Friday, February 25, 2011

Thrifting- The Goods on Goodwill

There are countless blogs dedicated to thrifting. I was amazed how much time people spend on this activity. Some even make it into a business. Good for them. I am a whole lot less intense when it comes to thrifting. 

I love the prefix re.  I believe recycling can be a spiritual practice (More on that in another post...maybe) . I also love to reuse, re-purpose, redistribute (either by giving away ill fitting clothes or shopping at thrift stores).

I teach my children that everything we do has an impact on our planet. When they start clamoring for some new "it" thing that they have seen their friends with, I use the opportunity to discuss where it came from and where it will end up. 

This is where I will plug The Story of Stuff. Awesome video. The kids really got it. 

The question that comes first is "How do you think it was made; what resources were used in order to produce it?" After discussing that we move on to how much use we can get out of it. "Will it break easily? How long do you think it will hold your interest?" Sometimes these questions lead to them realizing that they don't really want it. Sometimes they still have to have it. At that point we try to figure out if we can get it second hand. The idea that they could "rescue" such an awesome toy from the landfill is really exciting to younger kids. My oldest is 11 and I have different approach with him. He is really into being thrifty. He knows that getting the same item for less is a good thing.

My youngest loves to go to Goodwill with me. Its a giant scavenger hunt. It takes time and attention, so I usually only bring one child each oldest trip.
We have several Goodwill stores in our area and each of them are resources for different types of items. Need kids stuff? The one in the neighborhood full of kids is the place to go. Need a nice dress for a party or dinner? The one near the affluent neighborhood is the place to look. I know it sounds morbid, but if you need dishes or home goods, a Goodwill near an aging neighborhood will have what you need. Sometimes when loved ones pass it is easier to take what no family members have a desire to keep to Goodwill. If you have several thrift stores in your area, get a sitter for the day (pull a favor, it will be worth it) and scope them all out. DO NOT BRING MONEY OR CREDIT/DEBIT CARDS on this trip. It is recon only.

I keep a list. I have a well defined sense of need versus want. Unless there is imminent peril involved, it is probably a want. You may NEED a tourniquet, but you want a warmer winter coat. Wants can wait until the perfect item is available and the budget can handle it. 

When planning a trip to Goodwill I pull out my list and figure out what is the most pressing want. Sometimes it's time for a new set of snowpants,or a sweater gets on the list because the one I pulled out to wear needs to be repurposed into socks/scarf/hat. Based on the category those pressing needs fall into I figure out which store to go to. The list is then finalized and budgeted for. I take only enough money to cover what I need to purchase that trip. 

It is easy to go overboard with thrifting. I have to work to not buy things. Sticking to the list is a constant struggle, but I am trying to save money and teach my children about reasonable consumption. One time I almost purchased a complete set of Christmas china that was only $7 that even included the matching butter dish! I don't need china...I have three kids! It was a great bargain, just not for me. Impulse buying is a risk if you don't prepare for the trip.If there is something at the store I am visiting and it is not on my list, I don't get it. It will wait there on the shelf for someone who wants/needs it. I may have a use for it sometime off in the future, but not that one. That deal is for someone else. This is how I keep the clutter out of my life.
Yes, Goodwill shopping is good for the budget, but it is good for our earth too. Buying something that is already produced/packaged/shipped/purchased/profited from keeps one less from being produced/packaged/shipped/purchased/profited from just for you. If we don't demand as much of it, the companies are not going to use the resources to supply as much of it. For this to work, everyone must change their attitude towards consumption. 

Thrifting can save so much if you have imagination. I purchase dishes, cookware, and even my coats at Goodwill. I also get other wonderful things that others miss. I wanted some cashmere yarn for a knitting project. It took months, but found it. I was walking through the ladies sweaters and a color caught my eye. The perfect color. The sweater was huge and it had a hole in the sleeve. When I got home I unwound that sweater and had just enough yarn for the project. I'd like to say that it was a lovely gift for a friend, but her birthday has come and gone and that yarn is still in my stash bin. Nobody's perfect. 

Thrifting can come in other forms too. I like to call it closet shopping. I'm lucky enough to have other women in my life that are about the same size. Our clothes tend to make rounds from one closet to the next as we tire of wearing things. I also get hand me downs from family members who pity my meager wardrobe want to send their unwanted clothes to a good home. I'm okay with that.

I just heard the other day about a party that a friend is attending this coming week. It's called a naked lady party. How scandalous! What you do is invite a bunch of friends over and they bring clothes and accessories that they no longer want. Everyone has a good time picking clothes that others have brought. Depending on how rowdy your friends are there may also be some alcohol involved. It seems like a good excuse to get some friends together and spruce up your wardrobe. 

Do you shop at thrift stores, yard sales or closet shop?

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Glean: to gather grain or other produce left by reapers

Food Justice has been a passion of mine for quite some time. Many people I meet think of starving people in Africa if you ask them about hunger. That is not always the case. There are hungry people in America. A fair few of them are FAT! It is hard to look at someone who is pushing the limits of plus size and imagine them as a hungry person. However, these people are eating what they can to quiet the rumblings in their ballooning bellies. Crappy high calorie foods are less expensive and more available than nutrient dense foods. Many low income areas of cities don't have grocery stores within walking distance which makes access to nutritious food even more difficult. 

I was at one time obese. I wasn't poor, I just loved sugar. I had my epiphany, lost weight and in my arrogance thought I could save people by becoming a Dietitian. My first time shadowing an RD, a single mother of two came in. The RD asked about the children's diet. I could tell the mom was uncomfortable. At the end of the consultation, the dietitian recommended to the mother to add more fresh fruits and veggies to their diet. The mom visibly paled. It was then she looked straight into the eyes of the dietitian for the first time. "Where," she said, "am I going to get them? Are you going to come babysit and let me use your checkbook?" 

Just telling people to eat good things isn't going to make it happen. It isn't that easy. There is a way, though.

When I was working as an intern on an organic farm last summer, I had the opportunity to see just how much food is "not marketable" and would end up in the compost pile. This was not bad food. It just didn't have "symmetry" or "even color."  All I could think of was how picky the American consumer is if they wouldn't eat this wonderful food! I had already been working at the garden at the church, but this had the potential for something bigger. What if instead of compost it became dinner?

Turns out that there were people were already working to this end in town. In fact, a good share of what these gleaners were distributing was coming though my church! This group, Faith Feeds, would go the farmer's markets in town and collect from some awesomely generous farmers. Instead of taking the food home, these farmers gave what they had left. I have some serious respect for that! Also, an orchard here in town, allowed gleaners from Faith Feeds to go and glean fruit every week. 

To me the journey of homesteading is more about building community than providing enough for your family so you call wall yourself off. We're all in this together. You know all that squash you have to give away at the height of the season? See if there is a feeding program in your area that is willing to take it.

Plant a row of something extra for others. If you have a small area and can't grow for more than yourself, what about buying extra pears (they are easier for those with missing teeth) at the farmer's market to donate to a shelter?  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

gleaning, thrifting, scavenging, and plain 'ol garbage picking

I'm a student. All I contribute to my household's finances is debt. I hate that. Unfortunately that is how it has to be for now. I am trying to minimize that by kicking butt scholastically and earning scholarships. There is a limit to that though. The main way I work to limit debt is by not spending money.

Growing my own food is a huge part of that.  However, if I spent a ton of money getting "set up" I am most likely going to spend more than I would have just buying from a local organic farmer.  This is where many get in to trouble. It is really easy to get caught up in "needing" this or that before one can get started. I fell into that trap in the beginning, then I ran out of money. Literally. We had a negative balance in the checking account.

Most of our bills had been paid, but there was less than nothing left. My tomatoes really needed to be staked and it was time to start some greens that were to be distributed at the church. I had no cages or t-posts for the tomatoes and no flats to use for the give away transplants.

I had been to a few farms and seen them using tobacco stakes for their tomatoes and one of my friends had some warped ones in his burn pile. After a desperate phone call I was picking through his burn pile for the least warped stakes. While I was there my farmer friend told me he had a pile of trash he couldn't recycle going to the dump. He offered to give me whatever I wanted from there. I figured beggars can't be choosers so I jumped right in. I found close to thirty usable flats to start my transplants!!!

That was a transformational moment for me. I realized there was a way for me to further remove my family from the bondage of over consumption. I know we still need to purchase some things. I am not advocating the position that everything a family needs can be found in other's cast offs, but great deal can.

Over the next few days I will post on how my family benefits from gleaning, thrifting, and scavenging/garbage picking/dumpster diving .

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Plans For Spring and Summer

This is going to be a busy spring and summer. I will not be taking any classes.

My summer internship will be as a community garden manager at an apartment complex here in town. I am really looking forward to this opportunity because I have been a manager before (back in the days of being a mall rat) and I have worked in farming before (last summer I interned at an organic CSA farm) but putting the two together will be interesting. The property owners have alloted enough land for forty 10ft x 10ft plots! This is not the first year of the garden, but this year it is doubling in size!

I will continue to work for the church  towards developing our garden into a true community farm. While we can't incorporate aquaculture into the plans this year, I hope to lay all the groundwork to make it happen within the next few seasons. If we get the grant I have been working on, we will be able to add a vacant lot the church owns into our cropping system this summer. This area, which is approximately 1/3 acre will vastly increase our ability to impact the community. All we need is water and this grant will aid in getting a tap (into the city mains) and meter to hook up our irrigation.

On the home front the list is long and disorganized. I know I want bees, but for them to be successful I think I will have to devote a great deal of time and energy. I am torn on this because I see the opportunity that bees hold, but the cost will be some of my craziest projects. I have already had bartering offers regarding honey from friends and neighbors who have found out that I want bees. If there is anything I love more than circumventing the traditional monetary system, I haven't found it.

Some of the other projects for this season:

Build an outdoor kitchen- This includes a rocket stove, perhaps a bread oven, an outdoor sink with gray water catchment, and a prep surface.

Remove all of the useless landscaping in the front yard and replace it with a medicinal herb garden.

Increase the cropping area in the backyard to include all but enough space to put my dad's pop-up camper that he brings when he visits. Last year he ran over my broccoli bed.

Get a new flock of layers. I am wimp. I plan on buying mine when they are a bit more mature, I don't want to deal with the emotional trauma my daughter will endure if a chick dies. When our last chicken got nabbed by a raccoon, she was inconsolable for weeks. A baby chick dying would push her over the edge.

Build (or scavenge) an out building to keep the bikes in. Right now we have six bikes in a <1200 sq ft house. It doesn't leave much space in the common areas to relax.

That is enough for now. I know after Monday's Urban Homesteader's Action Day I will be inspired with a new list of projects. I just need to keep my expectations realistic. This is a journey, not a race.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I am an Urban Homesteader

Urban:  of, pertaining to, or designating a city or town.

Homestead:a place where a family makes its home, including the land, house, and outbuildings

My husband and three kids, along with our critters, make our home in the city. We have a (blessedly huge) .38  acre lot where we grow our own vegetables and herbs, have had chickens, and hope to some day have goats. I also farm deeper in the city at a church in a food desert. It is our goal to empower the community towards food and income security through agriculture and entrepreneurship.  

I farm, cook, sew, knit and attend college full time pursuing a degree in sustainable agriculture. 

My husband is an avid cyclist and a musician. He supports my work and inspires me to follow my passions. 

I had been considering blogging our adventures as we move towards self-sufficiency, but the recent events surrounding the trademarking of the descriptors of our lifestyle have pushed me over the edge.

I am an Urban Homesteader! I welcome you to follow our journey.