Friday, October 7, 2011

What is Sustainability?

The title of this post clearly defines the topic of my musings this morning.  I will start by saying that at this moment I have no real answer for what sustainability is - or at least what it means to me, which is clearly odd considering I've devoted considerable time over the past 9 months to writing a blog devoted to the concept.  It's not that I don't have an understanding of sustainability...the meaning of the word.  It is more that I have yet to determine a) what course of action on global and local levels would truly be sustainable, and b) how I go about enacting that on a daily basis. 

I have friends who have studied sustainability at length through lenses such as natural resource conservation, education, and permaculture.  Those of you who know me personally understand that I place great weight in education.  I appreciate research - thesis, questioning, observation, analysis, theory.  That said, there are too many things out there in this world on which I could hang my educational hat, and in the light of international politics, higher ed admin, and counseling, sustainability did not make the cut. I don't feel the least bit guilty about this - I just state it here to inform the reader that my thoughts are not grounded in any academic paradigm.  They are simply the musings of a person who agrees with the statement one of my students made to me about me the other day - "Clare, you have too many thoughts."

The EPA defines sustainability as such:

Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. (

It makes a good amount of sense to me - to be sustainable one must a) value one's link to the natural environment, b) understand that one cannot abuse nature or the environment just as one should not abuse another person, and c) this lack of abuse should extend into cultivation, preservation, and maintenance of the natural world in order to ensure that it will be around in the future.  Well played, well played - yet I don't know about you, but even that is so vague to me that I could make arguments that a large number of things are sustainable - or to put it differently - a number of people call things 'sustainable,' about which I disagree.  There is a housing complex near where I live that claims sustainability.  I've read up on it and yes, there are 'green' features in each home.  They have energy-saving appliances and locally-sourced materials, and can list off the other things that make these homes 'sustainable.'  I applaud their efforts and think that it is a step in the right direction, but I wonder whether or not new technology is going to be the way to achieve sustainability.

I guess it seems to me that the answer to how we enact existing in "productive harmony" with the natural world would come from nature itself.  I'm all for energy efficient light bulbs and fridges and using solar panels - technology has its place - but there seems to be an assumption in the EPA definition of sustainability that I am not sure I buy.  Saying that sustainability is about trying to get humans and nature to cohabitate earth like two agreeable roommates is to say that humans are not a part of nature in the first place.  I sometimes wonder whether or not the concept of sustainability is broad enough to encompass that.  Jason, my esteemed colleague here on this blog, says on a regular basis - 'sustainability is not enough.'  I laughed at him when he first said it, but when I look at it considering the concept that nature is being separated out from humanity I start to wonder.  I suppose in the end how one enacts sustainability does not have to include seeing the natural world as a series of resources to tend wisely.  I just wonder how many people see it that way.

Living outdoors as long as I did certainly pressed me to see how my body, my being, are in line with nature and that I am not that unlike the trees or rocks or streams or animals.  I can understand why the Native people of this country saw these entities as brothers and sisters rather than as resources.  The very notion of resources implies that nature is there to be used rather than there on its own right just to exist.  That said, nature feeds on itself and treats itself as a resource.  Plants use the sun to grow, animals eat the plants and/or other animals.  I suppose the question of sustainability is how to fold the human adaptation back into the cycles of life.  In that case, green homes start to look a little better - they increase awareness and tip the scale a bit.

I still think there is a long way to go.  Maybe that is why I write this blog - which incidentally is using technology toward solving these issues.  I am interested in thinking more, using less, and making the barrier humans have put between themselves and nature just a bit more porous.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Glean a Little Glean for Me

I am, what one might call, a freegan - I will eat pretty much any food if it is free.  Ok...not really ANY food, but I do look on a daily basis to capitalize on what is out there for me to consume.  There is so much food waste in this world, and I am totally OK with being a scavenger.  Working on a college campus I end up at a lot of pickup pizza parties!  I don't mind if it is out of date - I body test it and see whether or not it's good.  And - I glean.

Three weeks or so ago I was taking out the trash, and I noted that there were a number of apples in my front yard.  My front yard sports a plum tree, so I knew it was not that.  I looked around and saw no other evidence, so I wrote it off as some random thing...neighborhood kids or the like.  But earlier this week smashed apples starting showing up in the street, and I started looking carefully.  I found that there is a lone apple tree across from my house in an empty lot.  Right above what I had known was there for some time now - blackberries.

Rolling home from work on Thursday, I decided it was time to get my glean on.  The only other time that gleaning was this easy for me was when I picked 15 gallons of peachcots from my neighbor's backyard...and in that scenario I had to deal with hauling the buckets around the fence!  I stepped across the street and started with windfalls - then spent some time shaking the tree.  At about 5:30 my neighbor came home from work to find me waist deep in the brush, hauling on apple tree branches and chasing apples out into the street.  Hey - at least my dog does not bark and I don't play loud music!

I picked blackberries next.  I ended up with about 5lb of apples and a quart of berries.  Not too bad considering I was within sight of my house the whole time.  I took my spoils into the kitchen and whipped up some blackberry applesauce.  Here's my VERY simple recipe.
  • 5lb. of apples cut up into small pieces (I leave skins on, but then again I am lazy)
  • 1qt. blackberries
  • 1/4c. honey
  • 1c. water
Place the fruit and water into a large cookpot and simmer.  The water helps to keep things from burning (I hate to sit there are stir the whole time).  Once the fruit is cooked down you can either leave it chunky, or mash it up with a potato masher or some other implement.  I add the honey at the last minute to taste.

I do want to say a few things about gleaning.  In my town there are gleaners programs that pick food for local food banks.  Seeing as I run one of those, I try not to step on toes.  I also am not a proponent of picking fruit guerrilla-style.  In the case of my picking from my neighbor's yard, I left them a note in their mailbox asking if I could pick there.  They were not using the fruit, and I offered them some of the finished product once I processed it.  They were happy to comply.  That said, there are plenty of places where no one owns the tree/bush.  I am going to head to the park today and pick - there are a number of others who do the same.  Freegan for life!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Frame of Mind

My roommate Emily had a great idea for a poster frame to go in the living room of our new place.  Thought I would share it here since so many people loved the Doorknob Coat Rack I did a while back.

We started with an old salvaged window.  One side of the window was an awesome reddish-brown, but we wanted the hardware to face out, so we ended up painting it.  I used some of the leftover paint from a bookcase Jason and I built.  I only put one coat on and streaked the paint a bit to let some white or chipping show through - get a bit of a distressed feel.

Once the paint was dry, we had to get the poster to lie out flat on it.  This was the scene in our kitchen for several days... see the cool color on the flip side?

Once the poster was flat, we put magnets on both sides of the glass to hold it in place.  The poster is behind the glass to protect it.  I used some eyelet screws and wire from an art frame I reclaimed to mount the whole thing on the wall.

Couldn't resist getting my pic in here too I suppose...

Closeup shot of the magnets and some of the distressed paint.

I plan on hitting up some of the local reused and reclaimed building supply stores in order to get another window.  The plan is to get one that hangs lengthwise with another poster.  Cool matching tip - paint things that are similar but don't match the same color to bring them together visually

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mommy, mommy, tired and groggy, how does your garden grow?

Not very well apparently: 

Now, to be fair, I have been busy since I last posted; more so than the average bear. And, we did manage to harvest quite a lot between then and now. We had a small crop of broccoli and an even smaller crop of carrots. We had plenty of sugar snaps to munch on and two meals worth of green beans came off the vine.

None-the-less, I am embarrassed by the state of my garden, overrun with weeds and an overall eye sore in the back yard. I share these photos with you on the unspoken promise that you quit giving yourself a hard time about the state of your garden- and a sisterly acknowledgement on how easy the rest of life gets in the way of our best intentions. 


It is the land of nightshade, and I am the Queen!! What once stood a glorious 5 feet high, my monstrous plants have now buckled under their own weight. I am easily harvesting 50 tomatoes a week.

Picking them is a family affair, but eating them is not. My husband, sadly will not eat tomatoes. As you can see, our daughter does not share his distaste. The evening of these photos, she ate tomatoes for dinner.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Enjoying Summer Herb(s)

Oh I totally lucked out!  Just wanted to boast a bit about my good fortune.  Two people in my life - my former neighbor Michelle, and Jason - gave me a large amount of delicious herbs that I dried over the past few weeks.  I have lemon balm, kaffir lime, rosemary, spearmint, oregano, lemon thyme, and spearmint.  

I started drying the herbs by being all fancy - I tied them in small bundles and tacked them to my bulletin board.  Sadly I ran out of string (I'd used it all making pea trellises and candle wicks).  So, I ended up just setting them in paper bags by my sliding glass window in the sun.  They dried up very nicely.

Though I am ok with some stems in my tea, I aimed for getting mostly leaves crushed up and into the jars.  I did so by rolling the bundles in my hands over newspaper on my kitchen floor.  It made quite a mess, but it I got a ton of product.  Well...not oregano.  That went straight into dinner.

Be sure to store your herbs in dry containers so they won't mold.  You have to make sure they are DRY before you do that.  My herbs sat out for 3 weeks before I put them up.  They look really pretty don't they?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Behold the Power of Chesse.

So down here at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, California we have some goats. We milk them daily and we get a pretty substantial yield. So one of things that we do with our surplus of goat milk is to make goat cheese. Yesterday I made chevre, that classic of classic cheese. So I thought I would share the process.

First thing you need is some goat milk. Luckily here at RDI, we have the aforementioned goats, but perhaps a local dairy could help you out.

I used 3 gallons of milk.
1/4 teaspoon of mesophilic cheese starter
7 drops of rennet

A big pot
Dairy thermometer
A couple of wooden spoons.

Pretty simple set up.

So you start with your 3 gallons of goat milk in a big pot. Heat it on low until it reaches 85 degrees. Then add the starter. This would be available at a retailer of cheese making supplies. Basically your are inoculating the milk with little microorganisms that love that 85 degree temp. If you raise the temp too high, they will die, so its important to keep an eye on it to make sure it does not overheat.

After an hour, add the rennet. Also available at cheese supply stores. Then its a matter of waiting for the curds to separate from the whey. This can take a few hours. So bake some bread, build a table or something while you are waiting.

After a few hours, take a look in the pot. If the mixture is a thick yogurt like consistency with a light milky water then you are in business. If not, then you might need to add a few more drops of rennet.

The next step is where the actual work comes in to play. First you need to have another big pot or bowl or something that you can place a strainer over. Then lay a square of cheesecloth (a square foot is a good size) over the the strainer. Then you scoop out some of the curds and fill up the cheesecloth. The curds will remain inside the cloth, while the whey will drain into the big pot or bowl. Next, tie up the 4 corners of the cheesecloth complete with curds inside it and hang that on a wooden spoon or something that will span the distance of a large bowl or pot. Basically you are letting the curds dry out and the whey will drip down into a container below. You just keep filling up the cheesecloth in the strainer until there are no curds left in the original pot.

Leave the cheesecloth filled with the curds hanging and straining over night and then come back in the morning. Untie and check it out. You have chevre. Its a good idea to add salt, and feel free to mix it all around with a spoon. It will be fine. I like to add herbs or pepper. Once we made a dessert chevre and a curry chevre, so experimentation is encouraged.

The milky watery stuff left over is the whey, and that can be used for all kinds of fun stuff. Whey soda is very tasty. Check around for some other uses for whey.

So again, pretty simple process, not a lot of materials and not a lot of work and its done in 24 hours. So why is goat cheese so expensive?