Thursday, May 8, 2008

How Green Are We?

Left: view of our home from the goats’ perspective.

There was a story on NPR last night about LEED Certification—a high standard of environment-friendly features for buildings ranging from solar cells to water catchment. Different levels of LEED certification are determined through a point system—certain points for certain features, which then add up to a score, which then determines the level of certification. Anyhow, our new Farmers Market building will comply with the highest LEED Certification. While we were listening to the NPR story, my daughter asked me what the heck they were talking about. I started describing the point system, and used our own home as an example. Then it occurred to me that you all, my customers and those interested in my business, might like to know that when they support my business, they are also supporting an operation that is working on being as “green” as can be—and this might inspire some of you to make some changes to your own home and work place as well. So, although I don’t know how many points I’d accumulate under LEED standards, here are some of the green practices in place at Milk and Honey:
• Our home is passive solar. This means it is angled and designed via large windows, to gain heat when the winter sun is low in the sky, and avoid the sun in summer, when it is higher—this means certain roof angles, windows, and materials that either capture and hold the heat (winter), or maintain cool temperatures in summer. Basically in winter, we hardly heat our home during a sunny day time.
• Straw bale construction. We built a straw bale addition to our home several years ago. Our straw bale addition provides super-insulation—read more about this as a building method if you don’t know about it.
• We employ permaculture principles in our landscaping. This includes “berms and swales” to help capture water where our plants need it, and slows erosion. We pair plants together so they can provide mutual benefit—in the picture you can see the green comfrey starting to come up around the base of our fruit trees. Comfrey is a “living mulch” that keeps the tree roots cool and retains moisture, it feeds the soil with by fixing nitrogen, and it is a medicinal herb for people. This leads to another key principle of permaculture design that we try to employ—which is to choose plantings that have multiple purposes. Our plantings are watered using a drip irrigation system, as well as--
• Use of grey water irrigation. Our shower and washing machine empty into our yard—cuts down on a little long-shower guilt.
• Water catchment—horse troughs at the gutters.
• Keeping bees, is, of course, good for our environment, especially now that commercial bees are disappearing mysteriously. Bees pollinate not only food for us, but food for birds, bats, etc—they are a major part of our food chain.
• Various efficient appliances: front-loading washing machine (and a clothes line when it’s warm), low-flow toilet (actually we have a very cool toilet with two buttons to choose your water flow depending on your “deposit”), dish washer, compact fluorescent light bulbs, etc
• Low-impact, sustainably-manufactured kitchen cabinets, natural flooring (cork, Pergo, wool berber).
• In winter we heat with a charming woodstove (again, only using it in the evenings or on overcast days), and have quilted window shades on many of our windows.
• And, on order, a new Prius, hybrid car to cut down on our carbon emissions and fuel consumption as we commute to Santa Fe almost every day.

Now, there are many, many more improvements we would love to make, solar cells on the roof, and a windmill out back being just a few. We have stretched to make most of the above happen, despite the increased expense that many of these choices costs up front (the Prius being the biggest so far!!!). But of course, we feel it has been worth it. One of the biggest lifestyle/quality of life issues we are currently struggling with is our distance from Santa Fe, our time spent in the car, and the incredible waste this is creating—both in terms of time, as well as fuel. This summer we are seriously exploring a move back into Santa Fe—back to town life, where we can bike places again, and take advantage of the green benefits of living in a congested area. Goats in the city limits? I know of some goats already living there, and certainly many chickens. . . stay tuned!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cover Girl!

EEEEEE! I’m on the COVER of the May issue of Localflavor (! Wow—they said such nice things about me (Editor’s Letter, p 7), featured a cute picture of goat Sula (contents page, p4), and just did an incredible spread (“Land of Milk and Honey” p10-12). Although I would dispute that my life really is a “romantic tapestry”, I’m very flattered anyway. Gail Snyder, the author of the article did a great job describing my childhood influences on my present-day lifestyle. I think I’ll elaborate and pay tribute to those mentioned in passing in the article.

Without a doubt, the most influential experience of my childhood was growing up living at the Exchange Place, in Kingsport, Tennessee—see picture postcard, above ( --hurrah for the web!). Gail very accurately described it as a “living museum” of 1850’s life—log cabins, barns, a sweet pasture behind the homestead with a creek running through it and magical woods. My mother was (still is) a craftsperson; back then she was weaving and spinning and designing textiles. (As an adult, I now completely appreciate my early exposure to fiber arts through my knitting—I knit the wool sweater in that cover shot.) Sheep were a big part of growing up, although we didn’t have any living with us back then. (Now the Exchange place has a very sweet flock.) I was surrounded by people making things by hand—some who did it for historical reasons, to learn traditional methods (coverlet weaving, quilting, tool-making, etc—think the “Foxfire” books), and some who did it for artistic reasons, learning the traditional skills in order to enhance their modern artistic visions. Vegetable-dyeing wool, spinning, basket weaving, woodworking and pottery were constantly in my surroundings and practiced by my mother’s artist friends. As an only child, I spent a lot of time hanging out with the various adults who came to work at the Exchange Place, including Jim and Tom, builders who specialized in restorative construction, rebuilding, after extensive research (in this case), the old log cabins, by using the traditional building methods and materials.

Not only did I get to know so many interesting and creative people, but I developed a deep appreciation of things created by hand—things that were made for everyday use, and yet were works of art by highly skilled people. I learned to value the old way of doing things—not only do you make something by hand, but you gather or raise or grow the materials it is made from, and you process it by hand—in weaving terms, “from sheep to shawl.” Animals are often involved, giving the end product the history of a sweet personality, and creating things in this vein connects you not only to local history, but to the history of humans creating things out of necessity and love and artistic impulse all over the world.

Oh, and to top it all off? My little hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee, is about 45 minutes (if I remember right) from The Carter Family Fold ( --wow, the web), also known as the home of the legendary Carter Family, only those very folks credited with “giving birth to country music.” Talk about tradition! So I was also steeped in old-timey mountain music—I mean it was everywhere, and I grew up loving it.

So there’s a little of my history, and although I never raised goats (had one only briefly as a child), and never made soap (kind of surprising), there is no doubt that what I do now can be traced right back to these beginnings. Obviously the “sheep to shawl” concept, as well as looking back to traditional lifestyles, has given way to the Farmers Market movement of local, sustainable, organic—doing things the old way, it turns out, has a lot of wisdom to it.