Monday, March 31, 2008

Overwhelmed

So, today I shopped at Sprouts Farmers Market for my weekly produce in the hope of finding at least a few items grown a little closer to home, and also reducing the packaging waste that comes with shopping at Trader Joes which is where I have been going mainly out of convenience, and because I do love many of their items. Sprouts however is further away. I did try to combine it with a trip to the library with the girls but it was closed. We will go again though.

Sprouts has a huge selection of produce, it generally seems to be good value, but of course, I could not find anything grown closer to here than any of the other grocery stores. I don't know quite what I am expecting really? I mean we live in a desert, but there are many huge farms here in-state, growing stuff, so where does all that go? I didn't find any of it today, although to be fair, I of course only checked out a very few items relative to the size of the store. It is a big store. The web site states that they try to purchase from local farmers whenever possible. I am confused about growing seasons as well. I know that there are two growing seasons here for veggies. Is it the same for the big farms or do they use hot houses in the cold weather, and shade structures in the heat of the summer? Questions, questions!

The organic produce was looking rather the worse for wear, wilted, and tired looking.(Kind of mirrored how I was feeling actually). I certainly don't expect organic produce to be all big and perfect like conventionally grown stuff, but I do need produce that doesn't have to be used immediately. I am guessing Monday is probably the worse day to do produce shopping for that very reason, and I am also guessing that local produce is hardly never sold at the chain stores. Has everyone else already figured that out except for me? Trader Joe's did have those local eggs though, so it must be possible. I will continue to search at least, and post when and if I find other local products in the bigger chain grocery stores.

So, I bought nearly all conventional produce today, mostly grown in Mexico it seems, and a little from California. To be honest I am feeling overwhelmed. I mean what am I trying to achieve here? I would like to be able to buy fresh, seasonal, organic, fairly locally grown produce, without having to drive miles to get it, and without it taking over my life, which is what it is already beginning to feel like. Written out like that it does make me sound like I am living in some dream world! Sadly, The convenience of one stop shopping can't be underestimated here, and therein lies an issue with green living in our busy lives.

I will look online at the CSA farms in my area today. The one we had before delivered to OUR DOOR! Did I ever really appreciate that enough? I also want to go to the phoenix farmers market downtown that runs every Wednesday, and Saturday year round, looks fantastic, and which I am ashamed to say I only recently learned existed.

The one good thing that came out of today was that I rediscovered all the loose stuff at Sprouts, you know, all the bins with pasta, flour etc. Now that is great and something I will definitely take advantage of. It seems to be competatively priced, and of course reduces waste. I can use the little plastic bags for the dogs so they wont be wasted as I would have to use some kind of bag anyway.

One day all this rumination will be past when we are growing most of our own!! Of course in the meantime I could always shop at Wholefoods, which is quite close, and has plenty of organic produce. However, as LOVELY as that place is, I hardly ever go because of the huge expense, and besides, although I haven't checked, I feel sure that not a whole lot from there is grown any closer to here than anywhere else. Sigh. CSA and Farmers markets are the way to go with this of course, supplemented with other stores.

On a brighter side note, check this out! Very interesting, and inspiring too.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Not green enough


OK, so I know that so far this blog really hasn't been too much about practical sustainability in the southwest......................it is coming, honest. I also realise that the spa day was an extremely tenuous link, at best!

I have big plans though for this week! Things like exciting pics of the washing line, and droopy tomato plants, as well as tales of my battle with the dogs, (mainly Tex), to stop them from stomping all over the small bit of green I have thus far managed to create, and the modest transformation of our back yard from from lean, to green. I have some great pics in the camera, if I can only make the time to get them out of the camera and uploaded onto here, I will be be doing well!

Earth hour was on the news today, and it did make me feel the tiniest bit green as I listened, but I know in the grand scheme of things it really didn't make a dent.

Tomorrow is weekly grocery shop day and I am abandoning Trader Joe's for Sprouts farmers market, in the hope of finding a little more semi-local produce to buy, with a lot less packaging. I am pretty certain that CSA will be the way to go ultimately, though of course I have been far too busy at the spa this weekend to check it out thus far!!

For now though, you will have to make do with some extremely cute pics of a recent trip to the Desert Botanical Garden that Amy and I made with our girls. (I am sorry that little E doesn't get featured too heavily here Amy!) It was another beautiful spring day here in the desert, and the DBG really is the epitomy of sustainable growing, and such a beautiful place to boot! Please enjoy, oh and of course happy birthday Tracy! I hope that you had a great day.



Saturday, March 29, 2008

Not such a green day?



Today, my dear friend A and I went for a wonderful spa day. Now before you say anything, we are not in the habit of going to spas. In fact neither of us has ever had a proper spa day in our lives. Today was the product of several months planning, (and saving), so that we could find just the right place, and just the right day.

We had a glorious day getting a full body "desert rain" loofah treatment,(which reminded me of the bed baths I used to give as a nurse), and a swedish massage, and then we hung out, had lunch, and enjoyed the amenities at the beautiful Camelback Inn Spa. Yes I know, spas are definitely not the kind of places one goes to when trying to live green, but it was a very occasional treat OK?

We will be turning off later for "earth hour", and I fully plan to line dry all my washing this week, honest! Will that offset our spa day a little? Here's hoping!

One swedish massage- rather expensive
One "desert rain" loofah body rub- not quite as expensive
One lunch- even less expensive still
One spa day spent chatting with best friend, away from all distractions, in a beautiful place- priceless!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dith Pran

I heard today that Dith Pran is gravely ill with stage four pancreatic cancer. This news is so sad for me because I saw The Killing Fields years ago, and it affected me deeply. It was for me one of those movies that I have never forgotten. It is a portrait of deep friendship, unequaled bravery, and irrepressible human spirit. It made me know that there is nothing more important than fighting for what is right, and for what one knows to be true, and that is why I am posting this here. I am thinking about Dith Pran today, and all of those who love him.

Wishlist books

There are two books I will be adding to my wishlist. The first one is "Fight Global Warming" by Bill Mckibben. He will be giving a talk and signing copies at Changing Hands Bookstore on Tuesday,
March 25th. Unfortunately I work that evening, but would have loved to go. The other book I am wishing for is "The Bridge At The End Of The World", by James Gustave Speth. He is a cofounder of the National Resources Defence Council and is being featured on the Diane Rehm show today, on NPR. He is making the point that unless extensive legislation is created to reduce geen house gas emissions, the small changes we are making will simply not be enough. Can't wait to read the book!

Plastic bags

Heard about this on trusty NPR this morning. Great idea! Apparently Phoenix is considering a similar move. The plastic bag industry is apparently not amused.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spring time in the desert, and other stuff





I want to include some pics here so this is as much about seeing whether I can do this, as to show off some lovely views of the desert in the spring. These are from a hike we did east of the valley during the spring of 2003. We had a lot of rain that winter and this was the result, beautiful! Proof that the desert really can be green.

This time of year, when the weather is warm, nature abounds, and we have our wondows open all day, I truly think I could live here always. I always forget what summer here really feels like. I do this every year, only to be reminded by the end of May when we are sealed in our homes, dreaming of fresh air and shade. Ah well, I will enjoy it for now, until the amnesia wears off!

This made me sad, but at the same time hopeful because at least this stuff is getting major news coverage these days. In fact global warming "news" is everywhere which is great. NPR have been running a really good series of programs called "Climate Connections" for a while now. The many and various pieces discuss the impact of global warming around the world. Just search for "Climate Connections" at NPR. Interesting, and at times sobering stuff.

Now that I know I can post pics I will take some more recent ones post those.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Earth Hour

Check this out!

Food

I just did our weekly grocery shop, mostly as Trader Joe's, though I have a couple of items that I need to get from Fry's. Trader Joe's and Fry's are a mile or so away from where we live which is good, but many of the foods I bought traveled a long way to get here!

I managed to get quite a lot of organic and "natural" stuff, and this is the breakdown of where each of these items came from:

Organic kids yoghurts- New Hampshire
Stewing beef, "all natural", (very pricey)- Australia!!!
Organic milk- from cows living in California
Organic soy milk drink- distributed from California, not sure where the soy beans were grown though
Organic wholewheat pasta- distributed from California, again, not sure where the wheat was grown
Organic cherry tomatoes- Mexico
Organic fair trade cocoa, (expensive and extravagent but at least it's fair trade)- Dominican Republic
Onions- distributed from, and I am thinking grown in California?
Romaine hearts- distributed from California. Again, does that mean they were grown there as well?
Organic Mac' and cheese- distributed from Massachusetts
Organic alphabet pasta- Italy
Organic russet potatoes- distributed from California.Grown there too?
Cage free eggs- distributed from California. There were organic eggs that were of course more expensive, but no cage free, AND organic eggs. I would rather have eggs from marginally happier chickens. There were eggs from a local egg farm called "Hickmans". They were cheaper but again not cage free. I can't bear the thought of those battery chicken in tiny cages on top of each other. I know that even the cage free aren't exactly roaming the range all day, but at least they have some freedom and aren't all crushing each other.

Produce from Trader Joe's is very over packaged, and wasteful. For example, I bought two regular peppers, they were packed in a plastic tray, and plastic wrap, not good. I know that foods need to be sanitary, but surely not this much? Other leading grocery store chains are better, but I still feel that I need to use those small, thin plastic bags they supply rather then putting stuff loose in carts. At least I can reuse these though for picking up dog poop, which I need to do rather a lot around here!

We spend on average $100 a week on groceries for a family of four. I am sure that is much more than I need to spend, but I really do try to get natural or organic foods, and cook from scratch for most meals. We rarely eat out, and rarely eat fast foods, though I buy occasional "ready" meals.

Quite interesting for me to see exactly where our food comes from, even though I am still unclear for most of it. I haven't really payed enough attention before. Clearly, none of the food I generally buy is even close to being local. I wonder how easy it would be to really buy local here most of the time? I know that this is the way to go for sustainability, and that it is so important to support smaller farmers.

Books I use

I have many books that I use frequently as resources for sustainable living, and gardening here in the southwest. Here are some of my favorites:

Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes- Judy Mielke
A great, detailed, and meaty resource for those wanting to plant native gardens. I have mostly native plants, but not all, and I wish that I had found this before I did the bulk if my planting.This book truly describes native plants that thrive here with little or no extra water.

The next few books I describe discuss plants that do well here in the heat of central Arizona, but may not necessarily be drought tolerant, and may therefore need supplemental water.

Arizona Gardeners Guide- Mary Irish
A resource for more amateur gardeners such as myself. easy to read and dip into for quick reading.

Low Water Use Plants- Carol Shuler
Has a useful chart of plants and their appearence, needs, and preferred location.

Gardening In the Southwest-Sunset books
A beautiful book with lovely photographs of dreamy southwest gardens.

Plants For Dry Climates- Mary Rose Duffield and Warren Jones
Useful when used to compliment the other books I have already mentioned.

The Desert Gardeners Calendar- Georg Brookbank
Again, useful when used with the other books I have listed.

The Garden Guy, and Extreme Gardening- Dave Owens
Excellant books, especially used together. Explain simply and clearly how to grow organically in the dry desert of Phoenix. Love these books!

The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency- John Seymour
There is a newer edition of this book but I still read through this and dream. My Dad had this when I was growing up and also used to dream of self sufficiency. Although taken to the extreme, these themes are never more important than they are now for us all.

Making a Difference- Amy Irvine
Stories of grassroot efforts by environmental groups to preserve and save our natural places. Inspiring reading for those darker days!

The Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices-Michael Brower and Warren Leon
Practical and useful resource.

One Makes a Difference- Julia Butterfly Hill
One woman out to save the world. Great book.

Living Organic- Adrienne Clarke, Helen Porter, Helen Quested, and Pat Thomas
Another practical guide to living green.

100 Great Natural Remedies- Penelope Ody
Quick resource with beautiful photographs.

I am planning to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver soon, have heard great things about it!

I LOVE Mother Earth News and have subscribed for several years. It is great value, packed with information for us amateurs, and the more hard core earth lovers. A yearly subscription of 6 issues is great value, and I learn something everytime I read and can't wait for each issue. I have to be careful not to get ahead of myself though because installing solar panels is unfortunately not in our immediate plans.

OK, off to get the day started!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Great trees grow from small seeds

I am sure all great things start small; at least that is what I am hoping because my attempts at sustainable living are starting out that way.

I have been dabbling with being green for a while now, and although I don’t really feel like we are making much of a difference yet, it is a start. These are some of the things we have been doing and using as a family to date:

Reusable canvas grocery bags. I have done this for a while and used to get strange looks in stores. I don’t now because it is one of those things that is really taking off! Even the larger grocery chains are starting to sell reusable bags, YEAH! Trader Joe’s has had a great line of reusable, economical bags for a while.

Line hanging our washing. (I have to say though that I am not as diligent about this as I need to be, especially in the 110 days of the summer when I can hardly bear to go out. Of course this is the best time to dry washing, in about ten minutes flat). Project Laundry List has really awakened me to the importance of being consistent with this all over again, and how ridiculous restrictions are being made on washing lines all around the country.

Washing and reusing zip lock bags. I have this great little gizmo from Gaiam that holds the bags open so that they dry properly and quickly.

Composting. I have had a compost “heap” for a while on which I dump all of our garden waste and compostable kitchen scraps. These past few weeks I have graduated to a composting box that R made for me and which is great! Most of the old heap fitted into the box, and is happily composting as I write!

Vegetable growing. This is really a work in progress. R made me a white picket fence to contain my small growing area so the dogs couldn’t get in over five years ago. I am afraid to say there hasn’t been much growing going on so far, mainly due to us having started our family five years ago! It is not a large area and only a small bed has been prepared. The ground here is literally like concrete, and it took me weeks, and the use of a pick axe to prepare even a small bed. I have a few tomatoes and pepper plants in there now that I planted with the girls. They seem to be doing OK but I have BIG plans for the veggie patch this year. I am a little conflicted about the water issues here in the southwest, and whether I can grow veggies without using inordinate amounts of water. Rainwater harvesting may well be the answer and is another thing I plan on doing. "Rainwater harvesting for dry lands", by Brad Lancaster, is a book I plan on reading when I can only find some time.

Installing low water use fixtures, and trying to reduce overall water use. We currently have two low water use shower heads, and a couple of the faucet aerators, but not on all of the faucets. We also have low consumption 1.5 gallon flush toilets. Definitely can be improved upon, and so important for us desert dwellers. I always do big clothes washes rather then smaller ones and we don’t use our dishwasher at all. It is broken so that is a good way for us to be forced to conserve more water!

Reducing driving and trying to consolidate errands to reduce gas usage, and pollution.

Recycling. We have good recycling here which helps, but not everything can be recycled, or at least not taken away by the city to be recycled.

Using energy efficient light bulbs. Once again, we use them mostly, but not in all of our light fixtures at the moment.

Trying to buy second hand items such as books, clothes etc. Again, room for great improvement here. I am sure that I can buy most of what we need from thrift and consignment stores, as well as the odd garage sale.

Delivery of produce from a Community Supported Agriculture farm. We used to get deliveries about five years ago. After our first daughter was born though I found I was not using all that we were getting and it kind of defeatd the object, so we stopped. I want to look into that again. I am sure there will be more farms participating five years later however; ideally I would like to be growing most of our own veggies eventually.

Using natural, cruelty free body products, and safe, natural household cleaning products. Natural body products are more expensive than regular, but I don't use many. There are many things around the home that can be used for cleaning such as baking soda for scouring, and white vinegar for cleaning glass. We don't use petroleum based washing up liquid either. Trader Joe's once again has great, reasonably priced cleaning and body products available.

We don't use any pesticides in our yard, but I still sometimes catch R trying to use the weed killer if he gets half a chance.

Trying to buy organic food as much as our budget allows, and reducing consumption of meat. I eat no meat and although R has been more open to vegetable based meals, he still loves meat. I try to buy organic wherever possible, though it is outrageously expensive. If one uses less meat in recipes it can be streched out more. Organic foods here in the valley often travel a long way to get here which does little to reduce carbon emissions overall. I am sure by exploring some of the farmers markets we have here, and there are a surprising number of them, I can do a better job with this by buying locally, seasonally, and organically, until we are growing most of our own of course!

I dabbled with cloth diapers for a while. The initial cost is of course more than disposable diapers, but they do pay for themselves over time. My concern with this was the use of water for the more frequent washes I did. Overall I felt it was probably not a good thing here where water is so scarce. I have read various discussions about this, and I still can't decide whether the benefits of using cloth diapers in this region outweigh the landfill issues. We are currently using disposable diapers again, oh and working on potty training!

So, I think that is it. Doesn’t look like too much at this point I know but we are headed in the right direction. We were outside this evening enjoying this perfect weather that we are having this time of year. The birds were chirping, the orange blossom is out on the trees and smells heavenly, and we were all together talking about our garden plans. Made me feel really happy, and fulfilled, and excited to just get on with it all. Can’t wait for tomorrow.