August 27, 2009

Urban Foraging

foraging: tomatoes

I often fantasize about giving up the city life with all its conveniences and moving to the country to live off the land. I will have a thriving organic garden and happy goats.

When I yearn for this idealized future, I watch a BBC show called River Cottage. The show chronicles Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's journey from a full-time city dweller to a countryside farmer. Through a series of episodes he demonstrates how interdependent the farmer (played by him) is to his neighbors, the community, the land, and the countryside. He paints an idyllic life in the picturesque English countryside- you know the one…think All Creatures Great and Small.

searanch: navarro- sheep!

My city life enables me to practice the profession I love, draw inspiration from the cultures around me, and allows unparalleled convenience to whatever strikes my fancy. What was missing from my life was that the cityscape seemed like a vessel for things I want to consume. I felt disconnected from the land around me. Although I have a tiny garden of tomatoes, peppers and various herbs on our small patio above the street, it was learning about urban foraging that scratched that itch.

foraging: counter

It all happened one night when I was watching the episode The Wild Larder. In this episode Hugh and his cronies scour the countryside, hills and rivers foraging for wild food. They hunt for mushrooms, wild greens (ramps, watercress, and such), fish and game. The bounty of a healthy environment spills beyond the confines you set for it. Hugh made me realize that I had been myopic. Bounty lays beyond your small holdings in your great surroundings - my perception just had to change. It was in that moment that I realized the similarities my current city life shared with my dream of a country farmer life. My patio garden could be my small holding and the urban fabric beyond could be my Wild Larder.

july12: bfast

Urban food foraging involves identifying foods within your city- most often fruits and berries, which are edible and free for the picking. The resurgence of urban foraging is relatively new and goes hand-in-hand with the resurgence of urban farming.

There are numerous websites on the practice foraging, including, but the one of the best is the Urban Edibles out of Portand. Urban Edibles helps foragers navigate the unfamiliar physical and ethical landscape.

Here are some guidelines they list:
  • Don't take more than you need. A tree full of ripe black cherries can be really exciting but how many will you use before they go bad?
  • Ask permission before you pick. We do not condone unsanctioned harvesting practices or trespassing.
  • Pick in a balanced and selective manner. The last thing we want is to damage the sources from which we harvest!
  • Watch out for pesticides and other contaminants. Paint chips, pesticides, motor oil spills and even car wash runoff can affect the quality of the sources you pick from.

August 13, 2009

adventures in green babyhood


Being a professional environmentalist as my day job, I always figured that when our baby came along, I'd just naturally be the greenest parent in town. No stress - I'd just know which products to buy or avoid, how to find them, and I'd have boundless energy to explore the greenest ways to raise our Little Pea. Ha, ha. I do know some wonderful parents who fit that description, but despite my best intentions, and my own expectations, I am sadly not one of them.

But I do really, really care about sustainability, the environment, and in particular how pollution affects children's health. So I am struggling to make this green parenting thing work. For those like me, here are a few things I've been able to make work. And for those who fit the green parent profile better than I, please please share some of your suggestions in the comments!

Breastfeeding is absolutely the most affordable and sustainable way to feed a baby, not to mention the healthiest. The decision to breastfeed is probably the most important step we've taken in terms of sustainable babyhood. I realize that there are many reasons that some families are not able to breastfeed, and nobody should feel guilty if they can't, but I am very grateful to be able to feed the Little Pea this way.

Baby formula is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States, is typically made from soy or cow's milk. Soy and dairy are both huge agricultural industries with all the associated pollution and energy problems that you already know about, not to mention all the packaging, shipping and waste that buying such a product entail. How wonderful that our bodies almost always make this product unnecessary!

People always want to give you baby gifts, no matter how much you protest or try to avoid it (at least, I tried to). I didn't want people to buy things we didn't need or want, or that contained toxic plastics, etc. But I also found it very hard to say to people, "Don't get anything, but if you do, you have to do a lot of research and spend a bunch of money to get us something that meets our values."

Thankfully, I have an awesome sister, who organized a green baby shower. She asked people to give us hand-me-down or hand-made gifts, or if they bought something, to please consider organic and non-toxic products. It worked beautifully. Many of our friends and family gave us copies of their favorite books from their childhood, something wonderful that they made, a big box of hand-me-down clothes from their kids, or something great they found at the thrift store. We also got lots of organic blankets, burp cloths, etc. I could never have asked for this (there's something too Puritanical about me), but my sister did a wonderful job with it.

Before the Little Pea was born, we got some great advice from a friend: to never, ever turn down an offer of hand-me-down baby stuff from friends or family. As a result, we have more baby clothes than one baby could ever wear, and we've had to buy almost nothing. Friends have given us a crib, co-sleeper, stroller, high chair, tub, baby seats, toys, books, blankets, towels... it's amazing how many times these things can be used, by so many babies, before they ever begin to even show any wear. We are lucky to have a big community of friends with little ones. Even if you don't, because your family is small or you're new in town, you can get much of what you need from thrift and consignment stores, saving oodles of money and reducing a lot of waste.

diapers: We've covered this area a lot already on Sew Green -- check out earlier posts on diapering here and here.

I am really interested in other folks' strategies for green babyhood. And I'm particularly looking forward to learning more about stuff like making baby food, toys, and how to communicate your values to kids' friends and grandparents. No parents are born knowing how to do all this stuff, and supporting each other has been critical for me - thanks to all of you for sharing what you've learned, too!

August 8, 2009

(tap tap tap) Is this thing on?

Ok, so it's been a while hasn't it? The world has gotten crazy, then awesome, then crazy. Honestly it is my goal in life to dial the knob to awesome and then break it off so really, it's a good thing.

So if you don't remember me or if you don't know - a brief bit of info for you all in the blogosphere! My name is Amber Clisura and I am a fashion designer who takes a special emphasis on renewable, sustainable, and eco technology as applied to the craft of fashion. I worked most recently with Del Forte Denim and Mission Playground. I am currently freelancing in the San Francisco Bay Area and you can see my work here.

I feel that fashion (and that is all fashion, jewelry, accessories, and shoes) is yet another one of the many places where to be sustainable and eco has been an uphill battle. Only in the last few years has green become synonymous with "hip" with everyone from Chloe to Seven getting on the bandwagon. Today I wanted to scale it back a little to some homegrown peeps who started a artist collection called "Social Entropy" and who are staging their first fashion show this weekend, August 8th, at the Oakland Metro. I also wanted to shine the spotlight on one of their featured designers Rhiannon Jewelry.

Rhiannon Jewelry was started by Shannon Haire in 2000. Rhiannon Jewelry specializes in creating one of a kind, custom pieces. She does limited edition lines with wedding sets and her signature gun necklace and the bullet lines. Most recently she started using semi-precious and precious stones in her sterling silver and gold fine jewelry lines. Never one to say no to something shiny Swarovski crystal has also made it into some of her more whimsical pieces. Most recently with the eye towards green reaching the jewelry world Shannon as started to employ recycled and organic materials ranging from bullets to recycled vinyl records and antique keys. Her fine skills are not lost on those in the know. Her fine craftsmanship has been utilized by the likes of Tori Amos and her jewelry has been worn by Samia Doumit in the movie "The Hot Chick."

I had a chance to sit down with Shannon at Cole Coffee in Oakland to talk about the show and how she feels about the eco movement within her line of work.

So Shannon, why recycled? Do you feel it has a place in somewhere like jewelry?

I think recycling is important in everything. For most people jewelry is a luxury product so I like the idea of building it out of materials that are organic or once discarded. Elevating the discarded to divine.

Speaking of devine, your labradorite necklace is quite stunning. Are your stones produced sustainably?

I love using sustainably produced stones in my custom work, and find it important stress to my clientele that it is very important to do so whenever possible. Unfortunately the price point is so prohibitive for most people that I instead try to use stones for my ready to wear line that are purchased locally though through small businesses in the bay area, rather than on line or at trade shows. That's also where the idea for the recycled line came into play.

I was wondering what could have attracted you to the idea of using bullets in jewelry.

I really liked the idea of taking something that most people think of as ugly and destructive and transforming them into things of frivolity and beauty.

Tell me more about your process with the recycled pieces.

Well, bullets are always recycled. Mostly fired and collected by me as well! I've also been into using recycled records lately too - just because so many think that Vinyl is obsolete. I pair the vinyl disks I have with antique and recycled broaches or vintage sterling silver pieces. There are also many pieces with real branches and leaves that have been dipped in silver. A way to evoke the green without using hemp and clay beads! I've also been quite fond of utilizing reclaimed wood, bone and seeds as elements in my jewelry making.

I know, as a designer, it gets tough every day trying to make - what keeps you going? How do you not make the same thing all the time (cause god knows I make that damn shrunken vest every two years!)

Day to day I look for ways to take traditional ideas and turn them on their heads. That's the inspiration for a lot of it. Also, natural colors, leaves and branches, brick...I like both the super-industrial and the sparse open spaces in nature. In terms of my work I always recycle and refurbish my peices. If I don't like them or customers aren't responding to an idea - I take them apart or rework them. Constantly trying trough making to get to the ideal idea. It keeps a fresh outlook for me and moves more with contemporary fashion.

Contemporary fashion and eco still seems so hard for me to put together. Trends are speedy and disposable, sustainability is at total odds with that. What is a challenge facing you as a jeweler in this environmentally conscious times?

Trying to find a balance between fair trade and the love I have for stones in general is always a challenge. So many people are hurting in this economy and cannot afford even inexpensive jewelry - and when you get into fair trade, all costs go through the roof. Finding a compromise is really challenging. In fact, making jewelry at all commercially in these times is challenging...I just hope for the best and try to keep costs low.

So, Damask Boudoir and Social Entropy eh?

Social Entropy has a grand vision and the people involved have the willingness to try it out. Their vision to create something that not only benefits the people involved, but also gives back to the community is great. It also has an edgier vibe which appeals to my nature and excites me. I hope that Social Entropy achieves their goals and am excited to be part of it.

I wanted to sit down with the organizers of Social Entropy but could not get our schedules to work out. Instead I was able to email back and forth with two of the creators, Tania Seabock and Christine Hill.

Social Entropy was started as a way to get like minded individuals together to create. It was important not just as artists to get back to the collective but as people to really join back together into community to draw together as well as inspire.

The Damask Boudoir is their first experiment as a collective. The show is being held at the Oakland Metro Opera House this Saturday, August 8th, 9pm - 2am. In an effort to bring together all sorts of different artists Christine and Tania (both a jewelry and painter respectively) decided to call on their wide knowledge of artists around them. "We wanted to do something with our friends!" writes Christine "Everyone is so talented it didn't make sense there wasn't a place for us to show off and be sucessful at it!" explains Tania.

The night has various recycled runway pieces and fashion lines as well as a full array of regular fashion and couture wear as well. Other designers include Dollymop, Pieces by Anna Quinones, Luma Gallegos, and Erika von Petrin. Performers include soprano singer Diva Marisa, Rev. Mother Joseph, with dancing numbers by the Black and Blue Burlesque dancers, blackhoodygrrl, and MAN-A-SAURUS-REX. Not to mention Rhiannon Jewelry and a bevvy of other amazing vendors and craftpersons!!

Hopefully if you're in the bay area you might get a chance to go out and see this show - especially since yours truly is leaving for two months and will be missing it!!

Social Entropy Presents:
The Damask Boudoir
Saturday, August 8th
9pm to 2am
The Oakland Metro Opera House
630 3rd Street, Oakland
(between Martin Luther King & Jefferson)

Shannon can also be found teaching jewelry classes twice a month for Baubles and Beads, on Shattuck in Berkeley,CA.

August 1, 2009

more diaper talk

wrapper disposable
cloth v. disposable - the discussion goes on...

I never thought I'd engage in so much talk about diapers. Back when I was single and when the new little one in my house wasn't even a twinkle in my eye yet, I used to get really aggravated at all the diaper talk that would take place among the mamas in my book club. Discussions about plot and character were routinely subverted by diaper chat. Who knew these yucky little waste landing-pads could be such a rich topic of discussion? And yet, here we are. How things do change.

So there's a sweet new baby in my life, which means my partner and I had to figure out what to do about diapers, and Lisa's recent post on the subject prompted me to write this follow-up. Like Lisa, I leaned towards cloth from the first, because the mountain of trash from disposables blows my mind, and because cloth just feels better and more natural to me (hey, it's what my mom used). But I also wanted to make a really responsible environmental choice, and diapers - whichever kind you choose - carry a huge environmental impact. As I came to find out, cloth and disposable are pretty much equally bad for the planet. So you get to make your choice based on what's best for your family, and then you just have to do penance in some other way for what you're doing to the earth. Like not have any more kids. Ha ha!

Before the Little Pea was born, I signed up for a local diaper service - two working parents just weren't going to be able to swing washing our own diapers, and our rather aged washing machine would waste so much water in the process that it seemed doubly crazy to wash our own. I'd heard all the talk that cloth is just as bad as disposable for the environment because of water use and detergent, but I'd always pooh-poohed it. I once even accused a friend of perpetuating diaper industry propaganda (all in good fun). Cloth had to be the way to go for us.

The Little Pea came two weeks late, which gave me some time for all sorts of distraction, including finally reading about diapers and their environmental impact. My favorite eco-advice guru, Umbra Fisk, has a great video blog post on this subject, and in another column points out a life-cycle analysis conducted by the Environment Agency UK, which (like every other decent study I've ever heard of) found that basically, it's a wash. One the one hand you have paper and plastic manufacturing and waste disposal, and on the other you've got lots of water and energy use. Pick your poison.

If you live some place where there is a terrible water shortage, then I'd say disposables are the more eco-friendly choice, and just be sure to use the greenest ones that work for you. But if you live someplace with abundant water and a terrible shortage of landfill space, cloth would be the eco-friendlier choice (especially if you use good detergent and dry them in the sun). But all things being equal - just pick the one you like better. Or pick Elimination Communication, if you are that kind of amazing person. I am humbled by you folk.

At our house so far we've found that cloth diapers are nice and cushy on our baby's delicate skin, and they really are no big hassle, as long as you have good reliable diaper covers to prevent any leakage (the adorable wrap-style diaper covers that I knitted sadly do not fall into the reliable category - we are using Bummis and Thirsties now). However, we've also found that disposables are great for overnight, and for travel to Grandma's and such (as my partner says, this way we get to diversify our impact - ha ha!). I am conducting my own experimentation with the various brands of eco-friendlier disposables, but check out this great review on Grist. I've found that cloth diapers necessitate far fewer baby wipes, and (like Lisa and Hayley) that they are great for wiping up all kinds of messes, baby-related and otherwise. Especially since someone else washes them for me.

So the bad news is, all diapers are bad for the planet. The good news is - you can make this choice based on whatever is right for your family, and not worry about the environmental impact. Isn't that a relief once in a while?