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The Sustainable Life

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Grow in season produce

Courtesy Simon Howden/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Instead of depending on grocery stores for food, grow your own in your backyard. (This will help reduce waste from food packaging as well!)

Go Local

The past abundance of cheap oil fueled the idea that we can have whatever foods we want, whenever we want them. Do spring thaws leave you dreaming of the beans, broccoli and tomatoes that will soon be filling your garden? Supermarket produce sections today have beans, broccoli and more any time of the year — all trucked or flown in from faraway places. Those vegetables may have traveled 1,500 miles or more to reach your local grocer’s shelves. Eating foods that are in season locally helps eliminate the consumption of fuel needed to trek out-of-season produce and meats from the four corners of the world to your supermarket.

Eat in Season

Learning to eat in season takes some commitment, some planning and some practical application of skills that have been lost to time and convenience in many households. What seasonal foods grow well in your area? If you aren’t planning to grow them, do you know someone who is? Plan to stock up at harvest time, and preserve produce by canning, drying, freezing or storing foods in a root cellar. Plan off-season meals and menus with your stored food in mind.

Preserve Food

Food preservation also offers an opportunity to build community collaboration with neighbors on canning projects or to swap stored foods. Before gardening season, you and your neighbors can plan for a neighborhood harvest-canning party, where you not only preserve the harvest, but also trade to put a little bit of everything in each neighbor’s pantry. Building community is what leads to the development of a self-sufficient human society.

Buy Local

Buying food locally supports local farmers — maybe you know some of them. Concentrating on local food may mean foregoing bananas, but it creates opportunities to explore foods you can’t find at the grocer.

Two years ago, a group of citizens in Harvard, Mass., created a farmers’ market to generate a sales venue for local farmers and provide area residents with an option for buying local foods. Shoppers might find anything there—from squash blossoms for Asian-style stuffing and frying to blue potatoes. They can choose from diverse items such as locally made seafood ravioli, homemade jams and shortbread, maple syrup, and locally raised lamb and beef.

Patronizing local businesses — from the yarn shop to the dry cleaner’s — helps to build a vibrant local economy.

Recycle

One of the best ways to reduce demand for more resources is to make better use of things that have already depleted some of those resources, through recycling. Most towns offer recycling services for such things as cans, glass bottles, cardboard, mixed paper and some plastics, but that’s only half of the equation; the other half involves creating a market for recycled goods. Consider this in your buying decisions, and purchase products made from recycled materials, such as printer paper, paper towels and toilet paper.

There are companies that use recycled glass to make tiles and stained-glass windows; some make wine glasses from recycled bottles. IceStone LLC, of Brooklyn, N.Y., makes durable surfaces, such as kitchen countertops, from recycled glass and concrete. Other companies make furniture, yard décor and more from recycled materials.

Maintaining Your Health

According to writer Mindy Pennybacker, in a 2003 Green Guide article, “Healthier Home Cleaning,” the EPA reports that levels of pollutants in indoor air can be as much as 100 times higher than outdoors, due to toxins released into the air from home-cleaning products.

Make Natural Cleaners

Manufacturers of household cleaners are not required to disclose ingredients on labels, but many do, and those labels are worth reading. Some common cleaning products bear the warning label “toxic to humans and animals.” If you read labels, you’ll find that some products contain derivatives of petroleum, such as anionic linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS), which includes the petroleum byproduct benzene, something the EPA has classified as a human carcinogen. Look for products that list their ingredients, and make sure they aren’t harmful. Steer clear of anything labeled “toxic.” Be cognizant of those labeled “natural,” as there are no regulations governing that claim. Better yet, make your own cleaning solutions:

  • A 50-50 solution of white vinegar and water makes a fine all-purpose cleaner. Vinegar is known to kill many types of bacteria, which is why it’s used in canning and pickling certain foods. You might have to apply more elbow grease than you would using some manufactured cleaners, but there are no carcinogenic toxins left behind on surfaces.  

  • A paste made with the 50-50 vinegar-water solution and baking soda works well for cleaning the toilet bowl or scrubbing the kitchen sink.

Make Intentional Buying Decisions

The United Nations has estimated that the richest 20 percent of the world’s population — which includes the United States — uses about 80 percent of the Earth’s resources. The most obvious way to conserve resources is simply to use less. Before you make any purchase, consider whether you really need it. Also, consider the ramifications of buying it: What materials does it contain? Where did those materials come from? Was it produced in an environmentally responsible way? How will this item be disposed of at the end of its useful life?

Consider Packaging

In considering a purchase — from food to kitchen gadgets to electronics — take into account the packaging. Select products that use minimum packing material, and see if that material can be recycled. Buy foods in bulk to avoid using excess packaging.

Start Small

Once you become aware of the many ways in which our lifestyles on this planet are unsustainable, it’s easy to become immobilized by the enormity of it all. However, don’t try to change everything at once. Pick one area that’s meaningful to you and think about what changes you can make; develop goals. If you’d like to move toward eating locally and in season, start with one food. If you want to reduce the amount of packaging you use, start with one product — maybe it’s bottled water; maybe it’s teabags.  It’s important to realize that every change we make, however small, helps. Collectively, making small changes can help bring about great change in the world and can create a healthier planet for all who will come after us.

About the Author: Lynda King is a freelance writer and organic gardener who lives with her husband in a 19th-century farmhouse on 1 acre in central Massachusetts.

This article originally appeared in the premier issue of Urban Farm.

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Give us your opinion on The Sustainable Life.
Submit Comment »
This is the most important article I've read all year!
Andrew, Columbus, OH
Posted: 12/24/2013 4:47:02 AM
Excellent materials!! Worth clipping and saving for future reference.
Dante, Hyde Park, MA
Posted: 9/4/2013 8:34:15 PM
Good to know
Annie, Houston, TX
Posted: 11/14/2012 7:24:42 AM
Using the influence from the moon for gardening as well as housework will help be most efficient. Doing laundry, when moon is in a water sign will safe on detergent. Do most cleaning during waning moon will safe on household cleaners...
Edith, Gig Harbor, WA
Posted: 9/25/2012 12:03:15 PM

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