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Mini Unplug Yourself Round-Up and Goals for Sustainable Winter Eating

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:22am
It's time for the first mini Unplug Yourself Round-Up. When we highlight the initiative again next month, we are going to tweak it a little bit as we realize it might be a little confusing as to what participants are supposed to do. But for this month, it will be a little "wonky", sorry for any confusion due to lack of clarity on our part.

Selina, over at Vegans Rock!! has highlighted some new podcasts she has discovered, an alternative method of home design, and has also provided information about a documentary screening for anyone in the Northern Indiana area. Thanks for the links Selina, especially on the Earthship homes, very cool!

Jessy, from Happy Vegan Face, did a wonderful introductory post as to why she and her husband Dan are participating and encouraging others to do so. Thanks for the plug (no pun intended) Jessy and the great post!

Brett and I have been doing pretty well. I have really been enjoying the Expand Your Mind section of the initiative. At first, I had planned on studying the republican platform, as it is something I don't know a whole lot about. I was raised in a family of democrats and libertarians, so republicanism, specifically new republicanism is something that I thought was important to know about, this being an election "season" and all. However, I hate politics, and honestly, was having a really hard time being objective. Republicans often cling to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but the new style of republicans seem to just cast off the little part about the separation of Church and State. I truly have a hard time following the line of logic on many areas of their platform, and honestly, I think the sustainable future is not going to come from top down (government), but rather, the bottom up (from us). I found myself frustrated and even disenfranchised. I also knew that I wouldn't be able to bring you all anything beyond a rant, and that isn't the point of this aspect of the initiative. So, I learned what I wanted to know about it and am ready to move the hell on.:-)

I have decided instead to use the Expand Your Mind aspect to do long-term study on systems ecology, general ecology, sustainable agriculture, biointensive gardening, and biodiversity. I will bring you my thoughts and what I've learned about permaculture at the end of the month. My studies will likely go on for a number of months and I'll discuss anything I've learned at the end of each month.

Getting my news from alternative sources is fun! I love hearing alternative and radical views and towards the end of the month will compile a list of all the sources of news and information I have been looking at. I have even looked at some conservative information sources, but ended up feeling the same way about them as I did the republican platform. Except, the folks at these conservative "think-tanks" are wiley, incredibly intelligent, though manipulative people. That's not to say that there isn't any of that on the democratic side of the table either, but man, these neo-conservatives are some crafty folks! More on that at the end of the month.

We are still doing well reducing our energy consumption. With winter right around the corner, we are trying to figure out ways to reduce our natural gas and electrical energy consumption in ways that will still allow us to be fairly comfortable, but more importantly, keep our indoor crops from dying.

I am going to be investing in "long underwear" both bottoms and tops. I have never worn these before, so we'll see how I do. For some reason I keep envisioning that it will feel like I am wearing a diaper, but I doubt that is how it really is. We will likely end up picking up a few more blankets as well for the bedroom.

We are going to use the "heat wherever you are" method to avoid using the natural gas furnace as much as possible. We have a couple of (safe) space heaters that we will use to heat the areas that we are in. We generally keep one in the livingroom and a smaller one in the bedroom. We will try to only run the furnace to "jump start" the heating process before we go to bed, and when we get up in the morning.

What does this mean for the crops? Well, the cold tolerant crops like our greens, herbs, and avocado tree will be in our "computer room" where it is the coolest - we do have southern facing windows and have considered getting some sort of insulation to wrap around the pots if necessary. Our livingroom, which will be the warmest place in the apartment is where most of the peppers and the tomatillo plant will be housed (they will likely share their microclimates with greens as well), our bedroom, the second warmest place in the aparrment will be home to the squash and more greens. Now, we've never gardened inside before; we have no idea how it will go or if any of this stuff will reach "transplantable" size - let alone survive and produce any food. But it didn't cost us much, so it's definitely worth a shot - even if only the greens and herbs survive.

This brings me to the final part of the initiative that both Brett and myself signed up for (he will post about the particular aspects he "committed" to at the end of the month), going local. During the summer, this isn't all that difficult with the vibrant farmer's markets. But going local also goes beyond food. We are trying to purchase anything we can from local venues. For example, the local non-profit store, The Peace Nook, sells our shampoo, Brett's bar soap, tea, and the toothpaste we use, so we are trying to get more of that stuff there, as opposed to the grocery store. We support pretty much exclusively local restaurants and coffee shops. We rarely buy books (wahoo for the library), but when we do, it tends to be from the Peace Nook. I buy my work clothes from local second hand shops wherever possible (I am really short and small, so selection in my size is generally very limited, and many thrift and second hand shops don't carry petite pants), whenever I can't buy clothes locally, I get durable, well made items, only wash when absolutely necessary, and try to take as good of care of them as I can.

BUT, this will be the first year that we have really made an effort to eat locally and sustainably over winter. Now, before I go on with this, I have to emphasize that these are only goals. We do not expect to go from eating from the world's breadbasket to eating almost exclusively from Missouri in one year. There are things that we didn't plan for well enough and systems that simply are not in place. But what we can do is keep track of where we fall short of our goals in hopes that we can be better prepared for next winter.

There are some things that we can do to prepare ourselves for winter a little bit, which basically entails stocking up on a few shelf stable items from the market closer to the end of the season (mid-November). We are planning on getting the following:
  • acorn squash (probably 4-6)
  • spaghetti squash (probably around 4)
  • sweet potatoes
  • red potatoes
  • some variety of yellow fleshed potatoes
  • garlic
We do have some "exclusions", a couple of these things are just exclusions, no good excuse other than an angry Brett or cranky Jennifer, the others, we feel will still be available in a sustainable world of fast declining energy. When our farmer's market closes down for the season, we will start shopping at (local) shop focused on Missouri made products and produce called The Root Cellar. We will try to get as much as we can from there, and what we can't, we will try to source from the continental United States. Each week we will bring you what will probably be a small Weekly Local Booty update, and 'fess up to anything that we got that came from outside of the US (of course, excluding our exceptions). We will use that documentation to better plan for next year.

On to the exclusions:

First, the silly ones, but exclusions nonetheless:

For both Brett and myself this will be Newman O's cookies (I will pry those out of Brett's cold dead hands), salsa (since we couldn't can enough of our own, but we will try to find a good local brand), Brett's cheese (we've only seen goat cheese thus far which isn't really all that great for daily use) and the occasional frozen pizza (though we are going to try making our own as much as possible).

Here are the other exlusions, and some explanations as to why they are as such:
  • Dried beans and rice (First and foremost, we cannot obtain dried beans sourced in Missouri at this point, it's not as though they cannot be grown here, but the market isn't such that one could really make a living doing this. There is Missouri grown rice available, but it is white rice, which Brett and I do not eat, so at this point, we will source our beans and rice from the US. We get [and will continue getting] most of our bulk beans and rice via an organic co-op that does bulk buying, run out of The Peace Nook. We are still working on the beans we bought back in Spring, so we'll likely be set until next Spring on our basic beans and rice except for brown Basmati rice, quinoa, barley, navy beans, garbanzo beans, and kidney beans, which will [hopefully] be purchased from The Root Cellar, otherwise it will come from the bulk bins at our grocery store. We consider this an exception because say the doomsday "peak-oilers" are right and that we are going to run out of oil very soon, well, dried beans and rice could be shipped on sail boat or horseback if necessary. I don't see it getting to that point [at least not within my lifetime], but it would be possible.)

  • Dried spices (Again, the peak oil argument holds true here. We are going to be trying to grow more of our own spices. We have a bunch of cayennes drying for use as ground cayenne pepper, we are growing cilantro - both for the fresh green part and the seeds for ground coriander [and more cilantro of course]. Next year we are going to try to grow enough peppers for salsa and pickled goods, but also for drying so that we can make our own chili powders (including paprika), we are also thinking about growing Mexican oregano and cumin. That is the bulk of the spices we use.)

  • Oils, Soy Sauce, and Vinegars ('Nuff said.)

  • Teas, Coffee, and Chocolate (We are going to be growing lemongrass, lavendar, spearmint, and peppermint for homegrown herbal tea. Otherwise, the tea, coffee, and chocolate we purchase will be organic and fair trade. We have significantly reduced our coffee consumption, so we rarely buy it anymore - I only drink coffee on weekends.)

  • Flours (We might be able to get some locally sourced flours, but I'm not entirely sure at this point.)

  • The occasional vegetarian necessities: rice- or hempmilk, nutritional yeast, etc.
We hope that we might even be able to find some of the things on the "exceptions" list, but we wanted to set ourselves up in a way that we have a marginal chance of approaching something we consider success. We know that our breads, eggs, Brett's milk and occasional meat, a lot of our canned goods, soaps and such, some produce, and probably a lot of other things are available. We are looking forward to the opportunity.

Starting on Saturday, I am going to create a "What's Local In CoMo This Week" element on the (already crowded I know) sidebar of the blog. I didn't come up with this idea myself, I've seen a lot of other green bloggers do this for their local produce, what's in their gardens, or things they've done to reduce their impact, and thought it was a great idea. That way, if you miss the local booty update, or we pick up something from the mid-week market (which we often do), you all can see what's cookin' locally in CoMo. It will also give fellow Missourians an idea of what is available in the state during the year.

I get the feeling our winter is going to have a lot of cabbage in it. Better start coming up with recipes!

'Til next time.
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