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Posts Tagged ‘Economics’

rootsWith winter arriving last weekend, and the majority of our outside chores and responsibilities being put on hold for a few months, I find myself with a bit more time to write, think, and dream. When I was younger I was always dreaming, whether it was all the possibilities life held for me, or all the ways that the world could be a better place, dreams and optimistic visions were a daily occurrence.

It is only with adulthood, and the responsibilities of being a good husband and father, that I have become more rooted in reality and the present. In all truth, I do not think this is an entirely bad thing. As beautiful and necessary as dreams are for me, these last 10 years
of raising children, improving our homestead, growing fruits and veggies, and putting down roots for my family has been the best adventure in my life. Though small in the scheme of things, the past 10 years has seen some of those dreams of a young Anarcho – punk rocker come to fruition. While some of the details have turned out significantly different from how I envisioned them, there is no other place or time I’d rather be a part of than right here and right now.

We find ourselves at a crossroads in this world of ours. Accelerating climate change caused by the hands of man, massive animal and plant die offs not seen for over 65 million years, the ongoing destruction of the remaining rain forests and other unique habitats, world wide economic and political upheaval, resource depletion, and a disconnect and isolation of the human spirit are all adding to the uncertainty of human survival on this planet.

While it seems like we have the cards stacked against us by so many compounding factors, I want to step outside of reality for a bit, and dream. I want to imagine what might be possible if we stopped devoting all of our time, money, and remaining resources to the destruction of our planet and the human spirit. I want to imagine what might be possible in a world based on mutual aid and respect. And finally, I want to paint a picture of what that world might look like – not in some “pie in the sky” utopian way, but a realistic rendering of how humans may be able to continue occupying this changing planet.

Food – Food is one of the precious things all people have in common. The industrial food system as we know it is one of the main factors contributing to resource depletion and waste, habitat loss, and an increasing unhealthy human population. Agro giants like Monsanto, Bayer, Cargill, and many others control almost all aspects of the modern food chain. From seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, harvesting, and distribution, these multi nationals have enslaved millions of farmers, destroyed local communities and ultimately have raped and pillaged a tradition that belongs to all people. So what can be done to help ensure food security for all?

First, we need to abandon the industrial food model. We need to give farming back to the farmers, which means pulling the plug on all the multi nationals. We need to rely less on petroleum products, and bring back a more hands on, animal based agriculture. We need more bio diversity within the farm – not just a monoculture of corn or soybeans. Open pollinated seeds and perennial crops such as fruit and nut trees are part of the solution along with better crop and animal rotations. We need to stop exporting carbon off of farms, and start rebuilding our top soil. Second, we need more farmers. Up until the Green Revolution, the majority of the world’s population resided in rural setting with farming as the top occupation. We need to head back in that direction, and start to reclaim as much of suburbia as we can and begin the process of healing the land. And since the cities will not be going anywhere, anytime soon, we need to heed the advice of David Holmgren, and create an environment that is friendly to backyard agriculture, or what Toby Hemenway calls a Horticulture society.

As the modern Urban Homesteading movement is evidence of, it is possible to grow and raise massive amounts of food in residential yards and community gardens. Along with the cultivation of nutrient dense fruits and veggies, we need to relax modern zoning ordinances and encourage flocks of backyard rabbits, chickens, ducks and geese. Not only can these animals turn kitchen scraps, weeds, and insects into protein, they also add huge amounts of nitrogen back into our soil. With honey bees finding themselves in so much trouble lately, we need to educate people about the importance that the honey bee plays in food production, and encourage more people to get involved with these little critters.

Along with more animals in the city, I would like to see more boulevard orchards of fruit and nut trees with under stories of brambles and berries, flowering plants, and carbon accumulators. I want to see more roof top gardens, aquaponic systems, and season extending greenhouses and coldframes. Coppice yards for fuel and light building materials, and a general attempt to make our cities more verdant, and productive – places that don’t just take, but also give.

Community – We cannot talk about Urban Farming or human resilience without talking about the community that makes it possible. Like many others who have said before me, we have to start making neighborhoods more walkable again. We need to bring back the local businesses that Wal-Mart has done such a good job of running out of town. We cannot have thriving neighborhoods and communities without a butcher or a general store or a local meeting spot. We need to bring back trades of all different kinds and start making real products again. Not only will this bring the production back to our communities, it will also provide meaningful work that is so lacking in today’s world.

When neighborhoods and communities have a degree of self sufficiency and resilience, they are better able to survive natural disasters and other troubles with more success. When you and your neighbors are no longer relying on supply chains that span the globe for the basic necessities of life, events that can knock out power or roads can be dealt with using common sense responses and local solutions. We have done it in the past, we can do it again.

Energy & Technology – Whether we like it or not, the world has already entered into an energy descent scenario. Peak Oil was most likely reached back in 2005, and that has caused repercussions throughout the world economy. Oil is literally in everything from our food to our gas tanks. It powers every modern convenience, and breaking this habit is proving to be very hard indeed. What would a world with a lot less oil look like? A lot slower and bigger. In a world where we no longer have energy slaves doing the hard work for us we will be more involved with every aspect of our lives. From transportation to keeping ourselves warm in the winter, every aspect of our lives will be based on how much work we are willing to put in, whether that is on the individual or a community level. We will have to learn to be happy with less “stuff” and less convenience. Traveling will take much longer, and for most of us who are working to feed ourselves and our families, traveling will be severely limited if not obsolete except for those who are involved in the shipping of goods from one point to another .

In the picture I am painting of this world that faces so many challenges, technology still plays an important role. First and foremost, is the question of nuclear power? While we still have the time and resources available to us, every nuclear reactor needs to be decommissioned and shut down. More importantly, we need to figure out a long term and reliable solution to the spent fuel and nuclear waste that already exists. What these solutions may be I can only guess, but if we stopped wasting all our brain power, time, and resources on the space program and other scientific vanity, I think we could figure this out. As a quick side note, in no way am I against science, or all the positive things it has contributed to our society. In fact, I love the idea of going to the stars, but the implications of nuclear technology and what can go wrong with it are well known and too important to not be dealt with – look at Chernobyl and Fukushima!

In regards to other hi- tech, modern gadgetry we can only produce so many of these trinkets before other “Peak” resource issues come to the fore front. Computers, smart phones, and all the other “toys” out there rely on rare Earth metals, which in turn rely on oil. It is an unsustainable equation that is bound to fail. It is my hope though, that we can salvage some sort of world wide web of communication. The internet, even in its most basic forms, is a great way of gathering information, staying in touch, and organizing events and campaigns. Its bottom up approach appeals to my anarchist sensibilities and a
lot of things can be accomplished through its wide range of communication options. Whether the internet can be salvaged, scaled down and run off a whole lot less energy is anybody’s guess?

A giant misconception among liberals and weekend environmentalists is the idea that green technology – solar PV panels, wind turbines, and hydrogen fuel cells can be readily swapped out to replace our dependence on oil. This false notion is one of the largest reasons we cannot move forward on issues like energy descent and climate change and have a realistic discussion about moving forward. While these technologies (at least solar and wind) will play an important role in transitioning into a post carbon world, it is technology from the past that will see us into the future. The appropriate technology movement of the late 1970s started this journey, we need to follow in their foot steps. Water catchments, composting toilets, passive solar water heaters, alternative building design and construction, rocket stoves and rocket mass heaters, low input greenhouses, methane digesters, aquaponics, solar ovens, and grey water systems are all relatively simple ideas that can be custom designed and built with the materials on hand and in any community. While none of these technologies are fancy or sexy, they can help to keep us fed, warm, and clean – sounds like a decent way to live to me!

Culture – To some folks, especially those unfamiliar with energy descent scenarios, the world I am trying to describe may seem like a bleak place to reside. It is completely within the realm of possibility that in the near future, the main focus and concern for the world’s population will be keeping their families fed. Does this mean that there will be no place or time left for art, or music, or poetry? Absolutely not! Just like so many other products and services available today, current mainstream art and music comes prepackaged from anorexic, air brushed tricksters of the “Wal-Mart” culture. There is nothing real or moving that you will find from these people on TV or in a magazine. As the world starts its transition into a slower reality, today’s fast paced entertainment will cease to be.

Just like food, we will start to see a re-localization of art. Songs, poems, and story telling will begin to take on regional and cultural traits. Painting, sculpture, and other visual arts will also display this cultural and regional diversity, and will start to be created with many more locally sourced materials. It is songs and poems and pictures that bind a community together. It is these art forms that give a community roots, and ultimately what truly nourishes our souls.

One last point of interest that needs to be addressed is the cultural heritage of knowledge. We have learned so much throughout history that it would be a shame to loose it all just because of a transitioning society. The accumulated knowledge of human history is a treasure, and should be treated as such. Hopefully we can figure out ways to keep libraries funded and functional, our population literate, and continue to add to our living history. Peak Oil, energy descent and the societal change that will follow are but a chapter in this book of human history – let’s keep writing ( but on acid free paper)!

All of this is a lot to digest, but it is our story and where we are headed. This idea of societal change based on resource depletion and climate change is not unique to the modern world – plenty of cultures throughout history have over shot their carrying capacity and have had to adjust to local, climatic changes. This time around though, it is on a global scale. So where does this leave us? Obviously food needs to be our number one concern, followed by the question of nuclear power and waste. After that, every community and bioregion will have their own set of unique problems, answers and solutions on how to move forward and deal with these challenges that we are faced with. Humans and the communities we live in are resilient and always have been, it is just that we have forgotten that in today’s fast paced, co-dependent world. I am optimistic that we can do this, and once again live in a world where all our roots run deep! Peace & Cheers!

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“I have been called a pioneer.  In my book a pioneer is a man who comes to virgin country, traps off all the fur, kills off all the meat, cuts down all the trees, grazes off all the grass, plows up the roots and strings ten million miles of wire.  A pioneer destroys things and calls it civilization.” – Charles Marion Russell – Cowboy Painter

How often do we think about garbage? What is being thrown away? How much of it and why is it being discarded, and where is it going to end up? It is easy to overlook these aspects of garbage for many reasons. Things like , “Garbage isn’t sexy” or “I am too busy to think about garbage” may come into our minds. But the real culprit to why we try and ignore the questions of garbage is that we have been conditioned to. This conditioning is a manifestation and direct result of our reliance on seemingly endless supplies of cheap fossil fuels.

It is these supplies of non – renewable fossil fuels that have formed the foundation for our hyper – capitalist, unlimited growth, disposable culture. It is the very nature of this system to produce, consume, throw away, and repeat. This process started in earnest with the dawn of the industrial revolution and the harnessing of the energy locked within coal – it only gained speed with the advent of oil!

Prior to the industrial revolution, and even in its earliest stages, goods for sale and trade were manufactured by artisans, craftspeople, farmers, and wives in their homes, kitchens, and workshops. With common hand tools and in some instances a selection of simple machines, most anything that one would need could be made or repaired in almost any community using a majority of local raw materials.

The blacksmith, the cobbler, and the cooper were all trades that were an indispensable part of the local economy that was based in towns and villages. Because so many of these pre-industrial goods could not be mass produced, most were built extremely well, and could be repaired when the time came. As an example, when someone bought a pair of boots, it is quite possible that those boots could last throughout their entire adult life. With the proper care (polishing and oiling), and the occasional re-soling of those boots, the idea of throwing them out would have seemed ludicrous to the owner of that pair of boots.

Another distinct difference between the pre -industrial economy and today’s disposable economy, is the role that people play. It is true that history is ripe with examples of human rights abuses and economic injustice, but we don’t have to look too far in today’s world to see these same traits as well. The life of a pre – industrial human was by no means glamorous, easy, or convenient. On average, people tended to die a bit younger, and because they did not have fossil fuel energy slaves doing the “heavy lifting”, much of the work was more physically demanding. But it is my contention that the blacksmith, cooper, or farmer from 300 years ago had more meaningful work than we do today and probably a better understanding of what it means to be human.

Today’s fast paced, “throw away” culture has stripped us of our humanity, and has reduced us to interchangeable and disposable cogs in a machine, and numbers on a spreadsheet. In a world of super computers and robots, very few physical skills, talents, or trades are needed anymore. Only the ability to follow directions and push a few buttons will see you through your 8 hour shift. Not only is this an insult to our humanity, it is also a waste of our inherit abilities and talents as sentient beings. From the time people started climbing down from trees and walking on two legs, we have been creators. Cave paintings and tools, fire, story telling, agriculture and religion – all of these are human inventions. Some good, some bad, some indifferent – but only in today’s world are any of these things disposable.

It is a sad reality where we find ourselves. Disposable people dying in a disposable, dying world. So little remains of what once made us human, and what made the Earth sacred. We have disposed of our great forests and endless grasslands. Spoiled the oceans and the sky. We have traded what it means to be human for “progress” and “convenience”, and now find ourselves lost, looking for something that can once again give us meaning in our lives.

Here is the lumber I dumpstered!!

Here is the lumber I dumpstered!!

The inspiration for this article came to me this last week. While it has taken on it’s own narrative, and has gone places I had not originally intended to go, I feel it does a good job of summing up the tragedy of a disposable culture. Last weekend while running errands, and picking up supplies for a project at home, I came across a dumpster at a doctor’s office that was being remodeled. What caught my eye as I was driving by was a 2×4 sticking out into the sky. Being a sucker for free lumber, I pulled up, climbed on in to the dumpster, and could not believe my eyes. As far as dumpster diving standards go, I just jumped into a gold mine. By the time I was done sorting through all I could, I ended up with 8 – 8ft. 2x4s, 6 – 6ft. 2x4s, 5 – 12ft. 2x8s, 1 – 4ft.x8ft. sheet of plywood, 4 – 2ft.x8ft. sheets of plywood, a brand new gallon bucket of joint compound for drywall, ½ inch finishing trim (lots), and a brand new plastic garbage can. There was even more stuff in the dumpster – industrial wooden doors, more plywood that I couldn’t get to, metal drywall corners, acoustical sealant (never opened), an old computer, and probably other things I didn’t even see.

This dumpster exemplifies our disposable culture. So much gets wasted that still has value. So much could be saved if we changed our habits and opened up our minds. So much needs to change if we hope to continue inhabiting this planet. Now, I know I am not alone when it comes to dumpster diving and salvaging old/new building materials and other useable items. There are plenty more of you out there who aren‘t afraid to jump into that dumpster, and I raise my beer to you. I realize dumpster diving is not going to save the world, but it is a start. And now I have enough brand new 2x4s to frame out a new wall in a home remodeling project, and enough plywood for making bottom boards and covers for beehives. It is truly awesome saving things from the waste stream, and giving them a new life! Peace & Cheers!!

I started this article out with a saddening quote from the great American painter, Charles Russell, I will finish with a video my friend Little John made about a free store in Washington state that is keeping useful things from going to the land fill!!

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It has been awhile since I have touched on peak oil and energy descent, and truthfully I don’t have much new to add right now except for this. I guess if we choose to re-elect President Obama or make a “radical” change and bring in Mit Romney to run the country, either way America will be energy independent in the near future. So it appears that WE win with whichever candidate wins the upcoming election! We can keep on driving, we can keep growing suburbia, we can keep on ignoring that our food is poison, and most of all we can all keep pretending that the climate and weather is not changing. This is such great news! I was starting to get worried that I might have to change the way I live a little bit and take responsibility for mine and my families welfare. But because of this great news, I am actually going to start replanting some of the grass that I turned into a food garden back in’08 and I am cutting down all the fruit trees that I have planted because all that fruit is going to do is crap up my nice new lawn and make more work for me cleaning it up!!!

Alright, so I am a little jaded right now with politics and the complete disregard for facts. There are so many talking heads, politicians, pundits, experts and corporate insiders telling us things are going to be okay, that when someone like John Michael Greer or Richard Heinberg or James Howard Kunstler puts forth a truthful, but unpopular idea they are called crazy! Yes, America and Canada are sucking more oil and gas out of the ground right now than they have in a long time, but the numbers do not add up to energy independence. If Romney thinks that drilling off the east coast for oil, and hydraulic fracking is going to make up the difference for what we get from Mexico, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia, think again. And if you think Obama’s plan to switch to a green, renewable energy driven economy is the solution to unemployment and curing climate change, get ready for a bunch of green smoke to get blown up your ass!

I make no apologies, neither of these dudes is going to get my vote in November. They are essentially the same person, standing on the same platform. Anyone who is “Peak” aware knows we are headed for a challenging future. It won’t be easy, and most likely it will be painful on many levels, but humans are resilient. We adapt, and we can change to what the situation requires. It would be nice to have a politician who could stand on truth and speak clearly about the problems and predicaments that we face as a people. One can dream right!! Peace and Cheers!!

PS – I just figured out how to embed videos onto the blog, so here it goes!!!

This is a great, animated intro to peak oil and energy decent.

Thanks to my friend Gabe for turning me onto Corb Lund, if ever there was a Peak Oil anthem, this might be it!!

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Chickens!!

I have lived my whole life in Minnesota, and being a dedicated Minnesotan, the weather is always something we talk about. If it ain’t 90 degrees and humid with mosquitoes buzzing in your face, it is 10 below zero and you had a near miss with frost bite on your toes while shoveling the side walk. Now anybody who has spent as much time as I have up here in the great white and wooded north, knows we have had winters where we have not received much in terms of snow fall, but nothing compares to the winter we are experiencing right now. Since the autumn equinox through now, we have had the most mild, and temperature – record setting winter to date. We have been breaking records for high temps almost weekly. Tonight as I write, it is the ninth of January, and depending on where you were earlier in the day here in the Twin Cities, it was almost 50 degrees!! 50 degrees on January 9!! We spent the afternoon outside in our backyard watching the chickens, enjoying the warming rays of the sun in just sweat shirts, and wondering to ourselves what the hell is going on with the weather.

Collard greens that have never quite died!! We were still picking off of them up until about a month ago!

We are not the only ones wondering what is going on with the weather right now either. The plants are also starting to get confused. Here is one article about a maple sugar producer whose trees are starting to have their sap flow. This would be great if it were March, but right now it is a little too soon. Being new to maple sugaring, I don’t know how this will impact the sugar season, I am not sure if anyone does at this point. Another example, a friend of mine who is only a few miles from my house told me that his irises and tulips are starting to pop up. Seasonally, irises and tulips are always some of the first things to green up and come back to life, do they know something we don’t or are they as clueless as the rest of us. Another concern of mine, due to the extremely nice temperatures we have been getting, and the almost non-existent snow, how are certain perennials and fall sown plants going to fair this winter. Because of the constant freezes and thaws and no snow to insulate the ground, will bulbs like garlic or potato onions be harmed or not? How about the hop and rhubarb rhizomes? How about the larvae of my arch enemy, the Japanese beetle. Those little bastards over winter in the ground and if we never get a huge ground freeze like we should, are they going to strike with a vengeance this coming summer? There are a lot of questions I have right now about the weather, and not just here in Minnesota.

Look at all that snow!!

2011 set a record for extreme weather events, events and storms that cost over a billion dollars each in destruction and other economic losses. This past year there were at least twelve of them. Gigantic snowstorms and record snow falls here in Minnesota and elsewhere, tornados, floods, wildfires, and huge droughts. The kicker, these extreme weather events are not isolated to just America. This is a world wide predicament that in my humble opinion is all the evidence we need to prove human influenced climate change, or as I once heard it put, not global warming, but global weirding! As much as a 50 degree day in January is nice and comfortable to be in, it also scares me a bit. Are we seeing the beginnings of a rapid climate shift? In my life time am I going to see a more temperate or Mediterranean climate here in Minnesota? Whose water tables are going to permanently dry up and see the rest of their topsoil blow away? Whose forests and wild areas are constantly going to be jeopardized by over harvesting of resources and wildfires? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I do know one thing. It is all the more reason to be prepared for the unexpected. Having a wide variety of seeds to plant is always a good idea. Variety equals success! When one thing dies because it can not handle drought, having another one already planted that can survive a dry spell will insure some kind of harvest. Something I have learned this year is that having some way to extend your season (cold frames, large and/or small hoop houses, and greenhouses) is a great option to have ready. If I would have been more prepared and could have known about the mild winter we have had so far, I would still be pulling salad mix, spinach, and other greens from the garden! Maybe next year! Well, I hope everyone gets through the rest of the winter with a little bit of normality, I for one would love to see some real snow and at least be able to pretend that things are still somewhat normal! Cheers!

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Owen and Freya at the pumpkin patch this autumn.

Welcome, all my dear and loyal readers. After an unplanned, and too long of a hiatus, Autonomy Acres is back! I am glad this blog is not one of my kids, I would be arrested for neglect and punished properly! However, I do not live a life of regrets and will not apologize too much for not posting for the last four months or so. Life has been busy, with some unexpected road bumps and hurdles, ups and downs, and tears and laughter. Life is amazing in the fact that nothing is guaranteed, nothing is written in stone, and the most unexpected things can happen. An example – this last fall, our son was suppose to start kindergarten. We were excited and nervous at the same time, Owen is a challenging kid who is very stubborn and strong willed, smarter beyond his years, and is the bane of any authority figure. We walked him up to the bus stop, said good bye holding back tears, and drove to the school to meet him and make the transition easier for him. We walked him to his classroom, said hi to the teacher (whom we had already met), made sure he was ready, and then said goodbye. We drove home with the expectation of seeing him in a few hours at the bus stop, but our plans were thwarted. We received a phone call in less than an hour telling us to come pick up our son. They couldn’t get him to go to the kindergarten rally and he had proceeded to shut himself in his locker. Without going into every little detail about what else happened, I will just leave it at this: The school fucked up in a bad way – the proper steps were not taken to help our son in adjusting to his new environment. Without the advice and consultation of trained social workers, we were told he needed to see a doctor if we wanted him to come back. We were told he had disturbing behavior and all this was said in front of him by the PRINCIPAL!! Needless to say we pulled him out of school and decided that day to start home schooling. It was not a decision we made blindly, it was something we had already been talking about, but we just weren’t sure if we were ready to commit to such an endeavor – well our mind was made up for us. After a period of extreme anger (at the principal and the school district) and mourning, we are the proud parents and teachers, of an awesome six year old! It hasn’t been easy, and some days it can be very frustrating, but we are figuring it out as a family. One aspect of home schooling that is hard for us is finding cool people to connect with. The majority of home school families do fit a stereotype – strict religious zealots that don’t want their kids taught evolution, want prayer in school, etc, etc… Here at Autonomy Acres we are atheist leaning agnostics, so it makes it hard to find like minded people to do home schooling projects/field trips/events with. But we are figuring it out as we continue moving forward. That is one of the main reasons I have not been posting lately, my brain has still been coping with, and trying to adjust to our new situation. Moving on…..

The sacred cow of Anarchy!

World events lately have been both inspiring and incredibly scary at the same time. Some days it seems like we are teetering on the brink of world wide revolution. The middle east and its’ Arab spring, the uprisings in Greece, the Occupy movement that has been sweeping the U.S. and other western countries. A general feeling that people know something is wrong with business as usual, and that something has to change. It is awesome to see so many people getting active – people coming together and marching and having their voices heard, people taking control of where their food comes from, having real conversations with their families, friends, and neighbors. When people start living – when they wake up from their TV shows, and their designer drugs, their Franken food, and their shitty jobs and long commutes, real change can happen and it is!! We don’t need talking heads to tell us that the economy is still in shambles, it is on the face and minds of everyone who has decided to wake up. The economy is not getting better, and most likely never will. This is the hard reality, we blew our load and now we got a huge mess on our hands. The answers don’t lie with more bailouts or a new president. Look what our congress is capable of – NOTHING. If congress had their heads up their collective ass, they would not be able to even agree upon that. This system is finished and I think we all kind of know it; it is just a matter of what comes next. This is where I get scared; I am not one for conspiracy theories, but there are a lot of powerful corporations and ruthless people out there who are still making a ton of money off of the sweat of the 99%. They don’t want this power and control to go away and are doing things to ensure they keep it. I truly believe they are scared by the potential power, we the people have if we can just stop fighting amongst ourselves and start creating the world we want to live in. This is where our power lies. It is in our refusal to keep playing their games, and by following their rules that gives us the power to change the world. Our power is in boycotting where ever we can the giant corporations that control our food, our communities, our abilities to think for ourselves, and our personal lives. Our power is in the DIY ethic – experts are overrated and we are all capable of so much more than what we have been told by all the “experts”. Our power is the realization that the bosses, the 1% need us, we do not need them. We are capable of changing this world on our own terms into a place that is based on mutual aid, respect for the natural world and its’ resources, a place that people are well fed and have access to real food. I don’t think this is too much to ask, in fact I believe it to be the only option if we are to move forward as a human race. Facing these challenges head on with all of our own unique talents is not an easy task to accomplish, but at least it is real. It is time to unplug the TV and get our hands dirty.

So, enough of the soap boxing. Yeah, we have a lot of challenges ahead of us – social, economic, and environmental/climate change issues are all demons lurking in our closets and hanging out underneath our beds. This brings it back to one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place; to share my ideas about what I do in my personal life to confront these issues. I have some projects in the works that I hope to discuss in upcoming posts. Beehive construction, our plans on starting up a CSA, possible greenhouse/hoop house plans and designs, some more on DIY home brewing, basics on making your own soap, more From the Garden to the Table recipes and stories, and other topics that will be familiar to all you homesteaders out there. It is great to be back! ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!! Cheers!!

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Outside it is dusk; the sun is going down, the chickens are finding their way into their coop, I have rhubarb cooking on the stove, and here I am in front of the computer, writing down thoughts of the day, or maybe of the season or of the world.  As I was doing my nightly Google news reading, I came across this article.  Modern tomatoes – worse than factory raised chicken and CAFO raised beef and pork.  Human slavery, a condiment on the all American California burger and BLT sandwich.  Who cares if it is January or February, give me my ripe tomatoes, and give them to me with extra mayo.

It is too easy to not pay attention to the fact that the tomatoes on that sandwich are harvested by hand; hands that are taken advantage of, hands that are poisoned, hands that are starved and are cold with pain, and hands that are over worked and underpaid.  It is these hands that make our home gardens so important and relevant to our times.  It is these hands that make Urban Homesteading/Farming a lifestyle.  It is these hands that we need to help.  We need to lighten their load by making ours a little bit heavier.  By growing our own produce, even if it is only one tomato plant out on the deck, we take a little pressure off these hard working people.  By adjusting and changing our lifestyles and diets, we can start to eat more foods in season that are grown in closer proximity to where we live.  Maybe those tomatoes on your sandwich aren’t so important; you know what, maybe that fast food sandwich isn’t so important either!   Maybe we need to rethink our whole setup!

It is only in the last 60 or 70 years that Americans started to step away from the production of their own food.  Many things came out of both WWI and WWII, one being the advent of modern industrial agriculture.  Synthetic petroleum based fertilizers, refrigeration, food preservatives, an ever SUB/urbanizing population, and the American idea of instant gratification.  There was no longer a need to stay on the farm, or to keep a backyard garden going.  The cities are where the new modern jobs were, lawns were a sign that said, “Yeah, I made it into the big time!”  Along with the suburbs came the advent of the fast food joint.  Burgers, fried chicken, pizza, and tacos could now all be purchased from the comfort of your car on your way back home from work.  Food no longer came from the farm or from the garden, or even from the local corner market, but instead from the big box grocery store or the fast food joint.  And this is where we are now.  Food shipped for thousands of miles and out of season to fulfill our American desire for instant gratification.  Asparagus and pears from Argentina, tomatoes from Florida – all just a quick car ride away.

In response to all this modern, high speed consumption are many positive steps we as individuals and communities can take to lighten the load of migrant farm workers and the planet alike.  Be aware of what you eat – check ingredients, pay attention to where it is coming from, is it in season?  Move towards a more local diet – join a coop, shop at an all growers farmer’s market, support local restraunts and bakeries, and do more cooking for yourself at home.  And lastly get your hands dirty – plant a garden if you have the room, if not find a community garden to join.  Get a few backyard chickens (they are great entertainment, plus you will get eggs!), start a compost pile or build some rain barrels.  It is those of us who have a privileged lifestyle that will have to make the most changes in the near future.  Peak Oil is a reality and we can either evolve to the circumstances of the near future, or that future will force changes upon us.  Either way big changes are coming, it is just a matter of if we are ready for them or not.  Go out and plant some tomatoes, enjoy the time in garden, and know that you can help lighten the load of someone who can use a little bit of help.  Cheers!

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All you need to make yogurt yourself! Milk, yogurt starter, and a crock pot!

Here at the Autonomy Acres urban homestead, we tend to eat quite a bit of yogurt. So much in fact, that for a long time we special ordered it by the case from our local food co-op. A case of organic, Stoneyfield yogurt would cost us around $21.00, and that was with a ten percent discount because of our membership and by ordering in bulk. A case consists of six, 32 oz. containers, and we could burn through those in about two weeks depending on our routines and schedules. That got to be a pretty expensive yogurt habit. We knew about makings our own yogurt, and even tried it once about a year ago and did not have very good luck. That all changed this past Christmas when we received the book Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea. It is a cook book dedicated to cooking with a crock pot. My wife came across the crock pot recipe for making yogurt and that rekindled our interest, so we gave it a try. I was a little apprehensive at first, but soon got over that by the time I tasted our first batch. We did it! We made our own yogurt and it turned out great! We followed the recipe as it is written and did not deviate at all. O’Dea’s recipe is based on one half gallon of milk, yogurt starter, powdered milk/gelatin (optional), a crock pot, and about twenty-four hours of spare time. Using this recipe was a great starting point for us, but we soon realized that starting with one half gallon of milk was not enough for our family, and figured out a recipe using a whole gallon of milk. To help us with this, Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making, filled in the missing gaps that O’Dea’s book did not cover. The key to making yogurt is bringing your milk up to about 180 degrees F and then letting it cool to about 116 degrees F. O’Dea’s yogurt recipe was based on times rather than temps, and if you are only making a half gallon batch, that works. However, when you add more milk and bump the recipe up to one full gallon, you need to go by the temperature instead. So the combination of the two recipes works this way: pour 1 gallon of whole milk into your crock pot, (on high) warm up the milk to 180 degrees F (this will take a few hours), once 180 degrees is reached, turn off your crock pot, crack open the lid and let the milk cool down to around 116 degrees F. This is where the other ingredients are used. From your cooled down milk, remove four cups of milk and put into a mixing bowl. If you want a thicker yogurt (which I do) add one cup of powdered milk, and your yogurt starter (use the directions included with the starter to determine how much to use). Mix these together and then add back to the rest of your milk. Cover with the crock pot lid, wrap it in a towel and let it sit over night (you want the ambient air temp to be around 65 degrees F). In the morning you will have yogurt. We drain ours using a colander and cheese clothe for about an hour and you will end up with about a pint and a half of left over whey (save the whey – it can be used in other things). A few important things to keep in mind – if your attempt at making yogurt is successful, you should only need to purchase yogurt starter once, from there on out substitute one half cup of yogurt in place of the starter (your home made yogurt has all the beneficial bacteria still in it – it is alive and wants to reproduce itself). The left over whey after draining the yogurt is not garbage! Whey can be used in baked products like bread or muffins, we have used it in soap making (in place of the water), or just feed it to the chickens or pigs if you have them (they will love it)!

Finished Yogurt! Yum!!!

The yogurt we make tends to be a bit thicker than your conventional store brought brands, and also a bit more tart. We like to add a little honey or fruit to cut back on the tartness, and if you don’t want it so thick, just don’t drain it as long. Looking at home yogurt production from an economic standpoint, we are now saving a ton of money by doing it ourselves. We use chemical/growth-hormone free whole milk, and it costs about $4.50 a gallon. We end up with just shy of three quarts of finished yogurt and are now saving a lot of money. We make our yogurt about every other weekend (sometimes every weekend if we have been eating a lot), just remember to save one half cup for your next batch. I suppose now the only thing we are missing is a goat to produce milk for us! Maybe that will happen sometime in the future when we are sick of taking vacations! If you like yogurt, I recommend making your own – it is fun, easy, and cuts out some of the middlemen in food production. Happy eating! Cheers!

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