a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Archive for February, 2009

The Creative Life can Save Our Souls – and some chickens

Friday, February 27th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Why do creative people create? Of course, we are all creative and eventually discover the ways we can express our gifts. But some people just can’t stop and it’s a beautiful thing to behold! My co-housing neighbor, Giles Blunden, is one of these people.

His comfortably compact, 800sqft home is a work of wabi-sabi art always in progress. He lives off-grid on solar power with an outdoor shower and has an underground cistern holding thousands of gallons of rainwater captured from the roof. He has no grass lawn, but instead, an artistic array of stones, branch sculptures and wildflowers surrounding the house. He rides a bicycle to work each day, some rainy/windy days with a DIY “windshield” attached, and sometimes accompanied by his wife on what I call the “Green Machine” – a double seater that he has rigged as a extra comfy bicycle built for two.

Recently, our community lost some of our chickens to predators, so we’ve been reluctant to restart a brood, wanting them to have both safety and room to roam. Giles came to the rescue, immediately putting his creative mind to work – you can usually see it on his quietly smiling face. The result is this “Chicken Chapel” – made from fallen branches and soon to be enclosed with a comfy indoor coop inside. It just makes you smile, doesn’t it? (His house is in background, in photo below, on right.)

I consider myself darn lucky to be next to such an inspired, purposeful creator and his work. It’s helping me understand that quote that says, “The opposite of war is not peace, it’s creativity.”

Giles Blunden is a sustainable architect. You can visit his web site at


Thursday, February 26th, 2009

By Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’ll say it first – Change strengthens “coupledom”. Think about it. When you’re considering changing your diet, your consumption, your health habits or any other part of your lifestyle, there’s nothing like having a little support. Or, like sharing ideas. Or, like giving/receiving recognition. And there’s nothing like hugging it out in the end.

A blogging trend has been growing lately – one that revolves around couples who are sharing their ideas and experience in making changes towards a more sustainable way to live on the planet. I enjoy these “green” blogs because they share not just information, but perspective from and between two people working towards the same goals.

Maybe I’m digging a bit deep, but I can almost “hear” these couples becoming more connected, more open towards each other and more happy. I can also recognize the enthusiasm and commitment towards their plans as well as a light-heartedness in it all. I admit that I’m more inspired by the everyday green folks than millionaire celebrities, but this list of eco-couples and activists from is love-worthy.

And couples who green and tell tend to attract more couples who are willingly spilling their green. On the blogroll at, I found my way to similar partners, like The Middle Way, The Tucker Times and Little Green Family.

In my own relationship, we are often throwing around new ideas and possibilities for greening our lifestyle, and always acknowledging the other for accomplishments. After all, in my book – rising at 4:30am to practice yoga, then bicycling in the dark to work (recently in 25 degree temps) deserves a big shout-out (yep, Jerry does that 5 days/week). Me, the yoga teacher, sleeps in a bit later than that, but I admit that seeing how ridiculously happy he is doing this has prompted me to rise earlier myself. You want more (and possibly more sane) reasons to find green in your romance? Check out this post on

You don’t have to be in a romantic relationship to ‘share the green love’. Got an eco-curious friend or roommate who can be your 12-step buddy towards change? Even sharing the composting/recycling/conservation duties can cast a silver lining on any living arrangement.

Change through and with Love~

My posting program site has been on the blink!

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Sorry to be gone so long —- my program was down since last week. Good to be back. Posts will continue on a daily basis (M – F). Check back soon! Thanks for being here.


TerraCycle Makes it Simple to UPCYCLE, RECYCLE

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m still awed and inspired by the Terracycle eco-capitalist model and their recycling programs. Here’s a bit more about it –

Status Quo (or, How We Got Here) Capitalism: takes raw materials from the earth which causes depletion and destruction of resources and habitats >>> sends it to a factory which uses polluting and wasteful manufacturing processes >>> products go to consumers, most of which end up in landfills.

Eco-Capitalism: Uses garbage as raw material >>> sends to a more sustainably-operated factory >>> products go to consumers >>> products disposed of are recycled and/or turned back into raw material.

TerraCycle points out that there is no waste in nature and we must achieve that same level of sustainability to well, sustain on this earth.

This sounds like Einstein got together with a couple of college kids and… hey, I guess it sort of happened that way at TerraCycle, although the college students didn’t need an Einstein. A little bit of science, logic and passion did the trick.

Now for those ingenius recycling programs of theirs – go here to sign up for yourself, your school, neighborhood, workplace, daycare, or organization. You won’t need any form of Einstein, since it’s beyond simple. You collect any number of designated common trash (yogurt containers, cookie/sportbar wrappers, drink pouches, corks, plastic bottles, etc.), they send you collection containers and free shipping materials and you send it back at your convenience. THEN, they pay you 2 cents for every piece of trash you collect and give it to a non-profit organization of your choice. They will upcycle or recyle your waste.

Sign up HERE.

TerraCycle – the future of eco-capitalism

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Paying attention pays off. It’s also fun and interesting and exciting because not only do you notice what is changing in the world and in yourself, but you become a PART of the change. You know what’s coming – a story.

I was having dinner at a neighboring co-op and noticed a collection bin for wine corks. Cool, I thought, I’ll start saving my wine corks and bring them in next time I’m here. I almost walked away at that point, but something in me wanted to know a bit more. What about those synthetic corks that even organic wineries are starting to use? The small sign on the receptable said they would accept both. Oh, more cool, I thought and walked away again. But, what will they be used for? I continued to wonder. I was out the door now, but turned around and went back to look at the sign once more, taking note of the web site listed at the bottom:

It took me two more days, but I did find a moment to visit this site and this is where the fun, exciting and interesting part comes in! TerraCycle is eco-capitalism at it’s finest! A combination of waste reuse, recycling and upcycling, this company began in a dorm room at Princeton in 2001 with worm poop. Tom Szaky and Jon Beyer created a business plan for a contest sponsored by Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, one that would would eliminate the idea of waste in manufacturing. They began collecting dining hall waste, composting it with worms to formulate their own liquid “worm gin”, a potent plant food/fertilizer. They found their first investor that following summer and took a leave of absence from school to continue their dream of a profitable company that could eliminate and leverage waste.

In 2004, they were offered one million dollars from a venture capitalist, but turned it down in order to stay true to their eco-business path – one where a business could make manufacturing a circular process, be more environmentally-friendly, more socially-responsible, AND more profitable. Composting from waste fit this criteria, but what about packaging? Their answer – look back to the waste stream! collecting plastic bottles for their liquid products of garden and cleaning products, purchasing spray nozzles and shipping boxes from the plentiful “wasted” rejects and “over runs” has allowed them not only to negate the need for any raw materials, but keep this waste out of the landfills and keep their retail prices competitive.

It’s 2009 and obviously, they have proven their model works. Their website is packed with all kinds of products both recycled from compostable waste and upcycled from other waste like plastic tubs, candy wrappers and juice pouches and made into things like fire logs, fertilizers, office and school supplies, birdfeeders, even rainbarrels and composters. Their packaging still comes from the waste stream through efficient and effective collection programs offered to schools, individuals and organizations.

The New York Times has called these products the most eco-friendly products ever made and a Phd. in Plant Pathology deems the gardening products more effective than any traditional brand on the market. Those Princeton students? They’re still in charge, long hair, baseball caps and all. I couldn’t get enough of them. Check out this video. I started reading their “Eco-Capitalist Guidebook” and couldn’t stop until I finished all six chapters.

“With green becoming mainstream and more and more economical every year, the field is ripe for modern eco-capitalism to thrive,and in the process bringing our economy closer to a “natural” tipping point.” Like I said, it pays off to pay attention.

Transitioning Towns for a Sustainable Future

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Perhaps Inspiration is like the ocean – once you catch a wave, it’s a big ride!

This past weekend, I attended the local kick-off meeting for Transition Towns. This began innocently enough through an email from a friendly acquaintance who lives and works on a sustainable farm project near Carrboro. Her name is Margaret, she is one of those sensitive but powerful women who wants to do the work and have her party, too – she exudes a sincere enthusiasm when it comes to changing and shaping our local future and it’s contagious. And from the size of the group who showed up (on a beautiful Spring Sunday), I’m not the only one who feels that way. In fact, I feel like I’ve been waiting for this – an opportunity to stop simply musing and hoping (and writing about) a better future and get my hands in something positive and tangible. Thanks Margaret!!!

Transition Culture was founded by Rob Hopkins in the UK. With an impressive environmental resume in permaculture, resource management and local initiatives, he has created a wave of change that is catching on all over the world. Transistion Towns looks at how we can face climate change and peak oil through the same creativity, ingenuity and adaptability it took to get us here. The emphasis lies on a collective plan to act early with awareness raising, connections with groups and local governmetnt to increase resilience so that communities can individually sustain and thrive with positive energy rather than fear.

Don’t assume this is just another ORG that will get lost in the shuffle. Transition Towns is user-friendly and focused. Rob Hopkins has written an accompanying guide, The Transition Handbook – From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience. It is a precise, detailed how-to manual with three sections, entitiled Head, Heart, and Hands and outlines 12 steps of action.

From the website: There are now over 40 Transition Towns in the UK, with more joining as the idea takes off. With little proactivity at government level, communities are taking matters into their own hands and acting locally. If your town is not a Transition Town, this upbeat guide offers you the tools for starting the process. It is a process which is, as Richard Heinberg writes in his Foreword, “more like a party than a protest march”.

The Nuns Have It

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

By Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Although I wax and wane like everyone else when it comes to feeling inspired – I mean, truly and unreasonably inspired – but after 2 months of injury and 2 varieties of the flu, I’ve found some. First, there was Back Alley Bikes, giving me back my bicycling groove, and today, the nuns.

Okay, so there’s this convent in Brooklyn…It’s been around for awhile so the nuns are between 50 – 87 years old – or young, I should say, because these women are nothing if not ready to rock and roll with Change – and into a green life. Although it took awhile for the Order to reach consensus when the conversation began a decade earlier, they are now whole-heartedly committed to life on Earth as well as in Heaven.

Where to begin? They belong to the local CSA, they grow food, shop otherwise organically and fair trade, they compost, they sold their van and joined a ride-share and needless to say – waste not, want not. Wait, there’s more. They are looking for a supplier to make their habits out of organic, fair trade cotton and will soon be building an even more green living space – complete with living roof and solar-energy system. Even composting toilets are under consideration.

It’s cold. My leg still hurts and I just got my appetite back after 5 long days. But, I’m inspired and I’m smiling!

Back Alley Bikes – and me

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I didn’t think it would happen, but it did. I haven’t done a bicycle commute since December. No, it’s not only the Winter issue. It started with my thigh injury on December 1st – I couldn’t even consider riding for the first 6 weeks. And I missed it. I mourned each day when I would be driving the 2.5 miles into town, missing the pedaling, the feeling of moving over the ground by my own strength and I especially missed the feeling of belonging to the bicycling community.

I tested out my leg around week 7 – pedaling with my dog, Ayla, around our our old farm route and found out that it felt pretty good. In fact, the therapist assured me that it was a good place to continue my rehabilitation. But, it has been a bit Wintery since then and I admit it – I’ve lost my bicycling groove. I’ve lost the rhythm of “gearing up” and getting on my way. Somehow, it seems daunting at this point and the car keys are just sitting there. Yeah. This is how it happens, I suppose. Denial. Defeat. But in the end, I know I’m missing out – not just on greening my ride, but on the fun. Hmm. Now what?

Then it happened. Last weekend, while wandering around downtown Carrboro, I stumbled upon a bike shop I hadn’t noticed before. There was a hand-painted sign hanging above the window, that said, simply, “Bike Shop”. Needing a spare tube, I wandered in and immediately felt at home. I’m not sure why since the atmosphere fell somewhere between grunge bar and tattoo parlor. But, I sensed art, purpose and a little bit of rebellion at work. As well as the friendly, laid-back attitude that strolled out from the back room to greet me – from behind a door which said “Santa’s Playroom”.

Back Alley Bikes sells, repairs, and custom rebuilds exclusively used bikes. They know their sh*t, they love to ride, they offer great rates and service, they promote conscious-commuting and they don’t need to prove anything to anyone but themselves.

There is a resident dog, some random art-like displays and t-shirts with obviously original designs that looked a lot like this cool image above from their website. When I saw that the shirts themselves came from the fair-trade U.S.-based company, American Apparel, I bought two. I couldn’t resist. I was back. I wanted to gear up and I wanted to ride. And nothing is going to stop me. Thanks Back Alley Bikes – for being the real thing and helping me re-discover the real me.

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