgeoning, and the seed flats are filling up.  There’s excitement here every morning when we check to see what’s come up and what’s ready to transplant.

Ok, that’s probably about it.  On to the other stuff:

Planted: Tomatoes, ground cherries, catnip, pennyroyal, parsley, peppers, eggplant, snapdragons, broccoli, cabbage, kale, chard, bok choy, tree collards (from cuttings), Good King Henry, Malva, Verbena, Sweet Peas

Harvested: A few sorrel leaves, milk, eggs, prunings for the goats and rabbits

Preserved: Nothing

Waste Not: Usual composting, recycling, minimizing packaging, feeding things to other things.  Boxed up a lot of toddler things from Asher to go to various places for those in need.   

Want Not: Bought a couple of boxes of generic cheerios (my children’s crack-like addiction ;-) ).  Ordered more wheat and lentils.

Build Community Food Systems: Nothing, but planning something cool.

Eat the Food: Made baked stuffed potatoes with local mushrooms, my garlic and homemade goat cheese.  Really good. 

How about you?



Sharon March 23rd, 2010

Hi Folks – It has been a week since I hit the wall and took off from the computer, and I’m back, at least sort of.  The combination of a lingering illness, exhaustion from trying to finish the book, stress from a book not doing what I wanted to and just way too much time in front of the computer hit me all at once, and I really needed to step away for a while.

My wonderful editor at New Society (and the kind marketing director who I also dumped my stress on) have been really nice about my melt-down, and we’re talking now about a new deadline and release date for the book.  I’m very grateful to them.  My best guess is that the book will be due next spring, and will be released in fall 2011.  Despite the fact that I’ve had a lot of trouble with it, this is a book I’m really excited about – figuring out how to adapt your life to new circumstances, with what you’ve got, with the actual people in your life is, I think, a worthwhile project.  It just hasn’t been gelling for me, but being away from it for only a week has already helped me look at it more clearly, and I think it will be a lot better now.

Part of the problem has been that I set too fast a pace for myself.  I got the contract to write _Depletion and Abundance_ in March of 2007, and because Aaron and I had already been working on _A Nation of Farmers_ contracted to write that one immediately afterwards.  Before either even came out, I proposed putting my food storage material together for _Independence Days_.  In a bit under two years I wrote three books, and had I made my deadline for _Making Home_, would have completed four in three years.  I’ve been writing, editing or promoting a book (often both at once) nonstop for three years, and while I’ve never minded the hard work, I’m tired.  Most of all, I think I’m tired of the computer, and longing to get back outside.

But of course, as someone pointed out to me, the person putting me on this schedule is well, me.  A friend of mine, also a writer observed that normally, writers spend a year or two writing their books, but “you’re just weird.”  I think I’ve been driven by a combination of how important I think getting the message out is, and my worry that Eric will be laid off (as a non-tenured faculty member at a New York State University) and my writing will have to support us.  But it has finally occurred to me that driving myself clinically insane is probably not the best way to handle my concerns about the future ;-)

The funny thing is that I’m not usually a total overachiever – I’m much more of a slacker, and I think after three years of insane overachieving, my inner slacker is back.  This is actually probably a good thing, if my goal is (and it is) doing good work but also having good life. 

All of which is just a really long way of saying I’m back – to an extent.  I’m still going to try and spend much less time at the computer.  Right now, I think the book will be best served by my stepping away from it and focusing on other projects.  A little distance is worth a lot.  I’ll be blogging, but not nearly as much – first of all, I’m extending my internet vacation into a few weeks of half-time, so will be posting only a couple of days a week until the second week of April.  With Passover, spring and school vacation coming up, I’m going to take my time, sleep in, play with the kids and play in the dirt.

Once I come back, I’m planning on posting only three days a week, and I’m really going to try and stick to that schedule, so I can concentrate on new farm projects and getting my life back together.  For at least spring and summer, that’s my goal – we’ll see how well I resist the siren song of the internet, but I’m trying.

The good news is that I’m already feeling really refreshed and excited about some new stuff.  I’ve got a new challenge coming that I think is both cool and very inspiring, and the Artist Currently Known as Crunchy Chicken and I have a secret plan to take over the world.  I’m turning ye olde blogge into a working farm blog, and I have some other ideas.  So there’s lots of good stuff coming as the season turns. 

Thanks to everyone for your support, kindness and patience.  The blog is officially reopened…mostly.  Now back to your regularly scheduled apocalypse ;-)


Burned Out and Offline

Sharon March 16th, 2010

Hi Folks – I’m taking a week or so off from the internet and the computer.  I’m still having a tough time with the book and am talking to my editor about that, but most of all, I just need a break from the computer and some time away from the blog.  So no posting until further notice – back when I can be.  Apologies in advance if I owe you email.


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