The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: May 3

My neighbor Steve and I had a very fine weekend at Northland Sheep Dairy learning about horses and mules as draft animals from Donn Hewes’ Teamster School.  Some day, we think it would be amazing to have our own draft animals here on site… but for now, we still have a lot to learn. I was extremely excited about the possibility of learning to rebuild and repair old horse-drawn implements such as old McCormick Deering sickle bar mowers.

I’ll try to keep my notes on this weeks purchases concise. Good: Local cheese; used books; local port and brandy; car alignment check at a local service station.  (Although this could get better if my friend John becomes a neighbor and is able and willing to apply his mechanic skills to cars on-site.) Bad: Some garden implements from Agway, needed because old ones broke (plastic sucks).  Gas for car. Ugly: Greek mavrodaphne wine – this was something I tried years ago and wanted to sample again.  However, I will soon be bottling some homemade wine from my own Concord grapevines – which (you’ll have to trust me on this) is much better than you’d think based on Concord’s reputation. Also, wings and drinks at The Haunt’s karaoke night (again). Ambiguous: Going out to eat to meet with people.  These were three local, non-chain establishments: Viva Cantina, Hawi Ethiopian Restaurant, and the Rogues’ Harbor Inn.  In all cases, I’m sure many of the ingredients were non-local; Rogues’ Harbor probably did the best as my sandwich included local (free range, hormone free, antibiotic free) chicken, locally baked bread, local cheese, and beer from on-site, and all 5 beers in the sampler were also made on site.  Balance that against the fact that it’s the furthest of the three from my home.

It seems that now might be a good time to look in on some of the other purchases that have happened this month “in the background” – things like automatic payments for services or such things that don’t show up as receipts in my wallet.

Good: Trees from Musser Forests – they are relatively close, and once planted one hopes that the trees become a local and self-sustaining resource.  CO2 offsets from the Finger Lakes Climate Fund.  A donation to one of my Alma Maters – no goods received, the donation will do work locally where it is received. Service contract costs for my domestic hot water system.

Bad: Water filter service contract from Aquasana – this seemed like an economical way to get filtered water, but it seems unfortunate to be shipping filters across the country.  However, I only need a new one every 6mo or so, which is better than when I was using a Britta filter. Phone bills – no obvious alternative to a big national corporation for a true (works when the power goes out) land-line phone.

Ugly: Netflix subscription – this is split between me and a friend; neither of us have (or really want) cable, and both of us have relatively esoteric movie tastes (things like old episodes of Doctor Who, obscure political documentaries, and Bollywood comedies).  And, because much of what I’m actually interested in isn’t available “on demand,” I actually continue to have them ship me DVDs.  There are certainly other, more local forms of entertainment, but considering the relatively light weight of DVDs in the mail, I suspect this isn’t an environmental catastrophe either.  Electric bills – would be nice to buy a Solarcity Powerwall, but not in the cards right now, and otherwise relying on our lovely NYSEG for power.  However, by buying wind credits I can home that some of my power is coming from Black Oak Wind Farm.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Apr 4

The weekend has arrived.  This post will be the first in what I plan as a series of retrospectives on my purchasing habits and how I can localize them further.  I am told (thanks, Wikipedia!) that the title idiom has come to “refer to upsides, downsides and the parts that could, or should have been done better, but were not.”  Perfect.

The Good – items that I’ve grown/made/purchased as close to home as possible. Cases where I used to buy something non-local, and have now found or adopted an alternative.  The Bad – items that don’t originate locally, for which I can’t see a path to an alternative.  The Ugly – when I know I could do better, but for one reason or another (habit, laziness, poor planning) I didn’t. So, having set that context…

The Good

This week, I purchased a CSA share (actually, a half share) for first time. Although the ideal would be growing my own veggies In My Back Yard (IMBY), I know that I have a lot of other irons in the fire right now and this feels like a huge improvement over the alternatives.  The farm (Spice of Life Farm in Alpine, NY) isn’t necessarily the closest, but the owner is a friend of one of my neighbors, and since several of us are getting shares from the same place, it allows us to combine trips into town to collect our produce.

In other food-related items, I had a Greco-Roman-era dinner this week: barley cakes (maza) 1 and beer.  Although later in history barley was considered a grain for feeding animals, in early Rome it was a staple. Contrary to our images of vast Greek and Roman feasts, most common people in that era subsisted on unleavened bread (and not necessarily all that much of that) with an occasional veggie and, very rarely, meat.2 Barley cakes are about as simple as you can get: barley flour (1-3/4 cups), honey (3 tbsp), olive oil (2 tbsp), and enough water to make a good firm dough.  (Flatten into rounds and bake at 400°F for 12-15min. There, now you have the whole recipe.) I’m not certain where the barley originated (though I know I bought it from the local food co-op) but I know where it was ground into flour: at my kitchen table.  The honey is from a local farm, but the oil (alas) was not.  Olive oil might have been a local product for the Greeks, but around here it should be sunflower oil.  So that’s a tiny bit of ugly.

In addition to this, I also bought milk.  Although the co-op has both Organic Valley northeast “local” milk and regular Organic Valley milk, I learned something interesting.  According to the code printed on top of the “regular” milk, it is packaged just over an hour away in Syracuse. Meanwhile, for whatever, reason, it consistently has a 3-4 week longer shelf life (both rated, and per my own experiences) than the “local” ones.  So I buy the one that doesn’t say local on the assurance that it actually is, and that I will not be pouring a quart down the drain because it has spoiled.

Now here’s something I bet you didn’t know you could get at home: a massage therapist house call!  A friend of mine who recently finished massage school is working in the area (temporarily, alas) and doesn’t have a place to practice right now. When I asked if I could make an appointment, she said sure, but could it happen at my home?  Of course! What self-respecting locality-buff with aching muscles would turn that down?  (I will note here that there are presently no licensed massage therapists living here, but if any of you want to change that and move in a few doors down, you have a built-in clientele waiting…)  In any case, she lives less than 9 miles away.


The Bad

I suppose I should admit that I have a chocolate addiction. My wonderful excuse for buying chocolate this week was for a friend and neighbor’s birthday. Although there are local confectioners and chocolatiers, there really aren’t local chocolate makers.  So far, at least, the ingredients don’t grow around here. So I bought chocolate as a gift… er, plus that bit that I got for myself.

The Ugly

Pizza.  I love it, there is a great place right down the street, and it’s what’s for dinner.  Unfortunately, I’m certain that much of what they make it from is sourced from places that fail the “local” test.  There’s no question that I could make it myself, and make the crust from local oats, the cheese from local dairy, the tomatoes could even have been grown literally IMBY.  There’s a vast difference between an hour-long cooking project and a five minute stop as I was going past anyway, but that’s a lousy excuse, and hopefully sometime soon I’ll get myself psyched up to do it right.  The one redeeming virtue is that the shop is small and locally owned, so some of that $6 meal is staying in the community rather than going to a big national chain.

  1. History of Technology, Volume II, p. 119
  2. History of Technology, Volume II, p. 105, 119