September, 2012 browsing by month


It’s fall!

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

The weather here is lovely. It’s relatively cool, and we even had more rain yesterday.

The garden is at its peak. Here was this morning’s harvest.

My fall lettuce, arugula, and tatsoi are coming in. The tomatoes are thriving (including finally the heirloom Georgia streaks, which are beautiful), and we’ve finally harvested honeydews. Sweet and delicious.

Brad put in about 200 garlic this week and will put in the other half next week.

We are saving lots of seed and getting more excited about starting a seed library here.

Border food summit

Friday, September 21st, 2012

This week, Brad and I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 Border Food Summit, a conference to explore sustainable agriculture in the southwest. The audience was a combination of growers, farmers market managers, policymakers, and community organizers.

We got there Sunday morning for an all-day, pre-conference tour of some local sustainable farms. We visited many interesting places, but the highlight for us was a trip to the farm from Native Seeds/SEARCH. This non-profit organization is involved in the important work of “conserving, distributing and documenting the adapted and diverse varieties of agricultural seeds” of the southwest. (For those of you not up on this, industrial agricultural practices have dramatically reduced the number of species of plants cultivated, resulting in a reduction in biodiversity that causes all kinds of other problems. Seed saving and growing diverse native crops combats this, and Native Seeds/SEARCH are pioneers in this area.)

The young people who work on this farm are amazing, and we learned all kinds of things about not only seed saving, but growing in general. More about this later.

Evan at the Native Seeds/SEARCH farm

All day Monday and Tuesday through noon, we attended a variety of sessions on topics that included food systems, growing, cooperatives, small farming concerns, community organizing, and social justice. It was very interesting and thought provoking. Here’s a short clip from Dr. Ricardo Salvador, who keynoted the conference.

The sessions at this conference had a lot of relevance for us, in terms of our own growing and food production and consumption, our work with the farmers market, and our larger interest and concerns with the global food system. At the end of the conference, we were asked to reflect on how we’d take what we learned and apply it personally and as a part of a community. Here’s what Brad and I are committed to doing.

What we can do as individuals:

  • Put some small gabions on our land in the washes to create some new micro-climates and possibly make a place for a permaculture food forest in the future (This had come up at Heritage Days last year too.)
  • Plant more mixed beds with crops growing among cover crops (We got some amazing tips on this at Native Seeds.)
  • Save more seeds and start a local seed library here in Portal. (More to come on that.)

What we can do together:

  • Emphasize the benefits of buying local, natural food at the Harvest Festival at the farmers market in Oct. This event will also include a seed exchange and seed saving education for kids.
  • Begin some small local community networks here to advance these issues

After the conference, we returned to the Native Seeds farm. They had had a bunch of pumpkins available for a donation, and we decided to get a whole bunch of them to use in our Harvest Festival pumpkin decorating contest next month — supporting two good causes at once. We also got a giant bag of rye/vetch seed, a few other goodies, and some advice and encouragement. What nice people!

Happy cows

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

I’ve written here before about the horrors of industrial agricultural production. Well, here’s a happy article for a change.

I read this whole article wondering what brand this milk was sold under. I was so happy to hear it was Organic Valley.

Almost two years ago, when we were researching food production, we decided to start buying Organic Valley milk and cream. It costs more, but we heard that their farmers really treated their animals well. Also, they make boxes of shelf stable milk that work well for us out here.

I believe that what we buy and what we eat really matters in the bigger world.

Heritage Days for Kids 2012

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Heritage Days for Kids was a great success this year.

The day started with the kids making tent cards with their names and getting to know each other. Then we did a digital photography challenge. This was one of the highlights of the day. You can read more about that here.

Then we had a fun art activity “Drawing With Your Eyes, Hand, and Mind” with local artist Roger McKasson. For this, we had to draw the contour of various figures without looking at the paper we were drawing on. The idea was to focus the eyes (and mind) on the details of the object, not the drawing itself.

Next, kids got to make their own books using templates we’d created.

After that, we learned about birds, butterflies, and pollination with Greg Magee. This included a special guest visit by a broad-tailed hummingbird (played by Greg’s wife Julie). Each of us had our picture taken with the hummingbird, even me.


Then, expert hydrologist Sharon Minchak taught us about groundwater, using a hands on model. The kids enjoyed pumping water with food coloring in and out of the model. I was surprised that some kids here didn’t know that they had wells. (Everyone here does.) Lots of implications to learn and think about.



Our final activity for the day was making seed art with Maurine Joens. We’d gathered seeds and materials for this for many weeks, and it turned out great.

All in all, it was a great day. Special thanks to Kim Vacariu and Wildlands Network for putting on this great event in our community.

Road trip

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

We just got back from a fabulous 8-day road trip, and I want to get some thoughts down here before I get too consumed with everything else I’ve been neglecting over the last week. (I was planning to journal the trip along the way, but the adventures we had were so absorbing that all I did was jot down a few notes on the back of a map. Similarly, I didn’t read any of the book I’d brought along with me.)

We left last Monday (August 27) aiming to reach Albuquerque. We took the normal route of 10 east and then north to Hatch. We had lunch in Hatch, where I learned that sometimes huevos rancheros is served with meat mixed in to it. (I had never before experienced that but will always ask in the future.) Fortunately, I identified the hunks of meat before eating any. Hatch was getting ready for its annual chile festival and looked festive.

This part of the drive was about our only interstate driving. The rest of trip was all scenic back country roads.

From there we drove north of Santa Fe and found a campsite at the Hyde Memorial State Park in the Santa Fe National Forest. It was a very nice campground, and there was also a nice forest campsite just down the road. We got in early enough to go for a hike after setting up camp.

The next morning, we headed north toward Denver where we were going to go to a concert at Red Rocks. On the first of several occasions during this trip, I wasn’t paying attention and got us off our planned course. In this case, as in all the others, this resulted in a lovely and interesting detour, though it did add some time to our drive.

Rio Grande of the many things we wouldn't have seen if I had paid more attention to the map

We eventually arrived in Evergreen, CO, where we checked into a small mountain inn where we stayed for two nights. The next day we drove to Estes Park at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. Here we saw our only elk of the trip.

Our plan was to make a trip up to a lake in the park, which I wanted to photograph for the Wikipedia lake project that I contribute to. A series of circumstances (road closure, longer that expected hike required, and some work that Brad needed to do before the concert that night) prompted us to decide not to go all the way to the lake, but we enjoyed this drive anyway.

Wednesday night was the concert at Red Rocks, which was simply incredible. Definitely one of the premiere concert venues in the U.S.

before 10,000 people arrived

Thursday morning we headed to the Black Canyon at the Gunnison, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. The park was a good ways past the town of Gunnison, and when we got there, we had two choices of campgrounds: a larger one at the rim and a smaller one down on the river. We chose the latter and followed a steep 16% grade road down to it. The campsites were very nice, and as a very light rain fell, we set up camp and then went on a hike down the river.

The next morning we took a scenic drive along the rim. It was magnificent. The canyon is very sheer and relatively narrow, making it unique among canyons.

Black Canyon at Gunnison (from the southern rim)

As we were getting ready to head to Mesa Verde (also in Colorado, near the Four Corners areas), I discovered that we apparently had a mouse in the car. This prompted us to pull over and empty out the entire truck. (We never actually saw the mouse, but over time, it seemed that it must have made its exit. Good mouse.)

We arrived at Mesa Verde late on Friday and got a campsite for two nights. We were surprised by both free showers and an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast at the campground, both of which we enjoyed.

We had several nearby activities we wanted to explore, as well as Mesa Verde itself, so on Saturday morning, we set an alarm for 6:45am. (I would normally never set an alarm on vacation, but there was so much we wanted to do, and I knew I’d never get up early otherwise.) After pancakes, we headed to the visitor center to get tickets for one of the tours of the ancient cliff dwellings. We were lucky to get tickets for a special twilight tour that night of Cliff Palace done by a ranger portraying a historic figure. These tours are limited to just 20 people.

Tickets secured, we headed out of this park to the nearby Hovenweep National Monument, which had been recommended by my dad as a site not to miss. We planned to see that and then go on to Four Corners and Monument Valley. We were so mesmerized by Hovenweep though, that we decided to spend most of the day there. The ancient structures and surrounding beauty were a true highlight of the trip.

By mid-afternoon, we headed back to Mesa Verde. We went to the museum and saw Spruce House first. Then a little before 6, it began to rain. Our twilight tour was “rain or shine” so we headed to the trailhead, while it rained harder. The tour guide said that we would proceed despite the rain and despite the ladders and stone staircases that led to Cliff Palace.

Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde

This tour was really amazing. Our guide portrayed Jesse Logan Nusbaum, the park superintendent from the mid-1940s. It was a very special night. With the continuing rain, darkness came early. By the time we were done, it was cold and dark with a hard rain. We ran the last part of the way back to our car.

At our campsite, our gear was pretty wet, so we decided to sleep in the truck. I hoped the mouse was gone and was happy to neither see nor hear evidence to the contrary.

The next morning, Sunday, we headed to Chaco Canyon. It was another very hot day. We were again very impressed by the structures in this park. This is a place we’d like to return to explore in more depth.

The drive out of the park was not as bad as we feared and along the way we encountered a herd of cows. One little one came up to our truck and began vigorously licking first the headlamp and then the front bumper. I got out of the truck and was happy to find that, unlike the cows at our house, these were happy to let me pet them. Sweet.

We’d planned to spend our last night at the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, but being a bit tired and seeing rain to the west, we decided to head south instead. We found a lovely campground just north of Alpine, AZ in the Apache National Forest. Despite the fact that it was Labor Day weekend, the campground had just a few people in it.

It was a beautiful clear night, and so after a fire and dinner, we slept under the stars in the truck bed. We were rewarded by being awoken in the middle of the night by a loud and magical sound — elk bugeling. One party (presumably the male) had a deep and loud call. The other sounded like a magic singing flute. It was really incredible.

On Monday (Labor Day), we drove down through AZ and NM toward home, stopping in Silver City for lunch and groceries.

This was an awesome trip. Themes for the week included incredible ancient civilizations and structures (believe it or not, I even got a few ideas for the new house), great back roads (and I no longer believe that America’s infrastructure is crumbling — we saw literally tens of millions of dollars worth of road work being done), and unbelievable scenery. We live in a truly amazing country.

We visited many places that we will definitely plan to spend more time at again in the future.

(At some point, I’ll post more photos and video, but not today.:)