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I’ve mentioned Nature’s Crossroads before, but I wanted to recommend them again. We are so fortunate to have a seed company right in our backyard concerned about maintaining locally grown and adapted seed varieties. Their website has tons of valuable resources and information. I came across a whole section on gardening with kids today that I thought some of you might want to try with your little ones as we’re able to get outside more.

Since our little guy is a bit small to appreciate some of the more exciting projects just yet, I thought we could give him a little plot of root vegetables, so he can dig and around and get dirty (his favorite activity) come harvest time.

I might try this one just for myself!

Grow a Cucumber in a Bottle

Have you ever seen one of those sailing ships inside a bottle?  You can create your own special treasure by growing a cucumber inside a bottle!  It’s very simple; when the cucumber fruit is still small, slide it inside a clear glass bottle (short-neck salad dressing bottles work best), being careful not to break the vine.  Tuck it under a couple of leaves for shade (the glass tends to magnify sunlight) and let it continue to grow so it fills the bottle.  When it is full grown (or getting too big for the bottle), snip it off the vine and admire.  Your cucumber is a fresh vegetable so it won’t last very long – show it off to friends and family within a couple of days and then have an adult reach in the jar with a long, thin, sharp knife to cut the cucumber in pieces and slip them out to eat as shredded cucumber.

Bookmark Nature’s Crossroads’ website for future reference and be sure to support them by buying their seeds!

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Food pantries need us now more than ever. Hamilton County, Indiana,  is one of the twenty-five wealthiest counties in the country, and our food pantries are desperate for food due to the huge increases in the number of middle-class families in need. Our largest local food pantry is providing non-perishable items to over fifty families a day, and families can only receive these food boxes once a month.

It is vitally important, especially during the current economic times, that we support the food pantries in our community. Often in rural or suburban areas, especially, the food pantries are the only social services available in the immediate community. In our suburban area, the working poor support the wealthy lifestyles of us suburbanites. The food pantries in suburban and rural areas are often overlooked. For example, here on the north-side suburbs of Indianapolis, most people, when they are contemplating giving food or donations to the hungry in “our” community only think about the large pantries and shelters in downtown Indianapolis. Many local families are struggling, and they depend on local shelters for help, which is why we need to take responsibility for the “least of these” in our own backyards.

Want to be a part of the solution in your community? Try some of these ideas:

  • Check with your food pantry to see what they are most in need of and make a list accordingly. Keep the list with you, and check out the sales on your grocery runs. Keep in mind the benefits of real food.
  • Contact your Representative and Senators. The budget debate currently happening in the House and Senate will have real and substantial impacts on the poorest people in our communities. Watch this video about several faith leaders fasting to bring awareness to the issue.
  • Start your own neighborhood or office food drive. We have a friend who emailed his subdivision and told everyone that he would be around the second Saturday of every month to pick up any food that they left on their front porch. He gives his neighbors a virtually painless way to take care of those in need in their community. I placed a box in our office break room with some information about our local food pantry and its needs, and my co-workers appreciate having a convenient way to give. A second-grader at our church convinced his teacher to have a food drive among his class members. The school principal was so inspired by the second-grader’s passion for those in need that he made it an all-school event. Get creative and find your own way to drum up awareness and support for your local food pantry!
  • I’m a little biased, but I think the best way to help feed those in need in our communities is with fresh, locally-grown food from our own gardens. So plant a row (or even just an extra pot of tomatoes on your back porch…every little bit helps!) for the hungry in your garden this year, or come join us our at the Grace Garden.

Is anyone planning on going to Orchard in Bloom this weekend? I am dying to go, especially to hear one of my “green heroes” speak – Sara Snow (ok, I’ll admit, one of the reasons I like her so much is because she spells her name the right way!). I don’t think we’re going to be able to make it, but be sure to let us know how it went in the comments if you’re able to go.

Check out this week’s Green Clipping for half off on tickets!

I came across this article and thought you might appreciate it too. I dream about every church either having a community garden of their own or helping out with a neighboring church’s garden. There are over 70 churches in Hamilton County alone! I’m convinced that we could solve hunger around the globe if we collectively put our time, resources and prayers into community gardens.

For more inspiration, read this wonderful article in the latest Indiana Living Green about schools around the area incorporating gardens into the curriculum.

Who or what is inspiring you to get out there and plant a few extra seedlings, get involved in a local community garden (how about ours?!), propose a garden at your child’s school…

As I’ve become more passionate about the justice issues associated with sustainable and responsible food choices (and all that entails), I have become a huge fan of Wendell Berry, a writer and farmer who was thinking about and defending these ideas long before I was even born. I’ve become so enamored (my husband might say obsessed!) that I now affectionately refer to him by only his first name (there’s a picture of me with Wendell in the background at an event at IU last fall – I was quite excited, as you can tell).

Flourish, a magazine and organization created to encourage Christians to better care for creation, re-published Berry’s essay, “The Gift of Good Land” last week. Last year, Flourish asked Christian leaders to reflect on this seminal essay in light of its thirtieth anniversary and received quite a flurry of responses.

Tri Robinson writes

Wendell Berry’s message in “The Gift of Good Land” may be more relevant today than when it was written over thirty years ago. With a very succinct and clear approach, Berry has reminded me that true heroism is far more dependent on a life that tenaciously makes consistent, long term, and righteous choices than one that pursues the notoriety of being an advocate for reformation.

Ashley Woodiwiss writes

To re-read “The Gift of Good Land” is thus a sort of homecoming. But like all homecomings, re-reading “Gift” is a poignant and emotionally fraught experience. It is not only to see again those words that first moved and stirred the soul. It is also to re-live memories of another time and another place. It is to remember a much simpler life. Now 30 years on, these words ring with a melancholy sobriety. Yes, he saw it then and all so clearly. I am even more convinced of that now. But having ears, we have not heard; having eyes, we have not seen.

Read the essay (it makes a wonderful Earth Day reflection) and then read what some of our best thinkers and writers on these topics have to say about it. I think I enjoyed Ragan Sutterfield’s response the most thus far. How about you? What stuck out?

Happy Earth Day! It’s Good Friday too, which I find to be a very appropriate coincidence. What better way to celebrate Earth Day than to reflect on Christ’s death for the sake of the redemption of all creation? As Paul reminds us in Romans 18:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Until that time comes, we focus on the work that God is already doing in the here and now to give us glimpses of the coming Kingdom. I can’t think of a much better way to reflect on the events of the first Good Friday than by celebrating His gift of creation (by gardening perhaps?) and doing our part to conserve and protect it.

Keith Carlson and I answered some questions on lawn care over at the Get Compelled blog today. Check it out to see how you can celebrate Earth Day by doing some (chemical-free!) yard work!

How would you have answered Curtis’ questions? Do you think lawns have anything to do with the Kingdom?

Be sure to check back tomorrow for part two.

I love Earth Day! I figured this week was a great way to profile some great (and easy!) resources to help us better care for creation. Of course, gardening on its own is one of the best ways to care for creation + better appreciate the natural world around us, so those of us gardeners (and supporters of locally-grown food) are already on the right track!

Our family loves Jack Johnson’s version of “The R’s,” whose lyrics encourage us to reduce our waste, then reuse where we can, and then

if the first two R’s don’t work out
And if you’ve got to make some trash
Don’t throw it out
Recycle, we’ve got to learn to recycle…

We try to focus on reducing our consumption first and foremost. One easy way we’ve done that is to cut out disposable paper products:

  • I bought some of these “reusable paper towels” a few years ago to replace our use of paper towels. They work wonderfully and have held up really well – even with the crazy spills that come about with an energetic toddler running around (if you buy them this month, you get a deal on shipping + freebies).
  • We use washcloths in place of napkins. Target usually has a set of twelve washcloths in fun, bright colors for less than five dollars. We have a couple sets. When it’s just us, we’ll use them several times before washing them to cut down on water use. (Don’t worry, guests, we are sure to give you clean ones and wash yours after each use!). Other friends use traditional cloth napkins or old cut-up t-shirts, which would be virtually free. When we’re at places where paper napkins/paper towels are our only choice, we try to share one napkin instead of grabbing a handful and use only one paper towel to dry our hands.
  • A few of our like-minded friends share party-ware whenever we have larger get-togethers. We have a stash of plates, cups, napkins and silverware that we pass back-and-forth, depending on who is hosting next. It takes just a little bit extra effort to wash everything after the party, but it makes a big difference to cut down on all of that trash that usually accumulates after big parties.

What do you do to reduce your consumption? I know we have a long way to go and could really use your help and suggestions! Check out Julie Clawson’s book and blog for further reading on how rejecting materialism and consumerism is an integral part – even a requirement – of Kingdom living.

I love gardening because I learn at least seventeen new things every season. I hope that still happens when I’m 80. At any rate, I tell anyone who asks me for beginning gardening advice to keep a journal from year-to-year about their garden. Not only what you planted where, but how your plants did, what you would like to change next year, problems you experienced, etc. Well, I misplaced my “journal” from last year’s garden (which I’ll admit, begrudgingly, was a scrap piece of paper with scribbles and drawings all over it) until last week. Had I found my notes prior to starting my seeds, I would have remembered that I told myself last year to wait to start the squash varieties (melons, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.) until about a month after I started all of the other things. Oops! I guess that experiment will have to wait until next year. The squash and cucumber plants that I started about five weeks ago are already huge and ready to go in the ground, but I will not plant anything until Mother’s Day weekend (yes, I’m speaking from experience here). So I’m sorry if you’re following my directions and your squash varieties are similarly ginormous.

If you even want to continue following any advice I offer, below is Part Two in the seed starting saga:

After a few weeks, your seedlings should be sprouted and starting to look a little “leggy,” which is the curse of starting seeds indoors. You want to transplant them into a larger container and bury their leggy stems deeper in some dirt to give them more room to grow in all directions. I don’t start my seeds out in larger containers because I seem to have better luck starting them in the small trays, plus they take up ALOT less room that way.

  1. First, you’ll want to come up with several transplant containers. You can go and buy containers meant for this purpose. I used to buy three inch square peet containers that are supposed to degrade in the soil where you plant the seedling and minimize transplant shock, but I actually had terrible luck with those things. For the past couple of years, I’ve just used Solo cups with holes punched in the bottom. Some of our cups are in their third season. This picture is from last year – this year, I just had Grant use a small drill bit to make the holes in the cups, which was much easier!
  2. I like to put a few pebbles in the bottoms of my cups to help aerate the cups a bit, and it seems to help them not to dry out as quickly. That definitely isn’t necessary though.
  3. Fill the cup about three-quarters of the way full with soil (I like to use straight compost for this stage, but potting soil works great too). I use my finger to make an indent in the soil where I’m going to place my seedling.
  4. It’s important that you’re very gentle when you transplant your seedlings. I stick one finger along the side of the Jiffy cup, try to reach to the bottom, and pull up as much of the contents of the cup as possible – roots, soil and all. Then place your seedling in the indentation in the cup. Fill up the rest of the cup with dirt. You want the top of your seedling to just be peeking out over the dirt. The leggy part of the stem that you’ve planted under the dirt will actually shoot out more roots to help the plant better root itself.
  5. Make sure you label your cup with what’s inside (again, speaking from experience here!). Grant always helps me with this part of the seed process. I give him one tray of seedlings, and I take the other. One of my favorite parts is seeing what he labels each plant. In my charts of the trays that I made back when we started the seeds, I usually abbreviate the plants, especially because we plant mostly heirloom varieties with some crazy names. This was just a regular jalepeno, abbreviated “jale,” but Grant “named it” after one of my favorite novels, Jayber Crow
  6. In the next week or so comes the hard part: hardening off the transplants to ready them for the “real world.” I’ll make that a separate post and warn you that I’m probably too disorganized and impatient to properly advise on this subject.

Englewood Review of Books is a wonderful (and local!) collective that reviews books in both an electronic and print edition. ERB’s editors “hope that the books we review point toward a new world that is characterized by the justice and shalom of God.” If you aren’t already familiar with ERB, you should be!

Last week’s edition reviewed and highlighted several books and documentaries that might be of interest to those of us concerned with the justice issues surrounding food – check it out here!

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