Category Archives: Community

A day at Comstock Ferre

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I was drawn in by the lure of the seed catalog this winter.  About six weeks ago, my mother handed me one from a Connecticut seed company: Comstock, Ferre & Co. based in Wethersfield, Connecticut.  The glamour shots of heirloom vegetables coupled with old timey drawings were enough to live in, never mind the descriptions that made me want to place an order for 14 types of tomatoes despite my lack of garden space.  I read the magazine cover to cover.

“I have to talk to these people,” I said to myself later as I idly flipped the pages.  I poked around on their website and contacted Randel Agrella, the store manager to see if he would be up for giving me a guided tour.  And he was!  I waited several weeks for their busy season to pass, but through the magic of the internet, you get the benefit of Randel’s expertise right now.

And expert he is.  Randel came up to Connecticut to manage the store from Mansfield, Missouri where Comstock’s parent company Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is located.  Baker Creek bought Comstock two years ago, though as Randel put it, “Someone has been selling seeds on this spot since 1811.”  Talk about a local company.

When I walked into Comstock, I felt that history wash over me.  The building is a big old house and barn converted into a store, with space for meeting rooms, New England artisan-crafted wares, hundreds and hundreds of kinds of seeds, an attached greenhouse, and even a funny little room full of old farm machinery that Randel told me they’re hoping to expand into a kind of living history museum.  Sounds good to me!

Randel gave me a quick tour, stopping off at the at the counter where they package the seed shipments using old seed scoops, at the greenhouse where his own personal business Abundant Acres rents space to grow seedlings to ship out across the country, and at the outdoor demonstration gardens next to the Belden House, also owned by the company.

Randel told me that the demonstration gardens are laid out in raised beds over existing an parking lot.  “You literally can’t get worse soil than this,” he said, “so if we can grow here, anyone can grow in any soil.”  He also let me in on company owner Jere Gettle’s plans: to turn Comstock into a destination for heirloom and historic farming and gardening information in conjunction with creating a nonprofit organization.  Big ideas for a seed company that specializes in region-appropriate plant varieties!

This was all enough to get me interested in Comstock, but the real reason I knocked on their door was to find out about the legal action Comstock Ferre, Baker Creek, and Abundant Acres (in addition to 80 other companies, individuals, and family farms) are taking against Monsanto.  If you don’t know, Monsanto is the GMO giant that is putting pesticides into our food without telling us, and suing the farmers whose crops are cross-pollinated with genetically modified seeds when they didn’t purchase the GM seeds in the first place.  Monsanto is not your friend.

The lawsuit would prevent Monsanto from suing farmers who accidentally grow genetically modified food thanks to crop seeds’ persistent habit of spreading via wind.  (Darn those seeds!  If only they would behave…).  Unfortunately, a judge dismissed the case but our friendly neighborhood farms are filing an appeal to have the judge’s ruling overturned.

What does this mean for us?  It means that someone is standing up to Monsanto, which gives me hope that maybe they can be stopped from contaminating all of our food supplies with genetically modified foods.  In the meantime, the idea that we should be labeling GMO foods is gaining support in Connecticut, thanks in part to Comstock Ferre.

I asked Randel where they get their seeds (answer: the open market and independent growers) and how they know they are not genetically modified seeds.  He said that they test all of their corn varieties, which is the main one to worry about, though he thinks they should be testing the beets too because beets are a widely-used sugar crop.  Other than that, all 255 of Comstock’s seeds and the 1400+ from Baker Creek are heirloom and non-GMO varieties.

Although I didn’t receive anything in return for this blog post, I didn’t leave empty handed.  I picked up a few seed packets to attempt to grow something in the dirt around my apartment, and the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog.  Fun fact: Baker Creek has a full time vegetable photographer on staff.  What a dream job!

And so concludes this epic post on my local seed company, an awesome small business that is putting the fun back in farming.  Why don’t you go drool awhile over the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog, or peruse the Comstock Ferre website to see if you can attend their 2nd annual heirloom seed festival this June?  I’ll be puttering around outside, shooing the dogs from my growing kale and parsley, and daydreaming of those 14 tomato varieties.  Sigh.  Some day.

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©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I had a blast fondling the local yarn they sell at Comstock Ferre, and though I took a picture of it for you, I figured maybe I should leave it out of the blog post.  Oh hell, I can’t.  Here it is:

You’re welcome!

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Obama loves you back

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A few weeks ago on Twitter, I followed a link to the Obama Loves You Back website and watched the numerous videos of President Obama giving speeches, interrupted by fans screaming, “WE LOVE YOUUUU!” Each time Obama responded, “I love you back!” without pause. There are maybe 20 videos that stream one after another and then it ends; it’s a fun website in its simplicity.

The first time I watched the President say “I love you back,” I was aghast. How could he love those people if he didn’t even know them? That’s a hefty thing to say — you don’t just go around saying “I love you” to any Joe Schmoe.

Then my reaction turned to skepticism. It’s a political gimmick, I thought — a smart one to keep the crowds enamored with this charismatic young president. Well played, Mr. Obama, but I see right through you.

Then I watched more and more videos, all of them on the site with Obama saying, “I love you” as though it’s the easiest and most natural thing in the world. “I love you back, thank you. I love you back but listen to me for a minute because this is important. I love YOU back.”

Then it hit me like a sea breeze in November: What if it was real? What if Mr. Obama goes through life practicing love towards everyone, and that’s why he can say “I love you back!” without a moment’s hesitation to people he doesn’t know?

I’m not gonna lie, I’m boggled. I’ve been planning a post about generosity for the past few months, chewing it over in my head; this encompasses it better. Obama loves you back because Obama walks around with his heart full of lurve.

I’ll be the first to admit that it sounds twee. And yet I’ve been doing this too! Not all the time because I am not trying to get elected, and I haven’t been calling it love. But we moved to a new apartment in a new state last year, with a new housemate and new neighbors who moved in around the same time as us. I made a conscious effort to practice generosity, to open my heart and care for these people as though they are family. Then they became family.  All of them.

I don’t mean to pat my own back here, but maybe you’ll see what I mean if I tell you that growing up, whenever I let someone borrow something, I begrudged them whatever item it was. Go ahead and picture me, the little grump with a sullen face and mussed up hair, worrying about lending my Babysitter’s Club books or my favorite pencil.

I had to make myself change this behavior over the last six months as I loaned clothes, books, cleaning supplies, cooking supplies, my car, my bike, my ear, my time. At first I felt twinges of nervousness (What if they damage my stuff? When do I expect in return?) but after a while it become second nature as we shared items back and forth, and I received more generously than I gave. This was unexpected, but it allows me to care very little about what I’m owed. No one owes me anything because the comfort and friendship I get more than repays the inconvenience of not possessing my sauerkraut jar for a few days.

This progressed to inviting these near strangers to share in our dog walks/movie nights/board game nights/holiday dinners — usually impromptu, (kind of like the time Mr. Savvy and I went hiking with strangers for five hours and came out friends). I would read about these types of situations on blogs by travelers, like Tara and Tyler from Going Slowly, or on the other side of the coin, Renee and Damien from FIMBY. Weary wanderers meet loving, generous strangers who open their homes and larders. How could this happen? I used to think. Now I know: It’s much easier to embrace the world with its uncertainties than it is to hold tight onto fear and selfishness all the time.

Maybe Obama’s not sincere about loving us back, but he’s sure as shooting setting a good example.  At any rate, it’s hard to say something like that over and over without believing it.  Fake it ’til you make it!  Who says wearing your heart on your sleeve is a bad thing?

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©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where this is a mushy gushy blog and I like it.

Wayland Winter Market

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With a hearty hat tip to Peg of the Wayland Winter Market twitter feed, I rounded up a few friends and went adventuring last weekend.  Peg gave me the scoop that last Saturday’s farmer’s market was going to be a fiber day.  Yarn aplenty!

In an effort to knit down my existing stash, I didn’t purchase a skein (though I fondled quite a bit of fiber and had a serious conversation with myself for ten minutes about buying a ball of roving).  But these earth tone yarns from Windy Hamlet Farm were oh so tempting.

The market wasn’t all about the fiber, which comprised only a half the stalls.  There were vegetables and meats, eggs, fish, wines, spices, marinades, drinks, and lunch booths enough to make our mouths water.  “Its like wonderland,” I said to my fellow adventurers.  My friend who had never been to a farmer’s market laughed at the sight of my unfocused eyes and feverish smile.

We arrived ten minutes after the market started and already people clogged the aisles between stalls.  One of the worst traffic jams surrounded a bakery booth — and I didn’t blame anyone for stopping.

The sun cast a suffused golden light over everything through Russell’s Garden Center’s greenhouse windows.  Once again I was agog at the thought of all these people buying local, at the interactions that occur over a table lined with one farmer’s crops.

Visiting the farmer’s market makes me long for a farm of our own.  But until we get there, I’ll keep my spirits up and support local farmers at these markets — as well as soak in the goodwill that comes from hundreds of people doing the same.

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©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where my purchases worked out to be eggs, greens, and sweet potatoes.  The line for cabbage was too long or I would have ended up with one of those as well.

Library Love

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It has been weeks of boiling weather here, where walking around outside is like swimming through the muggy air and where the sun is so bright that my face is in a perpetual squint.  We’ve abandoned our midday walks in favor of evening swims, and my knitting projects have shrunk from shawls and blankets to hats and mittens (less wool to carry around, you see).

On these hottest days of the year, I retreat to the public library for the cool stillness that accompanies thousands of books.  Browsing the stacks carries with it a type of calm.  Maybe it’s because in the library, I’m welcome to take as much time as I’d like with the expectation that I’m going to come away happy.  A community service at its best.

Lately I’ve been working my way through the knitting shelves of the library’s collection, learning about yarn and pattern design.  I also grab some fiction books to read during my lunch break as I knit, coming away with four and five books per week and a few movies.  Mr. Savvy has his own stack, and between us,  we have books everywhere: spread across the table, tucked in the corner, lying beside the bed.   The books come and go.  We’ve developed a home library in constant flux — just the way I like it.

Libraries deserve our love.  In tough economic times, their number of customers goes up while their funding goes down as people realize it’s better to borrow than to buy.  Even the late fees (of which I’ve paid quite a bit) are worth it if it means resources are available to everyone.

I wasn’t going to write a post about something as ordinary as borrowing books, but then I read Yes! Magazine’s excellent manifesto on public libraries.  I realized that the library is one of the things we use in our community that makes me feel like a part of the community.  I bring home a little bit of that common feeling every time I come home with new reading material without breaking the bank.

Going to the library was a special treat when I was a kid because reading was so much an everyday occurrence for me.  I’ve carried that into my adult life, and I don’t think it will ever go away.  So tell me: how do you love your library?

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©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where books are as much a part of my family as my family is.  Er… does that make sense?

How to Clean Up a Beach

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I decided that Mr. Savvy and I were going to do something good on Earth Day this year.  Good for the planet, I mean.  Connecticut’s GOT to have something going on, I thought.  Connecticut is not known for their earth friendliness the way Oregon or Vermont is.  Come on, what do you picture when I say, “Vermonters”?  A bunch of hippies and free spirits who don’t allow Walmart within their borders — that’s a common answer (and an awesome one, if I can stereotype for a moment.  Thanks, Vermonters!).  Now what about Connecticut?  The Insurance Capitol of the World, right?  Yeah.  That does not imply green fun.

I needed some environmental action, and with Earth Day on my side I found what I was looking for.  The group Citizens Campaign for the Environment had set up a cleanup day at an urban beach in New Haven, so all I had to do was call and let them know we were coming.

It was serendipitous.  And rainy.

It was also my first beach cleanup.  I can be shy when it comes to strangers, so I was nervous.  I thought the challenging part would be working with the other environmentalists.

I was wrong.  Meeting everyone was easy.  A common interest will do that.  Add in a really uncomfortable, cold, wet day and you’ll get a group of people laughing with each other like old friends.

No, the hard part was keeping my spirits up as I reached for bits of plastic.  Over and over, we picked up brittle plastic bags and eroding styrofoam cups, plastic straws, bottle caps, potato chip bags, and old receipts.  I found a hat — an entire Life is Good hat — abandoned to the waves.  Someone else hauled up a carpet from between the rocks.  An unopened container of Pringles.  Soda cans, forgotten toys,  fast food cup tops and fishing twine.  It was overwhelming.  It never stopped.

We worked.  I thought about the single-use medical gloves we were using, and the fact that we were putting plastic garbage into plastic bags.  I thought about how Long Wharf beach is across the street from IKEA, the leader in disposable furniture.  I thought about how easy it was to overlook the bits of plastic in the sand.  We are trained not to look at it anymore, and we had to refocus and reach for it instead of ignoring it like everyday.  And we still missed things.  Mr. Savvy and I followed along behind a group of volunteers, picking up the bits they missed.  Then another group followed us, filling their own trash bag.  Find anything good? we called.  Jackpot! they answered.

At the end of the event, we made it through about half of the 3/4 mile long beach with an enormous pile of trash.   Too bad we didn’t have a scale to weigh it out.

I’m glad we went.  I had fun with this group of like-minded people.  Were we taking part “conspicuous conservation“?  Sure — we were doing something green in an attempt to get people to notice.  I would say that all environmental action is going to be conspicuous for the sole fact that not everyone does it.  If we want to make it the norm, we have to be conspicuous about it.

Beyond that, I’m looking at plastic waste with fresh eyes.  I spent a lot of time reaching for seashells instead of styrofoam and seaweed instead of plastic.  Too much time.  As Beth Terry (among others) has been saying for years, plastic looks like sea life.  No wonder our animals are dying from it.

Mr. Savvy and I ended the day in the supermarket on the lookout for something warm.  We passed displays of potato chips and I thought about chip bags full of live mussels and seaweed.  We saw grocery carts piled high with soda, and I pictured those plastic bottles half buried in the sand, bottle caps strewn to the wind.  People were buying cellophane-wrapped tulips and netted, tin-foiled hams, and cigarette cartons and lottery tickets and filmy produce bags full of bananas and mangoes, and it all looked absurd.

Between the two of us, we came away with a pound of coffee in its crinkly plastic packaging.  I can make this better, I said.  I’m with you, Mr. Savvy replied.

How was your Earth Day?

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©2011 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where as we picked up garbage, I felt a lot like the Disney cartoon character WALL-E.  Someone on the writing team for that movie must have participated in a beach cleanup before.