Barefoot Colleges

In spite of the fact that we risk information fatigue as we are overloaded with data from the web and other media, I can’t help noticing that sometimes something I see among the hundreds of pages and pictures and clips that I view every week “sticks” and begins to embed itself on another level. This TED talk from Bunker Roy is one such sticky thing. It fed my soul, reawakened something, pulled some threads together. I’ll let it speak for itself for this is one of the most inspiring and heartening things I have seen for a long time:



Foraging Friday: Dandelion Roots

Dandelion roots

Dandelion Roots (via Wikipedia)

As the Autumn wears on and the berries are over, some of the most exciting foraging is to be accessed with a trowel, notably horseradish, wild parsnip and dandelion. Dandelions are easy to find, you may not even have to go further than your garden, and at this time of year, the roots are at their fattest. You will need to dig them up as they can plunge downwards some 30cm below the surface.

Dandelion Coffee

The most popular use for dandelion roots is to make dandelion coffee. It has a good, nutty taste, very much like coffee but without the caffeine, so makes a good coffee substitute. To make dandelion coffee, clean the roots thoroughly and chop them into short lengths of about a centimetre. Place them on a baking tray and dry in the oven for about 30 minutes on a low heat of about 50 centigrade; then roast them for a further 20-30 minutes or so at about 150 centigrade. Keep checking during the roasting process and take them out when they are crisp and browned through without burning. The roasted root pieces can then be ground in a coffee grinder and used as normal coffee grounds.

Dandelion Roots

A bad picture of a delicate side dish of dandelion roots

Dandelion as a Root Vegetable

Dandelion roots can also be treated like a root vegetable, something like a “very poor man’s parsnip”. The flavour is quite bitter but also has something of the artichoke about it. Dandelion roots are not to everyone’s taste, due to the bitterness but the best of them can be brought out by careful preparation.

Clean and scrub the roots but do not peel them. They will cook quite quickly if roasted under the grill for about 5 minutes with a little olive oil. They can also be gently boiled for about 5 minutes until tender. Serve with melted butter and pepper as a delicate side dish. After they have been coocked the roots are very easy to peel and would make a good addition to a root vegetable mash with sweet potatoes or  turnip.

Milk Monday: Slaughter Free Milk

In my previous Milk Monday post I pointed out that, as consumers, we have choices about how our milk is produced and that there are successful dairy enterprises in the UK that produce milk in a traditional and sustainable way that is kind to cows. I want to point the reader to what this looks like in practice because I believe the vision of slaughter free dairy farming is really compelling. As a step in the right direction we can petition the major supermarkets to prohibit the sale of non-organic milk and then vote with our shopping lists.

For instance, at Bhaktivedanta Manor, near Watford, for the last 36 years, a sustainable and utterly humane model for dairy farming has been pioneered. Ranchor Prime, the author of “Cows and the Earth” talks about what they have recovered in terms of a harmonious relationship between cows and humans on a farm where male calves are not disposed of as useless but grow to be “oxen” and are employed in working the land. The farm is run entirely without slaughter or fossil fuels and calves are kept with their mothers until naturally weaned. All milking is by hand. If this is a viable way of dairy farming, why isn’t everybody doing it?

Further clips from Ahimsa’s YouTube tell some of the stories of individual members of the 50 strong herd at Bhaktivedanta Manor, some of whom were rescued from slaughter at other dairy farms and have gone on to live long and productive lives.

“Amil”, for instance, was due to be destroyed as a calf after a bungled delivery had cut off the blood supply to his brain and left him unable to suckle. With a bit of tenderness and patience he has grown into a healthy 8 year old. Another cow, destined for slaughter because of not producing enough milk, was rescued and went on to earn herself the nickname “Earth Mother” because she would spontaneously come into lactation whenever new calves appeared on the farm, regardless of whether they were hers or not. Now retired at 23 years old, the workers have to keep her away from calves because she still produces.

Because every animal has been treated as an individual, you get a sense of wonder at what they are actually capable of, outside of the grinding slavery of the accepted traditional methods of dairy farming or, even worse, factory farming.

For people who want to buy slaughter-free milk in the UK, milk produced on another slaughter free farm by farmer Keith Jefferson Smith will soon be available from Farmaround. On the Jefferson-Smith family farm in Suffolk, cows are treated as individuals and a variety of compassionate approaches are taken including cows being allowed to live out their entire lives after being retired from production.

I would be excited to hear of other options for the concerned consumer so I can post about them on future Milk Mondays. If anyone with expertise or insight would like to guest post on a Milk Monday, please get in touch.

How Local Communities Can Dial Down Dependence on Burning Carbon

(c) 2010, Seymour Jacklin.

Every single individual can make changes in their household, work and family life that will help to reduce their “carbon footprint.” The idea of a carbon footprint is an extension of the term “ecological footprint”, which was an indication of how much land was required to sustain a given human population.

Fossil Fuel

Reducing Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Your carbon footprint is how much Carbon Dioxide is released into the the atmosphere by you and the activities that sustain you. Carbon dioxide is one of the “greenhouse gasses” contributing to global warming. A large proportion of your carbon footprint is caused by the burning of coal and oil to generate the electricity you use or to run the vehicle you drive. As well as reducing our contribution to global warming, decreasing our dependence on carbon fuels will benefit our planet in other ways, undercutting the dependence of the world economy on oil and promoting the development of less polluting alternatives.

Although changes can be made on a household, by household basis, whole communities can band together to tackle carbon dependence to far greater effect. In the United Kingdom, concerned individuals can respond to the challenge by comitting to participate in a national network of  “Transition Towns” and developing a collective plan and vision to de-escalate carbon dependence.

Here are some of the ways that you can go about making a difference:

  • Form a group and begin networking with others with a common interest. This will enable an inventory of skills to be made and it is surprising what creativity and expertise will become available from people who grow food locally, to those with political influence, from artistic and design abilities to trades and educational experience – all of which can be harnessed as part of the collective strategy.
  • Community groups can raise awareness by setting up information points at local events and inviting people to talks by local and national activists, showing films and distributing literature through existing networks.
  • Create forums for discussion and collective problem solving, to look at the specific issues in your area. For instance, is there a dependence on importing goods by road for local consumption when many of these could be locally produced? Could commuters viably set up a car sharing scheme?
  • Run courses using expertise that you have to educate people in skills that they can apply such as growing food, building sustainably, hand-crafting, foraging, woodland management and waste management. These can be run using expertise within the group or arranging for others to come in from outside to deliver teaching and training.
  • Form relationships with local government representatives to enable your concerns to be taken to broader political platforms or influence local planning. Engage in letter writing and advocacy to people in positions of influence or perusuade them to participate in your group.

The net benefit of this collective endeavour goes far beyond merely transitoning your community to a more sustainable future, it brings people together and creates friendships and the opportunity to learn new skills. It can open your eyes to the potential in the people around you and the beauty of the place where you live and work. You may get to revive an old hobby or pass on your knowledge to other people. It may even save you money as you find ways to use less electricity and fuel. You will get to be part of a growing movement that will inhibit the destruction of the planet and the enhance the quaility of life in the society in which you live.


The Durham Transition Network Initative

Dandelions! Friend or Foe?

DandelionsIt’s the time of year when the reappearance of the humble dandelion gets the angry vein popping in “haughtycultural” circles. But to the permaculturists and lovers of all things wild and free, the reappearance of this golden wonder puts up the pulse rate for the very best of reasons.

Here is an article I wrote about the many uses of dandelions in the hope that many more would come to love this rugged volunteer of the plant world:

Golden Wonder: Don’t Pull Up That Dandelion It’s Not a Weed!