Category Archives: Downshifting

July Diary 2017

Things haven’t felt as hectic as they’ve clearly been, for here is the evidence in my long gap between posts!

I joined the local parish council to work on the Emergency Plan for the area.  While exploring emergency routes on my bicycle, I found this milk vending machine at a farm gate!

milk vending machine 2017

My fridge broke, I replaced it from a local independent store where there are people who can fix it if it goes wrong.  Score a ten in the Resilience Assessment!

I celebrated by freezing some of my home made elderflower cordial – diluted – into ice cubes with flower petals and mint leaves.

flower ice 2017

It’s still all about food and growing.   Someone dropped out of the Resilience Allotment project, so we lost a third of our growing area.  Maybe it was too much to manage, as the new hedge in the field needs a lot of attention.

hedge mulch 2017

We’re continuing with the cardboard mulch, which is working well so far.  The perennial weeds can’t get through it easily; eventually the trees will shade them out.  Note the edges of the holes around the saplings are pushed downwards, to channel water to their roots.

‘Recipes for Resilience’ occupies a lot of my desk time.  I’m working my way through the final selection of recipes.  Some recipes I’ve never tried before, but they illustrate important techniques in preserving, which you may need come the Zombie Apocalypse or even a few months of international trade disruption.

I thought I’d try dehydrating strawberries.  The internet confidently assured me that, on a low oven, this process could be accomplished in two hours, after which you could powder them into a jar.

It was a chilly summer evening, so I decided to do this instead of turning the heating on.  I set my cooker, which runs on bottled gas, on to less than gas mark 1, propped the door slightly open and put the strawberries in.

dehydrating strawberries 2017

The greaseproof paper was crucial, as they leaked puddles of juice, which then began to scorch.  I moved them on to a clean piece twice, which was tricky as they were very soggy at this stage.

After four hours, I had not very much of something which looked like it might keep for a few weeks, but certainly couldn’t be powdered.  All those strawberries came down to one large tablespoonful.

dehydrated strawberries 2017

Although the dried fruit was chewy rather than crunchy, the taste was quite intense.  It was more like a fruit leather than something dehydrated.

It’s not usual to make fruit leathers out of summer fruits – you wouldn’t want to have the oven on all day when these are in season.  If you were getting some of your electricity from solar power, though, it would pay to buy a dehydrator.  You could preserve your strawberries free of both cost and sugar!

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Why do you need the Resilience Handbook?

The answer is in the subtitle – ‘How to survive in the 21st century’.

Even in a quiet little island like Britain, there are more episodes of ferocious weather now than we were used to in the last century. Flooding is a growing problem. What can you do about it?

Read the Emergency Planning section of the book, keep it handy to consult if you suddenly have to evacuate your house. It’ll tell you what to do, remind you to turn off your utilities, how to pack a grab bag.

Contents of a typical grab bag
Contents of a typical grab bag

You may not be directly affected by flooding, but the damage to the economy is shared by all. What can you do to help the long-term situation?

Rain comes from the sky, but flooding happens on land. Meetings of experts discuss useful management strategies, but the people responsible for the land have to implement them, Most of these are farmers, already struggling to make a living.

If they were able to sell to you, the consumer, without having to be routed through a supermarket chain…they’d have more money. Enough, perhaps, to consider engaging with flood relief; to invest in growing willow, in reforesting the hillsides.

Learn to make willow fencing!
Learn to make willow fencing!

The Resilience Handbook outlines a number of practical steps you can take to support community resilience at every level. It’s a call to action, not an invitation to more debate. Read through it, then keep it to hand as a reference book. Much of what it says won’t be clear to you until you begin to fulfill the set tasks.

Ignore the sneering quitters who tell you your personal buying choices mean nothing in the bigger picture. Supermarkets didn’t spring out of thin air. They evolved as a response to these choices. You can choose to return to a more resilient, locally based economy. Both processes are achieved one piece of shopping at a time.

It’s not just about food and its effect on the landscape. Every time you wash your clothes carefully, so that they last longer, you’re doing your bit for a sustainable community. Less waste means less landfill space. A culture where clothes are respected and cared for encourages a market for quality products. Well made clothes can be repaired or altered by local businesses, not thrown away.

local craft shop
Shops like this often take in sewing jobs

Every little helps, as they say. With the Resilience Handbook you can keep track of your efforts, see how tiny changes lead to bigger ones, learn what really is important and know that you’re doing as much as you can to secure it.

Growing for Resilience

Now that the children have left for university and city life, the simplicity of the resilience kitchen shows through. I’ve been exploring this concept in depth recently, researching for my next book.

I’m exploring food resilience in a rapidly urbanising area. If the global food transport network became subject to frequent disruption, you might have to live on stored food supplemented by what you could grow within walking distance. Local farmers and growers would become an important part of your landscape again, in between the arrivals of imported foods at the declining supermarkets.

The erratic income of an author is well suited to such experiments. My colleague, Linda Benfield, and I acquired an allotment this year, in addition to our gardens. With the extra land, we’re quite well off for fresh vegetables now. Next season, we plan to grow wheat and tobacco!

We’re not small holders. We depend on local farms – we still have a few – for milk, eggs and meat. Potatoes, grains, sugar and spices come from the food co-operative; other supplies from the cash and carry. We can’t provide everything for our households from two gardens and an allotment, but we’re learning what else we need. A lifestyle more in tune with the unfolding seasons, more importance given to locally based food suppliers, more gardeners!

We’re resilience gardeners, cultivating survival skills, and every little helps!

potatos-in-tyre1

Buy the Resilience Handbook and support this project! Overseas customers will need to contact me directly, or buy through their local Amazon (sorry, it won’t be signed). Please let me know if you do, and leave a review if you enjoyed the book.

Happy Resilient New Year!

A Resilience Adventure

One of the adventure challenges in the Resilience Handbook is ‘Visit a Repair Cafe and have a cup of tea.’ My budget didn’t stretch to a trip to Amsterdam or Germany, so I looked online and found the nearest one, in Bristol. This is held on the first Saturday morning of every month in All Saints’ Church, Fishponds.

I set off on the bus – I try not to take the car into cities – and navigated to the venue with the aid of my trusty A-Z map book. It took longer than I thought, and most of the actual repairing was finished before I arrived. There was tea though, and cake, courtesy of the church volunteers. I had a good chat with the organiser, Kate, and presented her project with a copy of the Handbook. It’s a pity there isn’t a branch of Repair Cafe nearer home!

Repair cafe banner

The networking potential of these meeting places was quickly demonstrated. Hearing me talk about resilience inspired a young lady to take me to the Feed Bristol Harvest Fair, a short walk away.

This event was so fabulous it was almost surreal! I felt as if I’d been transported into a Transition vision of a post-oil resilient community!

The Welcome gazebo was surrounded by tables of the most intriguing plants for sale – I couldn’t resist the Vietnamese Fish Mint – beyond which stretched polytunnels and plots under cultivation. Further in, excited children raced around tiny woodland paths, played in the sandpit, made paintings using mud and colourful flowers. Adults strolled more sedately, exploring the roundhouse, the herbal gardens, the tree plantings.

One could sip Fair Trade tea in the open marquee while listening to a string quartet playing in the autumn sunshine. It was a glorious day!

feed bristol harvest fair

The growing area – due to restrictions on images of children, I can’t show the actual fete, but there’s plenty of pictures on the websites

vietnamese fish mint

Vietnamese fish mint is not a mint, but does taste of fish!  And it’s very pretty.

At the Harvest Fair, I spoke with soap makers, food cooperative organisers, gardeners and teachers. The project is run by Avon Wildlife Trust; the remit is to create an edible yet wildlife friendly landscape, and it works very well. As I listened to the people who worked there, I began to realise that this project utilised the same core concepts as a Resilience Garden!

  • for use by the surrounding community
  • an emphasis on education, demonstration and experimentation
  • the abillity to produce large amounts of seed and spare plants to fast track other growing spaces in a crisis
  • creation of an edible landscape which supports a positive relationship with local wildlife, especially friendly insects and birds

Although defining a Resilience Garden is a struggle, I know one when I see it!

Areas like this should be a key feature in every housing development.

Borage and Brie Tart

The beautiful blue or white flowers of borage are a lovely feature of the Resilience Garden. They currently add colour to the patch of seeding cress, and are very attractive to bees.

cress and borage resilience garden

Borage is relentlessly self-seeding. Fortunately the leaves are edible and a regular cull of small plants yields plenty for this recipe. The other important ingredient is a chunk of cheap soft cheese – Brie, Camembert, goat’s cheese – which you’ve picked up on offer.

I found some Somerset Brie at the Farmers’ Market, and it was time for some selective weeding.

The Recipe

Collect a colander full of young borage leaves. Wash, lightly shred, and steam for about ten minutes until they are quite soft and merged into a pulp. Make a shortcrust pastry base and bake it blind. I’d use a small dish to try this out, about 8” across, which takes a mix of three ounces of fat to six ounces of plain flour.

Spread a layer of steamed borage across the cooked pastry base, between half and one centimetre thick. Now do your best to slice the soft cheese and cover the layer of borage with it. Settle for dotting chunks on the tart if you have a particularly resistant cheese; it will melt.

Bake it on the middle shelf of a medium oven until the cheese has melted to your satisfaction while the pastry edges remain unburnt. It takes twenty minutes or so, if you work while everything is still hot.

Adding Things

This is the basic structure of the borage cheese tart, to which you can add by foraging. For this one, I foraged a red onion from the vegetable basket and a few rashers of smoky bacon neglected by the lodger. These were finely chopped and fried up together, then stirred into the steamed borage. While in the garden, I’d found a couple of early courgettes. Thinly sliced, these made another layer on top of the borage.

We had the tart cold, with new potatoes from a tyre stack and salad leaves from the greenhouse next door; the meal fed three adults. Even the weeds in the Resilience Garden are useful!

International Downshifting Week

This week, April 20th – 26th, is International Downshifting Week.

“InterNational Downshifting Week is a non-profit awareness campaign designed to help you slow down your pace, lean towards the green and get a better handle on the work/life balance in favour of life.

It was founded in 2003 by contented downshifter Tracey West, who believes a little downshifting can have a powerful impact on your physical health, your mental well-being, your relationships with colleagues, family and friends; it can even improve your sex life.”

Find out more here.