Saturday, September 25, 2010

Beach Cleanup

Today was International Beach Cleanup day!  The Ocean Conservatory manages the world's largest shoreline cleanup every September 25th.  How does this affect a midwesterner?  Simple- the Alliance for the Great Lakes partners with the Ocean Conservancy through the Adopt a Beach program.  OK, maybe that didn't sound so simple.  Basically, all you do is web-search for Adopt a Beach, and choose a beach clean-up event near you!  The Great Lakes are one of our most beautiful national treasures.  Not to mention an important source of drinking water and economy.  Balancing all the demands on these limited resources can be difficult, particularly since we share each lake with Canada too!  

It's great to be able to do a small task on your own or with a group to help ease the burden on the Great Lakes.  When individuals do small tasks in a concentrated effort, the results really start to pile up!  Hence the idea behind the International Coastal Cleanup Day.

I personally signed up through the Adopt a Beach website as an individual. It turns out that the event I signed up for was coordinated through a local community group,  What a great group! They organize volunteer activities as well as social events for families to participate in!  Want your kid to grow up recognizing the importance of community involvement- what better way than this!  

Since there were 12 of us, we were able to clean 1/3 mile of beach, collect 4 garbage bags and 3 bags of recycling, adding up to 35.5 pounds of refuse in just under 2 hours!  I was impressed, as this beach already looked fairly clean, and had a lot of garbage cans on the premises.  

It really showed me just how important group efforts can be.  This is my first time participating in this event, so I was surprised to see how quantitative it was- there were forms to be filled out detailing what type and how much trash we were collecting.  I assume that the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and/or the Ocean Conservancy will be tallying up the results to show us how much everyone participating across the world was able to collect today.  I eagerly await the results!

This was also a great example of why reducing our consumption, and reusing things as much as possible before throwing them away is so important.  A lot of the items collected were one-time consumables.  If we all make an effort to reduce the waste stream from the beginning (ie not buying as much STUFF, or at least buying stuff with less packaging), then ultimately there would be less garbage on the beaches requiring clean-up.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Daily Hygiene with No Added Chemicals!

Last week I ventured into the world few would dare to tread; I crossed a line I never thought I'd cross; I MADE DEODORANT!!!!  (And toothpaste).  

Something about both of these products, but particularly the deodorant, just grossed me out when I thought about making them myself.  I fear stink!  I do not want to be a "dirty hippie"- I prefer to completely surprise people when I tell them that lovely scent I am wearing is a homemade lotion, or that I have made my own all-purpose cleaner for years!  I don't want people seeing me or worse, smelling me, and KNOWING that I am a do-it-yourselfer.

And yet I firmly believe that if some giant corporation can make something, there is no reason I can't make it too!  With that in mind, and my home stock of toothpaste and deodorant running out, I began scouring the web.

A simple Google search will reveal dozens of recipies for either product.  I wasn't finding many reviews though, and quite frankly some of the recipies sounded weird! I found recipies that called for using coconut oil both in toothpaste AND deoderant!  One deodorant recipe actually called for the use of Crisco!  I do not enjoy the concept of smearing my underarms with Crisco, so I kept searching.

I ran across the toothpaste recipe I felt most comfortable with by way of  It's recommended by the American Dental Association (I'm pretty sure they said that in the page that directed me to the recipe page anyway).  It's a great paste- I've been using it 2 weeks now, it is very cleansing, and whitening!  I have been using peppermint essential oil, but contemplating using lemon or orange, or vanilla- the good news is with a homemade product you can make it anything you want it to be!  I also recommend adding some sort of sweetener to the paste- otherwise the salt will stand out behind the essential oil.  Unless you love salt in the morning, adding sweetner is a must!  I put mine in a cute little clear container that I salvaged from my make-up bin.

So now for the grand finale!  DEODORANT!  Like I said, there are a lot of recipes out there, varying from powder versions to those with Crisco.  I found a recipe I thought sounded reasonable at the Angry Chicken Blog.  It's a blend of shea butter, cocoa butter, baking soda, cornstarch and essential oil.  I chose to use Lavender, because I love the scent.  Again, the beauty of do-it-yourself is that you can make it whatever scent you want!  Her recommendation was to put it in a jar and scoop out small amounts as needed.  I did not think this sounded appealing.  Later I read that she didn't like it either, so she re-melted it and froze it into "pucks".  I decided to do a similar thing, only I used an old deodorant canister/holder.  There was some excess material, so I poured it into a small ramekin.  I put both in the freezer overnight.  I recommend letting the deodorant thaw before using, otherwise the frozen condensation will melt as you apply it, and you will be applying a layer of water instead of deodorant.

This deodorant works great!  I love it!  It goes on smoothly, no irritation (which I occasionally have trouble with from normal store-bought deodorants), and it keeps me from being stinky!  I will remind you that I ride my bike to the train every day- so I am doing a pretty good test job on this stuff.  And, I notice that as my body temperature goes up, the lavender scent is released, which is a nice soothing scent that helps relieve my stress!  It's a two-in one!  Stench repressor and stress reliever!  Woo hoo!  And, no aluminum seeping in through my pores and slowly leading to the development of Alzheimer's.  I'm a huge fan of this stuff, and plan to keep making it forever! 

In summary- making your own products reduces the amount of toxins in your daily routine, reduces the energy input for the products compared to commercially produced versions, reduces the packaging and transport associated with shipping products to stores particularly if you re-use old packages from products you already used up.  Doing this also reduces the amount of waste you create!  You pretty much hit all the right marks when you make your own products.

Please, try making some of either of the above products and let me know what you think!  Especially if you make any modifications- I am always on the lookout for ways to make things better.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Biking in the Urban Death Zone

I've been reading a lot about climbing Everest lately- and how one of the most difficult stretches is known as "The Death Zone".  Given my experiences biking to the train station some days, I feel fully qualified to climb Everest, completely confident in my ability to conquer the Death Zone!

This is because suburbanites are the deadliest drivers I've ever met!  They're embarking on an hour long journey from hell to get to work- so their commute has really just become another part of "getting ready" in the morning: cell phones, make-up, eating, etc. are all par for the course.  The one-mile straight shot to the train station on a 2-lane road with no shoulder and massive back-up thus becomes Uncle Toad's Wild Ride.

Here are some of my tips for making it work:
1) ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET!  You don't have to be hit by a car to get a head injury.  I have personally seen a guy who was riding slowly and capably, fall over sideways for no foreseeable reason!  When you fall on your bike, your hands are not really able to help protect you.  This particular guy hit head first on the pavement- had a terrible concussion, could not stand up on his own and had to go to the ER- a fate that would not have been had he worn a helmet.

2) Don't take the straight shot.  I veer off, and take a back route through a neighborhood.  This route is generally much safer- far fewer cars anyway.  Though, you do have to watch out for the endless march of school busses if you ride through at the wrong time (incidentally- what's with all these kids taking the bus?! The school is so close!  If more kids walked or rode their bikes to school we may not have a childhood obesity problem!) Ultimately the safe route is gained by trading mileage.  Instead of a one-mile ride, my ride is now 1.5 miles one way.  Not a huge addition of mileage, but I can imagine other instances where the mileage may be dramatically increased.  Doesn't matter to me though- i'd rather arrive alive!

3) When you feel your life is in grave danger- TAKE UP MORE OF THE LANE!  If a car is going to hit you while you're travelling, it is most likely that they will clip you, graze you on your side as they pass.  The more of the lane you take up, the less chance of them clipping you.  They are forced to slow down and travel behind you, or wait for an opening to pass you.  Otherwise they'll have to literally mow you down- in which case they hit your bike first and possibly your life is saved.  I also like this method because it pronounces your validity as a user of the road.  Bikes are legally allowed to ride the road- in fact it is usually illegal to ride on a sidewalk.  So go ahead, claim your space!

4) Put a basket on your bike.  I have a rack over my rear wheel, to which i mounted a milk crate with zip ties. This is a savior!  I hate carrying things in a back-pack- it scrunches my clothes and makes my back sweaty in the summer, and is generally uncomfortable.  Plus, what are you supposed to do with your designer purse?  The milk crate can hold a surprisingly large amount of items, including a couple of bike locks.

5) Save rubber-bands from your produce- they work great as "pants restraints".  Just slip around your ankles, over the pants- they won't get caught on the bike chain or water bottle holder, you won't look like a freak with your pants tucked into your socks, during colder weather your legs won't freeze from rolling them up, and if they break or you lose them, it's really no big deal- just buy some more broccoli!

6) JUST DO IT!  There's really nothing difficult about bike commuting.  It actually takes me the same amount of time to ride to the train as it does to drive.  Your first day you probably won't feel that confident, but by day 3 you're a friggin' pro!  You'll feel great riding past everyone in the morning instead of griping behind the steering wheel at all the moronic drivers! Plus there's no better way to show you are loosening oils addictive grips!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Homemade Cleanliness!

I am very much into making my own cleaning products and lotions, lip balm, etc.  I have been doing this for a number of years after realizing that I needed to ventilate my bathroom and wear rubber gloves while cleaning the bathtub.  On a common sense level- this did not seem good.

Once I began searching the internet for information about this, I found that a lot of people had the same concerns. Many sensitive populations, including children and any person with immune deficiencies are not capable of living comfortably in a house where common and popular modern cleaning products are used.  This has led to a grassroots movement to create safer alternatives.  Ultimately, this usually involves asking grandma what she used!

I have mentioned that I was further convinced to make my own cleaning products after learning that no products were approved by the Green Seal- that is, no popular "Green" brands had volunteered to let the Green Seal test their product and determine it to be environmentally safe.  Since then, I believe Simple Green has been added to the Green Seal list of household cleaners.  Perhaps there are more, but I've really come to enjoy making my cleansers, particularly since I can change the scents to whatever I'm in the mood for!

I have mentioned my like of Annie Berthold-Bond previously- and will do so again!  I have two of her books, and they are full of great recipes.  More than that, she gives good explanations to why certain ingredients are chosen, what her experimental process was, and how she came to like the recipie's she chooses.  Her foray into the market was driven by her child's immune system intolerance to available household cleaners in the market.  So, you know that what she recommends really is non-toxic and safe. Besides that, you can look up all the ingredients online and read about their interferences.  It helps that they're all words you can pronounce!

So last weekend I made a fresh batch of bathroom cleaner.  I got the recipe from her book Better Basics for the Home- which I highly recommend.

Bathroom cleaner:
1 tsp borax
1/2 tsp liquid detergent
1/4 cup white distilled vinegar
2 C hot water

Then I add:
1-2 tsp essential oil of your choice

Borax is available in the laundry aisle of any major store.  I like to use Dr. Bronners liquid soap as the "detergent" phase.  Dr. Bronners is environmentally safe, non-toxic, biodegradable, and cheap.  You can buy unscented, but I bought tea-tree oil infused because tea-tree oil is a known anti-fungal agent.  This is ideal for use in a bathroom.  I bought one large bottle at a healthfood store 5 years ago, and am still using it!  It's also fairly cheap, very comparable to any other large bottle of soap you would buy.  It is very important to use HOT water, otherwise the borax does not dissolve properly, and may clog your sprayer if you are using a spray bottle- which I do.  I actually found "green" spray bottles at wal-mart, they are recyclable!  I typically will add a small bit of the hot water, often brought to boil in a hot-pot first, just add enough to begin dissolving the borax.  Then give the bottle a good shake, then slowly add the rest of the water, shaking the bottle intermittently.

I have tried a number of different scents for the cleaner.  I started with Tea-Tree- for it's anti-fungal (read: GO AWAY MOLD!) properties.  It's a strong scent, and not for everyone, though I didn't mind it.  My husband hated it though, so I switched to peppermint.  Also kind of a strong scent- but I found it invigorating and cheerful.  Again, not a huge hit with the hubby.  He's recently been on a huge "orange" kick, and after a failed attempt at using orange essential oil in a candle (DO NOT use citrus oils in candles!  Their flash point is very low, and they are flammable- the whole candle catches on fire!), I put orange in our Every Day Household Cleaner.  Well come to find out he voluntarily cleaned the toilet with that stuff because he REALLY liked that scent!  One of the first rules of living with someone- anything you can do to get them to buy into helping you clean something- YOU DO IT!  I immediately made a batch of bathtub cleaner with orange scent!  Now, I still like to add an anti-fungal oil, and it turns out clove is a good one.  Oranges and cloves go quite well together (think poking an orange with cloves at Christmas!), so the overall cleaner is/was a big hit!

I also decided to make my own lotion last weekend.  I do this a lot, typically just making unscented versions.  I always use the Cinnamint lotion recipe (without the cinnamon or mint oils) from

But the website wouldn't load last week!  So I googled around and found this gem of a blog:

I made the lotion and it is awesome!  It has the consistency of body cream from bath and body works.  I bottled a bunch of it unscented, then I tried to re-create the Bath and Body Works Orange-Ginger scent in the remaining amount.  Word of advice- ginger is surprisingly strongly scented!  And B&BW doesn't really scent their product with much ginger.  I had to compensate by adding a lot more orange, but it all worked out.  I might add a little less glycerin next time, as it has a bit of a sticky feel to it.  Also, unless you want to make at least 4 large bottles of lotion, I would recommend cutting that recipe in half.

By the end of the weekend we had a very citrus-y household!  It's a delightful way to go!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Update- Food, Food and More Food!

WOW- it's been SOOOO long since my last post!  In my defense, I am RIDICULOUSLY busy.  Finally things are dying down, so I have some time to post.  I have had a number of potential post topics mulling around in my brain, but given my long absence, I think I'll just give an update on my efforts.

First of all, my biggest obstacle still remains food. After going to the Green City Market downtown, the following weekend we went to the Kenosha farmers market, at the Kenosha Harbor.  Since I live in the North suburbs, Kenosha is really not all that far away from me, not any further than downtown Chicago anyway.  That market was pretty good. Not as crowded, so you get more time to chat with the farmers. We bought some apples, and got a good tip that storing apples in the 'fridge in a plastic bag helps keep them fresh for a long time.  We bought these heirloom type that are good until July- which we didn't get to test because we ate them all!  We also bought some shallots that last for 14 months, and they are still lasting.  Finally, we bought some AMAZING bacon! The bacon was cut from the shoulder, which is PRIME!  It was so delicious, and I am not even a bacon fan!  The great thing about buying local is that I can buy meat without feeling guilty.  I know the pigs are not given antibiotics, they are not kept in tiny crates for their entire life, they are fed a healthy diet, and they are local, so very few food miles go into their overall life and delivery to my plate.

After the Kenosha market we stopped at a WI grocery store known as Woodman's.  They are known to have incredibly low prices, but another cool thing is that they support a lot of local farms.  For some reason it is really hard to find local cottage cheese and yogurt at these farmers markets, despite the abundance of regular cheeses like cheddar.  Woodman's had WI cottage cheese!  They also sold MI frozen blueberries, and lots of all kinds of other local foods.  It was very exciting!  My regular grocery stores, like Dominick's and Garden Fresh, which undoubtedly are "local"- they don't exist in MO or IA for instance, but they really don't stock local foods.

Ok, so then I went on vacation.  This was pretty bad for my carbon footprint.  Really, I was visiting my mother, who lives in FL, so it was a vacation of necessity (helps me feel better about my flight footprint anyway!).  We ended up eating out a lot, generating a lot of trash, and driving all over the state.  Here's the good news: we drove a Prius, and I bought local foods and brought them back with me to Chicago.  STRAWBERRIES!  ORANGES!!  It was awesome! I had summer fruits in the middle of winter, here in chicago without adding to the degradation of our climate!

Back at home, we really didn't have time for the markets anymore, so we did more "regular" shopping.  HOWEVER, we have made changes- we buy organic as much as possible, and tried to reduce buying foods with packaging. For instance, we don't eat cereal for breakfast anymore, which is  HUGE deal for me!  I am addicted to cereal.  But we made the switch to oatmeal, from the big cardboard tube.  It's also a lot cheaper- but since one box of cereal lasted 1 week, and one tube of oatmeal lasts a month, it's also a HUGE reduction in packaging. Especially since cereal is double packed in plastic and cardboard.  I flavor it with my MI blueberries, honey or sugar and cinnamon.  After a while I stopped missing cereal.  Oh, plus we don't have to buy as much milk or soy milk, which also reduces packaging, and saves a ton of money.  Organic milk and soymilk are expensive!  So now we just use less of it, and it's been great!

Last week we actually ordered from which turned out to be pretty awesome!  This company basically goes to markets for you, and brings you tons of local foods, and organic foods.  They will also include things that are not local, but are with organic partner farms.  This was helpful for my husband, who can not give up his banana addiction (though he blames this on our rabbit who also loves banana treats).  It was super convenient too!  They delivered right to our door, much like peapod.  prices were largely reasonable, though some things were pricey.  But at least they have everything you want, and all as good for the environment as you can get.  I can't say I'm totally pleased that we bought bananas, but at least they were organic (which seems to be IMPOSSIBLE to find otherwise!).

OK, but here is my bone to pick with organic/local farmers- packaging!  They are just as addicted to packaging as anyone!  At these markets it seemed impossible to get them to NOT put their potatoes in a plastic bag that then goes into my re-usable bag.  I'm used to the clerks at Garden Fresh acting like I'm a martian when I hand over my cloth bag, but et tu farmers market, et tu?!  And then these eggplants we bought from freshpicks- they came individually wrapped in plastic!  What the Fruit!?  I have seen this a lot lately- individual packaging of ORGANIC foods- not the pesticide laden foods, the organic ones!  I guess maybe it's because they don't have preservatives soaked into their flesh, so they get packaged to make them last longer.  But this goes against the grain of my being!  I buy organic because I care about my impact, adding a layer of plastic wrap kind of negates the lack of pesticides!

Packaging is problematic in nearly every aspect of purchasing.  We found some 100% recycled toilet paper, and were pretty excited.  Bought one of those big packages with something like 48 rolls.  When we got home and opened it up to put it away- it turned out to be 12 individually wrapped packs of 4, all bulk wrapped in a big plastic package!  At least the plastic was recyclable, but COME ON!  I've never bought toilet paper like that before!

My personal demon with food remains eating out.  I notice the waste a lot more with eating out now than  I ever did before.  I like to go out for coffee.  Both of my favorite places almost always use styrofoam.  Cutting back even a little bit can reduce a lot of waste that is not at all biodegradable.  I like to go out to lunch frequently too.  I have found some restaurants that serve local foods, but they are a bit far away for me to get to on a lunch break.  One restaurant I like a lot also has committed to using compostable plastic for it's to-go packaging!  Wow Bow is the restaurant, it's cool, interesting asian food and they have great hibiscus tea!  It's so cool that they use COMPOSTABLE plastic, not just recyclable, but compostable!

One other thing I've been doing is giving up soda.  I gave it up for Lent, and it is a lot harder than I thought it would be. I have no idea about the carbon footprint of soda- but i've been imagining it's high.  It's pretty much all chemicals, and energy intensive, produced in a few large factories, shipped all over the world, requires refrigeration, and largely comes in plastic bottles.  So, I thought it was a good idea to give up, but was struggling, so I made it my Lent sacrifice. It's been hard, but I think it's having a good impact.  99% of the time, I just replace it with water from the drinking fountain in a reusable cup.  In the beginning I was drinking more coffee- something else I'd like to give up- but now I just drink water.  3 times I've bought bottled lemonade or water in place of soda, so the waste was not offset, and probably a lot of the production was not offset either.  But overall, I think it's been a really good move.  I think it will also be easy for me to keep up with after Lent, and then I can work on the removal of coffee from my diet . . .

Still haven't bought any clothes!  Well, I bought one t-shirt when I was in FL, but that was a souvenir from a show we saw, so I don't count it so much.  Even if you do count it, it's only one shirt for the entire year so far, pretty good!  Overall, my consumption has decreased.  I have been successful in using re-usable containers and re-using ziploc bags instead of using them up and throwing them away.  I'm also using hankies instead of kleenex!  I thought this would be a huge roadblock, but it's pretty easy- though I haven't been able to convince my husband yet.

In fact, my husband is one of my biggest obstacles!  Despite his obsession with energy efficiency, he never puts clothes on the drying rack and always uses the dryer!  He always forgets to bring the re-usable bags into the store, he can't stop eating bananas, and he won't use a hankie!  It's OK though, because I know I slip up a lot too. I have to give him LOTS of credit for doing nearly all of the grocery shopping too, so I don't want to criticize the way he does it.  Somehow though, we have to get over these humps . . .

So that's all for now, we're doing pretty well here- and now that it's spring, you will start to hear about my plight with bike riding to the train!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Local Eats in the Winter

After one of my last posts where I said something about putting down those strawberries and picking up a winter squash, I thought "Really?  What are you to do about fruit in the winter?!"  I had to go grocery shopping the next day, and went to my local store.  For the first time in my entire life I realized that where the price is listed for each fruit or vegetable, the sign also states where it came from!  Apparently this was old news to my husband, but somehow it had escaped my realm of consciousness lo these many years. So, perusing the store, I realized that the bananas I ususally buy were from Chile.  The strawberries, however, were from California.  As were the oranges and mushrooms and carrots.  I pretty much stood still staring at all the food, realizing that my entire life I had probably not eaten anything local except what I grow.  My growing skills not being all that great, and my space being limited, we can safely state that 99.9% of my diet has always consisted of something shipped from a distant land.

The next few days were filled with frustration.  I was eating my lunch of stawberries, cottage cheese, and a rice cake with peanut butter, and I again realized that nothing was local.  How the heck was I supposed to eat local!  I looked out the window, and once again the sky was grey, the ground was grey, my outlook was grey.  What the heck grows in the upper midwest in the winter anyway?!  "maybe there are greenhouses somewhere" i thought, as I took to my trusty computer.  I began googling "local food chicago", and came up with precious little. There is a local food chapter in chicago, but their website is not very helpful.  They have links to restaurants downtown that serve local food, but I don't eat downtown that much.  They also have links to farmers markets, but it is out of date.  It's easier to just go to

Which I did.  I looked up CSA's, and became even more depressed.  First of all, there are only 2 that even provide food in the winter. ALL CSA's in this region are far more expensive than I can afford.  They also only give you veggies, you have to buy a SEPARATE share for fruit or dairy!  And it's not convenient, you pay all this money and then you still have to drive 3 towns away to pick it up at some local drop point.  This was very depressing.  This is not an entirely bad concept- I am not a CSA basher.  The point is that you buy a share of a concept, you take ownership in a farm, it is community supported.  I think this is great, I just don't personally earn enough money to buy concepts right now- I can only afford food.  One of the thoughts that came to me was "what did pioneers do?"  Well, I think they didn't eat fresh fruit in the winter.  I think they canned, dried and cured things in the summer, and had only that in the winter.  What else could they do?  This is a concept I will be trying to live by as the year progresses.  You will be seeing posts about my attempts at canning, I guarantee.  But for now, what to do?  Jumping on the locavore/slow food movement in January was not looking like a good plan.

Somehow I ended up stumbling upon the Green city market.  It appears to be the only farmers market operating in Chicago during the winter.  So, I decided to go.  This was not an easy journey.  The market operates select Saturdays from 8a-1p in a nature museum in Lincoln Park.  Their website mentions the museum numerous times before ever giving you the actual address.  The other confusing factor is that in the summer it is at a different location.  So they have 2 maps, 2 sets of directions, you have to make sure you look at the right map- a fact I overlooked.  Anyway, I took the train from a neighboring town into the city (my town of course does not run trains on the weekend, though it does run a train during weekday rush- VERY ANNOYING!  Did I ever mention that my community is poorly planned?) It's ~ 15 drive to the train station, then 1 hour train ride.  Then I caught the 151 bus to lincoln park, which was ~ another half hour.  I got off at the wrong stop due to reading the wrong map, and had to walk another 20 minutes!  So far I was off to a rough start.

Upon entering the market, I became very frustrated.  I have been to outdoor markets in the summer, but inside a museum was different.  It's not exactly set up for vendors of food.  All the tables were crammed together, crowds of people bottlenecked throughways, you couldn't even see some of the vendors due to the crowds!  I was losing it!  Shopping at Wal-Mart can be frustrating, given all the people and narrow aisles, but this really out-did it!  I calmed myself down though, and started walking around just to see what was there.  I became further irritated by the lack of signage, or signs that were on the floor and written on a dry-erase board and had been erased by people brushing up against them.  I was also annoyed by the whole process of going to individual tables and paying for each purchase.  When I had previously shopped at farmers markets, it was for fun, casual.  This time I was trying to do my actual grocery shopping, it was a necessity, and I wanted to pull my hair out.  I had been following tweets about the market and saw that duck eggs should be for sale, but had not seen a single egg yet!  I stumbled onto a table with lamb bratwurst and decided to buy some.  The woman in front of me asked about eggs, and the guy told her he had duck eggs.  "Ahh!  Here they are!  Why aren't they on the F*in' Sign!" I thought.  Then it was my turn to buy my brats.  I asked about the eggs.  I told him "They aren't on your sign!" He said "this way I get to have more meaningful conversations with my patrons". I snorted silently to myself.  "What a pretentious jackass" I thought.  After all, every patron of this market seemed to be some self-absorbed, rich "do-gooder" just out for a good time.  They weren't really here to try to eat local and save the earth like me! They just wanted some other excuse for spending money!  These were my angry thoughts anyway.  But then this nice farmer started explaining duck eggs to me, and his farm, and we had a nice chat.  I started simmering down.  I found some blue potatoes at a nearby table, spoke to that farmer about what the heck a blue potato is.  I found crimini mushrooms at another table and learned the best way to store any mushroom is in a paper bag on the lower shelf, another farmer trade secret!  I found some heirloom apples at another table, and have since decided they are teh best apples in the world!  Then, the all-time jewel was when I stopped by the pasta table and the woman selling pasta told me of a web-site called Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks.  "It's like the Pea-Pod of local foods" she told me.  This is an amazing insider tip!  Somehow this site never came up in my google searches, yet upon perusing it, I think it is the HOLY GRAIL for suburbanites!

And this is the key to the farmers market.  Yes it is annoyingly crowded.  Yes you have to bring cash.  Yes you have to pay for each thing, not just collect it all and pay as you leave.  Yes this is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from what your normal shopping routine is, and probably inconvenient.  BUT- you actually get to talk to the farmers, the artisans, the people who feed you!  You get not only information about how they make their food - which is quite powerful when a real live person looks you in the eye and says "we do not use antibiotics"- but you also get tips on food storage, food preparation, and where to buy other things.  YOU GET A COMMUNITY!  This is clearly stated on the green city market web page, but I didn't get it until I got it.  It's really a fabulous thing.  Suddenly those rich do-gooders turned into normal people.  They actually are doing good, what was my problem?  I started talking to one lady about her bag- it was made from plastic grocery bags.  Apparently her pastor makes them for everyone she knows!  What a nice moment in time.

I loaded my re-useable bags with purple carrots, blue potatoes, elk meat, lamb brats, mushrooms, heirloom apples, duck eggs, acorn squash.  I ate a local croissant, then caught the bus back to the train station.  I was in such a community-minded mood that I spoke to a fellow commuter on the train for a good half-hour!  If you live in Chicago, you know that people do not talk to other people here.  If you don't already know each other, you will never know each other.  But the market seemed to change all this, even though the other commuter did not shop at the market, and we never once talked about it.  Something had changed in my psyche and it suddenly seemed acceptable to talk to strangers and be pleasant!  If that's all that came of the market, then that's good enough for me.

For all our talk of wanting to keep the world from spiraling into irreversible global warming, it's important to remember why- so we can go on living.  What's the point if you won't even talk to each other?  Visiting the farmers market helped me buy local, organic foods- one step towards saving the planet from pollution and warming.  Visiting the market also helped me make ties to my community- feel a little more connected to the people around me, strike up friendships even if they're just during  a train ride, and ultimately take a little more responsibility for my personal corner of the world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


So to deal with things on the waste side of the issue- I finally decided to do some composting.  I know that a lot of people compost inside their homes, but this concept grossed me out.  I generally am not a fan of rotting food and attracting bugs and rodents.  I really did want to get into composting though- so I made all kinds of plans for an outdoor system at our new house.  Then the housing market fell through, and I don't know when we'll ever be able to move out of our condo.  So no putting it off- I'm indoor composting in a small space!

Turns out there are tons of resources to help you get started.  New York City actually has an entire program dedicated to helping city residents compost.  Apparently their waste problem is out of control.  After doing a bit of research, I discovered that most indoor composting fanatics don't just compost- they VERMICOMPOST!  This is composting using worms.  Worms eat up all your rubbish- from food, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, paper, newspaper, napkins, and cardboard!  They poo it out into wonderful compost!

But worms?  IN MY HOUSE!?!?!  I like to keep the bugs out if possible, not invite them in!  The worm people assure me that I have nothing to fear- red wrigglers (the best worms for composting) hate the light, so they will not leave their bin.  Ok, but what about smell?  Won't the food start to rot?  Not if you don't overload your system.  2,000 worms can eat 1 pound of food per day!  That's a lot of food! So, I bought 500 worms- that's 1/4 lb of food per day for those of you not mathematically inclined.  As long as I don't overload the system, it should remain stench free.  Shouldn't be hard, I don't really have that much food scraps.  Another tip I read was that you should store all your scraps in a container in the 'fridge, and deposit as a complete layer at the end of the week.  This is to prevent your worms from having too much shock from exposure to light.  But it also helps in preserving the food a bit.  Another issue I worried about is fruit flies.  If you wash your food scraps- including fruit rinds and peels, it should wash off any fly larvae or eggs.  I figure the refrigerator treatment also helps kill flies and eggs.

Actually setting up the bin is pretty easy.  First you pick a bin of size that you want- I based mine on how big of a space I wanted to dedicate. You should store your bin in a dark place- the only place I have is a cabinet, so I had to pick a medium sized plastic food bin- rectangular in shape.  Then I followed the instructions at the New York City Compost website.  I bought my worms from, it was the only site where I found a small amount of worms, most other sites had a minimum of 1 pound of worms.

From GreenMidwest

So, that's it!  My worms are installed, and hopefully I'll be getting some great new compost in a few months time.  My plan is to use the compost to enrich my garden, which I plan to expand this summer.  The compost should be done just in time to start planting seedlings.  I'll keep you posted on it's success!