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

Posts Tagged ‘community’

Happier Halloween – ghoulishly green

Friday, October 30th, 2009

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC


Although as a kid, what I best remember about Halloween is an ongoing stomach ache and mood swings (we all hid our hoards of sweets under the bed and gorged for days, right?), but as an adult, I’ve come to enjoy a day where we are encouraged to put on a costume and take the darkness of life lightly. I’m not just referring to ghosts and goblins, but the idea that accepting and honoring what is no longer living. You know, all that pagan stuff – birth, life, death, rebirth – all celebrated and honored.

As we many of the commonly recognized holidays today, we adopted many of the pagan rituals of “All Hallow’s Eve”  or Samhain – jack o’ lanterns, cauldrons and apples. Yet, somehow, the mainstream culture seems to gravitate towards one overriding aspect of each (Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny come to mind…) With Halloween, the candy companies have cashed in, But between unfair labor practices on sugar and cocoa farms, and chemicals used in candy and costumes, it means the environment and farm workers have to cash out. What’s a green goblin to do?

Buy Fair Trade, organic candy or at least those sweetened naturally, here’s a list of some greener goodies.

Make your own or rent your costume. Consider the safety of face paints or hair sprays and go with natural ingredients for die – I mean, dye.

Get your pesticide-free pumpkin from a local farm and be sure to compost or feed to wildlife afterwards.

And all that stuff about honoring the dead? The pagans used to set a place at the table for the dear deceased, inviting them to visit. Now, THAT’s spooky.

Cyber-Shopping Decreases Energy Use

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I’m finally coming into holiday spirit this year and thinking about the consumables and thrift finds for friends and family – it’s more fun than ever to holiday shop when the giving is local and light on the planet.

I don’t buy much new stuff, but when I do, I’ve always liked online shopping. It’s fast and easy. However, I’ve been nagged by the thought that my new stuff has to travel many miles to find me and I can’t say, “I don’t need a bag” when checking out, like I would at a local store. I need to know, by the bottom line, is online shopping more eco-responsible than shopping at retail stores?

Much to my relief and surprise, I’ve heard some good news through Ideal Bite and Cool-Companies. A report by the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, a non-profit organization that helps companies and public institutions reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, show that internet shopping has significantly decreased energy demand since 1998 and could have an even larger impact on energy and resource savings into the future.

Despite their size, e-commerce warehouses use 1/16th of the energy used to operate retail stores. More e-commerce equals less need for retail space and the resources used to build and maintain it. This, of course, means saving open space and trees through both less construction and the decrease in paper use – a savings of as much as 2.7 million tons of paper per year. What about the environmental costs of shipping? More good news: ground shipping uses 1/10 the energy of driving yourself to the mall and even shipping 10 pounds of packages by air, uses 40% less fuel than the same purchase made by car.
Of course, all these energy savings means less power plants and less greenhouse gas pollution. And less driving and shopping means more free time for us. It’s becoming obvious that the balance of our future depends on our willingness to change our habits and perspective. It can be a win-win for our lives, our environment and the economy. Now that’s something to celebrate.

Don’t Be A Turkey This Season

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Maybe you only purchase turkey once/year. If you live in the U.S., it’s usually in November and/or December. So, if I only buy turkey this one time, how important is it that I buy organic and local? From a turkey’s point of view? Plenty!

Factory-style turkey farms do a huge business this time of year and to meet the “consumer” demand, they have been allowed and encouraged to raise and slaughter these animals in outrageous conditions. Turkeys have long been genetically modified with hormones for better eating (not theirs), causing them to grow flesh twice as big, twice as fast. Most unfortunately, their skeletons are unable to support the excessive weight, leaving them unable to walk and in pain. More messing with their genetics for the preferred breast meat leaves them with absurdly-sized chests, further limiting their mobility. This diabolical science also causes many painful respiratory, heart and skeletal diseases, despite heavy doses of antibiotics.

Turkeys raised in factory farms live in crowded warehouses – government standards require only 2.5 feet square of space for each hen and 3.5 feet square of space for each tom turkey – as many as 17,000 turkeys crowded together. For months, they are left to stand in the bacteria and amonia from their own waste. These unnatural conditions force them to literally fight for their lives, so they are debeaked and detoed without anesthesia. (FYI – You can apply these facts in various forms to all factory-raised animals. For more information (and happy rescue stories), visit Farm Sanctuary.)

I know I probably ruined your appetite, but before you stop reading, understand two things. One – we, as consumers, have allowed these practices to continue (we keep buying) and two, we, as consumers, can put an end to the horror, both for the animals and the environment that is also being abused in factory farming.

I used to believe the entire world could be vegetarians. Then I woke up. I understand now that it is important to change the hows and the whys of our food sources rather than perpetuate a “them and us” standoff. We used to know how to do this right and we can once again bring compassion and common sense back to all farming practices. But to do this, we need to make it impossible for factory farms to sell their products and- make it economically feasible for small (and sane) farming to survive. I support veganism and vegetarianism, but I’ve come to believe that my being vegan was less an “activist” model of change than my now unfailing support of local farms. And I’m not alone.

Humane Farm Animal Care is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the lives and welfare of farm animals by providing viable, credible, duly-monitored standards for humane food production and ensuring consumers that certified products meet these standards.

The impressive and extensive staff brings in knowledge and experience, including animal science, philosophy, systematic ecology, and government and international relations. Executive Director, Adele Douglass, launched the Free Farmed Program and was awarded the ASPCA’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2006. Their site can tell you more about this process and give you information about where to buy “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” animal products.

Keep in mind that very small family farms, possibly not yet certified, have almost always practiced compassionate treatment of animals and environmental stewardship – it’s tradition. Get to know your local farmers or read about them online at Local Harvest.

X-Stream Cleanup – Update on Chad Pregracke and Living Land & Waters

Friday, September 19th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s a time of Heroes – courageous, creative and determined And, man, do we need them. Fortunately, they are stepping up come all walks of life artists, musicians, designers, writers, photographers, athletes, small farmers, business owners, students, you’ll even find them in Hollywood. Every one of them moves and inspires me. Some of them bring tears to my eyes.

That was the case when reading the story of Chad Pregracke, one dedicated river keeper dude. About 10 years back, as a skateboarding college student broken-hearted about the state of his beloved Mississippi River, he dropped out of school to spend his days in a flat-bottomed boat dragging out trash. He didn’t have a master plan or hoards of people to join him. “It was just something I knew should be done and needed to be done and nobody was doing it.” (That gave me the first gulp). It can be that simple, yes?

After being discovered by roving reporters and curious eyes, Pregracke himself discovered a wealth of enthusiasm from friends and strangers, some longing for a chance to get involved. “You gotta create an opportunity for people to do something.” he said.

True to his word, he soon founded Living Lands and Waters, a non-profit with 12 employees. With a fleet of barges, he and his crew travel down 6 rivers, including the Missippi, Missouri, Ohio, Anacostia, Potamac and the Illinois as part of the annual event, X-Stream Cleanup. The latest and 4th annual expedition covered 31 sites, involving over 1,500 volunteers. To date, they have hauled in over 4 million tons of garbage, recycled much of it and stirred up interest in concerned communities along the way. Rivers get a shot at restoration as they remove numbers of tires, metal scraps and barrels still partially filled with toxic chemicals.

Corporate sponsorship has helped grow the group’s budget, allowing them to extend their efforts and influence into educational workshops and other local programs. Yet, when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Chad dropped everything to be part of the relief efforts. Planning to stay 4 weeks, Chad and his crew stayed 10. To learn more and get involved, go to


IN 2006, Chad and his crews executed 64 cleans ups and hosted the first Big River Workshop, on the Mississippi River.

In 2007, Chad and LL&W founded the Million Trees Project. With the help of communities collecting acorns, a nursery was established with the goal of planting a million trees within the following 5 – 10 years. Chad and National Geographic release, FROM THE BOTTOM UP, the story of the creation and evolution of his river passion and his non-profit organization.

Chad continues to write a weekly column in the Quad City Times in Iowa and has delivered over 300 presentations to corporate, public and student audiences worldwide.

The workshops expand to the Missouri and Illinois Rivers and the LL&W crew plants over 20,000 trees in a five-state area.

LL&W keeps on doing what it does best until Hurricane Katrina strikes the Gulf Coast.  Within days, LL&W cancels aall projects, doubles the crew size, unloads the barges of garbage and fills them up with building supplies.  The fleet and crew head to New Orleans to assist with the relief efforts.  Planning to stay for 4 weeks, the crew stays for nearly 10.

LL&W continues to make an impact, hosting 64 community-based cleanups along seven of the nation’s largest rivers.  Working with over 30,000 volunteers to date, LL&W estimates total refuse collected to be over 3 million pounds!

LL&W’s Big River Workshops host their first excursions–taking 60 teachers on a 3 or 4-day voyage up the Mississippi River.

LL&W expands Adopt-A-River Mile program to include the Illinois River.

Chad releases From the Bottom Up, with National Geographic–the story of the creation and evolution of LL&W, its successes and challenges.

LL&W launches its newest endeavor—The MillionTrees Project.  By starting its own nursery and soliciting the assistance from the community to collect acorns, this project aims to plant a million trees within the next 5 to 10 years.

Fireworks – an Independent Point of View

Friday, July 4th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC (Re-post from last year’s July 4th entry)

I dread the 4th of July. It’s not the idea of patriotism I mind, it’s the fireworks. First, they are bad for the environment. says, “From gunpowder fall out to smoke and dust that contain various heavy metals, sulfur-coal compounds and other noxious chemicals, fireworks are decidedly un-green.” However, it doesn’t stop there. Fireworks used at home injure many people every year and can start fires.

City organized fireworks may injure less people, but most animals suffer when subjected to this noise, even from a distance. Pets who stay indoors are still at risk. Most of my dogs have shown signs of distress and one former dog would shake, drool and pant with terror as soon as the first rocket fires (sometimes as early as Noon!). I know of another dog who jumped through a plate glass window in his panic, was lost for days and badly injured. I can only imagine how the noise, pollution and sight of fireworks may affect surrounding wildlife.

I’ve boycotted fireworks displays since I was in college when I realized that the rocket’s “red glare” symbolizes war, which means I have no reason to enjoy watching or hearing it. I read on that there are more ec0-friendly fireworks available by Sekon biodegradable fireworks – a gunpowder-free “air launch” technology. If cities could make this switch, it could at least solve one part of the problem. Perhaps you can talk to your town’s officials about this option.

I prefer to think we can evolve past fireworks for good and choose a meaningful alternative. How about a light show or raising flags or playing music? Let’s make July 4th something to celebrate – like an Indepence from Oil Day – or at least for now, a creative, safe and eco-friendly holiday, something all beings can enjoy.

More Gardens, More Community

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

I met Lisa Frangipane today, resident/owner at The Flats in Carrboro, and founder of the Todd Street Community Garden. A smaller version of the flourishing spot nearby, which has already seen two bountiful harvests, this happy veggie garden is also lovingly cared for by residents and rain barrels.

Whenever I meet someone who is doing something unusual and interesting, it seems like they are doing even more interesting and unusual things. This holds true for Lisa, a teacher and avid cyclist who also commutes on her beloved two-wheels. I met with Lisa and took these photos just before she left for a Summer in MA, where she will be living off-grid with friends and building a yoga studio.

Lisa was inspired to blog about this adventure. You can catch up with her at Wicked Mad NE

Coffee Table Activism, Minneapolis Style

Monday, June 16th, 2008

While visiting Minneapolis and enjoying another local lunch at the neighborhood food co-op, I saw this poster (to the left). It sounded like a great idea – an invitation to view the important and timely Green documentaries with your neighbors, for free! I’d heard of, but had not yet seen these films – End of Suburbia, The Power of Community and Oil on Ice. The name of the contact site, “Coffee Table Productions”, further intrigued me, so I took a look online and then contacted Deb and Doug Pierce, the minds behind this master plan – and around a coffee table.

Deb and Doug, both full-time professionals, have been growing progressive and sustainable ideas into working groups and community events – usually while sitting around a coffee table – for years. Doug is a licensed architect and sustainable design planner with Perkins & Will of Minneapolis, while Deb is an award-winning, published illustrator and graphic designer. Deb found time between their jobs and community efforts to speak with me about Coffee Table Productions. Read on.

Tao: What inspired you to take on environmental and social issues on a grassroots level?

DP: We each grew up in small towns where we could see firsthand the impact an individual or small group could have on a community. It gave us an understanding of the connection we all have with each other and the earth. We each became activists in college and over the years found that advocating for sustainability is a natural tendency, like caring for one’s family.

Tao: In your experience, what most motivates people to “be the change”?

DP: The personal connection with the issue, and believing they can do something that matters. Being able to engage in an authentic message delivered with love, respect and compassion.

Tao: You are currently spearheading an eco-film series in your community.  Why are these films important? Do these films reach the right audience or simply “preach to the choir”?

DP: The films are an excellent source of information and invite dialog. Even informed persons can benefit—we can’t know it all. “Preaching to the choir” isn’t  necessarily a bad thing. Even if those who attend our events are active and/or informed on current issues, my experience has been that they are grateful to see others like themselves. Not only can they teach each other, if they know they are not alone, they can feel more empowered in their work towards creating solutions for all.

Tao: If someone is interested in organizing their own community to take action for environmental and/or social issues, what advice would you give them?

DP: There are many things to consider, but the 3 things I think of immediately are: 1) Begin by focusing on a specific issue or event so you have a common goal and a good place to put your energy. As you grow, you can branch-out into other areas. 2) Know that one cannot separate environmental, social and economic issues, they are intertwined/connected. 3) ALWAYS make time to thank each other and those who have helped you in your efforts. HAVE FUN, the spirit must be nurtured to stay healthy and strong!

There you have it – local activism can begin with “waking up” over a cup of coffee with friends and end with a lot more than a caffeine buzz.

Little House in the City – the balance of living small

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

When I decided to head for NC, I lived in a small and borrowed motor home in the woods. I had recently left graduate school, embarking on one of those “to hell with it” journeys. Each day of those few months, I learned more about how freeing it was to want only what I needed and need only what I had. Even the confined space felt comforting. Ever since then, I have acknowledged and craved the kind of satisfaction of living simply and its welcome limits.

If small and simple living feels so good, where does our mega-sizing mentality come from? When considering the downscaling commitment of people like Jay Shafer of Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, who lives in a 100sq.foot dwelling, I am forced to acknowledge my return to excess (I live in 1050sq.feet). I even store “stuff” in additional attic space and own 3 bicycles! Huh? Perhaps it’s a virus that has spread through our culture unchecked and unchallenged…is it then passed down through generations as a misguided process of evolution? Or, is it simply a disconnect between our needs, wants and/or desires within a culture lacking in perspective? When it comes to living space, how much is enough?

Undeniably, our consciousness as a culture is rising. And, like most trends that run their course, our BIG habits are being challenged and re-evaluated. Alternative housing is attracting the interest of many, with mixed use developments like Greenbridge becoming popular and Co-housing, a community-based, eco-efficient form of housing, making smaller living both practical and fashionable.

Could small living actually be the big life? Is the “super-size” mentality becoming old and ugly news? Carpenter author and educator, Shay Salomon, seems to think so. She co-founded The Small House Society, whose mission is “to support the research, development, and use of smaller living spaces that foster sustainable living for individuals, families, and communities worldwide.” In her book, Little House on a Small Planet, she shows how saner, cozier homes provide an antidote to stress, build community and reduce our impact on the planet. Committed to both efficient design and use of natural resources, these people are selling much more than small homes. They are offering the luxury and value of a more simple life.

Unfortunately, there is no lack of the continued development of large homes for the affluent, but shift happens. Ask Gregory Paul Johnson, Founder and Director of Resources for Life (and another co-founder of The Small House Society). I love this guy – he may live small, but his life, career and interests are huge – check out his web site. He is a testimonial to just what can happen when you de-clutter, de-stress and detoxify your mind to make “space” for what matters.

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