Monday, December 29, 2014

Accentuate the Positive: December's Green Good News



Eco-novice thinks you've got to accentuate the positive.


It's not all doom and gloom in the world of environmental news. Hope you enjoy this month's edition of feel-good stories.

12 Wins for Wildlife in 2014 That YOU Made Possible
In my own home state of California, President Obama permanently protected 346,000 acres of critical habitat for mountain lions and other wildlife, such as California condors, yellow-legged frogs and Nelson’s bighorn sheep. What wins for wildlife have happened in your area?

Not a fan of fracking? Neither is Governor Cuomo. Despite the tantalizing economic opportunities for depressed communities, the administration has decided that fracking poses "inestimable public-health risks." Acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker said "his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place? His answer was no."

Christmas tree farms a gift for beneficial bugs
Another reason to choose a real Christmas tree, especially if you can support an organic or no/low-pesticide farm. A study of North Carolina Christmas tree farms found that while tree farms may look like monocultures, researchers have found over 80 species of plants growing alongside the trees. These plants attract important native pollinators, which are declining throughout the U.S. Researchers also found that "when growers use less of the herbicide Roundup to keep grasses from outcompeting their young Fraser firs, groundcovers naturally shift toward woodland perennials that support pollinators and bugs that prey on Christmas tree pests." Win-win!

Consumer choices make a difference! "The view that food animals are simply a commodity is yielding increasingly – albeit haltingly – to the perception that these animals are also sentient beings deserving of more-humane treatment." Article includes a very heartening list of changes that are evidence of this trend. Michael Pollan says that if shoppers saw a photo of living conditions and list of feed/pharmaceuticals administered to livestock when their meat got scanned at the supermarket they would shop very differently. Not sure it will ever be so easy to educate oneself, but as people choose to learn more about how their food is created, they are making more ethical choices.

Obama protects Bristol Bay from oil and gas drilling
While harmful mineral mining is still a possibility, the ban on oil and gas drilling is a promising first step to protecting this unique area, home of 40 percent of the U.S. wild salmon populations as well as Native American sacred lands.

Port of Oakland truck pollution drops 76 percent in black carbon
In just four years (since a state law forced trucks to use cleaner burning engines), lung-damaging diesel air pollution at the Port of Oakland has dramatically decreased. With West Oakland children suffering from one of the highest rates of hospital admission rates for asthma in California, and recent studies linking air pollution to autism and congenital anomalies, this is good news indeed!

Online Charitable Donations Surged on #GivingTuesday in US
"The 2014 initial results indicate that the amount raised during this year’s #GivingTuesday increased by at least 63 percent over the same period in 2013, with the average donation increasing by 6 percent." Hooray for generosity! Wouldn't it be amazing if someday #GivingTuesday were to overshadow Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

Friday, December 19, 2014

Connecting With Nature: Winter Solstice

Queen Composter shares ways to spend time in the cold days and nights.

This time of year in our society many people (ok, most) are focussed on the holiday season of peace, joy and gift giving. It is not a time when people look to spend time outdoors. In the northern hemisphere it is either too cold, too wet or too dark to do much at all outdoors.

But it is important to remain connected to the cycles of the Earth and seasons year round. As the season darkens and the natural world goes to sleep, we, too, turn inward and slow down.

The solstice, the longest night of the year, and a turning point for the return of the sun, is a time of inner reflection, but should also be a time to connect with the natural world.

Many of our seasonal traditions and images stem from natural winter elements, such as holly, pine boughs, pinecones, mistletoe and evergreen trees.


Here are some suggestions for connecting with nature in the darkest days of winter:


  • Take an evening walk in the dark (with the shortened daylight hours this can be quite early in the evening) with a flashlight. Find a quiet spot somewhere quiet (preferably in nature) and sit down. Turn off the flashlight and look up at the sky. Take in your sensory experience; what do you see, what do you hear, what do you smell? Observe the night sky if it is a clear night. Do you see any constellations? Go Explore Nature has some great backyard astronomy tips and ideas. 

  • Go on a winter scavenger hunt. Brainstorm as many things you would like to notice on your walk and make a list. Pay attention to how seemingly "dead" or dormant plants show signs of life. 
  • Similarly, go on a winter photo walk. You can use the scavenger hunt list, or just take photos of what you notice. Try changing your perspective for this; get down low on the ground and notice what you see, or climb up higher (on a bridge, in a tree, or from a window).
  • If you have access to a fire pit, have a winter fire outdoors. Bundle up. Then come home and enjoy a cup of hot tea or hot chocolate.

  • In the evening, turn off all the lights in a room, then light a candle. Observe the flame, watch it dance and notice the amount of light it radiates. Then light another candle and observe the amount of light in the room. Think about people of the past, and in places with no consistent electricity and how their lives change in the winter with reduced light in the evening. Think about their daily rhythms.

  • Keep a record, using your own observations, of the sunset and sunrise hours. Notice the change of times. Compare to published information about the sunset and sunrise. 
  • Become observant of the subtle shades of light and colour of the winter sky. Keep a daily record  on a calendar grid by shading the day's square in the colour of the sky. Or for the more crafty people, crochet or knit a row in the colour of the day's sky. At the end of the season you will have a beautiful winter scarf.
  • Count down the days to the longest night of the year. I have used a homemade solstice advent calendar in the past and would like to try making another one using salt dough this year. 

  • On the longest night of the year, try welcoming back the sun with a celebration. Light candles, think about plans for the coming year and how you would like to spend time in nature. 


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

9 Ways to Shop Local for the Holidays ... And Beyond

From the bean of Green Bean.

A banner hangs across the main street of a local town.

Last year, I tried for a Nothing New Christmas, but this year, I admit that I am buying a bit more.  That said, I am trying to make my money count.  Did you know that "$45 out of every $100 spent at small businesses stays local."  Only $15 out of every $100, by contrast, stays local when you shop at national chains?  There are many more reasons to buy local - preserve the character of your area, create local jobs, foster entrepreneurship, and "help sustain vibrant, compact, walkable town centers" to name a few.



To be honest, though, one of the best reasons to shop local for the holidays is because you get better gifts.

1) Toy Stores - In my experience, independent toy stores carry more American and locally made products than chain stores.  They also offer a wider selection of educational and old fashioned toys as well as arts and craft kits and supplies.  If you are heading out this weekend to stuff the stockings, skip the Dollar Spot at Target and peruse your local toy store.  Try some old fashioned wooden airplanes, a wooden top, a jump roper or a bag of magic tricks.  If your elf prefers Legos or My Little Pony, never fear.  Local toy stores will likely carry that too.

2) Book Stores - While book stores - even chain stores - are few and far between these days, we are lucky enough to have a thriving children's bookstore in our town.  Sure, Amazon has the "recommended for you" algorithm but it just ain't the same as a flesh and blood 20-something voracious reader who eagerly takes your child to discover his next new series.  Staff at independent book stores offer unparalleled advice on books for gifts and book stores also carry other little (often local) items from stocking stuffers.  Indeed, a good friend once created a game and this book store sold it for her.  If you don't know where your local book store is or if you prefer to order online, check out IndieBound.

3) Liquor Stores - Yes, I said it. We have a huge liquor store a few towns over that almost went out of business when two Bev Mos went in in neighboring cities.  Local folks rallied and the store is, thankfully, still open.  I stopped by this store this week to buy wine and gift baskets for my husband's colleagues.  While there, I couldn't help pick a half dozen bottles from their huge selection of boutique sodas (including some brewed in my town!) as well as honey from a favorite beekeeper. Try finding that at Bev Mo!

4) Grocery Stores - These might not be the first place you think of to buy holiday gifts but independent grocery stores often carry many speciality items and handmade, local treats - like candy, baked goods and such.  Our local store also stocks local wine and small wrapped goodies that are perfect for hostess or teacher gifts.  You might also fine locally roasted coffee or gourmet tea or hot cocoa. 

5) Bakeries - We often get a Bouche de Noel from a local bakery and sometimes wrapped cookies, breads or granola. The day after Thanksgiving, we visited the small town of Solvang - a tourist destination with more bakeries you can count.  Many offered boxes of their signature cookies which make unique and tasty gifts.

6) Antique Stores and Second Hand Stores - I strongly believe in supporting the second hand retail market. As I found out the hard way last year when a favorite antique store closed, if we don't support these outlets, they will close and all of our items that could have headed for reuse will instead head to the landfill.  Antique and thrift stores are, in my opinion, the best place to find baskets and containers for homemade gift baskets.  You can also find charming gift tags, puzzles, platters for homemade cookies and one of a kind treasures.

7) Farmers Markets - I understand that not everyone lives in California, where we have year round farmers' markets, but if you have any open markets or farm stands near you, these are wonderful meccas for unique, thoughtful gifts such as trail mixes, soaps, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, handmade pasta, locally made chocolate treats, wreaths, dried flower arrangements and more.

8) Garden Centers - Most nurseries do not shut down just because it is cold outside.  Instead, they stock their indoor space with seeds, garden tools, cards,  books, and Christmas decorations.  Us gardeners would delight in almost anything from these outlets!! 

9) Take a Walk on Main Street, in Your Downtown or at a Local Strip Mall - There are numerous more ways to shop local.  You just have to get outside the mall, off the Internet and open your eyes.  Our local downtown also has a kitchen shop which I always visit for my mother-in-law, a balsamic vinegar and olive oil store that carries wonderful gifts for business colleagues, a pet store which stocks locally baked biscuits as well as toys for the furry ones in your life.  The list is endless and much more enjoyable than busting down doors or fighting for toys at a chain store.  Get to know your neighbors, your city, and keep your local economy thriving.

Shop Local for the Holidays ... And Beyond. 



Monday, December 15, 2014

Green Living and Frugal Living: Friends or Foes?

The Climate Crusader is contemplating how green living and frugal living go hand-in-hand...and how they don't.

Last week I got one of those phone calls that is never a whole lot of fun - I was laid off from my part-time job as an editor. I was planning to leave the position late this summer, because I'm going back to school full-time in September to earn my teaching credentials. I am very lucky in that losing my job now is not the end of the world for me, and simply hastens the inevitable. However, it does mean that I'm losing seven months of income I was counting on. 2015 is going to be a very frugal year for me.

As I was thinking about how I could save money, I was struck by the many ways that frugal living is also green living. I was also struck by the many ways that it's not.

Green Living and Frugal Living are Friends

Here are five ways that living on the cheap also means taking care of the earth.
  1. Thrift Store Shopping - Buying clothes, toys, household items, books and so on second hand saves you money and reduces your carbon footprint. You're reusing something that might otherwise go into the landfill, and saving the earth the strain of having to make something new.
  2. Buying Less - Reducing your consumption trims your budget and your environmental impact. If you don't really need something, then not buying it means that you're conserving the resources that would have gone into making it.
  3. Gardening - Growing food from seed is cheap. It also reduces your food miles, which is good for the planet. Plus, by choosing sustainable gardening practices you're helping to protect the whole ecosystem.
  4. Eating Less Meat - Eating less meat will reduce your food bill. It will also cut down your carbon footprint, because growing an animal for food has a much higher environmental impact than growing vegetables.
  5. Turn Down the Heat - Turning down the thermostat in the winter will save you money on your monthly energy bill. It will also reduce your carbon footprint. Just find a second-hand sweater and you're set.

Green Living and Frugal Living are Enemies

Here are four ways that green living conflicts with frugal living - and suggestions for how to overcome the conflict.

  1. Buying Organic - Opting for organic food is a green choice. However, organic food is more expensive than its conventional counterpart. You can reduce the expense by opting to buy organic where it matters most - look up the dirty dozen - as well as by reducing your food waste and preserving food in season.
  2. Buying Green Cleaning Products - Cleaning your house with toxic substances is not good for the earth or for you. Once again, though, green products are much more expensive. You can reduce the expense by making your own cleaners, or cleaning with inexpensive, non-toxic substances like baking soda and vinegar.
  3. Buying Reusables - In the long run, investing in reusable containers for food, reusable water bottles and reusable bags can save you money. In the short term, though, the price tag can be stiff. I've found that buying a few items when I can afford them, and taking care of them well, has helped to mitigate the expense.
  4. Eco-Expensive Gear - There are some really expensive green products out there - think Tesla cars, fancy kitchen appliances, sustainably-produced high fashion, and so on. It's easy to have eco envy when you see people with very cool and expensive gear. Luckily, most of these products are not really necessary, and there are many more affordable options.
How do you go green and save green at the same time?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Classic Wet Shaving: The New Old-Fashioned (and eco-friendly) Way to Shave

In which the Parsimonious Princess tells you how the men in your life can shave in the new old-fashioned way - and be eco-friendly while they're at it. 




My husband hated shaving. He avoided it. He looked forward to camping and vacations partly just because it meant he wouldn't have to shave. I think avoiding shaving was a main part of his motivation to grow a beard in the wintertime.

However, I've always liked it better when he's clean-shaven. The smell, the smoothness -- all good things. But then I found out why he disliked shaving so much. The various creams and gels on the market really irritated his skin. The razors tugged on his skin, especially on his neck, and left a bunch of little, red bumps on his lower jaw and neck. He would also get ingrown hairs from time to time. Shaving was uncomfortable and unpleasant, but he did it anyway. I could understand why he didn't like doing it.

But this all changed over four years ago. Now he doesn't mind shaving at all. He even looks forward to it a little because he says it's relaxing.

What changed? He learned about traditional wet shaving. Not only does he greatly prefer it, but it also happens to be a frugal and eco-friendly way to shave. Talk about a win-win-win situation (or would that be four wins because I get a cleanly shaven husband more often...)

Now that the holiday season is in full-swing, I thought I'd write a post about the many benefits of classic wet shaving because new (and better) shaving tools would make a great gift for the guys on your shopping list!

I first learned about wet shaving on the now-defunct blog, Simple Organic. Researcher that I am, I used that post as a starting point to read and learn more about the method. I learned a lot of interesting things about the differences between mainstream and traditional methods (who knew there was such science to shaving?). I'll give you a quick overview:

Basically, the mainstream cream and gels use chemical (and cheap) ingredients that weaken the hair on a man's face. From there, when the disposable cartridge razor is used, it stretches the hair from the face and then cuts it. When this happens, the elastic nature of the hair actually makes it spring back, which can cause ingrown hairs and irritation. So, truly, it's the mainstream products that are the cause of many skin problems men experience with shaving (not to also mention the issue of various chemicals in the shaving creams and gels -- you can check out the EWG Skin Deep database for more specific details about different brands' effects).

Classic wet shaving is actually healthier for men's skin. Shaving soap (which is an alkali solution) is whipped up into a lather with a shaving brush. This kind of soap, instead of using a chemical reaction to make it weaker, makes the hair swell, making it easier to cut. The traditional razor moves over the skin and cuts the hair at the surface -- there's no tugging or pulling of the entire cuticle like with a cartridge razor. Another benefit to using this type of soap is that when the shaving brush is used to apply the soap to the skin, the neck and face are simultaneously exfoliated, removing the dead skin cells.

Once my husband switched to wet shaving, his skin improved dramatically. The razor burn was gone soon after. No ingrown hairs or other skin irritations. The only drawback he told me he could think of was that classic wet shaving takes a little longer -- but even then he doesn't mind because he finds the process of wet shaving quite relaxing.

What I particularly like about classic wet shaving (besides a happier husband) is that it's more frugal because you eliminate the almost all of the disposable aspects of shaving -- that's what makes it an eco-friendly choice, too.


There are two types of razors used with classic wet shaving: the straight-edged razor (like you see barbers and cowboys use in old Western movies) or the double-edged safety razor (which is more like what your grandfather probably used). My husband, though he did consider the straight-edged one, opted for the safety razor.

The one pictured above (the safety razor) was ordered off Amazon for about $28, which may seem a little steep at first for a razor, but it's actually not at all when you consider the cost of the disposable plastic cartridge razors ($8-12 just for the razor, plus $15-20 for the 8-pack of replacement cartridges. At least this is how much they cost when he used to buy them). The safety razor my husband uses is heavy-duty metal and will last for many, many years -- perhaps his lifetime. On top of that, the replacement blades for his safety razor are super cheap -- only $10 for 100.  The waste with a safety razor is minimal because he only has to dispose of the small blade (which can also be recycled. You can find more info on that here). One other plus: no plastic in sight with the safety razor.

The shaving soap used with classic wet shaving lasts much longer than its mainstream counterparts, too. My husband uses a shaving soap that comes in a ceramic dish. Like with the safety razor, it costs a bit more up front (around $20-ish), but it lasts. One dish can last my husband well over a year (at least that -- I can't even remember the last time he replaced it). This also translates to less waste -- not only does the soap last a long time, but there are no cans to toss after a few uses (as with mainstream creams and gels). When he runs out of soap, he buys the replacement bar that fits into the dish.

The shaving brush needed to use the soap can get a bit pricey, depending on the quality of the brush. I bought my husband a badger hair one for Father's Day a few years ago for around $40. Again, that seems a bit pricey, but I've actually read reviews from guys who use their grandfather's shaving brush -- high quality ones can last that long! Now that's reusability at its finest.

This is just a quick overview of classic wet shaving. Google it and you'll find that wet shaving has a devoted following, with whole blogs and forums devoted to it. You can find how-to videos on YouTube (there is a method to it, like how you hold the razor, for example) -- you can find a quick how-to at a post I wrote here. If you're interested in buying new shaving supplies as a gift and want more specific recommendations, you can read about the exact tools my husband uses here or you could check out this helpful post at The Art of Manliness. Badger & Blade is a wonderful resource, too -- you can find more information there about wet shaving than pretty much anywhere else.


Really, you can't find a more smooth (ha ha) way to be eco-friendly.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Last Minute Present: DIY Plastic Free Food Wrap

Queen Composter shares a quick and easy DIY gift to make for family and friends.



I believe in the personal touch for the holidays and I always try to make at least some of my gifts. Sure it takes more effort, and at this busy time of year homemade gifts may be the first thing to go when schedules fill up. But I believe that I have the perfect last minute homemade gift: plastic-free food wraps.

There are commercially produced beeswax food wraps if DIY really isn't your thing, and I do love supporting companies that make environmentally friendly and ethical products. Abeego is one such company, and I am proud that it started as a home-based business in my province. They have many options for food storage including large bowl covers as well as handy snack and sandwich pockets.

In keeping with my DIY spirit, last year I decided to try making some of my own, and they were a hit with everyone. I made a dozen or so in one afternoon, with minimal prep and clean up.

Here's how to make your own reusable food wraps:


Materials


  • various pieces of cotton cloth 
  • block of beeswax
  • metal baking sheet
  • pinking shears
  • clothes pegs or metal clips
  • cooling rack
  • cheese grater

Method

  • Preheat the oven to a very low heat (I set my oven to about 190F but as every oven is slightly different, you may want to play around with this).

  • Cut the pieces of cloth into desired sizes using the pinking shears (so that the edges of the cloth do not fray; no sewing required). I suggest measuring the different types of food containers that you may wish to cover with the wraps. I had some old quilting fat quarters in my crafting stash so I cut each one into fourths. This is a great way to use up fabric scraps you may have lying around.


  • Place a piece of cloth on the baking sheet. Some people suggest using an old baking sheet because it may ruin the sheet for other purposes. I don't have any extra, however, so I just used one that I have. After thoroughly cleaning it in hot water I didn't have any beeswax residue left so if you are like me and only have one, it will be fine after usage, but if you are concerned, use an old baking sheet.


  • Grate the beeswax. The amount depends on the size of the wrap you are making. There should be enough wax to lightly cover the cloth. Too much will make it too stiff to use and too little will not completely cover the material. You may need to play around with this a little bit to see what amount works for you. My advice is less is more; you can always add more grated wax and remelt in the oven if you haven't added enough.

  • Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for a few minutes until the wax looks completely melted onto the cloth (stay close and keep an eye on it).

  • Carefully peel the cloth off the baking sheet and hang over a cooling rack that is standing on it's side, like a clothes line. Use clothes pegs to hold the cooling fabric in place. 

  • Remove from the wrap from the cooling rack when it is finished. I did mine like an assembly line and by the time the next wrap was melted in the oven (grating the beeswax for each individual wrap), the previous wrap was cooled and ready. 


To Use the Food Wrap:

  • Place the wrap over the bowl or food container. Rub your hands around the edge to warm up the wax with your hands and mould the wrap to the shape of the container. 

  • Get creative with your wrap and use it for cheese and other oddly shaped food.
Sometimes I use elastic bands to keep the wrap tight on the container.

  • Because the wraps are made from beeswax they must be washed in cold water and a little bit of dish soap if required. Obviously warm or hot water will melt the wax, make a mess in your sink and ruin the food wraps. I have had no difficulty caring for my wraps in this way, and after a year of use they are still in very good condition. 
This wrap is well used but still in working condition. 

  • If the wrap becomes used looking with the wax cracking (visible white lines and marks) simply repeat the melting process in the oven so that it looks as good as new. 



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Building A Better Advent Calendar

From the bean of Green Bean



"We'll get the Christmas decorations down this weekend," I tell my boys.

"I wonder what will be in the Advent calendar this year," my younger son ponders, grinning at me.  I wonder indeed.  In fact, I wonder aloud - because my kids are 10 and 12 - whether we still want to do an Advent calendar.  That question is met with a look of outrage from my oldest.

"I always want to do that Advent calendar," is the tearful response from my youngest.  "Until we are grown ups!"


When I bought the wooden box twelve years ago, I don't remember what I had in mind.  An occasional nickel or a sweet?  My parents teased that, as the boys grew older, they would want more and I would be reduced to trying to cram a credit card in there.  After years of filling this puppy, though, I am happy to say that I have got it down to a science - all without breaking the bank account, cluttering the house or turning my kids into greedy monsters.

Here are my tried and true successes for filling the Advent calendar:

  • Heirloom items you can give again and again.  A lifetime ago, I invested in two sets of Thomas the Train holiday trains.  The first year, I stuffed the trains into the numbered cartons, thinking that would be the end of it.  When I packed up the Christmas goodies at the end of the season, though, I wondered why I wouldn't also pack up the trains.  They were seasonal after all.  Since then, it has been a tradition.  Every year, I put the trains in slots - six slots in total.  They are usually toward the front of the month which gives mom a chance to get organized.  Petite wooden dolls, fairies, snowman, ornaments and so on could also fit. Anything seasonal and lasting that is small enough to fit can become a family tradition.  
  • Small sweets. Fair trade chocolate, mints, bubble gum and the like fit easily into the calendar cubbies.  They can account for any allergies and brighten up a dull winter day.
  • Let Your Children Be Santa's Elves. What feels better than giving?  Why not share this with your children.  Every year, I put a note in the calendar for a farm animal. It is not for us, though. Rather, the boys and I log onto Heifer and peruse the ducks, goats and bees for families in need on the other side of the globe.  There are an endless number of similar charity ideas - adopt a seal, plant a tree, help out a family farmer.  We have also adopted families/children in the past, gone shopping for a Toys for Tots, and, this year, will fill two grocery bags for Second Harvest. Another option is a coupon for a family outing to volunteer at a soup kitchen or gift shop for the less privileged. 
  • The joy of Christmas.  Looking back on my childhood, I recall few specific gifts.  Instead, I remember baking cookies with my mom, watching a favorite Christmas movie with my dad or walking to see the Christmas lights with my grandparents.  It is these experiences that have become the meat of our Advent calendar.  The promise to watch Elf with popcorn.  A walk with hot cocoa down Christmas tree lane.  A visit from grandparents or a holiday tea with cousins.  Often, I incorporate events that will be happening regardless - and just do not mention them to the boys until they open the note. 
  • Music and games.  Coupons for iTunes happily fill a day or two each December.  My boys enjoy music and love the opportunity to download a new song for free.  If your children have their own electronic devices, you could also include a coupon for a new app.
  • A wish. The 25th day of the calendar always holds a simple wish for a Merry Christmas, printed on a slip of paper. In the beginning, I would save the best items for the last slot but found that the gift is usually overlooked in the hubbub of the holiday itself. A wish is enough.
Do you do an Advent calendar at Christmas time?  If so, what do you put in your calendar?  What has worked and what hasn't?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thoughts on World AIDS Day


The Climate Crusader is considering our interconnectedness on World AIDS Day.


Today - December 1 -  is World AIDS Day. This day has been set aside since 1988 to raise awareness and call for action in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS. The good news is that massive strides have been made in the past 26 years. An HIV diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Also, HIV transmission rates have decreased and stabilized, even as more people are living with the infection.

The bad news is that HIV/AIDS continue to disproportionately impact marginalized groups worldwide. Here in Canada, where I live, aboriginal people comprise four percent of the population, but make up twelve percent of new HIV infections. In the US the CDC says that African Americans and Latinos are at greater risk from the disease. Globally, the vast majority of people living with HIV/AIDS are in low and middle income countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

What does this have to do with green living? The same people who are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, are also disproportionately impacted by environmental issues. A report from the World Health Organization says:
Socioeconomic status is an important determinant of the likelihood that individuals and populations are exposed to environmental and other risk factors for health.
In fact, the United Nations Development Programme is advocating that the impact of large-scale projects on HIV rates be included in the environmental assessment process.

Okay, but what does this have to do with us? I don't know what your life is like, but I'm a suburban mom of two. I am not on the front lines of the fight against HIV/AIDS, and no one is consulting me about how to assess large-scale development projects. What can I really do?

For me, the key point to remember is simple. In fact, it's the kind of thing I say to my kindergartner: we are all connected. The choices we make about what to buy, what organizations to support, and so on, can impact the lives of people we'll never meet halfway around the world. This is just as true whether we're considering how being exposed to pesticides impacts the health of the farmers who grow our food, or whether we're thinking about how the wages that workers receive impact their ability to access health care. When we inform ourselves, make conscious decisions and vote with our dollars, we can help create a better world for everyone.

When we fight for a healthier environment and a more just world, we're also helping to fight the diseases that are associated with socioeconomic marginalization, including HIV/AIDS. The trends show that we can make a difference. Let's not give up the fight.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mindful Mopping and Sweet Sweeping

Mindful Echo gets swept away. 

A little while ago I was complaining to one of my nearest and dearest about my struggles to keep up with the never-ending mounds of fur that accumulate on my floors. The combination of cat and dog fur reveals itself in new piles MOMENTS after I've dusted, swept, mopped, or vacuumed. I turn around and it's there. ALL THE TIME.

Guiltily I'll admit that I often succumb to the ease of disposable cloths, rags, and wipes in many of these cases. It hasn't been for lack of effort - my purchases of reusable devices have proven fruitless either by virtue of inferior product design, poor manufacturing, or ease of use.

So, hearing my complaints, I was gifted with a no-more-excuses kit that will allow me to maintain my hardwood without piling on disposable purchases.

Behold, the All Purpose Wipes and Swiffer Wet Kit:


It couldn't be more simple.

Items Needed:
  • Plastic container
  • Several facecloths
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 cups vinegar
  • Dash of dishwashing soap
1. Fill the container with the water, vinegar, and soap.
2. Place the facecloths in container to soak
3. Use as needed. 

With some minimal effort on the front end, having these rags handy eliminates virtually any reason to go the disposable route. The best part is that the cloths actually fit perfectly as Swiffer wipes too. When the cloth is dirty, just toss it into the wash with the rest of your laundry. Replenish the vinegar/soap solution and cloths as needed.

In my opinion, this is one of the best gifts I've ever received. A good friend empowers you to live the life you strive for. For me, it's about living gently upon the earth while NOT being covered in dog fur. But, you know, to each her own.

Happy cleaning! 




Monday, November 24, 2014

November's Green Good News



Eco-novice highlights this month's happy eco-news.

Sometimes being green is a downer. You can't buy this, you don't want your kids to eat that, you go ahead and use this but you can't help but think about the toxic whatsit it contains, and don't even get me started on climate change! While I'm a full believer in knowledge, transparency, and facing the cold hard facts, our brains pay more attention to the negative, and in the high stakes world of carcinogenic toxic chemicals and slow-motion planetary suicide the doom and gloom can become downright paralyzing! So here is some green good news for y'all. If you enjoy this post, please leave a comment. I'm thinking of making it a monthly series.


Uncommon tactics (DentonRC.com)

How Texas activists beat the well-financed oil and gas industry to pass a fracking ban. By far my favorite story, and proof that ingenuity and wit can trump money in politics! Let's all take a page from their play book, shall we?
"A behind-the-scenes look at the anti-fracking campaign reveals how a relatively tiny group of combatants relied on creative tactics and political gimmickry to outmaneuver pro-fracking forces that outspent them 10-to-1. Their arsenal included puppet shows, flash mob-style improvisational dances and coffin races...The strategy worked. Voters approved the ban 59 percent to 41."

Got a citywide problem with storm runoff? Just plant some flowers! 
"Any aesthetic benefits from the gardens are effectively seen as a bonus, though officials from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration noted that plots would be placed in many neighborhoods with a dearth of trees and above-average rates of asthma among young people."

Valley farmers return to open-air turkey production

A return to the past as demand for free-range natural poultry increases. It's wonderful to see consumer choices making a difference in land use and animal welfare. What kind of turkey are you eating this Thanksgiving?
"They're happier birds," said Showalter, who raised poultry in confinement before moving to free range turkeys. "You can tell it in the sounds they make and in their body language."
...
"There is no doubt in my mind that anyone who tries a free range turkey will never go back to a store bought turkey," said Ciarrocchi, who has gotten his Thanksgiving bird in Mount Solon for the past several years. "The flavor is so much better. Anyone who eats one of these turkeys at my house will get one next year."


Got some Green Good News to share? 

Add it in the comments below! We'd love to hear it. Or email it to me during the month at betsy (at) eco-novice (dot) com and I'll add it to next month's list.

 photo credit: marcusjroberts via photopin cc

Friday, November 21, 2014

Extending the Harvest with Covered Hoops


Queen Composter hopes for cold season gardening success.



Last year I began experimenting with extending the growing season and harvesting fresh food through autumn. In fact, I was able to harvest backyard veggies for the last time on December 1st! After that we had an unseasonal cold snap and early snow (I live in the moderate pacific northwest where we are increasingly finishing winter with little to no snow). Luckily some of my cold resistant veggies bounced back enough by late winter that I could start harvesting them again in February and March.

But one of my faults as a backyard gardener is that I often forget to harvest the veggies before they bolt (go to seed) in the summer or freeze in the winter. I'm always disappointed that I didn't pick something when I thought of it instead of waiting just that one more day or week. Hardy plants like kale did well with limited frosts and bounced back quickly, but my turnips, carrots, and cabbage were turned to mush in the freezing temps and never rebounded.

Through the summer, after doing more reading about fall and winter gardening, and weighing the pros and cons of cold frames versus covered hoops (an excellent discussion here), I decided to try covered hoops this year. Sometimes plastic covered hoops made with flexible tubing are called low tunnels, and the taller variety are called poly tunnels. I guess mine are a hybrid (not low but not tall enough to walk in).

My wonderful neighbour (really, he's amazing) built my covered hoops once I'd cleaned up the fall garden and mulched everything for warmth and moisture retention. Unfortunately we'd already had a frost, so there has been some damage to the lettuce and Asian greens, which I'd hoped to avoid.

With the sides down for full protection.

With the sides up for moisture in warmer temperatures.


So how well do the covered hoops work to protect my plants?

We've had about a week of below freezing temperatures (which came rather suddenly after unseasonably warm temperatures) and today I went outside to raise the sides to allow some rain in now that the forecast says warmer temps for the next while. I was pleased to see that the kale is rebounding nicely (however, the uncovered kale is in the same condition).

The three varieties of kale can be harvested again (one hidden in photo).

As mentioned, the lettuce is pretty much done in, so time to start growing inside with my growing light for some fresh greens. The Asian greens (bok choy and sui choy) looks to be in rough shape but I'm crossing my fingers that they may rebound as it appears to be mostly the outer layers that are damaged.

The lettuce has turned brown.


The swiss chard looks inedible, but there is some new growth in the inner centre of the plant. The broccoli and cabbage looks good (I'm growing for an early spring harvest so I'm pleased they haven't been damaged yet).



I was most happy when I pulled back the layers of mulch to see big, beautiful purple turnips still happily growing.



The real test of the covered tunnels will be when (or if) we get some snow in January and February. My hope is that the tunnels are strong enough to withstand the weight of the wet, slushy snow we get here and protect the kale so that I can harvest fresh greens through the winter.

I'm also hoping to use the covered hoops as protection for an early spring garden. I usually try to have my seeds started indoors by February or March and perhaps next year I can transplant the seedlings outdoors earlier than usual.

More information about cold weather growing with covers:

Are Mini Hoop Tunnels Worth The Effort?

Cheating Winter

Quick Hoops: Use Low Tunnels to Grow Veggies in the Winter



Have you tried covered hoops or cold frames to extend the harvest? Please share your tips.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Green(er) Gifts for the Gardeners on Your List

Green Bean looks toward the holidays with a shovel in hand.


It is that time of year again. While I am all about less gifts, less consumption, more experiences, if you really want to buy me or any other gardener a present this year, here is what people with dirt under their nails appreciate:

1) Sharpened Tools. Every winter, gardeners tuck away their tools - dulled from months worth of snipping and maybe a bit rusted from being left outside in the first rainstorm of the season.  Some gardeners are organized enough to have their tools "winterized" - sharpened and cleaned - or do it themselves.  For the rest of us, this is an ideal gift!  It has no carbon footprint, extends the useful life of our tools and is a service readily available at most locally owned nurseries.  You can also bring clippers to almost any knife sharpening service.

2) Seeds or Plants from Your Own Garden. If you have your own garden, what is more thoughtful than carefully saved seeds or propagated plants.  Bonus: inexpensive and low impact.

3) Coupon for a Project: Last year, my dad rigged up my bat house in the absolute perfect location (not that the bats have appreciated it yet but someday...).  The year before, my husband built me a potato condo. This year, I'm hoping for a raised bed cover for keeping heat in and bugs out. Hint, hint, honey!

My bat house. 

4) Coupon for a Work Day: This is a gift even kids can give.  What gardener wouldn't welcome a willing pair of hands to spread mulch, turn the compost, pull weeds?

5) New Gloves: Unlike tools which can be refreshed year after year, a well worn pair of garden gloves probably will only last a year or two.

6) A New Fruit Tree: Know your gardener well with this one, but if you have someone who has recently moved, expanded their garden or embarked on the hobby, a new fruit tree might be just the thing.  My mother-in-law gave me a lemon tree our first year in our new house.  It was the perfect gift as I had been lamenting leave our old lemon tree behind.

7) A Greenhouse: Yes, I said it. They are big and expensive and this might be many gifts rolled into one.  My husband gave me a greenhouse a few years ago.  It was my birthday present, my Christmas present and our anniversary present and it has changed the way I have gardened every since.

My greenhouse! And one of my many rain barrels.

8) A birdbath: I have recently waxed on and on about the importance of birdbaths for the garden. Homemade or second hand (think estate sales or Craigslist) are fine here.  If you buy new, emphasize quality. A well made cement birdbath can last generations. One that I got new, I have had for eighteen years.

The robins enjoy my eighteen year old birdbath - a gift from my parents for my first garden.

9) A birdhouse: Speaking of birds, who doesn't want more in their garden? They provide beauty and keep pests at bay. Avoid painted birdhouses and look for ones that are plain wood. If you have kids or are crafty, a handmade birdhouse or a birdhouse construction kit is another great option. Birdhouses and birdhouse kits are readily available online, at Home Depot and at birding stores.

A woodpecker checking out a birdhouse I picked up at the local thrift store.

10) A rain barrel: Two years ago, I installed my first rain barrel. I am up to five and I cannot believe all the water I was wasting in years past.  Rain barrels are wonderful ways to reuse oak wine barrels (Beware, the water will smell like wine. Not necessarily a bad thing!) or food-grade plastic shipping containers.  Bonus: in some areas, like my drought-stricken home of California, you can get a rebate for buying a rain barrel.

11) A compost bin: If your gardener does not already have a compost bin set up, I highly recommend one.  You can purchase them (sometimes with a rebate from your local garbage company) or you can build one.  We currently have one that I hired a handyman to build. I get tons and tons of high quality compost every year from what would otherwise go to the landfill.


12) A Garden Bench or Chair: Your gardener may already have plenty of these but most of us don't.  Most of us gardeners are so busy gardening, that we do not take the time to sit down and drink in the beauty and life of our gardens.  I have two benches in my main garden and I am still angling for another seat on the other side.

13) Gift certificates to your gardeners' favorite local nursery, seed store or online garden supply store.  Peaceful Valley Organic Garden Supply is my favorite for all around garden supplies.

What other gifts can you add to the list?  If you garden, what are you hoping for this year?

This post is part of the Homestead Barn HopBackyard Farming ConnectionMaple Hill Hop, and Green Thumb Thursday.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beware the Pod: Why I Opt for Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent

Laundry pods may be pretty, but the Climate Crusader discovers their ugly side.

One of the hard parts of green living is finding replacements for the unsustainable, toxic products you know and love. For instance, it took me years - and taking matters into my own hands - to find a "green" deodorant I like. I faced similar struggles with dish soap, all-purpose cleaner and dishwasher detergent. It was only recently that I found a laundry detergent that both my husband and I agree works well, that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, and that I feel good about using.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr
About a year ago someone asked me why I don't just use Tide. The argued that it's cheap and it works. And with those snazzy Pods it's as easy to use as can be. I mumbled something about toxins. But this past week I heard a news story that underscored why I spent all that time and energy looking for a non-toxic laundry detergent.

It seems that laundry pods like Tide Pods pose a serious risk to young children. A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 17,230 children under the age of six had unhealthy exposure to laundry pods in 2012-2013 - or about one every hour. About half of those children got sick, some seriously so. In fact, a seven-month-old baby died after eating a laundry pod in 2013. It's no joke.

Of course, laundry detergents in general need to be kept out of reach of children. So what makes laundry pods so unsafe? In the first place, their bright colours and soft textures are very attractive. They even resemble candy. I know my own kids have seen them in the store and suggested I buy them because they thought they looked pretty. However, it's more than that. If a child bites a pod they can receive a concentrated squirt of detergent in their eyes, mouths or throats, which results in more serious injuries than when kids get their hands on traditional laundry powders and liquids.

Yikes.

My own children are six and nine years old, so they're old enough now that I can generally trust them not to eat the laundry detergent. Still, I have to admit that the idea of keeping products around my house that can injure or kill young children makes me uncomfortable. And the idea of washing my clothes with those detergents and then washing them down the drain where they can end up in streams, rivers, lakes and oceans doesn't feel good, either. Certainly these cleaners can't be good for fish and frogs, even if they are diluted.

As I mentioned up front, the journey towards greener cleaning isn't an easy one. I believe it's worthwhile, though. If you need some help getting started, check out the Environmental Working Group's Guide to Healthy Cleaning. And keep those laundry pods out of reach of children!

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to hang clothes to dry over the Canadian winter months

EcoYogini officially accepts the end of Autumn... but not the end of hanging clothes on the line...

As I sit here typing there is a gorgeous white fluffy blizzard happening outside my window. It's technically the second snow of the season, but the first one was so tiny and brief, a few flakes really, it doesn't even count.

Autumn and Winter are the reasons why I am so glad I live in a place that has four seasons... and a coastal city that actually gets more than rain rain rain (although... we do get out fair share of foggy rain, snain, and slush...) and yellow leaves in the fall (if you haven't experienced Nova Scotia, the gorgeous autumn colours in reds, oranges and yellows are the BEST way).

That said, despite how excited I am for this beautiful softly falling snowflake weather, today was my day off... and we had saved a bunch of laundry in case it might be sunny out. It was our laundry MO for the entire summer and fall- I hoarded our laundry like a crazy lady for weekend sunny days where we could solar dry the crap outta our clothes.

"Hanging clothes on the line" sounds so boring- when really it's SOLAR DRYING. Sigh, very hipster of me, I know.

In any case, today I had to accept that the dryer was inevitable. But I am determined to hang clothes on the line as much as possible throughout our snowy, cold, Canadian winter. Is it possible? My mom says it is... and she knows everything so it must be true. (hah, no really, it's a mom thing right?).

I already have a few tips from recent cold weather solar drying experience but before we get into that maybe you don't really understand the appeal of it in the first place...

Reasons to continue hanging clothes on the line throughout winter:
- Decreasing energy usage for drying: ok this one was obvious. As the dude at Home Depot told us when we bought our energy efficient washer and dryer: "It's not the dryer that makes these machines efficient, it's all about how little energy the washer uses and how well it rinses the clothes out so it takes LESS time to dry in the dryer". In other words- no matter how "efficient" your dryer is, it isn't.

- The clothes smell better: For years we've been hang drying on dry racks our shirts and work clothes. Unfortunately, hanging up two loads of work clothes next to each other in a room with no air circulation has resulted in some icky, mouldy smelling clothes when they get wet. Since we don't have the money to buy a whole new wardrobe, we still wear them. Nothing was working to get that smell out- hot water, fancy detergent, baking soda, vinegar. You know what did work? SOLAR DRYING. No really, after a few afternoons of hanging out in the sun our clothes no longer smell gross. Not even when we hang them inside. It's magical. I am NOT giving that up.

Last weekend we had a gorgeous, albeit a bit cold, sunny day. I managed to hang clothes on the line with (relative) success! So- here are a few tips given to me by my mom and that I figured out on my own...

1. Check the weather... and not the crappy app on your phone but the government weather forecast. In fall and winter months the weather can change... and there's a lot more precipitation than in summer months. It's important that even though it might be cold, that there be sun (and no snow, rain, fog or snain) for the day. When it gets below freezing you don't want clothes that are frozen solid... so a bit of wind (not too much!) will be handy. (Trust me, maritimers are experts when it comes to checking the weather (particularly fishermen daughters), the phone and "weather network" apps suck. The government weather forecasts are where it's at.)

2. Winter drying means considering sunrise and sunset. Currently in Nova Scotia the sun rises around 7am and sets by 5pm (4:47pm today to be exact). The sunsets earlier and earlier right up until the winter solstice. The sunset time is obviously important since it tends to get dewy and misty closer to sunset (or foggy) which is bad, BUT you also need to consider the BEST hours for optimum sun exposure time. For myself, I was averaging on getting the clothes on the line around 10:30-11am (weekends) and even got away with 1pm. Not in the winter. (Quick science blip: in the winter the earth tilts on it's axis away from the sun, meaning it has a lower trajectory across the sky).
- Hang your clothes during the prime, sun zenith  to maximize drying power.

3. Make sure you choose the best spin cycle. Delicate, low spin cycles might not be great for below freezing drying. Think about it... frozen solid shirts...

4. Don't leave your clothes out close to sunset: as previously stated it can get foggy and misty closer to sunset hours. This applied in the summer too, (which I noticed a few times I waited too long to bring them in), but the difference is the earlier sunset time. On the weekends we do stuff in the afternoon. I'm not staying home to babysit my clothes. This means that we just need to either be a) home in time to bring the clothes in or b) be aware that staying later will mean sacrificing dry clothes.

5. Once you bring the clothes in, leave them in the basket for a bit to warm up before making any decisions. The reality is that they will likely still need to go in the dryer, it will just be for a lot less than if you hadn't hung them outside to dry. That said- cold clothes can feel wetter than they actually are. Let them warm up a bit before deciding just how damp they still are.

And there you have it- being all cool and hanging your clothes on the line over the freezing winter months! I'm also accepting that I won't get in as many days as I will over the spring, summer and early fall, but some days will hopefully help with energy and smell issues. (hah).

If you have other tips for winter solar clothes drying- please leave them! (I'll need them!)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mindful Consumerism

Mindful Echo is consuming mindfully. 

When I first moved into my flat a couple of years ago, I was thrilled to have made a deal with the previous owner to buy the large German schrank that resided in the dining room.

"Fabulous!" I thought. "Now I'll have some great storage for all my stuff!"

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my 800 sq ft flat accommodates two adults, one dog, and two cats. It's big enough, but we definitely have to make wise decisions about the space and make use of vertical storage and other space-saving tricks.

So, for the first year, I took advantage of the big ugly schrank. I filled it up. It held wine glasses, serving dishes, kitchen appliances, tablecloths, books, boxes of old photos, papers, office supplies, old flyers, coupons, receipts, some cords, odds and ends, and on and on and on.

By year two, I thought that maybe I could hide the fact that it didn't suit my style whatsoever by covering it in something that does: books. So, the shelves were adorned with beautiful old hardcover copies of The Swiss Family Robinson and Anne of Green Gables.




Still, the hulking monstrosity didn't fit. Next I tried removing the front leaded glass door. I painted the centre compartment white. Better, but not great.

"But it's so much storage! I have to make it work." I wrestled with my gut. I mean, yeah, it was taking up a a third of the small dining room. And, yeah, it blocked an entire wall-long heater. But the STORAGE. I needed it for all my STUFF.

Finally, it struck me. My lightbulb moment. The schrank wasn't providing me with storage potential; what it was doing was giving me permission to consume.

As long as I had the hideous unit, I had space to store stuff: important stuff, unimportant stuff, all the stuff. I could buy whatever my heart desired, whether I needed it or not, because I would always have a place to put it.

A couple of weeks ago, in one of my bi-annual purges, I finally cut the cord. I listed the schrank on kijiji and found a buyer willing to pack 'er up and haul 'er away.

I bought a reasonably-sized hutch that covers a third of the wall space. I donated all the unwanted dishes and books and cords. What was left actually fits nicely into the new hutch.

I cut my dining room stuff by a third and, truthfully, there's still room for more stuff if I need it.



By limiting myself, I'm forced to be intentional with my consumerism. I'm not going to buy cute seasonal dishes just because they're on sale. I'm not going to get another teapot for "just in case." These items aren't necessary for my comfort. I already have much more than I need.

At the same time, it's not going to be about denying pleasures. I still love antiquing and thrifting and finding good deals. Who doesn't? The difference now is about being intentional. I have to ask myself, "Do I need it?" and "Do I love it?"

My other strategy is "one-out/one-in." If I find the most perfect pink depression glass serving bowl that I've ever seen and it's a bargain that I just can't resist, well, then I say farewell to one of the three bowls that I already own that fit that description.

I have to say, it's working so far.

What ways are you mindful with your consumerism and consumption?






Monday, November 10, 2014

4 Green Solutions for All Those Autumn Leaves

In which the Parsimonious Princess deals with the not-so-fun part of her favorite season. (Who am I kidding? I kind of even like raking leaves. Hooray for autumn!)



I love every season. Truly, I do. But there is just something about fall that makes my soul happy. The crisp air, the gorgeous colors, the spicy smells of cinnamon and clove, the harvest, canning, Halloween, pumpkin everything. Seriously, I could go on and on.

One drawback to autumn for many people is raking and cleaning up all those fallen leaves. Don't get me wrong, having leaves scattered all over the lawn is fun and the love kids playing in them, but eventually you have to face reality and clean them all up. Often, people will rake, bag up all their leaves, and toss them in the garbage.

I don't know if it's the gardening geek or the eco-friendly part of me that balks the most at the idea of throwing leaves into the trash. Fallen leaves totally have a second life in your yard and garden!

Autumn is still in full swing here (though there is snow in this week's forecast) and we still have plenty of leaves to rake up and still more that have yet to fall. Here are four ways I put all those fallen leaves to work in my yard:

1. Compost, compost, compost. 
Every fall, my compost bin in the backyard is full of brown leaves. Like, overflowing. But by spring, sure enough, the leaves have broken down a lot under the weight of winter snow. Leaves make for great compost because they're full of trace minerals that the trees have drawn up from the deep soil.

Do you have more leaves than you can fit in your compost bin? Save them for your compost bin later. Seriously, stash a couple bags away for the spring. Without getting into too much composting detail, basically the goal with a good compost is to have a balance between green and brown material so it'll break down. In the fall, it's pretty hard to get that green-brown balance; you're just going to have an excess of brown in autumn. However, if you save some of your leaves, all that brown material will be great for spring and summer time when your compost bin is full of green material from weeding and deadheading, especially since brown material is a little hard to come by in spring and summer.

2.  Make leaf mold. 



I learned about making leaf mold earlier this year when I read The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler (a fantastic book -- highly recommend it) and I've been so excited to try it ever since. Leaf mold is a really great soil amendment; it's even been called "nature's substitute for peat". The great thing is that leaf mold is super-easy to make: just bag up your leaves in a black garbage bag, poke some holes in the bag, and leave it alone for a year. The moisture that will get into the bag via the holes will get the leaves to rot. I've got my leaves bagged up and next to my garbage can. You can read an article from Alys Fowler for more information about leaf mold here.

3. Mulch with them. 



In the fall, I cover my garden bed with mulch with straw, cover crops, and leaves to protect the soil from the harsh winter elements. Leaves are a great mulch for frugal gardening --  I have to buy seeds for cover crops and I have to buy bales of straw, but autumn leaves are free. As you can see in the picture above, I've got some green cover crop (annual rye) in my garden bed, but most of the mulch I'm using is leaves. Leaves work really well to insulate and protect my garden beds, plus they break down and help my garden later on.

4. Leave them where they fall. 



This is the easiest solution of all -- no raking, no clean-up! Granted, this doesn't work for the leaves covering your lawn, but it's definitely one you can use for other areas of your yard. The picture above shows what it looks like under the pussywillow tree in a corner of my yard. I've never rake under that tree. I just let the small leaves break down and work their way into the soil. They also mulch some of the perennials that grow around it. I do the same with my lilac bush in one of my flowerbeds and with the quaking aspen in another corner of my yard.

So, yeah, having trees in your yard can mean a mess in the fall, but it's a mess that keeps on giving. Save those leaves from the trash and, instead, put them to work!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Lush Charity Pot: Ethical issues with supporting Shock Value Organizations

EcoYogini considers the value of donating through consumerism...

Today I bought a Lush Charity Pot. It won't be my first. I will admit that I am a periodic Lush consumer and have a pretty decent love/hate relationship with Lush. Basically- I love that they are transparent in their ingredients, I love some of their products and I hate that they don't have 100% clean products and some of their Charity campaigns make me uncomfortable.

Alright, so beyond my general ambivalence towards Lush itself, I'm suffering from some hardcore dissonant thinking with their Charity Pot concept.

First things first- I have some firm misgivings about donating to charities via consumerism. I'm a pretty staunch believer of "if you want to donate to a Charity, just do it. Don't purchase more junk and have a non confirmed portion of the proceeds go to said Charity." The Breast Cancer campaigns of pink washing each year completely solidifies this stance as well as charity giving recommendations I've read and heard over the past few years.

How do I really know that the money is going towards what I want? For Lush's Charity Pot, in any case, they have a pretty clear and simple giving paradigm that's used and a quick internet search reveals some reputable companies on the receiving end that provide some clear numbers of how much the Charity Pot raised for their campaign.

So that's good.

I also really like how generally Charity Pot raises money towards local community initiatives chosen by store staff. This is fabulous.

Some of the funds make me uncomfortable. I am definitely weary of PETA and other organizations that use shock-value and (and often misogynistic) protest methods/campaigns. I am anti-animal cruelty, but I'm not anti-animal hunting. Since that statement right there could be a whole other blog post, let's just leave it there and say I really really really don't like animal activists using women's bodies protrayed in a sexualized (and often violent) manner to "sell" their agenda.

Today's Charity Pot is to raise funds to stop the fur-trade, and for myself in Nova Scotia, the mink/fox farming is of particular interest. The girl at the store was delighted to share "Did you know..." facts about mink/fox farms... until I informed her that I grew up in rural Nova Scotia, in the middle of the mink/fox farming "belt" and was all too aware of their environmental impact. Afterwards she proudly informed other staff of my "legit" status... and was in awe that I saw first hand the impact of river run offs, lake pollution, cages and smells and sounds from the road.

I felt it was important to share that most rural Nova Scotians (who aren't mink/fox farmers) are quite against the practice. Now, maybe not necessarily from a "animal cruelty" perspective- most rural Nova Scotians have a more realistic and respectful relationship with animal husbandry and although would acknowledge it's cruel, may not necessary be moved to act for that reason alone... (note "most"). No, it's more the very real and lived impact on their local environment that is of increasing concern. We're not actually rednecks who hate the environment ya know.

So I bought a pot. And, maybe should have waited. I looked up what a previous Sea Shepard/Lush anti-seal hunt campaign supported and saw photos like th
ese: (Lush employees)
(from SeaShepherd)

Ugh, violent mockups of women scantily clad. Yeah, that really has all to do with the seal hunt.... disgusting and extremely disappointing display of using women's bodies (violently) to "sell" something.

The Charity Pot currently supports "The Association for Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals"- which their website doesn't have any shock-value, misogynistic displays/campaigns but reads like it could.

I just don't feel so great anymore about my purchase or confident that by buying a Charity Pot I made the best investment with my money to help stop mink/fox farming in NS in a mature and profound way. The Ecology Action Centre might have been my better bet....

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