Archive for September, 2011

Remembering Wangari Maathai

Sharon September 26th, 2011

Dr. Wangari Maathai died on Sunday at 71, of ovarian cancer. It is interesting to me that so many of the obituaries get her work wrong - consider what the New York Times says:

Dr. Maathai, one of the most widely respected women on the continent, wore many hats — environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977. Its mission was to plant trees across Kenya to fight erosion and to create firewood for fuel and jobs for women.

It is a small error, but an important one. Maathai did not wear many hats - it was all one hat. Her role empowering and educating women, repairing and protecting her beloved nation, mitigating climate change and improving the lives of the poorest people around her by enabling their subsistence, calling for justice at every turn - it was and is all one work. Maathai’s great gift was her ability to see the intersection between environmental, economic, political and gender justice - and that it is not possible to repair just one piece of the world at a time.

I think it is easier to imagine that being a feminist and an environmentalist are two different things, easier to imagine that caring about human rights and deforestation are two kinds of caring. In fact, Maathai saw a whole where we are falsely inclined to see pieces.  It was her vision that was right.

Some memories will always be for a blessing.


Time On My Hands…

Sharon September 19th, 2011

I’m finding myself not quite sure what to do with my free time.  Ok, there isn’t *that* much of it, of course - after all there’s the farm, the homeschooling, the four kids, the house, the book, the work on the ASPO-USA conference and my role as a board member, a couple of miscellaneous articles to write, and some other odds and ends.  Still, it does seem strange.

As you may remember, we lost pretty much all of our annual garden a few weeks ago when first Irene and then Lee hit the area.  The squash rotted, the beans drowned, most of the apples blew down, the sunflowers blew over, the corn failed to mature, the potatoes succumbed momentarily to hideous fungal diseases.  I’m not complaining - really, I’m not - so many people in my area suffered so much that there’s nothing to complain about.  But it did leave me with a problem - just as peak preserving season hit, I had nothing to preserve.  I still have some surviving tomatillos, but they aren’t mature yet, and the peaches made a crop, but those are put away.  There are a few herbs left to dry, and some roots to dig from perennial herb crops like marshmallow and elecampane, but that’s about it - nothing compared to the usual burst of time and attention.  Since most of the neighboring farms had the same problem, finding sources of produce to put up is also problematic - I should be able to fill the root cellar and get some fall raspberries for jam, but that may be about it.

There’s no fall garden - the storms hit in those critical few weeks after almost all the fall crops were in, and when it was too late to mature much of anything but spinach and arugula before winter.  I’ve a small bed of each, but that’s pretty much it.  The structure of the storms was to put a rapid end to the late summer workload.

Meanwhile, we had anticipated we’d probably have a foster placement by now (and it isn’t like the social workers can conjure one or like we really can wish some poor group of kids would lose their home) and all of a sudden, I’m at loose ends.  Ok, they aren’t very loose - in fact, I should be working every second on my book.  But, well, I’m not - and I can’t.  During times when Eric is working, I could be preserving, but I couldn’t be off on the computer while the kids make mayhem.

Perhaps conveniently, I’ve been sick for a couple of weeks - nothing exciting, just a progression of minor viral things that lay me low.  My theory is that they are trying to get me comfortable with sitting on my butt drinking tea and reading an novel - and I did some of that.  It wasn’t as much fun as I remembered, though.

The problem, I’m finding, is that I’ve lost my taste for sitting around.  Oh, in the evenings, after chores, sure.  But after so many years of being so busy and working so hard, I find myself at loose ends.  Sometimes it is nice - time for walks and snuggles with the boys and odd jobs I’ve been putting off.  Some things get done better than before - my house is somewhat tidier, I cook more innovatively, my mending pile has shrunk, but let’s be honest - most of the time I’m just not desperate enough to clean or hem pants ;-) .

Instead, I find myself missing the structure of the dehydrator, wanting an herb drying room filled with boneset and peppermint.  I long for curing squash and sweet potatoes and the work of digging turnips.  I’m not sure why I miss these things - more leisure is a good thing, right?  Some parts are nice, but what I’ve learned is that both body and mind long for the discipline and joy of farmwork - if I needed confirmation I love my life, when a portion of it was removed, it called out to me.  Strange, but wonderful - to know that the dirt and I miss each other.


Advanced Adapting in Place

Sharon September 12th, 2011

As I begin the final push on _Making Home_ my book on Adapting in Place (out next spring), Aaron and I will be offering the first ever “Advanced AIP Class” running from Tuesday, September 20 to October 25th. The class will build on the basic Adapting-In-Place skills that we’ve been talking about all these years in my classes, the blogs, etc… - triaging your situation, thinking about scenarios, and building both personal and community resilience, but this class moves beyond the basics into the larger question of how to make a life that both provides you some insulation from tough times, but also works across a range of circumstances and for you right now. The question is how to optimize - to be secure, to be content, to be ready, to be happy.

For those of you who have taken the classes previously, or who want to build on skills you’ve been working on for a while, the class will help everyone do a full evaluation of their resources and skills, and design short and longer term plans for how to move forward in the circumstances we actually have and in the ones we anticipate. We’ll look at the next steps in building stronger communities, optimizing our home resources, and keeping secure in tough economic times. We’ll go over a range of possible scenarios and try and figure out what practices work best - and what practices will make your life better no matter what.

We’re very excited about the class, and welcome both people who have taken our previous Adapting-in-Place classes and those who are coming to this with some experience in personal adaptation and community building.

The class is online and asynchronous - there is no requirement you be online at any particular time. The time commitment is 5-10 hours per week, but the archived material remains available in perpetuity so that if you miss a week, you can go back and reconsider it. The class includes design help and telephone discussion as well as internet materials.

The cost of the class is $180. We do have available five free scholarship spots for low-income participants, on a first-come, first-served basis. We also gladly accept donations to make additional scholarship spots available - 100% of all donations go to additional class spaces.

Please email me at [email protected] for more information or to register.


How To Help Folks Recovering From the Flooding

Sharon September 12th, 2011


A number of you have requested information about where to donate to in order to help folks in the northeast who are recovering from the floods. Please do donate if you can - there’s a lot of need out here, some of which is evolving as it finally dries up and the sun comes out! There’s a long slog ahead of a lot of folks here.

For Vermont Farmers, NOFA VT has put together a farmer emergency fund to provide grants for farmers who lost crops and livestock.

(BTW, I’m more than a little stunned that NOFA-NY has absolutely nothing on their website about NY farmers, flood relief or anything else, much less any fund that I can find. That’s very disappointing.)

The Schoharie County Community Action Fund is putting 100% of all donations to local relief in the worst hit areas of upstate NY. They don’t have an online donation set-up, but you can send a check to:

Schoharie County Community Action Program

795 East Main Street Suite 5

Cobleskill, New York 12043-1436

The Vermont Community Foundation has a number of special funds for Vemont residents and farmers in need.
If you live in and around my area, State Senator Patty Richie has set up a collection drive for urgently needed goods - canned foods, diapers, formula, clothes, etc…. are all needed for those living in shelters or sheltering with friends and family. If you click through you can also see some pictures of what it looks like around here.

The Capital District Farmer’s Market is collecting to help local farmers rebuild here in New York State.

The Vermont Community Fund has a number of different funds available to help out both farmers and other victims with grants to meet urgent needs.

There is an awful lot of need here - I’m very grateful for my readers’ generosity!