Peter Maurin Memorial Agronomic University Extension Department

People have told me that they think that our constant work to encourage gardening, organizing cooperatives, supporting local farmers, preparing meals from basic ingredients, energy conservation, and etc. is "quaint". Indeed I am sure that it is, but the implication of the comment is "what does all this have to do with social justice?" There are elements of social justice here (empowering people to participate in their lives and have more control over their lives), but there are also considerations of culture and the proper care of Creation.

The term "agronomic university" was (as far as I know) coined by Peter Maurin, the French peasant-philosopher who met Dorothy Day in 1932 and provided the Catholic philosophical basis for the Catholic Worker "green revolution". He called for a three-fold program for Catholic Worker houses - (1) clarification of thought, (2) houses of hospitality-works of mercy, and (3) back to the land. He often referred to rural farming communities as "agronomic universities". That's why we call this page, and our many websites and discussion groups devoted to these topics, the "Peter Maurin Memorial Agronomic University Extension Department.

"Extension Department" recalls the work of the Cooperative Extension Service, which has done a lot of good in rural America lo these many years.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Cake

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put some oil in the bottom of the cake pan, smear it around to cover all the surfaces, sprinkle flour on it and shake it around so it coats the pan. Combine in a large bowl: 2 cups sugar | 2 cups flour | 1 tsp baking soda | 1 tsp baking powder | 2 tsp cinnamon . In a pan, heat together: 1/2 C (1 stick) butter | 1/2 C olive oil | 1/4 C powdered unsweetened cocoa | 1 C water . Bring this mixture to a boil, and boil it briefly. Pour it over the dry ingredients, and mix. Add: 1/2 C buttermilk or plain yogurt | 2 eggs | 1 tsp vanilla . Mix all together, pour in greased pan, and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes or so. To make frosting, melt: 1/2 C (1 stick) butter | 1/4 C powdered unsweetened cocoa | 6 Tbsp milk . Boil briefly, and add: 1 box or 2 1/2 C powdered sugar |1 tsp vanilla |1/2 C chopped nuts . Cool for 10 minutes and frost cake.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad
1 tomato, chopped | 1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion | 1/4 cup canned kidney beans, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil | 1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette
salt and pepper to taste
Combine the tomato, cucumber, red onion, kidney beans, and basil. Just before serving, toss with balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing and season with salt and pepper.

Nan Bread
This is a great summer flatbread that can be baked in an oven or cooked on a griddle on a stove-top.

1-1/2 tablespoon yeast | 3/4 cup buttermilk or clabbered milk | cup yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar | 1 egg, beaten | 1/4 cup olive oil or melted butter
1 teaspoon salt | 3-4 cups of certified organic whole wheat flour (or you can use half whole wheat flour and half white flour)

Place the milk and sugar in a bowl, sprinkle the yeast over it and let it bloom (note: the milk should be room temperature.) After 5 minutes or so, add the yogurt, salt, egg, olive oil or melted butter, and mix well. Add one cup of flour, mix thoroughly (if you have a mixer, use that, if not, use a whisk or a large spoon). Continue to add flour, mixing well, until you have a nice dough, it can be a little sticky. Knead the dough for five to ten minutes, adding flour only if the dough sticks to your hands a lot. You want a nice pliable dough. Put a little oil in the bottom of a bowl, put the dough in, move it around and then flip it upside down, so the top part is oiled. Cover with a cloth and let it rise until about double (maybe an hour). After the first rising, divide the dough into balls that are a little larger than a golf ball, and let rise for 15 minutes. You can then either flatten them by hand, or roll them with a rolling pin (I use a rolling pin). Heat a flat griddle until it is very hot. Place the rolled out pieces of naan onto the griddle, cook until lightly brown on one side, then flip and cook the other side. You can also bake the naan in an oven, at 450 degrees, for about 10 minutes. Whether cooking them on a griddle or in the oven, you can brush them with melted butter or olive oil before cooking. This makes about 12 pieces of naan. This recipe can be doubled without a problem.

Visit us on the internet and LEARN MORE about Catholic social teachings and sustainable and frugal living at Access to Catholic Social Justice Teachings Access to sustainable and frugal living resources Access to energy conservation information Oklahoma fabric arts Transit issues in central Oklahoma Oklahoma common good campaign Oklahoma Food Cooperative

Local Food Cooperatives Expanding

In 2003, we helped organize the first all-local-foods grocery cooperative here in Oklahoma City. We are happy to report that two new local foods cooperatives are beginning operation, the Nebraska Food Cooperative ( and the Crosstimbers Food Cooperative in North Texas ( We are also working with groups in Colorado and Kansas that are beginning their organizing campaigns, and in February 2007 I will give a presentation in Ontario, Canada which will include information about the concept of local foods cooperatives. Sales at the Oklahoma Food Cooperative ( are between $20,000 and $22,000 each month, and 95% of that money goes to the farmers. The core values of the cooperative are social justice, environmental sustainability, and economic viability.

Extreme Green Renovation at the Catholic Worker House

Last year we embarked upon an "Extreme Green Renovation" of our house here in Oklahoma City. This included the following renovations

This work built on our previous work of planting edible landscaping that also shaded the house, tearing down the garage to provide sun to the south side of the house, ventilating the attic with wind turbines and soffit vents, and repairing-tuckpointing the brick exterior. We aren't finished. Still on the agenda is building a small covered deck at the southeast corner to serve as our summer kitchen, installing an arbor to shade the southwest corner (the only unshaded part of the house), installing a solar water heater, a rainwater harvesting and storage system, creating vents near the ceiling in every room to facilitate air movement, and building a root cellar-tornado shelter. And we also need to paint the interior. During the winter our electric bill was typically $50, in the summer it is about $70. This is for everything we use energy for - hot water, cooking, refrigeration-freezing, computers-entertainment electronics, lighting, ventilation. We disconnected from the natural gas system. Keeping natural gas would have required expensive natural gas plumbing and new furnaces (work we were not equipped to do) and in any event, I am a pessimist about the future of natural gas prices, so we just went ahead and abandoned the natural gas utility grid.

We did a lot of this work ourselves. Our good friend Tom Temple who is an expert designer and carpenter helped with the sun porch since that involved tearing off a brick wall and replacing it with glass. (He knew Dorothy Day, way back when in the 1960s when he was a young whippersnapper.) Anyway, we are very pleased with the results. Last winter, on any day when the sun was shining in the morning and through the day, we did not need ANY backup heat. One morning it was 7 degrees outside and 61 degrees inside our house. This summer we are still doing fine even though we don't have air conditioning. We close things up during the day and ventilate the house at night, and the high level of insulation helps keep the heat out during the day. The fans move the air around and help us stay comfortable.

The purpose of reporting this is not to brag about our work, but to gently suggest that others should follow our example, according to their own means and abilities and situations. Energy conservation is pro-peace. Energy gluttony buys the illusion of convenience and comfort with the blood of war. Remember: procrastination is the thief of time.

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