February 16, 2001

It is a cold winter morning in Kansas City. The household rises with the morning light. Everybody climbs out from under layers of blankets and quilts, already dressed warmly (flannel shirts and sweats). Pants and shoes are pulled on. The curtains are opened to let light and a bit of warmth in.

Breakfast comes out of a hot-pot packed the night before. A small propane stove converted to run on methane gas was used to bring breakfast to a boil, then it was packed in a box lined with grass and straw harvested during the summer, and aluminum foil conserved from the days of mass manufacturing. It's a tasty breakfast -- oats and raisins and dried apples, all grown and harvested in the summer. The oats were traded from a farmer, apples and riaisins came from the back yard. Slices of home baked bread are brushed with butter and toasted on a cast iron skillet on the cast iron stove. Yesterday they had biscuits and gravy, with the biscuits baked in a stove-pipe oven on the wood stove.

After breakfast, Tammie starts the day's batch of bread dough, and Bob, Sean, Shawn, and Nick go to work in the greenhouse. The greenhouse began as an improvised plastic cover on the back deck, and through the summer "grew" until it took over the entire back of the top floor of the house. Sunlight comes in through windows salvaged from ruined houses (it has a pleasant home-made look about it, several different sizes and kinds of windows put together). Nobody in the house had ever built a greenhouse before, but hunger is a very good teacher, and it is really amazing how fast you can learn stuff when the pressure is on. There were times in the past few months that the learning curve seemed almost miraculous.

We tore the roof, siding, and inside sheetrock off the room on the back on the top floor, leaving only the floor and the frame for the walls and the roof. We nailed window frames over the inside and outside of the frames. Some of the windows we put in we fixed so they would open or shut, to allow for cooling and escape for humidity. It looks a bit on the amateur side, but it makes for an extremely sunny place. Putting it together was labor intensive, but labor and time we had.

The green house is currently growing salad crops, plus starts for the early spring garden (onions, carrots, and tomatoes, mostly), plus herbs and a couple of specialty items, like the little cinnamon tree and the miniature orange tree that yielded these little very tart oranges. Bob had seen them

advertised in the back of a Sunday supplement in the newspaper, and ordered two just for kicks. The starts are in trays, the salad crops are in columns made from chicken wire and burlap.

The back walls and floor were lined with concrete blocks and bricks (all salvaged) which, together with barrells of water painted black, act as heat sinks during the day, and heat radiators at night. Also at night, covers made from blankets and quilts are placed over most of the glazing. A small propane heater converted to run on methane gas is available for the really cold nights.

About three hours into the morning, the water cooperative truck comes by. The KC Water Cooperative is a joint venture of people in neighborhoods and the former employees and management of the water department. Each household provides five hours of labor per week, plus 5 Neighborhood Bucks for water delivery twice a week. Everybody has become very conserving of water. People still take showers, with hot water provided by wood heat (natural gas water heaters were being converted to wood burning units by March of 2000). In our particular case, everybody has to use the shower in the basement, as we built our water tank (out of cement) on the main floor, so the only place we get good pressure are the basement and the kitchen (which is lower than the room where the tank was built).

The water cooperative truck runs on soybean oil, which they get from farmers, trading them either Neighborhood Bucks or barter certificates or other items of value traded to them for water. In the days before the year 2000, the truck had run on diesel, but it smells a lot better now, sort of

like baking bread.

Tomorrow is one of the two weekly neighborhood market days, and so everybody is busy working on whatever it is they are taking to the market. Tammie, Shawn, and Ashleigh are making up packets of dried herbs, while Bob and Sean look over the salad crop to see what is available and ready and can be spared. The Truman Street Market is in the parking lot of a former grocery store, now (literally) a ghost of its previous self. Like many corporate

owned properties, it had been abandoned. Some people in the area basically homesteaded the property, and organized market days for the neighborhood. If you didn't mind a bit of walking, or had some silver or something to trade for a ride, there was a market every day of the week

within a couple miles of the house, but with transportation being the way that it was, going five miles was something to think about. It was either ten miles worth of walking (five there, five back, half a day's work easy), or alcohol or methane fuel and wear and tear on a vehicle. Most people walked, as there were other more important uses for methane and alcohol fuel.

But everything you needed was right here in the neighborhood anyway, so there wasn't a need to drive to 30 miles to a Home Depot (that's a three day round trip journey now!). We have bars and theaters -- little restaurants with different kinds of music, story-tellers, public and private libraries, it's kind of amazing really, when you think about this area being such a slum in the old days, with stores that had bars on their windows and bullet proof glass, and those stores being few and far between anyway. People live in the back and run a coffee shop in their living room, with jazz on Mondays and Wednesdays, blues on Tuesdays and Thursdays, reggae on Friday, rock on Saturday and gospel on Sunday, seven days, seven different artists or musical ensembles. Live music is a lot more pervasive these days, especially since most people are out of batteries.

Go to Part 2

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