Sustainability for the Community

TogetherYes - Sustainability for the Community

“Put e’m Up!” book review

I want to eat slow food, to eat more sustainably, but I face two challenges even as I think about it. I have a small budget, and I live in New England where the growing season is short. Summer and autumn yield a bounty of affordable and healthy produce, but winter does follow.

An answer to my financial and nutritional concerns is nicely laid out in “Put ‘em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook (from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling)” by Sherri Brooks Vinton: Storey Publishing, 2010. The text is accompanied by appealing photographs (Kevin Kennefick) and illustrations (Elara Tanguy).

I have never dried produce, have always lived with small freezers, and haven’t seen canning done since I was the child step-and-fetch assistant to my mother. Vinton’s book is setting things right for me, and I’m ready to put up produce against the winter as soon as my beets and beans come in. I’m in touch with local farms and orchards where I can affordably buy produce I don’t grow in my community garden plot, and I am getting ambitious, with the optimism that brings. I can’t fail, because I now have easy-to-follow instructions, explanations, and recipes.

It is gratifying that Vinton frequently mentions why and how putting food up is a sustainable practice, from protecting our own bank accounts to the effects on Earth and its inhabitants.

Home food preservation is planet-friendly. Preserving locally grown food reduces reliance on imported produce, so it minimizes energy-intensive shipping. Locally sourced foods are more likely to come from small, biodiverse farms that do not require the chemical applications that are commonplace in large monocultures. Supporting local agriculture protects open space. Canned and dried foods are shelf-stable, so they don’t require the energy for storage that frozen foods do. Even home-frozen foods don’t require the energy-intensive industrial processing, refrigerated shipping, and storage of their commercial counterparts. (p. 13)

Vinton addresses food safety, including the chemicals in store-bought produce, the necessary attention to correct acidity and sealing of canned foods, and even how to deal with the bisphenol A (BPA) found on canning lids. She looks to avoid most plastics, and preaches the small-and-local theme persuasively. We can assume she knows what she’s talking about, as she is the founder of FarmFriendly LCC, as well as member of the Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association.

This 303-page book takes a friendly tone, but it is thoughtfully organized for our use. Storey Publishing has given us something we can lay open on the table as we cook, spilling sauces around the edges and writing margin notes as we go. This is a working book, and cheap production is never Storey’s bottom line.

Opening with a discussion of methods and the necessary equipment for each, Put ‘em Up! explains how to use refrigeration, cold cellars, and freezers, as well as how to make infusions (oils and vinegars), dry, can, and ferment. Addressing the economy of food preservation, Vinton says:

            …home food preservation is an exercise in economy, not consumerism, so you shouldn’t have to invest a lot of money in new, single-use-gadgets to get the job done. …You don’t need state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line anything to accomplish these recipes. Human-scale BTUs will do just fine. (p. 17)

There is a trouble-shooting section, and we are admonished to follow recipes exactly as to amounts. The chemistry of food preservation is critical to safety and to appealing texture, color, and taste. Once we are convinced we can do this and have noted the few pieces of equipment we will need, we move into the heart and delight of the matter: the recipes. Organized alphabetically by each fruit or vegetable, the recipes start with a brief description of how the food can be served/used. No meat preservation is included, and that’s in keeping with my own efforts at sustainability. I shouldn’t be eating enough meat to require more than the occasional purchase of carefully chosen meat. My health is at stake, and I can’t ignore the effect our U.S. meat production has on the world food supply.

Within each section, recipes are followed by suggested preservation methods, along with considerations specific to that produce. When I look at a recipe in any book, finances and time constraints cause me to scan the list of ingredients before reading further. A lengthy list tells me that, however tempting, I will never get around to that one. Vinton holds to her promise of simplicity and feasibility, and her ingredient lists are satisfyingly brief. I will follow through.

With all the economy and simplicity of food preservation as taught by Vinton, some methods just take time. Adjusting to this slow-food practice is up to me, but throughout the book, I have encouragement, well wishing, and justification for the attempt. I am left with an understanding that I’m not doing this alone. All over the world, people are preserving food. Some have done so all along, while many of us are returning after long absence during which we included our food among the sacrifices made to support the GDP and to make time for wage-earning so we could keep up that effort.

Granted, most critical steps toward sustainability for ourselves and for Earth will have to be addressed at the national level (and that only upon our demand, when enough of us finally decide to pursue it), but it seems to me that a reasonable starting place is on our own supper tables. It is worth considering that sustenance and sustainability share the same (Latin) root.       Susan Clare

The Economics of Happiness

Last week, I attended a screening of “The Economics of Happiness” (ISEC, 2011), sponsored by Together Yes at the Morrill Memorial Library. About twenty minutes into this film I felt like David against Goliath. Even if I became the No-Impact Woman of my dreams, the efforts of my entire life would probably be negated in a single day by the current practices of world economics, food production, transportation, and unimpeded development. But after the movie had some time to simmer, I came to two happy conclusions: my personal emotional angst about saving the world can chill occasionally, and this film is a great educational tool. Some of what I learned that we’ve done to our planet and its people struck me as ludicrous, and during the past week I have liberally shared this information with family members, workmates and friends.

The central theme of the movie is that globalization has rushed the citizens of the world down a path toward unhappiness, strife, economic dependence, stress and disconnectedness, and has left us in a disgustingly polluted environment with a food shortage looming. Bigger is NOT better. Through interviews with experts across the world, the film refutes common thought about Western responsibilities to the Third World, the viability of super seeds, the real costs of “free” trade, and the international devastation wrought by monoculture farming.

Narrator Helena Norberg-Hodge, Director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), brings us through the negative aspects of globalization, followed by the ways that localization can restore what we have lost. Rather than using the GDP as the indicator of a country’s economic success they recommend a new indicator, the Genuine Progress Index (GPI). Wikipedia explains GPI as “an attempt to measure whether a country’s growth, increased production of goods, and expanding services have actually resulted in the improvement of the welfare (or well-being) of the people in the country. GPI advocates claim that it can more reliably measure economic progress, as it distinguishes between worthwhile growth and uneconomic growth.”

There were several compelling pieces to the film and they helped me understand why the current economic system is so incredibly broken. In the globalization section, I learned that apples are sent from the UK to South Africa to be washed and waxed, then shipped back to British supermarkets, and that tuna caught off the coast of North America, is flown to Japan for processing, then flown back to the US to be sold. In India, globalization has pushed famers off their lands and out of work, resulting in 100,000 Indian farmers committing suicide. In the localization portion, the documentary illustrated that some local governments, universities, and communities are making a big difference. In San Francisco, the city government now requires all public institutions, such as schools and prisons, to acquire locally produced foods. I was also happy to discover that biodiverse farms produce 3-5 times more food than single-crop farms.

While the film ends on a hopeful note, it does not wrap up neatly with a pretty bow. The filmmakers want to leave us with some unresolved discomfort, some reasons to change habits. They remind us that we must solve this problem together. You can learn more about the ISEC and this film by visiting    Nora Zaldivar


I watch a lot of films and read a lot of books and magazines. I have to. I study sustainability, and am president of an organization that promotes sustainability. There is admittedly more to learn than I can handle.

The topics are not new; people in the know have been studying, predicting, writing, making films for years now. Some of us are just beginning to listen, feeling the creep of dread as each news story of cataclysmic weather and each demonstration and each economic crisis comes to our attention.

One easy and entertaining way to get information fast is to watch Annie Leonard’s “Story of …” videos. Each is only about 7 minutes long, and provides a basic explanation of the issue being illuminated. Her first such video was “The Story of Stuff,” but I discover she’s gone much further. There are now short videos on: Story of Broke, Story of Citizens United vs. FEC, Story of Electronics, Story of Cosmetics, Story of Bottled Water, Story of Cap and Trade. Leonard is optimistic, obviously believeing we can make the changes necessary to save our necks.

These videos are cut-down, fast-moving, and cover just the basics, giving me a framework to understand what assaults me daily in my reading and viewing. I have “favorited” the site, and watch a video or two each week. It’s a nice break from the usual. Here is where you can find them. You will be able to click on each movie from the top menu bar, MOVIES.


Gasland: Can You Light Your Water? A film by Josh Fox (International WOW Co. 2010)

Gasland is not a long film, nor is it replete with orchestral music and expert cinematography. However, this is a change-your-mind sort of documentary that does its job.

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas is largely unregulated, and the companies doing it are expanding their reach. Already, areas of the southern, western, and southwestern US have been fracked, and the companies are now at work on the Delaware River Basin. They pretty much go where they want and use the means they need to achieve results.

Hydraulic fracturing by natural gas companies is almost what it sounds like: fracturing underground rock layers with powerful blasts of water to permit natural gas to move where it can be captured for use.

But I said almost. Over 500 chemicals are injected along with the water, and some are hazardous to biological life (plants, animals, and us). These do not all stay underground. Some escape when the companies spray liquid into the air so it can evaporate (they have to get the liquid back out of the fractures so the gas can move in). Some liquids from fracking are brought to ground level and let sit in pools called flowback pits. The companies, knowing there’s far more there than simple water, call this “produced water.” Groundwater often becomes contaminated and affects people’s wells with chemicals including glycol ether (an antifreeze) and benzene.. Furthermore, the buildup of gas can cause explosions in the wellbores and in water lines

The history of regulation of fracking is nasty and way too light; Fox’s recap of it is borne out by other research and investigative reporting.

Reading long reports containing numerous technical terms is not everyone’s cup of tea. This film is an easy way to get the basic information. Fox is a likable man whose land has been targeted for gas company fracking. He tours areas of the United States where fracking has already occurred, interviewing landowners. We see more than one person able to ignite creek water as well as water from their kitchen taps, people who have become chronically ill. One woman is freezing the carcasses of wildlife expired around a pond near her home in hopes that some authority will autopsy them to identify the chemicals at fault. So far, no one has taken her up on it.

While few federal agencies appear interested in what might lead to regulation of fracking, some US states and counties have banned the practice.

Never mind how close the Delaware River Basin gets to home here in the Northeast, as the results from fracking may be in our refrigerators right now. Fracking is carried out on ranches and farms, and the livestock are getting sick. Think milk, eggs, steak, and pork chops.

Can fracking be carried out more safely? Apparently, it can. But also apparently, it may not be, without more stringent federal regulation. Some EPA staff have testified to the dangers which, by the way, include possible earthquakes, but the gas companies have been granted exceptions to some important (to our safety) environmental and land constraints already in place, and new regulations seem to get quashed.

Fox shows a touch of black humor now and then, making clear that the people affected by fracking are real human beings, helpless before corporate machinery. In one brief scene, he stands in an area replete with toxic air, playing cheerful country music on his banjo and wearing a gas mask. We laugh a moment before realizing this is no exaggeration, as some people living in fracking areas are afraid to go outdoors without protection. Certain fracking chemicals can cause asthma and irreversible neurological damage.

I’m not getting up a group to march on Washington here, but I am advocating self-education. A number of the folks suffering the consequences of fracking were unaware of the risks, were assured of fracking’s safety, and were paid for the rights (contracts they can’t get out of). They now hope their experience will warn others of the dangers. Certainly, we should at least hear them out.

This film is not available at our local library, but it can be requested there on interlibrary loan, thanks to our membership in the Minuteman Library Network.   Susan Clare

Family Time

Rhythm of FamilyThe Rhythm of Family: Discovering a sense of Wonder through the Seasons by Amanda Blake Soule with Stephen Soule (Shambhala Publications/Trumpeter Books, 2011) ISBN: 978-1-59030-777-9. Review by Susan Clare.

The Rhythm of Family is about just that: the authors’ family progressing through the rhythms of nature, season by season. Nicely written for easy reading and organized month-by-month, the arrangement makes each chapter familiar. A brief essay by Ms. Soule (Mama) and a brief essay by Mr. Soule (Papa) are followed by “make and do” suggestions for the entire family.

At times, I find the book almost too positive, too sweet. However, it avoids crossing the line, by virtue of its warmth and conciseness. The Soule family lives on a farm in Maine, but they write here about what might be any family examining the value and beauty of nature, the comforts of slow living, and the education of children through play, art, and their relationship to the natural world.

Many photographic illustrations (particularly snapshots of the kids, wearing mismatched and sensible playclothes, with their little hands and legs busy experiencing the natural world) make the book aesthetically pleasing

The book opens with a quote from environmentalist Rachel Carson: Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

In the introduction, the authors make a case for sometimes slowing our busy lives (and our children’s). It is only by spending time in the natural world, by paying attention and noticing, that we see… changes the earth experiences.

Though life for Americans is necessarily busy, occasional respites to daydream and observe will teach children how to ease themselves from the bustle. It’s an important time we can give our children: An appreciation and love of being still. Frequent days when there is no schedule, no plan, no rushing about from here to there. (Ms. Soule)

At still times, it is possible for parents themselves to daydream and observe. I watch, with my children at my side, and I recall the past. I imagine the future. I feel the present. (Mr. Soule)

I was happy to find that the Soule family makes a habit of what’s become a tradition in my family: the observation of the new season by taking a “first day walk.” My grandchildren enjoy looking for evidence of a new season as we walk, and it’s possible to do this without heading for the country. We notice a kid stumbling across the street on his skateboard, a lady wearing sandals rather than boots, the swelling buds on tree branches, and the crocuses peeking above ground.

All “make and do” activities in the book are intended for families. Even those requiring some cooking or the use of sharp tools have components allowing children of all ages to pitch in. Some of my favorite suggestions from the book include sun catchers made of ice, muffin bags for storing breads of various sorts (no plastic used), and making art from nature. As Mr. Soule says, The art materials of the earth are really the finest of tools and loveliest of toys. They are our gifts from the earth.

There are the inevitable recipes, and they reflect the seasons admirably. Oat bread and dandelion tempura are two I’ll copy out to try with my family.

How does this tie in with sustainable living? Foremost, it meets the definition of sustainability: it uses few nonrenewable energy resources, does not pollute, is easy on finances, and is unlimited in duration (we can keep doing it as long as we live).

Mr. Soule takes it into a concern for Earth herself: … Just as last spring stretched far into summer and against rhythm… I worry to myself that these patterns could be the cumulative effect of our years of using the earth’s gifts without repaying our debt back to her. I try to hold back the sadness that creeps in as I look at our children in all their wonder while thinking of how the natural world continues to struggle and fall to the spirit of greed.

He stresses, as well, our basic and critical relationship with Earth. The kids humming in tune with the vibrations of our surroundings, further proof that we remain deeply connected to this spinning planet, its essence working into our bodies, largely unacknowledged.

It’s not all about the doings of nature and our imperative to steward the earth, however. We must sustain ourselves emotionally and spiritually. As Ms. Soule says, We must keep looking and searching for the places that bring us peace, dreams, and comfort throughout our lives. And when we do find them, share them with the ones we love.

Near the end of the book, Mr. Soule marvels at spending a snowstorm with his family. A miracle of circumstances has brought me here as conscious witness to my own people that I rise with in the morning and lay down with each evening. It is a promise that the practice of watching and learning from nature will be worth the effort.