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.

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold


"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." -- Aldo Leopold (1886-1948). Photo: Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." -- Aldo Leopold (1886-1948). Photo: Courtesy of the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

The following book review is part of a series writer Jordan Jones calls the “Environmental Canon,” books that have shaped the environmental movement. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Environmentalism is a field of moral philosophy. Forgive me my bluntness but this is a fact all too often forgotten — by environmentalists and by the public at large. Environmentalism can be characterized (and caricatured) in all manner of ways, and its adherents are usually imagined to be one of three types: the lab-coated scientist, the long-haired hippie, and even, controversial as it may be, the gun-toting hunter. A figure usually absent from these disparate coalitions, however, is the philosopher. This is a grave omission, as it is the philosopher who provides the intellectual underpinning for the whole movement.

Indeed, it’s the philosopher (or the moralist, or the activist, or the intellectual — use whatever label you would like) who articulates the movement’s beliefs to the movement itself and the public at large. Environmentalism, like any other movement throughout history, has a great need for people of this kind, people who can explain to others, clearly and vividly, “What’s it all about?”

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was one such philosopher. Though an accomplished scientist and expert in wildlife management, his greatest contribution to the environmentalism movement has been philosophical or moral in nature. He is widely considered one of the most influential environmentalists of all time, right up there with Rachel Carson, whom he predates. His great reputation and influence belies the fact that it rests primarily on one book, the slim, artful A Sand County Almanac.

First published posthumously in 1949 by his son, Luna (the name of an environmentalist’s child if there ever was one), the book was little noticed by the public at large until the environmental movement of the ’60s and ’70s took off (partly as a result of the work of Carson, Leopold’s intellectual heir). There are now over two million copies of the work in print, and its influence is still felt in the American conservation movement and in the vital school of environmental thought known as Deep Ecology. A Sand County Almanac is considered one of the seminal texts of environmentalism.

The Almanac contains no unified narrative. Rather, it is a loosely structured series of essays and prose sketches involving philosophy, ecology and memoir that, taken as a whole, succeed wonderfully in imparting Leopold’s unique insights and unified ethical philosophy. Leopold reveals himself to be a wise and gentle visionary, and it is fitting that this book was the last thing he would ever publish and would thereby serve as his monument.

Leopold’s Land Ethic

The book is divided into three parts. Part I, “A Sand County Almanac” reveals what Leopold’s family “sees and does at its weekend refuge from too much modernity: ‘the shack’ ” in rural Wisconsin. Part II, “Sketches Here and There” is a loose collection of autobiographical episodes culled from Leopold’s long career at the National Forest Service and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The third and final part, “The Upshot,” is a thoughtful meditation on the issues facing the environmental movement and the moral and ethical implications of environmentalism. It is in this section that Leopold articulates his famous “land ethic”: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” With these two sentences, Leopold authored the Golden Rule of our era.

While that may sound hyperbolic, consider the reciprocal nature of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There is an underlying sense of the importance of community and of mutual exchange. Respectful reciprocity, it seems, is the key to ethical behavior. What Leopold does then, is expand this idea to include the whole of the land and the biota. In doing this, he rightly points out that ethics is expansive in nature:

The first ethics dealt with the relation between individuals; the Mosaic Decalogue is an example of this. Later accretions dealt with the relation between the individual and society. The Golden Rule tries to integrate the individual to society; democracy to integrate social organization to the individual.

Where do we go from there? To Nature, of course, the natural world. “All ethics so far evolved upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.… The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include the soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” It seems pretty reasonable when you consider that it is Nature with whom we have the most intimate and long-lasting interactions. No parent, child or lover comes close to, say, bacteria or the air we breathe. Nature is with us from birth, perhaps even before and after, depending on your metaphysical leanings. Within this system of ethics, then, humanity is but one component of the great order of things, one citizen (with all citizenship’s attendant rights and responsibilities) in a teeming metropolis.

Popular Appeal

"Relegating grizzlies to Alaska is about like relegating happiness to heaven," Leopold writes. Photo: © toschphoto -

While this kind of thinking is surely appealing to any serious student of ecology (or moral philosophy for that matter), it would be very uncharacteristic of the general public to embrace a book of philosophy. But A Sand County Almanac has a great many things that appeal to the general reader. First and foremost, Leopold is an elegant and witty writer, the equal of Rachel Carson, in my opinion.

A good example of this is the extended meditation on the nature of tree rings and of the saw. Felling a tree is, in a sense, a journey back in time: “We cut 1908, a dry year when the forests burned fiercely and Wisconsin parted with its last cougar. We cut 1907, when a wandering lynx, looking in the wrong direction for the promised land, ended his career among the farms of Dane County.” As the tree totters and descends, there is the elegant flourish: “By its fall the tree attests the unity of the hodge-podge called history.”

Leopold’s purpose is serious, yet he allows some humor into his writing — a good thing: “There seems to be the tacit assumption that if grizzlies survive in Canada and Alaska, that is good enough. It is not good enough for me. The Alaskan bears are a distinct species. Relegating grizzlies to Alaska is about like relegating happiness to heaven; one may never get there.”

Leopold’s prose style is wonderfully clear, and he demonstrates a talent for summing up complex processes in simple stories (fables always being a popular way to impart lessons.) A bus ride through rural Illinois becomes an opportunity to describe the effects of industrialized agriculture on the landscape and to criticize the oblivious passengers to whom “Illinois is only the sea on which they sail to ports unknown.” Leopold may as well be describing our own increasingly urbanized society, we who benefit from industrialized agriculture, but who remain willfully blind to the devastation it has wrought. Like Leopold’s passengers, we talk about “baseball, taxes, sons-in-law, movies, motors, and funerals, but never about the heaving groundswell” of the heartland, the very thing that makes baseball, etc., possible.

Thinking Like a Mountain

Leopold recounts the extermination of New Mexico wolves and entreats readers to "think like a mountain." Photo: © Mark Rasmussen -

Another striking anecdote can be found in the brief essay “Thinking Like a Mountain.” In recounting the extermination of New Mexico’s wolves, Leopold vividly illustrates the interconnectedness of the natural world. In the absence of their natural predators, the deer of New Mexico were allowed to reproduce uncontrollably and devastate the landscape. Leopold describes a mountain so barren it is “as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise.” In order to avoid such blunders, we humans must learn to see the whole picture, to “think like a mountain.”

“Thinking like a mountain” would seem to be the great challenge of humanity going forward into the 21st century. It is difficult, not just because of the complex considerations it involves, but because it requires a new kind of moral reasoning, one largely alien to our fast-paced, industrialized society.

As the Catholic Church (who, by the way, recently declared pollution a sin) will tell you, morality must be taught. Consider A Sand County Almanac, then, as a kind of catechism for a new age, an age which requires a sea change in our thinking, in our moral reasoning, if humanity and the Earth are going to survive. Enormous challenges face us, now and in the future. Luckily, Leopold, Carson and other philosophers have already bestowed their wisdom upon us and laid the groundwork for a new kind of thinking. We would be wise to revisit their teachings.

Jordan Jones

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Jordan Jones’ Environmental Canon

The Revenge of Gaia – Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity

John J. Audubon – Iconic Painter of Birds

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

The Creation – An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

The World Without Us

Ansel Adams at 100

The Fine Print

Neither Jordan Jones nor Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of this book or any other incentive or reward for reviewing it.

Blue Planet Green Living does, however, participate in the Amazon affiliates program. If you purchase a copy of this book or any other product by clicking on an Amazon link on this website, a small portion of your purchase price will go toward operating expenses on Blue Planet Green Living.

For more details about our review policy, please visit our Policies page.

The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth

The following book review is part of a series writer Jordan Jones calls the “Environmental Canon,” books that have shaped the environmental movement. — Publisher

For far too long, critics of environmentalism have resorted to a now-familiar false dichotomy pitting humankind against Nature. Human beings are a species apart, they say, detached from the ecosphere but still able (indeed, morally obligated) to reap its benefits. This fallacy is backed up by a related either/or argument, in which any environmental regulation is equated with obstructing the progress and well being of the human race. According to this philosophy, the protection of the proverbial spotted owl threatens the welfare of humanity.

Over the course of decades, science has unambiguously disproved these premises. It has become increasingly clear that in addition to providing innumerable non-material benefits to humankind, the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it bestow upon us equally incalculable eco-services, such as water purification and soil enrichment. Humanity requires Nature to survive. Therefore, it is in our best interests to protect, preserve, and nurture the environment.

This is the argument behind E.O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006). Refuting the tired ideas of anti-environmentalism and presenting the reality of human dependence upon Nature, Wilson demonstrates that the environmental crisis will affect us all, regardless of our ideological differences. It is appropriate then, that the book is not simply a sermon to the converted. Rather, it is a direct address to the very people who stand in the way of environmental progress. Of course, the converted can enjoy it too.

Written in the form of a letter to an unnamed Southern Baptist pastor — a member of a famously anti-environmental, anti-science political coalition — The Creation is Wilson’s compassionate plea to safeguard and care for the biosphere. Though Wilson is obviously attempting to bridge sharp political, cultural, and religious divides — to forge a truce, if you will, between Red States and Blue States — he is just as interested in expressing his personal conception of Nature and humanity’s place in it. And the reader is lucky for that, for Wilson is a fine chronicler of the natural world and his musings are as effective an argument as any.
Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for General Non-fiction, E.O. Wilson has long been one of America’s most prominent naturalists and theorists. In The Creation, he clearly draws upon his decades of work in the fields of sociobiology, entomology, and conservation to produce a document that is brief without being shallow and compassionate without being impractical.

Beginning with a salutation to the unnamed pastor, Wilson goes on to describe the wondrous workings of Nature and the problems that humanity — with its mix of “Stone Age emotion, medieval self-image, and godlike technology” — has caused it. “Civilization was purchased by the betrayal of Nature,” Wilson tells us in the first few pages. If humanity and Nature are to survive, this betrayal must be mitigated as much as possible.

Refreshingly, The Creation is not simply a screed or list of grievances, and Wilson doesn’t try to assign blame. Though the many environmental problems we face are well-documented, he is equally interested in compelling a sense of reverential awe for Nature. For each current or coming ecological catastrophe, there is something uplifting, fascinating. So while “the pauperization of Earth” is examined in-depth, Wilson is generous enough to provide a profile of the wolverine and the pitchfork ant (“two magnificent animals”) and the occasional incredible fact (“700 bacterial species thrive as symbionts in the human mouth”). Along the way, he touches upon his own thought-provoking theories of “biophilia” (the theory of humanity’s innate connection to Nature) and “consilience” (the unity of all knowledge), as well as his long love of ants.

And somehow it all works. When I came to the final page, I didn’t feel despondent or angry, but rather, inspired. I was excited to protect that pitchfork ant, as I was every other living thing.

The Creation is less concerned with all of the past crimes perpetrated against Nature than it is with preventing future ones. Wilson only devotes half of the book to the sorry state of the environment. The other half is dedicated to biology as a subject of study — its definition, laws, discoveries — and how to effectively teach a love of Nature to children and students. He closes with a proposal to the pastor to create “An Alliance for Life.” But what of the profound differences separating the author from his symbolic opponent? Wilson has an answer:

“Forget the differences, I say. Meet on common ground. That might not be as difficult as it seems at first. When you think about it, our metaphysical differences have remarkably little effect on the conduct of our separate lives. My guess is that you and I are about equally ethical, patriotic, and altruistic. We are products of a civilization that rose from both religion and the science-based Enlightenment. We would gladly serve on the same jury, fight the same war, sanctify human life with the same intensity. And surely we also share a love of the Creation.”

Published just three years ago, The Creation seems well-suited to the historical moment. With all this talk of national unity and the bridging of partisan divides (cross your fingers), it seems fitting to read a book about hope and change from an author who’s truly a uniter, not a divider. For its affirmative tone, Wilson’s text strikes me as one that begs repeated readings. For those of you fighting the good fight out there — through activism, conservation, recycling and the like — you may occasionally feel as if it is all in vain. But, sometimes, great causes should be undertaken regardless of their chances of victory. The Creation will tell you why.

Jordan Jones

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Jordan Jones’ Environmental Canon

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

The Revenge of Gaia – Climate Crisis and the Fate of Humanity

John J. Audubon – Iconic Painter of Birds

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

The World Without Us

Ansel Adams at 100

Silent Spring

The Fine Print

Neither Jordan Jones nor Blue Planet Green Living received a complimentary copy of this book or any other incentive or reward for reviewing it.

Blue Planet Green Living does, however, participate in the Amazon affiliates program. If you purchase a copy of this book or any other product by clicking on an Amazon link on this website, a small portion of your purchase price will go toward operating expenses on Blue Planet Green Living.

For more details about our review policy, please visit our Policies page.

Financial Incentives for Improving Energy Efficiency

As we learn more about the details of the new economic stimulus package, consumers are finding that  there’s help available for those of us who want to make our homes more energy efficient. It’s no surprise, of course, that utilities companies and businesses selling energy-efficient products would be among the first to spread this information.

Consider a solar installation to increase your energy efficiency.

Consider a solar installation to increase energy efficiency at your home or business. Photo: © Dubravko Grakalic -

Blue Planet Green Living received an email yesterday telling us that Andy Armstrong at Johnson Controls had posted a blog, “So What’s In the Stimulus Package for You and Me?” detailing some of the advantages of the new legislation. We were pleased to discover that Armstrong’s blog is both helpful and informative. But, if you’re seriously considering new appliance purchases or alternative energy installations, you won’t want to stop there.

As you investigate which product(s) to purchase for your home or business, be sure to check the ENERGY STAR website, sponsored jointly by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Energy (DOE). “Energy efficient choices can save families about a third on their energy bill with similar savings of greenhouse gas emissions, without sacrificing features, style or comfort. ENERGY STAR helps you make the energy efficient choice,” according to the EPA/DOE’s website.

ENERGY STAR appliances help save energy, money, and the planet. Logo: US EPA

ENERGY STAR appliances help save energy, money, and the planet.

For information on state-specific tax incentives and rebates that might help you pay for energy-efficient products or alternative energy for your home or business, one place to look is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) website. Be sure to check on the page to see when the site was updated for your local information; it’s different for each program.

For example, in looking up Iowa, I found that the posted announcement about our local utility company’s program had expired. After calling the utility company, I found they have a page on their site that tells about “rebates for each newly installed energy-efficient natural gas furnace, natural gas boiler, natural gas water heater, central air conditioner, air-source heat pump, ground-source heat pump, refrigerator, freezer, clothes washer and dishwasher.” And that expiration date, like many other states’, is 12/31/09.

With tax incentives, rebates, and low-interest loans, replacing an older, inefficient furnace is affordable for many consumers.

With tax incentives, rebates, and low-interest loans, replacing an older, inefficient furnace may be an affordable option for consumers. Photo: © TheSupe -

You may find that your energy company is offering reduced-rate financing for energy-efficiency improvements. But make sure you understand what you’re offered before you make a purchase. In our case, what at first glance appeared to be a sweet combination of loan and rebates turned out to be either a low-interest loan or six-months-same-as-cash terms or a product rebate. Consumers have to make the choice.

Whether you decide to purchase an energy-efficient appliance from Johnson Controls or someone else, as Andy Armstrong says, “The bottom line is this: add up the tax credits, rebates and the money you’ll be saving on your utility bills, and you could end up paying back the cost of a new furnace in as little as two years.”

If you can afford the initial investment, this is an opportune time to do it. Replacing old, inefficient appliances or installing alternative energy systems makes economic sense for your family and ecologic sense for the planet.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Notes from Iowa: We Are Gambling with Life Itself

The Pacific Ocean at sunset. Photo: B Geiger

As part of the National Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions held at colleges and universities across the U.S., the University of Iowa invited activists and experts to participate in panel discussions. Blue Planet Green Living was privileged participate on a panel with Andrew Saito, a student in the MFA program in play-writing. After a short reading from an original play, Saito read the following essay to the audience. We found the images and the message so thoughtful, beautiful, and powerful that we asked him to share it with our readers.— Julia Wasson, Publisher

Some twenty years ago and half a continent away, my father recounted memories from his childhood in Southern California. He told me about setting plastic toy soldiers on fire in dirt pits in his backyard. He told me about the Red Car, a light rail and streetcar system that crisscrossed Los Angeles from Long Beach to Downtown to Pasadena to Santa Ana. Profusions of Western toads would make regular nocturnal visits to his house, a block from the Los Angeles River, in a neighborhood nicknamed Frogtown. When he would go to the beach, the water was so clear he could see not only his feet, but fish. Yes, fish!

Today, all of those memories are nothing more than that. The Red Car’s last operational line discontinued service on April 8, 1961. This was part of what is now referred to as the Great American Streetcar Scandal, when General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil, among other corporations, engineered the replacement of light rail and streetcars with buses, to pave the way for broad public ownership and use of automobiles and freeways. In all honesty, I did not shed many tears when GM recently teetered on the brink. We reap what we sow.

Indeed, that seems precisely the position we currently occupy. We are reaping what we sowed, what our parents and grandparents sowed, and what we continue to sow. How many of us drove here? I am flying to Kentucky for spring break. I spent winter recess in Peru. It was long flight. I do not exculpate myself from responsibility, or hypocrisy.

The toads no longer visit Frogtown, and haven’t in years. I had the fortune of seeing one or two here and there when I was a kid, but that pales in comparison with the dozens and, as rumored, hundreds of toads that overran Frogtown in the 1950s. Perhaps they were looking for quarters more comfortable than the concrete channel that replaced a once free-flowing river.

My memories of Los Angeles’ beaches – Venice, Santa Monica, Redondo – are of brown water, parking lots within striking distance of waves, and large metal trash bins strangely reminiscent of oil barrels. Today, we have far more to worry about than just murky water.

The oceans are facing at least a quintuple assault:

  • Rising temperatures due to climate change — certainly not helped by the premeditated extinction of the Red Cars and their peers across the nation;
  • Acidification of the oceans, again due to elevated and exacerbating carbon emissions;


    Plastic trash on its way out to sea. Photo: © sasha -

  • The increasing presence of plastic — I’ve read reports of supermarket bags and Barbie dolls appearing on once pristine beaches of unpopulated islands, to mention nothing of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of trash twice the size of Texas that swirls in the waters midway between North America and Asia; in the long run, this plastic will break down to particles so small that they will be eaten by zooplankton, providing them with a fatal last meal, and thus threatening a foundation of the global food chain;
  • Other threats include chemical pollution, from pharmaceutical, medical and agricultural sources, as well as petroleum and human waste — we deliberately dump this stuff into the home of blue whales, dolphins, orca, salmon, seaweed, coral;
  • And, of course, there’s overfishing, when a human population forty times larger than when Christ lived demands ever more sushi, ceviche, lobster bisque and crab cakes from critically disappearing marine communities.

Let me not mention open-pit mining. Let me not mention deforestation. Let me not mention genetically modified seeds appearing in wild spaces. Let me not mention nuclear waste. Oops. My mind simply can’t keep these things in neat little boxes. Just as my father’s childhood has everything to do with my presence here at the University of Iowa, so do the disappearance of frogs, the rise of the automobile, and the assault on the oceans have everything to do with my life, and with playwriting. In Hamlet, Shakespeare describes theatre as “hold[ing] as ’twere the mirror up to nature.” While theatre has many functions, providing social commentary and an opportunity for introspection is a central one. I am a playwright. I love nature. I love life. I feel broken by the constant war we wage on our home. I feel broken by my own complicity in this war. Thus, I write plays about global warming. I write plays about rivers. I write plays about globalization. I write plays about the ocean. I write plays about life.

Nature gives

"Generosity is an essence of nature, of life..." Photo: Joe Hennager

Writing plays does not seem like a very effective or practical way to “combat” global warming, as Al Gore puts it. I’m not sure how we can combat something that will continue to affect us for a very long time, even if carbon emissions dropped to zero right now. Carbon emissions need to drop to zero. Right now. Writing plays seems like a terribly indirect way to heal the Iowa River or protect sea turtles or the Amazon rainforest, which has been so generous to me in providing adventure, inspiration, and insight. Oh, and oxygen. Of course, the Amazon has been generous to all of us, in so many ways, asking nothing in return. Let me say that every ecosystem, every animal and plant, mineral, waterway, mountain, and wind current has and continues to be generous. Yes, nature is also violent, but when to the point of self-annihilation? Generosity is an essence of nature, of life, which only asks that we reciprocate, by taking what we need, and giving what we have. When we die, we give our own bodies, our own selves, so that the physical matter that we borrow while living our unique and beautiful, irreplaceable lives, allows some other, or many other, beings the opportunity to live as fully and unforgettably as we do right now.

I suppose my writing, then, is an act of gratitude to the world. It is an act of fear, an act of grief, an act of anger, and an act of hope. Hope that I will become better at living what I write. Hope that we all learn to live in concert with life, and not as obstacles to nature, and therefore ourselves. I have read and studied a great deal about global warming and renewable energies, and somewhat on deforestation, water pollution, desertification, and extinction. I have taken introductory classes on building greywater systems and solar cookers; I have yet to put what I learned in either of those classes into practice.

When I spent several months in the Peruvian Amazon, I felt a burning urge to support reforestation, yet I knew not what to do, nor who to turn to. This is a recurring frustration in my own life, what I view as a gap between thought and action, between passion and practice. I know more than enough, but I find myself having difficulty knowing how to get started. I recycle and compost and commute by bicycle, even in this cold — I refuse to own a car. I refuse to take plastic bags 99.99% of the time. In fact, I reuse plastic bags, generally until they are bedraggled with holes. This feels like scratching the surface. It is. I write plays about nature, and how we’re killing nature, and therefore ourselves. This also feels like scratching the surface. It is.

"Nothing exists in true isolation." Photo: B Geiger

"Nothing exists in true isolation." Photo: B Geiger

And it will always be scratching the surface as long as I view my life and actions in isolation. I cannot do everything, despite how much I may pressure myself to the contrary. Self-flagellation and guilt are not helpful, and certainly harm my writing. But apathy and inaction harm more than guilt. I will say that the very American, very modern obsession with individualism profoundly violates nature and life. Nothing exists in true isolation, and the sooner we learn and live the lesson of interdependence, the better for us, and everybody.

I mentioned four stories my father told. Three are now memories, but perhaps not forever. The other is a nightmare. Plastic soldiers. Armies of them. Armadas. Armies of soldiers riding roughshod over Sudan and Somalia, over Afghanistan and Iraq, over Gaza and Guantánamo, over Ciudad Juárez and Chiapas, over Richmond, California and Washington, D.C. An armada of plastic suffocating Los Angeles and Orange County, Beijing and Shanghai, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, and the Pacific Ocean. We are killing ourselves for the fleeting convenience and ease that plastic provides. Plastic cups. Plastic forks and sporks. Plastic packing peanuts. Plastic bubble wrap. Plastic packages of Cheetos and Doritos, Oreos and M & M’s in vending machines in the UI hospital, a blaring contradiction in the hallowed halls of health. I must say, I doubt that Texas’s plastic doppelganger will prove particularly convenient or easy, now or ever.

Writing these words, I feel rage and despair. But I need to write them, I need to fight the urge to censor myself, to remain polite and politic, to smile and not offend. We are gambling with life itself. No. We are assaulting life, which is more beautiful than any play I, or anyone, will ever write. More extraordinary than any NASA telescope, or any cancer-curing discovery. More inspiring than Martin Luther King’s eloquence or even the Buddha’s enlightenment. Life is what I am, and my life is miraculous, but no more or less than yours, or the grass frozen and dormant, or the jungles of Peru, or the toads in Frogtown, or the bald eagle I saw fly overhead last November; I had never before seen our national symbol fly free. Life is a miracle, so I write in honor of life, to thank it, to defend it, to grieve its illness and to fight for its survival. Our survival.

"I depend on the

"I need ... butterflies and bees, to pollinate the peaches and pears..." Photo: B Geiger

The human brain cannot function without human lungs, which cannot breathe without the human heart,
which cannot beat without the entirety of the body working in collaborative concert. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony cannot be played by a single musician. This university is far from a one-person operation. Theatre is never the work of the playwright alone. Just as my plays depend on actors, designers, dramaturges, producers, directors and audiences to bring characters and stories to life, so I depend on all of you. So I depend on the Iowa River. So I depend on the Amazon, and the Congo, and the Pacific and Atlantic. So I depend on Arctic ice and wild, unmodified corn in Oaxaca, Mexico, even if its kernels never grace my lips.

Each of us is a collaboration of atoms, of organs, working together for our success. I don’t know about you, but I want a strong heart, and strong lungs, strong hands and legs. I want to work with strong actors and directors. Their strength enhances my own. Let me speak very selfishly now. I pray for each of your health, happiness, and runaway success because it will make this world better for me. I need strong rivers. I need strong forests. I need healthy bats and hummingbirds, butterflies and bees, to pollinate the peaches and pears whose juice I want to drip down my chin this summer. Me. Me. I want a healthful, beautiful planet for me. But in looking in myself, if I quiet my mind and really look, I see rocks. I see lakes. I see my father at five years old. I see you. I see the world.

"In destroying a river, I am destroying God." Photo: Joe Hennager

"In destroying a river, I am destroying myself...." Photo: Joe Hennager

Al Gore argues that we need a shift in human consciousness. I agree, although that shift needs to occur on a level far deeper than installing solar panels and driving plug-in hybrids. These technologies are helpful, even vital, but alone are doomed to futility. The solution, or rather, point of departure, that I propose, as an artist and writer, very much untrained in science, is that each of us fall entirely and speechlessly in love and in awe with the world, recognizing that nature is beauty, and nature is sacred. Let me fall so in awe that I become appalled by the very thought of dumping toxins in a river, for in destroying a river, I am destroying myself, and destroying God. Let me fall so in awe that I will organize and communicate and sacrifice superficial ease for long-term health and prosperity.

My prayer today, and every day, is that I, and we, can find a way to become worthy of the Iowa River, worthy of the prairie, worthy of the oceans, of the Catskills and the Rockies, of the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef, of the Amazon, of the Earth. Let us be worthy of being alive. Let us be worthy of being who we are.

Andrew Saito

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Eco-Friendly Fabrics Make Green Fashion Statement

As consumers become increasingly concerned about the environment, the marketplace responds with new technology to fit the demands of a greener lifestyle: CFLs now provide a more energy-efficient alternative than the fluorescent light bulbs of a few years ago. Hybrid cars use less gas and emit fewer fumes than their gas-only counterparts. Solar installations and wind turbines create off-the-grid energy to power homes and businesses. Even clothing is becoming more eco-friendly.

Eco-fashion, also known as green fashion, features clothes made with respect for the environment. Environmentally friendly fabrics are woven from organic fibers that were grown without pesticides or artificial herbicides. In addition, organic fabrics, such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and soy silk are not treated with harmful chemical dyes or bleaches.

Scarf made from 100 percent soy silk Infinity fabric by SOYSILK. Photo: SWTC Inc.

Scarf made from 100 percent soy silk Infinity fabric by SOYSILK. Photo: SWTC Inc.

Green fashion and organic materials are gaining popularity. Several high-fashion clothing designers, including Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, Jil Sander, and Versace include designs made from earth-friendly materials in their lines.

Vogue magazine recently compiled tips on how to help save the world — and still turn heads — by wearing eco-friendly textiles. Even popular stores such as TopShop and H&M are promoting organic fashion by featuring eco-friendly clothing.

Components that determine the environmental friendliness of textiles include sustainable farming practices, transportation of both raw materials and finished clothing, fabric biodegradability and, most significantly, the growth and manufacture of fabric fibers.


Most consumers recognize the role of transportation in the overall carbon footprint of manufactured goods. But the role of fabric manufacturing is less well-known, though extremely important to keep in mind. Here are a few ways that the fabric production adds to pollution:

  • Conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop. Every year, cotton growers around the world use approximately $2.6 billion worth of pesticides, equivalent to more than 10% of the world’s total pesticides. Cotton growing also uses nearly 25% of the world’s insecticides, according to Pesticide Action Network North America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that, in the United States, 1.2 pounds of insecticides and 2.1 pounds of herbicides are applied to each acre of cotton. These synthetic chemicals not only endanger the environment, they also put at risk the health of people and animals living near these fields.
  • Sock manufacturers treat socks with nanosilver and ionic silver in order to kill foot odor. As an ongoing study by the University of California Davis shows, once the silver is washed out of socks, it may kill beneficial microbes in soil, groundwater, or streams.
  • According to a January 2008 report by Textiles Intelligence, man-made fibers, such as nylon, accounted for 58 percent of fiber demand in 2006. These fibers are made of petrochemicals, and their production requires the use of declining oil and gas reserves. Synthetic fibers are non-renewable, do not biodegrade, and are not easy to recycle. Of even more concern, if these fibers are thermally broken down by being melted in a dryer or very hot water, they may emit a complex mixture of compounds including — but not limited to — carbon monoxide, ammonia, aliphatic amines, ketones, nitriles, and hydrogen cyanide.
  • Manufacturing a ton of textiles requires ten times more energy than manufacturing a ton of glass, according to Recycle for Essex.

Yet, not every fabric is harmful to the environment. Incorporating fibers made from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, or soy into clothing will minimize the impact of cloth manufacturing on the environment.


cotton fleece

Organic cotton fleece available at Clothworks in Iowa City, IA. Photo: Sabrina Potirala

By definition, organic farming doesn’t use pesticides or artificial fertilizers. An important benefit of growing cotton organically is that the lack of chemical pesticides promotes a healthier workplace. According to the World Health Organization, 20,000 deaths occur each year from pesticide poisoning in developing countries, many of these from traditional cotton farming.

Members of the Sustainable Cotton Project are dedicated to assisting farmers meet the demand for organic cotton by helping manufacturers become greener through The Cleaner Cotton™ Campaign. The SCP’s tactic for creating cleaner cotton focuses on replacing synthetic fertilizers, using innovative weeding strategies instead of herbicides, controlling insect pests with traps rather than pesticides, and finding alternatives to toxic defoliants in order to prepare plants for harvest.

Lynda Grose, marketing Consultant for the Cleaner Cotton™ Campaign, told this reporter that, because of high costs, growing organic cotton has had limited success in developed countries. The Cleaner Cotton Campaign has helped fund organic cotton as a micro niche for farmers in California, in order to give the market a boost in the United States.

Organic cotton cloth woven in a herringbone design, available at Clothworks in Iowa City, IA. Photo: Sabrina Potirala

Organic cotton cloth woven in a herringbone design, available at Clothworks in Iowa City, IA. Photo: Sabrina Potirala

Like its traditionally grown counterpart, organic cotton is used to make more than just clothing. Organic cotton can also be used in the manufacture of cotton puffs, ear swabs, sanitary products, make-up removal pads, towels, bathrobes, sheets, blankets, toys, diapers, and bedding. Although not yet at the level of traditionally grown cotton, demand for organic cotton is increasing. In 2008, organic cotton acreage in the United States grew from 6,786 acres to 7,669 acres, according to the Organic Trade Association.


Because hemp requires no pesticides and needs little water, this plant has high potential to create eco-friendly textiles. Hemp grows quickly and densely, eliminating the need for synthetic herbicides or artificial fertilizers. Hemp has naturally long, sturdy fibers, making it long-lasting and durable. Clothing produced from hemp is also warmer, softer, more absorbent, and extremely breathable compared to other textiles. According to Lotus Organics, hemp does not contribute to the greenhouse effect; during the growing process, the plants absorb as much CO2 as what will later be released if the stalks are burned for fuel.

Hemp plants to be used for fabric. Photo:

Organic hemp plants to be harvested for fabric. Photo:

Adam Eidinger, Communications Director at the Hemp Industries Association, said substituting hemp for other materials is another way to reduce potential ground water pollution, because herbicides and pesticides are not used in the growing process. Eidinger also said that hemp is beneficial to the environment because “shifting away from fossil-fuel-based products is another way to conserve [natural] resources while introducing less toxic stuff into the lives of people everywhere.”

Harvested hemp stalks. Photo:

Harvested organic hemp stalks. Photo:

The future of hemp in the United States is uncertain, because growing hemp has been prohibited here since the 1950s, when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency classified all C. sativa (hemp) varieties as “marijuana.” Eidinger said hemp will remain a blended fiber with organic cotton until the U.S. certifies industrial hemp.

China, England, France, Holland, Hungary, Russia, and Canada do not have the same restrictions. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States indicates that world production of hemp fiber grew from 50,000 tons in 2000 to almost 90,000 tons in 2005. Hemp currently accounts for less than 0.5 percent of total world production of vegetable fibers.

In Eidinger’s opinion, U.S. farmers will only grow hemp once they receive government assurance that they will not face prosecution.


Like hemp, bamboo is an extremely rapid grower that doesn’t require pesticides and herbicides. Bamboo plantations require minimal energy because the plant requires very little water and can survive both drought and flooding conditions, according to the Environmental Bamboo Foundation. Because these forests are so dense, the stands release 35% more oxygen than equivalent stands of trees. Some bamboo sequester up to 12 tons of carbon dioxide from the air per hectare.

Organic bamboo cloth is colored with natural dyes. The fabric is 100 percent biodegradable, so it is safe for municipal disposal programs. Bamboo is naturally softer than cotton, is allergy-reduced, and has a natural anti-microbial agent that prevents bacteria from forming on it.

Bamboo is unique, said Adrienne Makita, manager of the Bamboo Fabric Store, because “it’s more luxurious than cotton, more breathable than synthetics, and more delicate than hemp.”

mittens and hat

Mittens and hat made from 70/30 organic bamboo/ organic cotton fleece, available from Photo: Sabrina Potirala

Several different processes can be used to transform bamboo into a fabric. The most environmentally friendly is to mechanically crush the woody parts of the bamboo, then use natural enzymes to turn the bamboo walls into a pulp. The natural fibers are then combed out and spun into yarn.

Bamboo can also be turned into a fabric using chemicals. This chemical process is not as green as the mechanical process. Michael Lackman, a reporter for Organic Consumers Association, wrote “it is important to consider that these chemicals when compared to the pesticides and defoliants used in conventional cotton are much safer on both the environment and arguably, more importantly, the farmers.” Lackman advises consumers to look for the Oeko-Tek certification when buying bamboo clothing, because the certification ensures that the textiles are free of any processing chemicals.


A lesser-known, eco-friendly fiber is soy silk, which is made from tofu-manufacturing waste. Soy protein is liquefied and then extruded into long, continuous fibers that are cut and processed like any other spinning fiber. Because soy has high protein content, the fabric is much more receptive to natural dyes — eliminating the need for synthetic dyes. Soy silk is 100% biodegradable.

The model's blouse is made from SOYSILK's Pure fabric (100 percent soy silk). Photo: SWTC

The model's blouse is made from SOYSILK's Pure fabric (100 percent soy silk). Photo: SWTC

In 1941, automobile pioneer Henry Ford, a strong proponent of soybeans, wore the first “soy suit” made of 25 percent soy fibers and 75 percent wool fibers. Today, the South West Trading Company, Inc. (SWTC) features SOYSILK®, a soy fiber and yarn used for spinning, knitting, crotchet, and weaving. Jonelle Raffino, President of SWTC, Inc., said the fabric is “as soft as cashmere.” Soy silk also wicks away moisture and has a soft, gentle drape.


The future of our planet is heavily influenced by the decisions we make today. By insisting on clothing made from eco-friendly fabrics, consumers will drive more demand for environmentally responsible clothing. The benefits to the planet are undeniable. Besides, what could be better than looking good and protecting the environment at the same time?

Sabrina Potirala

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Notes from Nepal: Climate Change Reaches the Himalayas

Jagdish Poudel, Aseem Kanchan, Raju Pokharel, and Mausam Khanal pose in front of a snowless Himal (mountain) on the way to Khudi. Photo: Courtesy Jagdish Poudel

In Jagdish Poudel’s first entry in the “Notes from Nepal” series, he told us that he would soon be going to the Himalayas to teach uneducated rural residents about climate change. Last week, Poudel, along with fellow environmental science M.Sc. students Aseem Kanchan, Raju Pokharel, and Mausam Khanal, journeyed to Khudi, high in the Annapurna Mountain Range. What follows is Jagdish’s second entry, in which he tells us about giving a presentation to Khudi villagers, who live in a place where the once-abundant snow has turned to rain, and the mountainsides are losing their coat of white. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Nepal is rich in biodiversity and natural resources. While the nation leaps through the process of economic development and embraces globalization at an accelerated pace, she also demonstrates concern for biodiversity conservation and sustainability. Central to this process, however, is the understanding that it is never easy to balance the delicate relationship between conservation and development, especially given the complex effects of climate change.

As the environment warms, the survival of a large number of plant and animal species will depend on their ability to move to higher latitudes and altitudes. The ever-accelerating warming of the environment can, therefore, cause a loss of ecosystem integrity or destroy the habitats of certain species. Consequently, large populations of plant and animal species could be wiped out due to climate change and habitat fragmentation.

Rural residents take notes in the students' presentation.

Rural residents take notes during the students' presentation. Photo: Courtesy Jagdish Poudel

Keeping these things in mind, three other M.Sc. students and I went to the village of Khudi to organize a workshop on climate change and its impact on the local people. We had an idea about the things that we would need to show to them. We had been wondering whether we could make them understand. We four friends gave three presentations, including some important points about temperature increases due to greenhouses gases; the melting of snow and ice; and changes in rainfall patterns, with increased frequency of extreme rains. People living in and around Khudi watershed are experiencing different rainfall patterns than in previous years, sometimes heavy enough to cause the loss of fertile soil, as well as flooding and landslides.

High tech presentation in a rural village

Poudel and his friends give a high-tech presentation in a Himalayan village. Photo: Courtesy Jagdish Poudel

Observers have noted an overall decrease in annual rainfall in the arid and semi-arid regions of the Annapurna Range. So far this year, there has been no rainfall in the area. Consequently, there is less snow on the Himal (mountain) and the water level in the river has been low. I saw that the Himal was bare, where there used to be a huge amount of snow just a few years ago. Meanwhile, there has been an increasing tendency of extreme showers and storms in summer, leading to severe flood disasters and soil erosion. Besides increased floods, there is also an increase in the frequency of other natural disasters, such as heat waves, drought, dust storms, and typhoons.

In the development process and expansion of human activities, lots of range land and forest areas have been, and are still being, replaced by agricultural lands. Besides the above-mentioned impacts of climate change, there are other direct and indirect threats to biodiversity from climate change. We anticipated that the local people would mention these at the workshop. Some points I was expecting them to mention included: widely spreading invasive organisms, especially weeds and pests; shortage and uneven distribution of water resources (we saw this at Khudi, when we took a look around the area); growing vulnerability of grasslands, forests, and wetlands, and of the people who are dependent on those natural resources; and a decrease in the health of the ecosystem.

Poudel explains climate change to the group.

Poudel explains climate change to the group. Photo: Courtesy Jagdish Poudel

Above all, the increase in climate variability and extreme events will alter environmental conditions and threaten many species that live in narrow habitats. We couldn’t find any data over there yet, but study has to be done on that area for this purpose. The giant panda, for example, has a very brief breeding period in the later spring and early summer. Changes in the timing of seasonal temperatures may upset its breeding season and place further stress on this species. This may apply to many other species, as well, such as the snow leopards and the red pandas that are found in Sagarmatha National Park, Annapurna Conservation Area, and Langtang National Park.

The people at Khudi told us that some vegetables and improved seeds of agricultural crops are growing better this year than before, even though they don’t understand why. People also experienced an increased number of mosquitoes and insects around Khudi. This, too, is due to climate change.

A 71-year-old man listens intently.

A 71-year-old man listens intently. Photo: Jagdish Poudel

As far as I could tell while interacting with local people, they didn’t know what climate change is. But in government and private schools, students are learning about it from their teachers.

I had a deep interaction with an old man of age 71. He was trying hard to understand the presentation I was making. After my presentation, he told me that he now knows what climate change is and how it happened. The old man was not in the mood to know why this is happening; he doesn’t even want to know more about climate change. But he was keen to understand about the mitigation techniques and precautions he needs to take to protect his land and his family from natural disasters that might occur if the Khudi river floods in summer.

The class poses for a group photo.

The class poses for a group photo. Photo: Courtesy Jagdish Poudel

He is an old man. Even if he tries hard to know how all these things happen, he will hardly understand all our scientific data and facts. He does understand the pictures and videos that I took there to show the people. I am happy that he wants to know more about mitigation techniques and precautions against natural hazards.

But climate change is not a problem that can be solved just by the effort of a few people. It needs global support and determination. Educating the younger generation and school students is the most important thing we can do to stop further harmful impacts from climate change.

It was a nice workshop, where most of the local people and school students participated. I would like to do such work again and again in those places where people are directly affected by climate change.

Jagdish Poudel

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts

Notes from Nepal: Teaching Climate Change in the Himalayas

Notes from Nepal: Cautions about Expanding Eco Tourism

Birth of a Biodynamic Winery

Comments Off on Birth of a Biodynamic Winery

Thousands of wild Coho and Chinook salmon once swam with steelhead trout in the waters of Sonoma County’s Dry Creek. For a time, the common use of pesticides had all but wiped out the salmon. Today, Dry Creek is a protected stream. Nearby farmers now understand the dangers of applying chemicals to their vineyards and their crops — dangers not only to the fish in the creek but also to the people who will drink the wine and eat the produce grown on their land.

Truett Hurst Winery in the springtime. Photo: Truett Hurst Winery.

At Truett Hurst Winery, a new addition to the fine wineries of Sonoma County, we not only have decided to forgo pesticides and herbicides, we also have begun to farm biodynamically. Simply put, biodynamics is a form of farming that strives to be self-sustained, self-contained, and harmonious with nature.

We have embarked on a three-year program to adhere to the rigid standards set by Demeter, an international certifying body, whose standards are said to exceed those of the National Organic Program. We are confident that the winery we are creating will be sustainable both in farming practices and economically, and will produce world-class wines.

Salmon have begun returning to Dry Creek.

Salmon once again spawn in Dry Creek. Photo: Truett Hurst Winery.

I invite you to come along with me as I walk through the property and point out the progress we’re making on this biodynamic farming adventure. We’ll start on the banks of Dry Creek, which runs through the heart of the valley. Despite its name, Dry Creek is never dry; Warm Springs Dam feeds it throughout the dry months. The creek forms the western boundary of our property, and Dry Creek Road borders us on the east. Truett Hurst Winery is located on the land between the two.

Dry Creek is my favorite place at the winery. In the five years I have been on the property, I have seen a steady increase in the number of fish running in the stream.  During the rainy season, I can walk down to the creek and observe salmon migrating, and even spawning, in the shallow pools on our stretch of the creek. We are working in conjunction with the Department of Fish and Game and with Trouts Unlimited to create an observation area and a release point for wild salmon. Viewing the salmon is one of the many rewards of our project.

A truck crosses the farm bearing barrels of wine.

A truck crosses a pasture carrying barrels of wine. Photo: Truett Hurst Winery.

Walking from the creek toward the vineyards, we first have to go through the sheep pasture. We are in the process of building our sheep fencing, as sheep will become a vital part of the ecosystem. They will roam throughout the vineyards, serving as our lawn mowers and our fertilizers. We will also incorporate chicken coops to provide nitrogen-rich fertilizer and weed abatement. We’ll especially appreciate their help with scratching crab grass, a huge nuisance in Dry Creek Valley. The middle five acres are dedicated to open sheep pasture.

More than 15,000 newly planted vines spread across 18 acres on the property. It looks a bit like a milk carton vineyard at the moment. In the springtime, we will be grafting more than 10 acres to Zinfandel and 7 acres to Petite Sirah.

Grafting new vines onto old.

Grafting new vines onto old. Photo: Truett Hurst Winery.

The creation of elaborate compost piles is also underway, and we’ll build them up over the coming years. We are, in essence, farming the soils, creating powerfully alive soils that will allow for true “wines of place.” In biodynamic farming, everything we need to farm the property is created on the property. By doing this, the grapes are truly representative of the land we farm. This terrior will become the hallmark of our wines.

We are also working with a sharecropper, who will be planting three acres of biodynamic gardens to bring to market. He is planning out areas of fruits, vegetables, and a small orchard that will allow us to farm diverse crops on our land. Some of our produce will be sold to organic restaurants, and some will be given to local food banks.

Lunar cycles are important in biodynamic farming.

Lunar cycles are important in biodynamic farming. Photo: Truett Hurst Winery.

One fascinating aspect of biodynamics is the practice of farming by lunar cycles.  Summer and winter solstices are very important in the preparation of our organic compounds. I call it “Farmer’s Almanac farming,” and it simply is a very hands-on, practical way to farm.

Winemaker, Ginny Lambrix, carefully tends each vine. Photo: Truett Hurst Winery.

Everything we do is clean, pure and, wherever possible, done by hand. It is a very pure way to farm and truly become one with your land.

Ginny Lambrix, our amazingly talented winemaker and head of viticulture, walks the vineyards often to see how the rootstock is doing and how the soils are progressing, as well as to get a personal feel for our vineyards. I kid her that she has probably named each one of the 15,000 vines.

Bottles of Truett Hurst wine, ready for labeling.

Bottles of Truett Hurst wine, ready for labeling.

A little over a year ago, a team of three wine-industry pioneers took ownership of this land:
•    Paul Dolan, one of the most respected names in the wine business and godfather of biodynamic farming practices where wineries are concerned. He led the efforts of organic pioneer Fetzer Winery for almost three decades.
•    Heath Dolan, scion of Paul and 5th generation grape grower. He is the developer of one of the most famous biodynamic vineyards in the world, Dark Horse Vineyards in Hopland.
•    Phil Hurst, founder of Winery Exchange and one of the former winemakers at Fetzer in their early years. Winery Exchange is one of the largest private label wine companies in the world.

The patio adjacent to the tasting room. Photo: Truett Hurst Winery.

One of the most refreshing things about what we are doing is the fact that the owners say we must become financially sustainable, as well as a sustainable farm. Financial sustainability is key to this venture; otherwise wineries that still farm with conventional methods (herbicide, pesticide, machine farming) will have no incentive to convert. At the end of the day, profitability is a key part of sustainability.

The owners’ collective vision was to create a beautiful destination and a biodynamic winery in the heart of Dry Creek Valley. They wanted to show how world-class wines can be created from strict biodynamic practices. The truer we are to our core farming values, the better Truett Hurst Wines will taste.

There is something truly special about this place, and in the coming months and years, I will share with you what is happening as we move ahead with our biodynamic farm. If you find your way to Sonoma County, come see for yourself. We love showing the place off. And you might just see a migrating salmon or two while enjoying a glass of our wines.

Jim Morris

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint

Roothaan demonstrates that reducing your footprint can be as easy as composting leftovers from a backyard barbecue. Photo: Courtesy Susan Roothaan

Roothaan demonstrates that reducing your footprint can be as easy as composting leftovers from a backyard barbecue. Photo: Courtesy Susan Roothaan

Of the three terms most associated with environmentalism at the consumer level — Rethink, Reuse, Recycle — the first one is probably the most overlooked. Yet, according to Susan Roothaan, founder and executive director of A Nurtured World, rethinking how we spend our money can have a huge impact on the environment. It can also increase our quality of life.

It might be surprising to learn how easily the average person in an industrialized nation can make changes to reduce our carbon footprints. Want to learn how to reduce yours? Roothaan’s workshop teaches how to improve your quality of life and save money all while reducing your impact on the planet.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) talked with Roothaan from her home office in Austin, Texas, and later met her at the Bears/Packers tailgate I wrote about yesterday (see Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose). What follows is part one of a two-part series. — Publisher

BPGL: Your environmental work combines ecology and economy. How did you get interested in the combination of the two?

ROOTHAAN: For 20 years, I worked to help businesses, industries, and the military reduce their waste output. They call it “pollution prevention.” You’re reducing something at its source versus cleaning up at the end. This is also being a good businessperson.

So I did a lot of thinking about how this would apply to the consumer sector. When I first started this nonprofit, consumer environmentalism was in its infancy. I realized that the model of environmentalism for the consumer is that it’s saving money. Most people think it’s just going and buying a more expensive product [to reduce energy use]. But if you’re really going to be green, it’s about being frugal — how to get more fulfillment out of fewer resources and less waste.

Then I started to think about what was the mission, or product, of an individual. One of the things we do — and this is what started A Nurtured World — we developed a workshop that caused people to fundamentally change their behavior. It caused them to look at what’s important to them, as well as how they’re spending their money.

BPGL: What do participants learn in your workshops?

ROOTHAAN: In the workshops, we teach that the top three consumer impacts on the environment are transportation, food consumption, and home energy use. If you’re going to change your behavior, it’s good to know what the big impacts are. And, according to the US Consumer Bureau Statistics, the top areas of spending are transportation, home, and eating. So, if you want to protect the environment, then be cheap.

Workshop participants checking in.

Workshop participants checking in.

We partnered with the military and gave a series of three workshops at Fort Hood with the soldiers and their spouses. Most of the people were not environmentalists, but it was really great. We measured the results of our workshop, and the average participant is saving $1,500 per year.

On average, Americans produce about 20 tons of carbon per person per year. If you remember, a couple years ago, Sting did a concert to raise awareness and tried to get everyone to reduce their carbon footprints by a ton and a half a year. Our workshop participants each reduced their footprint by two tons per year.

BPGL: How do you get people to make such a big shift in behavior?

ROOTHAAN: A lot of the footprint reduction we see is the result of being more conscious about what you’re choosing to do and asking if it’s leading to what you really want in life. It’s all about cost vs. payoff. We look at what’s important to them. Mostly we hear them say family and religion, God, and faith. These are two areas that are really important to people.

We get them to look at how they spend their money. A lot of spending is not done consciously. We work with people to let go of things that don’t lead to fulfillment.

It’s moving to me to see the results some of these people make. I’ve heard comments like, “I’m saving $50 a month now, and I wasn’t saving anything before.” That kind of money makes a difference to soldiers. Another attendee remarked, “Things are much more harmonious [in my home].” She indicated that her family was finally paying off debt and had money now for family vacations.

We didn’t start with the intention to help people save money, but that really is very meaningful for people on a day-to-day basis.

BPGL: That’s interesting, to approach environmentalism through personal finances. It sounds like a very positive way to make behavioral change.

ROOTHAAN: In 2002, when I started this, we hadn’t had [Hurricane] Katrina or Al Gore’s movie. Now the consciousness is changing; people really care about the environment. But they were always pushed back by [environmental leaders] saying, “You’re bad and wrong.” There was not a lot of space for someone who had never done anything to start doing something about the environment. People may not know what to do, but the desire to do something is really strong.

Roothaan asks participants to consider their purpose, then make changes accordingly.

Roothaan asks participants to consider their purpose, then make changes accordingly.

BPGL: So, your approach requires people to look at the way they spend money. Anything else?

ROOTHAAN: We’re hitting on three things: commitment to the environment, saving money, and having a life that’s more fulfilling. Different people are motivated by different things. If we’re teaching a higher-income person, money may not be their motivation. Their motivation might be that they want to leave a better place for their kids. Or they may decide that harming the environment is inconsistent with their faith.

BPGL: Recently, we ran an article about Rays of Hope (see Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity), which is one of the projects under the umbrella of A Nurtured World. How does the Rays of Hope project tie in with your workshops?

ROOTHAAN: In Rays of Hope, we upgrade low-income homes. What we’ve done is to take ideas from the workshop and build them into the retrofit. We’re not doing just a physical retrofit, but also teaching the homeowners to make behavioral changes with information from our workshop.

My interest is in shifting behavior for all people in a way that gives them great lives. Months to years after the workshop, some of the participants have told me, “I’m spending more time with my family than I did before.” Because they’ve got their money under control, they now have more time for what matters to them.

In some cases, they realize that instead of spending their time working for the money to acquire things, then spending time maintaining those things, they’re now spending time “being” with their family. It could be that, through the workshop, they got clear on what’s most important to them: their family, not their stuff.

Part 1: Improve Quality of Life by Lowering Your Carbon Footprint (Top of Page)
Part 2: Save the Planet (and Money) by Living Your Values

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts:

Tailgating for a Common Green Purpose

Renewable Energy, a Tool for Social Equity

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century

Let’s Talk Toilets

December 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page, Slideshow, Tips, Water, Water Use

Toilets account for almost 30 percent of residential indoor water use in the United States. They’re also a major source of wasted water due to leaks and inefficiency. Unless a replacement has been installed, in a home built prior to 1993, each toilet likely uses 3 1/2 gallons — or more — for every flush.

Old-fashioned toilets waste water. Photo: Joe Hennager

Old-fashioned toilets use as much as 7 gallons per flush. Photo: Joe Hennager

Experts say that the minimum amount of clean water needed to meet the basic human needs of drinking, cooking and hygiene is 5 gallons per person per day. That’s far short of enough to ensure health and well-being; it’s barely enough to get by. But do we really need to flush nearly an entire day’s minimum requirement each time we go “number one”?

In the beginning of modern toilets, the 7-gallon, flushing, porcelain lavatory was the throne of choice. That was followed by the low-flush, or low-flow, toilet. Unfortunately, it often took several low-flow flushes to get the bowl clean.

As it turned out, low-flush toilets used more water than the old faithful lavatory. Enter the new and improved low-flush toilet, which was better at water conservation, but didn’t always get the job done.

In recent years, the high-efficiency toilet (HET) has arrived on the bathroom scene. Consumers now have an option to use as little as 0.8 gallons using a dual-flush toilet. The best part is that they really work.

What Are High-Efficiency Toilets?

Low flush toilets are a better option than old-fashioned porcelain thrones. Photo: Julia Wasson

Low flush toilets provide savings over the 7-gallon models. Photo: Julia Wasson

Under federal law, toilets sold in the United States today must not exceed 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf). High-efficiency toilets (HETs) go beyond the standard, using less than 1.3 gpf. You can identify an HET by the WaterSense label it carries. These labels can only be used on HETs that are certified by independent laboratory testing to meet rigorous criteria for both performance and efficiency. The WaterSense program is sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Do High Efficiency Toilets Work?

Everyone is concerned about the performance of low-flow toilets. Do they clear the bowl and leave it clean? Do they stop up frequently? Unlike the first 1.6 gallon/flush toilets, WaterSense HETs combine high efficiency with high performance. Advances in toilet design permit WaterSense HETs to save water without loss of flushing power. In fact, many perform better than standard toilets in consumer testing.

How Much Water and Money Do HETs Save?

High efficiency toilets save you money by reducing your water and wastewater costs. Over the course of a lifetime, an average person flushes the toilet nearly 140,000 times. By installing a WaterSense HET, you can save 4,000 gallons per year. Young children can each conserve about a third of a million gallons during their lifetime.

If a family of four replaces one 3.5 gpf toilet made between 1980 and 1994 with a WaterSense toilet, they can save $2,000 over the life of the toilet. If the toilet being replaced was made before 1980, it uses 5 gallons per flush, so the savings will be much greater.

A high-efficiency toilet saves water and money. Photo: Caroma

A high-efficiency toilet saves water and money. Photo: Caroma

With these savings, new high-efficiency toilets can pay for themselves in only a few years. Even better, many local utilities offer substantial rebates for replacing old toilets with HETs. Rebates for high-efficiency toilets are available in many US states and Canadian provinces.

What are Dual Flush Toilets?

Dual flush toilets use 0.8 gallons per flush for liquid waste and 1.6 gallons per flush for solids. They can save up to 40% (approx. 4,600 gallons) compared to today’s standard 1.6-gallon, single-flush toilets. On an average of 4/1 uses a day, dual-flush toilets have the lowest water consumption of all: 0.96 gallons per flush.

Beware of some products that reduce the amount of water flushed in an existing toilet. Existing bowls are not designed to perform with reduced amounts of water, so the likelihood of clogging your toilet while you are trying to flush paper and solid waste increases drastically.

Select a WaterSense-Labeled, High-Efficiency Toilet

Whether you’re remodeling a bathroom, beginning construction of a new house, or just want to replace an old, inefficient toilet, a WaterSense-labeled HET is your best bet. Look for the WaterSense label on any toilet you buy.

Look for the EPA WaterSense logo on high-efficiency toilets.

Note that some manufacturers offer high-efficiency and regular-style models with very similar names, so be sure to look for the WaterSense label. A list of WaterSense-labeled high-efficiency toilets and other plumbing products is provided by the EPA.

If every home in the United States replaced just one old toilet with a new HET, we would conserve almost one trillion (spelled with a T) gallons of water per year. That’s equal to more than two weeks of the water flowing over Niagara Falls.

Andrea Paulinelli

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living

Ecopreneur Makes Paper in Paradise

Banana stalks are a waste product, until made into paper. Photo: Harry Johansing

“Waste is a resource. But when people think of waste, they usually think of it as trash, rather than asking, ‘What can we do with it?’

“Everything we use at Costa Rica Natural paper products is totally disregarded material,” says Harry Johansing, the company’s founder. “There’s no other use for it. When I approach a new fiber, I look at it as, Is this completely trash? and then I ask, How can I use it?

Costa Rica Natural produces Ecopaper, a high-quality paper made from the discarded agricultural byproducts of bananas, coffee, or tobacco, combined with post-consumer waste. Other specialty papers include byproducts from mango, lemon, and hemp.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed Johansing by phone from his California home. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

A portion of Costa Rica Natural sales supports the Hospicio De Huerfanos San Jose orphanage in Costa Rica.

BPGL: How do you approach a new raw material to determine if you want to use it to make paper? Take celery, for example.

JOHANSING: Here’s how I would approach celery. I would look at it on the perishable side; I don’t want to compete for a food source. I’d have to go spend time in the fields, to see how it grows. I like to work with the workers to see what they go through. I’ll spend 2 or 3 days doing the hard labor. I’ll go to the packing plant to watch where all the waste is. I’m not familiar with celery as a crop, so I’d check to see how much waste there is, what’s thrown away.

BPGL: Why did you choose to make paper out of bananas?

JOHANSING: When we choose a fiber, we look at how much harm it does to the environment, and how much effect we can have by using some of that waste to make paper. Every agricultural process leaves a byproduct, and it’s different for each crop.

Banana is the number one eaten fruit in the world; it’s grown almost everywhere. There’s a tremendous amount of waste in the banana industry. It’s natural waste; it’s how the banana tree grows. The banana tree has a thick stalk, and the bunches of bananas hang on another long piece of stalk, called the pinzote. Each year, more than 10 million metric tons of pinzote is thrown in landfills or in local rivers. There’s so much pinzote that they can’t put it back in the field. It’s a huge environmental problem. I couldn’t even guess about the total world-wide waste from the banana industry.

BPGL: Is there as much waste with the other agricultural byproducts you use?

EcoPaper uses agricultural waste to make paper. Photo: Harry Johansing

JOHANSING: With the other fibers we choose, we end up doing something to help the environment; but on the grander scale, it’s not nearly as much impact as bananas. We’re removing hundreds of thousands of tons of waste by making banana paper. With our coffee paper, we’re removing 20 or 30 tons annually.

BPGL: Your product labels say that you use “post-consumer waste.” Does that mean your products are like other products that are made from “recycled paper”?

JOHANSING: If you speak to a paper mill representative, they’ll tell you that the label “recycled paper” means nothing. Let me give you an example: In the paper mill, at times they’ll create a larger sheet of virgin pulp than they need. Say they cut a stack of 11 x 17-inch sheets of new paper in half. One half of the stack is 8 ½ by 11-inch sheets that they put in reams and sell as new product. The other half, also 8 ½ x 11-inch sheets of virgin paper, is now excess. It might go back in the mill in rerun, or it might be used in another paper product and be labeled “recycled” without ever hitting a consumer process. The label “recycled paper” can be very misleading to consumers.

At Costa Rica Natural, we use 100% post-consumer waste. This means it actually has already been used for another purpose — such as old financial records that have been shredded. The unique thing about the post-consumer waste we use is that most of it is the waste the other paper mills are unwilling to deal with. If we didn’t use it, it would end up in a landfill.”

BPGL: So, how do you take post-consumer waste and an agricultural product like banana stalks — pinzote — and turn it into paper?

Chopped pinzote and post-consumer waste are mixed in a vat to make paper. Photo: Harry Johansing

Chopped pinzote and post-consumer waste are mixed in a vat to make paper. Photo: Harry Johansing

JOHANSING: We have a small mobile pulping facility. We go to the plantations, where the waste is. Pinzote is wet; it’s comprised of 92 percent water. We use that water in our pulping process; we don’t use any new water. Then we return the water from the pinzote to the irrigation system.

We dry out the fibers, put them in something we call a “floor mat,” which is about 1 ½ feet thick by about 6 feet long. We stack those and send them to the paper mill. At the  mill, we chop the floor mats into something that looks like pencil shavings. Then we mix the pinzote pieces with 100 % post-consumer paper and stir it all around in a big vat.

When you look at our paper, you’ll see the long fibers of the banana. We don’t use any chemicals in our process whatever. We maintain the consistency of our color by how we select the post consumer waste and by the banana fiber used. We only claim a minimum 5 percent banana fiber, but it can be up to 20 percent or more sometimes.

That can be translated into tons. We estimate that for every one ton of banana fiber we use, 17 trees are saved.

BPGL: That’s impressive. Could you make paper in other places, using different agricultural products?

A worker counts sheets of Ecopaper in Costa Rica. Photo: Harry Johansing

A worker counts sheets of Ecopaper in Costa Rica. Photo: Harry Johansing

JOHANSING: Yes, in fact, my vision is to have regional paper mills, everywhere around the globe, using raw materials that are available in each local area. In Iowa, you might make paper from corn byproducts; in Ireland maybe they’d use potato vines. People could even use yard waste.

Our resources are so abundant and we don’t even utilize them. You can take the cover from a cereal box and make a nice notebook out of it. Or make paper out of it. There are so many things we could actually reuse.

But, being a small company, I work on what I can do effectively now. We’re working out of three different facilities. My main converting plant is in Costa Rica. That’s where we do all the finished products.

BPGL: How did you end up making paper in Costa Rica?

JOHANSING: I started working at Kinko’s when I was just 19. I grew with Kinko’s, and we made gazillions of copies — and waste. In 1989, I went to Costa Rica to surf, and fell in love with the diverse ecological region. I never wanted to leave. Around 1990, I started thinking about the waste we were producing, and that was the beginning process of this company, seeking out new alternatives.

Costa Rican workers display a new journal design. Photo: Harry Johansing

Costa Rican workers display a new journal design. Photo: Harry Johansing

Pretty soon, I was living in Costa Rica, making colorful notepads to sell to tourists. I traveled around the country, trying to find fibers for the notepads, when I completely fell in love with the environment there.

BPGL: How much of the year do you spend in Costa Rica?

JOHANSING: A lot. I spend probably 60% of my time there. I have a home in Costa Rica and an apartment near our facility. The rest of the time, I’m in Ventura [California].

When I started the company, my desire was to move to Costa Rica. Eventually, I realized how blessed I am to have Ventura too.

BPGL: I understand you used to compete as a surfer. It must be like paradise for you to live on the coasts of both California and Costa Rica.

JOHANSING: Surfing was always my passion. I loved the idea, when I was 14, of living in a grass shack and surfing every day. Then I realized that grass shacks are really hard to come by. So I developed a career concept: If you can make your career revolve around what you love, and keep that first, everything else should fall into place.

Harry Johansing, surfer and ecopreneur

All the most successful people I know are surfers. If you’re going to be a surfer, you have to manage your time. If you want to continue your sport, you have to have a career concept that supports your lifestyle. I’m happy with the choice I made to be an entrepreneur. I’m modest in my lifestyle, but I get to surf. Surfing is about how I see the environment.

I’ve seen people mess up paradise. There are people who live in places we’d be in awe of, and the problems they create for themselves are unbelievable.

I’ve been feeding the homeless in downtown Los Angeles for 18 years now. I always thought Skid Row was an address, then I realized that paradise is a state of mind. Wherever you are, you can decide to get up in the morning and say, “This is awesome.”

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Brooklyn, California, Age 4

December 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, California, Student Art Gallery

Comments Off on Brooklyn, California, Age 4

Brooklyn, age 4, California

Brooklyn, California, age 4: "Please don't cut down trees because we need oxygen to breathe."

“My picture shows all the kids holding hands all the way around the world. And all the different colored recycling containers for glass and paper and things,” says Brooklyn, age 4.

Brooklyn, who knows her letters but can’t yet spell words, told her mother, Amy, what she wanted to say to our readers. Amy spelled each letter for Brooklyn, who then wrote the caption herself: “Please don’t cut down trees because we need oxygen to breathe.”

At Blue Planet Green Living, we think Brooklyn has great ideas that deserve to catch on. Thanks, Brooklyn, for contributing the second picture in our Student Art Gallery.


Age 4

California, USA

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living

Salvage Goes Glam in Vintage Stores

Walking into Atomic Garage is like traveling back in time. You won’t find any CDs here, just shelf after shelf of LP records. Want an authentic Motley Crue tour shirt? Or is KISS more your style? The friendly sales staff will be happy to dress you up in a glamorous ’70s pantsuit, if you like, or make you sweat in some double knit polyester. Complete your outfit with over-the-top costume jewelry that will get you attention in any crowd. Step out of your comfort zone and into a time machine of treasures.

Atomic Garage takes shoppers back in time. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

Atomic Garage takes shoppers back in time. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

If the saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” weren’t already over-used, I would suggest it be the slogan for Steve Mumma’s many green businesses. As owner of A OK Antiques and tag sales, Atomic Blond Mid-Century Modern Gallery Loft, and Atomic Garage Valley Junction Vintage Clothing Store, Mumma focuses on preserving usable goods by selling them for reuse in imaginative ways.

Since opening his first business in 1987, in West Des Moines’ historic Valley Junction (Iowa), Mumma has diverted tons of vintage clothing and household items from the landfill. That alone is an important service to the community. But, in Mumma’s view, just as important, he’s motivated by the desire to keep a piece of our history alive.

Pick a decade, then shop for a one-of-a kind outfit. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

Pick your favorite decade, then shop for a one-of-a kind outfit. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

Support — or, rather, “trash” — from the community is the cornerstone of Mumma’s success. If not for people wanting to clean house and get rid of things, or the fact that our earthly possessions are just that, earthly possessions (you really can’t take them with you), A OK Antiques and Atomic Garage would have no merchandise on the shelves.

Glam costume jewelry, crazy clothes and 45s share space at Atomic Garage's front desk. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

Glam costume jewelry, crazy clothes and 45s share space at Atomic Garage's front desk. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

How is Mumma’s business model any different from places like Goodwill or the Salvation Army? “The thing that sets me apart from the Salvation Army-type of stores is that I have always had a very discerning eye for the things that are collectible from every era, as well as a passion for looking for the unusual. I have a very strict quality control process,” Mumma says.

Mumma’s tag-sale business, which he operates under the same name as his antique store, A OK, even more directly promotes the reuse of household items. A tag sale is similar to an estate sale, but without auctioneers.

The great thing about a tag sale is that it is all-inclusive, selling everything the owner has left behind, not picking through for valuables like an auctioneer might do. “I put stuff directly back into users’ hands. Then they don’t have to buy new,” Mumma says.

All linens, kitchenware, tools, cleaning supplies, chemicals, even notepads are given a chance to find new homes. Afterward, tag sale leftovers either find their way to A OK or Atomic Garage, or end up at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Mumma’s goal is to have as little as possible end up in the landfill.

Step back in time at the Atomic Garage. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

Step back in time at the Atomic Garage. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

“I look at older things from a design standpoint,” Mumma says. He’s standing in Atomic Blond, a showcase of art-deco furniture and mid-century art.  When scouting for items to sell in A OK, he says, “I look for elements of the ’50s and ’60s. I end up finding something that is a lot like things being made today,”

This is especially true in the fashion world, where trends reoccur from decade to decade. Clothing today mimics styles designed in the ’60s and ’70s by luminaries such as Emilio Pucci, and furniture mimics a style from the late ’50s and early ’60s, first introduced by Herman Miller, Charles Eames, and Heywood Wakefield.

The writer models a favorite outfit from Atomic Garage. Photo: Joe Hennager

The writer models a favorite outfit from Atomic Garage. Photo: Joe Hennager

Instead of re-using the original items that inspired today’s designers, the tendency is to create similar items and produce more waste. This mindset is starting to change throughout the United States, largely due to store owners like Mumma, who make it possible to have the real thing.

More vintage goodies for sale from Mumma's collection. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

More vintage goodies for sale from Mumma's collection. Photo: Emmalyn Kayser

“I go to shows in places such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, Miami, and San Francisco,” Mumma says, when I ask him about his connections nationally.

“Vintage is making a comeback as fashionable, and many cities have showcases where vendors can display some of their nicest ‘trash,’” he says. “These venues are great places to add unique items to the things I buy in West Des Moines.”

Mumma plans to showcase his furniture at the Miami Modernism Show and Sale, January 23-25, 2009. But  this week, you can find Mumma at San Francisco’s Deco the Halls, December 6&7, 2008 at the Concourse Exhibition Center.

If you miss him there, hop in your VW van and boogie on down to see Mumma at the Atomic Garage, A OK, or Atomic Blond in West Des Moines. But be prepared, you may walk out wearing bell bottoms, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and love beads. You might even make a couple extra dollars by selling him your great uncle’s Leo’s favorite leisure suit.

One more thing, the shops are so retro, they don’t even have a website. Contact Mumma at

Emmalyn Kayser

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living

Rescuing Architectural Treasures

Salvaged items sometimes include antiques. Photo: Julia Wasson

You might say the Salvage Barn is a temporary refuge. Architectural castoffs from another time (or, more accurately, times) line the walls, drawers, and shelves. Even the rafters get in on the act, with a antique plow and copper rain gutters hanging high over visitors’ heads.

Useful wood from older homes fills the aisles at the Salvage Barn. Photo: Julia Wasson

Walk through the aisles, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by rescued pieces that barely escaped burial in the landfill: wooden corbels; tongue-and-groove flooring; antique light fixtures; drawers full of doorknobs; a hundred-year-old, oak staircase; and even a picket fence.

True to its name, the Salvage Barn sells architectural items that have been saved from buildings in the nick of time, before being lost forever to the wrecking ball.

The origins of the Salvage Barn date back to 1991, when Roger Gwinnup, a board member of Friends of Historic Preservation, was approached by the City of Iowa City to transition its architectural salvage operation to a local group. The original salvage operation was intended to help a low-income housing project.

Gwinnup recommended that Friends of Historic Preservation take over the operation. After a year of negotiations, training and organization, the Salvage Barn opened its doors. Friends of Historic Preservation operates the Salvage Barn and salvage operations and the City of Iowa City provides the storage location.

Unique architectural features from the Salvage Barn add richness to the Slaubaugh-McInerny home. Photo: Shelly Slaubaugh

From the beginning, the Salvage Barn focused on rescuing reusable, hard-to-find building materials suitable for use by homeowners and builders to use for repairs and additions or changes to historic buildings. The FHP operates the Salvage Barn as a service to the city of Iowa City, keeping reusable building materials out of the landfill. It resides in a large pole barn on the grounds of the Johnson County landfill.

Volunteers meet on weekends at the invitation of property owners to carefully remove pieces of architectural interest from buildings that are in excess of 50 years old. “Experienced members work along side enthusiastic newcomers to ensure that the materials are removed properly,” the Salvage Barn website says. Often, some of the volunteers are the intended recipients of the day’s salvaged goods.

While Shelly Slaubaugh and Thomas McInerny were planning their new house, they wanted it to have the look and appeal of an early 20th century home. The couple helped the FHP salvage the floorboards, doors and trim from a house in Belle Plaine, Iowa. “I wanted an old house,” Shelly says, “and Thomas wanted nothing to do with the upkeep. He’s an architect, so he designed a Victorian arts and crafts house around the millwork we bought from the Salvage Barn.”

“We must have been pretty successful with the look and feel we were aiming for. We had some electrical work done recently,” Slaubaugh says, “and the inspector wanted us to place an outlet in the trim board we’d salvaged. When I objected, he asked, ‘How old is this place?’ He was very surprised when I told him it was just one year old; the walnut millwork already has a patina.”

Reclaimed wood floor gleams in the sunlight in the Conner-Leanhart living room. Photo: Julia Wasson

Proceeds from the Salvage Barn assist the FHP in their mission to preserve historic buildings in Iowa City. On occasion, however, owners of an historic home in another part of the state may benefit. Nik Conner and Sal Leanhart’s home in rural Cedar County was a hotel back in the days of stagecoaches and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Conner and Leanhart had been working with the Salvage Barn, finding just the right wood pieces to finish renovating their home, when the floods came. The first floor of their historic home had to be gutted, and the wooden floorboards were a complete loss.

When the director of FHP, Helen Burford, and Salvage Barn manager, Paul Kinney, heard the Conners’ news, they stepped in to help. The FHP donated antique wood flooring for the couple’s dining room. With the help of relatives, Conner and Leanhart cleaned up after the river’s withdrawal, then removed the ruined walls and floors. They installed beautiful, period flooring that makes the room look warm and inviting.

From the Salvage Barn they also received a door for their renovated kitchen and wooden spindles, which they use to support a counter top. The home is now a showpiece, with only a watermark on the stairway door to remind them of the hip-deep flood that had ravaged their property.

“We’re very grateful for the generosity of the Salvage Barn,” Conner said. And, for their part, the FHP is equally grateful that the architectural items they painstakingly remove from one home end up used and appreciated in another. It’s all part of the ethic of conservation that keeps members volunteering and the public donating, house after historic house.

FHP Director Helen Burford shows a mystery object stored at the Salvage Barn. Photo: Julia Wasson

FHP Director Helen Burford tells about an antique that is for sale at the Salvage Barn. Photo: Julia Wasson

“The Salvage Barn is one of the reasons why Iowa City is a special place,” says FHP Director, Helen Burford. “It is full of treasures that never cease to inspire homeowners, builders, architects and even artists to reuse or find new ways to use beautiful materials.

“It may take a little effort, but beneath a coat of paint, the intricate metal designs or even the warmth of old, long-grained wood are easily revealed. Working with these materials is a rewarding experience, one that is very different from buying something new.”

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living

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UNFCCC Meets on Climate Change

Global warming is the biggest single environmental threat humanity has ever faced, because every aspect of our lives will be affected by it, according to Greenpeace USA Media Officer Daniel Kessler. “It is the chaos that is going to come from climate change that is the most fearful — that we don’t know what to expect. We have models and projections but we’re messing with a system that’s much bigger and much more complex than we could ever understand,” he said.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is holding the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) in Poznań, Poland, December 1 through 12. The goal of UNCCC is to prepare for the final Conferences of the Parties (COP), which will establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists almost universally agree that greenhouse gases are the major cause of global warming and that human activities are largely responsible for the excess of these gases in our atmosphere.

This is the fourteenth conference of the 192 Parties to the UNFCCC and the fourth meeting of the 183 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, making it the halfway mark in negotiations on a future international agreement.

Without greenhouse gases, which trap heat from escaping into space, the earth would be too cold to inhabit. Yet, with the current excessive production, the atmosphere is in danger of becoming too hot for many sensitive species to survive, and weather patterns are becoming increasingly volatile.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the effects of climate change are limitless. What we do know, and can now observe, is that global warming causes extreme weather, de-stabilized local climates, disappearing glaciers, rising sea levels, higher temperatures, acidified oceans, and the destruction of certain ecosystems.

Since its initial non-binding agreement in 1992, at what is popularly called the “Earth Summit,” the member countries of the UNFCCC have been working toward establishing mandatory limits for greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system,” according to the UNFCCC’s Article 2.

While the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro encouraged nations to voluntarily agree to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol required it. Although a member of the UNFCCC, the United States did not sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The UNFCCC is only a year away from legally establishing the ambitious global climate agreement in Copenhagen, Denmark to help combat climate change. The global climate agreement that will be established at the COP will go into effect in 2013, a year after expiration of the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.

According to the UNFCCC Poznań – COP 14 fact sheet, parties in association with the UNFCCC will take stock of progress made in combating climate change in 2008 and map out in detail what needs to happen in 2009.

The conference will also focus on how to reduce emissions from deforestation in developing countries and will explore to what extent the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism can be streamlined and its geographical reach extended.

The UNFCCC said that the new global climate agreement will take the stabilization of greenhouse gases one step further than the Kyoto Protocol did, because it will mandate that greenhouse gas emissions be kept at a certain level.

“Emission quotas defined by the Kyoto Protocol are no longer simple numbers on paper — they are a part of real-time operation of the global carbon market,” Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Yvo de Boer said in a press release. “We see the carbon market working and this is an important message.”

Approximately 9,000 participants will attend the two-week-long event in Poland. Attendees include government delegates and representatives of environmental organizations, research institutions, businesses, and industries.

In order to brainstorm solutions on how to combat the effects of climate change, Kessler said, Greenpeace USA sent 45 delegates and experts to offer consultation on various issues that aggravate global warming. These issues include greenhouse gases caused by deforestation, transportation, and fossil fuel consumption. Tropical deforestation alone is responsible for approximately 20% of world greenhouse gas emissions, according to Fondation Chirac.

Kessler said that Greenpeace USA is especially concerned about deforestation, because many underdeveloped countries continue to add to global warming through the destruction of their forests. “We want to give lesser developed countries incentive to keep their forests standing and developed countries incentive to help the other countries,” he said. “This will have a positive impact globally and help combat climate change.”

Other changes also must be made, however, in order to adequately reduce the effects that climate change will have. Kessler said he hopes Americans will be able to learn more about renewable resources and cleaner burning from European countries, such as Denmark, because they are more advanced in energy-efficient technology. “We are on our way to becoming more energy efficient — but what we really want now is for the United States to catch up,” he said.

Sabrina Potirala

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Ranching Underground Livestock

Mary Somerville probes a compost bin for worms to show us. Photo: Joe Hennager

Worm castings are the ultimate fertilizer,” Kevin Somerville says. With a flat-end shovel, he carefully turns the compost pile in a shallow, wooden bin to reveal a squirming ball of red earthworms. Kevin’s wife, Mary, shows us the tiny, white babies, not much wider than a piece of thread. The biggest of the worms is only a couple of inches long.

Joe digs his hands into the rich soil. “It’s warmer than room temperature,” he reports, “and slightly moist.” I’m too busy taking notes to stick my fingers in, but the soil looks soft, inviting, and well aerated.

Vermiculture, or worm farming, is an important element in the Somervilles’ plan for their 140 acres in Johnson County, Iowa. Just this year, they received certification as an organic farm. The compost they’re making will enrich the soil for next spring’s crops of organic hops, sweet potatoes, and alfalfa, as well as their family garden.

Taking a Scientific Approach

Mary holds a moving mass of compost and earthworms. Photo: Joe Hennager

“The land is the most important thing,” Kevin says, explaining how they will grow quality produce without the farm chemicals and pesticides so widely used in commercial agriculture.

“If you have healthy soil,” Mary adds, “you’ll have healthy plants; they won’t be as susceptible to disease or bugs.”

The Somervilles take a scientific approach to creating healthy soil. “We had comprehensive soil testing done to measure the minerals in the soil,” Mary says. By learning which nutrients were needed, they could determine exactly what they should put into their compost pile to provide a healthy living environment for the worms as well as the best nutrient mix for their fields.

“It’s similar to human health,” Kevin says. “The land needs certain nutrients.” Some of those nutrients, the Somervilles purchase from Humus Health Organics in Kalona. “The rest,” he says, “we add as vegetative matter.”

About 12 months ago, the Somervilles constructed a large, flat bin in one of their outbuildings, then layered it with torn cardboard, shredded newspaper, grasses, and piles of pre-composted fall leaves. “We used a recipe,” Mary says, “to get the nutrients we needed.” When the bin was ready, they purchased 30 pounds of red wiggler earthworms from an organic worm farmer.

In optimal conditions, red wigglers will double their population in four months. In the past year, the Somervilles calculate, their 30 pounds of worms have become 240 pounds. “We call it ‘ranching underground livestock,’ ” Kevin says with a laugh.

They’ve built several additional bins to accommodate the expanding worm population. Three are currently in use, containing about a foot-deep mixture of red wigglers, black worm castings, yellow pieces of chopped organic hay, decomposed brown leaves, brown cinnamon sticks, and a variety of other herbs and spices. Sounds like an odd mixture, until the couple explains.

Earthworm Haute Cuisine

One of the huge piles of leaves (complete with biodegradable bags) from local city leaf collecting. Photo: Joe Hennager

One of the huge piles of leaves (complete with biodegradable bags) from local city leaf collecting. Photo: Joe Hennager

It takes a huge amount of plant matter to sustain a compost operation this big. The Somervilles have been highly resourceful in finding just the right materials to give the worms an ideal home. After all, the earthworms are the “machines” that process plant matter into rich castings (worm manure) for farming. It’s critical to keep these critters well fed and happily reproducing.

Stacked in the Somervilles’ barn are several pallets of 50-pound bags. At first glance, they look like sacks of animal feed or seed for the next year’s crops, but Kevin tells us it’s 100 tons of worm food. “We got a mother lode from Frontier Herbs in Norway, Iowa. I picked up two truckloads of herbs and spices from them just today. And there’s more waiting for me.” One hundred tons of herbs and spices? That seems like an expensive diet for earthworms.

“I got them through an exclusive agreement with Frontier Herbs,” he says. “It all started with a timely phone call. We needed more plant material, and Frontier Herbs needed a place to get rid of all the stuff they couldn’t sell. The spices might be outdated, or the bag might be torn open, or there might be material in the bag that makes it unusable. Our agreement with them is that this will only be used in our compost, not for anyone to eat.” It’s as good a deal for Frontier as it is for the Somervilles, as it keeps them from paying to dump the unusable food in the landfill.

We drive to another part of the farm and see two huge piles of decaying leaves. We see yet another example of resourcefulness. When nearby cities collected fall leaves, they needed a place to dump them. Again, the Somervilles were willing recipients of someone else’s vegetative waste. Here on their farm, Nature is recycling herself. Deep inside the piles, leaves are beginning to decompose. They’ll be used as pre-compost in the new bins the couple will start when the earthworms have finished the job in the current bins.

Worm Harvest

This hand-turned tumbler separates the worms from the soil. Photo: Joe Hennager

This hand-turned tumbler separates the worms from the soil. Photo: Joe Hennager

When the Somervilles determine that a bin of soil has been fully composted, they’ll sift out the worms using a “worm tumbler.” As the tumbler is turned, nutritious castings will fall out, and the worms will be gently captured in another container. The screen size optimizes collecting the smaller worms and eggs so little “livestock” are not lost. The collected worms are then redistributed into newly prepared bins, to start the composting process all over again.

The Somervilles will mound some of the new soil from their bins around the base of the organic hops plants their 24-year old son, Seth, farms on a portion of their acres. They’ll spread the rest on land for their root crops. Their goal is to sell all of their crops locally, to keep the carbon footprint of their farming operation low in yet another way.

Asked whether “anyone” can try vermiculture, even in a small yard, or if it’s just for farmers, Mary says, “There are composting kits of various sizes available on the market. We have a friend in Tempe, AZ who is feeding his worms on table scraps and vegetation from his yard. The worms are quiet little workers who need no care when you leave town for the weekend. It’s a great way to capture the household waste stream and reduce your trips to the lawn and garden centers for nutrients for your landscape or houseplants.”

Sustainable Farming

“Big Ag has a ‘conservation ethic’ of planting fence row to fence row,” Mary says. “I wish they’d work toward a balanced landscape. If farmers would devote even five percent of their acres to conservation practices, such as adding buffer strips to keep water from running off, that would make a big difference in the stability of the soil.

“I compare it to tithing at a church,” she adds. “You set aside a small percentage for the greater good. But too many land owners choose not to farm in a conservation-minded way.”

Iowa farmers typically have limited biodiversity in their plantings, alternating crops from feed corn to soybeans in a regular rotation. Every few years, some farmers do another crop rotation and grow an alfalfa/grass mix to restore the nutrients. This family farm operates on a completely different philosophy. The Somervilles are conservationists who live their beliefs. The evidence is everywhere we look.

Essential Grant Support

Restored wetlands on the Somerville farm. Photo: Joe Hennager

Restored wetlands on the Somerville farm. Photo: Joe Hennager

When we first arrived, the Somervilles’ daughter, Kristi, showed us a restored a wetland area that had been drained off for farming. “Some farmers plant their wetlands, which end up being flooded year after year, anyway. They don’t get any crops to speak of, but they keep trying,” Mary says.

The Somervilles decided that allowing the land to return to its natural purpose and stay that way made better ecological sense. Restoring the wetland was partially made possible through a whole-farm conservation plan that included waterways and contour buffer strips. The land is a home for wildlife now, where once it had scant crops that used more in energy than it produced in food. From their house, they can see pelicans, wild turkeys, ducks and other water birds.

In two sections of their fields, the family has reestablished native prairies and used native species in their buffer plantings. They received some financial assistance through the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District. “With good burns, we’ll have a beautiful prairie,” Mary says. “We want to make pathways so people can enjoy it.”

With a Trees Forever grant, they brought in skid loader with a tree shearer attachment to battle back invasive species. Their goal was to start an oak savanna and allow the native prairie to flourish. “It takes a lot of time and effort to battle back invasive species. Once you get the native plants established, you just need to be patient, and eventually they’ll take over again. Our children and grandchildren will really enjoy what we are doing in our lifetime,” Mary explains.

Growing a “living snow fence” is another part of the couple’s plan. They planted three rows of various types of trees and shrubs to keep snow from drifting over the county road they use to access their farm. The row closest to the field alternates red osier and nine bark. The middle row is white pines. And the row closest to the road is two varieties of spruce. The project has yet to be evaluated for effectiveness, as it will take years for the trees to reach sufficient size to provide the needed barrier. “The tall prairie grasses between the trees and the road might be just as effective at capturing the blowing snow,” Mary says.

The grants and financial incentives the Somervilles have received come with strings attached. They require a tremendous amount of dedication, time, and hard work. But, along with the couple’s own resourcefulness, the funds provided are making their dream of sustainable agriculture a reality, leaving the world a healthier place for all of us.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (home page)

The Great, Green Hope

November 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Front Page

Interesting, isn’t it, the way we follow trends? Sometimes it seems like we’re mindless sheep, herded easily by advertisers and the media. Buy this, wear this, watch this, drink this, eat this, hear this, read this, say this, and be this. Is that what is happening to us now? Is the Green Movement just another trendy phase we’re going through?

Madison Avenue says, " Buy this, wear this, watch this..."

Madison Avenue says,"Buy this, wear this, watch this..."

My first response, a couple of years ago, was a resounding, “Yes.” Don’t get me wrong; I have always been trying to save the planet. I was recycling before it was popular. My first real job 33 years ago was to divert equipment from the landfill for a large university. Now they call it, “landfill avoidance.” My mother had always called it, “Waste not, want not.”

So, about a year ago, when I started hearing the word green used in every other sentence on radio and TV, and in newspapers and magazines — “Green this, green that” — I was skeptical. I began to feel the old pressures of the herd mentality. My first reaction was to resist the temptation. I told myself, Give it a few months; it’ll pass.

At that time, I had just retired and was consulting with industries, helping them sell excess equipment and overstocked parts. I was showing them how to establish markets for their metal scrap, cardboard, and plastics; and teaching them ways to recycle paper in their offices and food in their kitchens. Gas prices were climbing like crazy. Factory management began asking me for information on alternative energy sources and ways to reduce utility expenditures. Industry was finally beginning to understand that saving the planet could also save money.

Then the economy crashed. Boy, that was a kick in the teeth. Wall Street became a roller coaster ride for the insane. Madison Avenue grew eerily quiet. Buying anything but necessities became an expendable luxury. The need to be fashionable became the need to survive. For many of us, getting any job replaced getting the right job. Feeding our faces was suddenly more important than feeding our egos.

Mother Earth is teaching us our colors. Photo: Joe Hennager

Mother Earth is teaching us our colors. Photo: Joe Hennager

That was when I noticed something strange. Even though the economy was bleeding red, the green thing persisted. The word green wasn’t coming from the media any more; it was coming from the people. I wouldn’t have noticed it, but I was up to my neck in research; digging through scientific journals; studying the latest technologies in solar energy, wind power, waste heat recovery, and geothermal generators; listening to utility company CEOs; talking to inventors and physicists — people at the top and bottom of this huge, green hierarchy.

Google the word "green," and you find nearly one billion sites. Photo: Joe Hennager

Google the word "green," and you'll find nearly one billion sites. Photo: Joe Hennager

I saw for the first time the depth and breadth of what this word has become. Want to see what I’m talking about? Google the word green. Yes, right now, type in those five letters. As of 8:00 A.M. (CST), November 24, 2008, were about 877,000,000 green sites to choose from. By 8:00 PM, there were about 892,000,000. That’s not a movement; that’s a phenomenon.

Most of the sites you’ll find are green businesses. Many are small start-ups, hopeful moms and pops who have an idea that maybe, just maybe, they can save the world a little bit at a time and make a buck for their effort. (Ain’t capitalism grand?)

The number of ecopreneurs is growing. In fact, according to The New York Times, the number of eco-businesses will double in the next two years. Green businesses have the potential to generate more than $1 trillion in world revenue in the next year alone.

For too long, we’ve seen the need for profit consume our planet, piece by piece. Industries hired Madison Avenue to convince us that it was okay to scar the surface of our planet, poison our soil, air and water, and make us sick with toxic chemicals. The industries paid us a salary so we could buy their mind-numbing products. And we did. Damn, we’re just as much to blame as they are.

Now, with the fall of the stock market, our precious dollars are dwindling fast. It’s possible that the only thing that will save us is the Great Green Hope (play the Superman theme) and the two million green collar jobs it will create.

Imagine that this whole green thing is not Madison Avenue hype. Imagine that we are not being driven like sheep into another financial rip-off. Maybe we are all connected by some deeply ingrained, genetic signal that has triggered certain cells inside our brains to click on. Maybe, for the first time we are able to hear some subsonic message coming from Earth herself. Or, if you find that too far to stretch your imagination, maybe we’re all just damn sick and tired of putting profits before planet.

The U.S. is a nation of 306 million people in a world of 6.7 billion — 5% of the population consuming 26% of the world’s energy. Right now, every one of us can live more sustainably. Eventually we can overcome our addiction to oil, coal, and nuclear energy. That is what Mother Earth is telling us.

Listen to your planet. Photo: Belinda Geiger

Listen to your planet. Photo: Belinda Geiger

If we don’t do something as a species, we will go the way of the Western Black Rhinoceros, the Red Colobus Monkey, and the Blue Pike. These are colors we will never see again.

This is not a religious prophecy. This is not some political party platform. Green is no longer just a color. It is the connection between every living thing on this planet.

Picture a blue ball in space that is 25,000 miles in circumference. Visualize it spinning at 1,000 miles per hour and moving through space at 67,000 miles per hour. Now consider that it has been doing this for 4.5 billion years, and it has done so in relative silence, until now.

Open your ears. Listen to your planet. Open your eyes. Mother Earth is teaching us our colors, and today, the color is Life.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)