Kat: Today I am interviewing Anna Lytle and she is the main host of this show just to give you some background on her. This is going to be so much fun for me because I actually don't know Anna that well, we have only been hanging out for the past three weeks and it was basically to start this podcast. So we are venturing out into friendship land and podcasting together, so I am going to learn just as much as you are! So Anna, tell us about yourself, give us some background.
Getting To Know Anna
Anna: I actually grew up in and around Austin, Texas and if anyone is familiar with Austin its definitely a little more hippie, the slogan is "Keep It Weird." Everyone is pretty health conscious and my parents were definitely on that boat. My dad actually worked in health food stores for a long time. When I was 6 we actually took a year off from Austin and moved to Michigan and we lived in a farm house on like a 200 acre farm with a 200 year old barn, it was a child's dream. So I spent what would have been my first grade year there and I didn't go to school, my mom was very unconventional and we did an "unschooling" year. I spent that year pretty much outside the entire time. I would play in the woods with my dogs, build forts with my dad, play in the snow, find animal bones and recreate what I thought were unique creatures, I would explore the old barn and the forests. I think that year has influenced so many of my interests now. It definitely inspired imagination, it was mostly just me and my two dogs exploring. I have maybe one memory from that whole year of being inside.
Kat: Thats so cool! My husband Monty had a similiar experience. His mom would send him down to the river and then told him to not come home until dinner. I love hearing these stories and learning about your family. I hope my son makes a podcast and will say these things about me in 20 years!
Anna: Yeah, I think my parents were ahead of their time. I joke with my dad that if he was my age now with all the things he is interested in and that he grew up doing he would be the coolest guy. He grew up doing yoga in the 60s and 70s, he walked around barefoot with his long wavy hair, he worked in health food stores, he was totally in to what millennials are into now.
Kat: So then after that year you moved back to Texas?
Anna: Yeah, after that year we moved back and I went to Waldorf school. Waldorf was started about one hundred years ago now by Rudolf Stiener, he was an Austrian philosopher. He started it as a school for factory workers kids. He had all these ideas about childhood education and it wasn't in line with how kids were being educated, if they were going to school at all. From the ages of 0 to 7 he thought the best classroom for children was nature and being outside. He classified the different age groups into Willing, Feeling, Thinking. So 0-7 would be developing the child's will, 7-14 would be developing the feelings and then 14-21 would be developing the thinking, so that wouldn't be until high school and college. One thing unique about Waldorf is that they do not test kids until high school and they don't put a ton of pressure on academics in the younger grades. Like with reading, kids don't have to be reading until 5th or 6th grade, the kids that take a little longer, once it clicks they will be reading at a high school level. So thats the school I went to for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and then for the first two years of high school. After 4th grade, I was homeschooled/unschooled for 4 more years. I was really into horses and thought that would be my life and at the time I thought I would be an equine veterinarian. I had two horses growing up and my dad and I would go ride our horses bareback through the woods and pastures and find wild blackberries. I had a lot of fun adventures with my horses.
Kat: Are you an only child?
Anna: No, I have three older siblings. My brother is 14 years older and my sisters are 8 and 9 years older than me so they were all out of the house when I was pretty young so it sometimes felt like I was an only child.
Kat: At Waldorf, you learned how to sew and dye with plants right?
Anna: Every year we had handwork classes. I think in 2nd grade we started with knitting, I know in the older grades they do sewing and they do experiment with plant dyes and wool because they learn felting. We did learn how to spin wool in high school. At Waldorf they learn all the hand work skills, thats part of the Steiner philosophy is Head, Heart and Hands and trying to connect all of those as much as possible. In high school we did blacksmithing, pottery, sculpting, basket weaving. I wish I could remember how to do all that stuff, if only I had known that my future self would want to be a homesteader that would have been the dream. In 3rd grade we did garden, the school had a garden and I remember having so much fun with that. I was your typical tomboy, usually covered in dirt, wearing a horse t-shirt, jeans and my boots. That was me.
Kat: I love this! This is such an interesting story to me, I have repeated it to so many people because its just the craziest story. So you have this wild child upbringing, nature baby, you want to be a horse vet and then you turn to this military career?
Serving In The Military
Anna: Yeah, so when I was 16, again my mom pulled me out of the high school. Our local community college had a program where if you were dual enrolled in high school and college, the college would be free. So my mom homeschooled me and I went to college full time. During this time I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay for the rest of my schooling. I have switched degree and career paths so many times, I have wanted to be an astrophysicist, a geologist, a veterinarian, and I had been trying to figure out how I was going to pay for all of my degrees.
When I was around 17 I really started getting interested in international relations and foreign policy. There was a lot going on in the world at the time and I have always been fascinated with history, I could probably be a history professor and be so happy. I just love history I think its fascinating, and history plays a huge role in everything thats happening now. So I was thinking of going down an FBI career path and being a veteran can really help with that. So I joined the National Guard and I actually met my husband through that. After my job training, I went to California to learn French which is really funny because I have always wanted to learn french. My DNA is about 50% French.
Kat: And you were learning French because you were trained in interrogations, right?
Anna: Yes! And French is spoken in much of north Africa and even in the Middle East, some of the governments use French. Before the military, that region of the world was my area of interest so its funny how that all worked out. After my training in California, thats when I got married. My husband was stationed in Georgia so I moved there and then after he got out of the military, we moved to Utah since thats where he is from. My husband is a firefighter now so he is gone for days at a time and after I had my daughter, so about two and half years ago, I started watching documentaries and reading books about sustainability to fill in the time while he was at work. I think one of the first documentaries was about the fast fashion impact on the environment and that just sent me down the rabbit hole and I could not stop learning about this stuff, and its become a passion now.
Its kind of funny, because you'd think with growing up in Austin and having the parents that I did that all of that would have stuck with me into adulthood, but I had drifted away from it for awhile and then went back to with full force. The past two and half years I just haven't stopped learning about this stuff and its become a passion for me. I think its so important for people to learn about. Before, I was one of the people that thought "Ah, climate change, whats the big deal" I thought it was something outside of myself, like what role did I play? I thought that I had no impact and there was nothing I could do, and then I learned thats just not true and that everyone can make a difference. I have really got into gardening and I am fascinated by Regenerative Agriculture and I am excited about the possibilities of it. Thats basically my story.
Kat: Thats awesome. You do know a lot, you have done so much research and you remember it all. Also, when you're a kid, especially in that environment, you wouldn't really know different and you'd think you're just having this magical childhood. So, this all has sparked you to go on a zero waste journey, right? Or its gotten you to try and be as locally focused as possible.
Living Low Waste
Anna: Right. As of right not its really hard for anyone to be zero waste, unless you live in a city that has more resources like the package free/refill stores, thats not as accessible here as I would like it to be, but there are still things we can do here to reduce our waste.
Kat: Whats your favorite thing that you've started doing that you feel like makes a huge difference?
Anna: I think composting is one of the things I have done thats made the biggest impact. Before I started any of this, about 3 or 4 years ago we would fill up our trash can every single week, like to the brim. If we did not get it out to the curb we would be in trouble because we would have no place to put our trash. Now, we put a tiny grocery sacks worth of trash in the trash can every week, thats how much we have dropped it down and we're a family of four.
Kat: That is incredible. Do you have some advice on how to reduce it that much?
Anna: Reducing your plastic packaging will help a lot. I have these reusable bags that I use for the bulk sections at Harmons and Smiths. They have so many options, you can get just about everything. Its nice because it cuts down on packaging and then 10% of the price of an item goes towards the packaging. So when you cut that out you can save about 10% percent because you arent paying for the packaging, and you avoid all the preservatives and synthetic stuff they put in packaged/processed foods, you're getting just plain food. With all the beans, I get them dry, then soak and cook them and use that for all my soups and then freeze the extras. I have definitely had to learn a lot about making my own food. I will say it takes more time.
For those of you that have a really full life I can see how that would feel really overwhelming, but if you have older kids you can get them involved, my kids love to help me. Its really good for kids to learn this stuff and they will eventually think its pretty cool, especially if you start growing your own food. My son, who is four, loves to go out in the garden. We have guinea pigs and he always wants to go out and get food for the guineas, he will go out there by himself and come back with kale, collard greens, and swiss chard. Right now I have ryegrass cover crop growing in my beds and the guinea pigs can eat that so he will go out and pull it up for them. He can identify just about everything we grow in the garden.
Kat: Ira is like that too, he is three! It is just crazy to watch how much kids would rather be outside in the dirt and how much they enjoy it. Ira has no fear around chickens. For us as adults, we have to reconnect, we see the reasons why its important but its usually because someone told us, but kids always seem to have that.
Anna: I am so excited for both of my kids to be around chickens. I think they are going to get a kick out of it. Oh, one more tip for people who want to start composting, because that will reduce your waste by so much, when you take all of that organic matter out of the trash can there is hardly anything left in there! I have been composting now for a year and a half. I use a Japanese method called Bokashi, you use a mixture of bran, molasses and a microbial liquid and it ferments the food so it doesn't rot and start to smell as bad. I keep a 5 gallon bucket in my pantry and fill that up. For every two inches of food scraps you cover it with the bran mix and then once its full you let it sit for two weeks and then its ready to either be dumped into your compost bin or straight into a garden bed and covered with soil. It helps it break down faster. It can break down in about a month versus the 6 months to a year it can take for regular composting.
Kat: We have a compost bucket and just take it outside every day but sometimes I hate it because it smells so bad.
Anna: Thats what nice about this method is that it really doesn't smell that bad. You do have to drain off the liquid but you can dilute it and put it on your plants. During the summer when my garden was producing a lot and we were eating a lot of fresh veggies, we would fill up a 5 gallon bucket in a month, and thats compressed vegetable scraps. I can't imagine sending all of that to the landfill because if you send organic waste like food scraps to the landfill it can not decompose, it doesn't have the right environment to break down so it turns into methane gas which is 68 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the first 20 years after it gets released into the atmosphere (EDITORS NOTE: methane gas is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, over time the potency depletes so over a 100 year period it ends up being 35 times more potent than carbon dioxide). Methane emissions contribute 16% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Kat: We have only been doing things this way for like 70 years, our great grandparents never would have thrown it out., it would have gone right back into the garden, like the victory gardens from World War One and World War Two era, thats what people used to do. I realize there are a lot of different demands on our lives now but we also have access to all this technology and all these things that make our lives easier. Its like the swinging pendulum, now that we can be wasteful we can go all the way over here, now we have all this technology, lets swing it back to center and just be a little more mindful.
Anna: I think a big roadblock for people is that they dont see the impact that its having. If you think about how the trash gets taken away every week, if the trash did not get picked up for a year, I think people would be shocked and horrified at how much trash they produce. The US average is 7 pounds per person per day, thats a lot of waste. What people dont seem to understand is that a lot of that is recyclable and can be designed to be reused and recycled, if that was the case we would hardly have to throw anything away. The system is flawed.
I don't like to sound like I am a conspiracy theorist or anything, but people make money off the waste. I recently learned about this whole conspiracy with Keep America Beautiful and how it was started to put the blame on consumers for littering instead of putting the blame on the corporations and manufacturers who were producing the items they were throwing away, they had to send people pamphlets teaching everyone how to throw things away. There is a lot of money to made in waste management, I think per city we usually spend more for waste management than we do for teachers and first responders and that just makes me wonder where our priorities are. We prioritize consuming and wasting stuff than we do our education, health, and safety. If its taken away, its out of sight out of mind, but there is no away, it has to go somewhere, like China or the ocean, its just not in your house anymore. We really are throwing our money away, its all about shifting your thinking. Its hard because especially here in southern Utah, you can only recycle plastics 1 and 2 and a lot of the plastic used for packaging is plastics 4 and 5, its a huge mess and once you start paying attention to how much is plastic, you might wish you could un-see it all because its kind of maddening because so much of its unnecessary.
What Anna Wishes She Had Known Before Going Low Waste
Kat: So if you could start over, whats one thing you wish you would have known before starting on your zero waste journey?
Anna: That you don't have to buy certain stuff to get started. They call it the "grammable" stuff, all the pretty things you post pictures of on Instagram, it makes the picture pretty but the whole point of zero waste is using what you have and getting thrifty and creative. Depression era thriftiness is what zero waste is all about. All of the pretty glass jars and bags are so appealing to people but its still consuming and the whole point is, not to be anti consumerism but conscious consumerism and making do with what you have. I try and make all my bags from secondhand fabric and I buy everything in glass so I have tons of glass jars and I store everything in them. If I had to start over I would have liked to have known that it was okay to use what I had first and to prioritize getting creative, that sounds weird to say because of course it would have been okay.
Kat: But we are trained as a society to think we need the new stuff so I get that.
Anna: Its so engrained, I still fall into that trap sometimes and want to buy everything because its cute. Its important to find ways to fill that need to buy things, liking going to secondhand and antique shops or at least support local businesses instead of big box stores. Like for seeds, this year I went to Ali's Organics out in La Verakin, its so cute!
Failing In The Garden
Kat: Thats awesome. Would you say thats been your biggest failure too?
Anna: Probably one of my biggest failure is when I tried gardening for the first time last year. I tried to start seeds inside since thats cheaper than buying transplants and nothing germinated so then I restarted and got some things to germinate but then they would die, or when I would transplant them they would get transplant shock and die. When it got really hot in the summer I had so many things die. I had never gardened before, except back in third grade, and it was a lot to take on but I am a go big or go home type person so I knew I couldn't start with just one bed. I have over 400 square feet of garden beds. Looking back I am so glad I took on that much though because I learned a ton. I had a pretty successful garden I think for my first time. The whole month of June we didn't buy a single thing of produce from the store, I grew all of it, so that was super motivating. I am really excited for the spring. I have a whole new system I am going to try and I have it all planned out. I am sure I will still fail, but if you arent failing you arent learning. I'll just learn more for the next season.
Kat: Saint George is hard too because in your own yard you can have microclimates and so something will grow in one spot because it gets 30 minutes more of shade and that makes a huge difference in the desert. Its so interesting to see where in your own yard things will grow and where things wont.
Anna: Thats why I have really gotten into seed saving and think it is so important because seeds learn after every single year so they will become more adapted to your microclimates. I am going to start saving all the seeds from what I grow here because then they will be more drought tolerant, more pest resistant to what we have locally. Most of the seeds you buy are from Indiana or China and they won't work as well because they wont be adapted to the local climate we have here. Thats why I think seed saving is a really important step. I want to become certified to be a seed saving teacher so I can help everyone save their own seeds. It would also be cheaper because buying high quality seeds can be really expensive, but on that note if you are going to start your own garden, please buy heirloom seeds. If you buy a lot of the seeds from large companies that have been genetically modified or hybridized, it is illegal to save those seeds, its hard when I learn about that stuff to not feel like they are making it impossible for us to be self sufficient.
I just recently learned about this whole international conversation going on where they are trying to convince communities in Africa who have been saving their own seeds for close to 10,000 years to give them the seeds so they can patent them. They are being told they have to patent them if they want to be involved in the World Trade Organization. If that happens that means those small scale growers would no longer be able to save their own seeds, they would have to buy them every single year and that could throw them in to debt and they would no longer be able to afford farming. If someone had said that to me a couple of years ago, I probably would have thought "oh thats sad," because I didn't really get how big of a deal that is but now I understand the impact that can make.
The Problems with Conventionally Grown Food
Kat: When you start learning stuff about food you can't un see it. There has been a concerted effort by all parties involved to detach the american people from their food source, driving that line has caused such a division in the community, its taken you away from healthy food, now you are dependent on someone else and whoever you are dependent on has the power. Its hard not to see it that way when you start looking into the history of whats happened and see whats happening now.
Anna: Yeah the food we get now from conventional agriculture, its not healthy for us. Something that has become clear to me is that the health of the soil dictates the health of the food (genetics also plays a role in the nutrients available, which is why picking heirloom varieties is important since they have a higher nutrient profile than varieties grown for uniformity and thier ability to travel long distances). If the soil that your food is being grown in is not healthy, that food will not have all the nutrients it should. The health issues we see today like the rate of cancer, fertility problems, neurological disorders, they are all unprecedented, this never was as big of a problem as it is now, and I think it all comes back to our food, because what we are being fed isnt making us healthy.
I listened to a podcast where they were talking about how on CAFOs, confined animal feeding operations, the animals are not being fed a species specific diet, they are being fed corn and soy. Cows and chickens are not evolved to eat corn and soy, cows are evolved to eat grass and other plants and chickens are evolved to eat plants, bugs and seeds. When they eat corn and soy it spikes the omega 6 in their meat and that increases the inflammation in our bodies which can cause a whole bunch of illness. Chronic inflammation can cause cancer! And all of this is because they are trying to find cheap feed to feed these 40,000 chickens they all keep in a building with one square foot per hen. I know so many people who try to be healthy, they go buy chicken and veggies, but what they don't know is that chicken and veggies are not making them healthy.
I just wish people would know that the quality of their food depends on how it was grown or how it was raised. Thats why its more expensive because it takes more time and effort. Most food nowadays is bred for disease resistance, yield, uniformity, and ability to travel long distance, its not grown for taste, thats why all the fruits and vegetables you see in the store all look exactly the same. When you grow your own food you will get some weird looking stuff.
Kat: Another thing is a think people just think we are talking about pesticides, if you think pesticides are the only chemical being put on your food you are kidding yourself . The apple farmers around here were telling me that they have chemicals to put on the trees so they change color, so they are picking them before they are even ripe, then they put them in the shipping containers and basically put a bug bomb in there and as long as you keep the doors shut those apples can keep for up to six years.
Anna: Right. Most food travels 1500 miles from farm to table. I started reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she talks about asparagus and how there are only a few weeks out of the year where it can be harvested. I just went to the store yesterday and they had asparagus and its early January and I just wonder where the heck that asparagus is coming from. If you see watermelon in April or berries in January and February thats not normal, they are not in season. I think that has a health toll too, we are supposed to be eating in season. Nature is so smart, there is an answer for everything and it blows my mind that we think we know more than millions of years of evolution.
What Motivates and Inspires Anna
Kat: What motivates and inspires you?
Anna: I think it comes back to being a parent, having kids is what got me looking into all this stuff. I was doing an online course by Kiss The Ground, its a soil advocacy group and he talks about a dream he had where he was in a refugee camp with his granddaughter due to climate change. In the dream his granddaughter looks at him and asks if he knew this was going to happen and he had to look at her and say "Yes, I knew and I didn't do anything about it." I can't imagine having to say that to my kids, so what inspires and motivates me is making sure they have a world worth living in. Some people might think thats a little extreme and that everything is going to be fine, I hope it is, but nothing I am doing is going to hurt. My kids are going to grow up knowing how to grow their own food and preserve it, make and mend their own clothes and be able to take care of themselves regardless of what happens. Even if everything is okay, I don't see how thats possible with how industrial agriculture is going.
Kat: If everything does turn out okay its because a lot of people did a lot of little things and a lot of big things. I totally get it and thats so great and sweet.
- What makes Utah special?
Being from Texas, I have a lot of Texas pride and always thought I would end up back there. We have been living in Utah for five years now and it took me awhile to finally admit Utah is awesome, I love you Texas but you don't have mountains like this. I have met a lot of great people here, but for me personally I love how beautiful it is and I feel like thats so special. We are so blessed to live in such a beautiful place, I hope everyone sees how special it is and lets that motivate them to take care of it and preserve that beauty for all of us to share. It wont be here forever if we think its just for us.
- Whats your favorite part about the farmers market community?
I am just excited that we even have a farmers market community. When I started going I was surprised at how big and busy it was. It feels really exciting to be getting involved at this stage.
- Do you have a book, publication or social media account you find inspirational or profound?
One of the first books I started reading that got me on this path was the Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard
, its inspirational but its also a really hard read. Its really good information and I think everyone needs to learn about what she talks about in that book. Also, like you mentioned before Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer
that is such a good one, maybe read that one before you read the Story of Stuff. Everyone needs to watch the Biggest Little Farm
, I believe its on Hulu and Amazon, that is definitely inspirational, it is so well done and beautiful. You will learn the basic ideas behind regenerative agriculture and see it in action in such a beautiful way.
- Why should people buy local food and support local farmers and makers?
By buying local you are strengthening the local economy and you will connect back to the people who are making your food. When you know their name, shake their hand, learn their story it creates such a strong connection and you won't be able to go back. There are a handful of corporations that control like 95% of all the food in the United States, when you shop at the grocery store you are giving them your money, so instead give the local farmers your money, you will make such a bigger impact.
- If listeners want to learn more about you, where can the find you?
I am on Instagram at The_Lyt_House
and I am going to try and be more active on there and share gardening tips this spring. I also create the majority of social media content for the MoFACo Instagram and Facebook, you can check out the Zero Waste Wednesday posts for tips on reducing your waste!
- Is there anything else we didn't cover that you would like to share?
I just hope people start paying attention to what they are buying, who they are buying it from, how its being mad, I will say ignorance is definitely bliss but I think there is value in becoming a conscious consumer.
Music for this episode was created by southern Utah local, Jake Shepard