Occupy Your Plate

Jan 10, 2012 by

I am so proud of the Occupy Movement! I hope people are getting wise to the contempt Corporate America has for the rest of us. I’m not just referring to the banking industry, either. Corporate goes for all kinds of industry: electronics, textiles, food, energy, etc.., lots of businesses where their primary focus is to make money. Not to serve a community need, to make money. Not to provide a quality product at a good value to the consumer, to make money.

I’ll try to keep this rant to food.

I’ve been preaching about the local foods movement and local business in general, not because it is cool but because it trumps the corporate counterparts by the presence of COMPASSION and that their bottom line isn’t the only line they care about. Have you caught any of the articles tattling on the sometimes disgusting antics of Big Ag and Big Food? Did you hear about the company that re-processed gallons of moldy applesauce to ship to schools? Or the countless recalls of E. Coli-tainted meats and vegetables that somehow still manage to get to the public? Maybe you’ve seen these corporate food lies: your “freshly” squeezed orange juice that has actually sat in a vat for up to a year, your meats that get doused with ammonia , the cellulose and other industrial by-products that find their way into more processed food than you would like to know about. Why isn’t this squawked about on mainstream news?

“So what can I do about this and why should I care?” you might say. “Eating healthy / organic / local is too expensive and I don’t have the time / desire / know-how to cook.”

My shopping reflects my values and I vote with my pocketbook. Start small and don’t try to re-invent the wheel in a week. I would rather spend an hour cooking something for my family than watching TV, but that’s me.

Don’t like factory farms? Seek out a local market and shop there. Spending money with local retailers strengthens the community and is a slap in the face of recession. Start a vegetable garden, and share your bounty with your neighbors – defy the “bedroom community” label and chat in person. Know that if we don’t start giving a damn about what we purchase, and where it comes from – that the quality of these things will continue to tank. The rich will get richer from our apathy. Our economy is based almost entirely on us buying stuff, so make every dollar count!

This video of a farmer addressing the NYC Occupy group nearly got me bawling. I can’t help but feel sickened and a little enraged every time I hear a sound bite about how unorganized the movement is, or the “But what do they stand for?” bullshit. The food lies are as insidious as the lies about “trickle-down economics” – don’t believe the hype. There has been a great interview with Chris Hedges making the rounds that I think hits the mark, and I will leave you with this quote from his book, Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America:
“We watch impassively as the wealthy and the elite, the huge corporations, rob us, ruin the environment, defraud consumers and taxpayers and create an exclusive American oligarchy that fuses wealth and political power. We watch passively because we believe we can enter the club. It is greed that inspires us. It is greed that keeps us silent. Our greed is devouring us.”




Dark Martha

Conscious Urban Living

Carriage House Farm


PS – If you are in the Cincy area, and are interested in getting that garden going, join me for my class series coming up in a few weeks.

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My Sad Solar Tale

Jan 28, 2011 by

The conversations that I have with my boyfriend, Dave, when we are lucky enough to walk our dog in the daylight, inevitably turn to how many homes in our neighborhood are ideal for solar collection.  Northside is old enough that many of the houses were built to maximize the light and heat from the sun, like ours, which is nearly perfectly positioned east-west.  We have a lot of south and east-facing windows, allowing plenty of natural light into the house.  Half of our roof faces south-by-southwest, which, for those who have never looked into it, happens to be PERFECT for solar energy collection.

Dave has been a solar dabbler/enthusiast for over 20 years.  His family has an island in Georgian Bay, on Lake Huron, that is five miles from anything. It has a modest photovoltaic array to provide electricity to the cabin, and to run the water pump for the cabin’s water supply.  Dave assisted his grandfather with the install of that set-up, and he’s been dreaming of getting himself off the grid ever since.

Northside has a new housing development not far from us, the model has an impressive photovoltaic solar array on the south-facing roof and a grid-tie-in system.  In layman’s terms, that is a series of solar panels that generate electricity that feeds back into the existing utility box.  Theoretically, such a system could make your meter RUN BACKWARDS, when the panels are producing more energy than your household uses.  Dave had the opportunity to tour the model back in October, and was so impressed with the system, that he decided to get a similar rig for our house.

After some research, Dave discovered that Ohio was offering serious grant money for folks like us who wanted to do some alt-energy improvements … here’s the math:

11    Panels
275    Watts per panel (ET Solar 275 Watt)
3025    Watts
$7.00     Per watt installed
$21,175.00     Cost of materials and labor
$(8,621.25)    State grant
$12,553.75     Cost Installed including state grant
$(3,766.13)    Fed tax credit
$8,787.63     Total after tax adjustments
$(2,887.08)    5 Years Energy Savings
$(5,040.00)    5 Years SREC’s
$860.55     Total cost after 5 years

11    Panels
275    Watts per panel (ET Solar 275 Watt)
3025    Watts
$7.00     Per watt installed
$21,175.00     Cost of materials and labor
$-       State grant
$21,175.00     Cost Installed including state grant
$(6,352.50)    Fed tax credit
$14,822.50     Total after tax adjustments
$(2,887.08)    5 Years Energy Savings
$(5,040.00)    5 Years SREC’s
$6,895.42     Total cost after 5 years


350    Average kWh/mo produced by system
0.13748    Average cost per kWh (Duke)
0.24    SREC price per watt (Sol)
0.95    De-rating of state grant

Our roof could support enough photovoltaic panels to generate roughly 3kW during peak times, enough to offset roughly 30% of our usage.  Not too shabby.  Add to that the bonus of the SREC program, where the energy units we produce and feed back into the grid are bought and traded in the form of renewable energy credits from our local utility company (so they don’t have to do it themselves).  We were excited about this winter project that would start paying us back as early as this summer, which is considerably better than many other investments.

We signed a contract with the same company that did the job on the model home nearby.  Dave had roofers lined up to replace our roof immediately before the solar company would start the installation.

Then came the call that the Ohio grant program was over as of November 5, 2010.  Kaput. Finished.  No more buckos left for us.  The solar company we had been working with did not hold us to the contract – both parties were bummed out about the loss of that one piece of the puzzle that made it all work.  And here is my HUGE gripe about most of this renewable energy nonsense – IT IS PROHIBITIVELY EXPENSIVE.  If our country is serious about curbing our fossil fuel usage, it needs to get serious about the incentives for the alternatives.  The tax credits are nice (30%+ in some instances), but that still doesn’t get it into a price range that makes it available to most of us who want to invest, nor does it make a dent against the massive subsidies that the oil, gas and coal industries enjoy.  (Although, if our government makes good on what was mentioned during the State Of the Union address… those subsidies may be on the way out.)  Dave told me a horror story about a similar grant / incentive program in Florida that went belly-up, leaving some homeowners owing even more money for already-completed installations.  I hope that didn’t happen to anyone here when the Ohio grant went under.

So now, on these sunny days, we think about how our roof could have been generating electricity, about how we could have invested some money into our community in the form of hiring roofers and the solar company and about how we could have been the first on our block to make a serious contribution to the alt energy pool.  The project isn’t completely off the table.  The solar company wants to meet with us again, to see if they can afford to come down in price enough to make it worth our while to move ahead.  I know their business must be suffering.


Dark Martha


PS – I will be featured in the only coast-to-coast gardening radio program, In The Garden with Ron Wilson, this Saturday, 1/29!  Have your coffee with Ron and I as we take call in and online gardening questions 7-8 am 55WKRC (AM radio).
If you miss it podcasts can be found here: http://www.55krc. com/cc-common/ podcast/single_ podcast.html? podcast=Ron_ Wilson.xml

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Aug 13, 2010 by

For the last 50 years or so, America has veered sharply away from her agrarian roots in favor of convenience.  Generations of wisdom lost, because our supermarkets offer us boundless plenty, regardless of season.  We enjoy culinary delights from every corner of the globe every month of the year.  It was not always thus, and it is highly likely that it will not be for too much longer.  It is not my intention to sermonize about Peak Oil.  I’m offering you a way to combat it.

The event I originally wrote this for, the Eco Go-Go, featured a fashion show highlighting locally-owned businesses, selling eco-friendly goods and services.  Now a bit about fashion – more specifically, about the phenomena of the fashion season:  Way back, when Louis XIV was trying to figure out a way to help his country’s struggling economy, he put a couple of fairly ingenious things in motion: first, his mercantilist administration significantly slowed the importing all textiles and textile supplies from other countries, to bolster the then-stagnant French textile businesses.  Then the brilliant marketing ploy – they encouraged these floundering fashion houses to market their goods based on the season in which they were intended to be worn.  This concept evolved into the two major fashion seasons – Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer. This allowed for clothiers to offer the newly-fashion-conscious public new stuff to buy twice a year, effectively doubling their profits and cementing the industry for centuries to come.

I am sure that many of you are in tune enough with fashion do’s and don’ts to be confident in how you dress year round.  Maybe you take great pride in being fashion-forward.  I managed a few retail clothing establishments in my day, I can tell you that there are plenty of people who are brand-loyal and put great importance on who makes the clothes they wear.  I am starting to see a trend of people who are as devoted to the source of their nourishment.  I challenge you to be as discerning with your food.  Maybe you are an avid label-reader at the supermarket, so I think you should also be as curious about where the food is coming from and when that food is in season.  Fact is, locally produced food, enjoyed in season, is of far greater quality than the alternative.

Our country’s current food production paradigm is based on the assumption that transporting food from a handful of fertile places to the rest of the planet will continue to be very cheap.  If our consumption follows its current trajectory – kiss those cheap Chilean sweet peppers and grapes goodbye.   Perhaps the current economic downturn, coupled with the need to seriously back off of our fossil fuel usage and the gaining popularity of the local foods movement will help us find a better balance.  Washington is working to help small-scale, startup urban farmers – to combat “food deserts.” Every day new articles appear about people turning abandoned lots into verdant food-producing oases.  Could this trend be part of the solution for the rampant joblessness in our country??  True, farming is not for everyone.   I have been selling produce from my own modest urban farm at Findlay Market for a little over a month now. Each market day, my sales improve.  Sometimes a person will comment on how my wares are a little “expensive.”  I remind them the food that I’ve grown did not have to be trucked across the continent, nor has it been sprayed with chemicals to hasten ripening or irradiated to retard spoilage.  They still buy my tomatoes.

Cheers –

Dark Martha


White Fox Farm

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Woefully Unprepared

Jun 23, 2010 by

Loki contacted us here at CincyVoices not too long ago, beseeching us to write about the horror that is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf.  I went back and forth about writing about Peak Oil, or pleading with all of you to stop driving your cars, or writing some blistering tirade aimed at BP and all of the other giants of the Oil Industry.  I’ve watched the story unfold in abject disbelief.  How is it that we got to this point?  How is it that Big Oil hasn’t spent any time or money on research or technology used to clean up spills for decades?  They’ve spent plenty on how to drill for it, and plenty on marketing their products.  We’ve bought plenty of those products… with nary a thought about the process those products take to get to us.

1st Procession of the Krewe of Dead Pelicans, New Orleans. Reaction to the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil gusher disaster. Stop in front of Gallier Hall for a minute of silence for each of the 11 workers killed in the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig, the first casualties of the disaster.

We get a little angry when pump prices increase.  Not angry enough to stop driving.  Not angry enough to stop and think about the items we consume and how much fossil fuel it took to get them to us.  Have any of you changed your buying habits in the last month or so, since the disaster started?  Have you joined that “Boycott BP” group on Facebook?  Do you cry when you see the pictures of oiled pelicans? Do you get furious when you hear that BP has bought key words on the search engines to re-direct queries, and they are doing their damnedest to keep journalists away from fouled beaches?  Are you ready to do something about it?  I am.  I am also terrified at how woefully unprepared I am to take real meaningful steps towards changing my consumer presence, and I am ashamed.

Fact is that we are all addicted to oil, and we aren’t ready to go cold turkey.  Unfortunately, disasters like the Gulf, and those that continue in countries like Nigeria (and countless other third-world countries being raped for their fossil fuel wealth) aren’t really going to force the oil industry to change ANYTHING about how they do business.  Why not?  Because there is still overwhelming demand for their products.  As long as they are making money hand-over-fist, why would they dream of changing how they operate?

Woe on us for living in la-la land for so long, for lying to ourselves that Peak Oil would never happen… to us.  What would you do, if you couldn’t get gas, if plastics were no longer manufactured, if supermarkets weren’t chock-full of goods trucked or flown in from all over the world, etc., etc.?

For me, I’m doing my best to buy local goods, drive as little as I can (although I spank myself over the fact that I drive AT ALL), I’m consuming less wherever I find the opportunity.  It is not enough.  I’m farming now, to help get more quality food into my community. It is still not enough.  We Americans will soon be faced with a concept that no person in power has ever had the balls to tell us to our faces – WE HAVE TO USE LESS. Right there is the most UN-AMERICAN thing I can think of. I may be labeled a socialist. This isn’t some wartime concept of saving it for the troops, this is us owning up to the fact that there isn’t enough to go around.

Don’t think for a moment that the magical petroleum fairy is going to appear and bless America with a never-ending supply of oil, or that some amazing inland supply is just waiting to be discovered.  Don’t be fooled by Big Oil’s PR machine, and think that this tragedy in the Gulf is just a fluke.  This is real, it is happening, and it is ultimately up to us, the American Consumers, to speak with our actions and our pocketbooks, to make sure that those responsible for this travesty are held accountable and are not ever allowed into a position to do this again.

Dark Martha

http://www.consciousurbanliving.com | White Fox Farm

Image Credit: Infrogmation on Flickr | CC 2.0

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May 4, 2010 by

I had driven past the storefront for months.  When I would walk past, I’d admire the quirky art inside, the fabulous chandelier… and one day I noticed there was a schedule of events posted to the window.

It was Valentine’s Day of 2009 that finally got me, my boyfriend and my daughter into Happen, Inc. We had a dinner date that evening with BF’s parents, and per the posted schedule, the session that day at Happen had something to do with flowers.

I filled out a little information at the front desk: our names, my daughter’s age; I asked if there was any cost for the “session,” and there wasn’t – not even a donation basket. We sat at a table with another parent-child pair; suddenly a friendly fellow came out from behind a curtain exuding amazingly contagious positive bombastic fervor and taught all of us the “Happen Cheer,” which goes a little something like this:


“One, Two, Three –“


“You can make it happen!”

*clap*, *clap*, *clap*


“Just make it through college!”

That last line wrought howls from most of the adults and thoroughly engaged all of the kids.  The friendly fellow then walked everyone through some famous works of art that featured floral arrangements (like Van Gogh’s Sunflowers), and explained that we had a very important job to do: a local florist (another Happen employee, dressed as a 50’s-era florist, complete with a south-Bronx accent) was way behind on her orders for the day, and she needed our collective help to fill them.

We were all given several paper flower patterns to decorate, and pipe cleaners to use for stems.  Looking around the room, it was difficult to tell who was having more fun – the kids or the adults.

Since then, we have made:  pottery- mugs, bowls and a plate thrown on a wheel, pinch pots and flying pigs, even some “Pop Arf” – from a dog-friendly session where our pooch got to immortalize her paw prints in clay; a photo-collage using old Polaroid cameras; made a decorative flower pot, then planted flower seeds in them (growing beautifully on a windowsill); carved pumpkins for Halloween time; decorated Easter eggs; made a kite that could actually FLY… all for free.  Every session starts with the Happen Cheer, there’s a micro art lesson, and then an engaging creative project.  The characters the staff portrays are always energetic, creatively costumed and the dialogue is always chock full o’puns, to keep the adults giggling and groaning.

At the last Northside Community Council meeting, Happen’s director, Tommy Rueff, made an announcement that Happen, Inc. Northside is to expand: another of their successful projects, the Toy Lab , will be moving in.  I wept with joy. I cannot express how important I think it is to have such a magnificent art outreach resource within walking distance of my house.  I wish every neighborhood in Cincinnati… heck, the WORLD, could have a Happen, Inc. to call their very own.  At Happen, I have made art next to all colors and demographics of people, their positive energy fuels the rest of my week. Stereotypes are smushed like chunks of spinning clay, class fences dissolve like paint in so much water.  Someone told me once that a community needs to be wealthy to afford the arts, but I think it is the other way around – it is the arts that lifts people from poverty and inspires them to do greater things.  Happen is making it happen in a big, joyful way– if you haven’t attended a session yet, even if you don’t have kids, you need to go, because this kind of creative bombast is good for your soul.


Dark Martha


Images courtesy of Happen, Inc.

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