Sharon February 23rd, 2008

victory gardenAbout the Site:

Welcome to The Chatelaine’s Keys. This blog has several simultaneous and intertwined projects.  The first is that it functions as my family’s farm blog, documenting our work here in creating a sustainable agriculture and a family farm with a future.

The second is that this blog is a place for me to bring together my work on agriculture, food systems, food storage and preservation and my ongoing exploration of our future with a community of readers engaged with the same problems and ideas.  This is a place for us to share thoughts from the pragmatic (How do I keep carrots over the winter?  Anyone have a good recipe for swiss cheese?  Is it safe to can tomatoes in a water bath?) to the slightly more abstract (How will our shared ecological crisis reshape our sense of self?  What will women’s roles in the future be?  Where are we going and how do we get there?)

My work here and at Science Blogs: www.scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook  chronicles  the  exploration of our future, one that cannot but be shaped by peak oil, climate change and economic instability. I believe passionately that these crises are not the end of our world, but that they must be faced squarely, honestly and with integrity in the true sense of the world – the integration of our whole lives into our ethical principles.

My focus is on families of every shape and kind, and on what is achievable for ordinary people, with ordinary skills and ordinary budgets, and on the basic work of subsistence, which should not be a dirty word. I believe that most of us can reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, help mitigate global warming, create local food systems and enable the creation of a life of abundance, even in the face of depletion.

I also believe that it is possible to develop strategies to do this on a larger scale than in our immediate communities as well. Thus this website invokes Victory Gardens and past times of national unity and self-sacrifice as a model of what we could do. In this, the past has a great deal to teach us about how to live well and happily with much less than most people do.

60 years ago, we faced an enormous crisis. Fascist expansionism, and the danger of new weapons in terrible hands pushed the entire country to work together. Everyone in the US and among our allies made sacrifices unimaginable to most of us. Young men went to war by the tens of thousands – every mother, father, sister, brother, wife had a family member in the war. People stood up to be the first in line to sign up to serve their nation. And everyone who couldn’t go to war did all they could. They had meatless days, gas rationing, wheatless days. They saved tinfoil and old clothes to make bandages, they knit socks and baked. Women who’d never held a job went into the factories and out to the fields to take over the work of men who had to leave. The economy was devoted to preventing a fascist empire, and to keeping our nation safe. Everyone from the president of the US to the children who collected cans were working together towards the same goal.

Today, we face a crisis of even greater magnitude. Despite the name of the website and the references to the World Wars, no this isn’t the crisis the present administration is manufacturing by destroying Iraq. We must drop our emissions of carbon down dramatically, if we’re to maintain a healthy planet, stay safe from hunger due to drought and flooding, and prevent the spread of disease. If we are to have enough energy to ensure that we and the rest of the world have food, medicine, shelter and clean water, we have no choice but to conserve radically and prepare for the coming energy crisis. Our economy and our political reserves are heavily overdrawn as we try to maintain wars on several fronts, while spending like there’s no tomorrow in Washington. Our own Department of Energy and NASA tell us that unless we turn all our energies to preparing for an energy crisis and dealing with climate change, we’re not going to make it. But our leaders aren’t leading us there – they are distracted by other agendas.

Once, presidents called on us to sacrifice, to work together for the sake of our nation and the world as a whole. This time, the call has to come from the bottom up, since our leaders won‘t lead, from the citizens who see what a bleak future we could have and want to change it. We need to work together on the same scale that we did during World War II, conserving resources, building infrastructure, changing our world so that we can go into the future, heads held high, knowing we both did what was necessary and did right to preserve our future and the future of our children and grandchildren. Our leaders have made it clear that they aren’t prepared to take us where we need to go, so all of us must lead the leaders. They think that Americans are too foolish and selfish to understand the need for sacrifice, and too accustomed to our wealth and privelege to be willing to give things up so that our children and grandchildren can have a better life. But that’s simply wrong. We have the courage, the intelligence, the ability and the sense of justice to do it. And this website is dedicated to helping each of us find our way to preserve resources for a common future.

About Me

Sharon Astyk is a writer, teacher, blogger, polymath and farmer who covers issues that range from agiculture to energy policy, from food preservation and cooking to religious life and democracy, while trying to live a life that corresponds with her principles.  Some days she even succeeds.   She is the author of three books: Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front, which explores the impact that energy depletion, climate change and our financial instability are likely to have on our future, and what we can do about it.  Depletion and Abundance won a Bronze Medal at the Independent Publishers Awards.  A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil co-authored with Aaron Newton, which considers what will be necessary for viable food system on a national and world scale in the coming decades, and argues that at its root, any such system needs a greater degree of participation from all of us; and Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Preservation and Storage which makes the case for food storage and preservation as integral parts of an ethical, local, healthy food system and tells readers how to begin putting food by.  All three books were published by New Society Publishers. 

 Sharon is a member of the board of directors of The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO-USA) and the editor of the Peak Oil Review’s Commentary Section.
Sharon has a BA in history and literature from Brandeis University, an MA in literature from Boston College and completed most of the work for her Ph.d in Early Modern Literature.  Her unfinished doctoral dissertation explored the way that the Black Death created a demographic and cultural crisis that shook Renaissance writers, and transformed the culture. Sharon has since turned to our present day demographic and cultural crisis, examining the way we are transformed by our ecological predicament the loss of our affluence.  
Sharon is a prolific blogger, updating her sites www.sharonastyk.com and www.scienceblogs.com/casaubonsbook almost daily, and her work is widely published in both print and internet media.  She has been interviewed by the New York Times, the Washington Post and National Public Radio among other media, and speaks widely on Energy Depletion, Farming, Climate Change, Food Preservation and the role of religious Communities in our ecological crisis.  She is the recipient of numerous blog and internet awards and was named one of CUNY Feminist Press’s “40 Under 40″ - young feminist leaders to watch.
Believing that it isn’t enough to just advocate for a more sustainable, greener life, Sharon and her husband, Eric and sons Eli, Simon, Isaiah and Asher have set to trying to live one.  They farm in rural upstate New York, raising vegetables, pastured poultry and dairy goats at Gleanings Farm, a 27 acre homestead. Before she began writing, Sharon ran a CSA, delivering vegetables, eggs and flowers to more than 20 families at its peak.  Her family uses less than 1/8 the energy and resources of the average American household, and attempt to prove that even families with children can live sustainably.  The founder of the Riot 4 Austerity, a movement that has five thousand members who try and live on vastly fewer resources than the Western norm, Sharon believes that the personal and the political are not fully separable, that we cannot call for restriction of resources without giving people a vision of a life that is graceful, desirable and low-impact.
Currently, Sharon is at work on an as-yet untitled fourth book, forthcoming from New Society in the Winter of 2012.  The book will explore the pleasures and challenges of adapting to a lower impact, more ethical and more pleasurable life, not in the perfect eco-village, home-built straw-bale home or other fantasy place, with the perfect fantasy people, but where you are now, with the resources you have now, and the ordinary people in our ordinary lives.  She believes that if there is a hope of countering the endless calls for more and more consumption, it comes in articulating the pleasures of the life lived honestly, and the beauty of simplicity.  Sharon is also expanding her farm to include the sales of heirloom vegetable plants and wetland medicinal herbs.  In her copious spare time, of which she has none, Sharon practices to become a better Jew, knits mittens that her children promptly lose, and dreams of a tidy kitchen along with her dreams of a better future.

About the Site’s Creation:

This website was a gift to me by an online friend, Deb, and I want to give her the full credit to which she is due. She designed the site and put it together, did the unimaginably tedious work of both importing all my old material and also walking techno-moron me through every step of even the simplest process. One of the best things about doing this work is meeting passionate, engaged and generous people. Deb is one of them – I’ve never met her, and she gave me this enormous gift of time, energy and beauty.. If you appreciate the clarity and attractiveness of this site, recognize it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Deb. I thank her.


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