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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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Why Buy From Mom And Pop?

My Grandfather Working in the Grocery Store in the Early1930s


I wrote this over a year ago, and wanted to share it with you because as I walk around my neighborhood, I can see signs that neighborhood business owners are stressed during these difficult economic times.


My grandfather worked several jobs over the course of his life.  During the Depression he was a fireman, and also worked as a grocery store clerk (above).  For years he saved his money and finally opened his own hardware store, just down the street from his home, where my dad grew up.  He built it literally from the ground up, building and all, and took it to great success.  His brilliant idea was to make a self-serve hardware store, where people could peruse the aisles and pick out what they wanted.  It’s standard now, but that was unheard of at the time.  


His hardware store was very successful for about six years, until the idea caught on and bigger national stores moved in near his store.  Quickly recognizing that he couldn’t keep up with “price gouging” of the big chains, my grandfather moved his store to a small nearby town that didn’t yet have a hardware store.  That town still had gravel streets and only a few businesses.  If any of you are familiar with the Seattle area, that small town was Bellevue.


So my grandfather sold his hardware store within a year of moving it, and stayed on for a year to help the new owner learn how to run the business. 


Today he and I lamented at how few mom and pop stores remain in our consumerist world.  When he ran that hardware store, my grandfather loved helping people build their houses, and he worked hard to cater his store to his customers’ needs.  Sure it was a business, but he also considered it a personal, community service.  


I believe the disconnect between the past system of personal service and the current system of corporate greed is a part of why seniors have such difficulty navigating the world today.  Just opening the mail is difficult, as so much junk mail looks like an official document (sometimes “official document” is even stamped on the front).  When seniors learned to navigate through the world sixty or eighty years ago, “official document” meant something.  Service truly had the individual’s best interest at heart.


There are a few mom and pop stores left in my town – maybe in yours too. Some of those stores do still have an individual’s best interest at heart.  But those stores are still slipping away into nothingness due to “price gouging”, as my grandfather calls it.  By supporting the large international chains to save a bit of cash, we are paying the price in other ways: we’re losing those individual interactions between community members, that special service, the unique items you don’t find in large stores, and the support of our local economies.  


So I encourage you not to fall into a trap of price gouging, and really pay up front what an item is worth.  Support a local mom and pop or boutique store to ensure that they stick around and continue to bring uniqueness, income, and service to our communities.


When Sheep Belch, The Planet Warms


Apparently sheep and cow belching accounts for more global warming gases than cars.  I had no idea!  The Wall Street journal has more:  Silencing the Lambs: Scientists Target Sheep Belching to Cut Methane.


Honesty Is An Important Aspect Of Sustainability

Me


Hi everyone, I’m sorry to have taken an unannounced and unexpected day off yesterday. I fell asleep trying to write this, and wanted to mull it over a bit more before posting it.


Thank you for your wonderful gardening answers – wow! Did it inspire anyone new to garden, because it should – those are amazing words! Loved, loved, loved reading each of your thoughts.


So, on with it…


I’m going to be honest right up front and let you know that I’m not sure how this fits into sustainable living. But I suppose here is some connection: in addition to minimizing resource use and living with the whole world in mind, to live sustainably you have to live an emotionally healthy life.


I’m a relatively shy person deep down, and I grew up in a family that did not talk much about feelings. However, over the years I’ve learned a whole lot about feelings – in fact I’ve become quite in touch with my own and almost hyper-aware of others’.


Feelings are so important to really be aware of, in yourself and in others. They affect health, for sure. And also, good feelings transfer to other people as we move about our days… as do bad feelings. When I’m in a bad mood, I find myself cursing other drivers, not paying attention to my surroundings, rushing through my day, and in general leaving a wake of tension behind me. That can’t be good for the world.


Throughout my life I’ve tended to bottle up frustrations, resentments, disappointments, and confusion. So I’ve tried something new over the past few weeks: I’ve been trying to break down barriers of misunderstanding with honesty, openness, and transparency.


When I was in college, I used to spend hours writing poetry – I have books and books filled with my poems! Once, I decided it was time to take it to a new level with myself, so I entitled the book “Brutally Honest With Myself,” and I decided that whatever went in there would be completely and utterly honest. No holding back, no kidding myself, no allowing myself to get away with things I shouldn’t. It was amazing what a lasting impact that had. I learned a lot about myself this way.


And now I’m starting to take that principle into my life again. I think the world can be a much better place if we are all so honest with ourselves and others. Now, I’m not saying tell your neighbor you hate their hairdo (though if she asks, I will try to be respectfully honest…). Hairdos in the big scheme of things don’t matter so terribly much. But other things really do matter, and it’s amazing how a little open, respectful honesty can turn a very stressful situation into something really wonderful.


This works with work, school, friends, relatives, and certainly yourself.


The other day I met with a coworker and started the conversation by saying, “I don’t know what I want the outcome of this conversation to be, but I thought it was time to have a real heart to heart…” And can I tell you, after addressing my feelings openly, honestly, and transparently, a weight was lifted from my being.


After the weight lifted, I can do more, I can think more clearly, I can feel good and pass that good onto others. My whole look at life changed. From grey-colored glasses to rose-colored glasses, if you will. Honesty is a magical thing.


And honesty is especially powerful when it can be used to find lasting, sustainable solutions – not only in our personal and business lives, but also in our government and across world nations.


What Do You Feel?


How do you face conflict, frustration, and disappointment? Are you brutally honest with yourself? Is that even possible?


The Growing Challenge: Question – Why Are You Growing Food?

The Growing Challenge Advanced Edition:  From Seed To Seed


So far there are 88 participants signed up for The Growing Challenge: From Seed To Seed. I want to welcome all who are new to the challenge, and all new readers in general (there have been a lot lately!).  If you haven’t already, please join us in taking a new step toward sustainability by growing your own food from seed to seed!  


If you’re not ready to save seeds yet, you can start with the basic Growing Challenge – or try the Buy Sustainably Challenge or Green Your Insides Challenge.  Lots to choose from – or choose all of the above!


New participants are in orange at the bottom. I encourage us all to visit, support, and learn from one another.

 

  1. Jules, The Garden of Plenty, Melbourne, Australia – zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  2. Jena, Married To The Farm, Caro, Michigan – zone 5
  3. Amanda, You Reap What You Sow, South Central Pennsylvania – zone 6-7
  4. Jen, Toward Arcadia, Michigan – zone 5-6
  5. Deb G, Bee Creative, Pacific Northwest – zone 7
  6. Greeen Sheeep, Wisconsin – zone 4
  7. Kory, Kicking And Screaming, Central New York – zone 5
  8. Abbie, Farmer’s Daughter, Connecticut – zone 6-7
  9. Margaret, Margaret’s Ramblings, Nottingham, England – zone 8
  10. SusanB, Southern New Jersey – zone 6b-7
  11. Karin, Fleecenik Farm, Central Maine – zone 4
  12. Kelsie, Hobbit’s Feat, Kentucky – zone 7
  13. Monica, Northern Ohio – zone 5-6
  14. Jen, Aaron-N-Jen: Living Life Simply, Iowa – zone 5
  15. Di, Path To Greendom & World of Yardcraft, Southern California – zone 10
  16. TomB, My Simple Home Garden, Central Massachusetts – zone 5b
  17. Judy, My Freezer Is Full, East Central Iowa – zone 5a
  18. Julie, Towards Sustainability, Newcastle, NSW, Australia – zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  19. Dina, Hip Chick Chronicles, Portland, Oregon – zone 8-9
  20. Alana
  21. Milkweed, Milkweed Diaries, Swannanoa Valley, North Carolina – zone 6-7
  22. Melanie J, Ember’s Lighthouse, Jacksonville, Florida – zone 9a
  23. Risa B, Stony Run Farm, Western Oregon – zone 8
  24. Maureen, Fotos By Meg, Central Valley, California – zone 9
  25. Amy Crump, Crump Family Blog, Chapel Hill, North Carolina – zone 8
  26. Rob, Rob’s World, Burien, Washington – zone 8
  27. The Rachface, This Evolutionary Life, Virginia – zone 8
  28. Janice, Going Off Da Grid Janice, California – zone 8-9
  29. Green Bean, Green Phone Booth, Bay Area, California – zone 9
  30. Daphne, Daphne’s Dandelions, Winchester, Massachusetts – zone 6
  31. Briel
  32. Jimmy Cracked-Corn – zone 5
  33. Lisa, Domestic Accident, Southern Coastal Maine – zone 5-6
  34. Hannah, The Purloined Letter, Takoma Park, Maryland – zone 7
  35. Suzan, Scrub Oak, Rocky Mountain southern foothills (6,700 feet) – zone 4
  36. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener
  37. Onemotherslove, What’s He Up To Now?, North Central Texas – zone 8
  38. Red Icculus, Red-Icculus.com – zone 5
  39. Jocele, Knitting On Call, Idaho – zone 6-7
  40. Matt, Florida – zone 9
  41. Sara, Mama Craft, Canada – zone 3a
  42. Tyra, Tyra’s Garden & The Greenhouse In Tyra’s Garden, Vaxholm, Sweden – zone 6
  43. Inadvertentfarmer, The Inadvertent Farmer, Western Washington – zone 8
  44. Lauren
  45. Melody, Merrie Melody, Utah – zone 6
  46. Melinda, One Green Generation, Seattle, Washington – zone 8
  47. Michelle, Alpaca, Chook, Garden, Travel and…., Hobart, Tasmania, Australia – zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  48. Laurel, Nefaeria, North Bay, Ontario, Canada – zone 4a
  49. Mary, Freedom Gardens Journal: Mecar, Crete, Illinois – zone 5
  50. Susan, How Green In My Garden, Southern California – zone 8b
  51. Mary, Cat’s Fiber Adventures, Oregon – zone 8-9
  52. WIlla, Plants And Animals & Yumminess Ensues, S. Central Pennsylvania – zone 6A
  53. Jenn, Attempted Simple Life, Osgoode, Ontario, Canada – zone 5a
  54. Shibaguyz, Here we go! Life with the Shibaguyz…, Seattle, WA – zone 8
  55. Tina, Bee Content Ranch, California
  56. Cassandra, The Urban Trowel, Southeastern BC, Canada – zone 5
  57. Nico, Self Sufficient Life, North Germany – zone 8
  58. Sadge, Firesign Farm, Carson City, Nevada – zone 6
  59. Leanne, At The Good Life, New Zealand - zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  60. Jenny, Studio J
  61. Sarah S, Life At The Ranch, Northern California – zone 9
  62. Sarah Z, Ward Road Garden, Northern California – zone 9
  63. Christy O, Farm Dreams, Georgia – zone 7
  64. Jason L, Vegetable Garden Planner
  65. Annette, Ward House, Hot Springs, Virginia – zone 6
  66. Paige, Clausen In The Hausen & Out In The Garden, Saint Peters, Missouri – zone 5
  67. Rhonda, FarmHouse Style, North Georgia Mountains – zone 7b
  68. Kelly, Taurus Rising, Adelaide Hills, Australia- zone 9-10 (Aust. 3)
  69. Laura, Mas Du Diable, France – zone 9
  70. Christina, A Thinking Stomach, Altadena, California – zone 9b
  71. Latigoliz, Cowgirl Up, Enumclaw, Washington – zone 8
  72. Lisa, Natural Gardening, Upstate South Carolina – zone 8
  73. Chris, Chattagarden, Chattanooga, Tennessee – zone 7
  74. Mary B, Tampa, Florida – zone 10
  75. Kathy, Birmingham, Alabama – zone 7-8
  76. Kathy and Skippy, Skippy’s Vegetable Garden – zone 6
  77. Katrien, MamaStories, suburb of Boston, Massachusetts – zone 6-7
  78. Maggie, Mama What The, (Maggie what zone are you in?)
  79. Christa, Lazy Toad Farm, New Hampshire – zone 4-5
  80. Emma, The Berry Patch, Sydney, Australia – zone 10 (Aust. 4)
  81. Jenny, Seeded, Toledo, Ohio – zone 6
  82. Melissa, Rabbit Hill Farm, rural North Carolina – zone 7-8
  83. Jessie Earth Momma, Pacific Northwest – zone 7b
  84. Catherine, Love Living Simply, Texas – zone 8
  85. Ian, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada – zone 6b
  86. Christy, Growing Human, Coastal Virginia – zone 7b
  87. Amanda, A Homegrown Life, California – zone 9
  88. Robbie, Going Green Mama – zone 5


I’ve added everyone’s name, blog, location, and hardiness zone. Please check your info to make sure I have it right.

 

Why Are You Growing Food?


I’m curious, and I think it might be helpful to others: how and why you decide to grow from seed to seed this year?  Are you growing food for the first time?  Are you feeling more of an economic crunch, or want to take the next step in living a simple/sustainable life?  Are you doing it for the joy of slowing down?  Why, why, why?


And secondly, are you noticing a shift in your neighborhood to a greater interest in growing food?  I feel like more people are looking for gardening classes, I see online seed stores are really going through their inventories, and in general a lot more information about gardening.  Do you see this, too?


Please feel free to chime in whether or not you are officially taking part in The Growing Challenges. 


Leave links to your gardening posts, too, if you like. Chat away!


The Ebb And Flow Of Sustainable Living

Seattle Waterfront At Sunset


How do you two do it all!!!???


Work, read, blog, interact with your community??? You inspire me and amaze me and sometimes make me feel guilty LOL How DO you do it all?”


This was a comment from Shawna on Sunday, and I wanted to share it because it made me smile. Note that Shawna lives in a family of 9, so I’m going to take a wild guess that she does a lot too!


How do I do it all?


  • With a calendar to be sure – I looove my Google calendar. I would completely loose track without it.


  • Living close to work, play, friends, and stores. That’s incredibly time-saving.


  • Prioritizing. Oh yeah, I definitely focus on the big things – for instance, sometimes tidiness wins over spic and span clean in our household.


  • Being efficient with my time. I consolidate tasks if I can – we do the majority of our errands one day a week, I sometimes write more than one article at a time (on a good day!), I have regular days that I meet with friends so we don’t lose sight of one another, and other things like this.


  • Not watching television. We do watch movies, but we don’t have cable or a digital box or anything of the sort. Without television, we have a lot more time for reading and writing.


  • Determination. I know it sounds strange maybe, but what drives me most is knowing that the climate is changing, people are needlessly dying, animals are going extinct, … and I can do something to change it. So I feel I must do whatever I can.


That said, I’m certainly not perfect. The past few weeks we’ve been gearing up for our business launch on March 2nd, so I have been working non-stop it seems. This weekend I finished creating our logo, built our business blog from scratch, worked a lot on our website design, and filled out a good deal of our Marketing Plan.


That took a lot of time, so I didn’t have time to cook each meal from scratch (though we still ate locally-sourced foods). I did have a couple of drinks on Friday night just to soothe my soul (mind you, they were seasonal: one made from blood orange juice and the other made from pear juice!). I did neglect you all here, because by the time I sat down to write I was mentally exhausted. And I hardly left the house for 2 days!


There is a give and take, because there is only so much time in a day. Health and sleep come first, of course, because you can’t save the world if you’re sick in bed. And after that, every day has a different priority. That’s life – at least my life.


And this sounds like my life is chaotic, but while sometimes it’s full, it doesn’t feel chaotic. I take the time to relax if I’m feeling to anxious, I debrief about the day with my husband (and best friend) each evening, I play with our animals and drink tea and go for walks and … remember to do stuff that makes me feel good.


I can’t fret about what I don’t do. I can only work as hard as I can on the things I do do. And tomorrow is another day, full of new possibilities, ebbing and flowing with the seasons of life.


How Do You Do It All?


I know I’m not the only one who crams a lot into a day – how do you do it?


5 Ways To Cut Down On Food Costs

Gourmet Meal Made With Local, Seasonal, and Homegrown Ingredients


We’re feeling the crunch – are you? When I’m shopping lately, I see different things in other people’s baskets – more basic foods and less superfluous foods. Higher end restaurants are feeling the financial crunch, taking advantage of happy hours is the new ‘in’ thing.


I wrote the following article a year ago at the soon-to-be-offline Creating Edible Landscape. It still seems very relevant, so I thought I’d share it with all you new readers here.


5 Ways We Cut Down On Food Costs


The following five changes include a double bottom line to food costs: costs to your pocketbook and costs to the environment and society. Some of these may be obvious, some may not. And whether obvious or not, hopefully this list will help you stick to doing them!


1. Buy in bulk. Rice, pasta, flour, oats and other grains, raisins, tea, coffee, soaps… a lot of daily items are available in bulk. Your regular grocery chain may not have very many of these items in bulk, so you might want to branch out and look at a store that does. We buy many bulk items at our local produce stand, several at our independent grocery store, and a few at our local health food store.


There are also a few products I still buy online. When I do buy online, I make sure to buy enough supplies for several months. The product is often discounted this way, and I pay less shipping charges in the long run. Not to mention fewer gas-guzzling trips UPS has to make to get it here.


My rule of thumb is that if we can handle it in our budget, we should invest in more now in order to save later. So, if I know I’m going to use a product in the future, and it has a long shelf life, I will buy a bigger amount. White vinegar, for example – we use it for cleaning, so I know we’ll go through a large bottle eventually. A large bottle will save packaging, and it will be cheaper than buying several smaller bottles over time.


2. Eat seasonally and locally. This is sometimes tricky, because our regular grocery stores have done their best to make all sorts of things available to us from all over the world. And some seasonal items are counter-intuitive. I had to convince my husband once that citrus really is in season in the winter. To him, fruit = summer. Generally true, but there are exceptions.


Our local independent grocery store puts local, seasonal foods right up front in the produce section (or even at the door as you walk into the store). Your store may do that as well. There is usually an abundance of whatever is seasonal, and often they are on sale. Here is a great link to find out what’s available in your area – enter your state and the month, and it will tell you what’s in season! The BBC has an awesome chart here, with some seasonal recipes here.


When you eat locally and seasonally, you cut out a lot of the processing, transporting, refrigeration and storage, and nasty preservatives. And instead you preserve the nutrients, the flavor, the environment, the local economy, and generally, some of your money.


3. Eat less meat and cheese. The bottom line is: meat that is good for you (and good for the environment) is expensive. I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years, and I’m not asking you to go cold tofurkey here. I eased my way into eating less meat over a year or two, by gradually phasing it out. For a long time I let myself eat my favorite meat dishes. Gradually, even eating those favorites seemed weird to me, and eventually it was easy to stop. But I digress. All I’m saying for now is to eat less meat.


If you’re worried about your protein intake, make sure to eat whole grains – which you’ve bought in bulk, of course! Also, beans are a great source of protein, and they are quite inexpensive. (Please see these posts by Crunchy Chicken and Chile Chews, for further information about beans.) But you don’t have to eat just beans – even vegetables contain surprising amounts of protein!


And, the second part of this is sooooo difficult for me, because I love cheese. But good-for-you organic cheese is really getting expensive. I do want to start making cheese, and cost will be a good motivation. But in the meantime, I am going to start eating less cheese.


4. Stop Eating Out. You’re tired, you’ve had a long day, the kids are past hungry and so are you. But it’s not good for either of you to eat out. Neither physically or economically. And I’ve found that eating out (particularly fast food) is sometimes more stressful, too!


So make sure you have some easy recipes in your repertoire. We eat a lot of pasta with simple tomato sauces and a side salad. Or roasted veggies with some quick cooking couscous. Taco night can be quite easy: open a can of beans, throw some tortillas in the toaster oven, grate some cheese and cut up a few veggies…. I’ve been encouraged by some of our readers here to write up some more recipes, so I plan to do that.


I try to keep in mind that eating out rarely saves much time. The time it takes to get to a restaurant, order, and settle down and eat – and then get back in the car and come home – is about the same as the time it takes to whip up a quick dinner at home and eat together around the table. And it’s more nutritious, tastes better, costs less, and is easier on the environment.


And the pleasure can be equally good, if not better. The photo at the top of this article is of a dish Matt and I sometimes treat ourselves to: fresh butternut squash raviolis from a local shop, sage from our window box garden, and mushrooms from a local farmer. A gloriously satisfying meal that costs around $5 for the two of us! It’s a nice treat, to be sure, at a fraction of the cost of eating the same meal out, and it only takes about 15 minutes to cook.


5. Junk the Junk Food. We eat junk food for the same reasons we eat out: because it seems easier at the time. And sometimes because it’s a treat (don’t forget it’s a short-lived treat!). Even the health food store junk food is generally quite processed, full of empty calories, highly packaged, and ounce per ounce quite expensive.


Junk food counts as “stuff” in my book, and I’ve vowed to stop buying stuff. My money can be put to much better use.


If you’re used to having a lot of junk food around the house, it won’t be easy to cut it out all at once. Particularly if you have kids. But slowly begin to cut back, phase it out, one by one, bit by bit. If your kids need a snack, feed them a whole grain snack, a fruit or a vegetable. They need these things to grow and stay healthy – they absolutely don’t need junk food.


Extra Credit:


6. Consume less alcohol. Better for your pocketbook, better for your figure, better for the environment. I know some of us need a drink occasionally to unwind, but just try to drink a little more sparingly.


What Else?


Recipe: Melt-In-Your-Mouth Currant Scones

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Currant Scones


This morning a colleague was complaining to me how difficult it is to find a good scone. I thought for a moment… Ah! For me it is easy. I find them at home! Matt, my wonderful husband, makes these tasty goodies and they are like no other scone you’ve ever had. Yum!


Continue reading Recipe: Melt-In-Your-Mouth Currant Scones