Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Lifestyle Reboot - August/September: The Comings and Goings of Foods

How are we halfway through October already? It seems like fall just happened all of a sudden out of nowhere. One day it was 90 degrees and the next it was time for pumpkin spice everything. Time has seriously gotten away from me. I actually wrote this post 3 weeks ago but I wanted to do a final edit before posting and then somehow it's now. Oops. No matter, today we get back on track with some lifestyle updates!

Even though the last 2 months have flown by and I have not had a chance to sit down and blog, I have been keeping on with some lifestyle adjustments. Coincidentally, one habit has to do with where my food comes from and the other is all about what I do with the bits I don't want or can't eat. I've been really focusing on both simultaneously since I got home so it doesn't really work to say one is for August and one is for September, but I figure 2 habits, 2 months, it all works out.

Starting with the purchasing end of the conversation, I have been making a very concerted effort to buy as much food as I possibly can from the farmer's market each week. So far this is going well. There are enough options around me that, even on weekends when I have found myself in another city, I have been able to make it work each week to buy the bulk of my produce as well as cheese, meat, bread and honey straight from the farms that grew or made them. It can definitely be a little bit of a hassle and I still have to make a (much quicker) grocery store run most weeks because there are some things that I just can't buy locally (sadly, no lemon trees here). But I think it's worth it to know exactly where my food is coming from and to support the local farmers that put so much work into making that possible.

I haven't been doing the best job of keeping track, but so far it seems like I am spending about the same amount of money as I would at the grocery store with the added bonus that I get to know the people that grew my food. I have really appreciated the dialogue that goes along with buying food straight from the people that made it. I can ask them about unfamiliar vegetables and how their animals were raised and they can tell me all about them, often followed by tips on how to cook the food and maybe even a sample. I have some stands that I love to visit just because I really like the people that run them and I enjoy supporting them. The whole experience just makes me feel far more comfortable about what I'm putting into my body and I find that I really value the food when I'm eating it because of what went into acquiring it.

Shopping at the farmer's market has the added bonus of being far easier on the environment because the food isn't traveling so far to get to me, which means less waste in the shipping process from packaging and fuel. And since I bring all of my own bags, I can avoid most packaging on my end. All in all, I think it's a win and I plan to maintain this lifestyle change for as long as the farmer's market is open.

Not only have I been much more thoughtful about where my food comes from, but I've also been very purposeful in what I do with all the bits and pieces I can't eat. I started getting in the habit of collecting compost way back in June but at the time I didn't yet have a dedicated compost bin, so I was just dumping it in my friends' garden. This worked but I really wanted to have a more sustainable solution that I could manage on my own. I also wanted it to be as low-maintenance as possible.

Looking at the wealth of information on the internet, I found that most sites that talk about apartment-specific options focus on worm bins, which I'm just not sure is right for me. There are some definite benefits but it seems much harder to maintain the proper environment for them and I'm really not sure that they would make it through the winter. I also discovered a Japanese system called bokashi that uses microorganisms to break down food, including meat and dairy scraps. This actually is a pretty attractive option, but it involves investing in a whole system, which I'm just not sure I'm quite ready to do. I would definitely encourage looking into it, though. It's pretty interesting and great if you're wanting to keep something inside.

In the end, I opted to go very low-tech and inexpensive. I found several tutorials for compost bins made out of large plastic totes or garbage cans. Plastic is not my favorite option, but it's durable for something I intend to have for quite awhile and I couldn't think of another way to make something comparable that didn't involve a lot of tools/skills/time I don't have. So, I took a trip to Menard's and found a 20 gallon black plastic tote for $5. I also bought a small shovel for turning the compost. Then I just used the biggest drill bit I had to drill lots and lots of holes in all four sides, the bottom and the lid. (Pro-tip, make sure your drill has been charged at some point in the last 2 years before starting this project.) After cleaning up all the dislodged plastic (easier said than done), it was ready for stuff.

I put it out on my balcony and, based on what I read online, started it with some shredded cardboard and brown packing paper (since I don't have yardwaste), a bunch of organic potting soil that had been sitting in pots after I gave up on trying to grow plants, lots of water, and the food scraps I had already collected that week. I'm not really sure if potting soil is going to work, but the internet suggested dirt and it's basically dirt, right? I figured I should use it for something since I'm really not planning to grow anymore plants.

I've been continually adding food scraps and toilet paper tubes for the past couple months and it seems okay. I've just been keeping a bowl of scraps in the fridge as I cook throughout the week and then dumping it as it gets full, which is working well. So far the compost bin is kind of swarming with fruit flies and I'm not really sure what that means. I appreciate that it's helping to keep them out of my kitchen and they are pretty much contained inside the compost bin, but it's unclear to me if they are really supposed to be there. To be honest, I don't really know what it should be doing, so I'm just rolling with it for the moment. I know that less and less composting will happen as the weather turns colder, so I think it's going to be awhile before I actually know if it's working. I guess we'll see what happens. Don't worry, I'll keep you posted.