My 5: Artie Knapp, Author and Illustrator

November 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, My 5, Slideshow


Artie Knapp, author and illustrator. Photo: Courtesy Artie Knapp

Artie Knapp, author and illustrator. Photo: Courtesy Artie Knapp

When Blue Planet Green Living interviewed author Artie Knapp, we asked him our two favorite questions. Here are his responses. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

What are the five most important things we can do to protect the planet?

  1. Our water supplies are vital for our existence, and we must do a better job of keeping them clean. Among other things, we have to put a stop to garbage being dumped into our oceans.
  1. Improving our air quality by enforcing stricter emission standards is something that must never wane. We must also enforce stricter penalties on organizations that don’t properly dispose of chemicals.
  1. The BP oil disaster in 2010 was a strong reminder that we have to find safer alternatives for energy. Doing so will not only keep our air cleaner by having fewer vehicles burning fuel, but it will also help alleviate disasters that destroy food supplies, as well as natural habitats.
  1. We have to keep our communities cleaner by picking up waste. Cleaner communities help alleviate the spread of diseases and sickness.
  1. Bees are dying at alarming rates, and the ramification this will have on pollination is profound. If this rate continues our world’s food supplies will face dire consequences. This isn’t making headlines like it should be, and more funding is critical for scientists to get a better understanding of what is causing this to happen.

If you had two minutes with President Obama, what would you say to him?

I would tell President Obama that I appreciate his service to our country. I think he has done a lot of positive things, especially with what he inherited from his predecessor. I would also wish him well on his reelection bid in 2012.

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Taproot Nature Experience Deepens Children’s Connection to the Natural World

Children in the Taproot Nature Experience discover shells on a beach in the Iowa City area. Photo: Courtesy Taproot Nature Experience

Taproot Nature Experience was founded on the simple idea that kids need to have time outdoors.

Launched in September 2007 by Zac Wedemeyer and his wife, Elesa, this Iowa City-based company has several different programs that connect children with nature: an after-school program; a summer camp; and Sprouts, a program for pre-school-aged children.

Wedemeyer says that kids used to be allowed to go outside more, but now parents are afraid to let their children out of the house alone. As a former elementary-school teacher, he saw firsthand how little time kids spend in nature and how much time they spend watching television and playing video games.

Outdoor Benefits

When he realized he loved to teach but didn’t love being inside, Wedemeyer quit his teaching job. He believes being in nature is essential for many different reasons: “It’s good for people’s emotions,” he explains. “We are part of nature as biological, living things. It’s programmed into our beings to be a part of nature.”

Being outside in nature is an important part of a child's learning. Photo: Courtesy Taproot Nature Experience

There are bodily benefits to reap as well, he says. “When we’re not connected to nature, there are emotional and physical difficulties that come up. People are just healthier when they are a part of nature.”

But what are the benefits for children? According to Wedemeyer, spending time outdoors at an early age molds children into adults who care about the world around them. “[Being outdoors as children] will make it automatic that, when they’re older, they’ll think about the earth and the consequences of their decisions to the earth,” he explains.

He also believes that these children will grow up to become more peaceful people when they’re adults. As a result, Wedemeyer says, the earth will be better off: Peaceful people are less likely to get into conflicts.

In the last three years, Taproot Nature Experience has grown considerably. Originally, it was just an after school program with six kids a day and Wedemeyer as the only teacher. Now there are 12-15 kids a day, two teachers, five part-time employees, and more programs.

Taproot also has its own 80-acre farm located 30 miles west of Iowa City. The ten-year goal is to have a farm that can supply 40 families a year with food. Two years in, Wedemeyer says they are still on track to complete the goal.

Asked what prompted this venture, Wedemeyer explains that his immense love of nature started when he was a kid himself. “I moved around a lot,” he says. “I lived in 12 houses in four states before I was 10. I would always look for natural spaces to go in these new places.”

Events for the Entire Family

Although Taproot Nature Experience is primarily focused on opportunities for children to get outdoors, the Wedemeyers also offer events designed exclusively for adults as well as events for families.

The group offers a variety of adult workshops throughout the year. Topics have included Bread and Bagel Making and Baking; Canning and Preserving; Compost Bin Making and Composting; and several more. Alternative Heating and Cooling.

Upcoming family adventures include a free New Year’s Eve Party and Potluck, followed by a sleepover for children ($60/child).

Exploring the Community

Outdoor experiences are essential for children to learn about the natural world. Photo: Courtesy Taproot Nature Experience

Drive around the Iowa City area on any given day, and the Taproot van is likely to cross your field of vision.

Children who participate in the Taproot Nature Experience have the opportunity to explore not only popular recreation areas like Hickory Hill Park and the Woodpecker Nature Trail, they also are introduced to other, less-commonly visited wonders.

The list of places participating children visit is impressive, including: Scattergood Friends School and Farm, Harvest Farm and Preserve, the University of Iowa Greenhouse Facility, Hawkins Road Savanna, and Turkey Creek Preserve, among many others.

The children also visit local farmers, Wilson’s Apple Orchard, Sand Road Orchard, and Waterworks Park.

Find Out More

For more information, or to register for an upcoming event, email or call 319.325.0695.

Or visit their website at

Brigette Fanning

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Children on MiniMonos Show Adults How Sustainability Is Done

Melissa Clark-Reynolds, founder of MiniMonos. Photo: Courtesy MiniMonos

I first met Melissa Clark-Reynolds, the CEO of MiniMonos, online. We connected through a shared love of the environment and children, as we followed one another’s “tweets”. Dedicated and deeply generous, Melissa has poured her love and values into developing the children’s website MiniMonos, a place where she hopes that children will learn and share ideas about sustainability, generosity, and caring for one another, all while having fun together.

Children learn about recycling on the MiniMonos website. Photo: Courtesy MiniMonos

An eco-friendly children’s virtual world, MiniMonos is underpinned by the values of sustainability, friendship, and generosity. The children assume monkey avatars and play on a virtual island, where caring for their environment forms an intrinsic part of the experience. Their in-world living treehouses require nourishment and care, including recycling to keep their treehouse tidy, and capturing clouds to power their tree’s wind turbine.

The appealing games across MiniMonos Island carry underlying cooperative and eco-themes, rewarding the children for such activities as cleaning up a lagoon, using strategy, and sorting recyclables accurately.

As a mom, I hold the values supported by MiniMonos dear to my heart. And while I have the usual mom concerns about how my child spends time online, I do believe online interaction has a place in a balanced childhood. Internet play is ideal when it enhances a child’s skills in participating, creating, cooperating, and having fun. To this end, I always check a site my child interacts with to ensure it engages his interest, has sound values and messages, sparks his creativity, and facilitates his innate generosity. Ultimately, I look for a place where he feels he belongs.

As part of the MiniMonos team, it has been a sheer delight to discover how the children actively make MiniMonos a place of their own, filling it with their ideas, creativity, and passion. Every day the children inspire us with their passion for caring about the environment and their generosity towards one another. They’re having fun but they’re also demonstrating the importance of action beyond words.

A winning artwork entry by a MiniMonos member. Photo: Courtesy MiniMonos

Take Percy, who, on his own initiative and with his own pocket money, ran an eco-themed artwork competition. Or Emini, who picked up over 1,800 cigarette butts from her local beach. Indeed, many of the members dedicate themselves to regularly recycling or cleaning away trash from natural places.

The children support initiatives such as Earth Hour, and worthy causes like providing clean drinking water for fellow children in India. They have also voted for an orangutan adoptee, and now they all feel they have a stake in caring for her!

Creatively, we’ve seen amazing artwork competitions initiated by the children and a number of members have created their own blogs or become “moggers” — monkey bloggers — on the MiniMonos Go Bananas blog. These are wonderful ways for sharing their writing and journalistic skills with each other.

Another delightful evolution on MiniMonos is the children’s own responsiveness and willingness to moderate behavior they don’t see as appropriate for their community. While the site has full-time moderation, regular players will take it upon themselves to dampen any negative behavior, reacting with compassion and devotion to upholding the site’s values of generosity and fun. Dozens of children have become mini-monkey-moderators, a role that recognizes their dedicated attentiveness to others playing in this virtual world.

MiniMonos logo. Courtesy: MiniMonos

Of the 20,000 registered members on MiniMonos, children like these are the rule, not the exception. Their extraordinary spirits have governed the way the site gets developed. They’re our most vigorous testers and our most vocally constructive critics, and we’re privileged to learn from them every day.

MiniMonos doesn’t pretend to have all the answers to creating an ideal virtual world for children; instead, we strive to live up to the children’s own standards of sustainability, generosity, community, and fun. And if our future is in the hands of these children, I feel optimistic about these fantastic minds shaping a future that is truly sustainable.

Felicity Tepper

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Tepper is the adult community coordinator Mini Monos.

Take Action – Remove Toxic Flame Retardants from Kids’ Products

Children in California are exposed to a huge burden of flame-retardant chemicals. Photo: © Suprijono Suharjoto -

In California, babies and young children are exposed to toxic flame-retardant chemicals in their clothing, sheets, and other materials nearly every minute of every day. Healthy Child Healthy World has launched a campaign urging citizens to send faxes TODAY to Governor Schwarzenegger and other government officials with a strong message in favor of SB 772. According to Christopher Gavigan, CEO of Healthy Child Healthy World, the bill would “exempt baby and juvenile products from California’s regulations that create a de facto mandate for the use of toxic fire retardant chemicals.”

On the surface, fire retardants in children’s clothing, bedding, strollers, infant carriers, changing tables, cribs, high chairs, and other products sound like a good idea. We all want children to be protected from flames. But Gavigan points out the flaws in this reasoning:

Children's bedding sold in California must contain flame retardants, which are potentially hazardous. Photo: © Thomas Perkins -

Children's bedding sold in California must contain flame retardants, which are potentially hazardous. Photo: © Thomas Perkins -

There is no clear data showing that using these chemicals saves lives, and a growing body of research suggests that exposure to fire retardants is dangerous to the health of our children. Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission scientists cited studies linking fire retardant exposure to cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, thyroid disorders, hyperactivity, learning disabilities and a plethora of other health concerns.

A study published last year in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that Californians have twice the concentration of the flame retardant penta-BDE in their blood as people who live elsewhere in the United States due to the continued, and long-lasting presence of these chemicals in baby products and other home furnishings.

There is no evidence that a single baby‘s life has been saved by California’s regulation, which is why the Consumer Product Safety Commission has decided not to regulate baby products against fire. Given the stark budget realities, it makes no sense for the State to be spending its limited resources to regulate a product for which there is no known risk.

Worse yet, chemical lobbyists are trying to convince the California legislature to require even more products to carry these same toxic fire retardants. (Don’t the lobbyists care about children’s health?) We must not stand back and watch this happen. The health and well-being of California’s children is at stake. And this is one cause of ill health that’s totally preventable.

How to Help

The most powerful effort you can make to sway the opinions of Governor Schwarzenegger and California legislators is to write a personal letter telling why this bill is important. Gavigan urges concerned citizens to use his words above as the basis of your letters. Or, before you write, visit the Healthy Child Healthy World website to read more in-depth information about this topic.

If you are a Californian, your letter will be especially meaningful to the Governor and your legislators. If you live elsewhere, your thoughtful, information-filled letter may still be helpful. (Can’t hurt.) Write about the regulations in your own state or country. Let everyone know that we don’t need to overload our kids with chemicals to keep them safe from fire. We end up trading protection from a rare problem for a universal threat to all young children. That’s not a good bargain.

Gavigan invites you to fax your letters to the following:

The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

1. Attn: Bismarck Obando, External Affairs Secretary #: 916-324-6358

2. Cabinet #: 916-323-0918

3. Chief of Staff #: 916-323-9991

4. Communications #: 916-324-6357

5. Constituent Affairs #: 916-445-4633

6. Attn: Linda Adams, Secretary CalEPA #: 916-324-0908

7. Attn: Maziar Movassaghl, Department of Toxic Substances Control #: 916-324-3158

This is a critically important opportunity to protect millions of California’s children from the potentially harmful effects of unnecessary chemicals.

Don’t have access to a fax machine? Fax from your laptop or desktop computer with this free online fax service.

I live in Iowa, but I’ll be faxing letters in support of SB 772. I’ll also spread the word to my family and friends. Will you join me?

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Green Living Takes Recycled Clothing from Shabby to Chic

Once Upon a Child buys and sells gently used children's clothing, toys, and furniture. Photo Courtesy: Once Upon a Child

Once Upon a Child buys and sells gently used children's clothing, toys, and furniture. Photo Courtesy: Once Upon a Child

Until recently, I never really considered buying used clothing, much less used kids’ clothing, but somewhere along the path of saving money and doing good for the planet I wound up in a used-clothing store. I was amazed by the buried treasures and great prices, and ever since, I’ve been hooked. I’m just one person who has reconsidered my view of used clothing shops — but I’m one of many.

Between watching the news and chatting with my girlfriends, it’s become obvious to me that many people have caught on to the idea of buying gently used clothing and other items. They not only save money, they also reduce their use of virgin natural resources. A practice that was once considered a faux pas is now common — and even a bragging right, when the discussion turns to the importance of going green.

I’m relatively new to the habit of thinking about my impact on the earth and trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Yet, I’m always excited about trying new things, and finding new ways to live a greener life has become an enjoyable challenge.

One Saturday afternoon not long ago, I was wandering through a shopping center when I came across Once Upon a Child, a resale store for children. Before I knew it, I was digging through the racks of the store on a treasure hunt for great prices and cute outfits for my two-year-old daughter, River. There are so many reasons “previously loved” clothing makes sense, especially for kids. It seems as though every two seconds they grow out of something; and every second they spill something on themselves; and they don’t even care whether you spend $20 on a shirt or $2.

River, posing in her new outfit from Once Upon a Time. Photo: Shraddah Reyna

River, posing in her new outfit from Once Upon a Time. Photo: Shraddah Reyna

Buying second-hand clothing for River was an easy step for me to take, but now I think I’m ready for a bigger one. It’s time to start buying used clothing for myself. This may turn out to be more challenging, particularly because I wear a unique size. Fortunately, I recently saw a commercial for Plato’s Closet, a store that specializes in used clothing for a niche market that includes my size. I’m very hopeful.

As I’ve learned, Plato’s Closet is part of the Winmark Corporation. Their brands include Plato’s Closet, Play It Again Sports (a resale shop for sports equipment), Music Go Round (a resale shop for musical instruments), and Once Upon a Child — the kids’ used-clothing store, where I now shop for River’s clothes.

According to Susan Baustian, the brand director of Once Upon a Child, a husband and wife team started the company in 1985. As the parents of three young boys, they were searching to find a use for their children’s old clothes and to buy inexpensive “new-to-us” clothes for their kids. With this goal in mind, they started Once Upon a Child.

Now, more than 20 years later, Once Upon a Child has 232 stores in the U.S. and Canada, with approximately 15 stores added every year. In addition to being the largest resale-clothing chain nationwide, Once Upon a Child has maintained its original focus: reselling used clothing while providing families with a great economic value. Baustian added that employees get to “go to work each day, proud of what [they] do on a daily basis.” I think that says a lot about the type of company and industry this is.

Intrigued by my shopping trips to Once Upon a Child, I visited their website. The home page contains a link to a Brag Book, filled with stories posted by Once Upon a Time shoppers. While reading some of the entries, I realized the enormous impact this store (and stores like it) have on people. There were a lot of “found-a-great-outfit entries” and “found-great-baby-gear-for-half-off entries,” but what really caught my attention were the single-mom and young-couple entries.

River, wearing a swimsuit purchased at Once Upon a Child. Photo: Shraddah Reyna

River, wearing a swimsuit purchased at Once Upon a Child. Photo: Shraddah Reyna

For example, a young mother named Paige wrote, “When I first found out I was pregnant I didn’t know what to do. Me only being 17 was scary. I had no job, no money, and definitely no baby clothes or anything for my baby. When I heard about Once Upon A Child I was very happy. I went into the store and found numerous things I wanted for my baby for a very cheap price. I couldn’t be any happier than I am now with my son…”

Somehow, I (perhaps like many of you) overlooked how many families and individuals are struggling to make ends meet. Reading the stories of young mothers struggling to clothe their babies and couples with “earlier-than-expected” pregnancies gave me a much greater appreciation for the impact of these stores. At the same time that these stores are helping people “recycle” their used clothes to other families and keep them out of the landfill, they’re making it possible for individuals to afford clothing that they otherwise couldn’t.

And now that River has plenty of “new” clothes from Once Upon a Child, I’m excited about my own pending trip to Plato’s Closet. Going green just got easier.

Shraddah Reyna
Contributing Writer
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Holistic Moms Network – Grassroots Support for Healthy Parenting

Parenting is tough for everyone. And living holistically has challenges of its own. But being holistic and a parent, too? You may need support for that.

That’s why Executive Director Nancy Massotto created the Holistic Moms Network, a nonprofit organization that brings together holistically minded parents to share ideas and support each other. Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke by phone with Massotto to learn more about this rapidly growing, grassroots movement. — Publisher

New Jersey members of the Holistic Moms Network. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

HMN Members in Middlesex County, NJ Chapter. Photo: Courtesy Holistic Moms Network

MASSOTTO: The original chapter, which is the ongoing Essex County, NJ, chapter, was started by three holistically minded mothers. In 2002, by a stroke of luck, I met two mothers in a breastfeeding support group. We were all parenting differently in terms of choosing holistic health care options for our children; and being advocates for things like natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and eco-conscious living. We were finding it very difficult to navigate our way in parenthood without having other parents around us who felt the same way. So we teamed up to launch the original chapter in northern New Jersey and ran it for about a year.

At our first meeting, about a dozen moms came, which was really exciting. We realized it was an incredibly empowering experience for like-minded people to be in the same place and to support each other. Over the course of a year, the local chapter grew to about 80 or 90 members. Moms came from all over the place to connect with our core group, and it escalated quite a bit.

It was at that point I said to the other two founders that we should be an organization, not just a local chapter. There were clearly parents across the country who could benefit from the support, education, and information we were experiencing collectively. I suggested we launch Holistic Moms as a nonprofit national organization with chapters all over the country, and the two other moms looked at me like I was completely crazy. It was way more work than they were interested in doing. So, I took on the task of building the national organization. I’ve always been a type A personality, and there was certainly no reason to stop now. So in October 2003, I put the organization in motion.

BPGL: How many chapters do you have now?

A New Jersey Holistic Moms Network member with her kids. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

Holistic Mom, Middlesex County, NJ Chapter. Photo: Courtesy Holistic Moms Network

MASSOTTO: We have about 120 active chapters in the U.S. and a couple of chapters forming in Canada. We’re not interested in expanding outside of North America right now; it’s just a little more than we could we handle at this point.

BPGL: What kind of members do you attract?

MASSOTTO: We have parents of all ages: parents of adult children, grandparents, dads, and expecting parents. It’s a really diverse population, even though we started with a focus on moms.

We encourage dads to join as well. Our online community has special boards for fathers, and we do have a few chapters that have meetings specifically for dads. Our Leadership Team is very committed to our name, Holistic Moms, but we are trying to bring more fathers in. There are quite a few who are very active. They attend a lot of meetings and events and organization, and it works out really well.

BPGL: What happens during a typical meeting? Specifically, what could I expect as a parent new to the group?

MASSOTTO: All of our meetings are based on a specific theme or topic and may or may not involve a guest speaker. A guest speaker would be a professional in health or parenting, such as an herbalist, to teach you about a certain subject, such as herbs for medicinal purposes or organic gardening. It’s usually someone from the community who has a level of expertise of knowledge to share.

If it’s your first meeting, you will be introduced to the group and the leader will explain what Holistic Moms is, what we do, and how we run. We always do introductions, because, as I said, a large part of what we do is about community, and you need to get to know each other. So we often take time to introduce ourselves to each other and talk about our holistic passions. And then you may have the guest speaker present for usually about 30 or 45 minutes. Then you have an opportunity to connect and talk more with moms who are there and learn what the community is doing.

BPGL: Let’s say I’m a mom who wants to start a chapter, what kind of support services will you give me?

MASSOTTO: We have a whole process. When you want to start a local chapter, you first apply. There is a small leader’s fee, a one-time fee that you pay to cover materials and training. First we set up a phone interview. We will sit down and talk about what Holistic Moms is, what it does, what their desire is for starting a chapter, and discuss their local community and resources that are available to them. After that they’ll receive a complete manual, which is basically a step-by-step guide on how to start a chapter. It has everything in it from how to find an appropriate meeting location, to how to write a press release, to possible meeting topics they might want to cover or activities they might want to include in their chapter.

We also send them materials: brochures, fliers, and business cards representing the Network. Then the potential leader has a conference call training, where we go over the keys to building a successful chapter. We also connect them to an online community, just for chapter leaders, where they can exchange ideas and information about running a chapter.

Once the leader has started their chapter, we offer regular support calls throughout the year on a variety of topics, such as outreach and publicity for their chapters, time management, and organizational skills, or we simply share information with the leader to help them continue to build a successful group.

They learn a lot about how to build a successful local community, but many women use the professional skills they already have. It can be very empowering for them as a leader.

BPGL: So, in addition to building chapters, you’re actually building women as leaders?

MASSOTTO: We are, and it’s interesting, because it wasn’t something I anticipated. One of the beautiful, unexpected benefits of Holistic Moms is that a lot of the parents who come to us are enormously well-accomplished women who have stepped back from their professional jobs to be parents. By becoming Holistic Moms leaders, they find the whole experience to be empowering on a personal level, because they’re using their skills and gaining a sense of purpose, passion, and motivation for what they do.

I find some really emotional responses from leaders that I did not expect. A lot of women feel disoriented when they transition from their professional careers to being an at-home mom. This has really answered that call for them, which I think is amazing. In addition to creating communities and offering moms support for holistic options, we are also helping empower them as women.

BPGL: What are your mission and purpose?


Northern Virginia chapter leaders. Photo: Courtesy Holistic Moms Network

MASSOTTO: In a nutshell, our mission is to support and educate parents who are interested in holistic health and green living. We do that through grassroots community-building by creating chapters where parents can connect and learn. Holistic Moms also integrates those chapters into local areas so that business owners, practitioners, and educators who are passionate about holistic living can bring their knowledge into the group as well.

BPGL: Do you take a position on issues, or do you just provide information and let the parents form an opinion?

MASSOTTO: Our intention is to educate people about certain issues and give them the ability to make an informed decision. We’re not here to argue with people’s philosophical or religious beliefs, but certainly to provide an alternative look on lifestyle choices. We don’t want parents to blindly fall into a trap of what most people do. We find that a lot in our organization. Parents will come in saying they didn’t know XYZ is an option. They just listened to what their girlfriends, doctors, or parents said, and never even questioned it. We want people to make conscious choices.

BPGL: What are some of the first things a new mother should do? If breastfeeding is number one, what would you say is number two?

MASSOTTO: It’s not necessarily a specific set of things, because it varies so much among children. The most important aspect is that parents are educated and informed. Moms with a newborn really need to think organic in every aspect of their life. They also need to consider the products in their baby’s environment. What kind of bed are they sleeping on? What toys are they putting into their mouth? What other food is being put into their mouth, if they aren’t breastfeeding? We hope most women are breastfeeding, but certainly when they’re introducing other foods, they need to be aware of what is in them.

A lot of that is a step-by-step process, and there many different elements they need to look at in their own homes. There are so many different avenues where we can improve the health and well-being of our children. It’s a very personal, individual program for making really radical change.

BPGL: What do you think is the most important issue right now for the health of children?

MASSOTTO: Broadly, environmental toxins. Our children are being bombarded on many different levels by toxins in our food, air, and water — also, potentially, from the vaccinations they are receiving. Their bodies are being overwhelmed. The rising rates we see in children’s diseases are a factor of that burden. It’s getting to, if not already at, extremely critical levels that are not being addressed.

BPGL: I saw on your website you have almost a whole page that addresses dental fillings and issues related to mercury. It sounds like a scary issue.

MASSOTTO: It is. There are many concerns about what we are putting into our bodies, for children and adults. There is a very strong disconnect between the chemicals we put into the environment and that go into our bodies, and what’s going on with our health. I think we really need to start making those connections.

BPGL: It sounds like you almost need to have a chemistry degree to be a holistic parent.

MASSOTTO: We certainly aren’t experts in all areas, and I certainly don’t profess to be. That’s one of the challenges of being a holistic-minded parent. Many people become very overwhelmed with all of the news and information about everyday elements being dangerous and toxic, they just don’t know what to do or where to start.

One of things we hope to do is really help people make small changes that work for them. Not everyone makes the same choices as a holistic mom. We are all working toward a similar goal and mission for our lives, families, and the planet, but we don’t all do it in the same manner. We believe people have to be educated and know what those options are, know the risks and benefits of all those choices, and make the best choices for their family. We definitely are not about telling people what to do.

Moms at a Holistic Moms Network meeting. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

Holistic Moms and their kids. Photo: Courtesy Holistic Moms Network

BPGL: I’ve heard of some parents overprotecting their children from germs. Do you ever run into that problem? If so, what do you advise them to do?

MASSOTTO: I do think there is a little bit of germ-phobia, but it’s not so much the germs we should be focusing on. We should be concentrating on preventive health. It’s all about the immune system — what we can do to make our bodies as strong as possible. There are always going to be germs in the world, no matter what we do. The question is, can we withstand those germs, or can’t we? If we are living an unhealthy lifestyle — a lot of which has to do with nutrition, stress, or the air we breathe and chemicals in our environment – we are weakening our immune system. Looking at it from a holistic approach is looking at the whole equation, not just focusing on germs.

BPGL: Do you collaborate with any other organizations?

MASSOTTO: We do, some. We are philosophically aligned with a number of groups, because we share a lot of different philosophies. A holistic philosophy is so overarching, it encompasses so many different aspects. We have collaborated with a lot of different organizations on special projects or education campaigns to move things forward. We support many different groups, like La Leche League, for breastfeeding promotion. There is an enormous amount of potential for Holistic Moms working with other organizations on many different levels.

BPGL: Do you do any lobbying?

MASSOTTO: No. We are a 501(c)3, so we aren’t in a position to lobby. We do know our members have been locally active, getting involved in their communities, but it’s not a position that we can get involved in because of our status.

BPGL: Why did you choose to be a 501(c)3, rather than a for-profit entity?

MASSOTTO: For a lot of different reasons. We want to further our mission and purpose in a way that furthers our credibility. We believe we are here to serve the public good in a very large way, in terms of education and support. Nonprofit status is what represents our mission and purpose.

BPGL: How do you survive financially?

Holistic Moms produced a cookbook as a fundraising project. Photo Courtesy:

Holistic Moms produced a cookbook as a fund-raising project. Photo Courtesy:

MASSOTTO: We struggle. We’re a membership-based organization. Membership is our predominate financial resource at this point. We have started a sponsorship program, which is hopefully going to help bring more financial resources to us. And we have some other options in terms of fundraising. We do hope to get into grants from foundations, but we are still a very small and new operation. Holistic Moms is lucky enough to have a lot of wonderful people volunteer their time and effort to make the organization work. But expanding our financial base is certainly one of our objectives for the future.

BPGL: What other challenges are you faced with? What were some of the things you’ve overcome?

MASSOTTO: Clearly, the biggest challenge is building the organization from the ground up. I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations in the past, but never started one from the bottom. It’s been a real learning experience. One of the greatest challenges we’ve faced is that our growth has outpaced us a little bit. I established a website around October 2003, when we started, and within three days of putting up the website, someone contacted me saying they wanted to start a chapter. I just sat there and said, “Wow, I don’t even have a process for this yet.” It wasn’t even ready; we were just kind of playing with it. We’ve been playing catchup ever since.

We ended our first year with 20-some chapters in 14 states. It was just mind-boggling. But we’ve been fortunate to attract a really dynamic group of people, who are inspired by the mission and purpose of our organization. They’ve been willing to volunteer a lot of time to make Holistic Moms grow and fill all of these ideas we have. There is certainly no lack of ideas for us; it’s a matter of having the finances to make that all happen. It’s been a good challenge in a sense, that we have so much to do and so much interest, it’s hard to keep up. It’s certainly a challenge we want to have.

BPGL: How do people hear about your organization?

MASSOTTO: People predominately hear about us through word of mouth and the internet. We’ve made very valuable connections with holistic practitioners, business owners, and people who are trying to live green and sustainable. Social marketing has been great for our network, because it is a very social, personal approach. We grow so fast from moms reaching out to other moms.

BPGL: Do you have an annual meeting or conference?

Holistic Moms Network Conference. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

Holistic Moms Network Conference. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

MASSOTTO: We do. It’s called the Natural Living Conference. It’s held every year in October, and will be in October again this year. We try to bring in speakers of interest to our members. We also have vendors, exhibitors, and sponsors. It’s a pretty custom event and has been very successful and popular with our members. Information for our conference is on our website and

BPGL: What else would you like parents to know about the Holistic Moms Network?

MASSOTTO: One thing I like to make people understand is that it doesn’t matter how holistic or how green someone is when they’re deciding if they want to be a part of the Holistic Moms community. Parents will say “I didn’t have my children naturally,” or “I didn’t breastfeed,” but it doesn’t really apply. It doesn’t matter what choices you’ve made along the way, or whether or not you’re achieving or struggling with your goals. We welcome a really diverse membership into our group. It’s all about the goals and objectives you have. Wanting to live more consciously for yourself and planet is a journey. Some of us have been on the journey for a long time, some have just started, and others are in the middle. We want people to come with an open mind and take what works for them.

Megan Lisman


Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

My 5: Christopher Gavigan, CEO, Healthy Child Healthy World

April 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog, Environment, Front Page, Health, Kids, My 5

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BPGL: What are the five most important things we can do to save the planet?


Saving the planet — let’s just say, protecting the planet. I’d like to frame this whole thing as protecting the planet instead of saving the earth. The planet doesn’t need to be saved. The planet will be around a lot longer than we will.

Christopher Gavigan, CEO, Healthy Child Healthy World

Christopher Gavigan, CEO, Healthy Child Healthy World

  • Really, we need to save ourselves and save our existence and our civilization as we know it. I believe that it’s a humankind challenge in how we accept and interact with each other. Certainly, love and respect and the ability to listen and be collaborative is part of that process. I think we could learn to love ourselves, our families, and each other a little bit more and judge less. I think if you embrace the fact that we’re all trying our best and really take that critical nature out of it, we would be less entrenched in our own opinions and more willing to listen and be collaborative.
  • We certainly all could eat less meat and rely less on land animals as food sources. There’s no question about it that the amount of resource intensity required by meat and dairy production and the amount of land source degradation happen because of eating animals. And so, I would embrace the fact that we could protect the planet more if we all ate less meat. I’ve been doing this as a vegetarian for almost 15 years now.
  • We should use less toxic products in our daily lives, from our cleaners to our beauty care products to the mattresses and furniture we build. We need to be aware of the chemicals that exist in each one of those and understand that you don’t have to live a chemically laden life. Reducing the amount of chemicals is more beneficial for the planet, for our waterways, and for land, our children’s future, and also our own health.
  • Another thing we should think about is the “buying cycle,” and put some intentional thinking around this. Every day, I realize that less really is more. Truly, I need less to have a fulfilled and happy life. Just buying less would be very anti-capitalistic and anti-consumptive, but the planet would breathe a big “Ahhh” of relief. Being less consumptive is a powerful thing. You’re requiring less, you’re demanding less of the earth. And you’re reducing your impact on the planet, something that I think about. Certainly, it’s a challenge of mine. I always can do better at it, but it’s an intention of mine, and I do a little better every day.
  • The last thing is being grateful. I don’t think, as a culture, as a species, we’re grateful enough. Grateful of the moments that we have. Grateful of the people that are in our lives. And grateful of the resources that we have and the ease of the life that we have. I try to be very intentional every day when I wake up in the morning. I try to think of those things that I’m most grateful for, and I try to think of something new every day. Being more grateful is a way to recognize the magnitude and the importance of where we are and our lives. And embracing the fact that we have a limited time here and we should make the most of it for our children, for the people who are around us, and for the planet.

Christopher Gavigan, CEO

Healthy Child Healthy World

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Post:

Healthy Child Healthy World – Inspiring Postive Action for Kids’ Sake

Landmark National Children’s Study Launches in US

Children in the study will be followed from before birth through young adulthood.

In the United States today, 1 in 25 children have autism spectrum disorder; 1 in 4 children in Queens, New York, have asthma; and 30% of the kindergarten children in a North Florida school district are overweight. Today, these statistics don’t seem unusual. Obesity, childhood diabetes, autism, and other diseases afflict more and more children every year. Without a doubt, these statistics should alarm us. And the trend toward increased childhood disease seems to be on an irreversible path. But what if we knew what caused these diseases? Could we then figure out how to stop them?


Yesterday, the National Institutes of Health announced the launch of the National Children’s Study, an ambitious, decades-long project that may well reveal the causative factors of a host of childhood — and adult — illnesses.

One of the key figures behind the study is Phil Landrigan, MD, MSc, who directs the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Landrigan is also the chairman of the Department of Community & Preventative Medicine, as well as a professor of pediatrics there.

If you don’t recognize Dr. Landrigan’s name, you will recognize his critically important contribution to your health. In 1976, Landrigan, along with Dr. Herb Needleman, documented widespread lead poisoning in children. This information persuaded the US government to mandate an end to lead in paint and gasoline. Referring to Landrigan’s and Needleman’s work, Dr. Michael Shannon, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health, was quoted in The Lancet as saying, “In complete correlation with the reduction of lead from these sources, the blood lead level of every child, actually every American, fell by more than 40%. It was an absolute monumental achievement.”

Landrigan will head the first of seven Vanguard study sites, all of which will open in 2009. Some 40 centers are planned. Landrigan’s center, in Queens, New York, began to recruit study volunteers January 13.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Dr. Landrigan by phone from his New York office. What follows is the first of two interviews. Our second interview, with Dr. Jeff Murray of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, will run tomorrow. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Every child deserves a healthy environment in which to grow and learn. Photo Courtesy: National Children's Study

BPGL: Tell us about the National Children’s Study.

LANDRIGAN: The National Children’s Study is the largest research study of children’s health that’s ever been undertaken in this country. It’s what we call a prospective epidemiologic study, which means it’s going to enroll moms very early in pregnancy and follow the children out to at least age 21.

The goal of the study is to identify factors in the environment that cause disease in children, like autism and childhood cancer, attention deficit disorder, asthma, diabetes, birth defects, prematurity, and low birth weight.

To assess environmental exposure, we’ll do a history for every mom in the study during her pregnancy. We’re going to get samples of blood and urine from each mom at several points in pregnancy, to measure levels of several hundred chemicals in the blood of each mother. We will also be assessing personal behaviors such as drug, alcohol and tobacco consumption, the social environment and the environment of the community in which each mom resides.  We are looking at those issues, because we strongly suspect that social and community factors interact with chemical exposures in the causation of disease in children.

We’ll get a sample of umbilical cord blood from each baby at the time of delivery. We’ll be tracking the babies very closely as they grow up, with exams at 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and 10 years of age, with very thorough developmental assessments at several points along that ladder. The overall goal is basically to link environmental exposure in early life to the subsequent development of these kinds of diseases in kids.

BPGL: I understand the NCS is similar to the Framingham Study of heart disease and stroke. Can you elaborate on that?

LANDRIGAN: The Framingham Heart Study is the model for the National Children’s Study. Back in 1948, at a time when rates of heart disease and stroke were rapidly skyrocketing in this country, the Public Health Service went to the city of Framingham and undertook a prospective study of the population of the whole city. They signed up people for the study, took a history and physical examination on each person, measured their blood pressure, and so on. They tracked the people prospectively through the years to see what the risk factors were for heart disease and stroke. It was out of Framingham that we learned everything that we now understand today about the risks for cardiovascular disease.

So, for example, it was Framingham that taught us about cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, obesity, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle — all that information came first from Framingham and has since been replicated in other studies. It’s acting on that information about preventable risk factors for disease that we have succeeded in this country in knocking down the rates of heart disease and stroke by about 60 percent. It’s really one of the biggest triumphs in public health in this country in the last half century — and one of the least broadcast.

The study will follow children's health for decades.

Study results will be used to improve children's health and well-being. Photo Courtesy: National Children's Study

BPGL: I read on the NCS website that finding the causes of diabetes one of the primary foci. What else are you planning to study?

LANDRIGAN: There are about 20 primary foci. And they’re all specified in the planning of the study. I mentioned autism, diabetes, childhood cancer, asthma, attention deficit disorder, also in older children, mental health problems like depression and schizophrenia.

BPGL: Will you follow diet as well?

LANDRIGAN: Yes. We’re also getting DNA on everybody, so we’ll have a chance to look at genetic factors.

BPGL: Are you also looking at immunizations?

LANDRIGAN: Absolutely.

BPGL: Since most kids are required by their school system to be immunized, will you have enough controls for comparison?

LANDRIGAN: The study is going to be following 100,000 children. So, in a population as large as this, there will be children who do not get immunized. We know from national vaccine rates that this large number of children will give us a substantial number of kids who are not immunized.

If you’re thinking about autism, the math says that 1 in 150 children is currently diagnosed with autism. In a population of 100,000, we will have about 600-700 hundred kids with autism, or at least with autism spectrum disorder. So that should be enough to really take a very careful look at if vaccines are related to autism or not. If they are, we’ll have a chance to look at that. And we’ll also have a chance to look at a lot of other potential factors for autism, like prenatal exposure to pesticides or lead or other chemicals.

BPGL: Will you be sampling the air in the environment as well?

The National Children's Study will assess mental and physical development over two decades.

The National Children's Health Study will assess physical and mental development over two decades. Photo Courtesy: National Children's Study

LANDRIGAN: Yes. We’ll doing sampling in the home, in the air, and as I mentioned, sampling of the mother herself during pregnancy, so that we can see what chemicals the baby is seeing during the nine months of pregnancy.

BPGL: In the recruitment process, is there any danger that parents may be self-selecting?

LANDRIGAN: We hope not. There’s an element of risk of that, of course. The study is set up according to very strict principles of statistical sampling so that it can be conducted in 105 counties across the U.S. Those counties were selected entirely according to statistical methodology. Then within the counties, we’ll be going to certain communities and certain neighborhoods, which again, have been selected entirely according to principles of statistical sampling. And then, the way we try to avoid self-selection is that we try to maximize the percentage of families that join the study. The higher the percentage of families in a given community that join the study, the less the risk of self-selection. It’s always a concern. We’re always worried about it, but we try hard to avoid it.

BPGL: I’m curious why the research study is just getting started in 2009, when it was authorized in 2000.

LANDRIGAN: There are a couple of factors. This was an enormous planning effort. So, from 2000 to 2005, we spent planning. The first contracts to actually do the study were awarded in September of 2005. Our group in New York was one of seven groups around the country who got contracts in the first wave. If all had gone according to schedule, we would have started sometime in 2006.

But what happened was, in February of 2006, President Bush declared that the study was not a funding priority, and he directed the NIH to close it down. We therefore had to postpone our fieldwork and instead work through the Congress to save the study. We had to do that each of the last three years. So, only now, we’re getting into the field.

All children will benefit from the results of the study in years to come. Photo Courtesy: National Children's Study

BPGL: Do you have confidence that you’ll receive steady government funding once the study launches, so that you can continue your important work?

LANDRIGAN: We’ll be working to ensure that. We’ve survived so far through some very tough times, so we hope that we can continue [for the full term of the project]. Because we’re increasingly concerned that early exposures may be the root cause of disease later in life, things like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, dementia … my own feeling is that once you launch a study like this and once you invest the extraordinary amount of energy that you must invest to sign up families and keep them with the study for 21 years, that nobody, least of all the families themselves, are going to want to break away at that age.

The Framingham study is still going after 60 years. They’re now in the third generation. In Framingham, they were signed up as adults, but they picked up the kids who were born to those adults and followed them through. And now they’re into the third generation.

BPGL: Could you tell me briefly about your instrumental role in setting this study up?

Dr. Philip Landrigan, head of the Queens center and one of the driving forces behind the National Children's Study

Dr. Philip Landrigan, one of the driving forces behind the National Children's Study and head of a Vanguard study center in Queens. Photo Courtesy: Dr. Philip Landrigan

LANDRIGAN: I was part of it. Back in ’96 – 97, I served for about a year as a special assistant to Carol Browner, when she was the administrator of the US EPA. I set up the Office of Children’s Environmental Health at EPA. It was basically out of the work of that office that we conjured up the idea for this study.

We came to realize that rates of disease like cancer, asthma, autism, were rising in this country. We realized that kids are surrounded by chemicals, that kids are very susceptible, very vulnerable to chemicals, and that we knew far too little about the effects of the chemicals on kids’ health. So we said to ourselves, Hey, we need a big study that builds on the little bits and pieces of evidence that we have, and create a much more systematic body of knowledge about the impact of chemicals on children’s health.

BPGL: Was Carol Browner supportive of that?

LANDRIGAN: Extremely.

BPGL: Is there anything else you’d like to our readers to know?

LANDRIGAN: Here at Mt. Sinai Medical School, where I’m situated in New York City, we’re not only doing the National Children’s Study, we’re also very much involved in training the next generation of pediatricians who are going to be the leaders in this country in the field of environmental pediatrics. Be sure to mention that it’s so important to couple research with training and education.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts

Part 1: Landmark National Children’s Study Launches in US (Top of Page)

Part 2: National Children’s Study to Assess Environment and Genetics

My 5: Dr. Philip Landrigan, Mount Sinai Medical Center