Friday, August 22, 2014

Want to visit here or there?

My fall schedule is filling up fast, which means that I'll get the opportunity to meet a lot of you not only in Illinois but also in California and Texas.

Starting this weekend, we're opening up our farm Antiquity Oaks to the public Saturday and Sunday as part of the Third Annual Livingston County Farm Crawl. It is totally free to stop in, check out the critters and chat with us. You can also buy our goat milk soap, a book, wool products, or some farm-fresh produce.

Next weekend, we are hosting the Third Annual Mid-America Homesteading Conference in Joliet, IL. In addition to me talking about goats and livestock guardians in two separate sessions, my husband Mike will be doing soapmaking and mozzarella making demonstrations, and we have a great line-up of other speakers, including author of Pure Poultry, Victoria Miller, who will talk about canning, living off-grid, and raising poultry. Click on the link for the schedule, list of speakers, and registration information.

In September, I'll be speaking at the National Heirloom Exposition, so I will finally get a chance to meet some of you who are California.

Throughout the fall, I'll be doing several classes in cheese making at community colleges in Normal and Oglesby, Illinois, as well as the National Goat Expo in Bloomington, Illinois.

I'll be heading to Austin, Texas in November to do a half-day workshop on creating value-added products with rare breeds of livestock at the national convention of the Livestock Conservancy (formerly the American Livestock Breed Conservancy).

If you are ever wondering what I'm up to, you can check out the Event page of this website for my speaking and teaching schedule.

Monday, August 18, 2014

4 tips for an eco-friendly lifestyle

by Tiffany Kresinski

There are tons of ways to modify your lifestyle to become more sustainable these days but, if you’re like me, you don’t have the time to incorporate them all. Since making the commitment to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, my family and I have begun making small changes to our lifestyle. I firmly believe that making small changes as an individual is the first step in working towards a better environment as a whole. I’ve also made it a goal to learn about some of the larger initiatives taking place around the globe, learning to adapt my own life to support the grand-scale efforts. By improving our own lives, we aid the efforts of big businesses and people who are trying to help the environment - together changing the direction of our planet.

1. Don’t just recycle – upcycle

Recycling is a great way to sustain an eco-friendly lifestyle, but there is more to it than collecting empty bottles and cans in a bin. It’s a good idea to think twice before tossing something to the curb and consider ways to convert those items into something useful, without having to melt it down first. If you’re interested in learning more about how others are using upcycling, I suggest reading up on William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle project. This is just one of the examples of big businesses, and architects who are making strides in improving how our population operates.

2. Make small modifications to appliances

Peter Busby and Eric Corey Freed are two others making strides in sustainability. Busby’s sustainable design initiative, and Freed’s organicARCHITECT help encourage businesses to build the most efficient buildings possible. Their ideas are geared towards corporate buildings, individuals can contribute by making small changes in their own homes as well. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, "appliances account for about 13% of your household’s energy costs." Take a look through these minor adjustments from the department’s site to help decrease your energy bill:
• Make the switch to energy-efficient light bulbs, they might be the more expensive initially, but will last longer and help you save on your electric bill - saving you money in the long run.
• Defrost freezers and refrigerators as frost buildup can decrease the appliances energy efficiency. This might seem like a hassle, but I like to take the opportunity to really clean out the fridge as well, combining the two projects makes them more manageable.
• Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder so be sure to wrap foods stored in the refrigerator, not to mention leaving foods uncovered causes them to go bad faster, smell, and ultimately ends in wasted food!
• Save energy by air-drying clothes on lines or drying racks. Honestly, its possible to cut back on how much laundry you do altogether - if a shirt you wore to work isn’t dirty, don’t wash it. Cutting back on the frequency of washes will help the clothes last longer and save you money.
• Invest in a timer. I know we can all be a bit guilty when it comes to over-using water, and it wasn’t until I put a cooking timer in our bathroom to cut down on shower time that I actually got better at this. Adding a timer, and doing simple things like turning off the water when brushing your teeth, can add up to huge water savings.

3. Cut down on the trash

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 4.38 pounds of waste were generated per person, per day on average in 2012. Rethink your trash habits with these tips:
• I’m not the best when it comes to remembering to bring reusable bags every time I shop, but I do make a conscious effort to reuse the plastic bags around the house after I get them; whether it's as garbage bags, lunch bags or for storage, reusing these prevents me from buying new ones and contributing to the waste problem.
• Store food in reusable containers instead of disposable plastic bags. Spills are prevented this way too!
• Bring your own mug to coffee shops - some have programs where you may even receive a discount for doing this.
• Bring your lunch to work in a reusable lunchbox (or get some more use out of that grocery bag), rather than spending money for brown bags.

4. Sustainable cleaning

Another method to decrease your environmental footprint that often goes unnoticed, is the use of organic cleaning supplies. Certain cleaning products can have a negative impact on the environment. Organic cleaning supplies are available at most grocery stores, but you can also make everything from all-purpose cleaner to laundry detergent with simple recipes. Other household necessities, such as insect repellent and air-freshener can also be made at home without the toxic ingredients of store-bought versions.

With these simple, budget-friendly tips, you can kickstart your eco-friendly lifestyle. Little changes go a long way, and before you know it, your eco-friendly habits will have a positive impact on those around you.

Tiffany Krezinski is a wife and mother who strives to "live green." She is always looking for new ways to improve her lifestyle and support the environment, keeping track of her experiences on her blog,

Photo credit earth: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Friday, August 15, 2014

The London Dispatches: Garden Museum

Summer time is garden time, and if there’s anything the British are famous for, it’s their gardens. For this latest installment, I decided to delve a bit further into this beloved pastime to try and see if anything can be done about my own black thumb (I have managed, in my time, to kill an astonishing number of plants. A source of great amusement to my family).

Gatehouse of the palace to the left, church to the right.
The Garden Museum is located in a former church, St Mary-at-Lambeth, which abuts Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury (the principle leader of the Church of England, under the sovereign). I find this utterly fitting; gardening is almost a religion in Britain. The Garden Museum claims to be the first of its kind dedicated to its namesake subject and opened in the 1970s.

The church itself has an amazing history! Several notable people are buried here included the mother of Queen Anne Boleyn, Captain Bligh of the Bounty, and members the Tradescant family. The Tradescants are particularly important and inform the Garden Museum’s mission because John Tradescant the Elder was an early English naturalist and botanist who travelled widely and collected a vast array of seeds and plants. His work predates that of Darwin and Gregor Mendel by nearly 300 years! This collection eventually opened as the first ever public museum in Britain. The family introduced a number of plants to English gardens that are still hallmarks of gardening today.

Captain Bligh's memorial.
The Tradescant family's memorial. This is a 19th century recreation of the 17th century original and contains a very unique design. Most reliquaries of the time were religious in nature, this one refers to the natural world and John Tradescant the Elder's travels - note the crocodile!

 The interior of the church houses a few exhibits, a café, study areas, several books on horticulture and gardening, and a special exhibition space.

The garden outside in the former churchyard is a “knot” garden (referring the design of its layout) and is composed entirely of plants that would have appeared in a 17th century garden like John Tradescant’s.

All the plants in the garden are labeled, along with the year of their scientific description, and some even included quotes from British writers or scientists about the uses of the plant in question.
I mentioned that gardening is a cultural pastime here, but in many ways, it’s more than that. For centuries, being a gardener was a respectable profession in a way I don’t think we’ve seen in the U.S. For one thing, we have far fewer grand estates and for another, we’ve been a nation of settlers in our own right for whom gardens were once a necessity, but have lately been replaced with consumer food culture. Several of the exhibits demonstrated to me how long personally owned food gardens operated for the majority of the population, even in a growing metropolis like London. 

Agriculture has been a part of British life since time immemorial, but towards the end of the Renaissance and into the early Modern period, gardens took on a very different role. Once warfare declined enough so that a family didn’t necessarily require a fortress to live in, things like architecture and landscape development and planning for beauty became much more important. There’s even a political aspect to land management. Many of the grand estates with their immaculately produced landscapes and gardens were only possible after the landed gentry and aristocrats fenced in their land (called enclosure) for more controlled livestock and agricultural production for their own profit, instead of relying on the symbiotic relationships that peasants and aristocrats previously lived with for hundreds of years. The natural beauty we tend to romantically associate with Britain, gardens included, was often only possible because of vastly unfair social systems, rigid class structures, and even outright oppression. Modern horticulture is a complicated thing, but it was interesting to learn that ideas of land, food, and production have always been complex issues. Our 21st century conversations and battles are simply the latest iteration of a much longer dialog.

Years of personal and professional gardens represented alongside their work.

It was a real pleasure to learn so much about British gardening in a place dedicated to an absolute love of the skill and pastime. I’m not sure I’m ready to embark on a program to turn my balcony into a paradise (everything would be dead in a week…), but I’m toying with the idea of trying another houseplant to start. With more education and effort, I think I might be able to manage it.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Natural alternatives to deodorant and antiperspirant

In spite of claims that underarm antiperspirant is harmful to health, it is still used because we think we need it. Of course, no one wants to stink, but there are natural alternatives that work for most people. I had periodically used plain alcohol under my arms over the last twenty years, but I didn’t do it regularly because I was worried about it drying out my skin. I also felt guilty about tossing a cotton ball in the garbage with every application.

Two years ago I decided that I shouldn’t make a decision based on assumptions, and I started using alcohol daily to see what would happen. To eliminate the waste factor, I put the alcohol in a spray bottle and put a squirt under my arms every morning. It worked perfectly well as a deodorant where it hit the skin, but I wasn’t getting full coverage with a single squirt, so I cut the alcohol by 50 percent and started using two squirts. If I feel like I missed a spot, I will do a third squirt. After a couple of months I also added a few drops of lavender essential oil simply because I like the way it smells.

I also realized that I didn’t need to use my deodorant spray on days when I’d showered first thing in the morning. Bacteria cause underarm odor, so if you do a good job of washing under your arms, there won’t be any bacteria there until you have been sweating for a few hours. The other thing I’ve learned is that if you sweat a lot—as in sweat pouring off your body as you work outside in the middle of the summer—you don’t stink. When the sweat is pouring off your body, it doesn’t sit under your arms, where the bacteria can grow. Your clothes, however, are a different story. Once they’re soaked in sweat, bacteria starts to grow, and by the next morning your clothes can be quite smelly. Since most of us are able to shower on a regular basis and have clean clothes to wear daily, deodorant is not as necessary as advertisers would like us to believe.

If you don’t like the idea of using alcohol, try using baking soda or apple cider vinegar. Alcohol works because it kills bacteria, but you can also create an unfriendly environment for bacteria by using baking soda or vinegar, which each work by pushing the pH either too high or too low for the bacteria to thrive. There are also a multitude of deodorant recipes online that make a paste out of baking soda and coconut oil or one of the other oils discussed earlier. People who use these say that a tiny amount is all that is needed to avoid odor. I have tried using a variety of other oils under my arms and discovered that they also eliminate odor, even without the baking soda.

What about antiperspirants? Trying to stop your body from performing a natural function falls into the category of messing with Mother Nature and usually doesn’t have a positive result. Although research results have been mixed on whether antiperspirants cause breast cancer, it seems prudent to avoid using something that really isn’t needed. Regardless of whether they use an antiperspirant, most people who work in an office don’t sweat much. And people who work outside have sweat pouring off the entire body, so there does not seem to be much point in stopping one small area from sweating.

Dress shields, also known as clothes shields, can be used to deal with a serious problem of sweating under the arms. There are disposable and washable varieties available, but of course, disposable products are not ecothrifty. The washable varieties either pin to the clothing or strap onto your arm and shoulder with an elastic band. You can also buy undershirts or camisoles with the shields already sewn into place, and you can find them with various levels of absorbency.

Savings: Commercial deodorant costs $3 to $9 per container, and an equal amount of baking soda, alcohol, or oil will cost you less than $1. The alternatives to deodorants and antiperspirants are so inexpensive that by switching to a natural one, you almost completely eliminate the cost from your budget.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Would you like some sodium carboxymethylcellulose with that?

A few days ago, a friend said that one of her friends on Facebook had gone on a rant about how something natural is not necessarily good. The most outrageous example she gave was tsunamis. Just because tsunamis are natural does not mean they are good ... as if we would choose a tsunami instead of a ... human-orchestrated disaster?

Unfortunately, many people have no idea why some of us choose to live a life that is as natural as possible. As I wrote in Homegrown and Handmade, I prefer to use natural products because they have been around since the beginning of time, so we know which natural products are bad for us, such as arsenic.

The longer something has been around, the more we know about it. Throughout history, people have always made some poor decisions, such as using mercury in the production of hats during the 18th and 19th century. The use of mercury caused dementia in the milliners who made the hats. Although mercury is considered a "natural" element, it doesn't exactly grow on trees. It was the commercialization and processing that caused problems for us. It was the science of the times that even caused people to do such crazy things as consume mercury as a medicine. And then science said, "Oops! That stuff is poisonous!"

As for things that do grow on trees or bushes, people did figure out ages ago which ones were poisonous and which ones were nutritious. When a food is in its simplest form and someone gets sick from it, it's pretty obvious what caused the problem. When you eat a processed food and get sick, you may have dozens of possible culprits that could be causing the reaction.

Things that are considered cutting-edge science today may be viewed as dangerous in a few decades as we learn more. When bisphenol-A (BPA) was put into commercial use in the 1950s to make plastic bottles and line cans, scientists firmly believed that it was 100% safe. They also said that it did not leach into foods and drinks that were in the containers. As it turns out, scientists had simply not invented a way to detect the BPA that was leaching into the food and drinks. In the 1990s, they said, "Oops!" A Harvard study also showed that after consuming a single serving of canned soup, you will have BPA in your urine for five days. Studies showed that it did cause health problems. It is an endocrine disruptor, which can cause thyroid problems, and it mimics estrogen, making it especially questionable for children. It is no longer used in production of baby bottles, and companies are looking at alternatives for making other bottles and lining cans.

So, when I have to decide whether to eat foods with or without chemicals, I choose to go with the natural ones, the ones that are as close to nature as possible. I don't make this decision because of any misplaced nostalgia, but because I prefer to consume things that have been tested as much as possible. If billions of people have been safely eating them since the beginning of time, I find that far more comforting than something that has merely been tested for a few years in a lab by a company that hopes to make millions of dollars.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The London Dispatches: Stepney City Farm

Stepney has been around as a part of London for more than 1000 years. Throughout most of its existence it was in a fairly marshy area and mostly as a small rural hamlet surrounding St. Dunstan’s church, which has been on site since the 900s. (A quick historical fun fact in honor of the recent Independence Day holiday, the same foundry that cast the bells of the church, also cast the Liberty Bell!)

Perhaps appropriate to its long rural history, just across the street from the famous church stands Stepney City Farm and Rural Arts Centre. A community farm has been here since the 1970s, another effort to reclaim bombed out areas from World War II that even 30 years after the conflict had not been repaired. However in 2009 the area had fallen into neglect again until the community rallied, organized, and relaunched in 2012.

Now the site operates a farm shop and café, maintains several animals, has a barn, houses countless individual plots for produce, a weekend farmer’s market, and is open for free to the public six days a week. It’s a remarkable turnaround that could have had a very different story ending without such community involvement.

While the animal enclosures and access are both really great and allow for visitors to interact safely with the livestock, it took me awhile to understand what was happening with the garden plots. At first glance, they seemed a mess. But on closer inspection, and after asking a few questions, I learned that almost all of them are individually and privately maintained. Some plots were clearly neglected, but as I went wandering through them, I was pleased to see that almost every single one that wasn’t had their owner actually gardening while I visited.

Many local families are clearly spending a lot of time and work turning modest plots into real food powerhouses. Several plots were dedicated to berries, others to leafy greens, and yet others to herbs. I saw a number of children digging merrily in the dirt with their parents and got to interact with a number of people from all walks of life. Though not as well organized as other farms I’ve visited, Stepney City Farm is quite clearly a labor of a great deal of love and energy.

The other reason I wanted to visit this site in particular was their Rural Arts Centre, which seems to be unique for urban farms in London. Only opened in 2013, they have three permanent craft operations going – woodworking, blacksmithing, and pottery. Alas, on the day I visited, the blacksmith’s forge was unexpectedly closed, but I did get a change to peek in on the other locations. There was a private pottery class in progress who did not wish to have their photos taken, but the woodworkers were much more accommodating.

The workshop spaces are specifically designed to be open for public viewing, to allow people to watch work taking place. Classes are also available and each of the lead craftsmen are artists in their own right and often do commission work as well. It’s a marvelous way to accomplish their stated goal of making traditional arts available in the setting where they were practiced for so many centuries. These are trades that have been virtually lost to modern society, so I find it admirable that people are fighting to make spaces for them in places like urban farms.

Your turn, are there any “rural arts” operations nearby? Do you practice any on your own properties? If so, how and where did you learn them?

Cadence Woodland is a freelance writer, editorial assistant, and marketing consultant. Her journalism has contributed to the New York Times, the National Wildlife Federation, and other venues, but she can be found most often at her blog where she writes about her adventures across the Pond in London.

Monday, July 7, 2014

How do I dehydrate peppers and herbs?

Although you can buy a fancy food dehydrator to dry your own food, there are a number of foods that can be dried in a more low-tech manner. Herbs, such as mint and basil, are probably the easiest to dry. Because they are thin and have low water content, they will dry at room temperature fairly quickly. I lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put them inside an oven that is not turned on. To avoid mishaps, I put a sticky note over the oven control knob to remind everyone not to turn on the oven without removing the herbs. The note usually says something like, “Do NOT turn on!!!” The herbs are dried out and ready for storage when they crumble between your fingers. Store dried herbs in a jar with a lid. I usually don’t crush them before storage, however, because the aroma and flavor will dissipate more quickly after crushing.

Smaller peppers can also be dried at room temperature, particularly cayenne peppers, which have very thin skin. The thicker the skin, the more problematic drying can be and the more important it is to hang them up rather than to attempt to dry them on a pan or countertop in a single layer. Jalapenos, for example, are more likely to mold than dry out if they are not hung with good air circulation on all sides. To dry peppers, tie a string around the stems and create a long rope of peppers. Hang it up out of the way where it won’t collect too much dust.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life.
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