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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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How Do You Participate In Your Community?

by Clifbar&co on Flickr

 

It has been a while since we’ve discussed community building!  I think it’s an extremely important part of living sustainably, and there are lots of different ways to do it.

 

Why Participate in Your Community?

 

  1. To help make your community what you want it to be.
  2. To build a support network in case of a family, town, or national emergency.
  3. To learn from your neighbors.
  4. To borrow and barter rather than pay for new things.
  5. To support your local economy and infrastructure, and make it more self-reliant.
  6. To know where your food, clothing, and supplies come from.
  7. To make our schools, homes, and governments stronger.
  8. To better enjoy our lives by surrounding ourselves with people and ideas that we enjoy.
  9. To help set its course so that you and your children will live in a place you enjoy living in.

 

How Do You Build Your Community?

 

I’ve listed a number of ways here, but essentially you find your niche and go for it.  What do you like to do?  Then go find some other people who like to do it too!  What do you need that you can’t (or don’t want to) make yourself?  Find someone in your community who makes it!  Something not working right in your community?  Figure out how to make it right and then make that happen!  Children’s school need a new roof?  Get together with other parents and raise the money, or build it yourself!

 

I’ve written about how to start forming a group, so if you can’t find the group you’re looking for please read that post.

 

What Ways Do You Participate In Your Community?

 

You all have seen and read several of the ways I participate in my community – from planting roundabouts and buying local food at home, to supporting local infrastructure and bartering with local businesses at work.


I would love to know what you do!  How do you find ways to participate in your community?   What kinds of things do you enjoy?  Please give us all some ideas for ways we can engage more!


Toxic Soup

Sunset at My Waterfront Office

 

Matt went on a business trip the other day, and when he returned we spent some time talking about how different our lives are from most people’s.  One of the several things we talked about was the many different toxic chemicals most people use daily – that many people are surrounded an incredible toxic soup.


What a strange thing it is now to use Colgate toothpaste with its synthetic suds and flavor, or artificially foaming and scented shaving cream, shampoo with a list of twenty ingredients, fabric softeners that leave a permanent scent on your clothing, colognes that linger in the elevator, cleaners that give off an incredibly strong scent and leave a strange film, let alone eating crackers with several things in them we can’t pronounce …  The list goes on and on of things that we forget are normal to most people in the developed world.


Will we live longer because we don’t have these things around us?  I don’t know – maybe, maybe not.  But is my asthma better?  Can we smell roses more clearly?  Are we leaving less of a footprint, are we contributing less to the global toxic soup?  Are we healthier?  Is our skin softer?  Is our pocketbook fuller because we don’t buy all those things?  Yes to all of these.

 

Sometimes I forget how far we’ve come.

 

 

Why Are Some Plants Killed By Frost But Not Others?

Broccoli in Frost

 

Every fall since I began gardening, I work to dispel the myth that the growing season is over, and that frosts will kill anything remaining in the garden.


Not all plants are the same.  Tomatoes, peppers, squash, corn, and other crops that thrive on hot temperatures are from hot climates.  They didn’t need to survive the cold – instead, they needed to protect from heat.  However, broccoli, carrots, garlic, rhubarb, and many other crops came from cool climates.  Their systems work differently in the cold – not only do they survive cold temperatures, but they taste better when they get cool in the fall and winter!


It’s Not Frost That Kills, It’s Freeze


The night the first frost comes around in the fall, many people rush out to yank their tomato plants and bring them inside.  After that night, it often gets warmer and sometimes there isn’t another frost for several weeks!  It’s highly likely all those tomatoes hanging from rafters after that first frost would have been just fine outside through the first frost.  The reason is that the first frost is often not a killing frost.


What kills the plants is not frost specifically, but is the internal temperature of plant tissue – once it freezes, the plant dies.  Have you ever put a bottle of beer or soda in the freezer to cool it down quickly, and then forgot about it, until you heard a loud crash in the freezer several hours later?  The loud crash is the glass breaking because the liquid inside the bottle expanded as it cooled.  This is essentially what happens to the cells in a tomato plant when it gets cold.


Generally the first frost doesn’t quite freeze the plant because it happens at just barely 32F, and doesn’t stay long.  However, the first freeze – or hard frost – often rolls in with much lower temperatures and stays cold much longer, usually killing the cells of tropical plants.

 

However, many plants do not have the fragile cellular structure of these tropical plants.


Frost-Tolerant Plants

 

Deciduous trees, bushes, and vines go dormant in the winter by losing their soft tissue (leaves), and waiting until spring before producing them again. 


Root crops (beets, carrots, radishes, parsnips, daikon, rutabagas) store all of the energy from their leaves into their roots as it gets cooler, and the ground gives them protection against the freezes.


Cole crops (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustards, turnips, watercress) can often survive temperatures below 20F.  That means those of us in temperate climates can generally grow them throughout the winter (they don’t grow a whole lot in the winter, but they don’t die and you can continue to pick fresh crop), where others can often grow them with a row cover for protection.  These biennial plants are made to last through the winter, so that they can bloom and produce seed in the spring.


Alliums (leeks, onions, garlic, shallots, scallions, chives) can survive very low temperatures (-30F).  These perennials are generally planted 2-3 weeks before first frost, and rely on the spring warmth to start putting their energy into bulbs.  Garlic in particular can benefit from a layer of mulch over the winter, to keep them protected through cooler temperatures.


Other perennials (asparagus, rhubarb, oregano, rosemary, sage, jerusalem artichokes, citrus) – there are many perennials that either continue to produce over the winter, or that go dormant over the winter to produce in early spring.  I highly recommend checking out some of these, as they are incredibly rewarding when the rest of the garden is sparse.

 

Other crops I’ve had success growing in winter (parsley, cilantro, dill, spinach, endive, sorrel, lettuces, fennel, fava beans) – the key for many of these is to get them growing before it gets cold, as most plants don’t grow very much in cold weather.  Thus, plant them 4-6 weeks before frost, and then harvest throughout the winter.

 

For More Information

 

There are many other plants you can continue to grow or store in the garden with often just a bit of protection.  Check out “How To Grow A Four-Season Garden” for many tips on how to do this effectively!

 

Anything To Add?

 

Avid gardeners, what else would you add here?  Other crops you’ve had success growing in winter?

 

How Do You Get People To Change Their Lifestyles?

Girl in Timbauba Brasil


On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people got together all over the world to spread the word:  “350.”  According to 350.org, “Scientists say that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity.”

This was, in essence, an awareness campaign.  I believe the idea behind it is that when the number 350 is in everyone’s heads, we can then take action to lower the CO2 in our atmosphere.

But does awareness really lead to action?

Behavior Change

Human minds are incredibly complex.  There are fields of study, and careers of work, devoted to figuring out how to change our minds.  And some also focus on how to change our actions.

Every public health campaign has been created this way – usually each one is tested and retested on focus groups before we ever see it.  And every large advertising campaign is even more rigorously tested to find out the most effective way to change our actions. Every film, every documentary, every television show – they all are tested and focused on a particular target audience.

There are various theories surrounding the stages people go through before they change the way they do things.  The most basic is this:

  1. Awareness
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance

At each of these stages, people need some instigating factor that gets them to the next level.  It could be a talk with a friend, a change in your life, a new action campaign, or any number of things.  And of course this is just an outline.  Sometimes you skip one of the levels, or they are a bit out of order, or you fall back to a prior level before moving forward – but this is generally pretty much the way things generally happen.

At least at the moment, the 350 movement stops at #1: awareness.  I don’t know if there is a plan that goes beyond this, but would be a shame to lose all that work, all that momentum.

Deep Sea 350

Do You Have To Change Your Life Entirely?

This brings me to a couple of responses to what I wrote a few days ago:  “Do You Have To Change Your Life Entirely In Order To Stop Climate Change?” Both Chile and Arduous argue that yes, we all do have to change entirely in order to stop climate change.

I believe they are right.  We have a lot to do, and it’s either too late or almost too late to turn back around and go in the right direction. But I also believe this:

  1. People are inherently different, and the way that they create change and respond to need is different. And whether they start with their own lifestyles, or go into politics, or help people in the developing world lift themselves out of poverty without destroying the planet as we did, or some other way – it doesn’t matter, it only matters that we all start.
  2. Fear often paralyzes people. Many people become very overwhelmed by fear, and end up doing nothing.  Climate change is big, each of us is small.  We can’t change everything, so why change anything?
  3. Even if we can’t turn our CO2 around as quickly as we need to, we still have to turn it around as soon as is physically possible… or things will get exponentially worse yet.
  4. It does not matter what motivates people to change, only that they do. The world has other problems in addition to climate change.  If Red Icculus changes because he wants to be more independent from the system and to provide a good life for his children, or if Maybelline changes her lifestyle in order to be more frugal and personally sustainable, or Deb G starts changing her life to protect her body from toxics in plastics, or someone else is afraid GMOs will fundamentally change the world and so eats local, organic food… isn’t that a good thing?  Does it matter why people change, or only that they do change?

From Awareness To Action

How many people do you know who want to change the way they live their life, for one reason or another, but who just never seem to get around to it?  I know a lot.  It’s hard to change your life.  We all resist it.

So how do we bring people from awareness to action, and then from action to maintenance (because one action isn’t enough, we have to sustain ourselves and make those changes constant)?

I spend a lot of time thinking about this when I write blog articles, when I do my work at my job, when I talk with people throughout my day.  While I wish that people would stop what they are doing now and make an entire switch in their lifestyles, I have come to understand that this is not human nature.  I think about how I started to change the way I do things:  I started with driving less, eating locally, gardening, sending letters, protesting at protest rallies.  Then I went further, and then further still.

Awareness can be overwhelming.  Fear can be debilitating. But we cannot let ourselves become overwhelmed and debilitated, because for one thing, that is not a good quality of life, and for another, those feelings get us nowhere. There are a lot of people talking about change but not really doing anything about it – and maybe feeling guilty that they aren’t doing anything. I believe the best way to handle this feeling of being overwhelmed and debilitated is to just start somewhere, anywhere, big or small.  From there, we can support one another and continue on our journey toward change.

So I do not believe you get people to act with more fear.  Instead, you encourage people to concentrate on one action at a time, and you encourage people to start where they are most comfortable starting.  Generally that means starting close to home:  with health, saving money, reducing toxins, and so on.  Because starting somewhere is better than not starting at all, and once people start to change it is easier for them to keep going, especially with encouragement.

Once we do start to change our lifestyles, the way to maintain and sustain that change is to build a support network:  a blog, a group of friends, a book club, whatever it takes to surround each other with support.

It’s not as straight of an answer as I’d like, but humans are not simple creatures, and there are no easy answers when it comes to inspiring people to change their lifestyles.


What Do You Think?

We know we need to get a lot of people to change the way they do things, and the way governments and corporations do things.  If you have an alternative way to reach people who aren’t yet doing anything to change their lifestyles, and to provoke them into sustained action, I would love to hear it!

And if you haven’t taken a look at the many 350 photos taken this past weekend, you should – they’re quite inspiring.  What do you think they should do next, though, to capture that awareness and turn it into action??


Happening Upon A Herd Of Urban Goats

Urban Goats!


It was a year ago.  I was driving down the street, and I saw them – were they wild dogs?  I slowed… then the car behind me slowed as well… they… they were goats!  Wow!


I was fascinated – they were alone, under some trees, behind a hastily put-up fence.  Two days later, I’d just returned home and was checking my RSS feeds.  On the Slog newswire was a headline “Goats in Capitol Hill!”


I grabbed my camera and whisked off – it was nearly dark, and this was something that must be captured!


Mmmmmmm


Amazing.  On a hill between the dog park and the freeway, were a whole bunch of happily munching goats!  There were many people looking on, taking cell phone photos, laughing, and enjoying the bizarre sight. A community-building moment to be sure.


I learned later that the city rents them – I’ve seen them in other parts of town since.  One of those fun little sustainability sights in the city!


Not a Baaaad Idea, eh...?


Have a lovely Friday, everyone.


Lessons I’ve Learned From My Grandfather: #2

I wrote this a couple of years ago, when my grandfather was in the hospital for the very first time, and he and I spent quite a bit of time together.

 

Grandfather at the Grocery Store

My grandfather running a grocery store, a few years before he opened his own hardware store.

 

My grandfather owned a hardware store for several years.  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.  And then, as my grandfather says, “there’s always something new, always someone willing to give me money to feed my family.”  He moved on to build a Savings and Loan literally from the ground up, and eventually expanded it to several regional franchises.  Several years later he recognized that he had ridden that train as far as it could go, and moved on again.  I mentioned earlier that that was in the late 70s, which was just a few years before the S & L scandals of the 80s that brought that industry to its knees.  But now I’m just bragging about my grandfather’s good business instincts!

 

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.

 

I currently live in a town with a couple of mom and pop stores left.  And 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, if you’re going to purchase a Christmas gift or two this season, 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.

 

A Year Without Shampoo

A Year Without Shampoo

 

I have gone one entire year without using shampoo! I wrote about it last December, after I’d been without shampoo for 3 months.  That article was called “A Non-Toxic, Frugal Way To Wash Your Hair Without Buying Shampoo, ” and it has been the most popular article on this blog for many months!  Thousands upon thousands of people have visited the article, many have commented or emailed.  A few months later, I wrote a revised method called “No ‘Poo: New & Improved!” and that is currently the sixth most popular article here, with several thousands more people reading it.


I know several of my co-workers have started going no ‘poo as well – one has been no ‘poo for about 9 months now, and he loves it.  It’s a good feeling, knowing that I’ve helped others a little bit along the way!


How do I like it?  I LOVE it.  It’s my new normal.  A few times here and there I’ve added a bit of hand-made soap to the baking soda for a little wash, but I haven’t needed nor wanted to try shampoo again!


Sorry about the pictures – I should know better than to try to take photos of myself with a cell phone camera under florescent lights.  But I wanted you all to see my hair before I cut it, because I haven’t cut it since I stopped using shampoo!  Now it’s time, though, it’s just getting too long.


But there you have it, folks.  One year, no shampoo!

 

A Year Without Shampoo - Back of My Hair