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I went to my first swap this past April. I had heard of swaps but didn’t find one in my area until a friend found this one on a MeetUp page and told me about it.

Swap July 2013

Swap July 2013

The organizer set up a few guidelines and the rest is history. She holds it once a month.

There were a few guidelines to follow:

  • No money was allowed – this is all about the trade and bartering with what you have for what you want/need.
  • Items should be sustainably-minded. Something you have grown in your garden, something you conned/cooked/brewed/baked/preserved/dried, etc. Something your animals made (goat milk, hen eggs, lamb wool, etc.) Something you sewed/knitted/re-purposed, etc. Items to do with sustainable interests are also good (Mother Earth News magazines, cookbooks, cooking/camping gear, etc)
  • The items you should leave at home: this is not a garage sale, items should be about sustainability. Leave the knick-knacks at home.

Once we set up, we were allowed 15 minutes to walk around and check out the items other people brought so we could see what we were interested in.

Lemon pickles, Dill pickles, Homemade Teriyaki sauce

Lemon pickles, Dill pickles, Homemade Teriyaki sauce

Each month I have been posting about the swap over on my personal blog. About a month ago I realized that I hadn’t posted about the July swap and I thought it would be a good topic to post here. I have known the swap and barter system is out there and alive, and I realize that there may be others out there that are interested, but don’t know were to look or even how to get started.

Here are the other swap posts I have done”

Here are a few places to look to find swaps in your area: Note: I will add additional information to this post as I find it or as people comment. (updated 19 Sept 2013)

Would you go to a swap if you had one in your area?
Are you participating in a swap in your area?

Please use the comments to let others know about how to find a swap. If you out there participating in a swap, please comment with the general area you are in and add a link to the swap information.

Sincerely, Emily

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When I was in my 20s, I managed a nonprofit art gallery.

Aside from just being a really amazing job, one of the perks was that galleries are on really great P.R. lists, meaning we would get the most beautiful posters in the mail.

Some of them ended up on the walls, but far more of them received a more, shall we say, ephemeral and, ahem creative, use.

Wrapping paper.

Sounds a bit horrifying, I know. Full color, quality paper, beautifully designed museum and gallery posters, torn to shreds on Christmas morning. But we would get dozens of these things a month. It was always a good day when I got to the mail first, because I learned this trick from the gallery director, and we would try to beat each other to the best ones. Granted, some of them we kept– I framed a gorgeous Agnes Martin “poster”; it’s actually a full color offset lith on rice paper. I gave others to friends.

But most of them ended up under the Christmas tree. To give you some perspective, I worked there from 1981 to 1986. I still have several posters from this period, rolled up and waiting to be used.

The point, of course, is that most of these, even the very beautiful ones, were bound to end up in the trash. The thing with “creative re-use” is that you can’t be afraid to creatively reuse things, just because they seem so, well, useful.

What do you “creatively re-use” for the holidays?

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Chicago’s motto is Urbs in horto:  City in a garden.

And flowers are nice. I love the gardens that our city has shoe-horned into every nook and cranny. I love that they give away a million tulip bulbs every year after the bloom is done. I love our world-class park system.

But imagine a city that remembers that gardens do not mean flowers alone. Imagine a city that integrates food production within the existing urban fabric. Cafe lined streets on which restaurants grow the food that they serve to patrons. Homes with window boxes filled with Swiss chard and cherry tomatoes instead of petunias and ivy. Office buildings that eschew tulip beds on favor of tomato-filled planters, where employees pick their lunch, instead of picking up their lunch. Imagine city governments that rewrite codes to make it easy for unused land to be used for temporary community gardens. Imagine suburban city councils and home owners associations that see the beauty in an eggplant and let people plant them wherever the sun is, be it front yard or back.

Imagine Urbs in villam. City in a farm.

Today, people in urban areas don’t know how to grow food, but during WW2 Chicagoans started 500 community gardens & 75,000 home gardens. They harvested more than 2,000,000 POUNDS of food and led the nation in the Victory Gardens movement. What if we reached  back into our past to do it again—to make home and community gardening the norm. What if we created an attitude that could lead to edible plantings in every sunny yard, park, store window, work place, and empty lot in the city, private and public.

Urban dwellers in particular, and all Americans–urban, suburban, rural–cannot keep relying on remote, even overseas, sources for our food. It costs too much in personal, economic and planetary health. It divides us from our very DNA, which evolved for us to be farmers and gatherers. Urbs in villam has planters full of tulips down one side of the street, and planters full of tomatoes down the other. By seizing opportunities like the economic crisis that halted construction, leaving lots empty, we can integrate food production into spaces that we already have.

The key is to educate our citizens about how easy it can be to grow our own food, where we live and eat it.

What is your community doing to bring food production home?

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Sustainability for a middle class American is an oxymoron. Our entire way of life is premised on unsustainability. We live in houses bigger than we need (even those of us in “small” houses). Americans own more cars than households; in fact, more cars than drivers. We are blessed with constantly fully-stocked shelves at the grocery store or even the farmers’ market, which simply leads to mountains of trash to make way for the new stock coming in. We have instantaneous access to any product we need; if we can’t get it at our local Target, it’s on the website.

We live in caverns of trash that we call our homes–basement, storage shed, attic, closets, full of things we might even use, but don’t really need.

And the strangest manifestation of this is what I’m calling “conspicuous sustainability.”

If you only buy t-shirts made from organic cotton, or hemp, but you have 9 of them, you’re indulging in conspicuous sustainability. Your full CSA share, where you end up discarding half the box because you don’t know what to do with all that kale. Sending your child to Eco Camp, three states away. Buying a Volt, when you have a perfectly functional ’07 Saturn in the garage.

The oddest manifestation of conspicuous sustainability is the seed swap.

The sustainability cred is immaculate–it’s barter, it’s local, it’s communal, it’s green things. It’s gardening.

The first seed swap I went to I got completely wrong. I’d been gardening for decades in isolation and didn’t know about “seed fanatics”–people who love seeds for their own sake. I thought seed swaps were for seeds you couldn’t buy, so I brought carefully packaged seeds that I had saved.

People showed up with huge boxes, systems even, of commercial seeds. They were for the most part bona fide sustainable–organic, small producers, heirloom varieties. No Burpee’s here. But commercially packaged, and people had dozens and dozens of them, far more than they could plant unless they happened to be the head gardener at Blenheim Palace. They would then lament at how they always bought too many, and would proceed to swap with other addicts, as often as not leaving with even more seeds than they’d come with.

I never used to do the seed catalogs much. I’d see what I could find at the garden center, then supplement with a couple of packages from Pinetree or Territorial. I had no idea that there were people who spent fifty or sixty dollars (or more) on seeds Every Single Year no matter what they still had in their stash.

It disturbs me.

It isn’t sustainable just because you’re buying from a sustainable merchant for a sustainable purpose. Part of the point of sustainability is to not consume, or produce, more than you need. Seed swaps bother me. I find them at best inconsistent, and at worst a little stomach turning.

There’s a thing in fiction writing called “internal consistency.” The best fiction creates a universe where people behave believably; a universe without deus ex machina fixes, or the convenient sudden appearances of long-lost cousins (can you tell I’ve been watching Downton?).

Sustainability is not a “lifestyle choice.” It’s not a fashion. It’s a philosophy that requires consideration about decisions and actions and purchases, from the tiniest seed to the hybrid Hummer. Perhaps it’s a little self-righteous of me, but I believe that every life should be internally consistent. If you want to live lightly on the earth, all of your actions should be consistent with that goal, to as great an extent as is possible.

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How do you compromise your ethics? How do you eat SLOW (Seasonal, Local, Organic, Whole) or SOLE (Seasonal, Organic, Local, Ethical) when you can only hit a few of the tenets?

Everyone over the age of 4 (except politicians) knows that you cannot have it all your way, every time.

But we’re talking about the future of the planet and the lives of our loved ones here. We’re talking about happy animals, and the health of the soil.

I’ve written about this before, in the context of easing yourself into the lifestyle. But for those of us already deep into it, the daily compromises pile up. It makes me literally sick to my stomach to use plastic bags, and when the person ahead of me at the grocery store gets 10 plastic bags for 5 items I want to scream. There are foods that I’ve entirely given up because I really can’t bring myself to participate in the current food system. Delving into the Dark Days Challenge you start to understand how reliant we are (and I don’t say that as a criticism) on the world wide web that is the modern food system.

So you have to look at those six precepts: Seasonal; Sustainable, Local, Organic, Whole, and Ethical. And draw a line. Where will you not compromise.

Seasonal
I am the best at staying seasonal. I grew up when you could only get peaches in August, so it’s natural for me to understand the concept. I continue to struggle with my children who think nothing of buying strawberries for Christmas. I can’t do it. If I want summer fruit in winter, I damn well better have preserved it while the sun was high. I simply will not eat “fresh” squash in May or “fresh” grapes in January. I don’t eat salad all winter. I don’t need to–the kale and chard stay fresh in the garden until January. What I can’t harvest, I preserve. Even if you don’t garden, staying seasonal is not really much of a challenge at all.

Whole
This one is also easy for me since I love to cook. I simply do not buy foods with more than one ingredient, except pasta and bread. (These turn up again and again as problem foods.) This means I now make pickles, all sauces, jams, and most baked goods including crackers. I tried bread-making for about 6 months, but found it suits our lives better to buy it a local mom-and-pop baker. I also eat in restaurants and order pizza, although again, I don’t go to the chains, but only to the locally-owned ones. I like to think that “whole” is the line that I won’t cross, but, in fact, there are places that I have compromised on this.

Whole Foods Market is a giant misnomer to me, because if you’ve walked into a Whole Foods lately, you’ll note that it’s full of prepared foods.

To me, whole food means learn to cook.

Local
I believe in local.  Given a dilemma–Local or any other of those five words, I’ll choose local. And by this I don’t just mean grown, or produced, locally.  If I can get it from a local farmer, I will. If I can’t get it from a local farmer, I will buy it from a locally-, preferably family-owned, store. Because here’s the thing. Am I trying to live like the ancient Potowatomie (my local Native American tribe), or am I trying to live in the modern world. I believe in the modern world. I don’t mind tracking down our native wild rice, but I also like basmati rice for some dishes, and arborio for risotto. I like salt, which I cannot get from local sources. I like salmon. Chocolate. Coffee.

And the truth is, humans have always traded for these things across long, long distances. There is archeological evidence of trade in dietary necessities like salt, exotic foodstuffs and luxury items from 150,000 years ago!

Organic
One of our Dark Days participants ran hard up against this one, calling us the “organic police.”  But many people, including me, striving for a more ethical diet don’t always trust the “organic” label; there is a good argument that the certification system has been compromised. Second, local farmers often use organic practices, but haven’t been certified because it’s punitively expensive, being geared to factory farming (Michael Pollan calls it Industrial Organic). And when it comes right down to it, for me SLOW and SOLE is not just about personal health, it’s about healthy, sustainable communities. I can do more for my community buying non-organic Louisiana rice from the neighborhood grocer than by going to Walmart for something from Guam that happens to have an organic label.

I’d rather my food was whole and local than get bent out of shape over some small farmer using Round-up to spot-kill weeds.

Ethical
While I understand the politics behind this word, I think this is the one that is the hardest for an individual family to impact. It is impossible to know the ethical implications of the food or other items you are purchasing, or to sort through the rumors. Years ago someone published an ethical shopping guide to steer you away from companies with poor ethical practices. First of all, it turned out that a lot of really bad companies had created all these brands to reach people like me who wouldn’t, for instance, buy products, howsoever organic, if I knew they were owned by Phillip Morris. And when they got outed, they just buried the relationship a little deeper. You can’t win this game. Unless you want every shopping trip to turn into a graduate thesis, easier to stop asking questions and focus on Local and Whole. Stop buying your meat at Safeway; find a local CSA, chicken farmer, or rancher and a lot of your ethical issues go away.

Sustainable
I like this term better than ethical to get to the same place. If you shop and eat, and in fact just live, sustainably, you stop having to worry about every other one of these words. By definition, focusing on sustainable practices means you’re buying whole foods, cooking them yourself, reducing food miles, and supporting local economies. If you’re trying to live sustainably, you’re not buying things you don’t need, you’re avoiding plastic and over-packaged goods; you’re cooking, and walking, you know your neighbor and your farmer.

Be mindful of how you consume, without letting dogma consume you.

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Welcome Week One of the Dark Days Challenge, and to the recapping team for the “West” Group! (Pretty much everyone from Indiana to the Pacific). Don’t forget to check out the companion post from the Easterners!

Starting next Sunday we will start recapping and sharing what some of the DDC participants are up to. If you just can’t wait that long or you want to read what others are chatting about, then head over to Twitter (#darkdaysfood) or Facebook. You will find the link on the tool bar to the right. We encourage everyone to join in the conversations that are flying around out there. If you are interested in joining the challenge, you still have until the end of the day today, December 4th,  to sign up. Head over to (not so) Urban Hennery to join. If you don’t have a blog and want to join in, that is fine, be sure to leave a comment and tell us all what you are up to and how you are doing when we start our recap next Sunday.

***

Since I, the Other Emily (ooh, that has a Coraline feel to it – spooky!) from Tanglewood, do tons of baking, I figured I’ll focus many of my Dark Days posts on how I’ve been adapting my recipes to use local ingredients. It’s impossible to find local GMO-free sugar here in Michigan, though we are a huge producer of beet sugar. Unfortunately not long ago, farmers received the O-K to introduce genetically modified (Monsanto-bred) sugar beets and I haven’t been able to bring myself to buy local sugar since. There was some push to farm organic sugar beets locally, but it seems to have died out and without the land or equipment needed, it’s pretty impossible to do on my own.

Lucky for me, there is lots of Michigan Honey! We have several hives just down the road on some fruit orchards, and this time of year we buy our honey from the local feed mill (where they have an amazing little selection of locally produced foods and supplies) or our local winter market..


So earlier this week I used local, cold processed honey; sustainable, organic and local flour; local, grass-fed butter; and a smidgen of locally grown culinary lavender to make some spectacular short bread. Unfortunately I was unable to find locally grown substitute for rice flour or potato starch for this batch, so I admit I settled simply for organic rice and ground it myself in the food processor (verrrry noisy!)

Unfortunately I have no photos of the finished batch. They went into the welcome arms (and mouths) of various friends.. very quickly, too!

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After a family and friend filled Thanksgiving last week, I (Miranda from An Austin Homestead) really felt the need to have some down sized dinners for a change. I cooked up a huge vat of purple cabbage soup which is lasting for several weeks as every or every other dinner for me (and sometimes the husband when he submits to soup for dinner). Cabbage soup is surprisingly filling, and all the onions and hot peppers add a lot of vitamin C, metabolism boosters and of course, flavor to this soup.

The cabbage, leeks, carrots and garlic were grown by a local organic farm (where my hubs worked this Summer), and an onion or two came from our Austin garden, along with all the herbs. Not local anymore, but homegrown nonetheless! I will admit, those floaty peas and corns: frozen. Woops. Product of the USA at least……   keep trying, Miranda.

***

Since Unearthing this Life has moved from Tennessee to Michigan, my world has been turned upside down. I left behind a 2000 sq ft garden (which did not last the drought anyway), gave away all my chickens, turkeys, and guinea fowl, and lost the opportunity to forage a lot of goodies from our property. Living in a rental with about 20 square feet of lawn is quite the change. Fortunately I was able to jump right into the wonderful local scene here to stock up on items I left behind in Tennessee.

While a majority of our meals contain at least one local ingredient, I went out of my way yesterday to make a completely local brunch. It was embarrassingly simple, actually. Local, eggy fried eggs with luscious yellow yolks cooked in butter. The butter came from our raw milk share – and extra was smothered on our toast with raspberry jam I put up this summer. Brunch was finished off with some of the last of the sausage brought up from Tennessee when we were members of a local meat CSA. I’ll be sad to see the last pound go, but I am excited to sample some of the newly local wares available here in town.

***

My challenge with this Challenge is to really zero in on local–how I feel about the terms Seasonal, Local, Organic, Sustainable, Ethical and Whole will be the focus of my next two posts. As you know by now, I tend to wax philosophical here on NDiN; you’ll find my recipes at Mahlzeit and Sconeday.

I think of myself as a late-comer to sustainable living, until people point out to me I’ve been growing food for more than 2 decades, and I recall things like the fact that I didn’t know about frozen French fries until I was in college. My roommates pulled a bag out of the freezer and I was amazed! What is this marvelous convenience! At home, we had always made fries by boiling sliced potatoes in oil. Even at McDonald’s they boiled the fries in oil. My roommates wanted to know, rather disdainfully, how else you were supposed to make French fries. Gee, I dunno. Um, fry them?

Frozen, baked French “fries.” Who knew!?

However, I still prefer to actually fry my French fries.

***

Don’t forget to stop by to see what the Eastern “Dabblers” are up to today!

PARTICIPANTS
“WEST CONTRIBUTORS”

Northwest
leader: Miranda from An Austin Homestead
Luscious Domestic
round here at chez hates
Farming Mom
four four ten
Wisegoat Acres
The World In My Eyes
The Improbable Farmer
Nico’s Tiny Kitchen
Save the Rind
Knit & Nosh
Kitsap Farm to Fork
The Reluctant Blogger
Sustainable Eats
(not so) Urban Hennery
bee creative
Christin will be maintaining progress via email and comments

Upper Midwest
leader: Xan from Malzheit
If Not Here…
a girl named gus
OfBaking
Aagaard Farms
Rubus raspberry
Minnesota Locavore
Nordic Walking Queen
Loving Our Guts
Kittycafe
Backyard Farms
Randomly Ruthless
Keeping Local with the Joneses
Woo-hoo Tofu
Squash Blossom Farm
Toteleeding

Midwest
Leader: Jennifer Pack from Unearthing this Life
Small Wonder Farm
20 Something Allergies
Happy Home
The Local Cook
Detroit Cooks
Dog Hill Kitchen
The Frugal Homestead
Mother’s Kitchen
Dee Dee managing via comments and email

West
leader: Sage from The Flowerweaver
Cortina Creek Farm
The Devine Kitchen
Canning with Kids
Not From a Box
Rosemary and Roux
Kitchen Solo
Handcrafted With Altitude
d.i. wine and dine
itsjusttoni’s blog
Eat Drink Better
Throwback Road
Stoney Acres

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I’m so excited to have been asked by the wonderful contributors here at Not Dabbling in Normal to be part of this venture. For the past 5ish years I have been living and urban-homesteading in Austin, TX. For the past 2.5 years, my blog An Austin Homestead has been my outlet and journal of my ventures in DIY, gardening, cooking and sustainable/frugal living. While working (on and off, bah humbug to this infernally poor economy!) as a freelance illustrator, soap maker and taking the occasional part time job as needed, i make time to cook dinner for my family every night. In Austin, i tried to grow as many of our veggies as possible and got much of our protein from 4 laying hens’ eggs. Here in Oregon, my husband has been lucky enough to work on an organic farm that pays in part in organic vegetables. I’m passionate about serving Real Food every day, including to our 1 and a half year old corgi, Pocket who gets grain free kibble mixed with raw meat and vegetables. I have dabbled in cheesemaking, canning, and my personal favorite: fermenting, in order to extend our harvests and nourish our bodies with wholesome foods during all seasons. We drink raw milk, and have big plans for dairy goats, meat/milk/fiber sheep and pastured Guinea Hogs.

making spicy, herby cheese

We miss our urban homestead, but I can’t say that we miss 90+ days in a row of 100+ degrees. I’m sure the rainy Winters will take some re-acclimating for both myself who was raised in this state, and for my husband who was raised in balmy Houstin, Tx. While we’re without land to till, I have been focusing my homesteading time on the fiber arts and on providing for our family in ways other than food production. I’m still doing plenty of canning and dehydrating of foraged local fruits and veggies, but my biggest passion right now is developing my skills as a spinner and learning to knit.
My drop spindles

Yes, i spin yarn. No, my wheel is not an antique and neither are the robust group of friends i’ve made here in Oregon who are part of the even more robust fiber community. I am often asked “you spin yarn? can you spin hay into gold?” or “people DO that?” or “why would you spin yarn when you could just buy it in the store?” or “why would you want to knit a hat when you could just buy one in the store?” I believe those people are missing the point. But in case you too are wondering, check back in 2 weeks and i’ll wax on some more about the joys (and pains) of spinning.

I look forward to posting more about spinning, knitting, cooking and crafting up handmade holiday gifts, some easy and some more time consuming. I will probably be posting some tutorials and may invite you to a sew along. I’ll be “not dabbling” every other friday, and you can generally find a new post from me every weekday at An Austin Homestead. I hope you’ll join me there as well as here, and will come along for the ride as I post updates and make my eventual transition to a whole new blog and homestead somewhere in this fertile Willamette Valley.

Dabble on,

Miranda R.

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