1 November 14

Supporting the Student Farm

I have to make a big confession here: I’m not a fan of the Davis Farmers’ Market. It was one of the big selling points about Davis, and when we told people we were moving here from Santa Barbara they drooled. When I got here I admit to wondering where the rest of it was… It’s tiny compared to so many of the markets I grew up around in Spain and France. I guess I am a fan up to a point: I think it’s a wonderful place to go and socialize and enjoy good music and pretty stalls and it’s a great place to sit and spin, under the big valley oak, but for buying vegetables and fruit? Not really.

Here’s how it goes: I have, in my head, that I need to buy carrots, leeks, turnips and parsley for a soup base, along with several leafy greens and whatever else. I get there. I peruse the 4-5 organic sellers. Not one of them has all four items. In fact, I can’t find turnips anywhere in the whole market, so I end up spending $50 on stuff I didn’t come here for and end up at the Co-op anyway. It just doesn’t work for me. I know people love it and I really want to support local growers but I can buy what I need from local growers at the Co-op. (I haven’t put in a garden this year because of the drought.)

We have recently gone in with a friend on a CSA box from the UC Davis Student Farm, which is organic. The past three weeks have seen us awash in vegetables and fruit. Nothing has gone to waste. We are getting things picked three hours before we get them, and it has forced us to be creative about getting things cooked quickly. Delicious food. Stuff I ignore week after week at the Co-op. I even used dill in the soup this week, which was a stretch for this dill-averse girl.

Even half a box is almost too much for us vegetarians. But not quite. We are throwing nothing out.

We got half an inch of rain yesterday, it’s definitely soup weather. And the students know how to grow turnips…

Posted by at 07:30 AM in Sustainability | Link | Comment

2 December 12


A couple of weeks ago I went with a couple of friends to the Fibershed Symposium in Point Reyes Station. This is a group of people led by Rebecca Burgess (brilliant author of Harvesting Color and passionate advocate of locally-grown and produced textiles) who aim to transform the amazing resources we have in Northern California into a self-sustaining industry so the wool that is grown here can be used rather than thrown away (or shipped to China to be processed there and shipped back).

We heard from local growers (of whom one was Robin Lynde of Meridian Jacobs, where I am a Farm Club member) about the joys and challenges of raising fiber animals in our region. One of the shepherds has Marenna dogs to guard the sheep against coyotes; vet bills for her dogs have to factor into the cost of raising the wool. You have to factor in the cost of irrigating pasture in a region where there is little to no rainfall from April to October. (Pasture health is a prime concern for sustainable farmers.) You have to factor in vet bills for the sheep as they always, as Pratchett’s Granny Aching says, look “for new ways to die.”

We also heard from sheep shearers, whose perspective on fleece quality is not often heard, and from two people with crazy exciting ideas for starting fiber/textile processing plants here in Northern California.

Jacob vest Rebecca spent a year wearing clothes, including underwear, that had been grown and produced within 150 miles of her home in Petaluma. This is a tall order but taking a cue from her, I’ve designed, spun, and am knitting a vest that I hope will replace my polartec one. It needs to be tough; it needs a zipper up front and on two side pockets; it needs to be able to handle my keys in the pocket; it needs to be wind-and-rain-resistant.

I discovered the Swedish technique of twined knitting when I first got back into knitting after a 25-year absence, and it’s the reason I learned how to spin, since yarn for this technique is typically spun and plied in the opposite directions of most commercial yarns. The fabric is taught but not as much as woven, making it ideal for this kind of outer garment; it doesn’t shrink or felt when wet. I also wanted to showcase the beauty of the multi-colored Jacob sheep.

Summer, a Jacob ewe with her 2012 triplets I spun the yarn from the fleece of a sheep named Summer but ran out close to the collar. (Note to self: you don’t really need to do 4-ply sport weight…) The good news about sheep though is that they’re always growing more.

Locks from Summer's fleece Here are some locks from Summer’s fleece, shorn in early November; her dark spots have lightened over the two years but it’s lovely, soft, and a joy to spin. These locks were soaked in rainwater, then spent 3 days in a fermented suint vat, then rinsed in rainwater. No heat/energy required…

Finally, here I am with Summer right after she was shorn. There’s something very satisfying about making a garment from an animal you know personally…
Summer just having been shorn

Posted by at 09:45 AM in Spinning | Link | Comment

13 March 12

Nitrate Report Released

For the past 20 months, I’ve been working on a project at UC Davis that has been examining nitrate contamination in groundwater in two agricultural regions in California, the Tulare Basin and the Salinas Valley. We just released our report today and we all went to Sacramento today to give a set of briefings. Here’s the UC Davis news service writeup on the report, and the UCD Center for Watershed Sciences has a blog entry on the report here . My role in the project was to compile land cover maps, both current and historical, for the study region. It’s been a pretty amazing collaboration to develop the report — it’s not often you get 27 researchers at a single university all working on the same thing!

Posted by at 09:02 PM in Sustainability | Link | Comment

12 June 11

Century of Challenges

Today we went down to Albany to hear blogger and polymath Nicole Foss who writes as Stoneleigh at The Automatic Earth speak about global energy and financial crises. Nicole has been touring both North America and Europe giving her talk entitled “A Century of Challenges” with an aim of helping turn the virtual community that reads her blog into a set of real communities that are working to prepare for future change. The talk was hosted by Transition Albany, one of many hundred such groups that are part of the Transition movement across the world that are working to come with local adaptations to shrinking energy supplies and problems with climate change. Nicole’s prognostications are grim — not that her message to expect a deflationary depression is new to me, having been reading her and her writing partner Ilargi’s blog for several years now — but we left her talk feeling inspired. Nicole says she’s trying to provide “a psychological inoculation” against the human herding behaviors of fear and anger, the inoculant being that by working within community there is in fact a lot we as individuals can do to try to prepare for future upheaval.

Posted by at 10:57 PM in Sustainability | Link | Comment

21 April 11


This evening Numenius and I went to see Gasland, highly recommended if you get the chance and have the stomach for the ticking time-bomb aspect of unregulated and very dangerous drilling practices. Natural gas as the answer to the US’s insatiable and unsustainable demand for energy? No thanks.

In other news: my silkworms all died, victims of an attack by ants and the unseasonably cold weather. A second “feral” cat was caught and is now happily a member of a household with two other cats and a baby. The first cat, Elspeth, is not doing so well in her new home — she just wants to play but is terrorizing the older male cat who will now not eat. She’s sweet and full of energy, healthy and needs a new home. Holler if you can give her one or know someone who can.

And I bought my first fleece yesterday: it’s a Jacob fleece from a ewe named Summer from Meridian Jacobs. I joined the Farm Club, which gives you a fleece and a logo item (I got a green apron, good for carding on) and the chance to go help out on days where vaccinations or shearing or lambing are happening. I delayed a while because I was intimidated by the perceived difficulty of processing a fleece. But having seen Margaret Stove’s video, Spinning for Lace, I see there are very easy ways to do this, in small chunks. This, I can do. I’m going to prepare this fleece for the Tour de Fleece in July which coincides with the Tour de France.

Posted by at 10:35 PM in Sustainability | Link | Comment

22 April 10

Happy 40th Earth Day!

I remember the first one. I was in elementary school, and somebody organized us to pick up trash around the schoolyard — the school on top of the hill, with an upper and lower playground separated by a small slope planted with acacias and other trees. This session was before school started in the morning, and I was a little worried about making it to class on time.

A random Earth Day 2010 initiative that I like: the organization iFixit.com which is known for providing people with the resources, both informational and physical parts, to repair their Apple hardware, today announced a much more ambitious goal, to teach every person on Earth how to repair every thing they own. Their platform is an online set of repair manuals that anyone can edit in wiki-like fashion. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair: the fourth term in that mantra gets left out all too often.

Posted by at 10:22 PM in Sustainability | Link | Comment [1]

31 March 10

Vacuum Grail

We’re continuing to quest for the right vacuum cleaner for us. When Pica was in Maine last week, she asked her brother-in-law his opinion, and he first said get a Sears Kenmore and then thought better of this and said no, no, ask somebody who repairs vacuum cleaners. What brands do they hate working on? What models rarely come in to their shop for repairs?

More research today by Pica, including asking her Facebook pals. The common wisdom is that they all break after a year or so. Pica called the vacuum repair guy in town (I’m amazed there still is a vacuum repair store in town) who a) hates Dysons (a brand about which there is a considerable cult) since they are difficult to repair, overhyped, and have lots of unnecessary junk on them and b) only sells three brands — Panasonic, Sanyo, and Shark — because they still have a majority of metal rather than plastic parts.

There you have it. One vacuum cleaner review site lists thirteen different brands, with many models for each, and I have little expectation for longevity from any of them. Sigh. I don’t like machines that can’t be repaired.

Posted by at 09:29 PM in Sustainability | Link | Comment [5]

15 January 10

Day Three and Counting

On Tuesday I was making a mid-day run to the Coop. I don’t really listen to NPR except when I’m in the car. It’s a random thing, really.

This week’s random thing was a woman called Michelle Singletary whose idea is to undertake a 21-day financial fast. No plastic, no credit cards, no debit cards. Cash only, and that to be spent only on essentials: food and meds.

I’m not sure if spending $435 at the vet’s counts, but I haven’t done more than whip out $7 for some aspirins for a coworker today that was promptly reimbursed. Lots of cooking at home. Watch out, I might even bake bread.

After 21 days the task is to keep a financial journal for 30….

ETA: the first big test: wanting to donate more than the amount I already have for earthquake relief in Haiti by buying a knitting pattern. Non-knitters, you’d be blown away by how much cash is being raised by the knitting community, particularly Tricoteuses Sans Frontières… well over $57,000 in 72 hours.

Posted by at 07:53 PM in Sustainability | Link | Comment [3]

9 April 09

What to Do

The Archdruid Report Offers some very sage advice about what to do in the coming post-industrial future.

Typing is something of a chore so I will give you the punchline: Learn a thing. Give up a thing. Save a thing. Worth a read.

Posted by at 10:13 PM in Sustainability | Link | Comment [3]

26 October 08

Stimulating The Economy Through End-Of-The-World Spending

The paradox of thrift states that if everybody were to save most of their money, the resultant decrease in consumption would be highly deflationary, leading to worsening economic difficulties. Hence the call for stimulus packages these days. I’ve just finished watched Chris Martenson’s excellent video series The Crash Course about the economy, energy, and the environment and agree with his major theme that the next twenty years is going to be nothing at all like the past twenty years. That is, expect chaos ahead.

So before the economy completely collapses we’re working on getting our pre-apocalyptic stores laid in. Today we ordered a) a hand-cranked grain mill and food mill from Lehman’s (purveyors to the Amish) b) a small solar panel and charge controller for keeping the 12V SLA batteries charged and c) an external lithium battery good for powering small electronics up to and including the laptop. If there’s no electricity we’ll still be able to blog…assuming of course the phone line still works!

Posted by at 12:32 AM in Sustainability | Link | Comment [2]