Nothing New in Review

At the beginning of the year I made a series of resolutions. One of the more challenging ones was to refrain from buying anything new for the first three months of the year. I was sick of being a mindless consumer, buying whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, from where ever in the world I wanted. Instead, I wanted to stop to consider the resources that passed through my hands. I wanted to see if I could do without, make stuff, purchase used items instead. I wanted to abandon the image of myself as “consumer” and replace it with “citizen”.

My exceptions were as follows:

  1. Food
  2. Toilet paper
  3. Items to make my own homemade cleaners, cosmetics and soaps
  4. Things for gardening/composting
  5. Fabric and notions to make some homemade clothes for my kids
  6. Used items

So now that today is officially the last day of the three months – how did I do? What did I end up buying? I am here to confess to some cheats and some insights in breaking free from shop-mode.

Here is a list of items I did buy over the last 90 days:

  1. 2 handmade bars of soap from the Farmer’s Market
  2. 1 small jar of handmade face cream from the Farmer’s Market
  3. 1 two-inch bottle of handmade hemp conditioner from… yes, the Farmer’s Market
  4. Dishwasher detergent – only after trying to make my own with great disastrous results
  5. Liquid dish soup – only after trying to make my own with somewhat disastrous results
  6. Flour sifter – to sift the bran from my stone-ground local flour so that I could make a lighter loaf of bread, and also – local bran muffins!
  7. Candy thermometer – to use when canning, as I am planning to preserve lots of food this summer/fall
  8. Birthday presents – for two birthday parties my 5 year-old son attended (although I gave my 1 year-old niece a previously loved toy my kids had when they were babies – I think she liked it!)
  9. Handmade necklace and bracelet from the Farmer’s Market for my mother-in-law for her birthday (I got her 3 used hardcover books as well).
  10. Rubber boots for my kids – after I had checked out 2 stores for used pairs, I bought ones that were phthalate-free and made in Canada, which is not easy to find! The snow melt is finally on, and there are massive puddles everywhere.
  11. Tylenol – we ran out and I had a horrible headache one day
  12. 4 recycled plastic large bins – for storing items in the garage that were previously stored in cardboard boxes in the storage room downstairs. That stuff cannot reside in their existing cardboard boxes as our garage can flood. I am clearing out the storage room to make way for a new shelving unit for… homemade canned goods!
  13. Emergency supply kit – this is a whole other blog post
  14. Digital SLR camera – I lost my camera and spent the whole next day calling around and retracing my steps trying to find it. Frustrated, I threw up my hands and decided to buy a camera I plan to have for a really long time. I did not however, purchase a camera case. I did however, purchase a used men’s jacket, from which I plan to sew, and craft into, a custom-made camera case. By the way, I know how weird this sounds. But the camera case for the camera was over $100! The men’s jacket was $7! Besides, it will be much more interesting. Until it is made, my camera is bound to the confines of my house.

That is it. I feel a bit guilty about the 4 (recycled) plastic bins. Who knew a year ago, that I would be sitting here writing this, feeling guilty about buying 4 plastic bins. Under normal circumstances I would feel happy and proud of myself, for taking the initiative to actually organize and clean out the storage room and garage in the same project. Look at me! Cleaning the garage! Now I feel like – look at me! I just bought 4 big ol’ plastic bins when I forgo buying regular bread since I don’t want to waste a little bread bag! It is nonsense, I know. However, there are situations, when a plastic bin does make sense. Like when things are going in the garage, where they could become wet and ruined if they were left in any other type of container – cardboard, wicker basket – these just will not work. Even a homemade wooden box from sustainable timber that I cut down myself using a previously used axe, would not work. Plastic has some uses. For example, I like my plastic laptop. For the most part though, I try to avoid plastic whenever I can. If you really look, plastic is everywhere. So if a non-plastic alternative exists I will normally take it. Despite these justifications, I still have lingering guilt.

The other big glaring item on the list is the camera. Nothing new, and I buy a camera… I justified it as something I was not willing to sacrifice, as it is important to document my children growing up, and also – I need to be able to take pictures for you, dear reader, for this here blog.

Note that I did not buy shampoo. Digging through my bathroom cupboard, I found a stockpile of a brand I don’t really like. Oh well, it is finally getting used up. Eventually I want to learn how to make my own soap, and then by extension, my own liquid soaps, such as dish soap, hand soap and shampoo. I am going to defer this project until next fall, as I feel like I am going to be pretty busy with the whole big new garden plan and all.

The other thing I did not purchase – any clothes or shoes for me, even used. I bought used clothes for my kids and found some really cute stuff.  Kids grow and they need bigger clothes, you just cannot get around that. However, I am also getting some hand me downs from friends and my sister, and that helps too.

So what did I learn? I learned that I don’t have to shop for something to do. Have you ever been in a long line up at the till, waiting and waiting to pay, squinting under the fluorescent lights, feeling the energy and life slowly drain out of you, bored, restless and annoyed? Why am I standing here? I did not miss those moments. How about when you get home with all your bags, and the kids are restless and jumpy and loud, and it is well past the time you were supposed to get supper on, so the bags get left by the door in a heap, and at the end of the day after everyone is in bed, you trip over them again, and realize that you have the additional job of taking everything out of the bag, clipping off all the tags, peeling off all the stickers, taking stuff out of the packages, and then putting it all away, into your already full house? I never liked the putting away part. The best part of shopping is the finding, the discovery. After that, it just seems to go downhill.

So what will I do now? I have thought a lot about it, and have decided that I am going to sign up for another three months of Nothing New! I will report any exceptions here at the end of June.

It actually was not that bad, it was liberating really, and I learned quite a few things along the way. I think I also saved about $1,000!

Before I begin though, I think I might buy myself some of those made in Canada rubber boots, to play around in the puddles with my kids, and later, to play around in my future garden. Other than that, my original exceptions will apply, with the addition of shampoo, dishwasher soap and liquid dish soap.

So who is with me?  What would your rules be?

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Seedlings

Now that I have a garden plan and seed plan, last weekend we actually planted seeds! I thought it would be fun to designate plants for each child, so they each planted three cherry tomatoes each. They love cherry tomatoes, so I figured it was best to start with that. I am hoping that they will feel a sense of pride and ownership over their plants, as they plant them, watch them germinate and grow, and finally – produce some stuff to eat! My son planted the Balcony Charm variety and my daughter  Sweet Hybrids. I also seeded Black Cherry tomatoes, as well as Roma and Early Girl tomatoes. We put three seeds in each pellet, for a total of 18 plants and hoped for the best. I put them on top of the fridge, covered with a plastic dome, to create a warm, humid environment.

Now look:

Seedlings! I have since moved them to my sunniest window. Apparently seeds like warmth to germinate, but prefer cool conditions once they are up. I am hoping they will be cool enough right up against the window.

I also planted red and green peppers, but they have yet to poke their heads out. I can see that the seed has sprouted, but they are still tiny pinpricks in the soil. These guys are still on top of the fridge.

Tomorrow I will plant parsley, mint and oregano. I am about a week behind on these. I have a feeling we might be late planting our seedlings outside this year anyway, as we still have a 3 foot pile of snow in the backyard! Spring just does not want to come this year. This week has been cold and gray, and I am yearning for the sun. Physically yearning! I want to feel the sun upon my face, I want to see greenery, I want to see things growing.

When spring finally does come, and morphs into glorious summer, I am sure I will be spending many hours outside, tending to my new garden. It will be a good excuse to get out there and soak up each and every day of summer!

Economics of Happiness

 Last week I attended a screening of the Economics of Happiness. The film is about how our current mode of life in the West is unsustainable and is not making us any happier. In fact, we are more overworked and stressed out than ever before. We are disconnected from our communities and from our natural world and whether we realize it or not, we need these connections to feel happy and fulfilled.

The root cause of all this disconnection? The movie claims it is due to our highly consumptive lifestyle where we define the sense of ourselves within the image of this consumption – I am defined by the car I drive or the house I live in, by the designer clothes I wear, the furniture in my house and the smart-ness of my phone. What if instead – we were defined by our place in our local communities, our families, our contributions and joy that we bring each other? What if we saw ourselves as part of nature, and realized that we are nature? Right now we are so disconnected from nature and from each other that it’s making us lonely and sad.

What is driving this consumerism and disconnection? The movie claims that it is big companies, big banks, big media. We are increasingly homogeneous on this planet of ours, as we all feed into the same images of beauty, wealth, affluence, success. Local customs, cultures, even languages, are being lost to the Western culture of consumerism.

The solution? Localism – lessening the distance between buyers and sellers, so much so that we can look the seller in the eye knowing that he has produced what we are about to buy, and have a conversation with him and build trust. We will perhaps then better respect the natural materials that went into build it, grow it, and the human effort it took. My goods don’t have to travel across the globe to get to me, I don’t have to contribute to poor working conditions in halfway around the world to get my product. It may cost more, yes. But what if the cost to me was the true cost of the product, including the cost to the people who made it and the cost to the environment?

This movie has really struck a chord with me. It goes against what I was taught in business school, and everything I thought I knew about free trade and globalization.

I remember in one economics class in University, having a debate about globalization. Is it better for large companies to have their goods made in the developing world, under poor working conditions with a barely livable wage, or to have them made in the developed world, under good working conditions with a fair wage? If the goods are made in the developing world, the end price of the product will be cheaper for the consumer. Also – it gives people jobs, without which they might have nothing. Are we doing them a favour by exporting these cheap labour jobs? Who benefits more? The western consumer for the lower prices, or the poor migrant worker with poor working conditions and a poor wage (but without the job, could perhaps be in even a more dire situation)?

In that economics class, I argued that it was better to give the person the job; that it was more efficient to have the goods made there than here as they have more resources of cheap labour, and that this combination brings the most good to both parties.

A poor job is better than no job right?

Now I am not so sure. What right do we have to export all the crap jobs over to China, where there are few worker safety regulations? In the West we could not force people to work in these same conditions, in some cases it would be against the law. How ethical is it to buy our goods from these places, knowing this might be the case?

Back to those people who need the job – if we don’t give it to them what will happen to them? Well this movie argues that people are being taken off the land, away from farming, and moving into large urban centres to work in these large factories to make stuff for us in the West. This is happening all over India and China right now. Migrant workers move away from their families to work in the city, and lose their connection with their communities and with the land. But they are getting a job right? But wait a minute – isn’t farming a job? The movie argues that it is okay to be a farmer; we must not look down upon it, we must not see the mass migration from sustenance farmer to urban factory worker as necessarily a good thing. The sustenance farming communities are often very sustainable, and employ much of the community in the work. Just because people don’t have a lot of material goods and drive cars and have a lot of money, does not mean that they are not happy. In fact, the movie claims that some communities are happier in that they have a deeper connection with their community, with each other and with nature.

So why is success defined through economic prosperity, instead of through a measure of happiness?

The movie also commented on the power large corporations have over governments these days, and how much power they have over us as citizens (consumers). They form incredibly large and well-funded lobby groups; they fund political campaigns and buy off politicians to further their own agendas. They mesmerize us with their commercials and billboards and magazine images. Who exactly is in control here anyway?

This is also something that goes against what I have always believed in. Corporations are key to capitalism right? And capitalism is the most economically prosperous type of system right? Corporations are efficient, they are working towards innovation, they create jobs for people; create wealth for pensions for people. Right?

Now I am not so sure. Why do they have so much control over governments? This is so evident on the issue of climate change. The scientists tell the government that we need to change to avoid disaster and oil companies tell the government that we don’t have to change. Who have the governments of the world listened to? 97% of climate scientists? No. Oil companies? Yes.

This is precisely the reason that 350.org is launching a campaign against the US Chamber of Commerce, which is a large and well-funded lobby group for big business that has been persistently trying (and succeeding) to block action on climate change in the United States. 350.org is asking businesses and people all across the US to sign up and say that the “US Chamber does not speak for me“.

So what can I do? Well I can choose local food, locally made goods, handmade goods made right here in my city, or in my province. Perhaps these goods will better reflect the true cost to the people and to the environment.  I can support local industries, help them flourish. I can be part of the solution. I can limit my purchases of consumer goods I don’t need. I can think twice about buying products from places where the working conditions may be questionable.

Getting local, getting back to our roots, connecting with our communities, with our families, each other, and with nature – it has to be a good thing!

Clothes to Me

Once Valledupar's main economic produce; Cotton

Image via Wikipedia

I watched a show yesterday called Eco-Trip: The Real Cost of Living.  In this episode, they  followed the life of a cotton t-shirt. Apparently, cotton crops are some of the most heavily sprayed in the US agricultural industry. Cotton crops also consume a vast amount of water, over 2,700 litres (700 gallons) per pound of cotton. The heavily sprayed seeds and other plant parts are also fed to cows, which we then eat. According to this show, we are actually consuming more cotton through eating beef than through purchasing clothes. Hmmm.

After it is picked, the cotton is cleaned and shipped overseas, mostly to China, where it is woven into cloth, using more water and dyes and chemicals. In many cases the cloth is shipped again to another country where the garment is put together, and then shipped again back to North America, where it is put into stores for us to buy.

Our clothes really have an amazing journey, even before we walk around in them for the first time! Just as importantly, our clothes consume a lot of water, even before we have washed them for the first time. Finally, our clothes have been responsible for a whole lot of pesticide use, almost 1/3 of a pound per t-shirt. If you think about it, the pesticides used to produce a regular cotton t-shirt, can weigh more than the t-shirt itself. Ewww.

Before turning all green last November, I had never once thought about the impact that my clothes had on the environment. I had never considered my clothing footprint.

We have an insatiable appetite for new clothes in North America. The fashion industry feeds this frenzy, by making us feel decidedly un-cool if we don’t buy new clothes each season. Many people have racks and racks of clothes, some of which they have only worn once or twice, some still with the price tags.

If we all knew the environmental cost of making our clothes – would we still buy so many?

As part of my Nothing New challenge, I have not purchased any new clothes for myself, husband or kids since January 1st. It honestly has been very easy. We have so many clothes to begin with there is no reason to buy more. However with kids it can get a little tricky. Take my son for example – he is five years old and plays rough and tumble on the floor. The knees of his pants can take quite the beating. Since our challenge began, he has blown out the knees of 3 pairs of jeans. I still let him wear them, just not to school.

My next problem is socks – my socks. It seems like I am getting holes in all my socks all at once. The other day I had to try on 3 pairs of socks before finding one without new holes.

My community held an “I’ve Outgrown It” sale last weekend. It is an annual event where they stuff a school full of used kids clothing and toys. It is like a giant garage sale! There are great deals to be had. I purchased 4 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my son, and 2 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of shorts and 5 shirts for my daughter. I got all this for $100. Several items had never been worn and still had the tags on them. Others were high-end, brand name items that had seen very little wear. So I am now set up quite nicely for spring and summer.

I am closing in on my 3 month challenge of nothing new, with only about 2 weeks left. It has me thinking about what I will do once the challenge is over. Will I rush out and buy a bunch of new stuff? Will I continue to not buy any new stuff at all? Or will I take a hybrid approach and purchase new only when absolutely necessary?

I have not quite decided. I do know that I am very aware of the huge footprint my clothing has, and will opt to wear what I have instead of purchasing new.  If I have to purchase, I will try to purchase used whenever possible. If I have to purchase new, I will buy from stores that offer high quality fabrics that don’t wear out as fast – it may cost more but it will last longer, and someone else is more likely get some use out of it when I am done. I am also going to be on the look out for organic cotton fabrics in my area. I would like to save some pesticide poundage! I will also get out my mending skills and see what I can do about those nasty holes in my socks and my son’s jeans.

Umm… wait a minute. I think I just committed to darning my socks. Seriously?

I guess so! 🙂

Seed Plan

I have been immersed in the world of vegetables.

As I am planning my very first vegetable garden this year, I have spent the last two weekends studying, like a student, how to grow vegetables. It brought me back to my university days. For several nights I have sat at the kitchen table after the kids have gone to bed, with my library books and my notebook, busily learning.

The culmination of this effort is a page of notes for each vegetable I want to grow: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro, mint and spinach. I have learned a lot. For example, cucumbers like hot weather, but they like their fruit to stay cool and shaded under their large leaves. Their roots are vulnerable at the seedling stage so it is best to plant them in a pot that can go directly into the ground outside.

Now peas hate the heat, and so are the very first to be planted in the spring – a full 4 weeks before last frost date! Hot weather converts the sugary goodness within their pods into starchy blandness, so one hot afternoon on the vine in the middle of summer can make all the difference.

As for beans, there are two types – little guys that grow in little bushes (bush beans), and then big trailing types that grow up poles (pole beans). I am going to try both. The pole beans can be grown up a 6′ tripod of bamboo or wood stakes; I think this will look so pretty that I am going to put them in my front yard.

Carrots take the longest to germinate, so much so that gardeners forget where they have planted them. So some people plant them mixed in with radishes, just to mark the rows (radishes sprout and grow quick, but since you have to pull them all out after the carrots finally do come up, I think that this is too much work and a waste of radishes).

Tomatoes are the divas. They are well loved, but high maintenance. I learned that there are two main types, those that stay in a bush (determinant) and those that climb on a vine (indeterminant). I will try some of each. For those that vine, you have to give them a trellis or stake support, and tie them as they grow, at every 12″ or so. You also have to prune off the little suckers, so that the plant only maintains 2 to 3 main stems to focus its energy. You need to side dress them with compost when the flowers come out, and keep them well watered but not too much or else their skins will split. They are very frost sensitive so they should go out one week after last frost and then be covered up with blankets if there is any risk of frost thereafter. This is where container gardening has some advantages, as you can just whip in all your containers inside if there is a chance of frost!

Then there is the lettuce, it grows fast and aplenty and if you plant a few seeds every week or so you will have lettuce all season long. Great!

Some plants are started from seed outdoors, and some have a longer growing season so have to be started early indoors from seed, and then planted outside as a seedling later on. Every plant has a different plant date according to the kind of weather they like (peas like cool, cucumbers like hot) and they all grow at different rates and have different harvest times as well. It can get bit confusing to keep straight, so I decided to pull out my nerdy spreadsheet skills and map this thing out:

So it looks like next weekend, we will be planting our first seeds indoors, parsley, lettuce, oregano and mint to be exact. The weekend after that – peppers. The weekend after that – our diva tomatoes. Interestingly enough, the weekend after that we will be starting our basil indoors from seed at the same time we are supposed to be planting our peas outside from seed (April 9th). This seems ridiculous since this is only a few weeks away and there is still currently 3 feet of snow outside. Melt baby melt! That part of the schedule might have to be adjusted. It looks like I will be busy harvesting in July, and for some crops, will be able to put in a second planting before fall. Lettuce I will plant all summer long. Tomatoes will be saved for last, ready at the very end of the growing season (like all divas, they make you wait).

This will be my first crack at raising seedlings indoors, so if it doesn’t work, I will just buy seedlings at the nursery. I figure it is worth a try and will be fun for the kids to be involved too. I am sure they will love to help plant the seeds, and see how they germinate and grow. I am hoping to have two little helpers in the garden all season long. It will give us something to do together outside, and who knows, maybe they will eat all these new vegetables that they had a hand in growing…

So my planting dates are coming up quickly, and I needed to get my hands on some seeds. Since I did not have time to order them from a seed catalogue this year, I browsed varieties using online seed catalogues, looked up which varieties were recommended for my area, and then took all this information to my local nursery to buy packets of seeds off the rack. It was fun!

So much potential, those little packets. What goodness will they bring?

The Age of Stupid

I just finished watching the documentary, The Age of Stupid. Again, the credits are still rolling and I am inspired to write.

My overall feeling after watching this film is WHY. Why are we doing this to ourselves? It is such a simple and honest question. What is the answer? Most people must not fully know the issue at hand. Either that or we just don’t care enough about ourselves, our humanity. We selfishly fail to focus on this issue. I feel so frustrated. This movie has lit a fire under my butt to try and do more… MORE!

We are not leaving this world a better place than what we found it, obviously. We buy so many consumer goods, we eat food from half a world away, and we burn cheap energy. We use our precious resources as if they had no end. The scary thing is that they will end. We are using them all up, saving none for future generations. Even those who don’t believe in climate change (against 97% of climate scientists) must still concede that oil will eventually run out. What then? The world will be faced with the same problem that we have now, without the added bonus of any hope of reversing catastrophic climate change and an Earth worth saving.

The movie takes place in 2055. The world has succumbed to catastrophic climate change, and most of humanity has been destroyed. Near the North Pole there is a huge tower rising out of the now-melted Arctic Ocean. It is a storage facility, housing all the important artworks of humanity, and in massive banks of computer servers, containing all the history and music and literature and scientific discoveries of all of humankind. It is a time capsule of sorts, on a massive scale. The narrator is the storage facility’s keeper. For all we know, he is all that is left of humanity. He has at his access, news and documentary footage. From this footage he creates a cautionary tale for some future non-human generation to find. All footage he uses is from current day real life, and is not fabricated or fictional.

He follows a young woman in Nigeria, age 23, who lives in a rural town where Shell Oil has moved in. The agreement was that 13% of the oil revenues were to go to community development. Here in this community, she sees nothing. No clean water, no medical facilities, no secondary schools, nothing. It is probably a case of corruption at the government level, as well as Shell not living up to its original promises and not being held accountable. There is now oil in the river, killing the fish, a key food staple for these people. Natural gas that is found alongside the oil is burned instead of stored or transported, as it is the cheapest option in this region. This country has the riches of oil and gas, but the people do not benefit, and are instead suffering with a damaged water supply and air pollution due to gas flares (emitting 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year). This young girl wants to build a better community, a better life, so she is working hard to raise funds to get admitted to college to become a doctor. In the end the only way she can raise the funds she needs is to sell diesel fuel on the black market.

Next he follows a British family, trying to reduce their carbon footprint and live off the land. Their goal is to reduce their footprint to one carbon tonne per person per year, as compared to the 10 tonnes per year on average for the UK. The father is involved in wind turbines and wants to install a wind farm on a local farm. The farmer is all for it, but the neighbours are not. The neighbours essentially, do not want their view to be ruined. One lady, who was instrumental in the protest against the wind turbines, says later that she is concerned about climate change and that everyone should do their part. Then she laughs awkwardly, knowing that her actions do not match her words. However, her actions are mostly typical, as we are all mostly, worried. But few of us are willing to give anything up of value to change. She was not willing to give up her view.

The narrator also follows a businessman in India, who is about to launch a new Indian airline. This man indicates that his overall goal and purpose in life is to work toward eliminating poverty in India, a noble goal, to be sure. However, to accomplish this, he is putting more airplanes into the sky, thereby contributing in a large way, to carbon emissions in India (airplane travel is very carbon intensive – one long haul flight would equal driving my car for 8 months).

He also follows an American man who worked for an oil company, who lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. With his small boat, he ended up saving over 100 people stranded in their homes, including a 92 year-old man and a 2 week-old baby.  Are catastrophic weather events like this going to increase in number and severity? Some would argue it is already happening.

There are two children from Iraq, now living in another country as refugees. Their father was killed in the war.  The reason for the Iraq war? The film implies that it was for oil and these two little kids are paying the price.

Then there is the mountaineering guide in France, who at age 82, has seen the landscape and climate change in the mountains significantly in his lifetime. He has watched the glaciers shrink. He has watched the summers grow hotter. He has seen car and truck traffic through his small, quiet mountain town grow exponentially. He has a love of nature and he sees the path that we are on and is physically pained by it. He has a beautiful quote near the end of the film:

I think everyone in the future will perhaps blame us for not thinking how to protect the environment. We knew how to profit but not how to protect.

These stories from around the world remind us that we are all interconnected in this thing. What goes on in India and Iraq and Nigeria and the UK impacts me here too. It impacts my children. It impacts you.  We are all here on this little planet Earth, living together on this miracle of creation. This is our only home, no other place yet discovered in all the Universe could sustain us. It is like a tiny spaceship, careening through the immense dead of space. How will we treat our precious aircraft, so that it can continue to support us? Will our personal self interests override the needs of our vessel, so key to our very survival?

If we do not change, it is not the Earth that will suffer. It is us. The Earth will continue to careen through space, whether we have a place on it or not.

The scariest thing about this movie came from Mark Lynas, who wrote Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet. He told us that we will have to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050, which is something I have also read elsewhere. However what I had not seen before, was his assertion that in order to achieve that, we have to peak on emissions by 2015. That is only 4 years away. I am so frustrated because I see this train wreck coming at us so quickly, and we are so busy squabbling about having to change our way of life that we don’t realize that before we are even done squabbling, it will be too late.

How can I accept that? In short, I can’t.

That is why I write in this space, that is why I am actively greening my life from top to bottom. But I need to do more. I need to reach out to people and get involved in the flesh, in person. I want to do more, and need to carve out time for it. There is absolutely no excuse for not doing so.

My children deserve it. You deserve it. We all do.

Garden Plan

I have been really interested in food lately. When I started this new green journey a few months ago, I could not stop thinking about garbage. Now it is food. Go figure.

But I really believe that we need to develop a different relationship with food. I am not talking about counting calories or the downfalls of emotional eating. I am talking about having a deeper respect and appreciation for food, knowing where it comes from, and the miracle of nature that brought it to us.

I was always amazed, watching tiny green shoots in the spring grow into a blaze of green by summer. Where did it come from? Does it come straight from the ground, rearranging the soil particles into a 2 foot bush? Does it come partly from the sky, drawing carbon from the air and amassing it into an organic structure? I have a huge spruce tree in my front yard; it must be about 50 feet tall. I look up at it and wonder, how far down do the roots go, given how high up the branches reach? Do they sprawl underground, across my whole yard, under the road even? How did this massive thing come to be, here?

These days we are so disconnected from this growing process. We know that food is grown, in general terms, but we really don’t think about it too much when we throw 5 tomatoes into a plastic bag at the grocery store and then move on. Where were they grown? Who was involved? How did the sun shine upon the plants? What was the soil like? Once picked, how long was the journey from farm to table?

I want to reconnect with this process. I want to see my own food, growing. I want to pick my own tomato off my own vine, and cherish the shiny red globe that it is.

So, I am planning a brand new garden for spring.

What precious agricultural land is employed so that I may sit down to eat 3 times a day, and feed my family? What if I used some of my own land, right in my own backyard, to take up this cause? What if my food did not have to travel an average of 1,500 miles to the plate, but instead made the journey in a mere 15 feet?

So yesterday I braved the weather and climbed among the snow drifts with my measuring tape, figuring out how much room I had and what I could plant. This was no small task, as we are still very much within winter’s icy grip. We are facing yet another cold snap, with temperatures hovering around -30ºC (-22ºF) with the windchill. My body hurts when I go outside! My 2 year-old daughter cries when the cold wind whips her face, so when we go out I carry her, rushing, holding her face towards me, being so cold myself, groaning under the task of trying to walk-run while carrying her, hoping not to fall on the icy, snowy sidewalks, while still trying to coax my 5 year-old to run run run it’s cold hurry hurry run!! We are all sick of it and longing for spring. What better way to beat the winter blahs than by planning a garden?

So here it is:

  1. One 3 x 8 foot bed on the east side of my house. This is a bit shady, but will get some direct sun for some hours of the day. I will grow veggies that can tolerate some shade, such as lettuce, certain herbs, carrots and radishes. I also plan to install a compost bin here as well. This is what the site looks like right now:

  2. Another 3 x 8 foot bed on the west side of my house. This area is decidedly more sunny, and should get 6 – 8 hours of sun per day. I will plant cucumbers, beets, onions, leeks, carrots and potatoes here. This is what the site looks like now.

  3. On the north end of this area bed above, I will plant a dwarf apple tree. It will be pollinated by my crab apple tree in my front yard, as well as by my neighbor’s apple tree. The dwarf variety will only grow 5 feet wide and high, so hopefully I have room!
  4. Space in an existing bed in my backyard, where I will grow peas and beans up the fence. Raspberries already grow here as well, you can see some of their canes sticking out of the snow:

  5. 2 beds that measure 1 x 4 feet each, that will go on the patio, facing south with full sun. I will grow tomatoes and peppers here.
  6. 4 hanging window boxes that will hang on my fence facing south, where I will plant sun loving herbs.
  7. 2 container beds that will measure 2 x 3 feet each, that will go in my sunroom. The sun room takes up a lot of my backyard, so I decided to use it as a hot house and will grow tomatoes, cucumbers and possibly sweet potatoes. I can also use the sun room to start many of my plants early; I am hoping to use it as kind of a greenhouse.
  8. A space in my existing perennial raised bed in the front yard, covering an area of 5 x 3 feet. I plan to plant a strawberry patch here. This is what the perennial bed looks like now (you can barely tell that it is a raised brick bed about 2 feet off the ground):
  9. A space in another existing perennial bed in the front, in an area covering 2 x 5 feet. I plan to plant beans, peas and a two blueberry bushes. Here is what it looks like now (again, the brick raised bed is covered in snow):

It is crazy to think that I will be putting seeds and seedlings in the ground in just over two months, when it is still so cold outside and the mounds of snow still so high. But it will happen! Spring will come, new plants will grow, and this year, hanging among the leaves will be fruits and vegetables.

What about you? Are you thinking about growing some food goodies in your garden this year?