Summer Pack ‘n Play Review

When we started getting back into gardening – there was a lull when the kids were really little – we had time to pick out seeds, to weed the garden, to water it and cultivate all the little seedlings. Our children were also a little older and a little more self-sufficient than they had been. They were old enough and mature enough to have their own crop(s) to tend to. This worked out well as gardening time also doubled as family time and no one was left out. Instead of going for a family walk together, we’d all go out in the garden and work together.

Last August, we had two foster children – aged 3 and 1.5 years old – arrive. Part of it was the chaos of a life that suddenly found itself with two more kids and probably some of it was their age, but sadly the garden was allowed to slip. We missed a number of later summer harvest crops; we picked some, but had nearly no time to process and preserve some. The weeds proliferated and some where even allowed to reseed. Our fall/winter garden was put in late and has scarcely produced anything. The three year old foster child can handle sitting in the garden and can play with the older two when she get’s bored, but still requires a fair bit of redirection. All in all, we can handle her behavior fairly easily, unfortunately, the one year old is a little harder to handle in the garden, after all, the only thing a one year old can really do in a garden is destroy! This meant one of us had to babysit the baby while the other tried to multitask in the garden – directing the youngers while still preparing the garden for vegetables.

We have a Baby Ergo from our kids and it works wonders, but it isn’t total freedom. Your range of motion is almost 100%, but you still can’t do everything, and this is all assuming that the child wants to be in the pack, or has fallen asleep. If a child doesn’t want to sit in the Ergo and proceeds to flail around and scream, you can forget about it. We really needed a pack-and-play. I’m not sure if we actually had a pack-and-play when my kids were little. We may have, but if we did, it was seldom used. Thankfully, when the foster kids arrived, we were gifted a nice used one from someone who’s last child had just moved beyond pack-and-play age. It was nice, but as pack-and-plays are, it was heavy and burdensome to move it from anywhere but room-to-room within the house, let alone outside. We needed something that could go outside; a kiddie-corral if you will.

pop n play
Happy as a 1970’s Smiley Face

We looked around online at a few different options and finally settled on the Summer Pop ‘n Play Portable Playard. Essentially, it’s just a juiced up pack-and-play. (And it was pretty darn cheap all things considered!) There are two main differences, the first is that it is larger, quite a bit larger and is octagonal. The second difference is that it rests directly on the ground. A typical pack-and-play utilizes a platform that sits up some framing, the Pop ‘n Play rests directly on the ground. I’m not entirely sure why it rests directly on the ground, but I have my suspicions: the floor is a flexible fabric and is much lighter than a hard foldable floor that many pack-and-plays utilize, but being flexible, it needs something to keep it sturdy, and that’s the ground. They have also used some lightweight tubular metal to keep this thing extra light and easy to carry around.

pop 1
Move the strap over the apex.

In terms of set-up and take-down, this is one of the easiest I’ve ever experienced. (I’ve set up a number of pack-and-plays and they always seem to be a hassle.) The Pop ‘n Play is octagonal and folds almost like an accordion or one of those portable canvas camp chairs. It then goes into a bag that has a shoulder strap that makes it exceptionally easy for carrying.

The first few times we set it up, we did have a little hiccup – we didn’t read the directions. Honestly, it didn’t seem like anything that needed directions to read, but it did and we skipped over them. On the bottom of each point where the Pop ‘n Play touches the ground, there is a strap. We left those alone in the beginning, but what you’re supposed to do is pull the straps over the bottom points into a groove. This tightens the Pop ‘n Play and locks the sides from moving in or out. Not a necessity, but definitely helpful.

Overall, we’re super pleased with this product, we use it in the garden, we use it when we have camp fires, we use it for pic-nics. There are plenty of times we can let the one year old off his leash and he roams about doing as he will, but that requires a parent to escort him, and that isn’t always possible. The Summer Pop ‘n Play has allowed us to do things we couldn’t do before because of a “young child.” In fact, we’ve already been in the garden prepping for spring planting a number of times while the baby naps in the Pop ‘n Play. It has truly been a game changer, and in all honesty, could probably double as a pack-and-play for inside use. Win!

Addendum: I just saw on Amazon that you can also purchase a canopy to keep sun and water off the wild ones inside!</e

The Urban Homesteader’s Nightmare; or How Voting is Force

Cowan Animals
Some of Lloyd Cowan’s animals. He also raises chickens for show and has had a pair of Indian Runner ducks for eight years. It is unclear what he will have to do with his animals.

Imagine you live on an urban lot just over an acre and you’ve been reading up on how to grow your own food; you’ve studied the copious numbers of urban homesteading books in your local library and joined too many online forums to remember all your login IDs. You’ve dabbled with a garden, and even raised some chickens, but want to become a little more self-sufficient. Maybe you get some bees and raise a beef cow every year for the freezer; or maybe it’s some goats or a dairy cow to make soaps and cheeses. Of course you need a small shed to house your rototiller and other garden implements, and if you live in a colder climate you are going to want a shed or small barn to house your animals in the winter months; naturally, you tuck those structures to the corners of the property, out of the way and unnoticeable. By no means are you an expert homesteader, but you are learning, so when your town votes in favor of food soverignty, you are curious at first, but when you learn that it allows farmers to sell farm products from their homes or farms without state intervention (think inspections, raw milk, etc.) you’re pretty excited.

Being allowed to sell some of your products, you decided to go in even deeper with your dairy production and start delving into meat rabbits. It is tough to turn a profit, but you are learning, and you’ve started to trade goods with the other urban homesteading ilk in town. Because you are on a smaller lot, you don’t have room to grow your own hay or other treats for your livestock, so you have built a relationship with a local farmer that get’s you a 25% discount on your hay, but you have to help on the farm two Saturday’s a month. It is work you would rather be doing on your homestead, but you have gleaned a lot of first hand knowledge and you get a monetary discount.

Now, imagine that you wake up one morning and find that 65 people in your town of 4,700 voted by raising their hands to outlaw essentially all farm animals except for hens and rabbits, and even then, you can have no more than twelve which makes keeping animals for meat a near impossibility. Your cozy barn that housed your chickens on one side and rototiller on the other that you put in the back corner has to be moved; outbuildings housing livestock or poultry within 15 feet of property lines, and 100 feet of a neighbors dwelling are now illegal. Now imagine that anyone previously homesteading on an urban lot 1.5 acres or smaller is not grandfathered into the new restrictions. All of the sudden, you have to sell your animals, the equipment you used to make cheese and yogurt has to be sold at a significantly lower price than when you first acquired it. You have lost money on equipment, you have lost income on goods you can no longer sell, and you have had to part ways with animals that you love and care for like a family pet. The farmer you were helping loses direct income and valuable labor. The local hardware store where you buy your fencing and other supplies no longer sees your business.

Now know that on June 11, 2018 this is actually what happened in the Town of Madison, Maine when the town held is annual meeting to do whatever it is that gets done at town meetings; however, at this fateful town meeting, where around 1% of the town population showed up, a vote was taken to outlaw backyard farming and a majority voted in favor by show of hands. The vote was not well publicized. There were no billboards or lawn signs sprinkled throughout the former mill town. In fact, it was not a hot topic for debate among angry neighbors caught up in farm fury. Many residents did not even know it was an issue. Resident Ann Harsh found out about the vote two days after it happened when a friend informed her of the new rules in town. Even according to the town manager, Tim Curtis the vote did not seem thought our or well planned; in fact, it is almost as if they voted on a whim. When asked how many inidividuals this new ruling would effect, he answered: “We don’t have a number. We never really went that level of detail in looking at it.”

It would seem that this new ruling counteracts the earlier decision by the town to declare itself food soverign: to allow farmers to sell goods without government meddling. Curtis, does not see it like that. In fact, he said, “We never intended to do anything anti-farming” and “It was never the Select Boards intent to hurt small farms.” It is hard to make rational sense of that statement considering that the Select Board just passed a law banning farming on lots smaller than 1.5 acres. It would seem tha the Select Board passed a rule that directly limits small farms.

At the heart of it, we have two issues, the first, private property rights. These individuals own their land, and now a publically funded government is telling them what they can and cannot do with it. If this were a private housing authority in which all memembers signed a contract before moving in, one could understand how an ordinance like this might be acceptable, but in a publically run town that is in essence owned by the tax-paying public, this is absolutely absurd, but unfortunately, not unheard of.

The second issue lies around the idea of voting. Many hardcore liberty minded folks will tell you that voting is force, and while a lot of people may scoff, this is perfect illustration of that force. A majority of 1% of the population voted in favor of something, and now a rule is being forced upon 4,700 town residents. Tell me how that is not force? On the other hand, living in the Statist Utopia that we do, this shows why voting to protect the individuals right of property and association is of great importance. The State will not dry up and go away because people don’t vote, rather they will continue to pass rulings just like this and the will of 1% will be used to dictate the lives of the other 99%.

Thanks to Lloyd Cowan for allowing me to use the picture of his animals and to Ann Harsh for giving me time out of her day to talk about the present situation in Madison.

NYS DOT: A-salting The ADKs and Its Residents

A Background On Road Maintenance and Salt

The general consensus is that the environment needs protection; that man kind, gone unchecked will destroy the natural world, use all it’s resources and be left to live on a dusty ball of rubbish. We are then led to believe that the only way to protect the environment and all it’s natural beauty – and keep humanity safe for eternity – is through regulation and laws passed down from the State. While I do think the natural world has some intrinsic value, it is not through State dictation through laws and regulations that this value be implied or protected; rather, that protection should come through private property rights.

If you are not aware, a good chunk of Northern New York is made up of the Adirondack National Park, a 6.1 million acre park that includes the Adirondack Mountain Range, over 10,000 lakes, and 30,000 miles of streams and rivers. Nearly half of the acreage is privately owned, but is under heavy restrictions placed by the Adirondack Park Agency, the other half is owned by the state. This means that there is a great infrastructure of roads running in and out of the park for both local residents and tourists looking to hike, canoe, ski, or otherwise enjoy the natural world that the park provides.

snow plow 2
A snow plow clearing roads somewhere in New York.

As you can imagine, winters in Northern New York can be rather daunting, especially the higher elevations in the mountains: there is ice, snow, steep slopes, billowing winds, curving roads, sub-zero temperatures, and, of course, people. In an attempt to melt the snow and ice and keep travelers safe, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) plasters the roads with salt. During the off seasons, the salt is stored in massive piles, most of the time in a giant dome shaped salt barn, but there are some piles that are left exposed to the elements year round.

In the 1970s, the National Wildlife Federation called out the use of salt to melt ice on roads as being potentially harmful to the environment, and as it would turn out, they were partially correct. According to Dan Kelting, an Environmental Sciences professor at Paul Smith’s College, New York State began using heavy doses of road salt in the 1980s and in the time that has passed, NYS has used over 7 million tons of salt on the road.1 The salt melts the ice, gets washed away by rain, pushed into the ditches by snow plows, and eventually finds its way into lakes, rivers, streams, and ground water, where it causes problems for both nature and humans.

Salt is a naturally occurring mineral that is often added to foods (sometimes in great quantities) to enhance flavors. It is also a necessary mineral to our basic survival as human beings; however, when too much salt is introduced to the diet, there are a number of health concerns that can rise, including: hypertension, stroke, and heart disease to name a few. Of course, no one is saying the general salt contamination in well water from salting the roads is so bad that it can cause these diseases (in some houses though, the well water is no longer potable), but individuals who suffer from hypertension – aka: high blood pressure – or who may have already suffered a heart attack or heart disease, that would need to monitor their sodium intake may unknowingly consume too much salt in their water and risk future health problems.

The Current State Monopoly Approach

The amount of salt in the ground water also causes secondary health effects. If you have lived in a place where they salt the roads, you will recall seeing a white minerally buildup on the rocker panels of your vehicle. You will also notice that once your vehicle starts to rust, it spreads quickly. This is from the salt on the roads, and why you wash your car more in the winter, than in the summer. What’s happening is that salt is a corrosive agent; it is corroding the metal parts of the vehicle and breaking them down, this same thing happens to water pipes, and unfortunately, many older pipes contain harmful substances such as lead. So when the salt water starts to corrode pipes, it also begins to release lead, and other harmful substances contained in the pipes. (This is essentially what happened in Flint, MI.) Not only does this cause secondary health effects, but it also adds undue infrastructure stress on both public and private water systems as well as any appliances that utilize the water, as parts tend to wear out sooner and need replacement earlier than expected.

While run-off may add to the salt contamination issue, the main source of salt contamination comes from the salt barns – where they store the salt. As you can imagine, a big pile of concentrated salt will slowly seep into the ground from the rain and humidity. And this is where we are today. It has happened in a few towns – notably Orleans, NY – that the salt has seeped into the ground water and has wreaked such havoc on the infrastructure that the town water systems need to be replaced.2,3 This replacing also comes with a very high price tag in the millions, sometimes exceeding $10 million.

duke
A semi exposed salt barn in Western NY, sometimes they don’t even have that plastic cover.

In a number of Northern New York towns, the state has come in and cleaned up the mess, laying down new waterlines, however, this cost is passed on to residents – both directly and indirectly – for example in Palmelia, NY, the DOT laid new pipe along route 342, but by then many homeowners had already spent thousands replacing appliances and plumbing fixtures in their own homes, and on top of that, these homeowners were required by the state to pay an additional water bill of $2500 to cover capital costs of the project.4 In the town of Orleans, where the project was estimated to cost $13 million, the town received a $100,000 grant from the state and an $11 million interest free loan, but it wasn’t enough to cover the project and residents were left with the option of covering the $1.9 million difference by adding an extra $1000 a year to their water bill. Don’t forget, the $11 million would eventually have to be paid back – by taxpayers funding the town. In the situation with Orleans, despite numerous studies tracing salt concentrations back to the salt barn, the DOT does not claim responsibility for the contamination. This is not the first, nor will it be the last time this happens, but par the course, State led pollution is usually kept quiet and the State seldom takes responsibility. In the case of many towns in Northern New York, even when officials have accepted blame for contamination, officials have gone so far as to say that the contamination of a private well is a problem for the well owner, not the State.

To make this even more disturbing, consider where the funding for the $11 million interest free loan and the $100,000 state grant came from: the tax payers of New York. And don’t forget, NYS DOT receives federal funds ear marked for particular projects, so essentially, the loan money, and the grant money are coming from every single tax payer in the country.

dot plow
Many studies claim the NYS DOT is responsible for well water contamination, not the DOT though!

It seems a bit convoluted, but broken down it goes like this:

A State run monopoly with required membership enforced by the State, and funded by tax-payers creates an environmental health problem. The State run monopoly then loans tax-payers their own money to fix the problem. It then forces residents to pay an extra fee for the new work.

There is no winning when you sue a tax-payer funded organization, you are in essence suing yourself.

A More Minarchist Approach

If we look to the free market and more liberty-centered solutions we will find that there are a few different options we can follow. The first is just smaller government. The NYS DOT is a state wide organization. They consider all state highways their jurisdiction and treat them accordingly. When we examine the facts, however, most of the small towns in the Adirondack park don’t actually use salt. Instead they use sand. Now sand doesn’t clear the roads down to pavement, but it also doesn’t effect the water table as drastically. (It may cause some siltation in rivers and streams, but that seems the lesser of two evils when compared to salinization.) Local towns also use sand instead of salt, because it is cheaper and they don’t have the massive tax base that New York State does. In fact, New York State uses 2.5 times more salt on the roads than local municipalities do.5

When a small town creates an environment of toxicity for both private individuals and businesses, it is easy enough to pick up and move locations, but remain in close proximity to jobs, family, and friends. The State has very little vested interest in where their citizens go as a move out of state is much less likely than a move from one town to another (moves within the same country are twice as likely as moves between counties, let alone States.6) Consider the economics of a person moving from a town of 200 versus a state of 20 million; just based on a percentage of tax-base alone, a person is much more valuable to a small town than the state, likewise the incentive of a small town to keep citizens is much higher than that of the state.

Snow Beet
Beet juice – the liquid left over after the sugar has been removed from beets – is one alternative to road salt. Imagine how many other alternatives might exist if there was a bit more incentive.

A Slightly More Anarchistic Approach

We can also look at this from a more drastic lens and consider that the roads be privatized. It sounds scary, but it makes sense, and it keeps everyone healthier. If the roads were privatized, and owned by a third party, it would be up to the third-party to keep the roads clean. Undoubtedly, they would want to keep their roads clean of snow and ice to ensure safe travel and happy customers. In order to do so, they could utilize the current State model and use copious amounts of salt, but as we’ve seen in many instances above, salt gets into the ground water and contaminates wells. Unlike the State, which has unlimited funds to repair damage, a third-party’s resources are limited. There are many examples of private corporations being held responsible for environmental pollution, when GE contaminated the Hudson, they were forced to pay for clean up, a third-party that owned the roads and subsequently contaminated the ground water would be held responsible for clean up and rectification. Restaurants and businesses that couldn’t afford to constantly replace appliances and in turn left towns in Northern New York, could recoup costs from the third-party responsible for the contamination, stay in their local residence and continue to build the economy. A third-party would know this and out of necessity, go out of their way not to contaminate their surroundings and would either come up with a better way to store the salt, or they would come up with another way to clean the roads.

A third-party would also be solely responsible for storing the salt. In some towns, residents did not want to build covered salt barns, surely an uncovered mound of salt will contaminate more ground water than a roofed salt barn, but as it was a publicly run entity, the residents made the choice to leave the salt uncovered. If a private entity was responsible for containing the salt, the public would have no choice in how it was stored and, in looking out for their best interest, the private entity would cover the salt.

The difference between the State and private corporation is competition. The State has no competition, and there is no limit to their funds. When they damage private property, they are seldom held accountable and when they are held accountable, the damage costs are just another line item on next years budget that every tax-payer will have to answer for, this is not the case for a private corporation. Rather, quite the opposite. Private corporations funds are limited by their resources. Imagine how shareholders would react if a company kept going over budget every year and just increased product pricing in an attempt to cover the difference. That company wouldn’t last very long. The State also has a monopoly on competition. Sure, there are elections every few years, but in 2016 “when voters cast ballots for state representatives [last fall], millions of Americans essentially had no choice: In 42 percent of all such elections, candidates faced no major party opponents.”7 This lack of competition does not exist in the private sector, as soon as another company sees an opportunity to step in and make some money, they will and the competition can drive prices down and increase quality of goods and services. It is shameful that residents of Northern New York do not have the ability to make these choices to help keep their lives safer and the environment healthier, and it is even more shameful that it seems a fairly standard practice that State level politicians would suggest contamination on their behalf is the responsibility of the private property owner.

References and Credits

1,5Study: Road salt has contaminated wells, lakes, streams in Adirondacks
2Frustrated with inaction, Orleans will try to hold DOT accountable for salt contamination
3The problem with salt: Road salt contamination a plague across the state
4Pamelia residents close to DOT salt shed experience water contamination problems like Orleans’
6Geographical Mobility: 2015 to 2016
7 Democracy With No Choices, Many Candidates Run Unopposed
Photo 1: Road salt pollutes drinking water wells in suburban New York State
Photo 2:The Duke Company
Photo 3: DOT Snow Plow
Photo 4: Experimenting With Beet Juice

Homestead Hack #3: Paint Your Tools!

If you’ve had any metal outdoor tool for a while, you’ll know that eventually the shiny factory sheen starts to fade and the metal begins to pick-up a dingy, brown, earthen hue. You might also be wise enough to know that that dingy brown is almost the color as the dirt and leaf litter that covers the forest floor. I’m not sure about you, but if there is one thing that annoys me to no end when I’m out cutting firewood or digging around in the garden, it’s misplacing a tool mid-job because it’s lost among the leaves and dirt. And, as an aside, it can also get a little expensive. So how do we fix this issue? (Other than being overly pre-cautious and slowing the whole process down to put tools in the exact same spot mid-job…). Spray paint! A sweet bright vibrant splitting wedge will ensure you’ll have a hard time loosing it ever again. It works well for garden tools like shovels and hoes, and don’t forget the the always necessary but ever so small chain saw tool!

Paint Tools
Brighter is Better!

Homestead Hack #2: Steam Your Eggs!