Casaubon's Book

Independence Days Challenge

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Note: Most of the Independence Days material will run at ye olde blogge , but I wanted to post the year three start up over here too, since my readership isn’t entirely overlapping. If you want to post status updates, the weekly thread for that will be at my other blog, but you can sign up here too! I hope you’ll join us!

Many of us need nothing in the world so much as more time. Adding new projects is exhausting – and stressful. And yet, we know that there are things we want to change – for example, most of us would like to grow a garden with our kids, or make sure that we know where our food comes from. We’d like to live in communities with a greater measure of food security, we’d like to know more about what we’re eating. We’d like to have more contact with nature, we’d like to be more self-sufficient. We’d like to have better food at lower cost, we’d like to have a reserve for an emergency or to share. We’d like to do more in our community and to eat with one another. We’d like to sit down to a home cooked meal more often.

We want these things but we don’t know how to get them, in large part because when we think about growing a garden or preserving food, or working in our community, we imagine they will take up large chunks of our time. We imagine it is impossible – because we know we can’t pull hours every day out of our frantic schedules.

But what if we didn’t have to? That’s what the Independence Days Challenge encourages all of us – busy working families and farmers, city dwellers and suburbanites and country folk – to remember. That is, it isn’t all or nothing, we don’t have to wait until we have a whole afternoon free or are on vacation. What if we could do it gradually, just a little bit every day or week – what if we only had to plant our few seeds today, and tomorrow, pull a couple of weeds and harvest two salads, and the next day make three jars of jam?

What’s amazing about this is how fast it adds up – a few minutes here and there turn into a much greater degree of self-sufficiency. I know this because I’ve been doing it for two years as part of the Independence Days challenge. And I know it works for people like me, who farm and for whom growing and canning and harvesting are part of everyday life, and I know it works for people in the city who may have no garden space at all but a few window boxes but can still preserve some of their own when it is plentiful, reduce their waste and work at community-level food security. No matter how much you are able to do, doing a little when you’ve got a few minutes makes the critical difference.

Does this stuff really matter? Is it worth your time? I think so – as I wrote in my book _Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation_,

“All of us need to devote some energy to fighting battles that will probably be lost, simply because we have an obligation to fight the good fight. But most of us can’t live on a steady diet of tilting at windmills. We also need to do work where we know we can accomplish something and where we know we matter. That’s why I think food preservation and storage matter so much. Ultimately, we are talking not only about the fairly manageable question of what to have for dinner, but also about about transforming our society, our use of energy, our food culture, and, of course our culture as a whole.”
Today is March 1 and the beginning of a new year in Independence Days Challenges – my third time doing this challenge. I have a lot of new readers these days, a lot of people who are reluctant to join up in the middle, so it is time to start afresh.

What is the Independence Days Challenge? The name and the inspiration came from the late, great Carla Emery, who I was lucky enough to have as a friend. She was the author of _The Encyclopedia of Country Living_ which was her way of preserving lost knowledge about how to grow, harvest, cook and preserve. She saw the traditional ways disappearing, and she recorded them, and built upon them until by reading her book you can learn to make a BLT that starts with a piglet, a tomato seed and a field of wheat.

She wrote about Independence Days:

“All spring I try to plant something every day – from late February, when the early peas and spinach and garlic can go in, on up to midsummer, when the main potato crop and the late beans and lettuce go in. Then I switch over and make it my rule to try and get something put away for the winter every single day. That lastas until the pumpkins and sunflowers and late squash and green tomatoes are in. Then comes the struggle to get the most out of the stored food – all winter long. It has to be checked regularly, and you’ll need to add to that day’s menu anything that’s on the verge of spoiling, wilting or otherwise becoming useless.

….

People have to choose what they are going to struggle for. Life is always a struggle, whether or not you’re struggling for anything worthwhile, so it might as well be for something worthwhile. Independence days are worth struggling for. They’re good for me, good for the country and good for growing children.”

Carla reminded me that I don’t have to plan a weekend with my canning kettle to make jam, that I don’t have to spend all my time at the community food center to make a difference there. And I found that when I sat down and tallied up everything I accomplished in each season of the year, I was doing more than I thought I was. And you will too.

So how does it work? Well, first of all, you can take that awesome image that Robj kindly made for us, and put it up on your blog or website to let people know about the challenge. Second of all, all you have to do to sign up is to post in comments here that you are joining in – and if you can’t start today, well, join in later!

Then, just once a week (or when you get to it) commit to writing down what you’ve accomplished. You can post it in comments here at the blog, or you can put it up on your blog and include a link. That’s pretty much all there is to it. The only rule is this – don’t tell us what you didn’t do. Don’t compare yourself to everyone else. Don’t look and say “but I never…” Because the reality is that it is always easy to see where you didn’t do things, or to see where you haven’t done enough, and that blinds us to what we have accomplished. This is about our successes.

What actions count? Well, we’ve got seven categories here, and anything you deem to fit counts as an accomplishment. Here are the categories:

1. Plant something - This is obviously something that many of us are doing now anyway, but it should be a reminder that gardening isn’t “put in the garden on memorial day and that’s it” – most of us can grow over a longer season than we do, and enjoy fresh foods grown through spring, summer and fall, and even into or through winter in many places. Even if you live in an apartment, you can sprout seeds. So keep on planting!

2. Harvest something - Folks in the Southern Hemisphere are doing this full swing, but as soon as you pick the first dandelion from your yard, it counts if you ate it or preserved it. Don’t forget to include food you forage – whether from wild marginal areas, or even just from the neighbor’s trees that he never harvests (ask, obviously).

3. Preserve something - For me this starts as soon as the asparagus, nettles and rhubarb are up. Canning looks like a big scary project if you have to can a truckload of green beans on a hot day in July. Dehydrating seems overwhelming if you have to pick the pits out of 4 bushels of plums in a single afternoon when you’d rather be doing something else. And yes, sometimes everything comes ripe at once, some big jobs can’t be avoided, and you just put on the loud rock and roll and go at it. But a little at a time is possible, you can be canning corn relish while you are washing up from dinner, or stick the strawberries in the sun to dry on your way out the door. Natural cool storage can take two minutes. Starting a batch of pickles takes five. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming – and it is a way to preserve what is plentiful, inexpensive, delicious and healthy for a time when there is less of it.

4. Waste Not- Once you’ve got food, whether purchased or home preserved, you have to keep an eye on it – we waste nearly half of all food, much of it in our homes. In this category goes making sure you use what you buy or grow, cutting down on garbage production by minimizing packaging and purchasing, composting, reducing community waste by composting or feeding scraps to your animals, and taking care of your food storage – everything from keeping records and writing dates on jars to checking the apples and making sauce when they start getting soft. BTW, reduce waste also refers to money and energy – stretching out your trips to the store and not “spending” gas on your food, cutting your grocery budget and reducing cooking energy. These are things that are good for the planet and good for all of us.

5. Want Not - This is the category where you report the stuff you’ve done to get ready that isn’t growing/storing/preserving food. That means the food you buy for storage, the things you build, scavenge, rescue and repair that get you further down the path. Did you get a good deal at goodwill? Biu om bulk or with coupons? Scavenge some cinder blocks for your raised bed building project? Share with a neighbor? Find a grain mill on Craigslist? Buy some more rice and put it away? Inventory the medicine cabinet? Pick up a new book that will be helpful? Tell us! The reality is that every nation, every government agency concerned with the security of its citizens, assumes that most people will be able to handle a short term emergency or service disruption themselves – but most of us can’t. There are people who simply can’t prepare – they lack the ability to do so. But if you aren’t one of them – if you can do even a little, you can make sure that when help is offered, it goes to the people who truly need it. Moreover, you can make sure you are there and able to help others when it is needed.

6. Build Community Food Systems – Great, we’re all doing this stuff at home. But what did you do to help spread the message, because that may even be more important. Did you talk about your victory garden at your kid’s school? Offer to share space with a neighbor in your sunny yard? Can you pick up some groceries for a neighbor who doesn’t drive anymore? Bring a casserole over to the family that lost their job or moved in? Donate to your food pantry? Teach the neighbor kids to make yogurt? Offer to teach a canning class? Show someone else where the nettles are growing wild? Talk about your food storage or gardening plans? Share a plant division or seeds? Help out with the food pantry garden? Give a talk about the importance of small local farms? Run for your zoning board? The first line of security for all of us is each other – we are all enriched by a more food-secure community.

7. Eat the Food – Sometimes I think people have more trouble actually eating their garden produce or CSA shares than they do growing or buying them. Ultimately, eaters have more power over our agricultural future than they know – farmers can’t necessarily lead the way – they have to sell what eaters want. So cooking and eating are the way we will change the food system. This is where you tell us about the new recipes you tried, or the old ones you adapted to new ingredients, about how you are actually eating what you store and store what you eat, or getting your kids to try the kale.

Welcome to year three!!!!

Comments

  1. #1 KC
    March 1, 2010

    Hooray! Sign me up today.

  2. #2 Jeannie
    March 1, 2010

    Your Challange 2010 came at just the right time for me. I have been trying to do most of what you have listed and I felt like I am getting better at it as years go by. That was until 2 weeks ago when my husband and I started to clean out my mother-in-laws house after she moved into assisted-living. The amount of waste she has is staggering. We found canned goods with Best Buy dates of 1983! What she did use was only partly used and then more was bought and this just continued onward.

    We are still cleaning her house and once I am finally done there I plan to start all over cleaning mine. I will not leave my children a mess like that.

    I have learned if you buy it or preserve it you must also use it up. Don’t just buy something because it was a good deal. If it doesn’t get used you just wasted money and resources.

    What she did with food she did with everything else. I am learning some really important lessons about waste and saving cleaning this house.

    While I don’t have anywhere near what she had I know I still have way more than I need of somethings and don’t do enough of other things that I should and want to do.

    This was a wake-up call for me to get my life more on track with my values. Your challenge has put it into an orderly form that I can follow.

    Thank you, your blog has been a pleasure to read and an inspiration to someone who feels like they are sometimes being overwhemed by consumer culture.

  3. #3 adrian
    March 1, 2010

    Jeannie, I had the same experience four years ago when my mother-in-law died. I’ve changed some of my housekeeping practices as a result. My MIL was a depression child and therefore saved everything. Sort of frugality in overdrive (though not hoarding–no paths through piles of newspapers). Perhaps this saving tendency is also a result of getting older and sicker, thereby having less energy for routine household organization?

    One thing I’ve done is to add an activity every year, and to learn at least one new skill every year.

    Starting at zero some years ago, I, an urbanista, gradually worked up until I do a portion of the things listed above. Not only do you not have to use huge chunks of time, but you don’t have to learn how to do everything at once. What I haven’t done yet is can–I freeze my processed pumpkin and applesauce. This year I plan to make fruit preserves or renounce my sustainability card! Will also check out the Encyclopedia Of Country Living and Sharon’s book.

    One important thing is to gain respect and support in the family for spending time on projects that don’t bring in cash money or involve consumption of entertainment. Yes, gardening, food storage and cooking from scratch help somewhat reduce the need for income, in addition to helping increase health, but it can be difficult to deconstruct the paid work = worthwhile work model, not to mention the getting paid for work = equals actually working model.

    In my house until recently these food-related activities were somehow a “fun hobby,” while the real work went on elsewhere, mostly away from home. However, attitudes have changed, not not to mention our overall paradigm, and now family members are on board.

    The other thing is that I’ve found one must recenter one’s life in various ways, starting with spending more time at home and truly valuing old-time homemaking activities. This may require a self-examination of sorts to eliminate anti-domestic-arts snobbery that I, like many university grads, once embraced. Of course, this is completely your territory, Sharon.

  4. #4 Karin
    March 1, 2010

    Yippee! Year Three!

    Our life is in flux but this challenge has never been more relevant to our lives than now. We are worried that my husband will not have his music teaching job next fall. So this is the year we really put our noses to the grind stone. We are just finishing up last years veg. My goal is to put enough up to get us to next April but even better May…

    This is just the kick in the pants I need. Thanks!

  5. #5 Marcia Moir
    March 1, 2010

    Hi Sharon…count me in…it’s time to get really serious…Marcy

  6. #6 Gail
    March 1, 2010

    Sign me up! Enough of this gonna, wanna, maybe….it’s time to get serious and take baby steps to become more sustainable and independent.

  7. #7 Teresa/Safira
    March 1, 2010

    Sign me up! I did the Challenge last year without being an official participant.

    I’ve been backsliding about waste and buying pre-prepped food over the winter, so this is what I need to get back on track. Besides, seedlings are starting.

  8. #8 Mara
    March 1, 2010

    Thanks for starting this again! In the overload of doomsday reading this is a hopefilled addition. I’ve been a silent participant these last two years. Joining in counts under#6,Build Community Food Systems!

  9. #9 MaryK
    March 1, 2010

    You’re on! I hope to do better than the 480lbs. of vegetables and fruit in ’09. Baby bok choy started in pots, potato seed starting to sprout but not planted yet. Made kumquat/brandy marmalade from the kumquat tree sitting in my kitchen bay. Spring is almost here!

  10. #10 aimee
    March 1, 2010

    so, no cheating.. like, if I plant three different crops one day I don’t have top plant until three days later? So far this year I have spinach, carrots, potatoes, beets, mesclun, snap peas, and radishes. But I think I’ve planted about all I can plant until the weather makes another quantum leap forward.
    Okay, maybe I could start some indoor starts, herbs and whatnot. I’ll try. Count me in!

  11. #11 Lora
    March 1, 2010

    That’s it?
    1. Planted more eggplant seeds indoors. Original batch not looking so hot.
    2. Harvesting maple sap and oyster mushrooms
    3. Made cheese. Actually, learned to make a sort of fresh Boursin-style cheese. Am pretty damn proud of how well it turned out.

    soft cheese for crackers

    1 pint light cream (can be ultra-pasteurized if that’s all you’ve got)
    1 pint whole milk
    2 ounces fresh cheese culture (New England Cheesemaking Supply catalog # C3), prepared per package directions
    1/2 tsp. kosher pickling salt
    garlic, herbs and black pepper to taste

    Pour the cream, milk and starter into a sterile (or mostly sterile, best you can do with boiling water) quart-size canning jar. You do not have to scald the milk or cream, the amount of starter you add will take over the culture very fast. Tie a piece of sterilized muslin or triple layer of cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar, and set it someplace warm, like the top of the fridge. Wait about 48 hours, or however long it takes to set into a yogurt-like consistency. Scoop out of the jar and gently fold in the salt and herbs to taste, then pour into a muslin-lined colander to drain. Let drain overnight, then twist the top of the muslin very tight to press out more whey, and set a heavy can (big tomato can works well) on top to press for another 24 h. This should result in a creamy, spreadable cheese that goes wonderfully on crackers and bread, also in omelets and gratins.

  12. #12 ChristineH
    March 1, 2010

    I’m going to de-lurkify myself and say count me in! I’ve been flipping between Independence Days and Depletion and Abundance (couldn’t decide which to read first) and read about this just last night. I have to say, when you quoted Carla Emery I actually smiled. Those very words struck such a chord with me when I first read them, I may carry them with me the rest of my life.

    I may be a little slow on the plant/harvest/preserve something end of things for awhile. I’m in Ontario and won’t be starting any plants for a couple of weeks yet, and the garden is still just something to day dream about while I look at all the snow.

  13. #13 Apple Jack Creek
    March 1, 2010

    Year three already? Wow, where does the time go?

    Thank you for doing this – it keeps me thinking, and doing a little at a time. :)

  14. #14 Heather
    March 2, 2010

    Joining! I’ve been reading along for a couple years and am so excited to finally be in a place where I can really get involved. :) I’ll be posting the info on my blog.

  15. #15 Robin
    March 2, 2010

    I’m in for my third year. Hurray!

  16. #16 Gail
    March 2, 2010

    1. Planted two varieties of onion seed, hot peppers (6 var), tomatoes (30 var!) leeks, 6 different flowers and artichoke. Down in basement under lights.

    2. cut some rosemary to use in home baked bread, got some kale out of the squashed covered row (heavy snow crushed the hoops…need something much stronger).

    3. nothing preserved

    4. salvaged some vegetables that were getting “iffy” into a delicious soup

    5. ordered a grain mill and 25 lbs of wheat berries

    6. joined this challenge!

    7. eating the curry-lentil bread (from “Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”) and finishing the last of the soup

  17. #17 Megan
    March 2, 2010

    I didn’t plan ahead, but there’s no time like now to get started.

    1 Nothing planted this week.
    2 Not harvested either, there would be some greens and herbs left if it weren’t for those blizzards.
    3 I don’t know if it counts, but I’ve been filling up the chest freezer with soups and stews for when the baby comes.
    4 Reorganized my pantry might go here.
    5 I’m now hitting a different grocery store each week to stock up on the local/organic/less processed/better priced options from that store, we still get local dairy and produce every week at the market we can walk to.
    6 Assigned the plots for the neighborhood garden, first meeting this weekend.
    7 Amazingly, we still have lots of frozen strawberries left. Eating them up in smoothies before they come again at the end of May. I made too much tomato sauce this year, so I’m just using tomato sauce in every soup and stew to get through it all. Need to make more pizza.

  18. #18 Glenn
    March 4, 2010

    My wife does most of the work, but is too shy to post anything, so I will. We are on the Northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, about 12 miles SE of Port Townsend. We have a mild maritime climate and can grow during all four seasons, especially using cold frames and greenhouse.
    1. Planted potatoes in an ex-compost bin. Lettuce. Planted out onions started indoors. Planted Pear tree, two Korean Nut Pines and a Pacific Dogwood (the flowers are pretty).
    2. Harvested brocolli. Duck eggs, daily; we cheated and used light this winter (13W CF’s), worked well. We buy duck food, so don’t like to feed fowl not laying.
    3. Did not preserve anything, but it is nettle season.
    4. Waste not. Fed soft apples to the geese.
    5. Want not. My wife finds it easier to harvest the potatoes planted in the compost bin (lift off bin, knock down stack and sift out spuds). The original bin was made out of 40 slats, overlapped at the corners with 1/4″ steel rods pinning the overlaps together. She asked me to build three more. 1/3 of the wood was cedar decking out of the scrap pile, 1/3 was fir salvaged from the scrap pile. 1/3 was fir 2″ X 4″ bought new. I ripped it all on the neighbors table saw. The local [Ace hardware affiliate] hardware store sells the steel rod in 3′ lengths at $3.30@ for a total of $43 including tax. I went to a local welding fabricator who sold me the same amount cut to the lengths I needed for $27 including tax. Support local business.
    6. Gave onion starts to neighbor whose starts had died. Worked in local schools vegetable garden, planting grapes and peas. Sold a dozen duck eggs to neighbors.
    7. Eat the food. Made apple pies from last fall’s apples. Used potatoes, garlic. Used huckleberries, green beans and peas (from deep freeze from last summer and fall).

    Glenn

    The Bramble Patch
    Marrowstone Island
    Washington State

  19. #19 Stanley Ravi
    March 6, 2010

    Wow! Sharon. Wow!

    Sharon, there are 2 extreme ways.
    One is to kill the appetite.

    The other is the tougher one.
    To CREATE an appetitie…
    It’s a challenge which I face
    with a 7 year old daughter.

    Maybe someone can write
    a book titled,
    “How to Create an Appetite.”
    Then we probably have the eaters.
    Or “How to create an appetite and Stop”

  20. #20 Lora
    March 6, 2010

    This week, I cleaned the winter’s deep litter out of the barn and spread it on the garden. Does that count as Waste Not?

    Took the plastic off the overwintered cabbages in the garden. Some seem to have made it through OK and are sprouting.

    Collected a ridiculous amount of eggs, which are getting made into quiches.