Category Archives: Eco-Friendly

We’re going to South America!!

So I’ve been keeping a secret for the past little while but now that I’ve finally put in my notice at work I have some exciting news! We’re going to South America!!

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Mount Fitzroy, Patagonia. One of the hikes we have planned for while we are there. They say Patagonia is a real life Narnia. I can’t wait to see it in person! Photo credit: http://www.tcktcktck.org

Like the hippies at heart we are we both quit our jobs and are going backpacking again! This time with a proper backpack instead of a giant suitcase on my part.. As you can tell I am extremely excited! I’m also super excited about what we’re going to learn down there. We first heard of the wwoof organization (Willing Workers On Organic Farms or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) while in Australia 3 years ago. We actually just stumbled upon a membership book on the free bookshelf at our hostel and thought it was the coolest thing ever. We contacted a couple farms nearby and heard back from one with a kangaroo petting farm and eco-tourism style venue where they held parties and weddings and hummer tours through the rainforest. I know a hummer is not the most eco-friendly vehicle but it was pretty cool nonetheless. We had planned on wwoofing again while we were there but sudden flooding in the area forced our plans to change as the farms we contacted were now housing their neighbours.. It also cut off our route south so we stayed put at another farm planting watermelons and pruning mango trees.

Anyways before I get too side-tracked reminiscing.. This time around we knew we wanted to learn as much as possible about sustainable living and what better way than get some hands on experience in a place we can’t wait to visit.  Many of the organic farms are almost completely self-sufficient with water collection units, solar panels, woodstoves, and yes even composting toilets. Not only do they grow all their own food including animal husbandry for meat or wool they try to use their own water, heat, and energy sources. I’m hoping that after spending a few months living like that we will pick up on enough tips and tricks to put it in action back home.

If you haven’t heard of WWOOF I suggest checking them out. It’s an international organization with branches in many countries and probably has some farms enrolled close by to learn from if you don’t feel like traveling. Another awesome thing about the organization is that the only fee is your membership unlike some eco-tourism trips where you end up paying thousands of dollars just to go volunteer with them. In exchange for a few hours work a day (normally 4 or 5 with a day or two off a week depending on the farm) you get free accommodation and food. It’s really a perfect way to travel the world, learn about their culture, and for us hopefully learn some Spanish as well! We’re landing in Patagonia and will be working our way up Chile, then hopefully heading over to Argentina, Brazil and back through Bolivia and ending our trip in Peru or back in northern Chile. We’re hoping to do lots of hiking while we’re there as well. So far we’ve planned two hikes in Patagonia. The Torres del Paine “W” circuit in Chile and another 4-5 day one to Mount Fitzroy, Argentina. Maybe a little ambitious after only ever completing a 3-day hike lol.

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Stunning photo from the Torres del Paine hike in Patagonia! Photo credit: http://www.wikipedia.org

I’ll try to blog as often as possible while we’re there and share what I’m learning and probably a million pictures of cute animals since we’re both big animal lovers. Anyways that’s all for now! Hope any of you in the US are having a wonderful thanksgiving!

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From an article on wwoofing in Chile. Photo credit: http://www.oneearth.org

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Eco-Friendly Friday (Sunday..) – Energy use in winter.

ECO-FRIENDLY FRIDAY: Reducing energy use in the winter.

With all the snow we’ve been having here lately and the temperature continuing to drop I thought a post about regulating the temperature in your house would be appropriate for Eco-Friendly Friday… Errr Sunday… Also I really wanted to share this TED talk! It brings up some really great points and I love the idea of using behavioural science to find more and better ways to motivate people to reduce their energy use.

The best way to lower your energy use in the winter is to have a strong insulative barrier for your house. This includes windows and doors. At our current rental property this is a huge issue. We lose so much heat to the windows and doors. I can actually feel the cold air when I get close to them. Last year we tried to put plastic sheeting over all our windows. The kind you tape on then use a hair dryer to shrink to trap in the heat. It didn’t work out too well. What plastic didn’t fall off on its own got shredded by our cat.. So now I have heavy fabric curtains in front of the windows and keep them drawn 90% of the time. It makes for a gloomy living room but at least it’s semi warm. We also keep an abundance of cozy blankets in there at all times.  Plus we kinda got used to wearing sweaters, long johns, and wool socks most of the time (not that it’s freezing in our house but I like being warm).

I also recently set our thermostat to lower during the day while we’re at work hopefully that will make a difference in our energy bill as well.  A programable thermostat is a must for energy savings! As the days get shorter we also tend to use more energy lighting our homes. One way we try to reduce this is by both being in the same room. This is easy since our house is so small that our living room is also our computer room/office. By both hanging out in the same area we only need one light on in the house instead of two or three. It also means we spend almost all our time together when we’re home even if we’re doing different things. Although this doesn’t work when I’m in the kitchen cooking or sewing/crafting in the basement.

It’s been snowing like crazy all weekend and it’s making me wish I were in the mountains right now. A weekend trip is in order stat! For now, I’ll just go play in the snow outside. Snow fort!!

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Our yard last winter. So pretty!

Happy Remembrance Day Everyone 🙂

Chickens are smarter than you think. A reblogged article from Treehugger.com

I just had to share this article from Treehugger.com this is one of the reasons I refuse to eat chicken or eggs not from my own birds.  

“Chickens out-perform toddlers in math tests

The most recent outbreak of salmonella has got people talking a lot about poultry. With chicken still being shipped out of Foster Farms, the contaminated factory in California, and put onto supermarket shelves, it’s clearer than ever that consumers need to take responsibility for the quality and safety of the meat they consume (if they choose to eat meat at all). The industry only cares about itself. As Mark Bittman wrote last week in the New York Times, ‘This is not a shutdown issue, but a “We care more about industry than we do about consumers” issue.’

The reasons to buy high quality, ethically raised chicken go beyond the risk of salmonella. In an article titled “Are Chicks Brighter Than Babies?” Nicholas Kristof challenges the inhumane way in which most poultry is raised. Perhaps it’s harder to feel sympathy for a clucking, pecking hen than it is for a brown-eyed calf, but chickens and geese are truly fascinating creatures. While reading the following list, you’d think I’m talking about monkeys, not hens and geese.

 

  • Geese mate for life, share family duties, and even try to comfort each other when approaching the chopping block.
  • Hens can count at least to six. Even chicks can do basic arithmetic, so if you shuffle five items in a game, they mentally keep track of additions and subtractions and choose the area with the higher number of items. They do better than toddlers in these tests.
  • Hens can delay gratification. Researchers gave hens the choice of two keys, one that waited two seconds and gave the hen 3 seconds of food, and the other that waited six seconds but offered 22 seconds of food. Soon 93 percent of hens opted for the longer delay with more food.
  • Hens can multitask, using one eye to forage for food and the other looking out for predators.
  • Hens are social animals and recover more quickly from stress when in the company of others.
  • Hens have a “Machiavellian tendency” to adjust what they’re saying according to who’s listening. They can share precise information about the location of food and presence of predators using specific sounds and calls.
  • Hens have an intriguing ability to understand that an object, when taken away and hidden, continues to exist.
  • Hens can also recognize a whole object even when it is partly hidden. It was thought only humans could do this.

 

I’m not tackling the basic question of whether or not to eat meat, but I’m sure we can all agree that animals should not be hurt unnecessarily. These are not “birdbrains” that we’re dealing with, but intelligent creatures who do not deserve to spend their lives “jammed into tiny cages in stinking, fetid barns.” If our consumer habits are creating horrible environments for animals in captivity, then those habits need to change.”

© Katherine Martinko

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My old chickens enjoying a treat of Saskatoon berries.

Preserving adventures Pt 2 – Salsa

I’m not quite sure how many parts there are going to be to my preserving adventures saga.. I feel like I’m getting hooked! There are just so many things that you can preserve. Yet even though having a pantry full of homemade pickled goods, sauces and jams sounds amazing I’m trying to stick to things that we eat on a regular basis. Last year I pickled some string beans but since I’d only ever eat them in a Caesar (a Canadian drink similar to a bloody mary not the salad) they just sat there all year until I finally just got rid of them so I could reuse the jars. To be honest they didn’t turn out very well either, kind of mushy, so I’m trying to be a little more cautious when canning this time around. I also made a bunch of raspberry jam last summer and although I gave a lot away the jars I kept sat there for a long time. We did finally use it all up but now I know that in my household we just do not consume a lot of jam.

Tomato sauce, pickles and salsa on the other hand.. It’s hard to keep those things in stock! Which brings me to my next canning adventure.. Salsa! The process was similar to making the tomato sauce but a lot less work. I still had to blanch and peel the tomatoes but once that was done you just dice them and throw them into a large pot with all the other ingredients and let it boil for 15 mins. That’s it. For my salsa I looked at a few different recipes but eventually ended up creating my own. I like salsa to be chunky and taste super fresh with not too much seasoning. This is what I came up with:

Sara’s Fresh Chunky Salsa

  • 35-40 Roma Tomatoes
  • 5 Assorted Peppers (I used green, yellow and orange)
  • 3 med sized onions
  • 5-7 Jalapenos depending on size and how spicy you want it.
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  •  ½ C apple cider vinegar
  • ½ C lemon juice
  • 1 can tomato paste 156ml or 5.5oz
  • 1 TBs salt
  • 1 TBs fresh ground pepper
  1. Blanch and peel tomatoes then dice and add to large pot
  2. Chop and add the rest of the ingredients. I used a food processor for the jalapenos to get them super finely chopped.
  3. Bring to a boil over med heat and let cook for 15 mins.

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I had a little salsa leftover that didn’t fit into the jars and so far it got good reviews. Hmm what to can next…  My vegan cheese came out pretty good too. I’ll post an update on that later this week 🙂

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Nuri enjoying the fall weather!

Preserving Adventures Pt 1 – Pickles and Tomato Sauce

I’m finally getting around to sharing my canning adventures! My past two weekends have been spent in the kitchen prepping, cooking, and attempting to make some preservatives for the winter. I ordered 10lbs of pickling cucumbers, dill, garlic, and 40lbs of canning tomatoes from my local organic box. The first weekend I did up my pickles. It was really pretty easy! I followed some online instructions and it literally only took about 30 mins for all my pickles (five 1L jars). I found a ton of different ways to make dill pickles from fermenting them first to super easy fridge pickles but I settled on a canning recipe. Maybe I’ll try a different method next year, depending on how these turn out.. The recipe/instructions I followed is here. Making pickles is definitely something I want to do every year, hopefully with my own home-grown cucumbers next year! I can’t wait to taste them. Seeing them sitting on the counter everyday yet having to wait a whole month to eat them is probably the worst part of doing it at home.

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All my cukes. Washed and ready!

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The jars looked so pretty with just the dill and garlic in them.

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Finished pickles! Waiting to be eaten..

Next up was homemade tomato sauce. My friend is Italian and every year at the end of the summer her mom, and pretty much entire neighborhood, spend days upon days making enough tomato sauce to last for the entire year. We got the recipe from her mom and set to work. This was much more labour intensive than the pickles.. We set up stations in her kitchen for each step. The first station was for rinsing the tomatoes and prepping them for blanching then the blanching station (a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice water). Next was the peeling station where the skins were removed from all the tomatoes. After that came the blending station and finally the cooking station. It took us 5 hours the first night to finish cooking most of the tomato sauce and get about half of the sauce into jars and those jars processed. After about a half day total of work we finished with 12 500ml jars each. Not too bad for our first time! I tested out an unsealed jar that night on spaghetti and it was delicious. I can’t wait to try it out for pizza too!

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Finished tomato sauce. We also added fresh basil leaves to each jar. Yum.

Next on my list for home made food is salsa and vegan cheese. So far I’ve got some sprouted grains fermenting as a starter liquid for my cheese. Hopefully that will be ready to use either today or tomorrow. It’s such a satisfying feeling making everything from scratch. A lot of work but so worth it!

Adopt a Heritage Chicken!

A Plymouth Rock Hen. Photo credit: Janeschooks.com

I’ve been in a funk about blogging lately.. It’s been almost 3 weeks since my last post and it seems like the more time passes the harder it is to get back on track. Sometimes I’ll start posts but then not finish them and a week later they no longer feel relevant enough to post. More often this happens when I’m writing an about me or life in general post, times when I don’t have a concrete topic to blog about. I start feeling like anything I write about is silly or not good enough to share. Does this happen to anyone else? To break this funk I had to remind myself that this is my blog. I should post whatever I want and not be so critical. So what’s been going on with me lately? How nice of you to ask! Well, work has been cool lately. I got to work with Research and Development on a new study, which meant I got to hang out at our lab on campus at my Alma Mater University.

While there I also found out about the University’s “Adopt a Heritage Chicken” program put on by the Poultry Research Center. The program was started this year in order to maintain the genetic diversity of chickens. Lots of funding goes into agriculture research for improving meat & egg quality and quantity but not so much into maintaining rare breeding lines.  In fact the researcher who started the adoption program informed me that if it weren’t for the introduction of the Adopt a Chicken program they were going to have to get rid of all their heritage lines. This issue of maintaining genetic diversity is very important to me. Much like in all sectors of modern agriculture animal diversity is rapidly being replaced by a new mono-crop culture where animals are bred for specific uses. Chickens in agriculture today have been bred to be either layers (producing eggs) or broilers (producing meat). They don’t really even exist in the same way as they did 50-100 years ago and many lines will soon disappear if nothing is done to maintain them.

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“Hey Buddy, what are you looking at?” My chickens always make me smile.

I have a soft spot for chickens. I love the way they walk. I love they way they talk. They really communicate a lot to each other with a wide range of clucking sounds. I love the way they remind me of Velociraptors running around and  I love how they really are modern day dinosaurs. So, naturally, ensuring that we don’t lose certain genetic lines (the ancestors of commercial chickens) is very important to me! The program is great, for $75 you can select one of 6 breeds to adopt. They have Plymouth Rock, Light Sussex, New Hampshire, White Leghorns, and Brown Leghorns to choose from and the best part you get a dozen eggs every 2 weeks! Hearing about this program and after losing two hens over the winter I’ve been strongly considering getting some heritage chickens of my own! I can’t wait until we have our own place and I can get a rooster as well but for now I could at least get a couple hens that would be more suited to winter in our climate. I’ve heard that some hens will even walk around when there is snow on the ground and dig in the snow!

Anyways awesome awesome program! I’ve been telling everyone I see about it. They’ve already had so much success with adoptions that there is a waiting list for October!

Another cool thing from work lately is that they allowed me to implement a “green up our lab” program. I got the okay to make our lab almost completely paperless and started a recycling program for all the lab materials that can be recycled. Yay! It’s still a work in progress and will take a lot of effort to get everything completely set up but the fact that everyone has been on board and very helpful so far has been great!

On the home front I’ve been patiently awaiting May long weekend in order to plant my garden and get outdoors and plant some flowers around the house! Bring on summer!

Do you have any cool animal adoption programs in your area? Have any of you had success with greening up your workplace?

Happy Earth Day!

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Hope everyone is having a lovely Earth Day! Unfortunately I don’t have any exciting Earth Day plans since I have to work tonight but I spent the morning outside enjoying the sun and potting some flowers to transplant outside once it’s warmer! 

 

 

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The chickens have also been out enjoying the sun! 

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That’s all for now! Hope you all have a great day!