Thursday, September 30, 2010

School = Life

I think it's natural for us, as people, to always try to put experiences in neat little labeled boxes that can be stacked on the shelf to be referred to later.

Such is with our schooling experience. As unschoolers, we're always challenged to come up with a few words that describe what it is that we do, and always, I'm left foundering at my attempts to define, concisely, our experiences, because it's not concise and simple and an A + B = C kind of simplistic message. Our unschooling is the whole breadth of our experiences as human beings on this plane of existence. It's not just about education. It's our life, and we don't compartmentalize our experiences as "this is school" and "this is *not* school." It's all school, and none of it is.

My girls are taking a French class at a local, not-for-profit educational facility. Our choice of language was either French or German, and we limited it to one of the two, because those are the two that Deus Ex Machina and I can already speak a little of, which means that we would be able to bring the language home and reinforce the lessons they learn in the class. *Note: later in life, if our girls are interested in exploring other languages, they can on their own, but the idea is to give them a foundation on which to build.

Their teacher, Madame Caroline, is a native French speaker. She's originally from Quebec, but has also been to France. It is so amazing to hear French spoken by someone who learned to speak it as a way of communicating and not simply as a vocational choice. I love how she can switch, effortlessly, from English to French and back, so that the children hear her say the words in both languages. It seems a more natural way to acquire a language, than by doing rote exercises on a page.

But even more, it's incredible to learn French, and not just the language, but also the cultural why's from someone who knows the culture, because she lived it, and not simply because she read about it in a book (the way I have).

Today, we visited a locally-owned specialty foods shop to learn about cheese ... er, fromage ... et j'aime la fromage, tres beaucoup!. Mme. Caroline suggested this particular store, because they have a "cheese cave", a temperature controlled room where the cheese is aged until it is ready to eat, which is very much the way it's done in France. For me, the best part was that most of the cheese they sell in this shop is from our region (New England). Local cheese sold in a locally owned shop? Win=WIN!

What an amazing experience! Mme. Caroline talked about eating fresh food. She talked about how the French patronize local establishments and build a rapport with the vendors, and the relationship between the customer (not "consumer" as we are here in the United States) and the seller becomes symbiotic - they get to know each other. My girls smiled in recognition, because that's what we've done with many of the places we spend time - like the Farmer's Market and our local library. They know us, and it feels nice.

Listening to her was fun, for me, because I heard so many of my own words coming out of her mouth. It was nice to have someone else tell my children what I have been droning on and on about, ad nauseum, so that they know it's real and good information, and not just some crazy idea dreamed up by their radical Mama to keep them from being able to enjoy the kinds of foods most of their peers get to enjoy.

The Europeans do not eat high fructose corn syrup (it's illegal in some countries). Raw milk and raw cheese are the norm, and pasteurization is unusual. She mentioned that cheese is eaten at the end of a meal to aid in digestion (who knew?). She also said, and this is a very important point, especially for Americans, most European countries do not have problems with obesity, diet-related illnesses, and diet-related allergies.

Some unschoolers claim that anyone who takes classes can not call themselves "unschoolers", because the whole point of unschooling is that it be "child-led." I think defining unschooling as simply child-led is too narrow a definition. Additionally, my children didn't really request the French classes. I saw the classes as an opportunity to expand our horizons. I mean, face it, here in Maine, with the exception of the summer tourist season, our lives are pretty sheltered.

French class, music lessons, dance class, Life of Fred ... these are things that are a part of our lives - things we do as a family that are fun and important to us, and not just things we do as education, which is what is "unschooling."

It's life, lived and in which learning takes place, because that's what humans do - they learn.

And, occasionally, we get to eat some amazing fromage on baguettes while we chat about French culture, which makes life good indeed, 'cause there's nothing bad about sitting in a quaint little shop, munching on yummy cheese and chatting about life.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Liberty And the Pursuit of Happiness

I was reading Steve's blog this morning, and I tried, several times, to add a comment, but every time, it just kept getting longer and more convoluted ....

I heard that whoever said, "And that's different because ...." So, not funny! Okay, a little funny (*grin*).

Based on an article he'd read, he was pondering the money/happiness connection and concludes that money and happiness are not complements.

If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I'm all about downsizing with respect to our income and expenditures. For a long time, we've been trying to reduce the amount of money we need to make so that we can, comfortably maintain our lifestyle without having to be slaves to the money economy, i.e. Deus Ex Machina can quit his soul-sucking corporate job and come home :) and be with us, instead of just being in our presence.

So, for me, money *definitely * happiness, and in fact, I would go further to say that no amount of money results in happiness, because for most people, the more they have, the more they want (although most research supports the idea that there is a perfect amount of money that is enough, and once people reach that enough amount they are usually happy, but their happiness tends to decrease if they have than just enough).

When I graduated from college, I felt like if I just had more money, then I would be happy. I just needed more money, but the funny thing was, when I made more money I found the opposite to be true. In fact, what I found was that the more money I made, the more bills I had. It was like some very cruel alternative universe. The more I made, the more difficult it was to meet my basic needs. The harder I worked, the more money I needed just so that I could keep a roof over my head and feed my children. It sounds totally implausible, but I swear it's true.

In 1998, I left my outside employment and started working from home. In those first years, I spent a lot of time in the online WAHM (work-at-home Mom) community. There was a lot of information, and there were even more questions about how to get a work-from-home job. Every mom I spoke with, both in person and virtually, wanted to know more about my job - mostly, how I happened upon this incredible opportunity.

By 2000 home-based businesses were being touted as the fastest growing industry in the United States. Everyone wanted to be a WAHM, and I was fully aware of how lucky I was to be in the position I was in. I was even interviewed for the book The Entrepreneurial Parent.

It was all so very exciting that I wanted everyone to be able to work-from-home, if that's what they wanted, and I fully believed (still do, for the most part) that anyone who really wanted to work-from-home, could. So, I started gathering every book I could find on the topic, and I started a very niche virtual bookstore, specializing in books for the work-at-home parent. I even wrote (but didn't publish) a work-from-home workbook full of advice and information about how to get started.

Over the years of researching all topics related to working from home, I found a wealth of information. One of my favorite documents to share with prospective WAHMs (and WAHDads) was the chart that showed the actual cost of having a job. I'd never thought of it before I started working from home, but running the numbers was pretty telling. I think what most two-income families (where both parents work) don't realize is how much that second job costs, especially if childcare is involved. Unless both parents really have a very good job in a very specialized, high-income field, in most cases, - after childcare, diapers, formula, extra doctor visits (because, statistically, children who are in a group daycare setting are sick more often than children who stay at home full-time), the children's daycare/school wardrobe, the parents' "work" wardrobe, gasoline to get back and forth to work, the extra car payment (in many cases, if only one parent works, really only one car is *needed*), maintenance costs on two vehicles, lunches (and snacks) during the workday, take-out when the parents are too tired to cook, grocery store convenience food, because there's never enough time for canning or baking - it actually costs more for both parents to have a job than it would for one parent to stay home.

Living on one income can be very difficult. Deus Ex Machina and I did, and it was tough, but if we had been smarter and more thoughtful back then, if *I* had been more frugal, indeed, if I had known how to be frugal, things would be very different now for us. At the time, when I first started being home full-time, even after all that I had been through as a working mom in a two-income family, I still thought money could make us happy.

Age (and a few gray hairs) has made me wiser, and now, I know that happiness and money are not related. After all of the research I've done on working from home and entrepreneurialism, and after all of the years I've spent working from home, and after all of the time I have spent being free to pursue whatever whim takes my fancy, I know that money won't make me happy. At best, it's little more than a nice side benefit to doing something that one really loves.

The work-at-home books and the home-based entrepreneur industry are full of stories about people who turned their hobbies, the things they loved to do, into full-time occupations - often, they make less money than they were making being a slave to their jobs, but given the freedom to do what they want, they spend less time spending and much more time doing.

There's a saying, one either has time or one has money - rarely it's both. If one can figure out that magic formula of "enough" when it comes to money, one can realize that dream of perfect equilibrium, both enough time and enough money.

In this society, if we want to live in a permanent home (that is, not be transient and living in make-shift campsites), we do need to have a way to earn some money. The question becomes, how much money do we really need versus how much money we believe we need to keep living the lifestyles we live?

The follow-up question is what are we willing to give up so that we can live our authentic lives, instead of giving little pieces of our soul to a job we hate and to employers who rarely give a sh*t about us as long as we're doing they job they pay us to do?

That's the question I'm trying to get answered right now. There's a chart on the wall behind me that shows what our monthly expenses are. What it fails to tell me is why those are our monthly expenses, and whether or not there are ways that we could, if we really were following our bliss, make those numbers smaller to match our, potentially, smaller income - and there's no guarantee that our income would be smaller, but the goal would also be to spend fewer hours per day working-for-money, which means we'd probably be making less.

The smaller those numbers are, the less money we need. The only way to truly shield oneself from the violent shifts in our economy is to not play the game. In a world that is totally preoccupied with money and how to get more of it, not needing money is the liberty that leads to happiness.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blast from the Past

The following was originally published on my blog on April 12, 2008. Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine in the homeschool community and the topic of personality types came up. I went looking for this essay. Here is it, again, for your enjoyment:

Originally, entitled:

If I Knew Then ...


Of course the incredible part is that I did! I did know then. At least I should have known then, but I, apparently, wasn't paying much attention.

I guess I was too busy trying to earn my degree, and I didn't have enough time to actually learn what I was being taught.

For example, I wrote this essay in 1989:

Taoism is an interesting concept. It would, however, be difficult to practice in today's society, because Americans (and most of the Western "civilized" citizens) have become so materialistic.

When I think about it, it reminds me a little of an essay called "Walden" in which the author tried to go "back to nature." He learned to live without money or luxuries, and he lived that way for a year.

This type of experiement has been tried many times since then, but none of the colonies have been too successful. Taoism is unrealistic in a Christian society, because as Christians we are told to work hard, and we will receive rewards. Rewards to us encompass all of the worldly goods we accumulate over time. In addition, doing nothing could be viewed as laziness or sloth, which is a sin.

Another reason Taoism couldn't work in Western civilization is that we are brought up to believe that having money is synonymous with success. If we aren't trying to earn "lots" of money, then we aren't fulfilling our obligation to society. Young children are bombarded with the messages of the importance of money. They see successful people on television who seem so happy, and they see their parents evidently working toward the happiness of money.

Thus, Americans are too materialistic for Taoism.


The essay was in response to a test question in my World Religions class. That was the semester I was also student teaching, and I worked on the weekends ... and I have mentioned before that I was married and had two children while I was in college? That whole semester is a blur. I'm surprised I even passed the class.

When I was decluttering, I found a lot of the work I had done, some tests I had taken, some essays, like the one above. And reading through them was like reading someone else's words. Did I really write those things? Did I really come up with those ideas? Did that stuff really come out of my head? Because if it did, it came all out of my head and landed on that paper and that's where it stayed. Very little of it is still inside my brain. None of it stuck.

Or maybe some of it did. Some of it stuck, because here I am, trying to change my life to be more like Thoreau (at the time I wrote this essay, I had read parts of Walden, but I couldn't even remember who had written it ;), to be more austere. To be more Taoist.

What's even more interesting than my essay quoted above, however, is what my professor wrote: Right - so were the ancient Chinese! (materialistic, he means, like "modern" Americans) But there are always the Beats, the drop-outs, the rebels, the Jesuses (as opposed to the "Christians") who are not too materialistic. A really funny bunch, inevitably!

I think the irony is that when I wrote this essay I was trying really hard, working really hard, to BE the "average" American. The essay makes me sound almost like I thought materialism was a bad thing. I'm pretty positive I didn't.

And now, here I am, one of rebels, the drop-outs. Ironic, I think, this flip-flopping. When I was young (and poor) and could be idealistic and live a more austere life, I wanted what everyone else wanted, and now that I can have the life I was working so hard to achieve back then, I don't want it.

Hmm? I wonder what that says about my personality.

Speaking of personality, another very interesting piece of paper I found was the results for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test I took on October 10, 1988. Twenty years ago, I was classified as an ENTP. Recently, I took the same test and was typed as an INFJ. Back then, I could easily have gone either way between being an "S" (sensing) and an "N" (iNtuiting). I was also very close between "T" (thinking) and "F" (feeling), but I was very clearly Extroverted (E) and Perceiving (P).

Deus Ex Machina is an INTJ. He says he's had a lot of influence on me. That's likely. It's also very likely that a great many experiences I've had since 1988 have changed my worldview.

It's interesting to consider what might have changed so much in my little brain to flip me from "Extroverted" to "Introverted" and from "Perceiving" to "Judging." I'll never know what switches were flipped and why I think so differently now.

I guess the lesson in all of this is that there is hope. I used to think that people didn't change, and I wasn't alone in that thinking. Dr. Phil maintains that the best indicator of a person's future actions is what he's done in the past.

I can, now, completely disagree with him. My reaction to my world today as an INFJ will be very different to my reactions to the world as an ENTP.

Two years ago (2010 note: has it really been that long?) I wrote that the answer to the disasters facing us regarding climate change was Peak Oil. I still believe that. When we no longer have cheap fuel options, we WILL learn to do without it, because it won't be an option. I think we'll learn to do without a lot of stuff, like I'm learning to do without my dryer, and I'm learning to do without Kotex brand anything, and I've already learned to do without California-grown avacado and South American-grown seedless grapes.

To me, the lesson is, given the right motivation, a person can (and will) change. I did. I've changed a lot - a whole personality type, and more, a whole philosophy of life, a whole belief system.

2010 note: Times have continued to change since I first wrote this essay more than two years ago, and despite the news reports, the Recession isn't really over. They've been saying the Recession (that they say started in 2007, but which they didn't admit to until mid-2008) ended in 2009, and yet, things continue to get worse, not better. In fact, there was an article in our weekly, community-based, "free" paper about a local food pantry, and how they've really seen an influx of "customers." In fact, the article interviewed several service organizations and the news was the same - more people needing more and more help. Perhaps the numbers in some industries actually are better, but only because of massive infusions of federal cash. When the stimulus money runs out, I'm afraid we'll be in big trouble.

Deus Ex Machina and I have changed a lot over the past couple of years. What we did two years ago is different than what we'd do today. As Dylan observed so many decades ago, times, they are a-changin', and we can swim or we can sink. Deus Ex Machina and I have made these changes willingly in response to what we saw. We saw the rising waters and chose to swim.


Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.
Bob Dylan

Friday, September 24, 2010

{this moment}





A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Criss-Cross ... Applesauce

On one of my homeschool groups over the past few weeks, there's been a very long (apparently too long ;) discussion about what unschooling is. The original conversation was spurred by some recent news stories, and then, there were some people on the group who really wanted to know what it meant, but were having a hard time really grasping the concept, because too often those trying the hardest to find a definition degenerate into a "what we don't do" conversation, and then, there's a lot of confusion, like "so, unschoolers don't use math books and don't make their children change their clothes, wash their hair or brush their teeth, and unschoolers don't have any rules, and unschoolers ...." All of which is just a bunch of crapola.

There always seems to be a desire to neatly define it by what we do or don't do, like our actions can even come close to defining the concept.

Unfortunately, giving a quick and easy, in one or two words, definition is just not that easy. It's like ... well, try to explain what it means to be a Christian, or a Buddhist, or a Jew, or .... It's like that, because unschooling is a philosophy - not an educational philosophy, but a life philosophy. We call it "unschooling", because most of the people who choose to live this way are also homeschoolers, but it really isn't so much about what we teach or don't teach, but about the way we live.

Deus Ex Machina and I chose to homeschool our girls, and as we started the process, we started exploring some different ideas and concepts and looked for ways to tackle the issue of educating our children that fit with our basic parenting ideals. We are both very hands-on parents, and from our daughters' very first days, we have always been child-led. When I was breast-feeding, my daughters would tell me when they were hungry, and when they were hungry, I fed them - wherever I happened to be (and, yes, there were times when we were driving somewhere and would stop so that I could nurse). I had the luxury of not needing to put them on a schedule. We chose to co-sleep, too, which means that our daughters slept with us for the first few years of their lives. I didn't teach my children to walk or talk, and for the last two, I didn't even potty train them. They were both cloth-diapered and had older siblings. Using the toilet was just something they learned to do. Believe me or not, it's true. Precious, the youngest, was potty trained before she was two, and she did it herself. I know this to be true, because her gift on her second birthday was "big girl panties" of her own so that she didn't have to wear her sister's hand-me-downs.

Homeschooling our children was really the only option for us after the way we spent their early years with them. The idea of giving them over to some institution was very scary for us, and unschooling just felt like a natural extension of the way we'd been living with them from birth.

So, when someone asks me to supply a quick and dirty definition of unschooling, I can't, because it's not about ... not just about ... education. The education portion of it, that is, the academic things my children pick up, is just a side effect of living the kind of life we have.

So, yes, my children can read, but not because they've been subjected to rote exercises. Really. We read to them. We have lots and lots of books and magazines and computer stuff. We expose them to the written word all of the time, every day, and we show them what sounds this letter or that letter makes, and at some point, the little lightbulb went off, and they could understand the symbols on the page or on the computer screen, and form the words.

They can also do simple math, because sometimes they need to know those things - like when they have a candy bar and they need to split it equally between the three of them. That's math, right? Isn't chocolate all about math?

They know the difference between a mammal and a reptile and an insect, because we have cats and dogs and rabbits, and we had an iguana, and there is a plethora of insects right outside our door on the milkweed (and they know what milkweed looks like - and tastes like - too). They can explain the life cycle of a monarch butterfly, and if you explain that a butterfly is an insect, they could then, apply what they know about butterflies and explain the life cycle of all insects.

Today, Little Fire Faery and I were working on her 4-H project. Our group is doing a presentation at the county fair on sustainable living, and Little Fire Faery was tasked with discussing food preservation.

I asked her to tell me about canning, and she did.

I asked her to tell me about some other ways we preserve things, and she talked with me about how we dehydrate herbs and gave me a list of other things we've dehydrated.

I asked her to tell me some other ways that we preserve food, and she mentioned that we keep squash in our bedroom, and she knew that the reason the squash is in our bedroom is because it's the coldest room in the house.

She also talked with me about the fermentation process. She knew that it needed warmth and that it had to be airtight.

She may not know, exactly, what's happening in that bucket while the apple juice is becoming cider, but she had a pretty good understanding of some of the very basic principles, and I was completely impressed by how much she had understood without ever having been formally instructed in the process. At some point, we'll go into more detail with her, and perhaps she'll be a wine-maker in the future, too.

The biggest part of her project is about making applesauce. She told me, step-by-correct-step how it's made, and I'm confident that if she had to do it by herself, she could.

That's unschooling. It's trusting that they will know what they need to know, when they need to know it. Little Fire Faery needed to know about preserving food for her 4-H project, and while I've never forced her to help me in the kitchen during the months and months I'm canning our winter food supply, she's seen enough and experienced enough to know how it's done.

Now, how does one say all of that in ten words or less starting with unschooling is ...?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Feasting on Famine Food

Fleecenik called Hubbard Squash famine food.



Deus Ex Machina harvested the volunteer vines in the backyard. They'd all died back, and even though it's still early, we can feel that it's getting time to start putting the gardens to bed for the winter.

The harvest, including the two that were already picked, was a dozen squash ... and there are a few more on the vines in the front yard.

Incredible!

I'm seriously thinking that I might intentionally grow hubbard squash next year.

Or, we'll just eat the volunteers and toss the seeds in the compost like we did last year. Perhaps, nature will, again, be so generous.

I'm very thankful for the squash this year. Apples aren't doing well. A late frost destroyed most of the crop. We went apple picking this weekend at a local orchard. This was, likely, their last weekend for PYO. We were told that the frost had destroyed 95% of their crop. They are one of two local suppliers of winter storage apples to the Hannaford stores.

We picked a bushel and that will give us about a dozen quart jars of applesauce. We'll need at least twice that, and best would be three times. We're hoping to pick at a different orchard - one further south of us that didn't get hit by the freak frost. The goal is two more bushels for sauce and at least a bushel for storage. I have a feeling that local apples at the grocery store this winter aren't going to be as available as they usually are.

Since apples will be in short supply, I'm really thankful for the squash. Last year, the recipe I used was similar to this one. It was delicious, and as luck would have it, we harvested maple syrup this year, too ;). We're in the process of harvesting acorns, and while they are probably not a really good substitute for walnuts, I figure worst case scenario, properly prepared and roasted, they'd do.

I may also cook a few of them and substitute it for pumpkin in this canned pumpkin bread recipe. I make at least one batch of the bread every year, and it is so incredible! The best part is having canned pumpkin bread to give the girls on those days when we're busy all day, as a quick snack. They LOVE it!

I realized that when I took the picture of all of the squash squashed together that they don't really look like all that much.

So, I took a second picture for perspective.



That's a standard-sized basketball. The squash is bigger. I thought it was pretty cool ;).

Friday, September 17, 2010

{this moment}



A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

That's the Glory of ...

My daughters are all taking music lessons. They are taking lessons, not me ....

Big Little Sister is picking at the guitar.

Little Fire Faery is sawing the fiddle.

Precious is plunking the ukulele.

They are supposed to be practicing at least two hours per week ... which is only twenty minutes per day and totally doable. Little Fire Faery is totally into playing the fiddle, and she practices, but the other two ... not so much.

Big Little Sister is at an age when she should be encouraged to be responsible for herself, and so if she doesn't practice, it's on her, but Precious is still a wee one, and Deus Ex Machina and I are (and should be) still responsible for making sure she does what's expected of her.

In an attempt to encourage Precious to at least touch her ukulele, I pulled it out today. I haven't been paying a lot of attention to what she's supposed to be working on, but when I discovered the sheet music she'd been given, I thought "Oh, SO COOL!" and decided I had to give it a try ... and Little Fire Faery was gracious enough to indulge me with helping to make a video :).

For the record, though, I *am*not*a*ukulele*player!



... but I can do a decent imitation ;).

Other than the obviously self-deprecating humor of posting myself (and this very poor attempt at) playing the ukulele, there is a point I wanted make, and that is that survival isn't just about having enough food and potable water and warm clothes and a roof over our heads. Surviving means continuing to live, and there's just got to be more to life than simply eating and sleeping and .... well, you know. At least I hope so.

Life would be very sad indeed if the only thing we ever did was tend to the business of keeping our bodies alive.

In his books, Tom Brown Jr. states that after the very basics for survival are met (shelter and water), it only takes a few hours per day to secure food, and after that ... after that we need something else to do.

Human history is rife with examples of how people wiled away the hours before there was the Internet, television, and print. Music, stories, games, crafts ... all of these things are and should be part of the future we're planning for ourselves.

Which is why, we have a guitar picker and a fiddle sawer ... and someone is going to learn to plunk that ukulele.

But it probably won't be me ;).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Don't Let 'Em Fool You

It appears that the makers of high fructose corn syrup are trying to relieve the stigma attached to their product, but rather than admitting that their product is flawed and really trying to find ways to improve it, they've decided to rename it from corn syrup to corn sugar.

So very frustrating. It's still the SAME product!

It's like renaming corn whiskey to corn wine. Saying it's corn wine doesn't make it any less potent than whiskey. As Juliet so aptly observed, that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. Changing the name does not change what it is.

My family likes corn. We eat corn-on-the-cob or sliced off the cob as whole kernels and creamed corn or as cornmeal. I pressure can or freeze fresh, raw corn, but it still looks like corn. We also use dried corn that has been ground into a meal, but it's still corn. What they do to the corn to make it high fructose corn syrup takes all of the cornness out of it.

I like things sweet, and I still use sugar, but you won't find corn syrup or corn sugar in my cupboard or in the food we eat. We use raw cane sugar, which if one is going to use sugar at all, is as close to natural as it gets. In fact, the above referenced article states that given that raw sugar requires minimal processing, the raw sugar we consume today is probably very similar to that made in India hundreds of years ago. My guess is that there are very few processed foods that people living hundreds of years ago would recognize.

Perhaps if we're looking for equivalents, raw sugar is equivalent to apple juice concentrate. Corn syrup is not. An article on high fructose corn syrup states, "High-fructose corn syrup is produced by milling corn to produce corn starch, then processing that starch to yield corn syrup, which is almost entirely glucose, and then adding enzymes that change most of the glucose into fructose." I mean, at what point does it really cease to even be corn anymore? Doesn't adding enzymes completely change the character of the organism?

I don't know about anyone else, but I've made apple juice before, and basically, I pressed the juice out of the apples and then I put the juice into some jars, and then I processed the jars in a boiling water bath to seal the jars and a few months later, we drank completely unadulterated apple juice. It was delicious, sweeter and smoother than anything we could buy in the store ... and no high fructose corn syrup. It didn't need it.

They are going to try everything in their power to make their product appeal to those of us who might be willing to buy it. For them it's all about the money, and they could care less if their products are unhealthy and are killing us, because we stay alive long enough to make sure a new generation is born who can be made addicted to their products, and make no mistake, high fructose corn syrup is highly addictive. It's not (just) the caffeine in sodas that makes us want it. It's the sweetner, and it's poison.

Believe me when I say I know how difficult it is to break an addiction - I've totally been there and done that (cigarettes, soda, coffee, potato chips - to name a few ;), but it's so worth it ... if for nothing else than to be able to thumb one's nose at those who believe they can just tell us that whiskey is wine ... and it won't hurt us, no matter how much we drink.

Liars!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Playing with Deus Ex Machina's Toy

(... and he says get your minds out of the gutter ;).

Several weeks ago, well in advance of the opening of hunting season (this weekend), Deus Ex Machina purchased a trail camera. He's been setting it up in different places around our yard. He says it's so that he can figure out how to properly mount it when he (finally) decides to put it in the woods, but I think it's because he knows his family, and these days, he can always use a good laugh.

At first he had it set-up in the front pointed toward the road, where he got lots of pictures of the comings and goings of our neighbors, the dust after one of the neighbors sped down the road too fast for the camera to register, a few of the girls nostrils when they were too close to the camera, and some weird guy who was lurking a little too close to our yard (but we figured out he was just walking his dog when we saw him a few days later) ... and maybe one or two of me flashing my belly button.

Then, he moved it to the backyard to see if he could get some pictures of animals visiting our compost pile ... and he did, but not quite the animals he'd anticipated. Mostly, he's got pictures of our chickens in the compost pile, and a few like this one ...



I would like to say I was doing a cartwheel, but I'm not quite that agile anymore.

I'm probably having too much fun with the camera, and perhaps it's frustrating Deus Ex Machina a bit, because it's supposed to be capturing deer not dear. There are more pictures of me being silly in front of the camera, but this particular one got the best reaction from my family. When Precious saw this picture, she laughed ... out loud, and said how much she liked the picture. Then she said, and I quote, "I'm so glad you're my mom."

Ah! Be still my heart.

I told her I was so glad she was my daughter.

It was definitely a {this moment}, but it required quite an explanation, because the picture isn't the story. The reaction from my very precious "Precious" is ;).

Monday, September 13, 2010

On Being Thrifty

Thriftiness doesn't come easy for me. It's not how I grew up. For my parents, being "thrifty" was the equivalent of being poor, which they both were as children. They wanted more for me and my sisters, and we did ... have more, I mean (which is to say that our things were newer and more abundant, but not necessarily better than what they had as children). In fact, we had just about everything we wanted, eventually. It's probably a good thing we didn't want a lot, though ;).

I remember a couple of years ago, Deus Ex Machina and I were watching this film about a man who was hired to be the basketball coach in an inner city school. He really shook things up quite a lot when he started imposing very strict standards of conduct on his ball players with one of the worst requirements being that the players wear a tie on game days. Some parents complained that their son did not have a tie, but when the coach suggested the Salvation Army, right up the street, the parents balked and exclaimed, "We're not that poor, yet!" The movie, based on a true story, took place about the same time I was growing up, and that was the attitude. We don't patronize Salvation Army, because we're not that poor, yet.

Growing up, we never shopped at thrift stores, that I remember. We didn't buy clothes second-hand (gasp!), and there wasn't a lot of going to yard sales. There was no such thing as FreeCycle, and my parents would be absolutely mortified if they thought I would even entertain the thought of dumpster diving (which, if you read the comments at the linked post, you'll note I did do ... sort of ... when I was in college - and yes, at that time, I was indeed that poor ;).

I grew up in pre-Wal*Mart days, although we did shop at K-Mart back then, and if my mom could find a sale, she'd take advantage of it, but bargains were end-of-season sales - not thrift finds.

So, thrifting does not come easy to me. I am really impressed reading some other people's anecdotes of their thrift store treasure hunts. The ones that impress me most are people who find fabulous clothes or items that they repurpose or recreate into something new. I always wonder why I can never find things like that.

I know it's not because my thrift store doesn't have them. I'm certain it does. It's just that I don't know what to look for. I'm accustomed to finding what I need at the closest retail outlet when I need it. I'm not accustomed to waiting and searching.

I've been doing much better, though. It actually started last year, when I wanted a salad spinner. See, I learned when I was working in a restaurant that the best way to keep the salad crisp is to soak it in cold water and then store it in a cool place. The problem is that leaf lettuce needs to be really dry when it gets stored in that cool place (like a refrigerator) or it gets slimy too fast. The one at the grocery store was some crazy expensive price, and so I waited, and I looked, and eventually, I found one for $4 at Goodwill.

I had similar luck today. For a couple of years now we've been de-electrifying our kitchen, and I've wanted to replace my electric hand mixer with a manual one. Today, when Precious and I went to Goodwill, I found one.

I also found a few other things that looked like they might be useful. A couple of glass stoppered dressing bottles (for $2 each) to put the apple cider vinegar we've been fermenting. I'm thinking if I steep some herbs in them and then strain the herbed vinegar into the bottles, they'd make some very nice gifts. It's something I've always wanted to do, but never did do, because I didn't have the pretty bottles.

I've also been meaning to get some picture frames for the girls' recital photos, and I found three, identical frames today. It was like providence, like those three frames were put there ... just for me to find, because I've had these photos sitting on my desk waiting for frames for months, and I'd resolved that I wasn't going to slide the pictures into a drawer until I could get a frame, that seeing them every day would give me that little push I needed to be more proactive. Two dollars each. And they're perfect.

The ultimate, though, was, as the young man in line in front of me called it, the old school coffee grinder.



It's just the sweetest looking thing I've ever seen. I was a little nervous when I bought it, because Deus Ex Machina and I are really watching our pennies (and it's kind of become a little contest between us since we started writing all of our cash purchases in our little notebooks to keep from spending any money at all - I know, why was I even in a store if I wasn't wanting to spend money, right? ... anyway ;). I never know how he's going to react, but I was pleasantly surprised when he thought it an awesome deal. We even bought some coffee beans, rather than the pre-ground stuff, when we were at the grocery store ... just so we could try it out.

Precious found a couple of mugs she liked, which was quite a change for her. Usually, it's clothes she wants, even though she has mounds of clothes that she never wears because they're buried under mounds of clothes that she never wears. Or it's videos, and as I'm trying to phase out and move out the VCR, I was thrilled that she was happy with mugs - something we can, and will, use every day.

I'm still not entirely comfortable that I know what I'm doing when I go thrifting. I guess it's one of those things that takes practice and patience, and I guess I'm getting there.

I probably won't ever be on Farmgal's level, and to acheive Soulemama's level would require more years than I probably have left to live, but it's something to aspire to, and my hope is that someday I'll have a house full of useful thrifty things that we use all of the time rather than just a house full of stuff.

Friday, September 10, 2010

{this moment}




A SouleMama Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Visitor

The blogosphere came to life today in the form of Kate from Living the Frugal Life, who has been on tour up here this week.

I will admit that I was a little nervous, because ... well, because from pictures and anecdotes her homestead is pretty impressive, and I really was nervous that she might snicker at my feeble attempts. She didn't. She was completely gracious (which I totally appreciate ;).

It was so nice chatting with her and her father, who has some very cool history and a lot of similarities with me and Deus Ex Machina (we're all Veterans, and we were all stationed in Germany, for one ;). They both had some really fun stories to tell, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

It's very nice when I discover that unlike the character in Brad Paisley's song, a person's online persona ends up being exactly who they are.

It was such an incredible a pleasure to have met Kate. There just wasn't enough time, and I really hope we get the opportunity to chat over tea and half cake* again sometime.

Dang! I forgot to show Kate the fatback I have in my freezer and get that block of instruction on how to make lardo ....

Hey, Kate ... on your way back down south ... :).



*It's really called Chocolate Delirium Torte, but was dubbed *half cake* by Deus Ex Machina, because it takes 1/2 bag of chocolate chips, 1/2 lb of butter, and a 1/2 dozen eggs and is baked for 1/2 an hour ;).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Harvest Dinner Party

Deus Ex Machina, in his never-ending quest to make his work environment more ... pleasant ..., decided it was time for a department get-together. So, he invited his "guys" to our house over the holiday for a dinner party.

The last dinner party we hosted was an Eat Local challenge, in which we challenged our guests to bring food that they had sourced locally. Back then, it was a challenge to find local food, but now, not so much. This time, we just decided what we wanted to serve, and as we were sitting down to eat realized that most of the food was local - without our having tried to make it so.

I'm still all about the local food, but the key difference between then and now is that I find it more difficult to share with as much zeal my enthusiasm for our local diet. For those who are already on the local foods kick, it's preaching to the choir and for those who are not, it's an opportunity to pick fun at my choices. Neither scenario is much fun for the people involved, and so, while we mentioned, kind of in passing, that the food was local (because someone asked about the potatoes), other than that passing comment, we didn't beat the subject into the ground like I would have in days of yore. For us, that most of our food is from local sources is just the way it is, and there are so many other weird things I do that I have to pick and choose so that people don't run screaming away from me ;).

The running joke of the evening was "you might be a redneck if ...", and Deus Ex Machina and I spent the evening discovering how many ways we fit the mold ;). Apparently, raising our own chickens, growing our own potatoes, and brewing our own alcoholic beverages qualified us for the title. Our guests enjoyed our stories about eating roadkill deer and the time we served beaver stew to our girls without telling them it was beaver (they thought it was beef, and thoroughly enjoyed the stew, which was delicious, by the way).

It probably didn't help that when Deus Ex Machina and I were taking food outside to the picnic table and decided to bring some condiments that we realized we did not, in fact, have a salt shaker. So, we made one.



Or that our drinking glasses were repurposed canning jars ;).

And I didn't even talk about my clothesline, but on the way into our yard, most of them had to duck their heads to keep from getting clotheslined (*grin*).

The favorite story of the evening, though, had to be the one I told about when Deus Ex Machina and I were visiting his "kinfolk" out in the rural southwest when we were still newlyweds. From the moment we met and Deus Ex Machina learned that I hailed from Kentucky, we've had a running joke about inbreeding (* Yes, indeed, when I told him I was from Kentucky, he asked if I was inbred ... and I still married him - I must have been too dazzled by his gorgeous smile to pay closer attention to what he was saying ... or something ;).

So, this particular day, we were sitting around with his relatives, and he said something to me about my lineage, which no one else appeared to hear. So as sweetly as I could muster in my very best southern accent I said, very loudly, to him, "Well, you know why I married you, don't you?" Everyone got quiet, and this look of oh-shit-where-is-she-going-with-this crossed his face, but he decided to play anyway, and asked why. Time stood still, as even the Earth seemed to hold her breath waiting for my response.

I said, "Because I don't have any brothers, and the only cousin my age is in jail."

Deus Ex Machina nearly broke a rib laughing. It was probably at that exact moment that he knew his decision to make me his life-partner was the best choice he'd ever made ;).

His family ... didn't think me so witty.

Our party guests seemed to thoroughly enjoy our story, however, and were almost positive that we'd earned the Jeff Foxworthy RedNeck (blue) Ribbon Award.

But the pièce de résistance was when we whipped out the Mora knife and started carving marshmallow roasting sticks. It was then, that our guests determined we had completely wedged ourselves into that peg hole, and the fit was nice and neat.

Dinner was two grill-roasted chickens and a rabbit (from our nanofarm), corn (from the farmstand), and oven-roasted potatoes and onions (from the garden). I served pasta salad, because it was easy. The pasta, olives and dressing were not local, but the tomatoes, cucumbers and cheese were.

The beer and cider were our own, and one of our guests brought his own home-brew ... which was DE-LI-CIOUS!

And the strawberries and homemade whipped-cream on the (store-bought) pound cake were both locally sourced (yes, we have a local farm that grows "fall" strawberries, and every week at the Farmer's Market, the vendor makes sure to save a quart just for me ;).

What's nice, though, is that for this dinner, it wasn't about it being all local. It was about coming together as a community and meeting some of the new people Deus Ex Machina's company has hired recently. It was about enjoying ... and sharing ... the fruits of our labor, and it was about sitting and relaxing next to the fire after weeks and months of stress-inducing craziness.

For me, the most amazing part of the day was my family - who are all incredible! Everyone worked to make ready for the party, cleaning and cooking and chopping ... and Little Fire Faery went outside and started the fire in the firepit - by herself ... and she did an amazing job.



At the end of the day, as the sun went down, our guests had departed, and the fire was burning down to embers, we sat outside around the fire pit and the girls roasted (non-local) marshmallows on sticks we'd whittled for them.

And I took pictures, because {these moments} are the ones I so cherish and that serve as reminders of how truly remarkable my life really is.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Getting Sauced



I picked up a half bushel of tomatoes from my CSA last weekend and made tomato sauce. I thought I'd only have seven quarts, but the half bushel ended up making ten (one jar didn't seal and ended up in the freezer).

When I can tomato sauce, I do it the laziest way possible, because ... well, because I just don't have a lot of patience, really, but also because I just don't have a lot of extra minutes to spend in the kitchen. Basically, I quarter the tomatoes, cut off the stem and blossom ends and cook them until they're soft. Then, I send them through the food processor, pour the liquid into jars (with two tablespoons of lemon juice per quart jar), and process the jars in a boiling water bath for forty minutes.

Easy peasy.

And as long as I was sealing jars of tomato sauce anyway, I figured I might as well seal the sauerkraut, too.

Ten jars of tomato sauce and two more sauerkraut - not bad for an afternoon's work ;).

Monday, September 6, 2010

If A Picture Paints a Thousand Words



I thought this was a lovely picture ... the grassy field in front of the non-descript buildings. It could be any non-offensive warehouse business in the world. There could be books in those buildings! Or things to make books! Or even people making books!

The fact is that that picture does show a warehouse, but nothing as lovely as books are housed there. What is housed in those buildings are chickens. MILLIONS of chickens in cages.

When I first started researching keeping chickens, I learned that the MINIMUM size area for one chicken was two square feet inside and four square feet outside for EACH chicken. If I had a million chickens, that's a lot of square feet.

The space allotted to the chickens who are housed in these sorts of buildings does not even begin to meet the minimum space requirements to keep healthy and happy chickens. They don't ever see the light of day. They don't ever get to scratch the ground or take a dirt bath with the sun streaming on them through the leaf cover. They don't ever get to hunt bugs or nibble fresh grass. They live their short lives in a cage, roughly, the size of a piece of copy paper - about 8 1/2"x11".

If we didn't care about our chickens, and all we wanted was the eggs they could give us at the highest profit margin possible, then, we wouldn't have gone to such great lengths to make them such a comfortable place to live.

There are some stark differences between our chicken living quarters and the one in the picture above. The first is that when a newcomer walks up to our chicken run, there's no doubt as to what's inside. See? Chickens.


But the most stark difference is this:


Children play where our chickens live.

Children play where our chickens live.

I would never take a child into a confined animal operation - especially not one of my girls, who are beautiful and sensitive and have only seen happy chickens with plenty of room to cause mischief.



This is a great article in support of local foods and against the S. 510 bill I wrote about a couple of days ago.

My favorite line in the piece was this: Unless all the food you eat comes from the farm stand down the road or your backyard garden, you too are consuming industrial food, and I thought of the dairy farms where we get milk, and our friends at Broadturn Road Farm, which looks exactly like the pictures on their website (I know, because I've been there on many occasions - and was even able to help out on the farm once or twice :), and Snell Family Farm, where I have a CSA (and which also looks just like the pictures, and I know this, because I've been there, too), and I thought of my little nanofarm, too, with my wild and crazy gardens and my ducks and chickens and rabbits, which serves to perpetuate the Old McDonald's Farm myth, and, actually, people who have visited have commented that we have "Old McDonald's Farm" here.

I smiled, smugly, after reading the line, because, for the most part, my food supply is that myth, and not the reality of factory farms.

While factory farms do, indeed, have the largest part of the market share, I know that in every community in every part of our country, there are small farms that look just like the Old McDonald's Farm, and those small, local farmers, are all too happy to sell their lovely crops at small farmer's markets across the continent. All they want is a customer who values what they do, and understands that their product is *not* what's available in the grocery store. Most just want to be able to live comfortably, and they just want an honest wage for an honest days' work.

I pay more for tomatoes at the Farmer's Market than I do at the grocery store. I pay more for corn, and more for potatoes, too, but while the actual dollars I spend may be a bit more than what I would if I bought the same item at the grocery store, I know that the items are not comparable and there is no comparing the tomato picked green and artificially ripened with the box of canning tomatoes I bought from Snell last weekend.

And it may cost me more to can those tomatoes than it would to buy a can of tomatoes from Hannaford, but I know there is no comparing my home-canned tomatoes to the ones canned in the factory in a BPA-lined can.

The bottom line, though, is that by supporting my local growers and by growing some of my own, in the event of a hiccup in the on-demand food delivery system, I don't have to worry, and that's worth every penny and more.

Food safety? Definitely! Food security? Absolutely!

Old McDonald's Farm is not a myth. It's up the road, and around the corner, and in my backyard.

Friday, September 3, 2010

{this moment}




A SouleMama Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment to pause, savor and remember.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Smaller Feet

We have weekly garbage and recycling pick-up in our community.

Deus Ex Machina and I have recycled since we bought our house, even before there was curbside recycling. Back then, we collected all of our recyclables and took them to the next town over where they had bins. Now, with it being so easy, we can't imagine *not* doing it and are often a little disappointed and frustrated that our neighbors won't. Deus Ex Machina has chatted with our recycling guy on a couple of occasions who has confided that if he sees something that is "recyclable" that's not in a recycle bin, but seems destined for the trash, he'll grab it. I love that attitude!

It wasn't enough, though, to just recycle. We also wanted to reduce the overall amount of garbage we threw out each week. Over time, we've really tried to limit what gets tossed. The first step was composting or feeding kitchen wastes to the chickens. At this point, nothing that has compost potential ends up in the garbage, and our chickens are very happy with their very diverse diet :). Next we started buying things fresh and/or in bulk to limit the packaging. Single serve yogurt is convenient, but the 24 oz container creates less waste ... or better, yet, making my own and reusing containers produces no waste at all ;). After that, we concentrated our efforts on choosing packing materials that are either reusable or recyclable.

Recycling isn't a perfect solution, because disposal is disposal, and at some point, if we have to find a way to dispose of our "waste", if even recycling is no longer an option, our only option will be to not produce waste.

The other night we were collecting the items to put out for curbside pick-up. I was very proud of us.

Over the last few years, with some little bit of conscious effort, we have managed to reduce the amount of garbage that goes to the curb each week. When we got to one 15 gal kitchen bag per week for our family of five, we thought we'd hit the big time. I think we didn't even begin to realize our potential.

This week, we didn't put any garbage out at the curb. The kitchen trash is not, yet, full, and none of the other cans needed to be emptied, either. We had recycling (about the same amount as usual), but no garbage. I think that's pretty impressive.

The question is, how many weeks could we go without putting the garbage can to the curb?

But, being the inquisitive that I am, I wonder ...

And if we decided to make a real, hardcore attempt at reduce, reuse, and repurpose, how long would it take us to fill up a recycilng bin?

I wonder how many weeks we could go without filling either ...?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

No Rest for the Wicked (Which Has a Totally Different Meaning Where I Live :)

I had really intended to just stay away, to take some time away from the world and its issues, to spend time off-line, processing, but I still have work responsibilities, and I work-for-pay using my computer. The temptation to open email or check out the news is just too strong. I wish to thank everyone who expressed their well wishes to me and my family. Your condolences are very much appreciated and your verbal support is invaluable.

Unfortunatly, once I open up the proverbial can of worms it just snowballs. There are so many things in the news that are just so disturbing, especially with regard to what our government is doing. It's almost like they live in some protective bubble and seriously have no inkling as to what is really happening in the world and in our country. Some of the legislation they are proposing is just ... well, it's ridiculous, and unnecessary and really just serves to take attention away from the REAL issues.

One such Bill is the current S. 510 that is before the Senate. The sister Bill in the House of Representatives (HR 2749 – Food Safety Enhancement Act) passed.

What?

And the language in the House Bill was even more ambiguous and restricting than the modified Senate Bill reportedly is.

The bottom line, at least from what information I am being fed, is that the Bill will give regulatory control of our food to a new governing agency that falls under the auspices of Homeland Security.

Homeland Security? Is anyone else concerned about the very large and diverse role this one agency is being given?

For the worst case scenario of what could happen if this Bill is passed, imagine something like the recent raids on food co-ops (or this back in 2008), or the confiscation of the raw milk from some distributors down south happening to you, when the police come to your house to confiscate the tomatoes you grow in buckets on the back porch. When we can't even buy milk (of all things) from a friend who happens to own a cow, because they say it might be bad for us, but they have no qualms about feeding us food that has been proven bad for us time and time again, it's time to fight back.

My home garden and my chickens could be made illegal if this Bill passes, as would my Farmer's Market and most of the small farmers from whom I get the bulk of the food we eat in my house.

In a time when we are facing some serious issues regarding food security, and in a time when so many of us are really working hard to increase our self-sufficiency, to see reports about a Bill like this before Congress, to realize that our government is working toward making us MORE dependent on a very unstable, unreliable and unsustainable food system is disheartening, at best, and terrifying, at worst.

It begs the question - where in the hell do these people live and what in the hell are these people thinking?

At the same moment that the First Lady is installing a small, organic, home garden, we have a Bill being drafted that could, potentially, make her efforts illegal.

In a time when celebrities, like Jamie Oliver, are telling us NOT to eat industrial food products, we have the government attempting to pass a bill that would make it illegal for us to do otherwise.

What's most disturbing about this whole thing is that as I was reading my letter to Big Little Sister and her BFF, Celtic Kitty (who stayed the night last night), Big Little Sister tells me that the scenario my letter was discussing, that is the outlawing of small, home-based gardens, was one of the issues Haddix discusses in her Shadow Children series. How disturbing is it when fiction becomes fact? The society Haddix describes in her book series is one of complete oppression in which the people live in constant fear.

Is that the kind of world we wish to live in?

I strongly identify with the "preppers", in that I think some level of self-preservation and preparedness is very necessary - always - and especially in today's uncertain economic times. All that to say that I read a lot of blogs authored by people who consider themselves preppers. One recent article was a response to another prepper's commentary on a potential scenario in the face of a sudden and complete collapse. The inital article talked a post-collapse scenario in which the community-based governments should confiscate farms, essentially private land, and resources that might become scarce (like gasoline) so that those resources can be rationed (because rationing is always completely fair and equitable ... Ha!).

The question, for me, is where does it stop?

If we allow our government to assume that they have the right to take our stuff (even if "our" stuff is really the 500 acre dairy farm around the corner, which isn't "ours", but also isn't "theirs"), where do we draw the line? When does it cease to be okay to allow the government to have control over our actions?

What's your line?

When they raid the local co-op and confiscate and destroy food because the co-op owners didn't have a license?

When your backyard chickens are confiscated because your neighbors don't think you should have fowl in your yard?

When it becomes illegal NOT to be insured?

When they confiscate your personal property because of "allegations" of misdoing for which there is no proof?

When personal defense in the form of privately owned firearms becomes illegal?

When they make you wear a star ...?

One little thing at a time. The government has become like a trickle of water through a tiny little fissure in a dam. With each new droplet of water, one more of our freedoms is eroded. If we look to history, we'll find some pretty stark examples of what happens when the dam bursts and all of the water comes rushing out at us ... and it always will, unless the breach is repaired.

For me, this is the line in the sand, and if it passes, and if the government tries to tell me that my only option for food is to purchase from Big Ag, my family will be outlaws, guerilla farmers and wild foragers ... and you should probably make sure your dog doesn't wander into my yard, just so you know.

The following is the letter I sent to my Maine Senators regarding the S. 510 - Food Safety Modernization Act. I would encourage you to find out what you can about S. 510, and if what you find it as concerning as what I've found, please write to your Senators and let them know.

Dear Senator:

I have recently been reading information about the proposed S. 510 - Food Safety Modernization Act. The proposed Bill raises a lot of red flags for me, and I urge you to vote against it. I have always thought that our Maine Senators and Congressmen and women were more astute than the Senators and Congressmen from other States, especially when I hear about this sort of regulation. When it comes to silliness like this Bill, I find that my representatives in Congress usually vote in the way that I would – with good judgment and a heavy dose of common sense, and I know that your heart is with Maine and with our, largely, agricultural community.

Like Congresswoman Pingree, who voted against the HR 2749 – Food Safety Enhancement Act, I know that you realize what a farce this Bill is, and that penalizing small farmers by holding them to the same sorts of standards with which large producers should be forced to comply is just ridiculous.

What concerns me is that, from what I’m hearing, this Bill may force smaller producers out of business, which would be a tragedy. Right now, we are facing a nationwide unemployment rate between 9.5% and 20%, depending on whose numbers one believes. If this Bill passes and our small Maine farmers are forced out of work, what are they do for jobs when so many of their neighbors are also out of work? Passing a bill that would, potentially, put thousands of small businesses out of work in a time when we need more jobs is not a wise move.

What baffles me is WHY the writers of this Bill feel it is necessary. We already have an FDA and a USDA, both of which are regulatory agencies responsible for ensuring food safety in this country, and any "new" organization just seems redundant. How about, instead of passing a NEW bill to do what the FDA and the USDA are obviously failing to do, we require that those regulatory agencies that are already in place do their jobs?

I have concerns regarding food safety, but my bigger concern is with food security. We are at a time in history when we are facing resource scarcity and energy depletion. The Russian wheat crop this year was devastated by drought and wildfires. From news reports, they will not be exporting any of their harvest, which will affect worldwide wheat prices. It just doesn’t make sense to put all of our proverbial eggs in one basket, to depend too much on one food source or a handful of large companies, when one parasite, one contamination, one blight could wipe out an entire crop. It doesn’t make sense to make us fully dependent on egg producers like DeCoster, who is notorious for his bad business practices here in Maine, and whose egg farms are implicated in the recent egg recall. He should have been put out of business YEARS ago, and, yet, he has been allowed to not only thrive, but also to expand! S-510 won’t change DeCoster’s practices. He will just pay the fines or buy off the investigators. What S-510 will change is my ability to make a different choice, and that is, the choice not to buy DeCoster eggs at all, but rather to get them from a small, local producer, or better, yet, to raise my own chickens in my suburban backyard.

The problem is that none of the safety regulations or fines have resulted in improving the safety practices of businesses like DeCoster’s. His company is so large and so profitable that he doesn’t care how his birds live (and die, which they do, regularly) or whether or not the eggs are safe to sell to the public. When the most recent egg recall swept the nation, I wasn’t worried. My eggs are fresh and local and I know exactly how my birds live, because they’re in my backyard. S-510 would also threaten my backyard flock. Knowing what I know about the industrial food chain, I can not, morally or ethically, support businesses like the one owned and operated by people like DeCoster. As such, if his eggs were the only ones available, and I could not raise my own chickens, we would not eat eggs.

The same is true for other large producers. I don’t buy spinach from California. I grow my own or I buy it at the Farmer’s Market. I buy local apples and PYO berries, and I buy or pick enough “in season” so that during the winter, we’re eating from what our Maine summer gave us. I fully trust the food in my freezer and in my cupboards, because I know its origins, and I don’t have to worry that somewhere from field to table the food was contaminated. For much of the food that is in my house, I was an active part in the growing, harvesting and/or preserving. I had some control over the process of getting the food to my table. S. 510 would take that control away from me, and not only would my Farmer’s Market cease to exist, but the PYO places would likely close down, and as for my little suburban garden, from what I’m understanding of the language in S-510, it would be illegal. The idea that my government would take away my little garden is just abhorrent, but S. 510 would make it possible.

In a time when we are facing energy depletion that will result in food scarcity, it does not make sense to consider any legislation that would limit food production to only those companies who were large enough to be able to afford to comply with the regulations and profitable enough to not care if their product is safe or not.

Food safety is best achieved at the local level. Small farmers and local food processors are part of the solution to the food supply. Food borne illnesses do not originate with small farmers and producers, but are a Big Ag problem. S. 510 would drive small producers out of business, leaving the industrial food system with the highest ranking of problems of disease and illnesses, to commandeer the marketplace.

I implore you to do as Congresswoman Pingree did with the House version of this Bill and vote against S. 510.

Thank you for your consideration of my request.

Sincerely,

Your Constituent in S. Maine