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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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US & World Maps of CO2 Emissions

The US emits the most CO2 per capita of any country in the world, according to the U.N.

Matt found these two great maps the other day. The first map shows where carbon emissions are concentrated in the U.S. Obviously, the CO2 emissions are higher in urban centers of the country since there are more people there.

US Concentrations of CO2 Emissions:

Concentrations of US CO2 Emissions

But the second map shows U.S. CO2 emissions per capita. It’s a very different map.

U.S. Per Capita CO2 Emissions:

U.S. CO2 Emissions Per Capita

If you click on the map, it will enlarge and you can get a better sense of where the concentrations actually are. Zeroing in on Seattle, for example, shows an interesting result:

Seattle CO2 Emissions Per Capita

Seattle itself (the area to the left of the “S”) emits far less per capita than its outlying suburbs and more rural areas. The same trend can be seen in many other urban areas.

Overall the west and southwest aren’t looking so good here. The two maps almost show a reverse of one another: where the country is least populated, we output more CO2 per person. We have suburbs that sprawl further, requiring longer drive times. We have less public transportation. And… well, I don’t know. Anyone else have ideas about why we emit more CO2 in the western U.S.?

We in North America have a lot of work to do, no matter where we live. Here are some more maps…

Percentage of CO2 Emissions by Country:

Percentage of World CO2 Emissions


According to the UN, the U.S. emits 21% of the world’s total CO2 emissions, while we comprise just 4.6% of the world’s population. China emits 17.3%, Russia 5.3%, Australia 1.1%… click on the map to find out how much your country emits.

But again, the per capita maps seem to be a more important way of looking at it.

World CO2 Emissions Per Capita (in metric tons):

CO2 Emissions Per Capita


The U.S. emits 20.6 metric tons per person, Canada emits 20.0, Norway 19.1, Australia emits 16.2, Saudi Arabia 13.6, U.K. & Germany 9.8… click on the map above to see how your country measures up.

We have lots of work to do! We’re causing major climate damage, and we just can’t go on doing what we do. It’s time to stop this train from going full barrel ahead down the wrong track.

Today, make a change. Big or small, today do something to reduce your CO2 emissions. Something new. Something you’ve been thinking about doing but haven’t yet done. It’s time.

What Will You Do Today?

We have work to do, so put your energy into doing something right now! What will you do today?

If you’re looking for ideas, you can try making some of the changes we discussed in yesterday’s post and the wonderful comments. Not only will those changes help your pocketbook, but they will also help the planet!

Time To Tighten Our Belts: How To Cut Costs In Daily Life



My grandfather and I spoke for a long time Wednesday about the current financial crisis. As a former banker, he’s seen it coming for more than a year and can’t understand why the banks took so long to react. And he told me, “this happens with every generation of new CEOs,” once every 20 years or so, they get too greedy and they fall.

My grandfather, who has watched the economy ebb and flow for a century, is now is wondering if this will be as bad as the Great Depression, or if they have caught it early enough and it will be more like the 70s. Either way, we’re not out of this recession and probably won’t be for a while. While I’m not an alarmist who sees the sky falling at every moment, I do see a grey sky ahead and it would behoove us all to tighten our belts a bit.

Make sure you learn all you can about your savings and investments. Read about the FDIC and what is really insured, and also make sure you are banking with an FDIC-insured bank. Pay down your debts as quickly as you can, so that you are not over-extended as we go into harder times. And if you are lucky to have more than others, give what you can and do what you can to help those in need.

I know from reading the comments about affluence, that some of you are hurting now. As Rhonda Jean says, it’s time for us all to go into squirrel mode. Now is a good time to do with what we have, and buy as little as possible.

How To Cut Costs In Our Daily Lives:

I encourage you to first take a look at your bills from last month. What were your highest monthly costs? Was it electricity? Water? Cable? Whatever it was, you should work on that first. Then, here are some things to think about:

1. Cut the cable television. Whoa, you say. But don’t stop reading. You can do it. I haven’t had cable television in six years. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: I work in the film and television industry! How do I keep up with what’s going on? Well, the internet helps a lot. I also check out movies at the library (you can reserve them online and wait until you receive an email that they’re ready for you), rent dvds at the local video store (it’s so great to watch a television series all the way through without commercials!), when there’s something we really want to watch we just get together at a friend’s house, but mostly we read and we talk instead.

Don’t worry about your kids making the transition – they’ll handle it. The library is full of good books, and you can even read a book out loud together as a family. Our family used to take turns each reading a chapter of the book – a great bonding experience. You can also play good old fashioned board games, which can be loads of fun – pick up a few at a local thrift store or garage sale (or your parents’ basement).

2. Reduce your electric usage. As you cut your cable, you can turn off our television: the biggest energy guzzler in the house. As your incandescent bulbs wear out, replace them with CFLs – they are more expensive up front, but they will last many months longer and will save you a lot of money in electricity. Turn off lights unless you are in the room. Minimize your A/C or heater usage as much as you can – turn the A/C up a few degrees, turn the heater down a few degrees. Use a laptop rather than a desktop computer, if you can. Plus turn off the computer when you’re not using it. Turn down your hot water heater to 120F. And spend less time in the shower, which uses a lot of electricity (or gas) to heat the water.

3. Reduce trips in the car. Now is a good time to finally learn that public transportation system, or really carpool with your coworker who lives nearby. You don’t need to keep your kids from after-school activities, just arrange with other parents to carpool. Or even arrange an after-school bus – check into it with your school and find out who to call. Consolidate your errands for the week to one or two days when you’re already going out. And if you live within a mile or two, think about walking or biking instead.

4. Replace junk food with good food. For some reason, when we have to cut costs often the first thing we do is stop buying good food. Does that make sense, when this is the stuff that nurtures our bodies and helps our children grow up strong and healthy? Cut out the soda and alcoholic beverages and drink water instead, but don’t stop buying fresh fruit and vegetables as these are important.

Forgo eating out for a simple, home cooked meal instead. Bring your lunch to work and school rather than eating out. Rather than buying granola bars and other processed foods, make them from scratch – you might find it’s a lot easier than you think. Plus it’s a great after-school project for the kids to help make. And by all means, grow a fall and winter garden, or help a friend grow theirs in exchange for some of the goods.

If you’re really hurting economically and just can’t afford fresh fruit and vegetables, don’t be afraid to visit the local food bank. That’s what it’s there for.

5. Hang in there and reach out to others. In many other parts of the world, it is normal and customary to help one another when times are tougher. If you are lucky to be doing well, invite some friends over for dinner, or do something else to help (gently and respectfully, of course, as it is tough to ask for and accept help). If you’re not doing so well, don’t be shy about accepting a kind hand. Barter! My juicy backyard plums for your 6x hand-me-downs, for example. Now is the best time to start building your community by just living and being local, through and through. Together we are stronger.


Organize Fish


What Are Your Thoughts?


Does this current bank/insurance/whatever’s next crisis scare you? What else can we all be doing (or not doing) to keep ourselves, our families, and our neighbors safe? How are you feeling, how are you coping?

How To Grow A Four-Season Garden – Part 2

How To Extend the Growing Season To Get the Most Out of Your Garden

If you missed How To Grow A Four-Season Garden – Part 1, please take a look at it first, as it contains important background information.

Frost on Tomatoes

Extending The Seasons

Whole books have been written about this subject – good books – so I don’t mean to re-write them here. Think of this as the Cliff’s Notes. But do read the books, too! You’ll find references below.

First, there are several different situations where you might want to use some season extension:

Peppers in the Rain

In the Rain.

Here in Seattle, as in Northern California, rain is the most difficult part of our fall and winter. Rain is ok in the summer, when the heat helps dry up the plants after the rain, and the root temperatures stay warm enough for the plant to fend off most diseases (as long as the plants are otherwise well-nurtured and healthy). But when it begins to get cold (50-60F and below – depending on the crops), rain can become deadly. The antidote: protection from the rain!

Slugs, powdery mildew, and root rot are major problems in the rain. But by covering your crops using the season-extension techniques below, you should be able to stave off these problems. This protection is identical to the protection needed for those whose main issue is snow. (See below.)

Frost on Carrots

In the Frost.

There are different kinds of frosts. The first that come are light frosts, where the garden is beautifully covered in crystals, the frost usually happens in the early morning, and generally all but the most tender plants survive. Soon to follow (within a few days to a couple weeks) is the first hard frost. This is where leaves become crunchy and brittle, flowers drop, and you lose your summer crops. Unless you protect them!

You can extend your summer crops for a couple weeks to a couple of months, depending on where you live and how determined you are. You can do this one of two ways:

  1. You must pay attention to the weather, without fail, every night as it gets colder. And whenever the forecast is for frost, you must cover your summer crops with a blanket or frost cloth. Then if you like, you can uncover the plants in the morning. Or,
  2. You can erect a permanent structure over your crops. This protection is pretty much identical to the protection needed for those whose main issue is snow. (See below.)

Fall and winter crops, on the other hand, should do fine with some frosts. Many will become sweeter and more flavorful.

You can also extend your growing season in the late winter/early spring by using some of these season extension techniques. You may be able to start planting out at least a couple of weeks before your last frost. The first thing you’ll want to do is start your seeds indoors. (Be extremely cautious when hardening off as nightshades in particular are sensitive to shock.) When planting out, the most important things to remember here are: warm the soil not just the plant, and warm the soil before you plant.

Cold Frame, Image Courtesy

In the Snow.

I am admittedly less experienced with the snow, as I have lived in California for the past 10 years. But, I have a lot of book knowledge and I’ve been reading gardening blogs non-stop for the past couple years. However, I welcome any snow gardeners to include their own expertise here.

Just like frost, snow comes with cooler weather. So generally speaking, when you are protecting from snow, you are protecting from the cold. If it is wet snow, you’ll want to protect from the wet cold above all. An additional thing to consider with snow is the added weight added to any structure by the build-up of snow.

Watering in the Cold Rain, Frost, Sleet and Snow.

Basically, you’ll want to keep the soil as warm as you can, and the plants moist but not wet. Plants do not grow (much) in the winter, and the sun will evaporate the water less, so you’ll want to water only when the surface of the soil (1/2″ deep) becomes dry. Updated: Deb G brings up an important point that you still must remember to water plants that are under shelters, as many plants die from lack of water in the winter!

Only water your plants in the mornings, when the plants have time to warm up during the day. And be careful to not water the leaves or stems of the plants – aim for where the roots are. A rule of thumb is that the roots expand as far out as the leaves of the plant. So if the leaves are a foot wide, the roots will extend a foot wide beneath the soil.

Greens Under Shade Cloth

In The Heat.

Surprise! Yes, in many parts of the world (like in our former garden in Northern California), it is too hot in the summer to grow many things. But with a few techniques, you can conserve water and extend the season of your cold-weather crops. You may even be able to grow cold weather crops all year without bolting.

Season Extension Techniques

The type of season extension you chose will depend on many things: the extent of cold or wind your garden receives, cost, availability of materials, the size of your garden, and whether or not it snows and if it does how much (you’ll have to build a sturdy structure if it is to support much snow).

Cloche Over Lettuce

Courtesy gilltheaker on Flickr


The classic cloche is a glass bell-shaped vessel placed over each individual crop. Here is a perfect example of what they look like and how they are used. They hold in heat and moisture, and also protect from slugs and other critters. However, you must watch that on particularly sunny days you don’t scorch your plant in the hot sun, and in particularly moist climates you must watch for mildew (squirting a bit of milk and water on the leaves might get rid of mildew). When it’s particularly hot or moist, you can prop up the cloche a tad with a stick to let a bit of heat out, or you can buy or make a cloche with an opening at the top.

There are many places to buy these, but I would encourage you to find ways of making them or repurposing other objects. Inverted glass cookie jars work very well, Katie has created them out of plastic 2 liter soda bottles, 1 gallon plastic milk bottles work as well, this site has instructions for making it out of a hanging basket, garage sales can often be the best place to find crazy items that will work well for cloches.  Updated:  SusanB suggests clear 3-gallon pails or empty pots as cloches.

Courtesy Through the Looking Glass Garden on Flickr

Homemade Cold Frame by terriem on Flickr

Cold Frames

In Four Season Harvest, Eliot Coleman explains cold frames very well. He and his wife live in Maine, and garden year-round. According to Coleman, night temperatures can be as much as 20F warmer inside the cold frame (average is 7-10F). On a sunny or cloudy winter day, daytime temperatures will be around 10-15F warmer.

However, during the fall and spring sometimes temperatures can spike inside the cold frame, so again, heat needs to be monitored. You can prop open the cold frame with a stick, or buy or make a cold frame that automatically opens when it gets too hot.

A cold frame also protects from rain, wind, and snow. In areas where you have a lot of snow, make sure you have a cold frame with a slanted roof so the snow falls off the sides and doesn’t pile up top (see the one pictured in the “In The Snow” section above).

Making a cold frame yourself allows you to make it any side and shape you like. You can make the sides out of hay bales, scrap wood, concrete blocks, bricks… anything that will keep the heat inside. The top can be made from an old window (like the one pictured above), a found piece of glass, or one bought at a hardware store. You can also put 2 windowpanes of the same size together into an A frame, hinged at the top for easy access on both sides.

Cold Crops Under 50% Shade Cloth

Tomatoes Under Frost Cloth at Seattle Tilth

Hoop Houses

Hoop houses, row tunnels, or row covers, are generally about 3′ wide, or the width of your rows. The length is up to you. You can use thick-gauged wire (my preference), or you can use pvc pipe, wood, branches, or anything else that will create a structure that can withstand wind (and snow, if you have it).* Each hoop should be 2-4′ apart (we found 3′ works best for us). Of course this is only a rule of thumb, for you can make a hoop house as big or small, short or long as you want.

With an armature created, you have many choices of material to go over the hoops: shade cloth (different thicknesses – we use 30% and 50%, depending on the crop), plastic tarps, burlap, frost cloth, bed sheets, etc. What is nice about shade cloth is that you can put it on your greens in the summer, to shelter them from the heat. And in the winter, you can leave them on to protect them from the cold (if you live in a fairly mild region, that is). Frost cloths and thick plastic sheeting will hold in the most heat. If you use plastic, be careful to leave a vent at each end when it is hot, so that the plants don’t cook inside.

These cloths and tarps can be attached with clothes pins, heavy duty paper clips, or clips made specifically for hoop houses. Then the bottom of the cloth is secured with a large fabric staple or stake (found at a local hardware store).

*Note: Eliot Coleman recommends 6.5′ long pieces of #9 wire – you can probably find it at a good local hardware store. Updated: they’re also available at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, in bundles of 10 or 100.

Homemade Greenhouse courtesy of BobButcher on Flickr

Grow Dome by Fluffius Muppetus

Greenhouses, High Tunnels, & Domes

If you have the space, Eliot Coleman gives explicit instructions about how to build your own movable greenhouse. You can also buy a greenhouse, which can be quite pricey (though check Craig’s List, Freecycle, and garage sales). But as Coleman says, “all you need is a minimal frame and a roof that lets in light.”

Be creative!! You can make one just as you would a cold frame, piece by piece, using found windows and other objects. You can make a high tunnel that is basically a larger version of a hoop house, with metal piping or 2x4s (instead of the hoop house’s wire or pvc pipe). Updated: Kirk suggests this very informative site for building high tunnels, along with the plans for one he made (PDF). Kirk notes that the 6-mil plastic needs to be replaced each season or it will begin to crack.

You can also check out Emma’s Grow Dome (above, bottom photo) – she has detailed photos of how she build it. Updated: Rob suggests this fast framer kit for building a quick 7×8′ structure (all you need to buy are 2x4s and the siding).  David also has written a great post about how he made his affordable greenhouse.

Greenhouse and Cold Frames by BrassMonkey on Flickr

If you are in cold climes (USDA zones 3-6), you may want to combine a greenhouse with mulching or a cold frame. Anyone out there who has built a greenhouse and can offer up some additional expertise?

Basil Under Burlap, Heavily Mulched


Mulching can help keep moisture in the soil during the hot seasons, and away from the soil during the rainy seasons. It can keep the soil cool in the summer and warmer in the winter. A light-colored mulch will reflect more heat than it draws in, which can be great when it’s really hot. I measured last summer, and our mulched soil was 10-20F cooler than the exterior temperatures (when it’s 110F outside, that can mean life or death for a plant).

If you really want to warm up your soil before an early spring planting, use a dark-colored mulch. Commercial growers use black plastic, but you may have something more biodegradable you can find.

My favorite mulch is straw (NOT HAY, which has seeds and will grow a whole lot of hay around your garden). Straw is cheap and can be found in a local feed store. If you live in the city, you may have to drive to the farming areas outside of the city to find it.

Other good mulches are leaves (which you can collect from your neighbors), grass clippings (as long as it didn’t go to seed), and burlap. I don’t really like bark mulch, because it soaks up the moisture too much – holding in too much moisture when it rains, and soaking up too much moisture when I water. But each of us gardens in a different environment with different needs, so experiment and find out what works best for you.

When you mulch, you want to give it a good 3-4″, or it won’t keep out the cold nor keep in the moisture. Make sure you give nightshade plants (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) extra room around the stems, as they don’t like wet stems. Trees also need a good mulch-free zone around the base. You can also try to overwinter some crops by covering them entirely with straw, if you live in a very cold climate.

Tomatoes on Blacktop

Taking Advantage of the Environment

There are several ways you can plan your plantings to take advantage of your house, garage, fences, trees, and other things. Here are just a few that come to mind:

  • Tall plants next to your more vulnerable crops will shelter them from the wind.
  • Interplanting cold-weather crops like carrots and lettuces beneath larger crops like peppers and beans will protect the cooler crops from heat.
  • Raised beds will allow for the cold air to sink into the pathways rather than under your plants. This combined with mulching saved our plants from several frosts – you can feel the temperature difference.
  • Planting in the middle or top of a hill rather than the very bottom will have the same effect.
  • A tree will hold a pocket of cold air beneath it. It will also keep out badly needed light during the winter months.
  • A white or light-colored wall will reflect heat toward your plant. This helped our meyer lemon tree thrive in a cooler climate.
  • Bricks and concrete will stay warm long after the sun goes down (but they will take longer to warm up after the sun comes up, unfortunately).
  • A roof or dark surface will draw heat into the soil or into your containers. Our rooftop tomatoes and peppers (above) produced more than those on the patio.
  • SusanB writes that a beach umbrella can shade plants in a pinch.
  • We also found that our epazote weeds kept our tomatoes warm during the frosts.
  • Whatever works!

I highly recommend taking a look at Toby Hemenway’s Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture for more ideas.

Frost Cover Over Containers

Protecting Container Plants

When protecting container plants, you can construct a teepee made of bamboo around your plant, or line your pots in a row and use wire hoops (above). Once you have an armature like this, you can cover it in plastic, burlap, or a frost cloth. You can also wrap a blanket or frost blanket around your pots for extra protection.

If you are growing perennials – like strawberries, small fruit trees, grapes, and so on – and you’re in some of the colder hardiness zones, you may want to bring in some of your containers for the winter. Last winter, Chile successfully brought her tomato plant into a warm patio to overwinter! You can bring them into the garage if they’re dormant, like a tree. But if they’re still growing, you’ll want to put them somewhere where they get a good amount of sunlight.

When you’re ready to put out your plants in the spring, make sure to harden them off, just as you would seedlings: slowly bring them in and out, a little bit more each day, to re-acclimate them.

The same can be true for particularly hot areas. If your heat index is too hot for some of your more delicate plants, you may want to bring them into the safety of your cooler house for a while. We had to do this with our seedlings last summer.

Water-Bath Canning


There are many ways of preserving food through the winter, including: root cellaring, canning, drying, freezing, and storing vegetables in the ground. I wrote about sun drying and oven drying last year, as well as water-bath canning. Also check out Chile Chews’ articles on canning and Down To Earth’s articles on preserving. And I will refer you to the books below for further information about these important ways to store food.

What To Read

I can’t stress enough how important it is to soak in information, through books, websites, local gardeners and farmers, and experience in your own garden. Talk to farmers at the farmer’s market, ask local winter gardeners what varieties they grow, get the Farmer’s Almanac for your area, read books and websites, and learn, learn, learn!

Here Are A Few Of My Favorite Books:

  • Four Season Harvest, by Eliot Coleman – If you only read one book about winter gardening, read this one. Eliot Coleman and his wife live in Maine (hardiness zone 4!), and they grow vegetables year-round.
  • Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades, by Steve Solomon – If you live in a pacific northwest-type climate (rainy, cloudy, temperate, zone 6-9), I highly recommend this book. I’m still perusing it, as it’s loaded with information. Most gardening books have a mid-west climate in mind, so it’s a treat to have a book written for our region.
  • Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway – This is a good all-around gardening book to read after you have down the basic gardening techniques. It also guides you to think about natural wind-breaks, rain and sun covers, and other ways of extending the seasons naturally.
  • Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew – This is a book many gardeners swear by, and it has a small section on season extension.
  • Seed to Seed, by Suzanne Ashworth – Not just about seed saving, this book also gives regional instructions for planting, caring for, and harvesting various plants. It’s also a book that will get you excited about gardening!
  • The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Insect and Disease Control, by Barbara Ellis and Fern Bradley – More than anything, this book has been useful for learning about the good bugs you should be happy to have in the garden! But also it is good for the occasional outbreak of disease.
  • Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables, by Mike and Nancy Bubel – Everything you need to know about storing your summer, fall, and winter crops through the winter months.
  • Ball Blue Book of Preserving or Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving – How to can, freeze, and dehydrate your summer and fall crops.
  • Reader’s Digest Back To Basics – This book is a great book to have around, and includes a whole section on “Enjoying Your Harvest The Year Round.”
  • Joy of Cooking – Includes all sorts of preserving recipes.
  • Recipes From America’s Small Farms – Great basic recipes for summer, fall, winter, and spring vegetables.
  • Simply in Season - Another great book of recipes, arranged by season.

  • Updated: Milkweed also suggests Jeff Ashton’s The 12-Month Gardener: “a great resource for general info on season-extension and year-round gardening.”

What Do You Think?

What have I missed? Do you have thoughts, questions, ideas? Please share! Are you planting a winter garden this year? Have you done it before? What tips can you share with the rest of us?

Also, anyone in snowy regions have advice for growing in the snow?


The Growing Challenge

Whatcha Plantin’?

Alrighty, the fall is nearly upon us in the north, and spring is springing in the south.  It’s high time we started getting those seeds in.  So have at it:  what are you planting for next season?  Trying anything new, making any big changes?  

What’s The Growing Challenge?

There are currently 168 people who are a part of this challenge. Head on over to The Growing Challenge Page and check out what it’s all about.  And welcome new participants!!

Do Tell!

I’m sure Australian seed catalogs have well-worn pages by now – have your seeds come yet?  North Americans are you planting garlic, onions, and other over-wintering crops?  Cover crops?  Perhaps some cole crops?  Anyone trying something crazy this season?   Also feel free to leave a link to your latest Growing Challenge post!

My Issues With Affluence


I have a problem. We have built together a wonderful community of bloggers here. Several of us, working together, have pushed one another to live more sustainably, work harder on our communities, and in general to put our fears and worries toward action.

But lately a new group has formed. Last month I wrote “If We All Lived Sustainably, Could We Change The World?” for the first APLS carnival. If you haven’t encountered the APLS site, APLS stands for Affluent Persons Living Sustainably. The group is formed by close friends of mine, who I love and respect dearly. But I have a big problem that stems from the word Affluent. And for this reason, I feel on the outside, in a way, excluded.

Am I Affluent?

That is tough. If I use this tool, I see that I am considered the 605,000,000th richest person in the world because of my income… Compared to others in the world, definitely I have more than most. At the same time, I live on very little per month compared to others in my city. And here’s a big one: if I subtract my income from my debt, I have no money, no wealth, no assets.

Overall, I should not spend as much as I do, I should be paying more of my debts, I should not have so many things, and I should never have accrued so much debt in the first place. I’m working on it.

I live in an affluent country, where I felt I had to have that education that left me several hundred thousand dollars in debt. I felt I had to buy way more things than I needed. I felt I needed a product or two for every part of my body, I needed to eat out because I didn’t have time or energy to eat at home, I needed this product for that thing, and that product to solve that other problem. And for these unhealthy relationships to things and money, my net worth is negative.

In the past few years, I have been working to simplify my life, to cure myself of the need to spend, to find alternative solutions to buying products that society tells me I should have. In a way, I have been working to cure myself of the influence of our affluence. says affluence is “having an abundance of wealth, property, or other material goods.” Honestly, if I had an abundance of wealth, I would be doing more with my own efforts to thwart climate change. I would be finished creating my non-profit status and working hard to create a Board of Directors and move forward with my dreams for Elements In Time. That is my hope and my dream, but I cannot realize it yet because I do not have that abundance of wealth I need to get it going. Every day this makes me sad. But every day we move forward, pay more of our debts, and I know that eventually we will get there.

Yet… while I don’t feel that I have an abundance, I do feel I have enough. I am privileged to be a citizen of a wealthy country. I do live comfortably, with a roof over my head and enough food to eat. I have a job and health insurance. And so, I suppose, many would consider me affluent.

Affluence Divides

I’d say I come from a middle class family. Very early on in my life I understood my privilege in the world, as I traveled to poorer countries and drove through poorer parts of our own country. I felt distant to others because of my relative wealth, and that made me sad and uncomfortable. And at some point along my path, I vowed to change that.

As I went to college and read and grew, I understood that our country as a whole is affluent. And that for this affluence, others in the world suffer. We spend more and waste more than any other country in the world. We fight wars and destroy environments in other countries in order to supply our affluence. For our country’s affluence, the whole world suffers.

As a filmmaker, often I travel to other countries and interact with people from other parts of the world. And often I am embarrassed by the affluence of my country. Would I be embarrassed if we spent our money helping others, worked harder toward helping others become as affluent as we are, and contributed to more solutions than problems with our money? Probably not.

But even if we were ever to get to that point, I would not want to set myself apart from those less wealthy than I.

Because I want to relate to people as one human to another human, finding common ground, working toward common goals. I don’t want to define my self by my wealth, I don’t want to define my net worth in terms of money and power. I want to bridge the gap between myself and others, and define my self as a human being wanting to save our planet. My humanity is what defines me. Not my wealth.

And it is for this reason that I wish with all my heart the group would call themselves All Persons Living Sustainably. Because together we must become united. We have a long road, full of hard work that requires all of us, poor and rich, from every country on every continent. We all must pull together to sustain our planet, its species, and its humanity.

I have seen other friends who have also shied away from APLS for the term affluence. It is a good idea. But I think it can be even better.

We have grown such an amazing community of people here in our blog world, all working toward the same goals, all pushing one another, building, learning, growing. And I believe we can become an international movement, united for one cause: to lower our negative impact on the earth, to live in a sustainable world. We start with our own lifestyles and then work outwards, to our communities, our cities, our nations, and our planet as a whole. Together.

What Do You Think?

Can we become something bigger? What do you think of the term affluence? Do you consider yourself affluent? How does being defined as affluent make you feel?

Recipe: Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Raw Tomatillos, Purple and Green

Continue reading Recipe: Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

One Connection Leads To Another: How to Start Work on Building Your Community

Garden Tour at Seattle Tilth

Green Bean wrote a beautiful post today: Community Building 101. I’d just like to say, “um… what she said.” Please go give it a read. And then come back. I’ll wait.

Have you read it?

Ok… I wanted to give you some examples from my life.

Creating Connections

I’m shy. It’s true. And I’m lazy. Gasp. But as many of you know, I’ve been struggling to figure out how to build community and live locally. This is because I truly believe that it is the next step in this puzzle of saving the world (or at least save as much as we can). And by saving the world I mean combatting climate change, worldwide energy supply problems, environmental devastation, food supply issues, economic woes, and on and on the list goes until one gets overwhelmed so we stop and say ok, let’s get to building community already.

BUT it is easy to stay on the internet, looking for other people like me, green organizations around my city… and just… admiring that they exist. Guess what? Organizations don’t exist without people like you and me! If we don’t do it, nobody will.

So, I had this idea for a local blogger meetup a few months ago, when I first moved to Seattle. I mentioned it to Laura. And Crunchy. And time passed. And then, Laura brought it up again. And time passed. And Crunchy brought it up again and we discussed it a bit. And time passed. And then the end of the summer was getting near, and the pressure was felt. So, we finally set the wheels in motion. And I might say there was actually not a whole lot of work involved!

I’ve been making up a “Northwest Bloggers” list for the last couple of months, so that helped create an email list which we all added to. We posted it on our blogs, Crunchy created a poll, we researched parks (online!), I called the parks department to try and fail to reserve a picnic spot (didn’t matter – we just gathered beneath some trees in the park and brought our own tables), and with a few more emails and a decision here and there, we had ourselves a picnic.

And here’s what can happen once you organize one thing…

It’s Like Magic.

I met Gabriel and Jill at the picnic. We didn’t get a chance to talk until the end of the afternoon, as we were cleaning up. But we hit it off well, and it turns out they also live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. In fact, they were having a Sustainable Capitol Hill meeting the following evening and said they would love it if I came.

I had been to the Sustainable Capitol Hill website. It’s… not very informative, and their calendar is pretty much empty. I was thinking about emailing them, but hadn’t really …done it. I sort of figured there wasn’t much to the organization.

But I went to the meeting Monday night, and learned that a website isn’t everything. There were about 15-20 people there. And… wow, those people care about the same things I care about! And they are doing the same things we write about here at One Green Generation!!

There is a Tanks to Totes initiative, where they’re going to meeting in front of the local food co-op with sewing machines to teach people how to make shopping totes from donated tank tops and other things you might have around the house. I offered my blog research for extra ways to make bags.

There is a neighborhood tree mapping initiative, where a map of the most interesting trees in the neighborhood is being created, so that people will become excited by the natural world in our neighborhood.

A woman proposed a multi-faceted initiative to help the apartment community become more sustainable, starting with educating the managers and building owners and then helping the renters live more sustainably. Maybe we should start with educating them about recycling, and then energy efficiency and storm windows, and balcony gardening, and, and… the possibilities were exciting! A committee was formed.

We discussed how to teach neighborhood residents about urban gardening, and the problem of the three year wait list for local p-patches, and how we might help people garden in the little space they have now. Maybe we could even match people with yards to people without, and they could garden together. We also discussed having an urban garden tour modeled after the West Seattle edible garden tour.

We discussed the park(ing) day plot: how will it designed, who will be there to facilitate, and will the coffee shop next door be interested in giving discounts that day? The park(ing) plot will be a picnic spot in the parking space, with a table and chairs and a couple of games. A little urban oasis, to bring awareness to the need for parks in our urban area.

And that’s not all, if you can believe it, more was discussed in those 2 hours! This afternoon I’m going to be meeting with Gabriel and the web designer. It seemed since I complained about the website, they thought I might be helpful in discussing what will go into a new website!

And It Continues.

Reeling from that wonderful experience, the next morning I visited to the Sustainable Seattle website, which is also not very good. I heard through the grapevine that they’re going through some changes, and I thought now was as good a time as any to get involved. I clicked on the “volunteer” tab, and right then and there I filled out that puppy. Not 2 hours later I received an email from the acting director saying she was out of town for the week, but would love to discuss early next week and when was I available.

A couple of weeks ago I signed up to receive emails from the P-Patch Program here (Seattle’s community garden organization). Through that email list, I learned about our county’s Harvest Celebration Farm Tour. It’s a totally free event, where 27 different farms in this urban county will have an open house, with farm tours, hay rides, u-pick vegetables, compost and cooking demonstrations, and more. Matt and I are so excited!!!

So here we are, 5 months into our new home, and I am beginning to feel like I am a part of its future – a more sustainable future. And I can tell you it feels good.

Your experience will not be the same as mine, I’m sure. You may not be so lucky as to have a sustainable neighborhood organization set up. But here’s the thing: Sustainable Capitol Hill was created a year and a half ago, by a few friends who were sitting around contemplating community building. And they decided it was time to do something about it. So they did. And you can too.

Other Success Stories

Joyce writes:

I’m on staff at a church, and we talk about building community all the time, usually using the term fellowship. Fellowship has two elements:

1.-common experiences and time spent together, like having potlucks, working on projects together, sharing baby-sitting, getting to church a little early so you can chat with people by the coffee pot, etc.

2.-Deep fellowship, such as small Bible study discussion groups, mentoring relationships, support relationships for those grieving or raising teens or newly married, etc. These are the harder step to take. Without the things on the first list, you have a hard time getting to the second list.

It seems to me that your first steps are things like meeting neighbors, participating in community groups like PTA, etc., helping with projects in your commuity. Your next steps are purposefully pursuing deeper relationships where you really share your lives on a deeper level. That’s always going to be the harder thing to accompllish. It requires a lot of time, and a willingness to let down your guard and be real with your friends. I sure don’t have the answer, but investing in the people right around you is going to be the most fruitful thing in the long run. When you get to that level, you begin to influence and support each other, and become visible to others as united by your common purpose.

Greene Onion writes:

I tend to be more on the anti-social side. I also work at a local Church several hours a day and for these few hours, I’m the closest I can get to my community. Even with my small exposure to the people of my community, I feel there is room for improvement.

Last week, I swallowed some courage and attended the dedication of our town’s newest Habitat for Humanity home. I took some great pictures and then submitted them to the local paper. Since the paper published my pix on Wednesday, I’ve had several phone calls from people in the community asking were to sign up as a HFH volunteer.

My little effort did spawn some good!

Kate writes:

You need to keep your eyes peeled! You spot the same new neighbour a few times, then you can walk over to the other side of the street and say hi. If you live in a friendly small town you might invite them for coffee, if you’re in the inner city they’ll think you’re crazy, so take it slow. If you’re in a cafe, keep an eye on the newspaper clippings they’ve hung up on the wall and the posters advertising events, local libraries often have community ads as well. Yesterday we had lunch at a place with a photo and article on the wall about the local girl who sells them organic eggs.

If nothing else things like that can be a talking point to ’sound out’ the people around you, or the cafe owner. It’s probably worth going to any community-based activity that’s happening, whether it’s a playgroup or bookclub or choir, because you’ll meet people. If you meet a lot of people you’ll eventually meet some that you like and have things in common with. When you meet people who are more challenging you don’t have to try to change them, just be honest about why you live the way you do if they ask. Just seeing you riding your bike might be enough to make them think they could bike.

Katecontinued writes:

Today I had a meet and greet where I live. I invited some dynamic women running for city council to come speak to my neighbors. Happily a few people showed up and I felt it was an important first step. They are all supportive of sustainability, open space, community gardens, etc.

Kirk writes:

To me building community means really getting to know where I live. The landscape, the neighbors, the weather, the local politics. There are other aspects, I’m sure. Unfortunately this requires a conscious effort and can take a lot of time (years?). Not to mention it is also, at times, very frustrating. For me, most often it’s the politics.

I recently finished, and recommend, Wendell Berry’s novel A Place on Earth and, yes, it may seem a bit idyllic and romantic, but then I realize the characters have really made peace with where they live and actually enjoy living there. Compared to more urban/progressive areas of the country, Kansas may seem like a cultural wasteland. I certainly was of that opinion earlier in my life, but now having lived in the same town now for 15 years and the same house for 10 of those, I am beginning to realize just how good it can be.

We average about 6000 miles a year on our van because I can walk two blocks to my son’s elementary school, six blocks to the library, two blocks to a new playground and public pool, four blocks to a bike/walking trail, and 6 blocks to the food coop. I may soon be part of the my son’s school’s PTO. I’m still making peace with where I live, but right now I really can’t see being anyplace else.

To name a few more of the good things here: there are no ozone alerts; lot’s of sunshine; The Land Institute; the Konza Prairie; Cheyenne Bottoms Wetlands; and two neighbors who jog with me regularly at 5:30 am . However, with that comes Fred Phelps, few non-chain restaurants, no easily accessible rail travel, the 47 year-old ex-con who lives with his mother and stepfather next door*, and a statewide population that hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since, I believe, the 1930s.

Your community is what you make of it – the good, the bad and the ugly.

*Kirk has since amended his comment: The ex-con just had a bad drug/petty theft habit that, finally (after a year prison), seems to be getting straightened out. I was naturally a bit nervous when I first found out about the criminal history, but later discovered a shared hobby in gardening! These neighbors really are decent people and we actually talk and joke about things. One of their grandchildren was born the same day (in the same hospital) as my oldest son. Now we occasionally exchange plants & baby stories and let each other know when we’ll be gone so to keep an “eye on things”. We haven’t gone so far as to exchange keys, but overall they’re very good neighbors.

{A good example of how sometimes the ugly can turn into the good….. – Melinda, , 9/13/08}

Abbie writes:

Coming from a small town, I have to say that getting involved with local politics is incredibly important. Both my parents were involved in town politics, Dad on Town Council and Mom on Board of Education, throughout my childhood. My dad just recently decided to get back on Town Council, after years away, because he wasn’t happy about the way the town’s heading in terms of development. I think that for both of my parents, being involved in town government was the best way for them to make changes that they could see make a difference on a local level. While I don’t currently have aspirations to follow them, you never know where the future will lead me.

For now, I get involved by attending Town Council meetings, Agricultural Commission meetings, Board of Education meetings (even though I have no kids, I’m still a taxpayer and as a teacher I feel I have important things to add), and Zoning Board meetings. I listen to the folks who make decisions, introduce myself, and talk about what issues are important to me.

I was personally against the idea of a farmer’s market in my town, since we have well-established family farm markets in town (one is my family’s) that have been here for centuries. I was afraid that the town’s farmer’s would be hurt by bringing in outside farms, and I voiced my opinion. Other farmers in town felt the same way, and eventually, the Ag. Commission came to the conclusion to put the idea on hold, and instead focus on promoting the already established farm markets. One idea they followed through on was setting up a showcase of local produce at our town’s Potato and Corn Festival, to great success. They also sent out a map of our town to all residents, with the 20+ farms marked and notes about what each farm has to offer. I was so happy with the result and so happy that I went to the meeting and voiced my opinion!

Deb G writes:

Building community is one of the keys to getting our world to be more sustainable. The more ways we connect with others about what we are doing, the more we can share what we are doing and why, the more change will happen. I think it’s as easy as finding ways to slip ideas into conversations at work (”Guess what I found this really great second hand store this weekend,” for example), doing something in public that prompts questions (knitting on the bus), planting vegetables in the front garden and talking to neighbors as they pass by.

I’m really lucky because I live in a community that (I suspect) connects better than most. Our farmer’s markets are very popular, lots of people bike, the buy local movement is very strong, there are neighborhood associations that have meetings on a regular basis, there are lots of people with dogs (I met more neighbors after I started walking the dog in Seattle than I ever did before I had a dog.), there are free outdoor concerts every summer, it goes on and on.

Last week at one of those outdoor concerts a group of volunteers got up and explained our city’s food recycling program (we have yard waste/food waste pick-up now). I guess that brings me to one of the other things that I think is key, education. There are still a lot of people that just don’t understand yet how important our lifestyle choices are. I recently had a discussion about plastic bags with a co-worker. She had no idea how damaging they are.

Belinda writes:

I continue to find it surprising just how few community building skills I have. I will advocate the need for resilient, connected communities till my last breath. At this point I am still just doing my best to try and start the ball rolling with my fingers crossed that it will appeal to someone more skilled in this area than me who will be able to make things pick up speed.

The reasons are well worth the effort but learning these skills from scratch certainly can be challenging at times.

And Sara writes:

We moved to our rural community for the “good life”. But Kirk is right, in that you have to make an effort to be happy with where you live, roll up your sleeves, and get involved. Many of these areas around the country have people who are friendly enough, but still treat you like you’re not from “round here”. With patience, good will, and lots of giving back, you can make an inroad to show them that you intend to be from ’round here’, whether they like it our not! :)

We have a vibrant local community, with lots of farmers and active sustainable network. Check out Appalachia Sustainable Development. If anybody is interested in getting something like that started in their community, the work is worth it! This is the single most important endeavor that has helped our community to be built up on the local level, and has helped others see the importance of supporting eachother. Every community should have one.

Other Ideas For Making Connections:

Book clubs, church groups, bicycling clubs or a local critical mass organization, neighborhood council meetings, pta meetings, community preparedness meetings, block watch groups, bridge clubs, block parties, knitting clubs, canning parties, kayaking excursions (maybe for birding or to gather edible plants), native weeding and planting parties, guerrilla gardening groups, city council meetings, …

I don’t mean to overwhelm you, but the opportunities are nearly endless, you just have to pick one and go for it!!

Ideas? Resources?

Please share any other ideas you have for organizing, and getting people together in our communities. And if you have any successes, please share them!