Menu for the Future

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Tomorrow night is the last meeting of my “Menu for the Future” discussion group. This discussion group was organized by Slow Food Tennessee Valley, and incorporates essays compiled by the Northwest Earth Institute (http://www.nwei.org). The short essays are written by well-known authors such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollen, Marion Nestle, Steven Hopp, Frances Moore and Anna Lappé amongst others. The purpose of the discussion group is to explore the connection between food and sustainability and to share our thoughts and personal experiences–not necessarily come to consensus. Some of the topics included the effects of our modern, industrial food system on the environment, our culture and our health; the economic and ecological impacts that go hand-in-hand with how our food is grown and prepared; and how we can make a difference through our food dollars. My favorite section was on food justice issues, including ways to incorporate healthy food choices into low-income and minority demographics and the politics of hunger in America. I was particularly incensed when reading an essay by Frances Moore Lappé on hunger and scarcity. The truth is, food scarcity today is a myth. There is enough food produced today to feed the world. The problem is a lack of resources and access to healthy food. Meanwhile, our industrialized food system contributes to abuse of our soil, water and air quality so that in the not-too-distant future our food scarcity fears may be very real. Additionally, the loss of crop diversity and consolidation of seed into fewer and fewer hands due to agribusiness self-interest is a real threat to food security.

Marion Nestle asks: who benefits financially when our diets cause sickness and disease? Who benefits when there is a cheap, abundant supply of unhealthy food occupying virtually every shelf in the grocery store and on every block of our city squares? Who benefits when the burden of obesity and health is put squarely on the shoulders of the consumer, while food processors and marketers laugh all the way to the bank? Food injustice is rampant in our society and I think its important to work together to recognize this and fight for fairness and accountability in our food system. My personal belief, and one that is shared by Slow Food–is that the access to good, clean and fairly produced food is a right and not a privilege.

I thoroughly enjoyed this compilation of essays and I am sad to have it end…although I am excited for our celebratory potluck dinner that will wrap up our discussion group meetings. Maybe I will incorporate this discussion into the UT Organic Crops Internship Program this summer! Manny, Casey, Geoffrey, Shannon, Jeff–are you up for some summer reading?

Energy Efficiency At Home And On The Farm

Hi guys!

 The 2006 Report “Impacts of Organic Farming on the Efficiency of Energy Use in Agriculture” by David Pimentel at Cornell discusses how converting to organics can reduce dependence of producers on energy and how organic farming can increase energy efficiency per unit of production.  Basically, there are a bunch of studies about how organic farming is more energy efficient than most conventional forms.  Since we’re finally realizing the constraints and negative environment of using fossil fuels for energy, looking for ways to reduce our consumption is becoming more and more important. I want to talk about ways that we can decrease energy consumption not just in food production and on the farm, but also at home.  Especially since up until recently I had no idea that a lot of my appliances, lights, windows, and doors (and pretty much everything else) were energy inefficient.

  As some of you may know, I am currently working another internship called Energy Right Solutions for Higher Education, a program run through the Office of Sustainability at UT and sponsored by TVA and Willdan Energy Solutions.  The internship is driven by four interns to create projects to reduce energy consumption on campus.  Our projects include performing energy audits of Dunford Hall and the Art and Architecture building here on campus to look at improvements that can be made and ultimately result in a decrease of energy consumption for each building.  For the audits, we got a toolkit full of an array of monitors, plugs, and loggers.  Given that my roommate and I have had ridiculously high energy bills the past couple of months, we decided to do a little audit of our own to see what we could improve within our own apartment. 

The first thing we checked was our lighting.  The overheads in our kitchen and living room are mostly overhead T-12 fluorescents.  T-12 is the largest and least efficient type of fluorescent.  UT has already made the switch to the smaller T-8 lights, which are about 20% more efficient than the T-12s.  Imagine the energy savings when you replace these throughout a whole building!  We also checked whether our lights had magnetic or electronic ballasts (the component regulating current to the light) using a device from Sensorswitch, which has a light that turns orange when pointed at a magnetic light and green at an electronic light.  Electronic lights are more efficient than magnetics because they have greater light outputs and brighter light production.  Guess what color ours were? Orange, so magnetic.  Replacing our ballasts could be the first step to improving our apartment’s energy efficiency.  (Our bedrooms were both electronic ballasts, and had more efficient compact fluorescent lights)

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The next thing we checked was the temperature using a Kintrex Infrared Thermometer.  This thing is awesome.  It looks like a police radar gun, and you point it at anything and a little laser comes out so you can spot check the temperature of anything you point it at!  We have three large single-paned windows, which seem to freeze our entire apartment.  So we checked the temperatures of the windows and compared them to the apartment temps.  The windows were about 55 degrees (it’s currently about 50 degrees outside, and it’s nighttime so no natural heat is coming in), and our apartment is 67 degrees.  Now I get why it’s so darn cold in here!! The problem is that these are old, single paned windows.  In order to improve the efficiency, you can get double paned windows and/or check around the perimeter for leaks that you can caulk or use a window sealant on.  Also, we recently invested in some Duck Roll-On window-proofing plastic that we put on all of our windows; this seems to be helping keep some of the heat in.

We also did a little walk around to look at anything else we could improve.  The front door for instance, has a noticeable gap between the door and the floor, which is letting in cold air and needs new weatherstripping.  Also, several appliances were plugged in that were not being used (such as my hair straightener and computer charger).  These draw energy even when not in use, so unplugging them regularly can make a difference on your electric bill.

 Though you may not have access to these devices at home, here are some ways that you/I can improve energy efficiency (and decrease costs):

  • Switch magnetic to electronic ballasts if you can
  • Switch from less efficient incandescent lights to compact fluorescent lamps
  • Open blinds/curtains during the day in the winter to maximize natural heating, and close at night to keep it in
  • Keep your windows closed as much as possible, your heating and cooling system can do a better job of regulating it’s temperature this way
  • Unplug appliances such as hair dryers, coffee makers, and toasters when you aren’t using them

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 If you want to read Pimentel’s full report, you can find it at 

http://organic-center.org/reportfiles/EnergyExecSummary.pdf 

DIY Chicken Coops

Are you tired of paying high supermarket prices for fresh eggs? If you are, then raising your own chickens may be the answer for you! By raising your own chickens you can select interesting breeds which lay not only brown or white eggs but blue eggs (the blue egg producers are the Araucana, Ameraucana, and the “Easter Egger”). One of the first steps to raising chickens is giving them a nice place to roost which will keep them safely away from predators. Pre-fabricated chicken coops can be very expensive (over $300.00 for a small one that holds 3-5 hens), but for the Do-It-Yourselfer, there are thousands of coop plans available on the internet for free. Many of these coop plans utilize scrap and recycled materials such as old pallets, toilet seats (like the one shown below), and junk lumber from construction sites. By using scrap lumber and materials, the most expensive part of construction is the hand tools and fasteners. I found many easy to build plans on the website http://www.backyardchickens.com/. This website has a lot of information for the DIY chicken farmer including: coop design, automated watering and feeding devices, and even how to build your own incubator! Now on to finding that perfect coop for your flock.

This coop is called “Cheap and Recycled”. 700

And for those of you looking for something a little more ‘upscale’ for your chickens there is this charming little gem called the Mid-Life Crisis Coop.

Building your own coop for your chickens can be a satisfying experience giving you an excellent home for your flock and the reward of having built it yourself. Although some of these coops can get expensive, many of the plans can be built for only a fraction of the cost of purchasing a pre-fabricated one, and you get to decorate it to reflect your tastes and the tastes of your chickens.

 

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Talking about disc golf in an organic garden market forum might be a little odd. I guess it depends on what the word organic means to you. When I think about the word organic two things come to mind, natural and healthy.   Oddly enough these are the same word that can describe disc golf.  Some of you might be asking yourself, how? Well disc golf is played in an outside course where the course designer will try to keep the area as natural as they found it.  For example Victor Ashe Park has beautiful rolling hills where you see all types of tree, plants and wildlife. Every time I’m outside playing disc golf I feel once with nature and it’s because in fact you are in nature.  Let’s talk about being healthy.  You can eat as healthy as you want but without some sort of exercising you won’t be healthy.  Disc golf is a great way for the whole family to exercise.  A full game disc golf will have 18 holes and will require a lot of walking to complete it.  For example when completing a full 18 holes at Victor Ashe you will have walked about 1.5 miles. Add the elevation change plus the work needed to throw a disc a minimum of three throw per hole and even the most fit will get a workout.  The beauty is there are so many coursed with different styles, some are wide open with creeks (water hazard) while others are woody with crazy elevation drops and rises.  So as you can see in my mind disc golf can relate to organic foods.

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So what is disc golf? Disc golf is an outdoor sport where you throw a disc from a tee-pad into a metal basket.  Disc golf discs will normally have all its weight along the outside rim of the disc which allows you to throw harder and farther than frisbee.  There are generally three types of disc, a driver used for shot over 300 feet, a mid range driver which is used for shot of less then 300 feet, and a putter which is used for lay u shots and putting.  Once of the most important obstacle to overcome in disc golf is disc selection.  You need to use the right disc golf the shot you’re throwing. Some discs are understable meaning when you’re a righty and you throw backhand the disc will fade to the right. An overstable disc will turn to the left in the same scenario. Having good technique will also be a key factor. Try playing with an exercises player and you’ll see that becoming a good player comes with proper technique and motion than with just raw power. New player should worries about keeping the disc flat, trying to throw with all your might. Distance will come with time and practice. Developing proper grip, form, and release are all vital to be a good disc golfer. 

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The form can be broken down into groups.  Grip, footwork, reach back, pull through, and follow through.  There are two basic grips power grip, used for long shot and it’s like holding a fork but a disc in your hand instead of a fork.  The second is a fan grip which is generally used for mid range shots and putting. This grip consists of fanning you pointer, middle and ring finger out towards the middle of the disc.   There are many variations of these two grips and in time you will probably have you own similar grip. The key thing is to be comfortable.  The footwork, reach back and pull through is difficult to explain in writing.  I have added a few videos that explain what you need to know

Discraft Disc Golf Clinic: Throwing Basics

 

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Putting is very important.  This will be a game changer in a round of disc golf. Below you will find a putting basic clinic.

 

Discraft Disc Golf Clinic: Putting Basics

 

You can expect to be an all star your first run up but with practice and learning from others you might just be in time.  The most important thing to remember is to have fun. There is no reason to get frustrated you outside breathing in fresh air getting exercise.  

If you want to see some pros in action click below.

The Disc Golf Club at UT plays disc golf every Saturday at noon.  You can reach me at edeleon@utk.edu if you want to join us. Disc golf is s great way to make new friends.  

The Beauty and Ease of Growing Lemongrass

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I do a lot of Asian cooking at home, and one of my favorite ingredients to use is lemongrass. It can be added to all types of teas, soups and curries. It’s a main ingredient in my favorite soul soothing soup, Tom Yum. A savory, sour soup where lemongrass and cilantro meddle together in culinary bliss. Native to southern India, lemongrass is a super-herb contained in dishes from Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam. You can get fresh bundles of lemongrass stalks at various grocery stores. Normally a recipe calls only for a stalk or two, but the rest can be easily propagated. Not only is it really neat to grow your own, it will save you money, as I’ve seen it go for three to four dollars just for a few stalks. With a few steps you can be on your way to having your own lemongrass stash to last you for years. It also makes a pretty ornamental grass for your landscape that will come back year after year.

Hopefully you have access to an Asian supermarket. This would be the cheapest place to acquire the stuff. Pick up a bundle for about two or three dollars. Trim the top so there is only about an inch left, put it in a glass of water and set in a sunny location. Change the water out everyday or so. After a week or two you will see roots emerging from the bottom. In about four weeks the roots should get about two inches long, they are now ready for soil, which can be in a pot or in the garden; just space them about three inches apart.

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After a couple of weeks in warm weather you will see spikes of grass growing in place of those twiggy little stalks. Lemongrass likes moist soil so keep it watered at all times to ensure a vigorous plant. By the end of the growing season you will be blessed with a mound of many stalks of your own lemongrass that you grew yourself. It spreads really easily and just two stalks will multiply into eight to ten in no time. Go out and harvest off a stalk at a time or pull out the whole bundle and store by trimming off the top and bottom and placing in an air tight container and place in a dark, cool and dry place such as the crisper, where it will keep for two weeks.

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Lemongrass is a perennial, meaning it will come back year after year. If you grow it in a nice big five gallon pot it can be brought in for the winter. If it is in the garden it will die back and return the next summer. It makes a beautiful ornamental grass also, reaching three to four feet tall. A benefit to growing Lemongrass is that is wards of insects due to its citronella properties. Its oil is also commonly utilized as a “lure” to attract honey bees. Lemongrass works like the attractant pheromone created by them. And who doesn’t need to attract more honeybees.

Lemongrass also has many health benefits to us such as relief from: cold, cough, anxiety, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, indigestion, insomnia, and also aids in kidney detoxification and has been linked to eliminating cancer cells.  A great way to consume lemongrass is to make an oil to add to dishes. A very easy process follows:

2 cups of canola oil or peanut oil

2 stalks of Lemongrass

2 slices of ginger

2 garlic cloves

Chop the lemongrass you’ve grown as fine as you can, add to a pot with the oil and heat over medium for several minutes. Turn down the heat and add the chopped garlic and ginger. Let this simmer for several minutes and then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let it all steep over night. The next day strain out the solids and pour the oil into a jar with a lid. Voila! A delicious concentrated form of an incredible plant full of healthy benefits for you and the planet.