November 27, 2009

Green Friday

Just a quick post of Sew Green links to make the busiest shopping day of the year a little less busy and wasteful.

Gift for Good- Alternative gift giving suggestions

Green Gift Giving for Kids - Great list of ideas

What's in your wallet - Think before you buy

Crafty Bastards- Great handmade shopping links

Conscientious Consumption - Mindful consumerism

Rock PAPER Scissors- Make your own notebooks

The Art of Finding- sourcing materials for handmade collages- which make great gifts

Also, Healthy Child, Healthy World has a list of 192 eco-friendly kids toys on Amazon.

Also here are a few suggestions for non-shopping alternatives for the whole family on this shopping heavy weekend:
  1. Museum [we are open!]
  2. Zoo/ aquarium/ garden [all are nonprofits and need your support]
  3. Volunteer [soup kitchen, animal shelter or visit a senior center]
  4. Tour your city [what would tourists do?]
  5. Beach, mountains, river, or any spot with a great view [pack some leftovers]
  6. If weather permits- get outside and organize a sporting activity [Croquet!]
  7. If weather doesn't permit, board games [or organize a scavenger hunt].
Please leave any other suggestions in the comments!

November 19, 2009


Last year I took a fabulous organic gardening class with John Lyons of The Woven Garden. Each monthly class held a different theme, and out of the four, two really resonated with me - the Gardening with Children session - and the Composting class.

I do love composting. (We have even considered a composting toilet for our cottage.) I love the idea that our waste is being turned into something more. I love the way our chickens go nuts when they are allowed near the pile. I even love the way it smells, clean and dirty at the same time (farm girl in me perhaps), and the way it feels as I shovel and mix it into our raised garden beds. I love how it has become commonplace - and how routine it has become for our kids to dump scrap into the small container under our kitchen sink, then trudge it out to the bin at the end of the day. (Though any advice on how to get a composting program into our public school would be most appreciated! This is one place where it isn't. And should be.) I love that we return our scraps to the earth to feed the food we are growing.


We have always kept a traditional compost bin in our yard for all of our green and brown waste. It was a bin that the City gave for free, in exchange for attending a Composting class, provided by the City's Department of Public Works. (Class schedule can be found here. It looks like you now pay for a bin, but at a very fair price.) Sitting in the farthest corner - near our pool we regularly dumped garden debris and kitchen waste into it. It is extremely dry where we live, and with our dry garden (not a lot of green - and lots of brown waste)we had to make sure it stayed moist. We added water - and D even added, um, urine. (Urine has long been considered a great compost activator.) It works pretty well. In landscaping our yard, we moved the bin closer to the house, and are in the process of reestablishing our pile. I think two bins may be the answer to better productivity. We will see.

The premise of composting is simple: the rotting green matter (lawn trimmings, kitchen scraps, chicken poop, etc.) you might have just thrown in the trash is piled up, together with dry material (dry leaves, newspaper - preferably not the glossy pages, and only if soy based inks have been used, unfinished cardboard, twigs, straw etc). The rotting material(about 1/3 of the mix) produces nitrogen and the dry (2/3), provides carbon. Magically it turns into food and soil for your plants. (Well, not really magically - "the course of decomposition of organic matter is affected by the presence of carbon and nitrogen. The C:N ratio represents the relative proportion of the two elements...Actually, the ratio of available carbon to available nitrogen is the important relationship because there may be some carbon present so resistant to biological attack that its presence is not significant." --from Compost Fundamentals) There are many things you can compost. And many you shouldn't. And of course some overlap of the two. (In the class I took, the final destination of the compost was considered. For example, laundry lint composted may be ok for your flower bed, but the treatments and detergents that may be present in the lint would not be desirable for our organic veggie bed.)

We are taking our home composting to the next level with vermicomposting. D built a worm-bin for my birthday (a gift that keeps on giving!) after I dropped many a hint. I sent him a link to this website, and he built a bin out of the scrap in his woodshop. (Though frankly the website prices are so reasonable if we had had to purchase the wood it might have been cheaper just to order it.) It is a little small. But we are excited by the possibilities. I have a friend who is gathering up some worms for us, and we are ready to get started!


The premise with vermicomposting is the same really - the C:N ratio though is a little less important as the worms do much of the work that would be done by the chemical reaction. In the end, you get a rich material to enhance your soil, as well as the possibility of making vermicompost tea - which some tout as a miracle worker for plant growth and protection against disease.


Favourite books on my shelf with sections on Home Composting include:
Ann Lovejoy's Organic Garden Design School

A Slice of Organic Life by Sheherasade Goldsmith

Garden Anywhere by Alys Fowler

Really if you "google" composting / vermicomposting you will be overwhelmed by available material. There is lots out there to guide you.

A few on-line highlights:
Design Sponge did a wonderful recent post on composting

Groovy Green has straight-forward instructions on building a simple worm bin.

The Gaiam site has lots of information on choosing the composter that is right for you, and how to get started.

I love this idea: Host a community Build a Worm Bin Day!

Say no more. Composting 101

If you are interested in taking a class from John Lyons - and I highly recommend any class he is giving - his schedule can be found here.

Oh, and one last thing; with Thanksgiving around the corner, don't forget to re-read FPea's great post here on composting your holiday party!

Happy Holidays!

November 12, 2009

commitment issues

I’ve been reading a lot of Wendell Berry's books lately, and one of the main themes throughout his essays and fiction (haven’t gotten to the poetry yet, but i’m sure it’s there as well), is that of committing to a place—working to protect and improve that place, the land and one’s community. While I am all for that in theory, I have had a very hard time putting that idea to practice in my own life.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for over ten years now, and at various points I’ve tried to commit myself to this city, but have never really succeeded. Part of this for me has to do with having grown up in two places, Sweden and California, and usually missing where I am not. Another part is my wondering if I’m really a city person. I long for more green and quiet. I also wonder if there is a place where it’s easier to build community. Often SF feels like it’s a city for (mostly hipster) 20–30 year olds and/or the wealthy.

I could go on and on about what makes me think about moving away. But one of the things that is really exciting about and makes me want to be in the Bay Area right now is the food movement. There is so much interest in making connections with surrounding area farmers. (We here are lucky to live in an area that has a lot of biodiverse, eco-conscious, farms.) Restaurants that use all locally produced or gathered food are cropping up left and right. People are raising chickens and bees in their backyards. They’re gleaning fruit and meeting their neighbors in the process. They’re building gardens and joining CSAs. Check out how this wonderful woman collects farmers’ market leftovers and distributes it to local food pantries.

I am trying to figure out what I can do to enter this movement more, to commit more to this place I call home. I do subscribe to a CSA and go to the Alemany Farmers’ market every Saturday with two lovely friends. And I sometimes write about agriculture related books here and there. But I want to do something more. Maybe join Slow Food San Francisco, attend some of the Kitchen Table Talks, go to Garden for the Environment events or volunteer at a local farm. I wouldn’t mind hanging out with some sheep. (Would love that in fact.) It would be fun to start a little group of people who go and visit different Bay Area farms on the weekends.

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is something I’m considering, though the farm I’ve been thinking about contacting is in Sweden, so there goes the rooting myself here idea.

Starting a backyard garden (for real!) in 2010 will be a growing (oh geez) and rooting (oh geez again) experience.

Or there’s this group, amyitis, that sets up a garden with you.

What are you all doing to involve yourselves in your place more actively?

Some links about new farmers/farming methods
Redefining farming (with video)

A new family farmer (video)

The Greenhorns (trailer)

Wes Jackson is the co-founder of The Land Institute and writes about farming using nature as a model.

{Flowers and leaves all found (mostly on the ground) around this glorious place.}

November 5, 2009


I have been on the hunt for items that have post-consumer recycled product in them. I started to think about how much time we spend recycling paper, glass, plastic, etc. in our homes, but where does it all go really? I mean we all feel better by doing it, but ultimately how are we really helping if we don't actually use our purchasing power to buy things that contain recycled material?

I try and try to buy garbage bags that are either bio-degradable or use post-consumer content. Same with toilet paper and paper towels [although we try to use mostly dish towels I do sometimes just want a paper towel -- and we do get to recycle them in our food bins where I live. More on this in another post]. Luckily Trader Joe's makes this quest a little easier. Their paper products contain post-consumer fiber.

I was reaching for their laundry detergent a few months ago when I spotted preserve's toothbrushes. Oh right. I need a toothbrush - so I picked one up. Nice colors, simple packaging. And then I read the box.

from their website:

Preserve makes everyday products that offer more. We believe performance and style are every bit as important as their impact on the earth. Our toothbrush, tableware and all other Preserve products feel good to use and perform as well as or even better than the old standbys.

We make our products from 100% recycled materials, which saves energy and natural resources. By manufacturing Preserve in the USA, we use less energy to get our products to your door. And all of our products are designed to stay out of landfills when you are finished with them.

Great in theory, right? You mail the toothbrush back to them when you are done and they re-use the plastic again.

So I went to their website and they make SO MUCH more than just toothbrushes.

The colanders [right] are some of my favorites. I also think that I will invest in a razor .

What impressed me the most, though, is that they recycle BRITA FILTERS . Brita Filters have always irked me. I want to use them to clean up my water, but they seem like such a waste of materials. Now I know I can drop them off at my local whole foods and that they will actually get re-used. You can read all about their partnership with stoney field farms yogurt too.

I know we are supposed to consume less -- but there are still times we need to consume. I feel like preserve offers an alternative and is trying to do the right thing.

** all images are from the preserve website.