Monday, June 21, 2010

Sacred Service and Homemade Granola

The word service has gotten a bad rap these last few decades. In the modern western culture we’ve been conditioned to think that being of service to someone means that we’re performing a menial task or taking on a powerless position. The bulk of people in the service industry these days work long hours in undesirable conditions, are paid very little, and are generally viewed as second class citizens. When was the last time you were overcome with gratitude and awe for the fast food cook or the maid at a cheap motel?

Service was not always viewed this way. In some cultures, being of service is a sacred act. Not just an act, either. To give of your time and energy is a form of communication. It says to the person you are serving that you are glad to know and be with them, and that you appreciate what they contribute to your life. In a capitalist system, the served shows their appreciation for the service with money. The more valuable they deem the service, the more money they give. When living in community, service happens in both large and small ways every day. In a healthy community, where everyone recognizes the importance of being of service to each other, this tends to even itself out.

Here at the ETC, the opportunities to be of service abound. Today we’re focusing on the kitchen. The kitchen is a powerful place in a house. It provides for the sustenance needs of the family or, in our case, community. At its best, cooking for those around you is an amazing act of love. It is also an opportunity to abandon the worries of the day, and to just be in the moment. When preparing food for yourself or others, let the rest of the day go and just be there with the process. It shows respect for the people who will eat the meal (even if it’s just yourself) and respect for the food itself.

The food that you eat, whether it be organic produce or a fast food burger, all comes from the same place; the Earth. The choices we make when we obtain and prepare food are direct lines of communication to our planet. Becoming conscious of what you are communicating with those choices is an easy first step towards living a sustainable life.

Take, for instance, granola. Granola was once viewed as the ultimate hippy-dippy, cardboard tasting, health food. When made from bulk foods, its preparation takes little time or effort. That little effort rewards you with a low impact, healthy, portable snack. As people became more focused on eating healthily, but were still buying into the idea that preparing food is a time consuming, menial task, large food corporations jumped on granola as a way to make money. Now, people with the good intentions of eating more healthily buy trucked in cardboard boxes full of individually wrapped snack food bars full of preservatives and just as much sugar as a candy bar. They think that they are doing a good thing, but they are actually doing themselves and the planet a great disservice.

The granola bars you probably buy at your local grocery are not only full of stuff you body doesn’t need, it’s carbon footprint is huge. The agricultural system its ingredients came from is killing our nation’s tradition of small farmers, it’s packaged without thought to reducing waste, and it deprives us of the opportunity to discover how rewarding preparing your own food from local or bulk foods can be.

So, here at the ETC we took the time one afternoon to make ourselves a batch of the crunchy goodness. Here's the recipe:

4 cups rolled oats
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar mixed with 2 tablespoons of water
1/4 cup safflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 chopped dates
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients except dried fruit.
3. In another bowl, mix all wet ingredients.
4. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix thoroughly, coating the oats and seeds.
5. Spread the granola in an oiled, shallow baking pan. Bake for ten minutes, stir the granola with a spatula, then bake another ten minutes.
6. Remove granola from the oven and stir in the dried fruit.

Granola crisps as it cools, and has many applications other than a cold cereal or snack. It makes a great topping for oatmeal or ice cream. We've also discovered that it's great to sprinkle over home made muffins just before you put them in the oven to bake. Yum!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Introduction to Permaculture

The apprenticeship here at the ETC is heavily based on experiential learning. In other words: Get out there, get involved, and learn! But, a little chalk talk is necissary to make sure that our apprentices have a base of knowledge on which to build as they learn.

Cliff Davis of Spiral Ridge Permaculture took some time this week to share with our group the basic principles of permaculture, one of the philosophies we use when designing projects here on site. Permaculture, originally a mix of the words "permanent" and "agriculture" is a system of site design that seeks to intelligently mimic the way nature works. Now, most people think of the term to represent so much more, and present it as a shortened version of "permanent culture." Since its inception in the 1970's, its principles have been applied not only to agriculture, but to also help design co-ops, homesteads, villages, and even towns. There's even a subset of permaculture that focuses on financial systems.

The facet of permaculture we focus on at the ETC relates to the ecovillage or homesteader. Our gardens and buildings have been arranged by the "zone" system. In this system of design, the main house is thought of as zone 0, then zones 1 through 5 radiate out in concentric circles. Plants and buildings accessed on a daily basis are close to the ecohostel, in zones with lower numbers. For instance, we use lots of fresh herbs in our cooking (can anyone say "basil pesto pizza?" I thought you could.) So, we planted an herb spiral right next to the inn, in zone 1. No need to tromp on out to the Organic Garden across the yard for our daily dose of basil! (Or oregano, tyme, and rosemary.)

If you are interested in learning more about permaculture, Cliff reccommends Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison or Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Think Globally, Buy Locally

Here at the ETC we are constantly taking steps to reduce the amount of energy and fuel a person uses on a daily basis. Our latest, and yummiest, step was to join a local organic CSA.

CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a way of buying food directly from a local farmer, rather than going through a middle man such as a grocery store. The customer pays either a lump sum up front or weekly installments for a share of the farmer's produce. Then, the customer picks up his share on a weekly basis directly from the farmer at either his/her farm, or a convenient drop off point.

Why do this? To cut out some of the "hidden petroleum" in our food. According to the article Does it Really Matter Whether Your Food was Produced Locally? the average grocery store food item travels over 1,000 miles to get to your plate. Prepare a meal of grains, beans, veggies and a salad, then add common condiments, and you are easily into the tens of thousands!

So, who did we choose? Mt. Lebanon Farm, near Lawrenceburg, TN. They are a brand new family farm, and are super excited about being able to provide their neighbors with fresh, organic foods. We took a tour of their place on March 31st, and came back with a bushel full of fresh, organic greens and lettuce. One of the kids even dug a few baby carrots up on the spot for us to take home, and then threw in some radishes, too. In addition to viewing their produce, we got to take a look at some of their animals. Chickens for both eggs and meat, ducks, goats, and a momma cow with her baby round out the farm yard crew. Some of the products from these animals are available now, but more will be included in the CSA next year.

If you are interested in lowering the miles your food travels, head on over to They have a searchable data base of CSAs, farmer's markets, food co-ops, and more. That's where we found Mt. Lebanon. Now, a portion of our produce will go from using 1,000 miles worth of petrol, to less than 60 (and that's the round trip drive, not just one way.)