The first Earth Day happened in 1970. By the time my daughter was born in 1973, Earth Day was an established, nationwide celebration with ambitious goals to change our view of and our behavior toward the Environment. Much of this mission has been realized, but the present-day debate on Climate Change says we’ve still got a ways to go.
During the 70s, my husband and I became way-too-young hippie-esc parents of a little girl named Heather. We had lost Hendrix and Joplin by then. Morrison would follow a year later. We’d slouched to Bethlehem and back and been shocked into confusion and anger by the My Lai Massacre.
Don and I were on the road to adulthood, in search of who we would become and what we would value as our lives together continued. Our family theme song was “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Of course, we went to Earth Day celebrations each year, as well as lots of Woodstock wannabes, reefer-laced rock concerts, and Waylon-and-Willie-themed pig roasts–baby Heather in tow. (No, she did not grow up to be a cowboy.) We were the biggest worry of our parents and the freest we have ever been… because we were young, idealistic, naïve and so unaware of the restrictions adult life carries with it.
So when we attended Earth Day festivals, we’d be swept away by all the cool people, the presence of the Sierra Club, the stories of environmental icons like Jane Goodall, the organic way of life, the music in the park, the handmade stools, a new technology called “recycling,” pottery by local artisans, the call to be “the solution to pollution,” the pledge to turn our gas-guzzling car into a backyard planter and take the higher pedestrian road to clean air-clean water-clean living. Better life through composting!
With Heather’s face painted like a big daisy, our backpack full of brochures that would help us change our lives overnight, considerably less spare change in our faded jean pockets and the alluring smells of sandalwood and patchouli in our noses, we’d head for home to start living it “right.” Yeah. We were very young.
But in our defense, the experience of euphoric overwhelm is not relegated to only the young and naive. Too often at Earth Day celebrations and other such gatherings where there is a compelling call to action, everyone comes away wanting to do it all, only to have reality bite us in the butt once we are back in the real world of work, school schedules, deadlines, laundry and cable TV. So we do nothing, convinced that what we actually might be able to pull off won’t change a thing.
In 2016, wearing the proud label of “hippie-has-beens,” Don and I now take a different approach to saving the world. We do it a “slice” at a time. And you can, too. Maybe you already do. When I began the posts for April, I quoted Margaret Mead in the Sidebar: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I think this quote is incredibly powerful and hopeful. Mead is telling us that no matter how small our actions, no matter how few of us participate, we can make change happen. I cling to this idea when I get into environmental overwhelm, for instance, contemplating Climate Change. Can I solve Climate Change? I don’t know that I can… then again, unless I do something—even one little thing—I am certain I will change nothing.
Wondering if you can save the world? Wanna try? Here’s a list of helpful hints… just in case you want to do something but not everything. Note that some of these things might be outside the proverbial compost box… something you might never have considered relevant or effective in the overwhelming task of saving the planet.
Ok, it’s expensive and it’s unlikely every bit of food your family consumes will be available organically. But what if one out of every 10 food items you bought was organic? Think that won’t matter? Check out the Organic Center’s statistics on this. Did you know: by choosing at least one organic product out of every 10 items you purchase, 98 million servings of drinking water will be free of toxic pesticides; 53 million servings of produce would be produced without toxic pesticides; 2.9 billion barrels of imported oil would be eliminated. Food for thought.
Go vegan or (at least vegetarian) one day a week
The Environmental Working Group has taken a realistic approach to meat vs plant diets in the U.S. They know we will never become a vegan country, and, actually, that goal could have an unwanted environmental impact of its own, depending on where you live. So they’ve provided ideas for eating less meat and making better meat choices. Another great resource for vegan and vegetarian recipes is Pinterest—you’ll find a huge community of people willing to share.
Already a veggie lover? How does your lettuce grow? Prewashed in a plastic container? Ditch the heavy packaging for the real deal. It might seem like such a small thing, but all those containers—even if they are recycled—create a larger carbon footprint. Wash and trim your veggies, use the stems and leaves in your veggie stock, and compost the rest. No waste, no guilt, no brainer.
Do something by doing nothing—buying nothing new for six months or a year, if you dare. I’m not making this idea up—it’s a real movement, and you can be part of it. Take for example the clothing industry–a huge polluter and, in many cases, a violator of human rights. Try putting your family’s wardrobe on hold—save money while you save the planet. Take your extra cash to the farmer’s market where you can buy handmade products and directly pay the person who made them. Just gotta have that new shirt or skirt? Think “previously loved.” I make two very fun shopping trips a year to The Scholar Shop in St. Louis, MO. Its mission is to sell donated clothing at unbelievably low prices to fund educational scholarships for deserving students. Win-win!
Taking a vacation? Spend it on the farm!
At the end of last market season, I visited Our Family Garden and spent time with producer Jackie Mills and her family. I saw the chickens that provided my eggs, met a steer who would eventually graced my table and learned a little more about the dedication and hard work that goes into farming when done the right way. Wouldn’t that be a great way to spend a family vacation day? It’s amazing how many children today don’t even know that carrots grow in the ground—not kidding. Inexpensive, local, fun and educational. Find a farm near you and see if you can visit. The answer is probably yes, and you might come away with fresh eggs, a little produce and a bunch of flowers.
Going out to dinner in or around St. Louis?
Check out the Green Dining Alliance, a restaurant sustainability certification program of St. Louis Earth Day. Their mission is to “enhance each diner’s experience and support local businesses by engaging restaurants and stakeholders in a process to increase environmental sustainability through tailored strategies, workshops, and collaboration.” Find farm-to-table establishments, organically sourced menus and more.
Running an errand?
Here’s a great green strategy I learned from my friend Pam Garvey. If a destination is a mile or less from home, she and her son make it a point to walk or ride their bikes. It might take some effort, but this green decision leads to numerous benefits you might not think about: besides curbing your carbon footprint, you could meet your neighbors, improve your health, lose weight, teach your children about simple pleasures and the environment, stop and smell the roses, relax.
Support Your Local Farmer’s Market
It sounds so obvious coming from me, but make it a point to shop at your local farmer’s market. Can’t make it every week? How about once a month? Maybe a CSA is for you? I sound like a broken record, but getting to know the people who grow your food will enhance your appreciation for what you eat, awaken your conscience to waste less, and honor the Earth that provides it. It will ultimately make you a better from-scratch cook and much happier person. Trust me on this one.
Ah, there she is, my little flower child. This is one of my favorite Polaroids (look it up) of Heather at an Earth Day gathering sometime in the mid-70s. She’s really what it’s all about. Because at the end of the day, Earth Day isn’t for us, it’s for our children. Perhaps the most important green thing you can do today, or any day, is by word and deed, “Teach Your Children Well.”