Tag Archives: health

Culture

Zac & Ike

In August we brought two new boy goats onto our homestead. We do this every few years in order to avoid inbreeding in our herd. Over the winter we researched goat farms with different genetics from our animals who shared similar values and practices. We wanted them to allow the kids to be raised by their mothers, to keep the goats horned, to minimize medications and to breed for a good milk supply. When the kids were born in the spring, we checked them out online and reserved two: a buckling from their best milker for breeding and his polled brother, who would be wethered (neutered), to keep him company.

We manage our herd to maximize environmental sustainability and the well-being of the animals. To me, their well-being includes paying attention to their social needs. I know that some people think I’m silly, maybe even “not a real farmer” because of this. However, so many of the problems people tell me about their goat-keeping attempts trace back to their not understanding those particular needs. One of the most basic of those is that as herd animals, goats should not be alone. This is why I don’t sell goats singly, and why we brought home two when we really just needed the one buck.

The farm we were buying them from is two hours away from us. It was a fine trip there, listening to Sproutlands by William Bryant Logan. On the way back, though, each in their own dog crate separate from each other and taken away from their home, the little guys had many loud, scared complaints that I tried not to let completely break my heart.

Our New Boy Goats Arrive!

When the boys got here, they needed to be separated – quarantined – from the other goats. Although the farm they came from is reputable and does the appropriate disease testing, sometimes issues are missed and we take biosecurity seriously, prevention being worth so much more than cure. The newcomers are supposed to be adding value to the herd not infecting them with diseases or parasites. Also, giving them time to get to know the other goats from afar makes for a more

Marley, Our Resident Buck

peaceful eventual integration. These two would be going to live with our other two boys, who were years older and at least double their size.

So, we fenced off an area and set up a shelter with food and water and bedding. I was proud of the little home we put together. However, they had other priorities. From the moment they got here their focus was on our resident goats. The boys called and called to them, stood looking at them, and slept in the corner of the yard that was closest to them despite how unsheltered it was and its lack of food, water and bedding.  Listen to them here: 

 

I wasn’t terribly surprised by this behavior, figuring they are herd animals and thus want to be with the rest of the herd.

Right around this time, I happened to watch a talk from Biodiversity for a Livable Climate entitled “How Animals Shape Ecosystems” featuring Carl Safina talking about animal cultures. He mentioned programs that raise endangered animals then release them into the wild and how much more successful they are if there are still some wild animals of the same kind there for the newcomers to learn from. The way he defined “culture” amazed me. Here’s a quote from his Living On Earth interview: “Culture is the behaviors, the habits, and even the attractions that we learn socially and that are transmitted socially. The amazing thing to me is that, whether it’s human, modern, Western technological culture, or whether it’s sperm whales, culture basically does the same things for social beings. It answers the question of, how do we live here, where we live?”

My shortened version is: Culture is how we learn to live successfully in our specific place on the planet.

Suddenly, my view of what the little boy goats were doing

The herd likes to be together

took on a deeper meaning. They weren’t just looking for safety in numbers, they wanted to join the existing group to learn from them how to successfully live in this place that was new to them.

It also shifted my view on current human cultures. Previously I thought of culture as a collection of stuff (music, dance, dress, etc) that people in a place ended up doing that became important to their group identity. I appreciated and found the diversity fascinating, but saw it as somewhat ephemeral and random. Now, I see that those acts and items are an expression of what culture really is – an understanding of what to do, what to eat, what to wear, how to work together and connect that helps a group fit sustainably into a particular place (Darwin’s survival of those who best fit into their environment comes back to us here). I see also that the way so many of us have been forced out of our traditional places has us confused.  Our carefully created ways of living don’t necessarily apply to our new environment, but the work of developing new strategies takes time – and sometimes fails, especially if we cannot connect with those who have belonged to that place before us.

Maybe this is part of the reason why so many cultures right now are dysfunctional enough to not live up to the title of “culture” as they seem to teach people ways of being that actually destroy our ability to survive. It also sheds more light on why Indigenous people comprise less than 5% of the world population but protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity. Respecting and protecting their rights, saying no to market schemes that push them off their lands, and humbly turning to them as our teachers and leaders could be a key to our surviving and thriving – our goats could tell us that!

Socializing the New Guys

In the case of our new guys, we had good reason to keep them by themselves for awhile, and we were here to help them survive during the quarantine period. We took our cue from them about what they most needed and created a plywood lean-to in the spot they picked up against the barn. After two months with no health concerns coming up, we shifted fences so they could have some nose-to-nose contact with the boys they would eventually live with. The little buckling had a romantic day with Diana which seems to have resulted in a pregnancy. To be extra safe, Steve built a secondary shelter in the older boy’s yard with entrances too small for the adults to fit through. When we actually did bring them

Shelter Only Accessible By Smaller Goats

together, there was a lot of sniffing, a little pushing and shoving… and then a lot of welcome quiet for me! After months of those little boys calling and crying and worrying me that something was terribly wrong with them, it seems they really did just want to be with more of their own kind. Phew!

As a bonus, I have another book to add to my winter reading list: Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace. The promise of more rest and great learning makes the cold and dark less daunting as we enter December.

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Interdependence AND…

Kale Mix Harvested

This past spring saw a surge of interest in gardening and in articles on the topic. I came across one by a woman who had good advice, but made a comment that didn’t sit right with me. She said her family’s reason for growing their own food was not ideology since they believe in interdependence.

After much reflection, I realize my discomfort is in being asked to choose between interdependence and independence, as if anyone could be just one.

My Garlic

Certainly I am seeking to gain skills that make me feel strong and responsible and let me take back some power over my basic needs. But I don’t see that as isolationist – in fact, it often comes from a place of seeing and caring about my connections to the rest of the world and wanting to improve those relationships. I continue in the tradition of The Nearings and Wally and Juanita Nelson with a philosophy of food growing that strives to honor and experience my interdependence with the whole

Monarch Pollinating

planet and find ways to live here that avoid doing harm.

My goal is to do more for myself, and then to shift who I am dependent on to more local sources and relationships. That way, I can have some say in how things are done, as well as cutting the travel footprint of goods.  But I don’t expect to ever be going it alone.

I also find that the more I engage in these activities the more connected and interdependent I often feel, in both liberating and frustrating ways.

Canned Peaches

Canning Peaches

A full root cellar and shelves of preserved food in the fall brings me such pride and satisfaction and a sense of safety. But, being a gardener during a drought, as I am right now, is tremendously humbling, a moment when I truly understand how little control I personally have over the world and my own best-laid plans. Keeping bees also shows me the limits of my personal power. Although I can work hard to be a good beekeeper, I can’t control many of the problems they suffer from: exposure

My Apiary in June 2020

to pesticides and fungicides, forage opportunities lost to development and lawns, erratic weather including droughts, and new diseases and pests traveling quickly around the globe.

These situations help me understand the balance between what I can do by myself and what I must join with others to accomplish.

I live in the US, a culture that tends towards extremism and either/or dichotomies: you’re with them or against them; powerful or a victim; independent or helpless; useful or useless. I am also posting this a couple of weeks after July 4, US Independence Day, when people celebrate the concepts of freedom and self-reliance. Those are great qualities… but when they are emphasized by themselves, they become warped, even pathological, devaluing our connections to and care for others and exacerbating loneliness.

If anyone starts to really think it through, it quickly becomes clear how much we depend on others, especially in a complicated, industrialized society. Even if you have all the skills to fix your computer, your car, your health problems, pave your own roads, make your own clothing, grow your food, cook and preserve it – no one person has the time to do all that. When we pay others to do this work we somehow don’t count it as a dependency, but it is. Can we embrace that, or at least accept that it is the reality?

Hen with Chicks

I can relate to the wish of needing no one but myself. I grew up in a chaotic, stressful house with a mother who had Multiple Sclerosis. I watched her lose all her physical abilities and become increasingly dependent on others, while receiving the societal message that this made her less and less valuable. It was excruciating for my whole family, and from there the idea of living alone in the woods depending on only myself had a certain appeal. I started camping as a young woman, even took classes in “primitive skills” to learn how to survive by myself. 

One Bee on Gooseberry

However, I discovered that the amount of work and dedication that took was more than I could realistically do by myself for any length of time, shaking my illusions of truly doing it by myself.

There is now lots of research including in the fields of neuroscience and health that show how social our species is and how isolation hurts us. I also raise other animals so I have a comparison point. Our goats can stand, run and clean themselves within an hour of birth, and our poultry aren’t far behind,

Mom and Kid

while a human takes years to do those things and then lots more to be taught other necessary skills to live well. Yet we have this wish to see ourselves as needing no one.

 

It is both humbling and beautiful to see how connected we are. To consider how little control I really have over the world and my life scares me. But, to see how much a part of a larger whole I am, to feel how much support I receive just to be alive, and to know that I share the responsibility for the world with many others is a big relief.

I don’t think I’m alone in internalizing this more deeply lately. In this time of pandemic and economic crisis, many people see that we are truly in this together.  Can we find more ways of acting like it across race, gender, class, political beliefs and species? We have so much to gain.

“It is a law of life that man [sic] cannot live for himself alone. Extreme individualism is insanity. The world’s problems are also our personal problems. Health is achieved through maintaining our personal truth in a balanced relation of love to the rest of the world.” –Harold Clurman

Swallowtail Butterfly on Echinacea

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Food Preservation: Nutrition

I have practiced food preservation for years, loving how it helps me eat local food year-round and practice permaculture principle 2: Catch and Store Energy. Writing more about preserving was already my plan before we entered this new coronavirus world of social distancing and grocery store shortages. Now, it seems even more relevant.

Our July 2019 Veggie Garden

I don’t think we are in great danger of running out of food. But, I do think the safety of shorter supply chains and of avoiding stores is appealing, the health benefits from real, nutritious foods can only help us, and that people taking stock of what they truly need and rely on is leading to a new appreciation of food

A Few of my Favorite Seed & Plant Catalogs

growing. Seed sales are booming, CSA memberships are selling out, and garden plots are in demand. It follows that soon, how to use and save what is grown will be the question.

Before looking at specific techniques for preserving in detail, I want to address the issue of possible nutrient loss in preserved foods.

The belief that raw plant foods are ideal is currently popular. I was taught differently. Years ago, driven by my own health problems and by environmental and ethical concerns, I researched human nutrition and experimented with a number of different diets. I can say that vegan, low-fat, and raw veggie diets only further worsened my health. But, along the way, I was lucky to discover some people who helped me learn and make choices that have served me well, especially brilliant Wise Woman Susun Weed, and The Weston A. Price Foundation.

I learned that animal products are generally best raw but not plants. Plants treated in some way to break their tough cell walls makes the nutrients, especially minerals, that they contain much more accessible to their animal consumers (that includes human animals). This is supported by looking back at how our ancestors ate, and at current research.

Plant Cell Walls

Cabbage

The basic idea is that the thick cell walls of plants hold in the nutrition we need.

Our teeth cannot break the cell walls, and our digestive juices are not strong enough to do so either. We didn’t evolve an internal cooking (fermenting) system, like ruminants have, so, if we want to get value out of plant foods external “cooking” methods become necessary.

When I say “cooking” what I am referring to are any ways that break those cell walls. Heat is one way – roasting, baking, grilling, etc. Other options are freezing, drying, lacto-fermenting, and covering in oil or vinegar (think salad dressing). You can actually see this process happen, when a crisp bright piece of kale turns limp and dark in your soup, when the lettuce starts to look weird and slimy sitting in the dressing a long time, when your frozen blueberries warm up and, well, are just not the same as fresh. These are all clues that you can now really benefit from eating these!

Carrots, filled with carotenoids!

Minerals & Vitamins

Minerals are elemental rocks which can have different forms but can’t be destroyed by anything in your kitchen.

Vitamins, especially antioxidants, are often enhanced by cooking. Research has shown this with lycopene, carotenoids and ferulic acid. Vitamin C is a less stable compound so will break down more easily, with heat, exposure to light or time. However, Vitamin C is in a lot of plant foods – not just citrus – and much does remain after cooking.

Cooking In Water

One reason people became worried that cooking meant less nutrition may be because of this fact: if you heat a plant in water, the freed nutrients can leach into the water. If you are a drinker of Nourishing Herbal Infusions you will also understand this, as we rely on the long, hot water treatment of the herbs to move those compounds into the water. Here’s the key – the nutrients haven’t been destroyed but transferred into the liquid. That’s why for herbal infusions we squeeze out the herbs and compost them then drink

Braising Garden Veggies

the liquid only. If you boil veggies and throw out the water – yeah, you’ve wasted a lot. So make sure not to do that! We prefer oven roasting in olive oil, and also braising on the stove top with oil and a little water. Whatever liquid is left we make sure to ingest as well.

What About Enzymes?

Dr. Pottenger’s research did show that the enzymes in raw meat and raw milk aid our digestive process, which is why raw milk is more easily digestible. However, the enzymes in fruits and veggies are mostly destroyed by our own bodies because we don’t need them.

Elderberries in the kitchen

Safety

There are a number of constituents found in plants that are toxic or anti-nutritional to us which cooking deactivate, like oxalic acid in spinach, and cyanide-inducing glycosides in elderberry and phytohaemagglutinin in kidney beans.

Uncooked veggies aren’t useless to us – we get fiber, and some of the vitamins and minerals they contain. But at a time when we are worried about feeding the world and many well fed people have specific deficiencies, it seems we should try to get the most we can from what we eat.

Harvest!

The good news in terms of food preservation is that most of these techniques also offer us more bio-available nutrition. The research shows that some methods of cooking and of preserving keep certain nutrients better than others which is an argument for a diversity of tactics. In my next posts I’ll go over the varied options we have for keeping our harvests year-round.

I do know that there are wildly differing opinions, experiences and even conflicting research results out there.  I’ve shared here my own experience and what I learned from people I trust for you to consider and make your own best choices for yourself!

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