Growing Your Own Food in an Urban Environment: Part I

By Leah Kaminksy

Stay tuned for part two!

Just because you live in a city or on a small plot of land doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own food. In fact, the less space you have, the more fun you can have getting creative.

First matter of business: try to find old materials that can be turned into containers. This can be anything from used tires, wine barrels, kiddie pools, buckets, big mixing bowls, and so forth. As long as it’s round and relatively deep, you can work with it.

Buy a rich, dark soil from your local gardening store or if you have the space, make your own compost from food scraps. Line containers accordingly, making sure to leave a two inch gap at the top to allow room for water. Then plant any fruit or vegetable that does well in your climate. Greens like lettuce grow in most environments, as do turnips and peas.

Shallower containers like wading pools dry out more quickly than deeper containers, so make sure to water regularly.

If making room for a used tire garden puts you into hysterics (“A used tire? In my apartment?”), all is not lost. You can still grow a garden even if you’re only working with a windowsill–preferably one that gets six to eight hours of light each day. All you need is a smaller container that maximizes sun capture (open bowl, good; closed watering can, bad).

If you’re nervous about a big undertaking, start with herbs and then work up to tomatoes, lettuce or small root vegetables.

Shop your local hardware store for cheap shop lights to use on cloudy days.

No matter which strategies you choose to grow inexpensive, pesticide-free food, approach your garden with a new set of eyes. See possibilities, not problems. This is, after all, a creative problem solving challenge. Think hard, have fun and play!

 

Tune in next week for more ideas in Part II of this urban gardening series.

The Great Natural Giveaway

It’s summertime and the giving’s easy. (I couldn’t resist.) drugstore.com is sponsoring a very cool DAILY giveaway of an array of products, many of which are from Martha Stewart’s Annual Whole Living Healthy Skin Awards. Yes, I said daily!  Just go to http://budurl.com/mslgiveaway EVERY DAY and enter for a chance to win one of our favorite skin care products being featured that day. Winners (hopefully you) will be announced at the end of June… and prizes will be delivered to your door. Told you it was cool.

NO SUBSCRIPTION OR PURCHASE REQUIRED TO ENTER OR TO RECEIVE A PRIZE.  Legal residents of the 50 United States (D.C.), Age of Majority or older,  Ends 06/30/12.  To enter and for Official Rules, including odds, free methods of entry and prize descriptions, visit: http://budurl.com/mslgiveaway. Void where prohibited.

The Real Price of Cut Flowers

By Leah Kaminsky

Though Mother’s Day has come and gone, it’s taken nearly a month for me to clear all of those “50% off Mother’s Day Flowers” emails from my inbox. Flowers are, after all, the go-to gift for Mom, and I feel just a little bit less guilty about living far away when I know I can brighten my mom’s day with the click of a button.

But have you ever wondered where these flowers come from and how they find their way to their destinations? Stephen J. Dubner at Freakonomics did, and what he found may dull your enthusiasm.

Turns out, 80% of all cut flowers sold in the United States come from places like Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. These flowers must be refrigerated immediately and shipped, first by air and then by truck.

That adds a lot more carbon to the atmosphere than going out to the garden and snipping a rose. And as Dubner points out, it’s a little strange that we care so much about high “food miles” when cut flowers are crossing the nation, causing extra pollution as they go.

So what’s an eco-minded mommy-lover to do the next time Mother’s Day rolls around? If you live far away, you have a couple options:

1. Send money to your mother’s partner, sibling or friend along with a nice card asking them to make the flower purchase from a local grower.

2. Try one of the new plastic flowers, which, according to Dartmouth geographer Susan Freidberg, are lightweight, great looking, made relatively near you and will last indefinitely. The same goes for Christmas trees, but we’ll save that for another post.

Or, you could think of other gifts altogether, like a new painting from that local artist you know she loves.

Reducing the carbon the cut flowers business produces is well within our reach. We just have to be honest about the environmental impact and get creative.

Are you allergic to Grandma’s candy dish?

I would wake up and I cough like a ninety year old man.  In the shower, my eyes would itch. And, pouring a cup of coffee usually spilling it all over me because of my non-stop sneezing jag.  Sound familiar?  I was allergic to my life; turns out that having an allergy is the most common denominator among people of all ages, sex and ethnicity. In fact it’s estimated that approximately 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of allergy.

Here is a short list of things I did that made my life less of a sneezing, coughing, itchy-fest.

  • No fresh flowers.  Sad, I know, however they are often the culprit
  • De-clutter. Knick knacks are fun — but seem to collect every speck of dust on the planet
  • Vacuum your mattress and cover it with a hypo-allergenic mattress pad. Unless you are allergic, the best materials are cotton and bamboo
  • Use unscented soaps, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, moisturizers and lotions
  • If you want to use room deodorizers find an organic fruit spray. They are a lovely alternatives and have been proven to be effective at killing viruses and bacteria without harmful side effects
  • Brush the dogs outside and often

The more you about common allergens in your life the less Kleenex, nose sprays and pills you’ll need to buy.

Natural Makeup: Why and How

By Leah Kaminsky

We are what we eat…and put on our faces. With the potential side effects of the chemicals in makeup including things like cancer, reproductive and hormonal problems, birth defects or brain damage, the more educated we are as consumers the better.

The first step is learning which chemicals to avoid. Check out the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics or the Environmental Working Group for up to date information on new studies. EWG’s Skin Deep database is also a great resource where you can enter the name of a product you use and search for both ingredients and associated health effects.

Looking for labels that explicitly state, paraben-, phthalate- or PCB-free are a good place to start. For products that contain food ingredients like avocado, honey or cinnamon, search for the USDA-organic certified label. Know your organic terms before you go. “100% organic” means the ingredients must be (you guessed it!) 100% organic, while a product with “organic ingredients” must only contain an organic ingredient here and there.

As with all advertising, watch phrasing carefully. Don’t be fooled by the words “green!” or “natural!” which, in some products has as much validity as saying a drink has “natural flavors!” when in fact chemicals outnumber them ten to one.

Your best bet for finding great natural products is to break up with your normal routine. If you can’t find any good products in the store, try a new one. A Facebook post is especially useful for this kind of project, and you’ll connect with other like-minded folks who are concerned with similar issues 

And of course, the world is open to you online. Search one of many sites for great deals on hair care, makeup, personal and skin care products.

The chemicals that make cameos in our beauty regimens are scary, but there are plenty of other great options if you know where to look!

Going Vegan, Going Healthy

By Leah Kaminsky

Veganism has come a long way since the days when every vegan brownie tasted like cardboard. I don’t know about you, but I have accidentally scooped up my fair share of appealing cookies from gas stations around Seattle only to realize after the fact that they lacked eggs and butter. If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of heading down this road, here are a few more reasons why.

Veganism in its simplest form is a diet and lifestyle that excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, as well as makeup and clothing tested on or made from animals. So, if you want to go vegan you’ll have to stop attending that weekly meat club and wearing great Aunt Dina’s creepy fox fur.

The reasons for becoming a vegan are as diverse as there are people in the world. Ethical vegans have a moral aversion to harming animals, including keeping them in captivity and harvesting their products. Dietary vegans like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton believe the diet to be healthier than all others, while environmental vegans credit the toll animal products take on the earth.

To avoid nutrient deficiencies (which, by the way, you’ll have anyway if you consume the average junk food American diet) enlist your doctor or nutritionist to help you locate alternative sources of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and iron. An over the counter supplement is always a good idea, but you’d be surprised how many of these nutrients you can get from other foods like spinach and beans (high in iron and protein) and fortified grains such as bread or cereal (high in B12, which is hard to find in plant products).

Start slowly with meatless Mondays, experiment with a new vegan recipe, replace your old makeup with vegan alternatives and step it up from there.

As long as you don’t let your newfound veganism become an “all French fries, all the time” diet, you just might find yourself losing weight and feeling better too.

How-to Throw a Naturally Fabulous Party

Love having parties and entertaining but worry about the waste you and your guests are creating? Don’t worry—you can be a social butterfly and an eco-friendly party expert at the same time! We put together a few handy how-to tips on for a chic shindig with natural flair.

1. Send electronic invitations. Considering most guests don’t save invitations, the paper variety isn’t a very sustainable option. Instead of buying pre-printed invitations or making your own using a printer, create an email invite with a service like Evite or Punchbowl.com.

2. Use washable plates, silver, and glassware. We bet your first instinct is to head to the store for disposables—but why not use the dishware you and your family eat off every day instead? Or head to your local thrift store for an eclectic mix of used items. You can create a colorful tea party with an array of thrifted teacups.

3. Choose decorations that can be reused.  Pass right on by those latex balloons, unless you’re okay with seeing them pile up in your trashcan. Invest in come colorful paper lanterns instead—they’re party-friendly for all occasions. You can also scoop up handcrafted party décor on Etsy.com, or follow a DIY tutorial and make your own.

4. Make your own snacks and cake.  Creating your own party buffet from scratch will not only impress your guests, it will also satisfy cravings and leave them talking about your yummy dishes for weeks afterwards. If you’d rather skip kitchen duty, find a local catering company or baked goods shop and place an order.

5. Use creative wrapping paper. Save money and resources by creating a wrapping supply chest full of colorful comics from the newspaper, or pretty pieces of craft-store fabric that giftees can save and reuse. You can also buy plain white silk or muslim and dye them with color-saturated veggies like beets, spinach, and onion skins.

 

Getting creative with these ideas will make your event memorable—as well as eco-friendly!

Blog Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to James Lindstrom, the winner of our blog giveaway! Please email us at facebook@thenaturalstore.com with your name and address so we can send you your prize!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to everyone for participating!

Earth Day Giveaway!

Let’s continue to celebrate earth day – because we can!

We’re always so inspired by the effort those in our community make to keep their daily habits and environment green and clean. This year’s Earth Day was just another opportunity to celebrate those commitments, but we’re not quite done. Share with us your all time, can’t live without, green and natural product and why it’s so good for our planet! Once you’ve commented, you’re automatically entered for a chance to win a Laundry POD Environmentally Friendly Washing Device, valued at $100!

The POD is a manually operated system for washing clothes. Compact and portable, but stands up tough to laundry. It’s great for camping, college, boating, RV, apartments, and more!

We’ll select a winner Friday April 27th. Good luck, and thanks for sharing with us :)

The Who, What & Why of EARTH DAY

By Jeanne Romano

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – Dr. Seuss (The Lorax)

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970 was wildly successful. For the first time, a diverse group of modern environmentalists gathered together: youthful idealists, liberal Democrats, middle-class women, scientists, professionals, and representatives of conservation groups, labor unions and churches.

Over 40 years of protecting health and the environment. A proud anniversary. However, with longevity unfortunately often comes complacency. Earth Day, every April 22, yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay so on that one day we all make sure not to litter, turn off the TV when we leave the room and, of course, we absolutely, positively remember to recycle.

Activists John McConnell and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (Al Gore was just a smidge over 20 at the time) have been credited with creating Earth Day. McConnell brought the idea of a global holiday to the United Nations in 1969. Environmental activist Senator Nelson is responsible for inspiring celebrations at thousands of colleges, universities, schools and communities all across the United States as well as the widespread grassroots legislation. Ultimately Nelson woke up Washington and forced the issue onto the national agenda.

Regardless who “invented” Earth Day we the American people finally had a public forum in which to voice our concerns over what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and we did so with spectacular exuberance. Our unwavering demand for cleaner water, air and land, led Richard Nixon (one of our more infamous presidents) and Congress to sign into law The Clean Air (and Water) Act which ultimately led to establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream and it was perfectly legal. The newly formed EPA was tasked with the challenging goal of repairing the damage already done to the environment and to establish guidelines to help Americans make a cleaner and safer environment a reality.

Through our daily decisions and lifestyle choices to make our homes and communities more environmentally friendly, every person on Earth can do plenty to preserve our planet’s finite natural resources today and for future generations. Here are a few ways to renew our commitment or to start in the way you live your life.

Barring any colonization of the moon, which I doubt will happen before this blog is posted, Mother Earth is still the one and only common denominator in the life of every human being. After 40 years of Earth Day celebrations it’s as important as ever (if not more important) to remember what Earth Day is all about. And how it’s something we can all do to leave a clean, healthy, thriving planet for the generations to follow.