Author Archives: artemisfolk

The Urban-Cottage Garden VS Big Agriculture

“Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and our agriculture. We have the potential to make our lands produce enough to feed the whole population and even to export certain products. The policy we need for this to happen is food sovereignty, where the county has a right to define its own agricultural policies, to grow first for the family and then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects the environment and Mother Earth.”

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the spokesperson for the

National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay

I begin this edition of Cottage Corner with a question:

Why would the Haitian government refuse 475 tons of free hybrid corn and vegetable seeds donated from U.S. based corporation, Monsanto? Take my word for it: the same folks who brought you DDT, Agent Orange, Aspartame, bovine growth hormone, and the first nuclear weapons, don’t mean this donation as an act of generosity.

In an open letter sent on May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP), called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…, and on what is left our environment in Haiti.”

Thoreau once wrote, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk,” (from the Journal. November 11-14, 1850). I take that to mean the proof is in the pudding. So what’s in Monsanto’s hybrid-corn pudding?

Some troubling ingredients include the patented, hybrid corn seeds Monsanto offered to Haiti which were treated with the fungicide Maxim XO. The calypso tomato seeds were treated with thiram.[3]  Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). The EPA determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that special protective clothing is necessary when handling them. Read the rest of the article from the Centre for Research on Globalisation here.

In addition to worldwide chemical poisoning, Monsanto has a troubling history of suing small farmers when the farmer’s fields are contaminated by GE pollen or seeds, or when GE seeds from a previous year’s crop sprout in fields planted with non-GE varieties. In other words, once you go Monsanto, you never (can) go back. With control of 90% of the world’s GE seeds, Monsanto is well on their way to monopolizing the market.

While Monsanto grows ever more insidious, many organizations and people are working very hard to maintain biodiversity and authentic heirloom genes, while encouraging food sovereignty, sustainable practices, and public awareness. A bunch of those folks live at my house where we are experimenting with a genetically traditional, diverse, organic, primitive, low cost, urban garden.

Here’s how we’re doing it:

We start in the dark heart of a Midwestern winter where I sit, reading about gardening and dreaming up ways of sticking it to the man. Before, I have been a happenstance gardener: a patch of ground here and there, old seeds found in a drawer or a free pile. Maybe I buy a few healthy starts from farmer’s market. Sometimes, something magical occurs with sun and water, and poof! Flowers bloom, tomatoes bear fruit, we eat. But this year it’s different. This year, I’m invested. This year, I start everything from seed.

I start with Seed Saver’s Exchange, a non-profit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. SSE’s 890-acre Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa is the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States. They permanently maintain more than 25,000 endangered vegetable varieties. It was hard to choose just twenty or so to grow in my yard!

With help from my housemates and careful research at the public library, I chose heirloom varieties of some amazing vegetables and herbs. My favorites this year are Hidatsa Shield Beans, Blacktail Mountain Watermelon, and Asian Tempest Garlic.

In February, I made a chart of what to plant when and where. Some plants do better if started indoors and some are better off directly seeded in the ground. I am committed to letting the seeds, sun, soil, and water do what they were made to do with as little energy and interference from me as possible. I tell my friends: I don’t grow plants. Plants grow on their own. I cultivate plants, vegetables, fruit, and herbs. In the proper environment and circumstances, plants don’t need me at all. It’s us humans that need plants.

For encouragement and guidance I turned to Food Not Lawns, a global organization focused on turning yards into gardens and neighborhoods into communities. Food Not Lawns inspired me because they made gardening accessible: you don’t need a farm, all you need is your own lawn, or a balcony and some pots, or even just a window sill. They also helped me understand the essential elements of food security, why urbanites face the biggest risks, and how we can encourage food sovereignty and build community connections at the same time.

Starting a garden this way took patience. It was the end of May before we planted the chard, kale, spinach, and arugula. It was mid June when we planted the butternut squash, beans, zucchini, and lemon cucumbers, and carefully transplanted the hillbilly tomato, purple tomatillo, and poblano pepper starts.

To offset costs and put the industry back into the cottage, I am selling my excess starts on a table in the front lawn for donations of $1. I’ve already earned back a little cash. And, it feels great to know I’ve contributed to other folks’ access to local, organic, heirloom vegetables. Time has been the largest cost so far. I am happy to give mine because working the ground and cultivating living things gives me so much energy, inspiration, and hope for the future, that gardening itself is as valuable as the vegetables it produces.

Now, nearing the end of June, the seeding is done, almost everything I planted came up. I am filled with anticipation, imagining what the back yard will look like in September. I could spend pages griping about the evils Monsanto is wreaking upon the world, but my time would be better spent nurturing the diverse plants they aim to wipe out, and cultivating food to feed my global family of resistors, activists, subsistence gardeners, small farmers, and urban homesteaders.

Ready to get growing? Check out my blog and resource page for books, magazines, websites, and neighborly information.

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The Revival of Cottage Industries

“It is not enough to be industrious; so are the ants. What are you industrious about?

-Henry David Thoreau in a letter to Harrison Blake

(16 November, 1857)

Welcome to Cottage Corner!

This is a virtual cottage-diary where I, Artemis Folk, artisan crafter and urban homesteader, delve into the trials and travails of learning cottage skills and making a living from them. It will include my projects, reflections, questions, and DIY tools for curious people.

I started seriously crafting last fall (2009) when I was finally able take time off from the usual grind and devote my energy to learning the skills I find intriguing and practical, a kind of self-reeducation. Here are some examples of what I’m doing/learning/practicing/studying in no particular order:

  • Wool felting
  • Carpentry, wood working, and household repairs
  • Sewing, clothing alterations, following a pattern, making a pattern, by hand and machine
  • Food production/gardening/small scale farming
  • Food preservation: storing, canning, dehydrating, freezing, fermenting
  • Seed saving, preserving genetic diversity
  • Cooking and baking
  • Bicycle building and maintenance
  • Silk screening
  • Wild plant identification and gathering
  • Natural medicine and herbalism
  • Metalsmithing and jewelry making
  • Dyeing fabrics with natural dyes
  • Book binding
  • Paper making
  • Ceramic pottery
  • Block printing
  • Just about anything else that I would normally purchase from a corporation

The name Cottage Corner refers to cottage crafts, or cottage industries. When I say cottage crafts, I am talking about small scale, independent, skilled production of goods and services in a home-based environment. Cottage industries preceded factories. It was a way for small scale crafters to contract with a distributor. In the 1400s this distributor was often just a marketplace, a way to centralize trades and sales. Overtime, this changed from contracting to factory labor to the industrial revolution. Now, I’m not here to knock the industrial revolution. But I am here to knock cheap, corporate controlled labor that strips communities of both natural and human resources while stockpiling profits with CEOs and investors.

Cottage crafting goes by many other names. Other terms I’ve heard for what I’m doing include: traditional folk arts, primitive skills, survival skills, and homesteading. I refer to myself as an artisan crafter and urban homesteader. My project, the subject of this blog, involves both learning skills and profiting from my products/services.

What does it have to do with the Bull Moose Movement?

Making my own stuff is a political choice, as well as a spiritual, ethical, economic, and idealistic choice. I would rather make something, learn a skill, nourish my creative mind, conserve resources, and undercut Target at the same time. Efficiency is very important to me because homesteading and hand-crafting are by nature gloriously slow.

Before I buy anything, I ask myself where it came from and how it was made. Unfortunately, the thing in question is often produced in a factory by underpaid labor and distributed by a corporation. Then I ask myself if I there’s something else I could use that I already have, or if I could make the item myself with a reasonable amount of labor and materials, and finally if I will learn a new skill or practice an old one while creating the desired object. If I can’t make the object, I look for an option that was made locally and is being sold by an independent person or business.

After many years of asking the question, “How would I make this?” I decided to devote some time in my life to learning how to be more self-sufficient. I wanted to know how to build, sew, and grow. This move is married to my efforts to defy corporate greed and carnivorous marketing schemes by putting my money where my mouth is and not supporting corporations. Now I am not only buying locally made cottage products, I am a crafter contributing to the cottage market and hoping people will buy my handmade wool mittens instead of the pair from the L.L. Bean catalog.

Enough philosophizing, let’s get to this post’s topic:

Felted Wool Stuff

I love clothes and accessories and I’m not ashamed to say it. (I’m also not ashamed to quote Walden.) But how do I satisfy my desire for cute sweaters and tall boots while maintaining my political integrity and homesteader street cred? Two words: felted wool. Not just any felted wool either. We’re talking wool from sweaters reclaimed from the local thrift store where clothes are sold in bulk for 50 cents per pound.

I buy used, 100% wool, merino, and cashmere sweaters for about 30 cents a sweater. I felt them at home in the washing machine. Then I cut out whatever pattern I want, sew the seams, and voila! We have hand-crafted, felted wool mittens with cashmere lining and quirky embroidery.

This winter I designed wool mittens for my sweetheart who bikes through the winter. I made them double layered to keep out wind. The inside layer is cashmere and the outside is a rougher, thicker, felted wool. Both layers used to be the sleeves of sweaters. I added bike tube palm pads for waterproofing. Bicycle shops throw out used bike tubes and give them away for free. I take the larger ones, slice them down the middle, and wash them inside.

I sew with heavy duty, cotton embroidery thread and a big needle with a large eye. I make colorful, visible stitches that add to the aesthetic and advertise the handmade quality. I want people to see that I made this neat thing and think, “How would I make those?” And if they ask me, I’ll tell them.

Why is wool awesome?

Wool is a natural, renewable fiber from sheep and goats. Animals do not need to be harmed to harvest wool (but beware: industrialized practices sometimes do harm the animals).  Wool is very warm in the cold and stays warm even if it gets wet. It also breaths when you’re hot. It can be thick for sweaters, or woven thin and smooth for undergarments. Wool can be torn apart and felted back together. Wool does not absorb odors like other materials. Wool is very easy to work with and can be dyed with natural, plant dyes. High quality wool is available inexpensively in resale stores and bulk thrift stores. It is adaptable and will form to a mold when felted.

Felting is the process of wool fibers being knitted more closely together. This can be done with small barbed needles (needle felting), or with hot water and soap. When you shrink a wool sweater accidentally in the wash, you’ve felted it. It’s not fun to wear anymore, but it is now a stronger, more durable material with infinite potential futures as mittens, boots, vests, patches, shoes, hats, headbands, wallets, soap pockets, potholders, belts, legwarmers, bags, purses, funky jewelry, tea cozies and more.

That’s all for now folks!

For DIY instructions for wool mittens go to my blog: http://artemisfolk.wordpress.com