Why Go Organic?

Generally when we think of organically grown, thoughts of food come to mind. For good reason, the push for organic, non-gmo foods is growing rapidly with the most popular food items being fruits and vegetables.  According to the Nutrition Business Journal, U.S. organic products reached an estimated $28.4 billion in sales in 2012—over 4 percent of total food sales—and surpassed an estimated $35 billion in 2014.  This is significant growth in a 2 year period that has continued to increase yearly (U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service).

People are becoming more concerned with the things they put in and on their bodies.  They want to rest-assured their foods and other goods come with as few harmful chemicals as possible.  As the organic industry grows, people are interested in more than just the foods they eat.  They’re also concerned with other items that are based in agriculture.  For example textiles, lotions, and house cleaners.  In fact, the Organic Trade Association’s 2016 Industry Survey announced the total for organic products sales reached a record high of $43.3 billion in 2015.   Choosing organic products has major benefits at an individual, community, and global level.  The more consumers support organic goods, the more we’ll see on the market.  So put your money where your heart is and choose organic whenever you can.

What is organic?

So what exactly does it mean to be organic?  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has set very specific standards any agricultural good must meet before it can receive the USDA Certified Organic seal of approval.

  • Organic crops cannot be grown with synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides or sewage sludge.
  • Organic crops cannot be genetically engineered or irradiated (non-GMO).
  • Animals must eat only organically grown feed (without animal byproducts) and can’t be treated with synthetic hormones or antibiotics.
  • Animals must have access to the outdoors, and ruminants (hoofed animals, including cows) must have access to pasture.
  • Animals cannot be cloned.

Let’s look at what each of these standards mean.

Organic crops cannot be grown with synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides or sewage sludge.

This is perhaps the more recognized requirements for organic agriculture.  For something to be synthetic, it must be unnatural or man-made.  In other words, synthetic products use specific chemicals to help something grow (fertilizer) or to kill animal and insect pests and weeds (pesticide).  These synthetic fertilizers are man-made compounds, many of which are by-products of the petroleum industry (Enviroingenity).

The use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides has many negative side effects.  They pour unnecessary chemicals into local soil, water, and air, impacting wildlife and residents in the surrounding community.  You may have heard about the controversy concerning the use of a particularly potent pesticide called chlorpyrifos.  This pesticide uses chemicals proven to cause developmental problems in children.  Right now the chlorpyrifos pesticide is allowed by the EPA, but many environmental groups are fighting to have it banned.  (New York Times).  Synthetic chemicals are also marketed with GMO crops.  This has severe implications for farmers who don’t use GMO crops.  More on this later.

Instead of applying these synthetic additives, organic farmers use all-natural pesticides and fertilizers.  These organic alternatives are materials made from plants and animals. Examples are fish meal, blood meal, compost, bat guano, manure, seaweed, and worm castings.  For those pursuing a vegan or vegetarian diet, you would want to focus on plant-based fertilizers and pesticides (Enviroingenuity).

The third item in this bullet, sewage sludge, is as bad as it sounds.  When waste water treatment plants treat sewage from communities, the liquids are filtered, treated, and returned to the environment.  The solids are separated into something called sewage sludge.  For decades this was dumped into the oceans creating horrific dead zones.  In 1992 when the Marine Protection Act went into effect, this dumping was outlawed.   New solutions were necessary for the disposal of sewage sludge.  The EPA and industries worked together to rebrand sewage sludge as biosolids to be used as agricultural fertilizers.  Today many industrial farms continue to use these biosolids on all crops including fruits, vegetables, and cotton.  Unfortunately these biosolids may carry potentially harmful chemicals and bacteria.  Ever wonder where many of those E. coli and Listeria outbreaks on vegetables come from?  As you can imagine, many people are opposed to this practice fearing unhealthy contamination and harm, therefore the use of sewage sludge is not allowed for farms seeking organic certification (Mother Earth News).

Organic crops cannot be genetically engineered or irradiated (non-GMO).

Most people have heard the term GMO – Genetically Modified Organism – but few really understand the implications of genetically modified agriculture.  When simply stated, the idea of modifying our crops and animals to make them larger, faster growing, and better able to withstand environmental challenges would seem like an advantage, right?  This is what GMO marketers would like us to believe.  When placed in that light it does seem beneficial, but there is much more to know about GMO.

The use of GMO crops has significantly increased in the past 20 years.  In fact, they are now the main seeds used in crop production in the United States.  In 2014, GMO varieties made up 93 percent of corn acres, 94 percent of soybean acres and 96 percent of cotton acres planted in the country.  This has major implications for farmers who seek to maintain organic, non-GMO crops.  For one thing, their crops can be contaminated by GMO crops through cross-pollination with neighboring fields.  This impacts their ability to market their crops as organic/non-GMO which significantly lowers their market value (Food and Water Watch).  However, this is only the beginning of the problem.

Remember those synthetic pesticides and fertilizers mentioned above?  Many of the  companies who create the GMO products for  farming are also the companies who develop the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.  Their intention is to create crops that can grow even when sprayed by the pesticides that would kill any other pants not raised to withstand it.  This can create major issues in agricultural regions.  First of all, many farmers own land that sidles up to another farmer’s property.  When the GMO farmer sprays his crop, it is highly probable their sprays will travel to the neighboring farmer’s field either through the air or waterways.  This is called “pesticide drift.”  When those pesticides reach the next field, they will kill the other farmer’s crops which have not been raised to withstand the synthetic pesticides.  They will also kill any natural flora growing in the vicinity.  This can have major implications for the health of the ecosystem, neighboring crops, and farmers.

Monsanto is one of the big players in this scheme.  The company has become the poster child for negative GMO practices.  Organic farmers and environmental groups are fighting for legislation that bans the spread of especially harmful chemicals.  In July of 2017, Arkansas and Missouri announced the temporary ban of a common agricultural chemical known as Dicamba.  This is a fairly common pesticide whose use dramatically increased when Monsanto released Dicamba-ready soybean and cotton seeds.  Farmers not using Dicamba-ready seeds were struggling as their crops were killed by nearby sprayers (Reuters).  Organic and non-GMO farmers across the country are seeking to protect their farmers from pesticide drift.

The current ban of this chemical will hopefully set a precedent for future chemical pesticides.  As GMO use increases, its negative impacts spread as well.  This is why it is crucial that organic certification outlaws GMO products.

Animals must eat only organically grown feed (without animal byproducts) and can’t be treated with synthetic hormones or antibiotics.

When humans eat foods treated with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, they inevitably ingest those chemicals.  A recent study by the Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health at the University of Washington, found the most common way humans are exposed to pesticides is by eating them, though those living near or working in farms face more direct exposure.  Those most susceptible to pesticides are infant, children, and pregnant women.  Children are more at risk than adults because they eat more in relation to their total body weight.  This means they are ingesting more chemicals on non organic foods.  The increased exposure to pesticides can cause developmental, neural, and respiratory issues in children (CEEH).

Animals raised for food can also pass these pesticides to humans.  Chickens, cattle, pigs, and other animals raised for food eat large quantities in proportion to their body weight, and therefore ingest large amounts of chemicals.  These chemicals are then passed on to humans through meat, milk, eggs, etc.  Therefore, to be considered organic animals must be served a vegetarian, organic diet.

Animals must have access to the outdoors, and ruminants (hoofed animals, including cows) must have access to pasture.

Organic certifications also focus on the quality of life given to animals raised for human consumption.  As people have become more aware of the unhealthy and sometimes brutal conditions many animals raised as livestock live in, they have increased pressure for drastic improvements.  One of the most important is access to the outdoors.  For decades most livestock have been confined to small, dark cages.  Organic regulations battle these practices.   Some regulations are stronger than others.  Some may only require a window, where others do not clarify the amount of time spent outdoors.

If quality of life is important to you, make sure you pay attention to the unique certifications your food has earned.  An additional certification you can seek is “certified humane.”  This is a project focused on humane animal care with certifications for life and death including welfare and humane slaughter for beef cattle, broiler chickens, laying hens, dairy cows, pigs, sheep, turkeys, goats, and bison.  For the best quality of life, look for this stamp of approval (Certified Humane).

Animals cannot be cloned.

The final rule, animals cannot be cloned was put in place in 2007.  According to Jim Riddle, the former chair of the National Organic Standards Board, “cloning has no place in organic agriculture. As the FDA’s own report shows, cloning is still very experimental with a high failure rate, it’s inhumane and totally unnatural”  (Food and Drug Administration).

So What about Other Organic Products?

The regulations pertaining to organic certifications in the U.S. primarily focus on food.  So what about other organic products?  There are perfumes, lotions, soaps, and organic textiles to name a few.  To be certified organic, these products also have to follow the regulations stated above.  Some also have unique certifications in their field at a local and international level.  For example, let’s look at organic cotton.  “Organic cotton has the powerful advantage of following internationally recognized organic farming standards that are enshrined in law,” (Organic Cotton).  There are specific organic cotton certifications for the EU, Japan, and the USDA.  There is also a global certification program called GOTS – Global Organic Textile Standards.

To learn more about GOTS, check out this post!

Choose Organic

Organic standards are improving yearly as consumers become more interested in the impact of their personal choices.  More and more individuals are seeking eco-friendly goods, and this bodes well for the planet.  Whether it’s food, household products, or textiles, going organic is the right choice for your family, community, and our planet.


Choosing Cloth Diapers – they don’t require clothespins anymore

Choosing cloth diapers is an important step for new families to consider in a sustainable household.

Father Changing Baby's Diaper --- Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis

Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis

“All they do is eat, sleep, cry, and poop.”  That’s one of the warnings heard over and over again by new parents to be.  “And make sure you’ve got plenty of diapers, because you’re going to need them!”  This statement isn’t entirely inaccurate.  The average newborn will soil up to 10 diapers a day during their first month!  It’s no wonder new parents feel they spend the majority of their first days together elbow deep in diapers.  It’s a lot of work changing all those diapers, not to mention cleaning them!  Enter the disposable diaper.  In the 1940s parents breathed a collective sigh of relief when they heard of the development of a new product, the disposable diaper.  “What?  No more washing, scrubbing, bleaching, drying?”  Just use it, pop it in the trash, and grab the next freshly cleaned diaper?”  Then they rushed to the store to buy their first box of Johnson & Johnson diapers.  This was in 1948.  By 1961 the beloved Pampers were issued by Proctor & Gamble and the world of parenting would never be the same.  Unfortunately, neither would our landfills or our environment…

diaperfactsSimilar to many other inventions of the mid-twentieth century, ahem water bottles, diapers have become an ecological nightmare.  Popping up not only in our landfills, but basically left behind anywhere families congregate including beaches, parks, rivers, not to mention plugging up toilets.  The key thing to remember, is that diapers are disposable, not biodegradable.  Those diapers left behind stick around.  The estimate is 250-500 years in fact.  That means those ten diapers a day being used by each parent are piling up, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

By 1980, only 40 years after their introduction, American babies were blowing through 1.93 million disposable diapers a year.  This made up 1.4% of all household disposable waste.  Over time, diapers did go through some alterations, super-absorbent polymers came into play, reducing their size by 50%.  However, the use of diapers are still increasing.  More and more people can afford to buy disposable diapers, the population is diapersincreasing, and families are targeted for convenience rather than environmental impact.  By 2006, American babies wore 3.6 million tons of diapers, this is almost double the amount they used in 1980.  Diapers also increased to 2.1% of all household waste.

Today, we are increasingly aware of the impact our choices have on our fragile environment, and people are beginning to rethink the easy way out, preferring more sustainable solutions.  It’s no surprise then, that more and more families are choosing to use cloth diapers in their household.

Below are a few options for making your diaper use more sustainable

Choose cloth diapers

Cloth Diaper ExampleIf you choose to go with cloth diapers, don’t worry.  You won’t be stuck with a single cloth towelette and clothespins like parents of the past.  The beauty of cloth diapers today is the ingenuity modern designers have employed in making them not only easy to use, they’re also very cute!  There are also a number of diapers to choose from.  Each one is a little bit different in the way they’re used, fit, etc.  They’re often referred to as systems.

Most cloth diapers have two parts – the cover and the insert.  Some inserts snap in, others slide Bum Genius Cloth Diaperinto a pocket within the cover.  You’ll want to think about whether you’d rather work with the pocket or snap-in liner.  For covers, you want to consider velcro vs snaps, and whether or not you prefer sized diapers, or those that grow with the baby.  Also, different diapers fit different babies.

Some of the more popular diapers to checkout include gDiaper offering the option of reusable or disposable liners, Thirsties which are made in the US, FuzziBunz, and BumGenius the original pocket-style diaper (see above).

Find a diapering service

As the use of cloth diapering increases, so do the number of diapering services.  You may be surprised, even in small towns they’re springing up.  In general, these services provide the collection can and inserts – you wash your own shells.  Many also offer a pick-up and delivery service.  If you’re having trouble finding one online, ask acloth diaper clotheslineround at your local baby stores (our second-hand baby store offers ours).  Birthing centers, hospitals, and midwives may also know where to direct you.  Services can run as low as $75 a month.  For many that’s well worth not having to mess with washing diapers.

Checkout biodegradable diapers

diaper-disposable-insertsIf cloth diapers don’t work for you, or even if you need an alternative some of the time, there are some biodegradable diapers starting to make their way on to the market.  Some serve as inserts for your reusable diaper shell, others are their own diaper entirely.  gDiaper, one of the more popular cloth diapers offers disposable inserts for those times when cloth is especially challenging.  gDiaper disposable inserts are made primarily of plant-based, naturally-derived and non-petroleum ingredients, pure essential oils and gentle preservatives.  Nature Babycare is a swedish brand diaper, though not entirely biodegradable, it does offer some biodegradable components.

Use cloth diapers during the day and disposables at night or for travel

There are times when you’re so exhausted from a 3 am feeding that the last thing you want to do is mess with cloth diapers.  Or perhaps you’re in the middle of a road trip across the US and have no way to clean your diapers during your travels.  Let’s face it, these are the times when disposables just might make sense.  If this is the case, it’s ok.  Just remember to use cloth as much as possible, and keep o,……mne bag of disposables on hand, in case you need a bit of extra help.  Parenting, after all, is not easy.  And sometimes all you want is something to make it run a bit more smoothly.

diaper-seventh-generation-free-and-clearIf you do decide to buy disposable diapers, there are some brands that offer a more earth friendly choice.  Check out Seventh Generation’s Free and Clear Diapers.  These are made without fragrances, latex, petroleum, and chlorine.  They offer a hypoallergenic product, less likely to irritate baby’s sensitive skin.  The Bambo Nature Diaper boasts the Nordic Swan Eco-Label  green label certification.  The manufacturer has regular environmental inspectures and hte diapers are made without chlorine, phthalates, and other toxic chemicals.  Earth’s Best are made with renewable materials including corn and weight and are made without chlorine, latex, dyes, and perfume.

Try a few diapers, wait until after the baby is born before you pick one system.

choosing cloth diapersIf you’re choosing to go with a cloth diaper, most recommend you get one of each before the baby is born, try them out, and then buy more of the system you like after your bouncing infant has arrived.  Many people stock up on diapers at the baby shower, so consider asking folks to give you gift certificates for diapers rather than stocking up.  You’ll be able to choose your own diaper after your bundle of joy has arrived.

Want to learn more about cloth diapers?  Check out these great posts by other bloggers.

TreeHugger – 10 Best Green Baby Diapers on the Market

Cloth Diapers from bumGenius, FuzziBunz, GroVia® and more

Cloth Diapers 101 by Parenting.com


ocean plastic

How did we become a “plastic society?” – A brief history of Plastic in the US

There is a movement rapidly gaining momentum.  It’s environmental with a focus on sustainability, consumerism, and conservation. This movement urges us to turn away from our over dependence on plastic.  This man-made substance has undoubtedly made our lives easier in many ways over the last century. Unfortunately it is about to make our lives, our very existence on this planet, much more difficult.  That’s because plastic does not decompose.  Every single piece of plastic ever generated is still in existence.  The Earth cannot digest it.

Plastic Waste

Safety Messenger

When we look into our roadsides, oceans, and landfills, we see that this is a major problem, and it’s only getting bigger.  The daily consumption of plastic is growing at an exponential rate, meaning the growth isn’t steady.  It’s increasing more and more every day.  As the human population grows, we see an increase in need for goods.  With improved economies, we also see a rise in consumerism worldwide.  Much of this consumerism is for useless stuff.  Items that may be enjoyed briefly and are soon forgotten.  For example, think of children’s toys.  The vast majority are made of plastic, have very little purpose, and are often enjoyed for a short period of time before they’re long forgotten.  Another example?  Consider the holidays.  If you walk through any store from September to April, you’ll notice the vast amount of plastic holiday goods. Many of these items may never be purchased or will have a brief use before ending up in our already bulging landfills.

So how did we become a plastic society?  Sometimes it seems like it’s always been that way. It’s hard to believe plastic water bottles have only been available to the public since the 60’s!  In reality, plastic is a relatively new phenomenon.  I’ve constructed a plastics timeline, to help clarify the inception of plastics, and how our dependence on this synthetic material grew and solidified.

It is important to note that some plastics play a very important role in our society. They’re highly valuable in medical equipment, food preservation, and for lightweight strength materials, to name a few. These are not the plastics condemned here. Instead, the issue is single use, unnecessary plastic items meant to be cheap and expendable. Plastic bags, water bottles, cheap toys, and silverware are the types of items having a devastating effect on our environment. They’ve got to go.

Plastic waste in the ocean

The purpose of this post is not doom and gloom, but instead to help us realize that humans have been around for over 200,000 years, and modern civilization for 6,000, and we’ve depended on plastic for less than 100 of those years (Universe Today).  That being said, it’s not impossible to move away from plastics and reduce its damaging effects in our strained environment. We can very easily turn the tide and turn away from plastics for a greener, more sustainable future.

Plastic Use in the US

1869 –  the first semi-synthetic polymer was invented by John Wesley Hyatt to replace the use of ivory.  This was in response to a New York firm who offered $10,000 for anyone who produced a material that could replace the wild elephant ivory used in billiard cues.  Elephant ivory was expensive, and having a synthetic product was advantageous to the manufacturers.

1907 – the first fully synthetic polymer was invented by Leo Baekland.  Bakelite, the first plastic made with zero natural substances,  replaced shellac as an electrical insulator.  This came at a time when electricity was quickly spreading through American homes and businesses.

Plastic Use in the 1950s1939-1945 – Plastic use in the US increased by 300%.  Along with many other inventions used today, the development of plastics didn’t really gain traction until World War II.  Natural resources were scarce, and synthetic products were useful.  Key plastic inventions included nylon and plexiglas.

Following World War II, our economy turned upward, and the age of consumerism began.  People were ready to fill their homes with “stuff.”  Plastic-made products were cheaper than those of glass and metal.  After the deprivation of the Great Depression and the first and second world wars, the ability to buy and own was seen as a fulfillment of the American Dream.

1947 – Plastic water bottles are first sold commercially.  At this point they were expensive and seen as a quality item.  It wasn’t until the 1960s that they were sold directly to the public (The Nimbus Project).

1953 – High Density polythelene is invented.  This plastic, identified in the recycling formula as #2, is one of the most common plastics we see in everyday products.

1960s – The movement against plastic begins.  Concerns over the negative impacts of plastic production were raised in the mid 1960s.  This was the start of the environmental movement, combined with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the public became aware of water, air, and ground pollution.  They organized to demand improvements in waste disposal, radiation, natural resource depletion, to name a few.  Plastics, were also hot on this list of concerns.  The first plastic debris in the oceans was discovered.  Plastic became seen as a cheap, flimsy product, rather than a symbol of national success.

Plastic bag use in US

Associated Press

1979 – Plastic Grocery bags are introduced in the U.S.  Plastic bags were not an initial hit in grocery stores.  In fact, most were hesitant to use the new product, concerned about price, quality, and consumer buy-in.  It took a heavy campaign to spread plastic bag use widely in the U.S.

1982 – Kroger and Safeway begin using plastic bags.

1985 – 75% of grocers offer plastic bags to customers.  At this point, most still preferred paper sacks.  It took more than decade for plastic to catch on.

1980s – Plastic recycling begins.  In response to the public concerns over plastic’s inability to decompose, the plastics industry was the first to present recycling as an option.  They pushed for recycling programs at the municipal level nationwide.  However, plastic recycling is far from perfect.  In fact, many refer to it as decycling.  There is still a lot of waste in the process, and many people still send their plastics to the landfill (Chemical Heritage Foundation).

Keurig’s first functioning unit

KAFFEEKLATSCH Keurig’s first functioning unit. (Peter Dragone)

1998 – K-Cup pods and Keurig are introduced.  This was a specialty item, with limited success.

2002 – Bangladesh becomes the first country to ban plastic bags.  Today there is an international focus on phasing out plastic bags.  More countries are banning single use bags.  Bangladesh is joined by Rwanda, China, Taiwan, and Macdeonia.  Other countries prefer to charge per bag as in most Western European countries.

2012 – K-cups patent expires, and mainstream products increase astronomically.  Keurig sales go through the roof, and consumers rush to purchase the quick and easy to use coffee pod machines and the variety of K-Cups products.  In 2008 only 1.3 million coffee pod machines had sold.  By 2013, following the patent expiration, 1 in 3 Americans reported to own a coffee pod machine at home or work (Boston.com).

Plastic Bags

Peacetimes News

2014 – California bans plastic bags.  California was the first state to ban plastic bags, doing so in a phase-out method.  Big chains such as grocery stores and pharmacies had to remove plastics by July 1, 2015.  Smaller stores had till July 1, 2016.  This cut out the 13 million bags previously distributed yearly in the country’s most populated state (CNN Money).

2015 – Hawaii bans plastic bags in entire state.  Previously four of Hawaii’s counties had outlawed plastic bags.  When the final county, Oahu, passed the ban, Hawaii became fully plastic bag free.  Some argue this passes California’s ban which is not complete until 2016.

2015 – John Sylvan, inventor of K-Cups, expresses his regret for inventing the product.  “Coffee pods are the poster-child dilemma of the American economy,” beverage consultant James Ewell told Vanessa Rancaño of the East Bay Express. “People want convenience, even if it’s not sustainable.” (Business Insider)  John Sylvan, sold his stake in the company for only $50,000 in 1997.  He admitted to not even owning a coffee pod machine.  “I don’t have one,” he tells the Atlantic. “They’re kind of expensive to use … plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”

Plastic Ocean Waste

Manila, Philippines – Waste 360

2010-2016 – The movement to ban plastics grows momentum.  People are haunted by images of plastic buildup, particularly in impoverished areas.   Plastic rubbish found in our oceans, streams, and on land increases. Haunting images of children playing in lagoons of water and garbage surface.  And the call to move away from plastics grows steadily louder.

A leader in this movement, the Plastic Pollution Coalition, is calling to people to ban their use of single use products – think of straws, to-go boxes and silverware, water bottles, and to move to a cleaner future.  The Plastic Pollution Coalition is made up of over 400 organizations and businesses, notable leaders, and countless individual signers.  Members include Greenpeace, Captain Planet Foundation, Heal the Bay, and Jeff Bridges, Maroon Five, Bette Midler, Martin Sheene, Jack Johnson, and President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana.

Scientists are rapidly searching for a way to remove plastic from our environment, particularly the ocean.  But they cannot keep up if we continue to use plastic at the rate we’ve been going.  It’s our jobs to be conscious consumers – to say no to the straw, carry bags, and bring our own silverware.  Now is the time to take part and get involved.  You can join the coalition, or make your own concerted effort at home.  For more ideas on how you can get involved check out this video by the Plastic Pollution Coalition.


Do you have ideas on how to reduce waste and say no to plastics?  Please comment below!

“Buy Me Once” Minimizing your consumption through smart shopping

Buy Me Once - Patagonia Repairable GoodsThe age of consumerism is arguably on the decline as minimalism, quality goods, and conscious purchases increase.  People are doing the math, and realizing it’s more affordable in the long-run to buy one quality product than it is to purchase and replace cheap items repeatedly. Businesses are getting on board, providing high quality, repairable goods rather than disposables.  Patagonia’s Worn-Wear Campaign is an ideal example.  The outdoor goods company creates top quality products, and when these items do wear out they offer a repair program – encouraging their customers to love their clothes rather than throw them out.

Buy Me Once This idea of having a relationship with your goods is a valuable one.  Think about those shoes you had as a kid, the ones you wore until your big toe stuck out the front.  In adulthood this commitment to our goods diminishes as we jump on the “more, more, more” bandwagon – fueled by society’s needs for better products and new styles.  It’s time to go back to having relationships with our items.  Think of having a cast-iron pan for decades that you have cooked umpteen holiday meals in.  Treasuring that hat that you’ve re-sewn the top together five times because you know it has another three years of hiking in it.  Replacing the liner in an antique jacket because it’s comfortable, beautiful, and classic vintage~  These are all examples of how my friends and family have maintained a relationship with their goods.  As quality products come back into style, the ability to hold onto your goods increases.  A great example is an up and coming store called “Buy Me Once.”

Buy Me Once Tara ButtonTara Button is a entrepreneur who’s goal is to provide her customers with the highest quality, most durable products on the market.  She was recently quoted in Telegraph’s “The Rise of Buy Me Once” saying, “I thought to myself one day last year when I was washing my Le Creuset pan, I will have this for life – wouldn’t it be great if everything else in my kitchen was like that? You buy it once and you never have to buy it again.”  Tara populates her store with high quality goods, like Le Creuset, that will last a lifetime.  She does the research and tests the products, ensuring they will fit her consumers’ needs.  This diminishes customers frustration with trying on their own to find the best products on the market.

Buy Me OnceTara’s Buy Me Once is an online shop, that launched this year, offering  clothes, shoes, kitchenware, appliances, and even toys to name a few!  Her website also has useful articles, tips, and design challenges.  Check it out!  Wouldn’t it be a great resolution to set for the New Year, that everything we buy we’ll never have to buy again?  Buy Me Once Campaign – give it a try.

Julia Butterfly Hill – Every One Can Make a Difference

Julia Butterfly HillOn December 18th, 1999 Julia Butterfly Hill descended from the Stafford Giant, a Redwood Tree named Luna,  in the Headwaters Forest of Northern California.  Julia ascended the tree on December 8th, 1997 not knowing she was beginning the longest American tree sit on record to protect Luna and the surrounding forest from Pacific Lumber Company’s clear-cut logging.

Julia did not travel to California seeking to protect the redwoods, she more or less stumbled upon it during a road trip with her friends.  When they made a brief stop at the Redwoods, she told her friends to leave her bag at the ranger station.  She was here to stay.  After learning about a mudslide in the small, nearby town of Stafford, caused by the clearcutting of the Redwood forest, she knew she had to do something.  She joined the growing band of Earth’s First Activists, poised to protect the forest surrounding the Stafford giant.

Redwood trees are considered one of the oldest living beings on Earth.  (Luna is estimated to be 1500 years old).  They are also the tallest tree on Earth, reaching up to 379 feet and 30 feet in diameter.  The trees once covered 2.1 million acres of forest along Northern California and southern Oregon.  Today it can be difficult to determine how many of these old growth forest remain with estimates ranging from 30% to only 2%.  Trees as large as Luna are indeed the minority.

Julia Butterfly Hill - Luna the RedwoodLuna received her name in honor of the full moon.  Pacific Lumber owned the land the tree was on, and it was illegal to tree sit there.  Building a tree stand during the day would be nearly impossible.  The light of the full moon, however, allowed the activists to sneak over to the tree, raise the stand, and disappear without being seen.  The next morning, the lumber company discovered a person sitting in the tree.  A rotation began where activists would take turns living in the tree.  As pressure began to build, changing places became challenging, enter Julia.

Julia, who later took on the name Butterfly to describe her transformation, climbed the tree intending to stay for at least two weeks.  That two weeks became two years and ten days.  Braving one of the worst El Nino winters in decades, bringing freezing winds, rain, and snow, Julia also stood firm to the harassment of the lumber company including fly-bys from helicopters, jeers from loggers, periods where fog-horns were blown to disturb her sleep, and a ten-day period where the company attempted to starve Julia out of the tree.  Julia Butterfly did not succumb.  Instead, the harassment seemed to feed her determination.  She withstood and remained in the tree until it’s protection was bought.  Hill and partners raised $50,000 to pay Pacific Lumber Company to save the tree and the surrounding area.  Julia Butterfly could then descend from the tree, knowing its safety was ensured.

Julia Butterfly Hill FarmNearly twenty years later, Julia Butterfly Hill has continued her record of direct action activism taking part in movements in the US and South America.  She protested a pipeline in Ecuador that threatened a virgin Andean Cloud Forest.  She conducted a 38 day hunger fast to protect South Central Farm, one of the last-remaining large farms in Los Angeles from developers.  The farm was lost but her courage continued.  She was also instrumental in the stand against the Keystone XL Pipeline in the southern US.

Julia Butterfly continues to encourage activism in her motivating talks which highlight spiritual activism.  She has published several books including Becoming: Pictures, Poems, and Stories, The Legacy of Luna, One Makes the Difference, and an audio book of one of her presentations, Spiritual Activation, Why Each of Us Does Make a Difference.  She contributed to essays in Mindfulness in the Marketplace: Compassionate Responses to Consumerism. and wrote the forward to Heritage Salvage: Reclaimed Stories  She is also the subject of a children’s book, Luna and Me by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw.

The reason I am writing this post is because I recently had the chance to get to know Julia and was pleased to find she is the most genuine person I’ve ever met.  She made me feel it feel was as much a pleasure for her to meet me as it was for me to meet her.  Over one hour of coffee, I learned what a phenomenal person she is, empowered by her sincerity and her unwavering beliefs.  She is a role model.  Not only for past generations but for generations of children, activists, and environmentalists to come, letting us know that every one person can make a difference.

Julia Butterfly Hill

Want to learn more about Julia Butterfly Hill?  Watch the videos below.  Also check out her website Julia Butterfly and her event calendar for an opportunity to hear her speak.  Her next event is the Wild and Scenic Film festival in the Grass Valley, California area.  She’ll be at the Center for Performing Arts next Sunday, January 17th, 2016 from 1:30 to 3:30.




Bodega Bay – A New Year’s to Honor a New Type of Year

Bodega Bay BeachesNew Year’s is always a time for celebration, time with family and friends, as we recollect the memories made the previous year and plan for the joys of the coming season.  This year for New Year’s eve, we decided to branch out and steer clear of the festive crowds, live music, and bubbly champagne that always seem to accompany the old growth of one year, and the ringing in of another.  We found the most peaceful place we could, Bodega Bay, CA, and fell asleep long before midnight.  We didn’t even pop a cork, and surprisingly it was my favorite New Year’s in memory.

This year, we spent our holiday camped on Wright’s Beach, a few short miles north of Bodega Bay on California’s glorious Coastal Highway 1.  While this was a popular destination New Year’s Day, we had several beaches to ourselves, or shared with a select few who were as quiet and serene as ourselves.  Bodega Bay is famous for the Pacific Ocean’s crashing waves, rock outcroppings, winding roads, and sandy beaches.  It’s about 25 miles north of the more popular Point Reyes National Seashore.  You’re further from the crowds of San Francisco, and there are ample beaches allowing you to find a shore or cove all to yourself.  If you’re ever in California, schedule a day in Bodega Bay.  You’ll be glad you did.  Below are a few of our favorite experiences while we were there.

Camping at Wright’s Beach

Wright's Beach Cooking Bodega BayWright’s Beach is a fairly large campground with a few dozen, private campsites.  You can reserve online, but the trick is to reserve early and choose any of the campsites WB01 through WB09.  These are the only sites with a direct view of the coast.  You can see the ocean through your tent window or while sitting at the picturesque tables.  Bring a few beach chairs, and prepare to enjoy a day with spectacular views, and a night lulled to sleep by the crashing surf.

Explore Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay Black TurnstonesThe Bay is a great site for birders.  While here we watched Brown Pelicans, Coots, Black Turnstones, Buffleheads, and Brandt’s geese.  There are ample restaurants and coffee shops, not to mention salt water taffy and kites!  Each day, we stopped so Joe could enjoy a cup of coffee, while I treated myself to ice cream.

Surfers and Birding at Salmon Creek

Bodega Bay Surfer Many areas of Bodega Bay are not safe for swimming or surfing.  Salmon Creek, however is,  and it’s one of the most popular places for watching surfers, beach combing, and admiring the wildlife.  Here we visited the nesting grounds of the endangered Snowy Plovers and admired Marbled Godwits.  The parking can be tough at Salmon Creek, so it’s best to arrive early.  Don’t worry, the surfers and birds arrive at dawn as well.

Harbor Seals at Goat Rock

Bodega Bay Goat Rock Harbor SealsGoat Rock is a beautiful beach with astonishing views, and a picturesque drive.  It is about nine miles north of Bodega Bay, and well worth the time.  We popped on some Celtic music and pretended we were on the coast of Ireland.  The cliffs did bear some resemblance to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, though each hold their unique beauty.  When you arrive, you’ll notice many signs warning you to stay clear of seals who are very shy and come here to raise their young.

We walked along the beach, to the largest waves we had yet seen, getting very excited when we saw the cresting backs of dolphins and occasional harbor seals and sea lions.  It wasn’t until we came to the end of the beach and rounded the corner, that we saw the reason for all the signs.  Bodega Bay Harbor SealsOn the beach across the river, there were over 50 harbor seals sunning themselves, clear of the rising tide and human interaction.  People watched as massive sea lions played in the swirling surf and the harbor seals humorously scootched out of the water onto shore.  When they look back at you with soulful eyes, you can see why they’ve been coined the dogs of the sea.  Definitely one of my favorite hours spent at Bodega Bay was visiting the seals.

Bodega Bay, CA

Bodega Bay Snowy PloversThis year we went a different route for a new years, choosing a New Year that celebrated nature and the preservation of valuable outdoor sanctuaries.  Our time in Bodega Bay showed the value of these parks and preserves that maintain nature for people, animals, and the natural processes of our planet.  It was a memorable way to start the new year by honoring our planet, and those with whom we share it.


Homemade and Hand-Me-Down Holiday

Homemade Hand-me-down Holidays Santa on His Sleigh

November has arrived, the holiday season is officially upon us, and with it the many joys this time of year brings.  People are unpacking their sweaters, making mulled wine, and preparing for the season of giving.  This “season of giving” takes many different forms.  Frequently it’s the offering one’s time through travel, parties, and festive get-togethers.  It may be the giving of oneself in the form of peace, love, and forgiveness.  In other cases it is the ceaseless giving of gifts.  These gifts also take many forms including shiny new bikes, coveted toys, and stylish clothing – many of which may be soon forgotten or unappreciated.

My family has always taken part in gift-giving, spending the better part of Christmas morning exchanging gifts we spent labored hours choosing for one another.  Some of these gifts were brand new, others were a bit more special having been self-made – such as my sister’s ground flour and homemade syrups, my other sister’s treasured artwork, or my mom’s hand-sewn purses and bags.  There were also many gifts that could be considered hand-me-downs, perhaps my parents’ older camping gear or furniture for example.  Whether the gifts were brand new, homemade, or hand-me-down, they were all equally loved and appreciated.

homemade hand-me-down christmas consumerismNo doubt you have heard numerous complaints about the growing consumerism of the American Holiday season.  Christmas goods are on the shelves before leaves turn yellow, movies and music take over favorite stations, and commercials ramp up the need to shop, shop, shop.  This level of consumerism detracts from the reason for the season, hope, love, and charity, putting a focus more on budgets, giving, and getting.

My family, fortunately, have reached that point, where we feel blessed to have all that we need.  Therefore, making a Christmas list this year was more challenge than pleasure.  Our solution – we would nix the shopping season, and replace it with a homemade or hand-me-down holiday.  Every gift must be made or gently used.  For example, a pair of chacos that have many years of good use but inevitably give me a blister with every raft trip, is a perfect gift for my sister-in-law who loves them.  A pair of earrings I rarely wear because they don’t match many outfits are a great choice for my other sister who loves green.  My husband’s tools he rarely uses might make a good gift for his brother-in-law who just bought his first house.  I have taken up quilting, so this too will contribute to many of my family gifts.

homemade hand-me-down christmasIn this way, we are not contributing to the consumer apocalypse taking over our favorite holiday season.  Instead we are decreasing our family footprint, and choosing to turn the season of giving into something more – one based on a season of love, sharing, and time spent together rather than time wasted in a stressful, loud, and pushy shopping mall.

If you are considering a homemade and hand-me-down holiday, here are a few tips to help your family be more successful:

  1. Don’t feel like you are obligated to give every person a gift.  

One of the main contributors to holiday waste, is the drive to give a gift to everyone.  Avoid this inclination, and instead only buy gifts when you find something people will enjoy.  Your family members should understand, especially if you make something for them that is simple and sweet.  See #2.

  1. Cooking items are a great gift.

Homemade ChristmasMy husband specializes in the kitchen, so his homemade gifts often take the form of pickles, olives, and spices.  He makes a mean blackened spice which is often a gift in special, reusable glass jars.

  1.  Consider picking Secret Santa’s.

One way to cut back on the stress of a homemade/hand-me-down holiday, is to choose Secret Santa’s.  This way you only have one or two people to plan gifts for rather than your whole family.  If your family is large like mine, this is especially helpful.
Christmas is a season of giving, but more importantly it is a time for hope, love, and charity.  Wipe out stress this holiday season, by avoiding shopping and choosing a season based on gifts that are meaningful, and time spent with the ones you love.  I promise, it will make it the most memorable holiday yet!

As a former REI Employee, I applaud REI’s decision to #optoutside on Black Friday

Black Fridayby Heather Kallevig

Halloween is just around the corner and while many are enthusiastically awaiting the arrival of ghosts, goblins, and sweets, others are turning their minds to upcoming holidays particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It’s a common complaint, as Christmas decorations begin to trickle into store aisles in late September that the holiday season is coming earlier and earlier every year, and with it the shopping season.  Many blame consumer businesses for driving the materialism that often pervades Christmas, those stores who depend on the last months of the year to keep their records in the black.

Black Friday #optoutside

The encouragement to “shop till you drop” has been a major theme of the holiday season for decades.  In our modern society, where many are beginning to seek minimalism, authenticity, and rebel against consumerism, we are beginning to see a change in this holiday shopping scheme.  Black Friday, in most stores, is not nearly as wild and crazy as it was in the 90s and early 2000s.  Whether this is because most consumers prefer to shop online rather than face the crowds, or people are less enthused about buying more “stuff” is hard to tell.  Savvy stores are starting to take notice and are responding to consumer sentiment.

Anchorage REIWhile shop till you drop, and spending money to buy holiday gifts is a fantastic business ploy, and a great way to ensure you have a successful quarter, one store is pushing back, choosing to embrace the values that have established its company culture.  As a former employee, I am not surprised REI has decided to make its employees’ holidays a priority and is giving them the day after Thanksgiving off.  I worked for the Anchorage REI for a year, and it was the best work environment I had ever been a part of.  As an employee I felt valued, respected, and cared for by my managers and my colleagues, not to mention the shoppers who entered our store.

Yesterday I received an email from REI announcing they’d be abstaining from the Black Friday madness, choosing instead to #optoutside and encourage their employees to take the day to celebrate the great outdoors rather than the indoors of a store.

Business-minded individuals may question the idea, but I applaud REI for this decision and hope more companies follow suit, making #optoutside a movement to improve our nation’s company culture and redirect the holiday season to those issues that really matter – family, friends, and making memories.  I know this stance solidifies my decision to shop REI for my personal needs and holiday gifts, not only are their items top of the line, their values are high quality too.

Follow this link to learn more about REI’s #optoutside.

REI closed on Black Friday

Follow Chile’s Example and Make the Chukchi Sea a Protected Marine Park

by Heather Kallevig

Desventurados - Largest Marine Park

Desventurados – Largest Marine Park

Today the Chilean government announced its intentions to establish the Nazca Desventuradas Marine Park.  This is the largest marine park in both North and South America.  It includes an area of 297,518 square kilometers or 114,872 square miles.  According to Oceana, the Desventuradas Marine Park is considered one of the last remaining pristine oceanic regions in South America.  The decision to protect the park was backed by research conducted by both National Geographic and Oceana.  

Chile's largest marine park

Desventuradas – a small group of islands off the pacific coast of Chile

It will ensure the region’s survival for future generations and offer a sanctuary for its unique ecosystem and fisheries which have been depleted in recent decades.  The Desventuradas Marine Park is an important step, and one that should be emulated by other countries in the Western Hemisphere.  The United States has a similar opportunity in the arctic region.

Last week, after fighting a long and impassioned battle to drill in the arctic, Shell has abandoned drilling and a project that has cost the company over $7 billion.  Shell stated “it had found indications of oil and gas in the Burger J well, some 150 miles from Barrow, Alaska, but said it wasn’t enough to justify further exploration.”  In other words, they had “disappointing results.”  Shell’s resolution to end drilling and its controversial announcement surfaces at a time when fossil fuel energy is rapidly losing support as consumers call for cleaner and safer energy sources, particularly wind and solar.  

Environmentalists protest Shell drilling arctic ocean

Following Shell’s announcement, the US government should move forward to protect the Chukchi Sea, one of the most pristine and largest remaining arctic oceanic environments in the western hemisphere.  This region is not only a keyb impacted by climate change, it also houses innumerable birds, plants, and wildlife who depend on an environment protected from oil, gas, and other pollutants.  Environmentalists, future generations, and lawmakers should work cooperatively to follow Chile’s example and protect this invaluable resource for generations to come.

Polar bears depend on ice in the Chukchi Sea

To learn more about Chile’s announcement visit Oceana’s Press Release.  


To learn more about Shell’s resolution see BBC’s informative article.


Fortune – Shell abandons Arctic Drilling After Poor Test Results

BBC – Shell Stops Arctic Activity After “Disappointing” Tests

Oceana – Chilean President Announces Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park at 2015 ‘Our Ocean’ Conference