Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Habits

Urban Land Scouts! Let us welcome the year 2011. Let's resolve to be better, kinder, faster, smarter, and more efficient-but-still-balanced. Let us embrace the stillness of the winter landscape, take long walks in our neighborhoods, and watch funny videos in the blessed-warm-comfort of our homes. Amen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Sowing for the Solstice

In the midst of the cold weather, the not-being-outside-as-much, and the holidays I am eager for small chores that pertain to the garden and the land. This is a good time for Urban Land Scouts to prune trees and shrubs as well as to cut back the dead growth of perennial flowers (like sedum, butterfly bush, any of the rudbeckia/daisy family, and others). Beginning in early spring many people will start seeds indoors (which can earn you your Level 7 and/or Level 5 badges). While I feel comfortable tending most plants, I am not very experienced starting them this way. Some plants (like basil or tomatoes) are easier to start from seed, while others require more advanced care (like stratification, scarification, or more careful attention to humidity).

For those of us who are enthusiastic but less experienced in starting plants from seed there is winter sowing, a method promoted (and branded?) by Trudi Davidoff. The basic idea is to use perforated plastic food containers as micro-greenhouses in which to start seeds. The seeds are exposed to freezing and thawing which serves to break their dormancy. The semi-sealed environment of the container creates a slightly warmer and more humid micro-climate for the seeds. I am using the large plastic containers in which we get baby spinach at our local food co-op. They are deep enough to accommodate the recommended 3-4" of soil and perfectly clear so as to let in the most light. Some of the photos on Ms. Davidoff's website feature translucent plastic gallon jugs cut 0ne third of the way up which I will try later.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


About a year ago I received an email regarding a woman, Heather Buechler, who was considering applying to UT for grad school. She had written the school explaining her interest in an interdisciplinary practice that would allow her to combine independent research in the realms of "food and culture studies" with art making. I swooned. The language she used very concisely summed up the things I'd been doing but struggling to articulate in an "elevator statement."

We corresponded briefly and she mentioned wanting to organize a possible Tour de Meat (or Tour de Charcuterie?) in Madison. I don't know for sure if the tour happened but stumbled upon her blog while googling myself (I know, I know...). Her interest in food culture is unique to me in that she is specifically interested in the culture and history of meat. I know there is a burgeoning culture of micro-charcuteries and rock star butchers but as Heather points out in her blog, it's one thing to read about things going on in New York and quite another to find those same trends going on in middle America. One of the benefits of a city like Knoxville (or Madison) is that it is not hyper-saturated with everything (young-educated people, schools, art galleries, micro-breweries, hotels, whatever...)-- you can make things happen more easily, more inexpensively, and be somewhat of a pioneer the small pond.

Similarly, I argue that the experiments in culture, music, food, art, and community that go on in small towns are more sustainable in that they have to work with communities that are historically not as supportive of the arts (or the foreign) as cities like New York and LA. That is to say a little more mainstream. And that's a good thing. At the end of the day, I want things like the Urban Land Scouts or Tour de Plants to be mainstream. Or more mainstream than they are now. Mainstreaming would mean that more people are engaged in the ideas, but also that the ideas come under greater scrutiny and (hopefully) emerge stronger and more profound. Iteration is necessary for growth.