Going Green at the Community Fair

My life revolves around my community and its various public projects. The best involve environmental improvements and the raising of local consciousness. In our area, my fellow supporters have made significant inroads by promoting eco-friendly alternatives, funding causes (such as replacing incandescent light bulbs with the new energy-efficient fluorescents), educating the locals, and lobbying government and regional businesses. It is import to reduce one’s carbon footprint these days. This means the amount of greenhouse gas emissions an individual or enterprise produces. This keeps me plenty busy as you can well imagine. I give lectures, write articles, and otherwise spread the word. Hence this particular blog for you.

What are you doing in your community? I hope you have joined me because you care and want some new ideas. Let me tell you about the Westport Green Village initiative. It is an environmental group that among other projects participates in an annual community fair. All kinds of businesses far and wide support it from a local grocer and hardware store to a hair salon and martial arts studio. If you are going around assessing interest, don’t overlook anyone. I mention the latter because they set up a large booth lined with a soft mat to demonstrate their sport. They gave a talk at regular intervals during the fair and the demonstrations often involved volunteers. It was very interesting to the public who is eager to learn more about self defense. You can read guides like this to get started: https://www.selfdefenseguide.org/quick-guide-self-defense-complete-beginner/. You never know what situation you will encounter as you go through life. Just do go on your personal journal unaware.

The fair raised significant funds for our touted green causes, enough to feed our budget for the next year. I will be sure to ask the martial arts studio to attend once again. I might even take a course on my own since I found the principles of self protection to be valuable. I never paid that much attention to the subject. I don’t want to be a fear monger, but anything can happen especially if you are out at night or wander far from home. Don’t discount the possibility of mugging, assault, or a home invasion. Be ready to react.

Safety is within your own hands. If you train your body, you can surprise an attacker and offset most aggression. It is not a matter of size and weight but of agility and strength. You learn vulnerable points on a mugger’s body and how to use stun guns, Tasers, and mace. You learn self confidence so you don’t immediately panic and lose complete control. Applying fancy maneuvers comes with time and you won’t be Jackie Chan in a few weeks. You will, however, stave off danger because you will maintain a stance of “don’t mess with me.” Kids learn martial arts for fun and recreation and it is a great way for them to socialize and make new friends. Adults have different priorities. If you are concerned about safety, by all means learn self defense.

Cleaning Considerations for the Environment

Cleaning tips are not a popular subject for a blog as a rule. But if they have to do with water waste, for example, then they are pertinent for many people who care about the depletion of precious environmental resources. Cleaning is everywhere without exception. Someone is refurbishing, scrubbing, detoxifying, or restoring at every moment of the day and night. They may or may not get paid for it. Everything gets dirty and therefore unhealthy and/or unsightly. It is an endless proposition. Just when you have finished one round of cleaning, it starts once again and goes on forever. Think of the poor weary sailors on a battleship or a besieged restaurant crew. Think of a carwash business or a maid’s service. Sports arenas, tennis courts, driveways, schools, hospitals, and industrial garage floor always need a sweep and a wash. We won’t even mention bathrooms and kitchens lest we hear some real groans. We have been there all too often!

Thus, we all face an endless round of cleaning at home and the office. There are no shortcuts unless you have the funds to farm out the job. As for the rest of the world, we journey on. What we hope to do, however, is minimize water usage and avoid harmful chemicals and aerosols that pollute the environment and are potential health hazards to both children and adults. If we can use eco-friendly detergents and toxin-free household solutions, we are far better off.

Water is sacred in many areas, particularly desert regions like parts of California, Arizona, and Nevada that are subject to repeated droughts. Of course Africa is prone to severe shortages of healthy drinking water. It can be a dire situation. We cannot continue to ignore the signs. The least we can do is be alert at home and do our part. We try to rotate the days we watering the lawn and keep baths to a minimum. Showers have become short and sweet. What can I say about swimming pool evaporation! Not everyone participates in this campaign, but more are jumping on the bandwagon all the time. Even my brother got a power washer for residential use stating that he can now eliminate the harsh solutions he used to use and protect the environment in one small way. He feels pretty good about it, and I call that a fine start.

My first reaction was shock however. Didn’t this power thing spew tons of water at full force? “Not at all,” he explained. Apparently it is so effective, that it actually economizes on water usage, especially if you don’t let it run too long. You do the cleaning chore and turn it off. End of task.

This was news to me and I thought I would pass on the interesting news to readers. I would like to hear your own experiences. We think everyone is doing something to conserve resources and therefore we are exempt. Think again. It takes a village as someone wisely said. Remember her words.

Green Electricity at Home With a Solar Power Generator

rooftop-solarAre you a fellow environmentalist? Does being green warm your soul? If so you get a tax credit for installing a solar system and a lower utility bill. You brand yourself as smart and in the know. What’s more you are now officially green by using an eco-friendly method to power your home. You have purchased solar panels and a generator and kudos to you.

Solar is a cost-effective and responsible energy option. It is reverse technology: an old source tapped in a new way. It is clean, modern, and state-of-the-art. Who can contest the power of the sun and its eternal radiance? (As a kid, you tried to make a fire rubbing rocks together.) It is a gift for man to light, cool, and heat his home, to cook and clean through its presence. So don’t think twice about going this route.

In manufacturing, certain types of solar generators create steam and heat water to run electrical turbines. They don’t need to work nearly as hard for your home. Photovoltaic cells convert solar energy to DC electricity (an invertor will take it to AC). Dishes, towers, and panels are used to collect this energy while new and better materials are already under investigation for the next generation. As an industry, it is growing by leaps and bounds around the world. It is up to us to catch up.

If your utility company doesn’t use solar power, you can. Sunlight can drive your air conditioning, heating system, and lighting, thus allowing you to draw less from your local purveyor. You will be doing your part to stop brown and blackouts and to conserve valuable resources. If enough people comply, it would be a brand new world. Costs would be cut in half and the savings no doubt will find a better usage in your budget.

Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico are great places to avail oneself of the sun’s ubiquitous rays. Most parts of California are also productive, particularly in the desert regions. If you live elsewhere in the United States you can certainly use solar part of the year if sunlight is sporadic. Consult your local officials for information. You would have some dependency on the local utility, but not 100%. You also may need more cells which some find them unsightly. This should be the least of your problems.

The benefits of green energy far outweigh any considerations of appearance. We are used to these odd devices sitting visibly on roofs. You have to make a philosophical decision to lead your life in an eco-friendly manner whenever you can. It is not a perfunctory enterprise and you need to make a commitment. After all, the sun is a free power source that produces no emissions, pollution or toxins. It is the responsible choice; and for some, the only choice. Besides, the field is becoming more cost-effective and productive every day. Soon everyone will be jumping on the bandwagon but you can be proud that you were there first.

Toilet Appeal

I would like to make a toilet appeal and I don’t mean I am designing an attractive new model. I am asking people to think about upgrading their existing water guzzlers for the water-saver conservation type. New construction requires them and remodeling jobs as well. I am not even going to dictate the specifics or the price. You can spend some time on line perusing brands for that, or toilet review sites. There are too many to list in one short blog. But I do want to talk about conservation for a moment as it has instigated my sincere plea.

We all have to do our part, however small. Sometimes in some areas it seems like an overwhelming issue that you leave to the local municipality and government council. It is a problem we don’t like to think about because, if we even care, we feel helpless and at a loss for ideas.

I want to offer a simple and easy solution that everyone can do for a modest outlay of funds. It would be nice to have a new toilet in any case. No doubt those old parts are begging for replacement and have served their decades-long purpose with pride. It’s time to retire them. Besides, you might want a smaller or larger unit and now you can be picky and selective. You might have an ugly old unit with a chipped wood seat or one with the handle dangling precariously. (Okay, I doubt if it is that bad, but I have made my point.)

There is a huge difference in water consumption involved. High efficiency models can save gallons with each use. It really adds up quickly and you will notice a favorable impact on your water bill (especially if you eschew the tub and take quick showers as well). Think about it: the average person flushes five times a day and if you have five people living under one roof… well you do the math. If you have a leaky or running toilet, water is dwindling as we speak, slowly but surely.

Using the can as a wastebasket is worse. You can’t just flush to dispose of a tissue or two. I am begging you: not any more. If you can’t get a new toilet, then by all means change your habits and save our precious resources. Watch the water line; and if you must get a dual flush model, use the low volume mode most of the time. Remember, one person’s daily toilet use involves about 18 gallons of water. It is a vast wasteful practice, and I can’t encourage you enough to sit up and take note of this problem. New models use only about 1 gallon and a half each time. What a difference a flush makes!

I hope I have whetted your appetite for change to benefit not only your pocket but society at large. As responsible citizens, it is easy to do something, however, small for the natural world. Some things are too important to neglect. Thanks for listening.

Dealing With Termites in an Environmentally Friendly Way

Orange oil is an environmentally friendly solution to termite eradication. There may be others, but this has a good track record so far. If you have a major infestation and your house is practically falling down, the tent is the best option perhaps. But for small problems, orange oil is quick and easy—and does the job well.

I remember the big argument I had with my landlord about termite treatment when I first discovered their nasty presence.. He wanted to tent my house which would kill a beautiful hedge that surrounded the property that had been growing for twenty years or more. It costs a pretty penny to do this, but he knew of no other method that would “kill them dead.” I ranted and raved but only an article on natural termite control printed from the Internet gave him pause.

The termites were raiding a few kitchen cupboards at this point. I would clean the area periodically and tiny black pellet-like balls kept appearing with regularity. It was time to act. The homeowner was pretty responsive and sent a major termite treatment company out for an estimate, which turned out to be several thousand dollars. Yikes. I didn’t have to pay of course, but was reticent to have potent chemicals infuse my home. I knew this has been done for many decades, and yet….doubts remained.

I put him off for a few weeks, but prodding brought me to my senses. I had to make a decision. I called a company that was eco-friendly that swore no harsh chemicals were to be utilized. I wouldn’t have to leave the property for several days or worry about interior or exterior plants. My pets would never inhale a whiff of a poisonous substance. My clothes would not be permanently doused nor my housewares suffused with dangerous toxins.

It was downright quick using the orange oil (D-limonene) process—a little drilling here and there (unnoticeable). I was guaranteed five years minimum of a termite-free existence. I could just do it again if I had to, and it cost only a few hundred dollars in any case. Even if you are not a diehard green individual, this makes so much sense. Why would you opt for tent fumigation if you didn’t have to? The word is itself so scary.

If you use a trained and licensed technician, you needn’t worry. The orange oil solution extracted from fruit peel is low in toxicity and based on natural ingredients. As a spot application procedure, it is limited to certain areas, of course; but you can follow the guidance of your inspector and localize treatment for maximum safety. It is designed primarily for dry wood termites and careful detection is the key to effective control.

While some call orange oil an herbicide or an insecticide, don’t let the names frighten you. If you are environmentally-conscious, it is viable option to consider before the ugly green and yellow tent is erected to the chagrin of your neighbors. The bugs are killed by direct contact, but you are completely safe from harm.

Making Water Conservation a Priority

Water conservation is important to us all and we do what we can to comply. Wasting water comes with the territory when baths and showers are at issue. A full tub of water contains gallons that is gone in minutes. Showers are better, especially if short, but equipment makes a difference. Shower heads are now designed to save water and provide a satisfying experience at the same time. A little research will reveal the best choices for the ecologically minded.

There are good options these days as attention has been worldwide on the problem of water usage. Water saving temperature sensors, low flow units, low volume economy models and more exist for your individual needs. Brands such as Delta, American Standard, Ez-flo, and Price Pfister will satisfy an eco-friendly focus. It’s always a question of features and cost.

No one wants to waste water. It just happens as a matter of course. You don’t think about it, even in areas that are known to suffer shortages. It’s time to pay attention to what you can do quickly and easily to play your part. When it comes to cleanliness, you don’t have to indulge the whim to sing in the shower for an hour and lounge in the tub reading a good book. Selecting new equipment as an upgrade to existing older models is the beginning of a conservation conscious new you.

For anywhere from $10 to $200, you can install a new water saving shower head that will save water and therefore money. Both are valuable goals. If in doubt, read reviews and go middle of the road: not the cheapest, not the most deluxe. Lower end products may work as well as the steeper priced items. Plus you can pick from chrome or brass, twist action, vandal proof, dual head, and ever earth massage. Why not try a few as the expenditure is fairly minimal and you will end up with just the right one in the long run.

The look of luxury and the benefit of savings is the hallmark of the commercial model 1.5 gpm at AGreatShower.com. People use them in apartment buildings. It has wide spray coverage and adjustable angles. Niagara makes some dual head and massage devices at a modest price that are good looking. Flow control is available with many known brands. Ultra shower saver is a tip off description of an option that will keep you on track. You can get a high velocity stream of water despite the low flow. You can adjust the size of droplets you desire as well. Some people opting for a new unit can save up to 50% in energy costs.

Many shower heads are now very modern and streamlined. After considering price and quality, features that match your lifestyle and décor come into play. Water efficiency is the name of the game but you can also have compatibility of design—such as hand held versus fixed mount. Shower performance will be there so you can combine functionality and appearance in one fell swoop.

There are multiple settles and a plethora of spray patterns and finishes. Maybe you want a flexible neck, maybe you want a luxury appearance. It’s no small matter when it comes to that ultimate morning indulgence!

Faucet Frustration

Say the words “water conservation,” and I sit up and listen. It’s an issue everywhere as well as around Westport. If you care about your home town and its environs, you do what you can to participate in ecological and conservation issues. If everyone did that in their own area, we could cover the planet. How great is that!

I have a friend who designs plumping parts for a living. He does repair work, of course, but as a side business he can custom create parts for old sinks and bathrooms. He also salvages some of the Finest Faucets from the old days you’ve ever seen, but sometimes it’s easier to get the welder out and fabricate something new.

He decided to create a kitchen faucet that conserves water by regulating the flow. Yes, there are low-flow units of all kinds, but he wanted one that did even better. He wanted an adjustable variant such that if you needed to fill a kitchen sink fast for dishes, you could. If you wanted to rinse one dish, you could—with significantly less water.

He thought about a lever, a button, and the like. He elected to fabricate instead a digital unit that you could program to heat water so fast that it didn’t have to run out of the faucet for what seemed ages to get hot. This is a problem in older homes in particular. There are sophisticated systems on the market, but he wanted people to upgrade their existing faucets for a modest outlay. That would conserve faucets, he thought, and money! (I am more into the water part, but nonetheless it is a well-grounded idea.)

The first version was trial and error and rather primitive. It was on the right track, but not there. He needed an existing digital prototype that could be adapted. But that would be expensive. Electronics is far afield from plumbing! He finally had to raid the local university for a student genius to get him started on the correct path. Great thinking. He found one who was able to build a unit on the inside and my friend could put it in an attractive casing, small enough to fit at the top of the faucet where it connects to the kitchen sink. He could work on making an even smaller one later for bathrooms, but as yet the device was on the large side. Maybe a pinch cumbersome.

The problem was: the kid was graduating in six months. So they made as many as they could and stored them away for future sales. He did install a few, but people wanted custom finishes like oil rubbed bronze or polished brass and it all got a bit too complicated for his system of building and repairing old faucets. Also, fixing defective units was a bear. He had to just give out a new one. Inventory was rapidly dwindling, along with his hope of making this the big success that he initially thought it could be.

The idea was respectable in principle and a good effort. We should all be so water conservation- minded. His heart was in the right place even if his ability was not. He probably will try something else, knowing him. He won’t let this failure get him down. I am confident of future success.

Green Recipes

Because I like natural resource conservation and related programs, people send me articles, books, messages by letter and email. Interestingly enough, I also receive recipes that are “green” to the core. This could mean that they use little water in preparation and cleanup or it refers to the nature of the ingredients. I have enjoyed many fruit and vegetables smoothies, healthy pizzas, fat-burning stews, and no-calorie desserts. Some are pretty good. Some are better than that.

I like the idea that a significant number of these green recipes are easy to make and don’t require a lot of utensils and appliances. A good hand mixer like one of these comes in handy, a good immersion blender (go read some reviews), sometimes a food processor—and I am ready to roll. Get out my best knife and slicer machine. I don’t know why I decided to try some of the more appealing ones, but I have with good results. I’m no chef, but who doesn’t like to eat well?

A nice feature is that restoring the kitchen to normal is not a big issue. I don’t waste a lot of water using the dishwasher or even scrubbing pots and pans by hand. Some recipes are only one bowl or one appliance. So this is an added plus—ecology and water economy all rolled into one. I am not sure if this is what everyone had in mind, but I am going with it.

Some of the tastier temptations use dates and raisons in homemade corn bread. I also love muesli with dried apricots or prunes. It’s a great breakfast alternative. Fresh apples and bananas blend well with papaya and blueberries. Avocado is the miracle fruit and sweet melon is sublime. I started to become imaginative on my own after a while. Citrus salads are a personal preference with bibb lettuce and orange or grapefruit segments. Chicken à la Morocco is festive and fun piled over couscous and garnished with figs.

Here is a recipe for four from my heart (and brain) based on a compilation of a few favorites. Try it on friends or family, especially the non-meat eaters in your life. They will ask for more of your culinary offerings and perhaps spawn a new career.

Greek Vegetarian Delight

Ingredients

4 c. medium zucchini in ½ inch slices

4 c. medium size peeled eggplant cut into small cubes

Medium size red bell pepper cut into strips

½ c chopped medium to large onion

8 oz whole mushrooms cut into fourths (they can be packaged)

1 clove finely-chopped garlic

28 oz can of tomato purée in its original liquid

2 1/4 oz can sliced, drained ripe olives

2 tsps salt

2 tsps basil leaves (preferably dried)

½ tsp dried thyme leaves (not in the form powder)

Dash pepper to taste

 

Place the ingredients in a slow cooker and combine them well.

Cover and cook on low heat for about 7-8 hours until the mixture is just tender.

Remove and serve hot with rice, garnished with fruit, or as you wish. Enjoy.

Pellet Stoves As An Eco-Friendly Heating Option

You can always tell when the weather turns a bit colder around Westport. As homes begin to turn on their heat, you can begin to smell the wood that is being burnt in the air. Although this smell is often quite pleasant and brings back memories for many of us of the family gathered around the fire, the harsh reality is that the wood-burning stoves of old could be throwing harmful particulates into the air. As you breathe in the pleasant wood sent, those particulates could be going into your lungs.

There are good wood-burning stoves out there that have less than 4 grams of particulates per hour of burn time, but pellet stoves are even better. They are a little more expensive than your average wood stove, but the impact to the environment is a lot less. In some ways, you could even say that a pellet stove can help the environment.

It’s All About the Pellets That You Burn

When we talk to homeowners about transitioning to a pellet stove, we get a lot of responses in common. Many people believe that pellet stoves just run on wood products. Why buy a more expensive stove that still runs on wood if you’re trying to save the environment?

That line of thinking is understandable. Reasonable. It’s also a misconception about what the best pellet stove models can do. There are a number of recycled materials that are formed into heating pellets that can be used in many of today’s pellet stoves. You can even get compacted garbage pellets that don’t use any wood products whatsoever in their composition.

Garbage pellets? Wouldn’t that make your home smell terrible? With modern venting, you don’t smell the operation of a pellet stove at all. The only whiff of odor that you tend to receive is when you pull out the ash tray or open up the stove to clean it. Outside of that, your home smells just like it always has.

There’s Other Pellets That Can Be Used As Well

One of the more exciting home heating options you can use today are corn pellets. Most corn pellets are produced locally, which means the money you spend on your heating costs will stay in the Westport economy. The one issue is the amount of ash these pellets produce, which is something that not every pellet stove can handle.

On the horizon is also the use of grass pellets. This is also a high ash home heating option, so much so that most stoves can’t handle them as of yet. Even though the cleaning needs will likely be higher with these pellets, the costs are dramatically lower. Grass is a virtually unlimited resources as well and there’s no difference in the heat output.

Whether you have a new home that needs a heating source or your Westport residence could use a heating upgrade so you could save some cash this winter, then consider installing a pellet stove. It is a cost-effective, environmentally friendly way to stay warm on a cold day!

Other Resources:

http://www.finestfires.com/essential-pellet-stove-buying-guide/

http://www.finestfires.com/heat-home-less-best-wood-stove-fan/

Eco Fest in NYC

download

Though technically not in the New England area, one of the best places to go during the summer over here is the Ecofest gathering on West 70th Street in New York. Every year it makes the city’s calendar of events, and is designed for environmental enthusiasts that want to see and hear some of the most important advocates in the green movement. It’s not just for green enthusiasts though. Ecofest gets widespread public and private support from around the city.

This year is number 26, and its goal is to get people involved, engaged, and prepared to start and continue to be environmental at a grassroots level. There is the education part of the festival but there is plenty of entertainment, organized and presented by the West Side Cultural Center of New York. Every year I see lots of national and local media people covering the event, a huge plus to get the message out.

We need alternative energy sources, and this year brings an Alternative Fuels Display that includes solar powered cars and alternative fuel source cars running on stuff such as electric and natural gas. It’s good to know some of these alternative fuel source cars are already a part of the New York City and state agencies. While we can’t always avoid using gasoline to run our cars, we can conserve the amounts we do use.

Now here is an interesting but a little weird display – the Ecofashion show. The collections are made from 100 percent organic and recycled material. There is the far more likely to attend Ecofest Environmental Education Conference, good for those who aren’t interested in seeing the latest creations from Hefty Bag.

It is truly an inspirational event that gets better every year. What makes it better is the major environmental organizations get involved and offer volunteer time, money, and other types of support to help make Ecofest a success. Here is a short list of some of the key public and private supporters:

New York Zoological Society
The Audubon Society
Sierra Club
The Natural Resources Defense Council
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
General Motors
Ford
Chrysler
Volvo
Toyota
Lexus
Nissan
AT&T
IBM
New York City Transit/MTA
Consolidated Edison
New York Power Authority
Port Authority of New York

To make as many people as possible aware of Ecofest, they have established a web site at www.ecofest.org. It is a simple, straightforward site, built that way to reduce its carbon footprint. But there is a lot of useful information about the fest, plus on their About page there are a series of video clips that show their prior Public Service Announcements, offering a bit of nostalgia. On the Home page there are important Ecofest stories and information, along with the logos of currently committed sponsors and organizations. There is a flyer you can download and print to take along with you to the festival.

I give Ecofest 5 stars for entertainment, information, and relevance to the environmental and conservation causes.

All about home gardening

Home-gardening2

I am an organic food lover, so whenever I get the chance I go around the to the back and start working on my home garden. There are a lot of reasons to choose home gardening over the retail supermarket food. Taste comes to the top of my mind. Homegrown fruits and vegetables are just better than processed and packaged. And there are no recalls to worry about because of some new disease imported from lands of unknown soil.

What I will talk about here are the basics of home gardening. I will let you know upfront that there is work involved; maybe more work than you are comfortable with. What I can say on the positive side is that the rewards, both to your health and to your enjoyment of food, far outweigh the effort you put in.

The first step in creating a home garden is to section off a specific area. The size does not matter. Just be sure it is large enough for what you are planning to grow. Check the quality of the soil. It must be soil, not dirt. It may be necessary to buy some topsoil to get you started, especially if you live in the city where pollutants and the general environment can turn soil into dust.

If you have good soil, the next step is to de-weed the plot. The last thing you want to happen is to have all your hard work destroyed by parasitic plants. A weed takes everything and returns nothing when it comes to your home garden. Weeding can take its toll on your back, so pace yourself. Also, avoid the use of chemicals since they will get absorbed into your food.

Now that the ground is prepared, you can choose to seed the ground or buy plants that have a good start to them. If you choose the latter, become knowledgeable about what to look for – how to decide which plants are healthy. You will also need to know how long it will take for your plants or seeds to grow to maturity. But whatever you do, avoid taking shortcuts if you are just starting off. Put the work in now, and as you make planting your garden an annual event you will learn more and get better.

If you are an organic farmer like myself, you will seriously want to consider composting. Keeping it simple, composting is taking natural growth material such as tree leaves and letting it decompose over time. The result will be a nutrient rich soil that is great for your home garden and will produce healthier and better tasting fruits and vegetables. I prefer it over store bought topsoil or fertilizer. Why? It’s free!

I should mention a bit more about additives such as fertilizer to your garden. Obviously, compost is my preferred material but some people may not have enough material to work with. If you have to feed your soil nutrients, avoid going cheap. Remember, you will be eating what you grow, and the idea is to eat healthier and cheaper. But preparing the soil, especially in the early stages, is critical.

The longer you are a home gardener, the more you will know. Talking to other home gardeners will get you a ton of knowledge and experience. Not everything everyone tells you will work for you. Just keep in mind that we as home growers have the same goal in mind – to eat healthier, save money, and be able to enjoy our food as nature intended.

Green Buildings

green-building-coolio1

I remember the house I grew up in where in the back yard there was an old crab apple tree. A crab apple is just a mini-apple that worms seem to love. As I grew older I realized the tree seemed kind of useless. The apples falling off the tree were worm ridden and the soil where the apples were left to rot was getting too acidic for anything to grow. The verdict was to cut down the tree and make way for the new. The appointment with the axe man was March.

After cutting down the tree there was a sort of celebration. The smell was gone and green life forms were starting to appear on the ground once again. Then summer arrived, and the back of the house reached temperatures of 110 degrees. The siding began to buckle and the back door began to warp. So the reason that old tree had been there for all those years was as a shade for the back of the house, to protect it.

Too often we believe environmental solutions, especially the not-so-obvious ones, need to be complicated. But nature is simple, and designing a home that is politically correct green can be just as simple. Moreover, it can save you money on your heating and electric while reducing the pollution that comes from your home. A reduced carbon footprint is always good.

Solar energy is cheap and reliable, especially if you have a storage system in the attic of your home. Depending on the political climate, installing solar panels to be used to heat water and provide electricity for your home may earn you a tax credit on next year’s tax return. Depending on where you live, the supply of sunlight offers a way to make a short-term investment that will give you a environmentally sound return for many years to come.

Landscape design is one method of combining cost savings with an environmentally friendly design. As above, if you live in an open area where the sun directly hits your home, particularly during the afternoon hours, consider planting a tree in the path between the sun and the house to reduce your cooling bills and add another tree to clean the air.

Reducing the carbon footprint of your home can be done inexpensively with a few select technological devices. One of the simplest is the timer that you can connect to power outlets that lights are plugged into. Turning the lights off when you are not expected to be home will save you money on electricity. But setting the timers to create an illusion of someone being home is also an added home security feature.

Even though natural gas supplies are abundant and at some of their lowest pieces in decades, saving money on heating your home can be done by installing a digital thermostat that has a timer in it. Often there are rebates available so that you can pay almost nothing to purchase the thermostat. Reducing the temperature of the home or specific rooms when not in use will save you between 3 and 4 percent on your annual heating bill, while reducing the use of greenhouse gases you produce.

Both small and large, there are many more ways you can make your home environmentally friendly and green.

Why shop at the Farmers Market

images

A farmers market is a great place to find fresh fruits and vegetables, and much more, without the worry of what kind of pesticides or processing has been added to a simple, nature made food. Many towns have sections of the downtown dedicated for the local farmers to sell their wares during the harvest season. It is a win-win for both the farmer and the consumer.

It is simply good business for towns to allow farmers markets to exist. They attract business from locals who do not have to drive 30 minutes to a Wal-Mart to get wrapped produce that may have been sitting on the shelf for a week. For the shoppers, they get a taste of what unprocessed produce is like and save themselves the time and trouble of travelling to shop. Often the prices are lower than the retail supermarkets. Any good businessperson knows local purchases benefit local revenues.

For me, I am an organic food lover, and the prices these major retail supermarkets want for a quality piece of food is outrageous. The farmers market offers me all the advantages of organic at a price I can live with. I try to stock up with as much as I can. I need to mention that with fresh produce you need to read up on storage and canning methods to get the maximum benefit from your trip.

Here in Connecticut we have upwards of 50 farmers markets that are available to buy from. The cities of New Haven and Hartford have some of the biggest and most markets open to the public. But its not like there’s no competition from other surrounding states. Massachusetts, as large as it is and has about twice as many markets in the state, is not as much competition for us as you might think, as the biggest concentration is on the east side of the state. Personally, I prefer to stay close to home to minimize the amount of gas I use and conserve time as well.

If I had to choose two of the best farmers markets, one from each state, I would go with the Copley Square market held – where else? – in the middle of Boston. Staying home, I would recommend the Coventry Regional market. It’s more of an annual festival than a marker, where you will find entertainment and artisans as well as a wide selection of foods to pick from.

Now one reason you might decide to travel a ways is if you are looking for some specific food. One downside of the farmers market, which is especially true in the smaller towns, is that the best stuff has been picked through the first day or so. The earlier riser will get the best deals, so if your schedule doesn’t allow for an early start you may have to travel elsewhere to take advantage of the seasonal offerings.

Unless you are in the perfect locations, another problem with farmers markets is that they are not available year round, meaning they are not a dependable year round source to do all your produce shopping. Even with planning, any number of weather or crop related issues can dry up the opportunity for a single crop or perhaps the entire scheduled market can be cancelled. Think about the current drought out West.

The banning of plastic shopping bags

toronto-bans-plastic-bags-537x368

There was a time not too long ago when the question you were asked when checking out of a supermarket here in Westport, CT was, “Will that be paper or plastic?“ There are still places you find checkout clerks asking that, but there are stores that simple give you two choices with bags – take it or leave it.

Back here in 2009, a law went into effect banning almost all plastic bags. There are a few exceptions, such as those needed for fruit and produce and the like. But overall they are gone for the foreseeable future. I have mixed feelings about the ban, though I think on the whole it is good.

OK, there should be a stated rational why I am against plastic shopping bags. Actually, I have a lot of reasons and I think pretty good ones. First of all, you find them everywhere – on the streets, in parking lots, on lawns, and blowing in the wind on those blustery days. It’s an environmental nuisance, with the equivalent of garbage being used to pack our groceries and retail items in. True, part of it is people who could care less about the environment, but that does not mean we should help them not care.

Another reason I am pro getting rid of the bags is they are so flimsy that if you try and carry anything heavy in them, say a watermelon, you are likely to find the contents leaving a trail behind you because the bag split. Paper rips, plastic splits. Once you leave the store and your 3 dozen eggs are now a part of the parking lot pavement, you are out the eggs and the bag. So if you ask for double bagging you double the problem.

A third reason that is both environmental and conservational is the material the plastic bags are made of. Yes, stores offer recycle bins you can use to recycle the plastic bags, but I personally never saw a whole lot of people using them. Plastic is part oil, a resource that we have to import. Even if the bags are biodegradable, that degradation takes time. One hundred plastics bags cluttering up a beautiful view of trees thrown there by irresponsible people will not just melt away during the next rain.

The actual figure for a plastic bag to completely degrade is about 1000 years. Even when they completely degrade they are toxic. Other facts about plastic bags:

The United States uses about 100 billion plastic bags a year. That is not a typo. One hundred billion.
The cost to the stores is about $4 billion a year.
Somehow, the plastic bags make it to the ocean, and are the second largest ocean pollutant behind cigarette butts.

I’ll try to make a case for plastic bags. If they are made with biodegradable material (not plastic) and somehow manage to make their way back to the store for recycling, then that makes some sense. They are less bulky than paper and don’t burn. They don’t rip or fall apart when they get wet. The question is what is the cost, beyond what it costs the stores to buy them, to the consumer?