Purging Plastics

Purging Plastics

Plastic has become the foundation of our modern life. From simple things like straws and food containers to life-saving devices and commercial packaging, it is here to stay. You would be hardpressed today to find real clothing. Most clothes today are made from plastic or a combination of a poly-cotton blend. People cook with it, store things in it, and find it difficult to live without.

We are no different from everyone else. Sometimes I think we’re worse because we know better! By ‘we’ I mean Dom and me. Back in 2011, we started the process of getting rid of plastic products from our home. Toys, storage and food containers, even clothes. We purchased glass jars and bowls for storing food and made the effort to shop for only cotton, wool, silk and natural fibers for our clothes.

Then we sold our house and moved 10 times over the course of 4 years. When our lives were constantly in flux, it made it difficult to make being plastic-free a priority.

Always in the back of my mind is that gnawing feeling of guilt that we have not kept our commitment to being plastic-free.

Dom and I recommitted to phasing out plastic as much as possible starting in 2020. I was very grieved by the lack of reusable materials I was creating for our coffee company, especially during the holiday rush. Everything from packing peanuts from companies shipping me supplies to my own use of lots of plastic products that are cheap and readily available has made me pause and decide to be accountable for my part in our plastic problem.

This year we’ll be transitioning our coffee company to more sustainable and compostable materials used in the creation and distribution of our products. From coffee bags with tin ties to glassine inner bags and paper bag outer packaging that is still tied with twine. I was embossing every bag I put coffee in which created a very unique packaging with texture and layers. I will be keeping the texture, just not with my own embossing. You see, the embossing powders I use are plastic, which gets melted onto each bag I emboss. I’ve embossed a few thousand bags in the last year and not a single one of them could be taken from the kitchen and put into a compost pile and turned into soil.

I know that not everyone composts. But we do. I don’t want to burden the garbage dump with our garbage because I couldn’t figure out a more clever way to have sustainable packaging. While not everyone composts and farms or gardens, many use recycling. Unfortunately in our rural county, we don’t have a recycling program. Garbage is either sent to the dump or it’s burned. We’ve done both. We’ve also separated plastic, glass, metal and brought it to Silver City where it could be recycled, however, Silver City no longer recycles glass (from what I was told) and we would need to drive our glass recyclables all the way to Las Cruces to dispose of them. I’m sorry, but there is nothing sustainable about spending over $50 in gas to take our glass containers to a place three hours away from us just to get rid of glass.

Sometimes things feel insane to my brain.

I’ve been looking at alternatives for our coffee company, as well as future farm products and things for our personal use. We don’t see how we can be 100% plastic free and maybe its because I’ve been in plastic for so long that I see no way out completely.

As an example, write now as I write this sentence, I’m sitting on a chair that has a plastic foam cushion. My old raggedy gray sweater is acrylic (plastic) and not wool, the keyboard I tap my fingers on…plastic. The modem, plastic. The paint that coats my desk holding my computer? Plastic. The little area rug under me? Plastic. My printers, mostly plastic.

There are so many things that we have that are made from this ubiquitous material. Cutting down and replacing where possible is the only solution we see as being responsible.

So what do we do with the things we are phasing out? If it’s a product that still has years of use, we’ll give it to those who need/want it. If its something that can no longer be used, we’ll recycle it. And that’s where it ends. I don’t want to a part of this problem any longer.

Animals are dying, people are dying. They don’t realize how many chemicals are in the plastic and they’re cooking or warming up food in it. And let’s not get started with the fact that all these products are petroleum-based and polluting our planet while they are being manufactured. Polluting the earth while the petroleum is being extracted.

Here are some of the things we’re looking to incorporate into our lives from now on. We’re not buying everything all at once, but instead, budget it in over the course of a few years. Slow and simple works best for us.

We regularly use Ball jars for storing foods, and we also have flip-top jars for storage, but we’ll be migrating over to jars with a wood top. Mostly because I love the way they look. We would put gluten-free pasta, rice, dried and other non-perishables in them.

We’ll be transitioning away from Ball jars for canning to Weck jars. One of the problems with regular mason or ball jars is that you need new jar lids each time you can something and the lining of the jar has a plastic coating on it. While I’m not condemning those who can using Ball, Kerr, or Mason jars, I’m just saying that we don’t want to use them for our family, or for future farm products that we will be offering. The lids on Weck jars are glass and do not contain any type of poly coating. This summer I canned up peach preserves and thought of giving them as gifts this Christmas to our family, but I changed my mind and decided to wait until after we own Weck jars to give food as gifts for the holiday season.

Plus, I love the way they look. 🙂

Another step we’ll be making to reduce waste is to purchase in bulk or to take our containers to the co-op to fill our jars with what we need. I wouldn’t be bringing jars, but instead cotton or linen sacks so that the clerk can tare the sack before weighing. This can be done with most dried goods. We can also utilize the store’s meat department to have our meat wrapped with paper instead of plastic-lined butcher paper.

For clothing and shoes, I think this is the most difficult for us. Real clothing is expensive. And that’s the rub for us. Organic cotton, 100% wool, real silk, flax linen…all very costly. Especially when you have a man that can wear out a pair of pants in a matter of just a few weeks. He uses everything to its bitter end! Holes in the knees in just under a month, worn thin because he works harder than any man I know.

A daughter who is growing faster than I care to admit! She’s on the fast track to being as tall as Dom in the next few years. She’s tall with these supermodel legs that just won’t stop growing! Her feet? She’s already wearing my size shoes and she hasn’t turned 13 yet. It’s difficult finding clothes that she will wear because she only likes POLYESTER clothing. Yes, that wasn’t a typo. This kid loves all the fuzzy poly clothes. I’ve purchased her merino wool sweaters in the past, and she even thinks those are itchy. I gulp on the thought of buying her leather $75 shoes that she will outgrow in a matter of two months. And that’s just shoes! Boots and play shoes she’s pretty rough on as well.

Simmi sleeps with about 10 blankets. That is not an exaggeration. From greatest to least, every time she gets a new blanket, she adds it to her collection. She even sleeps with all of them in the summer. There is only one fully cotton blanket in the bunch, and that is the quilt I made for her back in 2013.

She’s also not fond of my quilt, although she’s begging for me to make her a new one. When I do, it will be of organic cotton with a real wool batting. I have enough raw wool to last a few years. A friend of ours calls us to pick up the wool when she has her sheep sheared each year. So far I’ve collected about 5 large bags full of wool, just waiting to be processed.

I’m not sure how to get Simmi onboard with our transition. I’ll be purchasing new merino wool blankets next month, and my hope is that she’ll see how much better it is than the acrylic blankets she’s hoarding right now. My goal is to have her (and us) outfitted for the fall and winter of 2020 with organic cotton sheets, merino wool blanket, and a goose down blanket. I’ll also be making pillows for us to sleep on with the wool we have.

I’m taking it slow with Simmi. She’s been through a lot in the last four years and only now has started to understand that we are finally home. No more moving! No more needing to worry about if I am going to get sick again, or watching me suffer losing my hair and not being able to breathe. It’s a lot for a little kid to go through. My older children went through it too.

Personal products such as toothbrushes can easily be replaced with a bamboo toothbrush with natural bristles.

There are so many personal care products we can get relatively inexpensive instead of using plastic products. We’ll get there, and my hope is that by this time next year our family will be a little more plastic-free. It’s a great goal for our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gardens Edge

In our quest for finding a homestead location, I’ve begun to reach out to some of the local homesteaders and permaculturalists via the internet. In my search I stumbled upon The Garden’s Edge and I was so moved by what they are doing both here in New Mexico and in Guatemala that I asked Sarah Montgomery, the founding director of The Garden’s Edge if I could feature her organization here. I’ve copied their Mission Statement and About Us here, as well as an article written published in The Albuquerque Journal.  I would encourage everyone to check out their website, see the beautiful work they are doing. If you are inspired, I encourage you all to get involved.

Mission Statement:

Garden’s Edge is a 501 (c)3 non-profit corporation that works in New Mexico and Guatemala to revitalize local culture and economy through projects in sustainable agriculture and environmental education.

Background:

The Garden’s Edge was formed in 2007 by a group of farmers and social activists concerned about environmental degradation, global climate change, disappearing small-scale farmlands, and the erosion of indigenous cultural knowledge.

A strong desire to work towards creating a more sustainable future led founding members Sarah Montgomery and Aaron Lemmon to Guatemala in 2003 where they started a project to help indigenous farmers preserve their traditional seeds and agricultural practices.

This project called, PPAS (Proyecto de Producción de Alimentos y Semillas) The Food and Seed Production Project, was initiated as an alternative to the conventional international aid model. Conventional aid projects often create dependency in rural villages by importing technologies, crops, livestock and food aid from the west. This model often contributes to the erosion of indigenous cultures and disappearance of native plant and animal species by placing little or no value on traditional knowledge, crops, seeds and customs.

PPAS’s first focus was on food security and soverngtey in rural villages. Home gardens were planted with native foods and medicines that were well adapted to local environmental conditions and familiar to villagers. PPAS helped bring back many highly nutritious Maya food crops and medicines that were disappearing from the region. Crops such as Amaranth, native corns, beans, and vegetables such as Chipilin, and Macuy (Hierba Mora) are once again abundant in village gardens. They are replacing the introduced western hybrid varieties that require large amounts of agro chemicals and fertilizers to grow. Sustainable food and seed production has helped village families break their dependency on western aid projects and government handouts and has reduced seasonal work migration to large plantations and urban factories.

After addressing the need for better food security, PPAS helped local villagers organize their own independently run farmer and women’s association, called (Qachuu Aloom “Madre Tierra”) The Mother Earth Association. The Association works to improve soils, combat erosion, reforest the area, gather, store and sell native seeds, teach families how to run small businesses, and many other community initiated projects.

The Garden’s Edge has expanded into New Mexico and is working with sustainable agriculture, and environmental education.

An article that was published in the Albuquerque Journal:

Publication:Jnl Final Edition 8/2005-today; Date:Sep 21, 2008; Section:Living; Page Number:E1

FARMING A CULTURE

Mayans find striking similarities between their agricultural traditions and U.S. Native American ways, and are fighting to keep them alive

By Amanda Schoenberg Journal Staff Writer

The story of how six Mayan farmers ended up sharing farming tips with native communities in New Mexico dips into tragic Guatemalan history, the pitfalls of international aid and the roots of indigenous culture.

Edson Tomás Xiloj Cuin tells part of the story. Xiloj Cuin, the director of the Qachuu Aloom (Mother Earth) Association in Rabinal, Guatemala, is a round man with a wide smile. On a late summer day, he stands at the entrance to Chispas Farm in Albuquerque’s South Valley, where he is winding down a threeweek trip to New Mexico and Arizona with a fundraising event. In a few minutes, he will describe to Albuquerque residents how farming helped revive community life in Rabinal.

Xiloj Cuin relives his trip with relish. This past July, Xiloj Cuin joined the 13th Annual Traditional Agriculture/ Permaculture Design Course, organized by the Traditional Native American Farmers Association, to learn about Pueblo farming. Growing up in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, Xiloj Cuin’s grandparents told him stories they had heard about the commonalities between Mayan traditions and their Native American neighbors in the U.S. Once in the U.S. for the first time, he saw striking similarities in farming and cultural practices that convinced him the stories were true.

“It’s like my grandparents’ stories came to life,” says Xiloj Cuin, in Spanish.

Rebuilding lives

Xiloj Cuin might never have arrived in New Mexico if Sarah Montgomery had not had what she says was a vague plan to use sustainable farming to help women widowed during Guatemala’s civil war. Montgomery, 31, an Albuquerque native who studied sociology and women’s studies at the University of New Mexico, first visited Rabinal in 2000. She wanted to learn Spanish and had met Carlos Chen, a Guatemalan indigenous rights activist from Rabinal, in Albuquerque. But it was a brief visit, and she soon moved to Costa Rica to teach environmental education.

Still, Montgomery couldn’t get Guatemala out of her head. Two years later, she returned to Rabinal, hoping to work with widows. She met with little success until a war survivor named Cristobal Osorio Sanchez knocked on her door. The first thing he said was, “my dream is to preserve the agriculture of our ancestors.” It was kismet.

Osorio Sanchez doesn’t give all the details, but what he does say is scary enough. He survived four massacres by the Guatemalan military in Rio Negro, a village along the Chixoy River, where more than 400 Mayan residents were killed in 1982. Between 1976 and 1983, Guatemala built the Chixoy hydroelectric dam with funding from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Construction began without consulting families who would be displaced by flooding from the project, Osorio Sanchez says.

When they refused to leave, the first group of 73 men and women were killed. Soon after, 177 women and children were massacred at Rio Negro. Osorio Sanchez went to a nearby market and returned to find 16 family members dead, including his mother and pregnant wife. Two other massacres followed. According to the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification, more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during the war, 83 percent of them Mayans.

“The war destroyed many of our lives,” Osorio Sanchez says. “We decided to create a community organization that would try to rebuild that.”

Osorio Sanchez, forced to move to the larger town of Rabinal with other displaced Rio Negro residents, encouraged locals to return to traditional Mayan farming practices and refrain from using the fertilizers and pesticides promoted by some aid groups and the government. Practices like planting with the moon cycle and using medicinal plants had been lost in many families, Montgomery says.

Preserving history

The next piece fell into place when a feisty woman named Maria Magdalena Alvarado Ixpata, who now works with Xiloj Cuin’s organization, stopped Montgomery in the street and asked her if she needed help. The two became fast friends. Alvarado Ixpata introduced her to several women’s groups working on human rights issues, who then began attending workshops with Osorio Sanchez.

With Osorio Sanchez, Montgomery started the Proyecto de Producción de Alimentos y Semillas, or the Food and Seed Production Project, which focused on planting home gardens and teaching locals to gather, store and save seeds. The plan was to reduce dependency on imported crops and food aid, and reduce the number of hybrid seed varieties that had already put many native plants in jeopardy.

“The fear is that if biodiversity and cultural knowledge disappear, when those go, so does a whole piece of history,” Montgomery says.

The seed project evolved into Qachuu Aloom (Mother Earth) two years ago, which now includes a livestock, microloan and seed business. With a seven-person staff and $25,000 budget, Qachuu Aloom works with 120 farmers, 80 of them women, in 14 communities. After six years in Guatemala, Montgomery moved back to Albuquerque in January. She founded the nonprofit Garden’s Edge to continue her work in Guatemala by focusing on sustainable farming in New Mexico. Her newest passion is fostering cultural exchanges like the one that brought Mayan farmers here.

“All the knowledge is out there, it’s just making the right connections,” she says. “I feel like that’s my job.”

2 worlds, 1 technique

Before she arrived in New Mexico, Alvarado Ixpata says she envisioned “only hamburgers and pizza. … But we saw another reality,” she says. “It was an amazing and marvelous experience for all of us.”

During the visit, the Guatemalan farmers saw similarities they never imagined between their wet, hilly gardens and southwestern farms. When the group visited the Tesuque Pueblo farm of Clayton Brascoupe, they found corn, beans and squash planted together, a configuration Guatemalan farmers call milpa. Brascoupe, program director for the Native Farmers group (TNAFA), says the plants support each other — beans add nitrogen, corn drains nutrients and squash reduces weeds.

At the Hopi Indian Reservation in northern Arizona, the Guatemalans visited terraced gardens created to conserve water. They were surprised to see crops like chile and onions thriving, according to Leland Dennis, coordinator of the Natwani Coalition, an agricultural component of the nonprofit Hopi Foundation.

Though Arizona is dry, as the Guatemalan group arrived at the reservation, it started pouring.

“It was very inspirational, it felt like they were bringing the rain to us,” Dennis says. “I felt like I was amongst my own people.”

Farm design was just one aspect of the workshop. Sustainable farming can help maintain indigenous culture, says Xiloj Cuin. “We are in agreement about the need to preserve our culture.”

COURTESY SARAH MONTGOMERY During a visit to New Mexico, Silvia Sic Alvarado and Cristobal Osorio Sanchez, from Rabinal, Guatemala, harvest onions at Amyo Farm in Bosque Farms.

GREG SORBER/JOURNAL Albuquerque resident Sarah Montgomery founded the Garden’s Edge to continue her work on sustainable farming.

GREG SORBER/JOURNAL Nan Brinker of Albuquerque and Silvia Sic Alvarado of Rabinal, Guatemala, cook corn tortillas during a fundraiser at Chispas Farm in August.

Silvia Sic Alvarado, who works with the Qachuu Aloom Association in Rabinal, Guatemala, cooks tortillas at Chispas Farm in the South Valley.

A Shift in My Thought Life

Our family has dreams of starting a homestead…that much is clear, but where? Where do we settle down? We found some land out in the Parajito Mesa and we just fell in love with it. There’s a catch though. The property is landlocked! When we called the realtor back to tell her we were interested, she told me this:
“You can purchase the land, but you can’t live on it legally.” Huh? “Why?” I asked. She stated that the Parajito Mesa is a part of a land scam from many years ago, and the developer never mapped out the plots of land correctly or put in the necessary roads. Basically all of the Parajito land is private, and in order for us to purchase a plot of land, we would need to create access. But from where? There are no legal easements and no legal street address. We would have to plow a road right through someone’s property to access ours. Obviously that isn’t a great idea, nor is it good for having a decent relationship with our neighbors.

The Parajito Mesa is home to about 400 families. As I did some research on it, what I found was heartbreaking. It made me actually want to move there despite the fact that it is illegal. Would we put our family at risk by doing that? Nope. So I had to think of a different way. If we were to live out there, we wouldn’t be able to get mail, be able give a legal change of address, update information on drivers license or other important documents and my grand daughter wouldn’t be able to get her much needed Medicaid. So why do I want to be out there so bad? For me, it has to do with three things I see…the disenfranchised, social justice and environmental justice. These three things are huge, and as time goes by, dreams can become diminished and finally replaced with despair. Does it have to be that way though? It seems as though they are forgotten and left out there to just exist or die. I’m unsure why the burden in my heart is so heavy for these families, but it is there none the less. I guess my thought is that the people on Parajito Mesa have an opportunity to make their own homesteads if they wanted. I believe that any family that is willing to make their lives better should have access to the tools and knowledge that would make that life an actual reality.

What can we do? How can we help? I believe that if we were to purchase a house with some land near the Parajito Mesa, we could begin to open up our home to those who would seek something more for their families. As we build our homestead in that region, others who are interested could come along side of us, learning the principles of water harvesting, earthworks and permaculture and bring that back to their own land and begin incorporating those techniques and principles. I don’t have any visions of grandeur, just a simple desire to help those who want help.

Most of the families out there are on ten acres of land each. How much food can grow on ten acres? I say that rhetorically, because even an 1/8 of an acre can be intensely gardened to produce thousands of pounds of food per year. They each have way more than an 1/8 of an acre which makes it possible to grow many different kinds of fruit trees, acres to grow grains, agave, and so many other types of fruits and veggies. Is the lack of water the problem? If they are conventional farmers, yes. But I believe if they begin to understand how earthworks and water harvesting principles work, they will be able to actually cultivate their land, build their soil and create something absolutely stunning. They are worth it, don’t you think?

If there are any permaculturalists in the area looking for a worthy cause to donate your time and talent, you can contact me by filling out the form on my Contact page. I would love to hear from you.

Here is a video I found on youtube about the Parajito Mesa: