April 2010: Green Living

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What’s black and white and green all over?

Answer: the new column called Green Living. It’ll have much in common with the Green Scene blog I’ve been writing for a year and a half on c-ville.com, but Green Living will be most at home in the print version of C-VILLE Weekly. Consider this page a coming-out party, with many a memorable occasion yet to come.

 

Green Living will focus on my own efforts to live more sustainably. I’m no eco-hero—there’s not one solar panel at my house, and I drive to work—but my husband and I do our best to cut down on waste and to shop local. We’re especially interested in the local food dimension of green living: gardening, buying from nearby farmers and eating seasonally. 

None of this stuff is simple, and we’re always learning. We thought we’d mastered the winter garden, for example—thus providing ourselves with fresh salads in January—until we were stymied by this year’s weather. Luckily, the eat-local movement is so vibrant around here that we never lack for good food, or for people to answer our questions. We’ve tried our hands at tomato canning, seed saving and pepper drying, motivated as much by thrift and the desire for self-sufficiency as we are by our wariness of conventional agriculture. 

I think those feelings are widespread right now. I know that through the blog, I’ve often heard from readers who share our interests. In February, I wrote about a neighbor who’d started a sort of hen-keeping co-op, with friends pitching in on chicken care one day a week in exchange for eggs. That post brought some enthusiastic comments, including this one from Pat Foreman:

“The Declaration of Local Foods Rights. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people have certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the right to grow one’s food in their backyards—including a family flock of chickens!”

And it’s been good to share with readers the struggles and pitfalls of green living: the challenge of finding a shower curtain that doesn’t off-gas, comes from a locally owned store and is affordable, for example. (Short version: I failed and went to Target.) Then there’s my strange little habit of saving food scraps at work and schlepping them home to compost, which is certainly green but makes me feel a little embarrassed. To that, Jason Halbert added this note of encouragement:

“Good on ya! I’ve been hauling group compost from my workplace (coffee grounds, fruit peels mostly) for years. Keeps the fruit flies and odors out of our trash and helps my garden grow. And don’t apologize for eating an orange.”

When I asked folks for suggestions on recycling old running shoes, I got a couple of great tips—and so, by extension, did my readers. More broadly, I’ve heard from people about their feelings on mountaintop removal, walkability in Albemarle County and whether wind turbines spoil the view. It’s been a fun, eye-opening and occasionally contentious exchange, and it’s kept me thinking about the issues even as I keep plugging away with the compost pile and the canvas shopping bags.

I hope you’ll jump into the conversation by reading, commenting, and writing e-mails. Look for the next Green Living column in the April 13 issue of C-VILLE Weekly, check out the blog on c-ville.com, and be in touch!

 

 

ABODE’s essentials for a planet-friendly home

Ready to join the green revolution? Most newly minted eco-enthusiasts will start close to home—sizing up those paper towels, chemical cleaners, and plastic food storage containers—and looking for alternatives. Think less wasteful, less toxic and, in many cases, a lot more simple. We’ve assembled a selection of the stuff you’re likely to find in any self-respecting environmental household. Think of these as your green essentials.—Erika Howsare

Recycled toilet paper

We’ll let someone else deflect the odiferously obvious joke about such a product. The truth is, there’s no good reason that a tree should be newly cut down in order to make that loo roll, as the Brits call it. Get your butt on the green bandwagon! $1.69 at Market Street Market.

Biodegradable garbage bags

No matter how dedicated you are to recycling, it’s tough to avoid creating any garbage at all. And it’s got to go into something. Biodegradable bags mean that even if the contents are still hanging around in a thousand years, at least the bag itself will be gone. $2.39 at Integral Yoga Natural Foods.

 

Compost pail

Rule number one for the green kitchen: If it came from a vegetable or fruit, it’s not garbage—it’s gold. Gardeners know the value of compost, but even if you’re not growing a thing, you can still cut down on your landfill contribution by saving food scraps in an odor-reducing bucket, then letting them break down outside. $39.95 at Blue Ridge Eco Shop.

Plant-based laundry detergent

Your laundry might get clean when you use standard detergents, but the planet gets dirtier: Phosphates, bleach and even endocrine disruptors end up in the waterways. Go for a truer clean with an eco-friendly detergent. This one is the top pick of enviro-blog Grist.org. $7.59 at Harris Teeter. 

Insect repellent incense cones

Loving the earth doesn’t mean you have to put up with mosquitoes in your eyes while you’re chilling on the deck. But nasty insecticides are so 1982. Get up to date with a less chemical solution to the eternal bug problem: incense cones made from citronella, Brazilian andiroba, rosemary and thyme. $13.95 at Fifth Season Gardening

Natural hand soap

Have we had it yet with the antibacterials? There’s evidence they’re creating more highly resistant germs, and experts say all you really need to do is get your hands clean—which requires nothing more than soap. This one from Burt’s Bees comes in a largely recycled container. $6.49 at Market Street Market.

 

Reusable shopping bag

B.Y.O.B. doesn’t refer to frosty cold alcoholic drinks anymore—it refers to going without those ubiquitous, use-and-toss plastic bags. You can find canvas shopping bags all over the place, but we particularly like this one for its handy extra pockets and sturdy build. $44 at Sustain.

Beeswax candle

Standard candles are made from—get this—petroleum. Ditch the fake, cloying scents and get some buzz going with a pure beeswax candle. Like the label says, it does indeed smell like honey! $13.95 at Blue Ridge Eco Shop.

White vinegar

It is the humblest of foods, but white vinegar has no equal when it comes to getting your house clean. (See Tips from Better World Betty for green cleaning recipes.) And check the price: It’s way more affordable than stocking up on a different chemical cleaner for every surface. $1.75 at Harris Teeter. 

Sponge cloths

It can be hard to break the paper towel habit, but it’s easier when you get to use biodegradable sponge cloths to clean up spills and wipe down counters: They’re soft, easy to rinse and can be put through the dishwasher. Or, sterilize by boiling. $3.99 at Blue Ridge Eco Shop.

Tomato seeds

If you’re gonna grow anything, a couple of tomato plants are a good bet. There’s nothing like providing a little of your own food from the backyard, and there’s nothing like a warm, juicy tomato picked on a sunny day in August. These organic seeds are from local company Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. $2.50 at Fifth Season Gardening.

 

Clothes drying rack

Unless you need all your socks to be dry in the next 30 minutes, letting the air do the work is just as effective as that big, bad, power-guzzlin’ dryer. A rack is more convenient than a clothesline and works in all seasons. $49.95 at Blue Ridge Eco Shop. 

Dr. Bronner’s

When you want something more soapy than white vinegar for cleaning, Dr. Bronner’s is a good bet. It’s organic and made from earth-friendly stuff like peppermint oil and citric acid—and it has a million uses, from scrubbing floors to shampooing hair. $7.99 at Integral Yoga Natural Foods.

Glass food storage

Traditional plastic isn’t the greatest for your health, especially when you microwave it, and it also tends to get stained, warped and generally beat-up after a while. Not so with glass. Once you’ve made the leap, you’ll never go back. Set of three containers, $17.95 at Blue Ridge Eco Shop.

 

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