Sunday, February 24, 2008

If You are Looking For Me...

You won't find me or my new writings here anymore. I've moved to See you there!!!


Tuesday, February 19, 2008


A couple of notes for y'all:

1. There are still four spaces left in the online food storage class. The in-person one (much less in depth than this) was a lot of fun - I really enjoyed it, and can't wait to get into more detail about food storage. That class concentrated almost entirely on bulk purchasing and dry grains, but I'm looking forward to getting into preserving your own and a host of other things. So if you were hoping to join, but presuming the class was full up, please send me an email at

I'll also be putting up preliminary materials for those following along online next week. I'm looking forward to the blog conversations we'll have about this.

2. So only a short time after I premiered my latest blog, I'm shutting it down - and this one too. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop blogging (give up my rantings - never!). After I premiered Depletion-Abundance, an online friend of mine, Deb, kindly emailed me to say that she thought the site sucked ;-).

Note: Edited to correct - Deb didn't actually say it sucked. She said it reminded her of oatmeal - but I thought this was funnier. But I don't want to give anyone the impression that she was rude - far from it.

But she had a cure for this - she offered to help me set up a brand new website that would cover blog, books, and other materials. She wouldn't even take my firstborn son in return - so I hope she'll take my profuse public thanks!

So Deb has designed a gorgeous new site for me, and kicked my behind into taking it seriously. She's been working like a dog on it, and I'll be premiering the site sometime next week. All the material from here will be available there (link coming), including the older archived posts from both sites. Plus there will be new material. In the meantime, there probably won't be many new blog posts in the next few days, as we transfer stuff over. Bear with us - it should be a short term problem.

I'll put up an announcement when the time comes, but I just wanted you to know that it is in the offing.



Monday, February 18, 2008

Everyone Talks About their Period, but Nobody Does Anything About It...

...Except Crunchy Chicken.

One of the things I like best about Crunchy's writing is her straightforward bluntness on bodily issues. In fact, she rather puts me to shame - I was once famous for that sort of thing. When I was doing AIDS education, I used to do a "15 ways to put a condom on a banana (or a partner)" demo that managed to embarass almost everyone. But since I've become a staid peak oil and climate change writer, I've hardly even mentioned bodily fluids or the orifices from which they flow. This is a pity, and must change.

Well, Crunchy has done me one much better - she's not only talking about menstruation, she's making change in the world. Millions of young African women miss school because they have no menstrual supplies. Commercial makers of disposables are supplying some of them - and getting a lot of advertising credit for it, but the pads are then burnt, and the free supplies are a temporary measure, designed to create a market for disposable products many poor women and girls can ill afford.

Crunchy has started a non-profit, working with aid agencies, to get women to sew or donate reusable pads to these women - and asked me if I'd help. Not only do I want to help, but I can't say enough how much admire Crunchy's passion - and her speed. It was less than a week before she had a project up and going. So I strongly recommend that all of my readers read Crunchy's posts on this matter: and and visit her new website here: and make a donation, either of your time or money. I will be.

You will also soon be able to donate through this site, but as you all know, I'm a techno-moron, and the addition of something as complex as a donation button to my blog is way, way beyond my skills. So I'm relying on a kind friend to help me.

And, as long as we're talking bodily fluids here, may I also recommend that everyone think seriously about their own, as well as the menstrual needs of the world's poor. Disposable menstrual products bite - they aren't as pleasant or comfortable as the reusable ones, they cost tons more, and they add to landfill waste and used ones produce methane, an greenhouse gas with many times the warming power of carbon. While teenage girls may not yet be ready to carry around used pads (although it is perfectly possible to do so very discreetly), all us grownup women have no excuse.

You have a whole host of choices here - long lasting, very comfortable cups like the Keeper and the Diva Cup (I have a diva):, and various cloth pads that can be made: Note, the ppatterns Crunchy is using work well for ourselves too: or bought: or some other site - my own come from gladrags, and I've been very happy with them: but She Who Must Be Crunched has a list here: While you are doing good in Africa, if you aren't using reusable menstrual supplies, do good here, for us and the entire planet, and switch over.

And men, I don't want to hear any whinging about this post. In fact, unless you are gay or celibate and never interact with women under 60, you should be reading this with some interest. Perhaps you have a daughter, a friend, a sister, or a wife who might be interested in this information. There are lots of women out there who might be nervous about doing this because they've been taught that menstruation is dirty or bad. It helps to have a husband or friend who deals matter of factly with your period, and who (if the relationship is intimate enough to allow for this) is gently encouraging (without pressure) to make the conversion.

And please, folks, donate to Crunchy's project. It is such a little thing - and a huge thing - women's education is enormously important for their political and social status, their reproductive future (education is tightly correlated with birthrates) and their economic and environmental security. It would be easy to underestimate how important this is. Fortunately, Crunchy hasn't!

Goods for Girls

And next on the bodily fluids parade: the reusable condom, its engineering and the future of sperm (which isn't actually a joke - I've written about this:



Saturday, February 16, 2008


I confess, until I started rioting, I was one of those people who liked to think in the shower. When you have four children, a shower has magic powers - it makes a cone of silence around you. It warms you when you are cold, it cools you when you are hot. And until I started paying attention to my water usage, I showered a lot - it was a self-indulgent pleasure. While we're not actually keeping our water usage down to the 90% reduction - we can do it, but we don't like it and we're not in a water short place, so we've gone up to a more comfortable 70% - there is still the hot water to deal with.

The funny thing is that when I began to cut back to shorter and cooler and less frequent showers, I didn't mind it that much. The only time I missed long hot showers was on the first day of my cycles, when I could remember how much pleasure I got from hot water against my back, easing my cramps. And for a while, I grumped around for a bit over the fact that I no longer took morning showers, or long hot showers at all.

And then it occurred to me that I could have my first-day-of-the-cycle shower if I wanted - I just had to shorten the other ones. So this month I did that. I skipped one extra shower a week, and shortened my other ones slightly. And a few days ago, I stood in the water in the morning, blissfully contemplating how good it felt that hot water on my back.

But it didn't just feel good. It felt *GREAT* - all day long I felt wonderful. And it struck me that this is the payback for all the scrimping and conserving we do - the transformation of ordinary comforts into a delight.

We get this too with our small percentage of non-local food. We buy a very few non-local fruits and vegetables each week. And each week, my husband and the children choose carefully - what shall we have? One week it was mangos, and none of us have ever tasted anything so delicious as those juicy, dripping yellow fruits. This week it was avocados, and every molecule of our bowl of guacamole was scraped out and enjoyed with homemade tortilla chips. My sons discuss what special fruit they will choose next week at the coop - and what we should do with it.

But, if these pleasures are so acute, why deny yourself at all? Why not get mangos every week
if we love them so? But when I ate all the tropical fruits I wanted, I never enjoyed a mango like I do now. Would my children take so much pleasure in their selection? Would I, if we had them all the time? Experience suggests to me that we would not. The funny thing is that most of the denial isn't a hardship - that is, the intensity of the two experiences doesn't run in parallel. Having fewer showers isn't awful at all, merely a mild inconvenience - but having an extra one is terrific! Occasionally limits do feel awful, and then we have to rethink "is there a way to make this better?" Usually there is - and often we can get the hardest things down to nothing more than a minor inconvenience - and one, shortly, we become used to and don't notice at all.

Not all pleasures are diminished by frequency, but as we get accustomed to things, they no longer delight us. Thus, we must find new sources of stimulation, new delights - usually by raising the bar higher and seeking out more and more of what we look for. And more and more gets us into trouble pretty quickly - not only because we consume more and more but because there isn't always more to be had - so we feel dissatisfied.

I know someone, who, for their child's fifth birthday, took him and two of his friends to Disney World for the week, including a party with a favorite cartoon character. They spent thousands of dollars, and reported to me how much the child had enjoyed himself. And I have no doubt that that is true. For his fifth birthday, my son had a group of children, lunch, a homemade cake, and enough balloons for each child to have one. And he too, had a glorious birthday. It is possible that the child who went to Disney World had exponentially more pleasure, perhaps thousands of times more pleasure, but I doubt it. At the end of the day, Simon told me, "That was a great birthday." What would he have said if we'd taken him to Disney World "That was a super-duper great birthday?" How big is the difference, if it never even occurred to you that Disney was an option (I'm not totally clear that my kids know Disney World exists yet, which is fine with me.)

I am by nature no ascetic - I like my pleasures - I like to eat, have sex, giggle with my family, be warm, be comfortable. My children are like all children - they love treats, sweets and anything special or new. If there is a difference between us and other people it is this - we try as hard as we can (with varying degrees of success) to keep the bar for happiness low. In fact, we consciously try and move it backwards as often as possible - not because we like to sacrifice, but because we enjoy the sheer intensity of the pleasures that come with it. We're not ascetics, we're sensualists - and the most sensual pleasures are available to you when you work at avoiding becoming jaded.

When I was a child, my mother was into healthy eating. We ate carob brownies (to this day I can't bear the stuff) and macrobiotic stuffed peppers instead of chocolate ones and hamburger helper. I remember acutely the tragedy I felt it was when my mother informed me that I was going to remain the only one of my peers who never got to have a marshmallow fluff and peanut butter sandwich for a school lunch. But once a year, every year, my mother would tell us "Today we're not having dinner - we're having ice cream sundaes." And we would go out to a local restaurant that was an early leader in the "sundae bar" phenomenon, and make the most elaborate ice cream sundaes imaginable, and my mother would never mention the green vegetables we didn't eat, and would enjoy her own dessert with ours. I remember every single one of those moments, and remember thinking that I had the best mother in the whole world.

It was only later that I realized how much our delight in those moments depended on the reality that my mother and step-mother provided a healthy dinner with vegetables 364 days of the year, how a life where ice cream was a norm (and of course I had ice cream more than once a year ;-)) would have taken the shine out of that glorious, glorious experience.

We did it for the first time this year. One day over winter break, when it was cold and snowy, the children were told "Today " - the kids were encourage to spend the whole day in their pajamas. No one had to go anywhere or do any chores, and dinner was all the ice cream sundae, with all the stuff you could possibly want. And the boys kept asking us, "Are we really going to have ice cream for dinner?" Yes, we really were. And we did. And it was great.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Online Food Storage Class Info

Ok, folks, I'm putting together the online food storage class that there was so much interest in. I thought I'd offer it in four weeks, over the month of March.

There will be four components, and this class will go considerably beyond the talk I'm giving on Saturday, so you don't need to feel bad if you live too far away to attend ;-).

-A weekly blog post, with discussion on my regular blogs. This will be open to everyone. I'll also post some recipes from the weekly "how to eat it" section on my blog.

- A set of follow along readings. The list of readings for each week (not required for participation but helpful) will also be available on my blog to anyone who wants to participate.

- A group for registered participants to discuss food storage issues. I'll be around to answer questions and facilitate discussion. This will also include recipes, additional materials, and suggestions.

-Help setting up an individualized food storage program based on your family, concerns and conditions.

The course will be divided into four week-long sections.

Week 1: March 6 and 7: The Basics: Why store food? What kinds? How much? Where to Put it? How long to keep it? How to eat it? How to ensure a nutritious, balanced, good tasting food supply?

Week 2: March 13 and 14: Buying in bulk, finding sustainable sources, cooking with grains and legumes, adapting your diet to "store what you eat, eat what you store," accoutrements (buckets, grain grinders, etc...), spices and seasonings, food storage on a budget.

Week 3: March 20 and 21: Food storage local - how to base your food storage on homegrown and local sources. Long term food preservation strategies, storing seeds, meat, milk and vegetables, staple produce as a grain substitute. How to eat seasonally from food storage.

Week 4: March 27 and 28: Special Circumstances, special diets, medical issues, appetite fatigue, infants and children. Community food storage ideas, and getting the idea of storing food out in your own community. Setting up your own plan and implementing it gradually.

The classes will be offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during March. That is, new posts will go up on Tuesday mornings on my blogs, and new discussion topics and materials on the class discussion group will go up around the same time. I'll be available to comment, offer help, answer questions and help set up plans during Tuesday and Wednesday each week, on and off - that way, no one has to be there at a specific time. On Thursday evenings, I'll post the next week's reading materials.

The cost for the class will $125 for the course, and for this first time, will be limited to 25 participants, so that everyone gets a fair share of my time. It is free to follow along on the blogs, but since this will represent a large investment of my time, and I hope to be able to offer participants help getting started and setting up their own goals, I do need to cover my costs. I don't want to exclude anyone, however, so if you need a sliding scale, email me and we'll talk. My goal is to make this as accessible to as many people as possible.

If you are interested in registering, email me at, and I'll follow up with you this week, confirming registrations and sending more details. Please bear with me as I get this organized - I wasn't expecting quite the enthusiastic response I got to my initial query, so I'm still pulling things together by the seat of my pants ;-).



Heat or Eat - An Expanding Crisis

Well now, listen people let me tell you some news
I'll sing a song called the crude oil blues
We're low on heat .n all
We're low on gas
And I'm so cold I'm about to freeze my A..self

We got the crude oil blues
Cause the winter time sure gets cold to the bottom of my shoes
Well my hands are shakin' and my knees are weak
But it ain't because of loveIt's from lack of heat

I'm gonna tell you a story anout this drunk I know
He kept his basement full of homemade brew
But the winter got so bad it screwed up the boy's thinkin
'He got so cold he had to burn all his drinkin'

He's got the crude oil blues
He said the wintertime can sure get cold to the bottom of your shoes
He said, burnin' this booze just destroys my soul
But there's one thing about it honey
When you're cold, you're cold - Jerry Reed "Crude Oil Blues"

If you've been following the situation in Tajikistan, you know that we're seeing an acute variation on a crisis that is occurring in a number of cold places all over the world, including the US.

"The crisis has already gone far beyond power supplies, affecting every sphere of this impoverished and fragile society.

Humanitarian agencies say hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from severe food shortages.

"People are spending all they have on trying to keep warm, and they don't have enough money to buy food," says Zlatan Milisic, the country director for the UN's World Food"

When it happens here in America (thankfully less often) we call it "Heat or Eat" and this fall the Boston Globe reported on rising cases of children suffering from malnutrition in winter because their parents cannot afford to feed them and keep them warm. Now this is nothing new, but the tripling of heating oil prices (the Northeast uses almost all the country's heating oil) and rising natural gas prices have increased the severity of the problem:

"Federal research shows that while both rich and poor families increase their expenditures on home fuel during the winter, poor families offset this cost through decreasing food purchases, with an average 10 percent decrease in caloric intake. Parents know that children can freeze to death more quickly than they starve to death, and so most decrease food purchases first to pay for heat. Many inevitably sacrifice on both fronts, living with food scarcity while heating their homes with cooking stoves and space heaters, both of which dramatically increase the risk of fires, burns, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

These untenable choices wreak havoc on the health of children. Babies and toddlers lose body heat more rapidly than older children and adults because of their higher surface area-to-mass ratio. When babies' bodies have to divert already-scarce calories to maintain body heat, cold and hunger intertwine to jeopardize their health and growth as well as their future ability to learn and relate to others.

The health effects of energy insecurity surface in emergency rooms at hospitals like Boston Medical Center during the cold of winter. Medical researchers found a 30 percent increase in the number of underweight infants and toddlers in the BMC emergency room in the three months after the coldest months compared with the rest of the year."

While thankfully America's poor are not in the situation of the Takjiki people, it is also true that both parties are early victims of a dilemma that is likely to hit more and more of us, in both rich and poor nations - the conflict between meeting energy needs and food needs.

Thus far, biofuels have rightly drawn most of the attention in explorations of the link between energy and hunger, but they aren't the only such link. And heating energy is likely to be a particularly acute such interface, as both natural gas and oil supplies destabilize and rise in price.

Richard Heinberg's recent essay on the coming crisis over natural gas supplies that the US and Canada face suggests that a crisis point in heating energy could come upon us fairly quickly. The vast majority of Americans heat with natural gas, and a disruption in the Canadian supply is likely to send prices skyrocketing, and potentially, show up as actual shortages in some regions, although whether of the US or Canada is not clear:

"From a Canadian perspective there are some problems with the arrangement, though. First is the fact that Canada’s production of natural gas and conventional oil is declining. Second is that Canada uses lots of oil and gas domestically: 70 percent of Canadians heat their homes with gas, and Canadians drive cars more and further than just about anyone else. The problem is likely to come first with natural gas; as production declines, there will come a point when there isn’t enough to fill domestic needs and continue to export (roughly 60 percent of Canada’s gas now goes to the US).

That point is not decades in the future, it is fairly imminent."

A recent article observed that because of global warming issues, more and more new electrical plants are turning to natural gas. Given that the North American (and many regions of the world) gas situation is quite acute, such a rush to natural gas is likely only to raise prices and push heating energy costs even higher, and possibly impact availability.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion, then that we in Northern regions face a heating crisis, and probably within a few years. And since we live in a society that practices cost rationing even for the most basic needs, that means that poor people in cold places will be increasingly priced out of heating energy. Or they will be priced out of food, as they futily stop eating in order to try and keep warm.

Meanwhile, natural gas based fertilizer prices will continue to rise along with the commodity, as more and more competition for gas ensues, further boosting the price of food, and making the heat or eat problem even more acute.

And what choices do we have as an alternative? Wood heating could be a decent option in many places, although not in urban centers where particulate emissions costs would be greater than the benefits. There is just barely enough wood in the US to warm the northern houses without losing forests, if carefully and sustainably managed, we all get used to colder temperatures and if we insulate as best we can, but we'd find ourselves with virtually no wood for building or paper making or any other use. Anything other than absolutely perfect management would result in deforestation - and something less than perfect management is far more likely than the alternative. Rising wood prices could give us the absolute incentive to deforest the landscape of the US, vastly increasing the consequences of climate change, topsoil loss, desertification and turning our country into the blasted landscape of post-apocalyptic novels.

We could grow more corn, this time to be burned in corn stoves, further accellerating global warming with artificial nitrogen and further putting pressure on food prices, pushing more of the world's population into hunger.

Electrification of heating is probably a necessity, particular in population centers, but right now, as we transfer more electric load to heating, that means more coal or nuclear plants, since no renewable build out can meet that need - we risk warming the planet more seriously in order to keep ourselves warm.

Or we can accept the current model, pricing people out and letting them starve and freeze - or see mass migration to already water stressed and overpopulated but warmer areas. The truth is that our energy problems *ARE* our food problems - the longer we view the two as distinct, the worse our problems will be. They cannot be seperated from one another.

We need some better choices than this - and the first step in such better choices would be taking up seriously the larger questions of where our heating fuel is going to come from. From there, we need to ask how our resources are best spent - and one of the ways in which they would be best spent would be in a massive reinsulation of American homes to require minimal heating fuel. If we're going to build anything out, it should be this - or rather, we should build them in - new levels of insulation and warmth. This will be as necessary in the South as it is in the North, as rising heat waves and failing electrical supplies raise heat deaths.

The Community Solution is working on this At this point, the plan is simply too expensive to be applied in many houses without massive national subsidies that are at this point unlikely to be forthcoming. So the other thing we need is a plan for ordinary, poor people to keep warm (or cool), without destroying the planet and without starving to death.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

It is Time for a New Victory Garden Movement!

There is little question that it is time for us to create a new Victory Garden movement. That's one of the central premises of Aaron's and my book, and I don't think there are very many people who understand what we're facing who would deny that this is true.

In fact, there are quite a number of people in the Community Garden movement, and the blogging community who have supported the creation of a new Victory Garden movement. Some people doing this work include Bob Waldrop, whose call to action on local food systems has drawn considerable attention here (among other places): , Foodshed Planet's site has inspired others, and the group Revive the Victory Garden, who have called for 2 million new gardens to combat climate change in 2008:, and there are literally too many others for me to list. But the movement is nascent, still beginning, and seems to need a little midwifing to get things moving along.

The reality is that interest in really, really local food is growing, and so is interest in food production, as food prices skyrocket and quality falls. And the best news is that this is a case where grassroots action not only can work, but it is the only thing that ever has worked - that is, in the US during both World Wars, in Cuba, in Russia - gardens for food security began and grew under the aegis of ordinary people acting to improve their world. While we can enable it from above, the creation of a victory garden movement is a person to person, blog to blog, neighbor to neighbor project. Why do it? A host of reasons, personal and political.

Victory Gardens Mean:

-Better Food - Fresher, better tasting, straight off the plant food money literally cannot buy!

- Better Health - More nutrition in just picked vegetables, grown without chemicals, while getting the kind of exercise many of us pay the gym for! Safety from industrial food contamination and toxic imports.

-Food Security - Food in your pots as prices get higher, supplies that can't be disrupted by energy shortages, greater regional self-sufficiency. Millions of new gardeners can make sure that Americans don't have to wait for distant food supplies to be trucked in - weeks after they are needed. Every gardener makes your region more secure.

-Higher Quality of Life - A more beautiful environment, stronger community, a better environment.

-More Money in your Pocket, More Time for What Matters - If you don't need as much money for food, or to work as many hours to pay the grocery bills, you can use that money or take that time for what you really care about.

- The Chance to Serve Others and Create a More Just Society - Your Victory Garden can be a strike against hunger and poverty - you can have food to donate, and the ability to teach others to fish (ok, garden), and thus, eat for a lifetime.

- Reduce Corporate Power and Improve Democracy - We cannot simultaneously deplore the power corporations have in our society and depend on them to supply our most basic necessities. If we stop giving our hard earned money to the corporations who undermine our democracy, they will be less powerful!

-Protect Against Climate Change - Humus rich soils, full of organic matter can sequester tons of carbon, quite literally - and grow the best vegetables. We reduce our carbon emissions when we don't have to drive to the store or buy fossil fuel grown food.

-Reduce our Energy Dependence - Fossil fuels are used in agriculture, both industrial and industrial organic at every step, from the fertilizer in the ground to the refrigerated truck to plastic bag they come in. We can eliminated fossil fuels from almost every step when we grow our own.

- Create Peace - We're at war for oil right now. If we can cut back on our need for the stuff, we don't have to kill or die for it.

-Hope for the Future - In a changing world, the ability to grow food, to share and enjoy it, and to live in a healthy world full of beautiful gardens may be the best legacy we can our children and grandchildren.

Ok, so we agree that we need Victory Gardens. How do we bring all the participants in this movement together, and create a real and national Victory Garden movement? How do we bring together professional farmers, with Victory Farms and city Gardeners, schools and community resources, and backyard advocates? How do we get Victory Gardening onto the national agenda? How do we teach millions of people how to grow, cook and eat their own, and why?

One part, of course, is the person to person work we're doing now. The next step is to create a large-scale Victory Garden umbrella organization guided by people in every part of the Victory Garden movement - chefs and cooks helping people learn to eat, teachers helping children get involved, churches, corporations and community groups all putting gardens on public and private greenspaces, local "garden farmer markets" where very small scale producers can exchange or sell their extra in their neighborhoods, climate change and energy activists working on this simple way to cut our energy usage and reduce atmospheric carbon. That is, we need a movement - a real, serious movement. And we can do this.

And to get those new gardens and gardeners started. And for that, we need your help. We'll be asking for more specific help as we go along, but getting started, we'd love all of you who blog to put out the Victory Garden idea, even if you usually write about other things. If you can, start a Victory Garden blog, and post a link in comments - I'll put links up on this site and my other one.

And make the effort - reach out to one neighbor, at least, and help them get started gardening. Share seeds. Talk to your community, your synagogue, mosque, church, neighbors, school about gardening. Take a risk - for greater security later. Plant a front-yard garden, centered around a "V" for Victory (cabbages look great like this, particularly mixed with nasturtiums or calendula, but use your imagination). Be courageous - we need this Victory!



Thursday, February 7, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion

I was thrilled to see the idea of 50-100 million farmers percolating down into the mainstream in this article:

"Without some miraculous new energy source, muscle power could soon again be a cheaper alternative to fossil fuels for growing food. Blunt economic pragmatism seems set to out-shout nostalgia in the call to put more farmers on the land.

Just how many more farmers would it take to cure farming's fossil fuel habit? Lots, according to farmer and writer Sharon Astyk and "Oil Depletion Protocol" author Richard Heinberg, both leading activists for facing up to life after world oil production peaks.They estimate that without cheap fossil fuels, we would need 50 million new farmers. That's one farmer for every two households in theUnited States, 25 times more than there are now.

This isn't a move-to-the-boonies-or-starve ultimatum. In fact, many people are ideally positioned to become farmers right where they are-- it's the silver lining to suburban sprawl."

It isn't just the idea of millions of new farmers, either - in the past few weeks I've been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and an AP reporter about life changes due to climate change and peak oil. Although this is still a part of a "weird" subculture, that's the first step to ideas being accepted - getting them out there at all.

Meanwhile, as long as I'm engaged in shameless self-promotion, I'll be giving a free class on the basics of food storage at 3pm on Saturday February 16, at my friend Joy Heckman's bulk foods shop, The Olde Corner Store, 133 Factory, Gallupville, NY 12073. I'll include materials on what a month or year's food supply looks like, how to find local, sustainably produced sources, how to store it, how to cook with storable foods, etc... Everyone is welcome!

BTW, I'm considering offering this class online at some point, if there's interest, so let me know if you think that would be worthwhile.



Garden Dreaming

Whole family is down sick, so the several longer essays I've been working on are on the back burner while I wash sheets and tend cranky little people.

My own retreat when things are in crisis is to the perfect spring garden of my imagination - especially valuable after several days of pouring rain (and our roof needs replacing) and then a giant ice storm.

My roof may leak, the children whine and I'm not feeling so hot myself, but in my head, it is spring, and I'm sitting on a mulched pathway, transplanting delicate baby seedlings into the garden bed. In my imagination it is warm, and sunny, and smells of earth and herbs.

And I get to fantasize about new things - what will the wolfberries taste like fresh? How much skirret do I want? And of course, my garden will be plenty - no running out of strawberry jam in January next year, this year's strawberries will burst off the vine and into the jars all by themselves.

And, of course, there seed catalogs to "help" me envision it. Lush, perfect plants in world without weeds in color saturated photos - of coures my herb garden will look just like that, with the orange calendulas, the purple sage and the chive blossoms harmonizing. It won't be like that, not quite, although it will be wonderful, but a girl can dream. What are you dreaming about?


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bob Waldrop's Call to Action on Local Food Systems

Bob Waldrop is one of my heroes. He knew about peak oil before most people, and has been moderating the RunningOnEmpty2 group forever. But the fact that there isn't an existing system or magic solution just seemed a challenge to him. So he started the Oklahoma City Food Coop, about which you'll hear below. He retrofitted his house to reduce his energy usage, and he's making plans for his whole city, including for the bicycle powered transport of food from farmland outside OKC inside. He's a one-man transition town.

This is what he sent to his food coop newsletter readers. I think it is damned good advice for nearly everyone, and deserves a wider audience. And as always, Bob puts his stuff in the public domain, because he just wants everyone get a "local food and energy system." So listen to the man.

Let's just cut right to the point:Growing vegetables in your back yard (or your front yard) is an excellent way todevelop some part-time income and provide your family with great food.

Growing vegetables in your back or front yard will increase your quality of lifeand your economic security and your physical and mental and emotional health.

Growing vegetables in your back or front yard provides exercise which is important for good health.

Growing vegetables in your back or front yard provides food that tastes verygood and is full of nutrition.

We need people willing to start part-time, micro-businesses, growing food and distributing and selling it into the local market.

Lately there has been a lot of news talk about economic uncertainty. Entire sectors of the debt industry are in near-melt-down mode. The economic chattering class is going on and on and on about The R Word (recession).

Our government says the 2007 inflation rate for the year was 4.1% and energy price inflation was 17.4%.But in the last quarter of 2007, inflation took a sharp turn up.The inflation rate for all items Oct-Dec 2007 was 5.1% -- and for energy it was37.1%. Primary data is at .

The globalized economy means that when Shanghai, or Hong Kong, or Washington, orLondon, or Moscow sneezes -- everyone gets a cold, even us'ns here in OklahomaCity.

Just as we are not in complete control of our food destiny right now, we are not in complete control of our economic destiny. Changing our food destiny is what the Oklahoma Food Coop is about. And economic viability is as important as social justice and environmental sustainability.

By working together, we can change our food destiny and our economic destiny and our environmental destiny.

Given how important "economic viability" is to most of us, now is the good time to explore creating a part-time business that produces something for the local market. Consider it a hedge against the possibility of economic and food disasters.

Local food production grows in a very sustainable way -- many small enterprises, spread over a large area, cooperating with each other in a local circle of trade and enterprise. No "one big operation" that monopolizes everything.

Nobody should quit their day job. I'm not. But within a month or two, I plan to bring to the coop market my product -- bulgar wheat, made with certified organic wheat bought from another coop producer. And also Hotter Than Hades Homemade Habanero Sauce. (HTH3.)

I recently pointed out to the producers that we may sell a million dollars of local food products in 2008. I asked them, "What are you going to do to make sure you contribute to that million dollar in one year bench market?"

Now I would like to ask our general membership -- "What could you do --something new -- to increase local food production while at the same time creating yourself some part time income?"

If you don't think you can make money out of a relatively small plot in your back yard, go to and read all about how these folks in Canada gross $50,000/year on one-half acre in a city -- and its not even one contiguous half acre, it is scattered around town in 20 plots.

We have their guides. There's a lot of expert advice available. You're not going to make $50,000 your first year, or even in your first several years. But you will earn income and as your skills, production, and customer base increase, you will earn more economic and food security. We even have a structure handy and already operating to help you market. You can become a coop producer yourself, or you can hook up with the City Farms Coop founded by food coop member David Rushton, and sell through the network they are establishing, which includes a producer membership in the Oklahoma Food Coop. Check out their producer info at .

In an economy as uncertain as the present, diversifying your income sources is more than a bit prudent. The Oklahoma Food Cooperative can help you do that. By2012, we could be selling a million dollars of locally produced foods every month. But to do that, there must be a million dollars of locally produced foods available for us to sell. So we're not talking "we need five or six", I'm saying we need hundreds, and then thousands, of new local food producers (or existing producers who re-orient their focus). In the next 4 years.

This month, 63 producers have something to sell through the coop, and many of the more in demand products are already sold out. 82 people opened baskets in the first hour of today's order (I call this the Oklahoma Food Coop Land Rush, although it's really an Egg Rush.) 258 people have ordered thus far today. Four years from now I bet that thousands of people order on the first day of theFebruary 2012 order. And in 2016? We will be even more popular.

If you're going to bet, this is where you should lay your money. That's where this train is headed. I hope we're all on board for the ride. I am sure it will be bumpy at spots, but the food is something to write home about all along the ride.

So ponder those apples in your cider and see what you come up with. (That's an official directive from the head office, so I hope everyone is paying attention.)

Y'all have a bon appetitin' good time ordering these 2,461 great Oklahoma foods and artisan products that are on sale this month.

Bob Waldrop, Oklahoma Food Cooperative

PS. One final note. Every day people are dying in wars in Iraq and elsewhere. Ultimately, they are fighting over oil. Thus far, in the midst of our global troubles, we tend to forget that there are things we need to do here on the homefront to contribute to a world of peace and justice.

During World War I and II, "Victory Gardens" made an important contribution to local economic and food security. In those days they remembered the truth of this children's rhyme:

Little drops of water,
little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
and the pleasant land.

In 1918, 1/4 of the US population was cultivating a Victory Garden.

Ninety years later in 2008, we here on the home front send our petro-dollars to pay for the bombs and bullets that terrorists use to kill civilians and our soldiers. The more money we send to OPEC, the more death and suffering there will be.

That's obviously not our intention, but that is the unmistakable and unavoidable consequence. It's a bad picture, and we need to get a better one. And everyone needs to contribute something, somehow --producer, customer, advisor, teacher, cooperator, entrepreneur, researcher, distributor, investor.-- all these are necessary for a functioning local food system that rewards environmental sustainability, supports social justice, sustains rural and urban communities, and is economically viable.

More local food production helps break our destructive petroleum dependence on the good graces and "friendship" of OPEC et al. It positions us to meet the energy realities of the future (higher cost, less availability) and thus insulates us from potential economic shocks. It reduces the flow of money to the enemies of peace and freedom.

It's really unlikely that the complex world situation is just going to muddle along for the next 50 years the way they have for the last 50. We're building towards what the sociologists call a "punctuated equilibrium" -- that is, big fundamental changes.

During all of my lifetime until recently, gasoline has been cheap. My first car, a 1960 Ford Falcon, I could fill up for 23 cents/gallon, and like all of us, I just got into that car and went anywhere I wanted to go. One gallon now costs the price of a fill-up in 1964.

That was then, this is now. The tank is much more empty than it was then. The price of fuel will continue to increase. Meanwhile, back at the drawing board, our entire built infrastructure, agriculture, and transportation systems are predicated on cheap energy. Oops!

We need built infrastructure, agriculture, and transportation systems that can cope with future energy realities and we need that sooner rather than later."Not meeting this challenge" is not an option. The only thing we can do to moderate the price of energy is to use less fossil fuels and more renewable energies.

Growing a local food system is an essential aspect of our region's energy transition.

Procrastination is the thief of time.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Adapting our Farms and Gardens to Climate Change

When I worry about climate change, I often think first about human consequences. But the line between human losses and nature’s losses is pretty fine – literally a tree falling in the forest question. That is, if the sugar maples that turn my region into a blaze of red, the hemlocks that overshadow my creek disappear, who loses me or natures? The only answer is “yes.”
My own guess is this – if it is not already too late to avoid many of the worst effects of climate change, it shortly will be, and if we do not act quickly, our losses will grow each year. I see no signs of quick action. I hope for them, of course, and work for them, but there comes a point at which we all need to turn to the problem of mitigation.

If climate change is happening, if we will see our gardens move south steadily, that brings us a host of challenges. The first is that we will need to find ways to feed ourselves in our new climates. For some, this may not be difficult. For others, moving into a hotter, desert like world, it may be very, very difficult.

But the land we husband can do more than simply feed us – it can soften the blows of climate change, help bring new and valuable species into regions just becoming able to support them, or on the contrary, help breed and adapt new varieties of old residents of our areas, so that they not lost to us. They can provide wildlife habitat for new and old species, and even microclimates, in which things being chased to extinction can survive. To an extent, we can even hold back raging floods and deserts with our hands.

Does that sound too extreme? It is, nonetheless, true. That is, one of the most remarkable examples of what small scale husbandry can do is shown by Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement in Kenya, which has planted more than 30 million trees in Kenya, a nation deforested by a combination of colonialism and poor management. As deserts encroached, Maathai demonstrated the only way to keep them back was to create oases of trees, producing food, drawing up water, cooling people and making areas livable. The trees were planted, almost all by poor women, most of them illiterate, who carry water to their trees each day by hand, because they know that the way to fight the desert is trees. My friend Kate worked for a while with the Green Belt Activists, and she said that in Kenya, trees are powerful – they free up labor for women who no longer have to walk miles for firewood, and provide food and security. But most of all, the trees create life – it is possible to live in a place shaded and lush with green, in a way it is not for most of us in the desert.

How many of us live in places where topsoil washes away, where rising temperatures are reducing water? We need a worldwide Green Belt movement, bringing suitable, food and wood producing trees to the driest and hottest places. That is the beginning of our gardens – the planting of the trees that will make them possible, that carry water from the deepest places, repair and hold soil, and create places we can live.

We will have to choose our trees carefully, especially in the hottest and driest places, but we must plant them – and if necessary, carry water the way the women of Kenya do. One tree that more of us ought to consider is Moringa, a naturalized shrubby tree that has several highly drought tolerant strains, but will grow as a die-back perennial as far north as Atlanta. The leaves are enormously nutritious, a single tablespoon of dried moringa containing 100 % of the Vitamin A, 14% of the protein, 40% of the calcium and 23% of the iron needed by a small child. The fresh leaves are rich in Vitamin C as well. The seeds make a high quality cooking oil, and the pods can be cooked and eaten like green beans.

Water is likely to be a huge issue all over the world. One of the things we can do to deal with this crisis is grow our own – although that requires irrigation water, Gary Nabhan of Native Seed/Search, in his book _Coming Home to Eat_ documents that generally speaking, homegrown produce, even in drought regions, uses up less water than produce trucked in from distant places. In many cases, the sheer cost of refrigerating produce means that it uses more water even within the dry region than it does if you grow your own. We must see water shifted to home agriculture when possible. But we also must minimize water use wherever possible, choosing annual and perennial food crops that can handle heat and drought, and growing them in appropriate ways, using greywater, rainwater, and water-thrifty growing techniques.

As we choose our perennial species, we must make decisions. Do we push our zonal limits, moving north plants from southern places that are newly able to survive here? This can be important work, enabling us to replace species as they are lost, and also providing food and habitat for birds and wildlife that move northwards faster than trees and plants can. It does come with some risks – new species can naturalize more swiftly and aggressively than we would like them to.

But human beings have perturbed the climate and transformed the world unwittingly, making mistake after mistake in our rearrangement of nature. We cannot wash our hands of the work and say “it is too complex for me – best not mess with it” – we’ve already messed with it, now our project is to use every power we have – mind, imagination, passion, strong backs – to do the imperfect best we can to shape our future. We will undoubtedly make wrong choices and do harm – but better we try as wisely as we can to fix what is broken than we go on choosing without thought or care.

And so we begin to push our limits. I have recently added the hardiest of the hardy bamboos to my yard, and we shall see whether it becomes a pest, or if it even survives. But the sheer usefulness of bamboo makes me think that the choice is worth the risk. And if it does not survive this time, perhaps in a year or two, it will. Although I hold little hope of it attracting pandas, it may yet serve other purposes for our native wildlife. My Maypop survived its first winter here – as far as I know, it is the only maypop in my region of rural upstate New York. But perhaps, if it survives and fruits, someday the seeds will grow in someone else’s garden, and on again.

You see wild teasel growing all over the place here – its spiny heads are unmistakable. It is hard to imagine that this pesky weed was once a major crop in my area – used to brush down the nap of woven cloth in the cloth mills of Lowell, MA, farmers once grew acres of teasel – now it is a wild thing, unloved, untended. And it shows just how quickly crops can change – what will New Yorkers grow, for example, when olive oil is too expensive to import from California and Italy? My own guess is oilseed pumpkins that once filled fields in Germany. I plant them now, not because I think the days of oil pressing pumpkin seeds are coming quickly, but so that I will have seeds to share – and for their delicious pumpkin seeds.

We can also to a degree stem the tide of loss of beloved species. In my region, the two trees I first mentioned, the glorious Sugar Maple and the cooling hemlock, are both projected to disappear from my region this century. In the desert southwest, the pinion pines are disappearing, and one report suggests that someday, Redwood national forest will have no redwoods in it.

But although species are lost, they rarely disappear entirely. Despite the depredations of Dutch elm disease, in my region you sometimes see that beautiful vase like shape in the middle of an old field, a tree that lived even though the rest did not. The American chestnut, that two centuries ago filled half the eastern forests, is gone – but there are a few left that grow up from stumps and even produce the occasional nut before dying back. It is these hardy, partially resistant specimens that offer hope to plant breeders that we might bring back the Chestnuts and the Elms.

But that work isn’t the work of professional plant breeders alone. All of us who own even a tiny postage stamp of a yard can get to know our trees, watch them and the ones around them. Perhaps your maples or pinion pines will show signs of withstanding warmer temperatures, or resistance to new diseases moving northwards. Perhaps if in the autumn, you take a garden bed and plant some seeds, you will give birth to the next generation of familiar plants.
Backyard plant breeding sounds hard, but it is as simple as this – when an annual or perennial crop is grown in your place, a host of information and slight adaptations are created to your conditions. The children of this plant will have a taste of those adaptations in their blood – study after study has found that the plant children of first generation transplants uniformly do better adapt more easily to a climate. That is, if you grow a heat loving squash like “Seminole” in your borderline too cool climate, and mature only one fruit, the next year the seeds of that fruit will be better able to handle your cool soil and nights, and perhaps you will get two, or three, and the next generation still better.

This works with both annual and perennial crops – seed saving is not just a way to save money or preserve genetic diversity, but a way of increasing yields, and often, increasing the nutritional value of a crop, for as plants respond to stress, they lose nutrients. A plant adapted to your region, soil, climate will have more energy to create beautiful, healthy, nutritious edible parts.
Soil saving can mitigate the harm of climate change – rich soils, high in organic matter, over time can store as much carbon as a similarly sized forest, and pasture animals as well. If we were to transform the millions of acres of lawn to high humus pasture, or rich garden soil, we could soften the blow of climate change a great deal. The process of cover cropping, adding manures and nurturing a piece of land may not just help us adapt – it may limit the amount of adaptation we have to do.

What about wildlife? We are destroying our species so thoroughly – a third or more by mid-century that we must give them a hand. Whether we manage 10 acres or a 20 x 20 yard, we can plant diverse species, and protect endangered wild plants at the margins of our gardens. We can work to attract wildlife, and to meet its needs for food, water, shelter, places to reproduce. We can watch for new species, and changes in habit, and strive to adapt to them.
One garden among a row of postage stamp lawns seems like it can do nothing to stem the loss of wildlife, but you’d be surprised. Thousands of insect and animal species can live in a single yard, and hundreds more may visit on their way somewhere else. Your milkweed may be the difference between monarchs next year, your wild places the one that the bumblebees rely upon. And moreover, your influence doesn’t lie only on the ground, but on what you start in your neighborhood – the neighbor you persuade to leave a little space for the bumblebee.

Farmers might consider bringing back their hedgerows, even using British style “laid” hedges as livestock fencing. In those hedgerows we can provide habitat, animal feed, and also wood and food for ourselves. Mixing traditional regional species with those who might adapt, we can create integrated plant colonies, or Permaculture style “guilds” that may adaptively work together, enabling the plants as whole to do better than any isolated specimen.

In some places, the robins never leave at all for the winter, but here they still do, and every year I record the first time they return. This year it was January 27th, the first time I have ever seen them here in January. The first year it was mid-February. They lay earlier, too, and the ones that return each year to the nest in the old chicken house on our property sometimes lose their babies to cold. Last year, I started going out in the evening, once the parents were on their nests, and simply shutting the door to the chicken house, rising early in the morning and opening it. Last year, the first batch of babies survived.

It might be wisest to have our gardens do a little of each thing – bring in some new crops and push our regional limits, particularly when such crops might fill a void, such as pumpkin seeds in a vegetable fat poor region, or leguminous trees that can be interplanted with annual crops to feed the soil and respire moisture into the air. But also, we can protect and preserve what we have, watering a little, if we have it to spare, to enable the old crops to hang on a little longer, to find the ones that might survive.

As my own home gets warmer and wetter, it is a challenge to figure out what my new norms are. It is warming in the spring, but I’m not planting any earlier most years, because the rains are so heavy that it isn’t possible. In anticipation of a time when I might truly need the food I can produce in April here, I am building some beds, with gravel at their base, designed to dry out even in the wet times. With a little protection, I hope that fresh greens and perhaps rhubarb will produce soon enough to bring the spring season home a little earlier, and to stretch the winter food reserves.

The changes in the spring flooding season also mean that it is more important than ever to keep topsoil from eroding and the banks of my creek stemmed with trees. My own security from flooding depends on not losing soil, and on keeping my ground intact. Near the ocean, this may mean finding salt tolerant marsh and reed plants to hold back soil, or in heavy wet soils, finding root crops, like cattails, that can take the place of less wet tolerant foods in our diets.

In hot, dry places, the whole system of agriculture may have to change to a Permaculture/vegeculture model. That is, field scale cultivation may not be possible as things get dryer and hotter – in many drought stricken parts of Kenya, the only places to grow gardens are under the shade of leafy oases. That means returning to traditional African models of agriculture, that integrated small, intermittent patches of root crops with perennial tree and vine crops (more on this here: When Europeans came to Africa, at first they could not understand how Africans fed themselves from their tiny gardens, but soon they realized that they cultivated the forest.

We too will probably have to cultivate our forests, and change the shape of our food cultures and food production. That is, climate change won’t just change our gardens, but our diets as well. It may be necessary to give up the hope of summer salads in hotter places, and accept that summer is a time for other foods, or to give more priority to cool weather cultivation for staple crops.

Here, our growing seasons seems to lengthen on the autumn end – 3 out of the six falls I’ve spent here, we’ve had a frost more than 10 days after our traditional frost date. My neighbors with a hoophouse had fresh tomatoes and peppers until Thanksgiving last year. So I need to plant better fall gardens, and wait longer before taking out winter stores – if I can be growing crops into early December, I should be.

There is no single process of adaptation – every region will have to deal with its own projections, and the specific ecology of a place and time. And as quickly as we determine what we should do, we will probably have to change it again – for climate change moves forward, whether we like it or not. But the preservation, sustenance and recreation of a piece of land is good work, and necessary work. The starting point is beginning to look hard at the realities of the problem, and anticipate what our landscapes may look like, and what it might need and enable.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Economic Self-Stimulus: Ideas for One Last Financial Orgasm

Well, it looks like we're all going to get a check in the mail, as part of the "economic self-stimulus, please masturbate the economy into some state of excitement so we can pretend the fundamentals aren't as frigid as Condoleeza Rice" plan.

And since the government, instead, of say, paying down its ridiculous debt or investing in something we might need, like renewable energy, is sending it to you, in the assumption that as usual, we'll blow it all on porn and beer. But that might not be entirely wise, and I feel honor bound, as your Friendly Neighborhood Apocalyptic Dominatrix to offer some helpful suggestions about what to do with the money.

For those of you who live in other countries, where their governments, when on the verge of financial collapse, don't send you checks and accellerate the proces, while spraying imperialist goo all over the rest of the world, all we can do is pity you. And wish desperately we could move to your country. How do you say "I am not personally responsible for my country's economic or foreign policy in Finnish again?"

Now I would dare say that things are, fiscally speaking, going to hell in a handbasket - I don't claim to be an expert. My friend Roel is, though and the blog he shares with a couple of similarly knowledgeable sorts is an excellent place to go for all the crappy financial news. Now it may be that this particular economic crisis will pass a la kidney stone, and we'll go on to later climate and peak oil crises, but it is also not impossible that this is the beginning of those crises.

We are being handed the cash for one more climactic shopping trip - and here I am with my black boots, riding crop and firm demeanor proposing, that just perhaps, you might want to think about this as the last big burst before a very, very, long dry spell. So here are some suggestions to spend your money.

1. Forestall foreclosure. Pay the mortgage, and then use what strategies you have to keep your house: Or, better yet, if you are already teetering on the cusp of foreclosure, consider getting in touch with these people: They don't seem to charge much - you could come out of this with enough cash to put a downpayment on a rental. If you are secure in your home, perhaps invest in some extra fold-away futons, warm blankets and spare towels so that when your family and friends who aren't so secure lose their homes, you can all live together comfortably:

2. Send it to Haiti - here's why: My own favorite Haitian relief charity is the Mennonite Central Comittee - they've sponsored a number of programs that I know some of the players in, and they are generally a really good charity.

Here's information about their Haitian programs:
Heifer International and Doctors Without Borders are also excellent Charities that work in Haiti

3. Buy livestock. Seriously, food prices are rising rapidly. Your annual organic milk costs could probably be covered if you had a cow or a couple of really teeny, super cute Nigerian Dwarf goats. Same with your eggs for chickens. Here's Edson's essay about what he's thinking of doing with his economic stimulus:

Poultry are excellent starter livestock, and many people can have them even in cities. Heck, I've heard of people keeping them in apartments. If you are dreaming of poultry try here, and buy something in danger of going extinct:

4. Say goodbye to wealth and the growth economy by indulging in its very worst excesses. I shouldn't suggest this, of course, but the reality is that who am I to criticize if your dream is to go into hard times with painted toenails and botox injections, or the knowledge that you actually have been to see spring training. So take your 800 bucks and go drink 100 year old champagne, or buy that original live recording of the Led Zepplin studio sessions. Go for it. Just remember, you can't eat commemorative plates.

5. Get your teeth fixed. Seriously, dentistry is one of the big worries, and millions of Americans can't afford it now. It is a fairly energy intensive process: This might be a good time to get everyone a checkup, or that root canal you've been needing.

6. Endow your local peak oil group. If you don't desperately need your tax refund, and perhaps that's true of some of your fellow peakists, get together and put the money into your local peak group. Money buys power and influence in our society, and also enables you to do common good projects. Consider asking everyone who can to put half their refund into a collective good account, designed, for example, to make micro-emergency loans in the community, or to fund solar panels for the local clinic.

7. Get together with others and buy a farm - remember, "farm" doesn't mean "1000 acres in Iowa" - consider a foreclosed upon rural property, for example, with 5 - 20 acres. There are a few of them out my way, and I'm willing to bet there are some where you are. The reality is that rising food prices are pushing land prices way up - we're starting to see what Aaron calls the "tertiary effects" of our energy crisis here:
Note the reasoning here - high grain prices look likely to persuade farmers to actually *sell* their land, and get out of farming, so that people can "invest" in land. Hmmm - we might need people who know how to farm sitting on dirt even more than expected.

8. Buy a musical instrument. Have you always wanted to learn the violin? Do you play a nice saxophone, but don't have one? Even in hard times, there are reasons to celebrate, and music makes celebrations. If the economy tanks and you are out of work, a. subway busking becomes a more economically viable choice (although pianos are tough for that) and b. you'll have time to practice, or to bug the kids into it.

9. Hookers. Lots of hookers. Or one really expensive one. Now where would a farming Mom like me find a someone willing to raise my beds. I'd never heard it called that, but perhaps I was unimaginative. Either way, I knew that Crunchy Chicken could be counted on to help me with all my pay to play needs, over here: Now it isn't clear to me that Crunchy actually can schedule his arrival at the homes of my heterosexual female and gay male readers, but she's an enterprising sort, so you never know. For my lesbian and male readers, I'm afraid you'll just have to do your own bargaining - Matt Savinar isn't yet offering these services on his site - any day now, though, I'm sure ;-).

10. Food. 700-1200 bucks will buy a lot of stored grains and beans. And you can be virtually certain that the food you buy today will appreciate in value, probably much faster than your investments. (the link is useful for the graph, not the stupid boosterism). What today buys hundreds of pounds may buy only half of that. If possible, buy direct from farmers, ideally local farmers. If you can't find what you need, try If you don't need food for your own storage, consider donating some of it to your local food pantry.

11. Give it to people who will fight the biofuels boom. is one possibility.

12. Be ready in case the lights go out. In a period of increasing economic stress, utility bills can be tough to pay - even more so as the price of electricity rises. The example of South Africa: is not quite what we're facing, but there are reasonable causes to be concerned about having enough electric power to go around, including increasing droughts, which put stress on coal and nuclear generators. In addition, as times get tighter, sometimes we have to make hard choices - the electric bill or food? Let's be clear - the electric bill should always be the first to go. As I've argued before, it isn't necessarily grid problems that cause the power to go out: . So it wouldn't be unwise to figure out ways to make do without electricity. That means an investment in solar powered battery chargers, rechargeable batteries, a woodstove in cold places, solar lanterns, a hand washer... Check out for the best in non-electric supplies.

13. Make your yard feed you. Invest in perennial plants like jerusalem artichokes and groundnuts, buy blueberries or gooseberry bushes, buy a good sized stock of seeds (great prices at among other places) and regular or sweet potatoes, a couple of sacks of greensand, rock phosphate and anything else you might need. Put in drip irrigation, dig a pond, or add dryland plants if you anticipate drought. Vary your seed order, try something new. Buy in larger quantities - you can always donate extras to a local community garden.

14. Dig a hole and bury the money in the ground. Seriously, that's starting to look safer than many banks.

15. Clean up good. Those of us who are in those "married until we die or kill each other" relationships don't always seem to understand the plight of the single person. But who wants to go into an unending economic depression alone, with no one to fight with about the money you don't have? So if you are looking for love, now is the time to join that singles website, get a really good picture of yourself taken, or maybe get a decent haircut. Take a day off work without pay, and really work on that personal ad - remember, "Angry, anxious SWF terrified to go into apocalypse alone" is probably not the best start. Put a good face on things. And if you are married, try and stay that way for the following reasons:

16. Superinsulate. This is likely to be a pricey project, but you could get a start. Check out the information here: about how to get started. Whether your home is hot or cold, this will save you money in the longer term.

17. Invest in a really good bike. A lot of the bikes that are lying around aren't meant to be ridden long distances, for years at a time with minimal maintenence. I'm no expert on this issue, and won't try to advise you - instead, find a good bike shop and talk to people there. I personally covet one of these: and they have fascinating collection of family bikes at the same site.

18. Buy yarn. It has many uses - if you have enough, you can insulate an entire room with it. Not to mention that we're all going to need to make socks: Here's more about why knitting is an essential skill in hard times: But you don't really need all these justifications, because the simple truth is that if you buy yarn, then you have yarn. What's not to like?

19. Pay down your debt. If you have old loans, consumer debt, etc... pay it down now. The US bankruptcy laws are moving rapidly towards eternal debt slavery, and that's not a role any of us want to play. As cool and shiny as the gizmos may look, pay down your debt if you can.

20. Make sure you have water. You can't grow food, wash, or live without it. Make sure you have a reliable source of water in the future. That could mean a well with a manual pump, or a cistern, a rainbarrel set up, a spring, solar direct pumping, or a public resource - perhaps a pump in a park or at the local school that can supply the community when the power is out.

21. Do your Christmas/Chanukah/birthday shopping now. Does this one sound weird, coming from anti-consumerist me? For all that a lot of us may deplore the crazy consumerism of the holidays, the "no gifts" idea is an easy one to take when you have everything you need, and live in a rich society. Gift exchange is tied into every culture, not just including, but especially poor ones. The ability to be generous to one another is part and parcel of being human. So maybe now is a good time to think ahead about what it would be like to be poor, if you haven't been, and how simple gifts might come in handy. Think useful things - a new shirt, a pair of boots, a pocket knife, a book, a special toy, a bottle of wine. Or perhaps think in terms of your ability to make something - beautiful soaps, or special traditional baked goods, a wooden toy or the above mentioned socks. Remember, gifts are going to look different in a poorer society. Don't forget to add a few things to donate - more kids will be missing Christmas next year, I suspect, and perhaps a few special trade goods that will be especially welcome among people who have done you kindnesses

22. Donate it to the George W. Bush Presidential Library. I know, I know, I hate him too, but think about what a gesture of charity this will be - have we ever had a president who needed a library more. Think what good the atlases and the beginning readers will do for him. But more importantly, think about what's going to be in those presidential papers, that sooner or later will be released (more realistically, donate your money to the people suing to get his executive order overturned). War crimes trials, anyone? You could also give it to someone whose name you think would look better on a library - and how hard is that?

23. Build your own library. Heck, you can even call it a "presidential" library, and name it after one of the more obscure 19th century presidents. I mean who really knows whether James Knox Polk's library is in your house or not? I'd believe it. Meanwhile, if you don't live in easy walking distance of a really high quality library, build your own. A lot of us focus on gardening and sustainability books, and I certainly value that stuff - my own recommendations are here: and, but don't stop there. Think about how valuable history books will be, as we remake our society. What about a good supply of children's books, and educational materials in case you need to homeschool your kids or grandkids during periods of disruption. And everyone may want to settle down some evening and just not think about what's happening in their world, to escape with either a trashy novel or a great one, and be swept away into another place and time. The reality is that we sell books awfully cheaply - and they may not always be so cheap.

24. A stock of things you don't really want to have to try making. Whenever we talk about stockpiling, someone notes that it is possible to make just about anything at home. Needles? Can be carved out of bone. Necessary drugs? All you need is a small home chemistry lab? Shoes? First, chase down and kill a deer... Diva cup? Just go down to the ocean and snorkel around until you get a sponge...

All of which is entirely true. And the odds are not that these things are going away anytime soon (which someone else always mentions in these discussions) so much as there might be either supply constraints or other things you need to spend your money on. It is nice to know these things can be produced at home, and if it got dire enough, some of us probably would. But, sometimes you just don't wanna make it yourself. There are some conveniences that are kind of nice- and as long as someone is sending us a check... So if you don't want to face a world without enough duct tape, menstrual supplies, wood screws or sneakers, throw a few spares in a box somewhere. When entering this category, think particularly about quality of life issues (here, again, I mention shoes), the components to fix things that you'd like to keep around that might break (my neighbor is facing our current ice storm without her woodstove for lack of a replacement catalytic converter) and things you use a lot.

25. The mind altering substances of your choice. I, of course, would be irresponsible if I advocated drunkeness, and doing something illegal if I advocated drug use. So, of course, I would never, ever do such a thing. But there's something about my nation, as it teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, giving cash to consumers to go shopping that makes me feel as though the proper response, between laughter and weeping, is probably a lost weekend, a moment of drunken, drugged out debauchery that won't actually meet any needs, improve our lives, or do anything good at all - but somehow seems to answer the state we've entered. Being a breastfeeding Mom of four, the chance of me doing so are the proverbial snowball's, but it doesn't seem like a bad response, even though it probably is. At the very least, perhaps you'd like to stock up on your preferred mind-altering substance, to help get you through the next moment of national idiocy. In fact, some seeds, or a still might not be a bad idea. Strengthens the informal economy, y'know.