One of the foremost things that attracted me to green and eco conscious living was the direct correlation to self sufficiency and personal responsibility. Going green is largely about taking control of your spending, your habits, your wastefulness, and YOUR contribution to the pollution of our planet. To live a more eco conscious life and reduce your impact on the planet I think you need to develop your skills set. We need some mad green skills. ;)
This is good news in my mind as I am and will always be a student of life. Learning new things is one of my greatest passions and I loved college more than anyone should I think. I still often think about going back to college to pursue my interests. Classes of any sort whether they be at a college or at my local community center make me stand up and take notice. I LOVE to learn! My hubby and I both enjoy “how-to” books and own a many of them. We subscribe to magazines that discuss self sufficiency and homesteading. We are very interested in expanding on our existing skills all the time and with the economy the way it is and the planet in the condition that it is…I think this is important. Instead of the skills to pay the bills maybe we need the skills to avoid paying the bills. Aka the more self sufficient we are the less likely we will need to rely on other people and services to get by. How can we reduce our consumption and rely more on the sweat of our own backs to get by?
In Mother Earth News awhile back they shared a survey they did of farmers and over 60% of the farmers they interviewed felt they were in a better position than other people in the country to rough it through economic hardship. Why is that? Cause they have skills.
So what kind of skills can save you money and help you reduce your environmental footprint at the same time? Here are some of the front runners in my mind:
Grow Your Own: I think it is incredibly important that people learn to grow their own food. Our conventional food growers use pesticides, genetically modified seeds, and all sorts of chemical nasties on the food they grow. We can opt to reduce the amount we buy and therefore reduce support to such industries. It is also entirely possible to grow all your own food if you want to. All it takes is hard work and the dedication to build new skills. Grow in your front and backyard, patios, decks, balconies, window sills, etc. Join a community garden if you have absolutely no place to grow. Start a freedom garden movement in your community.
Sew Your Own: Sewing is a lost art and one we need to revive. In this day and age of slave labor and cheap Wal-Mart clothes and goods it is easy to decide that sewing your own is too costly. But sewing your own clothing, bedding, bags and totes, home decor, toys, etc. is just to rewarding and empowering to ignore. And you can pick up very low cost fabric at yards sales and estate sales all to often as well. I have often bought entire bolts of fabric (40-100 yards) direct from the manufacturing companies so that I can keep costs down on sewing projects. Get good at sewing and you also have a marketable skill. I made good money selling hand sewn goods online for several years. I still love to buy hand sewn items from other moms and do so all the time.
Make Your Own: Why not try to make your own bread, soaps, candles, cleaning supplies, etc? Cook your own food and make your own dog/cat food. How much of the “stuff” you buy can you make yourself? Not only can this save money it is really rewarding to be able to make your own stuff and not have to shop for it. Right now I am reading the Outlander series and in a nutshell the heroine decides twice to to go back in time and live in 18th century Scotland where she and her family have to grow their own food or starve, make their own candles in a week long process and harvest the beeswax themselves, make their own clothes, build their own shelters, and set their own broken bones. It is a really fascinating read and every time I catch myself wondering why on earth she would CHOOSE to live that way I am reminded just how strong and self reliant this character is…yet you will NOT find a sub heading here called “Set Your Own”. :) Please don’t try to set your own broken bones.
Entertain Your Own: The biggest budget killer for my family is entertainment. I grew up in an affluent family that traveled a lot and generally just spoiled me. If I wanted something, I got it. Hubby and I ended up passing on a lot of that to our own kids and we had to back peddle. If we didn’t watch it, the kids would talk us into a bunch of worthless toys and large entertainment expenses. Now we invest in season passes to educational places like the zoo and the Science Museum. We buy second hand books and do a lot of reading. We do crafting and painting. We listen to audio books. We search out our community for free or low cost events. We create fun outdoor play areas at home and we take them hiking and camping. Sometimes in lieu of traveling to warmer places in the winter we get a cheap local motel room with an indoor pool and let the kids spend the whole weekend in the pool. There are so many low to no cost entertainment ideas out there. It is a skill for many to get creative and entertain themselves.
Build Your Own – This is my hubby’s favorite learning area. He reads DIY books on building and carpentry with abandon. By developing building skills you can do home renovations yourself, you can build raised beds for your garden, build furniture, an aquaponics system, etc. The possibilities are endless. My hubby and I both want to pursue education and training in sustainable energy and building systems. We want to learn how to install solar panels and grey water collection systems.
Reuse Your Own– It is both frugal and green to reuse everything as much as you can. You can use egg shells, old rain boots, and milk jugs in the garden. Old wool sweaters and t-shirts can be turned into cloth diapers and covers. Torn clothing can be used to make rag rugs. Glass jars can be turned into candle holders and vases, or you just drink out of them. That is what we do. One of the greatest cost savings opportunities available is to use and reuse what you already have.
What green skills do YOU want to pursue?
Below is an interview I did quite some time ago with a lovely woman named Ginger Freebird. I met her on Twitter and became interested in her Squidoo site about Freeganism. I was so intrigued by her amazing story that I interviewed her for a podcast that I used to do (many years ago). I came across the conversation buried deep within the archives of this site and decided to republish. What she does reminds me so much of a movie I watched recently about dumpster diving for food. It’s called Dive!: Living off America’s Waste. It’s fantastic! I so admire folks who take action to rescue perfectly good food so that those who truly need it can benefit. Hope you enjoy!
What exactly is freeganism, for those that don’t know?
Ginger Freebird: Freeganism is a term that was coined from free and from vegan. Freegans live without consuming a lot of things in their lifestyle. Many of them are vegan, which is vegetarian without the dairy. So, they’re looking for strategies to live without buying all the things that Americans think we need to buy. Specifically, getting food from bins behind grocery stores. Fresh food, today’s food, that is sitting there in boxes just out of the fridge, and using that to eat and in my case to feed many of the homeless people.
How exactly did you get started doing this? Would you also call it dumpster diving, or do you prefer one term or the other?
Ginger Freebird: Lately, I’ve come up with the word Food Activist, and Homeless Advocate, Environmentalist, Food Rescuer, a lot of different terms. I don’t actually dive into dumpsters. I think it would be pretty dangerous to actually go in. There is broken glass, there are nails from broken palettes that they stack the food on a lot of times, spaghetti sauce, and cans of open paint that people throw in. Not to mention raccoons and squirrels sometimes. I blame getting started into this lifestyle on Oprah. I’m an Oprah fan. On February 27th, 2008 she had a show about what she called Freegans. These are educated people in New York City that go out at night and find good food in bins and use that for their groceries.
I never thought I’d do something like this. I’ve got college degrees, education. I never thought I’d look in a bin. You think old moldy food, and bugs, and things. But, my curiosity was great. I looked in a local bin behind a grocery store and was shocked to find 6 feet wide, 6 feet deep, 6 feet tall of fresh fruit in boxes just sitting there. And vegetables, broccoli, pineapple, tomatoes, apples, New Zealand kiwi. All sorts of organic vegetables, because they’re more expensive and don’t sell as much. Oranges, grapefruits, celery, strawberries. It was like finding a tree of plenty.
I’ve always been an avid garage sale person. I like a good bargain, and I like recycling and living green. I’ve also always been an avid gardener and vegetable gardener. I like getting my hands dirty and planting seeds, and watching them grow. To see all this beautiful food, these voluptuous vegetables and juicy fruits that were absolutely fine to be thrown away was amazing. So, I just took the boxes out and put them in my trunk. I came home, cleaned them, chopped and froze some and ate them. I’ve had smoothies for 9 months now every day. The most delicious smoothies.
Oprah got me started with my curiosity. Then I got the idea that there’s so much, I’ve got to feed the homeless with this. There are thousands of homeless people in my city. So, I started calling up homeless shelters to see if they needed food. I found two shelters that are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to receive food. They don’t ask where it comes from, they can see that it’s good. There are some shelters that have stricter laws and the foods must be packaged, so they will not take fresh fruits and vegetables.
Also, I first called the local police non-emergency line to see what the laws were, if it was illegal to take things out of store bins. They said it really wasn’t and no one had ever been arrested for that. So, I felt more comfortable. You almost feel like you’re stealing or doing something you shouldn’t be doing, because it’s not accepted by society. They think you’re a bum, you’re a desperate person, and it’s disgusting. They don’t see that it’s just like taking everything out of your refrigerator and placing it in a clean plastic bag, putting it in your bin, and then going out in 20 minutes and taking that bag in and putting the items back in your refrigerator. That’s about how disgusting it is.
When I think about taking food from a dumpster behind a store, I’m thinking that they’re throwing out the stuff that’s bad. Has that been your experience? Are you finding perfectly good fresh food in the garbage can that was thrown out for some unforeseen reason?
Ginger Freebird: Yes. I’m finding about 90 percent of it is just fine. The fruits and vegetables may have a small bruise or brown leaf. They just simply have to make room for the new vegetables and fruits coming in, I think. Also, there’s strict policies with yogurts, pizzas, frozen goods, and so on. They will throw it out on the expiration date. But, I have checked with a large food bank and they say that most of these things are good for 6 days after their expiration date, as long as they were kept properly refrigerated at 41 degrees.
I check certain bins often, and then I know that it’s just been thrown out and I can feel that it’s still cold. Then I get it right home and into the fridge or freezer. I sort through. There may be some, often one broken jar of spaghetti sauce in an area. So, it can be a mess at times.
How did you make the leap from just curiosity looking into a couple of these bins to deciding that you were going to make it charitable work?
Ginger Freebird: I’ve always had compassion for homeless people and the less fortunate. I don’t like to see things go to waste, and it just seemed natural to make this connection. To know I’m within half an hour of thousands of people being hungry that can’t get to this food. Then I put a little ad on Craigslist for any drivers that would like to help distribute the food and they would get a free box of food themselves for doing it to help pay for their gas. It’s helped several people that are the working poor, or that want to help out. It came to be that they saw the quality of the food they were getting.
The main comments I got from the shelters were, “There’s so many fresh fruits and vegetables we don’t get from the food banks.” The food banks do a wonderful job and the stores donate to them every day, but there’s still, I’ve estimated conservatively, each store throws away about 500 dollars worth of good fresh food every day, which is 18,000 dollars a month, which is 150,000 a year. A city with 400 stores is 72 million dollars worth of good, usable food.
The problem is getting it quickly. It needs to get quickly to a shelter within an hour or so if it’s a non-refrigerated vehicle in order to stay safe. So, that’s what I’m trying to do is coordinate where we can get it quickly to these places. A runaway teen shelter called me and said, “I hear you’re giving all these good cinnamon rolls, fruits, and vegetables to this other place. Could you please help us out? We’ll send a driver out.” So, they send their own driver out once a week and then they even donated a nice refrigerator to me to have in the garage so that I have two now. I often have about 200 pounds of food every week and I can collect more to give them if I can refrigerate it for a couple of days and not have to gather it all in that one day.
It’s satisfying. There’s something about physically going out and doing this work. It is physically demanding. And then meeting a need, it just feels good. It’s such a nice break from computer work and paper work, and things that take forever. Here you just do something and it’s actually helping people immediately. It feels good.
One story they had that one teenager got a job and needed roller blades to get over there quickly. Because now they have to spend much less on groceries, since I’m providing them they were able to spend 40 dollars on roller blades for him, and he was able to go to work. So, it stopped his cycle of addictions, and problems, and so on. It was a big part of the way he was helped to get a job and change his life.
Another time, I found blankets in the bin. On the weekends, the normal American citizens just throw all their stuff in the bins at stores if they happen to be moving, or happen to have stuff they don’t want.
I found a real sick comforter, it had one rip. I donated it to the shelter. The next week they told me that it kept one boy from having to sleep on the cement floor of the men’s shelter, because there wasn’t room for him elsewhere. So, he got to sleep on that blanket.
In fact, their whole budget has gone from 500 dollars a week that they used to spend on groceries, now they’re spending 50 dollars a week on groceries.
Do you have a rough idea of how much in a monetary value how much you’ve been able to help these homeless shelters?
Ginger Freebird: They’re valuing it at about $450 a week. Then I give it to miscellaneous other ones. I have been keeping a tally. I take pictures of most everything I get, and I keep lists. I put it on Twitter under Twitter.com/freegan, I put down my daily runs, my bun runs, what I’ve got. It’s about 29,000 dollars now in 9 months. This also has been feeding my family, so it’s cut our grocery bill about 300 dollars a month. I only have to get a few things now, everything else is provided.
For me, it’s kind of a sense of adventure. I need something that’s a sense of adventure, and something different. It’s actually a good therapy for depression. It gets you up, and you think, “I’ve got to see what’s in the bin today.” There’s always surprising things. One day I found 26 five pound crates of oranges that were absolutely delicious. I ate about 30 a day, and then gave away hundreds of them.
There are things to keep in mind. If someone is thinking of trying this, definitely make sure it’s okay with the police first. Then go when there aren’t many people around. I suggest taking a car and parking a little ways, usually there’s a parking spot 10 or 20 feet away, and then when no one is around just go and look in.
I use a grabber device, the type that older people use when they can’t pick things up. It’s a 3 foot pole with a handle, then the claws go together. I found there are a lot of cheap ones out there, and a good one is the MedMinds brand that’s found at Walgreen’s for 20 dollars. It pays for itself in about 20 minutes.
You can stand outside the bin, and just lean that in and it will pick up cans and fruits and things. The best days are when it’s stacked high and you can just lift the whole boxes of fruit out, and you don’t have to take it one by one with the grabber. But, it will grab loaves of bread and so on.
The second tool that is needed is some sort of rake or long poled thing that can bring things from the back of the bin to the front, then you can get it with your grabber. Also, I recommend wearing a back brace or back support type of thing, and wrist braces, and old clothes that you don’t mind if they get paint, spaghetti sauce, or ruined.
I wear solid dark clothes just so that I won’t stand out. Tennis shoes and socks to protect my feet. There are nails and glass sometimes around there. I wear a hat and sunglasses. Then I have a nice BMW, so people just think I’m getting a box. The ruse is you just keep an empty box beside you, and if someone does come by you can just take the box and get into your car. They think you’re looking for boxes to move, and that’s socially acceptable.
It’s amazing. Some statistics are that there are about 36 million people in America that are what they call food insecure. They don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or if they’ll have a next meal. About 13 million of those are children. 23 million are adults. Those are older statistics, so I’m sure they’ve increased.
There’s no reason that anyone needs to be hungry in America. We actually already have the food. It’s just a matter of getting the trust of some of these grocery stores and having them take the time to let you have a driver come by and take their 10 sheet cakes instead of seeing them all thrown in the bottom of a bin on top of bread, on top of apples, and other things.
I got all of my Halloween decorations from the bins. Tons of pumpkins. I get about 10 bouquets of flowers a week. I just got 22 herb plants a week ago that I’m nursing back to life and are doing well.
My ultimate goal is to see everyone fed in America. It is feasible to feed everyone. I would like to see the stores actually approve us picking this up. Where we wouldn’t have to get it from a bin, we would be stopping by. I would like to see a network in my city of hundreds of drivers that would be picking up from a store close to them and then it would be coordinated to take to a shelter that’s near them. They would get to keep one box of food themselves and they would get a receipt from the shelter. We’d have it all coordinated and worked out that way.
I am starting the paperwork and I do have some restaurants that do want to work with us, and some caterers. It’s a matter of getting enough drivers that can pick these up at convenient times for the stores and take it immediately to the shelters. That’s feasible to happen. With the food banks they have to send out their drivers to go to all the stores all day long in refrigerated trucks, bring it back, store it at their central area, then sort it all out, then take it later. So they can’t handle all the fresh fruits and vegetables. They do handle some. I see filling a real need with the fresh fruits and vegetables, and then also the bakery items, deli items, and anything else.
Okay, it is that time of year. You may be thinking (or agonizing) about how you have to file taxes online or maybe you already have them done. Either way if you are expecting a refund from Uncle Sam than you have already started dreaming about what you will do with it. Same here. Though some will certainly say it is silly to loan the government money, my family usually overpays our taxes during the year and thus we get a refund. We don’t do it as some sort of savings plan, we do it to cover our behinds. I am self employed and my income is unpredictable at best. It just makes us feel better to overpay and make sure we are covered in that department. And let’s face it, it you have no willpower than having a savings account you cannot touch but once a year is kind of logical. :)
So…what to do with all that moola? Well, big or small there are probably a few purchases that you can make that will be helpful in the long run to help you live greener, save money, and be more self sufficient. I understand the tendency to want to blow the money on a trampoline for the kids or a down payment on a newer (but really unneeded car). Part of our personal refund is in fact allotted to purely fun stuff since paying higher taxes throughout the year meant less fun money to play with. But now is also the time to make smart purchases that will pay all year long and even for years to come. Here are a few ideas:
Freezer – A stand alone freezer (either upright or chest) is a great purchase if you want to save money on healthier foods. Being able to freeze more food makes it possible for you to buy in bulk, purchase more sale items, preserve seasonal, local foods, and to store a herdshare. If it is cheaper in the long run to buy 20 pounds of raw almonds then go ahead and do so and then freeze the ones you wont use within the first month or so. Extend blueberry season by visiting the pick-your-own farm and buying enough (and freezing them) to get you through to next season. Having a freezer can really help you save money long term and they are generally cheap to power. Look for an energy star model and/or buy used from Craigslist.
Remodel/Refurbish Supplies – Using tax money to do home improvements is always a smart decision. You can refinish your deck, insulate the attic, paint, install a programmable thermostat, replace carpet and laminates with wood or tile, replace appliances with more energy efficient models, etc. Think about the projects you can do now that will increase the value, efficiency, and comfort of your home.
Gardening Materials – Growing your own food is like printing money according to TED speaker Ron Finley so investing in what you need to grow more of your own food just makes good sense. You may want to use refund money to build raised beds or to buy equipment such as a tiller, hoe, shovel, etc if you plan to sow your seeds directly into the soil. If you have a small area to grow in you may want to buy pots and planters that will fit on decks and inside window sills. A compost bin can be very affordable if you are able to build it yourself. Building plans are abundant online. Buying a plot at your local community garden is another option. Just don’t forget to reserve a small amount for buying heirloom seeds!
Canning, Preservation, and Food Storage – If you grow your own food or buy in bulk during the growing season then you need a way to preserve it for the off season. I mentioned the benefits of a freezer (above) but also helpful would be a good dehydrator. I prefer Excalibur for the space and temperature controls but it is a bit large. Nesco makes a decent smaller version. Canning supplies are another good investment and a vacuum sealer is also a good idea if you buy meat in large quantities (see below for info on that). I hate contributing to plastic waste but I also hate to waste money on good grassfed beef!
You may also want to overhaul your food storage containers. Ball jars and Pyrex always work well and you can pick them up cheap at yard sales and auctions. I use the half gallon size jars for everything from almond flour and nuts to dehydrated apple slices. If you want to save money on bulk and preserved foods then you have to have a place to keep them that will preserve their freshness.
CSA share or Herdshare – A CSA stands for community supported agriculture. It is basically a system where you pay a quarterly or annual fee direct to a local farmer and in return you get a box of home grown foods each week or so during the growing season. A herdshare is where you pay your farmer for your “share” of a cow, pig, etc. You can buy a whole pig, half pig, quarter cow, etc. You essentially pay the farmer to board and feed your animal and then when butchering time comes, your fees pay for a certain amount of the meat from the animal. In case of dairy cows your share pays for weekly raw milk. Doing a herdshare eliminates the middleman to save you money and you can choose to support farmers who raise their animals humanely, feed them appropriate foods, and don’t inject them with growth hormones.
The down side is that you get a large amount of meat all at one time so you need to be able to store it. It is also pricey for the same reason, even if the per pound price is low. For example, here in Ohio I can get a half share of a grassfed Texas Longhorn and the price is only $3.95 per pound (hanging weight). BUT a half share can be 300 pounds which puts my price for all that meat at well over $1000 and I have to have a place to put all that meat! In the long run and health wise it makes good sense to go this route if you can though. Your beef needs for the year will be covered with no time wasted looking for sales. The quality is MUCH better than what you will find in stores too.
Clothes Line and Drying Racks – Dryers are a big waste in the energy department so it makes sense to use wind and solar power to dry your clothes if you can. You can purchase a clothing line or a drying rack for a relatively small investment so why not??? If I owned my own property then I would totally go for big steel T-posts and good thick lines just like my grandmother had. She even had raised flower beds surrounding both of her posts. But for people looking for something requiring less work and space you can get a parallel style clothes dryer and even drying racks which can be used indoors and out.
Take a Class – Do some searching in your city to find specialty classes that you can take and invest in your own education. If my location is any indication of what is available then you can take classes on quilting, sewing, canning, bread making, pie baking, pottery, wild food foraging, animal butchering, maple sugaring, etc. Many places offer classes in homesteading and life skills like this so take advantage of them!
I could keep this post going on and on but you get the general idea. When a small windfall of money lands in your lap there are many smart things you can do with it that will help you save money and be more self sufficient. Money used to empower you and better your situation is always money well spent. Do you have anything to add to this list?
Green travel is no longer just a trend it is a way of life for many and becoming more and more important in a world which is being harmed in so many ways by human activity. So to make your travel more planet friendly here are a few green travel tips.
Choosing a green destination
Some destinations are more environmentally conscious than others. Not only the individual hotels but entire cities or resorts as a whole. A bed and breakfast might be a more sustainable choice than a hotel chain and Portland, Oregon would be considered a greener destination than Atlanta, GA. We can also consider exploring locations closer to home, thus reducing our travel footprint.
Choosing green accommodation
Hotels which use 40% less electricity and produce 35% less carbon emissions than the average hotel are Energy Star approved hotels. When booking a hotel online use the search filters to find smoke-free hotels and hotels listed as “green”. Consider camping as an alternative to conventional travel and also look into bed and breakfasts or inns which tend to use fewer environmentally harmful resources.
Sharing transport by using public buses emits less harmful gases than renting a car, and if you have to rent a car then make sure it is an eco-friendly car. Hiring a scooter uses even less energy and there are also transport alternatives which use only natural energy. Try taking a cycling vacation or sail instead of taking a motorized boat. Hiking and walking vacations are of course the best way of conserving energy! If you must fly then choose an airline known for its eco-friendly policies like Virgin America, Alaska Airlines or Air France which offers passengers carbon offsets.
Often when you’re traveling you’ll be eating on-the-go which means plastic plates, cups and utensils. Take along a reusable bottle/mug and when you dine choose restaurants which use “real” plates and cutlery. Pack reusable cloths to use instead of paper towels and paper napkins, such as Skoy Cloths or PeopleTowels which are reusable and biodegradable. If you want to try the local food truck scene, and who can blame you, bring your own utensils. These nifty bamboo ones come in their own carrying case AND don’t forget to bring your own healthy easy snacks in a to-go box.
To recharge the inevitable electric gadgets that will accompany you on your trip purchase a solar recharger. Using solar energy you can recharge your camera, laptop, mp3 player, and cell phone. If a solar recharger is not a practical option for your trip then use rechargeable camera batteries which can be recharged over night.
Traveling green begins before you’re even out the front door – Cancel your newspaper delivery, turn off all lights and power bars, unplug appliances or even cut off all electricity via the breaker if you can.
Stay Green in the Hotel
Hang up your used towels to indicate that there is no need to wash them every day. This saves on energy used in hotel laundry. Use the hotel toiletries modestly or even bring along your own. When you leave the hotel room for the day turn off the lights, A/C and TV. If there are no recycle bins in your hotel then collect plastic bottles, paper and organic waste separately and ask the hotel manager where you can find the relevant receptacles in town. Even though you’re not paying for the water, limit your bathing to a reasonable length of time. A vacation is no excuse to get lax with your eco habits.
Seek out local farmers markets and organic stores where the food hasn’t traveled far or dine in restaurants which are known to be eco-friendly and local. Half the fun of visiting a new place is trying the food unique to that area so don’t go to chain eateries. You can do that anywhere so support small, local businesses instead.
Hopefully with a little planning your next travel experience will be a little greener…enjoy!