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Beyond changing a light bulb

Cassie Pence
Greener Pastures
Vail, CO Colorado
concept of a people with phone
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

When it comes to “green resolutions,” sustainable-living experts always suggest going for the low-hanging fruit: recycle, turn off lights, give up plastic bags, wash your clothes in cold water, bike to work, and switch to natural cleaning products.

These simple, everyday steps to a more sustainable way of being are great. Hopefully, most of you are doing at least one of these things already. But in the year 2012 – the year of doomsday predictions, the year everything is supposed to change, the year the Mayan calendar cease and desists, the year of strange weather (I mean, is it ever going to snow again?) – perhaps it’s time to go beyond changing a light bulb.

So, for 2012, I challenge you to make sustainable changes that are a little bit harder and a little more uncomfortable. I’ve suggested just three, but these three resolutions take extra work. These three vows are about more than changing a habit; they’re about starting a new practice. We’re in the 11th hour, and it’s either sink or swim in the rising ocean levels. (Ok, that was hokey.)



But my top three New Year’s resolutions do more than lessen our impact on the environment. These resolutions engage us more in life and align us to the Earth’s seasons. These new practices connect us more to the living (and decomposing). And who couldn’t use more present moments in the new year?

Call your senators (this is a biggie!), demand policies that support clean energy, volunteer for an environmental organization or educate yourself on the issues through classes and workshops. But make this year the year that you actually act on your convictions. There are several great organizations that alert you to proposed legislation that affects the environment and farmland, so you can take action in a timely manner. Most of them even give you phone numbers and tell you what to say when you call the Powers That Be. My favorites include Environmental Working Group, Slow Food, Food Democracy Now and Food and Water Watch.



Here’s your first “take action” assignment: Call the Bureau of Land Management at 303-239-3700 (today is the deadline for comments!) and tell them to stop the sale of 22 oil and gas lease parcels in Western Colorado’s North Fork Valley. This sale affects more than 70 winemakers, farmers, orchardists, ranchers and agricultural businesses in North Fork Valley – all of which depend on good and clean water, air and soil.

When you throw food scraps and other organic items, such as tea bags and eggshells, into the landfill – wrapped in plastic garbage bags and drowning in a sea of other nonbiodegradable plastic crap – the kitchen waste suffocates, rots and becomes a significant amount of methane (a potent greenhouse gas). Food waste now represents the single largest component of municipal solid waste reaching landfills and incinerators, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. If kept out of the landfill, this food waste could decompose naturally in a backyard composting bin or an indoor worm composting bin (a personal resolution) to create beautiful, rich, healthy compost, or what some call “gold for gardeners.”

Compost just happens, and it can be as scientific as you want, using thermometers and finishing the process in several weeks, or it can be lazy, taking an entire year to do it. And it doesn’t really matter either way. What does matter is you’re consciously helping to keep greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere by simply throwing food scraps into a different kind of recycling bin.



There are plenty of online sources to help you (just Google composting). You could also check out a book at the local library. But locally, and for real people interaction, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability can give you composting basics, too, just call them at 970-827-9999 or email them at info@eagle

valleyalliance.org. Also, rumor has it that Eagle County is researching a commercial composting facility. This means we could be in the same cool camp as San Francisco, Boulder and Summit County, municipalities that have curbside compost pickup. Call your county commissioners and let them know this is something you would like to see (double resolution!).

The local food movement is on fire right now, and the United States Department of Agriculture predicts in a recent report that, once tallied, food sales in 2011 could pass $7 billion, a 15 percent annual increase since 2008. People are more aware of the environmental benefits of buying local food (and the taste), and they are shopping more at farmers’ markets. This is a good thing, but I challenge you to take it one step further. Join a community-supported agriculture program, or CSA.

According to a recent National Young Farmers’ Coalition survey, CSA subscriptions are helping farmers make a viable living. In a CSA program, community members commit to buying a full season’s worth of produce in the spring, prepaying for their “share” of the farm’s harvest. CSA members share in both the costs of farming and the risks, such as uncooperative spring weather. CSA subscriptions provide the farmer with a secure market. They help with the farm’s cash flow, allowing the farmer to fix a tractor, for example, before the 16-hour days of summer begin. CSAs break the debt cycle that threatens many farmers, in which they must borrow money at the beginning of the season and then hope to pay it back by the end.

As the customer, you experience a ton of benefits, too. Customers get a better price on produce and develop a relationship with their local farmer. This relationship helps you learn about the local miniature seasons (such as cherry season, apricot season and heirloom tomato season). You also get to hear about the hardships and joys of growing food. You learn to cook with all sorts of vegetables that before you weren’t brave enough to try, such as sun chokes, kale, purple potatoes and Japanese eggplant. Sure, it takes more time and more work to cook meals at home. It takes more planning to use all that produce. But trust me, it’s worth it.

For those who are already locavores, and cooking with local food is like getting the mail for you, I challenge you to buy extra local produce and learn to preserve – a step in true local eating many of us have yet to take. Check out Colorado Mountain College’s noncredit courses for preservation classes, and the local Colorado State University extension usually offers classes, too. Or find someone who knows how to preserve food, gather a group and host a fun party at your house. You’ll leave this dinner party with much more than a hangover.

Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She owns Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company, and is actively involved in the Eagle-Vail Community Garden, the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability and Slow Food Vail Valley. Contact her at cassie@organichousekeepers.com.


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