Monday, September 20, 2010

Contributing to Sustainability

In case I hadn't mentioned it yet, I am a Behavior Analyst by profession.
Without an extra title or some background information, it makes my area of expertise rather vague. Do I work for the police? Am I a psychologist? Do I work with troubled youth? Am I analyzing everyone I meet, all the time? Can I provide some advice about a spouse, sibling or child with problem behaviors?

That's just a few of the questions I get when I tell people my job title and I have to say, I don't blame them for being unsure of what to expect. Behavior is a very broad field and their are behavior analysts involved in just about every area of behavior. The more I think about it however, the more I am surprised that most of us are involved in special education and developmental disabilities, particularly Autism.

Not that our field isn't extremely successful in this area or that we have a lack of work in this field, but why aren't more of us involved in environmental behavior change or sustainability education? Don't we as "behavior experts" have the best solutions on how to change human behavior from this linear lifestyle to a more sustainable lifestyle? Can't we as behavior scientists contribute by providing ways to evoke the behavior change necessary to be more sustainable?

Turns out I wasn't the only one with this question and as of this Summer I am part of a group called Behavior Analysis for Sustainable Societies. We're just getting started, so I'm not quite sure what direction we're going in, but I'm glad to see the Behavior Analysis community get together and fill this gap. I'm actually quite curious to see what we achieve. Do we tackle it globally, locally? Do we start with the individual? Or do we focus on governments and corporations?

How do you change an entire community of individual thinkers?

The task seems daunting, but the second I say that I hear the Maldives Minister of Housing's voice in my head. At a talk he gave today with the Vice President of the Maldives he said, when we decided to go to the moon, I'm pretty sure we didn't know how to do it, but we said we would and we did. He continued by saying that he wasn't exactly sure how the Maldives were going to become carbon neutral, but that they are committed to getting there in the next 10 years.

And in many ways he is right. We may not know how to change the behavior of billions of people, but as behavior analysts, we know behavior, and we are committing ourselves to applying that to sustainability. You don't have to be a environmentalist, conservationist, tree hugger or scientist to care about sustainability. You don't have to be from an island like the Maldives where your survival depends on climate change's path. All you need is the realization that sustainability isn't worse than what you live in now and the determination to apply your skills to building a more sustainable future.

So here's my question to you...what field do you work in and how can you contribute to sustainability?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Change requires less talk, more action

Today I decided to send President Obama a message. I don't know if my voice will actually make a difference, but I do know that if I don't use it, it never will. And that got me to many of us just stand by watching things happen because we don't think our voices will be heard?

It's time we put an end to that mindset and start shifting towards action.

Shifting towards change.

It's the reason I was excited about Obama becoming President and it is also the reason I decided to contact him today. Change requires action and I was extremely disappointed when Obama's administration recently displayed a big lack of action.

In case you're not aware of, they are an international organization focusing on inspiring people to find solutions to our climate change crisis. They are called 350, because that is the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere that scientists believe is the safe limit for humanity. Whether you agree with them on that number or not, if you believe in the need for change and action with regards to our environment, you should support

Which leads me back to my letter to President Obama...On 10/10/10 is organizing a global work party, a day to get to work on something that will help deal with global warming. Over 150 countries are participating with everything from planting trees to fixing bicycles to putting up solar panels, a task the President of the Maldives graciously took on and our President declined.

Yes, that's right, "our President declined." U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon encourages "everyone to do his or her part to be part of the solution to the climate challenge," President Nasheed is getting on his roof to install solar panels, but President Obama turned down the FREE solar panels offered to the White House by Bill McKibben and

The solar panels offered to the White House were solar panels that had been on the White House roof when Carter was President. They were a perfect way for Obama and his White House to stop talking change and start making change....and they turned them down. Thousands, no, millions of people are taking action and creating change on 10/10/10, but President Obama will continue deliberating. Deliberation is good, but there really is no more time for deliberation and there is no need for deliberation, it is time to set an example and embrace clean energy.

And that is exactly what I wrote President Obama tonight. I don't think he'll read my letter. I don't even know if anyone will read it, but if anything I will be counted amongst the "people writing about climate change, energy and the environment." And if enough of us write and if that group becomes large enough, then they will have no choice but to listen to us.

I will also be part of the 10/10/10 work party, not just because we need change, but because I want change and I've learned that change doesn't happen if I stand by watching.

Change starts with me. Change starts with you.

Please check out the global work party and find an event near you. There are thousands of events in over 150 countries, so I'm pretty sure you can find one in your area.

And don't just stop there, write President Obama, write your senators, get involved in your local community. Don't just sit around and wait for change. Be change.

Ideas on how to start change locally:
*Climate change is our big issue, sustainability is the solution!
*Write your senators on issues that are important to you. Many organizations (like the ones I mention below) will send you information about things going on and provide simple ways for you to take action and have your voice heard.
*You can also friend/like/support a lot of them on facebook.
*Change your power source to wind power or another clean energy source (many companies offer this for only a few dollars more per month)
*Donate time or money to a local or global organization like Greenpeace, Wildlife Conservation Network, Brita Climate Ride, *Slow Food USA, local Land Trusts, Energy programs and Sustainability Offices
*Get out of your car and ride your bike!
*Know what you eat. Purchase local and organic
*Support local small businesses
*Plant your own garden with your kids, neighbors or some friends
*Volunteer at a local farm
*Volunteer at or start a local community garden
*Educate yourself!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Burden of Your Stuff

When my boyfriend and I moved in together, we decided not to consolidate all of our things, because in a strange way we were both attached to our stuff as if it was what defined our individual identities. So we stored half of our stuff in the attic and stuffed the rest of it all over the house and while we knew we didn't need half the stuff we owned, we weren't quite ready to part with all it.

As we prepare for our upcoming move (to a smaller apartment), things seem to have changed. For starters, we're married now, so it seems a bit pointless to have 2 blenders, 2 mattresses, 2 coffee makers, 2 microwaves, 3 TVs and who knows how many pots and pans in one household. More importantly however, we just want to own less and as Kirsten Dirksen describes, in her article, The Burden of Stuff, make a move toward voluntary simplicity. One of the main reasons I love our new apartment is actually that it has more living space and less closet space and it is forcing me to take a good look at all of my belongings and decide which items will provide me with enough happiness to make it worth the burden of owning it.

As I look through all the years of stuff I've accumulated, I am realizing that I'm just holding on to all these things because I've become attached to them. I'm attached to inanimate materials that just take up space, require cleaning and make moving a pain in the ass. Do I really need to own 5 toiletry bags? Do I really need to pick up the free pens if I already have a stash of 50 pens at home? Do you really need to buy 2, to get 1 free, if all you really need is 1? Do you need the save every t-shirt you're given? Accept every freebie? Or buy the same shirt in 3 colors?

So here I am sitting in the middle of my overstuffed house, ready to cut my belongings in half, not just because my husband is contributing the other half, but because I am tired of carrying the burden of my stuff.

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" Leonardo da Vinci

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Think Global, Act Local

...and the best way to act local is to EAT local!

My garden is growing beautifully! Even the spinach and cilantro seem to be growing without a problem and I recently added zucchini, cucumbers and melons seeds to the garden as well. Before you know it, we will have tons of fresh vegetables, herbs and some fruits.

But while I don't like admitting it, you can't grow everything you want to eat. Most of us also don't have our own cows, pigs and chickens (although my neighbors and I recently agreed to trade veggies for eggs, since they have 3 chickens). My neighbors aside, most of us don't own our own chickens and will need to buy food from someone else. Many people turn to big chain grocery stores and restaurants for their meals, but there are better options out there that provide fresh food while supporting local businesses and farmers and reducing your carbon footprint.

Sure going to Target, Harris Teeter, Kroger and even Trader Joe's and Whole Foods is great because everything is available in mass quantities, but do you know where your money is going? Or where that food came from? Have you thought about how far your eggs, beef, milk and apples have travelled before they get to your local grocery store? Or how much packaging your products are wrapped in?

I'm not suggesting you do the 100-mile challenge and only eat things grown or produced locally, but I do suggest you start thinking about where your food comes from, who grows/produces it and who you are supporting with your purchases.

One of the best ways to support your local community is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). When you join a CSA, you choose a farm, pay a set amount which goes directly to the farm and then you get to enjoy weeks of fresh food. Our CSA is starting this month and I can't wait! We paid $156 for 12 weeks of delicious food including eggs, flour, beef, tomatoes, beans, peppers, bok choy and much more.

If you're not ready to make a commitment to a CSA, but still want local products or if you want a nice place to go on a Saturday morning, let me recommend the Farmer's Market. Fresh vegetables and eggs, grass-fed beef, locally made cheese, friends, neighbors and often locally baked goods. It's really a great place to be. My favorite is to wake up on Saturday, ride our bikes over to the market, shop around, then ride back home, maybe stopping for lunch at a local restaurant.

Another choice I recommend over big chain grocery stores is joining a local co-op. It's a grocery store, but it's local, which means they focus on using local resources; it's community-owned, which means the profits stay within the community and it's inclusive, providing food, jobs and opportunities for the local community. Last November, I joined Weaver Street Market, a local co-op and I love it! I had to pay a membership fee, but I've already earned that back using the coupon book I got when I joined and taking advantage of the weekly owner specials. Organic and locally grown foods, fresh baked breads, owner specials and discounts, it doesn't get any better than that!

So before you drive to a big chain grocery store, try out the alternatives, because the next best thing to growing your own food is knowing exactly where your food came from.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Growing your own food

I'm in my 2nd year as a vegetable gardener and I don't know why everyone else isn't doing it. Not only is it a wonderful way to reduce your impact on the world, but it's also easy, fun and cheaper than buying in the store.

I guess for me, the excuse was often that I didn't own my own house and so could not plant a garden. Last year my boyfriend solved that problem (another awesome Valentine's day present). I still don't own my own house, but we now do square foot gardening in raised 4X4 beds that can be put anywhere and moved as needed. And if you live in a townhouse or apartment, why not try container gardening? Most of my herbs are in containers and this Spring I'm trying some veggies too.

Another excuse that I used was that I didn't know what I was doing, but that excuse goes out the window with all the information available on the Internet. Some of my favorites are Gardening Patch, Gardener's Supply Company and Arzeena Hamir. Not to mention that local gardening stores, like my favorite Stone Brothers & Byrd, provide very useful gardening advice. Last year, they recommended VermaPlex for use on our plants and it worked wonderfully. I've also gone there to ask for basic planting advice and they have this awesome, what to plant when guide, which I've sworn by each planting season.

There really aren't any words to describe how it feels to grow your own garden. To know that your labor and your efforts are providing you with your own food. To bite into a piece of lettuce and know that you grew it in your own back yard. To eat freshly picked sugar snap peas or freshly grown broccoli, no chemicals or pesticides added.

It feels even better this year, because in the past my boyfriend helped plant all the crops, but this year he's away on a work trip, so it was totally up to me to plant a successful garden. I guess we'll have to wait to judge my success, but I do know it feels extremely satisfying to sit on the couch after a day in the garden and know that soon I will be able to eat home-grown veggies.

I even ventured past the typical lettuce, spinach, sugar snap peas, kale and swiss chard routine we did last Spring. In my adventurous mode, I added broccoli, cabbage, turnip and radishes. I've also been growing mint, stevia, spring onions (organic store-bought, that just decided to grow even after being refrigerated for 3 days!) and rosemary and hope to grow parsley, basil, cilantro and strawberry from seed. I even started some onions from seed (which sprouted today!) and recently purchased a mushroom growing kit to try my luck with that.

Don't think you have time for all of that? Start slow. Pick a few plants using a seasonal planting guide, prep the soil, plant the seeds and water. Don't have time to start from seed? Or don't trust you can grow something from seed? No problem! Buy the seedlings at a gardening store. Growing your our food is really much easier than you think!

So what are you waiting for? The last frost has passed and we are heading into Spring, so get to gardening and start enjoying the benefits of growing your own herbs and vegetables!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A simple and free way to reduce, reuse and recycle

For those of you who answer yes to my question, this may be a "what rock have you been living under" type of post. For the rest of you, it's time we get out from under our rock and join the other side. So what's the question?

Have you been to the library recently?

I know it sounds like a silly question, but here's the reason I ask. Until today, my answer to that question would have been "no." Not because I don't like to read or don't read, but purely because it has never dawned on me to go to the library for pleasure. As a kid I used to go to the library every week. Once I got to high school and then college and grad school, the library became a place to check out books and journals I needed for papers, not a place to get books for pleasure. That's what Barnes & Noble and Amazon were for. Or at least, that's what my consumer brain was trained to think. But why?

Why did I feel the need to purchase all the books I wanted to read for pleasure, when I could just as easily go check them out from the library for free?

Sure there are certain books you'd like to own, so that you can re-read them at any time or because they are from your favorite author or a so-called classic, but what about all those other books that you read once and then store away or even throw away? (Shame on you, if you throw away books, but I'll deal with that later).

Had I convinced myself that it was more convenient to go to a book store than to a library? Was the so-called hassle of returning books on time really worth the $19.99 average I spent on each new book? Why is it that I preferred to go to a store and buy a book, instead of going to the library and checking the same book out for free?

As I contemplated these questions, I started to feel like a total idiot. I didn't have the answers. More importantly, all my logic was leading me to a library and yet for years I had been heading straight to the bookstore.

In Durham, a library card is free and you can check out up to 50 books for 3 weeks at a time. If you want it longer than 3 weeks, you can renew it online up to 5 times. That means you can keep each book over 4 months and even if you don't renew or need it longer, it only costs 25 cents per day. Sure, if you lose an item, you have to pay a replacement cost and $5 fee, but if you lose a book you bought in the store or throw it away, you've lost the same 20 bucks.

So I've come to the conclusion that no matter what age you are, you need to get a library card. Not only are you reusing books and reducing waste and the energy and materials it costs to create new books, you are also saving yourself a whole lot of money, while still getting all the benefits books offer.

Take Valentine's day for example. My boyfriend and I both got each other books. I, brainwashed consumer, went to Barnes & Noble and bought him a book. He, smart man, went to the Durham County Library and got me not 1, but 5 books. I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Wow, what a cheap boyfriend. He got her library books for Valentine's day?" But that's not the point. Not to mention that I was super happy with his gift. Not only did he get me 5 books about a topic I am passionate about, he also thought about my decision to strive towards sustainability. Sure it didn't cost him any money, but it was thoughtful and he took to the time to go to the library and look for books I would like. He may have spent less money than I did, but he definitely put more time and effort into his present and that made his present so much better than mine.

And thanks to him, I now have my own library card and I can't wait to go back and check out more books, DVDs, CDs and even magazines. If you haven't been to the library in a while, GO! Take your friends and children with you and give them the gift of endless books.

Funny how my brain is still consumer oriented...the second I wrote "endless books" I immediately thought of the new e-readers, which advertise endless shelf space and are destined to make paper books obsolete. While I don't think you can ever take away the pleasure of reading a real book, I do think if you're going to purchase lots of books, you should do so on an e-reader. It's convenient for travel and more environmentally friendly than buying books, especially if you buy at least 22.5 books per year. But e-readers are only more environmentally friendly than books if you recycle them at the end of their life, which is also the case for books and other periodicals.

Which brings me back to the "throw away books" comment I made earlier. I'm convinced that over 75% of the things we throw away can be recycled and/or reused. Paper (including newspapers and magazines), plastic, metal , all of it can be recycled. Food scraps can be composted and clothing, electronics, furniture and BOOKS, can be reused! If you are currently in the habit of throwing away books, please stop. If the book is falling apart and not reusable, recycle it. If it can be reused, consider donating it to a thrift store, a local library, school, swap with a friend or join a website like Swaptree where you can trade books, DVDs, CDs and video games for free! This site is especially great for video gamers and avid DVD watchers, because admit it, you play a video game and once you beat it, you never play it again or you watch a DVD once, maybe twice and then it just sits on your shelf. Did I mention you can check out DVDs and CDs from the library too?

Media is a big part of most of our lives. Some of us love books, some of us love movies and the younger ones among us love video games. You don't have to give that up when going green or choosing to live more sustainably. There are so many ways you can keep enjoying these pleasures, while significantly reducing your impact on the world and the easiest and cheapest place to start is with a free library card! So go get a library card and start reusing, reducing and recycling!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reduce your power use

Let’s start with the easiest change you can make: reduce your power use.

Most of us can reduce the amount of power we use without affecting our current lifestyle. Not to mention that reducing your electricity bill won't only be good for the planet, it’s also good for your wallet. Many of us are paying for electricity that we don't even use and eliminating these wasteful sources has many benefits.

1. NEVER again buy regular light bulbs. The energy-efficient light bulbs may be a little more expensive, but they last longer and on average save you more money. Not to mention that many stores, utility companies and governments are offering discounts on energy-efficient light bulb purchases. Both CF and LED lighting options produce less heat than regular light bulbs, reducing the amount of energy wasted and in turn reducing your power bill.

2. Turn off lights that are not being used. What is the point of having a lamp on in your bedroom, if you are in the living room? This one seems self-explanatory, but we all take electricity for granted and it is really easy to forget to turn off lights. I can't tell you how I often walk into houses where lights are on in multiple rooms, but everyone is sitting together in one room. If it's on and not being used, it's being wasted!
Ask my boyfriend, I have walked out of a room and left the light on often enough, although I have to admit that I have gotten much better at this!

3. Many of us don't like getting home in the dark, but instead of turning on a light all day, put a light on a timer so it turns on by itself when it gets dark. Timers are cheap and easy to use and avoid the problem of getting home in the dark, while also saving the 8 hours of wasted electricity.

4. Another power waster is our heating and cooling system. The easiest way to save some money is to turn your heat down and your AC up if you are leaving your house for more than just a few minutes. While it sucks to come home to a semi-cold/warm house, it sucks even more to spend 50% of your heating and cooling bill on energy that you are not even using. When you are home, consider turning your heat down and your AC up 1-2 degrees and when possible consider turning the system completely off when you don't need it (like in the Fall and Spring).

5. Get rid of as many of your phantom loads as possible. While I don't expect you to unplug everything, consider that phantom loads account for anywhere from 4 to 10 billion dollars of power usage per year in the United States. That's a lot of wasted power and money!

There are many websites out there that can help you figure out which appliances use the most electricity when not in use, but I think the best rule to follow is "if you don't use it frequently, unplug it." In other words, keep your fridge, dishwasher, washer/dryer and primary TV plugged in, but consider unplugging additional TVs, cell phone chargers, microwave, coffee maker (unless you program it for daily use), shredder, Playstation, X-Box, DVD player etc. etc. At my house, we've got a lot of these appliances on a power strip that we turn on and off as needed. Initially, it takes some getting used to and I've had my moments when I get annoyed that I have to turn on the surge before the appliance works, but in general it's worth the extra 5 seconds to save some money and more importantly reduce my carbon footprint and live more sustainably.

6. If you have an extra room or live in warm weather, consider hang drying your clothes whenever possible. I often hang dry my clothes and toss those that need to be unwrinkled in the dryer for 10 minutes when they're almost dry.

7. Lastly, if you are purchasing new appliances and electronics, first decide if you really need them and second, buy energy efficient appliances.

For more tips,check out No Impact Man's blog where he shares tips by one of his readers, Millie Barnes. She talks about using a broom to clean floors instead of a vacuum cleaner, which I didn't even consider, because I didn't even realize anyone would do this! Both Colin and Millie also mention doing one candlelit evening a week, something I've never done, but am considering experimenting with. And I know Colin has recommended going to bed 1 hour earlier (which may not work if you go to bed at 9, but could save tons of money if you stay up until 1 am watching TV and surfing the web). Which leads me to the last of my suggestions, turn off the TV and computer at least one evening a week and play board games, have a dinner party or pick up a book instead.

Being energy efficient isn't just good for the planet, it's good for you and your wallet!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Ripple Effect

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus and it’s not at all because I’ve giving up on sustainability and resorted to my old ways, but I have been struggling with some demons. Mostly I have felt a bit discouraged to continue writing about sustainability because a few incidents made me question my ability to make a change in the world and encourage others to follow my lead.

The first one happened about a month ago when I was picking up a prescription at the pharmacy. I had specifically asked them to not include the plastic blue sleeve with the refill, because I already have many of those at home. Of course when I picked up the prescription it was in a brand-new plastic blue sleeve. I told me pharmacist to make a note in my account to not include this sleeve anymore and she told me that wasn’t possible, because they need it to put the prescription sticker. I promptly responded, “How about I just bring my old one back for you,” to which she responded “Well, we can just give you a new one.”

Had she just missed the entire point of my request?

I calmly stated that I felt I would be causing unnecessary waste to which she nonchalantly replied “I don’t see a problem with that.” I had no response…she could not care less and there wasn’t anything I could do in the brief time we had together to convince her otherwise, so I mumbled “landfills aren’t endless” and left with the daunting realization that the problem is not that people don’t care or don't want to care, the problem is that the majority of people in this country have no idea WHY they should care.

That incident led me to question my ability to cause change. Can my actions really make a difference?

As that question lingered in my mind, my boyfriend and I got into our ongoing discussion about whether or not humans can change their ways before it is too late. The earth has tipping points. Ecosystems have tipping points, species have tipping points and our climate has a tipping point which on our current path we are slated to reach mid-century. While we don’t know exactly what reaching these tipping points will mean, we do know that once a tipping point is reached, there is no way back.

The problem was no longer whether or not my actions could make a difference it was about whether or not my actions could make a difference before it was too late. Could I reach out to the millions of people who didn’t know why they should care and convince them to start caring before it was too late? Was the ripple effect I hoped to start strong enough to go past my circle of friends?

I wasn’t sure and to be quite honest, I was a bit discouraged….until a few days ago when I walked into a client’s house. This family is the definition of electricity overuse. I’m talking all lights on, all the time, two to three TVs on all day and night and the heater set to 78 degrees. But when I walked in a few days ago, I was surprised to see less lights and only one TV on and best of all the heat turned to 73, which she then proceeded to turn off because their house gets a lot of heat from the sun. The ripple had spread and it continued spreading as my co-workers proudly showed me our new paper recycling bin and we discussed the possibility of adding a can/bottle recycling bin. Another co-worker gave me a bunch of binders she was going to throw away, but decided to reuse. And yet another co-worker proudly expressed how, thanks to me, she had started recycling and was trying to convince her husband to recycle too.

This whole month, as I doubted my ability to inspire others to change, the ripple had spread and people were changing. Who knows maybe I had even planted a seed in my pharmacist's head...

I don’t know how many people I can reach, but I do know now that I am not giving up. It just matters too much to me and it’s not because I am an environmentalist or a tree hugger. It’s because I am an educator, a future parent and most importantly a human being. So whatever you believe in, please consider the little things you can do to make a change.

Don’t know where to start? Look no further. I’ve got a million easy tips coming your way one day at a time.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mom I have worms...

And I absolutely love them!
I mean an organism that eats my trash and gives me super fertile soil for my garden, what is not to love? Old me, of course, hated worms and it was not at all surprising that when I told my mom that I had worms in my kitchen she responded with “Oh, no, how awful.” She thought I was referring to the ‘guru guru’ that unavoidably take over everything left outside in a hot Caribbean kitchen and had no idea that her daughter, who used to be seriously grossed out be earthworms, would by choice have a bin with about a thousand earthworms in her kitchen.

Not only do I have them by choice, I really do love my worms! I get a sense of pleasure when I open the bin and hear them squirming around. Not to mention the joy I feel when I lift up the top layer of paper to find my well-fed worms chomping away on my leftover apples, celery, carrots, pumpkin and coffee just to name a few.
I guess it’s the biologist in me admiring the wonderful circle of life us humans are often so quick to ignore. And in terms of sustainability, there’s really no better way to reduce your trash, and your impact on the planet, then acquiring some worms on taking care of your own waste management.

Making the Bin:
We were lucky enough to have our worm bin donated to us, but it’s really not that hard to make. Check out the video by The Environmentals . These guys are a little crazy, but they made a worm bin that is exactly like mine! Some other sources are Cheap & Easy Worm Bin!, Composting with Redworms, wikiHow or just google "worm compost bin."

Worm Care:
Caring for the worms is also super easy!
Feed them all your biodegradable food scraps, like coffee grounds, tea bags, cereal, vegetable and fruit scraps. From what I've read, avoid citrus (too much is toxic for the worms), avoid meats, dairy and bones (attracts rodents, yuck), avoid junk food and oily foods (attracts ants). I feed my worms about once a week (sometimes twice), putting food in different corners of the bin. So far I haven't had to chop or puree any of the food. I just put it in a little odor-free compost bin and transfer it to the bin whenever it's feeding time. Whenever I see worms crawling on the sides or close to the lid, I know it's time to feed them a crumbled dried eggshell (helps maintain correct PH). Other than that, I leave them in a nice dark corner in my kitchen.
More info at Organic Garden Works, Feeding Your Worms

Harvesting the soil:
I have not attempted this yet, but I have found a site that I am going to use when it’s time for us to replant our vegetable garden. We used store-bought earthworm castings last time and the plants grew like crazy, so I can't wait to see the effects of our home-produced castings.

Don’t have a garden to use the soil in? Don’t let that stop you from composting! You can use the soil for indoor houseplants or donate it to a friend or local garden. In the end, the soil is only an awesome by-product, the real benefit is the reduction of methane in the air and trash in our landfills. Reducing your trash and managing your own biodegradable waste is the best way to reduce your impact on our planet and who knows, you may grow to love your worms too!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Our "reduced" standard of living

Just a few days ago, I got one of the most rewarding messages. My cousin wrote me “Happy 2010! Thank you for teaching me new things and bringing important things to my attention.” I guess I have to add the disclaimer that I am extremely liberal and that she is quite conservative, but I think the experiences and conversations we shared in 2009 are proof that when it comes to saving our planet and bettering our lives it does not matter if you are conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or an atheist, the only thing that matters is that you educate yourself on what it means to live a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.

An economist today on NPR said that given the state of the world, we have to get used to a reduced standard of living. I don’t disagree with him, our standards of living have to change and yes, it will be “reduced” compared to the way we live now, but I’m not so sure that that is a bad thing. Will it really be so bad to use more public transportation or our bicycles instead of our cars? Or even drive a small hybrid car instead of a massive SVU? Who said that a car indicates a higher standard of living than a bicycle? Or that the size of your car delineates your wealth? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trade my fuel-efficient Honda for a gas-guzzling SUV for anything and I am actually waiting for the day I can “reduce” my standard of living to a smaller hybrid car that is friendlier on the planet AND my wallet! Not to mention that in Amsterdam for example, people never even consider buying a car. On the contrary, they want the ugliest bike they can find, so that no one will try to steal it.

Sure, we have to get used to a “reduced” lifestyle, but you might not miss the stuff you are giving up quite as much as you think you will. Just think back to your childhood…what are your favorite memories? Is it that big TV, big car or expensive game? I don’t know, maybe it is for you, but for me, the things I remember and treasure most from my childhood are the family trips we took, the stories that were told, the home-cooked meals and the game nights. Just last week I was at home and what I craved most was my mom’s New Year’s soup and a night at home playing Chinese Checkers and Rummikub. I don't think any material good could ever replace that...