T-Shirts for Sale!

Visiting Jamaica Cottage Shop in southern Vermont.

Sporting one of the new t-shirts on a visit to Jamaica Cottage Shop. (More on that later.)

What an extraordinarily enjoyable whirlwind of a summer, with some days feeling like I was at the edge of the whirlwind, traveling swiftly, and some days in the center, when time stood still.  I was fortunate enough to make it to three remarkable events this summer – the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, the International Herb Symposium, and the SCA’s Pennsic War – and I look forward to reporting back on each of them.  First, though, I want to introduce you to the “Plant Weeds: The ’s’ makes it legal.” t-shirts that are now for sale here at Vaguely Bohemian.

Since I’m a person who tends to research things ad nauseum, this was quite a process.  I researched different printers and methods of printing, different t-shirt manufacturers and materials, etc.  I discovered that t-shirts are pretty interesting.  I’d never given much thought to this basic garment, but the variations just within t-shirts are impressive.

I also learned that, even with an item as ubiquitous as t-shirts, the options are limited.  In an ideal world, I’d be printing on gorgeously crafted locally-made t-shirts made out of locally-grown hemp.  Slightly more realistically, I set out to find organic cotton or hemp t-shirts that were Union-made in the US, and that were also available in both the basic unisex fit and a nicely-styled and reasonably-sized women’s cut. My printers don’t have a source for a shirt like this, and my own research hasn’t been able to uncover one either. At first I found this frustrating, but ultimately I think it’s a sign of how important it is that consumers choose mindfully.  The more we choose to buy organic, sustainable shirts made with good labor practices, the more those will be offered.  My ideal t-shirt might not be on offer now, but so long as I choose the closest I can get, I’m encouraging the market to choose sustainable, ethical practices.

So what shirts did I end up with?  I chose to use Aurum Organic blanks.  These shirts are made abroad, but the company itself is based in Burlington, Vermont.  Although Aurum Organic is owned by a larger manufacturer, this is as local as I can get for t-shirt blanks, and supporting a strong local economy is important to me.  They’re also printed locally, by the brilliant people at Amalgamated Culture Works in Burlington.  It has been an absolute pleasure working with Amalgamated Culture Works, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

The t-shirts are soft, well-made, and styled beautifully.  The colors are rich, and the women’s fit is perhaps the best fitting women’s t-shirt I’ve ever put on.  For me, this isn’t the most important thing in the world, but I think that it’s not a bad thing for clothing to be both sustainable and flattering.  I’m working on obtaining a size chart, but I’ve found that I take the same size in these that I take in most other brands, so I’d say they run true to size.  This was also important to me.  I tried on one national-brand t-shirt that ran at least a size and a half small in their women’s t-shirts, and I think that creates unrealistic expectations for women.

Most importantly, to me, the t-shirts are 100% organic.  Why was this my priority? The Rodale Institute reports that cotton growers use 16% of the world’s pesticides and that cotton is one of the top four GMO crops in the world.  (Whether or not you believe GMOs can be used for good, there are troubling issues around the patenting and corporate control over seeds.)  Organic cotton is GMO-free and grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.  Conventional methods of growing cotton aren’t good for the earth, the farm workers, or the consumer, so any cotton t-shirts I sourced absolutely had to be grown using organic methods.

While I was in the midst of all this research, it sometimes seemed like this would be a perpetually “in process” project, so it was pretty magical to send my design to Amalgamated Culture Works and, a few days later, pick up a box of crisply printed, gorgeous, real t-shirts that I could see and touch – and wear!  I’m pretty chuffed, and I hope you like them, too.  If you do, please consider placing an order and/or sharing a link to a VAGUELY BOHEMIAN shop: Witty weedy wares on the web:  You’ll be supporting my own local microbusiness Vaguely Bohemian, as well as a local independent printer, and organic practices of growing fiber for clothing.  Also, there are more designs and more options in the works, and your purchase will help make those a reality.  Thank you for your time and consideration!


Fire Cider: Let’s Call it What it Is

fc_recipeIf the Chick-fil-A lawsuit over “Eat More Kale” got your goat, this should too: A while back, the national company Shire City Herbals trademarked “fire cider,” a term that has long been used as a traditional/generic name for a spicy, warming, apple cider vinegar-based herbal remedy popularized by Rosemary Gladstar. Now, this company is suing three herbalists over this trademark.

As USPTO.gov puts it, “A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.” This is different from a patent, which protects the production of the item itself. It is possible to patent a recipe, but it has to be a pretty newfangled and unusual recipe. So, (while I’m no legal expert), what this seems to boil down to is that the trademark doesn’t prevent people from making fire cider, it does prevent people from using the phrase commercially.

Trademarking can be a legitimate way to protect a business’ investment/reputation. So what’s the problem?

“Fire cider” has been used as a generic term for decades. It was popularized by Rosemary Gladstar beginning in the 1970s, and she has shared both the recipe and the name freely. On the other hand, Shire City’s “about us” page states that one of the co-owners “began making early versions of Fire Cider in the 1990’s” and first sold the remedy in 2010. I began my first program at Rosemary Gladstar’s Sage Mountain Herbal Education Center in 2010, and fire cider was one of the remedies we learned to make. It was a popular one and already well-known amongst my fellow students, through Rosemary’s work. It’s also included in Rosemary’s books, which came out well before then.  The term “fire cider” was in widespread usage before Shire City even started selling their product.

Trademarking “fire cider” is akin to someone trademarking the phrase “chicken noodle soup.” Limiting the use of a generic name like this compromises our ability to communicate effectively. In this case, it makes it more difficult for consumers to navigate herbal remedies, and stifles fair competition. If someone goes to the co-op to pick up some fire cider – the warming remedy that they heard about from a friend or in Rosemary’s books – they should be able to see clearly which items on the shelf are fire cider, because they’re labeled as such. By preventing that, this trademark seeks to force other companies to use substitute names and descriptors, which just makes things confusing. Remember, this isn’t as though Pfizer was trying to keep other companies from using the word “Advil,” but as though they were saying they had the exclusive right to the generic term “ibuprofen.” It’s as though Smucker’s had trademarked the term “jelly” or Merriam-Webster claimed it had the exclusive right to call a book a “dictionary.”

Stifling the use of a traditional/generic term like “fire cider” (by reserving that use for a single company) is unacceptable. In order to have power over our own health, we must be able to communicate clearly about which remedy is which. In addition to making our own fire cider, it’s our prerogative to purchase fire cider from the many and varied small companies run with intention by skilled herbalists. Those companies must have the right to communicate effectively with consumers, and consumers have the same right to clearly understand the product they’re buying.

This is an issue that strikes home for herbalists – but its ramifications aren’t limited to those of us practicing herbalism.  If you’re a consumer of herbal products, and you want to make sure those products are labeled so that they’re easy to find and compare, this affects you.  If you care about strong local economies based on thriving independent businesses (like the herbal businesses affected by this trademark and lawsuit) this affects you.  If you simply believe that it’s our right to communicate effectively and clearly, that corporations must not be allowed to own traditional terms in our language, this affects you.

Please, take action.  What can you do? Check out the video below and visit freefirecider.com to find out.

 

 

PS:  Don’t forget to mix up some of your own!


Rob Stewart’s REVOLUTION

I have a confession to make: I don’t watch environmental films.  After all, I know what they’re going to tell me, right? And I’m doing my best, right? Do I really want to listen to someone tell me how bad things are when I already know? But flattery will get you lots of places, and when I was offered the chance to screen and review Rob Stewart’s new film Revolution, I said yes.  (For the record, I didn’t have to promise the review would be good, and I don’t get any kick-backs based on click-throughs.)

Flamboyant Cuttlefish.  Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

What I’d been forgetting is that films don’t just tell, they show.  Revolution is, firstly, stunning.  It’s filled with shots of creatures that make you think, “Wait, that’s a real live living thing?  That’s so crazy and cool and gorgeous and just plain weird!”  In the narration of the film, Stewart says, after describing his first experience with a shark, “…sharks were like dragons or dinosaurs, but they were real.”  This film is filled with images that remind you of how fantastic and unlikely and breathtaking this world is.  Just for that, it’s worth watching.  Just for the sheer joy of remembering that we’re on the same planet as creatures like cuttlefish and baobab trees.

Of course, it isn’t all happiness and joy.  There are darker images:  Ruined coral reefs.  The Alberta tar sands.  Huge plastic bags full of dead seahorses, caught for consumption.  The impact of these images lies in the fact that they’re not shoved in your face the way Game of Thrones loves to spatter blood around.  Instead, they’re presented almost gently.  As in, huh, bags full of something brown.  And then you recognize that they’re seahorses, small ones, so there must be thousands in those bags.  And then you think of the way seahorses move, because you’ve been watching gorgeous images of sea creatures.  And perhaps, if you’re like me, you think of how seahorses have always been one of those animals that seem to be out of a fairy tale, one of the creatures in this world that really seems to argue for the reality of magic, or something even better.  And seeing them there, body after body piled into clear plastic bags, so obviously a commodity speaks for itself.

Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Rob Stewart and young activists in Saipan. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

It’s this gentle, almost meditative quality that really drew me into the film.  Told almost conversationally, in the format of a memoir, Revolution follows Stewart’s own experiences: learning about animals as a kid, making the film Sharkwater, and realizing that it’s not just sharks that need saving, it’s the oceans, the forests, the atmosphere, and us.  While Stewart does call his audience to action, he’s not shoving an agenda at the viewer, and this film is refreshingly lacking in pontification.  Stewart acknowledges both the crushing frustration of watching politicians do nothing again and again – but also offers evidence that hope is merited, that people really do care enough to make changes.  He encourages personal action and personal responsibility, while acknowledging his own outsized debt to the environment incurred in the making of the film. Perhaps the best thing about this film is Stewart’s talent for sharing his own contagious affection for the creatures filmed, for the natural world as a whole, and for the young activists striving to make things right.

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Conversations about the environment so often only happen among those who already agree with each other.  The liberals talk about how scary global warming is, while the conservatives, I imagine, talk about how crazy those conservationists are.  This is a film that I think might be able to cross those boundaries, because you just can’t help but be delighted by shots of leaping sifakas (a type of lemur)  and pygmy seahorses, because it’s a first-person narrative (“I did this” instead of “you should do this”), and because this is a story told in an openhearted way.  I know no one wants family fights over climate change, but this is a film that just might start a conversation instead.

I was ready, when I hit play, for the harrowing statistics, the overarching problems.  They’re problems that I already fight to contribute to as little as I can, that I already obsess over, that, frankly, I usually do my best to avoid hearing more about.  What I wasn’t ready for was Stewart’s modest way of presenting our generous and exuberant world – the world we’re fighting for.  As he asks, “What if we had a world to fight for instead of fighting against our problems?  What kind of world could we create if we designed it to be beautiful for us and all species?”  It’s worth finding out, and if you want to share with friends why we’re fighting for that world, or if you could use a refresher yourself, watch this:


On Raw Milk, and current regulations in Vermont

Vermont’s legislature is currently debating the regulations around the availability of raw milk, and earlier this spring I spoke to the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products as a raw milk consumer.  (This post is an adapted version of what I said there.) You can find all the House Ag Committee documents related to this bill (including testimony from myself and other witnesses) on their website, and you can follow the Farm Fresh Milk Campaign at Rural Vermont.  The current situation is that it is legal for farmers to sell raw milk in the state of Vermont, but there are some very strict (bordering on prohibitive) regulations that make it difficult for farmers to reach consumers.  An effort is being made to mitigate those regulations, giving consumers easier access to the extremely high quality (and safe) raw milk that is being produced in the state of Vermont.

I’ve been a customer of Huard Family Farm for the last year and a half or so. Frank Huard delivers raw goat’s milk to my home about once a week, and sometimes we’re also able to pick it up from him at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. The milk from Frank’s farm is absolutely delicious, with a flavor much more subtle than anything off the grocery store shelf. I would drink it just for the taste, but I also drink it because most milk really upsets my digestion if I drink much of it. The milk from Frank’s farm never bothers my digestion. I don’t know for sure if this is because it’s raw or because it’s goat’s milk, or a combination of the two, but I do know that I can drink it by the glass and feel good and nourished.  I can say positively that (to me, and many others) raw milk tastes better and more distinctive than pasteurized milk, and I would venture to say that raw milk lets those of us who drink by the glass enjoy the local terroir in a way that pasteurized milk just can’t.

Frank has always been gracious about delivering to our door, but I’ve often wondered how he could possibly meet expenses when he has to drive all over the place to deliver milk to customers: Gas is expensive, and it has to take him a lot of time to drive to each individual customer. If Frank could sell his milk via retail stores, it would be convenient for me, but what’s more important is that it would be sustainable for him. We used to get raw goat’s milk from Trillium Hill Farm in Hinesburg, but they stopped selling milk after the 2012 season because that part of their business had proven to be unsustainable. I wonder if this would have been different if there weren’t so many restrictions around the sale of raw milk. I find the present restrictions frustrating personally, but the biggest concern to me is that these restrictions make it so difficult for farmers to reach customers. It goes without saying that a business must be able to reach customers to survive.

I recognize and appreciate that the intent of the present labeling language is to protect the consumer, but I wish that our legislators would give more credit – and more responsibility – to consumers: In my experience, what pasteurization is and does is general knowledge. I think it’s enough to state that the milk is raw/unpasteurized. So long as I’m clearly told what the product is, it’s up to me to determine whether it’s healthy for me. Please show that you respect me and other consumers by trusting us to do that.

In addition to speaking as a consumer, I’d like to say a few words just as a resident of Vermont: I don’t think it’s possible to emphasize too much how important small farms like Frank’s are. They feed us, keeping us nourished and healthy and giving us a much-needed alternative to mass-produced, trucked-in food. They keep money in the local economy. They give Vermont the distinctive sense of place that makes this state a destination. They’re vital to our sense of community: A teacher of mine used to say, “we all exist in a web of interdependence,” and eating food grown or produced by someone in your community reinforces how much we all depend on one another.

The farmers I know are the hardest working people I know, and I think it’s safe to say that, as a group, farmers are the hardest working people in Vermont. While some regulation is reasonable, the present requirements place unnecessary obstacles between the farmer and the customer. H. 426 won’t change that farming is a difficult job, but it’ll do a lot to make this work economically feasible for the farmers affected.

Anna Lappe said, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” I want to vote for a state full of thriving family farms, by buying this good, wholesome product from a local farmer. Please make it easier for me to do that, and give Frank and other farmers a real chance to thrive by supporting H. 426.


Boho on a Bike

By neznámý (scan, reklamní leták) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I bought a motorcycle helmet.  I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to spend $200 so quickly.  But I wanted full face protection from the wind, not to mention that I like my jaw just the way it is.  Really, a Vespa’s more my style than the big old bike we’ll-call-him-Logan recently acquired.  Don’t get me wrong, the bike’s super cool.  But I’ve never been a speed demon, so if I’m ever at the wheel of something with two wheels and a motor, it’ll be a scooter…

I would love to see more people (calling all bohos!) – including those who don’t fit the black leather image of motorcycles – utilize bikes (and scooters) for everyday transport.  With less cars on the road, bikes would be safer.  The demand for fuel would drop and with it pollution, not to mention money spent on transport.

The first time I rode on a motorcycle, Logan picked me up at the train station in Philly on his Yamaha 250.  The bike – for all I ended up loving it – was small, and my helmet was smaller.  We jumped on the highway within minutes and the wind tucked under the face plate and smacked me hard enough that I had trouble breathing.  Not to mention that we were flying down a highway populated by crazy city drivers, my knees scant feet from their fenders.  I chanted affirmations in my head, and we did make it through alive and well, except for the massive pressure headache I had from the ill-fitting helmet.  Thus my willingness to sacrifice income for one that felt just right.

There’s a store in Bar Harbor, Maine called Jekyl & Hyde: One side is full of bright colors, jingly hip scarves, and flowing skirts; the other is knives and black leather.  My sister has commented that this store is a metaphor for my relationship: me the crunchy boho, Logan the biker in black.  That being said, motorcycles are a pretty awesome boho mode of transport, since they’re easy on gas and get you out into your environment.

The latter was what really won me over: Once we got off the highway, I could feel the moisture rising off a nearby stream, smell the pine needles and the farm fields.  There’s no real separation between you on the bike and the family on the sidewalk or the horses in the field or the deer by the side of the road.  Cars put boundaries between us and the rest of the world.  On a bike, it’s impossible to pretend those exist.

I think we’ve gotten comfortable with our boundaries, and lots of us are a little scared to be out there without doors and windows.  That takes courage…  It turns out you do have to be pretty badass to ride a bike, after all.

(Just rediscovered this draft.  It’s a little out of date, but what the heck.)


On Voting

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” –Anna Lappe

Election day is over, here in the States. Maybe you voted, and I think that’s important. Maybe today you feel disillusioned, and you posted about it, and now people are chiding you for believing you could make a difference. Maybe you abstained because you didn’t believe you could make a difference in the first place. But you can’t abstain from the votes you cast all year round with your dollars. Do you want to live in a world controlled by corporations, where you can buy lots of stuff cheaply, but it’s all cheaply made at outsourced factories? Or do you want to live in a world with strong local economies, full of small businesses owned by your friends and neighbors (and maybe you, too)? A world where big businesses actually own the genetic code of foods we depend on for survival, or a world where small, independent farms growing flavorful, nourishing food can survive and thrive? We cast votes for one or the other (or something in between) all year round. Whenever you can, I hope you’ll choose indies.


Fired Up about Fire Cider

This post was updated on 2/26 to include new links, and to reflect changes re: the applicable Facebook page.

You may have heard that the term “fire cider” has been trademarked – a term that Rosemary Gladstar coined and that has since become common parlance for a preparation involving deliciously warming herbs like garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish, and turmeric; apple cider vinegar; and honey.  Like many, I was appalled to hear this.  The herbal community is in many ways a gift economy, whereas this move has every appearance of shameless commercialism.  To remove a term in common usage – one that herbalists all over the world use thanks to Rosemary’s generous teaching of this recipe – is detrimental both to the herbal community and to the English language.  Already, words that herbalists might or might not otherwise choose to use are exclusively the realm of the medical community (“diagnose, treat, or prevent” are forbidden except in a disclaimer, and even “tincture” may be iffy because of its early use in conventional medicine), but it’s a new twist for Shire City, an herbal company, to take “fire cider” away from the herbal community.

The good news is that this is not the end of the story.  Here are some resources to keep up on the news and to help make sure that the story ends well:


Local on a Budget: Food

Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The Greengrocer,” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
This fellow ate his vegetables!

Food might be the most rewarding thing to source locally:  Slicing a fresh tomato from your garden or from the local farm stand, you taste the land, air, and rain all bundled up in that gorgeous red package.  This tomato is as good as it is because of the land it was grown on and the care taken by the farmer (or by you).  You literally cannot get a tomato just like it anywhere else in the world.

Now, let’s get something over with:  Mass-produced pasta and tomato sauce is cheaper than local, fresh food.  Yup.  And I’m not going to claim that it’s not.  That being said, eating local isn’t just for rich folks going out to dinner at that fancy restaurant with duck liver and such.  Eating local can be practical, as well as delicious and nourishing.

It does help to keep an open mind about what abundance looks like.  For a while now, Americans have figured that abundance meant things like meat or eggs at every meal and brand name cookies for dessert.  I think abundance looks like mason jars full of grains and beans that I bought in bulk at the local co-op.  It looks like a box full of in-season vegetables when I pick up my CSA.  It looks like a big mug full of tea made from the lemon balm plant in my yard.

As a reminder, you don’t have to do everything at once.  Just change one thing this month.  (It’s a great time for picking your own apples at your local apple orchard, for example.)  And then one more thing next month.  Take one step at a time.

With food, as with other products, there are a couple different “levels” of local.  The questions to ask are:  Was this food grown/raised locally?  If a prepared food, was it prepared locally?  Is the retailer (e.g. a grocery store) a local business?  The more “yes” answers on your shopping list, the better.

And finally, for the tips:

    • Buy produce directly from the folks who grow it.  As much as I love co-ops, it tends to be a lot cheaper to buy produce at a farmer’s market (or even better, at the farm) than in a grocery store.
    • Don’t worry about certifications.  Instead, talk to the farmer.  Part of the reason organic produce is more expensive is that it’s expensive to get certified.  If you find a local farmer who uses organic or near-organic methods, don’t worry about whether or not they have that USDA stamp.
    • If in doubt, buy something that grows where you live, and buy it in season:  E.g. Can’t decide between apples or mango?  If you live in the northeast, buy apples.  They’ll be cheaper, and you’ll probably get a better specimen of fruit.  Likewise, enjoy the yearly glut of tomatoes in the late summer, a time when they’re plentiful and so less expensive.
    • If you have the space for a garden, start one.  Even if it’s a small space.  Even if it’s just a couple of pots of herbs that you can use to season your food or make tea.  In fact, my advice is to start small, see what works for you, and perhaps upsize in future years.
    • Buy from the bulk section.  Most health food stores have a bulk food section for dry goods.  These are often very reasonably priced, since you’re not paying for packaging or brand name advertising.  Also, you can get only the amount you need.  So, if you rarely use nutmeg, and just need a teaspoon for a particular recipe, all you need to buy is a teaspoon.  It’s much cheaper than buying a whole jar!
    • Reconsider how much meat you eat.  Many Americans eat hearty servings of meat at least twice a day.    Dr. Andrew Weil says,

      As little as two ounces of a protein-rich food a day may be enough to prevent protein deficiency in most adults; four ounces will certainly do it. That means a four-ounce serving of meat or fish or chicken or cheese or tofu. (Click for source.)

      That means that we can cut back on meat a lot – or entirely if you choose to do so – and still be healthy.  Since meat is expensive, this is a great way to save.  One option is to halve your meat consumption, but eating really good local meat when you do.  You can also try using less expensive cuts of meat.

    • Think about joining a CSA. With CSAs (it stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”), you pay up front for a share in a farm’s produce at the beginning of a season.  Then, you pick up your share every week or so during the season, either at the farm or at another local pick-up location.  You usually get more produce than you could have bought at retail for the same amount of money.  Take the time to research different CSAs, talk to farmers about what their CSA is like, and if you can talk to folks who have taken part in CSAs.  Each one is different, but they can be a lot of fun and a great way to save some cash and make shopping for veggies really easy.
    • Buy basics, then cook it up yourself. Bread. Beans. Soups & stews.  These things are all so much cheaper when you buy the basic ingredients and then cook them up yourself.  Don’t have time to wait for bread to rise?  I am a huge fan of a basic Irish brown bread – and one of the best things about it is that it’s a quick bread.  Dry beans are super cheap – and super easy to cook, then freeze for later.  Soups and stews are amazing catch-all dishes to make with leftovers or whatever you picked up at the farmer’s market.  They’re also a great way to stretch meat.  How about a kale & sausage soup? Or a beef & potato stew?  You don’t have to use a lot of meat to make it taste rich and feel indulgent.  Lentil soup might be the cheapest yet most satisfying dish ever.  It’s also super easy to make your own vegetable broth, and it’s a good way to use up carrot greens and many other vegetable bits that you’re unlikely to eat.
      If you’ve never tried cooking with a slow cooker, try now.  Your crock pot may be your new best friend.
      This part takes some time, but it makes a big difference in your budget – and in the quality of food you end up with.
    • Check out your local options  for discounted food.  There’s a store that’s local to me that sells, among other things, blocks of cheese that aren’t perfectly rectangular, dinged cans of food and other items with damaged packaging, and yogurt that’s nearing its expiration date.  The store itself is local, and a fair amount of the food they sell is produced locally.  Their discounts help balance our food budget.  Some stores and markets sell bruised or about-to-be-overripe fruit or veggies at a discount.  There’s always the possibility of bargaining at farmer’s markets, too, when folks are packing up – especially if you’re buying in quantity.  Ask around and see what the options are in your area.

The single most important tip I can give you is to talk to people:  your friends, your local farmers, the folks who work at the co-op, etc.  Maybe your neighbor knows about a great farm stand, or your coworker belongs to a CSA that she loves, or your cousin knows about a co-op that has great deals on cases of yogurt.  Shopping local on a budget takes some research, but that research can be as easy as a conversation if you ask around.  You might be surprised about what great resources your friends and neighbors are.

On the other hand, you might live in an area where people aren’t as conscious of shopping local.  It’s still worth asking around (after all, our grandparents bought from local farmers and butchers long before “Shop Local” became a trend), and it’s also a good idea to pass on the info you learn to others.  You might have to do a little extra footwork to find those great local farms and businesses, but you can be even more influential in keeping them around by passing on your own tips to your friends.

Q:  What are your tips for buying local food on a budget?
Q:  What does abundance look/smell/taste/sound/feel like to you?


Responding to Antibiotic Resistance:
a resource round-up

There have been some pretty scary headlines in the news this week.  Stuff like:
Drug-Resistant Bacteria Are Common Killers
Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Lead to 23,000 Deaths a Year, C.D.C. Finds
‘We Will Soon Be in a Post-Antibiotic Era’
Yes, Agricultural Antibiotics Play a Role in Drug Resistance
While antibiotic resistance has been a concern for some time, I can’t recall it ever receiving this type of press or this degree of validation from the CDC.  And if the issue is old news to some, it’s no less urgent for that.  So, what’s to be done?

According to the New York Times, “The report said that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” It also said that about half of antibiotic use in people is inappropriate.”  Will lawmakers and regulatory agencies regulate this from the top down?  Will large livestock farmers stop using antibiotics excessively?  I don’t know.  But we can influence this from the bottom up, by refusing to buy meat raised on farms that regularly dose their animals with antibiotics.  (Talk to your farmer, your butcher, and/or your grocery store manager to learn more about how your meat was raised.)  We can also talk to our doctors and figure out if we really need to take antibiotics for a given issue.  These are a couple of basic steps we can take, by deciding what goes into our bodies, and what practices we want to support.

Having made those decisions, it’s important to have tools to prevent the need for antibiotics – as well as alternatives/complements to pharmaceutical antibiotics should the need arise.

On this subject, I can’t recommend any book more highly than Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics.  While this book provides great tools for fighting bacterial infections in general, it focuses on resistant strains.  Buhner also gives a comprehensive overview of the issue of antibiotic resistance, and describes in fascinating and alarming detail the ways in which bacteria are able to adapt and how they work in the body.  This book is readable for laypeople, though Buhner’s suggestions are well-documented enough to impress your M.D.  In addition to scads of scientific studies, Buhner draws on his own experience, as well as traditional and current uses among herbal practitioners.  A companion volume, Herbal Antivirals, is due out later this month.  (You can read Buhner’s response to the CDC’s report here, at Inside Storey.

For common ailments, I find Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health to be invaluable.  It contains recipes to help you fight off all sorts of issues, from earaches to UTIs.  My go-to recipe from this book is Fire Cider.  I always have some on hand, and I find it can help me fight off just about anything if I catch it quick enough.

As good as these books are, it’s of course far better not to get sick in the first place.  In addition to basic practices like getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising, taking adaptogens can help build a strong, responsive immune system.  My prime reference here is the aptly titled Adaptogens, by David Winston.  Adaptogens fall under a wider category of herbs referred to as tonics.  Tonics are safe to take regularly, and they build good health in general (though they often address one system especially).  Guido Masé’s Wild Medicine Solution includes a wonderful discussion of tonic herbs, and specifically addresses immunity.  The whole book is a great introduction to using herbs for better overall health.

I grew up believing that bacteria were no longer a threat, having been all but vanquished by pharmaceutical antibiotics.  One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from Buhner’s book on the subject is that bacteria are far more complex and adaptable than I imagined.  I no longer believe that we possess any “silver bullets” in this battle – and I think we’ll lose if we continue believing that we have the capacity to wipe out bacterial infections wholesale.  Instead, I think it’s time to take an honest look at our vulnerabilities and our strengths, at how it’s possible to support the immune system and give it a competitive edge, and at the rich and varied resources we have in the form of whole plant medicines.

Books featured in this post include:

 

 

 

 

Click any of the covers to order from your local indie bookstore.


The Evolution of a Bohemian Closet

In high school I shopped at Express (during sales).  Pretty mainstream, I know.  About the same time I started paying for my own clothes, I discovered TJ Maxx.  Still mainstream, but I still stop by once in a while, since I’ve sometimes found organic cotton clothes there, and besides, shopping last year’s fashions and overstock seems to make for a lighter footprint.

Clothes from long ago and/or far away? No problem!

My closet got decidedly more interesting when I started traveling:  A whole slew of garb originally intended only for Pennsic has become daily wear.  There are also some choice pieces from further abroad: a merino sweater from Ireland, a muckross scarf, a punjabi from South Africa, a couple of beautiful tops gifted to me by an Italian friend.

When I returned from my first long stint of travel, sick of carrying an overpacked dufflebag full of clothes, I swore that I wouldn’t go clothes shopping until I had worn out or given away my current wardrobe.  For the most part, I stuck to that.  First, I brought bags and bags of clothes to Goodwill.  Then I wore the basic clothes I liked best.  As those wore out, I moved on to more daring numbers, including purple, plaid, and silver pants.  Eventually, most of the clothes I owned were some strange color or pattern, and I admit I picked up a few solid-colored tops to try to even things out. If I needed something for a specific occasion, I headed to the local thrift store.  I also got given a bunch of hand-me-overs from a cousin-by-marriage who happens to be my size.

Finally, this spring, I was heading out for work in my favorite pair of purple pants when I realized they had not one but two holes in them.  A few days later, I found a hole in the elbow of one of those basic solid-colored tops.  I also realized that most of my tops were from the ’90s and so the waist line was far too close to my belly button, while several of my pants had the same (decade) and opposite (low waist line) problem.  It appeared to be time to go shopping, and – since I wanted basics that would last for ages – I probably couldn’t get away with going to the thrift store.

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It was definitely time to go shopping!

The problem was, shopping for clothes had gotten a lot more complicated.  I’d learned that cotton (functional, comfortable, natural, cheap – the sterling silver of clothing) is a major GMO crop.  And that it’s often treated with nasty chemicals.  Not to mention that clothing companies are notorious for unfair labor practices.

In my ideal world, we’d all get handmade clothes from local artisans who source fair trade, organic swaths of fabric made by other local artisans where such fibers grow.  (Cotton does not grow in Vermont.  I’m pretty sure hemp would grow well here…if our legislative bodies would…well, that’s a post for another day.)  Unfortunately, things aren’t set up that way and, with my limited budget, that isn’t a trail I can blaze this year.

On the other hand, I had come across Patagonia’s all-cotton-is-organic policy shortly after learning about the GMO issue.  They have good basic clothing, too – stuff nice enough to wear to work, flexible enough to be functional, and sturdy enough to last.  An online sale brought many pieces to prices I could deal with, and the company did okay – getting a grade of a “B” – in this Apparel Industry Trends report on labor practices.  Not perfect, but definitely a step in the right direction – especially since I started out at Express, which was given a “D”.

What about the clothes themselves?  I ended up getting two new pairs of paints and four tops (two for work, two for play).  They’re organic cotton (or blends, including hemp), fit well, and the quality seems to be excellent.  There’s a fair likelihood I’ll still be wearing them in the 2020s – along with the harem pants I just picked up a pattern for, the fisherman’s pants I plan on getting from Thailand (at some as yet to be determined point in the future), and the choli top from Pennsic that I can wear anywhere over one my hand-me-down poet shirts.