Plum Lemon Tomato Power’s Heirloom Tomato

Congressional hearings today revealed that the FDA inspects fewer than 1% of food imports, yet another reason among many to grow your own food. While we have a less than lush vegetable garden this summer, we do have a decent crop of tomatoes thanks to a trip out to Encino a few months ago for Tomato Mania the Lollapalooza of tomato seedling sales. Unfortunately, to add to the ignominy of our white trash gardening efforts, we somehow mislaid the names of the tomatoes we planted making our reporting efforts incomplete. We do know the name of the wondrous plum lemon tomato pictured above, well worth planting again next year. It’s a meaty, sweet, yellow tomato delicious both fresh and dried. Allegedly the seeds for this tomato originally came from an elderly seed seller in a bird market in eastern Moscow which the Russian police have since shut down due to an outbreak of H5N1 bird flu.

Speaking of disease, while the FDA missed those loads of melamine laced pet food from China, they did somehow manage to track 1,840 confirmed cases of food-borne illnesses in domestic tomatoes.

Again, urban homesteading revolutionaries, GROW YOUR OWN!

We found that label and it’s a tomato called “Power’s Heirloom”. Here’s how the Seed Saver’s exchange catalog copy describes it, “First offered in the 1990 SSE Yearbook by Bruce McAllister from Freedom, Indiana. His seed originated in Scott County in southwest Virginia over 100 years ago. Heavy yields of 3-5 oz. yellow paste tomatoes. Similar to Amish Paste, great flavor. Indeterminate, 85-90 days from transplant.” We hugely recommend this delicious tomato and consider it to be the tastiest tomato we’ve ever grown–meaty and flavorful.

Licensed to Rant


As someone who uses a bike to get around it scares us to think about how easy it is to renew a driver’s license, as one of the Homegrown Revolution compound members did this week. Can you breathe? Great! Here’s your license. Are you homicidal, schizophrenic, elderly, partially blind, or all of the above? No problem! Just step up, have your picture taken, take a vision test that could easily be cheated on, pay $27 and you can legally get behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound exhaust-spewing death machine.

While our country does everything it can to facilitate everyone getting behind the wheel of a car, there’s one big thing you have to give up, in addition to lots of cash–your privacy. It’s been many years since we renewed our license in person and this time around there was one big change–a sign taped to the wall just below the grinning portrait of the actor who played Conan the Barbarian saying in effect that if you don’t want to be electronically fingerprinted you won’t get a license. Which brings to mind an article by Claire Wolfe in the most recent issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, the Martha Stewart Living of the off-grid set, in praise of walking and biking (triking to be precise) from a radical libertarian perspective.

One of my aims in choosing this life has been, as Thoreau said, to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” In the case of transportation, my notion of simplicity involves a few special requirements.

First requirement: No permits, licenses, government registrations, or bureaucratic involvement at all. I know it’s naive in this super-governed age, but I’m foolish enough to hold fast to the belief that in a truly free country people travel peaceably on the roads without being stopped and hassled by “the authorities” and without asking the permission from the king (or the president, or the governor, or the Bureau of Lawn Mowers, Motorbikes, and Small Radio-Controlled Widgets). Motor vehicles are not only expensive and prone to breakdowns (anything but simple), but with driver’s licenses becoming national ID cards, unconstitutional highway “checkpoints” everywhere, and our every move being tracked through our licenses, registrations, and purchases, those vehicles we rely on are being deliberately used by government as the vehicles of our unfreedom.

The Real ID Act of 2005, which Bush signed into law on May 11, 2005 sets up federal standards for state drivers licenses. Two of the requirements of the law “physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication for fraudulent purposes” and “a common machine-readable technology with defined data elements” sound a lot like incentives for fingerprinting and RFID, a kind of computer chip which stores information that can be read from a distance by a radio frequency device.

Currently all motor vehicle records in California, including the fingerprint and photo databases are open to district attorneys, city attorneys and law enforcement agencies as put forth in section 1810.5 of the California vehicle code. In addition banks, insurers, attorneys and auto dealers can access certain parts of license records. The Real ID Act will set up a massive nationwide database open to any law enforcement agency, “A state shall provide electronic access to all other states to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the state”.

We can take some comfort in the incompetence of the California DMV. A December 2000 article in the Orange County Register shows that DMV clerks had so many problems using the electronic fingerprinting machines that over half of the fingerprints were deemed unreadable and useless.

Fingerprinting and RFID are presented as ways to deter counterfeiting and identity theft, but aside from the obvious privacy concerns and the government handouts to dubious tech companies marketing these gadgets, our drivers licenses becoming national identification cards raises bigger philosophical questions. What further steps will be taken to monitor our mobility? How will governments and corporations use RFID chips, not to mention the global positioning capabilities of cell phones? And why is automobile travel so entwined with our very identity? Are we free-thinking citizens, participants in a democracy or are we merely motorists?

It’s time to opt out of the system. It’s time to walk and it’s time to ride a bike . . .

SurviveLA becomes Homegrown Revolution!

For the kids out there, the woman in the picture above is operating a ditto machine, what we children of the 60s and 70s used before the internets came out. Perhaps we’ll revert back to it when the shit goes down. In the meantime, SurviveLA is in the process of going international and to facilitate this we’re changing our name to Homegrown Revolution (www.homegrownrevolution.org). Stay calm, our content will stay the same. All the old links and posts will stay where they are and our old url (survivela.blogspot.com) will still work, but please updatilate your servilators.

Please bear with us while we make the switchover as it’s hectic in the new Homegrown Revolution computer lab:

Simple Tech

At the intersection of third world need and our first world’s gadget obsession lies a number of non-profit organizations attempting to help poor folks through the development of clever low-tech interventions. The rocket stove we featured earlier exemplifies this approach. With a rocket stove, which is made out of simple, easy to repair materials, you can burn twigs, newspaper and scrap wood rather than cutting down whole trees to make charcoal for cooking. Rocket stoves if adopted in wide numbers, have the potential to slow deforestation.

Another example is a wheelchair made out of the ubiquitous plastic lawn chair developed by an organization called the Free Wheelchair Mission. At just $44 a chair to manufacture and ship, the Free Wheelchair Mission hopes to, as they put it, “Transform lives through the gift of mobility”. The wheelchairs they produce use simple, cheap and easily replaceable parts, important in places where you can’t just shuffle down to the local Home Depot.

Our favorite source of what we call “simple tech” can be found in a huge compendium of on this suspicious site. We especially like the “APPRTECH” section which consists of detailed information on everything from solar stills to pedal powered devices.

Much of the tech info for third world counties is a strict one-way proposition. The university educated experts parachute in to offer advice to the locals but don’t bother to take any lessons back. Sometimes this arrangement goes bad when the technology developed by the “experts” breaks down when the parts can’t be sourced locally.

There can also be a considerable amount of arrogance in asking poor folks living in places decimated by the legacy of colonialism, and our rapacious WTO/World Bank/global economy to “make do” while we in the first world bleed them dry for the raw materials that keep our SUVs, plasma screens and iPhones running. Isn’t it time we in the first world used some of these low-tech ideas–say by replacing our iPhones with a flock of chickens?

Do you know how many chickens you can get for the price of an iPhone? Two hundred. Of course your deluxe $100 iPhone calling plan courtesy of AT&T will only pay for around 400 pounds of chicken feed a month, so the fiscally prudent will trim that flock down to around 65 chickens. Of course if you let that flock catch the spill-over from the draft horses that will replace your Chevy Yukon when the shit goes down, you can save even more.

Mandrake!


Homegrown Revolution chanced upon an amazing book at the library, Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers that has inspired ambitious plans of a fall and winter season of beer making (things are too little too hot around right now for fermentation). What separates Buhner’s book from both the geeked-out world of middle-aged home brew aficionados on the one side and the Budweiser frogs on the down-market other is his emphasis on the ancient and sacred elements of beer making which used to be, he claims, the duty of women, not men.

His chapter, “Psychotropic and Highly Inebriating Beers” contains a number of recipes, including one making use of the mysterious mandrake plant, a member of the nightshade family and popularized lately in a certain series of books about a wizard school (Homegrown Revolution suffered through the first film based on these kid’s books on a transatlantic flight a few years ago, finally falling asleep during an endless video game inspired broom chase scene).

Apparently wherever it appears in the world, mandrake (Atropa mandragora) has always inspired unusual beliefs. Buhner says,

Though all indigenous cultures know that plants can speak with humankind, mandrake is almost the only plant from indigenous European practice about which this belief is still extant. Throughout its Christian European history, it has been believed that when mandrake was harvested, the root would scream, and that the sound would drive the harvester mad.

The roots are said to resemble a human with the top of the plant representing the head as in the illustration above. The plant belongs to the nightshade family and has been used over time, as a purgative, an aphrodisiac, treatment for rheumatism, a means to expel demons among countless other purposes. Pliny used it as an anesthetic, and Buhner offers a beer recipe using a 1/2 once of the dried root. Seeds for mandrake, an endangered plant in many places, are available from Horizon Herbs, a company trying to revive cultivation of the plant.

This summer season we’re surrounded by nightshade plants, tomatoes, ground cherries and eggplant. These common nightshade family members, as well as mandrake and the datura that the local Native Americans used for there spirit journeys, have a strange relationship to human culture, at once edible, sometimes poisonous, sometimes psychotropic. We think we can almost hear them talk.

The Real Injera

Homegrown Revolution was delighted to receive a comment from “Watch Woman“, who is from Ethiopia, reacting to the injera recipe we posted earlier,

From my experience of baking injera, the baking soda/powder, self-rising flour or commercial yeast alters the real taste & texture of teff injera. I say, the restaurants here in the US have the look alike of the injera, but far from the real taste & texture of injera. Sorry but the truth. Just by using one of your starters you can bake good decent injera. No need to add the baking powder/soda.Trust me. See, the reason injera is always sour dough back home is, that it will take some of the bite out of that spicy rather hot stew (doro-wote- spicy, hot chicken & hard boiled egg stew ).

I remember, once I invited a friend of mine (American of course) for lunch. Served this real doro-wote hot, I mean this was the real deal, real hot. Only I forgot to warn him. I remember his face turned pink & his eyes red, bulged out. O my God, what was I thinking? Well my first culture shock. That was some 27 years ago. Now I do not make doro wote that hot myself. I guess —when you live in Rome, —as the Romans,

Best of all, if you go to Watch Woman’s blog she has posted her own recipe for injera and we can’t wait to try it!

Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter Recipe

UPDATE : we have a whole (so to speak) new take on making a starter. See our sourdough starter video for a better way to do this.

Back in March we showed how to make a sourdough starter with white flour. This month we converted a white starter over to whole wheat and have baked many successful loaves of bread with it. The reason that we have to do this conversion rather than starting out with whole wheat flour is that whole wheat tends to get moldy before the beneficial cultures have a chance to take over.

You can use our “Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf” recipe to bake loaves with a whole wheat starter by simply substituting it for the white flour starter. You’ll end up with a loaf that’s about half white, half whole wheat.

To convert a starter from white flour to whole wheat flour do the following:

1. Begin with your white flour starter. Our recipe for creating a white flour starter is in a previous post.

2. Instead of feeding your white flour starter with the usual routine of a half cup of white flour and a half cup of water each day switch to feeding it a half cup of whole wheat flour and a half cup of water.

3. After about a week you will have “converted” your white starter to a wheat starter–hallelujah!

As we emphasized with our recipe for white starter, you must feed the starter every single day or it will begin to rot. This is particularly important with whole wheat flour which will go bad much more quickly. If you can’t keep up with the feeding you can temporarily store the starter in the refrigerator, but for no more than two weeks with whole wheat starter. White starter will last in the fridge for longer.

If this turns your crank, you can sit around your compound watching your sourdough starter bubble while geeking out on Cornell Professor Steven Laurence Kaplan’s book Good Bread is Back, which details the revival of sourdough bread making in France in the early 1990s. Kaplan notes that sourdough,

“rises less than a dough made with baker’s yeast and also more slowly. Its crust is thicker. It keeps significantly longer. It has greater nutritional value, partly because it is richer in certain vitamins and enzymes that are by-products of lactic fermentation, and it contains less phytic acid, which blocks mineral absorption.”

So get that starter going and forget about that crap bread at the supermarket!

Nuts!

As of fall 2007 truly raw almonds will no longer be available in the US or Canada, because the USDA, FDA, and the California Almond Board has released a marketing order that all almonds be pasteurized. This is due to two recent salmonella outbreaks, the cause of which, in Homegrown Revolution‘s opinion, is the usual poor factory farming practices. But it gets worse, according to the folks at the Weston A. Price foundation,

There is an even bigger issue. The FDA has decided not to tell the consumer the truth about this processing step. The almonds you will buy in Wholefoods this fall may still say “raw almonds but they will have been subjected to high heat and a five log kill step…that they are calling Pasteurization”. This lie is being permitted by the marketing order!!

But there’s even more bad news since pasteurization, according to the Almond Board of California, involves a choice of steam, high heat or, we kid you not, highly toxic and carcinogenic propylene oxide once used as a racing fuel, an insecticidal fumigant and an ingredient in thermobaric weapons. Thank you Almond Board and FDA!

But it turns out we all may have been buying pasteurized and bad tasting almonds all along without knowing it. Hidden in this little reported story is the dirty secret of how Trader Joe’s is able to offer cheap nuts. According to D & S Ranches, which runs a group of orchards in California’s San Joaquin Valley,

The Almonds that you see in retail stores, particularly the big chains, and membership stores, are usually very inferior for a number of reasons.

First, they are almost never a single variety, but rather a “mix” of many different Almonds. They are rarely sized for uniformity or inspected for quality and they contain a large portion of broken and scratched nuts and are mostly smaller nuts. This reduces the wholesale costs on the nuts and increases the profit for the store..

But the biggest problem is the transportation and storage. They are usually not stored properly and are exposed to odors around them in warehouses that contain everything from cases of motor oil to TV sets. They have endured truck rides around the country, in and out of long storage periods in hot warehouses or “distribution centers”. Proper industry standard cold storage is critical to maintain nut quality, and large chain stores do not have the facilities, the expertise, and frankly don’t care very much about, proper storage.

Recently large chains like Trader Joes and Costco have begun obtaining “pasteurized” Almonds This is a disaster. It effectively destroys all the delicate Almond Flavor, but it has one big benefit. It allows enormous profit for the store. This is because, “just any old nuts” including ones that are years old, imported from unknown sources and perhaps not USDA inspected, of questionable quality, to be “thrown into the pasteurizer machine” and the resulting nuts can be made safe for human consumption! They are tasteless and terrible, but you can safely eat them, and you will be happy to know that you are helping the share holders of that big corporate chain, because they bought the nuts for a fraction of what quality fresh nuts would cost.

The other moral here is to incorporate nut trees into your landscaping. Why plant a useless ficus tree when you can plant something that will provide food? And come harvest time you wont need to mix in any racing fuel.