The year is 1982, and my little family was green before green was cool. Fast-forward to 2018, I wonder if our ideas and what we learned in the early 80’s could outlast the years. I thought so. If nothing else, it would get those creative juices flowing for those who like to tinker with new ideas. We were green before green was cool.
We were green before green was cool.
As I have aged, I’ve been judged for a lot of things – one being that I’m not an environmentalist. I think too “locally” to ever be a true environmentalist. I’m too old school. That term environmentalist (or conservationist) unfortunately, has been improperly used by some to lump together a whole segment of the population that doesn’t transcribe to a certain set of ideologies. That term may be used globally, nationally, or regionally, but unfortunately, it isn’t necessarily applicable to each demographical region or sect. I’m what people call “a local“.
I’m what people call ” a local“.
Welcome to the 80’s!
I take in the view of my garden and lush fruit trees in the yard – it’s a joyful time. Sitting in the back of yard with my two daughters ages 1 and 3. They are digging happily in the sandbox under the grape canopy that trellises over the back patio. It is cool and the flowers make the atmosphere pleasant and inviting. There is a large orchard just a hop-skip-and-jump from my backyard. The farmers are starting to setup truckloads of fresh produce, and my spouse has headed down to the pickup area to retrieve the bushels we have ordered.
A lot of plants are coming into the season, and I’ve been busily getting my canning jars prepared, and setting up my cooking area. Can’t wait to taste the apricot jam and grape jelly, that we as a family will prepare together. I also anticipate that those bushels of peaches will be a sweet treat, and the babies will love them.
My own little garden has a number of seasonal vegetables ripe for the harvesting. I like to freeze our vegetables, so part of the cooking that will take place over the next day or so, will involve some blanching to prepare and store our own little backyard harvest.
It’s 1982, and we were living off the land, and having fun doing it. We were gardening, hunting and fishing, gathering our own wood for winter, and inventing and using our own innovations to create a sustainable home environment for our little family.
We didn’t have a label back then. By 2018 standards, we would have met a lot of the criteria for the label of an environmentalist. But those ideological labels for the working class hadn’t been invented yet. We were just known as good neighbors in the 80’s. I was a typical stay at home housewife, and my spouse who worked long hours on a drilling rig were just looking out for our small family and home. It was the way things were in the 80’s – in the small industrial mining community of Moab Utah.
There were roughly around 8000 people countywide, winter, spring, summer, and fall. The population didn’t fluctuate much. The air was clean and clear, and the landscape was pristine. The mountain trails were well maintained, and the cattle roamed free. It was a great place to work and raise a family.
When innovation and being green wasn’t cool
Batch Solar Water Heater
We used to enjoy experimenting with the newest little fads we would hear about. Solar power was a fad just coming out in the 80’s. I subscribed to all the DIY solar books back then! It was something we could tinker with as a family, and we did. Our little experimentation with solar power had people driving by our home taking pictures of our creations. We even had people knocking on our door wanting to ask questions.
Our first creation was an outside solar hot water heater, made out of nothing more than an old freezer box, and water tank. We didn’t even get a building permit – we just built it. For 2018 – I suggest you get a building permit.
If you can get a good water heater that doesn’t have a lot of sediment in the bottom – that will be wise before starting this project. A lot of times you can pick up used water heaters for free when people are doing remodels in their homes. For the box that your water heater will sit in, we used an old stand up freezer (freezer boxes are better than refrigerator boxes) for the shell. We saved the freezer door so that in the winter months we could cover the front to protect it from the elements. We also had two small children, so of course, we had to childproof the box. The outside cover had grooves we could side the cover into and then lock it down into place for storage. We used real locks.
Plumbing is very important – you want to use good plumbing materials because if you plan to bring pipes into your home to reach your inside water heater, you don’t want any leaks or breaks. You want to be able to shut off your outside tank from your inside tank for the winter months as well. You’ll need a damper to shut that flow off. Then blow the pipes for winter.
Building the unit is easy, it’s the plumbing that will need your attention the most.
When constructing our model, we experimented with different angles for our tank and then anchored the unit into place once the angle for optimal water flow was right. On the Inside of the box, we used a CURVED reflective Parabolic cylinder material that helped reflect the sunlight (prism) on the back and sides of the tank. We covered the front with a thick weather durable clear material that allowed unobstructed reflective sunlight inside the box. All the pipes and fixtures were hidden, and the unit sat neatly next to the outside entrance to our family hot water heater. We received the benefit of using both tanks having them located so close to each other.
Of course, a little flower garden box covered the bottom of the shell so that it looked like part of the connecting house.
Use your wood stove to heat water
We used our solar water heater up until it started getting too cool in the fall. Since we lived in the desert of SE Utah, we benefited from the dry heat and longer summer days. Placement of your tank around your home for the best amount of spring and fall sunlight is important.
You can construct a top mount tank on your home, but that will require a lot more “innovation” on your part, as well as money.
We tinkered with using a wood stove to heat the water up in the winter months, but with small children in the house, we hadn’t mastered how we would hide the pipes. So, we opted to not do that project in 1982. But we did have a design created. Here are some ideas on the internet for the innovative types:
Wood stove tips
We went through a couple wood stoves when we first started out. We finally were able to get a stove that was comfortable for our home. I liked the ability to have a large open face fire for comfort, plus have a cooking top when I wanted to slow simmer stews or make soft candy. In the 80’s we tinkered with installing blowers on our wood stove, so the hot air could be pumped into the vents in the house. Most of these items now come standard with wood stoves in 2018.
There are some tips you should look into before you buy your first stove. Caution: Preparing your roof, walls, ceiling, and floors are “critical”!
Collecting firewood without harming the environment, plus getting the necessary wood permits are things to consider when you start looking into wood stoves. In 2018 many people like wood chips stoves, but in the 80’s they weren’t yet available.
Winter boxes for plants
In the winter months I liked to experiment with out of season plants. My greatest success was with strawberries. I was growing strawberries near a bathroom window. For some reason this area of the house was the only place they would grow. I was disappointed in the kitchen window.
Since I wasn’t planning on doing any hardcore inside growing – I just stuck to window boxes. You can experiment with a lot of different designs and test your own indoor growing skills.
Cooling your home
During the summer months, I only had the standard gas bill that lets you maintain service. Electricity was the biggest cost in the summer months because we had to keep the lights and TV on. With a 1 and 3 year old, Sesame Street was a MUST have!
We had hardly any air conditioning costs. We used what we liked to call – the grapevine method. Our own terminology of course. In the desert climate, our design for our home worked great, because we did not have all the humidity to contend with.
This project was a no-brainer – but fun for us as a family. We had rather large grapevines that grew up and over a shaded patio area, and attached to the side of the house. Large windows could be opened to allow the cool drafts of air to come in from the shaded area outside.
We also had roof vents installed that helped circulate the air inside the entire house. Since heat rises, we rarely had to use fans to circulate the air. In the heat of the summer, the temperate outside would range between 85 and 98. Inside the home, it was always a cool 70 to 73 degrees (with a slight breeze).
The roof vents had dampers installed so if need be, we could seal them off to maintain the inside air temperature.
On those days when the temps reach over 100, we would adjust the cooler on low, or set up an overhead fan in reverse to help pull more hot air upward out of the roof vents.
The trick we learned was to install a cool mister within the grapevines themselves. If you put moisture on the vines in the early morning, that was best. It was cheaper than using an electric swap cooler or refrigerated air conditioner; it helped conserve both water and electricity.
ALL THINGS EATABLE
Food storage – canning & freezing ideas – and working with game meats
I’ve used both boiling water canners and pressure cookers. I’ve learned how to properly dress out a wild game animal, and prepare it for freezing as well. While we also wanted to get a smoker, that didn’t happen – we were caught up in too many other innovative projects that kept us too busy in 1982.
Thinking about canning?
You have to prepare for canning. I got lucky because my spouses’ great aunt had a lot of additional canning jars that she gave me. I just had to buy the seals and lids. You can pick up a lot of additional canning jars at yard sales also. Check community online groups to see if anyone has jars they want to sell you at a low cost. Be prepared for closeout supermarket sales – you would be surprised how easy it is to get started. Share with a neighbor and split the costs.
You will need to get yourself a good size pressure cooker that you can fit up to at least “8” big mouth quart jars in; for canning meats and some vegetables. Make sure the seals of your pressure cooker are new and not worn. Know how to take care of those seals and to clean your cooker properly.
The topper (the weight) needs to set evenly on top of your cooker but allow for steam to escape. The cooking gauge is critical – you need to follow the canning directions so you don’t undercook or overcook. You have some studying to do if canning is your next new experiment. Safety of your equipment, food handling, and of course proper cooking temperatures and time are all factors to think about.
Knowing how many bushels of peaches will yield you X amount of jars is a must. Get out your calculator and start adding. Being stuck with way too much product is an expense and waste. If you don’t have a fruit and vegetable dryer – you might want to invest in one. This could save you money in the long run; for when you miscalculate. It happens to us all. You can always bake pies!
You can always bake pies!
Get a group of your family together when it comes time to prepare your fruit for canning. Cutting and pealing time is expedited when you have help.
Here is a helpful canning link to get you started:
Kids and Family Favorites
Fish (something you probably didn’t know)
Trout fish, canned, tastes like tuna fish. Yes, you can make tasty sandwiches with it, or use it in salads. A dab of salt and a ½ teaspoon of vinegar in each canning jar along with the prepared fish helps to soften the bones during the pressure cooking process. The same process they use for tuna without all the icky additives.
- To properly skin a trout fish, first freeze it in water, and then when you defrost it, the skin slips off easily in one pull. I don’t like trout skin – so this was something I had to learn real fast
Jams and jellies
Apricot jam is great on pancakes. Sliced peaches and pears can be a family treat during the cold winter months. No preservatives, no additives – kids love them, especially over homemade ice cream.
Cold storage root cellar
You can create your own root cellar area under or near your home where you can store things like onions, potatoes, pumpkins, and all those nicely filled canned jars of love. Do some research on this one. Make sure small animals and creepy crawlies can’t get into your supply either.
Hunting and the outdoor experience
I get it! Not everyone likes meat. But the principles behind storage are pretty much the same when it comes to protecting your food supply.
I get it! Not everyone likes meat
Could be you like to hunt deer, elk, rabbit, or go fishing, etc. There is a lot of wild game that can be hunted, it just depends on where you live. Hunting is a sport and a livelihood for many. You also have the bow, black powder, and rifle seasons to factor in. What works best for you and your family– is ultimately up to you when it comes to hunting.
Then there are elements like hunting licenses, gun care, camping, and boating, that also add to your well rounded outdoor hunting experience. Don’t forget those. We used hunting season as quality family time. Mountains, camping, hunting, and boating are kind of synonymous with our family.
Preparing for long-term food storage
So you just bagged your first 7 point buck of the season. How you dress out your prize hunt and prepare it for long-term storage is very important. A deep freezer is a great way to store your food when you have bulk game meat. Some people like stand-up freezers, while others like chest freezers. I prefer the standup, but it’s all about what you like.
Specially designed freezer bags and wrapping paper are a must to avoid freezer burn on your food. If you use baggies, make sure they say, “FREEZER BAG” on the outside. Then you need to carefully wrap your food as well. Have you thought about freezer paper? I prefer freezer paper over aluminum foil. I could never get the whole aluminum foil thing.
Properly dating your food containers is equally important. Whether you are freezing meat or freezing fruits and vegetables – there is some preparation involved.
You can’t just slap your food into a sandwich baggie and throw it into the freezer! That would get you in a whole lot of trouble at my house. Freezing vegetables for example – let’s use corn. You first need to do a process called blanching. I prefer to freeze vegetables over canning them. But I prefer canning fruits (and some meats) over freezing. You must find out what works best for you.
When I factor in all the man hours and standard costs from the 1980’s and compare it with 2018 – it is similar. Why? Because it was free, sustainable, and we did it ourselves.
- In 1982 I was spending about 30 to 50 dollars for electric and gas combined during the middle of winter. My conventional neighbor was spending 180 a month combined during the height of winter.
- In 2018, you would still spend around 40 to 50 dollars combined just for standard utility fees. Your conventional 2018 neighbor will spend around 180 upward to 300 a month!
- In 1982 I spent maybe 80 a month in the winter at the grocery stores for general staples items. We bought in bulk in the summer months, so the lean winters weren’t as harsh.
- 2018 – that is still doable. You just need to know when and where to shop.
Today in 2018, am I an environmentalist? Probably not. I don’t live like I was in 1982 – but neither do any of my neighbors. Even the environmentally inclined don’t live like I did in 1982. Their carbon footprint (an ideological term of the new era) is about the same as mine. Yet my neighbors consider themselves environmentalists because they think globally. I think locally, and therefore I am judged as a non-environments. I am what you call “a local”.
I am what you call “a local”.
I lived in the 80’s when green wasn’t cool. In the 80’s we were innovating and experimenting with the tools and mechanics that the next generation would learn from.