Posts tagged local

How to Get Far Without a Car

Some of you readers may recall when I made a pledge to sell my car in order to green my travel around the city.  It’s been more than three years now, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t died from lack of access to basic goods yet, so clearly, it IS possible to make work, even in a city as sprawling as Los Angeles.  It’s fairly easy to trade in the frustrations of driving, paying for inevitable parking tickets, car insurance, gas, crazy-driver door dings and side view mirrors lopped off by passing cars for the peace of mind that comes with regular exercise and time spent enjoying LA’s incredible outdoor clime.  Of course it does have a few drawbacks, the greatest of which being that it’s harder to get out of town to places which are far enough away to necessitate a car but not far enough to be serviced by the Greyhounds and Metrolink trains of the world.  There are a few strategies I’ve employed over time to make it work without feeling deprived.

First, I took a good look at the places I travel in a normal day.  Since I work “from home” but live off-grid without power, my primary need in the work department is occasional access to an outlet to recharge the computer and internet to post stuff like this, converse with clients, etc.  About a year and a half back, I purchased a netbook with a seven hour battery life.  Best investment ever! This means that I only have to find an outlet for an hour or so daily to have my portable office up and running for more hours than I can practically stare at a screen.  So I hit a local coffee shop each morning, sip tea, upload posts, and download relevant research for the next edition or client.  The mile or two walk to and from the shop each morning gives me a chance to start my day outside, practicing walking meditation (a post on this coming soon!) and organizing in my head what I need to accomplish.  As a photographer, I carry my camera with me everywhere I go, and this walk also allows me to get interesting shots in the golden light of early morning before most people wake up.  What started as an obligation to get to a destination has actually become one of my favorite daily activities!

Over time, I’ve discovered local alternatives to my daily purchases.  The other day, I found the best little pupuseria while walking by on an errand, saving me a bus trip across town to my other favorite streetside vendor.  How’s that for ultra-localizing life!  Many people drive all over creation going to stores that they are used to frequenting when there exist alternatives right within their own communities.  By shopping locally, not only will you save frustration and gas/insurance money, you might also get to know your local business owners better, which helps build stronger community ties.  Of course, supporting your local Best Buy over a family run electronics shop just because it’s down the road isn’t necessarily what I’m talking about, but even franchise businesses are run by individual owners who may be from your community.  Take the time to ask, it can often lead to an enlightening conversation.

When needing to get out further than walkable distance, I can get most places for $3, the current price of a round trip bus or metro ticket in these parts.  Sure, it takes about fifteen minutes to walk to or from the metro station, but I simply view it all as exercise and think about the money I save by not having a gym membership while I walk.  If the destination lies off a main bus or metro line, then I might ride my bike to the station, which cuts the travel time down even more.

In order to head out of town/city limits, which is an occasional necessity given my other-other day job as a treasure hunter, I’ve had good luck by posting on Craigslist for someone to drive to a given destination, even one off the beaten path.  Usually it costs me gas money and the price of lunch, maybe an honorary token payment, far less than it would to rent a car for the day and I don’t even have to drive.  (yet another option is signing up for a shared-car service such as Zipcar, which I’ll cover in an upcoming post)  There are several rideshare sites which can be used in similar fashion, especially if one is not tied to a particular moment of travel and can be a little flexible.  Of course as a woman I am careful about this, bringing a buddy with me to share the ride and always being on top of knowing the exact directions to where I’m heading.  You can also run a classified ad for people to pick up items from further locales and deliver them to you for a nominal charge if they are headed some direction anyway.  Given the state of public transport here expanded by an additional biking radius, both this and the ride for hire scenario are rarely utilized but useful tools to have in the arsenal.

One final thing that I’d like to mention here is that of motivation.  If you’re going to be walking or biking, why not reward yourself for putting in miles toward the sustainable cause? There are many websites that let you track your exercise miles over time and provide like-minded communities for motivation and friendly competition.  I started using dailymile.com a few months back to log miles walked in order to see how much gas I would theoretically save each month by not driving.  It nicely computes my calories burned, keeps track of the amount of gas I’ve saved by not driving, and even tells me other fun stats like how many donuts I can now afford to eat after all that walking!  Though the site is primarily designed for athletes who are training for things to share inspirational workout routes, it serves well too as a general tracker of miles logged, featuring interactive route maps which calculate your mileage based upon the path you draw on a Google map.  One of my favorite features of the site is the challenge page, where you can sign up to try and complete a certain number of miles or hours spent exercising during a given time span in friendly competition with other athletes on the site.

The luxurious abode that is Trimpi Shelter.

Last Thanksgiving I signed up there for a virtual Appalachian Trail hike, in which walkers try to log the 2179 miles of the AT within a year’s time.  I use my distance data from the site (it keeps track of which types of exercise qualify, in this case walking and hiking) and compare it to a distance map of the trail to see where I am on a given day.  Today, two and a half months after starting out my “hike”, I’ve walked through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and am venturing up through southern Virginia toward the Trimpi Shelter, pictured above, where I will virtually slumber this evening.  Right now things are on track to finish the trail with a few weeks to spare, which at the necessary rate of 5.5 miles daily is no small feat!  By looking up each county I travel through on Wikipedia and reading about what the areas are known for (the Trimpi shelter is in Grayson County, VA, mountainous home to several annual bluegrass and fiddle music festivals and a yearly through-hiker festival which celebrates those trying to complete the AT), my daily walking chores have changed from a simple necessity into an exciting and educational activity which feels more like a vacation.

The location of the Trimpi shelter along the Appalachian Trail.

Well, those are a couple things I have found useful.  What strategies do you employ to cut down on extraneous daily travel? How have they worked for you?

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BOOK REVIEW: Fresh! Seeds of the Past and Food for Tomorrow

Fresh! Seeds from the Past and Food for Tomorrow

It’s been a big week of reading, trying to stay ahead of the library due dates.  This was a great book, a bit different from any I’ve read before in the general gardening arena.  Brian Patterson takes a scientific look at human history’s tenuous relationship with the foods we eat and illustrates how cultivation of seeds created the culinary landscape we take for granted today.  Part science, part history, and very interesting, he goes beyond the superficial facts and examines cultivation on a chemical level. How did we learn that potatoes, though poisonous when green, can be eaten when cooked?  Or that by fermenting grape juice and adding it to flour, we can enjoy light, fluffy leavened bread, but only if that grape juice doesn’t turn to vinegar first?  When viewed through the lens of science, even the most mundane of foods take on a magical quality.

It’s not a super long book (160 pages) but it’s surprisingly full of facts to be so easy to read.  I especially enjoyed the sections on the global spread of foods from one culture to the next and the final section which contains his look toward to future of plants and humans.  For those considering gardening as a nutritional endeavor, I can’t recommend this enough. Though not expressly a gardening book, you’ll find plenty of solid tips on how to get the most from your plants in terms of flavor and nutrition.  And who doesn’t want either of those?  You’ll also get a clearer understanding of the miracles that led to the availability of foods in your favorite seed catalog, and it may inspire you to try a few new exotic varieties.

There’s also plenty here for those interested in botany or cultural anthropology. After all, seeing what detailed culinary data we can glean from Egyptian society based upon their meticulous burial practices, one can draw some interesting conclusions about how we might preserve our own history for future generations.  For the general reader, and especially for those interested in going off-grid, knowing more about locally grown foods and their health properties can only be helpful in today’s 1500 mile to plate global food culture. And it might make you befriend a local farmer or two for their floral insights.  Strawberries never tasted so sweet as when you know that the farmer used sustainable scientifically sound growing practices to deliver them to your kitchen.

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BOOK REVIEW: It’s a Long Road to a Tomato

It’s a Long Road to a Tomato (Google Books) Keith Stewart (2005)

Any home gardener out there know that the title of this book is indeed truthful. For every fruit or vegetable harvested from your garden, hours of time and plenty of resources went into cultivation. As Keith Stewart so eloquently describes, things get even more extreme when you turn to commercial gardening, and even more so when you commit to gardening organically.

This book was extremely entertaining and educational. What I liked best was the honest depiction of the amount of work it takes to be a farmer in the 21st century. Next time you go to a farmers’ market, take a moment to talk to a vendor about their farm: you’ll really appreciate how hard they work when you hear stories of 4am waking and hand weeding in a commitment to earth-friendly growing practices! Suddenly, paying $0.50 more for an avocado doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.

The story is a personal one, outlining Mr. Stewart’s journey from city-dwelling ad man to wildly successful organic farmer at NYC’s most famous farmers market. You’ll read about the stringent hoops one must jump through to call produce organic, the unglamorous life of digging in the dirt, current governmental and policy landscapes for the independent farmer, managing a staff of farm workers, and many interesting little unrelated tales from the journey. When the cover quotes “you’ll laugh out loud”, they aren’t kidding.

I was inspired from reading this book to plant some garlic, which Mr. Stewart praises as perhaps the best plant on earth. True to his word, the plants have done very well even under my inexperienced care. It was nice to see his progression from a hobbyist’s garden to a commercial venture… it makes the leap seem that much more tangible for those of us looking to break into that market.

All in all, I have nothing but praise for this book. If you’ve ever considered growing professionally, you really should read this book first. Not that it will scare you off (on the contrary, I found it very inspiring), but it WILL give you a much better idea of the things you need (a garden, a good accountant, and a dream) and the things you had better not need (like sleep and a social life!). And even if you aren’t trying to change careers, it will help you connect the food you eat to its source, and encourage you to buy local and support your local independent farmers as they battle the giant conglomerates who control our global food supply. So go on, savor that local tomato, it will be so much sweeter!

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Eating Locally: A nationwide movement

If you’re trying to cut down on the number of food items you import into your life from great distances, you’re certainly not alone. People across the globe are realizing the social and environmental costs of the “distance to plate” factor of their diets. Of course, in such an individual sport as buying food, it’s easy to think you are going it alone, or to get a little sidetracked by the seeming lack of options available to you in your particular region. But no more!

Locavore Nation

Locavore Nation is a year-long project housed at The Splendid Table (a great recipe resource), in which fifteen individuals from every region of the country attempt to live for a year on at least 80% local foodstuffs, buying organic whenever possible. Each participant keeps a blog, which can be accessed at the link above, about their particular experience. So there’s at least one blogger participating from your area for you to check in on.

What a great idea! Even if you have no interest in eating local, you should check out this innovative way in which the Splendid Table had brought together a community that serves both local and international appetites for practical information. Maybe you could organize a similar project for your topic of choice. After all, real-world reviews offer learners a chance to glean information never found in textbooks, which is the true learning revolution that spurs practical change.

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Take the King Corn Challenge

About the Corn Challenge

Corn is in Everything!

It’s always nice to have someone to commiserate with when making even slightly painful lifestyle changes be they in the name of good. It’s great motivation. (For some reason, introducing the bad stuff always comes easily, especially with company!) Here’s an interesting look at two filmmakers and the challenge they put themselves up to after making a film about corn in the American diet, inviting others to join. And one author, Katherine Pryor, did just that. Read about her three corn-free days here.

As you can see, in today’s processed food markets, even dropping one ingredient can have far-reaching implications for your overall diet. It required from Ms. Pryor a reconsideration of her local food buying habits, and put a strain on the two filmmakers to figure out a way to eat while on the road without actually consuming any corn. If you could pick one ingredient to drop, what would it be? High fructose corn syrup? Caffeine? Processed grains? Added salt? There are so many options out there it’s hard to choose just one. But when you do make a commitment to one, even a little one you don’t encounter every day, you learn as much about the process of making choices as you may about your current diet.  I’m going to start a food database page on the blog (check the top bar for the link).  If you know of any ingredients that contain certain foods, chemicals, or byproducts, please, comment and add to the repository of information. You might never want to eat again after starting down this path to learning.  Until then, happy eating!

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Kitchen Fun – Make Dandilion Wine

A little natural recipe for you… it’s not solar (unless you have ALL DAY to let the stuff get to a boil, and if you DO adapt this for solar, please share your experience!) but it’s a defacto local specialty, and looks pretty easy to make. Rather than redirect you, I’ll reprint the recipe here. Hey, you KNOW you know where some dandilions are… what are you waiting for?

How to Make Dandelion Wine

from wikiHow – The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Dandelions are in season during the summer and spring months, but they lend themselves deliciously to a beverage you can serve year-round. April and May are the best months to harvest dandelions for this purpose in the Northern hemisphere.[1] Try it out and taste it for yourself.

Ingredients

  • 1 package (7 g) dried yeast
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) warm water
  • 2 quarts (230 g) whole dandelion flowers
    • Using 2 quarts+ of just the petals can make for a less bitter wine.[2]
  • 4 quarts water (3.785 L)
  • 1 cup (240 mL) orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons (45 g) fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons (45 g) fresh lime juice
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1.25 g) powdered ginger
  • 3 tablespoons (18 g) coarsely chopped orange zest; avoid any white pith
  • 1 tablespoon (6 g) coarsely chopped lemon zest; avoid any white pith
  • 6 cups (1200 g) sugar

Steps

  1. Wash and clean the blossoms well. Think of it as a fruit or vegetable; you don’t want bugs or dirt in your food. Remove all green material.
  2. Soak flowers for two days.
  3. Place the blossoms in the four quarts of water, along with the lime, orange, and lemon juices.
  4. Stir in the ginger, cloves, orange peels, lemon peels, and sugar. Bring the mix to a boil for an hour.
  5. Strain through filter papers (coffee filters are recommended). Let the wine cool down for a while.
  6. Stir the yeast in while the wine is still warm, but below 110 degrees F.
  7. Leave it alone and let it stand overnight.
  8. Pour it into bottles, poke a few holes in a balloon and place over the tops of the bottles to create an airlock, and store them in a dark place for at least three weeks so that it can ferment.
  9. Optional: Rack the wine several times. Racking means waiting until the wine clears, then pouring the liquid into another container, leaving the lees (sediment) at the bottom of the first container.[3]
  10. After that time, cork and store the bottles in a cool place. Allow the wine time to age. Most recipes recommend waiting at least six months, preferably a year.[4]

Tips

  • Pasteurization uses sixty-five degrees Celsius for half an hour to avoid changing character.
  • Pick the flowers right before starting so they’re fresh. Midday is when they are fully open.[5] Alternatively, you can freeze the flowers immediately after harvesting, then pull off the petals right before preparing the wine.[6]
  • It may take more than three weeks for your wine to ferment if your home is cold. Try putting the bottles on top of your water heater or behind your refrigerator for faster fermentation. Be aware though, fermentation at higher temperatures probably won’t change the taste of the wine, but can lead to higher levels of fusile alcohols, which can cause hangovers.
  • This recipe will produce a light wine that mixes well with tossed salad or baked fish. To add body or strength, add a sweetener,raisins, dates, figs, apricots, or rhubarb.[7]

Warnings

  • Avoid using dandelions that may have been chemically treated. Also, try to stay away from dandelions that have been graced by the presence of dogs, or that grow within 50 feet of a road.

Things You’ll Need

  • Coffee filters or straining paper
  • Empty, clean wine bottles
  • Large beverage container to strain liquid into
  • A large pot you can boil the dandelion mixture in
  • A place to store the fermenting wine

Sources and Citations

  1. http://winemakermag.com/feature/196.html
  2. http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/dandelio.asp
  3. http://www.thecompostbin.com/2006/05/how-to-make-dandelion-wine.html
  4. http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/dandelio.asp
  5. http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/dandelio.asp
  6. http://www.thecompostbin.com/2006/05/how-to-make-dandelion-wine.html
  7. http://winemaking.jackkeller.net/dandelio.asp

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world’s largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Make Dandelion Wine. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

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