Save the leaves! (for your compost bin, of course)

At my house there is never a shortage of green material (also known as wet or nitrogen-rich matter) – orange peels, corn husks, dinner food scraps, yard waste, etc. – for my compost bin, but when it comes to finding brown (also known as dry or carbon-rich) material, in the past I’ve often ended up coming up short. The trick, of course, to getting compost to work and breakdown into that coveted nutrient-rich soil is to have the right combination of both green and brown matter.

Two years ago, however, I posted my first Green Tip of the Week suggesting that my readers keep a bag or two (or three) of their dry fall leaves to use throughout the coming year as brown material to add to their compost pile or bin.

If you don’t have a lot of leaves in your yard, chances are you can find a neighbor who’d be more than willing to part with a couple bags of their leaves, especially if you agree to rake and bag them!

Luckily (I guess) for us, we have a tree-filled back yard and never have a problem accumulating several bags of leaves to hold onto, which is exactly what I did last fall and was so happy to have the dry material whenever I needed it. The only problem is that I sometimes still forget to add it (oops!) and then end up with a huge fruit fly problem at the end of the summer (which I thankfully found a remedy for).

After letting the kids spend a good deal of time burying themselves and sliding into the leaf piles, Jody and I got them all raked and bagged. Right now I have about 12 bags of leaves out on the curb for the city to pick up (and mulch), but I’ve also saved three bags in my back yard to add to my compost bin as needed. :) Over at Terminal Verbosity, you can learn more about how to compost.

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Blog Action Day: Climate Change – Why bother? Here’s why.

Today, Oct. 15, 2009, is Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is Climate Change. I’d like to say I have this highly interesting and educational NEW post put together all about climate change, but the truth is I don’t. Instead I am going to recycle (recycling is good, right?) an oldie, but a goody post of mine from Aug. 28, 2008, that addresses climate change called “Why Bother?

Why Bother?

April 28, 2008

This evening as Jody and Ava were out running an errand for me, I attempted to cook dinner while balancing a miserable Julian (due to his four canine teeth coming in at the same time) on my hip. After much fussing (on Julian’s part, not mine), I took a break from cooking, sat down on the couch, flipped on the TV and, hoping to make the poor boy feel a bit better, nursed him.

In skipping through the channels it became clear to me why I rarely watch TV (with the exception of The Office, LOST and occasionally Oprah). There was nothing on. I stopped on the local public access channel long enough to hear someone talking about global warming. My interest was piqued so I lingered.

veg-garden.jpgIt turns out it was a woman reading Michael Pollan’s recent New York Times article “Why Bother?” For those of you unfamiliar with Pollan, he is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food – neither of which I have read yet, but I’ve heard great things about both.

“Why Bother?” is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m nowhere near the point of throwing in the towel with regard to the things I do to help the environment, but after reading an article like Enjoy life while you can’ – Climate science maverick James Lovelock believes catastrophe is inevitable, carbon offsetting is a joke and ethical living a scam and watching a YouTube video (which has since been taken down) about Monsanto, you might start to get a little jaded and wonder if all of your efforts are in vain. At least that’s where I’ve been at.

Pollan’s article “Why Bother?” was exactly what I needed to hear (and then read in full on the web since I missed the first half of it on TV) to help lift me out of my funk and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. Here’s just a bit of it.

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others — from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

Pollan goes on to suggest “find one thing to do in your life that doesn’t involve spending or voting, that may or may not virally rock the world but is real and particular (as well as symbolic) and that, come what may, will offer its own rewards. Maybe you decide to give up meat, an act that would reduce your carbon footprint by as much as a quarter. Or … for one day a week, abstain completely from economic activity: no shopping, no driving, no electronics.”

He also discusses how doing something as basic as planting a garden to grow even a little of your own food could make a big difference. This is another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As the price of food goes higher and higher and we worry more and more about where our food comes from, organic vs. conventional (pesticide-laden), genetically-modified organisms, carbon emissions and climate change, it makes sense to me to try to grow some of our own food.

Pollan says, “It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.” Yikes.

I don’t have a lot of experience in gardening, but I did help my mom in our family garden as a child and, three years ago, some friends and I had our own plot in a community garden. As I embark on growing my own garden for the first time this year, I’m thankful for my friends like Julie of Terminal Verbosity, Melissa at Nature Deva, Heather at A Mama’s Blog, and Woman With A Hatchet, who all have more gardening experience than me (and will hopefully help me out if I need it – hint, hint). I’m planting a small garden not only for the food it will provide to me and my family and to reduce our carbon footprint, but for the experience it will provide us all. Someday in the hopefully not too distant future (like next few years) once we move into a different house with a larger (and sunnier) yard, I’d love to have a much bigger garden. I’d like to know that if push came to shove and we needed to grow some of our own food, that I could do it. I am concerned that that day might not be too far off and Pollan agrees. “If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these (growing our own food) are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need.”

But Pollan doesn’t end his article on a downer. Rather he is hopeful and his message is uplifting.

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.

So, why bother? Because the future of humankind depends on it. Even if by some stroke of luck climate change doesn’t affect us during our lifetime (wishful thinking), I would hate to leave this huge burden and mess for our children to clean up. After all, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” – Native American Proverb

I think Pollan answers the question of “why bother?” best when he says,

Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.

Here, here. That is why I will keep on bothering. And I hope you will too.


Since writing this post, for the past two summers I have grown some of my own food – adding to the number of things I grow from year to year. I’ve also become more mindful about buying food locally. And I got to see Michael Pollan speak in Boulder in May of this year. :) I continue to try to inspire others to live more deliberately through my Green Challenges.

If you wrote about Blog Action Day, I’d love it if you’d leave your link below so I and others can read it. Thanks!

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My one and only – Wordless Wednesday

Not so Wordless Wednesday:

This is the one and only eggplant I got from my garden this year – a rosa bianca. I was pondering what to do with it (seriously, it’s so small it fits in the palm of my hand) and a couple friends suggested this tasty and super easy crock pot ratatouille recipe. I need to get a few more ingredients (and probably another eggplant), but that is the plan for Wednesday’s dinner. :)

Also, I apologize for not blogging lately or doing a Ditch the Disposables Challenge check-in yet. There’s a lot I’ve been dealing with lately, including a broken car window (someone broke it out and stole my sister’s purse). Blah.

See more Wordless Wednesday posts at the original WW home and at 5 Minutes for Mom.

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Urban fruit gleaning – harvesting homegrown produce for free

I’ve always been a fan of free stuff, especially when that “stuff” equals healthy food for my family. Although we aren’t struggling to put food on the table, I can still appreciate using food that would otherwise go to waste. It wasn’t until recently that I learned there is a phrase for collecting and using other people’s fruits and vegetables – it’s called urban fruit (or vegetable) gleaning.

So far this year I’ve gleaned 17 lbs. of zucchini and yellow squash, a large bowl of strawberries, a couple pounds of plums and several pounds of apples. Last year I gleaned a couple bowls of raspberries, cucumbers and enough concord grapes to make 20 jars of jelly.

Fruit and vegetable gleaning is a practice that has been going on for ages (traditionally, it is “the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest”), but it’s slowly moving into the spotlight recently as websites devoted to finding locations for giving or harvesting produce pop up across the Internet. Neighborhood Fruit, Veggie Trader and Fallen Fruit are three such sites.

  • Neighborhood Fruit allows users to both share and find fruit, vegetables and herbs, including the ability to register fruit trees on public ground or on your own property
  • Veggie Trader is “Your place to trade, buy or sell local homegrown produce”
  • Fallen Fruit – “‘Public Fruit’ is the concept behind Fallen Fruit, an activist art project which started as a mapping of all the public fruit in our neighborhood.”

You can also list your excess produce on sites like Freecycle (where I scored 17 lbs. of squash this year) or Craigslist.

Why glean fruit?
Tressa Eaton from Serious Eats says, “Urban fruit-harvesting engages a community, makes community members aware of their own local (and often organic) food resources, provides an opportunity for neighbors to meet over the boughs of fruit trees, and brings up important questions about public space. And in this economy the price is right.”

There are some “rules” or rather proper etiquette involved in urban fruit gleaning.

  • Ask for permission first – While technically any fruit that is hanging over or fallen onto public property is legal to take (according to a report done on KCRW’s Good Food), it is best to ask the owner first. Last year my brother-in-law (with eight kids to feed) had no qualms about knocking on people’s doors asking them if they were going to use all of their apples, pears, or whatever and if not, did they mind if he picked some. Most people are happy to see the fruit go to good use. Or as Granola Mama says, “If you are like me and have a fruit tree in your backyard, reaping the harvest can be both exciting, and well… a major pain in the ass.” After trying to harvest as many of her plums as she could, she called the “gleaners” to pick the rest and take to a food bank, which I will talk about more below.
  • Don’t take more than you can use
  • Be friendly and appreciative
  • Optional: take some of whatever of your finished product is (jar of jam, apple sauce, muffins, etc.) back to the person who gave you their produce. It’s a nice way to say thank you.
  • It’s also suggested that you arrive on foot, bring a friend, share your food, and say hi to strangers

Other ways to give or receive produce:
Using sites like Neighborhood Fruit or Freecycle aren’t the only way to find homegrown produce in your area. At the office where my husband works, someone recently brought in some of their excess zucchini and sent out an office-wide email to let people know where it was in case they wanted it. Others thought it was a great idea and now people are regularly bringing in their extra fruits or vegetables. Just this past weekend we stopped by the office and found several pounds of apples and plums there for the taking.

Ask friends or relatives if they have any produce to share and vice versa, let them know if you have any.

I also recommend walking or riding your bike around your neighborhood and paying attention to the trees in the yards. On a bike ride yesterday I discovered 10 apple trees (several of them just loaded with fruit) within a few blocks of my house, and a couple pear trees in my nearby park. I’d been down these streets many times before, but without really looking for the trees, I never noticed them. I hope to stop by one or two of the houses to ask about gleaning some of their fruit. I’d love to pick some for my family and then donate a few bags to the food bank which brings me to my next point.

Donating to local food banks:
Another excellent option for getting rid of your unwanted produce is to take it to your local food bank. The Society of St. Andrew “is a grassroots hunger relief ministry that relies on volunteers to glean nutritious produce from farmers’ fields and orchards after harvest and deliver it to people in need across the United States.”

A post and video on Cooking Up A Story tells of an organization that harvests produce to help out the local community.

Portland Fruit Tree Project provides a valuable service that helps communities benefit directly from local resources. Fresh fruit that grows on neighborhood trees is collected by volunteers, and dropped off at local Food Banks for distribution to those in need. The great thing about this program is that in large part, the fruit would not be harvested or eaten by anyone—if not for fruit gleaning.

Whether you glean for yourself and your family or to give to others, remember the etiquette above, feel good about all of the food you are keeping from rotting on the ground, and have fun!

Related posts:
From Sarah Gilbert at Wallet Pop: Picking the parking strips: the gleaning fruit movement
From Kim Severson at NY Times: Neighbor, Can You Spare a Plum?
From Kyeann Sayer at TreeHugger: Fallen Fruit: Free Produce on Los Angeles Streets
From Katy at Good is in the Air: Three Ways You Can Donate Food by Gleaning
From Julia at Homesteading – Mindful Living in Minnesota: Apple Picking!

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Barbara Kingsolver would be proud

As the temperature hovered in the 60s yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel that autumn is quickly approaching. The cool weather inspired me to finally make some headway with food preservation for the winter. I’ve done a little bit of preserving thus far – mostly freezing blueberries and strawberries – but I haven’t been motivated to do much more than that. While I spent a lot of time last year canning, I haven’t been excited about doing any this year (perhaps because we still have lots of jam left) – yet.

This weekend, however, I tackled zucchini and yellow squash. While I’ve only grown one measly zucchini in my own garden so far this year (which I pureed with a can of black beans and made into Black Bean & Zucchini brownies*), I managed to score enough off of Freecycle to make me a happy camper. On Friday evening I picked up 17 lbs of zucchini and yellow squash from someone in a nearby town. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it all when I got it, but I knew I would figure something out. In the meantime, the kids played with it. :)
(Please excuse the quality of these pics. They were taken w/ my iPhone.)

On Sunday I got to work. I shredded and froze 16 cups of zucchini to use during the winter for baking or adding to soups.

I also used 3 additional cups to make a triple batch of Barbara Kingsolver’s Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies (from the awesome book Animal Vegetable Miracle).

Then I used one huge yellow squash to make Kingsolver’s Disappearing Zucchini Orzo for dinner (I added spinach to it to give it a little more color and tomatoes as a garnish).

After all of that, I still have two large yellow squash remaining! I may chop and freeze them and throw them into a casserole at a later date.

*Below is the recipe for Black Bean Zucchini Brownies. The other two recipes (cookies and orzo) can be found on the Animal Vegetable Miracle web site. I was very skeptical of the idea of beans in my brownies at first, but now that I’ve made them, I can’t imagine going back to the traditional way. They are sooooo good (and, as Jody will tell you I like to argue, healthier!) Yum!

Black Bean Zucchini Brownies
1 box brownie mix (I prefer the kind that has chocolate chunks in it)
1 can black beans (do NOT drain)
1 small zucchini (Optional. You can make the brownies with just the beans and they will turn out just fine. If you want to add a little extra vegetable in though, add the zucchini.)

Puree entire can of black beans (including the liquid) in blender or food processor. Add the zucchini and puree until smooth. Add the beans and zucchini to the dry brownie mix. Mix well. Pour into greased pan and bake according to directions on the brownie box. You may have to bake a little longer than recommended on the box because there’s a fair amount of liquid added between the beans and zucchini. You could also add in some flour (maybe a 1/2 cup or so) to even it all out. When a toothpick or knife comes out of the brownies clean, they are done. Cool, cut and serve.

Jody, the kids, and I loved these brownies. And yes, I told them what was in them. Nobody cared. :)

Nearly 17 lbs of squash used or preserved in one way or another this weekend. I think Barbara Kingsolver would be proud.

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Pee in the shower to save water

A new ad campaign is running in Brazil asking people to “Go Green – Go in the Shower” – urinate in the shower to conserve water.

Brazilian environmental group SOS Mata Atlantica says the campaign, running on several television stations, uses humor to persuade people to reduce flushes.

The group says if a household avoids one flush a day, it can save up to 4,380 liters (1,157 gallons) of water annually.

SOS spokeswoman Adriana Kfouri said Tuesday that the ad is “a way to be playful about a serious subject.”

The spot features cartoon drawings of people from all walks of life — a trapeze artist, a basketball player, even an alien — urinating in the shower.

Narrated by children’s voices, the ad ends with: “Pee in the shower! Save the Atlantic rainforest!”

What do you think? Do you/would you pee in the shower? I’ll fess up and admit to doing it myself from time to time. I really don’t see what the big deal is.

If you are looking for other ways to conserve water, you can let it mellow if it’s yellow OR save your pee to water/fertilize your garden.

Hat tip to my cousin Rebecca for posting this video on Facebook, where I discovered it.

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