Going Green And Fair When Traveling

Summer sunshine is finally here in Portland (thank goodness!!) and the summer travel season is in full swing. But do we think about how the way we travel impacts others and the planet? My blogging buddy Cheryl Janis over at Planet Pinkngreen posted an intriguing new concept this past week – fair trade travel! Apparently it’s all the rage in Europe right now (why are Europeans always ahead of us on these cutting edge ideas?).

The concept makes sense. Travel of any kind involves large quantities of fossil fuels, unless you walk to your vacation. Many of us travel to developing countries because we want to experience something different from home plus the lower prices we enjoy help our dollar go so much further. But do you ever wonder what the people who make your meals, serve your meals, clean your rooms, drive you all around, etc are paid? I know I do. Traveling in developing countries means opening our eyes to the realities of poverty – we just can’t avoid it no matter how cush the accommodations. There are fair trade labels for travel in South Africa but most other countries don’t have such labeling yet. I garnered some great tips from the UK site Responsible Travel, which I’ve paraphrased below plus added a few of my own:

  • Reduce carbon emissions by minimizing flying time and layovers – the worst carbon emissions are released during take-off and landing. Buy carbon offsets for flights you can’t avoid.
  • Travel with respect. Learn a few words of the local language before you go and read online or pick up a book about the country from your local library. Traveling with respect earns you respect.
  • Buy local produce over imported goods.
  • Do not buy products made from endangered species, hard woods or ancient artifacts.  Whenever possible buy directly from artisans themselves rather than from souvenir shops or middlemen.
  • Use public transport, hire a bike or walk when convenient – its a great way to meet local people on their terms and reduce pollution and carbon emissions.
  • Use water sparingly – its very precious in many countries and tourists tend to use far more than local people.
  • Ask your tour operator or hotel staff whether there are local conservation or social projects that you could visit on your trip, and if/how you could help support them.

Have you found a way to travel with a lighter impact? Let us know about it here!

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When You Plant, Plant a Row For The Poor

My husband Steve pointed out to me last night that we’ll be harvesting our garlic soon, leaving a large space in our garden box open for new plants. He suggested we plant a few rows of veggies for our local food bank. He heard at our church about the Plant A Row For The Hungry program and, unbeknownst to me, bought a bag of potato starts to plant in our garden and donate later this season. When the garlic comes out, the potatoes will go in and we’ll take them to the Oregon Food Bank when they’re ready!

The Plant A Row program seems like a great idea, given the abundance of produce some gardeners have at certain points in the season. Zucchini grows so abundantly in the Northwest that a local lumberyard’s placard sign a few years ago read “It’s zucchini season. Don’t make eye contact with your neighbor.” When the zucchini or tomatoes or cukes ripen all at once some gardeners are desperate to give them away. Why not make the extra effort to transport them to a local food bank and get them into the hands (and mouths) of people who need them the most?

Here in Oregon the most needed vegetables, according to the Oregon Food Bank, are:

  • Tomatoes (pick while slightly under-ripe)
  • Green beans
  • Winter squash (acorn or butternut)
  • Garlic
  • Hot peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Collard greens
  • Onions

Organic/ Local Too Expensive? Grow Your Own!

If your budget is shrinking as gas prices soar, the cost of organic fruits and veggies might make you gasp. My morning paper today featured an article on how to save money in this tight economy. One of the smart suggestions was to grow your own vegetables, something Steve and I have been doing each year since we bought our home three years ago. Curious, I decided to calculate how much we are actually saving by what we grow ourselves. The dollar values are based on today’s prices for organic vegetables at our local New Seasons supermarket.

Blueberries – 15 pints @ 3.99 = $59.85
Strawberries – 2 pints @ 3.99 = $7.98
Garlic – 12 heads @ 0.75 = $9
Lettuce – 10 heads @1.99 = $19.90
Sugar snap peas – 10 pounds @ 4.99 = $49.90
Tomatoes – 10 pounds @ 4.99 = $49.90
Tomatillos – 5 pounds @ 4.99 = $24.95
Potatoes – 3 pounds @ 1.49 = $4.47
Onions – 3 pounds @ 1.19 = $3.57
Leeks – 3 pounds @ 2.49 = $7.47
Rhubarb – 2 pounds @ 2.99 = $5.98
Green peppers – 15 @ 1.50 each = $22.5
Red peppers – 5 @ 2.50 each = $12.50
Habanero peppers – 25 @ 0.75 each = $18.75
Cucumbers – 15 @ 1.49 each = $22.35
Cilantro – 10 bunches @ 1.29 each = $12.90
Spinach – 5 pounds @ 1.79 = $8.95
Chives – 5 bunches @ $1.19 = $5.95
Parsley – 5 bunches @ 1.49 = $7.45
Basil – 10 bunches @2.99=$29.90
Rosemary – infinite (we have a huge bush) but we probably use about $5 worth in a year

Grand Total Value of Our Organic Vegetable Garden = $389.22

Wow! I was truly shocked at this total, especially when you see in the picture above that we have a very small vegetable garden. Besides the garden box in the picture we plant a few things in the beds around the yard but it’s still a very small space. The upfront cost for seeds and starts was less than $50 and, besides planting, watering, light weeding and picking there is very little work involved for the return. I was also impressed that tomatoes, peas, peppers and berries generate the most savings based on their high cost in stores.

It’s not too late to plant your own veggies for this year. I’m about to plant spinach for a fall harvest. Many vegetables such as broccoli and garlic winter well. Depending on where you are in the US you can still plant quite a few summer/ fall vegetables through June. For those living in Oregon, OSU has a great guide online to when to plant your vegetables. Even if you don’t have a yard you can plant a few veggies in containers such as tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. As my calculations showed, even a small amount of veggies can add up to a lot of money saved. Now I’m starting to wonder what other parts of our yard we can turn into vegetable garden and save even more money!

If Willy Wonka Were A Social Activist, He’d Work For Theo

This past Monday I experienced a little taste of what heaven will be like, if I have any say over what I eat in heaven. Along with Steve, Grace and my mom, I took a tour of Theo Chocolate’s factory in Seattle. Housed in a renovated single-level brick building in the hip Fremont neighborhood, visiting Theo’s headquarters feels more like an artist’s workshop than an industrial factory.

That feeling of being around art was only enhanced as our tour guide, Rachel, walked us through the dozens of steps involved in creating the perfect chocolate bar. We learned, for example, that after workers pick the football-sized cacao fruit, the fruit has to be fermented, then the cocoa beans extracted and dried in the sun, a process that takes skill and many weeks. Theo Chocolate is the only company in the United States to boast “bean to bar” processing. They import their own cocoa beans (100% organic and fair trade!) and do in-house everything involved in creating perfect chocolate bars from roasting and grinding the beans to mixing them with only a few organic ingredients (sugar, milk, spices) to create each of their unique delectable bars. While their cocoa beans are all imported, I was impressed by how many local inputs are used including Sunshine Dairy milk, Washington-grown spearmint and artwork for the product labels from a Seattle artist, to name a few. This company is serious about sustainability.

While learning all the steps involved in crafting the perfect chocolate bar was fascinating, I have to be honest that the highlight of the tour were the many, many, MANY samples. We tried everything from bars made with nothing but cocoa and sugar (did you know cocoa from Ghana tastes like cherries but cocoa from Ivory Coast takes like nuts?) to chocolate mixed with Indian curry powder (actually tasty) to truffles infused with Earl Grey tea.

I’ve blogged before about the ethics (or lack thereof) in the chocolate industry. Theo Chocolate proves that you can treat workers well, care for the environment and make some of the highest quality chocolate around. Theo Chocolate has won numerous awards for its delightful confections, most recently the NW Source Best Chocolatier award, and been featured in magazines like O Magazine and Time, so they’re getting plenty of attention. You can find a selection of their chocolates at natural grocery stores (New Seasons, Whole Foods) and I’ll be adding a few of their bars to my site later this week as well.

Take a tour yourself next time you’re in Seattle and see what all the fuss is about!

Excuse me sir, can I please roll around on your chocolate-covered table?

Do You Compost?

I have a shameful confession. I don’t compost. That’s right, our food scraps go, ahem, (soft whisper) in the garbage or down the disposal. I feel it’s a deep dark secret that I have to hide but lately, when friends and family have been over and asked where to put the food scraps, I feel the secret has gotten out.

I grew up in a home where composting was an art. Nothing biodegradable went in the garbage and, every year, my father spread beautiful rich compost all over our flowers and vegetable garden. Composting is in my blood and yet I have never gotten started myself.

In my defense I have to say I did try it a few years ago. I bought this little in-home plastic composting bucket that claimed to be “odor-free” and work as well as composting in your yard. The result was a putrid mess of goo that become so unbearable in my first trimester of pregnancy that I quickly chucked the whole idea.

The reason I don’t compost now is I haven’t figured out where to put it. Our suburban home has a very small yard and every inch of it is visible either to us or to one of our neighbors, none of whom want to be looking at either a compost pile or even a black compost bin.

But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there is a compost bin that wouldn’t look bad, is easy to use and won’t end up putrid like my last attempt. Do you compost? If so what do you use? A pile or a bin? If a bin, what kind? I think composting is next on my list of sustainable lifestyle changes but I want to do it right and in a way that leaves me on good terms with my neighbors. Please leave me your advice here. Thanks!

And speaking of composting, notice the new button in my sidebar for Enviromom’s One Can A Month Challenge. I was pretty proud when, at my house, we recently converted to the smallest garbage can our waste company provides. Still we easily fill it weekly so we have our work cut out for us if we’re going to try to cut out 3 of those 4 monthly pickups. If we start composting we’ll be heading in the right direction. I will keep you posted here.

Beth on Planet Pink N Green

You can now catch me from time to time as a guest blogger on Cheryl Janis’ Planet Pink N Green. Cheryl’s blog is a very cool collection of all things eco-chic, especially in the way of design since her passion is interior design. She just launched a revamped version of her blog so check it out it for some great finds, including the rundown on this gorgeous necklace I brought back from Buenos Aires.

Play Fair: Putting Old Toys To New Uses

When my daughter Grace was born 16 months ago, my husband Steve and I swore we wouldn’t let our home be run over with plastic, flashing, beeping toys. We’ve mostly avoided the “plastic, flashing, beeping” part but we haven’t done so well on the “not over-run” part. One corner of our living room (where we allocate the toys) is scattered 12 hours of the day with books, wooden blocks, stuffed animals, a shape sorter, and at times, assorted cardboard boxes. Some nights one of us shoves all the toys and books back into the big rattan toy box and the pink book basket, other nights we just sigh and walk away. Mostly it’s a sweet mess, since it means Grace has had a full, fun day.

Last week I realized Grace needed a toy upgrade. I don’t mean she needed some fancy new model of a toy, I just meant that when I wasn’t looking she moved beyond the baby rattles and push toys. Not wanting to spend a lot of money on new toys that will, like so many kids’ toys, be cast aside long before they’re worn out, my husband and I tried to think of creative ways to get some second-hand toys.

A trip to Goodwill yielded a plastic telephone (fun) and Grace’s first (and last) plastic-beeping-flashing toy that is driving me a little bit bonkers but she can’t get enough of it. A request to my die-hard garage-saling mother resulted in a huge bucket of like-new duplo building blocks that were only $1! They’ve been a huge hit. And then today our sweet neighbor boy, Nolan (age 4), showed up with two big stacks of his and his brother’s board books they’ve outgrown. As Nolan informed us, he is not “sharing” his books with Grace, they are Grace’s books (i.e. don’t even think about giving those baby books back to me!) So in the course of one week and for less than $10 Grace now has more than $150 worth of gently used toys and books, all which are age-appropriate and lots of fun. To me that just feels really good. Now if I could only figure out how to kill that beeping-flashing toy…

Do you have a great source for second-hand toys?

Update: The Eco-friendly Way to Kill Grass

A few weeks ago I posted a lovely photo of our front yard draped in bright blue tarps, our attempt to kill our grass without using Round-up. I’m happy to report it worked! Below is a photo of my husband Steve and my dad breaking up the dead sod. I was glad to be the photographer rather than breaking my back, although I’ll be putting in plenty of yard time in the coming weeks.

As you can see, the grass was not yet completely dead. The tarps sat on the grass for nearly 3 weeks and gosh darn it, that grass would not die. Under some of the tarps we had laid black plastic garbage bags but we had run out halfway. It turned out the grass died where the black bags had been but not where only a tarp had laid.

After using pick-axes to break up the sod, Steve and my dad piled the green grass into several mounds and covered those mounds with black garbage bags and tarps. This did the trick and today, when we opened up the tarps after another 2 weeks of being covered (5 weeks altogether!), the grass was really, truly dead.

This goes to show you don’t have to use chemicals to get rid of your grass, but you do have to have a lot of patience, a strong back, and highly tolerant neighbors. We’re lucky enough to live almost at the end of a dead-end street so we have few passers-by to look at our eyesore of a yard.

Did you convert your yard from grass to eco-friendly landscaping? Tell me about it here and give me good ideas for our yard! We’re now working on bringing in mulch, top soil and native plants. The next photo I post will, hopefully, be easier on the eye than the photos so far.

Local Bloggers Love Bambootique

Cheryl Janis of Planet Pink N Green just discovered our uber-cute coin purses. They’re hand-knit from recycled wool, hemp and silk by single mothers in Kathmandu, Nepal. Be sure to check out Cheryl’s site where she blogs about the world of eco-fashion and posts loads of great images.

Enviromom’s Heather also recently consulted my blog to find out how fair trade relates to the environment. She loves our eco-friendly candles from Guatemala. Thanks blogging friends!

Fred Meyer Responds To My Call For Sustainable Beef

I happen to live next door to one of the VPs for Fred Meyer, to whom I mentioned my distaste for the “all-corn-fed-beef” radio ad I heard yesterday. She referred me to the appropriate person within Fred Meyer, Lynn Gust, to whom I forwarded my blog posting. Lynn responded to me very quickly and thoroughly. Part of his response is below.

Thanks for the note and link to your blog. We carry a variety of different
grades and styles of beef. The Private Selection Angus (sold from our
service meat cases) is fed some corn products, and this is really done to
improve the marbling that results in more flavor and generally a higher
grade of beef. (Choice vs. Select). The natural product we sell is grass
fed product, but I need to give a caveat to that as well. When these
animals go to the feed lots, they are given a grain diet, that does contain
some corn grain.

Currently there is very little cattle that are raised without ANY corn in
their diet. In fact, the competitive stores you mentioned have cattle that
while fed grass when on the range, have varying amounts of corn grain in
their diet while at the feed lots. Many retailers are working on reducing
the amount of corn fed to beef, but it really is the difference in having a
product that has a good flavor and one that has none.

The natural beef that Fred Meyer sells contains no added hormones or
anti-biotics. Prior to this offering, we sold [an all grass-fed brand] to the one we currently have is that Customers did not show
much support for the brand, and really didn’t buy it in sufficient
quantities to keep it available. We try to provide our Customers what they
want, rather than what we want them to buy. A few years ago, Natural and
organic meats were not something we could have sold. Times have changed as
you can see by the fact we now offer both. As times go forward, it may be
that the “zero corn” product may be what it is our Customers ask for.

Thanks again.

Lynn Gust
Executive Vice President, Merchandising and Advertising, Fred Meyer Stores

This customer is asking for that “zero corn” beef or at least something closer to it. I know many free-range cows are fed corn the last few weeks before slaughter but that’s a significantly smaller amount of corn consumed than a cow’s lifetime. I’m glad to know Fred Meyer already has an low-corn beef product, and hopefully they will continue to move towards more sustainable meat. It is true, retailers have to buy what customers want but part of being a responsible retailer is helping your customers make informed choices. The more customers know about sustainable foods, the more we seek them out for our own tables, as the growing demand for sustainable food attests. Thanks Fred Meyer for what you already do to promote sustainable food and I hope to continue to see more.

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