Wednesday, March 4, 2015

An Ode to Farmers' Markets

Green Bean may play a farmer on her blog but takes her hat off to those who actually are.



I have what I call a "micro-farm" but it is not a farm at all.  Sure, I have chickens and fruit trees.  My four raised beds are usually in employ and sometimes spit out something edible.  Other times, things don't grow well.  The slugs eat the pea seedlings before I realize that, oh man, I've got slugs again!  The squirrels get to the tomatoes before I do. Beans don't like to be grown where the bean tepee is.  The cucumber beetles decimate my squash plants.  And so on.

As much as I may think of myself as a farmer, I'm not.  And that is why, every weekend, I pay homage to those who are.


To those people who get up at 3am to make it to the farmers' market and then - come rain, wind or too few people - sell their hard-grown fruits and vegetables with a smile.


To those people who save some of their farmland for the pollinators and the wildlife.  Who plant flowers to help bees find forage.  (I make it a point to buy your flowers!)


To those who dare to grow something so old it is new.  Who preserve heirloom varieties and offer up beans special enough to be named "Old Indian Woman" or radishes called after a watermelon.


Whenever my family travels, we look for the beautiful people.  They cannot be found at expensive hotels or five star restaurants.  Instead, look to the local farmers' markets.  To the people with dirt under their nails, with tired shoulders and hair perpetually tied in a pony tail.  Farmers markets are where the beautiful people are!  The people willing to fight for good food, healthy soil and biodiverse ecosystems.


Thank you, farmers, everywhere.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Talking Green with Tweens

The Climate Crusader is tackling tough environmental questions with her 10-year-old.

My daughter is ten years old now, which makes her a fully-fledged tween. There are lots of great things about this age, and one of them is that she has an increasing ability to understand the world around her. We have detailed and in-depth conversations that wouldn't have been possible a few years ago. And one of the things that we've been discussing lately is the state of the environment.

I've worked hard to raise little environmentalists, but that looked different when my kids were younger. I talked to them about the importance of taking care of the earth, and modelled green choices like recycling, shopping second-hand and walking instead of driving. They didn't really understand the reasoning behind why these choices mattered, though. Now that my daughter is older, she asks tough questions about climate change, pollution, energy use and a whole lot more. As we talk, I find myself walking the line between informing her and scaring her. After all, she still is only ten. Here's how I talk about the planet in a way that I hope is positive and productive.


Talking to Tweens About the Environment


  1. Keep it simple. When my daughter asks me a question, I do my best to answer that question without providing a whole lot of extra information. More details will come later. For now, there's no point in burdening my child with a lot of extra information that she can't act on.
  2. Keep it practical. Kids are very concrete thinkers. Relating big issues back to their own lives and experiences can help them understand complicated concepts. By keeping it practical, you're also leading naturally to steps we can take ourselves to make a difference. Which leads me to ...
  3. Make it action-oriented. It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you're faced with a big problem, even as an adult. Having something to do can help you stay positive. If your kids are feeling frightened about the state of the planet, emphasize what they can do to make a difference. It's possible that your family is taking steps already, but your kids don't really understand the reasoning behind those changes, so now is a great time to fill them in.
  4. Show me the money. A lot of tweens get an allowance, or have some other source of spending money. One way that many parents teach good financial skills is by having their kids set aside a portion of their money for charity. If the environment is important to your family, you can help your tween to choose an environmental charity to donate to. You can also share how your tween can make green spending choices when they're out shopping.
  5. Don't lie. It's tempting to down-play, sugar-coat or downright lie when you're talking about hard truths with your kids. This teaches your kids that they can't trust you, though. Information is power, and as children grow they need more information to understand the world and their place in it. Let your kids guide you about what you share and when, and don't overshare, but be as honest as possible as you tackle environmental questions together. You also don't have to be afraid to say that you don't know the answer to a question - you can search it out together.
Finally, if you're looking for good environmental websites for kids, eartheasy and Care2 have suggestions.

How do you talk to your tweens about the environment? 



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Silicone Bowl Covers: Have I Made a Terrible Mistake?

Mindful Echo is struggling with an eternal conflict: leftovers vs laziness.

In my ongoing quest to reduce and eliminate disposable and plastic items from my life, I sometimes find myself in conflict with another of my life's goals: not washing dishes. So when it comes to food storage, I'm torn. Sure, throwing leftovers into a glass container might be the most environmentally-friendly move, but it also means having to transfer all the food and dirtying another container. If that container isn't oven safe, I then have to dirty even more dishes when reheating the leftovers the next day. See my dilemma?

Obviously, while aluminum foil and plastic wrap are the far more convenient choices for food storage, they are also major contributors to our overflowing landfills. When I do need foil for something, I actually try to save it and use it several times before throwing it away, thus easing my guilty conscience at least marginally.

A couple of months ago I was shopping at an eclectic local store when I stumbled across a set of silicone bowl covers. In three sizes, heat proof, and for less than $20, I snapped them up. I've been using them constantly since I made the purchase and I have found them highly effective for keeping my food fresh in the fridge for a couple of days. The silicone suctions to the rim of the bowl/jar and seals out air. They're also easy to wash off and save me the hassle of doing more dishes.


Mine are pretty much like these but they aren't some fancy chef brand. :)


What I'm wondering though, is if I've just contributed more to the problem. Silicone is not exactly environmentally friendly, although they're definitely getting more use than their disposable counterparts. Were they a mistake? Should I have just gone glass?

Fellow eco-bloggers, I need either a hug or a slap on the wrist here. Is this a food-saving FAIL or a wonderful WIN?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

82 Ways to Avoid the Landfill

From the bean of Green Bean.

A couple of weeks ago, someone I follow on Twitter posted the following tweet.



Some environmental problems seem beyond the power of personal environmentalism. Climate change, for instance.  Rebuilding our transportation system, maybe.  But reducing the amount of landfills our society needs?  That is a piece of cake, people!


  1. Buy less new stuff.  Non-recyclable packaging takes up a ton of landfill space.
  2. Buy used stuff.  You keep it out of the landfill and avoid packaging.  Bonus points!
  3. Find multiple uses for the things you do buy. For example - cinnamon: spice, pest repellent, rooting hormone (for propagating plants).
  4. Swap your old clothes and other items with friends, neighbors, etc. 
  5. Borrow instead of buy.  The public library is a great place to start.
  6. Buy less stuff - even used. 
  7. Opt out of junk mail.
  8. Switch to e-bills instead of paper bills.
  9. Cancel magazine subscriptions and read them electronically instead.
  10. Cancel the newspaper and read it electronically.
  11. Use a reusable water bottle.
  12. Buy fewer beverages in containers.  For instance, it is cheaper and healthier to make ice tea than to buy it.  
  13. Drink less juice.  It's not healthy anyway.
  14. If you do dairy, buy milk or yogurt in returnable glass bottles.
  15. Use reusable shopping bags.
  16. Use produce bags.
  17. Buy in bulk.  Use your produce bags here. 
  18. Used dried beans, instead of canned. Buy them in bulk or paper bags. 
  19. Buy bar soap (in paper or no packaging).
  20. Buy baked goods - bagels, bread and muffins.
  21. Buy the biggest size available and avoid "snack packs."
  22. Use reusable lunch boxes and containers. 
  23. Pack more homemade or bulk items in lunches to reduce waste.
  24. Ditch paper towels. Use cloth dish towels instead.
  25. Ditch paper napkins. Use cloth napkins instead.
  26. Skip straws.
  27. Use regular dishes and cutlery instead of disposable.
  28. Ditch the K-cups and make coffee the old fashioned way.
  29. Plan your weekly menu to reduce food waste.
  30. Inspect your fridge, pantry and garden before making a grocery list.
  31. Every week to month, do a clean of your fridge, to use up perishable items.
  32. Every six months, do a clean out of your pantry and freezer to use up items.
  33. Make "Clean The Kitchen" vegetable soup and similar recipes to use up perishables.
  34. Make your own soup stock.
  35. Freeze what food you can. 
  36. If you have toddlers, try early potty training. 
  37. Try to make more homemade foods - bread, yogurt, jam, waffles, pizza, muffins to reduce packaging waste.
  38. Buy traditional clothing styles instead of the newest, more fashionable. 
  39. Ditch disposable cleaning products - like Swiffer - and make your own.
  40. Use what you have up to the last drop. For instance, squeeze the toothpaste holder.
  41. Return reusables to the grocery store and farmers' market.
  42. Compost.
  43. Use rechargeable batteries.
  44. Use both sides of paper and print less.
  45. Switch to LED lights. They last longer which means less waste over time.
  46. Reuse sticks and twigs in the garden to create raised beds.
  47. Reuse broken pots and pinecones as drainage for potted plants.
  48. Reuse egg shells in your garden. 
  49. Reuse leaves as mulch or leave them where they lie.
  50. Regrow your kitchen scraps.
  51. Plant from seed or propagate your own plants to avoid waste from the nursery.
  52. Shred soiled paper for the compost or the chicken coop, if you have chickens.
  53. Reuse egg cartons, yogurt containers for starting seeds. Or better yet, milk jugs!
  54. If you have babies, try cloth diapers.
  55. Repair items instead of throwing them out.
  56. Do minor remodels instead of big. For instance, reface instead of replace kitchen cabinets.
  57. If you are female and menstruating, try reusable pads or cups.
  58. Bring your own coffee cup - or ask for a "here" cup at coffee shops.
  59. Bring your own to go container.
  60. Return your ink cartridges.
  61. Return styrofoam peanuts to packing stores for reuse.
  62. Save bubble wrap for future packing or offer it on freecycle to ebayers.
  63. When you buy products, look for those with less/no packaging or at least packaging that is recyclable (or compostable if this option is available to you).
  64. Advocate for better recycling facilities in your area.
  65. Advocate for municipal composting.
  66. Advocate for plastic bag bans.
  67. Wrap gifts in reusable bags or boxes instead of gift wrap.
  68. Reuse your ribbon from gifts.
  69. Reuse decorations for holidays and birthday parties.
  70. Reuse your glass jars and other containers.
  71. Reuse all plastic bags. Cereal bags, tortilla bags and such can be used for doggie waste, litter box clean up, etc.
  72. Set up a box for items headed to landfill to be reused for kids' crafts.
  73. Return styrofoam peanuts to packing stores for reuse.
  74. Organize your reusable items. That way, the eraser or paperclip will really be reused.
  75. Reuse old clothes for patching new clothes.
  76. Reuse old clothes for rags.
  77. Reuse old clothes to make shopping bags.
  78. Reuse stuffing from old furniture and stuffed animals for sewing. 
  79. Spend days, weeks, months, perusing Pinterest for ideas of upcycling and reusing.
  80. Recycle everything that is left and follow your municipal recycling guidelines to prevent your recyclables from being tossed or contaminating other recyclables.
  81. Return your wine corks to the super market for recycle.
  82. Offer your broken items up on freecycle or Craigslist to see if any handy people want them. 
These are just my ideas. Please, add your own!  Reducing waste is one of the easiest ways to go green.  Let's preserve our natural places for wildlife habitat, hiking and enjoyment - not trash. 











Monday, February 16, 2015

Keeping it Green While Saying "I Love You"

The Climate Crusader is thinking about how to express your love sustainably in the Valentine's Day aftermath.

Valentine's Day may be over and done with for 2015, but that doesn't mean it's too late to express your love for that special someone in your life. After all, we all enjoy receiving affection on any day of the year. And it might even be better when flowers aren't five times their usual price and you can actually get a table in a restaurant. So how can you say I love you anytime, while keeping it green? Here are some suggestions.


Cards

The Urban Earthworm has green holiday card suggestions, but they really do work well at any time of the year. Your first option when sending greener greetings is to go paperless. E-cards sometimes seem a little cheesy, but saving a tree makes up for it. You can also make your own cards out of materials you have on hand. If you opt to buy a card, look for post-consumer recycled content or the FSC logo to tell you that your cards are as sustainable as possible.

Chocolate

I recently wrote about choosing green chocolate. The upshot is that there are three certifications commonly used to indicate that your chocolate is more sustainable - fair trade, UTZ Certified and Rainforest Alliance. While they all have their pros and cons, any of them offer an advantage over opting for conventional chocolate. The good news is that more and more large companies are certifying their chocolate, so it's easier to find than ever. But keep in mind that organic certification is different from fair trade, UTZ or Rainforest Alliance, if that is important to you.

Flowers

Much like food, many of the flowers that we buy are grown using pesticides and shipped long distance. This is especially true in the winter months. I live in Canada. Roses don't grow here in February. So what can you look for in sustainable flowers? When possible, buy local. When it isn't possible look for third-party certifications like fair trade. Some florists - and even some big grocery store chains - specialize in sustainable blooms, so ask questions. Here's more info on eco-friendly flowers.

Give Experiences, Not Things

Perhaps the best way to say I love you in an environmentally-friendly way is to give experiences instead of things. Spring for a sitter so that you and your main squeeze can enjoy a kid-free hike or bicycle trip. Take a class together. Give a massage. Write a poem. See a play or a movie. The options are endless, and at the end you won't have a pile of garbage as a reminder of your celebration.

How do you express your love and keep it green at the same time?

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Visit From the EEP: Efficiency Nova Scotia

EcoYogini talks homeownership and Efficiency Nova Scotia

For the past few years Nova Scotians have had access to Efficiency Nova Scotia, an organization specifically created to support Nova Scotians in their (our) quest for green living.

I'm not 100% sure on how it's funded, although I do know that until recently at least part of EfficiencyNS was funded by an extra cost tagged onto each and every one of our power bills. Almost like a carbon tax in a way- which I am completely cool with, since I know Nova Scotia has mostly coal based energy (boo). Recently the system has changed (bah politics) and I'm not certain how...

Part of the service Nova Scotians get for "free" is a visit from an Energy Efficiency professional. Actually, my parents got a visit from them over a year ago. When my own mother raved about how they changed all their lightbulbs to the "curly kind", wrapped her water heater and put a "use cold water" sticker reminder on her washer... I knew we had to follow suit.

Two months ago I called and finally today we had the visit, a full year after we moved into our new home. Although it was almost painful to wait this long with incandescent bulbs (seriously, who still buys those???), I'm glad we did. It allowed us time to tinker with heating, try all the things we know how so that we could really take advantage and ask the questions we just couldn't figure out.

I had three topics I wanted the guy to look at:
- Our drafty windows
- Our poor hot water heating system
- How long it takes to heat the kitchen

Cool parts of the visit? The Energy Efficient Professional or "EEP" we'll call him, totally replaced 32 of our light bulbs (all the bulbs that we hadn't already replaced) with LEDs. YES. He also fitted all our sinks with aerators (to add oxygen to the water and decrease actual water used) and replaced a shower head. He didn't wrap anything in the basement since our water is heated by a boiler, which he said was perfect as is and didn't need insulating.

His answers to my questions:

  1. Windows: According to EEP even uber "insulating" windows still aren't all that great at keeping the cold out. Even the best windows only have an "R" value of 4 or maybe 5, and ours likely are already a 3 (walls and insulation would be 20 ish). His suggestion- the gross plastic shrink wrap on all the windows. Sigh. Air is a great insulator, and the plastic wrap allows for a couple of inches of air between the room and the window. I'm considering it. He did say that our shutting our curtains at night, particularly the ones that are flush in the window sill, is a good strategy. 
  2. Hot Water heating: It would appear that we actually have an energy efficient hot water boiler- it only keeps a small portion of water heated at all times. Along with the fact that the hot water needs to travel kinda far to get to our shower AND the fact that it doesn't have a vast reserve equals our lukewarm showers and baths. His best solution: finishing our basement. Hah! Someday when we grow money trees. No really. He did say there may be other electric hot water heating solutions, I just wish some of those nifty solar hot water heating systems were within our price range... 
  3. Time to heat the kitchen: The kitchen area is large and we have lots of windows. The end.

So... other than a few other little tidbits here and there (placing child protector caps on electrical outlets to stop heat from escaping around the non insulated boxes, replacing the weather stripping around the doors, waiting to purchase a heat pump until price goes down), that pretty much is the extent of his visit.

Just the light bulbs totally makes the visit worth it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ecomusicology

Mindful Echo is enjoying the connection between music and the environment.

I learned a new concept today: ecomusicology. Essentially it's a blend of music related to ecology and the environment, including nature and culture. Ecomusicology also encompasses the interdisciplinary study of ecocriticism, which is the analysis of the environment and environmental problems.

I've always thought that I was at my most introspective when hiking a local trail, listening to the crunching of leaves, the rustle of branches, and the whirl of the breeze. I also find my thoughts and imagination running freely when I'm partially submerged in a warm lake, with only the quiet lapping of gentle waves. Who knew that I was unconsciously engaging in an academic field of study and performance?!

Curious? This video combines the natural sounds of nature and imposes the melody of the steel pan. The effect is delightful! Click the video below to hear ecomusicology in action:


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