Monday, April 27, 2009

Our Fine Feathered Friends

For all of my Asheville readers out there who are considering getting chickens, are harboring "illegal" chickens, or have a neighbor with chickens that you love (and who supplies you with eggs that you want to keep coming), come down to City Council tomorrow, April 28th, for a meeting to revise current animal control ordinances.

Asheville City Chickens has campaigned tirelessly to make urban chicken-keeping easier for city residents. In their own words, they advocate to "teach responsible practices for raising hens in an urban setting, emphasizing positive neighbor and community relations."

The group has already met with several City Council members and would like to see some, if not all, of the following provisions included in the revised ordinance:
1) Distance requirements: City residents may have a chicken coop as long as it is at least 25' from any adjacent residence.
2) Confinement: The chickens must be provided with a covered coop and must be kept in the coop or on the owner's property at all times.
3) Permitting: Residents should be able to apply in person to receive a "chicken permit" without the need for a mandatory inspection by city staff. This will avoid unnecessary cost to the city.
4) Inspections: The City has the right to inspect a property at any time that a reasonable suspicion of a permit violation exists.
5) Public Concerns: To address any perceived concerns related to noise and odor, we recommend that roosters be prohibited, flocks be kept small relative to property size, and that coops be maintained in a sanitary manner consistent with existing city ordinances.

I think their suggestions are all completely reasonable and easily implementable. Although I live just outside city limits and have no issues keeping chickens on my property, I wholeheartedly support the efforts of folks anywhere (and especially my "people") trying to provide local and nutritious foods for themselves. I've volunteered to share a few quotes from urban-dwelling individuals profiled in my "Raising Chickens" book (thanks Erik and Christine!). If you can make it, come cluck with us!

The Low Down:
April 28th, 2009
City Council Building
Asheville, NC

Asheville resident or otherwise, do you keep chickens, or do you know of someone who does? Would you consider keeping chickens in an urban environment if the codes and ordinances in your area were amenable to it? 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen

Trouble comes in many different guises, I'm learning. Ever had one of those weeks where everything really seems to just go wrong? Well, this one has been a doosey. Our lawnmower, chainsaw, weed eater, and oven all decided to die. Worst of all, though, was what happened to our German Shepard, Fly, pictured above with her constant compatriot in nefarious deeds, Dexter (aka "Pigasus" and "Pigasorous"-newly acquired nicknames). 
We live on 12 acres, tucked into a forested cove, with 350 acres of protected nature preserve on one side, and 15 vacant acres of forest on the other side. One would think such a setting would be a safe place for a dog to run free. Not so, folks, not so. To make a very long, very nerve-wrecking story short, Fly stepped on something that ripped open her right front paw and she almost bled to death. She severed a major artery and a vein. Fortunately we caught it in time. A whole host of other insane and far-too-grotesque-for-this-blog things occurred on the operating table that I won't mention here. Lesson learned-dogs in the country are just as at risk of injury or death as dogs in the city are. 
We go back to the vet (BEST VET IN THE WORLD-HEATHER SINCLAIR!!!!) tonight for follow up X-rays and blood work. Fly has to take an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory, and Vitamin K for awhile, but as I'm giving them to her in peanut butter (Dexter gets his own spoonful), she doesn't seem to mind. Country folks, take my painfully learned advice and don't let your dogs run free. Leash them or erect invisible fencing to keep them safe from bear traps, fox traps, hunters, eating poisoned animals, cars, and old debris like beer bottles that they can step on. 

*Small Measure: Use biodegradable dog and cat waste bags. These break down over time and won't choke up the landfill. While the dogs don't have a need for these bags out here (the forest is pretty accepting), the cats' waste (we have 5!!!) goes into these bags, and then into a reserved pit in the back of the property to decompose. Good sources include Biobags and Four Paws

Monday, April 20, 2009


If you're like most people, you've got stuff-lots of it. Big stuff, small stuff, pretty stuff, smelly stuff. Ever wonder where your stuff came from, beyond where you purchased it, that is? Or how it was actually made, distributed, consumed, and disposed of? Well, I did, and do, and think about such things pretty often. In this incredible video, hosted by Annie Leonard, we learn "The Story of Stuff." Make yourself a cup of tea, sit back in your chair, and be informed about our stuff, its consequences, and our future.  

*Image from storyofstuff blog.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bombs Away

If you live in an urban area, you no doubt are aware of at least one abandoned lot, 4-way intersection, or overgrown slope that could use a bit of sprucing up. The cheap, easy, and covert solution? Seed bombs. With a minimum expenditure of effort on your part, you can literally plant the seeds to change the landscape of your stomping grounds. 

Building the Bomb
The Materials:
-Biodegradable bags (such as pet waste bags)
-Potting soil (plan on using about 3/4c. per seed bomb)
-Cosmos, California poppy, or black-eyed Susan seeds

The Deal:
-Mix soil and seeds together in a mixing bowl (the soil should be slightly damp); set aside.
-Cut a 1" wide strip of the bag (lay a bag flat and cut 1" off of the entire length of one side); set aside.
-Lay the remainder of the bag open and scoop about a golf-ball sized amount of the seed/soil mixture into the center. 
-Pull all 4 corners of the bag up and twist into a pouch. Use the reserved strip of bag as a twist tie and secure at the top. 
-Wait about a week for the seeds to begin growing and then, bomb's away! 

I am entirely indebted to the current issue of OrganicGardening magazine for this idea. Great publication. And you can find the book at the top here.
*Small Measure: Sow the seeds you want to see in the world. I'm borrowing a bit liberally from Ghandi here, but I think he would approve. If you see something that needs to be done, hop to it! 

*Image by

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Just Peachy

In today's penny-pinching times, ever find yourself wondering if there are some fruits that it might be o-kay to NOT buy organic? Well, look no further. The Environmental Working Group has compiled a list of the 12 fruits that are known to contain the highest levels of pesticides. These are the ones you want to purchase organically as often as you are able to. Otherwise, if it's not on the list, feel safe opting for the conventional counterpart. 
Alternately, if you're shopping at a local farmer's market, ask the farmer directly about their pesticide use. Some, unable to foot the bill for organic certification, are pretty much de facto organic growers, using little to no pesticides on their crops. 

So, here's the wrecking crew (so dubbed on account of the harm incurred to the environment, the farm workers and handlers, and you, the consumer), best consumed without any added pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides:
1) Peaches
2) Apples
3) Nectarines
4) Strawberries
5) Cherries
6) Grapes (Imported)
7) Pears
8) Raspberries
9) Grapes (Domestic)
10) Plums
11) Oranges
12) Nectarines

This list is especially important to children, pregnant and nursing women, the elderly, or anyone with compromised immune systems. Feel free to check out a slideshow with extra commentary here. As for me, I try to buy things in season, grown nearby, or at least within my growing region. That's why apples get the kibosh after Autumn (otherwise, I'm buying organic apples from New Zealand, which just doesn't really make sense to me), and you won't find me chomping on strawberries in the dead of winter. 
It can get tricky, especially when I'm craving peaches and the mercury is registering at 9 degrees. That's where home canning comes in so handy. If you take a little surplus when a fruit is in season and transform it into applesauce, whole peaches, or strawberry jam, you can enjoy its deliciousness year-round! 

Are there any fruits or vegetables that you only purchase either organically or seasonally? 

*Small Measure: Know when to shop organically. Like I mentioned before, not only does springing for organic produce protect the health or you and your family, it also protects the health of farm workers, an often over-looked yet essential link in the food supply chain. 

*Image from

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Eggstra Benefits

For those of you out there who still haven't sampled eggs from free-range/pastured hens, there's no time like the present to start. Not only is the flavor of pastured eggs far superior to those of their caged kin, research also indicates that their nutrient profile is considerably more substantive. Consider this nugget of egg info:

"For every one egg you eat from a pastured hen, you would also have to eat three factory eggs to get the same amount of vitamin E and five for as much vitamin D. All the while, each additional conventional (factory-raised) egg you eat will be giving you one third more cholesterol." 

That comes from a recent online article in Gourmet magazine, detailing the hidden costs of purchasing, and consuming, factory-farmed eggs. While it might initially seem like pastured eggs are costly, it is quickly apparent that the real costs of many foods aren't often accounted for. Humane treatment of animals, fair and living wages for farm workers, natural grain (preferably grown nearby), and hand-gathering of eggs add time and labor (not to mention ethics!), and produce a more nutritious egg in the end. It's basically a form of health insurance, fantastic news for the uninsured! I'd love to hear some of your own adventures in Eggland. 

*Small measure: Eat pastured eggs. Astounding flavor? Check. Laudable nutritional profile? Check. Good way to support small farms? Check. Visually interesting on account of color variation? Check. Need I convince you any further?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Yes They Did!

Here's a schematic of the new First Garden. Is it just me, or is it ginormous? I am SO inspired! For great tips on starting up a kitchen garden of your own (albeit on perhaps a slightly more modest scale), check out Kitchen Gardeners International. Their motto is "Promoting the 'localest' food of all, globally." Now, perhaps the Obamas will get some chickens, Michelle will read my book, invite Glenn and I over for dinner, and we'll all play with the girls and the First dog, pick sugar snap peas, and tell the President jokes of staggering hilarity and genius. 

*Small Measure: Eat a rainbow of colors at each meal. I realize that while this isn't always achievable, it's definitely goal-worthy. Different foods pack in different nutrients and eating a variety of hues at each meal goes far in offering an assortment of essential vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Plus, they make meals more visually arresting, and I think we could all use a bit more visual arrestment in our lives, no?

*Image from

Put A Lid On It

The mason jar, to which I am clearly eternally indebted, recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. Those of you in East Central Indiana might want to stop by the Minnetrista Center for their new exhibit, "Can It!", an homage to all things tempered glass-screw band-and-lid related. According to the Center's website: 

"This highly interactive original exhibit not only looks at the historical production of the Ball jar and its influence on Muncie and surrounding communities, it engages visitors in exploring their personal connections with Ball."

And if that weren't enough to tempt you to book the next flight to Indiana, consider that the first 125 exhibit visitors will receive the Anniversary Edition of the Ball Book Guide to Preserving. If you're unable to make the exhibit, consider whipping up a batch of rhubarb jam or pickled asparagus instead as a gesture of gratitude to John Mason's laudable invention. You could also just fill an empty jar with beer, wine, whiskey, or, for the kiddos, apple juice, and hoist it high in thanks! Do any of you can? I'd love to know what goodies you're putting up in your kitchen.

*Image by

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

This Slow House

I just read a very thoughtful article about applying the principles of slow foods to home design and decor. The article, which can be found on the design blog designsponge, highlights ways to make conscientious, sustainable choices in a time of economic and environmental uncertainty. Here's an excerpt that really called to me: 

"Much like the slow food movement that promotes using sustainable organic foods that are in season, we need to commit to a 'slow home' ideal. To me, much of the same philosophies in slow food apply to slow home-buy sustainable, efficient products that make as small of an impact on the environment as possible. Like the slow food movement, a slow home can seem expensive and time consuming. But just start small and don't cave to the idea that you have to live off the grid to make a difference. When we buy slower, we buy better. Since no one is rushing to spend money on all new furniture or replace their entire kitchen these days, let's use this time to get to know where the things we own come from."

The author then goes on to suggest shopping for vintage or re-purposed items, buying from an online crafter through sites like Etsy, or learning of local craftspersons in your area making everything from blankets, to ceramics, furniture,and  glass. Where I live, in Asheville, N.C., the ability to support the crafting community is enormous, with biannual craft fairs, ongoing studio strolls, and even the local state university outpost, UNC-Asheville (my alma mater), getting in on the action with an annual ceramics sale by students in the ceramics department. And Asheville isn't that big. Who knows what might exist in larger locales. 

*Small Measure: Make slow purchases. Take your time when opting to bring something new into your home, whether it be an armchair, a drinking glass, a canister, or pillow. See what might already exist in your community. Find ways to repurpose items gathering dust in your basement, spare room, or nearby antique store. Check the local paper for estate sales and auctions (a riot of fun, especially here in the south-I mean, have you ever actually heard an auctioneer do their thing? It boggles the mind.) You could even simply rearrange your furniture if you're anxious for a quick, albeit "slow", fix, which my mom did ALL THE TIME when I was growing up. Whatever you do, just do it thoughtfully. Speed isn't everything. Like the Aesop fable "The Tortoise and the Hare" indicates, "slow and steady wins the race." Ready? Set? Mosey.....

*Image from

Friday, April 3, 2009

Enjoy the Show

One of my long-time bloggies who recently delurked, SiĆ„n (who keeps a pretty fabulous blog herself), posted a link recently I thought I'd share. It's by the Guardian, a UK-based newspaper for those of you unfamiliar with it, and it's full of blessedly cheap and easy things to do this spring.  While some things won't necessarily translate if you're on this side of the pond (are there cuckoos stateside, anyone?), many of them will. 
So, put on some rain boots (or Wellies, as it were), grab a pair of binoculars, and get moving. Hope springs eternal, but springtime delights are decidedly ephemeral! Will you be partaking in any spring-related activities this weekend? 

*Small Measure: The best things in life are free. That's it, plain and simple. Hugs, kisses, a hummingbird's buzz, a wink from a strange old lady-no benjamins necessary. 

*Image by

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Start Me Up

I've begun sowing seeds like my life depended on it. I'm really hoping to grow most of our own produce this year. 
With finishing up the last book, I got a little behind on starting seeds, but I'm steadily catching up. I absolutely adore the process of sowing seeds. To witness the latent life inside a tiny seed is such an inspiring metaphor to consider.
These shelves (sorry for the quality of the photo-it's a dark corner and it has been raining outside today) will hold everything from culinary & medicinal flowers, to cut flowers, and, of course, many varieties of vegetables. The dangle-y things on the far right are asparagus crowns, which will be put in as soon as it stops raining (they'll take 2 years of uninterrupted growth before harvest, though, so planting them will be a lesson in patience). 
I've been especially interested in heirloom and unusual seed varieties, in order to diversify the selections that we're so often limited to when shopping for produce in large supermarkets, even natural food ones. 
I've got another batch to sow this weekend, and then one more round after that. Otherwise, I've got a good bit of seeds to sow directly in April and then another batch to sow once it warms up a bit more, in mid-May. 
Are you growing anything this year, even if it's just a pot of parsley on a windowsill? Seed starting is pretty popular these days. Check out this article from the New York Times. 

*Small Measure: Grow something! It needn't be grandiose or even abundant. Start small if all you have is a windowsill. I once grew beans and tomatoes inside a 3rd floor apartment from the light provided by a skylight. Growing something yourself obviously shortens the transit necessary for foods to reach the table, but it also presents opportunities for eating foods at their peak of ripeness. Growing foods also forces you to slow down. Healthy growth takes time, patience, and love.