Now We’re Cooking…with Sunshine

We offered our solar cooking workshop last weekend to an enthusiastic “crowd” of 17. That’s the biggest group a Pogue’s Run Grocer class has ever attracted, so we were pleased.

Judy demonstrating how to make a lid for a box cooker.

Judy demonstrating how to make a lid for a box cooker.

Judy has developed a wooden model, but we’re still working out the kinks. So we focused the class on “the old workhorse,” our tried-and-true cardboard box cooker. We wanted to show that you can start cooking with sunshine using only cheap (or free!) materials.

Judy adapted the design out of our solar cookery bible, Cooking with Sunshine. And you can find DIY instructions online as well.

All it needs now is an arm to prop the reflector--and you can make this out of a wire hanger.

All it needs now is an arm to prop the reflector. You can make this out of a wire hanger.

One of the attendees, a firefighter, plans to make the box cooker at the firehouse. He has a big vegetable garden, and he brought us all kinds of herbs and veggies in thanks for the teaching. He was eager to try using up garden produce in all-day stews and soups.

And we discovered after the class was done that another of the attendees has already been experimenting with solar cooking quite a bit. He sent me this inspiring video, proving me wrong when I said, “No, you can’t solar cook in the winter, because the sun’s too low.” Check it out!

The company behind this innovative design is called Solar Clutch. Its mission is promoting solar cooking in high risk areas of the world. I hadn’t heard of Solar Clutch, but I’m proud to find my home state of Indiana producing such a company.

Perhaps solar cooking season doesn’t have to end on Sept. 15 after all!

Drawing the Line

Saturday I took part in a local expression of a nationwide day of action,’s Draw the Line. About 40 of us came out to demonstrate resistance to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

KI EcoCenter hosted the Indy event in partnership with Earth Charter Indiana. These two stellar groups both work at the intersection of environmental, social, and economic concerns.

Photo by KI EcoCenter

Photo by KI EcoCenter

Alvin, one of the organizers, started us off with a wholistic assessment of what we were about: creating a new world, beyond the issue of the pipeline or tar sands or even fossil fuels.

“Keystone XL is a symbol of the past…We’re saying no, we want something different for our world,” Alvin said.

In the ensuing discussion, there was talk of reining in corporate greed, making companies pay the true cost of production, reforming the way election campaigns are financed, and other policy changes.

But many people brought up the need for internal as well as external shifts. How are we making the old reality obsolete by creating a new reality, as Buckminster Fuller advised?

Photo by KI EcoCenter

Photo by KI EcoCenter

Some of the insights:

We need to build a united movement that encompasses social justice, because climate change disproportionately affects the poorest of the poor. —Rosemary

We have to shift away from the value we put on money. Companies value money and profits more than our own lives. We have to focus on the intangible side of life, such as happiness that comes from having a healthy place to live. —Keenan

Photo by KI EcoCenter

Photo by KI EcoCenter

The problem stems from the idea of separation—that we’re separate from each other, separate from the earth, separate from the animals. But we are one. —Marion

We need to change the definition of the good life. —Tom

We need to take responsibility for what we carry within so we don’t pollute the world with negativity. Anything inside us that fears and hates is that which is in common with what is feared. It’s important to notice—because when you notice things, they lose power. —Phoebe

Photo by KI EcoCenter

Photo by KI EcoCenter

At the end of the discussion, we lined up outside the center with signs we had made, and a KI EcoCenter intern drew a black line across to represent our line in the (tar) sands.

Though I much prefer creating the new world to protesting what needs to fall away, I do believe it’s important to stand up and be counted. I’m glad Indy was represented in the movement, however small our number. And we didn’t stand alone. These photos of the line’s reach (into hundreds of cities, drawn by thousands of activists) at’s flickr stream are inspiring.

Coal: It’s So Yesterday

I confess that when I was asked to write a story about Indiana’s Beyond Coal movement for Indiana Living Green, part of me was a bit ho-hum at the prospect.

Sure, the two ladies leading the fight (Megan Anderson and Jodi Perras, my two profilees) are amazing specimens of fierce feminine energy, each hailing from a different generation, an interesting duo. And of course, I am totally down with clean energy.

It’s just: I’d rather write about yummy stuff, like food, or farming, or foraging. I am drawn to tales of those remaking the world in intriguing, innovative ways. That new emerging story is what energizes me. And sometimes the hard work of calling a halt to the old story seems so…tired.

By Arnold Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

By Arnold Paul, via Wikimedia Commons

I mean, we all know that coal is bad for the environment and our health. What more is there to say?

So I thought. Then I talked to Megan and Jodi, and got a first-hand glimpse of what’s at stake. I saw that not only are they pushing to retire these decrepit coal plants, they are holding a vision of an Indiana where residents are choosing from an array of clean energy options, even generating their own energy. An Indiana where people have secure jobs that they feel good about, contributing to a cleaner state. An Indiana on the cutting edge.

By Mhassan abdollahi, via Wikimedia Commons

By Mhassan abdollahi, via Wikimedia Commons

Now that’s exciting.

I was moved to hear Jodi talk about the group meditation where she visualized her descendants asking what she did to fix the climate crisis. Isn’t this something we all think about, what kind of world might be next?

I got fired up hearing their passion for righting the injustices wrought by Big Coal. I learned that children who have the misfortune to be born poor are disproportionately impacted by the health effects of coal—resulting in learning disabilities, asthma, autism, and lowered IQs.

How fair is it that poor kids are effectively trapped into a cycle of poverty because of lifelong difficulties linked to our state’s over-reliance on coal?

Then I learned that coal is ever more costly. And it just seems like a no-brainer from there.

Read the piece for the full scoop. You can join the Beyond Coal Indiana movement at the Sierra Club’s website or contact Megan Anderson at

Solar Cooking Season at Last

Taking a break from the education series for a little joyous yippee-skip, because today? I busted out the solar cooker!

Yep, on this cool, breezy day I solar cooked for the first time this year. It makes me so happy to usher in the season this way. Despite the chill, the sun is high and bright, the sky bluest blue, and in the solar cooker the oven thermometer registered 275 degrees.

I was having so much fun, I neglected to take any photos of my handmade cooker doing its thing.

Solar Cooker

This is not a photo from today, but from my very first summer of solar cooking, 5 years ago. Nowadays I know enough to put a dark cloth over my cookware. And I don’t use clothespins anymore, at least not inside the cooker. But you get the idea.

OK this isn’t a food blog… but here is what went into the soup that is just now steaming in my mug after simmering out there all day:

  • leeks from my CSA (community-supported agriculture, a weekly allotment of locally grown vegies, yum)
  • baby carrots, also from the CSA
  • sage and dill, ditto
  • parsley I dried at some point, can’t remember the origin, possibly the back yard
  • corn my partner and I bought at the farmers market and froze during the summer
  • a dried Aleppo pepper from the community garden, given to me by my friend Heidi
  • potatoes purchased at the food co-op
  • celery that really really needed to be used up
  • frozen chicken stock I made during the winter from an Amish-raised chicken
  • salt, pepper, and love, baby!

Tell you what, it hits the spot.

Also from that first year. But I did toast pumpkin seeds today on top of the soup.

Also from that first year. But I did toast pumpkin seeds today in a tray on top of the soup. I’ll put them in my salads this week.

I love cobbling together a dish like that, using produce from the garden or market or CSA, or whatever needs to be used up to make room for fresher stuff. (Time to get that corn all eaten up before it shows up in the markets again.)

I’m so looking forward to another long summer of solar cooking. I can almost taste the plum cobbler now.

There’s more about my solar cooker and how you can make one here.

A Whole New Earth

Nuvo Newsweekly has published my piece responding to Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior.

“It’s an elegy to the beauty of the familiar world, the world that is soon to be a thing of the past. Kingsolver invites us to begin the process of grieving, embodying that lost beauty in the form of the monarch butterfly…”

© Cinc212 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Cinc212 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Indy-area folks can pick up Nuvo for free, or you can read the rest of the article here.

Have you read the book? What was your response?

Too Many Tons

There’s a moment in Barbara Kingsolver’s devastating new novel, Flight Behavior, where the protagonist realizes the craziness built into our globalized economy. Dellarobia and her husband are in the dollar store, trying to buy a “real Christmas” for their children on $50. Every toy is Chinese-made, plastic, and depressingly cheesy. She tries to find something, anything, that won’t fall apart immediately, and muses:

“There had to be armies of factory workers making this slapdash stuff, underpaid people cranking out things for underpaid people to buy and use up, living their lives mostly to cancel each other out.”

I recently learned something horrifying from this video featuring Society for Organizational Learning founder Peter Senge: It takes a ton of raw materials each day to sustain the American lifestyle. Per person.


© David Coleman | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I don’t know about you, but it guts me to envision a ton of earthly extraction happening on my behalf—today, tomorrow, and the next day and the next, until the whole house of cards collapses. Or until we demand something different.

Do we really need to buy into this waste?

All that energy that goes into making money to be able to buy stuff? If we could divert a fraction of that into work that sustains us, we might see the merry-go-round start to slow.

I met a young mother recently who had made some changes after asking herself, “Why am I spending money to buy food when I could grow my own? Money doesn’t grow on trees, but food does.” Visionary Charles Eisenstein, Radical Homemaker Shannon Hayes, and countless others have said it: It’s time to rethink, regroup, relocalize.

My partner is cutting her workplace hours this year to spend more time gardening and making things. These projects enrich her life and leave something tangible, and they mean—yes!—fewer trips to the store to buy goods made or grown by someone else.

Sure, we still do our share of purchasing. We’re not immune to the consumer culture. I just got my very first smartphone, after all, with much gnashing of teeth. But we are coming to see ourselves less as consumers and more as small-scale producers, or self-provisioners, or urban farmers. The more we make, produce, grow, and repair with our own hands, the less money we require to live.

One group is working in a big way to break the cycle. Open Source Ecology was started by a young farmer who was frustrated by repeated tractor breakdowns. It bothered him that corporations keep their designs secret and build obsolescence into their products. So he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Now he’s working with others to develop 50 industrial machines to cover every need of a local-level sustainable economy. The open source part is revolutionary: Their designs are available for anyone to use and adapt.

Here’s a three-minute video showing how it all works. There’s a builder from Indiana using one of the machines to make bricks. I love this!

Build yourself. | Tristan Copley Smith from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

What about you—how are you slowing the merry-go-round?