A Year of Drops: Educate Yourself

by Katie LaFond

Step 12: Educate Yourself

  • Read books like Garbology, Cradle to Cradle, The Backyard Homestead and Rubbish!
  • Go to lectures and workshops

    Photo by Randy Adams, used under a Creative Commons license

    Photo by Randy Adams, used under a Creative Commons license

  • Places like The Haberdashery, and even the mass.gov website have many great classes you can take to learn new skills
  • Join movements! If you want to be included in emails about upcoming events, please email us at earthspirit@earthspirit.com
  • Lead by example. Not all activism is marching. If your friends and family ask about your new habits, you have some experience now.  Tell them about your experiences, reference the materials you’ve used, or you can direct them to this blog post to get started themselves.

This is the last part in Katie’s thirteen-part series in walking lightly on the Earth.  Read more:  introduction, step 1 (recycle), step 2 (reuse), step 3 (reduce), step 4 (compost), step 5 (drive less), step 6 (local food), step 7 (buy local), step 8 (garden), step 9 (environmentally-friendly products), step 10 (reduce energy consumption), step 11 (get crafty).

A Year of Drops: Get Crafty

by Katie LaFond

Step 11: Get Crafty

  • Learn to cook, sew, knit, spin, make soap, make detergent, make candles, keep bees, can food, make cheese
  • Slow cookers and pressure cookers simplify a lot of home cooking and
    Photo by Tabatha Alcina, used under a Creative Commons license

    Photo by Tabatha Alcina, used under a Creative Commons license

    allow you to make your own “convenience food.”

  • Keep your meat bones and use them to make broth. You can keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to make broth. Also consider keeping onion skins, carrot tops, and other food waste that can add complexity and nutrition to your broth
  • Keep in mind that in any area where you know how to make your own, you’re a more informed consumer
  • Split the work up and share your responsibility with your housemates or family
  • Create reminders for yourself so you can keep up on periodic tasks: google calendar alerts, sticky notes…
  • Organize your house to make it easy to do all these things: keep baskets of rags in your kitchen and a couple of recycling buckets handy so you can sort as you go.  Hanging them vertically on the wall with hooks can be super handy.


This is part twelve in Katie’s thirteen-part series in walking lightly on the Earth.  Read more:  introduction, step 1 (recycle), step 2 (reuse), step 3 (reduce), step 4 (compost), step 5 (drive less), step 6 (local food), step 7 (buy local), step 8 (garden), step 9 (environmentally-friendly products), step 10 (reduce energy consumption).

A Year of Drops: Energy Consumption

by Katie LaFond

Step 10: Examine Energy Consumption

  • What sorts of energy do you use? Electricity can often be traced back to fossil fuels, but if you look into solar or wind options for your home, you can reduce some of that. You can also specify with many electric companies that your energy come from renewable sources.
  • You can rent solar panels for your yard. They don’t have to be on your roof, but if you have a southern facing roof, go ahead and research options for that.
  • Consider elbow grease, or being more steampunk: electricity is not the only kind of energy out there. When cleaning using natural cleaning products, you often have to use a
    A home energy meter. Photo by Digitpedia.com; used under a Creative Commons License

    A home energy meter. Photo by Digitpedia.com; used under a Creative Commons License

    little more elbow grease. Consider it exercise!

  • If you have a woodstove, check to see how efficient it is. Sometimes, incentives are offered for upgrading to a more efficient stove. Efficient wood stoves and pellet stoves can be a great way to heat your home without using fossil fuels (remember to keep your chimney clean to avoid chimney fires). Fans are also available to circulate hot air that run on the heat power coming from your stove already.
  • How much energy do you use? Consider converting to an “on demand” water heating system, so that you’re only using energy to heat water when you need it, and not to keeping a full tank of water warm when you don’t need to
  • How hot/cold do you need to keep your house? Slippers, robes, and sweaters are cozy in the winter, allowing you to keep your home a little cooler, and a fan can help you stay comfortable with warmer temperatures in the summer.
  • Programmable thermostats are available if you have a thermostat in your home. Bringing the temperature down 6 degrees at night can save a lot of energy. Much more than that doesn’t save as much energy as those first 6 degrees. If you’re away at school/work during the day, consider keeping the temperature low during those hours as well. Set the thermostat to warm up a half hour before you typically get home so that it is comfortable when you arrive. The best part about this option is that you can “set it and forget it.” It is a seamless drop in the bucket that takes a minimum of effort.
  • Dryers are a huge energy consumer. They also slowly degrade your clothing, meaning you need to purchase new clothing sooner, which is also wasteful. Hanging your laundry inside/outside is much more efficient, and adds humidity to dry winter air inside your house. I use a retractable 5-line in the house.
  • When replacing your light bulbs, consider CFL, or LED bulbs. Be aware that CFL bulbs contain mercury. Recycle them properly.
  • Turn off lights when you’re not using them. Consider lower lighting in your home unless you’re reading or doing detailed projects. Consider burning a beeswax candle at night instead of using a lamp, and reconnecting to the cycles of light and dark through the year.
  • Power strips will draw energy even when there is nothing plugged into them. They often come with switches; turn off your power strips when you’re not using them.
  • Most chargers (phone, tablet, kindle, laptop) also draw energy even when your items are not plugged into them. Despite it being only a “trickle” of energy, it adds up, home to home. Unplug them when you’re not using them.
  • Turn off the heated dry cycle on your dishwasher. Open the door at the end of the cycle and let them air dry
  • Wash your laundry on a cold/cold cycle unless hot water is necessary to get them clean. Towels and diapers benefit from a hot cycle, but otherwise, laundry gets clean on a cold/cold cycle
  • Many electric companies will do an energy audit for your house to help you learn where you could be more efficient.

This is part eleven in Katie’s thirteen-part series in walking lightly on the Earth.  Read more:  introduction, step 1 (recycle), step 2 (reuse), step 3 (reduce), step 4 (compost), step 5 (drive less), step 6 (local food), step 7 (buy local), step 8 (garden), step 9 (environmentally-friendly products).

A Year of Drops: Environmentally Friendly Products

by Katie LaFond

Step 9: Look into Environmentally Friendly Products

  • Be aware that being “eco friendly” is now a fad, and a marketing scheme. Don’t be sucked in.
  • Many times, you can make your own cleaning products. Baking soda, washing soda, borax, water, and vinegar are great natural solvents. (But be careful when mixing baking soda and vinegar, unless you’re doing a science fair project!). Here’s one resource; there are many
    Photo by Arria Belli, used under a Creative Commons License

    Photo by Arria Belli, used under a Creative Commons License

    online.

  • Try castile soap in the shower, as hand soap, and as dish soap.  You can even use the bars to make your own laundry detergent!
  • You can make many personal care products using recipes found online.  This lets you know exactly what’s in it and avoid ingredients derived from fossil fuels.
  • If you have a septic tank, avoid using products that will kill the natural flora like bleach. The flora will break down your waste naturally, allowing it to cycle back into the ecosystem.


This is part ten in Katie’s thirteen-part series on how to walk lightly on the Earth.  Read more: introduction, step 1 (recycle), step 2 (reuse), step 3 (reduce), step 4 (compost), step 5 (drive less), step 6 (local food), step 7 (buy local), step 8 (garden).

A Year of Drops: Start a Garden

by Katie LaFond

Step 8: Start a Garden

Your own yard is the most local food possible!

  • Inside: put containers (pots, window boxes) in your southern facing windows. Herbs and small things like carrots and bush beans work well.
  • Your local garden center can help you learn how to care for your plants. Consider your soil and make sure it has enough drainage.
  • Outside you have a lot of options. You can make your garden as complicated or simple as
    Photo by Irene Kightley, used under a Creative Commons License

    Photo by Irene Kightley, used under a Creative Commons License

    you’d like. Start small, add to it each year, educate yourself, read lots of books and ask for help.

  • You can have your soil tested for contaminants cheaply, usually through your local university extension center.  In Massachusetts, UMass does this.
  • Container gardens can be a great option for those in condos or apartments. These can be in or outside, and depending on the size of your container, can be as simple or complex as you’d like.
  • Rooftop gardens are quickly catching on in the city. Community gardens are also popular.
  • Start with easy to grow items: beans, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and squash like zucchini and butternut.
  • Plant bee- and butterfly-friendly plants like milkweed, bee balm, black-eyed susans and sunflowers to keep your local bee populations fed and healthy
  • Buyer beware: pesticides are sometimes present in plants you can buy. Last year I was dismayed to learn that there were plants for purchase at a large popular store that kill bees when they visit them. Visit a local garden center where you can talk to an expert and get ideas. It might be a little more expensive in the moment, but well worth it in the long run.


This is part nine in Katie’s thirteen-part series on how to walk lightly on the Earth.  Read more: introduction, step 1 (recycle), step 2 (reuse), step 3 (reduce), step 4 (compost), step 5 (drive less), step 6 (local food), step 7 (buy local).

A Year of Drops: Buy Local

by Katie LaFond

Step 7: Buy Local

Where do your things come from? Try to source as many of the things you use within a 100 mile radius of your home, and choose options that are in line with your values

  • Candles are often made of paraffin, which comes from fossil fuels; look for beeswax instead.
  • Buy what you can locally. Not only does it stimulate the local economy, it means that items aren’t being shipped cross-country to your home, which burns fossil fuels.
  • Large companies have the benefit of established infrastructure to efficiently move
    Photo by Richard Walker, used under a Creative Commons License

    Photo by Richard Walker, used under a Creative Commons License

    materials, but they are often moving them long distances, burning fossil fuels. If your item is not available at smaller, local shops, check freecycle, craigslist, and your circle of friends before buying an item that is being shipped long distances.

  • Support your local artisans! Many old arts (soap making, candle making, cider pressing, and more) are being reclaimed, and each time we choose to buy locally, we’re supporting the kind of communities we want to live in.
  • Do you often have items shipped to your house? While it is convenient for our busy lifestyles, it means that fossil fuels are being burned to ship things to your house. Try to combine shipped purchases into larger orders to reduce the number of trips being made to your house. Currently, I’m working hard at this, as I struggle with my love of Amazon Prime and Groupon.

This is part eight of Katie’s thirteen-part series on walking lightly on the Earth.  Read more: introduction, step 1 (recycle), step 2 (reuse), step 3 (reduce), step 4 (compost), step 5 (drive less), step 6 (local food).

A Year of Drops: Locate Local Food

by Katie LaFond

Step 6: Locate Local Food Options

  • Local farmers will often let you use your own containers, reducing the amount of plastic you take home
  • Eating locally can allow you to develop a relationship with the land, animals, plants, and farmers that feed you and your family. Feeling a connection to that which nourishes us is something that my family cherishes. We take a moment to give thanks before eating, often saying our farmers’ names aloud.
  • Farmers’ Markets can be found in many communities during the summer and even the
    photo by Sarah Rosehill; used with permission

    photo by Sarah Rosehill; used with permission

    winter. I have even found Farmers’ Markets on the Mass Turnpike!

  • Helpful resources: CISA, Local Harvest.
  • Eat food that is in season. It is often available more locally, and connect you to the cycles of the land where you live. For example, where I live, I eat asparagus and fiddleheads in the early spring, broccoli in the spring, peas in the early summer, zucchini in the summer, tomatoes in late summer, squash and apples in the fall, and root vegetables (onions, potatoes, beets, carrots) over the winter.
  • Join a CSA or two. Veggies, meat, milk and cheese shares are widely available in both the city and rural areas.
  • If you have the space, start a garden.  Nothing is more local than your back yard!  There are lots of great resources for beginning gardeners available for free online.  Start by growing just one or two of your favorites.
  • Be brave! Take a new food home each week and learn how to cook it. If you don’t like it at first, try one bite each day for a week. Taste can be acquired.
  • It may be more expensive to eat locally, but remember that it doesn’t need to be shipped long distance and buying local food stimulates the local economy. “Cost” is so much more than a price tag.
  • Cook big batches, and package meals in reusable containers (repurposed spaghetti sauce jars) to freeze for nights that you’re tempted to get take out. Remember to leave a little space at the top of glass jars before freezing!
  • Processed foods come in a lot of packaging. Eating less processed food will significantly reduce your waste stream (and improve your health).


This is part seven of Katie’s thirteen-part series on walking lightly on the Earth.  Read more: introduction, step 1 (recycle), step 2 (reuse), step 3 (reduce), step 4 (compost), step 5 (drive less).