Category Archives: Being Green

The Best Mail-Order Pantry Company

pantry paratus logo

There’s a coupon code in here! Keep reading for a fantastic discount.

One of the first customers to sign up with Black Chicken Host was Pantry Paratus. We had a wonderful phone conversation, got to know one another, discovered a lot of common ground, and started a really fantastic partnership.

Since that time, I’ve placed a bunch orders with them, for anything from the Haywire Klamper to spices to kitchen appliances, and I’ll continue to do so because they stock quality merchandise, and, like many of you, I feel good supporting people I know personally, who are running a sustainable, ecology-minded business. I was particularly impressed to learn about the Palouse family, who supplies many of their legumes and grains, and how devoted they are to sustainability and service (much like the Pantry Paratus owners themselves.)

wristbandIn addition to their merchandise, PP owners Wilson and Chaya provide an abundance of information in their blog and knowledgebase posts, too. They have a strong social conscience and a vast amount of compassion. You can feel good supporting this business, because they support many of the same causes you feel strongly about.

There is a plethora of recipes in the blog I have on my increasingly-lengthy “to try” list, including the wonderful truffles in the photo below:

truffles

Perhaps not coincidentally, the promotional code they’ve come up with for me to use in this post is directly related to the truffles: Their best-ever coupon for spices or baking ingredients – lucky you!

Here it is:   25% off AND Free Shipping on anything from the “Bulk Spices” or the “Baking Ingredients”  sections of their store. Just use the code “black-chicken” at checkout.

Seriously! That’s a mighty good deal.

Plus, how can you not love these sweet faces?

Chaya_Wilson_resized

I hope you’ll head over to the Pantry Paratus website and have a look around – go for the merchandise, and stay for the blog. You’ll get to know Chaya and Wilson, so you can be confident buying from them – meaningful and mindful consumption. Don’t forget to use your “black-chicken” coupon code for the fantastic discount.

While you’re there, you might be interested in:

Homesteading: 10 Reasons Why I Bother
Navigating a Food Allergy: A Safe Pantry
Sale & Clearance Items
Weekly Email
Their affiliate program (in which we do not participate; I’m writing this post because I love the company)

Another Reason to Eat Locally-Sourced Foods

Linked below is quite a disturbing report covering how massive quinoa production has decimated portions of South America. We sometimes have quinoa in our house (I’m one of those who loves their little curls and flavor,) but not often. It won’t be difficult for us to eliminate this choice morsel from our diet, but I know many whole foodies who rely heavily on this amazing grain.

quinoa

Image from The Kitchn – http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-quinoa-63344

I suppose the question becomes, do those of us who eat a lot of quinoa care enough about people so many thousands of miles away to stop buying it?

Finding healthy, sustainable food continues to be a challenge, unless we follow a fairly strict rule: Eating locally. That unto itself causes a dilemma for people in areas which are not able to produce much food for itself.

What do we, as concerned citizens of the world, do?

I suppose, though, the question really is, “what do we, as concerned, compassionate, yet SPOILED citizens of the world do? Indeed, what are we willing to give up so others may simply survive? So our global environment may carry on, un-obliterated?”

Are you willing to give up quinoa? Soy? Coffee? Tea? Mass-produced beef?

I’m going to link two articles here: The second one, I’ve linked previously on Facebook, but it bears repeating. It is deeply disturbing, but so important.

The Unpalatable Truth About Quinoa

The Animal Lover’s Dilemma

I would love to hear any thoughts you may have about either article.

Internet Confessional & A New Love

Dear Internet –

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written; sorry about that. Life gets so busy from time to time, and I hope you’ll forgive me.

There’s this addiction I wrestle with: Peanut Butter. Specifically, sweetened peanut butter. Give me a jar of Peter Pan and a spoon, and I’ll probably stand there eating it until I throw up. I realize it’s horrible and full of things which are bad for me. Sometimes, I just don’t care – I know, that’s terrible. I’m working on it! Continue reading

Finding Meaningfulness in Work

Last week, I spoke with the lovely and talented Chaya of Pantry Paratus over Skype. While she was ostensibly interviewing me for a Pantry Paratus Radio podcast, it was more like a nice conversation with a good friend. We talked about everything from raw milk to website hosting to balancing homesteading with full-time work and all of life’s trials.

One of the not-too-secret secrets I have is that I hate computers. I really do.

It didn’t start out that way, of course. I found myself working in the Information Technology business in the early nineties almost by accident. I hired in as a part-time computer lab assistant at the University of Michigan, worked my way up the ranks, and before I knew it… I had A Career. Geekiness does run in my family; my dad is a computer geek, and his father was an engineer. I come by it honestly.

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Pastured Beef Benefits

If you’ve been reading our site for awhile, you’ll know we’re all about whole, healthy foods. That’s why, when we stumbled across this free download, we were really excited to share it with our readers:

What Do Food Labels Really Mean?

Clicking that link will take you to a terrific article about animal welfare food labels, such as “Grassfed,” “Free-Range,” and “Cage-Free.” Some people might be astonished to learn how “cage-free” chickens really live:

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Edible Weeds

oxalis - an edible wild plantIf you have ever taken a wilderness survival or wild edibles course, no doubt your eyes have already been opened as to the plethora of freely available, wild edibles right at your feet – often, right in your own yard!

In addition to being incredibly frugal, eating wild plants is healthy, sustainable, and finding them can be a lot of fun, harking back to our hunter-gatherer roots. As with all things in the wild, we have to be certain we have the requisite knowledge to safely partake in this activity, however.

How do I know if a wild plant is safe to eat?

Remember, some plants are poisonous – even deadly in small amounts. We have to be careful of what we eat when its identity is uncertain. Some safe plants have close relatives which look nearly identical to the untrained eye, but are toxic to humans. For this reason, we need to be pretty darned sure we’re eating what we think we’re eating!

Too, some “safe” plants are only safe when cooked, or only have certain parts which are safe, while other parts of the same plant may be toxic. It’s always a good idea to do research before embarking upon a wild edible plant gathering trip.

Here’s how to verify the identity of your plant:

ingham county logo1.) Unless you are absolutely certain you have successfully identified a given plant, you should bring in some additional help. Nearly every county in the U.S. has an Extension Office. What’s an Extension Office? It’s a source of (often free) advice, troubleshooting, and plant identification, among many other things. In our county, it is an extension of Michigan State University, which is widely known for its agricultural expertise.

These offices are generally grant-based, and are staffed with people who really want to help others. I call ours often! They will be happy to help you identify a given plant, and there are some things you can do to help them help you: 1.)Bring in the entire plant, including any flowers, berries, roots, and foliage. If that’s not possible, many offices will attempt to identify a plant from a clear photograph or small sample. 2.) Make notes about its habitat, including sun/shade, soil conditions, and the other plants you see around it.

2.) If visiting an Extension Office is not possible, there are a wide variety of field guides available to help you identify your mystery plant. We recommend the following:

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides) [Paperback] – A timeless classic from the master field guide, Roger Tory Peterson.

 

Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants [Paperback] – This comprehensive book covers not only identification and collection, but also preparation of the plants

 

Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate (The Wild Food Adventure Series, Book 1) [Paperback] – An excellent resource from a renowned wild edibles expert, also covering everything from identification to preparation.

 

3.) Use our friend, The Googles. Searching for “Wild edible plants” yields a veritable plethora of information, including photos, videos, recipes, and more. As always, when taking advice from The Internet at Large, use good judgment – only take advice from credible resources. I prefer using college and university websites, or established scientists and researchers in the field, with a few ad hoc experts thrown in for good measure.

Finally, when in doubt, don’t eat it!

If you cannot establish the identity of your mystery plant, be safe rather than sorry. If you can preserve the plant for future identification, awesome. If not, take a photo or sketch if possible. Those berries may look delicious, but are they worth a horrible bout of diarrhea, or worse?

If you’re in the wilderness and your survival literally depends upon finding wild edibles, you can always perform the very meticulous and very time-intensive Universal Edibility Test.

mayapple - an edible wild plant

Which plants have you eaten personally, and where are they found?

It’s been many years since I’ve taken any wilderness survival courses, so these days, I stick to the most basic stuff. However, back in the day, these found their way onto my plate:

Paul Wheaton (renowned creator of Permies.com) has several videos online covering the preparation and eating of stinging nettles.

dandelion - an edible wild plantMost of these are easily identifiable, and are abundant in Michigan; in fact, they are plentiful right in our own yard. Last year, I pitched more weeds than I ate, but this year I’m determined to do better. We have heaping tons of lamb’s quarters in our garden – why not make it into a salad green? We have a preponderance of dandelions in the yard, and last year I made salads and a sweet syrup from them – this year, I plan to do the same. Sadly, we don’t have much clover, but after it feeds the bees, it will feed us, too.

The photo below is the atrocious state of weeds in our garden last summer – things were out of hand. Thinking about how I either threw them onto the compost pile or just let them go is disheartening right now, but last year was truly horrible for gardening, and I largely gave up midway through for a variety of reasons. A lot of what you’re seeing below are sorrels and lamb’s quarters – totally edible!

a garden overgrown with edible weeds

Legalities of harvesting wild plants

Some wild plants are protected under the law – this means you cannot legally harvest them for food or for any other purpose. This link lists endangered plants in Michigan, and here’s a handy tool to search your area within the United States. Additionally, harvesting on public lands is often prohibited by local or state ordinance, so check all appropriate rules before you have a conversation with a Department of Natural Resources officer who catches you in the act.  “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints” is excellent advice when visiting public lands – don’t be a jerk!

If harvesting on private property, be sure you have the permission of the landowner; otherwise, you’re trespassing, and could be in violation of other laws, as well. If you’re harvesting common weeds, check with your friends and neighbors to see if they would allow you to harvest their weeds, thus saving them some work! Be sure to ask whether they have been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer before you consume them.

Wild Medicinals

We’ll have a post in the future about using wild plants as medicinals/remedies, with expertise from a guest poster. There’s a whole medicine cabinet, likely right outside your window.

Mushrooms

chanterelle mushroomsHunting mushrooms is a science unto itself, and requires even more expertise than simply finding edible weeds. Some mushrooms are absolutely deadly, and have lookalike edible kin. I can’t offer any advice on mushrooming myself, but there are many resources out there; I recommend taking an in-person class which includes field trips. An important part of mushrooming is paying attention to habitat, and noticing subtle visual cues between species. Having an expert walk you through personally is invaluable. Right now, the only mushrooms I know I can identify are morels and chanterelles.

 Wrapping it all up

Wild edible plants are a free source of culinary delight and great nutrition, provided we research our species carefully, prepare them properly (if required,) and harvest them legally and sustainably.

I’d love to hear your tales of using wild edibles, from common back yard weeds to elegant and hard-to-find mushrooms – do tell!

Post photos of your compost pile!

As spring arrives, some of us become obsessed with Gardening Plans.

Successful gardening’s foundation is good soil – soil teeming with nutrients, microbial life, worms, moisture, minerals, decaying organic matter, you name it! Having a compost pile helps us maintain our nutrient-rich soil with a minimum of expense; we’re using our food scraps to create it, after all.

a grass compost pileHere on our little homestead, we have three compost piles currently; one way in the back for things like lawn clippings (our mower sadly does not mulch, which is a huge bummer;) one next to the garden for garden waste; and one up by the house for kitchen and household waste.

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Solar Leasing

Today, a blog post on our sister site, Homestead Geek, features Erin’s frustration with the lack of a solar leasing program here in Michigan.

We share in her frustration, and encourage our readers to sign the petition at change.org requesting Michigan’s Governor, Rick Snyder, to eliminate the 6% sales tax on renewable energy installations, and to share it with your sustainability-oriented contacts.

 

Farmers v. Monsanto

 

We have been following the Farmers v. Monsanto issue close and were heartened to see this in our inbox yesterday from fooddemocracynow.org:

“On January 31, 2012, 55 farmers and plaintiffs traveled to Manhattan to hear oral
arguments regarding Monsanto’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Organic Seed Growers
and Trade Association (OSGATA) vs. Monsanto.

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Charitable Giving Program

Black Chicken Host is committed to conservation and sustainability. Because we want to protect the environment and be good stewards, we have established a charitable giving program.

We donate a portion of the income we receive from our customers to reputable conservation groups. In addition to donating to the groups below, we would like to hear from you:  What conservation- or sustainability-oriented non-profits do you support?

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