Grow Your Veg! How Growing your own Food Could Help You Live Zero Waste

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing in my father’s vegetable gardens. My love for gardening and veg at large started for me while I was a child in the 80’s. Watching episodes of “The Victory Garden” on PBS and helping my dad in his little garden. I remember lazy summer evenings running around the grounds of an old mansion turned public land/park and reservation. The sun just setting  leaving a soft ambient light floating in and among the dragonflies and fireflies, while Van Morrison, ever so faintly in the background, plays his album, “Astral Weeks” front to back 😉

Okay so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But the gardens were beautiful. A mosaic of lovingly molded parcels of patchwork land thatched together and yielding fruit and veg of all kinds. It was no Monticello but it had charm. So when I was old enough to have my own garden, a small community plot 15’x15′, I couldn’t wait to revisit some of my fondest childhood memories.

At the time I think I grew tomatoes, scarlet runner beans, spinach, lettuce and broccoli. I added hops when I started brewing my own beer. Cascade I think and there were more to be sure but it was constantly growing and changing. And some of the more gratifying aspects of the garden was when I would harvest fresh veg for dinner or for the next few days.

I was a bit different back then. I’m mostly vegan now and I eat dairy on occasion. Then I was a ravenous meat eater. I’m an advocate for recycling, composting and renewable energy sources, all kinds now. Then I could care less about the state of our planet and its resources. Though one thing hasn’t changed and that’s my love of high quality foods. And there’s not much better than freshly grown vegetables from your own garden.

The benefits of growing your own veggies are numerous. The cost of growing veg is considerably less to comparable buys at the grocery store. You have control over how your food is grown and who you choose to support when purchasing your seeds. You can’t beat the shelf life and you can grow varieties you can’t find at your local store. Also reduced waste by avoiding shipping and packaging. This last reason is one that is priority for me.

If you’ve read my blog post, “No New Clothes, Well Maybe” then you’ll know one of my goals is to live a life as zero waste as possible. This is no easy feat. Especially at the grocery store where everything has been encased in plastic. And I’d like to say that plastic isn’t necessarily the issue. It’s how much we produce and rely on it in almost everything we make. Also the amount of plastic that doesn’t get recycled in some way.

Growing your own veggies is a great way to reduce the food miles from farm to table. Because in most cases the “farm” will be in your backyard. Little to no processing required. Just a quick rinse in the sink and it’ll be ready to eat, cook or store. There’s a great book  called “The Backyard Homestead” that goes over ways to produce your own food in short space and helps you through the process from garden planning and seedlings to harvest and storing your crops.

They cover a lot of ground so it could be a bit overwhelming to delve into a book that is literally teaching you how to live off the land. But the essential bones of planning and planting are covered and who knows what may spark your interest. You may read a chapter on foraging for dandelion greens and develop a passion for making dandelion wine! As long as you know your limits and don’t bite off more than you can chew, books like these are a good resource for discovering new ways to produce more with what you already have and are already doing. Because the more you make the less you have to buy. That means more waste you avoid producing.

Feel as though you are short on space in your current location? If you have a lawn you can do what my dad did and rip up the yard and replace it with topsoil. He has all sorts of usable growing space now. And the garden looks much better in full bloom than the lawn ever did any time of year. Plus,lawns take an awful lot of resources to keep up with and maintain. And with very little return. Half of the resources that go into care and upkeep of a lawn could grow a lot of produce and put a serious dent in your food budget for the growing season.

Of course this idea isn’t for everybody. Some folks love and use their lawns frequently. And if that’s the case by all means, enjoy your lawns. But it seems as though home ownership and lawns go hand in hand and I’m just suggesting that maybe we question the wisdom of this perennial knowledge. See if it’s right for us.

Community gardens are a great alternative resource for those who don’t have the space for their own garden. Maybe you rent or own a condo. Or are in an apartment with no useable green space. In any case community gardens will help you to put fresh veggies on your table. It’s also a good chance to get to know your neighbors. When I had my my plot I would swap gardening tips and get new ideas for planting next season and share some of my harvest as well.

And the location was phenomenal! It was in a small park right on the harbor. A 15 minute walk from the neighborhood where I lived in. Working on hot summer days with a cool breeze coming off the water was a privilege. I looked forward to days when I would go down to the garden and arrange the plot to fit in all the seedlings I had prepared or bought.

If you’re looking for a place in your community to garden this post on finding a community garden near you is a good resource. As well as a quick google search with your city or town’s name and community gardens, should yield some results. The people who organize these gardens are usually pretty excited to get the word out too. So asking around your local shops or even at your library should help to connect you with a plot.

Living zero waste is no easy task. And one that will take a lot of different initiatives to cobble something together that will produce a greener, healthier lifestyle. I’m not even sure this is an obtainable goal. But it’s one that’s worth trying for. I feel that no matter how small the change, every little bit helps. Hopefully more people will get behind this goal and the more people that try, the more solutions we will find.  And hopefully the easier it will be. I’ll share what I find along the way and if you come along I hope you’ll throw your two cents in as well 🙂 So eat your veg, it’s good for us!

“6175 Vegetable Garden at Monticello” by lcm1863 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Walking in Nature: The Netflix Alternative

Lately I’ve got it in me to hike more of the local trails. Ones I’ve never hiked before or have already done only a few times. It started a couple of weeks ago when my stepmom told me our town had a forest. I’ve been hiking in general for a while and have done a few of the local hikes but our town is a small one and on the outskirts of Boston. We barely have a commons let alone an entire wooded area enough for a forest! But rest assured it’s here. 47 acres or so the sign informed me. It is also deer tick season, FYI.

So on one of my days off I set out for the forest. The trail was about a mile long and the walk to the woods I believe was slightly longer than the actual hike itself. But all in all it wasn’t a bad hike. It abuts some swampland and off in the distance I could here the machinery of the local aggregate industries hammering away. It was surprisingly hilly for its short distance and halfway through there was an old derelict car from the 50’s or 60’s. Rusted out and adorned with broken bottles and what I think were old roofing tiles.

Not the prettiest hike I’ve done but it was nice to get out into nature and enjoy the first few warm days of spring. Since I’ve done a few more hikes all within a few miles of where I live. But just being able to get out and enjoy the warmth of the sun, to hear the birds calling and see the forest come to life after what always seems to feel like too long a winter is good for the spirit. It reminds me of how connected we are to our environment. Which got me to thinking how our connection to nature has been a particularly pointed perspective. Especially with climate change and how obsessed we are with our technologies.

I commute into work now, Cambridge MA. And since the Corona virus the commute has been a lot less crowded. But before we had to stay home the trains were packed. hundreds of people all sitting next to one another, shoulder to shoulder. But if you were to close your eyes it would seem as though you were completely alone. Not a sound. Only the busy typing on touch screens and so many headphones that if they had cords, they would probably wrap around the length of the train a few times.

I’m not saying this to take some sort of moral stance against technology. I enjoy it. I’m typing outside on my porch right now listening to music while in the distance I can see and hear the sounds of waves scrubbing the beach. But it seems to me as though our priorities have been skewed.

The outdoors used to be a place that we would go to wake up into our senses. Be in the body and feel the wind on our face. Smell the ocean and trees in bloom and feel the sun on our skin. And now, for some, it’s a place to store our garbage and impromptu garage. Collectively we’ve become so dissociated from our surroundings by shutting ourselves in and cutting off from the rest the world that it feels like if you didn’t see it on social media, or didn’t watch it on Netflix, it didn’t really happen. So much so that we’ve became a culture raised on anything we can binge on. From fast-food and television.

And again, I’m not trying to take a moral stance against takeout and television. Both have there place. But when we use tech to completely disconnect and binge on television or takeout, or anything bingeable, here is where the problem lies and the dissociation starts.

Now I’m not suggesting that we reinvent the wheel or anything. By going completely apeshit and swinging in the other direction by throwing out or T.V.’s and become urban homesteading fascists. Instead why not search for local green spaces to explore. Then some Sunday instead of tuning into Netflix and stuffing yourself full of things you’ll probably feel bad about later, and possibly while you’re doing it, you could reconnect with yourself. And appreciate the natural world that has been going largely unnoticed as of late.

So again, I’m not saying tech, takeout or television are bad things. They have there place and I know I for one am grateful for them. But they aren’t the pinnacle of our cultural achievements. They’re just things that make life a little easier. If we make some small changes, like getting out and exploring some local hikes, we’ll probably come to appreciate them a little more. And this will lead to having a greater sense of fulfillment. Being a part of the world we are living in instead of cutting off from it.

Image credits: Adam Sergott, a photo I took atop Mt. Mooseilauke NC.

Whose Turn was it to take out the Garbage?

I live in a pretty small town. It’s a suburb of Boston. Fairly affluent and close to the water. I walk a lot of places because most of what I need is in walking distance. There’s a shopping center near my house with a Whole Foods that I often visit. It’s a nice walk. Mostly through neighborhoods and some green spaces but I’m always surprised by how much garbage there is on the ground in these fairly wealthy neighborhoods.

There’s a stretch of wooded area that is about an eighth of a mile long, and it is packed with garbage for about six to seven feet into the woods. It’s weird. I’m not sure how it’s gotten there or continues to collect. But my best guess is that it happens on windy trash pickup days when the elements have the chance to spread some of the garbage around. Either way the point is whose job is it to clean this mess up?

If my guess is correct then it’s really no one’s fault that there is garbage on the streets and in our neighborhoods. But that doesn’t help to solve the issue of, how do we clean this mess up? It may seem fairly benign. But the communities that are hit hardest are the poorest.

I used to live in what some people would call, “the ghetto”, but all in all it wasn’t such a bad neighborhood. Sure the apartments were crowded, over packed and falling apart. And the kids where lighting firecrackers off in the middle of the night in the streets. But the people were usually pretty friendly. I used to chat with my downstairs neighbor often while I was coming in or going out. He was a smoker so I’d see him on the porch and we’d fall into conversations.

One time we spoke about the garbage in the streets at the bottom of the hill we lived on. I kept trying to bullster his spirits by telling him that it was just being washed by the rain from the top of the hill and he just stared off into the distance and said, “this place is so dirty”. I felt bad and the hopelessness in his voice was palpable. So I ended the conversation. But you could tell it’s something that he’s thought about often and to no avail.

On the other side of the coin my dad walks the beach by our house. And when the weather is nice he’ll bring a bucket and some grabbers and pick up whatever is on the beach. Sometimes he’ll fill the bucket five to six times a trip. Not only that but he’s inspired other beach walkers to do the same. “Sometimes” he says, “there’s nothing to pick up at all.”

That’s great news to be sure but that kind of comradery shouldn’t only have to happen in the scenic places. What about the places like the stretch of woods I walk by? Out of sight out of mind? And the neighborhood I used to live in? These places need our attention as much as the scenic ones do. And I believe it should be the job of not just the neighborhood to clean them up but all able bodies in the surrounding area.

All of this sounds pretty idyllic. And I agree it’s hard to imagine some of the people in the neighborhood scouring the streets and woods for rotting pieces of garbage. One of the reasons I believe that the idea is such an unappealing task is because the people doing it now are usually in cuffs and orange jumpers. Paying society back for some grievance they’ve committed.

The only issue I take with this is that it’s our mess. Why aren’t we cleaning it up? We clean our houses, make our beds, fold laundry. We clean our yards and take out the garbage from our houses. Why does it have to stop there?

I visited Japan years ago and was amazed at how clean everything seemed. No litter on the streets and the flora and green spaces were manicured and well kept. It was refreshing. In an article on Japan Today titled “8 Reasons Japan is so Clean“, author Amy Chavez goes into detail about why Japan is so adept at keeping its streets and green spaces clean. She mostly attributes it to social responsibility and cleaning up each person’s own space including around their homes and places of work. But the sense of responsibility, follow through and dedication each person has to their own and others shared spaces is what’s so inspiring about this aspect of Japanese culture.

A friend of mine who lives in a neighboring city has started a group that does exactly what I’m writing about. In the spring and summer months she gathers a group of locals and they choose a section of the city to clean. They spend the afternoon cleaning. If we could replicate this across the country, we’d have beautiful green spaces and city streets. But we have to get involved.

This is something that is doable and it starts with us. Our determination and our ability to care about our shared collective spaces and the environment at large. So let’s all get involved in looking after and caring for our green spaces and city streets. We created the mess, it’s time for us to clean it up.

Image credits: “Trash” by computerwhiz417 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0