Reflections on September, 2014

That we suffered an embarrassing, yet successful harvest this year is grounds for a post about the real dilemma of food.  Embarrassing because the grasshoppers ate better than we did, and successful because we get to learn from our mistakes, which are plenty.

     Let me first explain my utter hatred of the biggest employer in this country.  The biggest box-store of consumer plethora that has ever existed.  The pusher of goods off store shelves and small business owners out of town.  Wal-Mart.  The beast of bargains.  My contempt began with a college research paper about integrity and Wal-Mart became the best example for its lack thereof.  Then more college research on their reliance of overseas products and their complete disregard for the environment.  Then came the documentary, The High Cost of Low Prices, which conveyed the treatment of its thousands of employees, its harmful business practices, and the negative effects of its presence on the economies of small-town America.  My mother can attest to my avoidance of that store, begging her not to ever shop there, particularly when her town has other options.

     When we moved here, we quickly realized that our options were severely limited.  We can drive 30 minutes to a very small health food store, an hour and a half to a larger one, or head to our closest town, where our options are a Save-a-lot type grocer, or the Beast.  Oh, and there is a tiny farmer’s market too, but that might get us some tomatoes, in July.  Definitely not a feed-the-hungry-family-super-nutritious-and-energy-filled-food-so-we-can-build-our-own-house-type food.  The Save-A-Lot store has meager options for those items I can’t allow myself to buy generic, like deli meat and bread.  Produce is very limited, and they don’t offer any organic items, whatsoever.

     Then it happened.  I went to the behemoth and purchased food.  A lot of food.  They had a large selection of fresh fruits and veggies, organic options, options for different sized containers of foods and multiple brand names, so that you can actually make an informed choice on who’s company you’d rather support.  As a food-snob, a nutrition-minded consumer, and a mother of two, the healthiest option is to shop at the evil big-box.  Wal-Mart.  My mother and many friends were floored when they found out about my hypocritical food source.  It’s only temporary, I keep telling myself.  Temporary until we make really good friends with our red soil.  It can provide for us, I know it can.  We just need to care for it as if it were one of our own children; keeping it clean and free of toxins, and feeding it vitamins and minerals.

     We need good food.  Period.  I am breastfeeding.  We are performing tasks day in and day out, equating to hard physical labor, which requires calories, fat, and protein.  We are also cursed with high metabolisms.  You just can’t do what we do on peanut butter and jelly.  So our diets must be plentiful.

     So we’ve figured out our food dilemma right?  We shop health food stores when we’re going to those towns anyway, stock up on organic sprouted whole wheat flour, organic coconut oil, and other staple items, and shop at Wal-Mart for everything else.  Problem solved, right?  Wrong!  The real dilemma comes when walking the aisles, planning meals as I go, and trying to choose the healthiest options.  Here’s what happens:

     I pull into the parking lot, which is blacker than coal and radiating Oklahoma’s 98 degree solar laser-beam.  Why do they use black?  There’s no need for one of those No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service signs.  If you walked on this parking lot with no shoes, you wouldn’t have feet.  A plastic bag is blowing in a mini-tornado among other trash, near the entrance.  Upon entering, I realize I have forgotten my coat, again.  Something about the blow-drier-like heat sweeping across the plains of desiccated grass makes me want to undress, rather than grab a jacket.  It’s probably 62 degrees in here.  A creepy old man glares at me as I grab a cart.  I think he’s supposed to say, “Welcome to Wal-Mart.”  Instead, I’m pretty sure he’s looking at my breasts.

      The produce comes first.  Okay, try to find organic, and local, I tell myself.  Tomatoes.  Hydroponic from Canada.  Hmm.  If you’ve ever had a hydroponic tomato, you know they should be avoided like the plague.  Grainy, tasteless, and sporting a strangely translucent orange flesh.  Maybe I’ll get the Romas.  Nope, those are from Chile.  Okay, maybe Grandma has some tomatoes we can have.  Broccoli.  They do have organic broccoli.  From California.  Don’t look at the price.  Just put it in the cart.  We’ve got to feed the children.  Ooh, oranges.  That would be a nice snack.  Oh wait, its September.  They aren’t in season.  No oranges.  Bagged salads of Iceberg lettuce, no thank you.  Tofu, no thank you.  Grapes.  From California.  Only 4.98 a pound.  Wow, that’s expensive.  Must be the drought in California.  Better not get those, or I’d be supporting really wasteful irrigation practices.  Carrots, called pesticide nuggets, by some friends of mine.  No organic option.  Okay, move out of the produce.

     Bypass the frozen pizzas and TV dinners.  Those are soo not healthy.  And there’s a strange plump woman in that aisle.  Is she wearing pants?

     Bread.  All the breads have bleached enriched flour.  This means they’ve bleached it, removed all the goodness, and then enriched it with lab-derived “nutrients.’  High Fructose Corn Syrup?  In bread?  Maybe I should just make my own bread.  Oh wait, we don’t have an oven.  Well there is one bread who’s first ingredient is whole wheat.  I’ll get that.

     Canned goods.  We have to find something we can cook in the solar oven, because I AM NOT going to make a fire in the middle of the day.  Canned soups.  Some of them are organic.  Don’t look at the price.  5 aisles in and we’ve got bread and broccoli.  We NEED some soups.  Hopefully the lining of the can isn’t made with BPA.

     Wow there are so many items in this gluten free section!  Gluten free peas?  Really?!?  They had to fill label space, apparently.  Coconut milk.  We can handle that.  We’ll make a curry dish.  Oh wait, it’s got cargeenan.  Crap.  Humans aren’t meant to ingest that stuff.

     Meat aisle.  We could get some hamburger meat, but that seems silly to get this stuff from a Colorado CAFO when we can get local beef from my father in law.  Oh, bacon, yes.  After a few packages of bacon have been soggified in cooler water, I now know to buy the resealable package.  This will get us through a few breakfasts.

     Skip the chips and cookies aisle.  Just do it!  Skip it!  Okay, whew, we’re past that.  Okay, let’s grab some nuts because those can’t possibly contain artificial anything.  And some beef jerky.  Don’t look at the price, just get some protein, for your family.  You’ve got to feed your family!

     We’re out of mayonnaise.  Holy Baloney there are a lot of flavors of mayonnaise!  Bacon-flavored mayonnaise?!  Really?  Ok, there is seriously a real-life cowboy standing next to me, packing a gun.  OMG, he even has spurs!  I bet he came in here to get his bacon flavored mayonnaise, OR ELSE!  Oh, nope.  Coffee.  He’s gotta get his cowboy coffee OR ELSE!  Maybe I should pick up some more coffee for hubby.  Starbucks coffees are really expensive.  I bet all of these brands don’t pay their workers crap and chop down rain forests to produce this stuff.  There’s one fair trade option.  Nah, better not.  It has an awful lot of packaging.  I’ll get the cheap brand so we can use the can for buckets of dirt.  Sorry, families in Columbia.

     Okay, cold stuff aisle and then I’m outta here!  Gotta have some yogurt.  “No fat! Low fat!  28 grams of sugar per serving!  No calories!”  What the hell is wrong with people?  Don’t they know that fat is good for us?  Man, I wish there was some local organic dairy farm that made yogurt from raw-milk and sold it in reusable recycled containers.  Oh wait, this is Wal-Mart.  Greek-Gods 7 grams of protein it is.  That lady with no pants just bought a case of Yoplait fat-free yogurt.  I guess she doesn’t realize that low-fat foods make you fat.

     Eggs.  I hate buying eggs.  A cage-free dozen is $4.99.  Our chickens will make eggs soon and then I won’t have to bother with these beak-less battery chickens and their hormone and antibiotic-pumped fetuses.

     Milk.  Almost done.  A gallon of generic is $5.22.  When did milk get so expensive?  It probably has to do with subsidies.  Oh, organic milk!  A half-gallon is the same price- $5.  I’ll go with the gallon.  We need a milk cow.

     Done!  Finally.

     I get to the check out and try not to pay attention to the garbage magazines.  “Inside Robin Williams’ Bathroom,”  “Katie Holmes Gives Birth to African American Baby,”  “How to Lose Weight Without Leaving the Couch.”  Probably something no-pants-lady would be interested in.  So many impulsive junk foods, for only a dollar.  No wonder people are fat and full of cavities.  I put my reusable bags up on the conveyor belt first, so the cashier can see them and process this alien concept of reusing.  He pushes them aside and starts putting the milk into a plastic bag, and then into another, as if the milk didn’t already have a handle.  “It’ll stay colder that way,” he says.  I sneakily take the milk out of the bags and set it back into my cart.    “I have these handy reusable bags here,” I state as I put them on the bag hooks for him.  Now I have completely upended his routine.  He then asks which items belong in which kind of bags.  I have a hodge podge of them in multiple colors, so I can understand the confusion.  Two are insulated, so I tell him to put the cold things in there.  I can tell he’s having trouble resisting putting the meat in a plastic bag, but he succeeds.  “I also need 4 bags of ice, please.”  Remember, we’re living out of coolers right now.  He rings up the ice.  I look over my purchases and wonder if my piddly little items are really going to satisfy our hunger for a week.

     I start to walk out of the store thinking about the cashier’s perception of me, completely bypassing the ice, and walk out into the foyer, where a young man is standing there wearing all black clothes.  I look at his eyes and notice that they look like they belong to some zombie creature.  I’ve probably done a double-double take before I realize they are freaky contact lenses.  Creepy.  He probably just ordered them from prepperzombienet.org to ward off zombies in the apocalypse and he’s trying them out at Wal-Mart.  Is he staring at me?  Should I run?

     As I head back out into the radiant-flooring parking lot I see a kiddie pool on sale for $10 being violently upended by a gust of wind.  It blows up over no-pants-lady and smacks a man in the back of the neck.  He falls to the ground and some other shoppers help him up.  The creepy old Wal-Mart greeter picks up the pool, as if this happens often, and replaces it back into the wind scoop area of hideous plastic yard ornaments.  I hope the victim decides to take legal action.  Not that it would phase Wal-Mart’s behemoth revenue.  I get all my stuff into the car and realize I forgot the ice.

     Food shopping is so hard for me.  I can find 6 different reasons to talk myself out of buying each food item and then leave the store with nothing to feed my family.  I don’t want to support unethical companies, I don’t want to buy products with excess packaging.  I want foods to be as natural and organic as possible and we’re not rich, so the price has to be reasonable too.  I’m simply too much of a food snob to continue the grocery store dilemma.  There is only one answer here.  We have to grow our own food!

~End Rant~

In other news…

     This September we had a “Super Moon!”  It was pretty bright, but not what I’d call a super moon.  We had a really nice cloud display one weekend after some rain.  Pictures don’t do it justice, but here’s a shot:

Clouds

     Also this month, we had an Earthbag Wall Construction Workshop and we made some new friends!!  I think I’ll call them our EBBs.  (Earthbag Build Buddies).  They live here in Oklahoma, about an hour and half away from us and are planning their own build soon.  We were so happy to show them how to work as team partners, one holding and placing the tube, while the other scooped and lifted buckets.  It was a bit difficult to get the hang of the bag dispenser while balancing the weight of the heavy dirt-filled tube, but they managed.  It made me realize that my husband makes it looks a lot easier than it is.

EBBs

     We also showed them our methods for mixing dirt and getting it the right consistency.  They noticed their soil is quite a bit different than ours.  Its interesting how much soil composition differs over such short distances.  We also showed them how we use a 3 step process for tamping the bags.

EBBs

     And finally, we danced in the cob!  Everyone finds cobbing to be fun at first.  Not that its terrible later on, but it is really fun at first, feeling it squish between your toes, and the ease that it sticks to the wall when it’s good and moist.

I think the whole workshop made our new buddies really excited to start their own project.

     Our progress has been significant this month for two reasons: The weather has been very tolerable and we’ve been filling the bags fuller!  We looked at some of our first bags and they are pretty thin.  With experience and practice, we’ve been able to fill the bags as full as possible.  This makes them a little harder to tamp, but when we stand back and observe, we see that while our first bags were on average 4.5 inches thick, these latest ones are 6 1/4 inches thick in places.  This equates to faster build-up of walls with less bag use.  We still haven’t busted into a second roll of bags yet.   We are getting so close to adding a locking-in finalizing bag, called the bond beam, that will be filled with fortified earth and will go over the smaller window forms.

     Our chicks and guineas are doing well.  The guineas are really fun to watch.  They climb up on top of whatever they can find; a dirt pile, the clubhouse, their chicken coop, and then holler, rather loudly, at anyone else that may be able to hear.  They are almost saying, “ha ha! We got up here, and you can’t!”  But their usual call sounds like, “come back! come back!”  I can see where some people might find their calls irritating.  Luckily we have no neighbors to bother.  One morning, awaking in the trailer, we heard some scraping and then plink plink, plink along the length of the trailer.  They flew up there and ran from one end of the roof to the other.  It was quite an abrupt awakening.  They are almost 12 weeks old now.

     I started reading Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own this month.  Its about his entire thought process of and subsequent building of, a quaint hut on his small acreage in Connecticut, a place to be alone and write.  I thought it would be fitting, due to our home-building circumstances.  It has been a joy to read so far.  How is there possibly time for reading you ask?  Every time we stop to break and breastfeed, I pick up the kindle and devour some of Pollan’s exquisite words of wisdom.

     Pattern Recognition is a principle of permaculture, and I find it funny how I keep realizing the pattern of finding patterns.  It is amusing that the more I read, the more I realize that so many connections can be made to permaculture, as if permaculture were the base, or centrifugal point of life and all patterns extend from that center.  So, Pollan talks about deciphering the best place to place his place.  He says this: “I eventually found myself turning to the garden designers, who seemed, at least in the West, to have thought more about how architecture should fit into the landscape than the architects had.”  Fitting.  Everything relates to the garden.  Everything relates to patterns, and being able to recognize them, and that is a necessary component of permaculture.

P.S. ~ Because I’ve been writing this blog for over a year now, I thought it would be a good time to get some feedback.  So, if you wouldn’t mind, please take a short survey for me.  This will allow me to see what you think about my blog and how I can tweak it to better inform/educate/entertain you.  Thanks a bunch.

 

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2 comments to Reflections on September, 2014

  • Carl

    Love the blog — Thank you!
    I keep interrupting my wife to read it to Her.
    We are building a small underground house and homestead on 20 acre in NW Oklahoma (North of Tahlequah and your experiences are very interesting to us.
    It’s not nearly as harsh here as your conditions (not much wind in our little valley) You should write a book. (I’ll buy the first copy!)

    • Carl, thank you! I’m glad you and your wife enjoy the blog. It always brings a smile to my face knowing that like-minded individuals, some farther away than others, can appreciate our endeavors. I have thought it would be neat to publish my blogs or some version of them. I’ll keep you posted.

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