The New Home Economics


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Round-up resistant weeds

The NY Times (via Cornucopia Institute) today had a story about Round-up resistant weeds:

“It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,” said Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

There is one [small] positive aspect to this:

The superweeds could temper American agriculture’s enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds.

Fortunately for now, the problem does not appear to be widespread.  But we all know how evolution works, and our current factory-scale agriculture is contributing to a faster-than-normal evolving of weeds, bugs, and other problems that people have been dealing with for millennia.  And the main problem with that is: we’re creating problems faster than we can solve them.

Anyway, here’s the article on Round-up resistant weeds.

Update, 5 May 2010: Marion Nestle of the excellent blog Food Politics explains the science of how weeds become resistant to glyphosate (Round-up).

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Buyer-beware: ultra-pasteurized milk

I stopped by Kowalski’s the other night; usually I get groceries at the co-op but the only thing we were out of was milk so I just picked some up there.  Wish I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry: I accidentally brought home ultra-pasteurized milk.

This stuff is useless.  You can’t make cheese or yogurt with it because the proteins have been discombobulated (my technical term) so much that they are unable to act normally.

Why do milk producers, even from Organic Valley, ultra-pasteurize?  Simple!  Longer shelf-life.  The milk I bought earlier this week won’t expire until the middle of April.  In fact, I noticed the expiration date before I noticed the “Ultra Pasteurized” part of the label.

Yesterday I went to Target and took a look at their organic milk, and I couldn’t even find organic milk that was NOT ultra-pasteurized.  Those two for some reason seem to go hand in hand at Target.  I’m guessing this is the reason: people who are paying a premium price for organic milk don’t want to have to throw it out if it goes bad.  So they like the longer shelf-life.  Could that be it?

I don’t know, but I wouldn’t make a habit of drinking this stuff.  Worst case scenario: it’s potentially-toxic junk.  Best case scenario: it could be a greener alternative to milk because it doesn’t require refrigeration.  I lean more towards the former: milk was meant to be drunk with its live enzymes — they are part of what make milk healthy.  Standard pasteurization destroys some of these enzymes, but not enough to completely change the protein structure of the milk.  Destroying them completely — sterilizing the milk — is a waste of a good live food.

Update, 1/24/2011: This continues to be a very popular post, and I know the whole raw milk vs. pasteurized milk issue is very contentious right now.  Let me be absolutely clear: I would not drink raw milk unless I or a close friend owned and hand-milked the cow.  However, I do think there is a qualitative difference between standard pasteurization and ultra-pasteurization, and I much prefer standard.  If you live in or near Minneapolis, MN, you have access to what I consider to be the gold standard for pasteurized, non-homogenized milk: Cedar Summit Farms.  One taste of their milk brings me right back to the milking parlor on Grandpa Rensenbrink’s farm.

Update, 2/27/2013: FINALLY! A study proves that milk from grass-fed cows is better for you.


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Book review: Toolbox for Sustainable City Living

toolboxAuthors: Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew

This book is full of ideas for really hardcore people who want to practice radical sustainability and preferably live in a mild climate.  The whole time I was reading it I kept picturing the people on the high bikes in the Minneapolis MayDay parade, and what they must do in their spare time.  Maybe they really do install humanure composting toilets in their homes?

Let me share a quote from the book so you can really get a flavor for what I’m talking about:

Will cities still be capable of supporting their populations when big trucks are no longer delivering food?  What will happen when it becomes too costly to heat buildings?  Will basic sanitation collapse as water becomes scarcer and more expensive to pump?

So basically we’re talking about: how to get set up so that you and yours can still feed yourselves come the apocalypse (or, the collapse of a petroleum-based society).  This is one of those weird areas where far-right people and far-left people actually are quite a bit alike.

It would be easy to just dismiss this book, and the writers’ philosophy, after reading a quote like that.  But the thing is, they are so right about so many things.  They call out modern farses like green consumerism:

Green consumerism encourages consumption of a different variety.  It does nothing to challenge the patterns of over-consumption and excess that have created the environmental crisis.

Yes.  Right on.  Although maybe for some people “green” consumerism is a small first step.  If you’re really dedicated to this stuff and are interested in some ideas on how you can take it to the next level, I recommend this book.  It also helps if you live in a climate where the temperature rarely dips below 32 degrees, because most of the systems they describe don’t function well or even at all in the frozen tundra of Minnesota.

They cover the very basics of: raising chickens, perennial food crops (including mushrooms), aquaculture (including small-scale fish farming), insect breeding, water conservation including rainwater catchment and greywater systems, various compost systems, using biofuels, and creating some passive solar systems, all sprinkled in with scary talk about peak oil.  Note that they only cover the very basics; if I were going to install a greywater system I would get an entire book dedicated to only that subject.

I feel like this is the “next level” from us and I’m honestly not quite there yet.  I’m getting a lot closer to convincing Adam that we should get chickens, but having a hard time getting my head around composting toilets and the like.

But maybe I should try to get there, as a new report by the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy predicts a sharp drop in projected future world oil output (compared with previous expectations).   Click here to read more on that, then get your bikes greased up.


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Where the new home economics are taught

Sorry for the light posting schedule over the weekend.  I’ve never been so busy in my life; I either have my hands in the dirt, my head in this book, or one toddler in each arm.  In my spare time I washed many, many dishes.  This weekend we tried:

sourdoughstarter1) Sourdough bread. We made “starter” last weekend and it was ready to be made into bread this weekend.  Result: FAIL. I tried this method because it seemed so easy.  I think the problem is that I did not “proof my sponge” long enough.  The directions said when it is frothy, it is ready.  I don’t think I let it get frothy enough — it had a couple bubbles and I jumped the gun.  I got my dough all kneaded and ready to go and it never rose.  Here’s my leftover starter in the fridge.  Going to try again next weekend.

2) Chicken.  We roasted a chicken on Saturday, then Sunday I simmered the carcass all day long to make bone broth.  Then I froze the broth in ice cube trays so we can use it as needed in recipes.  Bone broths like this are apparently quite good for you.  And it makes sense.

gingerbug3) Ginger beer! At the same time we started our sourdough bread, we started a ginger beer “bug.”  You can see it at right; the sediment on the bottom and the gingery goodness on top.  Ginger beer is a non-alcoholic fermented beverage recipe that we found in Nourishing Traditions. (Where else?)  This weekend we did step 2, which is to introduce your “bug” to a large amount of water and some sugar.  Now we let it ferment for another week before bottling it.  IF it turns out (and I have some serious doubts) I will do a full post about it, with recipe.

Another little obsession of mine lately is planning a trip around taking a class in the New Home Economics.  For some reason I can’t get Adam excited about broom making or humane chicken processing.  Yes, there are schools for this stuff.  Here are some in the Upper Midwest:

Driftless Folk School
In southwestern Wisconsin, they offer courses in things such as Flyfishing, Making Herbal Salves and Lotions, Repairing and Maintaining Farm Equipment, Hand Woodworking, Broom Making, Rug Braiding, Blacksmithing, Fermented Foods, Chicken Butchering Basics, and even silly things like Appalachian Clogging.  Most of the courses are one-day or one weekend.  Needless to say, I’d like to go there and just move in for a good month.

Simple Living Series
A six week course in cheese, fermented foods and beverages, herbal soap and handcrafted herbal wares.  In Sheboygan, Wisconsin (near Milwaukee).

North House Folk School
Located in Grand Marais, Minnesota.  Unique feature: boat building.  It seems most of the classes here involve artistry — basket and jewelry making, and the like.  Not things you necessarily need in your every day life, but it sure would be cool to make your own boat, no?  Practical classes include rug braiding and whole grain sourdough bread baking (a class I obviously need).

The Clearing
Located in Door County, Wisconsin.  This school focuses more on fine arts.

More of these “fine art” types of folk schools in the upper midwest, can be found here.

Finally, this one is not in the upper midwest but I saw it on google and it sure looks cool:

John C. Campbell Folk School
Located in Brasstown, North Carolina, this looks very similar to the Driftless Folk School, but offers an even greater variety of classes.  They go beyond the practical stuff and into a lot of folk art like basketry, knitting, photography,  printmaking, and writing, as well as cooking and gardening.  Here’s a list of subjects they teach.

There, that was one heckuva long post.  Hope you’re having a good week.

6/2/09 update: Minneapolis Community Education (classes in spring and fall) always offers a bunch of really great, affordable classes too.