What’s Growing? Urban Container Gardening

photo (11)
My container garden bursting with delicious vegetables- only a 5×13 foot space 
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A deer cruising my backyard, wondering where the deer salad bar (aka my garden) is.

It is June, and we have been enjoying all our fresh vegetables from our local CSA  and lots growing in our garden. I am doing a container garden this year, as our backyard is a major deer thoroughfare, and I have yet to build the maximum security garden cages needed to protect my precious harvest from becoming a deer salad bar. Right now I am growing tomatoes, carrots, celery, plum, peas, basil, lavender, oregano, mint, Meyer lemon, lettuce, lemongrass, raspberry, strawberry; all in urban garden style containers on my patio in a 5 foot x 13 foot patio space. There is even a little fountain in there that adds pretty sounds and a nice visual effect. I am also growing 30 corn plants out in the “deer zone” and am hoping the netting will keep them away until I can put something more permanent. I was thinking of doing a “three sisters” garden out there where you plant corn, let it grow about a foot, plant beans and let them use the corn as a trellis, and plant squash. The beans give the corn nitrogen (corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder) and the squash leaves help retain moisture. It is an indigenous American gardening technique. Sounds like I need to get to the seed store!

Corn growing in preparation for my "three sisters" garden bed
Corn growing in preparation for my “three sisters” garden bed

So besides the corn, my entire garden is in containers- I use a “big bag bed” on a shipping crate, and various pots and containers to grow everything. I use my hanging plants above other plants, so as they drain, the plants below can get the water. For the gardener who may neglect their gardens, mine on the patio means I walk by it every time I go in the house, so I can keep an eye on it and remember to water, check for pests, and harvest anything that looks ready before the wildlife gets to it. Container gardens are also easier to weed, and it means less time bending over, and more control over the soil.  Although I am far from an expert gardener, through trial and error, a sense of whimsy, I’ve been able to grow some of my own food. My biggest advice for gardeners just starting out is to plant more than you think you’ll need (like the old timey farmer adage: one for the blackbird, one for the crow, one to wash away, and one to grow). The other tip is to have fun, enjoy yourself, and even one small pot with one tomato plant still has the spirit of a thousand gardens.


Is Earth Day Irrelevant?

earthday*304I’m not sure I like Earth Day anymore.

As I wrote last year, the Earth, our home, is a wondrous but closed system that warrants our appreciation and care every day.

Having one day designated for paying attention to our home seems token, a mere slogan.

  • Earth Day gives Google a topic for its changing home page image/doodle.
  • Earth Day provides pundits with a platform to discuss progress and failings.
  • Earth Day means that activists turn up the volume because people might be listening more today than other days.

Yet the state of the Earth is not a passing news headline, a curiosity worth only a quick glance, or a snapshot image in a line of our views of cute animals and celebrity nonsense. The Earth is our home, without which there is nothing else. And an endless stream of data and analysis is showing that we are not properly caring for our home.

Recently, we polled people, asking, “What’s the most important action we can take as individuals to live a green/sustainable lifestyle?”

  • Buy less stuff
  • Buy local stuff
  • Recycle
  • Eat less meat/eat non-GMO
  • Turn down the heat and a/c
  • Drive a hybrid vehicle or drive less
  • Other (leave a comment)

One third of the 35 respondents picked Recycle, with the remainder scattering their top choice amongst the other actions. While we can argue the relative merits of all of these actions, it seems to me that in a closed system, reducing use is most important.

While recycling is helpful, it is really a misnomer because the economics are such that recycled materials are usually turned into something different; meaning recycling is usually really downcycling. According to the Dictionary of Sustainable Management, a project of the alumni and students of the Presidio Graduate School,

Most recycled industrial nutrients (materials) lose viability or value in the process of recycling. This means they can only be used in a degraded form for components other than their original use. White writing paper, for example, is often downcycled into materials such as cardboard and cannot be used to create more premium writing paper.

It’s not that recycling is bad, but that its value is perceived to be higher than it really is. If I don’t buy the bottled water, there is no plastic to recycle or otherwise be concerned with. In our daily lives, it is the consumption choices that most affect the Earth, not what happens to our consumption leftovers.

Google’s Earth Day 2013 graphic

Whether you agree that climate change is a problem, or think that a consumption economy is essential to well being, we must move towards caring for the Earth every day, including today. Our collective health, our survival depends on paying attention to what we do and the consequences of our actions (or inaction).

So, Earth — Happy Earth Day – some attention is better than none! We’ll continue to work on thinking about you every day.




Clean Energy Stalled?

IEA Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013“… the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago,” says the International Energy Agency (IEA),

IEA released an annual report, Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013. The 154-page report recommendations stress “that the true cost of energy must be reflected in consumer prices, through carbon pricing and the phase-out of fossil-fuel subsidies. Technologies like electric vehicles, wind and solar will need support for several years more, but policies should be flexible and transparent. More stringent and broader energy performance standards, building codes and fuel economy standards can drive energy efficiency.”

IEA asserts that stark messages emerge:

  • progress has not been fast enough
  • large market failures are preventing clean energy solutions from being taken up
  • considerable energy-efficiency potential remains untapped
  • policies need to better address the energy system as a whole
  • energy-related research, development and demonstration need to accelerate

The silver lining is that the uses of solar photovoltaic, wind, and advanced vehicle technologies (especially hybrid-electric and electric vehicles) are growing. Still, very few regions have comprehensive fuel economy measures in place, says IEA. Also, while the U.S. uses less coal than before, other countries use more.

You can dive into the specifics with visualization tools on the IEA site.

How does this affect consumers? IEA encourages governments to reflect the true cost of energy in consumer prices. Without a doubt this would mean higher prices. Still, shouldn’t the true cost of things be reflected in the price tags?

My takeaway from the report is that governments need to start doing more towards lowering carbon emissions. And consumers need to accept — or better yet demand — change. Are you willing to pay more and use less to help delay global warming? Are you willing to tell your government to move faster on clean energy initiatives?


AT&T is Wrong. More is NOT Better. Mindful Consumption is Better.

AT&T’s popular commercial “More is Better” not only exploits children, it promotes the ill-founded and overly simplistic concept that more is always better. Really? Better for whom? Many people don’t need faster phone network service or don’t want to pay more money for faster speeds. Some can’t even afford to own a cellular phone or subscribe to such services.

AT&T More is Better campaign

Some people practice mindful consumption and don’t buy everything we’re encouraged to consume. These phone companies work daily to convince us that more is better – faster network, more Gs (we’re up to 4G – wow!), more apps, larger screens, lighter devices, longer battery life, higher resolution, better cameras.

Meanwhile, where do cell phones go when they stop working and are discarded by their owners? In the U.S. in 2010, 152 million mobile phones were disposed of, with 11% of those recycled. In the UK and Europe, over 105 million mobile phones are discarded each year, according to a recent report by Mobiles2Money.co.uk. The phones contain palladium, gold, silver, and copper as well as plastics, glass, and ceramics. According to the EPA, some of the internals of phones are hazardous to the environment when tossed into landfills. “EPA is very concerned about ensuring the proper management of used electronics and has undertaken important work to increase the collection and responsible recycling of used electronics.” We need to recycle phones more than we do today.

This ad promotes the idea that even children inherently know that more is better. Mindless consumerism is in part the result of the assumption that more is better. However, always wanting and taking more, while there isn’t enough to go around, is short sighted and destructive. Sustainability comes from mindful consumption in which we each take what we need. Yet our modern society expects us to want more and take more when we are able. We need to adjust our thinking – more is not better when it comes to consumption.

To be better stewards of our planet requires us to change our thinking. If we can use what we need, and improve inefficiencies in our processes, we can sustain a larger population and potentially close the gap between the overabundance some enjoy and the shortages elsewhere. A circle of children who appear to be privileged  is not representative of the majority. How many of us would want to hear our children say, “We want more. We want more” as they sit in a group as portrayed in the AT&T spot? What would a circle of children in impoverished areas say? “We want some. We want some.”

So AT&T has it wrong. Faster is not always better. And more is certainly not always better.

It’s not complicated.



Forward on Climate: Can a rally make a difference?

Forward on Climate Rally crowd

On Sunday, while President Obama played golf in the warm Florida sunshine with oil executives, approximately 50,000 brave souls gathered in subzero temperatures near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. for the “Forward on Climate” rally. We almost didn’t go because it was SO cold and windy … but decided it was important to be there. The rally was touted as the largest climate rally in history and intended to show Obama and others with influence that people want to be heard on the issue of climate change. There was a lot of noise and signage about the Keystone XL pipeline project that is designed to transport oil from the tar sands in Canada to the oil refineries in Texas. The project is in its permitting process that the President must approve for it to proceed.

USA Today’s report noted, “President Obama said in his State of the Union Address that if lawmakers don’t act on climate change, he will. Protesters say they are holding him to his word.”

Perhaps unlike the images of the Occupy Wall Street protests, we saw all sorts of people from young to old, of many races, and from many locations. The climate movement is inclusive by nature simply because it affects everyone. Buses carried people from 28 U.S. states to the rally, coordinated by the Sierra Club and 350.org.

People in the movement are concerned that Obama will keep his promises about working on climate change, which he most recently repeated in this State of the Union address. The concern is that he didn’t do much in his first term, and that hanging out with Texas oil men reflects his true intentions. Medea Benjamin in AlterNet makes the point that golf itself is “environmentally destructive”, implying another contradictory choice for the President supposedly on the side of environmental preservation..

While today the focus is on Obama’s uncertain commitment, the real challenge to the climate change movement is much more comprehensive. Some still don’t believe the science. Others have vested interest in the status quo. And many simply are afraid so they don’t want to think about what could be happening to our earth, our home. What is needed the most is ongoing education and regular activism as seen on Sunday at the rally.

obama golfing rally

People need to learn about the issues and make decisions about their positions. And then, if they are so moved, they must speak out. Yes, we can make the small changes in our daily lives by recycling, driving less, and trying to use less electricity. However, it is the big changes that are more significant – one of the important changes to address climate change is to end our addiction to non-renewable energy. The science is conclusive, now it’s up to we the people to insist on the needed changes. The Forward on Climate rally participation of 50,000 would have been even higher on a warmer day. Perhaps the rally is a turning point for the climate movement, which has mostly relied upon science and reason until now. For the first time in its 120-year history, the Sierra Club board is allowing civil disobedience to fight the Tar Sands. The rally clearly represents what people can do, how their voices can be heard, and if progress can be made soon – just how important it can be to speak out.


Nine Podcasts Worth Listening To: How To Be Green

95506096About a year ago, we discussed podcasts about living green. Please don’t waste your time searching online for green podcasts! A Google search today for “green living podcasts” has the two highest ranked results as a TLC article which must be old because many of its links are expired, and a discontinued podcast. The same search on iTunes provides equally anemic results. The only way to find a decent podcast for living sustainably is to try them. I’ve listened to all of these podcasts and give you a short list; if you know of others then let me know. The podcast universe is fluid, and many of the podcasts mentioned in our last post about this are gone, and some survive. I still spend lots of time alone on the car, so I sought out others.

Podcasts Listed in November 2011 Post

  • More Hip Than Hippie – inactive
    • Founders moved on to other ventures. According to this Facebook post, “We ended the show in February after Val closed Greenfeet as it was the major sponsor of the show.”
  • Here on Earth – cancelled
    • After nearly 30 years on Wisconsin Public Radio, Jean Feraca, host of Here on Earth, has retired. But you can listen to the final episode here.
  • Living Green Podcast – inactive

Simple Criteria for Selection

  1. Content – who cares? If it’s overly technical or academic, I’m not always listening. If the topic is too esoteric, it might also lose me.
  2. Quality – does it sound like a bad phone call? I can’t hear what you have to say if it is painful to listen.
  3. Opinionated – does it have a voice? If it’s just news, I’m yawning; I read that elsewhere. But if it’s a rant or in-depth discussion about the news, I’m listening.

Here are the green living podcasts I’m listening to these days, with specifics about each, including links to their Web pages and iTunes pages as well as Facebook and Twitter. The list of nine, with my ranking 9-1:


Personality: Adam Pearson

What it Is

Recently started, in Oct 2012, Stanford University is the backdrop for Green Grid Radio that focuses on renewable energy. The students are intelligent and find some great guests to interview, asking some excellent questions.

The Stats

  • iTunes  – no ratings/reviews
  • 45 Twitter followers @greengridradio

In Their Own Words

The goal of Green Grid Radio is to provide a local and regional perspective on the Californian and American transition to renewable electricity sources. We seek to inform the broad public, as well as to showcase the work of our academic, industry, and student speakers. The program is a weekly interview, panel, and news show that will explore different components of sustainable electricity networks, regenerative systems, and technological efficiency. Some of our show topics will fall under the umbrellas of utility-scale wind, solar, and geothermal facilities, energy efficient buildings, and transportation. Guests on the show will run the gamut from Stanford professors to industrial professionals to environmental conservationists. Green Grid Radio airs every Thursday from 6-7 pm PST, on KZSU Stanford 90.1FM

Recent Episodes

  • Taking on Climate Change Through Education and Grassroots Action
  • Wildlife Challenges and Opportunities with Wind Energy (with Justin Allegro of the National Wildlife Federation)
  • Climate Change in the US after Superstorm Sandy (with Dr. Philip Duffy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories)


Personality: Jason Aubrey

What it Is

Jason considers himself an “entrepreneurial sustainable conservative” and hosts an entertaining podcast. However, many in the green movement might be taken aback by Jason’s frank discussions and open criticisms of the status quo in the world of living green. He attacks organic and vegans, for example. He asserts, and I agree, that the economic elements of sustainability are important – his slant on green is applying business sense. Jason thinks that everybody in green is promoting an agenda. This podcast is a bit different from the others, in that it’s positioning may not align with many in the green movement. Yet there are valuable perspectives and tips, backed up by extensive show notes on his Web site.

The Stats

  • 15 episodes since August 2012
  • 9 ratings on iTunes, 7 are 5 stars
  • 223 Twitter followers @jasonaubrey

In Their Own Words

Jason formed Nourish the Planet Enterprises to bring business development into the greenspace and deliver quality content to the growing segment of “pro-sumers”.   He has spent his career in business development and startups. A consultant, former commercial lending officer, marketing director, sales manager, and special projects coordinator, he brings a unique perspective to a changing business landscape and how companies communicate their message.

Recent Episodes

  • Green Gifts
  • Alternatives to Big Food
  • Toxins


Personality: Jisung Park

What it Is

Sense and Sustainability looks at the research around sustainability from a broad perspective, with in-depth discussions and expert opinions.

The Stats

In Their Own Words

Sense and Sustainability is a podcast, a blog, and an online community devoted to translating the research frontier on sustainable development to the general public. We seek to provide a forum for rigorous yet accessible, incisive yet balanced conversations about a broad range of issues pertaining to global sustainable development – to students, researchers, professionals and practitioners in the field. We also pitch a broad tent when it comes to defining what “sustainability” means; in other words, we’re not just another environmental blog. We believe that truly sustainable development requires practical solutions to a wide range of interconnected problems that are by no means limited to the environmental sphere. Sense and Sustainability is a collaborative effort with Consilience: The Journal of Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

Recent Episodes

  • Faith-Based Environmentalism
  • Why Should Businesses Care about Sustainability?
  • Aldo Leopold and “Sustainability Through a Historical Lens


Personality: June Stoyer

What it Is

The Organic View podcast has an extensive history and following, with a focus on organic living, as the title suggests. There are interesting topics and a diversity of guests. My only complaint is the sound quality; June sometimes sounds as if she’s on a bad phone connection. The rich Web site provides additional show details, recipes, and articles in categories: animals, bees, environment, and health.

The Stats

In Their Own Words

“The Organic View Radio Show” is a unique, live, interactive, internet talk-radio show that features key leaders, innovators and educators who work within industries that involve organics, environment, politics, living green and sustainability. Host, June Stoyer, explores the background and mission of each guest.  June Stoyer, is a native New Yorker, born on Long Island and raised on a private organic farm in the Catskill Mountains. Her father’s passion for organic farming provided the perfect foundation for which she now thrives as an educator and an activist. After working 12 years in Corporate America with technologies that focused on supermarket retail, consumer packaged goods and consumer behavior marketing, she decided to take the plunge as an entrepreneur. June owned and operated an organic specialty foods retail business as well as a culinary instructional business, teaching over 900 culinary, nutritional and horticultural programs for all ages.

Recent Episodes

  • Jackie Wilkinson Discusses How She Won Gold
  • Creating Biodiveristy by Bringing Nature Home
  • The Role of Pesticides in Honey Bees


What it Is

If you like public radio, you’ll like Living on Earth. It’s coverage is broad and deep, and goes beyond just the news. The podcast delves into the science of sustainability and ecology, more than most of the others. Also, the Web site PRI’s Environmental News Magazine has show archives and additional content.

The Stats

  • 57 ratings on iTunes (52 5-star)
  • 4196 likes on Facebook page
  • 590 Twitter followers @livingonearth

In Their Own Words

Living on Earth with Steve Curwood is the weekly environmental news and information program distributed by Public Radio International. Every week approximately 300 Public Radio stations broadcast Living on Earth’s news, features, interviews and commentary on a broad range of ecological issues.

Recent Episodes

  • Chemicals That Promote Obesity Down the Generations
  • A Troubling Climate Assessment
  • Working Woodlands for Carbon and Cash


What it Is

KEXP is a service of the University of Washington, who holds the station’s FCC license.  The podcast had a northwest U.S. perspective with a focus on interviews to shed light on pressing environmental issues. If you’re wanting depth and expertise, and don’t mind (or appreciate) the northwest perspective, this podcast is for you.


In Their Own Words

The Sustainability Segment presents one-on-one interviews with inspiring leaders and grass roots activists on a variety of environmental, social, and economic issues affecting life and the future of our planet.

Recent Episodes

  • Guests Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, Campaign Director, and Erika Schreder, Science Director, Washington Toxics Coalition, speak with Diane Horn about toxic flame retardants and discuss the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act.
  • Guest Dennis Canty, Pacific Northwest Director, American Farmland Trust, speaks with Diane Horn about the report “Planting the Seeds: Moving to More Local Food in Western Washington.”
  • Guest April Linton of the Fair Trade Association speaks with Diane Horn about her book “Fair Trade from the Ground Up: New Markets for Social Justice.”


Personality: Keith Snow

What it Is

Chef Keith Snow talks about food, with a slant towards homesteading. He discusses using natural ingredients to make simple recipes. He promotes using food grown locally. There is a cookbook and a PBS TV show Harvest Eating with Chef Snow. Keith’s podcast style is friendly and informative, tying in his personal experiences with the local food messages. The podcast has a Web page that has archive and more information.

The Stats

In Their Own Words

Welcome to The Harvest Eating weekly audio podcast. We discuss all things Harvest Eating and provide lots of encouragement for people getting into seasonal cooking with local foods. We’ll discuss what I am doing on the farm, new recipes and videos that are yet to be posted on the website and also career updates. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast in i-Tunes and leave a review. 

Recent Episodes

  • Black Lentil Soup
  • Power of Kale
  • Making Beef and Chicken Stock

2. Sustainable World Radio

Personality: Jill Cloutier What it Is The focus here is permaculture, and the podcast discusses topics involving homesteading, gardening, and other earth-connecting practices. Jill is enthusiastic and easy to listen to, while her guests are an interesting and diverse lot. The most recent episode was in November, but the blog is active so I suspect a new episode soon.

The Stats

In Their Own Words

Jill Cloutier is an environmental educator, freelance writer, and videographer. Jill has been producing Sustainable World Radio since 2004. After surviving her early 20’s,  as a militant vegan, (“How could you eat that!?), and a “Voice of Doom”, (“Lester Brown says that we have 8 years left.”), Jill realized that it was much more fun to educate through laughter and positive energy than through guilt, fear, and gloom. What is Permaculture? Larry Santoyo (LS)- Coined in the early 1970s by Australian ecologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, Permaculture is a contraction of the words “permanent” and “culture.” Permaculture is a highly developed Art, Science, and a Philosophy- all in one.  Permaculture Design is a Community Planning and Land Use Planning system that mimics nature. It offers a natural, practical and inherently economical way to model the way we build and operate our homes and communities.

Recent Episodes

  • All Good Things Organic Seeds- A Conversation With Organic Farmer Justin Huhn
  • The REAL Green Revolution In Africa: Permaculture in Zimbabwe With Julious Piti
  • Urban Homesteading- Heirloom Skills and Permaculture

1. Mrs. Green’s World

Personality: Gina Murphy-Darling

What it Is

Gina Murphy-Darling started talking green in 2008, motivated by a speaker at a conference. This growing podcast started (and remains) on the radio as a weekly local 30-minute show. Mrs. Green’s World has expanded, now with a newsletter, blog, videos, and social media presence. The podcast has about 1,400 downloads each month. While there is a local southern Arizona-based slant to some of the discussions, the messages are applicable all over.

The Stats

In Their Own Words

Welcome to Mrs. Green’s World where we don’t tell you what to think, we just want you to. Join us each week to learn everything from simple tips to live green to living life in balance. You will hear cutting edge leaders from around the world share exciting information about energy, technology, automobiles, healthy living, fashion and so much more. Listen to Mrs. Green’s World live every Saturday at noon.”

Recent Episodes

  • A Planetary-wide Blueprint for the Future – Daniel Rirdan, author of The Blueprint, Averting Global Collapse
  • What Can You Learn from an Octopus? – Rafe Sagarin, PhD, Institute of Environment, University of Arizona
  • Southwest Airlines: Operating with the Green Filter –Laurel Moffat, Outreach Communication, Southwest Airlines

That’s all folks – happy listening!


Happy Green Year!

14472145-new-year-2013-on-the-beachIn this new year, about half of adults make resolutions; many of us have resolved to lose weight, exercise more, and otherwise make improvements in ourselves.

According to history.com, the practice of making resolutions began about 4000 years ago, with the ancient Babylonians. They figured resolutions to pay off debts and return borrowed equipment would help them fare better with the gods.

The blog 43Things shares that, “a University of Washington study found 47 percent of the 100 million adult Americans who make resolutions give up on their goals after two months. This figure has grown to 80 percent in the past decade, according to recent research completed at the University of Minnesota.”

How can we keep resolutions? One of the Washington study’s lead researchers suggests:

  • Have a strong initial commitment to make a change.
  • Have coping strategies to deal with problems that will come up.
  • Keep track of your progress. The more monitoring you do and feedback you get, the better you will do.

Of course, there’s also an app for helping you keep resolutions.

And you are likely to fail when you are:

  • Not thinking about making resolutions until the last minute.
  • Reacting on New Year’s Eve and making your resolutions based on what’s bothering you or is on your mind at that time.
  • Framing your resolutions as absolutes by saying, “I will never do X again.”

What about green resolutions? None of these will change the world, but we can all help. I scoured the Internet for decent green resolutions, but none of the lists caught my attention. I’m not big on making resolutions – I try to live every day in a mindful way as much as I can. It’s better to do a little bit than nothing at all. So here is my reluctant list that I think is reasonable for about anyone to easily achieve in 2013:

  1. Grow something. Plant a tree or a tomato plant. It’s simple. Of course plant the big garden if you can; the food we grow ourselves is the best food we can eat.
  2. Educate yourself and others. Maybe you worry about climate change. Perhaps your passion is organic food or fighting GMOs. Learn something and teach others; you will benefit and so will others.
  3. Eat less meat. Better for the planet and for your health.
  4. Think of water as gold. Water is the key to our survival yet many of us take it for granted. Related to this – ditch bottled water because the plastic used for them is staggering.
  5. Buy less. What can be easier than not doing something?
  6. Of course, you have to buy some things. Buy fair trade and local. Go to the farmer’s markets and Join a CSA. And bring your own bags to the store!
  7. Read this blog.

Start whenever you want. Let others know what you’re doing. Let us know about your progress at themindfulconsumer [at] gmail [dot] com or on facebook.com/themindfulconsumer.



Boxing Day is Really About Charity, Not Shopping

Yesterday was Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas and is a day celebrated in all places British. Being a naïve American, I thought this was something about celebrating the sport, however it is instead akin to Black Friday in the U.S. — all about shopping.

According to BBC News, there were record numbers of online shoppers in the U.K. yesterday, and analysts have suggested that DIY and gardening will see the strongest performance in the retail sector in 2013, compared with 2012.

In Australia, says The Age, Boxing Day transactions rose by about 30 per cent from last year, according to data from National Australia Bank.

tzedakah2Yet Boxing Day might have had its origins in helping the poor. According to My Daily News, its origins are thought to date back to the late Roman era when Christians would leave a metal collection box outside of churches for the Feast of Saint Stephen. Later, in the Middle Ages in England, Boxing Day became popular as a day designated to give gifts to those who were poor, and fill boxes with money and presents for tradesmen.

As we focus on mindful consumption this time of year, it is important to help those in need. Regardless of your faith, whether it’s in the spirit of Christmas, Muslim zakat, or Jewish t’zedakah, as humans we should do our part to help those less fortunate.


Going Once, Going Twice … Sold to the Highest Polluter! Carbon Credits in California

Los Angeles has for decades been plagued with poor air quality, a result of its particular geographic circumstances, weather, and rapid population growth. Other California areas have also experienced reduction in air quality. With much controversy, California recently held an auction of greenhouse gas pollution credits. The auction represents the first of its type in the U.S. and is an attempt to establish the economic value of pollution by selling what are known in the industry as “carbon allowances.” The effort falls under California’s cap-and-trade system that establishes a ceiling for the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and lowers each year. Those that emit such gasses at high levels in the state must have permits, or “allowances” that give companies permission for those emissions.

The idea is not new – the European Union Emissions Trading System  was set up in 2005 and now involves 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 30 countries. According to the European Commission, In 2020 emissions will be 21% lower than in 2005. However, the system is running into opposition from other countries as the EU tries to tax non-EU international airlines for carbon emissions, so much so that the EU just postponed implementation of the scheme.

As expected, there is disagreement over whether these emission trading systems are the best way to reduce pollution. Some assert that it is high time society defines economic costs of pollution while others claim it is nothing but another unreasonable tax on businesses. According to the San Jose Mercury, the rules affect 360 business operating in 600 facilities; large establishments including oil refineries, power plants, food processors, and factories.

The state, through the California Air Resources Board sold all of the 23.1 million pollution credits, at $10.09 per ton, 9 cents above the minimum price.

Graphic Source: KQED

What does all this mean for the average California consumer or any consumer in other states (or anywhere)? If California were a country it would be one of the world’s ten largest economies; so what it does has affects on the entire U.S., if not the world. Clearly, companies in the state that emit the most pollutants have to consider the costs of that pollution. But is the price right? How does society place a price on harmful emissions? Will the system have its intended consequences of encouraging the state’s largest polluters to reduce their emissions or will the result simply be the same amount of pollution with higher prices from the pollution credits passed to consumers? Time will tell, yet the effort is laudable. To be sustainable and for our actions to have the least affect on the earth, our economies must incorporate the true costs of pollution. The challenge is doing so fairly and in a way that results in intended consequences. California’s effort could be a model for the rest of the U.S. if it works. Or it could send us back to the drawing board. Either way, at least the golden state is taking action and trying something.

UPDATE on May 23, 2013: California Carbon Price Hits Record High


Patch Up Your Relationship with Pumpkins

2012 pumpkin

This time of year pumpkin moves to the front of our collective consciousness, not only because of their inexorable association with Halloween and Thanksgiving, but because they just seem to be everywhere. From the pumpkin pies to pumpkin donuts and bagels, to the pumpkin iced lattes to pumpkin-scented candles, we are bombarded with these funny-looking orange spheroids until we are out of our gourds.

One media outlet shouts, “Pumpkin is the New Bacon” lamenting the growing ubiquity in food and drink.

Of course we also decorate with them. Many of us carve or paint pumpkins before displaying them on our front porches in a seasonal ritual, their toothy grins and triangle eyes flickering in the darkness of Halloween night. Pumpkins and gourds are in the Cucurbita family and thus are relatives of cucumbers, cantaloupes, squash, and watermelon.

According to the Cooperative Extension Service The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, gourds were probably one of the first plants domesticated by humans and were used for utensils as early as 2400 B.C.E. And come in sizes up to more than 2,000 pounds. A man in Rhode Island grew on to 2009 pounds this year, according to the Pumpkin Nook. The smallest are generally decorative Jack-o-lantern pumpkins range from 10- to 25-pounds.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University, in 2011, pumpkins valued at $113 million were harvested from 47,300 acres in six states: Illinois, California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Most pumpkins end up in canned pumpkin pie mixes. Nestlé Food Company’s Libby’s® pumpkin processing plant cans more than 85 percent of the world’s pumpkin each year.

It turns out that pumpkin is pretty good for us to eat. Self Magazine says that pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, and without salt is low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. Of course we often then add sugar, salt, eggs, and milk to pumpkin in our recipes.

You might be getting more than pumpkin when you get them, so know your source. Cucumber beetles, squash vine borers and squash bugs go after them. Says Planet Natural, bacterial wilt (spread by cucumber beetles), powdery mildew, downy mildew, and anthracnose are common plant diseases affecting pumpkins. Many pesticides are applied to fight these maladies. You can grow your own pumpkins organically, if you have the space; they can need 500 square feet for a single plant. At the very least, try to find your pumpkins at a local farm, rather than buying one shipped in from another state or county. After you finish carving and using the pumpkin, add it to the compost pile.

Think about that pumpkin

  1. Grow them yourself — or buy local and organic, if possible
  2. Eat the edible parts – they’re good for you
  3. Compost the parts you can’t otherwise use
  4. And this final tip from Sara — Do NOT put your wife in one’s shell!



practical earth-friendly living