Monday, May 6, 2013

Green Like Grandma

Green Like Grandma
Lori Boatfield

Learning Green Living From Past Generations

Key Words:  green living, recycling, reusing, conservation, lower emissions, clean air, gardening, carpool, conserving water, conserving electricity

As energy costs continue to rise, and the sources for that energy dwindle, we search for ways to conserve.  When thinking of the future, we can use the past as a guide. 
I’m 34 years old and I think my grandparents’ generation knew a thing or two about conservation.  They raised seven children, most of them born during the Great Depression.  Though my mother, the youngest, was born in 1947, when the depression had technically ended, her family never had much in terms of material possessions.  They lived “out in the country” as I still think of it.  My grandfather worked second shift at a steel manufacturing plant.  With no car, he either walked or caught a ride (carpooled) the twenty-some miles there.  During the day, he farmed: growing cotton and vegetables, and raising livestock on a small scale.  My grandmother never held a job outside the home, despite earning a teaching degree, but with a houseful of children and farm chores, she had plenty of work to do.  I like to call her the queen of conservation.  My mother fondly remembers her as a pack rat.   

Food for (Green Living) thought
Whether we call them pack rats or conservationists, we can learn green living lessons from their lifestyle.  My grandparent’s farm sustained them in most every way.  The animals provided meat, milk and lard (ugh!).  The produce was home grown and canned to last.

While it isn’t feasible for most of us to raise livestock at home, we can still apply some of the farming principles.  A small vegetable garden can be surprisingly prolific.  You may find you have a bounty for your family with some to spare and share.  With simple canning or freezing, you can enjoy the “fruits” of your labor all year long.  Even if your space is limited to exclude a vegetable garden, herbs can be grown and easily maintained in a sunny windowsill.  My friend makes pesto from her abundant basil.  You may also find these home-grown practices benefit your budget, because 1) growing your own is less expensive, and 2) home canned vegetables and fruits make wonderful gifts. 
Consider the impact of growing a garden on the environment:
            -No disposable packaging is used
            -Less fuel is used overall since there’s no need for transporting
            -Less emission/pollution from transport
            -Cleaner air due to more trees and green plants

Baby steps to get you started: 
·  Buying produce at a local farmers market cuts down on disposable packaging as well as fuel and emissions (not to mention stimulating your local economy).
·  Try planting herbs in small containers in a windowsill or sunroom.  Most herbs are fairly hardy and need little care.

Recycling Disposable goods
My brother-in-law recently visited his grandparents and inspired this piece.  He reached for the aluminum foil to wrap leftovers, and found several loose pieces rolled neatly back onto the unused roll.  The scraps had been carefully washed and dried and were ready for reuse.  While I don’t sanction this particular type of recycling because I question the bacteria factor, I find it inspires me to think of other recycling projects.

Along with foil and disposable plastic cups (which she cycled through the dishwasher), my grandmother was a wrapping paper recycler.  She could make a roll of paper and a bag of bows last for years.  We all knew not to crumple our Christmas paper at Grandma’s because she saved it.  For her, wrapping paper was a luxury to be carefully guarded and conserved.

The lesson we can learn is to be mindful of the things we toss into the trash.  Many in my generation have a throw-away mentality because there’s always more at the store.  I may be oversimplifying, but I’ve always taken for granted the disposable lifestyle:  use paper plates, don’t wash dishes!  My very favorite disposable is paper towels.

While I find it difficult to curb my paper towel use (select-a-size helps), it’s easier than ever to be wise about what we throw away.  When it comes to disposable, recycle EVERYTHING you can.  If your town doesn’t have recycling pick up, chances are a nearby city does.  So investigate their policies and receptacle locations, and drop off on your way to somewhere.

I must confess, I sometimes find myself saving wrapping paper.  If it’s a particularly pretty print, I unwrap carefully and put it aside.  I cut the still-flat part out and use it for smaller packages.  I also save gift bags and tissue paper.  Intact tissue paper can be ironed on a low setting and voila, good as new.  Maybe it’s genetic.  Grandma would be proud.

Baby steps to get you started: 
·  Cut down on the disposable items you use by using “real” plates and cups and investing in reusable grocery bags (buy one bag per shopping trip and soon you’ll have plenty).
Some reusable grocery bags can be folded into small pouches for easy carrying in your handbag or glove compartment.
·  Consider washable, reusable water/drink containers.  Your water is still convenient for on-the-go, but fewer plastic bottles wind up in landfills.
·  Reuse individual hand-soap containers and buy the large bottles of soap for refilling.
·  Use both sides of paper for notes, everyday printing projects, keeping score for Jeopardy, etc.

Conserving Water
Until the 1960’s my grandparents got their water from a spring about 100 feet away from the house.  They went down to the springhouse, which my mother tells me was fraught with spiders, and brought the water up the hill by the bucket.  Water for baths was heated on the stove (a wood-powered, pot-belly model until they bought a gas range in the 70’s).  We can’t imagine carrying water to the house from afar.  You can bet not a drop was wasted.  And flushing the toilet, forget it.  No need for flushing in the outhouse!  Even after they got indoor plumbing, the conservative mind-set was still in place.  We can learn to be mindful of our water use by imagining carrying 5 gallon buckets of water up a hill (what a work-out!) and going to the outhouse on cold winter nights. 

Baby steps to get you started: 
·  When it’s time to replace toilets, consider water conservation models. 
·  Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. 
·  Collect rain water for outdoor plant watering.  If you use a sprinkler system for grass or shrubs, make sure it’s watering what you want to water, and not the driveway or the street. Consider installing a timer for your sprinklers so that watering is done at the most beneficial time of day (or night).
·  Be vigilant about fixing household water leaks.  Long-term, they can waste a considerable amount of water.

Conserving Electricity 
For my grandparents electricity was a resource to be used carefully.  My grandfather toiled all day on the farm while my grandmother had busy days of caring for house and family.  With the exception of my grandfather, who went to his second job in the evening, the family went to bed quite early.  Some contemporaries of theirs, according to my mother, turned in as soon as darkness fell.  This was a wonderful way to conserve electricity and heat.  The lights and television were off, and the fire was stoked to burn low until morning.  We can learn to conserve from these practices in many ways.

Baby steps to get you started: 
·  Turn off the power to and unplug any household item not in use, since an electrical charge continues to be drawn even when the power is off.  To simplify unplugging, use power strips.
·  Install a programmable thermostat so energy is conserved when the house is empty or while everyone’s asleep.
·  Use ceiling fans to supplement the heating and cooling process.  They should turn counterclockwise in the summer to circulate cooler air and clockwise in the winter to drive heated air back down into the room.

I believe if my maternal grandparents were alive today, they would still be responsible citizens of the earth.  With a little ingenuity, and a lot of practice, we can all be more responsible. Now, where are those gift bags?  I have tissue paper to iron!