Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Horrible Environmental Problems Inspire me to Make Beauty Products out of Things I Should be Eating

 Microbeads. They’re sand-like bits of plastic that you find in skin care products like facial scrubs and exfoliants. Not only can they wreck havoc on my already too dry skin if I use them too often, but they ravage the environment  These microplastic beads are too small for water treatment plants to remove them, so they end up in rivers and lakes. 

All sorts of chemicals were once dumped liberally into many rivers and lakes across the US. While we've cleaned up our environmental act over the past two decades, elevated levels of industrial chemicals like PCBs are still found in many of our waterways. Small bits of plastic, like microbeads, soak up these remaining toxic chemicals. 

Microbeads are so small even mussels and plankton can eat them. Small fish eat both the  toxic-coated plastics and chemical-infused plankton. Then those fish are eaten by bigger fish, and then they get eaten by even bigger fish. The bigger and more predatory a fish is, the more likely it is for them to have the highest levels of chemicals in their bodies. I love sushi, but I hate wondering if the fish I eat are saturated in toxins. 

So even though I know most of you hippies already use granola in the shower to exfoliate your skin, encourage your grandmas who are using products containing plastic microbeads to switch over to something biodegradable.

I decided to experiment with making different facial scrubs in the kitchen. Ingredients from four different scrubs included coffee grounds, oatmeal, lavender, honey, olive oil, dried milk, cornmeal, and sugar. The process was wildly easy. I have plenty of left overs and am happy to package it up, put it in the mail/meet you downtown, and share. Comment below to let me know if you want some!

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Arrival of Spring

There is no question that spring is upon us. The sandhill cranes passed overhead yesterday; their croaking and cooing song pulled my head skywards searching for their threadlike formation stitched across the sky. I looked back down at the soil where I was sowing seeds; it breathed a moist sigh of relief bidding winter adieu. 

Each time I scrub the dirt from under my fingernails or greet the busy worms that writhe in the freshly turned soil I praise the lord. Spring around here feels like a Baptist Bible Convention. Hallelujah! 

My dad just visited for a week. When we weren't off skiing in the mountains, our time on the homestead was more of a working vacation, and boy can my pops work. We started the day with a breakfast of french toast topped with butter, honey, goat cheese, and apricot jam. Outside, we turned compost into one of our new garden beds. Our cheeks were red from the sun by noon. He then set to work pruning, carefully researching each plant on his smart phone before hacking them back to the recommended length. By four, I started to poop out, but Dad said that's the time to push harder and get through it. He was right, and by the time we headed indoors, at 7:30, I didn't care about dinner. I was ready for bed.

We walked my neighborhood together and I pointed out each sign of spring. The brilliant mountain blue bird, the budding fruit trees, the newborn calfs stiffly romping in the fields like rocking horses with bucking bronco aspirations. Surely we will be without an apricot harvest with this early spring. In a few weeks the trees will blossom, on a Sunday perhaps. It will undoubtably freeze that Monday, and by Tuesday the blossoms will be wilted and burned by frost, never knowing the soft touch of pollinators like the honey bee. 

Early as they may be, these signs of spring kick my butt into gear. Each springtime arrival corresponds with a step to get things ready in the garden. This is called phenology, the study of events that occur in regular cycles in the lives of plants and animals. Things like temperature and day length influence who shows up when. You can use these cycles as hints that tell you when conditions are suitable for planting. So, when our chickens started to lay 20 eggs a day, their maximum production, I knew it was time to start onions in the greenhouse. When the Robin returned, I planted parsnips. And when flies started buzzing around chicken poop in the yard, that was a sure sign to sweep the patio. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Salmonella (My Mom Made Me Write This)

A few weeks ago I shared my habit of eating raw eggs on occasion. I casually assured all thirty-three of you readers out there that you could safely do the same. 

When my folks caught wind of this, they were up in arms that I was passing out advice that would make others sick. Clearly they don't have a grasp on the scope of my readership, but I took their concern as flattery. My mom works in public health and my dad's a doctor--they've devoted their lives to fighting and minimizing the spread of illness. Concerned that they might report my blog to the Center for Disease Control, I promised to write a follow-up post based on some research on salmonella. So, here we go!

One in every 30,000 eggs is contaminated with Salmonella. Infection is rarely induced by eggs--from a study conducted by the US Dept. of Ag, 2002.

According to the American Egg Board’s Egg Safety Reference (there's a mouthful!), an average consumer might encounter a contaminated egg once every 84 years.

Many who fall ill from contaminated eggs contract it at a restaurant. Restaurants are more likely to break and mix together large numbers of eggs, potentially causing the bacteria in a single egg to multiply and contaminate many more--from the FDA.

Rodents are the leading source that infect chickens, so keeping coops clean and rodent-proof can reduce the risk of exposing chickens to the disease--Food Safety News

Eggs shells have an airtight seal around them that keeps bacteria from entering eggs. Unhealthy chickens don't produce as strong or reliable of a seal. Providing fresh water and food, ventilation, as well as room to roam and take dust baths, which minimize mites, keeps chickens healthy and can prevent salmonella from entering eggs if a chicken is infected. Even if your chickens have all these things and look healthy, they can still carry salmonella.

Some advice that I found helpful suggests that if you buy chicks from a hatchery, make sure it a reputable business. Choosing a hatchery that produces a variety of heirloom breeds is often a good choice, because chicken diversity can benefit a flock’s health. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly reported that in 2012 there was an outbreak that originated from a mail-order hatchery. Almost 200 people were infected from handling the chicks, making it the largest poultry related outbreak. 

So, there you have it! You can now make a truly informed decision about the risk of eating raw eggs and the factors that can contribute to infecting your flock. That said, I'm still putting raw eggs in my smoothies.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?

Have you ever thought back to how you answered that question when you were seven years old? When I think about my response and then look at where I'm at, I can't help but laugh.

Even though I grew up just outside DC, my favorite thing to do was hang out in the creek. Basically, it was a drainage that brought the water from the gutters down to the Potomac River. Based on my time down there, I thought I'd like to be an Iroquois Indian or Amish. I had learned about both in school and they seemed to fit. Later, my mom explained how Native Americans no longer lived in longhouses, and even though the Amish still lived without modern conveniences and used draft horses to plow their fields, she advised that I would get in more trouble being Amish than I ever did being her daughter.

Perhaps its dumb luck, but I think I've blindly found my way back to my childhood dreams--no indoor plumbing; four years in a tipi without electricity; the sun and rain providing my water and electricity; a wood burning stove for heat and hot water; an outdoor kitchen in the summer months and a dusty greenhouse filled with greens in the winter months; and an intimate, regular relationship with manure. I am surrounded by neighbors, housemates, and a town full of people carving out equally insane existences.

I think about my stubborn little girl self, who craved a life close to nature, and I see she's still getting her way after all these years.

A few photos from this week, though the sky's been grey and the ground a mucky mess. To supplement this week, I also dug up some old photos as I dream of summer and spring.

Photo: Rebecca Siegel