No Chocolate for the Localvore?

Wren on August 1st, 2009

raccoon as localvore1As I was writing my last post about my favorite chocolate bar, something was eating at me. I wasn’t mentioning a priceless consideration we can make in our buying choices–locally made products! The omission bothered me, as I am both diligent and inconsistent about promoting this idea.

I vend at festivals and fairs in my region, promoting fair trade crafts, which I buy from fair trade wholesalers and charities, such as Ten Thousand Villages, Northern Sun, Gypsy Rose and ethical American companies and non-profits such as Karuna Arts, Native Scents and Aurora Glass.  Choosing winning products from their catalogs and websites is quite easy, compared to choosing from the river of local artists, hobbyists and craftspeople who ask me to turn their tinkerings into gold. Locals following a creative outlet haven’t always checked the marketplace to decide what they should make. There are lucky guesses–Duct tape wallets are wildly popular!

raccoon as localvore2But nothing is simple. I make jewelry, so to see me at a festival and buy from me would seem “local.” But my gemstones, findings, etc., come from all over the world, under all conditions imaginable. And I’ll bet the kid who makes the duct tape wallets isn’t holding out for duct tape made locally, from local materials. I imagine my Amish neighbors who do a fine business with outdoor sheds choose the cheapest wood, not the most local.

Like my favorite localvore and online mascot the wiselittleraccoon, my partner Iuval is looking for land to found a new intentional community, one in which members participate in a much more local economy, getting by with very little and making most of their basic needs. In this new/old model, most people would participate directly in growing nearly all of their food, including grains.

I know truckloads of gardeners and farmers. Some grow 5-10% of their food. Others grow nearly all the fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts they need. Grain seems to be another story, a final frontier.

With farmers’ markets, backyard and community gardens, CSA’s, etc, buying food locally seems to be comparatively easy, if not cheap. Government subsidies and other factors make commercial foods much cheaper than local organics. I love being right each time I repeat, “You get what you pay for…”

But as filmmaker Annie Leonard points out in The Story of Stuff, the trinkets and plastic crap we seem to think we need leave wakes of environmental and social distruction (slavery, child labor, unsafe working conditions). In my life, learning to live without “stuff” is the first step. This has been easy since I pared down from a four bedroom Victorian to a ten-by-twelve foot stone springhouse and commune life. In that process, I got clear that “stuff” doesn’t make me happy; It doesn’t fill that spiritual empty box. People do; Nature does. A dog is just the greatest. Stuff, not so much.

Now if I decide something is a need, not a want, I have mental flow charts to navigate. Can I get it made of anything except plastic? Made locally, of local materials? Union shop or crafter? Organic? Minimal packaging? Locally owned retailer? Will online shopping save or add to fuel consumption?

As of this writing, chocolate is still listed as a “need,” although I have friends who never partake because cacao can’t be grown in their area. We’re all hiking in different places along the green trail. My backpack still contains chocolate. And a car. And my own detatched cabin I share with only my family. And a cellphone, my mac mini, and the Firefly boxed set


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seeds-of-change-barOMG, the post about the guy living in a cave will have to wait. I want to stop and do a little dance around this blog because my ever loving Iuval just returned from running errands in civilization and, despite pressuring me for days not to crave them, he brought me two of my favorite organic chocolate bars!

I discovered this bar about a month ago at Saubel’s, the nearest locally owned grocery to Heathcote Community. Saubel’s has an extensive “organic marketplace,” sort of a health food store inside a conventional grocery.

Since I live in an intentional community, I don’t have to do grocery shopping. I am a member of a food coop and most of what I eat is grown in our gardens or delivered wholesale once a month to the mill, our main building and conference center. I have my own kitchen at Hina Hanta, my little homestead. But for breakfast and lunch I prefer to climb down the wooded path to the mill and eat in the common kitchen. Most dinners are community meals, members taking turns cooking their vegetarian specialties. (I’m known as the sauce queen.)

So walking through most groceries is a surreal experience for me, the once or twice a year I need something therein. Sugary this, over packaged that, the lighting, the colors, the muzak; If I ever need surgery again they could just wheel me into a  grocery store with all that hegemonic stimulation and I’d be anesthetized.

But I manage to keep my wits about me in Saubel’s “organic marketplace.” I wander there for the occasional homeopathic drops or herbal flea remedy. That’s probably how I discovered this chocolate bar. It is dark milk chocolate, 40% cacao, with puffed grains, not rice crispies, but oats, wheat, rice, rye, barley and millet.

The brand, Seeds of Change, donates 1% of it’s “net sales to advance the cause of sustainable organic agriculture worldwide,” hopefully planting things other than more cacao…

I’ve been a connoisseur of such chocolate for years. I hear people using colorful jargon to describe fine wines or even beers and bourbons. I am a chocolate snob. I appreciate it’s “nose” and “bouquet.” Despite living only 56.99 miles, one hour and four minutes away from Hershey, Pennsylvania, I have little use for that town’s famous watery, over sugared brown stuff.

terra-nostra-organic-rice-mill-chocolate-barBrands picked up by health food stores are often themselves the kind of consumers many of us try to be, making informed choices about labor, trade, ingredients, packaging, etc. There are often many vegan bars to choose from. I used to buy a vegan milk chocolate bar, made with ricemilk (left). Usually organic and/or fair trade, such bars are often “fruit juice sweetened,” not “cane juice” or sugared.

Click this link to read just a few of the environmental problems with the sugar industry, even in America. The article doesn’t mention air pollution from the seasonal burning of the sugar cane fields, which I observe every time I visit relatives in Florida. (This is one more senseless hit for the Everglades, a priceless ecosystem, half of which has already being drained.) A Brizilian study found a 21% increase in respiratory illness in the elderly, 31% for children, during their burning season. Sugarcane used in Coca-Cola has been revealed to be harvested by child labor.

When I indulge in a muffin from a bakery, it is so packed with sugar my teeth hurt. When I make sweets at home, I usually use 1/2 or 1/3 the sugar called for (or use honey), and can’t tell the difference. Why grow so much sugar in the first place?

Health food store chocolatiers understand that they’re not selling you a sugar flavored candy bar. They let the sweetener step back and be a supporting instrument in this symphony. And they understand that the melody is sweeter when the golden rule is applied to all.

Like many such companies, Seeds of Change combines entrepreneurship and sustainability. Celebrating their 20th anniversary, “Seeds of Change was born in 1989 with…a pretty ambitious two-pronged mission: To preserve the biodiversity of the world’s food supply by creating the largest and most diverse organic seed stock ever propagated, and to advance the cause of sustainable agriculture around the globe.”

Great work! This particular bar I’m in love with, Isle of Skye, with dark milk chocolate and grain puffs, is currently made with sugar. How about fruit juice or honey, folks? The work is a journey…

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Jas’ Sustainable Life List

Wren on February 11th, 2009

James Handley, Jas to us friends, emailed me his list of changes or practices for minimizing one’s impact. This is his response to Iuval’s practices on his biodiesel bus in Arkansas. Jas is a lawyer for the Price Carbon Campaign, promoting a carbon tax. Thanks for your hilarious and wise list!!!

Hi Wren,

That was a funny blog.   Here’s my sustainable living list, in rough order:

1) Family planning: We need to (and will, one way or another) reduce world population by ~ 2/3 within a century.   Preferably zero, but maximum one child per couple.   Each additional person multiplies your impact.  This is, by far, number one.  If you have zero kids, the rest of this list is essentially, optional.  You’ve done more than everything else on this list will.

2) Eschew debt so you can work at something socially useful instead of becoming a debt slave to an exploiter.   Keep overhead low.  Don’t buy anything new.  Even if you have to live like a grad student, keep half a year’s expenses in the bank so you can quit any job that isn’t satisfying.

3) Minimize or eliminate air travel.   (Each passenger in a full jetliner has about the same impact as driving the same distance in an SUV, alone.  Flying burns gobs of dirty fuel.)   No legal activity that I can think of does more damage per minute to the planet than flying.  See George Monbiot’s book, Heat for a full explanation.  Discharging CO2 into the stratosphere is a huge cause of global climate chaos.

4) Drive only when absolutely necessary, avoid rapid acceleration and braking and strictly obey speed limits.   Live where you work, play and recreate– close to loved ones.   Bike, use public transit, carpool instead of driving alone.  (Biodiesel and hybrids are mostly feel-good BS, especially if you end up buying a new vehicle or driving more.  Bikes are righteous.)

5) Lower the thermostat as far as you can and then keep going.  Adapt to seasons.  Wear seasonally-appropriate clothing, especially thermal underwear.  Take infrequent short, tepid showers, turn water off when soaping.  Don’t run water continually to wash dishes.  Take cool showers in summer instead of air conditioning.

6) Plant shade and fruit trees.

7) Insulate and seal your house, especially the attic.

8) Use a clothes line instead of a dryer and yes, wash only clothes that are really dirty.

9) Grow as much food as you can without blowing any of the other guidelines to do it. Eat low on the foodchain, not meat-centered.  Compost.  Don’t drink bottled water or any beverage or food in one-serving containers.

10) Don’t nag or harass other Earthlings who don’t practice the above, but don’t mingle body fluids or finances with anyone who doesn’t at least get most of them and steer clear of anyone addicted to money, drugs or power. – jh

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World of Pets Expo, Timonium, Maryland 2009

Wren on January 24th, 2009

Fair trade has arrived at the World of Pets Expo. This is Heathcote Earthings’ first year at the Expo, in its eighth year. and I’m glad we took the plunge!  This is a huge, hoppin’ event! What fun to serve customers walking all manner of dogs. I’ve been offering a “sheltie discount” in honor of my own, but no shelties have taken me up on it yet!

I’m in a huge room of mostly pet related vendors, many of whom are giving away free samples. A neighbor gave me vegetarian dog treats, which Tuatha, Echo and Chance enjoyed so much that I can’t currently find the package, to tell you the brand! Besides vendors, the organizers have set up agility shows, comedy shows and interesting workshops.

There’s even a food vendor here with lots of vegetarian and vegan choices. I recognize them from the Spoutwood Fairie Festival!

I’ve moved many of our animal themed crafts to the front of the booth. I’m featuring our popular clay cat trio, pictured here. And I’m discounting some purses and ornaments and other crafts left over from the holiday season.

So come on out to the Timonium Fairgrounds and look for our tent hoops over the crowd, decorated with batik flags of dragons, fairies, etc. See you there!

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Hippie Chick Power Lunch

Wren on January 9th, 2009

I’ve just gotten back from a “power lunch” with my IT team! Paul Phillips, Roni Noone and I are ready to take this site to the next level, bringing my complicated adventures in simple living to a larger audience.

We met at the Red Brick Station in White Marsh, Maryland. Roni, our blogging expert, posts about dieting so she knew this eatery would have a few nice vegetarian choices for me and Paul. He and I were wondering whether Red Brick Station would have any vegan choices, or if all the dishes would contain meat and/or cheese. I was pleased to see a couple of vegan options, although I was frustrated that all their salads come with meat. Roni ordered what I was about to order, the Katie’s Veggie Wrap, and she showed me a better way to have it: She substituted steamed veggies for the chips/coleslaw side. I copied her and had a guilt-free, feel-good meal.

A couple of years ago, I lost about 50 pounds. I did it the realistic, hard work way of reducing my portion sizes, avoiding sweets, fats and empty carbs and exercising my ass off. Roni also lost lots of weight a few years ago and began to blog about her experience. Her site caught on and now she blogs on several sites full time, tapping people into resources to do real, not fad weight loss. Her company is skinnyminnymedia. Now she’s using her knowledge to help HCD find and expand its niche audience.

Paul Phillips has lived at Heathcote Community with me for many years. Previously, he was one of my partners in my fair trade retail venture, Heathcote Earthings. He runs Co-OpTek, a software consulting firm structured as a cooperative. When he and Roni wanted to help writers communicate with their audiences through profitable blogs, Paul thought of me, having followed my writing career through the years. And so HCD became their guinea pig.

So how, you ask, do blogs become profitable? Yep, ads. Our long term goal is to hand select advertisers we want you to know about because we’re excited about their product or service. In the meantime, you’ll soon see context-based ads appearing in subtle corners of our pages. This means that, if I’m blogging lots about eating organic foods, you might see ads for organic foods. Also, because computers don’t know any better, you might see ads for organic fertilizer or organic shampoo. I dunno. I invite you to surf the ads with your goddess-given discernment. I will also post about products I think are great. That you can take as my endorsement.

Also, I’ll be forming an affiliate relationship with So when I recommend the Communities Directory because it’s just a crazy fine must have resource, you can click on a link and get your hands on one! You can link directly that way to the music I’m listening too, books I’m reading or recommending, etc.

Thanks to my readers for your ongoing support. HCD isn’t a little girl any more!!!

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Cute Things Falling Asleep….dot org???

Wren on January 8th, 2009

Okay, it’s clear I won’t run away with any prizes for marketable website design in the face of competition like this: comedian Nick Malis has established, a website of kittens, puppies, bears, babies and a few more exotic things nodding off, rolling off and snoring off to sleep. Shameless! I at least pretend to talk about sustainability or vegetarianism while subjecting the world to endless disproportionate nose shots of my dogs and goats.

For example, here’s a still shot of Tuatha falling asleep in a stuffed chair. I’ve surrendered and covered the chair with a throw because he and Echo keep the seat covered in dog hair and unsitable for humans. This practice is more sustainable than say, using the paper covers one finds at the doctor’s office. My sister in Minnesota gave me this blanket. It has fish, moose and hunting cabins on it. Ironic, since I’m vegan. See how I effortlessly fold this stuff in?

Here I go again with more snugly sustainability: When I had to move my compost pile for the new dog pen, I uncovered a nest of hatching baby black rat snakes. They were sleepy…some of them were very sleepy, sad to say, because they were cut in half by my shovel before I knew they were there. I took some pictures with my cameraphone but they came out blurry. I moved the eggs and babies and the cut-in-two snakes with the compost pile. The cut ones became the compost they were born in. Some intact ones were plucked from the pile or wriggled off lethargically to be food for my wild neighbors. How cuddly and cute is the circle of life?

This post is going downhill fast. Fine. It doesn’t have to be a competition because I know that after you enjoy watching babies slump over on couches and puppies plop into their water dishes, you’ll think, “Hey, not all babies and puppies have loving homes like these. I am inspired to become a foster parent and volunteer at my local no-kill animal shelter.” And after you watch the polar bear cub swimming in her sleep and the sloth baby, well, being slovenly, then you’ll think, “You know, I could work from home and turn down my thermostadt…” You won’t be like me and think, “Okay, corn chip time.”

Hey, this Cute Things guy has t-shirts! I want t-shirts! He doesn’t even put any graphics on his t-shirts, or the dot org part of his name! I could have better t-shirts; He knows nothing about marketing. Yes! Yes!

Can I just go home with the prize for missing my own point while trying too hard to have one?

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Wren Tuatha & the Five Fairs

Wren on July 20th, 2008

girl_in_a_hurry_1 I have the subtle stamina of a marketing campaign. I have the tenacity of a beaver. I have the productivity of an entire bee hive. I can do this. I have Earl Grey brewed by the gallon and quinoa cooked seven different ways. Orange juice. Check. Organic corn chips. Check.

Heathcote Earthings is appearing at five county and state fairs from now till the end of September, about sixty fourteen hour days in a row without a break. In the whirlwind, I’ll be squeezing in trips to Kentucky, Virginia and California to spend time with significant others. I have a feeling I’ll be the needy one…

Why torture myself to sell crystals and smudge sticks between pig races and tractor pulls? Well, I will mention that when I scheduled this, I didn’t know that by the summer I’d have three long distance polyamorous relationships, with sweeties visiting me at Heathcote and inviting me to travel to and fro. We at Earthings have been exploring county fairs for a while. It’s wonderful to be set up in one place for eight to eleven days, almost like have our own brick and mortar! So it’s an evolution that is an outgrowth of our genesis. (Anybody else enjoying that juxtaposition?)

I’ve been working with my friends Herb and Rita Jane from Crystal Cottage in their booth at the Maryland State Fair. They’ve been in the same southeast corner of the Exhibition Hall for about twenty-five years and I’ve been having a blast helping them for maybe eight. They operate a brick and mortar in Tanglewood Mall, Roanoke, Virginia, about half the year. That allows them to travel, garden, make jewelry and do volunteer work for School of Living through the summers.

Crystal Cottage is my inspiration and model for Earthings. When I discovered tumbled gemstones and soaked up their names and meanings, when I discovered glass teardrops, gemstone donuts, Swarovski Austrian crystal prisms, etc., I knew I had the spark to sell them. And when I saw how people from all far flung walks of life were drawn to gemstones with such awe, as if gemstones made them remember something forgotten, as if all the colors, banding, mottling, inclusions and fissures were a lost language, a key to some universe, I knew there was value in putting nature’s art work in front of the public.

Earthings started with the Howard County (Maryland) Fair. Last year we added the York (Pennsylvania) Fair. This year we’re trying Cecil County (Maryland) and Bloomsburg (Pennsylvania). Crazy enough? No! While I’m visiting my mom in Kentucky I’ll help her with her Harmony Habitat booth at the Kentucky State Fair!

Our goal is to determine if we can find enough customers while moving and schlepping less. Some fairs and some festivals are better than others. For example, we’re missing Baltimore’s Artscape to attend Cecil County Fair. We’ll see how they compare.

I’m amused to see our goddess batiks and bumper stickers like “Come the rapture, can I have your car?” in the same hall with a Gideon Bible booth and church groups, with the Boy Scouts selling ice cream on waffle sandwiches outside.

Surviving a mission like this is all about planning, flexibility, good food and sleep. I have several vendor secrets:

  • Good shoes. Fourteen hour days on concrete floors in unairconditioned buildings can melt you from the soles up. Crocs are good. So are nursing shoes and walking or hiking shoes.
  • Rubber mats and carpeting. I carpet my booth with institutional rubber mats at the stations where staff stand for long hours. Often the isleways of my booth are carpeted to give customers and staff a break from brutal concrete.
  • Fans. I point fans where I’m stationed and customer areas. Shoppers really appreciate it!!! If you’re a vendor, pay the silly overpriced electric fee that the facility charges if the hall is unairconditioned.
  • Food. Bring your own food. Fair food is not designed to sustain life. It is designed to teach you humility when you ride the midway. Since I’m vegetarian, almost vegan, I seriously have to bring my own food. Fair fare is all fried flesh, broiled flesh, grilled flesh, flesh-on-a-stick, you get the idea. Often even the french fries have been cooked in the same vat with chicken fingers, fish things, etc., and are not strictly vegetarian. These food vendors are working from a very mysterious food pyramid. I can’t fathom it.
  • Water. Bring it. Bottled water at fairs is often three dollars and you’ll need lots of it.

I can’t wait to see what happens next. I have a sweetie arriving tomorrow. I hope he likes Ferris Wheels!

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Cecil County Fair

Wren on July 16th, 2008

I’m putting down stakes, so to speak, in Elkton, Maryland for the 2008 Cecil County Fair. This is Heathcote Earthings’ first year at this event, which has drawn 90,000 people in the past!

While I was hanging up our batiks and necklace branches today in the Commercial Building, the Deggeller carnies were assembling the midway rides and food vendors where setting up just a few feet away.

(The fairs don’t tend to be too vegetarian friendly. I’m cooking some quinoa-based dishes in advance.)

We’ve been buying for the summer–instruments, strands of beads for jewelry, bumper stickers, buttons and frog mating calls! We’re expanding our Gypsy Rose collection, adding hats (tams and applejacks) as an experiment. If headwear goes well, we may carry the Gypsy Rose clothing line!

We’re also stocking up on our highly popular gemstone heart pendants and our line of diamond etched pewter pendants–dragons, wolves, dolphins, turtles, frogs, fairies, eagles, horses, bears, butterflies, cats, owls, geckos, unicorns and more! Most are made in America and several are lead free!

So gussy up that prize pig and come on down! This is the first of five state or county fairs that we’ll do–in a row:


Fri, Jul 18-Sat, Jul 26, 2008

Fair Hill Fairgrounds, Route 273, Elkton, MD 21921


Sat, Aug 2-Sat, Aug 9, 2008

2210 Fairground Road, West Friendship, MD 21794


Fri, Aug 22-Mon, Sept 1, 2008

Timonium Fairgrounds, Exhibition Hall, Timonium, MD


Fri, Sept 5-Sun, Sept 14, 2008

York Expo Center/Memorial Hall 334 Carlisle Avenue, York, PA 17404


Sat, Sept 20-Sat, Sept 27, 2008

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Name That Florescent Fungus

Wren on July 7th, 2008

My sweetie John and I were walking the labyrinth at Heathcote when I saw a florescent orange blob downstream on a log. After trip-trapping through much poison ivy we were rewarded with this sight! I had thought maybe a hunter had left a florescent jacket in the woods. But instead we enjoyed marveling at this elaborate fungus. Anyone know the name of it? Leave a comment! The cameraphone photo is by John Thornberry.

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Live Bait

Wren on July 3rd, 2008

You might be a redneck if…

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