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

Posts Tagged ‘green’

Lawns – Less Than Heavenly

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The below (source unknown) still makes laugh – and sigh. And cry. After all, it was back in 1991 that Michael Pollen, author of Second Nature, declared that lawns are “a symbol of everything that is wrong with our relationship to the land.”

Since then, we’ve realized that back and front yard gardens of vegetables and wild flowers are more both more sustainable and more nourishing than green grass. We’v learned that pesticide companies re-named plants like clover, “weeds” to sell more product and that lawn grass in general is not natural or native in most places.

So, what is our lawn status today? Well, capitalism continues as more green landscape tools, watering systems and businesses emerge, which was a start, but the idea of the “lawn” is still too alive and too well in the U.S.. Despite the fact that we know we kill 7 million birds each year – along with earthworms and other beneficial pests – with pesticides applied to lawns. Despite the fact that as the demand for potable water continues to increase, yet we are using 30% of it to water lawns. Places like Dallas, TX, use 60% – !! And, as landfill space becomes scarce, we now know that 20 – 50 % of that space is filled with yard waste – in plastic bags.

Heard enough?

Enjoy the below and pass it around your neighborhood.


God: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff? I created a perfect no-maintenance garden plan – plants that grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply. The nectar from those long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and birds. All I see now are these green rectangles.

St. Francis: It’s the “Suburbanite” tribes. They started calling your flowers “weeds” and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass that they go to great lengths to keep green. They begin each spring with fertilizing and poisoning the other plants that show up.

God: Grass? How boring. It’s not colorful, is sensitive to drought and temperatures. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds or bees. Well, the grass does grow fast, that must make these Suburbanites happy.

St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it – sometimes twice a week.

God: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up, put it in bags and pay to have it taken away.

God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the Summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. At least that slows the growth and saves them all that work.

St. Francis: Actually, when it rains less, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water the grass so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

God: At least they kept some trees – which provide beauty and shade in Summer, and then provides a natural blanket of fallen leaves in the Fall to keep moisture in the soil and protect the roots. A stroke of genius, if I do say so myself.

St. Francis: You better sit down, Lord. As soon as the leaves Fall, the Suburbanites rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away. Then they go out and buy something they called mulch, which they spread out in place of the leaves.

God: Where do they get this mulch?

St. Francis: They cut down trees and grind them up.

God: I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

St. Catherine: “Dumb and Dumber”, Lord. It’s a story about…

God: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Green Your Friends – it’s ok, really!

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Should we, could we, is it really ok to ask your friends/family to be more Green? As we discover new ways of conservation and create new habits in our daily lives, it is a natural desire to want to share this information and inspiration with the people close to us. It’s not about judging, it’s about creating hope for the future and shedding light on some things that are not only simple, but feel so good in the long run. Well, if I’ve ever hesitated to speak out before, I won’t again – here’s why:

Hi, Tracey (and Jerry),
Thanks for a wonderful evening. It was so great to see you and get caught up on your recent adventures.

Tracey, I had a small epiphany this morning that I want to share. This is probably more information than you’d want to know about me, but here goes…

Anne, my ex-wife, is an obsessive recycler…much to her credit. I’ve been recycling for many years, ever since West Hurley (the little Hudson Valley town where I lived for almost forty years) instituted a serious recycling program. But I never progressed as far as using non-disposable shopping bags. Anne did; she had a veritable armada of cloth bags, and I was unenlightened enough to be bugged when a checkout person had to reset a scanner to allow for the weight of the bag…plus the aggravation of schlepping the cloth bags everywhere when we went out. I just never got with the program of cloth bags.

So I’ve been a chronic offender, consuming and disposing of countless plastic bags for no good reason. Pretty pitiful, right?

That has all changed now. My sweet Tracey and my dear Jerry gave me a cloth bag, and now I will
use it every chance I get…because it’s the right thing to do…and partly because even though I’m a slow study sometimes, I am educable…and mainly because I’m honoring two people whom I love!
Thanks, you two…for being such a wonderful and joyous part of my life.

Much love,

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.

Pets More Toxic Than Humans

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Our pets face huge challenges in a toxic world. While we try to drink filtered water and eat organic food, our pets are most often subjected to large amounts of toxins on a daily basis, stressing their immune systems, organs and overall health. Recently reported on Grist, blood and urine samples of cats and dogs showed higher contamination than humans, with evidence of at least 48 chemicals, including pesticides, mercury, fire retardant and those from plastics.

Many toys made with chemicals pose a surprising threat to your pets health, especially to dogs, who chew vigorously and extensively on plastics toys that release toxins into their systems. Although playing fetch with tennis balls and frisbee is fun exercise for your faithful companion, don’t allow prolonged chewing on these items. Better yet, skip the plastics all together and supply your pet with natural or naturally-made toys. Check out

While your at it, stay clear of bedding made with petroleum-based or other toxic materials – splurge on the good stuff made from organic fabrics. You’ll be protecting fido and you while supporting a shift to a safer textile industry.

My herding dogs run a lot and end up drinking from creeks and puddles to rehydrate when we’re hiking. Bringing water along on hot days is helpful, but here’s a tip that really works. Before we go out, I offer a big bowl of “baited” water – with organic raw milk or broth in it. My dogs get pre-hydrated this way and are not as likely to indulge in street puddles or creeks.

Organic and higher quality foods are becoming more readily available and hopefully will become less expensive as demands increase.There’s a lot of information available online since the recent recall of contaminated pet foods that caused the death of many pets. Find the food that fits your needs as well as your dogs. I urge a diet of as much human-grade raw food as manageable – I also use high quality products from Halo, Innova and Solid Gold.

They are worth it.

Swap Before We Drop

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Over several years, I’ve been taking big, bold, practical and fun steps out of the death-grip of a consumerist-dependent lifestyle. It feels good and I will not try to tell you why (today), I’ll ask you just to trust me that it does. It has something to do with giving away what you don’t need, wanting what you already have, breaking the ties of conformity that bind us, being creative, being smart and having fun. That’s where SWAPPING comes in.

Thrift-shopping, vintage shops, yard sales and Craig’s List sustain me in most of what I want and need, whether it’s fashion, furniture or recreational supplies. I save a lot of money and always seem to find what I need – always – and am satisfied I’m not dipping into our resource reserves. (And it IS fun – just last month, I reconnected with an old friend when I bought his used bicycle rack on Craig’s list!)

But then there are the books. I know I’m not alone – many people share my bookaholicism. So, I visit used book stores a lot, but get impatient waiting for newly released reads. In fact, I’m perfectly happy to let that oscar-winning film get to dvd, but a book just can’t seem to wait – and Amazon knows it – which my credit card will reveal.

SwapTree is my 12-step program – but in 4 steps or less. At, you can trade books, cds, dvds and video games easily and for free. Your only cost is shipping your items but wait – keep reading – they make is super-easy because they calculate and send a postage label online – you simple print it out. Even better, when using the media mail service rates, you can usually ship for under $2.50.

How does all this work? You list by UPC code what you have and what you want and you receive a list of everything available that you can trade. This saves you time searching for available items. A book junkie like me also loves to read comments and join discussion groups about certain books and topics, so I get my fix and then some. SwapTree will also provide you with latest staff picks and most wanted lists so you can keep up without having to read the NY Times Book Review each week. Ok, maybe I’ll still do that…

Swapping makes sense – less resources making less stuff, less stuff in landfills and sitting unused on shelves. I’m signing up today and I’ll report back soon.

Work For Change

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

A lot of people are addressing a new “green” issue – the “why bother?” question that looms over our daily lives as we try to balance the status quo with needed changes, work with play, fear with faith. We don’t have much time. Change has to happen quickly or – well, big changes will be upon us quickly. Is Change something we learn to do or something that just happens? I say a lot of both.

Life is like a big jigsaw puzzle. We’ve dumped the pieces out “on the table” and at first, it feels overwhelming, even impossible to begin to put things in order. So we spend some time looking at and working with a few pieces and we’ve even fit a few small ones into place. But those few pieces aren’t enough – we have to keep going back to the pile. We are seeing a glimpse of something that is beautiful, even when there’s also something daunting about looking at all that is left in that pile. The work itself keeps us focused on the beauty – and we keep coming back for more. Some days we throw up our hands and walk out the door, but, we know we’ll be back.

We need to approach our efforts towards a more sustainable life just like this puzzle – knowing that we are working on something bigger and that the process itself is all we have. You know, something like “be here now”. It all starts by looking at and working on a few small pieces. Small, continuous work and actions matter because they lead to bigger actions, new ideas and perspective. More importantly, perhaps, is that they give us a feeling of participating in change – of living, if just slightly, outside ourselves. When this happens, we bring our innate qualities to the surface – of compassion, truth and wisdom – in other words, who we are, what we see and what we know. We are able to tap into our intuition, finding a balance between what we see outwardly and what we see outwardly – all tools to get the real work done.

Remember what we are capable of – and these wise words: “If we did all the things we were capable of doing, We would literally astound ourselves.”

Thomas Alva Edison

Ode to the Bandana

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

by Jerry Stifelman, Carrboro, NC

It’s is a classic. Yet not a preppie, establishment classic. It’s an outside classic. A rebel classic. It works for Hell’s Angels, Outward Bound instructors, rock guitarist,s and earthy hipsters.

It can be called upon to be a handkerchief, a napkin, a hat, a headband, a hair tie, a pants tie, a dog leash, an SOS flag — or as an actual bandana.

Carry a bandana everywhere. You’ll never need to harm trees by using paper napkins. Great for bad hair days. You can also use it to disguise yourself or to protect your hands when sliding across a quickly rigged zip line. (All action heroes should carry a bandana.)

The Green of Summer

Monday, May 5th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Spring has Sprung. Although it will take months or years of continuous above-average rainfall for our emptied Rivers and reservoirs to recover fully, plentiful Spring rains and cool temps have healed much of North Carolina for now. Hopefully our water-saving efforts have become simple every day habits and we will continue to be stewards of our precious water supply by washing, watering, flushing less.

There are many other ways we can make our Summer activities as green as our plants.

Use your clothesline. Clothes dryers are the 2nd highest energy-sucking appliance (after the refrigerator) in most homes.

A/C is overrated. Break the addiction by using shades, awnings and fans. Spend more time outdoors and your body will acclimate to hot weather.

Health clubs are not so healthy for the earth. Walk, pedal, jog, or practice yoga outdoors in cool morning or evening hours instead.

Let your grass grow. Organic Landscape experts recommend 2.5″ in Spring and 3″ in Summer for more drought, weed and pest resistant lawns. Better yet, transition to less lawn and more natural landscaping, including moss, mulch and wildflowers.

Gotta mow? Use a pushmower and consider mowing as an art, not a clear-cutting process. Cut a path for walking or a circle for sitting and leave the rest.

Rain can clean your car. Put on a swimsuit, grab a sponge and a little biodegradable soap. Overall, a professional car wash uses less water than how most of of us use a garden hose. Look for a car wash that recycles water.

Bike and walk more, drive less.

Urban farming is easier than you think. Plant and grow.

Star gaze instead of movie star gaze.

Enjoy your local fruits and veggies and help decrease the high carbon cost of food transportation.

THE TAO OF CHANGE [the way of a better world]

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