City to Country, Minimalism

The short-term garden: love it and leave it

In North America, and many other countries, the culture of capitalism steers our view towards personal benefit while blocking out the wider picture of how we fit into the wider community and world.  We evaluate what we invest our time, money, energy or other resources using a lens of personal gain.  It’s not that we never do anything selflessly for one another; however, we can often even in the kindest gesture identify a root of self-serving benefit.  Do we drop off that meal to a struggling friend simply to be helpful, or are we just a little bit feeding our ego when they are grateful for our efforts?  For several years I have been exploring my own web of currencies and how I come to decisions on where I invest myself.  Trying to consciously acknowledge when I am only looking at an investment for my own gain (and yes it IS okay to have a positive yield for yourself!) while avoiding doing something where the benefit might be greater for another- be that human, planet, animal or community.

And here is where my garden comes into the picture.  I have a “nice” garden.  It has well ordered plants, requires little maintenance, gets lots of water from rainfall, and is partially to full shade.  The downside is that I have limited growing space, there is a lot of shade, and the only yield is a few raspberries.

This is how I’ve viewed my garden for much of the past 12 years I’ve lived here.  Why put in more effort if I’m not going to succeed in getting what I want from it?  And then I started exploring permaculture and it has taught me the following: if I change my mindset about who the yields benefit it will also benefit me, just maybe not in the way I expect.  So if I put in the effort to heal and nurture my space the benefit will be that I am caring for the earth that supports my family, support pollinators that are the foundation of food production, create animal habitat, and the list continues.  Maybe the food/medicine/materials yield for myself will never be the level I dream of but that doesn’t need to be my only goal or reason for investing my time, money, and energy.

When I think about changing my garden space, I encounter a lot of “problems”.  “Problems” that make me throw up my hands and say, if I’m not going to get X, then I’ll do nothing at all!  Why the quotes?  Let’s look at the issues and I think the quotes will be more evident… Also let’s keep in mind the permaculture tenant of “the problem is the solution”.

I can’t grow more plants that produce yields (foods, medicines, materials) because it’s too shady.  Why put in the effort if I’m not going to get a lot of food out of it (there’s that thinking about ME part)?

Is this true?  My garden isn’t in pure darkness and even where it gets almost ZERO sun I can still grow hostas and ivy.  It’s actually mostly partial sun and the rest is a dappled sun/shade.  If I spent more time looking at a variety of plants that tolerate less than full sun I would likely have a huge list of options.
I’ve never even looked at medicinal plant choices!
I have also stubbornly refused to look at completely redesigning the layout in order to use more of the sunny areas.  If I moved my path (which could care less if it’s in total shade!) to the other side of the garden that would free up several square metres of food growing area.

My garden is too small and so it won’t produce enough for my efforts to be worth it.

Firstly, what is enough?  If I step back and consider enough beyond a material benefit I can see that a space that is used more effectively will actually yield a TON.  A lush green garden that grows limited food (material gain) would be a wonderful space to bring together friends on a summer night (social and community benefit).  It would be a beautiful space to meditate or be creative in (spiritual, intellectual and cultural capital).  It would repair and feed the earth and insects (living capital).  It would be a space for me to learn, and to teach others and share knowledge (experiential capital).  Is all of that enough?  Yes.
Ok, now to the physical size.  It is a long narrow lot that needs to have some area for my children to play; however, I’m not using all the possible growing space or being creative with that space.  There are vertical spaces not in use- fences and deck supports.  Because my original design was based on traditional gardens there is a lot of open “lawn” area that is just not used.  Even my garden beds are fairly underplanted.  And then you need only search online for small scale permaculture and you will readily see Small Is Only Limited by our Imagination!!

Then we come to my final “problem”, and this is the one that really speaks to my original point on a capitalist mindset.  I have been, and am still, seriously considering moving.  Overhauling a yard to a permaculture design set up is going to have significant costs associated.  Those can be monetary (if you buy all the resources needed), time (both creating and maintaining; or in the case of getting free resources it could be in researching and gathering those as well), or energy (are you doing the work alone?  Will you gather and organize volunteers?  Everything takes energy).  These 3 outputs are always in balance so if you save in one area it increases another area.

If I am going to move in a year or two, why would I deplete my own resources if I’m not going to get the long term benefit?

We are all temporary.  Even if I move tomorrow to the perfect home and parcel of land, it will be temporary.  What do I want to leave behind as my legacy to that land?  I want to leave it better than I found it.  And I can do that in one year or forty years.  Permaculture isn’t about me.  I am an element in the cycle but I am not at it’s core.
I would be leaving a new owner with something beautiful and productive.  I would be passing on knowledge.  I feel one of the most important responsibilities as a permaculture student is to share and educate.   This is knowledge that isn’t meant to be horded or hidden but to be disseminated so it can enact change.

In permaculture yields and investments need to be evaluated, not with tunnel vision, but with a kaleidoscopic view.  Permaculture is activism, which makes it bigger than each person who practices it.  It is a radical stance against the mainstream.  Every seed we propagate, person we share our knowledge with, or land we heal sends a ripple of change out into the universe.  When I put my hands in the earth of my tiny temporary garden this spring I invite you to join me in sending those ripples of change out using your own space no matter how small or shady or temporary.

blog, City to Country, Podcasts, The Chaos

The Granola 01: Entomophagy
blog, City to Country, The Chaos

Why people think I’m a hippie
Damned hippies.

I get told I’m a hippie quite often.  I don’t think of myself in that way.  I think of myself as being a combination of frugal and environmentally conscious.

I’m not necessarily offended by the term hippie, or crunchy, or granola, but what bothers me is the negativity that many associate with those terms.  So much eye rolling accompanies these terms.  I find it confusing that there is such disdain when at it’s core what people who are labelled hippie are just trying to eliminate waste from their lives, get rid of excess chemicals, use more basic and natural items, move beyond the cultural stereotypes of beauty and hygiene. I’m sure it’s the last one that bothers people the most- “dirty hippie” is a term that comes to mind.  But not everyone wants to smell like fragrance.  It is okay to smell human- not dirty, not sweaty, but just plain clean human smell.

What I think is really at the core of this sneering derision is not simple ridicule, but a lack of understanding or the idea that the person feels judged.  I get this all the time as a vegetarian.  My choice to not eat meat for my own ethics makes those who do, feel judged that they do not share those ethics.  Yet the choice is mine, and I acknowledge that others do not share my views.  I genuinely don’t care if someone else eats meat.  The only argument I might make is for them to try to choose animals that are ethically treated in life and death- not a factory product.

Anyways, semantics aside, why do people think I’m so granola?  And I’ve included links in case you want to try any of this!

– I’m vegetarian, and so are my partner and child.  And before anyone asks, yes you can safely raise a child as a vegetarian (or vegan).  I did speak with my doctor before making this choice.  One concern I had was if my child wanted to eventually eat meat, would that be possible or would there be missing enzymes, etc.  While we as parents make many choices on behalf of our child that affects their lives, I just wouldn’t feel right about making this one.  I want to teach them our ethics but it’s their right to make their own judgement in the future.

– I eat almost all whole foods.  This means I buy and consume very few prepared foods, unless they are from a source that I know uses whole food ingredients.  (We even make our own ice cream, and it is so good.)  This is simpler if you have a chest freezer, as I do.  Then when you cook a meal you simply double (or more) the recipe and then pop the left overs in the freezer.  In winter frozen fruits & vegetables are more nutritious than buying out of season produce that’s been shipped a long distance.

– I have banned plastics in our kitchen, and am slowly removing plastic from the rest of the house.  We use glass storage containers, mason jars in various sizes, and the Abeego wraps instead of plastic wrap.  This change was both to get plastics out of our house as well as a frugal move.  Mason jars are very inexpensive compared to buying quality plastic storage.  The jars use the same size lids, and you can replace lids easily.  They are also able to with stand temperatures from boiling to freezing and are difficult to break in spite of being glass.  Mason jars don’t leak!  And lastly, I can use these for many years without them showing any wear, yet I was replacing plastic almost every other year.

I don’t use shampoo!  Yes, I have been sham-less for a year, and my hair is clean and does not smell.  I rinse with a baking soda and water mixture (1:20) first and then an apple cider vinegar and water mixture second (1:8).

– Where possible, I make my own personal care products, or use natural alternatives.  Before my shower I dry brush my skin, which is amazingly invigorating!  For moisturizer I use coconut oil or Avalon Organics.  I use homemade deodorant (which works fabulously!!!  One note, Arm & Hammer baking soda is aluminum free, so there is no need to find a special brand that says so on the box.)  I just started making my own toothpaste… and honestly it is still a difficult adjustment.

– I strive to use only products that are not tested on animals and are cruelty free.  Especially when it comes to cosmetics because it seems irrational that an animal should suffer just because I want to have sparkly eyes, or tinted lips…. that’s not the cure to cancer, it’s vanity.  I strictly use Alima Pure make-up because I like everything they stand for and support.

– Here is where people really get shocked and basically think I’m insane.  I have adapted our home toilet to be a squatter.  There are many arguments for the health benefits of squatter toilets.  I currently just use a household stool, but would eventually like to get one of the options specifically built for this purpose (Squatty Potty and Lillipad.)

– I don’t use traditional laundry detergent or dryer sheets.  Both of these are absolutely awful for the environment, and dryer sheets are particularly unnecessary.  I use soap nuts for my laundry, but am also considering trying making my own.  (A friend has, and she says it works very well.)  The soap nuts leave my laundry clean without making them scented with flowers or some other crap.  These scented residues often cause people with sensitive skin to react poorly.  For my drier I just use dryer balls.  So far no issues with static, even during winter.

– I try to limit our use of electricity and water.  So, we dry our clothing outside when weather permits.  We do not bathe every day (shock!  No, it is not unhygienic to wash less frequently.)  TV, computers, and cell phones are all used in limited amounts, especially when we could be doing other activities outside or as a family.  Phones are shut off at night, as is our internet.  My child has very few electronic toys (though I don’t ban them if it is a present from someone)

– I’m updating this post because I have a new point to add!  We eat bugs!  I have started adding cricket and locust powder to some of our baked goods.  Others can better talk on this issue, so I’ll just quote here “There is a rational, even persuasive, argument for voluntarily eating insects: Bugs are high in protein, require less space to grow and offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to the vertebrates we Westerners prefer.”  For us, it’s a great way to add protein to our diet, and in cookies the powder is completely unnoticeable!

I am an advocate of vaccination.  This may be an odd thing to put on this list, but I just put it here because there seems to be an assumption that someone who strives to use more natural products does not believe in modern medicine or blindly follows anything “natural”.  While I think using natural remedies for minor illnesses or for prevention has it’s place I also think there is a time for drugs.  When my child had an ear infection that was causing pain and severe fever, I turned to my doctor for help not a herbal remedy.  I do not buy into just any argument that supports nature~ vaccines have a proven history of success.  I read a lot before I try something and I also give up on things that don’t work for me.  I will try the homemade toothpaste for a month or so, and may give up on it if I cannot adjust to it.

There is so much more but I think that’s all the blathering any sane reader can take.  I mainly wrote this for people who don’t see the benefit of being more “granola” or just don’t understand.  I do much of this for my child.  I want to give them the best possible start.  I want to eliminate all of my family’s intake of toxicity as well as limit our effect on the planet.

If you don’t currently do any of the things I’ve listed then give one of them a try.  As you can see I didn’t start everything in one day.  It has taken time.

blog, City to Country, The Chaos

How risky is home birth?

How risky is it to have your baby at home?
How risky is it to have your baby at home?

The morning news had a segment on the latest home birth study.  Unlike most studies that I have read about home birth having very similar risks levels to hospital births and improved outcomes for mothers, this study states that being at home puts your baby at much higher risk of low apgar scores and neonatal seizures or serious neurologic dysfunction.   Their medical health expert, Dr. Shapiro, synopsized the findings, stating very clearly that she felt the study had accounted for other factors and that it was clearly the location of the birth that elevated the risk levels.  It all sounded very official.

As someone who has had a successful home birth and is a proponent for more women returning to the home to have their babies, these findings concerned me greatly.  Being a non-medical professional, I read a few more reviews of the study before taking a look at the original document.  I thought that those with medical knowledge would have a more critical eye regarding these new findings.  But it was just the usual hospital birth supporters who are all too willing to demonize home birth.  The study was, to them, clearly without flaw and being at home is akin to dooming your baby to neurological impairment or even death.

I cannot say de facto that the study is wrong or absolutely flawed.  Perhaps there is some truth to the findings; however, I do have one serious issue with their data and I think it deserves attention or clarification before we all swallow the conclusions wholeheartedly.

My issue with this study is that its entire sample, though large, are all from the U.S.  You might be wondering what is wrong with an all American population being studied.  At first glance this may seem to be quite appropriate as it provides consistency across the study; however, in my opinion it actually does the opposite.  American healthcare both inside and outside of the hospital setting is very erratic.  Even state to state there are broad differences in care.

Here are the categories of care this study included: hospital physician, hospital midwife, freestanding birth center midwife and home midwife.  Other than the hospital physician, there is no stated standard for what they consider to be a midwife and yet many types of midwives practice in the US.

I am going to assume that a hospital or freestanding birth center would expect the midwives allowed to practice there to be certified by the American College of Nurse Midwives (so a CNM or a CM.)  Though I have no proof to back up that assumption as I do not know exactly how these institutions work in the States, but let us move forward as it’s the home births that they are saying are so risky.

The study lists a “home midwife” as the attendant at these “dangerous” home births; however, there is no description of what that actually means.  It is really only saying that it is not an unattended birth.  That “someone” who calls themselves a midwife was present.  In the case of a Lay Midwife this can be someone who’s read a bunch of books at home and has decided they can help a woman give birth.  In my opinion this is virtually an unattended birth and, yes, I do think this is a more risky situation.  You cannot compare a hospital physician with a person who has “read some books” and claim that these are equals.  This makes the “home” setting just a backdrop for the ensuing disaster, and not the reason for the poor outcome.

This study does not adequately state what credentials they are comparing in order that the focus can be solely on the environment.  Where you give birth may be a factor due to a lack of hi-tech medical equipment for necessary intervention; however, unless you have the same human standard of care it is impossible to say that the location truly plays such a large factor.  In many cases a properly trained midwife (in a country that has a national standard of education) can identify potential issues and a need for transfer of care early on, either in pregnancy or labour.

Basically, I just don’t buy what this study is selling.  I think what would bolster these findings is a study of the different medical professionals attending home births and what their outcomes were.  If all had the same rates of low apgar and other issues, then it would be clear that the attendant wasn’t a factor in changing the outcomes.  But then that would be asking the OBs to leave their secure little hospitals and actually attend a whole birth rather than pawning it off to the nurses or families to manage the majority of labour.  They couldn’t race to slice a woman open and “deliver her” of her offspring.  I digress.

So if you’re thinking of a home birth and this study has scared you off a bit, I hope this argument has helped you reconsider these findings and given you new hope and the courage to try birthing at home.  It is an amazing experience- when you have the right, well-educated, care 🙂