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Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

I read a disturbing article from Reuters this week, about children in Fukushima prefecture not being allowed outside to play, even two years after the disaster.   This is beyond sad, and I can’t imaging trying to raise Baby M in an environment where he had to be afraid of the air.

 

Playing outside in our safe, Canadian clean air.

Playing outside in our safe, Canadian clean air.

 

Since Fukushima, of course, there has been a lot of controversy about nuclear power, and its environmental and human impacts, especially when things go wrong.  There are a lot of vocal people who completely oppose nuclear power, under any circumstances.  I can see their point, and sympathize with it.

 

However, a lot of those same folks are also very vocally against the tar sands projects in northern Alberta, and the Keystone XL pipeline that is proposed to take bitumen from Alberta to refineries in the US.

 

I have a bit of an issue with this.  If you are living in a climate-controlled house in North America, drive a car, wear clothing you did not make yourself, and/or eating anything you didn’t grow, you need to recognize that you, too, are dependent on outside energy, and that energy most likely comes from petroleum, or, in many parts of the US, nuclear generation.

 

“Oh,” you say, “I have a windmill and drive an electric car”.

 

Not good enough.  The metals and minerals in your car and your windmill (and your solar panels and even your woodstove) were mined, and were mined using diesel.  The waste from the smelting still ended up in the environment, though probably in China, where it’s easier to forget.  I’ve read somewhere that an electric car takes so many resources to make that, in terms of total lifetime environmental damage caused by a vehicle, you are better off buying a second-hand car, even if it’s less fuel efficient.   As long as we continue to drive and live in big houses and eat food grown elsewhere, even if we slap some solar panels on the roof, there will be more generating plants, more tar sands expansion, more mines, and more environmental damage.

 

The fact of the matter is that windmills and solar panels and electric cars aren’t really a solution.  People don’t like to think about the real solution, which is to simply reduce consumption.   No more new wardrobes every season, or new iPhones every two years or new cars every three years, even if they’re electric.  No more strawberries in Saskatchewan in January.  We need to learn to do without, or, if we can’t, to buy well-made goods that will last for generations.  We need to start repairing things when they break.  We need to take some responsibility for our food supply.

 

Now, I’m no angel, here.  I drive a car to work, and heat my house with a furnace.  We grow a lot of food here, but we buy a lot, too…some of it even imported.  It’s hard to live a low-resource lifestyle in a country that’s set up for commuting and consumption.  But I sure get sick of seeing people drive up to join in a tar sands protest, or type furious internet comments about nuclear disasters on their brand new phones.  We’re all part of the problem, but until we define what, exactly, the real problem is, there won’t be any viable solutions.  So maybe it’s time to face our own hypocrisy and start working towards low-consumption lifestyles.  Then we can talk about tar sands protests.

 

 

 

 

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Mom was cleaning out cupboards some time ago, and asked me if I’d like her old Donvier crank ice cream maker.  It’s the kind that has a metal piece that goes in the freezer to pre-chill, and then you pour in the liquid mix and crank…and crank…and crank…

 

I know the technology is better now, and there’s even electric ice cream makers, but it wasn’t something that was even on my radar, until we had this Baby M’s dairy allergy to contend with.  I wasn’t even too concerned about it until the last couple of days, when the temperature finally went from ‘cold wet spring’ to ‘definitely summer’.  It was over thirty degrees today!  Suddenly, ice cream was in order.

 

Luckily, the goat kids are old enough that I can ‘steal’ some milk from the does without any issue.  Last night, we separated the kids from the does, and this morning, I milked.  Happily, Skye, who has never been milked before, was very good on the stand, at least until she ate all her grain.  Saffron, of course, was her usual bomb-proof self.  I got a decent-sized bucket of milk for my efforts…enough for a quart of ice cream, with some left over, even!

 

I didn’t realize ice cream called for eggs, as well.  Fortunately, we have plenty of those, too. I used the green-shelled eggs from Blue-Legs, our Americauna hen, since she ranges the most, and has the yellow-est yolks.

 

Blue Legs eggs

 

In fact, of the four ingredients on the list, the milk and eggs were produced completely on-farm, and the vanilla was something I also made, from beans I ordered from Uganda.  The sugar was the only thing I did not have a hand in in one way or another.  When you think about raising and milking the goat for your milk, raising the chicken that laid the eggs, and soaking the beans for six months to make the vanilla, this ice cream is really, really slow food!  It certainly makes me want to eat less and savor more, which, really, may be a solution to the wide-spread over-consumption we seem to have in North America.  When you make something from scratch-scratch, by producing even the ingredients, you suddenly realize how under-priced food is at the store…but that is a rant for another day.

 

Like so many good things, the recipe is very simple – only four ingredients!  You definitely want to use the freshest milk and nicest vanilla (no imitation extract!) for this, as the flavor is so dependent on the ingredients you use!

 

farm eggs and milk

 

French Vanilla Goat Milk Ice Cream

 

4 cups goat milk

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 to 2 tsp vanilla

 

Beat the eggs into half the milk, until everything is very well-mixed.  Add the sugar and the rest of the milk, and heat on low, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens a bit and sheets off the back of the spoon – about 15-20 minutes.   Cool the mixture (I put the pot directly in the fridge for a few hours), then add the vanilla (I like strong flavors, and used 1 1/2 tsp, but my vanilla is at least double strength.  You can taste the mixture to see if you want more vanilla in it).  At that point, put the mixture in your ice-cream maker, and chill or crank according to your machine’s instructions.

 

ice cream maker

I would have included a picture of my ice cream with strawberries, but it was melting too fast in the heat, so I was forced to eat it quickly!

 

 

 

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Since our post about slaughtering the chicken, and in conversation with friends, I’ve been asked a few times if we will go vegetarian in order to avoid future gory encounters.

 

The short answer is no.

 

The long answer is much more complicated.

 

I want to preface this post by stating that I have spent a fair portion of my adult life eating mostly or completely vegetarian.  I have a number of friends and family who are vegetarian, and that’s a choice people make for their own reasons, which are, by and large, no business of mine.   I completely respect that.

 

Having said all that, we’ve decided, after the last eight months of keeping livestock, gardening, and observing our local environment, that, for us, vegetarianism would be completely hypocritical.

 

You see, to be vegan in northern Saskatchewan, with any hope at all of being healthy, we would have to import a lot of food.  A big lot.  From a very, very long ways away.  There are not too many vegetables that are in season in Saskatchewan in January – pretty much whatever stores in the root cellar this long, which, in our current experience, amounts to potatoes, carrots, onions, beets, squash, and maybe cabbage.   We might be able to keep apples that long, if we found the right variety, which we haven’t, so there would be no fresh fruit at all.  The rest of a local vegan diet would consist of wheat and beans, basically.  You would, at the bare minimum, need a supplement to address deficiencies in vitamin D and probably at least some of the B vitamins, and likely also calcium, as the most calcium-rich veggies, such as spinach and broccoli, are not locally available in the winter.  So, your options are either processed/chemical supplements of unknown origin (the ingredients might have traveled a million miles; there is no way to know), and/or 2,400 mile meals.  That’s pretty hard to justify.

 

Okay, so, why not eat eggs and dairy? We’ve already got the goats and chickens, and that would do a long ways to solving the vitamin deficiencies.

 

That’s where the hypocrisy, for us, comes in.

 

I really only realized this after we started keeping chickens.  You see, in order to get 25 hens to lay our eggs, we ordered 50 straight run chickens.  Roughly half of our chicks were hens, and the other half were, of course, roosters.   Now, we could have ordered only girl chicks, but the same number of roosters would still have been hatched, overall.  What do you do with those roosters?  Keep them as pets?  Let them fight amongst themselves until they maimed or killed each other (and they will, we’ve discovered)?  If we were vegetarian, those roosters become, in essence, useless.

 

Further, hens only really reliably lay well for a few years, then need to be replaced.  Again, though, 50% of the new hatchlings will still be roosters, plus you’ve still got your old roosters, and, now, your old hens.  The population would just grow and grow, and it wouldn’t take long before you were feeding a couple hundred chickens to get a few eggs.  Environmentally, that has a lot of potential for disaster, too – it would not take long to exceed the carrying capacity of our land, especially when you factor in the goats.

 

You see, in order for a goat (or cow, for that matter) to give milk, she has to be bred.  Meaning, she has babies.  Goats typically have twins, and, statistically, half will be boys.  So, suddenly, you are more than doubling your goat population every year, just to keep getting milk.  And half of that population can’t give milk.  Sure, you can sell some off, but people want girl goats a lot more than boy goats…they want milk, too.  So again, you have a problem with excess useless boys.

 

So, even if you are eating free-range, pastured, grass fed, humanely raised eggs and dairy, you’re still an accessory to the killing of all those extra boys that were necessary in order to produce your food.  For us, we’d rather tackle the issue head on, and ensure our meat is humanely raised and humanely killed, and deal with our own emotional ramifications, than being involved in exactly the same thing, but without really thinking about it or addressing the issue.

 

Now, I must have known this on some level – I mean, it’s basic biology, right?  However, it really did not hit home until we were deciding whether or not to order more hens this spring, a conversation which necessarily included a discussion on how many roosters we could really eat in a year.  Then I suddenly realized that we really can’t have eggs without also eating chicken.   So, although we had kept the vegetarian option in reserve, just in case we really couldn’t stomach killing our own livestock, it is clear to us now that it’s not really a viable option for us.   So, omnivores we shall remain, if occasionally guilty ones.

 

 

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Several years ago, I was awakened to the toxicity of a lot of everyday things – plastic, shampoo, makeup, and the like.  I became a little obsessed,  and drove Hubby rather nuts with my quest for ‘safe’ shampoo, ‘safe’ freezer storage containers, ‘safe’ hand cream, and so on.  I pitched the plastic spatulas, and spent an awful lot of money trying to find a ‘natural’ conditioner that would tame my long, curly hair in our hard water and dry, static-y winters.  In the course of my research (obsession), I read a couple of books that really changed my view on a lot of ‘modern conveniences’ that I thought I couldn’t live without.  In particular, “Slow Death By Rubber Duck” was a real eye-opener (and a very engaging book, I might add).  The authors set out to make their point – that a lot of everyday items are loading us up with toxic chemicals – by testing their own blood and urine for various chemicals, and manipulating their chemical load by doing things like wearing body spray and using cleaning chemicals.  One of the things they discussed was teflon, and the information in the book was quite terrifying – it’s bad for people, and terrible for the environment.  Suffice to say, we got rid of the non-stick cookware before I even finished the book.

 

We started our non-non-stick adventure by buying a stainless steel, copper-bottom frying pan.  Everything stuck, and it was impossible to clean.  Hubby threatened outright revolt.

 

Our next purchase was a second-hand cast-iron skillet.  It worked, sort of.  Sometimes things were okay, sometimes not.  We had no idea what the trick was.  We washed it like everything else – scrubbed it with soap and water – and it got harder and harder to cook with.  And more and more frustrating.  I absolutely did not want to go back to teflon, but I also wanted to be able to scramble eggs on Saturday mornings, without having to commit to half an hour of scrubbing just to clean up.  Eventually, I got smart and did some research.

 

Turns out, cast iron needs to be seasoned.  Basically, it needs a thick, cooked-on layer of grease in order to function well and prevent sticking.  Unfortunately, soap removes the seasoning, so basically, we were progressively destroying the ‘non stick’ capabilities of our pan every time we washed it. You can re-season a pan, by scraping (sanding) off the old seasoning, coating it lightly in grease (we use lard), then baking it on high heat in the oven for a few hours – then repeating to build up several layers.  Later, we read that if you just cook with extra grease for the first few months, and don’t scrub the pan out too vigorously, it will season while you cook.   We’ve had fairly good luck with that, but we’ve always put a ‘base’ layer of seasoning on the pan, first.

 

We also learned that you need to use a lot of grease in the cast-iron pans, in order to keep stuff from sticking, even if they’re still well-seasoned.  It was shocking, after using teflon, where you don’t need grease at all.  We’re talking tablespoons of oil or bacon fat or whatever.  It also works better if you drop in your dollop of butter or bacon grease, and let it melt in the pan for a while before you add whatever it is you want to fry – the pan needs to be hot when you add your food. We discovered that plastic spatulas don’t work at all in cast iron (just as well – it gave me a final excuse to dispose of them), and that wooden ones are questionable.  We invested in a nice metal spatula, which helped a great deal.

 

Cleaning got easier, too, once we quit washing off our seasoning every time the pan got dirty.  Using a metal spatula meant that stuck-on stuff got scraped off during the cooking, and using lots of grease meant that generally, the food was floating above the pan, rather than cooking on to it.  Now, we often just wipe out the leftover grease with a paper towel, and put it away for next time.  It does not sound very hygienic, but nobody’s gotten sick here yet.  If something is stuck on, we scrub it off with a designated scrubber (no soap), then wipe the pan out.  For really badly stuck stuff, we put some water in the pan, and put it back on the stove to boil, before scrubbing.  That does not happen very often anymore.  Then, once the pan is clean, we let it dry, and wipe it with a bit more grease or oil before we put it away.  That protects the pan, and helps maintain the seasoning.

 

We’re pretty comfortable using the cast iron skillet, now.  It’s too bad that the skill of seasoning and maintaining cast iron is not one of those kitchen skills that is passed on anymore – it would have saved us a lot of heartache if we had ‘just known’, rather than having to learn by trial and error.  However, now that we’ve figured it out, it was worth it.  If you still have teflon in your kitchen, I’d really encourage you to do a little reading, as that stuff is really scary!

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Last night, for supper, we had green beans and broccoli, fresh from the garden, steamed with a shake of hot pepper flakes, and topped with a bit of butter and salt.  It was fantastic, and a nice change from potatoes.

 

We’ve been harvesting and eating potatoes for maybe a week?  Ten days?  They and the onions had been the only produce that was far enough along to consider eating, though the peas started coming a couple of days ago.  With the garden starting to get going, we’ve been trying hard to eat at least one meal a day that was mostly, or completely, produced right here at the Acreage.   We’ve got several flavors of very local jellies – wild rose, dandelion, saskatoon, but that doesn’t cut it for supper.  Instead, we’ve been eating potatoes with fennel and chickpeas, curried potatoes, boiled potatoes with butter, creamy dilled potatoes with beet greens, and, quite frankly, I am glad to have a garden meal without the things!

 

However, I am not looking forward to the glut of beans that I can see developing on the plants.  They, along with the peas, will probably be the bane of my existence in about a week.  I plan to blanch and freeze a lot, dry a few, eat a lot (peas and beans fresh from the garden are favorites for me), and even feed a bunch to the chickens, but I suspect we will still be doing some drive-by produce drops on a few neighbors’ front steps…

 

Having said that, though, Hubby thought I was insane when I came home with 400 onion sets to plant (I wanted to try several varieties, and the sets came in bags of 100).  I thought I was insane, too, especially when we decided to plant the whole lot of them (no point leaving them go to waste…).  Now, though, as I am using 2 or 3 onions for almost every meal I cook, Hubby has started to wonder aloud if 400 onions is really going to get us through until next year.

 

I’m pretty sure there will be no wondering with the beans – four rows (!) was probably a little enthusiastic…just like the rest of the garden, I suppose.  I do have a back-up plan, though.  Once I’ve frozen enough for the year (20 pounds?  30?  I’ll probably just keep going until I am sick of dealing with them), We will designate one or two rows for fresh eating, and leave the others to go to seed.  Just quit picking, and let them grow and grow.  We can pick those beans in the late fall, and shell them in the winter, once they’re dry, and have them for use in soups and chili.  Should save some guilt and heartache with the general harvest, too…

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Back in Alberta, we used to drive to a nearby town in the summertime, and get cases of fruit, fresh from BC, for $25 to $35 per 20 pound case.  Peaches, plums, nectarines, concorde grapes, even tomatoes, you name it.  The lady ran the stand, sometimes with her daughter, while her husband was back in BC, picking fruit at their mixed organic farm, or arranging to sell other growers’ produce cooperatively.  We had consistent access to relatively cheap, definitely high quality, tasty produce, Wednesday through Saturday, just a ten minute drive from our house.  The lady would even set cases of stuff aside for regular customers, and additionally had less-pretty fruit available for a discount, if she knew you were into canning.  In the autumn, there were several Taber corn trucks that also tended to spring up,as well,  from which you could buy a 72-cob bag of premium Taber sweet corn, for under $50.

 

This town is not going to be like that, I’m afraid.

 

Based on having been spoiled in Alberta, I assumed I could continue to pick up whatever I might need, for a reasonable price.  So far, however, there has been only one fruit stand in evidence, and when Hubby and I dropped by to check it out, the quoted prices were nuts ($85 for a 20-pound case of sweet cherries, $60 for a case of nectarines).  In addition, more than half of the fruit in the trays had little store stickers on them, indicating they had come from Washington, California, and Chile.  So much for fresh BC fruit.

 

We thought maybe the farmer’s market would be a little better, and we went there today, since we happened to be in town on market day.  We were hoping to find some reasonably-priced raspberries, as canned raspberries are a staple around here.  The one fella who had brought raspberries had already sold out, and anyways, the prices were not all that reasonable – $5 for about a pint.  We’re used to paying $10 at a U-pick for a gallon bucket.

 

We wandered around the market, and were generally really disappointed.  Outside of the guy who was out of raspberries, there was a table that had two onions and two pints of red currants, a few tables selling jams and pickles, three tables of baking, a seller offering various sausages and meat, and a table full of green and yellow wax beans.  Where were the new potatoes?  The snap peas?  The saskatoon berries?  We have been harvesting all of these here at the Acreage.  I know for a fact that summer squash and salad greens and radishes and dill are all ready right now, as well as basil, strawberries, sunflowers, baby beets, and who-knows-what-else…all of these things should, in theory, be on the tables at that market.  This town is at least two or three times the size of the Alberta town where our little fruit stand was, and all of these things would be on offer at that farmer’s market right now, along with cucumbers, hothouse tomatoes and peppers, flower bunches, stone-oven-baked fresh bread, local fruit wines, freshwater fish, and BC fruit.

 

Maybe next year, we’ll plant a bigger garden and add some variety to that sad little market.  I am really worried about how we are going to source local fruit and veggies that we haven’t grown for ourselves.  I think our corn, and maybe also our cukes and squashes went in too late to bear in the short season we have, and outside of wildcrafted berries, we don’t have any fruit here at the Acreage at all.  I guess we could buy stuff from the Co-op or Safeway, but I hate to spend that kind of money and see it all go to the middlemen, rather than the farmers.   Not a happy camper, here…

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Saskatchewan is apparently having a record year for bugs, particularly mosquitoes.  That is pretty impressive in a province where mosquitoes are jokingly referred to as the provincial bird.   It contributes to a high level of general misery here on the Acreage, as every mammal on the place is being mobbed constantly.  The barn cats go, quite literally, crazy, rolling around on the hay pile, trying to scratch the bugs off.  The dogs do their business, and make a beeline back to the house, where they retreat to the living room to scratch at their poor bug-bitten snouts with their front paws.

 

The mosquitoes bother poor Saffron the goat so much that milk production goes substantially down on calm-ish, damp-ish mild days like we have had lately – she is so busy trying to get the mosquitoes off that she hardly touches her grain, and there is the additional challenge of trying to keep her from putting a foot in the milk bucket when I am trying to milk, and she is trying to kick the mosquitoes off her udder.

 

The only critters not bothered by the mosquito invasion are the chickens.  They eat them.  Hubby does not mind the chicken part of the barn chores at all right now…the coop is one of the only respites on this whole place, right at the moment.  He hangs out and watches the birds eat the bugs, while poor Saffron and I get eaten alive at the milking stand.  We need to get those chickens free-ranging, but the fox that keeps trotting across our back lawn has really been discouraging us from letting the birds out without a good, strong fence.

 

Hubby, who is not overly fond of the heat, has been wishing for 30+ degree days, just so that he can get into the garden to do some weeding.  Even dripping with the highest-percentage DEET formulations we can find, we are just moving meals for the plague of bugs around here.  On hot days, they go to ground for awhile, and we can at least move somewhat freely around the mowed parts of the Acreage.

 

Mosquitoes love the bush and tall grass, so even though I can see ripe Saskatoon berries in the forest, we cannot reasonably pick any of them.  I braved the forest for about four minutes a couple of days ago, and despite being mid-day and 30 degrees, and me being quite literally dripping with bug spray, I was chased out before I even got to the berry bush I was trying to pick.  The problem is the thick undergrowth and chest-high grass where the bugs find shelter.   There are so many stray branches and lumps and bumps and occasional rocks on the ground that it is impossible to mow anywhere near the forest, so the grass has really gotten out of hand.

 

After brainstorming for awhile, we decided to buy a scythe.

 

I know, I know, most normal people would get a weed whacker.  Electric is not an option, though, and gas powered anything is a real pain in the butt out here, as we are half an hour from a gas station, and always seem to forget to fill the jerry can when we are in town.  These delicate machines seem to break on me with alarming regularity, and they are expensive!  I reasoned that a scythe, while not exactly cheap, should require only minimal repair over its lifetime, like, say, tightening a bolt on one of the handles, or sharpening the blade.  The input, muscle power, is plentiful around here, unlike gasoline at $1.20 per litre.  I hate the noise of the mower (I can’t stand the vacuum, either), so a weed whacker would just be one more annoyance, whereas the swish-swish of a scythe is actually kind of pleasant.  Once my back heals up, there is a fair chance I will even do some of the grass cutting, a duty that  generally falls to Hubby just because I hate the noise of the lawnmower so much.

 

The other bonus is that the scythe goes through chest high grass quite nicely, and leaves nice, neat piles of greenery that are easy to scoop up and dump in the goat troughs.  The goats love it.  We may even try cutting the back pasture and leaving it to dry for hay…why not, if it’s free?  After just a few minutes’ practice, I can see that Hubby will be able to really motor with that thing – it might even be faster than a lawnmower, at least in the really tall grass.  The big trick will be keeping Molly the barn cat out of swinging range…

 

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