A few months ago I won a sustainability award at my old company. Basically, we were asked to submit stuff we were doing for sustainability. I wrote in about our worm bin, our (vacant) bat house and a few other minor things we do. Every submission was a winner, and so I got a nice check for about a hundred dollars.
Now, when you win a nice sum for sustainability, it seems somehow ironic to blow it all on Starbucks. And I’d just read about this ultra cool futuristic thermostat. So it was that I placed an order for a Nest.
At this very moment, a highly sought after piece of cutting edge technology is sitting on my wall, lamenting that of all its beautifully designed brethren IT has to live on a wall with ’70s era dark wood paneling.
Guys, this thing is so cool. My husband is, as we speak, putting a detailed schedule in (online), including the fact that he’s gone to aikido at a certain time, etc. etc. If we make manual adjustments, it will “learn” from them and modify our schedule. It has wireless access, so you can totally change the temperature from, oh, your mobile phone. (I can forsee endless fun with this.) It tracks and monitors your power usage. It has a light sensor to see if you’re actually at home or if you left. It shows you reports on your energy usage.
Now all I have to do is paint that wall, so my ultra cool piece of technology doesn’t feel so embarrassed.
My company is having a contest where they’re asking employees to submit what they’re doing to help create a sustainable society. I admit to being a little intimidated — one of the examples was an awesome water filtration system (my company’s specialty) to reuse run-off rain water! I don’t feel like I’ve done that much “in the cause” although it’s a cause I care about deeply. On further consideration, though, it’s not like I don’t do anything. We’ve done several medium boring things, and a bunch of small, persistent things. So here goes!
My family has made a number of small changes to bring ourselves to a more sustainable style of living. Some of them simply influence our purchasing — our cars were both selected with gas mileage in mind. Many of these changes serve a dual purpose. In cold New England, we have had insulation blown into our 19th century walls to reduce our heating bills, added insulating curtains, replaced incandescent bulbs with compact flourescents and put in a timed thermostat. We’ve switched from plastic grocery bags to reusable ones, and I’ve discovered that I much prefer the reusable ones. We keep the doors closed in rooms we’re not using.
But there are three fun, photogenic things we’ve done lately to lead to a sustainable society.
The Bat House – as you may or may not know, New England is in the throes of a bat crisis. Many of our species are being devastated by white nose syndrome. This may lead to extinctions. It’s also likely to lead to many more mosquitoes, which in addition to being annoying are now a threat to health since Eastern Equine Encyphalitis and West Nile Virus landed on our shores in the last decade. One of the big challenges for bats is habitat loss. I know there is a population of bats in my area — in part because I’ve seen them at night and in part because there are no mosquitoes in my lawn! So my family has installed a bat house to provide safe habitat for local bat populations.
2) The Worm Bin. I’ve always liked worms. Like bats, they’re extremely useful animals, recycling waste into fertile soil and creating space for plants to grow. About seven years ago after reading Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, we bought an indoor worm composting kit and populated it with some worms. Since then, it’s been a thriving ecosystem living on our food scraps. As long as you don’t add milk or meat products, there is virtually no smell. The worms are more active and hungry in summer, when there are also more produce by-products, and nearly dormant in winter. Once or twice a year, we harvest the extremely rich worm soil to add to our gardens. “Worm tea” — the liquid byproduct — is a top-notch fertilizer when diluted with water. Of course, this also means less of our garbage ends up in landfills, especially since we use egg crates and packaging as bedding.
3) Community Supported Agriculture This year, I worked with a partner to establish a farm-share distribution site at my church. This permits a local farmer (in our case Farmer Dave) to sell “shares” of his produce to families — cutting out middlemen, packaging, preservatives and transport. Over 70 families at this new distribution point picked up weekly share of fruits and vegetables, from standard lettuce, corn and tomatoes to unusual and heritage plants like purslane, garlic scapes and kohlrabi. This influx of vegetables shifted our diet towards veggies (which consume many fewer resources to produce than meat or dairy products), helped create pockets of agricultural biodiversity, reduced our carbon footprint, and vastly increased the “vegetable repertoire” of my family. I canned 8 batches of jams and preserves to enjoy all winter long from the bounty.
These are all small things. But added together, I hope they reduce the burden our family places on our world’s resources. All of these things also carry other benefits: lower heating costs, fewer mosquitoes, free fertilizer and better health (and taste!).
So what about you? What small or big things do you do? What’s slipped into habit? What do you aspire to?
One of the projects I planted during the winter that is sprouting this spring is setting up my church (Burlington Presbyterian as a farm share distribution point for Farmer Dave’s farm share. I participated in his farm share last year at the Lawrence pickup location (conveniently located in my building!), but changing jobs meant living too far away to pick it up.
We’ve been talking about stewardship a lot lately in church. Sometimes the word “stewardship” is a churchy way of saying “We need more money.” This is often true. But true stewardship means a lot more than that. It means taking care of the people who bring the mission of a church to life. It means fostering the connection and feeling of belonging with everyone who is a part of our church family. It means carefully looking at how the church’s financial resource are spent, as well as how they come in. It also means having careful stewardship of the world entrusted to our care.
This drive to stewardship is therefore affecting things big and small across our church. We had already done some things. For example,we use fair trade coffee, use CFLs where possible, avoid paper/plastic dishes, recycle religiously (get it?), and offer our parking lot for commuter parking with public transit. But we’re trying to take it the next step: installing timed thermostats (apparently we have high voltage something-or-others that make this more complicated) and looking to see if we can install solar panels on our beautiful big roof (if there’s anyone out there who’d like to help us with this drop me a line!).
Offering fresh, locally grown, sustainable produce to the community seemed like an excellent way to contribute to the cause of Stewardship, while also creating a relationship with people who might otherwise not know our church exists. Furthermore, for any shares that aren’t picked up (because the person is on vacation or forgets or something) we’ll be donating those shares to the Burlington Food Pantry. Fresh produce is one of the hardest things for a food pantry to offer.
Anyway, I’ve been pleased and amazed at how the distribution has come together. We’ve ironed out nearly all the kinks, and are now accepting registrations! We’re in a big push now. We need to have a minimum number of sign-ups for the site, or it won’t work. So if you or a loved one lives in the Burlington Massachusetts area and love fresh produce, sustainably grown and harvested the morning it’s delivered to you, please consider signing up!