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Arlington, TX 76010

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Home Gardens: Farm to Table

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to live on a farm, and the idea of plucking my own eggs each morning, and harvesting fresh herbs for spaghetti still excites me. Luckily, the farm to table movement is already underway, and even though it seems ‘trendy,’ (as we learned in yesterday’s blog post) this practice is centuries old.

People aren’t just thinking of ways to improve curb appeal anymore — we’ve also started to see an emerging trend of community gardens cropping up (pun intended), as well as a resurgence of local farmers and artisanal markets. What’s causing this recent demand for local produce? If you’re likewise a fan of Chef’s Table, you might credit Dan and David Barber of Blue Hill Farms for really promoting this idea, which aligns perfectly with their slogan, “Great cooking starts with great ingredients” (https://www.bluehillfarm.com/know-thy-farmer).

Farm to Table: Sunflower Garden

So what exactly is farm-to-table food? Check out a helpful link explaining the overview of the modernized movement, including some of the earlier roots of the movement: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/postdetails.cfm?post=1532. One major piece of the food-supply-chain puzzle is processed foods, particularly in the United States where convenience is king, and as companies have discovered more and more re-heatable recipes, processed foods have increased all over the world, with health taking a backseat to pace. For this reason, as well as the environmental costs associated with large-scale farming and slaughtering practices, people are seeking out ways to mitigate these factors as a part of their diets.

Recently, I was introduced to someone who has a small plot of land (less than an acre) in a neighborhood right at the tip of metropolitan Austin. You can see the Austin skyline from a couple of blocks from her home, yet she has pet chickens that produce eggs for her family daily! Now, admittedly, when she told me this, and then handed me a carton of eggs with three different colored varieties, it was safe to say I was a little nervous to try them — after all, they’re not even FDA approved. Having done her research, she rattled off the names of each breed of chicken and their corresponding egg, and also provided several personal case studies of delicious breakfasts and chicken-pot-pie recipes that would impress any Top Chef, while briefly noting the perk of Homestead Tax exemption as the cherry on top (I’ll have to get the specifics on the applicable exemptions, but for a short list of Homestead exemptions in Texas see here: https://www.traviscad.org/forms/forms-exemptions/).

Home Gardening

At the end of her speech I was hooked — and dying to try one of the fresh eggs she’d supplied us. The next morning my husband and I cooked eggs, toast, and bacon — in attempt to really highlight the flavor of the eggs — and I was pleasantly surprised with, no joke, one of the best tasting eggs in my entire life.

So is farm to table truly worth it? In my opinion, and not just on the egg harvest but also based on my own small garden, I’d definitely say so! Whether you’re raising one, or fifty goats for milk and cheese, or growing your own veggies or herbs to spruce up dinner, your farm to table experience is awaiting you, and is probably a lot easier than you think. What plants are local in your area? How much space do you have? Researching the answers to these questions will be your very first step in creating your at-home-farm. What will you grow next? Feel free to add comments about your farm-to-table experiences below!

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Managing the Farm: Home Gardens

While it didn’t feel appropriate to call this blog post part of the “Right to Capture” series, the theme is similarly linked by reducing your overall cost of living, and/or carbon footprint, using techniques that have been around for centuries. This blog post focuses on an ancient favorite: the Home Garden!

The worlds very first ‘home garden’ — think hunting and gathering humans — is thought to have been developed around 9000 BC, according to gardenvisit.com (The World’s First Garden, according to BBC). While the tools used to build today’s home garden may have changed drastically, the practice of growing flowers and (fruits, and) vegetables really hasn’t.

Returning to a previously helpful site, check out the City of Arlington website for some great ideas about planting edible home-gardens: Here – I mention edible, because if you’re treating the soils and pests naturally, you’ll get better produce! The first few steps really outline my own personal philosophy on maintaining a healthy home garden, so I’m adding it the excerpt below for reference:

“Step 1: Plant Healthy

Build and maintain healthy soil. It is important that you know your soil. Homeowners should order or purchase a simple but reliable soil test to find out what essential nutrients are currently available in their soil and to determine what additives may need to be added to provide the environment for a healthy landscape. For more information about soil testing procedures and prices go to soiltesting.tamu.edu. If you use fertilizers to add nutrients look for products that contain natural organic or slow-release fertilizers. Your yard is made up of a community of beneficial organisms that can help maintain your landscapes and the improper use of fertilizers can damage beneficial organisms in the soil which are essential for healthy soils and plants. Composting helps certain soil types hold nutrients and water, loosens clay soils which allows air and water into the soil and strengthens root growth. It also feeds the beneficial organisms so they will feed and protect your plants. Mulching stabilizes soil temperatures, prevents weeds, conserves water and helps feed soil for healthier plants. For more information on local Composting classes visit City of Arlington Recycling and Garbage. Plant Native – Planting with native or adaptive plants will provide beauty all year round in your garden.
Make sure your plant selection is appropriate for your region. Develop a placement plan that uses native plants and drought tolerant species to decrease maintenance requirements. Seek the advice of a Texas Master Gardener, local nursery or local garden club about what plants or grasses are right for your landscape and soil type.”

Click the following link for the City of Arlington, Integrated Garden and Pest Management system: Here.
Home Gardens: Vertical Farming

The additional steps outlined in this article are useful so please do continue on using the links provided above, but also note that you’ll likely need to read about what plants are local to your area, and when it’s best to plant them — along with some trial and error — as you get started on your own home garden! For example, while I’m by no means a green thumb yet, this year I’m experimenting with winterizing my tomato plants in hopes of re-using the same plant that grew tomatoes for us all summer long. I’ll keep the blog updated sparingly as we winter the winter together this year, though so far I’m planning to keep the tomatoes inside in the southern-facing window(s) of our home just in case we experience any fluke freezes this year!

Keep in mind also that there are a ton of ways to garden outside of adding a garden box to your backyard! There is also hydroponic and/or vertical farming (featured left) — which is a particularly helpful option to those with smaller yard space or for people living in apartments. Additionally, vertical gardens can be really effective in helping you offset not only your cost of veggies year-round, but also are effective in managing the adverse effects of poor weather, since they’re slightly more mobile than your typical raised bed.

For those of you advanced gardening students that are ready to move on to the full farm-to-table lifestyle, please continue to read on this week for more tips!

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Hot and Cold: Our feelings Towards Air Conditioners

Having spent plenty of time in Texas, I typically think of air conditioning as a lifeline – and for most of the year, it is! With July and August temperatures regularly frequenting triple digits, it’s essential to make sure you drink water, find shade, and pray that your AC unit never breaks.

Naturally, when I moved to Seattle, I was shocked to find that almost no one had an air conditioning unit! Triple-digit temperatures in Seattle are extremely rare, and for most of the year you don’t even need a ceiling fan to cool down (though that’s started to change more recently). As a Texan living in this temperate city, I can say without a doubt that I needed the heater for most of the year instead.

My point is, while saying “let’s just get rid of all of the air conditioning units!” is effective in some areas, it’s not feasible in others – and conversely, the same goes for heaters, though we’ll cover that in a separate post.

While everyone may have their own preference when it comes to setting the thermostat, I think it’s safe to say that somewhere around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal (click here for a short article I came across in trying to determine why: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-feel-hot/). How can we reasonably, carbon-neutrally, achieve this temperature, year-round, without spending a fortune?

First, let’s learn a little more about the modern AC unit. Energy.gov is typically a great source for information about energy in the US, and this site has a ton of good information about how AC units work, and ways to mitigate additional costs associated to cooling your home: https://www.energy.gov/articles/energy-saver-101-infographic-home-cooling.

We should also consider the modern AC unit efficiency, and how this differs from what we used in the past. AC unit efficiency is measured by something called a SEER rating, or a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio – which “derived by calculating the annual cooling output during the cooling season divided by the total electric energy input”, per AAA Heating & Cooling (https://www.aaaheatingandcoolinginc.com/ac-seer-rating-actually-means/). According to their site, a good AC unit today should have a SEER rating of 13-14, however more efficient AC models do exist today, and even go as high as 20 SEER (https://flgreenteam.com/ac-101-air-conditioning-heat-pump-primer/). Of course, there are always more considerations – a key factor being waste/cost. If you cannot afford a brand-new AC unit with a SEER rating of 20 or above, or if your AC unit is working currently and does not need to be replaced, what can you do to mitigate your energy consumption now?

1. Replace your Air Filters every 90 days! 

There are plenty of options! One of the easiest ways to prolong the lifespan of your AC unit and reduce the amount of energy you use to cool your home is to replace your filters regularly. These filters can be purchased at the grocery store, but you have to know the size you need before you go. If you’re a new homeowner like me, this will be new for you – but I promise it’s not hard! I learned it, so too can you – check out a quick guide on replacing your air filters here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tkJFtYUMfo.

2. Turn Off your AC when not home / not using it!

This question has been debated as long as I can remember: is it better to allow your AC unit to maintain a constant temperature all day, or turn it off and on and allow it to fluctuate? Depending upon your biggest concern, the answer to this question will change – if your concern is driven by cost savings, you should turn your system off completely when not home/not using it (https://www.debtroundup.com/should-i-turn-off-my-ac-while-away/).

However if your primary concern is bugs or mold growing long-term in your household (and you live in a humid environment), you may actually want to just turn the temperature in your house up when you leave, and back down to a more comfortable temperature when you return (here’s why: https://www.cooltoday.com/blog/should-you-turn-off-your-ac-when-youre-not-at-home#:~:text=But%20there’s%20a%20much%20better,home%20from%20mold%20and%20bugs).

In either case, please do NOT leave your AC unit running all day long in your home, whether or not you are there.

3. Close your Curtains

One seemingly simple thing people sometimes forget is just how simple it is to control heat with shade from the sun. Take out a compass (or look up your home on google earth), and see which of your windows face the south. Those windows are going to let in an enormous amount of sunlight (and therefore, heat) for most of the day but especially in the afternoon (assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere, of course). The easiest and simplest way to prevent this is to block out as much of that sunlight as possible – whether you’re using “black out” curtains or not, you will feel the difference, and may even start to see the difference on your utility bill.

4. Install a smart thermostat

Smart thermostats are becoming more popular, and while it’s not exactly a “free” solution, this equipment can absolutely help you save money. How do they work? The simple answer is that they can regulate the temperature of your home based on both your habits, and the outside ambient temperature, so that you don’t have to constantly think about it, leaving less room for error. For a more detailed explanation, feel free to check out this link: https://justenergy.com/blog/are-smart-thermostats-worth-it/, or go check out a few customer reviews to see what other people think of their smart thermostats.

Hopefully these tips will help you save money and cut down your energy costs, especially as we head towards another summer in Texas! If you’re curious about your personal energy consumption, but are not sure how to begin saving money on energy costs or decreasing your carbon footprint, please call us today – we’re happy to discuss it with you. If you have other tips and tricks on saving money while cooling your home, please add them here as well!

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Setting the Stage: Energy Consumption in the Home

As homeowners, we understand the appeal to have the best gadgets and gear to help with daily chores and life. For example, the dishwasher saves us hours of time spent over a sink with rubber gloves, the leaf-blower provides a similar benefit over using a manual rake. It wasn’t until recently that we really discovered that we needed to start asking ourselves what the carbon cost of these items might be, and how to prevent waste. There’s a lot to unpack here, but if you can get through it, you’ll be one step closer to making your home carbon neutral, and saving a ton of money in the process.

This week, we’ll take a holistic view of the home’s energy consumption, and see if we can uncover an opportunity or two in eliminating our own carbon footprint.

To start, we need to have a fundamental understanding of which appliances use the most energy in our homes. Here are a few articles to help guide you in the right direction:

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