Green Your Summer: Shop Locally

Readers: I hope you’ve been enjoying the green your summer series this will (most likely) be the last installment, if you’re looking for the others, head over here.

As I mentioned in the post about signing up for a  CSA, one of the largest contributors to your personal environmental footprint is your food.  Typically, food travels about 1500 miles to get from the farm to your plate, and makes different stops along the way for processing.  Shopping at your farmers market can take this number down quite a bit, depending on where you live (some farmers at my local market travel 200+ miles to get to my market).

However, a farmers market is still a great place to get food, provided it is reasonably priced.  First, you’ll be able to chat with whoever is selling at the stand, talk a bit about where they come from, the crops they grow, the history of the farm, and other things about about themselves.   While this has no bearing on the type of food you get or the quality, it seems to make quite a few people feel better about themselves and their food, and they are willing to pay slightly higher costs for this.

The most important thing for me is that no one is jerking around with your food.  There’s no middle man.  The farmer (or one of his employees) has probably ripped the food out of the ground (or off the tree) very recently, so you’ll get fresh food that has no additives or anything like that – it’s just been sitting in a basket for a car ride.  Due to this fact, the food you’ll get at a farmers market is typically fresher than you’ll get elsewhere, which is always nice – great for canning or just plain eating!

In my area, the farmers market is like a social event as well – you get to hang out downtown, see all of your friends and neighbors, and catch up on the goings on of the week (mine is on saturday morning).  Even fellow yakezie member (and good friends) Mr & Mrs SPF shop at the farmers market – though we dont shop at the same one.

Readers: Do you shop at the farmers market?  If so, how often and what for?  Typically I try to buy only things I cant get in the store, but occasionally get a few things on a whim as well.

Green Your Summer: Sign up for a CSA

Last year, a friend that I worked with signed up for a CSA.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, CSA is “community supported agriculture” and involves members paying the farm at the beginning of the season for a share in whatever the farm produces that season.  It could be fruits, veggies, breads, cheeses, etc.  Your package would get delivered to you at a specific interval (H and I are getting ours weekly) and you get a certain amount of stuff with your share.  It tends to be whatever is in season, and very well could be something you wouldnt normally eat, want or even use – this is the downside of these programs.

These programs, however, can be a great way to lower your impact during the summer (and into the fall).  One of the things that really busts your sustainability is what they call “food miles” that is, the amount of miles your food had to travel from the time it left the soil to the time it arrived on your plate.  Its been estimated that this averages about 1,500 miles for everything you eat.  Imagine that, that serving of potatoes on your plate traveled almost 1,500 miles to get there (mine don’t, because Idaho is Wyomings friendly western neighbor, but a potato would still travel 500+ miles to get here).  So, in an effort to cut down food miles (and ensure that there are fresh fruits in the house we signed up for a CSA).

Every week, a box of fruit will turn up at our house (or we may need to pick it up, I’m not sure yet) and will be filled with fruits from a farm in eastern colorado.  This will go on for 22 weeks, and the cost of each week, it will cost $16.85 cents per delivery.  Unfortunately, I cant be sure that this is going to be cheaper than buying the fruit at the store, because when I’m at the store I make an effort to only buy the fruit that costs less than 1.50 per pound.  With this CSA, I’ve got no idea what I’ll be getting, so there’s no way I can tell yet if it will pay for itself.  I’m excited to try out this whole thing, and will of course report back to you readers how it went.

One of the reasons that I ended up pulling the trigger was that I recently started canning.  If there’s something that I cant eat or dont want to eat that week – I’ll be able to preserve what I cant eat with some recipe from the book, or perhaps turn it into jam.

So, if you’re looking for another way to keep your summer green, consider signing up for a CSA.  I found my through word of mouth, but I did a few google searches “your city” CSA and came up with some good hits.  If I were you, I’d ask around with some friends, then consider going the google route.

Readers: Are you a member of a CSA?  Do you think they are too expensive and not worth it? Or are you going to try to find one for yourself this summer?

Canning: Cinnamon Apples in Red Hot Syrup

Recently, I’ve had a chance to explore a new hobby that will decrease my dependence on grocery stores and other people, and will allow me to take advantage of awesome sales at grocery stores as well as farmers market (and increase the yield of my to-be-created garden).  As you could guess from the title, I’m talking about canning.

CinnamonApples

After reading this post at get rich slowly, I thought that canning looked like fun and that I should take a swing at it.  I headed out to get the supplies (a beginners canning kit for $6, a box of jars and the canning bible) and got ingredients for the carrots.  I headed home amped to start canning, but unfortunately I was shot down – I didnt have anything to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the pan.  After a few quick searches of the internets I found my solution. This is just 5 jar rings from mason jars I wasnt using at the time, held together by bread bag ties.  This fit perfectly inside the bottom of my canning pot.  Word of warning though,  Consider placing a towel or rag below this, as the constant movement could scratch the enamel off of your pot.  I’m not positive that this happened to me, but it looks like that’s the case.

IMAG0233-300x200

Once I’d successfully made the carrots, I decided that it was time to take a swing at some of the other things in the canning bible.  I didnt have that many requirements, other than the recipe look tasty and be something that I actually would eat.  After a bit of searching, I selected the apples.  Here’s what you need to do to make them (I assume no liability for you jacking this up.  Read directions before you start and use your head):

  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 c water
  • 1 1/2 c vinegar
  • 2/3 c light corn syrup

First, you’ll need to wash, core, peel and cut the apples.  I cut my apples into eighths, but I’d assume quarters would probably work as well.  This took me quite a bit of time, and while you’re peeling some, have some lemon juice (or something else) handy to

treat the cut apples from turing brown while you cut the rest of them.   Combine everything but the apples in a large (bigger than 3.5 quarts) pot and bring to a boil.  Put apple wedges into the syrup and simmer for 4 minutes.  Pack hot apples into the jars, leaving about half an inch headspace (headspace is the amount of space between the top of your goodies and the lid of the jar, and my little kit came with a handy measuring tool).  Pour the syrup into the jars, leaving half inch of headspace here as well.  Run a knife around the inside edge of the jar to remove air bubbles, and put the lids on.  Place in your boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

Note: This time is only for those of you at sea level or lower than 1,000 feet.  As altitude increases, so will boiling time, and you’ll need to account for that.  Most boxes of jars have a table on them to guide you.

Once you are ready to take them out, set them on a towel and leave them sit  for 24 hours.  You’ll be able to hear the jars sealing (a pop noise) but leave them there for at least 24 hours.  Then you can take the rings off (so you can see if a seal has gone bad from the time you canned to the time you want to eat) and enjoy!

Cheap Summer Vacation Series: Blue Ridge Parkway

If you’re looking for a beautiful vacation that will be big on memories and cheap on your wallet, then you should check out Blue Ridge Parkway. We rode a portion of it when we were outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Our friends enjoy the outdoors and they invited us to hang with them for a weekend trip.

My husband and I wanted to try something different and having a little getaway camping trip seemed like the perfect plan.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a national park that you can actually drive on. It’s 469 miles connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It’s very scenic and as you travel, you can stop at spots, have a picnic or walk around and enjoy the views.

Looking for resources, here are two of my favorites:

As you can see in the photos, the drive was amazing and we got to stretch our legs and relax in some beautiful settings.

Where to Stay

Being so close to Asheville, you really have many options on where to stay. There are hotels, bed and breakfast, and campgrounds. You have decide what’s your style and when you’ll be heading out.

Since we went in early October to observe the leaves changing, the temperatures were still mild.  Our friends are experienced campers, so they had everything you could possibly need on the trip. The campgrounds also had hot shower facilities and laundry on site.

Here are some recommended places if you’re looking for a place to rest your head:

You can stop or start anywhere, but I really recommend being around Asheville. It’s a great sized city with plenty of nightlife and sights to see.

Not Breaking the Budget

We stayed at a small campground in Balsam. We split the campground fees with our friends. I believe it was around $24/night for a tent site with electricity and water. We slept comfortably in our tents and enjoyed our little spot by the creek. I believe cabins were available from $35-45/night, depending on size.

We bought a few items for the trip; happily, we use most of it still. My husband loves his hiking boots and we use the air mattress for out of town guests. Here’s a breakdown of what we spent:

  • Hiking Shoes (2 pairs) – $125
  • Queen size Air Mattress – $30
  • Thermals (4 pairs) – $40
  • Blanket – $15
  • Wool Socks – $7
  • Food (cooking stuff) -$30
  • Food (eating out) – $40
  • Gasoline – $50

Next time we go, most of the items won’t have to be bought again, so it’ll be much cheaper.

Thoughts on National Park Vacations

I have to say, we had an absolute blast with the camping trip. We got to recharge our batteries, see some beautiful mountains, and hang with friends. The added bonus was not having to spend a ton of money for it!  Have you explored some of our country’s wonderful parks?

This guest post is from Elle at Couple Money, helping others live on one income and have fun with the second.

Green Washer Fluid

Today I was at wal-mart searching for, among other things, some new wiper fluid for my vehicle.  I typically dont give much thought to purchasing washer fluid, but something struck me when I was looking at the 5 or so different choices.

There was an eco-friendly alternative for wiper fluids.

Of course there was, why wouldn’t there be.  It seems that going eco-friendly or “green” is in vogue, and consumers will gladly pay a premium for eco-friendly products.  Such consumers typically buy and give  little thought going into whether or not the product was actually produced as they claim. (I do this on occasion)  At first thought, I figured this was just a well disguised attempt to separate me from my scarce financial resources.

Does the Earth Really Look like this from Space?

Upon further investigation, wiper fluid is typically hefty stuff, as the majority of the wiper fluids have some sort of anti-freezing agent in them.  It used to be methanol, but due to its known harmful effects (blindness, among other things) now they typically use ethanol and ethylene glycol (more commonly known as antifreeze).  So, did getting the green product really matter in this case?  The antifreeze is a key ingredient in the fluid in the winter (quick tip: if there’s frost on the windshield in the morning and you don’t have time to wait for the defroster to heat up, spray some wiper fluid on it.  It will melt the frost), and removing the things that make the wiper fluid not freeze would drastically decrease performance, and ultimately, my satisfaction with the product.

So, what’s a green conscious consumer to do?

Well, as mentioned before, the eco-friendly wiper fluid only went down to 32 degrees.  I bought two gallons to use for the summer time, and when the winter time comes back (in 3 months) I’ll use the eco-unfriendly stuff unless I can find an alternative.  Not only did I get the eco-friendly product, it was also 50 cents or so cheaper than the regular washer fluid.

Questions:

  1. Have things gotten too “green”?  You can find green things everywhere these days, but who really cares if your wiper fluid is eco-friendly or your superman underwear contain 100% organic cotton
  2. Would you sacrifice performance to stay green?

The Five Eco Principles – Healthy Environment

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the fifth one, focusing on a Healthy Environment.

Ensuring that you live in a healthy environment is paramount.  You are in your residence a significant portion of time, so if something potentially harmful to you (or your loved ones) has the potential to cause problems at best, and can be lethal at the worst.  There have been some spectacular incidents that can illustrate this problem perfectly, and show you a few:

  1. Asbestos – This used to be used in multiple products in the home (floor tiles, roofing, fire retardant) and elsewhere around the home (brake pads).  Asbestos poses no threat until its been disturbed.  During a home remodel or other disturbing event to the asbestos, the fibers can become airborne and inhaled.  This is obviously not good for you, and can lead to serious lung problems in the future.  Asbestos is no longer common in building materials, and is currently regulated by the EPA.
  2. Lead – This used to be found in gasoline and paint.  Poses huge risks to our children (those six & under), and can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems and possibly death.  This is also something that you dont want floating in the air in the place where you spend most of your time.
  3. DDT – Probably one of the most infamous products ever used in or around the home.  Typically, it was used to kill mosquitos carrying malaria.  This chemical became very popular around the home, and was eventually linked to multiple problems, such as appearing in humans, thinning eggshells of wildland creatures and showing up in the fats of fish.  It was one of the first major environmental campaigns, and was brought on by the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

There are also plenty of modern day examples.  One of the current ones is VOC Paints.  VOC (aka Volatile Organic Compounds) are in some paints, and can seep out after the wall has been painted.  Something else that could pose a problem is your granite countertop.  Some granite countertops house uranium, which is not only radioactive, but can release radon gas, which can cause lung cancer. The amount of uranium that is most likely contained in your countertop is not suspected to be enough to pose a significant risk to your health, but are you willing to find out the hard way if that ends up not being true?

Now, think about how much time that you and your loved ones spend inside your home.  There are a few things to think about when it comes to these type of pollutants.

  1. How worried do I need to be about these products? No one really knows what the long term effects of these chemicals will be.  Do you want to be one of the first to file a lawsuit because you found out?
  2. To what degree do I want to protect myself and my loved ones? – Many of the things that can mitigate potential sickness cost more.  How much more  are you willing to pay?

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The Five Eco Principles – Water Efficiency

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the fourth one, focusing on Water Efficiency.

It looks like i’ve forgotten the Overview of the process, so ill give it to you here

I have written a bit about floodplains and conservation, but have yet to write about efficiency.  In the western US where I come from, water is always on everyone’s mind.  If you want to farm, feel free, but it’s going to be difficult if you dont have the water rights to your property.  (Drinking) Water is a limited and precious resource, and should be treated as such.

It is my feeling that our water is being mis-allocated and at times wasted every day.  Part of the problems is lies in ignoring the environment when designing our neighborhoods, homes and other appliances.

The first one that comes to my mind is the lawn.  Yes, I am well aware that everyone enjoys having a good looking, green front and back lawn. In some places that get plenty of rain, this isn’t a big deal.  Using rainwater supplemented by the occasional sprinkler system to keep the lawn green is fine, so long as most of the water comes from the rain.  This does not happen where I live.  There is ~12″ of rainfall per year.  An amount this small should not be wasted on making sure that everyone has a ‘nice looking’ lawn.  There are plenty of ways to keep your lawn nice looking without using scarce resources.  Xeriscaping is a great option, and can have great results.  Xeriscaping involves design with plants that are low on water, including flowers, bark, and other drought resistant grasses.  They can save water and be nice looking!

xeriscapeImage credit: www.raisethehammer.org

Also, if you’re still looking for some sort of ‘lawn’, you can plant grasses that are native to the area.  Grasses such as this have already adapted to conditions in your area, and are well suited to deal without water (in my case).

In addition to the lawn options outside the home, there are also many options for becoming more efficient with your water inside the home.   There is alot of “low hanging fruit” to harvest in regards to your water usage.  One of the first ones is to turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth and washing your hands. There is no reason to leave these on, literally throwing valuable water (and money) right down the drain.  It’s a simple step that can pay back big in water saved and money saved. If your city or water utility uses “stepped” billing, the savings could be large.  For instance, if your water utility charges you 5 cents per gallon for the first 1,000 gallons, and 8 cents per gallon for gallons 1,001 – 2,000, and removing the water waste from these habits (conducted in the home at least 2 times per day), that can add up over 30 days and can possibly move you easily under 1,000 gallons per month.  Money saved!

Another opportunity  is the toilet.  We all use them, and we all have them.  A ‘typical’ toilet uses 3.5 gallons per flush, while some of the more efficient models can use as little as 1 gallon per flush.  What really piqued my interest is the double flush toilets, and their potential for water savings.  Dual flush toilets are basically what they sound like, with the toilet having a button for ‘solids’ and a button for ‘liquids’.   According to how stuff works, the most modern dual flush toilets use less than 1 gallon per flush for liquids, and just over 1.5 gallons for flushing solids.  Over the lifetime of the toilet, this can represent a huge savings not to be ignored.  Stats from toilet abc’s show that you can use less than 1/3rd of the water of a traditional 3.5 gallon toilet.  As it says on the site, the government is looking to come up with an “energy star for toilets” rating, which will probably be a good thing, given the success of the energy star label.

dual-flushSource: Amazon.com

Now that you’ve got plenty of ideas on how to save water, where do you start? I suggest starting with the things that provide the highest return.  For example, the cost of turning off your water while brushing your teeth and washing your hands is $0, and the benefits are enormous compared to the time invested.  You will be surprised at how quickly you can form this habit.  After that, I’d move to the toilet.  You can install a double flush mechanisim for ~30, or put in double flush toilets from the get go and save some money.

Want to get more out of the sustainablelife blog?  Here are a few tips.

  1. Subscribe Via RSS – Click on the orange icon under the top posts on the side bar.  Aren’t familiar with RSS? Its like a news service.  Whenever the blog updates, it will take it to your feed reader (I use google reader) and you can view the article there.
  2. Email me at info [at] sustainablelifeblog.com
  3. Follow me on twitter @sustainlifeblog
  4. Have a Comment  Party – I would love to hear your comments on my articles, and the things I talk about.
  5. Email an article to a friend, then ask them to join in the comment party.  The more the merrier