The New Home Economics

photo above by whiteafrican photo on right by Wayan Vota

So what is this simple, elegantly designed object? It’s a bottle opener from Africa as seen on one of our favorite blogs, AfriGadget. Tough times call for elemental solutions, not to mention popping the cap off a beer.

And speaking of tough times and ingenuity, with our economy continuing to meltdown and unemployment on the rise (check out this youtube interview with author Nasim Nicholas Taleb and mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot for a real scare), we’ve begun to see sudden interest in the long forgotten topic of home economics. A good example of this new home economics is 30 bucks a week, the recipes and strategies of a couple in Brooklyn attempting to limit their grocery bills to, yes, just $30 a week.

But back to that African beer bottle opener pictured above. Yes, it exists in the context of poverty, but it’s also a symbol of hope, of facing adversity with resourcefulness, a sense of style and play.

A Used Tire Compost Bin

There’s so many damn used tires littering the sidewalks of this grungy town, Los Angeles should incorporate them into the city seal. Thankfully tires make a fine raw material for building projects and Homegrown Evolution has been experimenting with their many uses over the past year. This week we built a compost bin.

Step one is to cut out the sidewalls. You might be able to do this with a sharp knife, but it’s much easier with an electric saber saw. We used a knife to cut a slit to get the saber saw started. Once both sidewalls are cut out you just stack your modified tires up, fill it with compost, put a cover on it (we used a piece of scrap aluminum), and fetch a beer.

We’ll post another tire project soon.

Homegrown Evolution at Environmental Change-Makers

We’ll be doing a talk this Thursday in Westchester (Los Angeles) at the monthly meeting of Environmental Change-Makers. But don’t just come to see us! This event is at the Church of the Holy Nativity, which took out a lawn to grow food for the needy, an idea we’d like to see spread around the world.

The Church of the Holy Nativity is located at Dunbarton at 83rd St., (6700 West 83rd Street) Westchester 90045. The meeting and talk begins at 7 p.m.

More on Church of the Holy Nativity’s amazing garden here.

Time Banking

So what is money but an abstract representation of misery, time spent doing things we’d all rather not be doing? How about an alternative? How about taking all of our hard earned capital away from the Wall Street types? Get ready for time banking.

With time banking, you get together with your local community members, friends and family and exchange hours rather than currency. Time Bank USA describes the concept succinctly:

“For every hour you spend doing something for someone in your community, you earn one Time Dollar. Then you have a Time Dollar to spend on having someone do something for you.”

Time banking isn’t defined as barter, so you don’t have to pay taxes on services or goods exchanged. And time banking is egalitarian–everyone’s hours are valued equally–an hour of digging a ditch is the same as an hour of legal services, or acupunture or whatever.

Homegrown Evolution met our local Echo Park Time Bank organizers Lisa Gerstein and Autumn Rooney last night at a joint appearance we did at Materials & Applications. Gerstein and Rooney, related to the audience a number of success stories from the time bank, such as how one busy woman was able to keep her cat after the time bank found someone to administer daily shots while she is at work.

With our economy in a tailspin, Time Banking has great potential. If there isn’t a time bank in your area Time Bank USA has software and assistance to help you set up one.

Chickens in Chicago

Another gem from City Farmer News. Somehow it’s a lot more fun to listen to someone else talking to city bureaucrats:

“Video by Chad Kimball. Raising Chickens In The City – Chicago Police Say NO. “Is it legal to keep chickens in the city of Chicago? Listen to conflicting information I receive from the police, the city clerk, and the legal department.”

For more info on the law in your area, City Farmer News suggests checking City Chicken’s list of chicken laws.

Kitchen Alchemy

“Those who believe civilization can be run according to different principles – humane, equitable, and collaborative ones – need to step forward now with concrete proposals and put ideals into practice.”

-Daniel Pinchbeck

A Homegrown Evolution reader quite rightly scolded us recently for not writing enough about what people in apartments who can’t keep gardens or chickens can do. It’s our contention that all of the activities profiled on this blog are a kind of alchemy, symbolic gestures that ultimately lead to the kind of societal transformations that Pinchbeck writes about. These symbolic gestures need not be over sized, nor do all of them require land. Cooking homemade meals from scratch, as often as possible, is just the kind of alchemy one can practice anywhere you’ve got food and a source of heat. And what is cooking anyways, but a form of alchemical transformation? As luck would have it, we’ve had a number of visitors to our humble casa in the past week, Pinchbeck included (read his thoughtful Prophet Motive columns here). Two other visitors are cookbook authors. All share a common vision of positive change through personal and household actions.

Ysanne Spevack moved to our neighborhood recently and has a really nice cooking website and blog at www.organicfoodee.com. That pumpkin bread she blogged about recently looks mighty tasty and we can’t wait to try her buckwheat recipes recently featured in the Los Angeles Times. She has written a number of books, specializing in cooking with organic ingredients.

We also got a visit from farmer and agriculturalist Shannon Hayes of New York’s Sap Bush Hollow Farm. She’s the author of two books on how to cook grass fed meat. Hayes is currently working on a book on what she calls “enlightened homemakers”, touching on the kind of societal transformation that can occur when we change the way we run our abodes.

Lastly, there’s a new online cooking school that has some mighty nice how-to videos and a free trial offer for 30 days. At Rouxbe.com we’ve learned a couple of nice tricks, our favorite being how the pros slice an onion. Very handy.

Now I’ve gotta stop blogging and make a pizza . . .

Action!

To those frustrated with national or even local politics, I say just get out there and do something. In the words of London’s guerrilla gardener and author Richard Reynolds, “The point at which I became a guerrilla gardener is when I realized that I would get a lot more accomplished by just getting out there and doing it than phoning up the council and complaining about the landscape all around me.” So skip those endless returns and watch a mini-doc of one of Reynold’s actions:

Via City Farmer News.

Vote Yes on 2 (if you’re in Cali)

Homegrown Evolution ain’t making any political endorsements regarding that little election thingy happening tomorrow, with the exception of California’s Proposition 2, a measure that would, “prohibit the cruel confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to tum around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.” Whether you are left, right, center, libertarian, carnivore, vegetarian or none of the above we think this measure is an important first step in reforming appalling and unsafe agricultural practices that have become all to prevalent since the disappearance of family farms in the 1970s.

Does Proposition 2 address the underlying problems, i.e. bloated farm bills and agricultural policies that subsidize and incentivize large scale industrial farms? Is keeping chickens in big sheds with no sunlight (“cage free” and “free range”) a good idea and will prop 2 take care of this? Sadly, no on both counts. But we’ve gotta start somewhere.

We were especially ticked off to see that University of California veterinarians, supported by our tax dollars (not to mention our past tuition dollars), have lent their support to the anti-prop 2 campaign alleging that removing animals from confinement will lead to disease outbreaks. Since these researchers get their funding from industrial agriculture, one can’t expect anything but biased, junk science. Given the funding situation, it’s also wise to view all extension service advice, even tips directed at home gardeners, with skepticism.

We’ll be voting yes on 2 and, sorry UC, you’ll never see any alumni contributions from us!

Food Fight

Homegrown Evolution readers in the Los Angeles area can catch a free screening of a new documentary by Chris Taylor called Food Fight on Saturday November 8th at 3:15 p.m. at the Mann Chinese 6 (6801 Hollywood Blvd.). Food Fight centers on the influence of Alice Waters founder of Chez Panisse, a Berkeley restaurant that pioneered the use of fresh, organically grown foods and what later came to be called “California Cuisine”. In addition to Waters, Food Fight features interviews with food pundits Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Dan Barber and celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. Homegrown Evolution viewed a preview copy and particularly enjoyed a segment on Chez Panisse’s mercurial chef Jeremiah Tower and the quixotic attempt by congressman Ron Kind to reform the last farm bill. While the California-centric local food movement portrayed in Food Fight can easily be dismissed as an elitist lifestyle for the wealthy, (it ain’t cheap to dine at Chez Panisse, any of Puck’s eateries or shop at farmers markets) Food Fight makes the case that we all pay a hidden cost for cheap processed supermarket food, namely obesity, diabetes and a host of other nutrition related maladies.

For more information and to view a preview go to www.foodfightthedoc.com

Bisphenol-A


Above, the bisphenol-A or BPA molecule, a type of plastic found in all kinds of products including baby bottles, plastic food containers, Nalgene bottles, some wines (from the plastic stoppers and the lining of fermentation tanks) and the lining in metal cans. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it’s safe, a viewpoint contradicted by at least 100 studies. The problem: BPA is a endocrine disruptor linked to a host of problems, according to some researchers, including cancer, obesity, childhood hyperactivity and the early onset of puberty in girls.

We’ve done our best around our little urban homestead to eliminate plastics from our lives, but where we still encounter BPA is in canned foods which we like to have on hand. Next time you pop open a can take a look at the inside–odds are there is a nearly invisible clear plastic lining which is where you’ll find the BPA. So with BPA we have yet another one of those throw up your hands in disgust, anger and desperation moments at the supermarket. What to do?

Canning your own food is one good option. We started doing this last year and it’s surprisingly easy. The Ball company’s website can get you started on that project. Drying and pickling foods are other alternatives. Also, not all processed food manufactures use BPA. Eden Foods, available at health food stores, skips the BPA.

Separating industry sponsored junk science from government policy is another important, though much more difficult step. Within the means of each of us is developing our own scientific literacy as individual citizens. Read the studies, write your government representatives and fire up that hot water canning bath.