For information about our plans for adapting our”urban homestead” to meet the looming challenges of peak oil, climate instability, and economic irrationality, see Gatewood Urban Homestead, the permaculture design for our home.
The question is: How do we get there from here? Part of this answer is a careful discernment of how we got here. Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history will in fact repeat them, again and again and again and again until they learn their lessons. To quote another cliche: If you always do what you always do, you always get what you always get.
++++++ For those who are ready to move this world where 3 billion people live in abject poverty, in which the culture of death reigns fierce, and deadly, where the strong prey upon the weak and grow rich by unjust means, this little corner of cyber space offers pathways and journeys, fertile ground for all who would help grow a civilization of life and love. If we don’t like the structures of violence, greed, lust, death, exploitation, injustice, and oppression, what do we need to do differently? Can we spend our way out with an orgy of materialistic consumerism? Shoot our way out of the box? Kill even more innocent babies?
++++++ Or is something different called for, a change in our ways and manners of living? If we want to grow new structures of beauty, wisdom, mercy, love, joy, peace, and reconciliation, the place to begin is at home. Each act of goodness — each mitzvah! — participates with God in the creation of a better future, building structures of redemption to heal our troubled lands.
++++++ My prayer is that this page will offer you information that will help you in your journeys. “Be not provoked with evildoers, nor envious of the wicked; for the evil have no future, the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Proverbs 24:19-20)
++++++ Having made a move last year, we’ve been making new garden space this year. Thus far the black-eyed peas, squash, tomatoes, habanero peppers, pumpkins, corn, oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary, and pole beans are doing quite fine. We also have six buckets of potatoes growing, and one semi-hydroponics tomato plant in a bucket (which is doing better than the tomatoes planted in the ground). The cabbage and broccoli will be up soon, and we have spearmint, peppermint, catnip, and lemon balm in the flower beds. We use the Jeavons biointensive double-digging organic method, and did two, 3′ X 21′, and one, 3′ X 15′. We have a fourth bed waiting on topsoil; the soil there was very hard, and we could loosen it only about 6 inches. So we used an old water bed frame to make side walls, and are filling it with topsoil for a salad garden. We’re staggering our plantings so that we aren’t suddenly overwhelmed. It may sound like we’re spending a lot of time, but our “secret” is to do a little work, every day, early in the morning while it is still cool.
++++++++ All of our compost has come from our own piles, started last year, which are mostly stuff from our property (grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps, some shredded newspaper), although I have brought some “worm food” home from my job (mostly kitchen scraps and flowers). We added compost worms, and they seem to be thriving and multiplying.
++++++++ Growing at least some of our own food is essential, we believe, to building the civilization of love. We’ve become a materialistic, consumerist culture, and think nothing of taking food from hungry people in third world countries so we can have green salad in January. We didn’t get into this trap overnight, and we won’t get out overnight, but every garden planted and organically cultivated is a step in the right direction.
Springtime 2001 on NW 21st Street. . .
Forest gardening has been our theme this spring. We are working on getting our 51st perennial food producing plant into the ground this week, plus we’ve got a dozen annuals planted. The yard still looks a bit bare, as we’ve been planting small plants and seeds, but slowly it is being transformed from standard lawn to beautiful (we hope anyway!) garden. Here’s our 2001 plant list.
We’re putting in a series of raised beds on the west lawn, each outlined with logs from the woodpile, making a nice pattern with the paths, the beds, and the berry shrubs we’re planting. We put dwarf fruit trees across the street frontage on the north lawn.
We have extra seeds, plus some surplus inoculant for legumes (the nitrogen fixing bacteria in a sterile peat mixture). Send us email with your needs and we’d be happy to send you seeds, or inoculant, or both. The Energy Conservation Edition of the printed Better Times Almanac is still available, we can send those too. [Note: 8-6-2001: we still have seeds and almanacs, but we are out of inoculant.]
We’re also starting to get ready for another Oklahoma summer without air conditioning. We’re installing a radiant barrier in the attic (essentially, its aluminum foil covered bubble wrap with a brown paper back), and trying to design some shades for the windows. We’ve built a trellis down the entire west side of the house (formerly shaded by a nice older shade tree that fell over last fall), and interplanted grapevines with scarlet runner beans. We need to put in a 2-3 additional ceiling fans, and get the rest of the windows opened. We’ve already peeled off last winter’s exterior plastic on the windows.
The stump of the shade tree, which is still about 6′ tall, turned out to be filled with a nice compost and a bunch of red compost worms. So I put a couple of purple hyacinth bean vines in it, and they seem to be doing fine. They should look real pretty as the summer progresses and the vines and flowers cascade out of the old tree trunk. I planted scarlet runner beans on the sunny side of our other dead tree (it’s a big dead tree, four branches). We can’t get rid of it, it looks too nice, plus every branch is a bird house. At Halloween last year, we perched our “two headed monster” in it.
We hosted a crew of seven students from Creighton University for their spring break. They spent the week doing various good works both here at our house and elsewhere. The planted fruit trees and grape vines, picked up trash in a poor neighborhood, learned to bake bread, delivered food baskets to people in need, distributed our Better Times Almanac Energy Edition in a working class neighborhood, and sortedour “free store” goods (clothes, household goods, etc., that people give us to pass along to others in need). We got a lot of good things done.
I was impressed by their seriousness of purpose, their adaptability to what must have been a strange experience (sleeping on the floor, no central heating, etc.), and also their ability to work hard. They could have gone to the beach that week, but instead they chose to spend their time doing good works with us. So think about this next time you’re tempted to believe that “the youth are all going to the dogs.”
The earthworms we bought last year have multiplied considerably. Every shovel-full from the winter’s compost pile is full of ’em. The garden beds we composted and “wormed” last year are also full of the considerably multiplied new generations. This is good, because the more worms, the greener the place becomes. We made about twice as much compost this year as last, and hope to double it again this year. We’re out of on-site compost at this point, although we did get 8 big bags of partially decomposed leaves from a neighbor, and picked up some straw bales.
The oregano we planted last year made it through the winter, but the sage and rosemary didn’t. We do have volunteer sunflowers coming up, plus two big broccoli plants that grew from some we planted late last year; they’re about ready to harvest. Earliest broccoli I’ve ever ‘et. The spearmint and lemon balm and day lillies and garlic chives are all growing nicely. And we’re re-trying the potatoes-in-a-bucket, this time with seed potatoes we bought. We have 35 tomato plants either in the ground or in peat pots, mostly Roma, for sauce. Oh, and this year’s compost pile has sprouted a big potato plant.
That’s how our spring is shaping up here on NW 21st street. May all your gardens grow beautifully and bountifully. Enjoy the new links!
The Summer 2001 View from NW 21st Street
The heat of the summer is upon us. We are still making it without air conditioning, except for one bedroom. One of the guys who lives here was injured on the job and is flat on his back for an extended period. A friend donated a window unit, so our injured worker he gets the AC for his convalescence, but the rest of us are still saving energy and the planet by abandoning air conditioning for the summer. As we found out last summer, it isn’t as bad as most people think. We have put shades on the exteriors of our windows, but the awning project is still on the drawing board although we are accumulating the materials needed.
We harvested a pile of Roma tomatoes, although none of them got made into tomato sauce and bottled. They were too delicious and we just kept on eating them and giving them away (becoming popular with the nearby neighbors) and so there were none for sauce. We are still nurturing the plants along, although in this heat they aren’t producing much. We have some other late-planted tomatoes along the trellis, they seem to be doing fine.
The apricot and cherry trees we planted have not made it, neither did the sea buckthorn, service berry, paw paw trees, black currant, kinnickinick, or salah. But everything else on our plant list seems to be doing just fine. One bush – aronia, a berry bush – has even managed to survive being cut down twice by a lawnmower (sigh), it’s coming back stronger than ever. See our 2001 plant list and garden plan , for further details. The highbush cranberry is doing very well, the elderberries are holding their own. Something has nibbled on them quite a bit, but they keep putting on new growth.
The collards survived being run over by a car (they are in a bed right next to the street) and are holding up really well in the heat. The borage and lovage have both bolted, I may replant them in a more shady spot next year. The amaranth is putting on long beautiful purple-red flowers. We let the raddiccio and pak choi go to seed, which we have saved for next year, but we enjoyed the greens and the salad additions. We saved all of the peas we harvested that were grown from seeds sent to us by a friend for planting next year (it’s a discontinued variety, so we’re doing our part to save its genetic heritage (sugar mel). The sage and oregano are rioting, spreading fast and thick.
We have laid out additional garden beds on the west lawn, so it is no longer producing grass for our compost. I am bringing home grass clippings and bags of leaves from wherever I can find them, and piling them on the new beds. We hope to have them ready for a green manure crop over winter.
After much fussing over the past couple of months, we have finally decided to train the grape vines straight up the trellis along the west wall of our house, and will interplant more grape vines next spring. The bush cherries are doing fine, as are the plum and apple and peach trees we planted. The red currants have been hit pretty hard by the heat, they’ve shriveled up a lot, not sure if they will come back in the spring. Of the little berry ground covers we planted, only the lingonberries have survived, and the ones that are shaded in the afternoon are doing fine, the others are burned to a crisp. And yes, the purple hyacinth beans in the tree stump have survived and even produced a handful of pods of purple berries. We got a big harvest of sunflower seeds, which have all been munched.
We are thinking about compost crops to overwinter the beds, and what to plant on our new beds, and how to re-arrange things in the existing beds ( annuals and perennials). We are making a lot of progress this year, which gives us a better foundation to build upon for next year. One can fiddle with plans on paper all day, but sooner or later the seed has to hit the dirt, and once things start to grow, it is somehow easier to see the next stage than it was last winter sitting around a table with a bunch of seed catalogs.
Thanks for the emails and suggestions! We’ll have another edition up in the fall, after the first frost. For those interested in increasing their resistance to the globalizing culture of death which is drowning civilization, see our featured article this month, Boycott Everything! . The author says its fine for you to send that article to others, so let’s spread this good word a bit and stop financing our own destruction.
Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House in Oklahoma City
By William Rivers Pitt
“The so-called consumer society and the politics of corporate capitalism have created a second nature of man which ties him libidinally and aggressively to the commodity form. The need for possessing, consuming, handling and constantly renewing the gadgets, devices, instruments, engines, offered to and imposed upon the people, for using these wares even at the danger of one’s own destruction, has become a ‘biological’ need.” – Herbert Marcuse
July 11, 2001- — I am not Robert Kennedy. I was not born to a family of American political royalty, guaranteeing that my voice be heard when I choose to speak. I have to spend a good deal of my time working, or sleeping in preparation for work, in order to keep the lights on and have food. I have very little in the way of disposable income.
Robert Kennedy said that one person could make a difference. From his Olympian height, he looked down upon all of us and saw individuals who could cut a swath through the injustice in the world, if only we would rouse ourselves. Down here on the ground, I stare up at Robert’s marble bust on that mountain and think, “Easy for you to say, kid.”
There is so very much I want to do, and I am mortally sure that this nation is literally teeming with those who share my desire for action. But we work. We raise kids. We take care of aging parents. Speaking bluntly, we bust our asses all week long for that paycheck and for the few precious weekend hours that more often than not are spent sleeping, drinking, shopping or watching sports on the television.
It takes a massive amount of one’s mental capacities to do the mundane day-to-day activities that are required of the average American, if that American wishes to eat, be clothed, and live inside of doors. It is exhausting. There is that great line from the head of the Trade Services Union about the ‘boom’ years of Clinton’s administration: “There have been 8 million new jobs created,
and I’ve got three of them.”
Where, then, do we find that space and time and energy needed to heal the wounds we see gaping in the body and soul of our nation? They are right there in front of us, red and bleeding, crying out for someone to do something. Too many of us, sadly, shoulder our various burdens and turn away with a prayer on our lips that somebody with the time will come along and address things.
I know a way for all of us to climb up on that Olympian perch with fallen Robert. I know a way we can make that difference. It requires sacrifice from each of us, and thus is worthy of being called a Movement. It can be something you do every moment of the day if you do it right. If enough of us do this thing, and do it well, and do it faithfully, and turn others towards it, we will bring about such a massive change as has not been seen in this nation since the shot heard ’round the world.
Like so many great ideas and Movements, this one is simplicity itself.
Just boycott everything.
Take public transportation to work, or walk to the corner store, or figure out a way to leave your car in the garage for the weekend. If you own an SUV, sell it. If you are in the market for a car, look into the gas/electric hybrids that are available. Thus, you boycott the petroleum companies that rape our planet and soil our air.
Make your own coffee, or buy your morning cup of brew from the mom ‘n pop joint you always walk by on your way to Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. Sure, it’s crummy brew. But you are boycotting corporate hegemony.
Turn off the damned television. While it is on you are a vapid receptacle for all of the invasive nonsense that is our sad and deranged estate. By simply boycotting television, you are saying ‘NO’ to all the advertisers and corporate hucksters who have sold us all down the river. If you are a news junkie, satisfy yourself with a couple of newspapers or the Internet. CNN hasn’t told you anything that you need to know for a long, long time.
Go out this weekend without makeup, and do not purchase any. The cosmetics industry has perpetuated a massive crime against women, by selling to them a destructive myth of beauty that is utterly unattainable for 99% of human females. The vicious cycle of self-hatred begins at a very young age for women, brought on by images proffered by the cosmetics industry in the pages of glossy magazines. Do not allow one of your hard-earned dollars to line the pockets of those who profit by telling you that you are not beautiful enough.
Be aware of your purchases in the grocery store. Buy locally grown foods whenever possible. Using the remarkable research tools of the internet, find out which agribusinesses are selling what, and where. If you do not like what those massive corporations are doing, do not buy their products.
Turn off the lights. Live without air conditioning whenever you can. Make a project out of trimming your electricity bill as much as you can.
You are expected to be a consumer. Thus, you wear the yoke. Boycott the very idea. Take your yoke and plow a new field. Be mindful of that money you have so vigorously earned, and understand that when you buy Exxon gasoline or leave the lights on when you’re not in the room, you enrich those whom you lust to defy and bring low. You work against yourself. I quote Raoul Vaneigem: “Work to survive, survive by consuming, survive to consume: the hellish cycle is complete.”
Boycott the idea that matters are beyond your control. They are not. This is Capitalism, Jack. You have to play by the rules if you’re going to carry the day. We are a nation of consumers, and this corporate control of our politics and our future is within our grasp to overthrow. We cannot vote them out, so we must nickel and dime them out. As long as we continue to enrich those who enslave us, all our hollering and marching will come to nothing in the end. We are feeding ourselves to the beast.
Boycott everything. If you are a consumer, then so be it. Be a damned savvy consumer. Give not one shiny penny to those whom you would otherwise oppose. Figure out what you are spending your money on. You may fancy yourself as someone who is tuned into politics. Become tuned into your alter ego, the consumer you. Pay attention to where you spend your money.
The stakes in our democracy have been raised. No longer does “one person, one vote” carry the day. We are surrounded by interests who sup upon our paychecks through our consumption of their goods. They take that money and fund politicians whom we abhor, they push policies that poison us, they bankroll actions with our money that we would spend our lives opposing. This is another vicious cycle, one I am sure was never envisioned by the framers.
We have in our wallets the power to break that cycle, and bring these dogs to heel.
This Movement will take sacrifice. A little bit here and there. Trim the lusher corners of your life. Discover some simplicity, a rare commodity indeed, one that is not sold in the aisles of Wal-Mart. If, in this simplicity, you discover that you have the time and energy and money to become more politically active, then so much the better.
Boycott everything. Tell your friends. Begin to make that difference. I am sure Robert would
Copyright © 1998-2001 Online Journal™. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.
Closing the School of the Americas/Planting the Garden – what can we do in Oklahoma City
The view from NW 21st Street in Oklahoma City
August 5, 2011
The view from NW 21st street is decidedly HOT this summer. We are dry as a bone and the temperature is hovering between 107 and 110 degrees farenheit. Much too hot.
May 10, 2005
We’re having a cool and cloudy spring, but NO RAIN, hardly any to speak of. Fortunately our deep mulch keeps us from having to water much. It has been a busy spring too. I have given speeches and presentations in Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas, plus a few remarks here at home, mostly about the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. Our neighbors in Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado seem quite interested in starting local food cooperatives on the “Oklahoma Plan”. See http://www.oklahomafood.coop for more info about our local foods cooperative.
Things in the big world out there seem to be muddling on, lurching from crisis to disaster and then back again. The world seems to be seriously lacking in terms of wise leadership. But meanwhile, we still seem to have some time to get things ready for the bad times that are headed our way. Economic crisis, resource exhaustion, irrational leadership, whatever the cause, now is the time to get ready. The book of Proverbs says, “The prudent see trouble coming, and make preparations.” In particular, world oil production appears to be heading for its all time peak, after which will come a time when increasing demand for oil will meet decreasing supplies. Given how dependent we are upon petroleum, and how little work is being done on alternatives, that ride promises to be bumpy and a lot of people are going to get hurt. Well, I hope we all remember that the time to build the cellar is BEFORE the tornado hits.
February 15, 2005
We have had a mild winter. It was 70 degrees yesterday, about the same today, I started planting the early spring veggies yesterday (see the 2005 garden blog for full details about that).
The Better Times Almanac, 5th edition, has had a great reception. We have distributed all of the first printing of 4,000 copies, and are getting reading to print another 12,000 later this month. Most of them have been distributed in the Oklahoma City area, about 150 have gone outside of the state as single copies of bundles of 10 or 15.
Oklahoma City however doesn’t seem to be making much progress towards sustainability. It simply is not on the “local agenda”. The powers that be are intent upon destroying our heritage railway infrastructure in order to build a few miles of 10 lane freeway. There is no sign of an Oklahoma City composting program. The Oklahoma Legislature seems intent on running up the state debt with another bond issue for “capital” projects.
Oh well, we can only do what we can, with what we have, where we are. In the present situation, the people must lead, because our leaders have abandoned the common good and seek only to reward their friends and punish their enemies. The build the culture of death, and attack the culture of life.
Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2005
We’ve had a day of cooking, eating, visiting with folks, and writing. The morning was a bit brisk, it was cold and the wind was blowing, but as the day went on the temperature warmed up considerably and the wind went down. Lots of leaves still on the trees, my cayenne, jalapeno, and habanero peppers are putting on new fruit. Not bad for November 25th. The local joke is that one of the consequences of global climate change will be that Oklahoma will get a decent climate. The Clear Creek monks there west of Tahlequah ( www.clearcreekmonks.org ) have been heard to say that they were praying that our climate would be “evangelized”.
We’re grateful for many things on this feast day, but high on the list is the publication of the 5th print edition of the Better Times (Occasional) Almanac of Useful Information, 32 tabloid pages in its print incarnation. It is also available on the internet at https://www.bettertimesinfo.org/better-times-basics/.
This occasional almanac bidness began back in 1997, when I was involved with Catholic campus ministry at Oklahoma City University. For the previous twenty years, I had been living mostly in poverty, generally working on various radical libertarian political causes, doing this and that to make a living and getting a lot of practice in the art of living extremely cheaply. I learned all about dumpster diving, and to this day I am amazed at the good food we found in dumpsters. I was living in Salt Lake City at the time, and winters in particular offered a bounty of throw away food. A group of us worked together, we “gleaned” a lot of food from dumpsters for ourselves and distributed it to many others. For a time we provided food for some people who set up a mobile kitchen under the 400 South viaduct at Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City and served breakfast on Sunday mornings. Alas, that effort fell afoul of the Salt Lake County Health Department, acting at the behest of civic planners who wanted to drive the homeless people out of the area so it could be gentrified. They didn’t succeed of course, we were in Salt Lake City earlier this fall and there were still homeless people hanging out and sleeping in Pioneer Park. They did of course succeed in making life harder and meaner for these folks living on the margins of that society.
The hardest thing about dumpster diving was getting into the dumpster for the first time. A lot of things go through your mind on such an occasion, but fortunately that passes quickly and you can get on with the bidness at hand, which was “gleaning the fields” of our urban society.
Anyway, in 1994 I went back to school at Oklahoma City University studying music, religion, and philosophy, and began doing a lot of reading in the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. I decided to try to compile my experiences in living cheaply and as a public service publish a tabloid newspaper, a cookbook and “almanac of useful information”, which would be given away free. I managed to raise enough money and got it printed in 1997. I had done a lot of tabloid publishing during my radical libertarian daze and knew that it was a cheap way to get a lot of information to people in a familiar format.
Later that year I moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and was working as director of music at St. Gabriel’s parish there, and volunteering with the Holy Family Catholic Worker House, where I met Brother Louis and Susan Lee. The first edition was long gone, and so in 1999 I produced the 2nd edition, a 36 page tabloid, with larger pages, and crammed even more information into it. By this time I had discovered web pages, starting the www.justpeace.org website in December 1997, and adding pages from the 1st and 2nd editions of the Better Times almanac to that website at http://www.justpeace.org/bettertimes.htm , with the www.bettertimesinfo.org website going live in 1999. .
Later that year I moved back to Oklahoma City, got my job as director of music at Epiphany Church, and started the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House. In 2001, we published the 3rd edition, a four page tabloid focused on energy conservation. Energy prices were spiking then, we predicted they would be continue to go up and sure enough, with the publication of the 5th edition, energy prices are higher than they were 3 years ago. We make the same prediction now. When the 6th edition is published, energy prices will be even more expensive than they are now. People should act accordingly, and invest now in energy conservation improvements to their housing, transportation, and general lifestyle. The third edition got its own website, www.energyconservationinfo.org .
The fourth edition was published in 2002 and was devoted to Oklahoma food. It was short on recipes, but long on access to Oklahoma food producers who sell direct to the public. This also got its own website, www.oklahomafood.org , and out of that effort grew, organically, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, founded in 2003. Between November 2003 and the publication of this 5th edition, we have sold more than $90,000 of Oklahoma food products, 290 people have joined the cooperative, and we have developed procedures and systems to operate an order delivery service for Oklahoma food products. Our goal is to establish a business that is socially just, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable.
This fifth edition comes into a world that is troubled and in trouble. Global climate changes, environmental devastation, and waves of violence and destruction are sweeping across the earth. The captains and the kings are marching and shouting, people are dying and there doesn’t seem to be much prospect of this changing any time soon. Indeed, the velocity and magnitude of the problems seems to be increasing. Into this world situation comes the specter of sharply increasing energy prices, and the certainty of even more extreme price increases on the horizon. Energy prices are being driven by an “irresistible object” (insatiable demand for ever more fossil fuel energy)” running smack dab up against an “immovable object” (the limits – dictated by the geological facts under the ground and our technology – of fossil fuel production). Everyone in China wants a car now, in fact, they want two cars and a garage to put them in.
Meanwhile, world oil production appears to be nearing its all-time production peak, after which it is all downhill, with things going from bad to worse for energy production, and then they will get even worse. North American natural gas is already in decline, and that decline rate appears to be accelerating. All this is the beginning of sorrows, so nobody should be thinking about bidness as usual, but unfortunately that is pretty much where most people are at. Every calorie of food in a supermarket incorporates many calories of fossil fuel in its manufacture and distribution. Food production in the “developed world” is entirely dependent upon high inputs of fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, and toxic herbicides and pesticides. Soil fertility is declining, agriculture diversity is being eradicated, thousands of heirloom varieties of food crops and heritage breeds of poultry and livestock have gone extinct. The food industry is increasingly consolidated. A supermarket may look like a competitive marketplace, but in reality most of those brands are owned by five companies.
If people are ready to do something practical about this situation, the Better Times Almanac is for them. It is a tool kit that people can use to learn how to live better with less – less stuff, less energy, less money, less aggravation, less trouble, less hassle. It has ideas on how to do more with less – more wisdom, more beauty, more fun, more satisfaction, more resilience, more security, and more sustainability, with less energy use, less money, less pollution, less impact. It is for people who are ready to accept personal responsibility for their lives, and who understand that they must literally be the change they want to see in the world. We got into this situation one bad decision at a time, and we will get out of it the same way – one good decision at a time. If we can’t make the best decisions, we can at least begin making better decisions, and failing that, we must make good decisions. We should stop, or limit, the damage we do to the earth’s biosphere and our human communities when we make stupid, imprudent, intemperate, gluttonous, and greedy decisions.
One of the tragedies of this time is that there has been an almost complete breakdown in the cultural transmission of important knowledge, sciences, and arts between generations. My grandparents, William Glen and Dovie Irene Waldrop, and John and Opal Marie Cassidy, lived on self-sufficient homesteads on the southwestern Oklahoma prairie along the Red River and lived much of their lives as farmers who grew and preserved a substantial amount of the food their families ate. They worked six days a week, 12 hours a day, and my grandmothers were among the best cooks that Tillman County ever produced. My grandfather Waldrop was an artisan of curing hams and making sausage. We still have the wagon bows from the wagon that brought my great grandfather Waldrop and his wife Mollie and family from Sherman, Texas to Tillman County, Oklahoma territory, but we have lost much of the knowledge they and their daughters and sons possessed. He lived in a mostly solar economy, and so did my grandparents up until rural electrification. My grandmother used to say that one of the regrets of her life was that her mother had died before they got electricity, and thus “she never lived to see how easy it was to keep house with electricity.”
Thus it is important for people to work together to preserve this kind of “solar economy” information and learn how to incorporate it into our lives again. As we walk this journey, we must learn the value of the slow, the traditional, the small, the particular, the locality, the sense of place that used to be a fact of daily life. We must understand that there are limits and boundaries, and we should respect them. These ideas are so alien now they seem almost exotic, but besides being practical, they are also at their heart profoundly spiritual. “Be still and know that I am God”, says the scripture, it doesn’t say, “Go fast and loud and know that you are a god” which is more or less the philosophy of our present culture of death. It is entirely appropriate that we print “In God we trust” on our money, because our money is our god, and it is in money that we place our trust.
It is of course all well and good to climb up on a watchtower and shout, “Lo the dust of the war chariots of the enemy riseth above the foothills”, or to put on your John the Baptist hat and cry repentance, but it is another thing to actually put these high sounding ideals into practice, or praxis as the theologians would say. Thus the regular editions of this Better Times Almanac of Useful Information, each one building upon the previous work, growing organically in response to the signs of these times. If things are going to change for the better, it will only happen because people decide to literally be the change they want to see in the world. And conversely, if things don’t change for the better, if things continue to go from bad to worse, it will be because too many people did NOT decide to be the change they want to see in the world. The place for me to start is with the man I see each morning in the mirror. Peter Maurin once said that the world would be a better place if we would all try to be what we want the other fellow to be.
It is as simple as that. Each person is responsible for his or her individual response to the world situation, we are all part of the problem, and we are thus all part of the solution. There is nobody that anyone can blame for not doing their part in the way they lives their lives.. There are many things that many people can do to make a positive difference in the world, and procrastination is the deadly enemy of the loving care and responsible stewardship of Creation. We can do, as the masthead of Better Times proclaims, what we can, with what we have, where we are. And so we should do it. I’ve been told that this personalism is one of the irritating things about the Catholic Worker movement, but that recognition of the beauty of personal responsibility is an essential aspect of our charism.
From the beginning, if we are talking about ways and manners of living, I have felt that the place to start is in the kitchen. Food First! It is one area where we have a lot of control, and it is a place where changes can be made without spending big piles of extra money. In fact, we can spend less money and have more quality and do less damage to the planet by learning how to be Better Times cooks from the pages of the 5th edition of this Almanac. Food provides instant rewards. Eating is an agricultural act, eating is a moral act, eating is a cultural act. Decisions we make in our kitchens have enormous consequences, for good or for evil. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, who founded the Catholic Worker movement, said that one of the things we should work for is a world where it is easier to be good. We hope the Better Times Almanac of Useful Information makes it easier for people to make good, better, and best decisions.
If we want a local food system, where farmers use sustainable, organic production methods, where herds and flocks are free-ranging and naturally managed, where land and resources are conserved and constantly renewed by natural processes, then there must be a market for the products of such a system.
If there is going to be a market for such products, then those of us who are customers must generally change the way we do our food.
We must stop looking for frozen, prepared, manufactured foods and instead purchase basic ingredients (or grow our own) from which we prepare our meals, always looking for products grown here in this region.. It is not as hard to make this transition as it seems at first, and it really is true that there are instant rewards in terms of both the authentic tastes and nutritional value of true food. The Better Times Almanac of Useful Information is designed to help you to stop being a passive consumer of manufactured junk foods and to start becoming a “co-producer” in a local food system where your grocery dollars support local farmers and local economies instead of feeding the appetites of transnational agribidness corporations and driving the destruction of our soils, biological diversity, and rural economies. In this situation, there is no rich or poor, or middle class in between. Everyone has a place at this table, there certainly is plenty good room.
A holiday, by definition, is a break with the ordinary routine of life and in most cultures is connected with feasting and celebration, so I would like to write a bit about the preparation of our Thanksgiving feast. As with much in our lives, there is good and bad co-mingled. The world is such that making the best decisions can be difficult, in some situations impossible. But we shouldn’t let the difficulty of some decisions stop us from making other best decisions which are so easy they are practically no-brainers. That’s why I talk about these kinds of food preparation happenings, first so that I can reflect on how I can do better next time, and second so that others can learn from our experiences, both the mistakes and the successes.
We like to cook and eat all day on Thanksgiving, ending up in late afternoon with the main feast. We started our day with strong coffee, free trade and organic certified, from Prima Café bought through the cooperative. That’s one of those small decisions we all make every morning. Should I support greedy international coffee corporations that are destroying long established local traditions of coffee cultivation in favor of plantation cropping featuring high inputs of fossil fuels, and toxic herbicides and pesticides or should I buy coffee that pays the grower a just return for his product and is grown using traditional, organic production methods? The cheapness of the supermarket coffee reflects my willingness to take advantage of that corporation’s ability to cheat small growers by not paying a just price for the coffee. We decided we simply weren’t going to do that anymore, and if that means we pay a higher price for our coffee, well, we pay a higher price for the coffee. We pay less for other things and some things we don’t buy any more and we don’t drink coffee every day. It doesn’t hurt of course that the fair trade certified organic coffee tastes better than anything we have ever bought at a supermarket or at a coffee shop. It is as good as the Italian coffee I drank in Rome.
After coffee, we had whole wheat fry breads, made with whole wheat flour ground from Oklahoma grown certified organic wheat (Springhill Farms, Kiowa County), sweetened with Honeyhill Farm honey (Oklahoma County), and Sean made his “Should Be Famous” onion rings (recipe in this edition of Better Times), he also made his cream cheese and green olive and habanero pepper salsa tortilla rollups, which we only make on big feast days. The tortillas were supposed to be from our favorite local tortilleria, but alas they were closed yesterday, so we got store bought tortillas, at least they were from Texas. The basic recipe for the fry bread was my whole wheat biscuit recipe, only I doubled the amount of honey and reduced the milk by an amount equivalent to the extra honey.
Meanwhile the turkey went into the oven, alas again, here we fell back a bit as we were not able to get a locally grown turkey for Thanksgiving. There is a serious unmet demand in the Oklahoma marketplace for locally grown, pastured turkeys. The cooperative has 3 growers who had turkeys but they all sold out before the cooperative monthly order came up. I stuffed the bird with carrots, celery, onions, and from our garden a bundle of sage, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. I cooked the turkey at 325 degrees, covered, and I don’t fuss with it. Before putting it into the oven I rubbed the skin with olive oil.
As the afternoon passed, I worked a bit on the web edition of Better Times 5th edition, and Sean made his “Also Should Be Famous” deviled eggs with more of that habanero salsa, which we make from habaneros we grow in our garden. All of the eggs in this feast were from local producers, PDH Farms in Okemah and Horne Organic Farm in Cordell. Besides making great deviled eggs, farm eggs help make perfect baked goods.
I make my dressing in a cast iron skillet. We combined chopped onions and celery, shredded carrots, garlic (from our garden), and sauteed them in olive oil, added crumbled sage, thyme, and rosemary, and when the turkey was done, we dowsed this bread and vegetable mixture with broth from the turkey, and into the oven it went at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. I made the stuffing from biscuits I had made earlier in the week, half white flour biscuits, half whole wheat biscuits (more of our local flour), and this time, contrary to my usual practice, I didn’t use any cornbread. It may have been my best dressing to date. The biscuits weren’t quite stale enough yesterday so I crumbled them onto a cookie sheet and put them in the oven for about 90 minutes at 200 degrees and they were perfect for dressing. I didn’t use all of them, so I put the rest in a jar and they will be fine for “stove top stuffing” two weeks from now.
We feasted on the traditional green bean casserole as a side dish, only we used our own onion rings, and it was very good. Homemade onion rings add a nice touch to this festive dish. There’s no point in buying those canned “french fried” onion rings. God only knows how many weeks old they are. We had frozen some green beans earlier in the summer, but they didn’t last until Thanksgiving – memo for 2005 garden plan: grow more green beans!
I didn’t make any rolls this year, as last night at church somebody gave me a nice loaf of homemade sourdough bread, very chewy. I made gravy from the turkey broth, cooking the roux until it was light brown. Making gravy from scratch is easier than making gravy from a mix and homemade gravy tastes much better than gravy from a mix. Gravy making is so important I put a whole page in this edition of the Better Times Almanac on that subject..
For dessert we had cushaw squash pie, and it looked just like any pumpkin pie I have ever seen. I am not sure that people could tell in a blind cushaw/pumpkin pie taste test which was the cushaw squash pie and which was the pumpkin pie. I cooked the cushaw squash 2 weeks ago (baked) and put it in the freezer. We took it out early this morning and let it thaw. I used the “Dorothy’s Never Fail Pie Crust” recipe (bless you Dorothy, whoever you are) from Better Times, and for the recipe for the pie filling I used the recipe from a can of pumpkin. It’s been on my shelf for so long it is out of date, but I keep it around so I have the pumpkin pie recipe ready when I need it. It has been I think 3 years since I made a pie on Thanksgiving from canned pumpkin. I am glad I bought several cushaw squash from the McLemore family while they were in season. They seem to be keeping very well. I noticed one of them had a soft spot yesterday so tomorrow I will go ahead and bake that squash, first cutting out the soft spot, and freeze it in portions for eating later, either as baked squash or as more pies.) It’s been said that most commercial pumpkin in a can is actually cushaw squash, and having now made 2 cushaw squash pies, I believe it. The pumpkins we have stored are also doing fine. They aren’t stored in a fancy way, they are sitting on a shelf.
The leftovers are safely tucked in the refrigerator (within the 2 hour limit), and the dogs and cats all got treats too. The compost bucket has a feast for the worms. The mache (corn salad), carrots, and chard in the cold frame are coming up strong, and the chard in the yard is still going strong. Even the basil is still green, so we really are blessed with kind weather this fall thus far. It has rained so much this past week the ground is super-saturated. I heard from a friend whose dad is farming that it has been so wet in his area his dad hasn’t been able to plant his wheat.
So it goes this Thanksgiving here at Northwest 21st Street and McKinley Avenue in Oklahoma City. As this season of holiday feasting unfolds around us, I pray that everyone will be conscious of the impact for good or for evil of the decisions you make as you observe this season. Discover for yourself the wisdom, beauty, and satisfaction that making better choices about food and lifestyle can bring to your life.
From Oklahoma City, on Thanksgiving Day in the year of our Lord 2004,
Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House
March 21, 2004
I have been so busy with all my sustainability projects I have had less time to update my web pages than was the case previously. I have been gathering material for some time for a new link page for this website, we’ll see if we can get that together after Easter this year. The local food cooperative we helped start is going great, we are a monthly order delivery service, we have done $29,000 in five months, which isn’t bad for what are typically considered to be the worst months for direct farmer to customer sales.
We are to the point where about 80% of the food we eat we either buy from local farmers or grow ourselves. Last year we had fruit nearly every day from May through the first week of August, from our urban permaculture project. More about that will be found in the 2004 garden diary.
The reasons for which we compile and publish this information have not changed. Things continue to go from bad to worse out there in the planetary biosphere, and now is the time for all Terrans to come to the aid of their planet, while at the same time increasing their quality of life enormously, by making incremental changes in their lifestyles to make them more sustainable over the long term. The greed and gluttonous consumption of the typical American lifestyle is not sustainable over the long term, is contributing to the poverty and exploitation of the poor, and is a good route to spiritual death.
The human history of this planet is a long chronicle of the rise and fall of civilizations. As often as not, resource exhaustion was a major factor in their demise. In the United States we face an upcoming perfect storm of economic collapse, environmental catastrophe, climate chaos, and resource exhaustion. Now is the time to create the structures and relationships that will safely carry us through the troubled times we face.
Robert Waldrop, Oklahoma City
March 21st, the 4th Sunday of Lent, AD 2004