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First off, I'd like to say what an amazing experience this has been to spend these weeks with all of you. It has been a wild and crazy ride at times, but throughout it all you've been there with news from the home-front and good ideas to share. As for "the team"- wow- it must have been akin to herding cats- but somehow you've kept us all on track and organized, sending in our dispatches, encouraged by your daily messages.  I will miss this for sure.

That said, I've been considering the whole idea of our political representatives. It's been obvious both before the "crisis" and during it, that our elected officials for the most part have been sadly lacking both in their understanding of peak oil and in their ability to craft an appropriate repsonse to it. I know that while I've voted for some "winning candidates" on a state level, well, I've never voted for the winning president. Pondering the slew of presidential wanna-be's doesn't leave me very hopeful either at this point in time. So where does this leave us?

Well I began to realize that in fact I vote daily- well really, countless times a day. My dictionary defines "voting" as "a formal expression of opinion or choices made by an individual", and "to express or signify will or choice in a matter". So really, isn't just about everything I do( or don't do ) in a day an expression of my opinion and choice? What I choose to eat- homegrown? local? organic?sustainably grown?  or  imported from afar, grown with chemicals on eroding soils and picked by poorly paid workers? It's my choice, my vote for which system I want to see prosper. I vote with my dollars.

Same with transportation. My choice to drive an older small Toyota, and rehab it to keep it running- rather than say purchase a new SUV- a vote to not support the production and sale of gas guzzling vehicles and the companies that manufacture them; or the advertising agencies that market the car-driving fantasy fiction to the masses. Driving as little as possible- same thing. Taking the bus when I can- a vote for mass transit. Walking? Biking? A vote for  less car dependence.

Buying as little new as possible- making most of my purchases at thrift stores? A vote for sustainability and recycling and a vote against rampant consumerism. Shopping at local stores and not Wal-Mart? Another vote.  If I shopped at Wal-Mart- well a vote in the other direction.

Building a small house using mostly recycled materials? A vote against the endless drumbeat of bigger houses and every fancier kitchens and bathrooms and walk-in closets and endless stuff. Being off-grid with a small power system? Another vote.

Spending time with my neighbors- knitting night, working on projects at someones house, pot-lucks- a vote for community. Volunteering at the Food shelf- a vote to help those who need assistance.

Not owning a TV? Choosing to not listen to violent and obscene rapper music? Another vote-against popular culture I'd guess.

And so it goes- you get the picture? I guess it all comes down to realizing the importance of living life with intent; of recognizing that what we do every day is really important. The choices we make daily really do make a difference. How will you vote?

Current Mood: accomplished

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So where do we go from here? That seems to be the question of the moment(and a good one it is). Things have stabilized somewhat at their new level, for now, and people are breathing a sigh of relief. Gas is ONLY $5.50 or so-whew. Maybe we can drive to Grandma's for Christmas this year after all..... And take the family to Disney during February school vacation.....  It's cool- some of us still have jobs, and there's food in the stores again and the house is warm-hey, I turned the thermostat down to 68! So the next car we buy-maybe we'll look into one of those hybrids.....

So is this it? As I wrote in my last post, I referred to the roller coaster of oil supply demand and destruction. Are we content to just hang on, close our eyes and scream at the scary parts, but never think to get off the ride when it slows down? Maybe go ride the carousel for a bit?

Again, it always seems to get portrayed as either "business as usual"- our car/plane dependent societies, commuting madly to their jobs and motoring to the mall for endless shopping on the weekend, or a return to a primitive stone-age existence. One or the other, black or white, no shades of grey. But why not grey?

It should be clear to all of us who have had our eyes wide open these past 30 weeks that this is just a taste of what is to come. It was a teaser, a warning, a harbinger of the changes that need to happen. We will ignore it at our peril. But it is so hard though to make the changes when things are not in the acute crisis stage. When the masses aren't burning down gas stations and rioting in the streets and the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly. Everyone(well most everyone) just sort of gets used to the new level of reality and is drawn back into the revised patterns of their daily life-work, school, the kids, clean the house, no time to worry about "it" happening again. Until the next crisis.

So can we do anything different? Well I've been thinking about this some. How do we capitalize on the momentum we have created and move someplace positive with it? Some ideas........

Those community groups you've created? Keep them going. Make them fun, feed people at every event(pot-lucks are great). Keep doing community events-gardens, firewood, yard sales, block parties, whatever. If you know each other and are used to working together it will be easier when times get tough to keep doing so and not have to start from scratch.

Keep up the drumbeat. It's hard I know. It reminds me about something I heard after the big tsunami in Asia. On one island, everybody was spared. The reason for this was that there were oral stories passed down from parent to child about the time the sea went far out and then came back in with a monstrous wave. The children were told in these stories that if this happened they were to run to higher ground as fast as they could. And when the tsunami hit, the people recalled the stories passed down by their elders and they fled to the hills and were saved. So we need to become like the elders on that island and keep telling the stories to our children. They need to understand what has happened and why and that it will happen again. No child should be brought up thinking that there is an endless supply of oil in a vast "ocean" deep underground and we can just use as much as we want forever and ever....  And keep up the pressure on our political leaders- don't let them forget what has happened and that we need change in the system. And the media-with its short attention span the oil crisis will be on page 32 in a few days-if we let them. Don't let them.

Examine your own life. What works? What doesn't? Time for some change? Is your job vulnerable? Where you live? Start making some changes. It WILL happen again- you know this. And each time we are starting from a higher point-so the crisis will get worse and the problems deeper. So start making changes. Ride that bike, take a bus, learn some skills. Get out of debt. Grow some food if you can and would like to. Learn who the local growers are-and buy from them. Support your local farmers, especially if they practice sustainable agriculture. Start more Farmers' Markets. Shop them regularly. Join CSA's. Eat local as much as possible- recognize that what isn't local is a treat- oranges in New Hampshire, maple syrup in Florida. Base your diet on local food and add the rest as a treat-not the main course.

As for me, well I'm going to continue working on the local level. There's those groups I'm a part of with the three-town area-cannig and food and such. And my local community-our skills bank. I'm continuing to learn new skills- I've learned to knit this year, sharpen tools-saws, scythe, chisel, etc all by hand, took a woodworking class, and am learning to fix bicycles. I'm trying to grow grain small-scale-we'll see how this goes, with hopes of feeding the poultry and me with it.  Wheat, oats, corn, soybeans and perhaps some buckwheat. 

I'm still working away at cutting wood by hand- never going to be easy for me but I'll do what I can. And I'm continuing to work on reducing the use of fuel(down to zero) and plastics- still use some- to operate my fruit and vegie farm. Still pondering how I would get my products to market without a vehicle though..... bike trailer or horse I guess.

So lots to work on. Lots to do. We need to do it too- we've been warned. 
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to subvert the dominant paradigm....... That's what I've been thinking about these days. It's what we need to do or else the past 29 weeks will have been for naught. We won't have learned much of anything if we don't recognize that this is clearly what is needed. Other posters, cee-gee, warnwood and lead-tag for instance, have noted that  in some ways things are starting to settle down; there is more gas available and it is somewhat cheaper than it was at it's highest point a few weeks ago. There is more food out there too and prices have stabilized some. Those who can afford it can avail themselves of it and those who can't- where have they gone anyway?  They have joined the invisible masses I suppose-nobody is counting their thoughts in public opinion polls...... who can find them to even ask?

This is the pattern though that "Peakers", "Doomers" and the like have warned us about- peak oil won't be about hitting a sharp peak and it all goes down from there. It's more about drops and plateaus- the supply drops, panic ensues, demand destruction sets in and then it plateaus- for a while. Those missing masses? They're a part of "demand destruction" by the way. As we learn to make do with less than we had, there is less demand and so the supply stabilizes for a time. Then as either demand increases or the supply weakens, another price spike occurs and supply is lower still. And so it goes.

But what have we learned from this? Are we going to content ourselves with just riding the roller coaster of supply and demand? Is that the life we want for our kids? Sort of like in Russia years ago- if there was a line you got on it- something was for sale- it didn't matter what it was-you bought it because you could. So now we'll just spend our lives topping off the tank when we can and stocking up on canned goods when prices fall? Or do we try to do something different?

I read a good blog this week posted by Jim Kunstler- written in his usual profane style(this is a family site so I'll refrain from quoting him here but you can find it on line). He talks about how so many of the enviro/eco people seem to be addicted (still) to the notion that we will just find something else to replace oil;-hydrogen and fuel cells, biodiesel from algae, switchgrass, whatever- somehow it will happen and we will all be able to continue on as usual. Every time there is a serious discussion such as this all sorts of posters frantically lob comments back about how any day now this or that electric car is coming on line and yes it costs $100,000 now but in a few years it just might only cost say $60,000 or so- downright affordable wouldn't you say and so on....

We WILL be able to continue on as usual-Mom ferrying the kids to soccer, Dad commuting 50 miles each way to work, and they'll still be able to take their eco-tours of Costa Rica and Nepal.....And when Kunstler points out that not only isn't this going to happen in terms of the reality of the resources needed to make it happen- alternative fuels, trace metals, etc, and that in terms of the impacts that our lifestyle has created on the planet it would be best if it DIDN'T happen, boy does the fur fly.......... People accuse him of wanting collapse. And yes, in some ways that is true- he does want to see the dissolution of what we have created by our dependence on fossil fuels- endless highways, suburbia, shipping of lettuce from CA to NY and raspberries from Guatemala in February. But he is also trying to hammer home the idea that this way of life doesn't work- it is destructive and damaging, both to our ecosystem and to our souls. We need to do something different.

But this is where it all breaks down as it seems that most people can't or won't consider something different. Even if they're not happy- and our rate of anti-depressant use as well as the self-medicating of the masses by alcohol, street drugs and mindless entertainment would seem to imply that most are not, the majority of people will fight to the death it seems to keep the status quo. They are afraid of change and hold on as tight as they can till their fingers are bloodless from the grip. But why is this? Why are we so afraid to confront the possibility that what we have constructed as our way of life wasn't such a good idea and it needs to be different? Why hold on to something that doesn't work? Oh yes, I know that some would say it has worked well for them, but the billions who are not even having their most basic needs met would say otherwise. And even those who are fed and housed but are otherwise deeply unhappy- how is this meeting their needs?

 I do believe that we will see the arrival of electric cars that get great mileage- they will cost more than most people can possibly afford and will be available only to the most affluent. As well there isn't any way we can run a nation of these powered by our electric grid anyway. And other products will be developed as well that are available to only the better-off, leaving the majority of the world unable to utilize them. So what of the rest of us? Are we consigned to slip into the stone age, trudging along the road with our oxen? It seems that many people only have two lines of thought about how our civilization can be structured- either business as usual("happy motoring" as Kunstler would say), or a return to the middle-ages. Why is this? Why do we lack the imagination to create something else? Why does it have to be so polarized?

I think that one of the problems is what do we do with the structure we have built? In farming a recurrent problem is that Dad built a big barn, silos, etc and so the children feel compelled to use it as Dad did- it's a tie-stall cow barn so of course we'll raise cows and do it this way. Having that structure seems to create the inability to free themselves in their minds- to consider that while they do want to farm, they would really rather raise chickens or grow strawberries. A tie-stall cow barn and silo is useless for that and so they continue to raise cows even if it isn't working for them and they're losing their shirt and their sanity. Sometimes a good lightening strike and fire would be a blessing- no more barn-hey we could do something different!

So maybe this is part of our inability to think outside the box? We've got all these structures-highways, houses, big-box stores, airports, industrial complexes- we built them, they cost money, we have to use them, so we just need to find a way to power them? And we've created our employment around these structures and our financial markets and  globalization. So how do we get out of this box?

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful

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So you want to know how the growing has been; what we're going to grow next year and what we will try to do differently? Oh boy- this could get long. It's one of my favorite subjects-along with puzzling over how we ever got ourselves into the mess we're in anyway. But, thoughts on growing and advice? OK- here goes.

I guess one of the biggest changes for me was my decision to move towards being as carbon neutral as possible in my growing practices. I was already moving towards this before the oil crisis really hit and this has just given it a greater imperative shall we say..... When I started market -growing-I'm a small-scale grower- I did the whole long rows of produce separated by a wide space for the tiller bit. Then I switched to growing in beds- the amount of produce I was able to grow in the same space jumped greatly. The only thing with that is the beds are highly labor intensive- unless you've got the weeds under control-and I don't. So I was still dependent on tractor tillage at the end of the season. But that bothered me- the gas of course, but also the pulverizing of the soil(and the worms), and that tillage speeds up the breakdown of organic matter and thus releases carbon back into the atmosphere, furthering global warming.

Enter mulch! I have very wet soil here- great in a drought- but otherwise- slug city(I've gotten some ducks btw- hopefully they will make a dent in the slug population as they feast on slugs). So mulch, a la Ruth Stout was a problematic issue-plus- I've got to procure enough mulch hay to do this. So I rethought this and did something else. Basically, I'm saving newspapers- my own and those donated by the general store that didn't get sold- and I layer a section or two of newspaper(not the inserts-newsprint only!) on the ground covered with a burlap bag from the coffee roasting company-they're free here by the truckload. Now I have a windy site so I do sometimes have to weigh it down with rocks or old boards to keep it all in one place. I can do this on bare soil or on turf-it doesn't matter. If it's grassy or weedy- I scythe it down first. Then I let it sit-I did some areas last fall. Then this spring, I jut peeled of the burlap- they are reusable for a number of years before they warrant composting- removed the soggy paper- and I had a perfect planting bed- just stick the plants or seeds right in it. Amazing it is- maintains all the soil structure and organic matter, is "worm-friendly" and, to be honest, my favorite part, it's easy! No digging!

So I've been preparing areas for next year already- as I take off the burlap from last year's piece, I put it somewhere else. So you can do this in large pieces or small- any place you want to grow some plants!  No burlap? No problem? Get creative- cardboard works just fine too- especially big pieces from appliances and such. I don't like to use carpet myself, but if it's all you've got, go for it...... If you've got none of these, you can use old pieces of plywood-that works ok too. Or- put down an extra section of newspaper and cover it with organic materials- leaves, weeds, grass clippings, compost, whatever. Get creative. The whole idea is to block the sun from the plant life and allow it to break down while you do other things....

I finally decided after all of these years of struggling with a wet field that was my main vegie field that it doesn't pay to struggle like that- one should work with what one has. So I'm switching fields- my pasture is my best land-so I'm working towards turning that into my vegie field and my vegie field into pasture. My septic system is under the "pasture" but now that I'm no longer tilling- no problem!

What else? Well I switched to the geese for mowing of course- they fall behind when the grass is growing fast in spring but catch up later on-not perfect- but beats mowing.

I do want to reccomend 2 types of critters btw. Khaki Campbell ducks- lay eggs like chickens do- every day- amazing. Also White Chinese Geese- lay lots of eggs, will hatch out their own offspring-good instincts- and can be raised on grass- perfect Peak Oil birds really. Great watchdogs too! And they both provide lots of good manure(and eggs and meat).

I've also moved away from heating any sort of greenhouse. My transplants suffered this year though for that- so next year I'm trying a "hot bed" system. Basically, I'm building a large cold frame with glass- which I will put a layer of fresh manure and bedding into in late winter/early spring. I will either put a light covering over this- newspaper for instance, and put my flats on top of that or I will cover it with a layer of soil/finished compost and plant into it. On really cold nights I'll cover it with row cover, and add a blanket on top even. I'm excited to try this- I think it will work- old-time French market growers did this. I will use these cold frames to grow greens for the fall and early winter for me as well.

Next year I hope to use one of my large greenhouses(one that can handle snowload) to start hardy greens in July or later- I will cover them with row cover- and sell them in the late Fall/early Winter- till I run out. You can get ideas on how to do this from Eliot Coleman's books- "Four-Season Harvest", and "Farming the Back Side of the Calendar". Most of you will have a milder climate to deal with than me in the far north on a mountain- so it is very doable. As for those of you in So. CA and Florida- I DON'T want to hear about your winter!

Anyway, the point of this is to extend the season with fresh vegies using no external heat source- beyond what we think of as our "season". I want to see how far I can push this.

I've also been working on integrating permaculture into my place. I'm developing layers- some of this will be for my own household use- but it also provides habitat for beneficials for the whole farm. In a section by the barn where I've got an old ash tree and maple and wild grapes, I've added currant bushes, blackberries and  filberts. There is also a variety of medicinals growing there- comfrey, marshmallow, elecampane, motherwort, mugwort, jewelweed, etc. I'm starting to take advantage of my wetter areas-I'm naturalizing plants like watercress there as well as planting willow and elderberry. Next year if I can source some cranberries, I'll add those as well.

I'm adding a variety of trees to the hedgerows and woods that I want to see here- Chinese Chestnut, Mulberry, Black Locust, Hickory Nut, Oak, etc- none of these grow here now, but some do in the area so I'm transplanting small seedlings and starting some from seed. I also tried planting 3 PawPaws this year- and they made it through the winter! Our climate IS changing and I'm trying to work with that and bring in plants from a little further south such as the hickories and oaks(and pawpaw!) and see how they do.

You can do lots of this- even on a small-scale. In Cuba, they produce I believe about 80% of the produce that Havana consumes right there in the city. Urban agriculture is a favorite subject of mine actually-it is amazing what can be grown in an urban area. There are advantages as well- less animal damage(no moose trampling your strawberries!), warmer weather-heat sink- etc. So if you're doing this in an urban environment, get creative. Think vertical, trellis, containers, etc. Also, community gardens- I love those. If there isn't one where you live, find a piece of land and start one. And don't forget guerilla gardening- stick stuff in everywhere- cuttings from grapes, raspberry canes, seeds from trees, whatever- nature finds a way to grow stuff- you just need to stick it in the ground.

Well, I could go on and on- am doing lots of stuff here- always trying new things. But I should end this and get to work! And don't forget the compost- make lots of compost this winter- even in a worm box in the kitchen!

Current Mood: creative

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Yesterday I got an e-mail from my neighbors(well, former neighbors) who used to live in the schoolhouse we're taking over. They moved to a cabin in Maine that they had-his former residence before they got together! Anyway, this is your basic cabin- cute, lots of wood, outhouse, woodstove for heat-they sent pictures. So they're doing great, the animals have been grazing well, cow's giving lots of milk, baby's doing fine, and of course they miss us...... So I was thinking that what they have there is a basic life- a home(shelter), heat-provided by wood they cut, food-to be grown, draft horses, space to play and lots to discover for the growing munchkin, friends nearby and each other. Their basic needs are met. It's not fancy- but it works.

It wouldn't cut it though in Matha Stewart Living or Home and Garden or any TV commercial, magazine ad or well, anywhere really that is intent upon selling us stuff. But this is really a good life-has what they need at home and they have the skills to earn cash in the area as needed.  But there's no Corion counter tops in sight, or jacuzzi or master bath with heated towel rack, nor fancy window treatments, subzero fridge, large screen TV, late model car or SUV and so on. But somehow what they have is enough for them-and for a good life. So why have we all been sold this bill of goods that says that we need to consume large amounts of stuff, furnish our homes in the latest trendiest styles, purchase new electronic gadgets yearly, etc?

The other day I read an article on home construction- and the ever increasing size trend of houses. As the number of occupants decreased, the houses only got larger. The article quoted a realtor as saying that it's impossible to sell a house with only 1 1/2 baths these days- everyone wants at least 2 or more baths. Wow- good thing I don't plan on moving any time soon- only got 1 bath- which I thought was a major step up from the outhouse!  So what's the deal here? Why have we bought into this? And this has translated into the ever increasing cost of homes- in many areas of the US home prices are so high that many are priced out of the market completely. Those that do buy one are locked into working long hours-2 incomes usually- with disaster to follow any interuption in income flow, as we're now seeing..... Just buying a basic house for a cost that one income can pay for is often impossible. As for new construction- forget it- only mega structures are being built. Around here, "affordable housing" has come to mean a trailer......

How did we become convinced that it was a good thing for a 120 lb woman to use 7,000 lbs of steel and misc. other products to propel her to the store for a quart of milk? That this was not just normal but in fact desirable? That we "needed" all these vehicles, and that somehow they were more than just transportation? They represented our image, our goals, how we saw ourselves and wanted others to see us? SUV's built for off-road use that never saw anything more off-road than the mall parking lot? DVD players in cars? Cars that cost more than I paid for my land? The fields and roadside here are still covered with hulking SUV's, tricked out pick-ups, snowmobiles and ATV's- all with "for sale" signs on them, but no takers. Somehow we thought this was all very important and worth spending so much money as well as valuable resources on constructing and running.

Why did we start to believe that commuting long hours to jobs, often stuck in massive traffic jams(jobs that often we only do for the money and not any real sense of personal satisfaction), that leave us so drained at the end of the day that we settle for take-out food picked up on the way home or pizza delivery was an acceptable way to spend 40 years or so? That the American way to live was to work long hours and write checks to people to do all the things we no longer had time or energy to do ourselves- bake bread, clean our house, wash our clothes, grow food, cook our meals, care for our children?

That spending our  remaining free-time mowing the lawn to a smooth green stubble, shopping at the mall and watching TV were more important than spending time in community? That we had no time to work with local children or teens, or be on the planning commission or school committee,  or be a youth leader or help out elderly neighbors? That is was more important to purchase a certain image-in our homes, lawns and landscaping, clothing, cars, vacations-to represent us to the world- and to spend our time earning the money(and paying back the credit cards) to buy this image? Thast it was ok to go for years not even knowing who lived next door?

Anyway, I've been thinking about all of us this as the oil crisis unfolds. That so many people are woefully unprepared for what has been happening. That all the stuff they thought was  important and worth spending so much of their life energy to obtain is now either worthless or for sale for pennies on the dollar- the McMansions that will cost a fortune to heat, the large vehicles, all the toys, fancy kitchen appliances(Want to buy an electric egg poacher? How about a hot dog griller?)-destined for yard sales- just all of that stuff we thought was worth working all those hours for.  The groomed lawns being torn up for vegetable gardens........

It's just interesting to me- I know that before this many people would have looked down on my friend's little cabin in Maine- who wants to live like that? Or my place even- a "step-up" from that cabin-got plumbing- and more rooms- but still very simple and rustic by our current "standards". But now times are changing- and that simple little cabin will meet the needs of their family- and I'd sure rather cut wood to heat that then a 4,000 sq ft house! And my place sure isn't fancy but it's paid for!  I've still got to earn an income of course and taxes go up yearly, but at least I'm not scrambling to pay a mortage on a $500,000 home!

When it comes down to it, I'd venture to say that we've spent a lot of time and energy and resources ignoring the things that really are important-family, friends, community, satisfaction in work, service to others, caring for the land. We've been focussed on stuff that really has little or no value. At the end of your life what will matter is your family and friends and what you've done with your time here on earth-not the quality of your kitchen appliances and counter tops or the car you drove.

Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

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Fed up station owner shuts off gas pumps

MEQUON, Wisconsin (AP) -- Motorists pulled in to Harvey Pollack's gas station, honked and gave him a thumbs-up -- because he wasn't selling any fuel.

The owner of Towne Market Mobil in this suburb north of Milwaukee shut down his pumps for 24 hours, hoping to start a movement aimed at convincing oil companies to lower their prices.

"Somebody out there is making money at these prices, but not me," said Pollack, 57. "So I just thought: What can I do to help the consumer?"

Yellow caution tape surrounded Pollack's six idle pumps for his protest, which drew dozens of drivers. One in a green minivan rolled down her window and shouted "Thank you!"

Maria McClory, 38, drove 10 miles out of her way to buy a diet soda from Pollack's station after seeing local television coverage of the protest.

"I just wanted to support them and thank them for making a statement," said McClory, who drives about 100 miles a day for work in her sport utility vehicle.

Other drivers were more skeptical.

Jeff Bensman, 52, pulled in expecting to gas up his Honda sedan. He said he appreciated the protest but did not think it would make much difference.

"Most other places are going to be open in the area," he said.

Jack Sobczak, general sales manager for Lakeside Oil Co., a contracted Mobil distributor that supplies Pollack's station, said Bensman was probably right: "The demand will just move down the street to the next Mobil station."

Pollack and station general manager John Schwartz agreed to experiment with a pump shutdown after an Internet-based push for a one-day gas boycott went largely unheeded last week.

"Somebody's got to be the first to try this," Schwartz said.

The Mequon station sells about 3,500 gallons of gas a day, Pollack said. He estimated the station would lose only $1,500 on the protest because some losses in gas would be made up by people buying convenience store items or more gas on Friday.

Pollack, who also owns a Milwaukee title insurance agency, said he bought the gas station in 2003 as an investment but he has not turned a profit in 30 months because gas margins are razor thin and he cannot sell enough volume to compensate.

Pollack said he has virtually no control over the price he charges for gas. The company usually makes 8 to 12 cents per gallon after suppliers' prices and credit card fees.

"If it keeps going like this, my kids will never be able to afford to drive," said Schwartz, who has an 18-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.

The protest came as several Wisconsin service stations announced they would no longer sell gas because they make little or no profit on it after they pay wholesalers, credit card fees and taxes. They said they would focus on auto repairs instead.


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Our local neighborhood up here on the mountain is in general pretty close-knit; not everyone of course, but all who want to be. Some of us were discussing how to deal with the latest issues- loss of jobs and income, increased expenses for just about everything, the works. We concluded that while we had always sort of informally swapped help and other assistance with projects- sharpening a mower blade, cutting down a tree, childcare, etc, it seemed like a good time to ratchet it up a step and form a community skills bank.

We decided to include everyone on the mountain who wanted to be involved, plus a couple just off of the mountain in the valley who are part of our village. This was a bit daunting as it meant venturing into something of an unknown in terms of some of the people on the other road- and also the second-homes that have filled up these past few months. While we know a few of these people well, mostly we don't really know them or they us. So, we prepared an info sheet on what we were proposing-and suggested a pot-luck meeting in the park. In case someone couldn't make it, we provided contact info(phone # and e-mail) to join.
A couple of us then set out on our bikes and distributed them- about 10 miles or so of road.

We had a good turn-out and great weather(and always good food of course!). The way we decided to proceed was that since nearly everyone had internet access here, we would compile a list of skills that people had that they were willing to share with others in some way. We decided to be flexible as to how those skills were shared- to be decided upon by the parties involved. So someone who knows how to prune trees for instance could just agree to teach someone else how to prune, or swap for something else(eggs or produce for instance), or swap skills. How it works will be different depending on who is involved.

A tricky part though is how to deal with skills that are used by  someone to earn a living- car mechanic, plumbing, farming, etc- how should these be handled? Are they swappable skills? We're not sure yet- will have to see how that goes.

Anyway, people will e-mail me the list of skills they have that they are willing to share and we will distribute this list to everyone else. Then the arrangements proceed from there. I think we are going to have an amazing set of skills available to share though. Just some of them are:
canning, gardening, livestock raising,pruning, carpentry, pottery, electrical work, bread baking, outdoor bread oven construction, raising trout, spinning, weaving, knitting, foraging and wildcrafting, making tinctures and salves, herbalism, sharpening tools, using a scythe, beekeeping, mechanical repairs, etc. We are a talented bunch I'd say!

The good thing about this of course(well there are several good things), is that this will allow us as a community to be more self-sufficient and help each other while not requiring an outlay of cash we may not have. It also honors people for the skills they possess, even if they're not earning a big paycheck(or even one at all these days).

We talked for a bit about whether we wanted to create a "stuff" bank as well- a list of items we owned and were willing to share with others. We have discussed this in the past and it hasn't happened yet. Issues with it are several- not everyone necessarily wants everyone to know just what they own-especially not the larger group whom many of us don't know well.  While many of us are willing to loan stuff to people we are close to and trust- and know they'll care for it and return it promptly- we don't know that about everyone. Also- some things just  wouldn't last if loaned  to the whole community- my log splitter and cider press for instance would fall apart under that sort of use. So we agreed to keep that part as it is now- if you're in need of something you discuss it with someone you know has the desired item or just put it out there in an e-mail or at a gathering that you need the use of something and see what comes of it..... Has worked pretty well thus far.....

So that's the latest here. We're keeping busy!

Current Mood: calm calm

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So I've been thinking( one of the many fringe benefits of farming is time to think while you're working) about the relationship between oil and work/jobs. Obviously lots of people have been losing their jobs during this oil crisis as companies cut back or shut down completely. So it seems likely that we will end up with a very different employment picture as this thing goes on. It would seem in fact that the world of work will be quite different as this unfolds-and may not look like what it had only 6 months ago ever again. So, is this a bad thing?

I sometimes wonder how we got ourselves into what we have in terms of employment at least here in the U.S. Most people work long hours, take short vacations, are away from home most of their waking hours and have little energy to spare when they drag themselves home at the end of the workday. But this is now considered normal. The only people given dispensation from this routine are the retired elderly, children, mothers of very young children and the sick and disabled. Otherwise one is expected to "saddle up" and head off to the cube farm  5 days/week until one is old enough to retire.

So how did this happen? It wasn't too long ago that most people worked at or near home- many people farmed or operated a business out of their home- they were a blacksmith or a furniture maker perhaps. Kids got to see what their parents did- not just one day a year on "take your daughter to work day".

Well I think the answer is oil. The advent of the use of fossil fuels advanced the industrial revolution. This  provided a way for large machinery(tractors, combines, etc) to take the place of horses/oxen/people for farming. Here in the U.S. less than 2% of the population is involved in farming. As we mechanized farming, electrified  the country and produced labor saving devices,it allowed (or forced)depending on how you look at it, people off the farms and out of their homes and small businesses. We now had large factories building all of this stuff- no need to cook when you could buy it at the store. Why weave cloth or knit socks when clothing from overseas was so cheap, furniture was mass produced, etc.

So we ended up with hordes of people working in factories making this stuff or in retail selling it, plus advertising companies marketing it, and all the other related businesses. which gave rise to everything else of course- from banks to lawyers to accountants to trucking. So lots of jobs for all of the people no longer growing food at home, baking bread, canning, sewing, building their own homes, etc.

So basically I'd say that it was fossil fuels- oil, coal and gas- that gave us the incredible power to do all of this work with fewer and fewer people. So the ability to do all of this then manufactured the need for all of these other positions-and there were plenty of people available to fill them. Full employment is the goal-people need to be "busy" and have a steady income with which to purchase consumer items. This is how our economy functions actually. If people stopped purchasing goods or borrowing money it would all collapse.

But as we find ourselves with less and less energy, how will the world of work change? Will many of these jobs no longer need to exist? If cheap goods are no longer easily available- clothing and furniture from China for instance, will that open up the door for people to start sewing or building their own? Will this spur the development of cottage industries? Will we once again find locally created goods on the market in other than craft fairs and high priced galleries? Will these sorts of skills become valued?

Will people once again be more likely to work from or near home, not dropping the kids off at daycare at 7 a.m. on their way to the office, not to see them again till 5:30 that night? Will growing food for the family, cooking from scratch, preserving foods, and otherwise providing for the household needs become valued once again- worth money because of what they produce even though not awarded an actual paycheck? What would this be like, spending the day here instead?

Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

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Well lots has been happening here. We had the "big" meeting of course that I wrote about. It's been going pretty well since then. I am in two groups- the one that sources and distributes surpluses and the canning group. Often these go together. Around here we have a lot of "wild" apple trees- remnants of old homesteads or offspring of older trees. Often the fruits go unpicked. So I've compiled a list of some of those-info provided by  others in the towns- and have organized picking groups. We are then canning, juicing and drying the fruit. Much of it is not "storeable"- damaged by insects, etc so it would rot quickly in storage but it makes great cider, apple butter, applesauce and dry fruit. I have a cider press and an apple peeler/corer- found one for a couple of bucks this year at the thrift store, still in its box!  If you core the apples and slice them thin-peeled or unpeeled, and hang to dry near a heat source or in a dehydrator, they make great dried apple slices. To hang them to dry, just run a cord through the rings, or a needle and thread if not intact. We got permission to use the school cafeterias, so we had "canning class" and then a canning session.

Basically, we're storing all the food we can at this point. Hard to believe it's already late September!  My wild grapes produced well and I've got grape jam and  jelly as well as juice.  I've made  combos of juice-apple, apple-raspberry, apple-grape,  apple-blueberry, apple-cherry-good ole apple!  This is the first year I'll have a freezer so I'm really enjoying the possibilities. I had to be careful to stash food away for my houseold as my customers would have bought everything they could this year- I saved all the culls- the berries with the bird/slug bite, etc to can/juice. The same with the tomatoes, peppers, etc. My canner and freezer doesn't care if it's perfect or not!

I'm still working away on cutting wood- I feel those muscles growing!  For me, a full woodshed and a pantry full of food is better than money in the bank. If I've got those, we should be ok this winter I think.

Some of my friends and neighbors have been having a rough time with the job scene. Several who work for non-profits have lost their jobs. We've convinced one of them that she is better off running their outdoor bread oven-baking for the community with wood- and growing and preserving food for her family than trying to find other work. Her partner is still employed so this may work. She is also a good forager- we had her doing "edibles and medicinals" walks before the oil crisis so she is continuing to do this now. I give them eggs for this- others trade other stuff such as carpentry.

The school situation has gotten very murky- in terms of bus transportation, keeping the school heated and other issues. As well, the pre-school is closing that some parents had been sending their kids to. So we decided that rather than have all the parents try to homeschool on their own, we'd join forces. The old one-room school in the village is actually vacant now- our neighbors who own it moved out of state to a bigger piece of land. So we will rent it from them as a school. It can be heated with wood- and is easy to get to. The parents of the kids will join together to teach-supplemented by lessons from those of us who don't have kids in the school. It's kind of ironic as I used to put my son on the school bus which stopped in front of the old school-house for years- hating that he had an hour long ride ahead of him and wishing he could go to school there still. We used to joke that we would kick out the guy who lived there then, haul the old teacher out of retirement(who still lives next door) and reopen the school! And now we will!

It seems that in some ways the dust is settling so to speak. People seem to be getting the idea that the old way is done and we are on a long, strange trip; destination unknown. It isn't easy to plan for this; just what do you take along when you don't know where you're going, but being prepared for anything seems to work! In this area being able to heat the house in winter, have water and food are the biggies. People with large mortages are in trouble however- I think the ones who had a small one who diped into it with all those home equity loans to finance the trip to Disney, etc are kicking themselves hard right now though.

The second-homes have filled up- so we will have many new people up here this winter. We know a few of them but most are really strangers. We'll see how that goes. At least they won't be (I hope) snowmobiling down the roads and across the fields at all hours of the night now. Or ATV'ing. The use of fuel for stuff like this could prompt some serious injury these days it seems.......

Well, got to get to work. Still lots to do out there.

Current Mood: calm calm

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The idea of foraging for food has long been an interest of mine. I've gone on "wild-foods" walks and collected some books on the subject. I've sampled some of what is out there but only recently have I been thinking about what it would be like to depend on it for sustenance. This spring I started looking at what there would be to eat growing/living close to home.  I basically came up with: fiddleheads, ramps, dandelions(leaves and roots), burdock roots, horseradish root, cattail and knotweed shoots, marsh marigold leaves, violet leaves and flowers, mint, chives, rhubarb-and that's pretty much it here. I'm trying to naturalize watercress and sorrel-hopefully they will take.  Other than plants there are fish, frogs, turkeys, ducks, geese and assorted  rabbits, deer and the like- most of these are protected by  a "season" of course- but  in an emergency, they would be there irregardless.

So it seemed obvious that I would be pretty hungry without consuming some animal life(if I managed to catch any)- and it was a pretty slim list of eatin out there .

Later in the seaon it gets better- fruit such as apples, grapes, chokecherries and wild raspberries kick in. Also cattail "heads", milkweed shoots and pods, rose hips, plaintain, chickweed, pineapple weed, bee balm- no problem on the "tea" front here! Mushrooms too if you know what you're doing- I want to learn this- am going to see if I have morels this year- bet I do. Also maple syrup!

Sobering though to examine this- some areas of the country-and outside the US undoubtably have better pickins- we have a harsh climate here. But if I had to live off of what was out there in the wild- I would definitely have a hard time keeping my calorie intake up-would likely cease being a vegetarian!

Try this where you are- what's growing/living there that's edible(NOT your neighbor's cat!). Do you know how to prepare it so it is safe to eat and tastes good?Ssome wild foods need to be boiled in several changes of water before eating first. Tell us what's to eat!

Current Mood: hungry hungry

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