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Monday, February 21, 2011

My Urban Homestead

There has been a lot of talk about this term and its use in the past week.  I have always referred to it as my backyard homestead, but the idea is basically the same.  We live in town and have a small backyard space that is currently serving as my own little farm.  As always, it is a work in progress, but I thought that it would be fun to talk a little bit about it here.

My first garden was only about ten by ten and was not terribly successful.  It was born about five years ago.  Much like a tattoo, once I had one garden, my thoughts went to having another. The next year we added about 25 square feet to the garden and planted a few more varieties.  We learned the importance of added amendments to the soil, and I started to actually read about how to have a more successful garden.  And it paid off a little more.  Then it was official that I had the bug.  I even did a pretty good job of getting hubby involved.

The homestead process really started rolling after the birth of our son.  I began to really think about the world that I wanted him to grow up in, and about what I could do to make his world more safe and sustainable.  The more I read about food safety and security, the more I longed to do more.  Then I picked up the book Lasagna Gardening and learned how much more I could do to grow food in our small space.  I built my first lasagna bed about three years ago.  Adding organic material to the bed is easy because I have recruited some neighbors to save grass clippings and leaves for me.  They may think that we are crazy, but you would be surprised how happy people are to get rid of that stuff.  We also created two small raised beds.  Suddenly, we were growing more food than we could use.

This happy problem led to further study into how to make use of what I was growing.  I picked up the Ball Blue Book to learn about how to can.  I had vague memories of my great grandmother doing some canning, but had no idea where to start.  We started with salsa because we had a glut of tomatoes and salsa creation did not take any special equipment.  After some jams and canned fruit, I found a pressure canner at an auction and started canning beans as well.  I am still working on food dehydrating, and on creating a root cellar, but those things will come in time.

The next year, my husband and I set up a booth at the local farmer's market.  We loved the sense of community there and wanted to be a part of it.  You would be surprised at how much you can learn from "real" farmer's that can help the urban farmer.  They always seem happy to share their knowledge with anyone who will listen. We sold some things from our garden, resold fruit from local pick your own places, and sold baked goods and jellies.  It was great.

Now, I have approximately 8 gardens in my backyard of various shapes and sizes.  The grass has given way to nice fertile patches of ground.  My toddler does not have a lot of running room during gardening season, but he likes to make friends with worms and dig in the dirt, so the trade off is okay.  The next hurdle I hope to conquer is to have some livestock.  I would like to start with rabbits this year and then possible move on to chickens and bees.

Other things that we do on our little homestead?  I cut my husband's hair myself, bake bread, sew and knit.  We have a couple of apple trees that are still maturing and grow strawberries, black raspberries and blueberries.  In the late spring we have secret berry patches where we go out to forage for the free berries.  I make soap and my own cleaning products in order to create less of an impact on the Earth.  Most of all, I try to meet my neighbors, share the fruits of my labor with them, and talk to them about what they can do in their own backyards.  If times get tough, I don't want to be the only one in my neighborhood with a garden.

The message that I am trying to get across is that you do not have to start with everything at once.  You do not have to spend a lot of money, in fact that is what we are trying to avoid.  Maybe your homestead will start with a container garden on your patio, or with a pet rabbit, but whatever the case it does not matter how small you start.  Once you get started, you may find that it gets in your blood, and that you add a little each year until you are a pretty successful urban homestead yourself.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Understanding Fair Trade

If you are looking to make more sustainable lifestyle decisions, consider buying fair trade products. You might have noticed more items on the store shelf with the words "fair trade certified." This label means that those products are part of a system of buying and selling goods that is designed to promote greater equity between producers and consumers.

According to the Fair Trade Federation, the aims of the fair trade system are to create greater equity and partnership in the international trading system by:
  • Creating Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized Producers
  • Developing Transparent and Accountable Relationships
  • Building Capacity
  • Promoting Fair Trade
  • Paying Promptly and Fairly
  • Supporting Safe and Empowering Working Conditions
  • Ensuring the Rights of Children
  • Cultivating Environmental Stewardship
  • Respecting Cultural Identity

The fair trade system has its roots in the late 1940s when a Mennonite volunteer first started bringing hand-made goods back from Puerto Rico for sale in the united states. That first fair trade exchange turned into the well-known purveyor of fair trade goods - Ten Thousand Villageswhich increased awareness of this type of exchange. Since then, fair trade exchanges have grown to a multibillion dollar part of the international economy, creating new economic opportunities for the developing world and leading to a broader appreciation for international goods.

By their nature, fair trade exchanges lead to producers getting paid a more equitable rate for the goods they provide compared to traditional wholesale changes where many producers make a few cents per unit of what they produce. This increase can lead to a higher standard of living, opportunities for gender equity and lowered barriers to entry into the world marketplace for less affluent countries and individuals. Now, more than just a market for handmade goods, fair trade has extended into commercial agriculture, textiles and furniture.

Large corporations are moving toward using more fair trade goods, companies like Starbucks have a line of fair trade coffees and recentlyBen & Jerry's announced that they will be moving to all fair trade goods. This move is considered especially notable by fair trade observers because the brand Ben & Jerry's was sold to Unilever which raised questions about whether or not the brand would continue to champion causes as they did when they were an independent entity.

TransFair USA which is the US certifying body for fair trade exchanges has also moved on to certifying textiles for use in clothing and linens. The first TransFair USA certified textiles are expected to go on the US Market by this spring. In the past fair trade textile alliances have also called for language to be included in World Trade Organization and United Nations resolutions in order to provide additional weight to the movement. This has had limited success however, without the cooperation of large governments like China.

Fair trade goods have seen continued growth in adoption all over the world and consumers have come to know the label as being indicative of sustainable commerce. Fair trade observers expect this trend to continue as awareness of these products and what the fair trade label means continues to grow.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Maternity Kits for Haiti

I am super excited about a project that I have gotten involved with.  Delicate Fortress is an organization who is currently working with Create Hope to make and send maternity kits to women in Haiti.  Sound interesting?  Get involved here.  They are hoping to send hundreds of kits to the women of Haiti in March.  They will be collecting donations and supplies until February, 16th.  If you can help in any way, that would be great.

I am helping by sewing bags and blankets for the cause.  I have not had my sewing machine out in ages, and it has been fun to get back to it.  If you don't have sewing skills, or money to donate, you can still help.  I promise to give one 2.50 postage donation for every comment that I receive on this post until the 16th.  So leave a comment and pass on to your friends so they can comment as well.

Here's hoping for lots of comments

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A New Kind of Tree Planting

If you're a fan of sustainable lifestyle choices, its likely that you've been to a tree planting event, or donated to a charity that plants trees.  Tree planting as a way of giving back is as old as Earth Day.  Now, a company in Hawaii is offering a new twist on the traditional tree planting party - instead its asking investors to purchase units of its legacy hardwood with the ability to watch them grow. Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods is selling units of 100 trees that will be tagged with RFID's allowing the investors to literally watch their investment mature over time.
RFID's or radio-frequency identification involves applying an RFID tag to an object allowing owners to track the location and identification of the object using radio waves.  RFID's have become a popular means of managing supply chains for distributors but have recently gained popularity as ways of tracking information and places.  Cities have started affixing RFID's to store windows so that people can get store information as they walk by, using their smart phones.  Now, by adding RFID's to the trees, people who have the tags can check in through applications like Google Earth to view the progress.
According to the company, Hawaii is the only place in the US with the appropriate climate for growing tropical rainforest hardwoods. Woods that have been wiped out in other places.  Hawaii also has several large tracts of abandoned acreage left from sugar crops and pineapple crops that are now cheaper and easier to grow in other countries.  As such, Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods intends to fill that space with these rare trees.
Last year the company planted the first 140-acre sections with Koa trees and has plans to fill the full 2700 acre site on the Hamakua coast. The site will eventually support 1.3 million tropical hardwoods, primarily Koa, that are indigenous to Hawaii.
Hawaii has seen a loss of over 90% of its native forests, primarily to agriculture and development. According to the International Tropical Timber Organization the world has less than 14 years of tropical hardwoods left to cut before resource is completely depleted.
For its part, the company is working to restore the forest through its plan of sustainable logging and planned regrowth.  Tree owners will receive data about the ownership, growth, maintenance and lumber yield from each tree in the unit.  The trees will have GPS coordinates to provide satellite viewing of specific trees from space.
The use of RFID is growing in the multi-billion dollar timber industry as timber companies struggle with ways to halt illegal logging, and maintain control over their lands. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) also uses satellite tracking as a way of monitoring deforestation and preventing against illegal logging and is currently increasing the amount of resources it allocates for the tracking and prevention of deforestation globally.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fair Trade Towns

Do you purchase and support the use of Fair Trade goods? Or, maybe you'd like to but they are hard to find in your area? Consider making your town a Fair Trade town.
The growth of Fair Trade products has given consumers more power to vote with their pocketbooks by choosing these goods. Now, the Fair Trade town movement is taking it to the next level by making it a city/town mandate to support Fair Trade. The movement started in England with the town of Garstang, which declared itself the first Fair Trade town in 2000. Since then, the movement has grown to 600 communities on three continents.
In the US, the first Fair Trade town was Media, PA - now, cities from Austin to Boston are in the mix and pushing others to get involved. The organization dedicated to creating Fair Trade towns -- provides five steps for becoming a Fair Trade town:
  • Local council passes a resolution supporting Fair Trade, and agrees to serve Fair Trade products (for example, in meetings, offices and canteens).
  • A range of Fair Trade products are available locally (targets vary from country to country)
  • Schools, workplaces, places of worship and community organisations support Fair Trade and use Fair Trade products whenever possible
  • Media coverage and events raise awareness and understanding of Fair Trade across the community.
  • A Fair Trade steering group representing different sectors is formed to co-ordinate action around the goals and develop them over the years.
Once the criteria have been met, the city or town will then be recognized by the national steering committee and can start calling themselves a Fair Trade town. The US steering committee also has a website where you can go to learn about how to organize and meet the criteria as well as look at what other cities have done.
Sounds easy enough right? While most cities involved haven't faced significant difficulty in achieving the certification once they start out, the process can be a lengthy one and does require a core group of committed individuals. Since this is a grass roots movement, the first big hurdle is educating decision makers about the benefits of Fair Trade. Once people understand the benefits, the infrastructure has to be set up including a procurement schedule as well as support from local businesses. Depending on the size of the community working towards certification, this can take some time.
Interested parties will also have to become familiar with the way their city/town councils work and what it will take to get a declaration on the council agenda. This process is not always clear or easy when the action starts from a citizen level. Overall, the process is defined by time spent and education, making commitment key.
Becoming a Fair Trade town is to truly live the motto, "think locally, act globally." Each new Fair Trade town creates an impact and new opportunity for not only the town itself but farmers and workers the world over. Supporting Fair Trade also helps create a more sustainable world allowing us all to enjoy our cities and towns as well as our livelihood's for a long time to come.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Learning Basic Skills

There are a number of ways to become more self-sufficient.  The daily double is that self sufficiency often equals sustainability.  So what are some basic skills?  I think that question is impossible to answer, as none are necessarily more important than others, but I usually think of my great grandparents.  Here are some of the skills that I have been honing in the last few years in order to become more self sufficient.
  • Increasing sewing, knitting and crocheting skills. 
  • Gardening organically, saving seed, and succession planting
  • Getting friendly with my neighbors
  • Turning off tv, and enjoying time with family
  • Baking my own bread
  • Canning what I grow
  • Learning to dehydrate food (failing a bit miserably at this point)
  • Reusing, repurposing, regifting.
  • Learning to make and use homemade cleaning products like laundry soap and all purpose cleaner.
On my list are also woodworking and basic home and car repair.  However, they are lower on my own priority list, so I have not begun actively working on them.  I should mention that I am still part of society, live in town, and own no livestock.  I may want those things to change some day, but I am not yet that self sufficient.

Why teach myself these things, or relearn things long forgotten?  Because I do believe that living gently on this planet is important, but also because I think that there may come a time when things here are not as easy as we are used to, and I want to be ready.  Think about no electricity and what that encompasses, and then think about how people will exist without it.  So, when I mention the "basic skill" of being friendly with my neighbors, that is part of the reason why.  In my neighborhood alone, we have 5 teachers, a state cop, 2 nurses, an emt, and 4 lawyers.  Oh, and a guy who drives a tugboat.  Not sure what value the lawyers and tugboat man will be if things get tough, but I hope so.  After having said that, can you name on a three block area who does what, what their names are, etc?  If not, it may be time to reach out.  Part of living sustainably is borrowing instead of buying, and why buy a ladder if the guy across the street has one, and he can use your chain saw?

Bartering of goods and services is becoming a more popular idea, and one that I will probably visit more in depth in a later post.  But, it makes a lot of sense, and building community is the only way that it will ever be successful.  Do not feel dumb trying to get to know your neighbors.  I'm sure that mine think I am crazy.  I ask for their grass clippings, give them veggie plant starts, and offer the new family and new baby on the block all of my baby stuff.  I get a few looks, but I also do not particularly care.
So, my challenge is to pick two skills that you think interest you and that are most useful right now for you and for your family.  It starts to be fun.  If your friends are like mine, they may call you a dirty hippie, but dirty is better than helpless. Share your stories of getting back to basic skills here.

Ethical Consumerism

We all think we are principled shoppers, right? We buy the green paper towels and pick up local strawberries when we see them. Yet, according to proponents of Ethical Consumerism, we could be doing more and saying more with our purchasing power.

More than a few organic tomatoes in the grocery cart, ethical consumerism is a lifestyle choice. Essentially, it means buying things only when they are truly needed and only purchasing from brands or suppliers whose business practices are clear and do no harm. Doing no harm includes fair pay practices, not exploiting humans, animals or nature and working to keep sustainable materials and business practices as the core business model. Ethical consumerism also supports the use of the 'moral boycott,' or refusing to purchase items from companies who do not live up to these standards.

Sounds good right? No one knowingly wants to buy things that made it to the store shelves by exploiting everything in its path to a purchase-ready package. Yet, each day consumers make these trade-off's with a little internal monologue that goes like this -- "what's one carton of non-organic milk?" "No one gets full on mercury poisoning from a single tin of tuna, right?" "Like my ten items at the checkout are going to stop anything."

While that might be true for that single day, when you are late or your kids need something for lunch, it adds up over time. Just like it adds up when you make the choice to purchase ethically. Think about how the average grocery store has changed in the last ten years, could you buy those organic tomatoes before without a trip to the "health food" store or a farmers market? Doubtful. Companies are starting to listen, even Walmart has started to urge its suppliers to go green.

Ethical consumerism, requires research and understanding of the brands you see on the store shelves. It may also mean changing from some of the products you've used for years in order to make a statement against exploitative business practices. This is where things get tricky, because it's often hard to tell who makes each different product. Large consumer goods companies like Proctor & Gamble make hundreds of products, sometimes even store brands, which can make it difficult to switch products without also having to switch stores. Yet, that too makes a statement.

People interested in pursuing ethical consumerism, have a variety of resources available to them. Many websites have started publishing lists of brands and goods that fall under the standards of ethical consumerism, as well as those that don't. Some of the larger moral boycotts like the one involving NestlĂ© and Tesco have had some media attention, but largely in Europe where this movement has been more focused. Some products are also offering more information on their labels.

A quick word of caution, if you choose to start consuming ethically, phase it in. If you read this, and then throw out a houseful of non-ethical products it sort of cancels out the effect of going green. One of the key points of ethical consumerism is to buy only what you need as you need it. So, start phasing in ethical products as you need them rather than adding a huge pile to your landfill and starting over.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Green on a Budget

Going green isn't just good for the planet, it can also be good for your wallet. I've always been a collector/antiquer and it's a common joke around that community that we were the first into this green lifestyle thing, by seeking out things that were tens if not hundreds of years old rather than new furniture or bric brac.
Even if you're not into vintage, going green can still save you some green with these economical approaches:
  • Hit up your local craigslist free section or join Freecycle, which lets you trade or pick up items with others in your area.
  • Add energy star appliances, not only will they save you dough on your monthly utility bill, you may be able to qualify for additional rebates.
  • Check out these low-cost notebooks from eco-system that let you track where your notebook comes from. They also come in a variety of chic colors, and are made from 100% recycled product using veggie dyes. Meaning the next time you go to jot down a note or your grocery list, it won't come at the price of a new tree.
  • Live so green even your socks are bio-degradable. Yes, you read that right, a company called icebreaker offers cheap and chic socks that are soft and keep your tootsies toasty until they naturally biodegrade.
  • Cut back on pre-packaged foods. Sure, they're easy and some of them almost taste great but, the packaging? Not so much. Switching to fresh prepared foods can not only add an extra healthy boost to your diet but can also cut back on the use of cardboards and paper products.
  • Add a water saving shower head. I know, you're thinking this means you'll be showering under a trickle of water but that's not the case. Shower heads have come a long way and some of them even generate their own pressure while using less water, giving you the perfect showering experience while saving you some dough, and the world some water.
  • Turn off your porch light.  Unless you have solar powered outdoor lighting, you should consider turning off your porch lights and exterior lights once you're in for the night. It saves energy and also cuts down on light pollution in your neighborhood.
  • Consider buying bulk and non-disposable items.  Buying in bulk not only saves you money, but it also saves on packaging.  Which means you can cut down on the trash coming out of your home.  If you live alone, buying in bulk may not work for you, but consider buying non-disposable items as well.  Pens, swiffers, plastic forks, plastic bottles, it all adds up - and quickly too. Buying re-useable items can save you some serious dough and cut down on the amount of trash that ends up in your local landfill.
  • Consider thrifting - Goodwill is more than just a place to go for vintage looks.  Many second hand stores now have very current items at deeply discounted prices.  You can also get rid of unwanted items in a more green-friendly way by donating them or resell them at a consignment shop where you'll get a cut of the final purchase price.
Following the steps above for adopting a green lifestyle are a win-win for your pocketbook and the planet. They're also incremental enough you can ease into it.  Remember, its not green to upend your existing lifestyle and replace it with all new "recycled" goods.  Buy what you need, cut what you don't, moderation is the key here.
Have other ideas? Share them with the class in comments.

What Can One Person Do?

Amazingly enough, there is a lot that one person can do.  Looking at yourself as a member of a larger community where all of your actions effect everyone else in some way helps to make this more clear.  Is it required that you tow the environmentalist line?  I don't think so.  Sometimes, I think that when people believe passionately about a subject or way of life, they tend to scoff at those who do not adhere to that same lifestyle to the letter.  It may not be feasible for your family to switch to a vegan lifestyle or to buy all of your products according to fair trade or organic standards.
I believe that quite the opposite is true.  Education and knowledge will lead you to your own conclusions.  Surf the web, try different search words like fair trade, corporate corruption, international poverty, organic food, buy local.  Each one of those searches will give you some information and will give you ideas on other things to look for.
No matter what we as consumers are told, or what we choose to believe, our lifestyle in "developed" countries, directly contributes to the continued poverty of others, and to the diminishing resource crisis that we are now facing.  If you are visiting this site, my suspicion is that you are already beginning to question some of the things that we have been led to believe throughout our lives.  The truth is that might does not make right.  And while it is true that we can sometimes become agents of change through voting in our democratic system, what is more true is that we can vote with our dollars.
So, if you can do just one of the things that you research, you can make a difference.  Buy your tomatoes from a local farmer.  Try to cut meat out of one or two meals per week.  Install a low flow showerhead, or shower only every other day.  You could try starting a small garden, or canning/preserving your own veggies, or those bought at the local market.  Join and share your cast offs with someone else who may be able to use them, or look for items that someone else has that you can avoid buying new. Say hi to your neighbor, or to a stranger on the street.  Or buy a pound of fair trade coffee, or another fair trade item, just to test it out.  Any of those actions, and a multitude of others can and will make a difference in the lives of one or more people, and if thousands of others join us, a movement and a message to big business could result.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Does Frugal Living Equal Green Living

In the current economy, there are many who are needing to simplify the way that they have always lived their lives.  Disposable cash is not a concept that exists at the moment for many people.  So, for many, they are living a greener lifestyle without consciously thinking about it.  For many other, switching to a green lifestyle is a choice with the added benefit of it being a more frugal way to live.
By downsizing to one vehicle, turning down the heat, cutting meat out of a few meals a week, and walking to get where we need to go, we save money and lessen our impact on the earth.  People are reusing, bartering, borrowing, and lending with neighbors and friends.  This reduces consumption, and in my opinion builds community, and friendships between neighbors.
Here are a few ways to live frugally and consciously green:
  1. Pay bills online-There are very few routine monthly bills that cannot be paid online.  This saves money on envelopes and postage, and is friendly to the earth, because your envelopes do not have to travel across the country.
  2. Walk, ride bike, and carpool-I ride the bus into town where my business is located, and sometimes when the weather is more cooperative, I walk.  My husband carpools for the 35 mile trip to the school where he works.  This means that we are using one car for less than half of the week.  Our carbon footprint reduces dramatically based on the decreased number of miles that our car is driven.
  3. A lighter car is more fuel efficient-How many of us carry bunches of stuff in our vehicles that serve no other purpose than to add weight and decreasing fuel efficiency.  Although it may be a small thing, it is frugal and green over the long run.
  4. Breastfeed your baby-There is controversy over this, but if you are looking to save substantial amounts of money at the beginning of your child's life, there is no better way.  Paying for formula is ridiculously expensive, and I can guarantee that breastfeeding is the most efficient way to lose that baby weight.  I lost all of mine and then some during the 6 months that I breast fed my son.  It literally felt like liposuction.
  5. Cook your meals from scratch-Bulk food stores and whole food co-ops are a huge money saving resource.  For those who think that buying organic is prohibitively expensive, but bulk beans and grains, and make a few recipes for a week.  You will find that each meal for a family of four may end up costing only a dollar or so a meal.  This method is better for you, reduces unnecessary packaging, and supports farmers who use organic methods.
  6. Buy local-There are too many benefits to mention here.  In addition to supporting your local farmer, and community, this also decreases "food miles" that waste precious resources.
  7. Garden-This is a mostly relaxing activity that saves money, builds soil, and increases the nutrition your family is getting.  You have control over how your food is grown, and what if any, chemicals are used to produce that food.
  8. Grow what you love-Especially when first starting out, it can be tempting to buy veggie seeds that are hard to grow, and that your family will never eat.  We do this in my garden, because we sell a lot of produce during the weekend farmer's market during the summer.  Grow a few things that you and your family love, and that are easy to grow.  Cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, peas and beans are a few of these. 
  9. Preserve food for the winter-If you have bumper crops of the things that you love, or can find great deals at your farmer's market, buying in season and preserving those items is a great idea.  Make 2 dozen jars of spaghetti sauce, enough salsa to last the winter, and can tomatoes whole to use in recipes later in the year.  Peas and beans freeze and can very well.   

    Cooking down tomato sauce for canning

  10. Work from home-This is a great way to have a frugal and green lifestyle.  Telecommuting is becoming more widely accepted in many workplaces, and having a home business puts you in  charge of you working world.  This reduces the need for transportating to and from work, and in many cases may decrease the number of hours that childcare is needed.

This is just scratching the surface, but I do not feel that I need to point out all of the ways that you can simplify your life.  I hope that this will be a jumping off point that will allow you to think on your own about what will work for you, or your family.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Black and White of Going Green

It seems that "Going Green" is an increasingly polarizing issue. One that is very much divided among religious and political lines.  And I guess that I do not really understand it.  It does not make sense to me that we should be so selfish about the things that we have.  The Earth has been a great provider for thousands of years, yet we take advantage of her at every chance.
Particularly frustrating is the thought that in order to show that you find "green" or "eco" to be bunk, that you have to live the opposite way.  This means that for those people, it is a badge of honor to drive a Hummer, or to live in a home with more bathrooms than people.  It is not enough to just live like they always have, there is a sense of needing to ramp up consumption and resource wasting in order to prove that you are NOT a treehugger.  Conservative pundits discourage buying fuel efficient cars, and push the idea that capitalism is king.  As a result, listeners are not just encouraged, but expected to go out and spend their money on anything and everything without thinking about how that affects the world around them.
Glenn Beck often talks of allowing God to provide for our needs.  That there is no reason to worry about the future, or the impact we may be having because God will not allow us to suffer.  This is fine to believe, but my belief is that this earth was provided for our use, and in order to show respect for that gift, we should use it responsibly.
On the other end of the spectrum, (yes, there is another end), are the militant environmentalists who live there liveswith a very limited impact on the earth, and believe that everyone should drop everything and do likewise.  Some live off the land, and off the grid, and are able to be completely self-sustaining.  It's just not feasible for everyone.  Remember when Sheryl Crow encouraged the use of just one piece of tissue?
As in most issues with two sides, there are nuts on both ends.  My thought however, is that there has to be some space in between for the rest of us.  I am most decidedly on the environmentalist half of the spectrum, but maybe only about halfway to the end.  I know people who are most decidedly on the conservative end of things, but still recycle and buy fuel efficient cars.
I would love to be able to be totally self sufficient, to grow all of my own food, and get electricity from the sun.  However, before I became a baby environmentalist, I bought a home in the northeastern Great Lakes region.  I also live in a small city.  Because I cannot buy a new house, or a piece of land, I make do with what we have.  We have a garden, turn out the lights, recycle, and make our home energy efficient.  Our family has one car that gets 35 mpg, and I ride the bus.  I wish with all of my heart that I could afford solar panels, but even if I could, there would not be enough sun here (even in the summer) to power much in my house.
The point that I am trying to make is that while I care about the earth, and wish that everyone else would as well, I am not preachy about it.  One way or the other.  I have always believed and continue to believe that a few people making a huge difference is not nearly as nice as everyone making a small difference.  Green is not black and white it is green and we still need to love our neighbor whether they agree with us or not.


The United Nations has released an alarming report which shows that the world has failed to stop rapidly falling rates of biodiversity around the globe. According to the report, mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and fish plummeted by a third between 1970 and 2006. The Global Biodiversity Outlook-3 GBO-3 report shows that both population and extinction are growing at rates higher than any point in history, leaving many to wonder how we will be able to stem the tide.
It’s not just already endangered species like corals or rare birds feeling the heat, either – the report found more than 60 livestock breeds have gone extinct since 2000. What’s driving this? Pollution, overexploitation, climate change and invasive alien species are the primary culprits although secondary issues like the loss of habitats are having an impact as well.
Global population figures currently sit at approximately 6 billion, and are expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050. However, the impact that biodiversity has on population isn’t widely covered or widely understood.
What is biodiversity? Biodiversity is the measure and variation of species across the planet and within specific ecosystems. Biodiversity impacts all parts of life from the foods we eat, to where and how we live. Some scientists believe that the loss of biodiversity can also point to some changes in climate as well as changes in over all health as the loss of life also contributes to a weakening of the genetic code. According to research, 99.9 percent of the species that have ever inhabited the Earth are now extinct. Puts the loss of that .1 percent in a little more perspective doesn’t it?
In 2002, 190 countries came together to reduce the loss of biodiversity and according to the report, they failed. GBO-3 found that none of 21 biodiversity targets set in 2002 were met, including targets to curb the rate of habitat loss and degradation, protect at least 10 per cent of the Earth’s ecological regions, control the spread of invasive species and ensure international trade does not threaten any species with extinction. Instead, the rate has increased and seemingly has nothing stopping it. The failure to halt losses will continue to have an immediate impact on life sustaining services that come from nature, such as drinkable water, and crop pollination.
The report is the result of a combined effort of 31 different surveillance schemes working in concert to create the first ever fully comprehensive biodiversity tracking measurement.
While governments have instituted more measures to stop practices like logging, or over-fishing few have been as successful as they should be. Many governments are powerless to stop illegal logging, or gain control on over-fishing. This is where our responsibility as ethical consumers becomes even more important, to make sure that we aren’t inadvertently supporting those practices.
2010 was slated to be the year of biodiversity, originally with the goal of celebrating successes in cutting back the loss of species. However, the failures cited in the report mean that 2010 will be anything but. Now, with a renewed sense of urgency, UN leaders and groups across the world are calling for a fresh look at how we can restructure our practices and stem the tide.
Some observers have pointed to the global financial restructuring as an opportunity to address biodiversity concerns thus resulting in a more sustainable future through all facets of our infrastructure. Scientists claim that some of the lack of success can be attributed to underfunding of protection initiatives and that an additional $4 billion a year to provide adequate funding to protecting species from extinction would have a dramatic effect on increasing the success rate of biodiversity measures.

Gardening on a Small Lot

I live in the city, so I know how hard it can be to find space to plant a decent garden.  If you are just starting out, do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed by what you can't grow.  Focus on what you do have room for, and make a start.  As things get rolling, you will become more creative and may find more room than you thought that you had.

Grass is not a necessity.  When we live in a town or city, we may feel the pressure to maintain a gorgeous looking, grass covered yard.  However you can in reality garden your whole lot with not a blade of grass in sight.  There are some communities that have rules and mandates about gardening in your front areas, but again with creativity this can be overcome.  It is likely that you are allowed to plant trees, so try a dwarf variety of your favorite fruit tree.  It will take a couple of years, but a fruit tree is wonderful to have.

Try using a container.  If you only have a balcony or small patio space, container gardening will be your best bet.    One tomato plant can provide you with a bountiful supply for a few weeks in the summer.  Herbs, peppers, cukes, and lettuce are other great container plants.

Use the space wisely.  Whatever space you have available to till, use it wisely.  Raised beds or lasagna beds are a great way to make sure that you can use your space efficiently.  Layer organic materials so that there is lots for your plants to use.  You can then plant them more closely together.  These types of beds are easier to weed and maintain.

My Journey

I have been on a journey to live the dream that I have for a few years.  As is often the case, the birth of my son three years ago really kicked this yearning into high gear.  I began to learn more about organics, and to explore ways that I can use my small city lot to live a more sustainable lifestyle.  This would be easier perhaps, if I lived on a few acres, but I am a believer in making the best of the situation which you are in.

Most recently, I am focusing on reducing the clutter in my home and in my life, and on trying to be more organized.  It is wasteful to buy things more than once because I cannot find what I am looking for.  My son is now three years old, and his care is less demanding during the day which gives me more time to reach this goal.  I am also working on cooking healthy foods for my family and plan to share great recipes that I try.

I hope that you are reading here because you have similar goals or are already living the dream that I have.  In either case, I would love to hear from you.