Tag Archives: Sustainability

Smoking the “good” stuff: A search for America’s most sustainable smoke.

Smokers in this picture,4. Currently smoking,3. Currently rolling,1. Total viewers of 2010 World Cup Final,700 million. Smokers Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 Billion. Smoking is still the Earth's pastime.

I’ve made a pledge in my head a while back to have my weekly updates posted on Sunday’s. I figured it’s about time I actually said that.  The reason for this is mostly so I can keep track of what week I pledged to do something and so I can remember to keep up with my goal of taking one step towards sustainability each week.

Now that I have that out of the way, it’s time for this weeks step.

For a while I have been attempting to quit smoking, the reasons aren’t really related to this blog or sustainability in general.  I’m just tired of  the subtle sickness that comes along with the burning pleasure of a good cigarette. I’ve had allergies for a while without knowing what they were and realized that whenever I smoke the allergies get worse and my head goes from being slightly uncomfortable to the point where I feel like laying down, ignoring the world and napping my way to the end of the day. In summery, I’m an addict.

The act of smoking, it has recently been pointed out to me, isn’t sustainable in itself seeing as it destroys the user over time instead of helping them. My focus on a renewable world has never factored in personal health. I’ve figured as long as I’m not hurting anyone else, it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m not here to preach and I’m not here to get preached at. Informing is a different matter, however, and I never mind getting details I didn’t know before or understand (thanks Trista).

The point of this blog isn’t to tell the world how to live; the point of The Sustainable Student is to show how one person is attempting to live a life that won’t impact the future for others and it doesn’t mean that my way is right but it’s an attempt. Smokers I’m not attacking. Non-smokers don’t attack. It’s common knowledge now that if you smoke health problems fallow.

Disclaimer aside this week I am pledging to become actively involved in a search for finding the most sustainable cigarette. Unfortunately I get the feeling this means I’ll have to kick my old drinking buddy, Camel Light, into the gutter.

Finding information about the production of cigarettes hasn’t been an easy task so far. These companies have developed powerful marketing teams and know how to soften almost any blow. Finding negative information on farming practices for companies like this will be the equivalent to finding a ninja in his home town. Searching by brand names is ineffective, all that pops up for these are websites that require a user to log in.

For now I’m going to be focusing on a couple of Americas power players, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Philip Morris and American Spirits manufacturer Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company.  As long as I continue smoking, I’ll keep updating the list of companies I have researched.

My research so far shows the hipster and hippie mainstay of American Spirits is winning out.  Their website submerges viewers into a world where you’d think that American Spirit’s manufacturers, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company(owned by RJ Reynolds Tobacco, the creature behind Camels) are a co-op of small time organic farmers, not a major U.S. tobacco subsidiary.

All three of these companies try to harness the image of eco-conscious, caring and community oriented members of your hometown. Slick tongues and vague statements help them drive this idea home.

Right now I’m focusing on the  agricultural processes used in growing the tobacco for the cigarettes.  Later I will tackle the other slippery processes that gets a leaf from a field to my mouth.

Philip Morris – This link guides to what Philip Morris says it is doing to promote sustainable agriculture.

R.J. Reynolds – On their website R.J. Reynolds does not have any information regarding the growing processes of their tobacco, at least none that I could find.

Santa Fe Tobacco Company – The creators of American Spirits put a lot of emphasis on image. Considering themselves a “green” company they put a lot of work into showing their growing processes.

So far American Spirits are the leading pack, when it comes to finding America's most sustainable cigarette.

I’ve realized that this journey to find the most sustainable cigarette is going to be long. It’s like flowing down an uncharted river, never knowing whats around the bend and constantly wondering if that last move to the left was the correct side to pick when the river forks. For now I’m smoking spirits and emailing the companies to see what percentage of their product is organically grown.

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The life and death of a small farm hog.

Early in the summer these young hogs were living the good life, one day change it all. From pen to pork

Pigs are dirty, smelly, rotten animal,s unworthy of a good life or a large space because they will foul up any piece of earth that you give them.  Although this description fits a majority of politicians, my experience with pigs has taught me they are not the unclean, bestial organisms that I’ve heard a lot of people write them off as.

In that last few months I’ve watched four hogs go from small critters to slaughter-sized meat producers.  We’ve taken two off to the butcher and two more are awaiting their end of days. At first it was almost sad sinking my teeth into the first pig we’ve ever raised for food but as the thoughts started drifting through my mind I took comfort in the fact that these were probably the happiest pigs I’ve ever digested.

I’ve only seen hog operations a few times throughout my life. The first operation I saw was an indoor cage, complete with spillways that allowed for the animal waste to wash into the center of the pen so it could be easily cleaned. The only other operations I have seen were online and the pigs didn’t seem to have very much space to move and breath, let alone stay clean.

The operation that Purring Dog Farm has running for hogs is a humane one. I have spent a little under an hour a day the last two months working side by side the hungry, misunderstood creatures.  Every morning feeding them their daily allotment of corn and whatever else may be on hand.  Throughout the weeks I have watched how the animals think and interact and laughed at the way they’ll  trip over each other like kids on cake, to get the prized commodities of eggs and watermelon.

The last meal for future food.

Rolling in the mud and getting dirty is the way they stay cool, similar to elephants and dogs.  The faint smell of their waste isn’t the first scent that hits when entering their 100 ft by 100 ft enclosure.  In fact the first month and a half that I was on the farm, I only smelled the foul odor of their digested corn once.  Pigs are similar to dogs in the sense that they prefer not to wallow around in shit and urine if they don’t have to. If given enough space they will gladly deposit waste in a far corner of their structure, the only spot left that is green from under use.

Between playing and sleeping all day our hogs still make time to attempt eating gloves and boots while they are still on the wearers feet and one has developed an affinity for using my aunt April as a scratching post. When the first roast was made up, April was having a hard imagining how she could eat it after spending the time watching, feeding, scratching and admiring the 200 lbs of fat and muscle. We all agreed that she made the right decision, in a pan with gar

lic and butter.

The day before we took the black-speckled pink walls of meat to the butcher, my uncle Bill and me made a practice run of getting them into the horse trailer, making sure the next day went smoothly.  Our plan was to herd them, by pinching them in with two doors forcing them forward. After 3 minutes of getting pushed around, we headed indoors defeated and feeling weak. After

The stalkyard and final hours.

tearing through farmers books and scouring the internet more thoroughly than any porn addict, we resigned to faith that the next morning would pan out, expecting the worse. It was a six-o-clock morning, early for us lazy farmers, the pigs had to be in by 9 a.m. or else the official “pig killer” would go home, a man paid by commission not by the hour and who didn’t like to wait.

After backing up the trailer, we went with honey instead of vinegar. By cutting watermelon in half and throwing them to the rear of the transport we found the pigs loved the food enough to jump on in. After two filed in we closed the doors. The day before had taught us not to be picky. We fed them a last meal of their favorite treat, eggs, and left for Morgan’s Meat Processors.

On arriving we had to remove the pigs, this time force was our only option. Getting them out of the trailer was less of a task than getting them in, if you did it right. Hogs do not respond to being pulled but they will eventually let pushing them make a difference. The last time we saw our hogs they were playing together and wallowing in the puddles of mud, in a stalk-yard like coral.  After filling out the cut-sheets before their eyes, we took off waiting for a call telling us the deed was done. Hanging above the entrance to the slaughterhouse a sign reading “absolutely no unauthorized personnel allowed.”

Later, when we picked up the freshly processed pork, 127 lbs of the tastiest, best kept meat was waiting for us. Ethically speaking the practice was sustainable but on a level of understanding that everyone can agree with, I can say, home-grown pork beats anything you’ll ever find on a shelf. The twinge of guilt I felt while watching the pigs play out their last few minutes of life was only a reminder that every meal involves a life and suffering. I don’t doubt for a minute though that if the roles were reversed, those hogs would have been more than happy to call me a meal. And life goes on …

What the “F**r trade” does sustainability mean anyways?

Green is the new everything.
It’s no secret that the recent cultural turn towards sustainability has met its vast success because it’s now cool to “go green”. When a Pabst drinking hipster will yell at someone for not recycling, we are looking at a strange, confused, yet hopeful future.

The words green and sustainable are inescapable part of our daily lives for many now but the terms have become empty because of the amount of times and reasons for their use.

So what does sustainable mean?

For the amount it is used, finding a clear-cut definition of what sustainability means isn’t the easiest task.  Words like organic, local, green have all become closely associated with sustainability and people who use anything with those tags seem to think that the product their associated with is sustainable. You can’t trust a label to authenticate that a product isn’t harmful to our future.  Instead, you have to carefully consider the different aspects of what the product is and how it is made

While searching for the definition of online I ran into a sight Ecoedge.ca.  Douglas Barnes, a permaculture designer from EcoEdge Design, a company that creates sustainable systems for homes, farms, gardens and water systems, seemed to have nailed down the wobbly question of what the word means.

“A system is sustainable if over its lifetime it produces or stores more energy than it consumers in its creation, operation and maintenance.”

At first this definition may seem overly complicated or thick but later in his definition Barnes gives an example of how this can be applied.

“Think of a bank account as an analogy. How long can you continue your lifestyle if you are continually spending more money than you earn? Sooner or later, that lifestyle will come to an end.”

This is just one corn farm I encountered going cross-country. As of 2007 PBS stated that 20 percent of U.S. produced corned is turned to ethanol but is that good? Two articles at the bottom of this post contradict each other in an attempt to answer this question.

Before stumbling upon this definition of the word, I was using a different view for looking at sustainability.  My definition was that if something isn’t causing harm to earth or people then it was sustainable but the statement was vague and left a lot to interpretation.

Barnes interpretation of sustainability gives an in-depth description of what to consider when purchasing products or creating sustainable systems.  But sustainability has absorbed so much and the word has swelled to such giant proportions, with arms reaching so wide, that it cannot be bound by one definition alone.

Merriam-Websters dictionary defines sustainability in the way that I have seen it used frequently.

“A method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Or “Capable of being sustained.”

No matter how you choose to look at sustainability, it becomes a matter of perception whether or not something is sustainable. I asked Barnes to break down sustainability into categories, hoping to somehow make a shortcut to deciding whether or not something is sustainable.  What he offered me was something less than I expected, the unadulterated truth.  There is no idiots guide to sustainability or 8 fold path towards a renewable world. To be a  sustainable consumer it requires individuals to be well-informed and think independently.

“Sustainability is a very holistic concept … artificially breaking it down into categories has inherent problems. Consider grain-fed, shed-raised dairy cattle versus pasture-raised cattle. If you look at the methane emissions from the grain-fed cattle, they are lower than that of the pasture-raised cattle. Considering the cost of this release of a greenhouse gas that has 22 times the heat storage capacity of CO₂, one might be tempted to say that grain-fed dairy cattle are more sustainable than pasture-raised cattle. But this ignores the costs in fuel, soil, and water table damage (and associated health costs that go with polluted groundwater) involved in growing, processing and transporting the grain – not to mention the costs involved due to increased instances of E. coli in grain-fed cattle.

“So, you can see the difficulty in categorizing sustainability. Things are so intertwined that one really needs case-by-case consideration.” Barnes stated.

When I consider my future and think about steps I’m taking towards a sustainable existence, I’m realizing the importance of research.  I’m also starting to get the concept that if I truly want to explain my journey to the end of my destructive ways, I’m going to have to justify why the steps are important, both to myself and to whoever reads this.

Buying a product or starting a practice solely because it’s generally accepted as sustainable isn’t enough. If my mind ever seems to miss a detail, I’ve killed enough brain cells to make this happen more often than I’d like, I fully encourage anybody to fill me in. I don’t know everything and I’m quickly realizing that I almost know nothing.

On that note it’s time for a weekly step.  Lately I’ve been filling my head full of all sorts of anti big ag propaganda, “King Corn”, “Food Inc.”, “Fed Up” etc … in all of this listening and learning I have realized one of the big enemies in our world comes from corn. The sprawling fields of corn that cover the waist of our nation and produce one hell of a boring scene to any road trip, are one of the United States sustainable curses. In more ways than one this corn breaks dooms our world to a poor existence.  Having crops grown in the midwest and shipped to all parts of the country means that by the time consumers can get their hands on this corn, it has taken more energy to ship the carbon based gold than it can produce.

I admittedly have a bias when it comes to corn. After watching crop after crop of the sensitive food source get wiped out by bugs and soil problems, I can only imagine what goes into making thousands of acres of perfect, weed free corn.

This isn’t the only breach in the definition of sustainability that corn has made.  Many of the methods used to produce a majority of American corn spit yellow phlegm in the noble face of sustainability.  The soil used to grow these crops have often become depleted of nutrients required to grow natural corn leaving us with a chemical hybrid, ever heard of crop rotation?  It would seem that a lot of farmers have not.  Instead of letting the ground restore itself, chemical fertilizers powerful enough to level buildings are added to the crops and as a result our environment takes the hit. A result of soil not getting organic substances, such as compost, is that our land is slowly being hit by desertification, leaving a future dust bowl within reach.

While the lawyers and the companies behind the chemical fertilizers will vehemently fight the gloomy light that has been cast on their products, their ploys at reassuring the public are about as convincing as big tobaccos argument that cigarettes don’t cause cancer, just fun.

Now that I’m finished with my long-winded rant this is my step

The beauty of capitalism is that we can make votes that count.  Every item we choose to purchase effects what companies will start offering. If consumers demand sustainable products then businesses will start to sell them. This week I’m voting, no, on one of big corns major products and no longer buy products containing high fructose corn syrup.

I personally like taking elimination steps because by cutting something out, you aren’t required to spend any money and right now I am broke.

Corn syrup definitely makes us fat, but is corn ethanol good for us? Again I find myself tripping over my own feet trying to find an answer.  Ultimately, I’m still stuck within the hazy fog of whats important and realizing that E-85 is shadowed area, perhaps lacking the green tint that it promises.

It takes less energy to create than it produces according to the USDA’s article Net Energy balance of Corn-Ethanol. This fact alone seems to stand up against the Eco Edge definition, but this is only one aspect of the crows nest

The doublethink kicks in when you do a little more research however.

A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford University as well as a few other organizations say that it may be energy efficient but it isn’t sustainable in a paper entitled, Climate change and health costs of air emissions from bio fuels and gasoline.

Digging In: Maintaining a small garden

This is my battle gear: Gloves, water, a hand hoe, a regular hoe and a wheel hoe. All effective tools depending on the space you have.

Love is a battlefield, so is growing food. Every inch of every corner in a garden there is something that helps your future food to fail. The ground isn’t full of Charles Manson bugs that are stuck in kill mode but nature is a vicious place and even on the smallest levels competition is fierce.
Your favorite tomato plant isn’t the only green life looking for precious sunlight, water and soil nutrients. Weeds in all shapes and sizes will try to hoard the nutrients that you may have worked so diligently to put in place.
Even if you manage to keep a weed free garden, bugs and small animals will be more than willing to pillage your fresh food source without giving thought to the fact that you have poured days into the planning, preparation and maintenance of this small patch of earth.
Bugs and weeds seem like small obstacles compared to the 6 foot tall 170 pound enemy they have found in me but they are not. Already this year I have had one garden nearly devoured by slugs. I had pledged to not use harmful chemicals and, as if they had overheard me make this comment, they attacked in hoards. Eventually I found a way of fighting back the bastards with beer baths but not before they had taken out over half of my transplants, leaving a stunted food supply and a lot of wasted energy.

I was lucky enough to stay on top of weeding in that garden but I have seen the results of what unwanted suneaters can do.  The first year I was working on the farm, the weeds that were growing around our asparagus became so tall that while I was chopping down a “weed” taller than myself, I accidently leveled a birds nest.  We hid the birds nest in a nearby blackberry patch, giving them protection and hoping that the mother would come back to her crying children.  We pretended the story ended happy when after three days we found the site was abandoned.

Luckily in my past few years I have gained some knowledge to stave off the advancing hoards out to attack the best laid plans or gardeners.

Keep plants Hydrated

I admittedly don’t know too much about watering plants, I just know that they need it.  My strategy is to make sure the soil never gets too dry.  To do this I dig underground about an inch and see if it’s moist. If it is I consider the plants to be well hydrated (transplants are an exception, they need immediate watering after being planted and routine watering for the next few days until its positive that they’ve taken to the new spot). If the spot is dry I’ll usually use a hose with a sprayer attachment to dampen the ground.  The best times for watering are in the morning and evenings when evaporation is less likely to occur.

This is a harlequin beetle. After teaming up with a group of squash bugs and caterpillars, these critters managed to keep our cabbage heads about the size of a fist. Crushing them gives a satisfying crunch though.

Controlling garden pests

Usually I don’t see the world in terms of black and white but when it comes to garden creatures I separate them into two categories, good and evil.

The good inhabitants like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds I will go through great lengths to maintain.  The evil critters such as squash bugs, harlequin beetles and slugs I will do everything in my power to destroy.

The method of attack depends on the enemy.  For a lot of insects I have found insecticidal soap to be extremely effective while having a minimum impact on the soil and planet in general.  The recipe I use for this is simple combination of dish soap, vegetable oil and water. The proportions are as fallows.

4 tablespoons of non-antibacterial dish soap

1 tablespoon of oil

1 gallon of water.

Mix these all and pour into a spray bottle.  When applying the “pesticide” keep in mind that it only kills what it comes in contact with.  Avoid spraying good insects and cover all parts of the plant.  I have found that many foes like to hide on the underside of leaves or around the root so these parts of the plant deserve special attention.

Slugs are plant predators that take advantage of the gardeners weaknesses.  Where most animals attack during the day when it’s dry, slugs prefer night raids and rainy days, times when most people aren’t really wanting to be out in the yard.  In order to take out these particular pests a change of strategy is in order.  I have heard of some people vigilantly searching under rocks and in other moist places carrying out seek and destroy missions.  They will hunt and kill every slug or snail they can find in the hopes that their attacks will reduce populations enough for the plants to outlive the assaults.  My favorite strategy is much less hands on.

I cut the bottoms off of 20 oz bottles, about two inches, and burry them in the dirt to where they are level with the ground.  After that, I fill them about half full with beer.  Slugs can’t resist the yeasty goodness that comes with a cold one.  After that I cover the beer traps with plastic strips cut from milk jugs, propping them up with small sticks to give the greedy creatures a way in.  Once they discover the beer they will find a way in, get drunk and drown.

Pest management is never a matter of total war.  You will never kill all of the enemies unless you move to less sustainable methods that impact both your food and your soil.  The conflict isn’t about total evisceration anyways. The war against insects only needs to be carried out to the point where the plants can survive their attackers.

This is a wheel hoe. With an 8 inch blade attached, this tool makes weeding in between rows easier than dropping the blade on a guillotine.

Weeds and the territory battle

Since plants are stationary, they are stuck in a bitter struggle for survival. When weeds get out of control they steal necessary resources from everything planted around them.  This theft of nutrients may help support one form of life but it won’t help anyone put food on the table.  If you actually want to preserve some of the investments of time and money that have been put into a garden I find that frequent weeding is essential.

My favorite tool for fighting weeds is a hand hoe.  Light and sharp, this tool cuts the heads of anything trying to pop up into the garden, but care should be taken. I can’t count the number of friendlies I have decapitated on the war against weeds.

Another essential is a good hoe.  Hoes save both your back and free-time.  There are literally dozens of hoe variations and which is best depends on what type of space your working on.  Mother Earth News came out with a great article about hoe varieties and use’s that did more justice to the subject than I ever could.  The link to that article is at the bottom of this post.

If you have your garden planned out with plenty of space between rows than I would suggest using a wheel hoe.  After one day testing this tool out in the field I was hooked on it like a bad drug.  It didn’t take much effort and even when the soil was moist it uprooted more weeds than I could have imagined, all without being gas powered.  A bonus to this tool is that you can get a cultivator attachment (I just learned about this from a comment on the cultivating section of the Digging In series).  When the next season rolls around you just take the weeding head off and attach a cultivator for a sturdy multipurpose tool.

Gardens do a lot of work on their own but when outside forces start landing on the breaches and working their way to the interior, good maintenance initially can save you a world of frustration and swearing later on.

Mother Earth News article on hoes

Another article on wheel hoes

Digging In: Planting a small garden

Waging war against the menaces that have surrounded one of my jalapeno plants. The handy tool I'm using it call a hand hoe and has quickly become my favorite tool for the ground war against weeds.

After I cultivated the land and waited for what remained of the grass to die, the process of seeding began. The garden has been growing for nearly a month now so it’s probably a good time to describe the ways I started planting my future food.

There are two ways of trying to get food from a tiny seed that I use, direct sewing and transplanting.  It’s true that you can get food without ever having to get dirty via hydroponics but it’s not very cost effective and takes a lot of skill and know-how that I just don’t have.

A radish's eye view of the garden. I have never had luck transplanting any root vegetables. These are direct sown.

Direct sewing is by no means a technical term, it means putting the seed in the ground.  How deep you should plant the future food  depends on what your putting under. Depths usually range between 1/8 of an inch to an inch-and-a-half.

Transplanting takes a little more work but reaps greater benefits in the end. Instead of throwing your seeds into the ground, watering and hoping for the best, when you transplant you grow a small plant in controlled conditions before releasing them into the wild and murderous world that young plants struggle to survive in.

A plant that hasn’t yet been put into the garden is called a start-up.  To create a start-up you can either use the blister packs that they sell at places like home depot or dixie cups with holes cut into the bottom, to allow for drainage.  I’ve gone with both store bought and the cup method in my garden at home. After you have the container you need to fill it with potting soil, regular soil compacts and won’t let water drain properly.  After putting a few seeds in each container all the seeds need is regular watering and some time. Soon you’ll start having your own transplants ready without spending the $3 dollars they would cost at Lowe’s.

In order to keep the cost down, try buying seeds late in the season.  A lot of seed packets get discounted once summer starts and if you wait a little longer you can buy cheap start-ups too.  We bought a flat of jalapenos and bell peppers for a dollar because the owner of the local feed store was tired of taking care of them.

Another way to avoid seed costs is to split the price of seeds with someone else.  I almost never use all of the seeds in a packet, my operation is too small to plant everything.  This year a friend, Aaron and me started trading seeds with each other.  I ended up with a lot of new plants without spending any extra money.  Sometimes when someone has an abundance and I have nothing, I’ve just asked for seeds they won’t use and I’ve gotten them.  Why waste them when someone else could use them?  My personal feeling is that if you take, though, you should also give, as a result I like to share the harvest with whoever helped contribute.

For a garden map I planted stakes into the ground and then made a small map showing what is planted at which stake. Simple but effective.

Either way you choose to plant, a few things are good to remember, I learned them both by forgetting.  When I planted my first garden I forgot to leave space to walk between the rows. As a result I ended up killing more than a couple of plants by stomping around like a drunk ballerina, ironically I was trying to avoid stepping on anything.  My kale and tomato plants would testify to this if they were still here.

Another thing I like to do is keep records of what I have planted and where.  Record keeping will help avoid plucking up your good plants when you’re trying to weed out the bad.  I’ve found that keeping track of when I planted and when I harvested is also extremely helpful.  The expected harvest dates on the back of seed packages are only estimates and depending on your soil and location only experience seems to be able to tell how soon something is going to be be popping up.

Coming up: Weeding and the best tools for waging the ground war.

To market, to market to process a pig …

We took the pigs into market today. We woke up at 6 a.m. expecting another morning of being pushed around by muddy creatures twice our weight.  Yesterday we tried corralling the pigs with flimsy doors, a bad idea.  When trying to pinch in on the pigs they lost their usual, calm demeanor and started lashing out like 400 lb seven-year-old’s throwing a temper-tantrum.  Today we took a different approach.  Instead of trying to make the pigs do anything, patience was the word of the day.  Backing up the horse trailer just past the inside of their enclosure, we seeded the “hog cart” with watermelon, their favorite, and played the waiting game.  Eventually two of the surprisingly powerful and glutinous animals found a way into the food only to find the gates locking behind them.  I wanted to be able to capture this process from beginning to end on video but we had no camera man on hand and herding pigs did not prove to be an easy task.

We figured, however, that pigs deserve at least the most simple of human respects and gave them their favorite food for a last meal, eggs.

Weekly step update #1

This is the first check-in about my progress on the trail to living a sustainable life.   These are the changes that I have pledged to make so far and this is how well I’ve been keeping with them.

My "green canteen" isn't the only stainless steel container in the house. My aunt and uncle purchased these because before all they were using was plastic bottles and eventually they decided to get away from leaching plastics.

No more plastic bottles:

I have been doing good on this front.  Soon after taking on the challenge I realized that I didn’t buy that many water bottles anyway, my family is a different story.  Ultimately I decided to swear off all plastic bottles in general.  Recently it’s come to my notice that instead of going with plastic when I stop into a 7-11 what my hands end up latching onto is usually a can or glass bottles.  I’m going to have to do a little research to find out if this is actually progress towards reducing my impact on the earth, or if I’d have to give up glass and aluminum to make a real difference.

Watch labels and avoid foods with the chemicals calcium chloride and calcium disodium EDTA.

When I came up with this step I was having severe stomach problems and starting to move towards an sustainably farmed food diet.  Both of these chemicals are known to be associated with stomach problems in high doses and they are both preservatives, like arsenic used to be.

I have started to read labels due to a gluten allergy I recently found out I have, but I have slipped more then a couple of times on eating calcium disodium EDTA and calcium chloride which sneaks into more foods then you’d suspect.  Tonight I ate Calcium disodium EDTA in Italian salad dressing.  I didn’t read the label until after eating.  The horseradish sauce from Arby’s also contains the chemical.

No Coffee from large chain stores:

Calypso Coffee

So far I have been able to accomplish this goal completely.  In the town I’m currently there are no coffee shops, just diners.  In downtown Knoxville I have discovered a few coffee shops that are locally owned and on the farm everything we drink is made from grounds bought at Ingles.  I’m stilling sipping down the coffee purchased from Calypso Coffee in Coeur d’Alene Idaho.  It still taste like sweet nectar in comparison to anything I’ve been able to drink since.  To ensure that coffee stays fresh you can put it in the freezer until grinding and when you brew it up, it will be almost as good as it was when you left the shop.

Planting a garden:

A radish eye's view of the garden.

I’m still in the process of starting my garden but proactive steps are being taken.  The garden I planted earlier this year is being managed by my mom back in Oregon until I get back.  Out here the lettuce and arugula aren’t making but radishes and spinach have survived the scorching sun and are living well.  Today we purchased a flat of peppers from the feed store in town for $1.  These are all healthy plants.  When we went in to buy feed, the owner said we could get em for half off.  Shortly after that he changed his mind, and said we could take the whole bunch for a buck, he wanted to get rid of them. This is another reason why I like to shop at locally owned businesses.  If someone made this type of deal for us at Lowe’s or Home Depot they would be fired, but locally owned shops give you a personal experience with the owners and often this deal works out in everyone’s favors.

New step towards sustainability for the week: Learn to can food.

I’m actually really excited about this step.  Canning my own food has been something I’ve wanted to do for some time now and I’m finally at a place where it’s possible.  After shopping around a bit I was able to find out where to get the cheapest canning supplies in town.  In my quest for finding the cheapest canning supplies I searched the nearby Farmers CO-OP, K-Mart, a local hardware store and Ingles.  Between all the shops prices ranged from $8.49 to 9.99 for pints and $8.99-10.99.  The ultimate winner in the battle of the prices was Ingles with Pints at $8.49 and quarts at $8.99.

My aunt started canning last year and this year I have already made a few attempts but none have been what I would call completely successful.  What I’ve learned is that canning is a safe business when precautions are taken.  If corners are cut too short though consequences can be deadly.

Our recent forray into the world of canning involved packing 14 quarts of pickles. Unfortunately all the lids didn't seal, so we're going to be eating a lot of pickles this week.

Canning becomes a sustainable concept because durring in many areas the options of local food drops off.  If buying food locally and seasonally, canning can extend the time your eating home grown green beans from a couple months to year-round.  Not only is canning a good choice to keep healthy, local food around but after you get past the start-up costs canning is as expensive as buy jar lids.

Storing food isn’t only for the individual looking to spend hours in the kitchen, however.

One simple way to keep cucumbers fresh for a long time is to wait until a jar of pickles runs out but keep this juice and container.  If you add a new batch of cucumbers to the brine and leave the mix in the fridge after about a week you’ll find another batch of crisp fresh pickles just waiting to be consumed.