Become a Jedi of the Farmer’s Market

Now that spring has officially sprung itself here in our lovely state of Rhode Island my thoughts are drifting towards the 2010 farmer’s market season. I am a huge fan of the Aquidneck Growers’ Market; I get there early so that I can get first dibs on all the goodies while sipping on an icy cup of deliciousness from Custom House Coffee. Since buying locally is the biggest way to high five mother earth I thought I’d put together some tips and tactics in preparation for the upcoming season–to make sure you find the produce you are looking for.

Straight from the horses—or in this case farmer’s mouth

Don’t be afraid to talk to the person tending the booth—it is an amazing opportunity to speak with the people who grow it–they want to answer your questions! Ask where your food comes from, are they certified organic? If not ask why, I guarantee they’ll have a good reason…maybe they are a very small family run farm who practices sustainability because the price tag of organic just doesn’t add up…but hey…sustainable farming is great too!

If you don’t know how to cook parsnips, rutabagas, artichokes or that some squash blossoms are edible (and delicious when panko breaded and fried!), ask for suggestions on preparing them.

Make a list, no need to check it twice

Knowing what’s in season won’t be very hard to figure out while you are at the farmers market since it will be all around you…but doing a little recon before making any purchases will help you out in two ways.

  1. Do a little research for in-season produce and look at seasonal menus to help you figure out what you’d like to be looking for and what to do with your locally grown haul. Oranges and Avocados don’t grow in Rhode Island in May…but Asparagus does!
  2. Make a loop around and take in all the sights before buying (I like to grab a coffee and a blueberry muffin…grazing while I take in the sights) you’ll kick yourself if you find amazing looking basil two tables down…for half the price!

It always helps to have a few loose ideas in your head as to what you are going to do with your produce…often the grower will want to hear about that delicious blueberry trifle you made the week before, your feedback can help them sell to the next person who doesn’t know what they’d do with a pound of fresh berries.

Money talks…debit cards walk…

Please oh please do not get frustrated when the farmer forgets their credit card machine at home…unless you are at in indoor farmer’s market most of the time there is no electricity at such events. You’d think this was common sense…but since I’ve seen it—I had to put it out there…

Also don’t be afraid to use your cash to shop for bargains—it doesn’t hurt to ask especially if you are at the tail end of the day—if two items for $5 instead of $6.50 will work.

Tote along for the ride…

Since fresh produce hasn’t been dipped in wax or petrified to survive shipping thousands of miles it will absolutely bruise and damage easily. Collapsible market totes, boat tote bags and coolers will become your new bff and always go with you to the market. Damp paper towels or cheese cloth in water proof containers or baggies will protect herbs from wilting on your way home—and can be used in the refrigerator to help keep them a little longer. Chances are your farmer will have a few recommendations for storing, watering, and enjoying your purchases.

Do or do not…there is no try.” ~Master Yoda

Happy hunting–see you at the market!!

Here are a few great websites to help you along your journey:

Local Harvest

Epicurious’ seasonal map

Farmers Market online in season listing

Posted by Amanda| follow meow on Twitter

Healthy Furniture is the Future in a Green Home

The new rage in interior design is eco friendly and healthy fabrics, surfaces, textures and finishes.   People are finding the importance to using local woods and organic material, they are making a change to their carbon footprint, and making changes in order to “green” their lives.  Switching to organic foods, cleaners and even the way they care for their pets and lawn.  Many people have started looking further into organic living and have started to purchase organic materials for their clothing as well as taking a step back and looking at the furniture including their beds which they spend almost half their lives lounging on. 

The things that make a couch structurally sound and comfortable may actually be harmful to humans and their pets.  According to research done by Building Green there is evidence that the flame halogenated retardants used on most couches can be very harmful to animals as well as humans.  Buying a couch that is made with Wool Linings is much safer.

BiOH polyols are a soy based ingredient used in upholstered furniture, bedding, carpet backing and even automobile seats.  The reason the switch to BiOH is such a great choice is because they are made from soy bean oil which is a renewable source unlike traditional foam which is made from petroleum-based products.  It is a comparable product without having such a large environmental footprint.  It is a responsible choice for those looking for an environmentally friendly product. 

Using locally harvested wood for furniture is another important factor when consumers think about green furniture purchases.  The amount of time, money, energy and fuel it costs to ship a piece of wood from one place to another is costly and damaging to the environment.  This is why so many consumers are looking for local manufacturers to purchase their furniture from. 

When we went furniture hunting we wanted a company that had a solid green mission and offered a range of products including natural local woods, natural fabrics, and sourced from local companies.

We fell in love with New England based Circle Furniture, who works with manufacturers that have a commitment to the environment.  Most of the wood products made for Circle are made by people in New England including one of my favorites Maine Cottage which is where we got the bunk beds and bookshelves (picutred below) for Max’s room, Abby’s desk, and the bed and side tables for the guest room. They are locally made with low-VOC paints and finishes and have beautiful natural fabric choices as well. Paints and finishes are one of the leading causes for polluted indoor air according to the EPA.  Paints and finishes allow low level toxic emissions into the air over time.  Volatile Organic Compounds were once important to the performance of the paint, but now low VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes are available and are becoming very popular and in some cases required by new environmental regulations. 

The same goes for mattresses, we even bought new organic mattresses for the new beds.  Circle also uses Copeland which is a manufacturer that uses woods from forests that are not threatened and do not contain genetically modified trees, making them part of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  Copeland was recently awarded the 2009 Sage Award for reducing the industry’s environmental footprint. We chose this gorgeous Milford “cuddle couch” in a super soft corduroy fabric.

There are so many ways to decorate your home in sustainable style; it is getting much easier every year to find companies that construct attractive furniture using solid woods (FSC certified in some cases), natural fibers and low or no VOC finishes and varnishes. 

Furniture is an investment. As we have moved several times over the years, we’ve actually sold furniture with our house and it was fun to get to buy a number of new eco-friendly furniture pieces for the new house. It is important to note that inexpensive furniture is often made using composite woods that are made from glues that can contain formaldehyde—a known carcinogen!   Furniture treated for stain resistance contains chemicals that can pollute the air in your home.  So though we left off the stain protection we selected pieces with highly durable fabrics and finishes yet didn’t forgo style or comfort to bring green furniture into our home.

Kimberly Lancaster | follow me on Twitter

Spotlight on Creativity: Saturday Etsy Series

This weekend I am moving into my new apartment, it is going to be wonderful and I am very excited but there is only one small problem! There is only one small closet. I am not quite sure you can call it a walk in (like they said in the ad) since it is built into the hallway stairs so for the first 2/3 of the closet you have to hunch over.  This might not be an issue for some readers who have a moderate wardrobe but I have lots of shoes, dresses, coats, purses….you get the picture, right? So I have been on the search for some pretty storage solutions, hence my etsy seller pick of the week – sewingmomma – the designer of beautiful storage bins/totes using a variety of recycled or vintage fabrics. She also makes gorgeous blankets and hand towels that will add to any home décor.

Sewingmomma is a mother of 4 and wife to a supportive husband who helps make her etsy career possible. Her profile says “I am so happy to be a part of Etsy. I spend hours on Etsy. Its so much fun putting yourself out there and having some people actually like it! I finally found a community that I have a lot in common with.”

All of her products are made to order, so her production time is between 2-3 weeks, but she makes the wait worthwhile letting you pick from over 50 fabrics which include some made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles, 100% organically grown cotton fiber and vintage fabrics. You can also choose a custom made size or any of the sizes she has listed.

I really appreciate any etsy seller who thinks about what she is selling from the beginning stages to the end when the customer opens up the package – Sewingmomma does just that. From the start of her design to the end of the process she is conscious of the materials she uses.  Any of her bins can be made more eco-friendly by choosing the bin’s interfacing that is made 100% from recycled plastic bottles. She ships the orders out in post consumer recycled poly bags.

Here are a few of my favorite pieces: for smaller products (books, DVDs, remotes) these would be great; for something a little bigger check this one out – I love the pattern.  And these dishtowels will look really cute in my kitchen.  Currently she doesn’t have any blankets for sale but I found this one in her sold items and might have to convo her to see if I can get one.

After finding this etsy seller, I am looking forward to getting settled and figuring out exactly how many of these I can get away with buying.

You can find sewingmomma on Facebook or etsy.

Posted by: Becca / follow my Etsy shop on Twitter

A Green (and cheap!) Way to Get Textbooks for School

As a Political Science and Writing major in college, my textbooks were never too outrageously priced.  There might have been an International Policy text that set me back a bit, but for the most part, I watched my friends in nursing, engineering and physics spend $150+ per textbook every semester.  At the end of class, the bookstore might have offered students $25-$30 for the same book they spent well over $100 on – and that’s if the publisher hadn’t put out a newer version in the meantime, rendering yours useless.

This time around, as an MBA student, my business texts are insanely priced (I paid $186 for my managerial accounting book and that was heavily used!) and I was shopping around for a better way to save money.  That’s when I stumbled across Chegg, a site that allows students to rent textbooks for a fraction of the cost of buying.  After doing some research, I found my Finance book for my next class and clicked the 6o-day rental option.  The price for this $200+ text?  $56.60 plus $1.99 shipping.

In addition to the $160 or so I saved in the process of renting, Chegg offers to plant a tree for every textbook rented through the American Forests Global ReLeaf Program and lets you choose the region of the world you’d like to have it planted.

The tree planting isn’t the only thing about Chegg that’s green – by reusing a textbook that otherwise might find its way to the trash after many years of sitting on a shelf, you are helping to prevent waste and unnecessary manufacturing of new copies.

And Chegg is flexible – their 30 day return policy allows you return a text for whatever reason (dropped class, text unused, etc) for a full refund – no questions asked.

So join Chegg (and me, for sure!) in the “Don’t Buy Revolution” – it will definitely save you some green while supporting the planet.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

A much needed Trip

It’s winter time here in New England so what better time to escape the cold and go on a nice relaxing vacation and why not make it an eco friendly trip.  In college I interned at Maho Bay Camps in St. John an eco resort and that has changed my perspective on vacations.  It is such a fun and natural way to enjoy the local food, environment and of course the people.  Although I am partial to St. John for the friendly familiar faces and excellent beaches there are so many other places that are offering eco tourism. 

Glovers Reef Atoll off Belize is a great place to visit if you are looking to rough it a bit and enjoy the tranquility and peace with very little people there.  Not your typical five star resort but with the view it offers it might as well be.  For amenities they offer solar powered water pumps, a composting toilet and wind power.  It lacks flushing toilets and AC but is quick to offer you a priceless view and a cold beer. 

Switching views another eco friendly place would be Antarctica,  yes it’s cold, dry and has an extremely small population but again it offers amazing views and adventures that aren’t possible everywhere..   It’s like having the experience of the travel channel right in front of you.  A trip to Antarctica is expensive though so make sure you save up for this once in a life time adventure!  Lindblad expeditions is a great place to find info on a trip to Antarctica

Back to the warm weather and away from Icebergs can land you in Africa for a great eco friendly vacation amongst elephants, tigers and lions!  Camp Jabulani has offered to work with locals and found this has helped with efforts to end poaching.  Included in your stay is an elephant tour!  A portion of the funds from your stay are donated to the support of endangered animals. 

There are so many different choices to choose from, places that appeal to everyone.  Some are pricier than others, but what do you expect from getting a personal tour from an elephant?   I am voting for my next eco trip to be in Belize but again I am a beach bum and would never be caught in Antarctica!  So look around and consider going eco-friendly on your next vacation, it’s come a long way from camping at the local campground!

Posted by Kate Kiselka, follow me on Twitter

Wallpaper is made from paper?

Wallpaper is slowly creeping its way back into the design word.   Although wallpaper is every new home buyer’s nightmare it can be a great fix to cover some poorly plastered walls.  Many designers are looking at Wallpaper to make a statement not just as wall covering, many are using it just on one wall, as an intense and huge piece of wall art.  What was once a bad decision made by our mothers is now becoming a well recognized way of making a statement in any room of your house.

Luckily now we are left with many more options than what our mothers lived with for so long.  Say goodbye to stripes, flowers and borders and hello to texture and vibrant colors.  Patterns with a modern twist, as well as wallpaper made out of paper!  Confused? Well most wallpaper is made from vinyl which we all know isn’t paper at all so why didn’t the manufacturers call is Wall-vinyl?  Vinyl takes up a lot of space in your local landfill where now we have the option to buy eco-friendly wall paper made out of, you guessed it, paper!  This makes the disposing of the paper recyclable friendly and if tossed in the trash has a shorter life in the landfill than its harmful vinyl counterpart.

With green becoming the new black, eco-wallpaper is a lot easier to find as well as less expensive than it used to be.  Eco-friendly wallpaper is better for the environment, but it also carries with it many health benefits opposed to using vinyl wallpaper.  The eco-friendly wallpaper breathes easier than vinyl.  This will help with the paper from trapping moisture, especially if used in bathrooms.  This will hopefully eliminate or if not reduce the ability of mold to growing behind your walls.

Posted by: Kate Kiselka, follow me on Twitter

Abby’s Blog: What I want for Christmas

I was trying to think of what I would like for Christmas and I came up with a list for Santa.  I tried real hard to make sure they were green gifts except for the Easy Bake Oven that I really, really want this year!

I would like, a sock Monkey from Maggies Organics, I think that it would be the perfect stuffed animal to cuddle with.  I would also love a new art set from Stubby Pencil Studio, they have so many neat things.  And all of the art supplies are eco friendly made from some really neat stuff.  They have a sketch pad called banana paper and they even have crayons made out of soy!  I hope I get all of these, especially an easy bake oven that I can make cupcakes in!!  I think my little brother Max would love the washable markers and I know mom would love them too!

Posted by: Abby, Age 6