#GivingTuesday: Serving up Sustainability!

 

 

Best Investments in Sustainability

 

 

by Laura Parker Roerden

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers — Wordsworth.

A whole culture of shopping has sprouted up around Thanksgiving weekend: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. But perhaps you also have heard of Giving Tuesday. The first three are ways to get a jump on holiday shopping and some deep discounts in an attempt to check off some boxes on our to-do lists. But Giving Tuesday is an entirely different phenomenon. This day encourages a deeper giving; one that asks us to align our actions to our values and ideals.

Now what does all this have to do with sustainability, you ask? The obvious answer would be: choose an environmentally-focused effort to get involved in or donate to for Giving Tuesday. But I want to suggest something even more radical: Giving Tuesday is a reminder of the power of service to create sustainability in communities and to create hope in our hearts.

The problems we face can feel insurmountable: until we roll up our sleeves and face them together.

Author Liz Cunningham, in her beautiful book Ocean Country, speaks about service as she travels the globe uncovering stories of every day people working in their communities to address real problems facing the ocean. On the surface, their efforts looked like they might not add up to a solution. But in fact, they so often miraculously do. Liz summarizes: “I learned that the heart of hope is the passion of rescue.”

Sometimes service resembles a bucket brigade, where we all only need to take our place in line.

It’s something we all have: that drive to make a deep difference to the world. It feels good to give. And giving literally gives back. Numerous studies that have looked at service as a tool for education enumerate important gains in attitudes toward self, attitudes toward school and learning, civic engagement, social skills, and academic performance.

Ocean Matters students removing invasive mangroves in a native fishpond in Oahu, Hawaii, summer 2017.

I’ve seen this many times in my work directing Ocean Matters, a marine science through service project, where young people literally bloom like flowers before our eyes as they give deeply in service to a problem facing the ocean. When given a choice between simply goofing off and working, even when in a tropical paradise, the teens always choose the work.

One Ocean Matters student Robyn described it this way: “I think back to those last couple days [of the program], when we were putting together our research report, doing standard deviations, working really hard. We wouldn’t have accomplished that much if we didn’t all feel that way about the reef and care about the project and the topic. I have a quotation that sums it up: ‘Nothing in the world is accomplished without passion.'”

Caring deeply and activating hope can be a gift we give ourselves and the young people in our lives.

Wishing you all a #GivingTuesday that sustains your soul, your family, and your community!

For more information about designing service learning projects for young people see Service is Learning: Activating Hope on #GivingTuesday in the Ocean Matters blog.

Ocean Matters is a 501(c)3 nonprofit led by international luminaries including National Geographic underwater photographer Brian Skerry and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary.

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Learn more about From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability.

Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

 

 

Leave Your Leaves!

Best Investments in Sustainability

by Laura Parker Roerden

What’s better than something you do to help create a more sustainable earth and life? Something you simply stop doing; especially if it’s a chore in which you had previously invested time, money, and effort.

It turns out that the late fall chore of removing your leaves is not only bad for the earth, it’s bad for your lawn and gardens. Instead, hang up your rake and sit this fall out.

Simply do one last mowing of your leaf-littered grass. The mowing will mulch the leaves into tiny pieces that will provide several benefits to your lawn and gardens over the winter:

  1. As the leaves decompose they will add nutrients back into the soil, eliminating your need to do fertilizing come spring.
  2. Leaf litter provides cover for wildlife including chipmucks, turtles, and pollinators like moths and butterflies, whose larvae is also attached to the leaves.
  3. This ecosystem of micro-organisms, insects, and larvae within the leaf litter is an important base of the food chain that desirable backyard wildlife like song birds and butterflies rely on.
  4. The leaf litter will act as mulch, suppressing weed growth in your lawn.

Your IN-action, in this case, will help the earth in several other ways. Fertilizer run-off from land, which enters rivers and ends up in the sea, is responsible for dead zones in aquatic ecosystems. The extra nutrients of the added fertilizer causes too much algae to bloom, which as it decomposes takes oxygen out of the system, causing fish kills. More than 33 million tons of waste in landfills is simply bags of discarded leaves, which when wrapped in plastic, are unable to provide any nourishment to the ecosystem. You could say, that leaves discarded are entirely wasted, as nature prefers recycling and always relies on cycles of death feeding resurrection.

Fall is such a beautiful, if fleeting, time of year. Instead of the many hours of raking and bagging your leaves, use this new found time to go apple picking or drink cocoa in front of a fire outside with your loved ones. Or simply sit and watch the lengthening shadows and enjoy a kaleidoscope turn as wildlife from late fall are replaced by winter’s.

We leave our leaves, and just this weekend I noticed a family of 9 stunningly bright eastern bluebirds enjoying the fruits of a chokeberry bush on the edge of our lawn, who as they competed for the berries sent off flickers of indigo like a single jewel with many facets.

Price Comparison: Save $50-$100 in Leaf Bags and Fertilizer plus 3-6 hours of Labor
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Learn more about From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability.

Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women.

 

 

 

Make Your Own Yogurt

Best Investments in Sustainability

by Laura Parker Roerden

My family decided we would cut back on our plastic pollution recently and have been slowly replacing plastic items with real ones. The health risks are real–plastic is entering our waterways, the ocean and our food webs, concentrating dangerous chemicals in the food we eat. So we took a look at it together. What were we doing well? What could we improve upon?

One of the worst offenders for single-use plastic in our home was yogurt containers, which in many places are not recyclable. We love yogurt. I’m the daughter of dairy farmer, so I tend to like all milk products. Yogurt, in particular, has undeniable health and immune system benefits. But we were throwing a mountains worth of plastic into our recycling bins each week and spending a small fortune on it.

One day a friend, Women Working for Oceans founder Barb Burgess, mentioned that she was making yogurt at home after a French neighbor had said to her with astonishment, “You don’t make your own yogurt?” Perhaps to the French not making your own yogurt is like buying a plastic-wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The whole point is its simplicity.  Well, okay then! If it is that easy, then why not try it?

Turns out it’s true: not only is it easy and cheaper to make your own yogurt, but making it yourself feels nurturing and homey. The whole process conjures up images of clay crock pots and cotton towels, of French countrysides, and wooden breakfast tables with the first light of morning where families connect before heading off into their days.

It reminds us of a time when we understood food as a reflection of the land and where fermentation was a necessity of economy and safe storage; and we had a healthy co-habitation with the bacterial engines that drive life. Barb told me that she makes yogurt with her husband Bill every night for their morning breakfast, creating a nice ritual of togetherness.

Making your own yogurt can even engage you and your children’s ingenuity and problem solving skills, as you search for simple ways to maintain a several hour heat source between 110 and 115 F for 5-10 hours. Some people achieve this through their oven; others by buying yogurt makers. But there is an entire culture of rogue solutions to this task including DIY wooden containers with light bulbs; use of an already heated oven from making dinner (simply shut off the stove, but keep it closed overnight); repurposing crockpots and food dehydrators; heating pads; microwaves; placement over radiators; to even cuddling in bed with a jar and a hot water bottle. My own kids suggested our chicken brooder to incubate yogurt, but I don’t even want to talk about the cleanliness implications of that idea!

I have a healthy fear of bacterial processes run amock (farming will do that to you) so I favor the stable temperature approach of a commercial yogurt maker or oven. But you’ll be nothing short of delighted if you spend some time indulging on Pinterest on home-made yogurt incubation ideas: people’s creativity will make you believe there is indeed hope for humanity.

Home-Made Yogurt Recipe

  • Milk (whole or skim, depending on the consistency you’d like)
  • Yogurt culture (this can come from commercial prepared plain yogurt, just save a little for use in this recipe) or you can buy cultures online. I buy cultures, as they tend to be of higher quality of the immune system enhancing live bacteria than commercially-prepared yogurt and more consistently perform. They are also inexpensive and do not involve buying more plastic.
  • Candy (food) thermometer
  • Oven-safe pan with cover
  • Ice for a bath that will cool your pan

Safety Note: Be sure your equipment is clean and sanitized. Right out of the dishwasher should be sufficient if your settings are hot.

  1. Heat milk on stove to just around a simmer of 180 F degrees for 30 minutes. You can transfer the pan to the oven for this stage if you don’t want to babysit the maintenance of temperature on the stove top.
  2. Cool the pan quickly to a temperature of 115 F degrees in an ice bath. Add yogurt culture (follow directions on packet) and stir.
  3. Incubate: Keep the yogurt at 115 F degrees for 5-10 hours. You can do this safely by keeping it in the pan with a lid on it in the oven at temperature. Or transfer to clean glass containers in a simple yogurt maker and plug in.
  4. If you incubated in your pan, transfer to clean glass jars (small mason canning jars work beautifully) and store in the refrigerator. This is where you can add fruit preserves at the bottom.

Fruit and toppings can be added at any stage, but I’d recommend making plain yogurt the first time to add toppings later, so that you’re aware of the thickness you are working with before adding thinning ingredients like fruit, which contains a good amount of water. You’ll need to experiment to do this in a way that finishes with a result you like.

Since we make fruit preserves anyway, I’ve had best results by putting a little fruit preserve in the bottom of the jar for the incubation process, before pouring the milk on top. The times I’ve added sugar to fruit and cooked it down, then added this quick preserve to the milk for throughout flavor coverage have resulted in much too thin yogurt for my taste (though I will say blueberries work better than strawberries.) You can always add gelatin to thicken at this stage, but that just sounds too fussy to me. The goal is simplicity.

Price Comparison: 3-9 X More to BUY
$4.56 gallon for homemade yogurt
$38.40 gallon for commercially-prepared yogurt (if bought in 6 ounce cups)
$14.08 gallon for commercially prepared yogurt (if bought in larger containers)

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Related Post: Six Steps for Solving Single-Use Plastic While Building Resilient Children

Learn more about From the Shaker Best Investments in Sustainability.

Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.

 

 

 

Best Investments in Sustainability

 

 

 

 

 


Introducing the From the Shaker Column!

Each Friday Salt from the Earth will feature a best investment in sustainability for your family, farm, or homestead. We believe that the best targets for sustainability in our lives should be:

  1. less expensive,
  2. earth and health friendly,
  3. soul-satisfying,
  4. easy to do!

Inspired by the Shakers, who first married form with function, the solutions we will offer in this column will be small changes you can make that deliver big dividends in all criterion.

Let sprinkles of salt, or sustainability, add spice to your life!

Be sure to receive our column and posts to your inbox by singing up below. You can catch up on back issues here. 

We love having guest bloggers, so if you have a topic to pitch, just let us know.

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Laura Parker Roerden is the founding director of Ocean Matters and the former managing editor of Educators for Social Responsibility and New Designs for Youth Development. She serves on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) and Earth, Ltd. and is a member of the Pleiades Network of Women in Sustainability. She lives on her fifth generation family farm in MA.