Category Archives: Green Living

Don’t rake those leaves!

Standard

For years now we (that’s a royal we) have not raked leaves in the fall.

img_0226

Some years they were left in place untouched until spring due to my own health issues (nothing gets done around here unless I plan and organize the job). Some years, we did something a little different:

Mowed the leaves and left in place.

As a final mowing (my yard is mowed no more than 6 times each summer season), the yard is mowed chopping up the leaves. But even that is not recommended. It might be better to wait until spring to mow those leaves.

In his article Scientists Urge: Don’t Rake Your Leaves! – Here’s Why, David Wolfe cites the National Wildlife Federation’s recommendation that readers not rake up and throw away leaf litter. Here is Wolfe’s summary of the benefits of leaving leaves in place:

screenshot - David Wolfe, National Wildlife Foundation leaf litter benefits.PNG

Leaf litter provides habitat for creatures (small, smaller and smallest), nourishes the soil, and not raking keeps leaves out of landfills, reduces carbon emissions (no leaf blowers, please — hate those things), and gives you more time to do other things.

Les Harrison, UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director, in Leaf Litter: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Work?,  discusses the benefits of allowing leaves to remain in place:

  • moisture retention from precipitation
  • stormwater runoff slowdown
  • availability of nutrients for organisms and soil as they are broken down

Although his article mentions the year-round drop of leaves in Florida, the science behind his recommendations apply to all parts of the country.

We do rake leaves off of the driveway because they are quite slippery and make it more difficult to remove snow in the winter months. But those leaves are raked into areas nearby beneath shrubs and trees so their nutrition is not lost to the environment.

img_0234

Rethinking fall chores is easy: just don’t rake those leaves!

Warm and Cozy: Winterizing and Indoor Air Pollution

Standard

Here in New England, cold weather has finally arrived, signaling to all of us that it is past time to put up those storm windows, check that weatherstripping, and lock those windows tight. But with the winterizing process, with shutting out the cold, comes a loss of fresh air in our homes.
bootsonstump
When we bought this house in 2000, my husband was thrilled (energy conservation engineer). This house had enough insulation for two houses, amazing windows that seal tightly, a design that was energy efficient by nature, and a decent furnace that my husband made more efficient by installing a hot water storage tank (so every demand for hot water didn’t trigger the furnace). All wonderful features that would thrill anyone concerned about conserving energy.

It also had wall-to-wall carpet except for the kitchen and bathrooms. That carpet was dated then. After a few years, I developed fairly serious allergy problems from mild asthma to cold urticaria. I had experienced two separate episodes of hives, the second being much worse than the first. And then my youngest son was diagnosed with asthma (he also attended a sick school, getting a double whammy).

After pulling up all of the carpeting, putting in hardwood floors and changing to leather furniture, we all began to do much better; however, I still struggle with strange allergic reactions to unknown irritants. With my chronic Lyme disease, this type of irrational immune response is not uncommon.

Finally, my husband identified that the house was entirely too “tight” for anyone with breathing problems and allergies. He talked about installing an air exchange system.

Winterizing means shutting out fresh air. This traps indoor air pollution inside the house, putting each member of the household (and your pets) at risk. Indoor air pollution is a huge problem here in the United States because of all of the new “stuff” we bring into our homes every week. We buy lots of plastics, new appliances, furniture, items in packaging that is made using a variety of toxic chemicals. Nonstick cookware, hair products, lotions, even those cute little air fresheners and candles that we use to make our homes smell good, all release polluting chemicals that our bodies must then deal with.

The following are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that you are breathing cleaner, healthier air over the winter.

Crack a Window

If your house is not naturally drafty (if it is drafty, ignore this section), if you do not feel a slight draft on occasion, good chances are that you do not have sufficient air exchange. Air exchange means changing out the stale air inside a home or building with fresh air from outside. Commercial buildings usually have an air exchange system built in to the heating and air conditioning systems, but single family homes typically do not, at least not up here in New England where most of us use either oil, propane or wood heat.

We have no vents in our house, just baseboard units for the oil heat system and the same connected to our wood boiler. If you have a wood stove, you typically just have heat radiating from a single source. Some people actually do use fans to circulate the heat better within the home, but rarely have I heard of a home having an air exchange system.

I keep two windows cracked just a teensy bit until I feel the slightest draft when the wind is blowing, and usually nothing when it isn’t. I know this sounds counter-intuitive to what we are being taught about making our homes energy efficient, but a completely sealed up house is not healthy for humans. There must be some way for indoor air pollution to be removed.

House Plants

I grow a fairly substantial organic garden over the spring and summer, but had given up trying to grow houseplants because of the challenges of doing so over the winter. When I lived in the southern part of the country, I always had lots of houseplants — I love green, growing things.
IMG_0234
I recently read a chapter in my Environmental Science textbook on indoor air pollution and was reminded that I need to take as much care with the air in my house over the winter as I take with what I feed myself over the summer. It was time for houseplants.

NASA published an excellent article entitled, “Plants Clean Air and Water for Indoor Environments.” Scientists found that Volatile Organic compounds (VOC) and other pollutants that off-gassed from a completely-synthetic, sealed environment were almost completely removed when a substantial percentage of the interior was devoted to growing indoor plants.

I was in one of those large home improvement stores the other day to pick up a housewarming gift for a new friend, so I grabbed the only pothos plant they had. It was reasonably priced and in good health. I still need to give it a bath to wash off whatever toxic pesticides they sprayed on it before shipping, but it is here in my house removing pollutants and releasing fresh air. I plan to pick up at least one houseplant a week until I have a nice variety and enough to offset the mostly-closed environment we live in during the cold months in New England.

Shop Thoughtfully

Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is right around the corner. This means lots of shopping, lots of packages, lots of new things entering your home. Consider the nature, chemical composition and packaging of any item you purchase this holiday season. This might mean NOT buying a bunch of cheap stuff, wrapping paper, shiny bows, stuff in plastic packaging, and lots of chemicals. Everything new you bring into your home off-gases. This means lots of toxic chemicals enter your home and its air which are then breathed in by family members (and your pets).

Consider packaging when choosing items. Consider buying in bulk, or buying items that don’t have extensive packaging. Think about the impact each purchase you make this year can have on your home’s air quality and that of the ones you are bestowing gifts.

If you have never visited your local health food store and checked out the bulk bins, this might be a good time to do so. You could buy a case of pint-sized canning jars, buy some organic tea, herbs, yummy treats, and more, put them in canning jars and wrap in a cloth napkin tied up with a cloth ribbon.

Try to avoid anything that is made from plastic, has strong dyes or a foil appearance. Think natural. Think organic (meaning from nature).

Gift your friends with air-purifying houseplants this winter. Give them a pound of organic coffee or chocolate or a unique extract.

Rosemary plant I grew outdoors over the summer. I just brought it indoors and placed it in my south-facing bay window where it will purify the air inside my home.

Rosemary plant I grew outdoors over the summer. I just brought it indoors and placed it in my south-facing bay window where it will purify the air inside my home.


Buy a package of brown paper bags (like lunch bags) to use as gift bags, tied up with a fabric ribbon.

Think outside the box, so to speak, while shopping this holiday season.

Oh, and as much as we love our Christmas trees, what are live cut trees sprayed with? What are artificial trees made from? I have an older artificial tree (actually 3 small ones) that I might use this year, or I might cut down a small bare sapling and decorate that instead.

But I need that new 60-inch flatscreen TV

I hate to tell you, but all of that amazing new technology that we buy, the latest television, that new computer, even that gaming console, are made using toxic chemicals, and they will off-gas after you take them out of their boxes.

You might consider unboxing and leaving that product in a basement — but who is going to do that?

Okay, buy a bunch of large houseplants and place them around that new technology. That should help.

Sigh.

Sustainably Produced, Non-Toxic Products

Again, my science textbook provided some interesting information on the availability of products manufactured with the goal of being environmentally safe. What a novel concept! Products that don’t contain carcinogens and benzenes and formaldehyde. Why didn’t anyone think of this before we were all exposed to hundreds of toxins by the time we were born.

Many furniture chains are selling low-toxicity furniture and products that were made with sustainability in mind. If you must buy new furniture before the holidays, please keep in mind that furniture, especially, will off-gas lots of dangerous chemicals.

One solutions is to buy vintage and antique furniture that has not been refinished recently. It is better to buy a piece of furniture and refinish it yourself using low-toxicity products than to buy a new piece of furniture unless it is certified low-toxicity.

Green Guard is a certification organization created to ensure the low-toxicity of products in particular.

Keeping in mind that new products are made using chemicals, most toxic to humans, and that those products will off-gas after they are brought into your home (even the packaging they come in), can direct each of us to thoughtfully choose what we purchase.

Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are made with chemicals that are toxic to humans. And, sadly, they have not been proven to actually accomplish anything worth the chemical exposure.

When my children were little, I bought all-cotton underwear for them that I then used as sleepwear. When I moved up here, I bought those really warm sleepers made from who knows what and treated with who knows what dangerous chemicals. If I had known what I know now about the chemicals that are used to make flame retardants, I would have sewn sleepers from organic fleece for them.

Since this blogger wrote such an amazing article on flame retardants in children’s sleepwear, I will just link to that article instead of regurgitating all of the carefully-compiled information.

Flame retardants are toxic to humans, period.

Consider buying all-cotton underwear such as Carters union suits (I loved these things) and layering them as a way to avoid using synthetic fabrics in children’s sleepwear, most of which are treated with flame retardants. It is the law that any loose sleepwear, such as little girls’ night gowns, be treated with a flame retardant. Simply avoid those kinds of sleepwear.

Read Labels

Although manufacturers are not required to label the chemicals used in the making of a product’s packaging, you can read labels on sleepwear, cookware, furniture, and so on. Ask salespeople where products are manufactured before purchasing, and then do a little internet research into products made in that region. Research companies, distributors, and then, as a first resort (not as a last resort by any means), use common sense. If a product is made from a synthetic of any kind, it will contain toxic chemicals. Most furniture is treated with something before it leaves the factory. Fabrics are treated with sizing, so wash linens, towels, and clothing immediately.

Here is a great article on fabric treatments that are toxic. Eye opening to say the least.

You know that new car smell Americans love to love? That is a myriad of materials off-gassing all at one time. This happens in your car and it happens in your home. It can even happen in your office space. Keep some indoor plants in your own workspace, too.

We can deal with indoor air pollution through some simple and inexpensive actions and choices. I will be working on my home’s air quality. I hope you think about doing the same in your home.

Texas farmers market: Cedar Park

Standard

Cedar Park Farmer’s Market is held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lakeline Mall, south side parking lot. This farmers market declares that it is “Producer Verified,” which is important.

Cedar Park Farmers Market just north of Austin, Texas. Lots of great vendors and visitors at 9 a.m. when it opened.

Cedar Park Farmers Market just north of Austin, Texas. Lots of great vendors and visitors at 9 a.m. when it opened.

One of the first things I did when I settled in after arriving in Austin was go online and search for local farmers markets. Thrilled to find one on Saturday mornings just down the road from my mom’s house, I informed my family and put the event on my calendar.

Of course, Texas is experiencing very hot weather this week, but I was determined to go no matter what. Accompanied by my step-dad’s brother, I arrived and sensed the most amazing energy. Farmers markets are usually like that. Vendors who care about sustainability, growing organically, and providing an alternative source of food and local arts is the norm at most of these weekly events. If your local farmers market doesn’t have this positive energy (I feel kind of strange using that terminology, but it is appropriate), find a new one. Drive a little farther, checkout the farmers market in the next town over, but keep trying until you find one that fits your personality and shopping needs. Then connect.

Talk to the vendors. Ask how they grow that or make that or process that. I have encountered only one farmer vendor in Connecticut who didn’t have good answers to my questions, and that made the choice simple not to buy from that vendor. After a little digging I also discovered one vendor at the Cedar Park Farmers Market that mislead me when questioned.

Now to meet some of the vendors:

Can we say Buddha’s Brew Kombucha? Oh yeah! Locally fermented and sold directly to the public, you can’t go wrong. They need to work on their website, though, as it took entirely too long to load on my desktop computer.

image

We picked up a couple of melons from the market vendor pictured below, a muskmelon and a hybrid seeded watermelon Stars and Stripes, a Seminis hybrid (hate knowing that I bought anything associated with Seminis – Monsanto), but the grower said it is delicious and I didn’t know the seed source until I started researching for this blog post. Darn if we had so much food that I didn’t get to taste the watermelon. The muskmelon was amazing!

image

There is nothing wrong with hybrids. You just cannot save the seeds and grow a true fruit from a seed saved from a hybrid fruit. Hybrids are NOT genetically engineered.

I love to find interesting heirloom varieties of veggies at Farmers Markets and save the seeds. It doesn’t always work as most veggies need to be very mature making them inedible in order to collect mature seeds. But sometimes you can save seeds from veggies especially tomatoes.

Who doesn’t love olive oil? How about Texas-grown organic olives? Who knew? Texas Hill Country Olive Company organic olive orchard is located in Dripping Springs, Texas. They offer free tours to groups of five people or more with their specialty blend olive oils and balsamic vinegars. As do many vendors at farmers markets, Texas Hill Country Olive Company hires people to work at their booths. Sounds good to me. Providing weekend jobs to young people? Excellent.

image

Meet Stephanie Bradley, fine artist according to the paper fan that she gave me when I visited her booth and raved about her pottery. I love succulents and I love hand-thrown pottery. Her pots were intriguing. I wanted one so badly. I have her information as she offered to ship anything that I liked. Stephanie is located at the Red Falcon Studio, 943 E. 52nd Street, Austin, Texas.

image

And as I researched for this blog post I stumbled upon a few YouTube videos of Stephanie Bradley singing the blues and playing the guitar. What a treat!

 
I just love the name of this vendor: Prickly Pair Flowers. And to see the couple standing there looking so serious . . . too funny! Lovely booth.

Prickly Pair flowers

Prickly Pair flowers

Farmers markets build community. Become a part of yours.

One a month: going organic and GMO free

Standard

I have begun tweeting about choosing organic food items to replace chemically farmed food items. I challenge everyone to make a permanent change, one item each month. FlourSackMama.com’s #GreenGoesMainstream movement has picked up momentum while shoppers and consumers choose more organic foods.

Buying organic does much more than avoid genetically engineered or genetically modified ingredients, though. Buying organic supports a sustainable farming system that ensures that the soil and the planet stay alive. Instead of spraying life-killing herbicides such as glyphosate (RoundUp) and 2,4-D (which also kill micro-organisms in the soil, not just weeds), organic farmers and growers must follow a strict set of guidelines that keep the soil alive, keep the planet alive, and help keep humans and wildlife alive, including bees and butterflies.

What do you normally buy when you stock your pantry or walk through the grocery store? Do you pick up a few things after work each day? What are your pathing habits through the grocery store? Up and down the aisles or perimeter? Non-GMO shoppers are typically perimeter shoppers. There isn’t much we will buy on those aisle shelves except in the organic section (my grocery store places few organics beside chemically-raised food products).

When I began the switch to GMO-free foods, I discovered that buying organic ensured no GMOs. It was a simple solution to a problem: chemically farmed food ingredients in mainstream food products are not adequately labeled to indicate that they contained GMOs.

Big Food Fights GMO Labeling

The Grocery Manufacturers Association which has this plastered on its .org website (see below), spends millions of dollars to ensure that consumers do NOT know what products contain GMOs every time a state tries to pass a labeling initiative.

Lobbying organization for Big Food wants to tell us the truth about GMOs? I think they want to suppress the truth starting with stopping labeling initiatives.

Lobbying organization for Big Food wants to tell us the truth about GMOs? They pour millions of dollars into campaigns to suppress the truth by stopping labeling initiatives.

The facts about GMOs are just beginning to emerge in spite of an industry that, through its patents, has hindered independent research into the safety and sustainability of growing and consuming genetically engineered or genetically modified crops. Monsanto has controlled published research results on all of its patented GMO seeds and crops until patents began to expire last year. They had the final say on what could be published. How in the world is the truth to emerge from such a system?

Article: AG says more campaign money hidden in I-522 fight. Not only did the GMA and its financers pour money into stopping the GMO labeling initiative in Washington state (and California, Vermont, Connecticut), but they are now being investigated for illegal money laundering activity while doing so. Talk about dirty!

Making the Switch

Making the switch to one organic item a month ensures that the change becomes a habit, one that you can afford. Consumers making small, permanent changes in buying habits can make a huge difference. I have always believed that the real power rests in the buying power of the people.

Buying chemically raised foods supports chemical companies and the poisoning of the land. Buying sustainably-raised, organic foods supports an industry that cares about the land and all that depend on it for their very lives, including the bees, Monarchs, wildlife, and humans.

Make one change a month (or week) to withdraw support for chemically-raised food products and show support for organic farmers and growers. Oh, and don’t forget to go green when you purchase cleaning products (or just use vinegar and baking soda like I do).