I am a midwestern mom and wife with rather conservative values and a lifetime appreciation of nature who is now dabbling in the concept of sustainable living. I’ve always been the catholic girl with a zest for being naughty who loved to play in the woods and found it challenging to pick sides in arguments. I’ve been able to see both viewpoints to most stories and consider myself in the middle of the political spectrum. Some may consider this “wishy-washy”, I call this fair.
I’ve lived my life so far with a goal of comfort and ease while focusing on instilling values in my children. I admit to being wasteful, excessive and focused on the American Dream while having fun and feeling pretty along the way. I’ve overspent on cute stuff at Target, got suckered in to a trendy wardrobe and have done my fair share of impulsive online shopping all in an attempt to spark the boredom of my daily life.
Ready for Change
I am ready for a change. Perhaps its my middle age, maybe it’s the experience of observing my pre-teen and teen girls yearning for the same meaningless stuff, or maybe it’s a calling. I am feeling strongly compelled to change my habits. My initial reaction to this calling is to uproot, move and start a farm where I live off the land and restore traditional American values to my children. I feel a strong pull to step into nature and at least grow our own food.
Instead of packing up our large home filled with an overwhelming amount of stuff, I opted to go to the local library to read up on greenhouse gardening. Once I found the gardening section, I let my fingers glide over the large variety of books and I came across one with a beautifully simple cover. (Same thing happens to me when I’m picking out a bottle of wine). I opted for this one and a few other informative titles.
I read the one with the beautiful cover first. It is entitled “Better, the everyday art of sustainable living” and is authored by Nicole Caldwell.
Lucky for my husband, I finished this book while we were on a 14 hour RV trip to Tennessee. He was the fortunate person to be stuck with me while I was completely engrossed and inspired by this amazing book. He listened while I shared excerpts over the loud and hot noise of the motor that sat between us. This book was meant for me at this time in my life. Thank you, Nicole, for your incredible story and your straight forward “how-to” guides.
Sustainable living is beautifully described in this book. It is a combination of Ms. Caldwells’s personal story, environmental theory and a DIY manual for more intentional and sustainable living. She brings you back to a life of simplicity that includes reliance on our earth and on one another. It is about connection, relationships, appreciation and creativity.
Ms. Caldwell sounds like a very likable, smart and inspirational person that you would want to just sit and listen to over a cup of coffee. She was an overworked, busy and stressed journalist in NY city who decided to listen to her inner voice calling her to drive north to live on her inherited farm. This was her uncle’s farm which she had fond childhood memories of and a lifetime of plans to turn it into a sustainable artist’s retreat. She did exactly that and created a place called “Better Farm” which is described on the books outer jacket as a “65-acre sustainability campus, organic farm and artist’s colony serving as a blueprint for environmentally conscious living”.
Passion to return to our roots in which we live off the land in a mutual respect and honor for our earth’s bounty is weaved throughout this book. Uprooting our lives is not the suggestion (although it sounds amazing!), rather, slowing down to be mindful of your current pace, relationship with one another and with our mother earth is the emphasis. The importance of creativity and the role art plays in our ability to think not only outside the box but to connect with our true selves and one another is an integral part of living Better.
Our Own Impact
Each and everyone of us can greatly impact our natural world with the choices we make on a daily basis. We don’t need to leave our jobs, move out of the cities and all become farmers. We can simply decide to live more honorably. We can choose to lead a more sustainable life by starting in our own homes. We can teach ourselves and our children how to be more mindful of our impact on our earth. We can put down those screens, step outside, breath in and play in the abundance of nature we have all been gifted and often take for granted.
Chapter 11 of Ms. Caldwell’s book is entitled Start Sustainability Now. This is a practical guideline with 26 ideas of how you can start living sustainably better.
I personally love lists with instructions and was excited to be able to immediately implement her suggestions. Before I leapt in and started suggesting we build a chicken coop NOW, I opted to be realistic. I talked it over with my husband and selected 5 things we could challenge our family to do for the summer.
I’m calling our challenge the “BEE Kind Challenge” in honor of my sister Alyssa. This was the name of her small business in which she raised bees and grew plants to create teas and medicinal salves. She lived sustainably and had great respect for our earth. Sadly, she left this earth physically but her spirit is deeply rooted in its soil and the air we breathe. As I said in her eulogy, she is and always will be my Mother Earth and my inspiration. I promise to let her voice live through me as I carry out the mission she began.
I hope to spread this information and encourage each and everyone one of you to join us as we create a better place to call home together.
The Bee Kind Challenge
This challenge is designed for busy families searching for a more meaningful connection to one another and to our earth. For those of us who yearn to teach our children kindness, respect and connection. It is meant to feed our cravings for creativity and wonder while providing a break from electronics that we desperately need.
Read this post to your family and discuss the list below.
Select 5 realistic actions that would be fun and creative.
Be specific with how you want to carry out each idea.
Write it down and post it as a reminder for everyone in your family.
Set a 3 month goal and then discuss how it went with your family.
Start trusting the earth to provide for you. Our planet provides everything we need for wellness. An example would be to start growing lavender and make a pillow sachet out of the dried flowers for your lingerie drawer or pick wild blackberries and make a jam.
Grow your own food
Ditch the pesticides
Compost your food scraps
Forget chemical fertilizers
Collect as much rainwater as you can
Dig a pond
Ponds provide great ecosystems for several animals, they prevent runoff and can help raise water tables.
Eat your zip code and stop buying barcodes
Check out your local food offerings and buy less packaged processed food.
Change your shopping habits
Shop local and try to purchase from ethical brands (fair trade, sustainable materials, etc). Check out my post on fast fashion and unfair trade.
Stop eating so much meat
Methane from animal manure generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, ships, trucks and trains in the world combined. Consider simply reducing your intake (Meatless Mondays?) and purchasing from locally raised organic farmers. The quality of the meat is better and you support your local farmer.
Honor the rhythm of the seasons
Give in to mother nature. When its cold, put on a sweater or wrap in a blanket before turning up the heat. When it’s summer, grow a garden or herbs on your window sill. If it’s raining, collect rain water. Eat in season and preserve food for the off-season.Try to spend some time without electricity or without electronics/screens. Consider alternative heat methods (solar power, pellet stove, etc).
Cancel your gym membership
Instead of being bored on a treadmill, go outside and be active. Change your habits. Walk instead of drive. Play with your kids. Go on a family hike.
Stop throwing everything away
Stop using disposable paper products. In 2012 the US had 32 million tons of plastic waste! Paper products are responsible for 27% of the landfill waste. To meet the demand for plastic water bottles, 32-54 million barrels of oil is burned per year. Try cloth napkins, use a refillable water bottle, bring your own bags to the grocery stores, donate clothes and furniture to thrift stores.
Don’t put anything on or in your body that you can’t pronounce
Rescue some chickens
Backyard eggs have 25% more vitamin E, 75% more beta-carotene, about 20 times more omega-3’s and about half the amount of cholesterol then factory-farmed eggs.
Follow the money
Although processed fast food is cheaper than organic, it is more costly on your overall health as it is the leading cause of higher health care costs, diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease. You can save money by eating smaller amounts of organic whole foods which leave you feeling more full, satisfied and healthy.
When we overload with sugar (especially fructose without fiber), our liver processes it and it turns to fat. Packaged food=sugar.
Learn to love to cook
Rethink your toilet
Get over the mindset that toilets need to always be flushed with perfectly good drinking water. (I like the saying, if it’s yellow let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down. Of course reasonably. Yellow water can get a bit smelly after a while!). Consider a compost toilet (they have become more sophisticated) as our waste can provide amazing nutrients for your garden. I know, it seems gross, but we have been very conditioned to think this way.
Based on statistics, you are probably living in a home that is bigger then you need. You are likely overburdening the grid your hooked to with the fuel you burn and the energy you spend to keep your place clean and comfortable. Consider, going smaller on your next purchase.
Overcome your supermarket addiction
Supermarkets are convenient and we are busy. However, in order to get food in stores, growers have to jump through several hoops including insurance requirements, screenings, fees and animals typically need to be medicated/vaccinated. Preservatives and pesticides are added to prolong shelf life. Processed foods are abundant and tempting. Support your local growers/farmers and grow some of your own food. Consider taking on a new habit such as baking bread or making your own granola bars.
We are all connected. Remember that everyone around you has their own struggles. Be more patient then you feel and kinder than you want to be. Let people be who they are. Loving your self and others goes hand in hand with loving the world and making it a kinder place to be.
Stop making excuses
Here’s a pic of our family’s Bee Kind Challenge
Have fun, be creative and proud of your contribution to preserving the greatest gift we’ve been given, our beautiful and bountiful mother earth!
“Better. The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living.”, Nicole Caldwell. 2015. New Society Publishers.