Naturally Enough

If there’s one thing you can’t complain about in the State of Florida (although some would disagree), it’s the weather. Even our recent two-day winter was good for a laugh, and the cozy, unaccustomed feel of a wool sweater against the skin. And today, we’re back to the high 70s and sunny, the kind of day that puts a smile on the faces of winter-weary travelers and cash into the local economy.

It’s the sort of day that has me wondering why kids raised in the Sunshine State spend so much time indoors, eyes locked onto their screens and favorite video games (many of them violent).   It’s the always-on culture, you might say, addictive behavior modeled by parents and peer group alike. You could blame the irrational, media-fueled fear of just about everything, from hidden perverts or kidnappers in the neighborhood to vaccinations. By now you’ve read about scientists, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, in trouble with the law because they allowed their children, age 6 and 10, to play in a local park and walk home unescorted. Here’s a thoughtful piece from The Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/02/15/free-range-kids-are-healthier.html.  So were things ‘safer’ for kids back in the day when I sent my 14-year-old son to school in New York City by commuter bus and subway, and my 10-year-old daughter happily walked with friends a few blocks to her classroom? Statistically, no.

Whether it is due to benign neglect or parental control on steroids, living under a rock is bad for kids and bad for the rest of us, too. We can’t expect children to love the world and want to preserve it if their only experience of it is a mediated one. Test this out for yourself. What’s better? Adventure travel or a television show about it? So kudos to Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, (How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children Without Going Nuts With Worry), the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts of America, and the new White House initiative to get kids reacquainted with nature in our National Park System. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/02/19/let-s-get-every-kid-park.  Yes!

And, although I’m basing this on my own observations and instincts as a grandmother (a relatively tiny sample), small children are ready for the real thing. They dig dirt, given half a chance. They know BS when they encounter it. They are naturally wild and free. They like to hang out in trees. They want the freedom to skateboard home from school long before they get a license to drive a car. They want to fix their own snacks, as unusual as their tastes may seem to my palate. An entire pomegranate? Sure. Broccoli sandwiches, barbecue sauce on pizza? Why not?

Swiss chard tastingAnd I think they are hungry for adults who are giving them their full attention. So let me describe my class in pollination, organized for the elementary grade children and part of their religious education (you bet!) I came prepared with some visual aids from the fabulous Xeces Society, and I had brought some pollinator nests fashioned from bamboo sections, string, and a couple of ready-made birdhouses.  Apparently, insects like every other form of life, need rest and respite.

The first thing I noticed was how happy these kids were to be outside, sitting on the grass, looking around, breathing fresh air.  Maybe more classes should be held outdoors. Each wanted to be the first to answer my question: What did you have for breakfast? Eggs, fried cheese, cereal, fruit. And they were attentive when I explained how pollinators like bees and other insects, birds and bats interact with plants, and how that contributes to the food we eat. School age kids have been trained, like puppies, to stay even when clearly, they’d rather be moving their bodies. I was grateful that there were no hand-held devices in evidence (perhaps it’s a rule), except for a camera, and that for the most part, they made eye contact with me.

But they really wanted to run around, chase each other, and climb trees and even the AC equipment (until called down).  I corralled them into the raised vegetable bed area by saying they could pick anything they promised to eat. That’s when the religious education class really came alive. Even the camera-toting boy who said he hates tomatoes and didn’t want to know they are the main ingredient for ketchup, was in.   Cherry tomatoes, beans, Swiss chard, all enthusiastically sampled and pronounced good. Maybe they’ll remember what just-picked vegetables warmed by the sun taste like.  Perhaps it will inform their own choices when they grow up.  I know I will remember their bright faces in that moment.

It’s experiences like these that reinforce my conviction that we must stop forcing our kids into our narrow views of what success in life looks like.  We could be wrong, especially in the future many scientists foresee. We need to nourish their imaginations and sense of wonder about the Earth and all life. We need to get kids back into the woods and swimming holes, into tents under starry skies, cooking over campfires, on hiking trails and whitewater rafts, where they can discover what they are capable of. We need to let them learn, to paraphrase poet, Theodore Roethke, by going where they have to go.

Possibly, this is a lesson we could all use.  See Guardian columnist and author of Feral, George Monbiot’s Civilization is Boring.  And my future blog posts on re-wilding.

7 Tips for a Zero-Waste Kitchen

yogimarika:

Love what you’re doing!

Originally posted on The Zero-Waste Chef:

my refrigerator

I love my (nearly) zero-waste kitchen routine. I eat a delicious, healthy diet and have simplified my shopping habits. But it did take me a couple of years to (nearly) perfect this routine and I may never achieve complete zero-waste. (Remember calculus class? You merely approach zero.)

When I shop at the bulk store, for example, I still indirectly generate a small amount of waste. The food arrives at the store in paper or (gulp) plastic packaging after all. Also, I refuse to give up butter and the paper does go in the trash. So, until I buy a farm and produce all my food myself, I will create some waste somewhere. Then again, if I live on a farm outside the city, I’ll have to drive everywhere and burn more fossil fuels…So, I suppose as a precursor to these tips, I should add—above all—don’t strive for perfection. That and cook everything…

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Throwback 70s: My Decade of Change

Naomi Klein [This Changes Everything] writes: “… if we want to live within ecological limits, we would need to return to a lifestyle similar to the one we had in the 1970s, before consumption levels went crazy in the 1980s.” Who else remembers that place/time? Seemed like a very good life to me.

I posted this on Facebook recently and it resonated with a number of FB friends. That started me thinking more about the 70s and I realized that the “Me” decade, the oil crisis decade, the decade that saw the flowering of feminism, the first Earth Day (April 22) and Jimmy Carter’s solar panels, cardigans, the creation of the Department of Energy and a national energy policy, as well as Kent State, Three Mile Island, and the completion of the world’s tallest buildings, was also a decade when everything did change for me. It began with Father Knows Best and ended with The Brady Bunch.

The SeventiesI sorta missed the 60s by getting married and starting a family, so it wasn’t until the 70s that the Summer of Love and all that it meant caught up with me. Or maybe I’m just a late adopter. A traveling show of the musical, “Hair,” came to my town (Philadelphia), and overnight, it seemed, I wanted the Age of Aquarius and San Francisco with flowers in my Afro more than I wanted cocktails at 6 sharp and membership in The Junior League. In the 1970s, I stopped shaving my legs, went back to school to earn two degrees, and changed life partners. Some standout memories:

1. Flashback, New York City, 1965: I am reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique while recovering in the hospital from the birth of my first child (three days was normal then). In walks my OB/GYN. “Hmmm,” he says, “Isn’t it a little late for that?” (I didn’t much like him, even before that, and No, it wasn’t.)

2. Montclair, NJ, 1973. We’ve returned here after a career misstep that temporarily uprooted us to Pennsylvania, and are now ensconced in a wonderful classic Dutch colonial on a tree-lined street: 5 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, big basement and backyard, separate garage (with mismatched doors), to the tune of $60K. Back in the day, a young couple could afford the $40K mortgage payments, taxes and upkeep, on one modest salary. We have one utilitarian pre-owned car.  We do not suffer from auto-envy or any other kind.

We moved to Montclair for the schools,  family (pillar of the community in-laws), and commuter service to New York City extraordinaire. With one school-age boy and a 4-year-old girl in part-time nursery, I had more energy and time than I knew what to do with. Who knew skipping the beauty salon and shaving razor would free up so much?

One day, The Montclair Times delivered my salvation: news of a generous ‘re-entry’ program for older adults at Montclair State College, formerly a teachers’ college, currently a Ph.D-granting university. I went for an interview the same week and was accepted into the program. I also made a life-long friend while there.

3. MSU was 10 minutes drive from my home. My professors would have been stars anywhere, but the job market for Ph.D’s being what it was, there we all were: on a hilly campus in suburban New Jersey, with a clear night view of the lights of New York City on the horizon.

My earlier education had been undistinguished, so I surprised myself by graduating with honors in 1976. Yet it was without a clear path to future employment while my children still needed a mom around the house. So when the Department of English offered me a teaching fellowship that enabled me to earn an MA gratis, and also provided a small stipend for teaching in the writing lab, I grabbed it. In 18 months, I was able to save enough to purchase a used Volkswagen bug that I drove up to the Bread Loaf School of English in Vermont for the summer session in my final year.

4. Community life on Buckingham Road. In the summer months, some of us grew food, mostly New Jersey tomatoes like Rutgers’ Early Girls and Better Boys (an instant nostalgia point for me), and this also nurtured a culture of sharing: in addition to an exceptional tomato harvest, tools, labor (moving heavy furniture, hedge trimming, small repairs), child care, backyard barbecues, car pools and rides, recipes and advice. I didn’t know the political leanings of my neighbors, or care to, and the idea that one only socialized along those lines would have been laughable.  Hello Transition Street before its time?

Both my adult children – the eldest turns 50 this year — are nostalgic for the walkable, bikeable, friendly, green, safe community they grew up in: badminton in the backyard, Frisbee in the parks, neighborhood friends, and best of all, the freedom from constant parental supervision. Maybe it really does take a village.

And I feel nostalgic for the 1970s in a small town on their behalf, and not only because eggs were cheaper and life simpler (and you got to go to sleep-away camp) but because between then and now, the decades of ‘shop until you drop,’ ‘greed is good,’ ‘Made in China,’ and ‘upgrade everything,’ brought us to where we are today.  Is there a way back to the future? Perhaps.

Naomi Klein again: “…if there has ever been a moment to advance a plan to heal the planet that also heals our broken economies and our shattered communities, this is it.”

The Road Taken

Like many classic American adventures, this one was propelled by a vehicle: a school bus, fitted out to become a home, transportation, and learning center for Nando Jaramillo and Blair Butterfield, and their two children, Luciano, 4, and Imogen, 2 1/2. In three years, the family covered 8,000 miles to visit sustainable cities across the country, and bring the ideas back to their home base in Miami.  Concrete ideas like a bicycle-propelled compost collection service (wow!).  And intangible lessons about generosity, experimentation, a willingness to ask ‘why’ and ‘why not,’ old-fashioned skills blended with leading edge technology.   They came home to work on their dream: to help make Miami the ‘greenest city’ in America.

Last evening, some 30 people came to the Transition Palm Beaches monthly meeting at the Friends Meeting House in Lake Worth, to hear about what happened next and pepper the couple with questions.  It was perhaps the most diverse group and liveliest meeting to date.

Although the presentation began with some standard environmental disaster imagery, this is a good story, a model for what is possible when motivated people marry their deeply held values – in this case to live and raise their children in as green and sustainable a way as possible — to committed action.

Blair and Nando began by forming a nonprofit organization – Art of Cultural Evolution (ACE) — and establishing a pilot on a vacant lot on 34th Street in Miami. There they worked to restore the soil, plant an organic garden, compost, harvest rainwater, and experiment with solar energy. The neighbors noticed, and soon began to plant their own yards with vegetables. Volunteers showed up. Fifteen families were fed from a single growing season.

Brewing kombuchaNext, working with local groups, the 34th Street Sustainable Land Lab (as it was then called) began to offer public workshops, classes, and movies about organic gardening, CSAs, and other related subjects. They were creating, you might say, a buzz. A fortuitous meeting with a City of Miami commissioner – Nando, an art director for film and television, grew up in Miami – helped clear the way to a 50 year lease of land for what is now known as Colony 1, an environmental arts and science education center, at 550 NW 22nd Street in the Wynwood arts district of Miami. When it is built out, it will be a 2,500 sq. ft. space, constructed entirely of 11 shipping containers, chosen for their availability and durability. (I, for one, will never look at a container quite the same way.) Think Tiny House x 11.

It is going to take funding to make this $200,000 dream come true, and the drive is on. Take a look at the site: http://www.artofculturalevolution.org/ and see where you might want to plug in as volunteer, partner, donor, or all three. Brewing your own kombucha, mending your own garments, or growing medicinal herbs, are all worthy endeavors. It’s when you teach others how, and they teach others, that it starts to become something greater: a learning community, a movement toward sustainability.

More about their journey:

Edible magazine’s article, and much more detail.

https://www.facebook.com/culturalevolution

Telling the Good Stories of 2014

Crisis and opportunityWhen climate activists in South Florida meet, the mood is often serious bordering on grim, and I usually head out the door with a to-do list and a heavy heart. We know what we’re up against in our state legislature, so one doable strategy is to attempt to convince our local municipalities, one mayor and/or commissioner at a time, that we are holding them accountable for the preservation of our towns and cities, and our safety. For this we need local citizen volunteers to join in the effort. My team mates have developed a terrific script suitable for phone or email.

This is good, worthy work, yet I fear we may not attract many takers without the leavening agent of uplifting stories, and the truth is, 2014 was a pretty good year for the environmental movement. Last December, I tapped into Mongabay for positive stories, and this year, some that appeared on its current Top Ten list are also on mine:

  1. The ban on fracking in New York State shows what can happen when the people don’t give up, and keep the heat on indecisive elected officials. It worked in Denton, Texas, the state where fracking was born. Another small victory: would be frackers got fined in Florida. We have only begun to fight. Stay tuned, and keep an eye on other fracking news.
  2. Pope Francis, whose agenda for 2015 includes a rare papal encyclical to 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, an address to the United Nations, and a summit of the world’s religious leaders. His Holiness has connected the dots that many miss:

    “An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.”

  1. The Climate Pledge between the U.S. and China, a savvy move by President Obama to sidestep an obstructionist Congress. What he will do on the KXL when it is (most likely) reintroduced, remains to be seen.
  2. Breakthrough in palm oil plantations as Kellogg, L’Oréal and Nestlé, signed a declaration pledging to help cut tropical deforestation in half by 2020 and stop it entirely by 2030.  You don’t mess with Harrison Ford.
  3. EPA ruling on power plant emissions comes under the Clean Air Act. Unless the Supreme Court changes its mind, this should stand. Thanks again to crafty POTUS.
  4. September Success: Over 400,000 people from diverse groups join in the climate march in New York City, and in smaller demonstrations elsewhere: Transition Palm Beaches, EcoArt South Florida, The Sierra Club and Raging Grannies (among others) in Delray Beach.
  5. The business connection.  Earlier this year, I found my way to the B Team whose stated mission is to ‘catalyse a better way of doing business for the wellbeing of people and the planet.’   http://bteam.org/about/ I figure any group that includes Muhammed Yunus (founder, the Grameen Bank of micro-loan fame), Arianna Huffington and Mary Robinson (former president of Ireland and member of The Elders) is a vote for humanity.
  6. The Transition movement continues to grow in the U.S. You can avail yourself of great, free seminars with some of the smartest, forward thinkers around, e.g. Cecile Andrews, author of Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community and the Common Good.In partnership with the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, Transition US announced the People’s State of the Union, the first in a series of new, participatory civil rituals. From January 23-30, 2015, people across the country are invited to convene “story circles” with neighbors, friend, and community members to respond to three prompts:
  • Tell a story about a moment you felt true belonging – or the opposite – in this country or your community
  • Describe an experience that showed you something new or important about the state of our union
  • Share about a time you stood together with people in your community.

May 2015 bring about an awakening to both our perils and possibilities, and action as our conscience dictates.

Bailing by the Thimbleful

antique-thimble-0808-lg-9681196My world is almost entirely structured around climate activism these days, from engaging with other local activists to hold our elected officials to account for their pledges – the Southeast Florida Climate Action Compact – to planning Transition Monthly Meetings, to tending a community garden whose crop will be donated to feed hungry people. And I am putting in a fraction of the time some of my colleagues are devoting in groups like the Climate Action Coalition, Organizing for Action, and EcoArt South Florida, to name three. They are the true patron saints of sustainability, in the ecological sense. And yet it’s not enough given the math stacked up against us, and possibly short of the real target.

 “There is a corruption at the heart of American politics, caused by the dependence of Congressional candidates on funding from the tiniest percentage of citizens.”

Fix that, and many other issues will be resolved, argues Harvard professor, legal scholar, and Beltway bête noir, Lawrence Lessig. He makes this point in an electrifying TED Talk and a follow up book (published by TED) called Lesterland. Hint: the Lesters are the 1%; the USA is Lesterland. Right now, you can purchase the ebook for $1.99, and I encourage you to do so, share it, and maybe create a book group around it.

As if we needed any more reminders of how broken our democracy is, how corrupted government has become by money, Saturday’s New York Times published this: Energy Firms in Secret Alliance With Attorneys General. It was the most emailed article through the weekend and has drawn 1594 comments to date. This one by Richard Watt of Pleasantville, NY, was the most “Recommended.”

“I should not be surprised, but I must say I was shocked when I read this article. These attorneys general should be impeached and removed for the sale of their offices and the people* behind these letter[s] should also be prosecuted.”

But this morning, the article was no longer in the top ten. So I have to agree with the second most Liked comment, that of S.R. Simon of Bala Cynwyd, PA: This is how democracies die: behind closed doors. And I might add, inside minds that shut down when the facts become too awful to contemplate.

If you’ve been working on sea level rise (SLR), to pick the environmental blowback that will likely cripple the economy in Florida, you know how challenging it is to chin up and keep bailing, if only by the thimbleful.  And yet, bail we must, because the alternative is even worse.

Take the Ag Reserve, a parcel of land once considered ‘safe’ from developers because it is so important to our agricultural economy, and now back on the bargaining table.  Yes, attend the meetings and send in statements. Go demonstrate to protect the Briger Forest from the Scripps juggernaut. Raise funds for Florida Earth Day 2015 and to commission environmental artist, Eve Mosher (HighWaterLine), to do for Delray Beach what she did for Brooklyn and, more recently, Bristol, UK – show graphically on the roads and buildings what SLR looks like in our communities. It’s as good as it gets, and we have to do whatever we can to support these actions. But let’s not kid ourselves that meaningful change is possible when money has the upper hand

OK, here’s some good news, sort of. As Professor Lessig points out, this is not a Left vs. Right, Red vs. Blue, Treehugger vs. Denialist issue. It is clearly a Beltway insider vs. the rest of us issue, and on that you may find agreement in surprising places.  Of course, using campaign contributions to buy yourself, say, an ambassadorship, is nothing new and long the prerogative of presidents. Here’s The Palm Beach Post’s ever wry columnist, Frank Cerabino:

“You can be America’s ambassador to Argentina and not speak Spanish…President Barack Obama nominated Noah Mamet, a California political consultant, to become America’s next ambassador to Argentina, and the Senate confirmed that nomination on a party-line vote…Mamet doesn’t speak Spanish, and he had never visited Argentina. But he did orchestrate a $1.4 million bundle of donations to Obama’s re-election campaign two years ago.”

Not pretty, but compared to what’s going down now, this is chump change.

Larry Lessig is looking for 300,000 engaged citizens, no matter which issue
stirs our passion most, to join his organization, Rootstrikers. Whether or not you feel inspired to do so, you will find it packed with information you won’t find elsewhere, e.g. why Citizens United is the ‘tip of the iceberg.” If Rootstrikers feels like the best way to strengthen your citizen muscle — and boy, could we all use that! — choose from a range of campaigns to join – supporting Government by the People Act (H.R. 20) is my mine.   Could citizen-funded elections also eliminate the endless election season we currently endure? That would most certainly get my vote.

More on H.R. 20

A Short History on Long Campaigns 

* Big energy interests

#fastfortheclimate

fastfortheclimateI’m no stranger to fasting since my daughter introduced me to The Master Cleanse years ago, and it still feels like a good way to balance the excesses of holiday celebrations.  But this is the first time I’m fasting as an act of solidarity with climate activism, specifically with the massive international fast in conjunction with the Lima Climate Change Conference that opens today and runs until December 12.  So, if you are just hearing about this for the first time (and I hope not), it’s not too late to shed a pound for a good cause.  My tribe of activists just got bigger and more diverse as soon as I took the pledge and checked out the pages of  http://fastfortheclimate.org/en/:  bishops, CEOs of NGOs, activists, TV chefs, musicians, UN officials, and negotiators from around the world (though not to date Yeb Sano, the young Filipino diplomat whose emotional presentation at the 2013 Warsaw climate talks, and subsequent two week hunger strike, inspired this movement.)

Astonishingly, the comment section of fastfortheclimate.org has an outsized number of enraged comments from the denial crowd, most of which fall into the ‘protest too much’ category and lead me to hope that the evidence of climate change is beginning to hit home.  I even got some flak from a foodie member of my family when I posted my intention for the day on social media.  Eating is itself a political act no matter where you stand intellectually on climate science. Just ask anyone attempting to prepare a Thanksgiving meal that will please everyone.  Free-range or tofurky?  It seems that too many of us Americans hate and resist any suggestion that we must change our own habits.  This made a best-seller of Who Moved My Cheese? and explains why diets usually fail, and more importantly, why we continue to live with the devils we know: money-corrupted politics and dysfunctional government (a topic I’ll be blogging about as soon as I finish reading Lesterland).

Well, as anyone who has tried fasting for any reason knows, as the first day of your fast wears on, you realize just how much time you are saving not preparing and consuming food, let alone thinking about it.  This can feel almost liberating. Even if you are not taking solid food, you must keep yourself hydrated — lemon water and herbal teas for me — and you may actually start to enjoy the experience of some lightness of mind and body.  Not to mention how ambrosial the first bite of solid food tastes!  Fasting, like dieting, does interfere with the social aspect of eating, which is not a small thing in a household where a favorite word is ‘lunch.’  Of course, most of us climate fasters are doing this for one day, although some intend to extend it to the first day of every month (no promises). It is a far cry from famous individuals like Gandhi and Cesar Chavez who effectively used the extended hunger strike as a form of nonviolent activism and changed the course of history for the better.  To them, and to my fellow December 1 fasters — may our numbers increase —  I raise my cup of mint tea.

More links:

http://fastfortheclimate.org/normal-post/fast-for-the-climate-with-us-on-1-december/

https://www.facebook.com/fastfortheclimate

http://kitchencounterculture121.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/fast-for-the-climate-1st-of-december/