Author Archive | Lauren Dartt

4 Reasons to Eat Seasonally and Locally This Summer

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If you shop at the farmer’s market, are a local CSA member, or frequent the “local” section of your grocery store’s produce aisle, you are well aware that fruits and vegetables come into and out of season. Depending on the climate where you live, you may have a wide variety of fruits and veggies to choose from year round, or you may notice that summer is truly a more abundant season for produce. Wherever you live, eating seasonally has its benefits. If you’re not already doing so, here are four reasons to eat seasonally.

#1: Fresher, More Nutritious Produce
Produce that doesn’t have to travel long distances to get to you will be fresher when you purchase it because it’s been harvested more recently. Also, since seasonal fruits and veggies are harvested when they’re ripe and grown outside, in their natural environment, they’ll contain far more nutrients and flavor than produce that’s grown in greenhouses or prematurely harvested and required to ripen off the parent plant.

#2: Supporting the Local Economy
Farmers harvest and sell what’s abundantly in season. By purchasing seasonal, local food, you’re supporting local farmers and therefore your local economy (you’re supporting yourself in many ways, when you think about it!).  By supporting local farmers you’re not only helping people but also encouraging sustainable, green farming practices because local farmers will plant and grow only what is suited to the soil and climate where they live.

#3: It’s Cheaper
Fruits and vegetables that are in season are more abundant and therefore end up being cheaper than foods that aren’t in season. Buying foods out of season means paying a higher price to cover the transportation of the food and growing fruits and veggies in artificial conditions.

#4: It’s Eco-Friendly
Buying produce that doesn’t require transportation means that less gas is being consumed and less exhaust is being emitted. Additionally, fruits and vegetables that have to travel long distances (like strawberries traveling from Mexico to Wisconsin in January) require far more chemical-ridden sprays and treatments in order to stay fresh long enough to make it to the grocery store. By becoming a member of your local CSA or buying at the farmer’s market, you’re buying directly from a local farm where transportation and preservation time is minimal—many times you’ll purchase produce that was harvested the same day as you pick it up.

As you can see, eating seasonally and locally has some amazing benefits! I love sampling seasonal fruits and veggies when I travel because chances are I’m visiting a state or country with a different climate, ecosystem, and sometimes season—there’s so much variety to be experienced!

YOUR TURN: What’s your favorite local, seasonal recipe for summer or fall?

Back to School: 3 Reasons to Let Kids Pack Their Own Lunch

kid lunch

Back to school time is here which means busier mornings and evenings.  Finding the time to prepare and pack nutritious, homemade lunches every morning or evening for your kids can be challenging with homework, family dinner, extracurricular activities, and social time all packed into a few hours before bedtime. Some parents may feel frustrated to see half their carefully prepared lunch return home in the lunch box, too! There are so many reasons to teach your kids to pack their own lunch for school; read on for our top 3.

#1: It’s a Time and Energy Saver
In the beginning, especially with younger kids, you’ll put in extra time and effort while you supervise your child in the kitchen as she learns to use new utensils and skills. Once she gets the hang of it, though, she’ll take pride in the responsibility and the fact that she gets to make decisions about what to feed herself. After the confidence and excitement set in and her lunch-making skills solidify, you can sit back and relax while the lunches seem to make themselves!

#2: It Teaches Your Children Good Nutrition
One of the best parts about letting your kids pack their own lunch is letting them decide what they’ll eat tomorrow. In the beginning, it’s wise to let them choose just one item, like a side or drink, and work up to total decision-making power about lunch. During this process, try to let go a little. Kids who choose cookies over carrots time and again will eventually learn that they don’t feel as good come afternoon as they did when mom was packing a healthier option, and will begin to attune to their own bodies and intuitive cravings.

#3: It Gives them a Green Perspective
Kids who are involved with the entire lunch process—from preparing and packing to bringing home, emptying, and cleaning containers—are more able to notice the amount of waste produced by packaging and uneaten food. If they’re responsible for cleaning out their lunchbox before making tomorrow’s lunch, they’re also likelier to choose foods and portions that they know they’ll be able to finish the next day to save themselves the trouble of dealing with the stinky remnants they didn’t eat today.

Allowing your children to prepare their own lunches empowers and teaches them. If you stick with it, in time you’ll have raised a very healthy, efficient, lunch-making machine! Has your family passed off lunch-making duties to the kids?

Eco Families: 6 Green Activities to Enjoy as a Family Before the End of Summer

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Summer break is almost over and many parents may be wondering how to turn those last few days of summer into fun family memories. Summer is a great time to get out of the house and enjoy the weather, nature, and your local community as a family. And if you haven’t made as many summer memories as you would have liked – don’t fret, there is still time to get a couple of great summer activities in. Read on for 6 summer activities are sure to be educational and fun for all ages—and green to boot! Try to sneak a couple of these fun, bonding experiences in, before those school bells begin to chime!

  1. Nature Walk
    From hiking trails to beaches, just about every city and town across the US has a beautiful, accessible outdoor park or trail to enjoy. If kids can learn about the wildlife and flora in their environment beforehand and will be excited to spot local birds, animal prints, and native flowers. Because I live in Colorado where hiking in the afternoon and evening means possible run-ins with bears and thunderstorms, my favorite time of day to hit the trail is early morning—though there’s nothing like a balmy, summer evening walk through the neighborhood with my family.
  2. Visit a Farm
    Farms are rich educational resources for kids. Local farms give children the opportunity to learn about where their food comes and witness the amount of land, resources, and effort required to raise livestock and grow and harvest produce. Some farms allow children to meet goats, cows, and bunnies, and many CSA farms invite families to pick or dig their own fruits and veggies.
  3. Volunteer at a Community Garden
    Community gardens have popped up in many cities across the US and allow families to learn about plants and the local ecosystem while connecting with and serving members of their community.  Plus, gardening gives kids a much-needed chance to slow down and notice the little things.
  4. Botanic Gardens
    While your local botanic gardens offer beauty and educational information year-round, summer is a great time to bring little ones because most of the flowers will be in full bloom, green plants will be the most lush, and trees will be in flower or fruit. A visit to the botanic gardens is a delightful, relaxing experience for the senses and teaches families about native plants and the environment. Many botanic gardens offer both youth and adult classes, and provide ample outdoor space to sit and enjoy lunch or read a book.
  5. Geocaching
    Geocaching is a great activity for little adventurers to get out and explore their community. Geocaching is a real-world treasure hunt where participants follow clues and use GPS tracking to find hidden messages, toys, and souvenirs. When a geocache is found, the finder must leave a new object for the next seeker. Kids absolutely love the feeling of connection and excitement they get when they discover a tiny treasure hidden in plain sight in their community. Part of the creators’ mission is to maintain an open and welcoming community and forum for responsible stewardship of our lands—what a great message for kids! I recommend that an adult accompany school-aged kids on this activity since new and unfamiliar parts of your neighborhood or town will be explored.
  6. DIY Scavenger Hunt
    If a high-tech treasure hunt doesn’t appeal to you (or you’d just like a break from your smartphone for a day!), put together your own scavenger hunt. Route an area that you feel safe with your kids exploring and make a list of landmarks—both big and small—to be found. You can get really creative by adding clues or making a story whose plot is revealed as each item on the list is discovered. Scavenger hunts make for a great rainy-day game too—just pick out forgotten or hidden treasures at home!

These are only a handful of the many outdoor activities to enjoy with your family for the rest of the summer (don’t forget your kids’ regularly scheduled sports games and outdoor activities!). What eco-friendly and educational fun has your family enjoyed this summer?

7 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle

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It’s no secret that our landfills are filling up, and fast. Each person in America generates approximately 4.5 lbs of trash each day—with a population of 317 million people, that’s a LOT of garbage! We all know about the obvious ways to reduce solid waste—donating old clothes, recycling containers, composting, and choosing biodegradable when possible—but it turns out that a lot of other commonly used products can be recycled or reused, too. Here’s a list of 7 you may not have known about.

#1: Markers

Crayola’s ColorCycle initiative takes old Crayola markers and re-uses and recycles the barrels and caps in the production of new markers. As a bonus, Crayola also uses 100% reforested wood to make their colored pencils as well as other eco-friendly practices.

#2: Corks

If you needed an extra reason to buy that bottle of wine, Recork turns used corks into building insulation, shoes, and more. Find out where to recycled your corks.

#3: Pantyhose

No Nonsense, a manufacturer of tights, panty hose, leggings, and socks will take back used pairs pantyhose and tights and make them into things like park benches, running tracks, and playground equipment—how cool is that? Find out how to recycle your used pair on No Nonsense’s Recycling page.

#4: Bras

Bras are a highly sought-after item in shelters and transitional programs. While most women trash their used (or poorly fitted) bras, thinking perhaps that no one would want to purchase a used bra at a second hand store, companies like The Bra Recyclers are more than happy to accept used bras and other textiles. Their mission is to reduce the amount of textiles in landfills by recycling and reusing textiles in an effort to support people and the environment.

#5: Old CD’s

I’ve always wondered why CD’s couldn’t be recycled—turns out they can! The CD Recycling Center of America accepts CD’s and DVD’s and recycles them into plastic for automotive and building materials in an effort to reduce oil consumption (plastic discs are made from oil), eliminate the toxic fumes produced when CD’s are incinerated, and keep CD’s out of landfills.

#6: Crayons

Each year, the National Crayon Recycling Program keeps more than 94,000 lbs of unwanted crayons out of landfills. The program has nation-wide drop off bins that accept used crayons that will be recycled into new ones. They accept all crayons but as a bonus sort and discard crayons manufactured in foreign countries before 1995 that may contain questionable materials.

#7: Apple Products

Apple accepts old iPods, iPhones, computers, and more and recycles or reuses the product or its parts. If your old product qualifies for reuse, Apple will give you a gift card for the monetary value of your old product. If it does not qualify for reuse, Apple will safely recycle your product free of charge.

This list of 7 is just the tip of the iceberg! From batteries to eyeglasses, there are many more household items that can be recycled, and the number of products and materials is growing all the time as more and more companies spring up hoping to reduce consumption and waste.

YOUR TURN: Do you have other inside info on lesser-known recyclable or reusable products or materials?

4 Green Ways to Celebrate the Fourth of July!

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Happy Independence Day Weekend! The 4th of July is one of my personal favorite holidays, with BBQ’s, family, community, fairs, farmer’s markets, and fireworks to enjoy—not to mention that good old patriotic feeling. There are a lot of great, green ways to celebrate this year, but I’ve chosen four because, well, you know!

  1. Get Outside
    Getting outdoors with the family instead of hanging around inside and running the AC is a great way to start greening your 4th. Since Independence Day is America’s holiday sweetheart, there should be no shortage of activities for you and your family to participate in, from historical tours and live music to farmer’s markets and pick-your-own berry patches. If you live near water or natural open, go for a swim or take a scenic walk or bike ride. Don’t forget to use DEET-free insect repellant! I personally like to use child-safe, non-toxic Bug Bam Mosquito Bands and this DIY mosquito repellant.
  2. Slather on Eco-friendly, Safe Sunscreen
    Hopefully you’ve got plans to hit the beach, the trail, or the farmer’s market this 4th. If you’ll be outside (and especially if you’re taking little ones along), make sure to wear hats and shades and use plenty of sunscreen. The Environmental Working Group’s 2014 Best Sunscreens page lists over 100 safe sunscreens including baby, waterproof, and sport sunscreens. Don’t forget to reapply!
  3. Pack a Zero Waste Picnic
    If you’re setting up camp somewhere to wait for the fireworks show to start, eliminate waste and save some cash by skipping food vendors and disposable eating ware and bringing your own zero waste picnic. You can start by packing locally sourced fruits, veggies, cheeses, and beer or wine (bottles are recycle-able!) and bringing your own water in reusable bottles. Instead of plastic and paper eating ware, pack cloth napkins and compostable plates, silverware, and cups. If you don’t have a long haul or want to go super-green, pack reusable glasses, silverware, and plates.
  4. View Fireworks from a Natural Setting
    The last year I lived in Boulder my husband and I skipped the impressive, grandiose fireworks and sing-a-long event at the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field in favor of a quieter, more intimate viewing experience with friends. We packed some drinks and snacks, hiked up into the foothills, and joined other groups wanting to celebrate from a distance. The evening (and later nighttime, flashlight-lit) hike was magical, allowing us to take in the full beauty of our town and appreciate this lovely country we call home. Since we were far enough away that we couldn’t hear the explosions of the fireworks, our group of friends was able to converse and enjoy each other’s company to the fullest. Even if you don’t have a beautiful natural setting to enjoy the 4th from, you can cut down on waste and pollution by not lighting off street fireworks and enjoying a larger display with a giant group, instead.

Have a safe, green, and happy Independence Day! How are you celebrating?

5 Tips for Throwing Green Summer Parties

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Summer is almost here which means BBQ’s, baby showers, and engagement parties are right around the corner. Since these events are often filled with flowers, decorations, catered food, and disposable cutlery and plates, their carbon footprint is often bigger than you’d expect. Don’t worry, there are tips you can take to make your summer party more eco-friendly. Read on for my five great tips for greening your summer parties.

#1. Serve Locally Grown Food
Unless you know where the restaurant or grocery store catering your event sources its food, chances are it’s traveled a long distance to make it to your doorstep, using manpower, gasoline, and a lot of packaging. And while a catered meal is impressive and beautiful, most hosts find themselves throwing away 30-50% of the food after the party is over. These two factors amount to a lot of unnecessary waste. Instead of ordering an elaborate meal that won’t get eaten, why not shop for produce, cheese, and pastries at your local organic farmer’s market? For starters, you could grill seasonal veggies, make fruit-infused water with local citrus and cucumbers, or even pick up a few growlers of a local micro-brew. Some farms even sell locally raised meats! You’ll be supporting local farms and serving seasonal, organic food so it’s guaranteed to be a healthy, delicious spread.

#2. Go Compostable
If you’ve ever hosted a party you know that the used plates, napkins, utensils, and platters from your event make trash day quite the spectacle. Instead of adding to the enormous amount of garbage already filling our landfills and oceans, spend an extra few bucks on compostables. Specialty stores, and an increasing number of mainstream supermarkets, carry everything from compostable cups and forks to straws. And you don’t necessarily have to compromise design; sites like SustyParty.com sell biodegradable party supplies that are fun and colorful. If you’re planning a big event, many eco-product sites offer discounts for bulk orders of compostable party supplies.

#3. Let Nature Do the Decorating
Instead of hosting your party inside where you’ll need to decorate (and air condition your guests!), take it out back or to a local park and let nature’s beauty do the work! You’ll be saving money, trips to the store, and the waste created by cheap decorations that only offer a single use, and won’t be filling the house with cut flowers that will only last a week.

#4. Email Invitations
Paper invitations and RSVP cards are becoming a thing of the past. With the speed and convenience of electronic invites, there’s no reason not to go green! Sites like Evite offer dozens of designs for all kinds of holidays and events, and personalizing is encouraged. Creating and emailing invitations or sending guests a message about updates takes mere minutes. Plus, your guest list and RSVP’s will all be in one handy place!

#5. Green the Gifts
If the event you’re hosting is for you or you have a say in the gifts, offer guests the option to give money or gift certificates. Even items purchased from a registry can end up being duplicates, or the recipient may change her mind if the list was made before she had enough information. If the guest of honor is also eco-conscious, she may accept a hand-me-down like used baby clothes or a beloved heirloom, with as much excitement as a store-bought gift.

YOUR TURN: How do you minimize waste at your gatherings? Do you have tips we didn’t think of? Let us know—and get creative!

6 Ways to Green Your Summer Trip

summer-vacationSummer is in full swing and I hope your family is taking advantage of the warm weather and break from school to take a trip together! With all of the travel, eating away from home, and sightseeing, vacations can leave quite the carbon footprint. Here are 6 tips to help you make green choices on your summer trip.

  1. Travel locally
    Traveling closer to home (or taking a staycation) cuts down on fuel and emissions—not to mention the expense involved with longer car trips and flights. Who knows, you might just discover your new favorite getaway a few towns over!
  2. Rent a Hybrid
    Many car rental companies now offer the option to rent a Prius or other compact hybrid. Even if you don’t see a hybrid option when booking online, many companies have one or two on hand that you can ask for when you go to pick up your rental. Hybrids are quiet and cut down on fuel cost and waste immensely and are a great choice if you’re taking a sight-seeing road trip.
  3. Stay at a Green Hotel
    There is a growing number smaller hotels and B&B’s choosing to become Green Certified. The Green Certification process evaluates the hotel’s overall carbon footprint and what choices they are making to positively impact the environment as well as to minimize their otherwise negative impact. Areas evaluated include energy and water conservation, solid waste management, indoor air quality, building infrastructure, and community outreach, to name a few. Most green hotels that offer meals also buy organic and local.
  4. Eat Locally
    Isn’t it wonderful that you can travel to almost any city in the US and find a farmer’s market—or at least a local fruit stand? Since I live in the high desert of Colorado I love sampling local fruits and vegetables when I travel to states at lower elevation or with a more humid climate. I’ll never forget eating dozens of peaches in one sitting on a visit to Mississippi or a crate of strawberries in California! Put your money towards local business and sustainable living by picking up a few meals or snacks at the farmer’s market or small, local grocer on your next vacation.
  5. Explore the Local Environment
    One of my favorite things about vacation is the variety of trees, flowers, and animals native to the state I’m visiting. Exploring new environments is especially valuable when traveling with kids, who can learn about different species and ecosystems and by doing so appreciate and protect them better. States with protected open space or forests sometimes offer tours of wildlife sanctuaries—a fun, educational choice for families.
  6. Leave No Trace
    Whether you’re roughing it back country camping or staying in an upscale hotel on your vacation, the 7 principles of Leave No Trace are helpful guidelines to bring and follow. Don’t forget to educate kids about their impact on the places you visit!

YOUR TURN: What green tips does your family have for vacationing this summer?

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