At Home on Hill Haven

Musings, ramblings, and pontifications on motherhood, unschooling, farming, sustainability, spirit, and life in general...

Location: northwest Georgia, United States

I'm a living-working-breathing mom, writing, mothering, teaching, and soul-searching from our home in northwest Georgia. We are whole-life unschoolers, which basically means our kids actually have a say in what happens to them (it actually means infinitely more than that, but's it's a starting point for discussion). We are also hardcore environmentalists, anti-industrialists, trying to escape from our dependence on petroleum, manufactured products and other non-sustainable practices. We homebirth, homeschool, and homestead, and try to make sense of it all, in a constant whirlwind of chaos.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What Does It Mean to Be Green?

A discussion on Crunchy Unschoolers regarding renewable energy began with a question about green options on utility bills, and touched on the relative merits and demerits of wind and solar power. In participation, I posted a version of the following:

We have a green option on our electric bill, but I haven't enrolled yet (we've only had two billing cycles in this house). I feel conflicted about it and must sort it out before deciding. Ours is through TVA (TN Valley Authority). We can buy as much green energy as we want, in blocks of 150 kWh for $4. This is of course in addition to our bill. They specify the types of renewables that will account for these kilowatt hours to be wind, solar, and landfill gas (garbage farts?!). My issues with the program are as follows: one, it feels a bit like paying a premium price for a "natural" product because they know they can charge more for it because it's popular with a certain crowd of which I am admittedly a part. Two, it's not like *my house* is going to get the green electricity I purchase per se. It only means I create an accounting demand of sorts. In other words, the way it works is, if customers pay for 100 blocks of green energy, the TVA has to make sure they pull that amount of kilowatt hours from green sources to the grid. The rest of what their customers consume is supplied by nonrenewables (such as the ever-lovely coal-burning power plants). They won't buy any more green power than customers pay for and just have a higher percentage of renewable electricity; it has to be demanded by the customer. I understand the business logic of this, and the infrastructure and supply and demand factors, but nonetheless that irks me. If you're really trying to make a difference and not just a profit off folks with a guilty conscience about fossil fuels, why not buy as much green power as the sources can supply? But, on the other hand, as long as we're not energy-independent and since we are on the grid, the least damaging thing we can do is create the demand that our kWh's be from renewable sources... then if we enroll in this green switch program, I have to decide how many blocks to buy. Do I want to try to buy enough green kilowatt-hours to cover 20% of our total electricity? 50? 100? I can't really go 100%, since it's in blocks and once you sign up the amount you pay for is fixed. In winter our bill will be negligible, since we don't heat with electricity, meaning I'd just be handing the power company a twenty every month-- for what, being on good behavior? I don't even do that to my kid!

So what can I do? What can you do? What I'm really asking is, how do we take on the machine? That's really the question du jour, n'est-ce pas? (Isn't my French pretty?) My first profusely obvious step is to drastically reduce the amount of energy I consume. Even if I'm "buying green," it's less money to the big guys (I find that spite is a wonderful motivator). We ditched our dishwasher, use compact fluorescents (looking forward to the price coming down and availability going up on the new LED lights!), keep the thermostat high when it's hot and off when it's cold (we use wood heat). Keep the lights off, turn off appliances that have stand-by modes... we can't figure out how to adjust our hot water heater's thermostat because we flat-out can't find the damn thing, but it's old enough that we will replace it soon. Our new one will be tankless, supplemented by a solar water heater as soon as we can afford it. The old one will then become our biodiesel reactor. Then there's the dryer... perhaps I can apply my spite technique to getting motivated to stop using the dryer.

Next will be the addition of some PV panels. Our roof serendipitously has multiple well-placed surfaces for collecting. I don't know if this house will ever supply 100% of its own energy, but seeing that goal as a convergence point for a multi-pronged approach keeps me hopeful.

Another renewable concept I'm wondering about involves collecting the sun's heat. I was daydreaming about this earlier this summer, thinking, "Can't I harness this god-awful scorching blaze off my roof, keep it out of my house, and run some appliances off of it?" Magically the latest issue of Mother Earth News arrived with a blurb about just that. So it is possible! But so far no one is selling that technology to private homeowners. All good things in good time...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

So Far Behind, I'm Getting Ahead of Myself

I keep a running list of topics I want to blog about, but lately it seems that list only gets longer while nothing is added here. So, today, just for right now, I'm going to ramble.

It is Tuesday, CSA box-packing day at Riverview Farms (my in-laws' organic farm, in case you're just tuning in-- the link is listed at left, but I'm not responsible for the website!). I helped out a couple of weeks ago, weighing out one-pound bags of field peas from the sheller, folding bushel boxes, moving up and down rows adding paper bags of potatoes and tomatoes, loose squash and cucumbers, onions and garlic. There were also melons (two per box), bags of okra and green beans, and corn (several ears per box). It took five of us well into twilight to finish, when we could no longer see whether this box was missing its potatoes or that one was missing the onions. Then the boxes had to be closed and loaded into the reefer truck (refrigerated, silly), which has to run all night so the peas won't sprout and the melons won't rot. I wondered whether the members realize just exactly how spoiled rotten they are, getting these diverse boxes of just-picked organic produce packed neatly and delivered the day after coming out of the field. I want to be a CSA member!

The heirloom tomatoes-- early girls, sues, and some brandywines, I think:

These are tomatoes you will never see in a supermarket because they can't be shipped like that without getting positively destroyed. If you've never smelled rotten tomatoes you really should come visit. Meanwhile I am waiting impatiently for the technology that will allow me to photograph smells.

This is the pea sheller. Field peas go in the hopper on the top. It turns and vibrates and makes a huge racket, and the peas fall out the bottom into a mesh chute and bounce along to the end, where they fall into the black bucket. Magic!

Remembering to empty the hopper of hulls at the end has been found to be a crucial step in the success of subsequent shellings. Ahem.

Here are the hulls from one shelled batch:

Now that is a lot of fiber. I wonder what all can be done with pea hulls? I'm thinking spinning, weaving, wearable art...