I have always worried about bees. Not in a typical environmentalist-colony-collapse kind of way, but in a I-may-die kind of way. I had an allergic reaction when I was stung in the foot mowing the lawn barefoot as a tween. Yes, I know, mowing the lawn barefoot?!?! What was I thinking? What were my parents thinking?
To be fair to the species, I don’t know if it was a wasp, a bee or some other yellow insect, but I do know that my allergic reaction started with hives, then made my face so distorted, I was unrecognizable in the mirror. The worst was when the swelling started to close my windpipe. That’s when my physician father, who had been monitoring my symptoms from the dinner table, finally stopped eating his stake and thought that we should take a trip down to his office for a shot of epinephrine. I survived.
I’ve never held a grudge against either my father or bees. And to this day I am not afraid of being stung. While some people flail away at summer picnics, I sit calmly and eat because I know that we need every last bee on the planet and that they are currently in crisis. Bees are losing habitat all around the world due to intensive monoculture-based (one single crop) farming practices, our pristine green sprawling suburban lawns, and from the destruction of native, natural landscapes. Most of us don’t realize that over 40% of our food is pollinated by bees making their crisis our crisis. Without bees the delicate balance on our planet could be disrupted.
There is a new movie about the plight of bees premiering next week on February 4th at Saint Anthony Main theater in Minneapolis, Queen of the Sun – What are bees telling us? Taggart Siegel, the genius behind The Real Dirt On Farmer John, directed this groundbreaking film.
The movie is a look at the global bee crisis examining the problems of monoculture and pesticides and refreshingly, unlike many films in this genre, it also provides solutions. The key to bee colony survival and to some extent our own, is no big surprise or secret: it is simply renewing a culture in balance with nature. If you don’t have time to catch the film, know that there are things that you can do to help get us back in balance and save the bees:
Plant bee friendly flowers and flowering herbs in your garden and yard. Just planting flowers in your garden, yard, or in a window-sill planter, and not chemically treating those flowers will provide bees with forage. Plant plenty of the same type of bloom together, bees like volume of forage. Some good plant types: Spring – lilacs, lavender, sage, verbena, and wisteria. Summer – Mint, cosmos, squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, sunflowers, oregano, rosemary, poppies, black-eyed Susan, passion flower vine, honeysuckle. Fall – Fuschia, mint, bush sunflower, sage, verbena, toadflax.
Weeds can be a good thing. Contrary to popular belief, a lawn full of clover and dandelions is a haven for honeybees (and other native pollinators too). Don’t be so nervous about letting your lawn live a little. Wildflowers, many of which we might classify as weeds, are some of the most important food sources for North American bees.
Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn or garden. The chemicals and pest treatments that we put on our lawns and gardens can damage honeybees. These treatments are especially damaging if applied while the flowers are in bloom, as they will get into the pollen and nectar and taken back to the bee hive where they also get into the honey, the bees’ food (and our food).
Buy local, raw honey. Go to your farmer’s market and shake hands with the beekeepers you meet. Have a conversation with them, find out what they are doing to their hives, and how they are keeping their bees. If they are thoughtful, respectful beekeepers who keep their bees in a sustainable, natural way, buy their honey.
Provide a small basin of fresh water outside your home for thirsty bees. If you have a lot of bee-visitors starting to come to your new garden of native plants, wildflowers and flowering herbs, put a little water basin out (a bird bath with some stones in it for them to crawl on does a nice trick). They will come and be glad!
Buy local, organic food from a farmer that you know. What’s true for honey generally holds true for the rest of our food. Buying local means that you can find out if the food is coming from a monoculture or not. Another option is to get your food from a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm.
Perhaps the biggest thing that you can do is to help kids and others understand that honeybees are not out to get you and that they are a critical part of our food chain and web of life. Of course if you happen to step on one while mowing the lawn barefoot, they might just let you know!
If you plan to celebrate the high holiday of love this Valentines Day, green up your lovin’ with gifts that love the planet too. Here are my low impact romantic favorites:
Give organic roses. Traditionally, an amazing amount of toxic chemicals are used to grow perfect roses. So instead, order a certified green bouquet from www.organicbouquet.com . Organic flowers are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals meaning that it is healthier for the growers, pickers and florists who handle the stems. It’s also healthier for the soil and doesn’t contribute to water pollution. Organic Bouquet’s “Flowers for Good” program allows you to choose a charitable bouquet and 5% of your purchase will go to a specific charity.
I did find one local flower shop, at the last minute, that does carry organic roses
Enjoy a bottle of organic wine or bubbly. Winemakers that grow grapes organically or biodynamically are typically more careful in the entire winemaking process. They use fewer chemicals and are often “handmade” with love rather than bulk produced. Happier plants produce better fruit. The problem is that wine makers often don’t market their eco-wines as such, so you need to go to a wine shop that knows the vineyards that are sustainable, organic or biodynamic. Visit the experts at North Loop Wine and Spirits in Minneapolis to find the best green wine for you Valentine
Search out locally made all natural gourmet chocolates. Buying locally is one of the most important things you can do for the environment and the local economy. Spending that green goodwill on incredibly delicious handcrafted chocolates will score big points with your loved one. Local D’Lish in Minneapolis North Loop neighborhood has the best choice of sustainable chocolates that the city has to offer. Check out the chocolate tasting February 12th “Sweet Saturday” with local artists, jewelers, cards all for Valentines Day.
Wear or give green lingerie. Green CAN be sexy with U.K. company, Enamore, providing lingerie available online at www.PleasureGalaxie.com, selling earth-friendly products for grown ups. Beautiful panties, bras, sleep masks and camisoles made from herbal dyed natural silk satin and earth-friendly bamboo jersey. Oh la la!
Enjoy a more natural and safe love experience. After the flowers wine and chocolates, end the evening with nothing less than green intimacy. Find vegan condoms made without casein (a milk protein) and high-performance lubricants made from pure, natural and organic ingredients, and all natural aphrodisiacs at www.SmittenKittenOnline.com .
To see these good green ideas, check out my television segment on Twin Cities Live.
Urgh, it’s the resolution time of year once again. After engaging in the fun but over-the-top gluttonous holidays, I feel ready to be free of rich food, alcohol and sitting around talking. One of my New Year resolutions has been the same every January: “I will lose 5 pounds and embark on a healthier lifestyle”.
I always end up losing the holiday weight, but how I do it has evolved over the years. Here’s my green formula for 2011:
Carbon Free Exercise
I ran for 20 years and then my knees started showing it so now I walk. My sister gave me a simple pedometer as a gift. I put it on in the morning and wear it all day. My goal is to get in those carbon free 10,000 steps each day. Sounds easier than it is considering that I work from home and sit in front of my computer for 8+ hours each day. Each time the pedometer on my waist band pinches my flabby stomach, it reminds me to get up and walk up and down the stairs or take the dog around the neighborhood. If I fall short of my goal, by late afternoon, I get on the treadmill (self propelled version) and get in those self-imposed target steps to make up for an inactive day – every 10 minutes of walking gives me another 1200 steps.
I am making a ritual of a breakfast cocktail that a pregnant friend told me about. From time to time, I make energy smoothies for breakfast but I’ve upped the ante with this recipe: 1 cup organic frozen fruit, 1 frozen organic banana, a hand full of organic spinach, 1 tablespoon of flax seeds, ½ cup Greek yogurt, ½ cup protein powder, a splash of milk, a piece of cucumber or any other veggie in your fridge that may be on the way out. Blend in a blender and enjoy. Making this drink helps you use up what is in your fridge and gives you loads of vitamins naturally.
Eat More Vegetables
In an effort to slim down, I eat mainly vegetables and try to avoid meat altogether or eat it only as a garnish rather than the focus of a meal. My lunch may consist of an avocado, olives, and tomatoes with a little squirt of olive oil (good fat) and balsamic vinegar. Dinner is often a salad or some kind of veggie stir fry without a starch. I am trying to curtail my weekend bacon habit but I still splurge some Sundays. The bottom line is that eating more veggies means I am getting the roughage and vitamins that I need without the calories or environmental implications of meat. Yes, all farming has an environmental impact but eating vegetables has a considerably lower carbon and water footprint than eating meat. I feel like I get a two for one benefit – I am healthier for it and so is the planet.
Keep the Blood Moving
In the earlier days of green products, LOHAS, meaning Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, represented the greenest of the green consumers. They practiced yoga, tai chi and bought the majority of supplements and yoga tapes that were on the market. Definitions of green consumers have exanded but it is still considered sustainable to practice natural alternatives that help keep your body and mind healthy. I make sure that I keep my chi balanced by getting acupuncture every 4-6 weeks. I also take probiotics which have helped keep my immune system humming along. A massage every so often can also help keep the blood moving and sickness away too (and reduce stress). On a daily basis, I have started a stretching and deep breathing routine that also keeps my blood circulated for both mind and body health.
I am about 10 days into this weekday routine and it seems to be working. I’ve lost 2 pounds, I feel good, and I have more energy. I hope to stay with it beyond January and beyond the 5 pounds. Let me know if you have any other green and healthy resolutions for 2011. Happy 2011!!
I am shopping for a Christmas tree this week. It’s cold – too cold to be hanging around a Christmas tree lot agonizing over the tree height and width that will fit in my entry. It’s my annual conundrum – how can I hang my green values on a tree and still get that holiday feeling.
I have tried other types of more sustainable rituals to replace my childhood balsam pine tradition over the years. Well, to be perfectly honest, my household was more of a 1960’s white flocked beauty, which I strayed from as soon as I was able. In my 20’s, back during that last whopper of a recession in the early 1980’s, I went for the fragrant and pricey cut balsam pine. Not sure how I could afford it, but somehow I managed. In my mind, it was the antithesis to a chemically flocked tree!
There was the tiny pre-lighted tree when I lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in my 30’s, that I placed on an end table. That pint sized tree got high marks for low resource and energy use. It was also a no mess, no stress set up and take down, but the presents didn’t fit well under it. In my 40’s, I moved to a house and a friend gave me a recycled artificial (read: “PVC plastic”) tree that I painstakingly assembled and then decorated. The price was right. The eco sentiment was almost perfect being recycled and all (if you ignore the PVC content and made in China thing), but at the end of the day, it was plastic and the smell was all wrong (so was the PVC). It ended up at a neighbor’s house avoiding the landfill once again.
When I moved downtown, I tried a real cut tree, once again, this time perched out on the balcony. Unfortunately, the needle mess that I was trying to avoid, was merely delayed until I dragged the dry frozen tree through my living room in January. It was from a local and organic tree farm so I was supporting a local farmer. The waste hauler told me that it was turned into mulch and used as compost – ah, the green and almost natural circle of life.
So what to do this year? I did a little research to find out if there is anything new in sustainable tree trends this holiday. Here is what I came up with – some new and some recycled ideas:
Buy a potted tree
Go to any home and garden store or nursery and pick up a potted tree (think Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree). You can decorate it, hang on to it and then plant it once the tundra melts in the spring. Be careful to plant it on your own property or ask permission if you live in a homeowner’s association. If you don't have a spot to plant it, try donating it to a school or sending to summer at a friend’s cabin.
Rent a tree
Giving a tree a chance to see another Christmas is the new west coast trend. At least seven companies or environmental groups are offering a rental service. The Living Christmas Tree Co is expecting to rent out more than 1000 trees this year. If you’re lucky, you can even adopt the same tree over and over for several years and watch it grow. Watch for this concept to catch on in our area.
Visit an organic Christmas tree farm
Cut your own organic Christmas tree that was grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers; it’s better for the soil and water supply. To find organic growers go to www.localharvest.com and do a zip code search for your area.
Buy a tree from an Arctic explorer
Will Steger is selling trees that come from the undergrowth of a forest in Northern Minnesota. “Clearing younger, more flammable firs from beneath the taller, old-growth red and white pines makes wildfires less likely to burn out of control and makes space for more pine seedlings to grow”, according to a recent article from the Star Tribune “Xmas Trees Gone Wild” by Kristin Tillotson
Bring home and decorate a dead branch
I know that this may sound morbid and unChristmas, but there is a ton of eco cache that clings to a lovely birch branch that has fallen in the woods. Haul it home, put it in a tree stand and light it up with white LED’s. Some friends did it and it's their favorite tree ever. I plan to do this next year. It is contemporary, elegant and sophisticated. Once the holidays are over, haul it back into the woods returning it to nature’s natural cycle.
Forget the tree all together
Who needs a tree at all, let Mother Nature be your holiday designer. Nothing says the holidays better than pine cones, cedar boughs and pomegranates. Use them on your table, mantel, your guest bath or any place you want that holiday feeling and smell. The entire family can get involved with a trip to the woods, Farmer’s Market or neighborhood garden store in search of the best castoffs that the earth has to offer.
Let me know your green tree ideas. In the meantime, Seasons Greenings!
This season's holiday lights are greener than ever with LED's, solar and timer options widely available at good prices. But what to do with those out of date, energy inefficient lights from yesteryear? Most of us have miles of the old stuff sitting around in the attic or garage. Well, here is your chance to purge them and feel good about it.
Check out Recycle Your Holidays™, a statewide holiday light recycling program of The Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM) in partnership with WCCO TV, Xcel Energy, Ace Hardware and CERTS. This is the first-of-its-kind holiday light recycling program which kicked off on November 15, 2010. To date there are over 250 collection locations statewide and is well on its way to exceeding the goal of collecting 200,000 pounds of holiday lights. Customers of Randy's Environmental Services of Delano, MN can also recycle their holiday lights in their curbside recycling container.
"Recycle Your Holidays recycles every part of the light strings. Even the little lights are recycled by another project partner Green Lights Recycling." stated Ellen Telander, Executive Director of RAM. "Our goal last year was to recycle 50,000 pounds of lights which we more than doubled! We also encourage Minnesotans to make the switch to LED light strands, which will save a lot of energy."
Not only is Recycle Your Holidays™ the green thing to do, it is a unique grass-roots program of RAM which employs adults with disabilities from local vocational centers throughout the state. So you are also providing jobs to those that may not otherwise be employed in this economy.
They make it so easy and free! Businesses and organizations that want to participate can get free collection bins and signs to strategically place on their premises. It's a win-win for businesses and organizations who want to provide a unique way to provide a green service this holiday season.
According to estimates by the Clean Energy Resource Teams, recycling 50,000 pounds of lights in Minnesota would save about 530,000 kilowatt hours, or about 960,000 pounds of carbon dioxide-that's the same as powering 55 Minnesota homes for a year, or taking 75 average-sized cars off the road! This is assuming 20,000 pounds of lights are replaced by LEDs and homeowners with lights use them for about six hours a day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.
RAM is making it easier than ever to find out where you can recycle your holiday lights with interactive maps on their website at www.recycleminnesota.org. For more information about Recycle Your Holidays™, the statewide effort to recycle holiday lights, visit: www.recycleminnesota.org.