Tag Archives: sustainability

Joint Book Review: The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing

good_lifeThe Good Life is actually the combination of two books written by the Nearings about their experience homesteading in Vermont and in Maine. They moved from the city to a rural setting in 1932, where they homesteaded for decades.

Amanda’s Take

Having never heard of the Nearings prior to this book, I approached reading it with a bit of trepidation.  Honestly, the description struck me as being a bit survivalist/”prepper” in nature; while I’m not opposed to that lifestyle, they are not views that I actively seek to integrate into my life right now.

I walked away from reading The Good Life with a sense of admiration for the Nearings.  I appreciated the fact that they left behind what the world deemed necessary and instead lived as they saw fit–as homesteaders.

While I could see myself living an even simpler lifestyle at some point in the future, even in a tiny house (who knows?), living completely self-sufficiently as the Nearings did is something I can’t envision doing, so I will have to settle for reading about dedicated people who actually do it, like the Nearings.

Ronnica’s Take

I loved reading the take of back-to-the-farm homesteaders that got started before my grandparents were born. In many ways, their actions were responses to some of the largest atrocities of the 20th Century: world wars, Great Depression and the Cold War.

I think it’s important to recognize that the Nearings approached their experiment from a place of privilege. Though it was the Great Depression, they had the resources to buy the land they needed to support their needs by growing most of their own food, cutting their own fuel and selling maple syrup to supply the rest of their needs.

I found interesting that the Nearings were against raising animals. While I don’t have the same moral issues with using animals (or even eating them), and I have never liked animals, I always assumed that they would have to be a part of a self-sustaining homestead. Turns out they’re not necessary.

Reading books like this always makes me want to give up everything and homestead. While I won’t be doing so any time soon, I do hope to at least part-time urban homestead at some point.

Book Review: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

world_withoutIn light of Earth Day this week, I wanted to share some thoughts on The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.

I recently listened to this book. It stood out to me in a list of audio titles available because it has an intriguing line of thought: What would happen to the world if all of mankind instantly disappeared?

I love “what if” books: that’s why I like science fiction, alternative histories and dystopian books. I suppose this is a sort of “alternative history”, though Weisman is making no claims that our disappearance will happen or how…merely speculating what would happen if it did.

A few things stood out about this book:

1. The book kinda comes off as if we should all commit mass suicide. I seriously doubt this was Weisman’s intent, but the things we’ve done to this earth (and will continue to do so, unless we make massive changes) are quiet horrific.

2. Things aren’t as permanent as they seem. The real-life examples of how quickly nature reclaims land is humbling.

3. I never want to use plastic again. That’s an exaggeration, but I do want to continue lessening how much I use (and reuse and recycle what I do have). While the book didn’t provide any new to me information, it was good to hear again the amount of plastic that is mucking up the oceans (and land).

4. I want to do a better job of living with the land (not against it).

While I don’t really think that this earth will go on without us, listening to this book was a good exercise in thinking through the repercussions of our actions.

How it Works: Fair Trade

“Fair trade” seems to be all the rage lately, but if you are like me, that doesn’t necessarily mean a full understanding of the term.

I first became acquainted with fair trade through our church, which sold a few fair trade items once a month when we first joined.  Since this was B.C. (Before Children), I didn’t see a need for coffee.  Plus, the goods seemed grossly overpriced, so I didn’t pay much attention and certainly never bothered to buy anything.

As seems to be my trend, fast forward a few years and not only do I have a huge appreciation for the dark caffeinated beverage (splash of milk and dash of coconut oil in mine, please!), but I also have become more interested in the idea of fair trade.

So I decided to do a little research.

According to the simple definition found at Lutheran World Relief, “fair trade” is just “a trading partnership that seeks greater equity in international trade.”

Seems “fair”-ly simple (sorry, couldn’t resist!).  Help farmers earn a living wage, help strengthen communities (fair trade policies ensure that labor laws are more closely adhered to, and provide an opportunity for farmers to invest in their communities), and help the environment (through sustainable practices encouraged by fair trade), all while I get my daily dose of caffeine?

Yes please.

And did you know that the term fair trade applies to more than just coffee?  It can apply to everything from chocolate to tea, and–get this!–eco-palms for Palm Sunday services.  Impressive!

I love my coffee, but I also love to put my values in action, and fair trade is a good way to do that.  It may be more expensive, but considering all that it benefits, it seems like a relatively simple way to do my part.

Joint Review: This Land by Anthony Flint

downloadLand use.  Suburban development and sprawl. American development. While these don’t necessarily conjure up the most positive of images, they are absolutely worthy of discussion.

Enter This Land: The Battle over Sprawl and the Future of America by Anthony Flint.  This book gives a thorough review and commentary of the problem of sprawl in America.  Beginning with the 20th century and moving into present day, Flint discusses the history of this issue and offers up ideas for how best to address it.  Although it does not provide much in the way of ideas for how individuals can combat the issue of population sprawl in America, it does offer good insight into how complex the issue of development actually is.

Amanda’s Take

This book was preaching to the choir.  Despite living in the suburbs myself (or perhaps, because I do), this book spoke to me–I see the issues that Flint brings up on a regular basis:  longer commutes, less sense of community, and encroachment on wild areas, to name just a few.

Sprawl is a complicated issue for many reasons (not least of which is the fact that Americans value personal freedoms, which Flint alludes to).  As a result, This Land can be a bit overwhelming to read at times; as Ronnica notes in her review, it can be a challenge to read because of how large the problem is.

Despite this, I recommend this book to those who are interested in learning more about the scope of the problem of suburban sprawl.  It makes a better book for research and information than it does for problem solving.

Ronnica’s Take

When I was moving to Denver, I thought a lot about the type of area that I wanted to live in. While of course I cared about my safety, I was more interested in living in an area that was anti-suburban: I wanted to walk and take public transportation.

This Land goes into detail as to the extent of sprawl here in America and why it’s a problem. I agree, but I struggled when reading this because it is hard to think concretely about how I as an individual can fight it. I hope to buy my own place in the next few years (after paying off debt and building up my savings) and I hope to use some of the thoughts from this book when I make that decision.

I think my biggest takeaway from reading This Land is that the issue of sprawl is much more complicated than I realized. We Americans like our “freedoms” and tend to buck against anyone or any suggestion that we should give them up for the greater good.

Green Things I May Never Be Brave Enough to Try

Amanda, tree huggerNews flash:  I am a tree-hugging environmentalist.

Literally.

Okay, that’s probably not news to you. I do my darndest to leave as small a footprint as possible, and try to teach my kiddies to do the same.

But with all the reading I do, I have encountered some “out there” ideas for going green that I’m just not sure I could ever do.  Without further ado, here’s my “No Can Green Do” list of green things I may never be brave enough to try.

A Compost Toilet.  I am surprised at how many folks are trying this one out.  It seems to no longer be limited to people living “off the grid“, but to those seeking to truly reduce their environmental footprint.  As I understand it, the compost toilet utilizes no water, and instead the user–ahem–“uses” the toilet and mixes sawdust, moss or another element to reduce odor.  The result:  “humanure” that can be used for compost.  Seems a smidge different than my idea of compost.  Novel…but not for this stewardess.

The KeeperWith my fellow squeamish people in mind, I won’t go into graphic detail how this works.  I will say that, as with compost toilets, I am surprised at how much traction the menstrual cup movement is gaining.  The Keeper (and other cups like it) is a reusable device that no doubt saves money on feminine products in addition to saving the environment from mounds of cotton and plastic, but as with the compost toilet, I’m not emotionally prepared to try this just yet.  Intrigued…but still a no.

Cloth Diapers.  I know, I know.  I’m a bad crunchy mama for not getting on the cloth diaper bandwagon.  I just can’t justify spending the initial (large) amount of money getting started on cloth diapers, spending the time to do the (large) amount of laundry, and spending the money on the (equally large) of water to wash said diapers.  Plus, if I’m being honest:  sometimes I just want to throw away the diaper contents and not think about them EVER AGAIN.  Of all the items on this list, though, I think this is one thing I could be brave enough to try sooner rather than later.   Plus, the fact that my kids started leaving such a huge environmental footprint beginning on Day One bothers me.

Going to Washington D.C. to demand change in climate policy.  Confrontation gives me the willies.  I confess I also find it hard to stand up for myself, especially when dealing with people who are very set in their ways.  Small changes are all well and good and set a positive example for those around you, but ultimately it will take larger entities stepping up and passing legislation that will make the needed changes in environmental policy.  I’m just not sure I’m brave enough to demand that change from the powers that be.

…yet.

Joint Book Review: The Third Plate

TheThirdPlateThis month we’re reviewing The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber. Barber is a chef who writes about his journey to discovering more sustainable foods to source his kitchen.

The title comes from Barber’s imagination of the ideal plate of food, 35 years in the future. He pictured the past of American food as corn-fed steak with a side of veggies and the present as a grass-fed steak with a side of heirloom, organic veggies.

The third plate? “I imagined a carrot steak dominating the plate, with a sauce of braised second cuts of beef.”

Barber sees a future where we’ve recognized that we must live on what the land can provide, instead of forcing it to provide the food that we crave.

Barber writes about his journey in four parts: soil, land, sea and seed.

Ronnica’s Take

I have frequent daydreams of living a sustainable life on a few acres of my own. As someone who doesn’t like animals and gagged at the sight of the Thanksgiving dinner being carved, it’s perhaps not the best fit, but I still dream.

Reading The Third Plate has increased those dreams. Even if my garden doesn’t expand beyond my balcony, I want to make good choices of the time and resources I put into it.

As a gardener from Kansas, the first part about the soil was the most eye opening. I had never considered how our farming forefathers decimated the rich soil of the heartland, losing precious topsoil that cannot easily be replaced.

Gardening is great, but I want to consider how else I can more sustainable choices in all my food.

The only downside to this book is that as a chef, Barber’s emphasis is more on the culinary elite than on everyday sustenance served at the family table throughout the world.  Still, there are lessons for all of us.

Amanda’s Take 

One such lesson I took away from this fascinating (albeit a tad elitist and verbose) book is this:  think about where your food comes from.

Take, for instance, the humble chicken.  in the “Land” section of the book, the rise of factory farmed chickens is discussed at length.  While I was aware on a basic level of all that goes on in such an environment (money truly is king, to the detriment of quality!), the history of chicken farming in America was eye-opening to me.

The state of current food systems, such as the chicken, is also quoted as being, “An insult to history” (p. 146).  If even half of what Barber purports is accurate (and his work is supported at length), then this should give us pause.  I know the statistics, interviews, and personal insight certainly made me reconsider the choices I have at the supermarket!

An even more important message I took away was just how connected everything is.  Barber discusses the idea of “Three Sisters” planting method throughout the book–that is, the Native American method of planting corn, dry beans, and squash together, which enables the beans to provide the corn with nitrogen, the corn stalk to provide a trellis for the beans, and the squash to provide a natural weed prevention (since it snakes along the ground).

Such examples can be noted throughout food production; there is no one separate way to do anything, nor should there be.  Everything is connected to each other, for better or for worse.  Be sure to check out The Third Plate:  Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber for more wisdom and insight into how our food system can–and should!–change.