My First Christmas Tree

This year I bought my first Christmas tree and like everything I do, it had to be sustainable. It was surprisingly easy. I found a company at the local farmers market that rents out living trees. They deliver it in a big pot (with dirt and all) and pick it up after the New Year. It was bit pricey at $80.

Next we bought red berries ($5) and baby sprouts ($3) from the flower vendor at the farmers market. A little red and white to trim the tree. Some pine cones from a hike a few weeks back. A wreath for the door ($15). And then all the ornaments we could scrounge.

The hardest item to find was a proper tree skirt. The selection and quality from the online stores was scary bad. The big box stores all had factory stamped expensive skirts ($100+). I was looking for a little holiday style and so I headed to the Renegade Craft Fair and found the perfect skirt for $48.

Add a few presents and it’s the perfect Christmas tree – supported by local artisans, farmers, and startups.

Some photos of the journey.

living christmas tree just delivered
Our living tree was just delivered – you can see the dirt on the pot.

 

final version of the christmas tree 2013
The final version of the tree with all the trimmings.

 

christmas tree skirt renegade craft fair 2013
Our Christmas tree skirt at the Renegade Craft Fair.

 

 

top of the christmas tree
Close-up of the top of the tree – you can see the red Brazil berries and the white baby sprouts.

 

wreath on our door
And our natural wreath on our front door – purchased at the farmers market.

 

Vindication

It had been four years since I was at the dentist. And in that time I completely changed how I take care of my teeth. No more toothpaste. Recyclable toothbrushes. Reusing floss. It was a test. Could the most sustainable path also be the healthiest?

Vindication. The answer was a resounding ‘hell yes’. The dental assistant was extremely impressed with my teeth and the dentist spent just a few minutes with me. A quick inspection and then a clean bill of health. Best of all, neither of them noticed that I wasn’t using toothpaste. It was as if toothpaste didn’t matter…

I was worried that dropping toothpaste would irreparably damage my teeth. Nope. My teeth are better than ever, even after four years!

I didn’t set out to do this. I only wanted a recyclable toothpaste tube. I’m trying to live zero waste and I needed a way to not landfill those toothpaste tubes. All my research revealed that the toothpaste industry doesn’t care about recycling. None of them were making, or even considering making, a recyclable tube.

It seemed like the only option was to make my own toothpaste. Baking soda & coconut oil – are the best options. And a sprig of mint or something similar for taste. That seemed like the ideal solution, until I found this random thread on the internet. For every 2-3 blogs I found with homemade recipes I would find one talking about ditching toothpaste. Each one with a similar story to mine, “I wanted something healthy for my children, so I tried homemade, then tried nothing, and my kids teeth improved!”

Very strange. I never considered getting rid of toothpaste. I thought it was the main cleaning agent. But the more I researched it, the more it became clear. The simple act of brushing and flossing does everything you need. Toothpaste was near useless, in some ways bad. Why add all those chemicals if you don’t need them?

Remove tartar and plaque or whiten your teeth. You don’t need chemicals for that. During my dentist visit I was so interested in my teeth that I almost exasperated the dental assistant with my questions. We went into the finer mechanics of brushing, proper care of the gums, how to prevent tartar and plaque, and even how to keep your teeth white if you’re a coffee drinker.

Through all that, toothpaste never came up. It was weird. The dentist indirectly agreed with me. You can do everything your teeth need, without toothpaste. So why use toothpaste?

Well, the other side to this debate is fluoride. Most dentists agree that fluoride is very helpful for cleaning teeth. But we only need a tiny amount and not all the time. Maybe once or twice a week. And it turns out that water in America is treated with fluoride. So we are getting regular doses of fluoride on our teeth. Which has ignited a public health debate about the value of the cleaner water vs the effects of fluoride on our bodies.

So why then does toothpaste have more fluoride in it – because it cleans teeth. And it is just as unnecessary as all forms of toothpaste. So why not join me, ditch the toothpaste, save your money, and experience cleaner teeth.

If you do try it, here are some tips:

  • Get some baking soda – keep it handy. About once a month I use that on my teeth for a full “bleaching”. But don’t overuse – it wears down your teeth.
  • Floss every day – single greatest threat to your teeth, so my dentist says.
  • In between your teeth is a triangle space – cover that space by flossing up/down on the inside of each tooth.
  • When flossing go into the gums a little – keeps ‘em clean and strong.
  • Brush your teeth by completing tiny circles with the brush – don’t use long back and forth movements that is the least effective method of brushing.
  • After you drink coffee – drink some water to prevent the coffee from sticking.

 

Photo by Robert S. Donovan

What’s Worse Our Normal Water Pollution or the Gulf Oil Spill?

A lot of us can’t ignore the devastation in the Gulf and want to do something to help out. Maybe fly out and volunteer or donate money. Here is another alternative.

After browsing the news articles I came upon the following photo created by a scientist already in the Gulf studying Dead Zones:

So, what’s worse the Dead Zone or the Oil Spill?

At first, it may be hard to tell. The Oil Spill is continuing to grow and may not be stopped for a few months. The oil will be washing ashore or getting out into the Atlantic.

On the other hand the Dead Zone occurs every year and not just in the Gulf. They occur in every river, bay, lake, and in both our oceans. The cumulative size of all the Dead Zones in our waterways makes the Oil Spill seem paltry.

With this in mind you can do something right now to help out. You can help prevent the dead zones from occurring in your local water spots. Here are two ways that can create a permanent long lasting change that will not only help your own community but your health and pocketbook.

The first thing you can do is reduce your water needs. Pull less out of the faucet and send less down the drain. Doing so will lower your water/sewage bill and their are so many easy ways to save water at home.

The other way to buy local or organic food. That’s right agricultural waste accounts for just as much pollution as humans do. It is part of the irony of the food movement and especially the organic movement. Organic was originally started for just this reason, to save the environment. Yet most of us eat the food because it taste better, is healthier, and cheaper (by quality).

Here is an opportunity for all of us to help the environment in a way that provides multiple benefits. Cleaner water, healthier bodies, and lives in balance.

Plus, maybe just maybe an opportunity to swim and play in our favorite waterways.

This has been a dream of mine for longtime.

A Thought on a Pollution Tax

I’ve been thinking for a while about why global warming bothers me so much. You would think that as a “greenie” I would be all over this issue. Instead of proclaiming catastrophe to every new A Clean Lifer I avoid the subject. I have just found that there are so many other pressing issues. Items that are more relevant to everyday life than some future global immolation.

Which brings me to cap-n-trade. A supposed solution to global warming. I’ll just come out and say it: I don’t think its going to work. Not because we don’t need it but because its a bad idea. I like to say a square peg being pushed into a round hole. Here’s why.

The issue at hand is pollution. Companies, people, and governments are polluting (via carbon). This means all of us and we are doing it at an incredible rate. Sooner or later we all going to have to pay for our pollution. Like the smog control issues in Los Angeles, the plastic bag charge in DC, or the brownfield cleanups in New York. For years now we have already been paying for our pollution, just doing so after the fact.

pollution towers

This is where cap-n-trade comes in and attempts to solve the problem. It’s a continuation of after-the-fact, monday-morning-quarterbacking. In essence we know you are going to pollute so let’s create an artificial market so you can buy/sell your pollution “allowance”. We take it for granted that pollution has to happen? If so, we create a fake market, make allowances for pollution, allow people to sell pollution?

Yeah, when you explain it like that it does sound dumb. Even more I would venture that the only reason this solution is being bandied about is because the money from the buying/selling is supposed to go cleaning up pollution or to poorer countries.

Like I said, a dumb idea.

Instead, I suggest we invoke a pollution tax. You pollute you pay for it, upfront. I say we do away with letting companies and people pollute first then pay years later (or not at all). Let’s incorporate the costs into the activity. Like if you want to use electricity then you are going to have to pay for consulting contract to clean-up the power plant and reduce its pollution. The more electricity you use the more you pay.

Here is a perfect example. The city of Alexandria in Virginia has a contract out to clean-up their local power plant. This is to meet EPA standards, state standards, and local pollution concerns. Who do you think is paying for that $80 million dollar clean-up? It is definitely not the previous users of the electricity the plant produced. It is the future users through an increase in the cost of electricity. Basically, we have a system where you can pollute all you want and then let someone else pay to clean it up.

This bothers me deeply because my parents generation has been doing just that. They polluted the hell out of this world and are now bequeathing it to me dirty and I have to pay to clean it up. Thanks.

You may be thinking to yourself that this is impossible. There is no way we know the costs of pollution. Wrong. We know the costs of nearly every type of pollution that humans can produce. We have been cleaning up, litigating, and charging people for years now.

I just think it’s time to start realizing this and doing something about it. We have all we need to stop passing-the-buck and avoid the silliness of cap-n-trade. Problem is people don’t want to actually pay for their own pollution…

Why is that?

Eola

Sometimes in life we hope, in spite of past disappointments and unmet desires, that this time it will be different. That’s how I felt before setting foot inside Eola, the latest culinary addition to West Dupont.

For several years now, the 2000 block of P Street has been a street of broken dining dreams. In 2006, it lost seafood-aficionados’ favorite Johnny’s Half Shell to Capitol Hill. Then when Kimptom Hotel and Restaurant conglomerate built Hotel Palomar, adding so-so hotel restaurant but decent wine bar Urbana to the P Street dining mix, many surrounding businesses and residents complained of the growing pains associated with ongoing construction hampering what was an already intimate street. Now recently restaurants like Mark & Orlando’sMimi’s and 21P have all passed on to be replaced by a new crop of aspiring establishments brave enough to stake its claim on a street known for high restaurant turnover.

Nestled in a street of casual chain, sushi and pizza eateries, Eola offers the hope of something more gastronomically advanced than its neighbors. Derived from the word eolian meaning “to be carried by the wind,” it touts an ever-changing farmer’s market-inspired menu that “expresses the true essence of each season.” Assuming the space previously occupied by Mark & Orlando’s, chef-owner Dan Singhofen has transformed the Victorian brownstone into two stories of unpretentious chicness.

Unfortunately, the restaurant misses the mark on many fronts. With a sparse setting of tables (the first floor seats 24), one feels a certain emptiness in a room that fails to deliver a “fresh from the farm” coziness you would desire. This can be fixed though: throw some decent curtains on the windows, replace  the generic, commercial-style glass and metal door leading into the main dining area, and add some small vases of fresh flowers on each table – problem solved.

Then the wine list: another disappointment. Although we enjoyed a nice Pinot Noir from Oregon, Eola continues a trend that plagues most DC restaurant owners and chefs – not a single wine on the list hails from local Maryland or Virginia vineyards. If restaurants want to truly “go local,” half the menu cannot be imported from Chile or the other side of the country.

Finally the meal: it was a roller coaster ride, hitting a high note with a Pumpkin Panna Cotta starter that included a complement of two types of beets, a smattering of walnuts and a playful layer of foam. It was a visual and oral delight. But it took a turn downward with a Quinault River Steelhead Trout that seemed to ignore the rules of balance and texture (PS – a fish from Quinault River in Washington state is a long way from home). Cooked a l’unilateral, a classic French frying technique in which the whole fish (not butterflied) is fried skin side down until it is heated all the way through, the trout came off thermally uneven and overly soft. (NOTE: Salmon tends to pull this technique off better since it has a firmer, flakier texture). Maybe the dish could have been remedied with the right seasoning and accompaniments, but adorned with some course salt and served over a bed of wilted greens, capers and coco beans, the end result was a nugatory “salty mush.” I took two bites and pushed the remainder over to Steve.

Even after the unsatisfactory entree, I haven’t written Eola off entirely. The quality and portion of food is substantial enough that we shared the starter and entree (which they graciously split for us) and were able to leave satiated on a meal that totaled $56. The menu is simple yet variegated and adventurous, and there seems to be the promise that chef Singhofen might be able to deliver the local goods. However, after dining, I am less hopeful that P Street has found its standout.

Dining Out: A Clean Life-style

I’m proud to announce a new feature!

With Washington, DC’s burgeoning local food movement, more and more restaurants are offering seasonal fare from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and yeah, sometimes West Virginia.

While local offerings at becoming increasingly popular, there are still hurdles. Wine is a foregone conclusion (there are local wines?), asking where food comes from is considered rude (it’s a just a carrot, ok!), and trying to leave without a piece of styrofoam…good luck with that.

It is such an incredible experience that Amy and I are hooked. We’ll be visiting all the sustainable establishments in the region and reporting back to you.

In a new feature called, Dining Out: A Clean Life-Style, Amy will be writing reviews of our dining adventures, chef interviews, and even stories of the dirty underbelly of the local food scene.

As a writer and critic, Amy is quite talented: she has earned the respect of the best local chefs, has a keen eye for vibe and atmosphere, a deep understanding of local food, farmers, and sustainability, and, of course, she has a great way with words (including a new screenplay coming out soon).

Check out her first review of the newest restaurant on the scene, Eola!

A Clean Life Thanksgiving

If you remember back to the stories we learned in school then Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. This is in two specific areas thanks for the fall harvest and gratitude to others (thanks in general).

This Thanksgiving I ask you, the reader, to honor this tradition by getting into the fall harvest. Head to your local farmers market for fall harvest potatoes, vegetables, etc. Stop by your local whole foods for a free range, cage free heritage turkey.

Potatoes at the farmers market should be abundant and cheap (comment if you can’t find a market in your area). At Whole Foods you can special order a turkey (link helps you find a location). I went in and talked to the butcher, he said to estimate about 1.5 pounds per person and the price was $2.50/pound. For my family dinner of 6 people that will be about $25 for the turkey.

The benefits to doing so are numerous and powerful. Supporting a local farmer builds up our Capital foodshed and adds to a sustainable food industry. It reduces pollution in your community and in our water. It even increases you and your family’s health.

If you’ve heard me speak before you know that our current food system is one of the largest polluters in the world. It is also one of the unhealthiest (67% of all adults are overweight). Unfortunately, the alternatives to this food system (farmers markets, coops) constitute only 2% of our food system. Some studies show that if every American were to buy one item at a farmers market each week then that 2% would grow to 10% in one year. Maybe this Thanksgiving is your chance to join in.

Turkey’s are another story altogether and its not a sweet bedtime story. Most turkey’s purchased for this Thanksgiving will be obese and loaded with drugs. Their weight problems and our industrialized food system also make them sterile or unable to reproduce. They are fed an unnatural diet that kills their organs, requiring more drugs. Their cages are indoor factories where they have no room to move (rarely move their whole life) and often sit in their own bathroom stuff.

I won’t scare or bore you with any more details. But, I hope it does give you a motivation to develop a new Thanksgiving tradition this year. If you do you can join several million people around the country and the world who are doing so. In the process we are all making ourselves healthier, the planet cleaner, and creating a sustainable future for our children.

The USDA Wants You To “Know Your Farmer”

This morning I was fortunate to attend new media press event with Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture. A small group of us took a short trip outside of Washing DC to Tree and Leaf Farm. Which is exactly 47 miles away from the Dupont Farmers Market in the city, according to co-owner Georgia O’Neal.

The reason for this farm adventure was to launch a very special program for the USDA, called Know Your Farmer Know Your Food. The details of which are still coming out. DepSec Merrigan did clue us in on the plan which includes a weeklong series of programs, announcements, and events. With the culminating event being the official opening of a farmers market one block away from the White HouseThough for new media fans, on Friday Kathleen Merrigan will be entertaining a live facebook chat.

I am betting that for the rest of the country the white house farmers market will be the big hit. It’s an easily condensible byte of news and I expect it to hit all the major networks this Thursday and throughout the weekend. The news for farmers should be a big hit as well since it announces many new plans for grants, guides, and programs. All in support of the campaign promises of Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s idea of “wealth creation” in rural communities.

Tree and Leaf

Tree and Leaf Farm

News aside, it was quite refreshing to visit one of DC’s regional farms the Tree and Leaf. The farm is run by Zach Lester and Georgia O’Neal who offer their bounty on Saturday’s at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market and on Sunday at the Dupont Market. They have 5 acres of land and according to Zach produce a wide variety of crops.

They are definitely into the Organic movement, though I would say they better align with Joel Salatin’s credo of “beyond organic”. Even in our short time Zach dropped into biodynamics, the five folds of nature, the importance of compost, and more.

Their story gets more interesting as you dig into it. Their farm operations include several employees and one farm manager who helps with the direct marketing (getting the food sold), on only five acres of land!

Georgia and Zach

The land is is rented on a year-to-year lease. This is causing them some hardship since Organic farming requires a few years investment to get into place and not having a multi-year deal means they may expend money and sweat for no reason. It also deters them from making infrastructure improvements to increase their food quality, type, and length (growing in deep season, winter).

Their food is sold in markets and CSA’s in DC, but rarely in their own county. Both lamented the fact that the new Loudon County residents rarely get out of their cars to participate in the community. They are locked into the same problem the rest of the country has, trucking their food outside of their community while others simultaneously truck in low quality, unhealthy food for supermarkets.

The farm was truly a beautiful place to be. Zach’s landscaping skills make it a beautiful scene. Both he and Georgia make quite a team on the farm and their little boy, who I really thought looks like Conan the Barbarian in training.

Politics as NOT Usual

It seems that the politics of food has changed. It is now okay to talk about the inequities in our food system. It is even okay to till your own organic garden, start a farmers market, and even shop at one. This is reflected in the seemingly out of nowhere White House push for organic gardening and a farmers market.

Still the vast majority of Americans are lost in these markets which means we have a long way to go. A large amount of education is needed to bring back proper eating into the consciousness of the public. Hopefully, this new USDA program and high profile maneuvers from the White House will start the awareness. Like my Mom always reminds me, its a process, and we can’t erase bad habits overnight.

photo (2)
From Zach: "the structure is a rebar bean tunnel with swiss chard growing underneath"

Keep an eye out for more news as the week rolls on. Check out fellow foodie and blogger Obama Foodorama who also joined us on the farm trip.

Why We’re Fat

As I dig deeper into our food system I find myself shouting down all the experts. They just simple have it all wrong. I imagine them standing in front of a dam and wondering where all the water is, missing the entire point.

We are fat because we eat too much. Our average caloric intake is upwards of 3,000 each day, when just a few decades ago it was around 1,500-2,000. We even waste too much food. We have enough food to feed the world.

2262074097_fe514fc268

Now, rather than point the figure at you overeaters, which I really couldn’t do because we are all overeaters, I want to look at the root of the problem. There has to be an answer to why we as a society are overeating. I mean we can’t all enjoy being rolly polly’s. Most of us would probably love to be thin, athletic, sexual, and all the other benefits that come from being of a healthy weight.

The root starts with the quality of our food. What if we are eating too much because our food is lower in quality. What if it contains half as many nutrients and so we need to eat twice as much to get the same benefit. Could it be possible that our food industry would do something like this?

Would any food company intentionally sell us lower quality food so we will buy twice as much…

I can tell you psychologically that we love it. We love big portions, 5 course meals, foot longs over six inchers, etc. We love bulk purchasing and 2 for 1 deals. I mean who wouldn’t want more food when it comes at a cheaper price and you get a doggy bag to take home.

To go about confirming this theory of mine is hard. One would expect a ton of research on this oh so important topic. Maybe not, though, since it seems annoyingly straightforward and obvious. The ton of research is on other important topics, like how to get calcium into peanut butter, or how many nutrients there are in cheezy puffs.

Still, I was able to find one report, just one. Which speaks to just this issue. I can summarize the findings in one paragraph.

The mass production of food has resulted in a lower quality of product. This was not done intentionally since the goal was only to increase the amount of food available, and a focus on quality was irrelevant. To confirm this the study found seeds from the pre-industrial food era, around the 1950s. They planted the seeds and harvested the resulting apples. In comparison to our modern apples, the 1950s apples contained much more nutrients. They found that they were about 1/3 less nutritious.

Put another way, we need to eat three times as much food.

I really like this hypothesis. It is simple and elegant. The reason for our obesity epidemic is not some deficiency within ourselves. It is just our need to get the right amount of nutrients. We eat and eat and eat, just looking to get a healthy amount of vitamin C. In our modern society that means at least 3 oranges, or 3 cups of orange juice concentrate.

I want to sign-off here since I feel like this is something worth pondering. As I do I can offer two suggestions two you. First, avoid supermarkets since all they do is peddle thousands of low quality items to you. Second, think about the solution to this problem, to me it seems that we should move our mass production into quality mode. After all, if the fashion industry can mass produce high quality knock-offs within days, why can’t our food system…

City farming becomes a social cause (and other news)

“A lot of us didn’t set out to farm for a living, to have that be what we did all day,” said Greg Strella, 24, who came to MICA to become a sculptor and graduated a farmer. “I certainly didn’t feel that way even 12 months ago.”

But there he is, under a straw hat, atop a tractor, managing Great Kids Farm, a 33-acre organic spread owned by Baltimore’s school system.

More young people are turning up at seminars on sustainable agriculture, said Jeff Schahczenski…he credits the Food Network for promoting foodie culture and movies like Food, Inc. for criticizing industrial agriculture.

via City farming becomes a social cause — baltimoresun.com.

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2009 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today encouraged consumers to visit their local farmers markets in honor of National Farmers Market Week, which will take place from August 2-8.

“One of the Obama Administration’s top priorities is to make sure that all Americans – especially children – have access to fresh, nutritious food, and USDA’s ongoing support of farmers markets is important to reaching that goal,” Secretary Vilsack said. “At the same time, farmers markets help support small family farms, help revitalize rural communities, and often promote sustainable agricultural practices.”

Currently, nearly 4,900 farmers markets operate nationwide, up from 4,685 in 2008.

my comment – nearly a 5% increase in recession!

via Release No. 0360.09.

By the Secretary of Agriculture of the USA

A PROCLAMATION

WHEREAS more than 4,400 farmers markets across the country offer consumers farm-fresh affordable, convenient, and healthful products such as fruits, vegetables, cheese, herbs, fish, flowers, baked goods, meat and much more; and

WHEREAS farmers markets serve as integral links among urban, suburban, and rural communities, affording farmers and consumers the opportunity to interact; and

WHEREAS the popularity of farmers markets continues to rise as more and more consumers discover the joys of shopping…

WHEREAS farmers markets support local anti-hunger initiatives through donations…

WHEREAS our Nation’s farmers are among the best steward of our land; and

WHEREAS the USDA strongly supports and promotes the development, operation, and expansions of farmers markets and other direct to consumer activities…

I, Edward T. Schafer, Secretary of the US Dept of Agriculture, do hereby proclaim the week of August 3-9 as National Farmers Market Week.

I encourage the people of the US to celebrate the benefits of farmers markets and the bountiful production of our Nation’s farmers…this 15th day of July 2008.

my comment – found this one through google but the link is busted so i just copied it here