Sunday Spam: Automatic Chicken Cage

We interrupt the usual picture Sunday feature to bring you the best and most misdirected spam email that has ever graced the Root Simple in-box:

Dear Sir or Madam,

Liaocheng Dongying Hengtong Metal Manufacturing Co.,Ltd here. Glad to hear that you are on the market for Automatic chicken cage. We are a professional producer of the complete sets of equipment for raising birds. At present, it is an enterprise which has the import-export license and exports a batch of complete sets of automatic equipment for raising chickens.

These products gained good prestige among customers and they are not only used in great-scaled biological raising farms in domestic provinces, but also exported to Middle Asia, South and East regions, Australia, South America, Middle East areas, Africa mainland and so on in great lot. We are willing to wholehearted with all the friends and customers to establish good relations of cooperation, realize a win-win benefits, and create a magnificent performance. If any interest, feel free to contact me.

Best regards,
Senior Sales Manager,
Fatma

Clearly a product that’s not a win-win for the chickens, but thank you “Fatma” for providing us with some much needed scratch for the blog.

Alternatives to the Funeral Industrial Complex

A casket made by the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey in Louisiana.

If there’s one business I’d like to see shut down and rethought it would be the funeral industry. I’m not going to mince words. The funeral directors I’ve had to deal with just wanted to turn grief into dollars. When my dad passed on his pastor warned me about what would happen at the funeral home, telling me that they would try to up-sell my mom and I. He said, “don’t let them try to equate money with love.” He was right. Even though everything was supposedly per-arranged the funeral director still tried to get us to buy more expensive items.

If treating individuals like this isn’t bad enough, the funeral industry works like a cartel to curtail the rights of any alternatives to their products and services. In Louisiana the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, staffed almost entirely by funeral directors, tried to shut down a group of monks who were making and selling simple wooden caskets. And let’s not even get into the horrific tales of abuse, theft of dental fillings, reusing graves, etc.

The good news is that there seems to be a growing alternative funeral movement. The monks won their court case. And I have a feeling that as the baby boomer generation begins to grasp its own mortality, we’ll begin to see more changes. Either that or the funeral industry will start marketing fake green burials (they probably have already).

What prompted this rant was a comment from a Root Simple reader asking if I knew of any green burials in Southern California. I don’t. If any of you know of any alternative funeral services in Southern California, please leave a comment. I’m also interested in hearing about the experiences of readers outside of our region. Have you participated in a DIY funeral? Do you know of any resources for opting out of the funeral industry?

What’s Your Personal Food Policy?

Tom’s got a policy. Do you?

The Thanksgiving holiday brings together an often incompatible assembly of  vegetarians, paleoterians, pescatearians, breatharians and folks who just don’t give a damn, to share a meal. While I’m sure many family gatherings pass without controversy, many of the readers of this blog probably end up in uncomfortable discussions about where our food comes from. It’s a holiday that provokes a consideration of what Mark Bittman calls our “personal food policy.”

The point Bittman makes about developing a personal food policy is that our choices at the dinner table make a difference. We all have to eat and we vote with our supermarket dollars. Just as our Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack helps craft our nation’s schizophrenic food policies, I thought the Thanksgiving holiday would be an appropriate moment to define my own personal food policy.

But as I started to write down my personal food policy I discovered so many contradictions and exceptions that I just stopped. My own personal food policy, when considered honestly, was almost as tangled as the USDA’s. Yes, sometimes we manage to grow all of our greens, but other times bugs/bad soil/forgetfulness in the garden sends us on a trip to our local discount Armenian supermarket. Other times we’re so busy that we pick up prepared crap at Trader Joes. And frankly, my personal food policy, started to sound a bit holier than thou. As Rumi says,

Spiritual arrogance is the ugliest of all things.
It’s like a day that’s cold and snowy,
and your clothes are wet too!

One issue, however, that over the years I’ve come to feel strongly about is factory raised meat. I just can’t eat it anymore. It used to be that, out of courtesy, I’d eat anything served to me when I’m a guest at another person’s house. I’m not sure I can still do this. As Michael Pollan says, “Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.” And those walls have become transparent to me. I’ll happily eat meat, but only if I know it was humanely raised or hunted.

So, dear Root Simple readers, what’s your personal food policy?

And, of course, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Notes on Mark Bittman’s “Behind the Scenes of What We Eat”

Last week Erik and I went to see well-known food writer Mark Bittman speak on food policy. He spoke in a huge room in The California Endowment–and it was a full house. Afterward, Erik and I compared it to being in church. We were surrounded by people of the same faith, being told things we already know, and being reminded to be good. And I don’t mean that in a bad way! It never hurts to meditate on how to be better, to do more. Bittman is an engaging speaker and it was a great evening. I took notes, and will share a little of what I learned.

He spent a good deal of time describing how our national food system and food policy is depressing and screwed up. We all know this, right? Factory farms, fuel waste, massive environmental degradation, obesity crisis, etc. & etc.

(One quick scary fact from the roll of shame: Did you know that 80% of antibiotics used in the US are fed to farm animals? That number has been shooting up fast for the last 20 years. Why are they used on animals? Not so much for illness, but rather to prevent illness in animals living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and to speed growth. They’re prophylactic. Lovely. Antibiotic failure happens to be one of my favorite doomsday scenarios.)

Bittman believes that in 50-100 years we will no longer be shipping food across country or across planet–we’ll be relying on local/regional agriculture systems, based on family farms. Whether this shift is a positive, pleasant transition or made in a state of dreadful calamity, is entirely a matter of how soon we begin working on the shift.

Continue reading…

All Politics Are Local

I thought it appropriate on election day to repeat one of my favorite equations for happiness–a stoic flowchart that comes via Mark Fraenfelder of BoingBoing.  At the end of the day, about half of America will be happy, and half will be dismayed. All we can do is remember that beyond voting, we cannot control the outcome of the election. So a stoic would advise us to not to rail against what we cannot change or affect, but to focus on what we can change–ourselves, and our immediate environment: our household, our block, our school district, our city.

All politics are local and the good thing about local politics is that you can make a difference. For instance you can:

  • start a community or school garden
  • volunteer to teach gardening or food preservation
  • plant trees
  • build neighborhood resilience and tolerance
  • create bike lanes and walking paths
  • legalize backyard poultry and bees

Not that these local goals are necessarily easy, but they can be accomplished. And they all address resource depletion. By all means go vote today, but let’s get together after this mess and work on what is really important.

Vote Yes on 37!

I don’t normally discuss politics on this blog. I feel that the topics we discuss under the banner of homesteading–such as gardening, alternative energy, alternative transpiration, home ec, health and fitness–unite people across the political spectrum. Overall, I’d rather focus on what we can do and what we have in common rather than the constant diet of strife and discontent served up by mainstream media.

Continue reading…

Chairs, are they killing us?

Even American cats sit in chairs.

The knee injuries I’ve accumulated running, hiking and fencing have a lot to do with basic flexibility problems. Mrs. Root Simple likens my inflexibility to that of a ginger bread man. So should I plant my stiff derriere on the nearest yoga mat? Or should I throw out all our furniture? I’m thinking the latter. Let me explain.

Continue reading…

Social Media as a Homesteading Tool

One of the things I love most about this blog is that I get instant feedback and advice. Yesterday I asked for a source for olive trees and Ginny (thank you Ginny) left a comment with the address of a nursery I did not know about. An hour after reader her comment, I came home with a small Frantoio olive tree. Exactly what I was looking for.

I would never have found this tree without blogging. Blogging is a great way to keep notes on what you’re doing and connect with other like minded people. Should blogging interest you I recommend going with WordPress over Blogger. We’re going to switch over next month. And set a deadline for yourself–blog at least three times a week.

While there are many things to dislike about Facebook (principally that those of us who use it are doing free market research on ourselves), it has proven useful for me on many occasions. I’ve used it to solicit gardening advice, find a place to celebrate a birthday, borrow a guitar and keep up with friends and family. And I’ve learned a lot from what Facebook friends have posted about their homesteading adventures. Yes, the privacy issues are alarming but, having written two books now, our life is public anyways.

I think that it’s healthy to look at new technology critically and to take a break both daily and monthly from all the screen time we seem to accumulate. And I’m not a fan of cell phones, even though I own one. They seem like tracking devices with phone privileges to me. Perhaps some of you will show me the smart use of a smart phone. But I also believe the Luddite path is a dead end.

If you write a homesteading/gardening/cooking/home ec blog, or know of a good one leave a link to it in the comments. And friend Root Simple in Facebook here.

Genetically Engineered Crops Increase Use of Pesticides

A new study authored by Charles M Benbrook of Washington State University, “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. — the first sixteen years,” found troubling evidence that the use of genetically modified crops leads to greater pesticide use. This peer reviewed paper concludes,

Contrary to often-repeated claims that today’s genetically-engineered crops have, and are reducing pesticide use, the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds in herbicide-resistant weed management systems has brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied. If new genetically engineered forms of corn and soybeans tolerant of 2,4- D are approved, the volume of 2,4-D sprayed could drive herbicide usage upward by another approximate 50%. The magnitude of increases in herbicide use on herbicide-resistant hectares has dwarfed the reduction in insecticide use on Bt crops over the past 16 years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

My two cents about genetically engineered ag:  I’ve always thought the best arguement against GMOs relates to unintended consequences. The novelty of genetic modification, when compared to the slower pace of conventional plant breeding, is a perfect way to generate “black swans“.  This is why I’ll be voting for Proposition 37 which will mandate the labeling of genetically engineered products in California.

Via The Garden Professors.  

Poultry Houses of the Ultra Wealthy: Part 2

Are $100,000 chicken coops a sign of an empire on the verge of a decadent downward spiral? If so it’s time to get that bug-out location ready because Neiman Marcus publicity flacks just announced a $100,000 “Heritage Hen Mini-Farm.” From the description on their website:

Dawn breaks. The hens descend from their bespoke Versailles-inspired Le Petit Trianon house to their playground below for a morning wing stretch. Slipping on your wellies, you start for the coop and are greeted by the pleasant clucking of your specially chosen flock and the site of the poshest hen house ever imagined. Your custom-made multilevel dwelling features a nesting area, a “living room” for nighttime roosting, a broody room, a library filled with chicken and gardening books for visitors of the human kind, and, of course, an elegant chandelier. The environment suits them well as you notice the fresh eggs awaiting morning collection. Nearby, you pick fresh vegetables or herbs from your custom-built raised gardens. You’ve always fancied yourself a farmer—now thanks to Heritage Hen Farm, you’re doing it in the fanciest way possible!

The Neiman Marcus folks apparently didn’t get the memo on what happened to the original owner of Le Petit Trianon. Those angry mobs of real French peasants weren’t all too happy with a royal family of pretend farmers. Will Neiman Marcus offer a diamond encrusted Gucci guillotine when the chicken coop class war breaks out?

And, in my humble opinion, British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey has a better coop.

Thanks to Root Simple reader Birdzilla Studios for the tip!