Barbara Kingsolver Talks about Eating Local

animal-vegetable.jpg

Today I heard a great interview with author Barbara Kingsolver on the radio program “Living on Earth.” In the interview, Kingsolver discusses the idea of a “paradigm shift” for our eating habits. That paradigm shift is basically eating as local as possible and eating in season. Kingsolver and her family conducted an experiment with eating local for a year to reduce their impact on the environment. Why? Kingsolver says,

We were led into this project for so many reasons. For me, it’s because I grew up in a rural community among farmers and I’ve always considered the local farming economy to be important and frankly an important part of food security. We are now, as a nation, putting almost as much fossil fuels into our refrigerators as our cars. Every item on average on the American plate has traveled 1500 miles so add up all the items on your plate and you might as well order room service from the moon!

That’s an incredible amount of fossil fuel, an incredible amount of carbon emissions going into the atmosphere, warming up the globe just to get a grape from Chile, a tomato from Mexico so I can eat a tomato in January.

So, Kingsolver embarked on this fascinating journey of creating community, eating locally, eating in season, and growing a lot of their own food. The results of their experiment with eating local are the subject of her new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

The interviewer, Steve Curwood, points out the fact that Kingsolver and family live on a farm and therefore have the opportunity to grow a lot of their own food. But for the rest of us, what do we do? Kingsolver has some great advice. For example, buy at local farmers markets, get a plot at a community garden, etc.

I personally volunteer at a small organic farm during the growing season and get a big bag of veggies once a week for my efforts. We also have a pot luck dinner at the end of the harvest day, so it’s like a big community party every week.

I also think that you don’t have to go 100% local to make a difference either. You can grow a small plot of tomatoes, or herbs, or buy at a local farmer’s market and not give up the occassional non-local goodie like coffee or imported cheese.

Want to learn more about Kingsolver’s project? You can read a transcript or download the audio of the interview at the Living on Earth website.

You can also find out how to grow some of your own food and purchase produce more locally at the Urban Gardening Help website.


Eco-Friendly Cow Pie Floors?

This week’s Living on Earth program on NPR featured a new technology using cow pies that could be used as an eco-friendly flooring material.

Michigan State University is researching the idea of combining “digester fibers” with plastic by applying heat and pressure to create a kind of fiberboard. From the Living on Earth website:

There’s a surplus of animal waste in the United States; livestock on U.S. farms produce enough manure every year to fill a convoy of trucks stretching from San Francisco to Washington, D.C.

While farmers use cow pies in some quantities for compost, there is still a lot that doesn’t get recycled. The idea is that this new material would suppliment compost and help to manage waste.

It doesn’t smell, either. So don’t you worry about stepping in those cow pies!

You can read more about the research at the Environmental News Network.


Tips for Stopping Junk Mail Waste

You can consider this an additional to our 21 Practical Ways to Help the Environment. In fact, I’m adding it as a comment right after I post this.

If you hate junk mail and think it is wasteful, you can actually do something to stop it. Unfortunately it is not easy, but hopefully this will help.

Go to this Federal Trade Commission website and follow the instructions. There are separate links to opt out of

1. Pre-approved credit card offers
2. Direct mail marketing from many national companies for five years

You can also sign up to get on the national do not call list and reduce unsolicited emails as well through this link.

Thanks to the free, bi-weekly, and 100% recyclable New Mexico based publication Local iQ for this tip.


Recycle Compact Fluorescents!

Purchasing compact fluorescent bulbs is great. But when they burn out in a few years (!!), don’t throw them out! They contain small amounts of mercury, and if that mercury finds its way to a water source, that spells trouble. Remember the Mad Hatter? Yeah, that was mercury! As more and more people purchase compact fluorescents, the need to recycle them becomes more important.

Apparently, in some parts of the U.S. big box hardware stores that sell them are accepting compact fluorescents for recycling. This makes it a lot more convenient for the consumer.

Now, we need to get places like Walmart to do the same. It’s probably just a matter of time, and considering the bulbs I bought this winter will last for several years, there should be lots of places popping up. However, in the meantime, let’s put some pressure, say on WALMART, to accept recycled fluorescents.

You can talk to your city recycling program for more information on where you can safely get rid of your compact fluorescent bulbs.

It also pays to listen to NPR’s “Living on Earth” where I first heard about this issue. You can listen to the program from the website!


Eco-Landscaping Tips at Jetson Green

reel_lawn_mowing.jpg

A quick plug for an article I wrote at Jetson Green. The article is called Green Building: A Landscaper’s Perspective and it includes 11 ideas to help you create an eco-friendly landscape that will compliment an holistic approach to green building design.

Thanks to Preston Koerner for the opportunity to write this for your excellent blog about green building design!


Exclusive Coverage! Xeriscape Conference 2007

p3103773.JPG Ok, so I’m not sure this is exclusive coverage. I just wanted the opportunity to write that in a post. It makes me sound like a hip local news broadcaster. AWARD! WINNING! EXCLUSIVE! COVERAGE! Anyway, this past weekend I attended the 12th Annual Water Conservation & Xeriscape Conference here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Conference is hosted by the Xeriscape Council of New Mexico, Inc., a non-profit tax-exempt corporation. It was an impressive event, bringing together some of the top innovators in the xeriscape movement from the southwestern U.S. and other parts of the world. Here’s some stats and info about last year’s conference from the Xeriscape Council’s website:

Our annual conference now regularly attracts over 400 participants from 12 primarily southwestern states. The recent conference welcomed delegations from both Japan and Mexico, making it an international event. The Expo now draws over 3,000 residents to a free day of seminars, demonstrations, and exhibits for both adults and children. The 2-day conference will continue to focus on more high-level water concerns and issues while the “open-to-the-public” day will deal more with practical “how to” educational sessions.

This year, the keynote speaker was Sandra Postel, the Director of the Global Water Policy Project in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Visiting Senior Lecturer in Environmental Studies at Mount Holyoke College. Other notable speakers included African biologist Allan Savory, founder of Holistic Management International, Edward Mazria, AIA, founder of Architecture 2030, and a long list of very talented people: George Radnovich Sandra Postel Sid Goodloe Matthew Schmader Judith Phillips Ron Pate Carol Franklin Jim Knopf Joran Viers Eileen Claussen Marcia Tatroe Ted Hodoba Corva Rose Stanley Crawford One of the highlights for me was a great lecture from author and landscape designer Judith Phillips. She discussed “hardscapes” in xeriscape design, and how the hard surfaces of a landscape contribute to microclimates and how they can be used to channel and capture storm water. Other subjects of her talk included “green shade” versus “hard shade,” and the use of permeable hardscapes. The idea with green shade is that areas shaded with plants have the additional effect of evaporative transpiration, which cools an area more efficiently that an area shaded with a hard structure. Hard structures and “green shade” can also be combined in unusual, vertical designs to cool and decorate an area. Permeable hardscapes allow some water to filter back into the soil. See this website for more info on using permeable hardscapes. olla.JPG I also enjoyed browsing the booths of vendors, and saw some very cool and innovative products, including irrigation ollas (clay pots) which you plant in the ground and fill with water to slowly seep into the soil and water garden plants. I stayed in a condo that was for rent in Taos when I visited the event. I’ll get to that in a later post! You can find more information about the Xeriscape Conference here.

The 18Seconds Movement

counter18secs.jpg

In the last few weeks there have been some very interesting developments in regards to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs): California and Australia debating plans to phase out incandescent bulbs, Walmart offering the bulbs for cheaper than they have ever been sold for before, etc.

Now comes the launch of the 18Seconds.org website and campaign. This is a joint effort by Yahoo.com and Walmart which serves to promote the use of CFLs. An AP article about 18Seconds.org states:

A coalition of private companies and government agencies is launching a grassroots marketing campaign to persuade more Americans to help combat global warming by using energy-efficient light bulbs.

The 18Seconds movement is aimed at getting Americans to replace electricity-wasting incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs that are up to five times more efficient and last several times longer.

The campaign — named for the average time it takes to change a light bulb — is scheduled to launch Thursday at the Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose.

The coalition includes Yahoo Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Environmental Defense, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Department, U.S. mayors, retailers, religious organizations and conservation groups.

You can read more from a blog post from Lawrence Bender.

The 18Seconds.org website is pretty cool as well. It is interactive, so you can see counters that show how many compact fluorescent bulbs are being sold in your area. There is also a link to a tool where you can install a counter on your own website. Plus, there’s lots of info on the benefits of CFLs. There are also ways to get your friends and neighbors involved in the movement.

While switching to compact fluorescent bulbs is a great start, there are lots of other simple and practical ways to help the environment. Read our list of environmental tips here.


Win Solar Gadgets with Your Alternative Energy Tips

global-solar.gif

Global Solar and EarthToys have teamed up this month to present a cool contest called “Tips and Tricks for using Alternative Sources to Save Energy.”

If you submit your tips before the 25th of February of 2007, you could win yourself a Global Solar Sunlinq 12Watt 12V Portable Power Pack c/w Accessory Kit (MSRP = $195). Sweet!

Read more about the Alternative Sources to Save Energy contest, and sign up here.


Solar LED Clip-on Landscaping Lights

solar-clip-lights.jpg

Landscape lights can end up using a lot of energy if you have a big path you’d like to illuminate. So, consider going solar for your landscaping. Solar e-Clips are just the thing if you want to light pathways up to 70 feet long with pure solar energy! They get all their power from a separate “solar rock” which you can place away from the lighting set. This means the lights themselves can be in a shady area while the solar collector is in a sunny spot.

The manufacturers designed these lights so that you can clip them onto things like “Snapedge paver restraint, Edge-Scape, eaves troughs, coiled garden edging, wood fencing or simply spike directly into the ground.” You can purchase a 14 or a 28 light set depending on your needs. I love the idea of landscape lighting that does not cost me a penny beyond the purchase price of the product! Well, maybe a few replacement bulbs, but that’s about it! Any other LED or outdoor solar lights to recommend? Please let us know what’s worked for you!


Earthtoys February Alternative Energy Emagazine

earthtoys feb.jpg

Earthtoys February Alternative Energy Emagazine is now up. As always there are great articles about alternative energy technologies, green building, and alternative forms of transportation. You’ll also find an interesting article about how to grow houseplants to filter the air in your home or office.

I also wanted to put up some interesting comments from the ezine’s publisher:

In the State of the Union Address, there was much talk about Alternative and Renewable Energy … which is great. Our news page contains press releases from many energy related associations discussing the speech and debating it’s relevance …some positive and some negative reactions.

My two bits worth is this: Any serious discussion about Alternative Energy is good … but so far I’m not seeing enough action resulting from all the discussion. We need solutions to the energy problems we are facing and they must range from small inventions to mega-projects. Everyone needs to be engaged in applying the solutions to everyday life. There are many products out there already that work. Lets start promoting their use and generate some cash to build more. We do not need to reinvent the wheel … just start rolling it and having fun with it.

Down with the study groups and up with the EarthToys!


Dude, nice ox blood colored dirt floor!

I used to think that bamboo flooring was kind of cool, modern and ecofriendly, but I realize that I was stupid.

Fortunately, I now know that dirt is the only way to go.

Aesthetically, earthen floors are “really special,” said Frank Meyer, a natural builder who has installed 15 in Austin, Tex. “After a while they look like an old cracked leather couch,” he said. “When people walk in, they don’t say, ‘Oh, nice floor.’ Everyone gets down on their hands and knees to admire it.” Mr. Meyer has used natural pigment to create designs in some floors, and he said some builders add the blood of oxen for maroon coloration.

Some aficionados see a spiritual aspect to earthen floors, too. Mr. Rowell said his floor would help create a “sacred space.” Mr. Meyer agreed. “I think people are craving the earth,” he said. “They want to be more primal. How much more primal can you get than dirt?”

Next, I plan to replace my toilet with a bucket. Because a fancy flush toilet just won’t really go with that spiritual dirt floor.

The other good news is that I’ll never have to worry about tracking mud in the house. Isn’t being environmentally friendly great?


“This Old House” Goes Green!

The beloved do it yourself show “This Old House” on PBS goes green starting February 8th. The house they’re going to renovate is a 1926 Austin, TX Craftsman-style bungalow. Renovations and “green” improvements include rainwater catchment systems and landscaping with native plants.

I heard about the project on this morning’s “Living On Earth” program on NPR, which has some excellent green links on their website and a transcript of the interview with Norm Abram and Bill Moore, two of the main jefes of the project.

This is going to be a great opportunity to see green building in action, so make sure to check it out!


Environmentally friendly clothes hangers coming soon?

An article at News.com describes the EcoHanger, a sturdy clothes hanger made of paper that can be thrown into any paper recycling bin when you inevitably collect several hundred too many of them.

Best of all, they can provide them free to dry cleaners, who would otherwise have to pay for wire hangers.

“3.5 billion wire hangers go into U.S. landfills every year, and they sit in there for over a hundred years,” Kantor said.

Perhaps just as important, the company says it can bring these hangers to market in an economical way that makes it attractive for dry cleaners to switch. HangerNetwork doesn’t sell its hangers. It gives them free to dry cleaners, who ordinarily have to pay about 8 cents per wire hanger.

So who foots the bill? National advertisers pay HangerNetwork to put ads on the hangers, which then stare consumers in the face when they get dressed in the morning.

I’m glad to hear that I can finally see some advertising in my closet at home. Because I was really missing that. Now, if they can only figure out a way to put some advertising in the bathroom so that there’s something to read…. Maybe free toilet paper? I guess sponsors probably wouldn’t want someone defiling their advertising message that way though. Only time will tell.


Energy Star Light Fixtures and Fans from Westinghouse

energy star fan.gif

Wise homeowners throughout the U.S. have been saving significant amounts of money on their energy bills by switching to compact fluorescent bulbs. You can save even more money by converting your light fixtures to Energy Star certified products. Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. The program helps you save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.

These excellent Energy Star light fixtures and ceiling fans from Westinghouse meet the strict energy efficiency guidelines set out by the Energy Star program. They use compact fluorescent technology and additionally, the ceiling fans are designed to move air 15% more efficiently than a standard ceiling fan. The collection includes both outdoor and indoor lighting fixtures.

There are lots more Energy Star Certified products out there for your home. Please read more about the Energy Star program here.


American Clay Natural Plasters

clay.jpg

I heard an interesting program on NPR this morning about an environmentally friendly wall plaster manufactured in my very own home state of New Mexico. The radio show talked about how back in the good ol’ days of the Spanish Conquest, people here in the great Southwest used natural clays and other materials as a sort of plaster for their homes. (I imagine the Spanish stole this idea from the indigenous peoples of this region.) Nowadays, we have the technology to improve on this technique while using these natural materials for an eco-friendly building material. American Clay is the company, and here’s their pitch!

American Clay Natural Earth Plasters bring the appealing finishes of Nature to your Home, Office, School, Business, anywhere you want to add healthful beauty to your interior walls and ceilings. Manufactured in and using materials from the United States, American Clay uses natural clays, recycled and reclaimed aggregates, and vibrant natural pigments in each of our three beautiful finishes: LOMA, PORCELINA, and MARITTIMO.

You don’t have to be a conquistador to love natural plasters!


Solar Style Inc. Solar Chargers

solar adaptor.jpg

Looking for stylish and effective solar chargers for your cell phone, MP3 player, or other electronic gadget? Try out this awesome solar charger from Solar Style, Inc. This charger comes with seven different connections. Here are some details of the product from their website:

Charger
Output Voltage- 3.6/5.5V
Output Current- >300mA
Dimensions- 107.5x72x22.5mm Weight- 131g
Full Charge- AC/Car= 4-5 Hours Sun= 6-8 Hours

Battery-On-Board (Li-ion)
Capacity- 750mAh
Voltage- 3.7V
mAh- 750

Solar Panels
Output Voltage- 7.0V
Output Current- 180mA(x2)

•Standard Mobile phones
•Smart phones
•PDA’s
•MP3 players
•And other electronic devices with similar or lesser energy consumption/battery needs.


Eco-Friendly Garden Protector

mole chaser.jpg

The Vibrasonic Mole Chaser is a great way to deal with burrowing rodents in your yard and garden. Using sound waves, it is also safe for humans and your four legged friends. That is to say, your dog, cat, etc. The solar model doesn’t even need batteries! Protects up to 13,500 square feet of your yard or garden with this awesome eco-friendly product!


Green-e

green e.gif

If you’re looking to purchase from companies that support renewable energy, or you’d like to purchase green energy, look no further than the Green-e certification label. What’s Green-e all about?

“Green-e is the nation’s leading independent renewable energy certification and verification program. The logo provides an easy way for consumers to quickly identify environmentally superior energy options and is used by businesses to communicate the purchase and/or generation of certified renewable energy. Regardless of income, location, or property ownership, consumers across the U.S. can choose Green-e certified renewable energy to ”green” their home and/or business.”

“The Green-e logo means that an independent third party has certified that the renewable energy meets the Green-e Program’s high consumer protection and environmental standards. Businesses that purchase or generate a significant amount of certified renewable energy also display the Green-e logo in order to communicate their commitment to certified renewable energy.”

Support Green-e by visiting their website and finding out more!


Eco-friendly Christmas Tree Disposal

If you had a live Christmas tree this year, you know very well that throwing that tree out in the garbage is not the best way to dispose of it. Thankfully, there are a number of eco-friendly Christmas tree disposal methods to choose from. If you have a chipper shredder, you can use the leftovers in your compost. Many cities offer Christmas tree recycling programs. You can also check out this handy guide to safely getting rid old Tannenbaum. Handy tips abound!


Cool Seed Bag/Pot

shop_garden_bag_basil.jpg

This is a cool idea for a gift. A seed bag that you can reuse to grow the seeds! Garden-in-a-Bag is a unique gardening gift that includes a leak proof bag and all you need to grow a little fresh herbs in your own home. The different herbs and plants available include: Alpine Strawberry, Basil, Chives, Cilantro, Lavender, Mini Petunia, Mini Tomato, Oregano, Parsley, and Thank You Viola.