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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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What Is The Hardest Part About Living Sustainably, Frugaly, or Green?

A long while back many of us shared the most difficult things to change in our lives – on our paths toward sustainability.  We have so many new people joining us, and life has changed quite a lot since then.  So let’s do it again!

Once we share them here, we can help one another to make those changes over time.  Shall we?

For me, the hardest things have been:

  1. Making the time to cook.  Particularly at lunch,  I eat (organic) frozen food.  Ack – it’s true!
  2. Making the time to help other people make lifestyle changes.  Particularly lately, I haven’t made time to help others by way of the blog (sorry guys!), speaking, and other ways.
  3. Being a real part of my new community.  I don’t spend enough time at local events, I don’t volunteer locally (there are lots of local organizations that could use my help), and I don’t feel like I participate in my new neighborhood.

What Change Is The Hardest For You?

Think a bit, and then please share!  What do you wish you were doing, but you just can’t make yourself do?  What do you feel guilty about doing?

I will tell you it feels good to write them down.  Now that they’re there, on paper, I see what I need to work on.

Try it!

Earth Hour Tonight – 8:30pm Your Time

In one hour, you won’t change the world.  But you might change your perception of the world.  And that’s something.

I believe the world needs to redefine what normal is, and the way to do that is to start very small for some – one hour, one moment to think about the earth.  That one moment can have profound implications, or it can be one more step to redefining the way businesses, homes, and lives to think about the earth.

It’s only one hour.  Try it!  Don’t be disappointed if your neighbors don’t do it – they probably don’t know about it.  But know that across the world, millions of others are doing it.  Next year, maybe your neighbors will do it too.

Learn more here.

Are You Turning Off Your Lights?

Sustainability Bloggers That Changed My Life: Part 1

I have been blogging for over three years now - three years!! (We’re on our third year of Growing Challenges!) And I will tell you that this blog has changed my life in so many large and small ways.  And know this:  it has most definitely set my life down a different road than I would have taken without it.  A very, very good road.

I began writing as a way to catalog Matt and my journey toward self-sufficiency back in Geyeserville, California, town of 1,600.  I wanted to help others learn from our failures and few successes.  But I had never written a blog post before in my life!

It has been a long road to learning and growing as a writer as well as someone who lives sustainably.  I’ve had the help and support of several people along the way.  This series is about the bloggers who have been there for me – they’ve helped push me in sustainable living, in my writing, and in becoming who I am today.

Sustainability Bloggers That Changed My Life

Rhonda1.  Rhonda Hetzel, Down To Earth. Who knows how we find the blogs we do – we follow one, and their blogroll leads to another, which leads to a third, where we click on yet another link until we find something that really sticks.  Is that about right?  Well however it was, one day I ended up upon Rhonda’s blog and was amazed at the way she was able to engage her readers.

So, I wrote her!  I wrote Rhonda and I asked her how she built up her blog, what tricks she might pass on, and just how she started.  She was ever so generous and kind with her time.  I think quite honestly what helped me the most was her telling me to look at some “How to Blog” blogs.  I spent many many days reading and reading!

But more than anything, Rhonda has been so supportive of me, my writing, and my life.  She and I trade emails occasionally, and we blog together at the Simple Green Frugal Co-op – which Rhonda founded!  Thank you, Rhonda, for all you have done and continue to do.  You are truly an inspiration.

Green Bean2.  Michelle/Green Bean, The Green Phone Booth.   Michelle and I actually met via the Riot for Austerity listserv.  She was looking for ways to help her son through his newly diagnosed asthma, and I had already gone through all of that for myself, so I had loads of tips!  We kept in touch after that, sharing local food resources (we lived probably 50 miles from one another), learning both of our husbands have the same name, and generally supporting one another as we built our online communities and learned about sustainable living.

A couple years later, Michelle found her sustainable life was taking her outside of her home to work with her child’s school and do many things in her community.  So she gave up the beloved Green Bean Dreams blog and started up a cooperative blog – The Green Phone Booth – with several other green moms.

While having never met her in person (someday!), I am proud to call Michelle a friend of mine – we have learned a lot from one another, and without her support it’s likely I would not be where I am today.

To Be Continued…

What Are Your Favorite Blogs?

Please share!  Are there blogs that have really changed your life?

An Interview With Melinda on Living Sustainably!

BizyMoms Top Blogger

I’m still working away on some amazing projects that are keeping me beyond busy.  I’ll be back soon!!

In the meantime, I’ve been interviewed by BizyMoms as one of their Top Home and Garden Bloggers of 2010.  So cool!  I’m honored to be in the midst of  Ronda Hetzel and Susan Harris, both wonderful bloggers I admire.  Here’s what they’ve said about us:

Meet some of the world’s most exclusive bloggers on Home and Garden issues

Bizymoms has chosen some of the world’s top-notch bloggers who are maintaining hugely popular blogs to discuss everything related to home and garden. Bizymoms recognizes these wonderful men and women for their great endeavor to reach out to humanity using the extraordinary power of blogging in such a positive way. This is an exceptional series of interviews with these bloggers to get an insight into their bright minds, and to understand what they stand for when it comes to home and garden. This series comes exclusively from Bizymoms for its reader community. Check it out and learn something new and unique from each of these world-class bloggers.

It’s awesome to me that they’ve included a representative that writes about sustainability in their Home and Garden top blogs.  I do believe that is a bit of redefining normal, don’t you think??!

Anyway, please go check out my interview!  I’d love to hear what you think (comments there don’t seem to be working – sorry, they’re working on it, some tech problem – so until they fix that feel free to comment here).

How Do You Get Friends To Care?

Recently I received an email from Nicole with a very interesting question:

How do you come to terms with the fact that so many people in the world don’t seem to want to become educated about how their actions affect their world? For example, I am learning a lot about our food system lately and I really want my friends to become educated about it, too. I feel like if they just KNEW where their food was really coming from, they would make healthier and more environmentally-sound decisions. But I don’t want to see preachy or holier-than-thou. Another example: I have two friends who just don’t recycle. I can’t wrap my head around it. They CAN recycle in their neighborhoods, they just don’t. Again, I want to call them out on it, but I just don’t know how to do it without seeming judgmental – even though I AM!

This is something I think about a lot actually. I think about it when writing this blog, I think about it when I’m doing work for my clients, I think about it when I walk through the streets on my daily walk, … yes, I think about it a lot!

I wrote a bit about it a while back: How Do You Get People To Change Their Lifestyles? In that post, I took a more academic approach of thinking about the stages of change and how you generate behavioral change.  I also touched on it when writing Sustainability Begins At Home, because sometimes change really comes from within and spreads outward in due time.   Plus I’ve written about the importance of us all doing this with our friends in We Can’t Do This Alone.

But on a very practical level, how do we get our friends to care and to join us?

Nine Ways To Get Your Friends To Care

Here are a few ways that have worked for me.

1.  Think About Your Friend and What They Want. What is a good entry point for them? Would the entry point be finding a healthy home for their kids? Or maybe food, knitting, reading (book group?), shopping (antiquing or thrift store shopping or a clothing swap?), gardening?  Find an entry point that will draw them in.

2.  Meet Them Where They Are. You are likely at point c or even z, while your friend might be at point a. So help them simply get to b first.  Make it easy, cheaper, tastier, more fun.

3.  Never Use the Word “Should” or “Can’t”- your friend needs to WANT to change their lifestyle, otherwise it won’t work and won’t stick.  In the same way that you wouldn’t change if you felt you were being judged, neither will your friends.  Despite how much our friends can be frustrating, being judgmental or condescending just doesn’t work to changes anyone’s mind.

4.  Remember Your Own Mindset When You Began Thinking About Change. What did you experience? Like me, you probably weren’t told something, but rather you experienced a moment when something happened, something clicked. Somehow it hit HOME for you, and applied to you on a personal level in a way that it never had before. So what were the steps that led you there? How can you recreate that whole experience for your friend?

5.  Just Be Friends and Appeal to Your Friendship - ask your friend to accompany you to the farmers market or help you pick out a dress at the thrift store  or make an organic cake for your little one. Something similar to what you would normally do, with just a little tweak to let them slowly into your new world. You might even ask them to help you, because this is something you’re really interested in.

6.  Be Patient. It takes time and we are all different with different learning curves and needs and wants.  We all take two steps forward and one step back as well, so know that just as you are not perfect, you friend is not perfect either. The best thing you can do, though, is stumble through this ebb and flow together.  So let them in when they are ready.

7.  Make It Fun. Particularly while the world is in Recession and Recovery, nobody wants to hear that the world is dying, or they are going to die, or anything of the sort.  Right now, whether we like it or not, the world needs some fun.  So make going green fun! Try new things together, with your kids, and in a positive and forward-looking way.  Look to the future and see how your lives will change, how your changes will make an impact.  Strive toward that point, and continuously redefine normal in a positive way.

8.  Show Them How Excited You Are. Good friends will be excited about things that make you happy, healthy, and excited about life.  Sometimes all you can do is make your own changes, and let others look on until they find something they find useful or interesting or exciting, and begin to pick it up.  This is a tactic that has worked very well within my own family, for instance, where my mother and sister began learning from what I was doing, and started trying it themselves.  It happened very organically, and now they make changes on their own and at their own pace.

9.  Keep On Truckin. Some people are in such a different place in their life, their work, and their very being that there is nothing you can say or do that will change their minds.  That’s ok.  They may come around sometime, or they may never come around.  One of the things that is so important to me is to focus on helping those who are already beginning to convert their lifestyles.  There is a lot of merit in that, and a lot of merit in just doing what you do and doing it well.  We all need to learn to be ok with being the first, being the loudest, and being the furthest.  And you’ll be surprised at who just might catch up with you when you least expect it!

You know your friend better than most people do, so pick a tactic that makes the most sense given your unique relationship.  Don’t give up on your friends.  Friendships lift us up when we are down, friendships move us, shake us, and support us, and we need them.  If you are not finding support for your lifestyle within your current friends, you might consider finding like-minded people who can support you.  Check out Finding Or Forming A Local Group for ways to do that.

What Has Worked For You?

Please share your success stories!

(A version of this article is cross-posted at the Co-op)

THE GROWING CHALLENGE: Evangelist Edition!

The Growing Challenge: Evangelist Edition

A New Challenge!

I know some of you have been waiting for a new challenge.  You’ve been reading seed catalogs, or thinking about maybe growing a nice garden this year, reading books maybe, and thinking about taking a gardening class… Or maybe you haven’t really been thinking much at all about it.  Maybe this idea is new to you, or maybe it’s old hat – you’ve been growing for years.

Whatever your history, I challenge you to join me in doing something new.

The Rules

In a nutshell:  Grow 3 crops from seed, and plant the seeds in 3 new people.

1.  Grow 3 Crops from Seed this Year. I leave the details up to you, but I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone – even seasoned gardeners.  If you are still learning, feel free to grow the easy stuff, or seeds you might have grown before.  If this is old hat for you, you might try to grow something new – challenge yourself!

2.  Plant the Seeds in 3 New People.
In other words, inspire 3 new people to grow crops from seed this year.  I know for some of you this means really stepping out of your comfort zone.  But you can do it.  We’ll all support each other – this is how we change the world, one bit at a time!  It’s easy.  Let your enthusiasm shine through what you do.  Be an inspiration and resource to others!

This could be your neighbors, your friends or family, people in your community garden, people in your book group or parents at school…  You can wait until someone asks you, or you can strike up a conversation with them.  And you don’t have to do it in person!  You can write an article in your local newspaper or community newsletter (I’m writing an article in my local garden newsletter), if you have a blog you can write a blog post about how easy and fun and cheap seed starting is, you can volunteer at a local senior center garden, you can inspire your kids to grow with you….

If you’re more experienced, think about teaching a class at your community center, or a community college – you might make a bit of money at the same time!  Or you could teach gardening at your kid’s school (maybe help them grow a garden?), teach someone in your community garden, or participate in an online forum – so many easy ways to spread the word.

3.  Tell the Stories About Your Seed Planting Here. We all want to hear your stories!  So in the periodic updates here, come and tell us how you’re doing, ask questions, talk about your experiences teaching others, your frustrations or thoughts or ideas or whatever.  We want to hear them, and take advantage of this awesome community!

Need More? Go Extreme!

The Growing Challenge:  Extreme Evangelist Edition

For the Optional Advanced or Extreme Edition, add this step as well:

4.  Make it Seed to Seed! Grow 3 crops from seed, and save the seed from each of those 3 crops to grow them next year.  That means you do have to buy open pollinated seeds (not hybrids), and learn a bit about the crops so that you save the seed well enough that they’ll produce a good quality crop next year.  I’ll be continuing to write about saving seeds in the coming months to help out.

Can you swing it? I’m thinking about ways to reward those who participate in the bonus edition.  Maybe a special prize*…

Experienced enough that you still need to up the stakes for yourself? GO FOR IT.  Leave your new stakes clearly in the comments below, and we’ll all help you stick to it.

*if you have any thoughts, I’m all ears!

Still working on your green thumb?

Still “green” to gardening?  Not yet have a green thumb and want to start slower?  Try the original growing challenge here.

Join Us!

All you need to do to sign up is leave a comment below with your name, where you’re gardening, and what hardiness zone you’re in.

Find your hardiness zone:  U.S., Australia, CanadaEurope, South America, China. For other regions, I don’t have links so give it your best guess!


If you have a blog – or a refrigerator, or computer desktop, or place to post at your office – please spread the word!

The Growing Challenge: Evangelist Edition The Growing Challenge: Extreme Evangelist Edition

To add a button to your blog, right-click on the image and save it to your desktop. Then upload it to your blog as you would any other image, with a link to:

Oh, and once you’ve uploaded the image, check to make sure the link works and the image loads correctly. Feel free to email me if you have any problems and I’ll see if I can help.

To print or download the doodad, click on the image, which will open to a bigger version.  Then download by right-clicking on the image to save it to your desk top, or choose print from your file menu.


Check out the loads of content here at Organic Gardening 101. I’ll be adding to that growing list as we move into Spring!

Who’s In?

I’ll be listing names right here in this post as people join, so come on and join in the fun!! All you need to do to sign up is leave a comment below with your name, where you’re gardening, and what hardiness zone you’re in!

  1. Deb G, Bee Creative, Pacific NW, Zone 7/8 – Extreme
  2. Abby, Woodchuck Acres, Indiana, Zone 5a – Extreme
  3. Jackie, Zone 9a/b
  4. Catherine, Love Living Simply, Texas, Zone 8 – Extreme
  5. Deb C-G, Simple Not Easy, Western Canada, Zone 5a
  6. Rob, Rob’s World, Burien, WA, Zone 8 - Extreme
  7. Judy, My Freezer is Full, Iowa, Zone 5a - Extreme
  8. Tree Huggin Momma, Frugal is a Green Journey, Western NY, Zone 5
  9. Lorna, Intrepid Experiment, United Arab Emirates, Zone 11 - Extreme
  10. Sheryl Gallant, Providence Acres Farm, Barrie, Ontario, Canada, Zone 5a - Extreme
  11. Jen R, Emerald Sunshine, Iowa, Zone 5A
  12. Spanishloquat, Bermuda, Zone 10/11
  13. Ken Toney, Our Mountain Farm, West Virginia, Zone 5 - Extreme
  14. Lise, In The Purple House, Western Massachusetts, Zone 5
  15. Belinda, Belinda’s Place, Mt. Dandenong Victoria, Zone 2/3 (Aust) - Extreme
  16. Simple in France, The Simple Life In France, France, Zone 6/7
  17. Withajoyfulheart, Simply Seeking Jesus, Quebec, Canada, Zone 4
  18. Really Rose, Zone 8 - Extreme
  19. YOU!

Sustainability Begins At Home

I had a long discussion the other day with someone at work about how to best create change in this world.  For her, the most important thing is to change policy, and focus on changing the minds of politicians.  It was an interesting discussion.

Do you believe that your individual changes at home make a difference?  Let me try to convince you that they do matter, that they do make a difference, and in fact without the little changes, I don’t believe we can make bigger policy changes…

Go Back In Time A Moment

Think back to a time before you brought your own bags to the grocery store (less than two years ago for me), or didn’t wonder whether that banana or apple was local or organic or even seasonal, or didn’t think twice about getting in the car and driving here or there.  Maybe you’re still working on those things, or maybe it hasn’t been that long since then, or maybe it has been years – but just think about that time before you knew.

Before you knew that there was a finite amount of oil in the world, or that the emissions in your car were making a big impact on the planet.  Before you knew that there were all sorts of pesticides deep within the fruit you were giving your children as a snack.  Before you knew you didn’t have to pay $5 for shampoo or kitchen cleaners….

I think about myself in high school, with my bleach blond permed hair, my pink lipstick and blue eye shadow, driving my VW Rabbit a bit too fast because it was the symbol of my freedom… you get the picture.

Ok, picture that former self and get back into that mindset…. what would you have said if you had been told by a politician you couldn’t drive your car anymore – it was time to take the bus?  Or that your lawn can’t be watered today, because you’re wasting water?  Or that you’re going to be charged for a flimsy plastic bag when you go to the store?  Or that this year the bulk of the national budget is going to help China figure out how to not make the same environmental (or social) mistakes we have made? Can you imagine?  You would have been pissed.

Because you hadn’t yet recalibrated your thinking, you hadn’t redefined normal in your own mind.  Those things didn’t matter to you then the way they do now.

Politics Are Normal

A politician cannot legislate a redefinition of normal.  The norms have to happen in society first, or that politician is going to be out of office next time around.  Politicians are keenly aware of what society defines as normal, and they don’t stray very far from it.

It’s up to us, regular people, to redefine normal in society.  Ten years ago nobody had heard of the term climate change.  Now it’s standard, normal, an everyday term and concept.  No politician legislated this.

Back in high school I had no idea my driving my car would have an impact on the environment.  But had a politician told me, I would probably have rebelled.  I needed to learn it for myself.  I needed to change my own mind.  And after I changed my own mind, I needed to change my own lifestyle.  Had a politician changed my lifestyle, I would have resented him.

Politicians Are Normal

That brings me to another point:  the politician would never have done that anyway!  Legislators care what their constituents think, if for not other reason than to get re-elected.  But more importantly, unless the politician fundamentally believes in something, he or she is not going to stick their neck out for it.  That means that politician has to redefine normal in his or her own life FIRST.  And that comes down to that person being human, just like the rest of us.

That’s what made us all change, isn’t it?  Our human-ness, our humanity, our need to feel good and be happy and understand our positive place in the world.

Sustainability begins at home for a politician just the same way it does for all of us.  Because we’re all human.

We Define Normal

And that is why what we are doing is important.  As we each redefine normal in our own lives, the whole tide of society is beginning to change.  How many more people do you know who are talking about a garden this year than 5 years ago?  How many more people do you know who are talking about local food, or being a part of their community, or saving more money this year, than even two years ago?  We’re changing the world, you and I.

We are changing the world, one piece of normal at a time.  Because changing a piece of normal eventually leads to changing one life at a time, and then one group of friends at a time, and then one community at a time, and, eventually, one world at a time.

It’s up to us.  Sustainability begins at home…. and then it spreads outward. We are making a difference, here and now.