Friday, March 25, 2011

Part II: Be the Change - Garden Bloggers' Sustainable Living Project

This post is inspired by Jan, who is hosting the second annual Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project in honor of Earth Day on April 22nd. To participate and/or to see more garden bloggers' posts on sustainable living, please visit her where she blogs at Thanks for Today.

When Mom and her Garden Buddy retired and moved north to rural southwest Wisconsin, besides (of course!) planting a large vegetable garden which provides nearly all of of their produce needs during the season, they preserve much of the surplus, which lasts until the next harvest. They've established a wonderful web of local, sustainable, organic farmers who provide them with pasture-raised eggs, dairy, meats, and some of the fruit they don't grow themselves. I've long wished I could find the same kind of food, but alas, here in Chicago's south suburbs, the best we could do for a long time was to grow some of our own vegetables and shop for organic food at local health food stores.

Homewood Kitchen Gardens at the last farmers market of the 2010 season. They grow organic herbs, vegetables, and flowers in their yards(!) to sell at the market, and create chemical-free soaps, body washes, candles, insect repellent, nature-inspired artwork, and other wonderful products.

Fortunately the food landscape here and in many urban and suburban areas throughout the country is gradually changing. People who want the best quality, sustainably, organically, locally-produced food now often have more options. Our own, and every surrounding little burg now has a farmers market. While organic produce is still not as readily available in our local farmers markets as I'd like, there are a few vendors who are selling organic food, and those are the ones I patronize.

We have two small raised beds in our semi-sunny side yards where I grow a surprising amount of food. Both are intensively planted, and supply most of our vegetables and herbs during the growing season; with enough extra to freeze, pickle, and dehydrate for winter. Even now in late March, we still have dried and frozen herbs, pickles, tomato sauce, and chopped, frozen peppers left from last summer. (Some of the peppers came from Mom's garden.)

Even a small garden can be surprisingly productive, especially one built with raised beds filled with really healthy soil and lots of compost. Here in our raised beds,every inch is used. Succession planting increases the yield. Containers add valuable real estate to our vegetable growing space, and are used by many small-space vegetable gardeners and urban farmers for growing some of their own food. All our veggies are heirloom varieties started from seed, grown organically. Some are started from seeds I save from year to year.

Buying clubs and CSAs (community supported agriculture,) are thriving in the south suburbs and NW Indiana, and becoming more readily available in urban and suburban areas around the country. Our local health food store, and a little local mom-and-pop grocery with a much larger-than-average percentage of local, organic, and sustainably-produced food fill in the gaps.

Using these wonderful resources, I've opted out of the industrial food machine. Although looking for alternatives to large grocery store chains, purchasing from a variety of sustainable resources, and cooking from scratch can be time-consuming, the benefits far outweigh the effort. Once the systems are in place, it becomes easy, efficient, and routine. Since ramping up efforts to seek sustainably-produced local food, my health has improved. And, it feels so good knowing who, and where our food comes from, and knowing it's being produced without chemical toxins like artificial hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, test-tube additives, and without genetically-modified ingredients.

For others who would like to get creative with their food supply, discover a rapidly-growing community of like-minded eaters, get to know the dedicated farmers growing wholesome foods in their area, and seek local, sustainably-grown produce, pasture-raised eggs, poultry, dairy, and meat, Eat Wild and Local Harvest provide information and resources for finding local farmers, buying clubs, co-ops, and farmers markets. Have fun, and enjoy the flavors, fragrances, textures, colors, and environmental and personal health benefits of REAL FOOD!

Thank you Jan, for hosting the second annual Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project. May we all be a little, or a lot more inspired to do as much as we can to live in harmony with Mother Earth. We need her a lot more than she needs us.

Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away before the tide of time . . . You must not lose faith in humanity . . .
You must be the change you want to see in the world . . . ~

Mahatma Gandhi


  1. Oh dear. When I read "food landscape" I'm imagining myself sliding down a marshmallow, chocolate river with bacon canoes or something. I'm lucky that it's easy to get locally-grown, organic milk and eggs and veggies, in addition to what I grow. A friend joined a CSA last year and not only did I get a lot of her surplus veggies, she also canned a ton of stuff for me. (I'm so lucky!) Most of my chocolate is European, which, yeah, has a huge carbon footprint, but doesn't have as much crap in it. Now if I could only break up with Doritos...

  2. You crack me up Monica! Now, that's a fantasy I could get into - a marshmallow, chocolate river with bacon canoes! (Our bacon now comes from our farmer - pasture-raised, no chemicals - yay!)

    You ARE lucky that where you live you can find locally-produced organic food. And wow - that's awesome your friend shares her CSA bounty with you!

    I do enjoy my chocolate, and while I occasionally indulge in a mini-mart chocolate bar, mostly I stick to the organic, fair trade chocolate from the health food store. It's expensive, so that means I don't buy it often. (Chocolate is loaded with antioxidants - a veritable health food! ;)

    As much as possible I'm staying far, far away from GMOs, so although I do like Doritos, and even more, those nice, thick locally-produced restaurant-style corn chips, I've broken up with them and get the organic ones for those occasional salsa and guacamole cravings. (wow - that's quite a run-on mouthful of sentence!:)

  3. I'm still smiling at Monica's comment;-)
    You are such an inspiration, Linda...thank you for another wonderful post! This would be a completely different lifestyle for me, but it's one I would like to consider gradually moving toward. The good thing is that there ARE options out there and we CAN choose healthy growing/eating/living. Many people have roadblocks to doing all of these things, ie: financial, especially...but many can still do some of them. Having options is so important. Thank you for sharing this with my project;-) I added it to the Mr Linky. You must be one healthy garden girl!!

  4. Me too Jan - Monica helps keep me from taking myself too seriously! :O

    Fortunately sustainable options are becoming more readily available. The financial roadblocks to healthy food, along with easy access to it are serious issues for many of us. Time constraints are challenging too. Growing vegetables, fruit, and herbs at home does take a time commitment and the start-up costs can be an issue too. Fortunately though, over time home-grown veggies really do save money along with being very nutritious.

    Unfortunately the cost of cheap food is higher than many people realize, for both our own health and the health of the environment. Government subsidy of cheap food adds to that. Something is wrong when a bag of corn chips costs a lot less than a bag of apples.

    Health-care costs are skyrocketing in our country and in our households, and I firmly believe cheap food is much more expensive in the long run as we face all the chronic diseases and other problems it leads to.

    The changes I've made to George's (our 10-year-old lab mix,) diet are a perfect example. After a lifetime of commercial dog food (recommended by our vet!) he had developed some very serious health issues. Changing his diet seemed like a formidable expense. Since I've done it though, (he now eats a homemade diet,) his health has improved dramatically. The vet bills have also gone WAY down, and more than compensate for the cost of his new diet. Last year his vet bills were in the thousands of dollars and he needed steroid shots and antibiotics routinely. Within a month after changing his diet last fall, he hasn't needed the vet or the drugs. He will still go for routine checkups, but his healthy diet has already saved me a substantial sum and I believe it will continue to do so. The improvements in his health and his quality of life on his more expensive diet have truly been profound, and more than I could have predicted or hoped for. I truly believe the same applies to us humans and our diets. Since ramping up my efforts to get the toxins out of my diet, I've been amazed how much better I feel and how much healthier I am.

    Thank you for your kind comments. As you can see I'm pretty passionate about this. I hope that in the future healthier, more sustainable diets will be more easily accessible to everyone no matter where they live or what their financial circumstances.

    Thanks again for hosting this project!

  5. We're lucky that farmers markets have really taken off in this area! The one in my town has been growing every year.

  6. I have a very small raised bed garden, but it is surprising how much I get out of it. My cold crops are already planted, onions, radishes, lettuces and spinach.


  7. Ladies I so want the bacon boat for Mr I and the chocolate river for me! Linda, a helpful post and a good read~and so are the comments! gail

  8. Rose, I love farmers markets! So much good stuff, and good people who enjoy good food! I really like getting to know the people who are growing our food.

    Isn't it amazing how much food even a small garden can produce Eileen! I have radishes, turnips, beets, kale, peas, and lettuce planted. (nothing's up yet - the weather's not cooperating!)

    Gail, I once made bacon-chocolate chip cookies for the Lawn Man and his co-workers. They were surprisingly delicious, and a big hit at his job!

  9. A very moving video, Linda; thank you for sharing this. I'm afraid I'm not as dedicated as you to finding organic foods, but I have tried to cut back on the convenience and processed foods we used to eat too much of. And, of course, in the summer we do eat lots of fresh vegetables from the garden, many of which I freeze for the winter as well. Sometimes I think I've come full circle--back to what my mother taught me as a child. Back then, summers were spent canning and preserving all kinds of fruits and vegetables. I don't think my mother thought about it being organic so much as being frugal and never wasting anything.

    Glad I took the time to read the other comments--all thoughts of fresh spinach and broccoli have been replaced by the image of Monica's chocolate river:)

  10. Glad you enjoyed the video Rose. I found it very moving too.

    I think we're really lucky having our moms as role models and reference points for healthier eating. My mom was definitely ahead of her time when it came to organics. I moved even more in that direction recently both for environmental and health reasons. I think it may be easier for us to find organic food here being so close to the big city.

    I'd gladly dive off the bacon canoe into Monica's chocolate river!

  11. So glad to hear about this approach to sustainable living. I never thought of growing all of my food and living organically. Sounds like a dream and it's so great your mother is living it. I'm trying to figure out what kind of gourds/pumpkins those are in your picture. They look so good!

  12. Mom's quite an inspiration to me Tina. The proof's in the pudding as they say - in her mid-70's, she's in excellent health. Unlike most folks her age, she has no need for ANY Rx drugs. The only pills she takes are a few supplements. Good genes help, but her healthy diet and active lifestyle are, I'm sure, huge factors. Their huge garden really helps keep her moving, besides providing healthful, delicious food.

    Those are red kuri squash. They are sweet, smooth, creamy, and really delicious - my favorite squash. Hubbards are really good too - my new #2 favorite. Butternuts, which I also love, are a close third. :)

  13. Ah-yum on the kuri squash!

  14. Tina, DGG - yup, yum!

  15. Be the change indeed! And with all the available tools and references today, there is no limit to what we can do to make a difference to our health, economy and to the environment. My friends and I have found a way of creating change together. We organized ourselves into a group using an online tool called SplitStuff ( Through this site we are able to share resources and organize our shopping so we could buy our supplies in bulk and at a lower cost. We're also able to negotiate prices and product quality with producers and suppliers. Tools like this make it easier to share all kinds of useful information like lists of highly recommended local farmers, farmers market, buying clubs, co-ops, etc.

  16. Your mom sounds like a great role model. I've always grown various herbs, fruits and vegetables in sunny spots among my other plants. This year I'm planning a raised bed--a tree came down, so lots more sun!

  17. Hi,
    I once grew my own food and traded with others like me for things that I didn't grow.Farmers markets were just starting in our area. I canned and froze all goal was to make it last all winter.My kids are vegetarians. Daughter, LuAnn has been for over 35 yrs.I was almost a veg. until I married the butcher. I now eat a small amt. of meat.I think you and I both had Moms as inspirations.
    Mom never bought anything prepared...if it was in a was usually a no no.
    I really enjoyed this informative post and also enjoyed reading the comments of others.Balisha

  18. Linda, This has been an inspiring and informative series! Thank you~I appreciate the research and time you have given to share it all with us! gail

  19. Very cool Annette! That's a great idea for those who don't have access to a local co-op and/or buying club or even those who do have access to those resources and also wish to organize their own group.

    I feel that way about her too Adrian. She is an inspiration to all of us lucky enough to know and love her. I love the idea of growing food right along with other plants. It's been a challenge in our dry (mostly) shade, but I'm still working at it.

    How wonderful you'll have more food growing space with the demise of the tree!

    Glad you enjoyed it Balisha! We are so blessed having such inspirational moms!

    LOL - didn't realize Joe was a butcher! I don't eat much meat either, and am very grateful that what I do eat is produced with such care and respect for the animals, the environment, and the customers.

    Thank you Gail - glad you've enjoyed it. I so appreciate the inspiration from Jan.

    And I also appreciate everything you're doing on your blog to share your vast knowledge and experience on the beauty, value and joy of native plants and pollinators. You inspire me too!

  20. Thanks so much for the shoutout, Linda, and the beautiful photo montage! I hope we'll see you again this summer. We'll be trying out some really cool heirloom fruits & vegetables this year, and expanding the body product line. Nancy's been experimenting with cold process soap recipes -- I've been using her mint chocolate soap lately, can't decide if I want to wash with it or eat it! Thanks again, Kate @ Homewood Kitchen Gardens.

  21. Hey Kate! My pleasure! I knew I'd eventually find the perfect post for the photos I took last fall. I'm looking forward to seeing you again this summer and checking out your new stuff!

    OMG - mint chocolate soap! That would be perfect for Monica's marshmallow chocolate river! (I might pass on the bacon in that case - not sure bacon and mint mix well. . . ;)

  22. Great post.
    Every year hubbie and I try to increase our harvest of veggies. We know we can do better and we won't give up.

  23. I have long admired and respected Native Americans and their belief to take only what you need and use all of it.

    The human race is destroying this planet so fast and it scares me to death. I'm a huge animal rights advocate, so my concerns come from a "tree hugger" point of view. WE are the ones that decide the path of the planet. The animals and environment are completely at our mercy. If more people would see and understand that we need to take care of the earth, and not just take!

    I am growing my own veggies seriously for the first time this year. While I've been an advid gardner since I was little, I don't really enjoy growing food. But, with my current financial situation and my concern for all the pesticides used, I am making an effort and bought several varieties of vegetables today and will be planting tomorrow.

    Now I just need to get eductated on how to control bugs without chemicals.

    I'll be visiting Jan's blog now. Thanks for the great post and video!

  24. Hi and welcome Phyllis. I feel the planet will go on just fine (probably better) without us if we don't start facing up to reality and making the necessary changes. It's ourselves we're destroying. It's our children's' and grandchildren's' futures we're stealing with the way we're poisoning the planet and our bodies with ignorance and greed.

    I've never used chemicals on the veggies. With good soil, good culture, and good sense I've found the veggies pretty much take care of themselves. The occasional tomato hornworm or Japanese beetle can be removed by hand. I've never had disease or serious pest problems. Some seasons are easier than others, and if, during a particular year a particular veggie doesn't do so well - oh well - better luck next year! It's regrettable when something doesn't thrive, but I'd rather deal with that regret than subject the plants, the bugs, the soil, and myself to hazardous chemicals.

    Primary reasons chemicals are 'needed' in commercial agriculture are monocropping which invites pests, and poor soil management. Chemicals become self-perpetuating. The more they're used the more harm they cause to the soil and to beneficial insects and other organisms that help maintain natural health and balance.

    Good for you embarking on vegetable gardening. To me there's nothing else like the satisfaction of growing some of our food. I know where it comes from and exactly what went into it. And there's nothing as delicious as fresh food grown at home.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. Best wishes for success and pleasure with your vegetable garden!

  25. Beautiful/informative post, Linda. Gardeners are all keepers of the earth, my quest for over 30 years of gardening! (Blessed to know Monica, hoping one day to meet you, dear friend.)


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