Ok, so I stopped posting a while ago because, well, I figure my blog was pretty boring. It was like an excessively boring online diary and who really wants to read that? All the blogs I love to read tend to have some sort of focus and I decided to change this one to better reflect one of my biggest interests: sustainability. There are so many blogs out there that will talk about sustainable practices, but I see several major faults with these. 1)They look at only one issue. There's the Zerowastehome.com, which I love but really only focuses on trash. There are all sorts of locavore blogs, of which my two favorite recent discoveries are Diary of a Locavore and The Seasonal Family. But these last mostly focus on food, and not on trash or any other sustainable efforts. I think that we truly need to take all of these ideas and bring them together. (And yes, I realize that eating local tends to produce less waste, since you're not also buying all that packaging. But as little waste as the zero waste family? Probably not, since the only focus is food.)
2)Not one of these efforts is in Alaska, with all of our unique challenges and our climate. 7 months of winter can really take its toll on a pantry, even a very well-stocked one like ours. One of my friends posted to Facebook yesterday, "Fairbanks, it's April and I'm still wearing long underwear. WTF?" When most gardeners around the country are starting to see buds from their new plants, or at least to plant them outside, we're still clinging to the tail end of winter. When the planting and growing season starts, 24 hours of sunlight (well, ok, 23) helps, but the short growing season (and my lack of a greenhouse, since I rent) means that a lot of plants simply don't grow around here.
When I thought about starting this adventure yesterday, and embarking on a challenge to really eat as locally and sustainably as possible, the first thing that came to mind was everything that I'd have to give up. Most fruits, for instance. The only ones that grow locally are berries: strawberries (only if you garden, none wild), blueberries (both wild and cultivated), raspberries (wild, mostly), and cranberries (wild). Shane's mom planted an apple tree a couple of summers ago, a Canadian variety that's supposed to be able to survive down to -40, but it's not mature enough to grow fruit yet (if it ever will). Even if it does produce fruit, they live in Soldotna (about three hours beyond Anchorage) and we live in Fairbanks. It's a 10-14 hour drive to get down there, depending on the season.
Which brings me to 3)What is local in Alaska? In a state this large, it's harder to define. For most locavores, that means within a 100 mile radius. But here, one of our most productive centers of food production, the Matanuska Valley, is just outside of Anchorage. In other words, over 300 miles from where I live. When I buy something from Alaska Grown, that's generally where it's coming from. And even then, a lot of things can't be found under that label. And I'm not talking mangos and bananas. Most farmers up here don't grow grains, for instance. "Local" for things like flour could mean Washington State. To get from there to here is about as far as food travels for most of the continental U.S. (an average of 1500 miles from farm to plate). Not exactly sustainable or local. Still, it's better than buying from California or South America. And I should ask around to see if I can get find some local sources for grains. (Until now, that hasn't been as high on my list of priorities.) Perhaps if enough of us ask someone will start growing grains here? The University of Alaska Fairbanks (as a land grant school) does have a large field (I think it's wheat?) and I need to find out what happens to that product. Considering the other sustainability efforts the U is undertaking, and the push to grow more of our own food, probably it gets served to students throughout the year.
On top of all of this, I'm adding one more challenge to myself: work with as small a budget as possible. Like so many other people at the moment, Shane is jobless. He finished his last classes in December (no longer eligible for his student job, in other words) and graduates in just a few weeks. He's been applying to pretty much every job in his field (biology), and has gotten nothing but rejection so far. (Very disheartening.) So we're on one rather small salary, also partially supporting my little brother while he's in school (although I'm trying to wean him away from depending on us so much) and a dog and a cat. As of 2005, the average couple with only one wage earner spent roughly $121 per week on groceries. So that is my target. Feed all of us on $125/week or less, as locally as possible, and while producing as little trash as possible.
The final part of this is my goal to simply consume less. And I'm not talking about food (although that would certainly help with the budget...), I'm talking resources. Clothing, gasoline, paper, etc. We all use or have too much of it. There is the minimalist movement where people only have 100 items in their homes, but that's a little extreme for me. (Just as I will never, ever give up my toilet paper in the name of zero waste.) I have more than 100 items just in my kitchen, and they all get used on a regular basis. I also read prolifically, and while I do get a lot of books from the library, I own more than 300 just in my apartment. (Probably well over 400 if you count the ones still at my parents' house--Shane claims I have way too many, but still bought me a book for my birthday this year.) And I don't consider them junk or a waste of space and resources as so many people do. So they're staying.
But I do make it a habit to regularly clean out my closet and donate the clothes I never wear (sorry, Mom, I just don't like turtlenecks). We've also been consciously reducing the amount we drive. I know, I know, with the gas prices this high (I think around $4.00/gallon around here, although the last time we filled up was in March) who isn't cutting back on that? Still, it's not just about the money to me. When we searched for apartments last time, we found one that is in walking distance to the University so that Shane and I don't need to drive...or spend over $300 on a parking pass. Since a lot of our friends are students, grad students, staff, or alumni, a lot of our activities are at the University, too. (Hello, Pub!) So we walk. Or bike, depending on the season. (Shane bikes all winter, but my bike has hybrid tires that don't do so well on the snow and ice. I didn't feel like spending a lot of money on new tires, rims, etc., to get my bike winterized. I walk or bus to and from work in the winter. Even around here that's considered a bit odd, when someone's walking at -40.)
The biking is excellent here, too. Not so much because the roads and paths are excellent (winter is so hard on them) but just because most of the places we need to get to can easily be biked to. Fairbanks is small. "Across town" is about a ten minute drive, and then what's the point of driving? The farmer's market, several of our friends' houses, the grocery stores and our favorite HomeGrown Market (I'll talk about them a lot, I'm sure) are all within a 20 minute bike ride. Our favorite summertime date is to walk the dog to Hot Licks Ice Cream (a local company) and get cones, then walk home. Such an easy way to connect with each other and make the dog super happy at the same time. No car necessary.
This is getting too long, so I'll post another one about current efforts and goals.