Category Archives: From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability

These small changes bring surprisingly big benefits to your home, lifestyle and the planet’s health.

A New Vision for Farms, Oceans and Youth

by Laura Parker Roerden

(October 3, 2019) Last week I had the privilege to present at the Wright Locke Farm Speaker Series in Winchester, MA as part of Climate Week.

After an emotional week of watching youth all over the world rise up to simply ask for a livable future, it was heartening to see so many adults filling seats to hear more about climate solutions. The setting could not have been more appropriate in a barn of the same vintage as ours at Jo-Erl Farm overlooking a pasture where Rhode Island Red chickens roamed, much like they had during the time my grandfather kept a poultry on our land about sixty miles south of this one. It was hard to not wonder if these two farm families had ever met.

I’ve long held one foot each in two camps: farms and oceans. I usually quip that “farms chose me, but I chose oceans.” Yet it has become increasingly clear that climate change is asking us to look more inter-sectionally at solutions. Might thinking holistically about necessary changes to farming and ocean conservation be a climate solution that is greater than the sum of its parts?


Farming and Its impact on the Ocean

Oceans have for decades been negatively impacted by conventional farming, where a heavy reliance on inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides find their way to the sea carried downstream by rivers, rain, and flooding and cause increases in algal blooms, dead zones, and red tides. This method of farming strips soil of its living matter, which creates a vicious cycle of needing to increase nutrient loading to simply continue production. As the soil becomes more denuded, this leaves much of our farmland less able to hold water, and more subject to flooding and desertification, which further contribute to sedimentation and runoff entering our oceans.

Additionally, the carbon footprint of conventional farming has many of us wondering how we can continue to feed a growing world and attack climate change at the same time? In addition to contributing up to a 1/3 of the current greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, part of the equation includes the 50-60% of the carbon that conventional farming activities like tillage (plowing) releases into the environment from soil.

The solution appears to be right under our feet: soil! Soil is a natural carbon sink, which means it takes carbon out of the atmosphere. Yet we have degraded soil’s ability to do so by a hundred years of farm practices that takes carbon out of the soil instead.

What if I told you there is a method of farming that requires little to no inputs and helps soil maintain its health, vitality, nutrients, ability to hold water, and capacity to take carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it into the soil? You might think I was dreaming. But fortunately, it’s true! Known as regenerative farming, this method of farming rebuilds our soils by little to no tillage, the planting of cover crops that fix nutrients into the soil, a reliance on poly-culture and diversity in the community, and the careful management of animal grazing through a method that mimics the bison on the prairie with high density herd management and constant movement and rotation in temporary paddocks.

Project Drawdown rates regenerative farming as number 11 on their list of top climate change solutions.

Furthermore, there is a business case to be made for regenerative agriculture: farmers can expect a pay off in increased yields and less labor. Project Drawdown estimates a pay off of $1.93 trillion by 2050 after an investment $57.22 billion. That’s a pretty enticing investment, without even considering about the impacts related to the ocean and its conservation.

To put this context of the other Project Drawdown climate solutions, regenerative agriculture holds more promise than nuclear or offshore wind turbines.

How Does This Relate to the Ocean?

If we look back at all of the impacts of conventional farming on the ocean: from increased sedimentation to fertilizer runoff to non-point pollution from decreased water retention, regenerative agriculture is positioned through its lack of chemical inputs and water retention to reduce every one of those negative impacts. I have yet to see anyone who has done the science to reconcile the full cross-benefits of regenerative agriculture on ocean conservation, but it stands to reason that these methods could help mitigate many of these chronic and acute impacts to ocean health currently caused by conventional farming.

Ocean conservation matters—but not just for the protein from the ocean that 2 billion people in the world rely on, but as a climate mitigator. The ocean absorbs much of the heat from greenhouse gases, as well as takes 20-30% of the excess carbon out of the atmosphere. However, it is the living biomass in the ocean that makes the ocean impactful as a carbon sink. If we lose this biomass because of overfishing, die-offs and dead zones, we have decreased our ocean’s capacity to perform this critical function.

Whales, for example, can take 190,000 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere a year: the equivalence of 80,000 cars a year being taken off the roads. Their conservation is not just a matter of their charisma, romance or tourism value, but rather that they perform an important service in mitigating climate.

As Aldo Leopold once said, “the first law of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts.” Ocean conservation, regenerative farming, flood mitigation, fresh water conservation and our other efforts to create climate resiliency should be part of an integrated strategy, one where all the parts are on the table together.

How to Get Others to Join

Yet, as the millions of marchers across the globe during climate week were asking us to notice, to date we have lacked the political will to act at the necessary scale. What will it take to get others to join with us?


Research shows the single best motivator and predictor of activism is not information, but the degree of connectedness one experiences in community. Furthermore, additional motivators include a sense of place, a sense of meaning, and sense of self within the larger context.

Which begs the question: what sort of experiences give us that sense of place and sense of meaning within the larger context?

Over the 25 years I have been working with youth in environmental education—on both farms and in the ocean—young people have been teaching me the answer.

Sometimes, it looks like this:

Ocean Matters teens removing invasive mangroves in Hawai’i.

Othertimes, it look like this:

Sometimes, it sounds like this:

But it always assuredly feels like this:

A spontaneous moment with Ocean Matters teens from Florida after finishing a coral restoration project.

We might not all come to the table, ready to eat; but just being invited can become the greatest healer of all. And once we are included, we can begin to experience the gifts of belonging, resiliency, and the expansion of our sense of tribe.

It’s the hands-on experiences within our community addressing real need that will make the difference to turn keying others to help with the urgency of climate change. We simply must engage everyone—no matter their political leaning— in understanding how our health and lives are tied to the living biosphere in ways each can appreciate and understand.

We do not need to start with climate change. In fact, perhaps it’s better if we don’t. Simply start with what there is to love about where you live and connect to how the intricately-laced systems sustain us.

Programs growing food on farms like the ones at Wright Locke and engagements with ocean conservation and our watershed like Ocean Matters are critical to this sense of connection. As my dear friend Liz Cunningham, author of Ocean Country, so aptly says, “hope is a verb.”

Climate change might just be asking us to understand our place, not just the place of whales and farms, in that larger whole. So as we reach out to ask others to join with us—our neighbors, our youth, our institutions— let’s remember to break down silos that keep us isolated and to create structures for new connections, including places for each of us to make meaning from the fact that we truly belong.

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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 has served on the boards of Women Working for Oceans (W20) of the New England Aquarium 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.

 

 

Cooking With(out) Gas

Best Investments in Sustainability

 

 

 

 

 

by Laura Parker Roerden

What if I told you that there was a cheaper, faster, healthier, safer, less energy intensive, cleaner, and lower carbon footprint way to cook than using an electric or gas stovetop and range? You’d wonder why you never heard of it before, right?

Stephanie Cmar, Top Chef alumna and former chef at Stir of Barbara Lynch Gruppo, demonstrates induction cooking. Photo by Colleen Brannen.

I know I was stunned when recently attending an event put on jointly by Mother’s Out Front and HEET at my dear friend Claire Corcoran’s house to learn about induction cooking, an electromagnet method of cooking that has been around for a decade. My family had just months before bought a new cooktop, but even as long time greenies who have spent the past year buying two electric vehicle cars and converting our house to solar, we did not come across this option in our research. After learning more, I’d say induction cooking definitely meets the criteria for a best investment in sustainability.

Healthier
Numerous studies have linked gas stoves in homes with increased asthma, bronchitis, and wheezing in children. Additionally, if you live in Massachusetts and cook with gas, there is better than  50% chance that you are using fracked gas, which contains health-threatening chemicals used in the fracking process. Pollutants involved in fracking have been linked to pediatric neurological issues, lower birth weights and increased asthma. So by taking a pass on fracked gas, you are keeping your own family from being exposed and are also helping the communities where fracking has had the greatest negative health and environmental impacts.

Cheaper, More Energy Efficient and Safer
When you turn on an induction burner, an electric current runs through the coil, generating a fluctuating magnetic field, but no heat on the burner itself. Then once you set an iron or stainless steel pan on the burner, the magnetic field induces many smaller electric currents in the pan’s metal, creating heat in the pan. Because there is no transfer of heat from the stove to the pan, 95% of every dollar you spend on energy goes right where you want it – in the pan! Gas delivers only 35% to the pan and traditional electric about 56%. Also, once the pan leaves the burner, the burner goes into standby mode, so no electricity is used in between periods of cooking or shifting pans.

Induction cooking is also faster, (2 to 4 minutes faster to bring a 6 quart pan of water to boil). While the speed isn’t life changing, the energy saved does aggregate over a year significantly.

So what do they cost? Currently, Consumer Reports recommends a Kenmore brand range that is $1,000. But you might consider a 2-burner counter top version for $100-200 to test out if induction might work for you. As consumers and commercial vendors discover the benefits of induction, the prices will no doubt come down.

If induction becomes the standard for cooking, the old adage of “touching a hot stove” will no longer make sense: an induction stove burner is only hot if there’s a pan on it. The potential for leaving a stove on is also lessened, which is an additional safety benefit over gas and electric.

Photo by Colleen Brannen.

Lower Carbon Footprint
Here in New England, many of our homes use natural gas. This gas is mostly methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Because a significant amount of that methane leaks into the atmosphere all along the system from where it’s produced to where it’s used, natural gas damages our climate more than coal. You can always green your electricity source, but you can’t green fossil fuel.

Induction stove tops and ranges are slowly becoming the norm in restaurants and professional kitchens, because of all of the benefits. Though it does take some adjustment to new cooking speeds and settings, it’s probably no more difficult to learn than transitioning from gas to electric or vice versa requires.

Cooking by the animated glow of a fire is deeply encoded in our mythology and DNA. I’m quite sure that’s why I have in the past preferred using gas over electric. But lessening our carbon footprint and energy usage can truly help us feel a different warmth inside: that of knowing we walk gently on our bountiful earth.

Salt from the Shaker Recommended Read about fracking:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

 

 

Try Chicken Keeping. . . But Put Away the Blankets and Towels

by Laura Parker Roerden

Best Investments in Sustainability

Many of us have seen movies like Food, Inc or others and learned  horror stories about the antibiotic and hormone laden poulty coming out factory farms. Yet buying chicken and pastured-eggs at Whole Foods can be quite expensive. If you care about your food and where it comes from, consider raising your own–even if you only have a small backyard in which to do it. Not only will you be able to benefit of controlling how your food is raised, you’ll be embarking on one of the greatest adventures of your lifetime.

Even though our fifth generation farm was once a poultry farm, I did not come to chicken keeping easily. A famous story in our family is of the littlest grandchild (ME) collecting eggs in our double-decker chicken barn. My father always laughed whenever he told the story of me chucking eggs from a distance into the wire frame basket, breaking a couple dozen eggs in a few particularly hard flung tosses. But I recall him being pretty angry at the time. I myself think I just had a brilliant sense for conserving energy when farming, or perhaps an even better sense for how to get out of farm duties.

My nephew and our fifth-generation farmer Ed was the one who reintroduced chickens to our farm. At the outset we purchased twenty-five Rhode Island Red chicks from our local feed store because it was the breed my grandparents had kept. Rhode Island Reds are good layers and bred for the long New England winters.

grandfatherinfield
My grandfather free-ranging his Rhode Island Reds (RIR) and Leghorns. He preferred the RIRs, which lay brown eggs, but kept the Leghorns because some of his customers insisted on white eggs.

The first year, we kept our young chickens inside our farm’s big red barn with a small concrete-based chicken wire enclosure to qualify as outdoor space. Despite the fact that our farm had once supplied eggs and poultry to the entire Blackstone Valley, we were hopeless novices.

I remember that first fall noticing that a lone hen had gotten out and was roaming my vegetable garden. I panicked. I could imagine hawks circling and was pretty sure that with dusk setting in our young chicken would not make it through the night. (I had watched enough Looney Tunes cartoons as a child to know the dangers.)

I enlisted our babysitter and children to help. There was utter pandemonium as all five of us ran around our yard and hayfields with towels and sheets, flinging them at the terrified bird as she ran for cover under brush.

It was almost dark when I announced that we were giving up. The hen could not be caught. We all went back in to the farmhouse where I poured myself a glass of red wine and pondered the fox or hawk that would soon also be having dinner. I was sautéing onions  when I glanced out the kitchen window to see the escapee Rhode Island Red casually cross the street to the red barn. She was putting herself back in for the night.

I laughed out load. In that moment I learned that it’s true: chickens do actually literally come home to roost. From then on we allowed our chickens to roam our pastures and yard freely, knowing that they would always come back at dark.

But I had also learned an even more important lesson:

You can take expensive chicken keeping workshops and order fancy chicken coops online. But the best way to learn about chickens is by keeping them.

So if you have been thinking about having some backyard chickens, just do it!

eggshadow03

Here are some very simple guidelines I can offer:

Build your own coop Chicken coops need not be expensive; they simply need to provide shelter from the elements and a place to roost and lay eggs. So build your own. Here are some inspired ideas for upcycling and to get your creativity flowing.

Buy Sexlinks or have a plan for re-homing roosters You can buy baby chicks through your local feed store such as Tractor Supply or online in the spring. You will receive the chicks when they are only a day old, which means that your supplier will be sorting the chickens by sex when they first born. Even though you can order all females; it’s likely that your supplier will make some mistakes and you will receive at least one or two roosters with your run. Many towns have ordinances that forbid roosters because they might be considered a nuisance to your neighbors, so consider ordering Sexlinks (a breed of chickens in which females and males are entirely different colors, thereby virtually guaranteeing females) and as a backup have a plan on how to re-home your roosters. Or if you can keep roosters in your community, consider doing so! There are many benefits to having a few roos in your flock.

Free-range or provide an enclosed yard with both dirt and grass access Pasture-raised eggs are so much healthier for us, because of the diet the chickens are eating outdoors. You’ll want to provide your hens with a habitat that has worms, insects, and sufficient dirt for the birds to take “dirt baths”— an important part of their hygiene. For a complete discussion on the benefits of pasture-raised eggs, see Pass the Pastured-Eggs, Please.

If you sell your eggs, sell them at competitive prices THIS might be the most important advice I can offer. Chance are if you’re thinking about keeping backyard chickens, you’re a friend of the local-vore movement. So don’t undercut professional farmers in your area by offering your eggs at a lower price just because you “only need to cover your expenses.” You’ll be doing more harm than good by out competing the local food providers, who are likely struggling to keep in the game.

And lastly: Put away the blankets and towels. Your chickens will thank you for it.

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Learn more about the bi-monthly column From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability. Simple solutions can sustain us!

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,

 

 

 

 

A Love Letter to Baking Soda

by Mary McDonald

Best Investments in Sustainability

My first encounters with baking soda happened, of course, in my mother’s kitchen. Whenever my mother was getting ready to bake, it was my job to help her gather all of the ingredients. Cinnamon, cloves, sugar, vanilla, baking powder,baking soda. I had no idea what baking soda did, or why it was different from baking powder. I was kind of fascinated with both. The baking powder was almost silvery-white, fluffy, with that nifty top that helped you level your measuring spoon.

Baking soda by contrast, was its gritty, rough and tough cousin. The box had a picture of a huge, muscled arm about to swing a hammer, a strange visual for something that was necessary for baking banana bread. You would think a baking ingredient would have a picture of a cake, or an apron, or a spoon. But, no, there it was, a defiantly masculine visage nestled among all things floury and sweet and spicy.

It looks like the folks at Arm and Hammer knew a few things about their product that I didn’t back then. Far more than a leavening agent for baking, baking soda or natron, its pure mineral form, has been used for thousands of years. Back in ancient Egypt it was used as a cleaner and as part of the mummification process.

The baking soda we are familiar with today came into use in the 1840’s. In modern times, baking soda was used to clean 100 years of grime off the Statue of Liberty. Baking soda has also been used to aid environmental clean-up efforts. People have used to it to decontaminate soil, neutralize the effects of acid rain in lakes, and decrease air pollution in factory smokestacks. How’s that for muscle?

One the home front, baking soda is a non-toxic, inexpensive alternative to a host of cleaning and personal care products. Leslie Reichert, says in her book, The Joy of Green Cleaning, that baking soda was one of only four products her great-grandmother used to clean. It plays a starring role in many of her non-toxic cleaning recipes. Dirty oven? No need for toxic, aerosol cleaners- baking soda and vinegar do the trick. Carpet needs refreshing? A little sprinkle of baking soda before vacuuming neutralizes odors.

Lest you mistake me for something I am NOT, let me assure you, I hate cleaning and domestic chores in general. Nobody will ever mistake me for a domestic goddess. Cooking, cleaning, gardening-I am half-assed at best. The idea of green living lights my fire, though, so I am pretty revved about baking soda as something that helps us live greener, cheaper and more simply.

Again, Pioneer Woman I am not. I can make homemade cleaning recipes, but only if they are super simple. More than three ingredients and you’ve lost me. If I can make these kind of changes, anyone can do it! I have replaced shelves full of toxic cleaners with a few, large boxes of baking soda.

My go-to baking soda cleaner recipe is:

  1. Baking soda
  2. A few drops of essential oil (anything you love)

Remember I said no more than three ingredients? A lot of people recommend tea tree oil, because it helps with mildew and mold. I use orange essential oil because the scent seems to be have energizing, uplifting effect.

Here are some ways I use this mixture on a regular basis (Ooh, wait! Is that a latent Hestia, goddess of the hearth, emerging? Nah. More like Artemis. I just want to save the wild forests!)

Cleaning

Stainless steel sinks

Stainless steel sinks seem to cling to smells and scrubbing with baking soda gets them clean, clean, clean! I spray hydrogen peroxide afterwards and let it sit for a few minutes to kill germs. Voila! Even a half-assed cleaning slacker can do this.

Drains

For some reason, the sink in one of our bathrooms periodically gives off a God-awful stink when we run the water. It’s disgusting. I have to take the stopper out and scrub the drain with a bottle brush. You don’t want a visual on this, trust me! It doesn’t stay clean long. I hate this chore, but I resigned myself to getting it done when it’s needed. Recently, I tried the baking soda-orange oil mixture. I poured it down the drains and let it sit for several hours. I can’t believe it, but it’s been weeks and that gross smell hasn’t come back.

Bathrooms

Weirdly, I get kind of a kick out of the fact that I can take a shower and then clean afterwards it with my baking soda mix and not worry that bleach or some other neurotoxins are seeping into my skin. Or, that I could scrub the tub with baking soda, run a bath in my newly cleaned tub, and even add a little baking soda to the water, which can be good for a lot of skin and gynecological issues. (Note that there are several reasons NOT to put baking soda in the tub, like being pregnant or having diabetes, so definitely check with your doctor.)   I am gearing up to teach my kids how to clean the bathroom this way. Never in a million years would I have them clean with conventional cleaners and 1) breathe in the fumes or 2) expose their skin to the chemicals. With baking soda, I wouldn’t worry. They’ll probably think it’s fun-win-win!

Laundry

Depending on the type of washing machine you have, you can use baking soda to add a boost to your laundry cleaner. In my old washing machine, I put it right in the washing tub. With a newer model, I add it to the bleach compartment. Baking soda is especially good for getting towels smelling fresh. (You know, because nobody picks up their wet, crumpled towels from the floor.)

Personal Care Uses

Brushing your teeth

If you look at the ingredients, you’ll find that baking soda is in a lot of commercial toothpastes because it’s effective at removing plaque and germs. You can save a lot of money by making up your own paste, or going the slacker route and tapping a fingerful of baking soda on your toothbrush and thinning it with a little water.

Skin care

As mentioned above, you can use baking soda in the bath to help with certain conditions. It makes your skin really feel clean and silky.   It can be used as a face cleaner or even a blackhead remover. This stuff is unreal!

Washing your hair

In a pinch, you can even mix baking soda with a little water and wash your hair with it. There are those who say washing your hair with baking soda regularly isn’t a good idea (and others who swear by it), that it can strip it too much of the natural oils. I’m not willing to take risks with my hair and do it long term, but the few times I have done it, my hair has felt spectacularly clean. Like I said, in a pinch.

How About You?

The list of possible uses for baking soda goes on and on. Cleaning car batteries, freshening up stinky shoes, insect repellent, ……. you name it. What will you use it for?

Mary McDonald is a writer and educator living in Central Massachusetts. You can find her at linkedin/marymcdonald or Good Green News.

 

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Pass the Pastured-Eggs, Please!

Best Investments in Sustainability

by Laura Parker Roerden

What kind of eggs should you buy? Most of us make the decision standing in the grocery aisle, the refrigerator door open scanning cartons with claims like “cage-free,” “organic,” “antibiotic free” and the ever-confusing “natural,” while we mentally calculate how much more we are spending for the eggs that sound healthier and more humane and asking ourselves: is it really worth it?

While a complete discussion of the real meaning behind these labels is helpful to every consumer, I’d like to make the case for pasture-raised eggs. Pasture-raised eggs are those lain by chickens that are given free-range access to actual pastures. Some are driven around in what are called “chicken-tractors,” which conjures up images of hilarious antics. But a chicken tractor is really just a wagon that can hold many chickens at a time for flexible transport and shelter. Hens transported by chicken tractors are allowed to roam an area of grassland that is rotated, assuring that high volumes of hens do not ruin the area. The chickens get what they need in terms nutrition, but they also leave their droppings as a natural fertilizer before moving on to greener, and (now rotated) pastures.

Hens that are raised on healthy grassland in the fresh air and sunshine have all of the benefits of eating as nature intended birds to eat: they have free choice access to worms, insects, seeds. These nutrients the hen eats end up concentrated in the egg itself. You could say that the birds are transferring healthy nutrients from the soil and mother earth directly to you through their eggs.

Pastured-eggs are EGG-cellent.Their large dark orange yolks even LOOK healthier, because they are. Their color, flavor and texture are made distinctive by high amounts of Vitamin A, D, E, K2, B-12, folate, riboflavin, zinc, calcium, beta carotene, choline, and tons of omega 3 fatty acids, including DHA, EPA, ALA, and AA. A pasture-raised egg is a true superfood.

Scientists are increasingly looking at open grassland/pastureland as one of the many promising solutions to global warming. Effectively managed agricultural grassland takes carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it back in the ground. Why not give farmers a boost whose efforts to raise animals on pasture are often the only thing keeping land that takes carbon out of the atmosphere from being developed?

Your search for the best possible egg might even bring you to join a CSA or develop a relationship with a local farm, where you can be reconnected to the rhythms of light and nature that have sustained our bodies and psyches for millennia.

Waiting for first eggs can feel like waiting for a pot to boil. The days shorten, the shadows lengthen. Just as darkness descends, the eggs arrive in a blast of nature’s promise of spring.

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Learn more about the bi-monthly column From the Shaker: Best Investments in Sustainability. Simple solutions can sustain us!

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,

 

 

 

4 Reasons it’s High Season to Buy an Electric Vehicle (EV)

by Laura Parker Roerden

Best Investments in Sustainability

Last Memorial Day our family finally replaced our 15-year old premium-gas guzzling car. You could say that it was high time! But it was also an opportunity to think out of the box about our transportation needs and the challenges facing our planet. We bought an electric vehicle (EV): the Chevy Bolt. In those fifteen years, a lot changed in regards to transportation options. Here are four reasons to consider an EV this season.

  1. IT’S CHEAPER THAN A CONVENTIONAL CAR

We knew we wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, but until we started shopping we hadn’t realized how much money we could also save by no longer having to gas up. It turns out that free EV chargers are everywhere! Who knew? We are eight months and 12,000 miles in and have yet to pay a penny for energy. By the end of a year of operating, we estimate we will have wracked up $1,200-$1,500 in gas savings alone. Also see details of federal tax credits (up to $7,500) and any offered by your state. For more explanation about how the total cost of ownership (TCO) is much lower on EVs than in conventional gasoline powered cars see this article.

A cost comparison that does not even factor in tax incentives, which are a big boost of $10,000 tax credits in MA.

 

  1. IT’S SUPRISINGLY FUN

The EV experience has turned out to be a surprisingly great ride and fun lifestyle. A large network of EV owners offer their own garages as plug ins to other owners travelling through Plug Share. So becoming an EV owner is a bit like owning a Harley-Davidson motorcycle: you find yourself suddenly part of a large community of people with whom you share something in common.

Chargepoint, an easy-to-use app for your phone lists free and pay chargers along the routes that you are travelling. I’ve occasionally combined errands with opportunities to charge, discovering in the process wonderful treasures. I’ve been to new libraries where I’ve read books I wouldn’t have otherwise. Or I’ve ended up at an unfamiliar family-owned cafe where the new vantage helped me work more effectively on a project. You can also slide right into premium spaces in busy places like the beach on a hot day, where you can re-charge both your own and your car’s batteries. Lastly, strangers everywhere strike up conversations with you about your ride. They really should add this part of the experience to the brochure. It’s been the best part of EV ownership!

And if you have range anxiety, consider that EV ownership more accurately resembles owning a cell phone. We are in the habit of nightly charging, which means we always have a full tank. For most trips, this is more than sufficient charge.

  1. END OF THE YEAR IS PERFECT TIMING

If you’re in need of a new car there is no better time than right now to consider either purchasing or leasing an EV. Leases start at $139/month, and can be researched through Massachusetts Energy Consumer Alliance, which offers everything you need to shop for a discounted car on their website including handy comparisons. Also, both federal ($7,500) tax incentives are still available.

New Years Eve and New Years Day is traditionally one of the best times of the year to buy a car, with discounts ranging from 7-9% as car manufacturers are incentivized to move inventory and meet both quarterly and annual sales goals.

4. YOU’LL BE LOWERING YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT

For the chorus of naysayers who might say, “But the energy you’re charging your car with is also dirty,” the answer is: nowhere near as dirty as a gas car. For a complete discussion of the environmental impact of EVs cradle to grave, see this well-researched article from the Union of Concerned Scientists. And since the devil is in the details, the UCS also offers an interactive online tool that compares the EV you are thinking of buying to conventional gas and hybrid options using the energy grid mix specific to your zip code. Here is the data on how our Chevy Bolt compares:

There’s plenty of reason to believe that 2020 will be a great year for EVs, with more and more models joining the marketplace. Mass Energy’s Dive Green Program Coordinator Anna Vanderspek had this to say: ““After running Drive Green with Mass Energy for a couple years now, we are looking forward to an exciting 2020! Lots of people have gotten excellent deals on cars like the Chevrolet Bolt and Volt and Nissan LEAF so far, and we are excited for the new electric cars coming on the market.”

We’ve recently installed solar panels on our barn so that we can charge the car and power our house with the sun. Growing up on a farm, I think I’ve always appreciated the way the sun grew the hay and corn that fed the cows that produced the high-butter fat milk used to make the butter and ice cream our wholesaler supplied to area homes. Driving a vehicle also powered by the sun is oddly reconnecting to those ancient rhythms and relationships.

In a nod to that history, we bought our Bolt in what we like to refer to as Jo-Erl Farm Blue—so our car matches our tractor. While that coordination might not be on your car shopping list, we hope you’ll now look into an EV as a best investment in sustainability.

Haying equipment in the field at Jo-Erl Farm

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Wrappin’ It Up

Best Investments in Sustainability

by Maria Dee

We don’t wrap Christmas presents. To tell you that this started as an earth-friendly initiative would be a lie. During the Christmas season of  2010, I had a 9-year old, a 4-year old, and an 11-month old. My husband and I had a Christmas Eve routine that worked with two kids:  we would stay awake after the kids would go to bed, and while they slept, we would assemble toys and wrap presents. We usually had some drinks and dessert, listening to Christmas music or watching the “A Christmas Story” marathon. At some point we’d split up to wrap each other’s gifts, and then we’d finish the night admiring the mountain of presents under the tree.

And then our 3rd child came, and I knew that was all over.  I had never been so tired in my entire life. Wouldn’t the kids be just as happy to receive presents if they were UNwrapped? Those kids never slept past 6AM, and with the excitement of Christmas they’d wake up at 5. I was so tired that my eyeballs throbbed, and I just wanted to throw those toys into a sack and get myself to bed.

Lightbulb. Grab-bag, the Christmas edition!! So I’m sorry, Mother Earth. This was totally about me and catching some Zzzzzz.

These cute bags can be purchased on Etsy by clicking on the pic.

But it does turn out to be a win for Mother Earth.

Would you believe that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we create 25% more garbage, equalling about 25 million tons of waste? Only a fastidious few of gift recipients will open the packages delicately without tearing it, with the intention of reusing it for another gift. Paper gift bags and tissue are only marginally more likely to be saved and used another time. Cloth sacks are reusable, year after year. And isn’t that the image that many of us have of Santa, a sack thrown over his shoulder as he heads down the chimney, the sacks of toys piled up in his reindeer-drawn sleigh?

In 2010, I spent $50 on 5 large cloth sacks. I have not bought Christmas wrapping paper since then. Some friends, inspired by the idea, made their own out of fabric or pillow cases, and then gave me some, too! When I am unsure about getting a gift sack back, like at a Secret Santa or for teacher gifts, I reach under my bed for the remaining rolls of Christmas wrap that are, yes, 7 years old.

Christmas morning in my house is just as festive as it ever has been. We tag the presents with the kids’ names, and the kids take turns reaching into the bags and giving the gift to its recipient. Each year, though, I am stunned at the amount of trash still created—factory packaging is full of plastic and cardboard, and both the recycling and trash bins are piled high. But the trash would be 25% higher without that effort.

 

Maria Dee lives in Boston with her husband and three children. She’s an accidental environmentalist, a result of focusing on every day ways to reduce waste without sacrificing convenience, too much money, and her sense of humor. She also pretends she can sing, take photos, and make a difference in Boston politics.

 

 

 

 

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Beeswax Food Cloth

Best Investments in Sustainability

by Guest Blogger Bonnie Combs

“Plastic is Drastic,” said a local fourth-grader working on a poster to promote plastic bag recycling at her school. Along with startling images of sea turtles negatively impacted by plastic pollution and plastic bags caught in tree branches blowing in the wind, those words could not be truer. I got to meet this inspiring girl while giving a presentation on recycling at her school and they have stuck with me.

My commitment to plastic recycling (truthfully it’s more more like plastic avoidance), kicked up a few notches a couple of years ago when I attended a Keep America Beautiful conference and crossed paths with a representative from Trex, who was promoting their recycling program for plastic bags and plastic film. It was a watershed moment for me when I learned that those recycling bins at the entrance to your local supermarket accepted not only the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag, but all kinds of plastic film, known as stretchy plastic and includes products such as bubble wrap, newspaper bags, product overwrap (from things like paper towels and bottled water), food storage bags, bread bags and similar products. Trex works with many retailers in collecting this plastic and makes lumber products with it.

It should be noted that these plastic bags and film must be clean and dry in order to come into contact with food and to be recycled. The next best step is to find something reusable, so that it does not end up in the trash bin. Using a food-safe plastic storage container is one good idea, but did you know that you can call on the bees to help you cover certain dishes that do not have lids?

Beeswax food cloth is trending now among people concerned about their environmental impact and also the effect that plastic has on our own health. It takes just two ingredients: cotton cloth and beeswax to create an all-natural food wrap that can be used over and over again.

Image from Bee Kind Wraps. Follow on FB at https://www.facebook.com/beekindwraps/

In my travels this summer, I purchased a beautiful package of beeswax food cloth at an artisan fair and decided I was going to learn how to make it myself. I clipped it to my fridge for inspiration and when the holidays started rolling around, I decided it was time. After watching several videos and reading tutorials on the subject, I settled on a no-fuss version of baking it in the oven.

On Thanksgiving morning, while everyone was baking holiday pies and posting pictures of their delicious creations, I posted my pictures of baking cotton cloth with beeswax. Along with sweet potato rolls that I baked and wrapped in a linen towel and an apple torte that I packed in cake carrier, I had made some delicious cranberry apple chutney and purchased a beautiful bowl that sat on a pedestal at a local consignment shop with the intention of leaving it for the host where we were going for a Friendsgiving dinner. The bowl didn’t have a lid and I knew I wasn’t going to show up with plastic wrap over the bowl, so the night before I put my 100% cotton fabric through the wash to prepare for the making of the beeswax wrap.

How to Make Beeswax Wrap

The process is simple.

  1. Warm an oven up to no more than 195 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Cut your prewashed 100% cotton fabric into desired size and shape and lay it onto the baking pan.
  3. For the beeswax, you can purchase a block and shave it with a cheese grater or you can buy beeswax pellets. I settled on the pellets for ease of use and sprinkled them on, being mindful to evenly distribute them overthe cloth. You don’t need to cover the entire cloth as the beeswax melts and is quickly absorbed by the cloth.
  4. It’s almost magical to watch through the oven door. Within 10 minutes, the cloth is wet with the melted beeswax and you can remove the pan from the oven. Inspect to make sure all the edges and areas of the cloth are covered. Carefully pick up the cloth from the edges and hang from a makeshift clothesline until dry, which is just about two minutes.

The new beeswax coated cloth responds to the heat in your hands and will gently encapsulate what you are try to cover, be it a round bowl, or a piece of cranberry nut bread that you want to share with a friend.

 

To care for your food cloth, gently rinse in cool water (never hot as the wax will melt). You can use a mild soap if needed and hang to try. I should point out that you can also reuse the parchment paper. You will have droplets of melted beeswax on your parchment-lined pan and they will quickly harden. Just save the paper until your next use and place the cloth over them. They will melt again into your next piece of fabric!

Sharing food has become even more fun now that I have made my own beeswax food cloth! And now you can too!

 

Just in time for the holidays, Bonnie is offering beeswax food wraps for just $5.00 (plus shipping). “Bee the Change” and order yours today! 

Bonnie Combs lives in Blackstone, MA, and is the Marketing Director at Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc., where she also manages the non-profit’s Trash Responsibly™ program. Bonnie works with the 25 communities within the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor on litter cleanups and provide recycling education and events. When she’s not working, she is usually sewing up reusable shopping bags made from seed, feed and grain bags. She also gives workshops on how to make them. Most recently she has started making zippered storage pouches made from upholstery samples that were destined for the landfill by a major retailer. You can follow her journey on Facebook at Bird Brain Designs by Bonnie.

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Cloth Everyday

by Guest Blogger Sarah Harrison Roy of Running Girl Eats

Best Investments in Sustainability

Cloth napkins: why even bother to write about something so ordinary?

Well, to me there’s nothing ordinary about cloth napkins. To me, they are gorgeous works of art that lighten up and decorate the kitchen table. To me, they are an outstanding way to save money and our gorgeous forests. To me, they are a way I nurture myself, my family, and give meals a special ritual and celebratory feel.

I grew up using cloth napkins as there was no such thing as a paper napkin at the time, at least not to my knowledge, and my mother NEVER would have used paper napkins at our kitchen table.
I grew up in a house of hanging laundry, homemade bread, and lots and lots of canning from the gigantic garden we grew out back. My mother sewed our clothes, my father built our dollhouses and furniture, and my mother prided herself on re-using everything that came into our home.
She made our meals special. We set the table with silver for each meal, matching place settings, placemats or table cloth, and of course beautiful napkins.
I still use cloth napkins at my kitchen table. I use those same dishes and placemats, as they were handed down to me at my wedding. I learned to make meals feel special; to make the meal a time for the family to gather together. To talk and listen to each other. To share about the day and enjoy the homemade food at the table.  We sit and slow down. We put our phones away and shut the computers off. We join together to share what was good about the day and possibly what wasn’t so good. We laugh, we give each other high-fives, and we offer support.
 
The dishes, placemats, and napkins are symbols that tell my family it’s time to settle down and come together.  By using these items, I’m able to give our meals some history and ritual.
Using cloth napkins makes our meals just that much more special and in the process I’m able to do my little part in saving a few trees. Using cloth doesn’t take much effort. Simply wash, hang dry in the sun, and re-use.  It’s that easy. If everyone used cloth at their meals, just think of all the trees and money that could be saved.
Why not add a special ritual to your family meals and put a few cents back in your wallet at the same time? Do something good for you and for our Mother Earth. I purchased some of these gorgeous napkins on Etsy.com. Go take a peak.

About Sarah Harrison Roy and Running Girl Eats

Holistic Nutrition Coach Licensed * Institute for Integrative Nutrition, MBA * Simmons College

My goal is to help people move beyond emotional eating and to healthier more desirable habits.

I combine philosophies of a few great experts, licensing as a Holistic Nutrition Coach, and a lifetime of experience in my own battle with emotional eating, anorexia, and addiction. I offer to you what has worked for me and my clients. Together we get to the root cause of your eating struggles.

No more dieting, depriving, calorie counting, product testing, disappointment, and distress around what we see as our lack of willpower.

I choose to see that our eating struggles exist as a doorway into the other areas of our life that need love and attention. Our struggles with emotional eating habits shine a light on what we can learn and change in order to feel more life satisfaction in our relationships, career, physical body, and spiritual world.

Please visit my website at Running Girl Eats and schedule an Introduction if you would like to get to know me better and hear more about how I can help you.

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#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.