Edible Bugs? I Dare you..
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
A couple of months ago there was a post on the PUFN list serve (Philadelphia Urban Farmers Network) asking if anyone had an interest or expertise in the area of edible bugs. Michelle, the special events coordinator at Morris Arboretum was planning their Big Bug exhibit (April through August). She and some of her colleagues had an idea to have a July evening soirée featuring edible insects.
I've been intrigued by the idea of edible bugs for years. I had tried, unsuccessfully, to get someone to present a class on Entomophagy - the formal word for the eating of insects - at The Home Grown Institute last March. I learned from a TED talk by Marcel Dicke that 80% of the world population eats insects and that there are more than 1700 species of insects that are eaten. We in North America are one of the few regions of the world that does not consume insects regularly for snacks and meals. Marcel gave some compelling reasons why that should change.
It turns out that Marcel is not the only one trying to change the way we feel about eating bugs. Dr. Florence Dunkel of Montana State University has been organizing a Bug Buffet for the community for 25 years. In the Netherlands, the innovative Minister of Agriculture recently hosted all the EU Ministers of Agriculture at a fancy restaurant where they all dined on insects. And In January of 2012, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations met in Rome... On their agenda was “Assessing the Potential of Insects as Food and Feed in Assuring Food Security." They left with an active working group and a communications strategy to network in the private and public sector. They are planning a global conference on edible insects for 2014.
There are many nutritional and environmental arguments for eating insects but even in the face of all the data, many people I've been talking with just say "yuck!" In the movie Bugs for Breakfast, we learn that what's disgusting and what's delicious depends more on your culture than your stomach. Food and language are the cultural habits we learn first, and change comes only with great effort.
So, I responded to Michelle at the Arboretum and offered to feature edible bugs at next Home Grown Institute Up Close & Personal workshop June. The caterer, Josh of Company's Coming, has taken on the challenge with gusto and will prepare a half dozen delectable dishes for the July event at the Arboretum (See sample recipe in box). He and I will do some experimental cooking together later this month to fine-tune the recipes. Participants at The Home Grown Institute June workshop learn and cook and taste and will then be invited to be docents at Morris event in July to help others have their food culture ideas challenged.
Will you join us? I dare you...
Sarah Gabriel is the managing Director of The Home Grown Institute and is evolving her own homestead as a small demonstration site. For more information, visit thehomegrowninstitute.org.
This Indian inspired dish is a good entry level dish for a novice insectivore. The spice and crunch of the fritter accent the subtle nuttiness of the crickets.
7 ounces of unbleached wheat flour
1 cup water cold
1 cup blanched and chilled crickets coarsely chopped
1 tsp. chili paste
1/3 cup minced red onion
6 chives cut into 1 inch strips
1/2 cup organic frozen corn thawed
1/4 cup ginger sautéed in one tablespoon of canola oil for one minute
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 12 oz can of coconut milk
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon garam masala
juice 1 lime
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup apricot preserves
Additional cilantro for garnish
1. Combine Ingredients in a bowl and mix gently till well incorporated
2. Chill batter in the fridge 15 minutes
3. Heat 1 gallon of canola oil over medium heat till 350 degrees Fahrenheit
4. Drop batter into oil gently one tablespoon at a time
5. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels
6. Serve with lime wedges, torn cilantro, and sauce
Combine all ingredients except cilantro in a sauce pan and simmer over medium low heat for 10 minutes, remove from heat, stir in cilantro.
THE HOME GROWN INSTITUTE
15 Minute Ricotta
There was an old lady who swallowed a bird, to catch the spider to catch the fly... An evolving homestead can sometimes feel like that - challenges generating their own new set of activities.
So here are a couple of my current challenges: I've got an increasing number of eggs from my chickens and I have a teenage son who doesn't always have the inclination toward healthy eating. I discovered a recipe that I think solves both problems. It uses eggs and ricotta with a bit of sweetener to make what is a cross between a soufflé and cheesecake. Who wouldn't love that.
Ricotta turns out to present it's own challenge, one common to all dairy products. My strong preference is to consume dairy products that come from cows that have been raised on grass pastures. Not only is it so more humane for the animal, but the absence of hormones and antibiotics, along with the significant presence of naturally occurring omega 3s found lacking in conventional diary production, make a compelling argument for human health.
Although the co-op does sell Organic Valley brand ricotta (Organic Valley farmers pasture their cows), it is not always available and even though I expect higher prices from grass fed, the ricotta causes a bit of sticker shock. I decided to see what it would take to make it myself.
It turns out that making ricotta is quite easy. In fact, of all the Home Grown things I've tried, it may be the easiest.
15 Minute Ricotta
4 cups milk (or 3.5 milk and .5 cream)
3 Tbsp lemon juice (one large lemon)
Heat milk to 190 (stir occasionally)
Remove from heat and add lemon juice
Wait 5 minutes
Pour into colander lined with cheese cloth
Wait and hour (or longer if you like it dryer)
I buy a half gallon of milk from grass fed cows at the co-op where there are a handful of brands to choose from. (Let's hear it for the co-op!) I use whole milk. When I get home, I pour half of the half gallon into a pot and set the stove to medium. (I found a recipe that suggested using 3.5 cups of milk with .5 cup cream, so sometimes I do that... Cream from grass cows, of course!)
Although there are specialty thermometers that you can use (candy thermometer) I use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. I start it at medium so it doesn't burn but that will only take it up to about 125. During the 5 minutes it takes to get to 125, I squeeze the lemon and make sure it's 3 Tbsp. Then I turn up the stove and stand over it for the next 5 minutes stirring occasionally and checking the temp.
When it hits 190, I remove the pot from the heat and add the lemon juice, stir it two or three swirls and then let it sit for 5 minutes. During that 5 minutes, I line the colander with cheese cloth and wipe the splattered lemon juice from the counter. Grinding the peels in the garbage disposal makes a great deodorizer.
When 5 minutes are up, i am ready for the moment of glory - I pour the mixture that has now separated into curds and whey into the colander, clumsily making sure the cheese cloth stays in place. I leave it for anywhere from one to two hours and oula! Homemade ricotta!
Now, after my third batch, I feel like a pro. Easy. But of course, there is the challenge of what to do with the other half of the half gallon of milk. Well, there are those milk kefir grains I just got off of freecycle...
The Easiest Home Grown Thing Yet
Monday, March 4, 2013
When I talk to people about having backyard chickens, inevitably they ask “Is it for the eggs?” I’ve noticed my response is a combination of rant, reflection, passion and invitation. “Up until recently everyone had chickens!” I exclaim. “It was a good idea and I don’t know why we stopped.”
Having chickens makes me less self-centered, reminding me of the complex relationships we have in the eco-system - and how we nourish each other. Just as I feed apple cores to my indoor worms and then use their “castings” to feed my soil, and just as I nourish my SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) with sugar and black tea and then drink the resulting kombucha to replenish the bacteria in my gut, so I will provide my chickens organic mash and food scraps, and give them plenty of space to find bug treats, and yes, I’ll get eggs - likely enough that I can be generous with friends, trade with neighbors and feed my family.
I’m lucky. I live in Springfield Township and, like its neighbor Cheltenham, it was zoned agricultural back in the day and never changed. I can keep whatever animals I want in my backyard... as long as my neighbors don’t complain. So when I moved last November, I casually mentioned I was thinking about chickens (and pressed my luck “maybe bees, too”). Again, I was lucky. The woman next door totally gets it. Across the street, they jumped at the chance to trade home-baked bread for eggs and from down the street, a neighbor offered his woeful story of losing chickens to hawks and fox. The neighborhood kids asked everyday “Are the chickens here yet?”
In preparation for my backyard design, I visited a half-dozen coops in the neighborhood with an eye toward both maximizing my convenience and minimizing the probability of predator attacks. I found wooden slats on their way to the landfill, corrugated plastic political signs bound for recycling, and hardware cloth and poultry wire left over from The Home Grown Institute. I got latches and nails (and thoughtful advice) from our old-fashioned neighborhood hardware store – Kilian’s – in Chestnut Hill and passionately dove into constructing an 8x2 predator-proof tunnel that would connect the solid (used) Amish-built coop with the open-spaced, loosely-fenced 10x10 daytime playpen. Passion, however, has its dark side... I lost count after 70 hot, sweaty, often lonely, mosquito-bitten hours of planning and physical labor. But even in the midst of the this-is-so-not-fun moments, I could already see how satisfied I would feel when it was complete.
And the hard work did indeed pay off! It’s now been three weeks since the three gals (no rooster) arrived. They spent their first four hours in what I imagine was a slice of chicken heaven - scratching in my compost pile, eating bugs and discarded kale. In the early mornings, while I sleep in, they stroll into their predator-proof vestibule. When I finally get up and open their slot into the larger playpen, I watch them run around finding all the bugs that have taken refuge overnight in the cool dark crevices among the rocks and sticks.
They are different breeds but you’d think they were sisters, the way they roam, forage and nestle together and occasionally cackle at each other. I can see how they are related to dinosaurs and it both connects me to the past and piques my curiosity about the future. And they really do have personalities - a pecking order - and they do come home to roost. They’ve also given me a great excuse to get to connect with my neighbors and turn a bit of ludicrous lawn to better use.
Logistically, any question I could possibly have has already been asked and answered on backyardchickens.com, and members of the local COOP (Chickens Outside - and in - Of Philadelphia) are happy to help. It really is, as one happy chicken owner told me, like having fish... two minutes in the morning, two minutes in the evening and as much time during the day as I want to sit and watch them do their thing.
Wanna come see the chickens? The girls are not yet laying and may not until the spring, but that’s okay, because for me, having chickens is most definitely not just about the eggs.
Sarah Gabriel is the Managing Director of The Home Grown Institute, which offers “Up Close & Personal” workshops at her suburban homestead NW of the city. Visit thehomegrowninstitute.org for more information.
It’s Not Just About the Eggs
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Years ago, while I was living in Denver, I met a garden farmer who had been working at it for ten years. She said she was "just starting to feel beyond beginner" and I laughed, thinking she was kidding. This year marks six years since I began learning about growing food and now I really understand what she was talking about. I am still very much a beginner, especially since it is just one year since I'm settled where I can really put down roots.
Some homesteading activities have been easier for me "practice" than others. I am regularly brewing kombucha, the red wriggler worms are happily reproducing while producing "black gold" castings (fertilizer), and the chickens - born in June - started laying mid December (first egg on my father's 92nd birthday - I gave it to him). Sometimes the biggest decision in my day is, when faced with my kitchen "waste," deciding whether to feed it to the worms, to the chickens, or to the bacteria in the compost pile.
But it doesn't all come easy and natural for me. I haven't yet installed my rain barrels and, believe it or not, the one area that has been the hardest for me to get into is the veggie growing. I would rate my intrinsic motivation - the level at which from my gut I really want to do it - as medium. But while I am not drawn to "being in the garden" with hands in the dirt as some people are, I have a strong commitment know how to grow food. The thing is, when it comes to organic garden farming, the only way to Know is to Do.
Problem analysis being my fallback m.o., I went to work to figure out how to help myself get motivated. I determined that one big obstacle for me is that there are so many variables, I continually have to ask myself "What should I be doing this week?" and without knowing the answer, I start browsing and surfing and find all kinds of links and advice. But information out in Webland wasn't helping me "do." What I needed was a guide or a To Do list - someone or something to tell me what's next. I am so mindful about so many things and yet I yearn for Mindless Gardening.
Not finding exactly what I needed online, I decided to make my own. Using resources such The Week-by-Week Vegetables Gardener's Handbook, Mother Earth News, and Eliot Coleman's books on year-round organic gardening, I have started developing a week-by-week calendar to answer the question "What should I be doing this week?" It is anchored by our anticipated last frost date and integrated with green labels into the calendar on my iPad mini. I have set it to "repeat every year." I am looking into how I can share it.
February and March are big months if you want to grow your own veggies from seeds. It is actually way easier than you think, especially if you have a reminder each week about what you should be doing. If you want some help getting started, The Home Grown Institute is offering an Up Close & Personal workshop on February 24 focused on starting plants from seed. And it comes with perks - in addition to checking out the chickens and worms and new backyard sized green house we just built (see photo), you get to take home your own kombucha SCOBY, and can be part of the beta test for the Mindless Gardening calendar share. For more info, visit thehomegrowninstitute.org.
Sarah Gabriel is the managing Director of The Home Grown Institute and is evolving her own homestead as a small demonstration site. Mushrooms are up next.
Get Motivated with Mindless Gardening
Monday, January 7, 2013
Cloth or paper napkins? Local or organic? Save the rainforest or build a school? Everyday we make dozens of choices - hundreds if you count all our food choices - that are influenced by our desire for “sustainability.” We yearn to do the right thing - to be mindful of our impact on the planet - but it it doesn’t seem that straightforward.
That’s because it isn’t.
It turns out that it sustainability really all a matter of time and space perspective along side personal values.
Geographic sustainability: I lived in Colorado for 18 years where the relationship with water was totally different in that semi-arid state than it is here. Did you know that in Colorado it is illegal to collect rainfall in rain barrels? It interferes with farmers’ water rights. Out West, paper napkins might be a better choice than cloth - especially if you can compost the paper - since cloth needs water to get them clean.
Cosmic Sustainability: Now let’s widen the view of who or what we are sustaining... One could make a case that plastic in the waste stream is unsustainable. But last year, students from Yale discovered the fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora that survives on a steady diet of polyurethane and does this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment - something like the bottom of landfill. Plastic-eating bacteria has also been found feasting on what we call plastic “garbage” in the ocean. From this perspective, what do we know? Maybe the next great species on the planet will evolve because we made plastic? Granted, that is a pretty wide net, but I would argue if we broaden our perspective to include the widest range of species, it is not without merit.
Short Term Human Sustainability: Focusing in on the human experience, let’s talk about food - specifically a product that is massively consumed. In the 1940s, Norman Borlaug, a plant pathologist embarked on what would become the “Green Revolution” - the development of the genetically modified Dwarf Wheat that skyrocketed yields and helped to stave off potentially apocalyptic famine in Asia and India. It seemed a miracle. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It has become the basis for most of the wheat consumed on the planet.
However, The Green Revolution has left a conflicted legacy. Social justice concerns around farm consolidation, issues of environmental disaster related to irrigation and the pollution of the huge quantities of synthetic fertilizers needed to grow the crop... today, 50 years after what looked like a miracle, we see mostly dried up or polluted water systems. More concerning, from a digestive human health perspective, wheat may turn out to be The Major Culprit in much of our modern day disease. Cardiologist William Davis ("Wheat Belly" Rodale Press) believes that modern wheat — including whole wheat — has become so uniquely destructive to multiple body functions that more than 80 percent of us could benefit from giving it up all together. Dwarf wheat was sustainable for 50 years, and then not.
The Personal Values of Sustainability: The local versus organic is a challenging exercise and brings us to the subject of personal values. If what you value most is to eat the “cleanest” food from a molecular perspective, organic may be the factor that carries the most weight in your sustainability equation... but take care because there are organic companies that use otherwise unsustainable practices - killing weeds with blow torches that destroy topsoil in the process, not providing decent working conditions or basic benefits for employees, using energy to maintain frozen products as they ship - out of season - halfway around the world. Local, know-your-farmer may be overall more sustainable - even if they are spraying a little - if you hold high the value of community and personal relationships..
Although for some products organic trumps local for me (google the “dirty dozen”), I have come to discover that the factor that usually carries the most weight in my sustainability equation is relationships. Last month I bought a lamb from Erdenheim Farms and even though the pastures are not certified organic, I can drive by and see them grazing in the gorgeous grasses.
It has become part of my sustainable practice to follow breakthrough research, to listen to my gut, to get to know my neighbors and in general to err on the side of simplicity. I have decided not to be too hard on myself for the choices I make nor to judge the choices of others but rather to applaud our human desire to repair the world.
Books I am reading this month -
Catching Fire - How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham
Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It by Gary Taubes
Vertical Vegetables & Fruit, Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces by Rhonda Massingham Hart
(photo crdit: Jennifer Conley)
Personal Choices of Sustainable Practice
Friday, August 10, 2012
I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut. That fact, I’m embarrassed to say, kept me from exploring fermentation in my own kitchen. My change happened when I got a copy of Sandor Katz’s 2003 book, Wild Fermentation, from the library. Reading it, a whole new world opened up for me. I learned about bacteria (the good kind) and yeast and the “cultures” they create and maintain. I discovered that all human cultures have a rich history of fermenting. I began to understand about the health benefits (strengthened immune and digestive systems) of consuming what is essentially predigested food - such as yogurt, kim chee and and even coffee, chocolate and cheese - that has been predigested by microbial bacteria, yeast and mold which makes the nutrients more accessible to our human systems. In the end, I came to see fermentation as an antidote to cultural homogenization. I was inspired to enter the adventure.
I decided to start by brewing fermented beverages. It turns out that beverage cultures multiply and fermenters are a generous group. Amy Steffan gifted me an extra kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), fondly called a “mother,” and I had picked up dehydrated water kefir grains that Jared Blumer had donated to The Home Grown Institute Silent Auction (different culture from dairy kefir, water kefir ferment results in a carbonated soda-like beverage). In my 3-quart glass jars, I took the plunge. Mixing water and sugar (ugh! sugar? yes, the cultures feed on sugar. I have since learned that I can also use other sweetners - certain fruit juices, agave or maple syrup) is the first step for both kombucha and water kefir. The recipes branch out from there - kombucha is flavored with black tea, and water kefir is traditionally flavored with more fruity blends. Then you wait. The water kefir ferments more quickly, in 24-72 hours depending on temperature and some other factors. The kombucha can take as long as 7-14 days. As the culture feeds off the sugar, the beverage gets less sweet and starts to develop a tang. The water kefir gets bubbly. The idea is that after that initial 24-hour or 7 day period, you start to taste the ferment until it suits your palate.
My first batch of water kefir was a smashing success. I had used lemons, raisins and ginger and left it for three days. I bottled the liquid in brown flip-top bottles I picked up at the newly opened Malt House home brew shop in Mt Airy and left it out one more day to increase the carbonation. My first batch of kombucha was not as successful - okay, but not great. I had been going out of town on day 10 of the fermentation for 5 days. It wasn’t quite ready when I left and with a few 90-degree days while I was gone, it was just slightly overdone when I returned. But I was not discouraged. I have learned that fermentation, like so many other sustainable and regenerative skills, is a practice.
Now Sandor Katz has a new book, The Art of Fermentation, published just last month. I had the pleasure of hearing him at an author event at The Free Library this week. He spoke eloquently about Role of Fermentation in Evolution, Culture and Community. He bemoaned the “bacteria phobia” we have in American society when in truth the vast majority of bacteria are beneficial and necessary for good health. The new book is an incredible 528 pages of history and how-tos, with illustrations and extended resources. Although I just asked my library (Springfield - part of MCLINC) to order it, I think it is going to be one for my personal bookshelf.
Yesterday, I started a new batch of water kefir. Although I’m loving the lemon/raisin/ginger combo, my son had his own idea... cranberries and lime with a little vanilla to give it that cream soda feel. I’ll let you know how that goes.
(photo credit: Emily Aufschauer)
Changing Notions About Fermentation
Thursday, June 14, 2012
In 2006, Madeline Levine published The Price of Privilege. As a psychotherapist in Marin County working with troubled teens, she opened a window for us into the lives of children from affluent, well-educated families. Levine tells the stories of how well-intentioned parents do two very destructive things that have a dramatic impact on their children’s development: They overprotect their children from perceived danger, pain and discomfort, and at the same time they micro-manage the activities of their children’s lives.
With wisdom and insight, Levine describes the profound impact of this double whammy... how overprotecting weakens children’s core, depriving them of developing the internal strength and coping skills that will ultimately protect them when they leave the nest; and how micro-managing - often in the form of over-scheduling imagined college-application enhancing activities - deprives them of self-directed exploration and discovery that can short-circuit self-knowledge. In short, children who are over-protected and micro-managed are at risk of diminished life skills and an obscured sense of self.
What, you might ask, does this have to do with blueberries?
In 2006, the same year The Price of Privilege was published, there was another soon-to-be bestseller on the shelves: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In that book, Pollan traces the lifecycle of four meals. Famously, Pollan documents his week at Polyface Farm where every movement is useful and there is no such thing as waste. Although the story of Polyface Farm forever altered my relationship with food systems, and was the seed for what has become The Home Grown Institute, it was a paragraph on page 295 about blueberries that inspired my thinking about their connection with teenagers.
Pollan reported on the findings that organically grown blueberries have a higher antioxidant level than blueberries grown “conventionally.” Antioxidants, it seems, are actually part of the immune system of the blueberry bush and have been shown to benefit our immune systems as well. Chemical pesticides applied to blueberries act as a kind of over-protection and the result is that the plant loses its motivation to create it own internal strength to cope with pests. Similarly, conventional NPK fertilizer micro-manages the plants environment - feeding nitrogen (N) to make it green, potassium (P) to make its roots grow, and phosphorus (K) to help it flower - so we can get plants that grow fast and look good. But this NPK formula neglects the importance of all the other activities going on in the soil - microbes, bacteria, fungi, trace minerals - that are essential for the blueberry to grow strong and healthy. In short, blueberry bushes that are over-protected and micro-managed lack internal strength and fail to reach their highest potential.
Supporting local organic farmers has become a habit and I don’t think twice about buying organic blueberries. The parenting shift is a little harder. My son, a rising high school sophomore, petitioned for a summer with minimal structure and one of his plans is to go with friends to New York City. I’ve reined in my impulse to find some cool community service project for him to do, and I take a deep breath as he heads off for the Bolt Bus, knowing that he is on his way to becoming a strong “specimen” of who he is meant to be.
What Do Blueberries and Teenagers Have In Common?
Sunday, July 15, 2012
THE HOME GROWN INSTITUTE
Some of you may know that one of the big problems in the food system is that in the last 60 years, farmers switched from growing lots of different plants and livestock on smaller family farms to a mono-culture - growing all corn, or all soybean, or all wheat on huge parcels of land. In this model, when one plant gets sick they are all at risk of getting sick. When one pest gets munching, the whole tribe shows up for the feast. The system is sustained only by applying ever-increasing amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
What I’ve learned in the last five years of steeping in sustainable and regenerative models of agriculture is that diversity is the key to building the healthiest, most resilient areas of food production. What some plants and animals repel, others attract. When one member of community is threatened, another sends signals around the farm for help. What is disastrous for one species is dessert for another. The soil gets richer over time.
As a systems thinker, I believe what is true for communities of plants and animals, is also true for communities of people. The healthiest and most viable, resilient communities are full of diversity - all ages and all colors, some with wealth of knowledge, others with wells of energy, right along side those who have resources in the bank.
If we use diversity as a barometer to measure community viability, the “green movement” – which is populated mostly by young to middle age, middle class white people - is a community at risk.
At The Home Grown Institute, we are all about promoting healthy resilient community. This means we are committed to ensuring a socio-economic, racial and ethnic diversity at The Home Grown Institute. It is really a challenge, and I suspect our success will depend on a combination of how actively we invite, and how patiently we listen, and how genuinely we share stories. One thing we’ve learned is that in aiming for diversity it is not just about who is attending but also about who is presenting.
In the area pf presenters, we are making strides in our 2012 inaugural program - with presenters ranging in age from 13 to Elders, from working class to privileged class and with the beginnings of a mix of racial and ethnic backgrounds. We have added Community Storytelling to our Saturday Evening program. We are responding to feedback that our use of “sustainable practices” might be more deeply heard if we talk about “stewardship” as we contemplate programming an Interfaith Conversation.
Our next focus is to bring this same level of diversity that are developing in our presenter mix, into our community of participants. In many cases this means financially supporting small groups of people to come from specific communities. To this end, we have established The Home Grown Institute Scholarship Fund. We've identified a handful of community gardens, community centers and faith-based organizations with a constituency that is not traditionally represented at “green” events and have set up the Scholarship Fund to subsidize registration fees and actively invite those community members. If you are part of a community that has been under-represented at “green” events and would like to know how if this program could support members of your community to attend The Home Grown Institute, please get in touch with us.
We are developing a number of strategies to bring streams of resources into the Scholarship Fund. The proceeds from our Silent Auction at our March 24 Saturday Evening Reception (open to non-conference goers for $18 and also includes Storytelling, Seed and Tool Exchange, Community Awards) will benefit the Scholarship Fund. We are soliciting contributions from local businesses and family foundations. And, whether or not you can join us next month for our Springing Good Intentions Into Action conference, you can contribute to the Scholarship Fund on the registration page of our website. After the conference, we’ll let you know how your contribution was used.
We want this conversation about diversity to be a part of The Home Grown Institute - when we stand back March 24-25 and gaze at the crowd assembled, we want it to be a juicy, vibrant representation of community - because we are not just about bees and chickens.
What’s Good for the Farm is Good for the Community
Sunday, January 22, 2012
THE HOME GROWN INSTITUTE
I have to be honest. Every time I see the tag line I created for The Home Grown Institute “Evolving Skills for a Sustainable Future.” I think - “no, that isn’t quite right.” The alliteration of the Ss does roll so nicely off the tongue, and it is most definitely about evolving our individual and communal skills... but is sustainability what we really want?
The root of the word sustainability is Latin and the most common definition is the capacity to maintain, support and endure. None of those words sound like much fun, do they? - especially when you consider the mess we human have made of our food systems and watersheds. Do we really want to maintain or support our limping systems, endure the fast-paced marathon we’ve jumped into?
Our concept of sustainability is too often focused on the experience of humans. Take for example the most widely quoted definition of sustainability from the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations, 1987: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Whose needs are we talking about? Humans’. And with the pace of change, how can we predict what future generations will need? And furthermore, isn’t the focus on human needs with the neglect of the needs of the species beyond us what has gotten us into trouble in the first place?
A few years ago I made the pilgrimage to Growing Power in Milwaukee. There, MacArthur Fellow Will Allen starts the work-centered weekend experience with an explanation of how most of the soil in this country is either full of toxic residues or depleted of nutrients, and that one of the most important fixes we can do for broken food system is to “grow” rich healthy soil. I spent the weekend constructing innovative compost systems, feeding compost-in-process to 5000 lbs of red wiggler worms (livestock), and tossing the worm castings (don’t ask) on all of the green growing food stuff.
I’ve continued to learn about the process of compost and even though I have only a teeny space to grow food, I’ve started learning about other soil enriching practices such as no-till, cover crop, companion planting, integrated pest management integrating livestock in the garden. All these practices have something in common... they actually regenerate the soil - that is, they leave it in better shape than it was before.
There was the AHA! moment. I realized I was not as interested in sustainability - in maintaining, supporting or enduring life as we have come to know it - as I was in regenerativity. Before we talk about sustaining our systems, we need to take it all up a notch so that we can have systems worthy of sustaining. Like using a rudder to make a course adjustment, we need to set our sights on a different point of the horizon. Where sustainable skills support our viability - at times just barely - regenerative skills enhance our vitality.
So, I’ve stopped thinking about The Home Grown Institute as place to learn “sustainable skills.” The Home Grown Institute, in fact, is dedicated to “regenerative” skills - practices that help us regenerate our soil, renew our thinking and rejuvenate our souls.
I haven’t yet asked the graphic designer to change the tag line on the logo or the business card because I still haven’t got it quite right. “Evolving Skills for a Regenerative Future” doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way as Sustainable Skills. Maybe this is better accomplished in community... Send me your ideas for a tag line. The Home Grown Institute has a special gift for you if we use yours.
When "Sustainable" Isn't Good Enough
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
THE HOME GROWN INSTITUTE
Planning The Home Grown Institute with an Eye Toward “Human Sustainability”
Last month I met with Allen (not his real name), a director of a local non-profit. He arrived looking harried - unshaven, cheeks drawn, exhausted. As much as he wanted to pay attention to my “Big Picture” presentation, it was clear he was having a hard time. That is... until I mentioned the silent dining option, voluntary simplicity workshop and guided contemplative walk in the Wissahickon. He smiled, a spark in his eyes. His shoulders released. He was engaged.
In contrast, last week, I had a conversation with Sharon (not her real name). Like a sponge that has just met the ocean, she wanted to take every class I mentioned - seed saving, beehive building, lawns to meadows, growing mushrooms in the shade, worms in the basement. And she’s excited to teach what she already knows about raising chickens.
These stories confirm what we already know... that when it comes to sustainable and regenerative practices, everyone has their own unique path. It also reminds us that sustainable practice is more than organic food and composting. It is also about how we take care of ourselves. I call it “Human Sustainability” and it guides our planning at The Home Grown Institute.
Three Guiding Principles for Planning The Home Grown Institute
1. No “Shoulds”
For thirty-five years, researchers have been asking the question “What helps people make and stick with healthy habits?” Results? Every single study has drawn the same conclusions. There are three and half factors that lead to success. The first one is Intrinsic Motivation. You gotta wanna do it. Every step of the way at The Home Grown Institute, we are going to help you remember that..
2. Minimize Decision Fatigue
On August 17, John Tierney reported in the NYT on Decision Fatigue saying that “the very act of making decisions depletes our ability to make them well.” It was the most emailed of all articles for days. (This was not news to me... I used to deliver a stress management workshop called “The Personal Sanity Policy Seminars” as part of MySaneLife.com)
Conferences have a reputation for contributing to overwhelm, and participants often suffer from TMC and FMS - Too Many Choices and Fear of Missing Something. The Home Grown Institute is determined to break the mold through Mindful Conferencing.
It starts with Mindful Conference Planning - designing options to minimize Decision Fatigue - for example, in addition to the more decision intense “pick one from column A, and B, and C, and D,” option, The Home grown Institute will offer “track” options such as the “Can Someone Hold My Hand? Beginning Organic Gardener Track,” the “I Need Silence... Contemplative Track,” or even the “I Want It All! Homestead Sampler Track.”
It also means Mindful Conference Attendance on the part of you who register. Do you want to steep in activities that help you do more? do less? do more with less? Here’s a suggestion: Just before you sign-up for classes, imagine you are a sponge... Are you, like Sharon, excited to meet the ocean, knowing you will find joy and energy from pouring over the choices in columns A, B, C... or are you feeling more like Allen, bloated by your fullness and breathing a deep sigh of release as you imagine yourself on a guided contemplative walk through the Wissahickon, not asked to make more decisions...
3. Bring Back Reflection!
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened - that the speed of technology started to outrun the pace of humanity. Use of fax machines in the mid 80s? Before then, given the human pace of couriers, there was time for reflection between action and reaction. All of the sudden it was instantaneous. Expectations changed. Email has only made it worse.
The Home Grown Institute say “Bring Back Reflection!” and asks students and presenters to consider questions such as “Is this right for me?” and “How does this impact my relationship with everything around me?”
If you’d like to be part of the Mindful Planning Committee, a variety of positions are available. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Gabriel is an author, educator and the managing Director at The Home Grown Institute – organizing community-centered, skills-focused, action-driven events that teach home-scaled sustainable and regenerative practices.
Sunday, August 28, 2011