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Alternasourcing and Getting Back to the Garden

Hello fellow revelers,

I’ve been taking my time getting back up to speed on things in my garden and life since a much needed hiatus that involved throwing myself in heart, mind and soul in a writers’ workshop in the wilds of Vermont, with one phenomenal group of compadres, led by the magnanimous Crescent Dragonwagon, cookbook author extraordinaire (as well as children’s book author, poet, instructor, all around phenom, and etc.).

A rapid fire survey of the grounds this morning reminded me that a garden needs tending well past the browning of the last cuke on the vine.  I’m not much of a fall gardener, but I still have the steadies going: my hot peppers upstairs, the various herbs, the last of my heirloom tomatoes, and that mysterious bush out back that I never did determine conclusively was dogwood or elderberry (the issue became less pressing when the local herbivores devoured the few fruit it produced this year).  The pumpkins that I got after a friend’s show at a restaurant in New Haven last year gave the scene bountiful color with its vibrant squash blossoms springing from every vine wound relentlessly up, down, over and under every spare inch in my yard.  Alas, I don’t think they’re going to give me a single jack-o-lantern by Halloween.  My neighbor from Bangladesh watched as I cut back the wild rose bush that likes to keep sticking its neck over into her territory where her kids like to play.  As we were talking, she saw me cut off one of the many pumpkin stems squirreling around the yard.  She asked me why I cut it, since it had a small blossom that looked ready to bloom.  I didn’t really know.  I guess it was because we were in conversation, and as I said before, I don’t really like to talk as I’m gardening.  It’s not the kind of multi-tasking that makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.  If anything, when I’m persuaded to talk while I’m gardening it robs me of that little bit of time I get away from the rest of the world.  But this is a good neighbor, and I like her company, so I didn’t mind much this morning.  But the point is that the talk made me absent-minded, and I plucked a perfectly good vine I likely wouldn’t have otherwise.  She asked me for it, and said she’d like to cook it.  I thought she meant the squash blossoms but she was talking about the leaves.  I remembered a few years ago she gave me a plate of food she had made for Ramadan, and it had fish cooked with leaves from the squash she had growing out back.  It was tasty and I’d meant to ask for the recipe then, but never did.  This morning, after a few more minutes commiserating over a sad season for fruit trees (she has plum, peach, apple, and cherry in the back to my peach and cherry), she decided she wasn’t going to have time to cook today and handed me back my needlessly interrupted vine.  I tossed it in with the other clippings to be put to the compost out back.  We agreed that in the next couple weeks, we’ll make a day of picking and cooking the leaves that are now so overly abundant in the yard.

Something I heard several times last weekend at the workshop/retreat was one of Crescent’s sayings, inherited, I believe, from her father, Maurice Zolotow: “nothing is wasted on the writer.”  The same, it seems, is true of the gardener.

As I mentioned before, the extent of tending my front yard last year was to toss whatever seeds I had aging in my basement to see if any would take root.  As you likely know by now, my approach this year is slightly more steady, measured, and, hopefully, responsible, since that is a goal I’ve set for myself.  I am moving toward living a more responsible life overall, one where little to nothing is wasted.  Toward that end, I am supplanting my gardening with the exploration of additional paths to self-sufficiency since self-sufficiency is, in and of itself, responsible.  Of course we don’t all have the means to “Thoreau” it all away and Walden our days away.  For those of us who are revelers of the brick and mortar set (though not limited to this demographic), I am exploring, in various arenas, a practice I have coined “alternasourcing.”  As I use the term (and invite others to collude), alternasourcing is the obtaining of goods and services from non-traditional sources, which, in its optimal functioning, provide sometimes less expensive and frequently more environmentally and socially friendly products.  Alternasourcing is not just about where you get your goods.  It is also about the how you obtain the things you need to live (as well as the things you want, hopefully with an eye to questioning needs/wants in a new way).

Alternasourcing may include, for example, minimizing the groceries you buy from the corner megastore, and supplanting it with regular visits to your local farmers’ markets, using your own space for herbs or whatever you have space for, learning how to forage for naturally grown wild edibles, or getting a plot in a community garden.  (An aside: my uber-awesome neighbor/friend/co-gardener I mention frequently, and her partner, were on a three-year wait list in our not-super-hip ‘hood just to get a small triangular not-so-enviable plot in the local community garden.)   So, while you’re waiting in line for a patch of dirt down the street, consider new ways to tick those items off your grocery list.  It may include participation in a CSA, a venture I undertook this summer for the first time.  For those of you who have been following, the journey has had its ups and downs, but summer’s not over, nor are the remainder of my bi-weekly shares.  I’ve been chronicling it here, but thought it was time to bring in another voice (of reason, I believe) who has had a more hands-on CSA experience, and whose insight has helped answer nagging questions I’m left with after bagging up my produce (at that same community garden, btw).  Long after I’ve bagged up my goodies and have unloaded them on my table to shoot, the questions linger.  They usually concern the demeanor of the volunteers (disabusing me of the Pollyannaish notion that all gardeners are revelers).   For the answer to this, and an inside peek at what goes on behind the other side of the table….read on my friends in the next post, for a spiffy piece comped by our friend, former neighbor and fellow reveler, Matthew Donoher, who, btw, I ran into on Church Ave. right before Irene hit, as I was vying with the other stragglers to get the last of the should-have-had-a-long-time-ago items, such as flashlights and batteries and radios.  Matthew, to his credit, was cool as a cucumber, in search merely of a new baking sheet to try out an oatmeal cookie recipe.  I have been blessed in my life with good neighbors.

How about you?  What are ways that your life has changed in response to global climate changes, or economic turbulence, or just your own desire to live more efficiently/responsibly?

Go ahead… gimme the dirt!

5 responses to “Alternasourcing and Getting Back to the Garden

  1. Ralph Tzu

    I’ve been slowly but surely gathering small items for when (not if) things like a storm or power outage come along. Saturday of the storm weekend, people in what seemed to be record numbers were going in and out of a local store like a line of ants to a piece of candy. Cases of water were in almost every wagon. I went in the paint store for a couple brushes. It felt nice not having to deal with the lines I imagined were inside.

    I keep flashlights scattered around the house with a supply of spare batteries. They don’t cost much, but if you need them even once they will be precious. A while back I bought a couple lanterns, filled them with oil, and gave them to people I knew never kept anything in their house. Recently when I checked the website I bought them from they were sold out of a few models due to recent high demand. If you can’t find a lantern locally or want something not ‘run of the mill’ they have models from under $20 to a few hundred dollars. Some have been in continuous production for over 100 years. According to some science fiction movies a few of those lanterns are also used in other galaxies!

    Another site I recently heard about and am still looking through is
    They were started to serve the Amish community and carry lots of interesting items. Check them out too.

    • Hi Ralph, I was pretty much good to go but the transistor radio my father thoughtfully gave to me after 9/11 hadn’t been tested in awhile and wasn’t getting any reception in the basement. It was a good reminder, though, not only to have all your things in order but to have them in working order as well! Just curious … do you have a gas mask for nuclear attack? That was an item that I was surprised to see a good number of people stocking up shortly after the terrorist attacks. I never did get one but I ain’t gonna lie … I considered it.

  2. Ralph ⋅

    No, I never got a gas mask, but at the time I did get large plastic drop cloths and duct tape to seal up a small area if needed. My basement had an unused but open to the outside drier vent which I sealed up. The basement is the best spot for quite a few events. What my company did pay for during the swine flu hoax was a box of N95 masks and hand disinfectant. The N95 masks (looks like a surgical mask) would be a good idea. They are small, light, and you can give a couple to family members in a small zip-lock bag to keep handy. Show them how to put it on, and maybe put a copy of the instructions in the bag. It’s been a while, but I think a box of 40 masks runs around $60. I got mine in a local Pathmark pharmacy. Check a pharmacy or medical supply place if you want to buy locally, just be sure it’s an N95 mask and not a dust mask. A biological event whether natural or manmade is not very far fetched. A natural event is highly probable. I forget where in the USA some animals have recently been found with bubonic plague, and a form of anthrax is not uncommon on farms with animals. In the also not too unlikely event of being near a dirty bomb, a mask would keep radioactive dust out of the lungs, a hugh advantage. Even the weakest radioactive particles (alpha) are extremely damaging in the lungs, or anywhere else inside the body.

    Check out the hardened shelter episode, # 743 on to hear about many of the things our government is NOT doing to protect it’s citizens as compared to other nations. Keep some supplies in the basement, and if you don’t have one get a NOAA weather radio. Some set off an alert when there are weather warnings and stay quiet on standby if there’s nothing going on.

  3. Ralph ⋅

    On the nuclear topic, a dirty bomb is by far more likely than a large device. The ‘good’ thing about a dirty bomb is that it’s largest effects are to panic people. Aside from being in the vicinity of the actual blast where you would be exposed to radioactive dust (have an N95 mask handy?), the effects are minimal. Part of the fear factor is that until someone detects there is in fact radiation involved and it’s not just a small conventional bomb, you may get covered with or inhale radiation and potentially carry it around on your clothes, skin, and hair.

    For a real/ big nuke, being in Manhattan would probably be fatal. Times Square and the financial district are very likely targets, and the explosions are so intense there is no need to be overly careful where it’s dropped. Being within a few mile radius of a real bomb would be a bad thing. The farther away the better. That helps reduce your radiation exposure and injury from buildings falling and fires. Keep dirt/ dust out of your body (cuts, nose, mouth, &c). Put as much mass between you and the blast as possible to shield exposure. If you know it’s coming and don’t have time to get MILES away in time, head for a basement away from any windows which may get blown out.

    For a real blast it may take days for the radiation to drop enough to make even a few minutes outside safe. Things like wind direction and speed as well as rain matter a lot, so a radio or TV is important to have on hand.

    I heard of a good test (I’ve never actually done it myself). To see how prepared you are, pick a day, or weekend. Turn off the circuit breakers in the house leaving on only the refrigerator. Use nothing electric and you can’t go to the store to buy anything. Use only what’s already in your house and see how things go. Take notes for review. Another version goes a bit further. Have a family ‘camping trip’ in the yard. Keep track of what you use, how much, and what you forgot. Food, water… they keep showing up for a good reason. A couple days without water is usually fatal. There are ‘hidden’ sources of water you can use in a house too.

    Too much to write, too little time and space. Next time.

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