Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why We Care (Courtney)

"Environmental change is arguably the most pressing and potentially disastrous problem facing the global community.  Pollution, global warming, species extinctions, and massive disruptions of critical ecosystems have become commonplace topics, although consensus about how these problems are to be addressed continues to elude policymakers."   -Carole Crumley, 1994

 We talk a lot in historical ecology class about the nature/culture dichotomy, that is, the dynamic relationship between humans and the surrounding environment.  What role have humans played in environmental change over time, and more importantly, what is our role now in the face of the current environmental crisis?  We don't want to sit back and hope that things change.  We want to be active participants in the global effort to reverse (or at least abet) the deleterious effects of man-made environmental changes.  We believe that the sustainable agriculture movement is one that efficiently and productively responds to the crisis while also meeting the health and nutrition needs of our society.  According to the UC Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education Program, the three main goals of sustainable agriculture are environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.  On a basic level, it is about reconnecting people to their food in a way that is viable for the long term.  Starting an herb garden in your home is obviously a small step, but it is at least a step in the right direction.  Our idea is to start small with something manageable, then expand it as you feel ready.  Here are some websites to educate yourself about the sustainable agriculture movement as well as how you can get involved:


The Cost of Things! (Christel)

Well I wanted to update the blog for this week and decided an important thing to blog about was Cost!
I am a student that works a part time job. I do not make a lot of money and I have a lot of bills, so the cost of things is important to me.
I have noticed that grocery stores that sell in bulk for cheap prices do not have very fresh or healty fruits and vegetables. Everything I read, watch or listen to tells me to shop for produce locally and/or buy organic. I have noticed that these things can be pretty pricey as well as available in limited places.

Part of growing ones own vegetables is to have access to fresh food that costs almost nothing as you are paying for it with your work and time.
Seeds, plants, soil and planters all cost money though-so lets break down what I have spent so far-and later if my gardening is successful I can discover what my yield may be saving me.

As previously mentioned Courtney and I went to Home Depot for our first batch of plants and seeds.
I spent a total of $60.47. This included everything I listed in the first blog as well as two long plastic planters, one round planter and one small clay pot.

Anyway also plan to build raised beds near the end of winter. I plan to look for wood at the Habitat for Humanity Home supply and rebuild store that has used materials for home repair. I think I may be able to find some materials that I will need for the raised beds there.

Facing all the expenses of the projects and the prices for fresh fruits and vegetables I try to keep one thing that I have read in Farmer Jane in mind: We vote with the money we spend. Everytime I spend money on cheap, unhealthy items I am voting to keep those items stocked on the shelves instead of the produce we should be consuming.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Apartment Friendly Gardening (Anne)

When I was a kid, I loved to help my mom in the little herb and vegetable garden in our back yard. I always felt a keen sense of accomplishment whenever we could use the plants we grew. We grew different kinds of mint for tea, basil and rosemary for seasoning and lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

When I moved into an apartment after high school, I had no place to grow things outside, and I didn't get enough sunlight to grow anything inside. But my habit of using fresh herbs didn't go away and I wasted tons of money buying packs of fresh herbs at the grocery store that wilt in less than a day. I had been thinking of trying to have a garden with artificial light but never had enough motivation until I enrolled in historical ecology.

It turns out, there is an easy way to grow plants in fish tanks with a fluorescent light in the top. It can be expensive to get started, but the cost is well worth it if you know what to plant. Your best bet will be to look for fish tanks in the classifieds or a thrift store. You'll also need non-colored pebbles and activated carbon which can be found in pet stores. Sterile soil, sphagnum or spanish moss, and plants can be found in a garden shop, Lowes, Home Depot or Wal Mart. I would suggest finding a locally owned garden shop, they tend to be the most helpful.

Deciding what to grow can be difficult if you don't cook a lot. I choose to start off growing basil, parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, chives and romaine lettuce. These herbs are versatile and called for in many of the recipes I use. If you're not sure what to grow, I'd suggest finding a cookbook with dishes in it that you already know you like. Then just see what fresh herbs are called for in the recipes you'll make most often and try to find those plants to grow in your terrarium.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Starting from Scratch (Christel)

Like many people I do not really understand what I am really eating when I dine, what food really is and where it comes from. As long as I can remember food is something that is always available at the large chain grocery store, packaged and processed for quick transport, purchase and of course, consumption. I have never really had to wait for or cook a meal that was prepared from natural basic ingredients. My mashed potatoes come in a bag, pizza in a box, meat is shrink wrapped and everything else frozen.  As Courtney mentioned, we are all in the Historical Ecology class at UAB. It was in this class that I began to understand that the way we interact with the environment is important. The object of the project is for each of us to learn something more about gardening, interacting with the local environment and how rewarding and difficult that can be. I also would very much like to learn more about food, the consequences of a monocropping system of large scale production and the consequences of the separation between consumers and food production.
Back to the small picture...! I think that an important part of working and living with the environment is having knowledge of the environment that goes deeper than scientific classification. I hope that traditional ecological knowledge can be learned and that we can gain this knowledge from our project.
I know absolutely nothing about gardening! To begin, Courtney and I went to Home Depot, where I bought a strawberry plant, rosemery bush, and an aloe vera plant. I also purchased some seeds-which I have not planted yet and a tomato planting kit that included seeds. So far I have only planted (or replanted) my strawberries and planted my tomatoes. All of my plants with the exception of the strawberries, are located in my kitchen-where I thought there was enough sunlight but am beginning to have my doubts!
The strawberries are another story! I planted them in large round pot and had placed them on my backporch. They were then attacked by squirrels and were not recieving the right amount of sun. I tried a couple rooms in my house-but none of them are sunny enough! Finally I moved them to the front yard by my mailbox-and I plan to plant them there permanently once I have built a raised bed there.

Getting started...(Courtney)

I generally consider myself a fairly competent, capable person.  Most of the things in my life that I've really put my mind to have turned out successful.  However, when it comes to gardening, I lose it.  I don't know where to start, how to start, what to do once I've started...I'm at a complete loss. It seems strange to me because I love being outside, I don't mind getting dirty, and I love fresh flowers and herbs.  But doing it myself seemed incredibly overwhelming and pretty much impossible for me. When Christel told me she was thinking about growing an herb garden in lieu of writing a research paper, I thought maybe this is my chance.  Surely if my grade depends on it, I'll give it my best shot.  So, that is why I'm doing this...we'll see how it goes.

I cook a lot, and I love using fresh herbs.  They add such fresh flavor and aroma to the dish that really can't be matched my anything else.  Buying fresh herbs can be expensive, though, and they don't last very long in the refrigerator.  So, I decided that to save money and grow my own.  I cheated a little bit in that I bought already established plants instead of seeds, but my goal is to keep them alive.

Round 1:  Christel and I went to Home Depot, and I bought a few different things. I bought some pre-plotted herb plants - rosemary, basil, thyme, and sage.  I also bought a do-it-yourself home grown tomato and strawberry kit.  The box said "Guaranteed to Grow," so I grabbed it.  I potted the herbs outside on my back porch and followed the instructions on the tomato and strawberry kits.  I was most pleased with the herbs - mostly for the instant gratification factor.  I'm pretty sure I grew impatient and overwatered the tomatoes and strawberries.  I didn't have time to find out, though, because some pesky cats got into them - they uprooted my herbs and kicked around the soil with the tomato and strawberry seeds.  So, I had to start over.  This time I moved everything inside.

Round 2:  I have this weird space in my house that I've never known what to do with.  It is a small little landing on my staircase, and it has this huge window behind it.  The window faces West, and in the afternoons the sun beams brightly through it.  I thought that would be the best place to put my herbs since they need 8 hours of direct sunlight a day.  I found this precious little bench at At Home and got to work re-potting my herbs.  Growing in confidence with the herbs, I decided I would buy a few more.  To supplement, I got some more of my favorites - chives, oregano, parsley, and cilantro.  I potted these in little clay pots and set them on the bench.  It looks really good, if I do say so myself! I also bought new tomato and strawberry kits, and took another stab at it, this time with more patience.  These I set in a window that also gets a lot of direct sunlight.  Keeping my fingers crossed on those.