During the planning process for the recent Visioning Meeting on Local Food, the early concern was that only three or four people would show up. Had we such meager attendance, the conclusion to this project would have been foregone. Investment in rebu
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You can't escape it. But what, exactly,
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Every year, we like to look back at what's happened in our small organization. Holding our annual Holiday Party is part of that reflection process.
Local eatery, Bites Bar & Grille had some of the best munchies. The Cornish game hen was tender and I heard the prime rib couldn't be beat, but nothing could top the desserts laid out at the end of the evening. Double-dipped chocolate covered strawberries, little mini caramel cheesecakes, peanut butter cups in edible cups! Delicious!
In October, my wife of 15 years and I finally took our honeymoon. We got hitched young and had a child soon after marriage, so we never found the time to make it happen. Well, after placing a winning bid at a charity auction, (my wife's great idea!) we were able to celebrate our anniversary in sunny Greece.
Knowing almost nothing of the country, I had to rely on what what I'd learned from playing God of War and watching Hercules.This ended up being far to little, and the differences were enjoyable.
The plan was to stay for two weeks in a house on the coast. It had three bedrooms, two baths, two kitchens, three dining rooms, and a fantastic view of an orange grove underneath the open deck.
The owners of the house left us some starting groceries for the first day (including olives, prosciutto, cheese, bread, and two large bottles of wine) but it was apparent that we would need to replenish at some point. I mean, there was no shortage of outdoor cafe's, restaurants, or food carts to choose from, and to be sure, we ate out a bunch, but we were also on a budget, so we decided to go shopping in the neighborhood for food.
Driving through our neighborhood we found not large supermarkets or chain stores but instead fruit stalls, butchers, and many (many!) mom & pop grocery stores no bigger than a produce department in one of our grocers back home. In fact, there were two of these stores directly next to each other. We could literally buy an orange in each store picked from the same grove. Competition was abundant. And this wasn't just in the area of our house. We drove all over the Peloponnese and got a taste for the small shops.
We were able to attend a twice weekly market in Nafplio which extended for blocks (!). Booths stacked with local produce, fish, nuts, candies, and desserts as far as the eyes could see. It was refreshing to purchase our ingredients in the morning and make our meals in the evening. As we sat around our table eating delicious local cheeses, fruits, and breads, we would ask ourselves, "Why don't we do this more often?"
Well? Why can't we?
Living in central MN (which is cold as ever right now) has it's barriers, I'll grant you. To be able to purchase local produce year round certainly seems like a logistical nightmare but, I'm not necessarily talking about limiting our purchases of produce to local areas. But, securing local suppliers and local methods of distribution though which an increase of (gasp) local jobs could be a reality. I think this is possible only if there is a large enough sway of momentum that desires it.
It comes down to a shift in our mindset. In Greece, (noticed at least superficially) there is an overarching reach for the "local". So, why can't we have that here? With each trip to the grocer, you have a choice. They call it "voting with your pocketbook". With every purchase, you need to ask yourself, "How is my dollar going to shape my environment? What is this dollar going to do once it leaves my hand?" Because once you drop your dollar it's going to change other people's environments, exchange other people's hands. Money is powerful. How do you want to use it?
I propose that making a conscious effort every purchase time you're out will prove effective. Here's some reasons to shop local.
1) Keep your community unique. - Comparing a suburb in Minneapolis with the sprawl of St. Cloud you'd be hard pressed to find a sense of uniqueness. You'll see the same brands of store, laid out in similar fashions, offering similar products. Not much difference. However, going to a place that DOES have uniqueness, that spirit of the community, is a great way to make your community unique. It seems simple, doesn't it?
2) Ensure choice and diversity. - Our freedom of choice is under siege! When purchasing only from national chains, you are agreeing to what they are allowing to reach you. Retailers sift through all sorts of goods to find what appeals to their consumers. Looking at a single shop, you may have a smaller selection than a larger chain, but when that one single independent store is paired with a multitude of OTHER single independent shops, diversity and the ability to CHOOSE is achieved.
3) Keep your environment clean. - This is a blog post on an environmental website, remember. Local stores help to sustain vibrant, small, walkable town centers (downtown, remember that?). They are essential in minimizing sprawl, auto use, and loss of habitat (big box stores are BIG and use lots of land).
Yes, Nafplio is not Brainerd, MN. There are probably a hundred different factors in each local economy which made each city emerge the way it has. However, being the optimist that I am, I say that we don't have to be complaisant in the way our communities are being developed. We have the power and the reasons to see change.
Are you looking for a way to get your kids unglued from the television during the winter season? For those of you who believe winter to be too cold to spend long periods of time outside, I think I have a solution for you. Get your kids hooked on birding - a past time that can be done outside or at your window from the comfort of your own home! Winter is the perfect time to begin birding since many of our bird species are down south for the next couple months. Use this lull time to get your basic birds down before we are rushed by hundreds of bird species returning in the spring! Since food can be very hard for birds to find right now, many of our "winter residents" are attracted to backyard feeders that offer an easy source of food. Did you know, that more than 46.7 million Americans call themselves "Birdwatchers"? And it's no wonder! Birds are by far the most common and active thing in our yards and woods right now. In fact, by putting up a bird feeder, you are not only helping them find food, but you are helping them stay warm! During this season, birds eat A LOT of food! This keeps their metabolism going, thus allowing them to generate heat. By fluffing up their feathers, birds can trap this heat in between their bodies and their "jacket" of feathers, essentially creating a nice warm envelope around themselves. We do this too, but with our winter coats (which are often filled with feathers!). So go ahead and tell yourself that eating that extra Christmas cookie is necessary to keep you warm this winter. ;)
A common redpoll (male) during piloerection - the process in which birds puff up their feathers to trap their own body heat.
Bird watching keeps children, especially pre-K and elementary-aged kids, surprisingly entertained for a surprisingly long time! Kids love getting in the ritual of putting out birdseed and watching to see which birds come to visit the feeders. You can take it a step further and get your family involved in something bigger - a citizen science program! Take the observations you make in your backyard and have the kids submit the data, which will be used by scientists in real research projects! Project Feederwatch is an incredibly simple and fun way to enter the world of citizen science. Another option would be to join a Christmas Bird Count - where people in your community get together for one day of the year and count as many birds as they can! Beginners are welcome!
You can create very simple and very cheap recycled bird feeders right at home. It's a two-for-one - you are helping the birds and reusing something you would have otherwise tossed out! Plus, your kids will love making the bird feeders with you! Grab a tin can from the recycling, decorate it if you wish, tie a ribbon around it, and hang it from a tree. The chickadees will happily hop in and out of it to grab seed! You can also reuse a 2-liter pop bottle and some wooden spoons. Or, if you don't want to sacrifice your kitchen cookware, you could collect some sticks from the woods. Find some pine cones, smear them with peanut butter, roll them in birdseed, and hang them around your yard! Or grab a rinsed-out milk gallon, cut two large holes in the side, attach some perches (I used wood skewers), and watch as birds flock to your feeder! Mine created a sort of "chickadee carousel" for extra amusement - check it out in the video below! Get creative and invent your own feeder using your recycling!
Here are a couple of bird feeder tips:
1. Window feeders are an awesome way to get an up-close look at our feathered friends. Feeders within 3 feet of a window do not allow them to build up enough speed for a dangerous window collision. However, feeders that are placed 3-30 feet from a window offer a high risk of fatal collisions with your windows. So choose a place where you can comfortably see the feeder from inside... but not too close!
2. Make sure you keep your feeder clean. Feeders should be washed about once every two weeks, especially in warmer months! Feeders with mold or moldy seed can make birds sick!
3. Be careful if you are using peanut butter! It should be unsalted, as birds have a hard time staying hydrated during the winter. Salty peanut butter, while delicious, has been said to cause dehydration in birds. Also, it shouldn't be used on hot summer days when it can melt and stick to their feathers or skin.
4. Enjoy! If you consistently keep your feeders full, you will have your very own flock of birds hanging around in your backyard for your kids to watch. :)
Here is a guide to the most common winter birds at feeders in central Minnesota. If you would like more information, check out this website for info on the birds, their favorite foods, and their favorite types of feeders!
Black Capped Chickadees - these little birds are very curious and usually the first to find your feeder. They readily visit all types of feeders and will even eat out of your hand if you stand still long enough! Chickadees hide, or "cache", food for later in the winter. Favorite foods: sunflower seeds, suet, and peanut butter!
White-breasted Nuthatches - common feeder birds who get their name from jamming large nuts and acorns into tree bark, then whacking them with their bill to "hatch" out the seed. These birds are easily identifiable by the way they creep along tree trunks, traveling sideways and even upside down! Nuthatches also cache food for later in winter. Favorite foods: sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, and peanut butter.
Red-breasted Nuthatches - very similar to the white-breasted nuthatch, but they are smaller in size and have cinnamon-colored underparts (slightly paler in females). Very small and very active birds that prefer coniferous forests. Favorite foods: Sunflower seeds, suet, and peanut butter.
Blue Jays - this unmistakeable bird is known for its intelligence and noisy calls. These birds can gobble up a lot of food at one time, using a throat pouch to store it until they cache it later. The pouch can hold up to 50 seeds! Favorite foods: peanuts, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, fruit, suet, and more!.
Dark-eyed Juncos - these are true Minnesota "snowbirds", since they winter here but summer much further north! They have bright white tail feathers that usually flash in flight. They typically feed on the ground and are commonly seen underneath feeders. Favorite foods: millet, nyjer, and sunflower seeds.
Pine Siskins - this nomadic finch varies in its abundance each winter in response to seed crops; you may see a lot of them one year and then virtually none the next. Look for flashing yellow on their wings while they flutter in flocks around feeders. Favorite foods: thistle and nyjer, but will eat millet or scavenge under sunflower feeders.
Northern Cardinals - another unmistakeable and common feeder bird that adds a splash of color to our white winter scenes. There are only a few species of North American songbirds in which both males and females sing (instead of just the males) and this is one of them! Males are bright red (left), but females are more pale brown with reddish tints on the tail, wings and crest (right). Favorite food: sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and peanuts.
Common Redpolls - these small birds look like someone took a red bingo dauber and put one spot right on the top of their heads! The male looks as if he is wearing a red vest (left), while he female is not quite so festive (right). These birds also have a throat pouch to store food in and can survive temperatures as cold as -65F! Favorite food: sunflower seeds and nyjer.
House Finches - these birds were introduced from western North America. Males are red around the face, neck, and upper chest, but have a streaky brown back, belly, and tail (left). Females are more plain, gray-brown with thick, blurry streaks and an indistinctly marked face. Males may differ greatly in color because the amount of red pigmentation in their feathers is due to their diet while molting! Favorite foods: small sunflower seeds, nyjer and safflower.
Purple Finches - large, chunky birds that look very similar to house finches. Male purple finches are more evenly red than house finches, and do not have the brown streaking on their bellies (left). Female purple finches have a more distinct facial pattern, including a whitish eye stripe and a dark line down the side of their throat, and are more strongly streaked (right). Favorite food: sunflower seeds and nyjer.
American Goldfinches - compared to their summer colors, these birds appear rather drab in winter. They are plain, unstreaked brown, though their white wing bars contrast nicely with the black color of their wings. Males (left) may have slightly more yellow on their heads than females (right). These birds will eat at nearly any kind of feeder and scavenge the ground below them. Favorite foods: sunflower seeds and nyjer.
Evening Grosbeaks - these social birds are often found in flocks during the winter and may erratically appear in large numbers at backyard feeders. Males are yellow and black, with large white wing patches and a bright yellow stripe over their eye (left). Females are gray-brown, with white and black wings and a greenish-yellow bill (right). Favorite foods: sunflower seeds and native seeds, berries, and buds.
House Sparrows - this invasive species is found nearly anyplace there are buildings, often forcing out native species. Males have a gray head, white cheeks, black bib, and a rufous neck (left). Females are plain, buffy-brown overall, with striped backs and a distinct whitish-tan stripe through their eyes (right). Favorite foods: sunflower seeds, millet and cracked corn.
Downy Woodpeckers - a very common feeder bird, this small woodpecker looks very much like its larger counterpart, the hairy woodpecker. They have a shorter bills than hairy woodpeckers and black stripes on their outer tail feathers. Males (left) have a small red patch on the back of their heads that females (right) lack. Favorite foods: suet, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and peanut butter.
Hairy Woodpeckers - very similar to the downy woodpecker but differentiated by its larger size, longer bill and lack of black stripes on the outer tail feathers. They often have a black "shoulder strap" extending onto their chest, which the downy woodpecker does not have. Males (left) have a small red patch on the back of their heads that females (right) lack. Favorite foods: suet, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and peanut butter.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers - medium-sized woodpeckers and, contrary to its name, this bird is identifiable by its bright red head and zebra-patterned back. The males (left) have a more extensive red cap than females (right), which have a gray patch on the top of their head. Favorite foods: not very picky eaters, but suet and peanuts are their favorite! These birds have even been spotted drinking sugar water from nectar feeders!
Pileated Woodpeckers - unmistakeable; one of the largest and most striking birds in our woods. Black with a bright red crest and white stripes down the side of the neck. In addition, males (left) have a red stripe, or "mustache", on their cheek that females (right) lack. Favorite food: suet.
So go dig through your recycling and find some materials to make your very own bird feeder! Get your kids engaged in something new and instill a live-long love of the environment! As always, Enjoy!