an excerpt from the latest school paper

From my annotations on an amazing book by Frances Moore Lappe, Joseph Collins, & Peter Rosset “World Hunger: 12 Myths“:

The way people think about hunger is the greatest obstacle to ending it

If we view hunger as numbers, they say, then we will look to the answers for numbers too. I think if we were to view hunger as part of a greater story, a theme as part of a greater whole, then we as humans can begin to take ownership of the plot: beginning with pen strokes (growing a crop or preparing soil), leading up to sentences and paragraphs (forming organizations and communities to tackle hunger through food relief and more sustainable agriculture practices), and gradually building up to chapters where political and economic action is taken to remove systems and relieve our fellow people trapped under them.

Sustainable agriculture is a tool – a very important one – but a tool nonetheless, for achieving God’s harmony on earth through uniting all peoples and bringing the growth of the earth back into balance. This is my motivation as a Christian in utilizing more sustainable growing practices in pursuit of social and human justice – and grace.

Grace is not to be forgotten in the midst of the cry for justice, because, as Christians we profess the name of Jesus Christ who took the world’s sin and judgement upon Himself thereby introduced grace from God on our behalf into the world.

May I not become so bent on justice that I miss an opportunity of the Holy Spirit to show grace; may I not become so grace-centric as to become complacent or tolerant in situations that cry for action.



Back To School (BTS)

And so the adventure continues: I am officially a student again.

Yes, it’s another undergraduate degree.  But I’m OK with that.  Because it is simply a tool for the credentials necessary to follow God’s call and go to Ethiopia.  They (being SIM, an international Christian missions’ organization – see last year’s post) tell me I need a degree in an agricultural program, I find Goddard College, with their self-oriented and created curriculum and I am able to tailor-make my own plan of study within the Sustainable Agriculture course.  They say jump, and I’m a Tigger.

But truly, it’s the right move, and it’s been a fast move!  As of two months ago I wasn’t even seriously considering going back to school.  I was trying to evade academia, actually, and count on God to change the Ethiopian government’s international worker standards (that’s legit, right?)  Instead, He chose to give me a simple connection with Goddard at an art show fundraiser, stir my heart to start thinking about the possibilities of paying and arranging for school (as an added bonus, He even put the school in my backyard – I’m riding my bike 2 miles north everyday for the residency this week), provide some finances and a stellar internship program to complement the degree requirements…..and I’m off!  Student ID card and everything (it’s even a decent picture.)

So here is where I’ll download on you some of the challenges and struggles of being an “adult learner” (per Goddard-ese) in the BAS program, as part of the UGPT umbrella, starting off at a L2 with 11 “dangling credits,” and having to orient myself to using the SIS, the LITS database and the APL protocol. You got all that right?  Neither did I, and I’m in my third day of residency. (There are enough acronyms here to put the military to shame.)

First of all, something I already have a love/hate relationship with, is the ability to design my own curriculum.  Instead of teachers, we have a faculty advisor each semester, who guides us and prompts us in our areas of passion, helping to streamline our focus and build a 15-credit-hour semester with material that we mostly seek out and prescribe ourselves.  They provide narrative assessments of our work and progress, namely looking for how we are developing as a person and life-long learner.  And though I came into the program with a pretty good selection of broad ideas I’m passionate about, whittling those down into titles and definite subjects is the hard part: sustainability as pertaining to agriculture and community life; indigenous farming methods, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa; faith-based approaches to poverty relief and social justice, and; cultural appropriation and sensitivity.  While I do so appreciate the scope of independence I’ve been granted, it’s also a little unnerving to have so much freedom in designing my topics and study plan.  (As an independent thinker, I still appreciate having a ‘box’ from which to gauge whether I’m inside or outside.)

Just like you after reading these few paragraphs, my brain is fried, my eyes are bloodshot and I’m fighting for windows of time to deflate and process.  And we’ve only just begun.

Here’s to 5 more days of residency as the semester kicks off.  Here’s to books on my night stand with titles like,
Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples,” and
Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods,” and
When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.

Here’s to Ethiopia. Here’s to Goddard. Here’s to God.



Maneuvering Humanure

In taking the steps away from dependence (on fuel, on outside food sources, on nameless, faceless people making things in factories we will never see) one goes through many layers of hype, inflated opinions, greener-than-thou judgement and a speck of truth for every log of ambushing agendas.

My own journey has been one from processed white bread, bologna and boxed macaroni with ‘cheese food’, to food-based beauty and skin care, to shopping organically, to discovering my definition of ‘whole foods’, to growing and making things myself and shopping for items as close to their source as possible.

 As a person winds their way through the curves of discovering and implementing sustainability, it becomes less of a ‘level’ issue and more of a holistic thought issue.  As the Australian-born permaculture concept displays so clearly: little waste = little outside input.  The way we think about ‘waste’ in our culture is very wasteful indeed.

So I’ll just cut to chase in this instance.  You’ve all read the title, you all know where this post is going.  You may suspect what is about to hit the fan.

Aside from things like plastic cups, styrofoam bowls, paper plates, car batteries, toaster ovens and CDs, the thing known as “human waste” commonly refers to excrement; our poop and urine.  The term is quite fitting when these by-products of digestion are discarded (into landfills, into incinerators, into our water supply), when people think that when we flush it simply goes ‘away’.  But when the concept of recycling these things is harnessed, “humanure” can be one of our richest organic resources.

One of the tenets of a holistic view is the concept of cycles.  For humans, eating and digestion are both part of a cycle.  Other steps include enriching the soil, growing the food, discarding the post-digestion materials and, in the case of a broken cycle, wasting and polluting.  But in the case of a healthy, intact cycle, (the re-cycling aspect that keeps it all going) is to compost, and return to the soil that which we have taken from it.

Without going into great detail, I am not talking about the “night soil” that parts of Asia are infamous for (the spreading of raw human manure over agricultural fields) which is a known pathogen-spreading method.  But fully composted (meaning combined with adequate dry, absorbent material, and allowed to stand for at least a year with internal temperatures reaching at least 113F) humanure can be a rich source of (FREE) organic matter and (FREE) minerals, like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus plus calcium and carbon.  Done correctly and well, not a trace of pathogens or harmful bacteria will exist in the finished, composted humanure.

While I’ve used outdoor latrines and squatted in the bushes many times, a compost toilet (as opposed to a ‘composting toilet’, which is the entire system – often quite expensive to assimilate or install) seems to me the best option for stewardship of our resources and ‘micro-husbandry’.  Latrines are a good idea in light of not wasting by flushing, but often carry the dangers of polluting ground water.  Squatting in the bushes, as any dog-walker will attest, is favorite of nitrogen-loving weeds like dandelions.

This simple compost toilet looks much like its cousin, but doesn’t get clogged up or spill over onto the bathroom floor when it’s upset.  As long as you can haul a 20-pound bucket from your bathroom to your compost pile this is a smoothly running system.

First you take a bucket, then you think about how you want to sit over the bucket and you construct a seat (in this case, it looks very similar to a regular toilet.  You then find some absorbent material (weed matter, dry vegetable scraps, cocoa fiber, rice hulls, sawdust – just not from pressure-treated wood which contains chromated copper arsenate, a known cause of cancer and not something you want to end up in your food garden) and keeping a supply nearby, like in another bucket next to the toilet, you line the bottom of the toilet bucket with 2-3 inches of the material to get a good absorbent layer started.  Then each time you use the toilet, simply cover your deposits with another fine layer of material and you’re good to until the bucket gets full and you exchange it for another clean bucket while you take that one out to the compost pile.

When composting the bucket contents, you want to have another good layer of absorbent, dry material covering the bottom and dug out, kind of like a bowl for you to toss the raw humanure into.  Cover that with another absorbent layer (all these absorbent layers are your carbon sources.  The human excrement is high in nitrogen and would take for-stinky-ever to break down and compost; you ideally want a ratio of 30:1, carbon:nitrogen in any compost pile.)  Once you have added consistently to this pile for a year, let it alone and start another pile so this one can get up to temperature and have time to break down, cool down and finish the composting (and disease- and pathogen-killing) process.

You are now ready to use your (FREE) humanure as you would any other compost throughout your garden, ornamental bed or orchard.  Congratulations, you have closed that loop and completed the cycle.

A Few Facts:

The Humanure Handbook, by Joseph Jenkins

-10,000 landfills have closed since 1982; 20% of these are the hazardous waste-contaminated Superfund sites.
-Older, unlined landfills can have a groundwater contamination area of 3.4 miles or more
-Organic materials thrown into landfills are the greatest contributors to global methane emissions; goodbye ozone layer.
-In the west, most of the water we defecate into is purified drinking water
-67% of the world’s households don’t have running water
-Americans use 340 billion gallons of water every day
-In 2000, 55% of US lakes, rivers and estuaries were not clean enough for fishing or swimming according to the EPA
-By flushing soil nutrients down the pipes, we increase our need for agricultural fertilizer – otherwise known as synthetic chemicals.  And so, erosion, nutrient run-off and excessive or incorrect use of these synthetic fertilizers is the largest diffuse source of water pollution.

Summer Reads

I am a book whore. Let’s just get that out of the way. Sometimes I’ve had to up to 7 books in my repertoire at once.  I have my mother to thank for that.  Being the avid reader she has always been, she instilled a love of reading and all things books in me.  From the time I could hold my head up as a little girl and focus my eyes on a page, she had me in her lap reading book and after book and making me want to learn to read, which I did proudly before I started kindergarten.  It was ‘All By Myself’, by Mercer Meyer, a Little Critter book. And how appropriate, it was all about Little Critter learning to do everything from dressing himself to making his own breakfast.

I remember going to the North Asheville Library every 3 weeks to the due day and checking out upwards of 15 books each time and reading all of them before our next trip.  Books on tape, ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’, ‘In the Stone Circle’ Louis Sacchar books, anything by Ann Rinaldi; I even volunteered at the library for a while in the summers helping with kids activities.

Once, my little entrepreneurial self even decided that I was going to do my own book-a-thon and had no problem asking my parents’ friends if they would donate a dollar to me for each book I read one summer that I would then in turn give to ABCCM, one of the homeless shelters in Asheville.  I think I raised $25.  I was 8.

Over the years I’ve read series, singles, self-help books, books on Biblical interpretation and thought, books on beauty and natural skin care, fiction, non-fiction, and I’m known to read cookbooks from cover to cover.  Most recently my literary leanings have been to the area of gardens, farming and cultivation, with some nutrition and holistic health books (thanks to school) seeping through.  But when my eyes start to glaze over due to repetitious sentences and ideologies, I know it’s time to break it up with some pleasure reading.  And, what better time than summer for a quiet break in the race to find my ultimate urban-homesteading-land-theological-food-and-farming philosophy?

First, I began with My Life in France’, by Julia Child.  A fun and fast-paced memoir of her newly married life to her first cooking expedition to the testing and publishing of her first and second cookbooks with lots of blunt and straightforward commentary and observation along the way.

Next, from the co-op in Mount Vernon, this title caught my eye: Radical Homemakers’.  I was enthralled with the idea of “Reclaiming domesticity from a consumer culture.”  The themes of interdependence, shared household tasks, society as starting in the home and a respectful regard to finite resources and honoring relationships above materials is what this book features, and so much more!

“At this point in history, the work to heal our ecological wounds, bring a balance of power into our economy and ensure social equity starts with our choices about what to eat, what to buy (or more importantly, what not to buy), what to create, and how to use our time and money. Indeed the major work of society needs to happen inside our homes, putting the homemaker at the vanguard of social change.”

And lastly, and most recently: ‘A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table’, by Molly Wizenburg.   A wonderful array of essays that subsequently build on each other to relate to the reader an idea of her home life from childhood with her foodie father, to college and travelling phases centered around food and France (and a boy or two), to the improbable meeting of her husband-to-be and their relationship as told through the fusion of food habits, to their nuptial bliss and wedding-cakery.  Her blog, Orangette, will fill you in on all the other goings on in a foodie’s life in Seattle.  When coming to stay at my friend’s house in Port Townsend, WA and watch her dogs for a week, she left a copy of it the book on my nightstand thinking I would be interested in reading it.  Was I ever!  This is how I want to write about food and life.  This is inspiration that leaves me energized to write, sad that I don’t have time or funds to try my hand at all the recipes she records, and more than a little rumbly-in-the-tumbly during the late-night reading sessions in bed over a cup of tea.

Pineapple Weed

Strolling along the east side of the garden here in the Sleeping Child holler, particularly from the greenhouse to my cabin, the distinct scent of pineapple wafts up from the carpet of weeds covering the hardened, sandy ground. The tiny yellow flowering tops and feathery, carrot-like foliage are actually Matricaria discoidea; wild chamomile (also known as pineapple weed.)

It’s not quite the German (true) or Roman Chamomiles of the “Sleepytime” tea variety but is edible and even medicinal nonetheless. In the Asteraceae family, it is related to sunflowers, daisies and asters, most of the family prefers arid and semi-arid places to call home. In reading “Weeds and What They Tell Us,” by Ehrenfried E. Pfeiffer, a biodynamic pioneer, I learned that they denote ground that is hard-packed on the surface (can commonly grow near highways and over dirt roads where cars pack down the soil – not the best places for harvesting!) and that if growing in smaller quantities suggest that wheat may grow really well in the soil there.

Though by the time the plant flowers it may be too bitter to readily eat, they can be pretty additions to salads or soup garnishes. Medicinally it’s very similar to German Chamomile in that it can be used for gastrointestinal upset, infected sores, fevers, for anemic conditions in new mothers and for stress relief.

Also, if you pick some and crush it then rub it on your skin, it can be a great temporary insect repellant!

It’s a nice scent to walk through everyday, and due the fact that they mow the grounds here every week, it’s all short yet extremely branch-y. That means lots and lots of flowering heads. Farther to bend over, but more to harvest!

Check this video out for a better view of the herb: