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Archive for the ‘zero waste events’ Category

zero waste recycle containersToday is Earth Day, so zero waste events are a good thing to talk about. Imagine having an event with a large number of people and having no waste! That is my idea of something called a zero waste event. Others may have alternate ideas, such as sorting out the recyclables and compostables before taking the rest to the landfill, but that’s a start. When I taught at the community college one of the projects I had my students do was to write a paper on the composting topic of their choice from my list of six. The topics were (1) institutional food wastes, (2) animal carcass composting, (3) manure management, (4) bioremediation, (5) construction and demolition debris, and (6) zero waste events. At the time I chose those topics there was little information on many of them and I gave them articles from BioCycle magazine to get them started.

I was reminded of that when I attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, NC recently. Always looking out for the environment, Mother Earth News is careful when it comes to putting on their Fairs. Instead of single trash barrels, there were three containers in each spot. As you can see in the photo, each had a sign identifying what to put where. There was a place to deposit things destined for recycling, composting, or the landfill. The signs, lid tops, and plastic bag liners were color coded to further keep things straight. landfill sign-zero waste events  The signs indicated this was managed by Danny’s Dumpster. I didn’t find Danny, but when I spotted one of his employees I stopped him to ask some questions. Danny’s Dumpster works with businesses and events on a regular basis. They even have their own composting facility and sell compost. Their website says that Danny’s Dumpster specializes in waste reduction while striving to make environmentally responsible decisions both affordable and convenient. Affordable and convenient are what everyone has been waiting for. Unfortunately, the general public doesn’t want to go out of their way or spend extra money to recycle. It will be nice to see this become the way of all trash haulers.

compost sign--zero waste eventsThis business is beginning to work with schools to take their cafeteria waste. In the mid-1990’s I volunteered with the garden program at my children’s elementary school and pioneered composting the cafeteria waste right at the school. The students put their food waste and paper napkins into the recycle bins and two students were assigned to empty the bins into the compost piles each day, along with leaves for the needed carbon. It worked great, but not too many adults really understood the importance of what we were doing, or the necessity. That system operated for the four years I was a volunteer, but didn’t continue more than about a year after that. My experience at the school made me realize that I needed to devote my time to teaching adults so that more of them would understand, putting more people out there to teach the children and others. Those elementary school students are adults now. They know this can work because they were doing it way back when. Maybe they’ll be the ones to make a difference in their communities.

recycle sign-zero waste eventsWhat are you throwing away? Each household should sort its own waste and try to have less (or none). A compost pile can take care of the food scraps, but there are lots of other waste items to contend with. When food goes from the garden to the table, there are no containers to dispose of. Furthermore, when it is preserved at home, the containers that are required can be used over and over. I still use canning jars I bought 40 years ago. Packaging is a big waste. Bringing less stuff home of any kind will reduce the packaging you have to throw away. In your household can you have a zero waste event and really make it zero waste? We worked with that goal in mind when our daughter got married in 2010. We came close with less than a full bag of trash for the landfill. You can read what we did at https://homeplaceearth.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/homegrown-wedding/.

It is encouraging to see how much the subjects I assigned are in the news in the years since I first gave my students that project. Animal carcass composting was thought to be quite an unusual subject at the time and much of the available information was about poultry farms composting, rather than incinerating, dead chickens, although composting roadkill was the subject of a BioCycle article. Virginia now has a composting program primarily for deer killed on I-81 in the western part of the state. The resulting finished compost will be used in landscape maintenance. Demolition debris is being separated and recycled. Brown fields are being cleaned up with bioremediation. As a society we are beginning to take more of a holistic approach to what we do, taking into account the complete cycle of our resources and our actions. There just might be hope for the world after all. Homeplace Earth

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homegrown feast for two

homegrown feast for two

Growing up Catholic I was familiar with the term Feast Day. It was a day when certain saints were remembered. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any food feast on those days and the only celebration would have been attending Mass. I assume other cultures somewhere celebrated with a food feast at some point, and maybe still do. St. Patrick’s Day receives a lot of attention. We have feast days within our family when we celebrate birthdays. Weddings, especially, are feast days and the happy couple celebrates that day from then on. We need to declare other events in our lives as feast days, if only for one day, and pay particular attention to the feast involved. I’m sure you can find many things to celebrate, so I’ll concentrate on the food part in this post. This photo is one I took when I was writing my Homegrown Fridays post in 2011. Our dinner that evening was sorghum noodles, tomato sauce, and steamed collards—all food from our garden.

Every bite we take is a vote for how we want the earth used to grow our food. If we really take that thought to heart we become mindful of what we are eating and where it is grown. To be healthy beings, our food needs to be grown in healthy soil. My other posts, my DVDs, and my book will help you plan your garden to feed the soil, while growing to feed yourself. Most likely, you are not growing all your food. That brings the opportunity to find growers who pay particular attention to the soil to provide you with good food. Farmers markets have sprouted everywhere and many have times when they are open during the winter months, allowing you to source your food directly from the growers. That way you can inquire about their practices. Grocery stores, even big ones, are carrying more local food. Foodhubs have been established for small growers to pool their produce to sell to the large buyers. In the big scheme of things, it is not practical for a large store to deal with many, many small-scale growers. Also, there are small-scale growers who don’t want to sit at the farmers markets waiting for you to come by. For them, the foodhub is a welcome place to sell what they grow, as are restaurants. Eat at restaurants that buy from local, sustainable growers. You can find sources of local food at www.localharvest.org. Find out what you can about each grower you buy from. Just because they are local doesn’t necessarily mean they are organic or sustainable.

travel table service kit

travel table service kit

We are often involved in potluck dinners. That’s the way to go with a large group of people. Hopefully everyone brings a large dish of food to share so there is enough food for however many people show up. When I was the faculty advisor for the Sustainable Agriculture Club at the community college we came up with the idea of a sustainable potluck, since we didn’t want to have to buy or throw away paper and plastic products. In a sustainable potluck, everyone brings their own non-disposable table service—plate, cup, and silverware. We loved it! To make that experience even more enjoyable, one year our daughter Betsy gave me a birthday gift of a travel kit with plates, silverware, and napkins (red work handkerchiefs). Her old bluejeans provided some of the fabric. This kit is so handy. When my husband and I travel we even take it to the hotels that only offer Styrofoam plates for the free breakfast.

The sustainable potluck idea worked so well I suggested it to my beekeeping club. It took a few times for some folks to get used to the idea, but now it works like a charm. There is no trash! I didn’t have to mention it at the handspinning group I joined. They were already bringing their own table service to their potlucks. I belong to one other organization that has a potluck twice a year. When they start to make plans I bring up the idea of bringing our own table service, along with our potluck dishes. Each time the response is a flat-out no, with no discussion. I know that others in the room agree with my idea, but they never speak up. It is painful for me to see the trash accumulate at these events, so I choose not to attend. When new ideas are suggested, if you agree you have to speak up. That is the only way to bring about change.

Every action we take is important—whether it is the food we eat or how we eat it. Where will all that trash go if we choose to generate it? Our county landfill is full and the trash is now shipped elsewhere. Our celebrations should not be responsible for trashing someone else’s backyard. Planning a zero waste event can be a fun challenge. You can learn more about how to do that and feed a crowd at my Homegrown Wedding post.

Each day, each meal can become a feast when we contemplate what we are eating and how it is grown. The closer we are to the source, the more sacred our food and the act of eating it becomes. In naming feast days and preparing the food, we have to remember to be thankful that we have something to celebrate and thankful for the food that will be shared. An attitude of gratitude puts us in a position for well-being in so many ways. We all know people who pick out the bad in everything. We need to look for the good. Everything is important and everything has something positive. Find the good and celebrate with food from your garden or local sustainable sources.Homeplace Earth

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Two years ago our daughter and son-in-law had a dream-come-true wedding. I’m sure many would not want to do something like this, but I think there are enough people out there who might be interested in hearing about it. I hope that by telling you what we did, it will get the creative juices flowing when you plan your own events. Betsy and Chris told us at Christmas that they wanted to be married in June. They were living in Arkansas and would be returning in May to settle near family. As the wedding plans began to take shape, we realized that this would be quite an adventure for all of us. Betsy and Chris met when they both worked at Brookview Farm in 2004. At that time, in addition to the grass-fed beef they still sell, Brookview also had a market garden and pastured laying hens and sold compost. It was their dream to be married there, so they contacted the owners, Sandy and Rossie Fisher, who gave their blessing. Thank you so much Sandy and Rossie!

When we started to think about food, we realized that probably no caterer would want to deal with us. I would contribute what I could grow and we wanted to source the rest locally. We have a friend whose unofficial specialty is hospitality, although it is playing the viola that pays her bills. Lucky for us the Richmond Symphony takes a summer break and Molly would be available. She gladly accepted the challenge, although she had never done something like this. Thank you Molly and crew Linda, Steve, and Jen! The wedding would be June 19. I got out a copy of the Plant/Harvest Schedule form and started to plan. That is one of the forms I explain in my DVD Develop a Sustainable Vegetable Garden Plan and a copy is on the resource page at www.HomeplaceEarth.com. The dates of the first frost and the dates of each of the weeks in the columns were filled in. I was going to be growing the green beans and lettuce. To have lettuce and beans on a specific day and not each week before and after is quite different than when I was a market gardener and had a continual harvest. I knew that the beans that I was planning on growing would be ready to pick in about 6 weeks and I would have a good harvest, picking every few days, for 2 weeks. I planted them 8 weeks before the wedding. If everything went as planned, I would have enough to feed our guests from the harvest of that second week. If something delayed the crop for as much as a week, I would still be okay. From my 10 years of growing lettuce for the markets, I knew that I could sow the seeds in a coldframe space and plant the seedlings into the garden in 3 weeks. In 5 weeks from transplanting I would be harvesting wonderful salad. In addition to beans and lettuce, I supplied the garlic, onions, and parsley. The bean harvest went as planned and we had plenty. As for the lettuce, I had planted enough, however some rabbits had gotten in and helped themselves and the weather had turned hot and dry early on. I provided what I could and we bought locally grown lettuce for the rest. Including the wedding party, we had 150 people respond that they would attend. Of course, there are always those who don’t reply in a timely manner, if at all, and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of food for anyone else who may be around the farm helping, so we planned food for 180.

B-C eating-BLOGPlans for this wedding just seemed to flow together. Chris’s aunt and uncle planted potatoes for them. One of the best days Betsy and Chris had that week before the wedding was digging those potatoes that would become the potato salad for the wedding feast. Barbecue was a natural on the menu and Brookview Farm already had a place to cook it. The day of the wedding, Chris’s uncles cooked the pork raised by Brookview’s farm manager. Molly did a great job tracking down as many other ingredients as she could, including tomatoes and mushrooms for the bruschetta and cabbage, from local growers. She even got vinegar for the coleslaw from Virginia Vinegar Works. Chris’s cousin made the cake.

barn-BLOGThe ceremony would take place in the pasture with the guests sitting on straw bales in the shade of fenceline trees and with their friend from Arkansas officiating. Thank you Jacob! Transportation for the wedding party to the field and for the bride and groom afterward was provided by Betsy’s brother, Luke, and his oxen. The reception was in that big old barn and that’s where we spent our time that last week. It had only been used as storage for many years. It was filled with equipment, old building supplies, remnants of hay, and some dried cowpies from when a steer got loose and ran around in there. Getting that steer under control was one of the early adventures Betsy and Chris had together at Brookview in 2004. We fixed the floor in a few places and we swept and swept and swept. Finally we let the dust settle and put up the rented tables and chairs and spread the rented tablecloths.

bandanas-BLOGIn the classes I taught at the community college, I would talk about zero-waste events. In fact, that was one of the topics that my students could choose to write about for one of their papers. We needed to try to make this a zero-waste wedding. It wasn’t exactly zero-waste, but close to it. In the end Molly only had one bag of trash and I don’t think that was totally full. We rented the plates but found that it was cheaper to buy stainless steel silverware online than it was to rent it. We now have plenty for future events and it has already served another wedding. We used half-pint jelly jars for wine glasses and punch cups and pint canning jars for beer mugs and water glasses. People had been giving me their old canning jars for years, so we only had to buy a few dozen jelly jars. Betsy had brought Arkansas wine with them when they moved back and we got a keg of beer from Legend Brewing Company in Richmond. We used small flowered women’s cotton handkerchiefs for the hors d’oeuvres, taking the place of both a napkin and a plate. For dinner napkins, we used men’s work handkerchiefs in many different colors. I have to admit, it was a chore washing and ironing all those handkerchiefs ahead of time. But I only had to do it once. Both napkins (handkerchiefs)  were favors for the guests to take home. Food packaging was kept to a minimum, and we traded containers back and forth with the homegrown produce. Food waste was deposited in the Brookview compost bin that Betsy built when she worked there.

And then there were the flowers. We only had a few here to contribute but Betsy assured us she had it under control. She knew what was blooming in every ditch around and in her friend’s yards. In August she would begin teaching the classes I had just left at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and she was given permission to do some picking in the gardens there by the floral design instructor. Thanks David! The morning of the wedding, she gathered the flowers from hither and yon and her friends, many of whom had just arrived from Arkansas, made the bouquets and centerpieces. Quart canning jars were the centerpiece vases. There were some places in the barn that were off limits and some things that just needed covering. I called in every quilt I had ever made for our kids and took any from our house and we hung them up on clothesline or draped them places.  Betsy and I restyled my cotton wedding dress that I had made in 1972 and added a sash made from satin from her grandmother’s wedding dress. She dyed the sash blue to match the ties the guys wore. Chris’s mom, with help from her mother and sisters, made his linen suit.

B-C kissing-BLOG

Only a few hours till the wedding!

Casey Smith, a friend of Betsy’s from high school, was the photographer. We needed a DJ, so a month before the wedding my husband and I (Betsy and Chris were still in Arkansas) went to a local bridal event that apparently is put on each month and found one who had that weekend open because of a cancellation. Rick Ripley did a great job for us. I guess that cancellation was meant to be. You may not be planning a wedding, but I’m sure there is some event in the future you will be putting together. After all, birthdays and anniversaries come every year, as well as other occasions for celebrations. You might not have a stash of canning jars, or a friend with a barn, but you have other resources and connections. Start collecting dishes, silverware, and other things so you can avoid disposables. When you put your mind to it, I’m sure you can come up with a party that is unique to you and easy on the earth. To Betsy and Chris—Happy Anniversary! To the rest of you—have fun putting together your own special event.

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