I believe the children are our future…

Whitney Houston said it best. 🙂
“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”

I try to do what I can to set a good example for my kids — whether it means making healthy meals, picking up trash on our hikes, or taking care of my mental health. I believe that despite what they may learn from their friends or in school (although we are home schooling this year — more on that soon, I promise), my husband and I are still their primary teachers.

Although my kids are still young, I think it’s important for them to learn that we need to take care of the earth and that like anything or anyone else, the earth deserves our respect.

As I was digging deeper into the One Million Acts of Green web site the other day, I discovered they have a page dedicated to Education Resources for Teaching about Climate Change.

“When it comes to educating children about the environment, the entire world is a classroom.”

That’s a philosophy I’ve become rather fond of in regard to home schooling too, but like I said, I’ll write more about that another time soon. 😉

They go on to say: “The One Million Acts of Green Program works closely with the National Wildlife Federation, The Climate Project, and its website partner GreenNexxus to provide high-quality, age-appropriate resources for K-12, and beyond.”

There are links to all kind of resources that can be used to teach kids about the environment and climate change. While some of it may be geared moreso to a classroom setting, there’s a lot of information that could be used by parents as well.

This link to the National Wildlife Federation has a bunch of answers to kids’ questions about global warming, including a Parent’s Guide to Talking To Kids About Global Warming.

Another link is to Cool The Earth which is a program similar to One Million Acts of Green, but for kids.

Cool The Earth is a free, ready-to-run program that educates K-8 students and their families about climate change and inspires them to take simple actions to reduce their carbon emissions. The program is successful because it’s fun and empowering for the kids, and their enthusiasm is contagious!

Cool The Earth can be run at any elementary or middle school in the country. If you are interested in learning more, check out how to bring the program to your child’s school.

In addition to the education resources, there’s a lot of other good info available at One Million Acts of Green. If you haven’t yet checked out One Million Acts of Green, I encourage you to read my intro post and learn more about how you can start logging and sharing your Acts of Green. Check out the Facebook app too!

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt via Flickr

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Eating Locally – Good for So Many Reasons

It’s harvest season in the United States. In other words, ’tis the time of year to eat locally and preserve all of that gorgeous locally grown produce!

This weekend I snagged a second case of local organic roma tomatoes (for the amazingly low price of $15) with plans to make and can more sauce. You see, I already processed one case of the local romas and put away six quarts of sauce (so deliciously *thick a wooden spoon stood up in it). Six quarts is not nearly enough though, so I got the second case. Today I canned six more pints and two quarts. It’s still not enough, but being that a frost is expected tonight and when I got the second case, I was told that was the last of the romas, my sauce making days may be over for the season.

I’m not complaining though. I am actually quite proud of the canning I’ve been able to accomplish this year. It’s definitely my most productive canning year since I started two years ago. A shelf in my garage contain jars of apple sauce, pear sauce, nectarine preserves, dilly beans (like dill pickles, but with green beans), and now tomato sauce (and more that I haven’t moved out there yet). About 2/3 of the food I preserved came from right here in my city and the other 1/3 came from within the state.

It’s not a ton, but it makes me feel good and I like to look at it. 😉 Maybe I should arrange the jars by color for more of a rainbow effect. 😉

There are a lot of reasons why it’s good to eat locally.

According to One Million Acts of Green:

A lot of the food we eat in North America has travelled a great distance to get to us. On average, various food items travel more than 2,400 kilometres (or nearly 1,500 miles). That’s a lot of energy, transport and storage. Plus, all that food is shipped in controlled environments, which depletes nutrition. Buying local produce means your food is fresher. It also helps local farmers and reduces air pollution.

Treehugger points out additional benefits of eating locally:

… farmers who sell direct to local consumers need not give priority to packing, shipping and shelf life issues and can instead “select, grow and harvest crops to ensure peak qualities of freshness, nutrition and taste.” Eating local also means eating seasonally, he adds, a practice much in tune with Mother Nature.

“Local food is often safer, too,” says the Center for a New American Dream (CNAD). “Even when it’s not organic, small farms tend to be less aggressive than large factory farms about dousing their wares with chemicals.” Small farms are also more likely to grow more variety, too, says CNAD, protecting biodiversity and preserving a wider agricultural gene pool, an important factor in long-term food security.

Another benefit of eating locally is helping the local economy. Farmers on average receive only 20 cents of each food dollar spent, … the rest going for transportation, processing, packaging, refrigeration and marketing. Farmers who sell food to local customers “receive the full retail value, a dollar for each food dollar spent.”

One of the many Acts of Green from One Million Acts of Green is to Purchase Locally Grown Produce. I’ve been appreciating the importance of this more and more over the last few years. Of course there are the benefits to eating seasonally as was mentioned on TreeHugger. There are also the benefits of preserving (either by freezing, dehydrating, or canning) locally grown food while it’s in season. It can be time intensive, but the more I do, the more rewarding it is.

I also admit I love to hear my six-year-old — upon seeing the jars of sauce on the countertop — say, “We sure are getting ready for winter!” I like that the idea of canning and freezing food for the winter is just natural to her.

As I said in my intro post to One Million Acts of Green, “I don’t claim to live a perfectly green lifestyle, but I do the best that I can in the moment. I try to lead by example and inspire others to do what they can too.” If buying a bit of your produce locally at the Farmer’s Market or local farm stand is something that feels good to you, go for it. I have to say it’s kind of cool to know just where your food is coming from and to even meet the people who are growing it. Or perhaps you have a friend or a neighbor who’s garden is producing too much for them. Most gardeners are happy to share the wealth. All you have to do is ask.

Do you buy locally? Do you preserve food for winter? If not, what’s holding you back from getting started?

If you haven’t yet checked out One Million Acts of Green, I encourage you to read my intro post and learn more about how you can start logging and sharing your Acts of Green.

* I cooked my sauce in a stockpot on the stove, but moved it into the crock pot to cook down on low (uncovered) overnight. It worked like a charm. 🙂

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation.

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BPA Exposure ‘Much Higher’ Than Believed & Proposed BPA Ban

Bisphenol-A or BPA — a chemical used primarily to make plastics — has been under scrutiny in the United States since 2008 when its safety was called into question. Most recently, a study published Sept. 20 in the online NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives “suggests exposure to BPA is actually much greater than previously thought and its authors urge the federal government to act quickly to regulate the chemical that is found in baby bottles, food-storage containers and many household products.”

One of the researchers, Frederick vom Saal, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, said in a news release that the study “provides convincing evidence” that BPA is dangerous and that “further evidence of human harm should not be required for regulatory action to reduce human exposure to BPA.”

According to a New York Times article, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says “it is OK for humans to take in up to 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight each day. The new study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggests that we are exposed to at least eight times that amount every day.”

In August, Canada placed BPA on a toxic-substance list under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The country first banned BPA-containing plastic baby bottles in 2008, “but the new move will see BPA removed from all products on store shelves. As a result, Canada will become the first country in the world to declare BPA as a toxic substance.”

Five states in the USA – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, New York and Oregon – have limits on BPA, particularly in children’s products, but California state legislature recently failed to pass a bill that would have eliminated BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula cans.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) believes BPA should be legislated on a national level and wants to amend the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act currently under consideration in the Senate to ban BPA from children’s food and beverage containers. However, Republicans and industry representatives are pushing back, saying that research hasn’t conclusively proven that the chemical is harmful. Sen. Feinstein said, “In America today, millions of infants and children are needlessly exposed to BPA. This is unacceptable. If this isn’t a good enough reason to offer an amendment, I don’t know what is.”

What is BPA and Why Should You Care?

Bisphenol-A is “a synthetic estrogen used to harden polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resin.” It is found in many plastic containers as well as in the lining of canned goods. According to the Environmental Working Group:

Over 200 studies have linked BPA to health effects such as reproductive disorders, prostate and breast cancer, birth defects, low sperm count, early puberty and effects on brain development and behavior. BPA leaches from containers like sippy cups, baby bottles, baby food and infant formula canisters into the food and drink inside where it is then ingested by babies and children. The CDC found BPA in 93 percent of all Americans. Just last year EWG research revealed BPA in umbilical cord blood of newborns, which demonstrates that babies are exposed to this toxic chemical before they are born.

The Environmental Working Group has some tips to avoid exposure to BPA. Raise Healthy Eaters also has a post about How to Become a BPA-Free Family. Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, a registered dietician, recommends things such as:

  • Switching from plastic food storage containers to glass
  • Reducing your canned goods use
  • Using stainless steel water bottles and more.

Take Action:

If you’d like to urge your Senators to support the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and Senator Feinstein’s amendment to ban BPA in baby bottles and other children’s products, you may send them an email.

Related Posts:

Photo via nerissa’s ring on Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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If Parents Don’t Protect Their Kids from Harmful Chemicals, Who Will?

Being a parent today seems to require a hyper-vigilance to make sure your child is protected from unhealthy — sometimes even toxic chemicals — in their toys, clothing, eating utensils, furniture, household items, and more. Between lead-based paint, PVC and phthalates in toys, bisphenol A (BPA) in water bottles, flame retardant in pajamas and recently cadmium — a carcinogen — in McDonald’s Shrek glasses, there’s a lot to keep moms and dads on their toes.

The question becomes: What is the best way to keep your child safe? How can a parent know that something they (or a friend or relative) buy for their little one isn’t going to cause them harm? Even if you make your own toys, buy them handmade by an artisan or buy supplies for your children to make their own simple toys, how can you know that the materials are all safe?

The fact is there is not enough being done in the United States to protect anyone, but especially children, from harmful chemicals.

According to the CNN article Toxic chemicals finding their way into the womb, “The EWG [Environmental Working Group] study found an average of 232 chemicals in the cord blood of 10 babies born late last year.”

They are chemicals found in a wide array of common household products — a list that is as long as it is familiar — shampoos and conditioners, cosmetics, plastics, shower curtains, mattresses, electronics like computers and cell phones, among others.

“For 80 percent of the common chemicals in everyday use in this country we know almost nothing about whether or not they can damage the brains of children, the immune system, the reproductive system, and the other developing organs,” said Dr. Phil Landrigan, a pediatrician and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “It’s really a terrible mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.”

Environmental attorney and mother Patti Goldman believes, “When it comes to protecting our kids from toxic chemicals, parents need a system that meets us halfway. We need to shift the burden from families to the companies who are manufacturing and distributing the chemicals used in these products.”

The potentially good news is that new legislation called the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 was recently introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on April 15. This new act amends the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and would “require manufacturers to prove the safety of chemicals before they are marketed. Of particular concern are carcinogens, to which the public remains dangerously exposed and uninformed.”

“America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,” said Senator Lautenberg. “Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe. My ‘Safe Chemicals Act’ will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to get tough on toxic chemicals. Chemical safety reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a common-sense issue and I look forward to building bipartisan support for this measure.”

In the meantime, what is a parent to do?

  • You can start by checking out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Toy Hazard Recalls list to see if any of your children’s toys have been recalled.
  • Vote with your dollars. Buy toys from manufacturers or artisans you feel you can trust.
  • Stay current on what’s going on in the movement to protect children from harmful chemicals by reading Healthy Child Healthy World
  • Check the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database to find out what personal care products – shampoo, soap, lotion, sunscreen, toothpaste, diaper cream, etc. – are safest for children
  • Watch the EWG’s video “10 Americans
  • Visit Safer Chemicals Healthier Families – A nationwide effort to pass smart federal policies that protect us from toxic chemicals.
  • Take Action! by reading about the Safe Chemicals Act and send emails to your representatives and senators, email Congress, and don’t forget to tell your friends about the act and ask them to take action as well!

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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“The 10 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make” – Seriously? Seriously?!!

If I had to make a list of the things that I’m most intolerant of, I’d put fear mongering up there near the top. I’m not a fan of advertisements, public service announcements, campaigns, TV shows, articles or blog posts that use fear to push their agenda. Which is why when I read the Lifescript post Top 10 Mistakes Even Smart Moms Make, I was more than a little upset. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things on this list I definitely agree with, but when it starts out with number one saying it’s a mistake to share a bed with your baby, you can bet that I’m going to take the whole list with a grain of salt.

Here are what Lifescript calls the “10 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make:”

  1. Sharing a bed with baby.
  2. Putting your child to bed with milk or juice.
  3. Buying second-hand toys or baby furniture.
  4. Showing your child “smart baby” DVDs.
  5. Putting kids in the basket of a shopping cart.
  6. Sharing utensils with your child.
  7. Delaying or avoiding vaccines.
  8. Leaving your child alone in the car “just for a minute.”
  9. Skipping helmets on tricycle rides.
  10. Leaving your child alone in the bath or shower.

These are the “10 biggest mistakes parents make?” The biggest? Really?

If I had to grade myself as a parent based on this list I think I would get a big, fat “F” as I’ve done 9 out of 10 of these things at least once and about half of them on a regular basis. How about you? How would you rate?

It feels as though the author of this article assumes that none of us have any common sense whatsoever, yet it’s directed at “smart” moms. It’s also a slap in the face to any mother who’s made educated and thoughtful decisions about things like co-sleeping and vaccinations.

I co-slept with both of my children as babies. It is a practice that is as old as time and can be beneficial to both mother and baby if it is done safely. Annie at PhDinParenting has put together a great list of the dos and don’ts of co-sleeping safety. I don’t believe a blanket statement telling people not to co-sleep is the answer. I think giving them guidelines to follow to make it a safe environment is much more productive which I wrote about in this post about a surprising Fox News report regarding co-sleeping.

Julia wrote about why she co-slept with her children and Lactating Girl wrote her reasons for co-sleeping as well.

In the Lifescript article they say, “In 2008, when the U.S. experienced its largest measles outbreak in a decade, nearly half the 131 sickened kids were unvaccinated.” Does that not translate into more than half of the sickened kids WERE vaccinated? That doesn’t seem like the best argument in favor of vaccinations to me and I’m pretty sure that the “smart” moms will see through the data presented. I’m not saying vaccinations are good or bad, but I think parents should be allowed to make the choices that are best for their children.

After her oldest son began having terrible seizures, Steph of Adventures in Babywearing did a lot of research before she decided vaccinations were not right for her family. She feels, “This is an area that is not ‘one size fits all.'”

On Raising My Boychick’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People – a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers – one blogger shared about her decision not to vaccinate her children. She believes:

People need to step back, take a deep breath and do what is right for them without expecting everyone to come to the same conclusion. Alarmist propaganda is never ok and neither is demonizing an entire group of people for a personal decision. We trust parents to drive their children around in cars, to make other healthcare decisions, to guide their children’s dietary choices. This is no different.

Colleen wrote about why she chooses to delay vaccinations and said:

I know that doctors believe in supporting the AAP and the status quo. I know they believe that administering vaccines is in the best interest of our children and of all children. But I hope our doctor also understands that by educating myself about vaccines, by researching them and, yes, even by questioning the schedule and the ingredients in them that I am doing what is in the best interest of my child. No parent should be faulted for that.

Moving right along. I totally understand the “leaving your child alone” in either a car or the bath tub business. Those, rightfully, should be on the list. However, don’t put your child in the basket of a shopping cart because they will tip it over? Um, what about that handy little strap-like thing in there called a seat belt? I’m pretty sure that if the child is seat-belted in, they will not tip the cart. I’ve been pushing kids around in shopping carts for nearly 6 years and nobody has fallen out yet, although my son did drop a large container of yogurt out of the cart basket which exploded all over the floor. Turns out giving him the yogurt to hold was a big parenting mistake.

I could pick apart the rest of the list, but I’ll leave that for you to do. I think the bottom line is take everything you read with a grain of salt, do your own research, trust your instincts, and make the choices that work best for your child and your family.

Photo used with permission from Adventures in Babywearing

Cross-posted on BlogHer where a great discussion is already underway.

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Now Accepting: Chickens, Goats, Kids, Farmers, Bloggers

Many of you know that my husband and I have been working hard at getting our house ready to sale for the past few months (which is why my posts here have been so few and far between). In addition to trying to sell our house, we’ve also been scouring the real estate sites looking for a good deal on a house with a fair bit of land. We haven’t had any luck so far, but what we did stumble upon is an amazing deal on 50 acres in southern Wyoming! We drove out to see the land this weekend and fell in love.

Jody and I started talking about it and while we definitely don’t need that much land for ourselves, we’ve always joked, but also dreamed about living in a commune. So we’re going for it! We talked to the owners of the land and they are cool with waiting until our house sells as they aren’t in a huge hurry to sell. So as soon as our house sells, we’re buying the land and starting our dream! 🙂

That’s where you come in. We figure that between the land that will be committed to gardening/farming, an orchard, livestock, a huge communal kitchen and dining hall, a big playground, land for hiking, and maybe even a pool and small rec center, we’ll still have room for about 30 families to join us. Jody is writing up an application form which I will post in a few weeks for interested families to complete. Anybody interested? 🙂 Leave a comment if you think you might be interested in learning more or if you have ideas on how to make this commune an awesome place to live.

Obviously we have a lot of details to work out, but we’re both very excited about this opportunity for us and for the many families who will eventually be joining us. But most of all we’re excited to say April Fool’s! 🙂 Too bad it’s not for real. I was really getting excited about it. 😉

Photo credit: Tourism ROI

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Dyeing Easter eggs naturally – a tutorial

Easter is right around the corner and since I’ve been totally immersed in house prep/selling stuff for the past month and I haven’t had time to do much blogging, I’m going to recycle this egg dyeing post from last year. Hope you give it a try! 🙂

Originally posted: 4/4/09

So you want to dye your Easter eggs naturally – without chemicals and artificial colors? While it takes longer than the commercial egg dye kits you buy at the store, dyeing your eggs with natural foods is better for you and your child(ren)’s health, produces much more interesting colors and is, quite arguably, more fun!

Why dye with natural colors instead of artificial?
According to Organic.org, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).” I wrote about the drawbacks of artificial colors a while back if you’d like to read more on the topic.

It is more time-consuming than using a store-bought conventional egg dye kit (and I highly recommend preparing the egg dye baths a few hours before you plan to dye the eggs with the kiddos), but it is healthier for your kids and the environment. “Dyeing eggs the natural way gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, teaching kids to use alternative project methods that are healthier for them and the environment.” I think it will be a lot of fun and a great family project.

To get started you will need:

  • Hard boiled eggs (preferably white eggs since they take on the dyes better than brown eggs)
  • Ingredients to make your dyes, which I will discuss in more detail below – As a guideline, use up to 4 cups for vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart. Mash up fruits.
  • White vinegar (2 Tablespoons for every quart of water)
  • Several pots and bowls
  • Optional: stickers, rubber bands, and crayons for decorating the eggs and making interesting patterns
  • Egg cartons for drying the dyed eggs

Natural egg dyes can be made from a variety of ingredients. Here’s a list of what I used last year along with comments on the colors that resulted.

RED

  • 3 cans of beets in cranberry juice (instead of water) – produced a dark reddish hue

PINK

  • Frozen cherries – made a very light pink

RED-ORANGE

  • 3 tablespoons of chili powder produced a nice reddish-orange color

YELLOW

  • 3 Tablespoons of tumeric produced a great yellow

GREEN

  • A mix of spinach leaves, canned blueberries and their juice and a few tablespoons of tumeric produced a gorgeous earthy green color – I think it would work without the spinach leaves, but I happened to have some that were wilting so I threw them in.

BLUE

  • 3/4 of a head of red cabbage (chopped) made a beautiful blue

GREY BLUE

  • 2 cans of blueberries and their juice made a grey-blueish color

GREY

  • Frozen cherries mixed with blueberries yielded a grey color (not the purple I was going for).

Instructions:
Last year I found a couple great web site with tips on “Natural Easter Egg Dyes” and Natural Dye from Organic.org. The natural dyes come from spices like paprika, tumeric and cumin; vegetables like spinach and red cabbage; fruit juices and even coffee. All of your dye ingredients can (and should) be composted after you are done.

On Organic.org, there is a boil method (which produces darker results) and a cold-dip method, which is suggested for children or if you plan to eat the eggs, which is the method we used last year.

The two methods are:

Method 1—Hot
Place eggs in a single layer in a large, nonaluminum pan. Add the dyeing ingredient of your choice—it’s best not to mix until you are comfortable with experimenting. Cover the eggs and other dyeing “agent(s)” with one inch of water. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart to help the color adhere to the egg, and bring to a boil. Next, simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the desired shade is achieved. If you cook the eggs longer than 15 minutes, they will become rather tough.

Method 2—Cold
The cold method is the same as the hot method with the following exception. Once ingredients have simmered 20–30 minutes (depending on desired shade), lift or strain the ingredients out of the water and allow the water to cool to room temperature though you may wish to try keeping the ingredients in the colored water to give the egg more texture as the dye will become concentrated in areas where the vegetable touches the egg. Submerge the eggs until the desired color is achieved. You may keep the eggs in the solution overnight as long as it is refrigerated.

The longer the egg stays in the dye, hot or cold, the deeper the hue will be. Using vinegar will also help the color deepen.

Definitely feel free to experiment and try out other foods and spices. For me, that was a big part of what made it so much fun, trying out different things to see what colors would come from them. For example, the dye from the spinach, tumeric, blueberry mix looked orange or brown, but the eggs came out green! And the red cabbage dye was purpley-pink, but the eggs came out blue. It was like a fun science experiment that the whole family could get involved in. Happy egg coloring! 🙂

Pictures:
The process of making the dyes:

The egg dyes on the stovetop Beets in cranberry juice
Red cabbage Tumeric

And the results:

Red and pink eggsYellow and orange eggs
Green eggsBlue eggs

Links to other people’s natural egg dyeing results:

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Can Your Child Identify a Tomato? Teaching Kids About Food

I recently watched a preview from Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution where first grade children were unable to identify fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. While I didn’t find it shocking, I thought it was quite sad. It drives the point home that as a society we are, as Oliver points out in his TED talk (which is absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time), very disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Sure, kids eat french fries and ketchup, but do they know they come from potatoes and tomatoes? He also points out that the current generation of children may be the first in two centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Of course after that I had to quiz my five-year-old Ava (to make sure I wasn’t being overly critical) and she knew what everything was except the beet (which we don’t eat because I think they taste like dirt).


Photo credit: Jacki-dee

Ava’s kindergarten class is currently doing a section about food. My daughter already knows a fair bit about what she eats since she’s been gardening with me since before she could walk. We also have friends who have chickens and we frequently visit the farmers’ market. I don’t know what specifically her class is being taught about food, but I imagine it’s pretty light and upbeat (i.e. no information about factory farming, genetically modified organisms, etc.). That’s OK with me though. I feel like you can only give five-year-olds so much information. They have plenty of time to learn more about the current farming practices in the United States when they get older. I have been impressed that they made butter in school by shaking a jar full of cream and will be making applesauce as well, and are even hatching baby chickens in an incubator in the classroom. They also took a field trip to a supermarket. A trip to a community garden would have been nicer, but there’s not much to see at a garden in Colorado in early March. Regardless, I’m glad that her school is teaching young children about food and hope that others around the country are as well.

Earlier this week I finally sat down to watch Food, Inc. for the very first time. My kids, ages three and five, who were not yet in bed sat down too, ready to watch along side me. I had a conversation with myself in my head for a minute. Should I let them watch it? I haven’t yet seen it so I have no idea what to expect. But it’s about food and where food comes from, and that’s educational, right? I decided to turn it on and keep the remote in my hand in case anything looked like it might get too gory or inappropriate for them.

Ava watched it quite intently and asked me several questions. Julian, my 3-year-old, watched bits and pieces while he wasn’t busy playing. Actually, one of the things he started playing (after watching a scene where a factory chicken farmer collects dead chickens was “throw the dead chickens (stuffed animals) into a bucket.” It was rather fascinating to see him reenact that scene.

At one point, I stopped the movie to gauge Ava’s reaction and ask her how watching it made her feel. She replied, “Sad and happy. Sad because people have to eat the chickens. Happy because I’m learning.” That reinforced my decision to let her watch it. I was very happy to hear that learning made her happy.

We ended up watching only half of the movie together before it was time for the kids to go to bed and they missed some of the more gruesome scenes like the lame cows, pig slaughterhouse and the scene of the traditional farmer and his workers killing and processing chickens (which really wasn’t that bad). After seeing it all now though, I think they would have been OK with watching it.

Food, Inc. is rated PG “for some thematic material and disturbing images” and that seems very fair. I wouldn’t let children watch it on their own, but I think if they watch with a parent it’s a great learning opportunity for all parties involved.

This spring we will start getting chickens (to eat) from a local farmer and I think a field trip of sorts to visit the farm and the chickens is in order. We’re also hoping to get chickens or maybe ducks of our own for eggs once we move and have more land. The more I can expose my children to where their food comes from, the better. We’re not perfect. We go out to eat and even eat *gasp* fast food and junk food from time to time, but my kids know what a tomato is, they see me cooking and gardening and help me with those things. All of that, I believe, will help establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime and will hopefully keep them from becoming a statistic.

Related posts:

Soon-to-be cross-posted on BlogHer

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Compost through the winter with worms in your house!

It’s no secret that I hate to see things go to waste. I have been known to dig recyclable items out of the trash and attempt to Freecycle or otherwise give away some of the craziest stuff before I will consider tossing it in the trash. It makes me anxious when my 3-year-old leaves the water running or stands with the refrigerator door open too long. And I really have a hard time throwing away table scraps and fruit and vegetable peels, especially considering my children eat fruit like there’s no tomorrow. All of that fruit adds up to a whole lot of orange peels, apple cores and watermelon rinds. Honestly, that’s the biggest reason I started composting. I hated seeing how much food waste was going into the garbage and knowing it only ended up in the landfill. Sure, the end result of making your own fertile soil which is great for gardening is an added bonus, but mostly I compost to reduce my family’s garbage output.

I didn’t start out trying to do vermicomposting or composting with worms. We got a composting bin, set it up in a relatively sunny spot in our mostly shady backyard, and got to work. Along the way, I threw in several shovels-full of dirt, hoping it would speed up the composting process. Apparently I threw in some worms too, which reproduced like rabbits. It didn’t take long for my regular compost bin to become a worm composting bin. I think it’s a little freaky, but my kids get a big kick out of all of the worms in there and have been known to fish some out just for fun. 😛

However due to the cold in Colorado this winter, my compost bin hasn’t been working very well. In fact when I dig into the pile I find lots of frozen (dead?!) worms. I’m sorry wormies. And my food waste is not being broken down like it is in the summer. As a result, some of our food waste has gone down the garbage disposal (which isn’t a good option because it uses a lot of water and energy to process at the water treatment plants) and I’ve also thrown some into the *gasp* garbage. It breaks my little green heart.

My friend Julie who also lives in Colorado has run into the same frozen composting dilemma this winter and decided to start worm composting in her basement. The idea of having a bin full of worms in your house might skeeve some people out, but the worms are contained and it’s a very practical way to keep your food waste out of the landfills. While I haven’t set up my own system yet, I have started learning more about it. Not only is it a great option for people who live in colder climates, but it’s great for apartment-dwellers or others who don’t have a yard to put a traditional compost bin.


Photo credit: Bramble Hill

Why compost?
Recycling the organic waste of a household into compost allows us to return badly needed organic matter to the soil. In this way, we participate in nature’s cycle, and cut down on garbage going into burgeoning landfills.

What is vermicomposting?
In the simplest terms, “vermicomposting is a system for turning food waste into potting soil with the help of worms.”

What do I need to get started?
According to Worm Woman, you will need:

  • An aerated container
  • Bedding such as shredded newspaper
  • Moisture and proper temperature
  • Small amount of soil
  • Redworms (Eisenia fetida)

Learn more about vermicomposting:

If not for the fact that we are trying to get our house ready to go on the market and I need another project like I need a hole in my head, I would totally set up a worm composting bin in my house right now. But the worm bin project (along with the getting chickens project and what else is there?) will have to wait until we have sold our house and have moved into our new abode.

Cross-posed on BlogHer

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Where do your kids’ toys go to die? Children, consumerism, toys and trash

A few weeks ago I overheard a woman say (online) that she cleaned her basement and subsequently “threw out 10 bags of broken, crap toys!” The comments that followed applauded her efforts. I’m not sure if they were happy that she cleaned the basement or that she discarded numerous toys, but I couldn’t help but feel saddened that so many “broken, crap toys” were on their way to the landfill.

I can’t say I’ve never thrown out a broken toy myself, but generally speaking I try to make an effort to acquire toys that are the antithesis of “crap” and, thus will stand the test of time and, once they’ve lived out their time with us, can be given away to someone else (or saved for my kid’s kids…someday). Of course some less than stellar toys inevitably make their way into our house, but 10 bags of junked toys seems like a lot to me.

It had me wondering, is this scenario the norm or the exception? What do you think?

According to Earth911, “Recent studies show nearly every household purchases at least one toy a year (often more), and toy sales in the U.S. in 2007 totaled to $20.5 billion.” How many of those toys make their way into the landfills?

I have to admit that I feel guilty every time I throw a broken anything into the trash. I know that throwing something away doesn’t really make it go away. There is no “away.” It just means that it’s going to sit in a landfill or in an ocean somewhere for years and years and years. That bothers me, which is why I try to avoid it. (If you haven’t yet watch The Story of Stuff, I highly recommend it.) This is also why this weekend I was trying to Freecycle a bunch of stuff that we’re no longer using.

I wrote a bit about my process for getting rid of stuff in the post “Decluttering your house, the green way.”

Even if I know the garbage can is my last option for stuff, I still feel bad about throwing it out. I hate to think about it ending up in a landfill and staying there forever, but then I also have to be realistic and not completely beat myself up over it. It’s a good reminder to make wise choices when buying things and think:

* Do I really need this?
* Is it good enough quality that it will last for years or will it break after a year and have to be replaced?
* Should I save my money for a little while longer and buy a better quality item that will last me longer?
* What will I do with it when I no longer need it (or when it breaks)?

Of course this is a bit harder when you have kids (and toys) and it’s not always practical to go through this list every time you buy something, but it’s a good practice to get into and will help to avoid unnecessary purchases in the future. It can also help you avoid buying cheap, plastic toys that might as well go directly from the assembly line to the landfill for as long as they are usable. But don’t get me started about those. ;oP

Good toys vs. Junk toys

Jennifer Lance wrote Green Family Values: No More Junk Toys! and offers some tips on how to tell a good toy from a junk toy:

How can you tell a junk toy from a good toy? Field naturalist Alicia Daniel offers the following list of questions to ask when selecting toys:

  1. Will this toy eventually turn into dirt-i.e., could I compost it? Stones, snowmen, driftwood, and daisies-they will be gone, and we will be gone, and life goes on.
  2. Do I know who made this toy? This question leads us to search for the hidden folk artist in each of us.
  3. Is this toy beautiful? Have human hands bestowed an awkward grace, a uniqueness lacking in toys cranked out effortlessly by machine?
  4. Will this toy capture a child’s imagination?

So what do you do with the old toys?

Earth911 has some tips for recycling toys including:

  • passing them on to other family members
  • donating them
  • repairing broken toys
  • or selling them.

They also list the benefits of recycling toys.

Think before you buy

I think the best advice though is to think before you buy. I know not every single toy purchase can be a thoughtful/practical one, but if you can change that so the percentage of thoughtful purchases is increased by 25%, 50%, 75% or more, think of how much crap that will keep out of the landfills. Also, you might want to consider the carbon footprint and the safety of the toy. How far did it have to travel to get to your toy store? If you live in the United States, could you buy an American-made alternative instead? There have been a lot of recalls of toys in the past several years. When you buy well-made, quality toys, you reduce the risk of a recall.

Children and consumerism

Mrs. Green from My Zero Waste in her post A Plastic Frisbee for the Landfill wrote:

I have to say, this is something that concerns me about 21st century life – the massive volume of ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ toys that our children are growing up with. They last a few days at best and then become ‘rubbish’. Our children are bought up to look for the next fix and move on to the next thing, like good little consumers. I wonder how we can ever solve the landfill issue until we pull back from so much mindless consumerism. We try and stay away from it as much as we can, but we can’t live in a vacuum or turn our child into the village freak.

I agree. I don’t want my children to be turned into mindless consumers, which is why I support the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, but I also realize they cannot live in a vacuum and I don’t want them to be ostracized by their peers.

So, what’s the solution?

Think before you buy, have a plan in mind for what to do with a toy when your child is done with it, and remember: everything in moderation.

One of my favorite Native American proverbs is, “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” Yes, a cheap plastic toy might make your child happy for a few minutes or weeks, but how happy will it make them in 20 years when their generation is responsible for cleaning up the mess that resulted from all of those cheap plastic toys?

Related links:
Second Chance Toys: Rescuing and Recycling Plastic Toys for Needy Children
Tips for Choosing Eco-friendly Toys
Simple toys are better for children
Toys from Trash

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