Being a Conscious Consumer – Greener Gifting This Holiday Season

Are you asking, just what is a conscious consumer? Well, it’s someone looking to have their purchases reflect their standards and principles. In some cases this is easier than in others, depending on access, information, interest, and time. Some of the elements to consider when thinking about whether you’re purchasing is in alignment with your values are as follows. Do you know how and where the item was manufactured? Are the materials renewable, environmentally friendly, recyclable, reusable, or simply waste at the end of the life of the product? Do the company’s values match yours? Is handmade and do you know the creator? And so on. You may create your list of “must haves” when shopping for items. This certainly may be an unfolding process too, where you refine that list as you become more intentional about the gifts you give.

As we move into the Holiday Season, our minds become focused on gift giving as our lives become inundated with holiday ads and promotions. As a culture, we’ve come to believe that we should show our affection for friends and family by gifting them items. We are all quite familiar with this process. Perhaps you are also familiar with having too much “stuff”, a situation many of us are in. It’s easy to accumulate items that don’t contribute to happiness and well-being. Perhaps this year, we go about gift-giving in a slightly more intention manner.

Thrift & Secondhand Shopping – Your dollar will go further purchasing gently used. Other benefits – you’ll find one-of-a-kind items, you aren’t directly supporting the creation of those goods, you are keeping items out of the waste stream, and depending on your favorite store and it’s affiliation, you may be funding the mission work of a non-profit (i.e. – Goodwill, Salvation Army, Common Goods, etc.). A great suggestion from HDT Staffer Nora, is to search out board games and/or movies that you enjoyed as a child, they make great sentimental, special gifts for new generations. Plus playing those games with the recipients is interactive and memorable.

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Credit Patrick Q via Flickr Creative Commons

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Preparing Equipment for Winter

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On the cusp of winter, it’s time to put away the lawn care tools and equipment and bring out the snow removal tools and equipment. Depending on the size of your lawn or driveway, this may be a simple and easy job or one that is difficult and a hassle. We’re Minnesotan, it’s part of the deal! In our household, Mr. Man is the primary caretaker of equipment, regardless of season. For your information (and mine!) I asked him what he suggests regarding preparing equipment for the winter ahead.

The equipment we’ll address includes lawn mower, weed whip, backpack blower, and roto-tiller, though the suggestions below apply to essentially all small gasoline engine power tools.  While not all these pieces are standard for each home, they definitely are in ours, not exclusively because Mr. Man used to have a lawn care business. And certainly partially because he is a mechanically-savvy-motor-head that loves to have the aid of machines in accomplishing outdoor projects. “Every job goes better with the appropriate power tool” he says.

He began by relaying that all small engines – likely your lawn mower, weed-whip, backpack blower, and roto-tiller will all require a few treatments to keep them in prime running order for years to come. While not all of these steps are critical they are an investment in time and materials for the safe, long-term, use of equipment with fewer costly repairs and replacements. If you aren’t comfortable performing these tasks personally, local small engine folks can winterize your equipment on your behalf, for a fee.

  • Fuel stabilizer is a must to keep engines happy. Before our discussion, I thought the best tactic for gas machines was to drain the gas before winter. Turns out, as I learned, that’s not a good idea. Instead, add the appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer for the size of the gas can. And if possible, fuel your equipment with stabilized gas while still using during the last month before winter. He additionally recommends storing equipment with full [stabilized] fuel tanks. *Note, small engines should be fueled with non-oxygenated/normally 91 octane fuel. This is important because the ethanol in typical 87 octane can make fuel system components brittle and the alcohol can contribute to moisture and corrosion in the fuel system. Additional fuel note – modern gasoline has a short shelf life where it begins to degrade within ~1 month (if not treated with stabilizer) regardless of time of year. Final fuel note, if you have an engine that requires mixed gas but your use of that piece of equipment is limited consider purchasing shelf stable mixed fuel from an auto parts or small engine store.
  • Drain and refill oil tanks. This is important to do as oil that is exposed to internal combustion has acid and contaminants in it that can be potentially harmful if they sit in the engine. Many folks think to change the oil in the Spring before seasonal use but the strong suggestion here was to do it in the Fall because oil has three jobs: to lubricate, help cool the engine, and keep the engine clean. Summer use has made that oil dirty, don’t let it sit in there. *Note, if you are working on a 2-cycle engine you will not have a separate oil tank as they operate with mixed gas (a mixture of oil and gasoline).
  • If there is an external spin-on oil filter, change that at the time you change the oil. Equipment that has a pressurized oil system will likely have this external oil filter, like many riding lawn mowers.
  • Clean or replace air filters. If you have a foam filter wash with warm water and mild detergent and let air dry. Before putting it back onto the equipment, reapply the air filter tack oil. If your air filter has paper elements it will need to be replaced. Filters (and filter supplies) can be found at auto parts stores.
  • Fogging, perhaps like me, you’ve never heard of this! Let me tell you more. To fog, the engine must be running with stabilized fuel long enough to be warm. Fogging oil is sold in spray cans, again available at hardware or auto parts stores. Once the engine is warm and before you’ve finished the above step of reinstalling the air filter, spray fogging oil into the carburetor in small bursts. After a couple of those applications, attempt to kill the engine by spraying fogging oil until the engine dies as it can’t burn off the amount of oil you’ve applied. *Exhaust will smoke significantly in the fogging process. If you aren’t able to kill the engine with fogging oil, release the safety handle or turn off the engine then spray while the engine stops rotating. The function of fogging oil is to prevent rust on internal engine components that don’t get engine oil. An additional location to consider spraying fogging oil is into the upper cylinder head of the engine. To find this, remove the spark plug and spray into space inside. Pull start-cord a couple of times to distribute that fogging oil. These are quick “cht-cht” sprays of the fogging oil. Replace the spark plug. *Note, the internal protection that the fogging oil provides may prove to be damaging to the spark plug so in the Spring they may need to be replaced.

A bonus note about lawn mowers, while you (or your trusted equipment maintenance team) are putting the mower to bed for the Winter – also consider sharpening the mower blades. Sharp blades cut the grass and dull ones tear the grass. Torn grass looks browner and more unhealthy on your lawn.

This is by no means a comprehensive maintenance list for all the equipment in your life, but this hopefully can help you go into the Winter season with greater confidence in the Spring performance of your equipment. We wish you luck with end-of-Fall wrap-ups!

 

Yard Clean Up

Fall is my favorite time of year to be out and about, though the daylight and sunshine available for playing outside is in shorter supply. I’m all about maximizing fun before winter comes. The last thing on my mind is yard clean up. It always snows before I get to it, therefore all the leaves and vegetative litter, the seed heads, dead stems and brush are left until spring.

It turns out, though, that being a lazy gardener creates great habitat for overwintering wildlife. So I wear my “lazy gardener” title with pride, or rather call myself a “habitat gardener.” If you’d like to wear one of these titles, here are some tips and reasons to work less and play more in the fall.

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Preparing your Home for Winter

*This post was initially published way back in 2012.*

How Will You Prepare for Winter?

I drive to work everyday. It’s a drive from Brainerd to Pine River, about 35 miles. It takes me about 45 minutes to get from driveway to parking lot. There are stoplights, stop signs, merging traffic, and other nuisances on the way. But, mostly I get to zing up (and down) Hwy. 371 at about 60 mph. Now, along this drive, I see not one, but four different businesses that are advertising their boat winterization services. Some will offer free storage while others will offer free shrink wrapping. It’s a good time of year to need boat winterization, apparently. Now, other than serving as a reminder that central Minnesota is still (and forever shall be!) the boating and fishing capital of the world, these winterization billboards are serving another important feature.

They’re telling us that Winter is Coming!

Let us take solace in the famous utterance of Eddard Stark that, yes, winter is truly

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You tell ’em “Ned”

coming. But, instead of huddling in our homes and turning the furnace temperature to the heat setting we should use this warning as an opportunity to ready, prepare, and indeed, brace ourselves for the oncoming cold. I’ve done a little research and found some things that are easy to do around the house that will make this coming winter that much easier to endure.

First, I contacted Roger G, an engineer and an all-around nice guy. He works for RREAL, a great non-profit organization that outfits low income families with solar panels to help combat heating prices. But, before they just attach the panels, they have to make sure that the house itself is best suited to the benefits of solar energy. In other words, they require that the home be weatherized before the begin installation. This weatherization includes proper weather stripping, sufficient insulation (throughout the home), and storm windows. These are just a small number of things you can do to save money and energy. Roger recommended I look to the local utility companies to see how best to winterize my home.

I looked to several utility co-ops and found some good tips. But, where should you begin? Here are a couple ideas.

Step #1 Schedule an energy audit.

Check out this video put together by the Dept. of Energy. These audits are often subsidized by your utility company. Contact your provider to see if they have programs in place to help you get your audit at least partially paid for.

Step #2 Fill those cracks.

Using the knowledge from your energy audit, you’ll see where you need to apply insulation. However, these are the most likely culprits for allowing heat to escape. Some of the best ways to stifle heat loss in your home are by caulking joints, covering your windows in plastic, and using foam gaskets on your outlets

Step #3: Install a Programmable Thermostat.

Doing this very simple (and inexpensive) option will help you save up to 20% on your utility bill. So, with the one time purchase of $40, you’ll get a return on investment in no time. Check out this video on how to install one. Not too difficult. Again, look to your utility company to see if they offer benefits for installing a programmable thermostat. Some even offer rebates to lower the cost even further.

 

If you want more information on preparing for the cold of winter, I suggest looking at what the Clean Energy Resource Team has put together. Also, Excel Energy has a more detailed pamphlet on making your home tip top for the oncoming winter.

The Art Form of Gardening

Every other week, I get together with the Food and Water Security (F&WS) program side of Happy Dancing Turtle. For the last several months, we’ve been putting together a podcast that covers the struggles (and successes) of working in a garden. We sit inside around the conference table with two microphones positioned to get everyone’s voice just so. We talk about the weekly CSA, if any problems came up during harvest (such as varmints or other critters), and other things that we think people would like to hear.

During one session we discussed how, despite planning, scheduling, and forecasting, the frost hit a bit earlier than expected and pushed up “putting the garden to bed” element of the work, probably by two weeks. I ribbed Jim C, our F&WS manager, that next year he’ll have to use science to best predict when the crops will eventually finish their season. I was surprised by his reply.

“There is a definite science behind the workings underneath the ground and when plants best grow, but working with a garden is also an art.”

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Our garlic rows are snuggled in and ready for the winter.

He explained that to work with a garden, and living things such as plants and ecosystems, is to know an art form.

The seasons have rhythms. Things will get warm, things will grow, things will bloom, things will be harvested, and then, eventually, gradually or suddenly, things will be ready to start over.

That’s where we’re at now. In central Minnesota, we get only a limited amount of time before the garden needs to go home; now is the time where it needs to go home and turn off the lights.

However, following Jim’s logic, there are many ways to make sure your garden is ready for next year. There are methods that we can only suggest, simply because gardening is not a science. It’s an art form.

 

First Frost Means Bedtime for Gardens

Now that we’ve had a few frosts, many think they can hang up their garden gloves.  But think again. If you want a successful garden next year, start this fall. Your garden is still alive and the microbial livestock in your soil need to be fed.

First, stop!  Shut off that tiller!  I know you went for that to make your garden look clean and spiffy, but tilling your soil is bad for the bugs. Imagine a pile of bricks.  It would be hard to walk through, right? Now build a house out of those bricks. It’s easy to go from room to room and move around your home. Soil structure, or aggregate, is the house for your soil livestock. Your tiller is a tornado that turns good soil aggregate to a pile of bricks, reducing water infiltration and microbial diversity.   

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Frost brings beauty and a sense of the change of time.

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HUG Campus Open House

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Visitors were able to visit the buildings and gardens all over campus.

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Brittany gave visitors a tour of our mushroom farm and compost mound.

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The Hieroglyphics room is a highlight of Old Main.

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Visitors were able to tour the gardens and hoop houses.

On Thursday, September 20, we hosted our very first open house. Hearty visitors braved rain and gloom to learn about what goes on up here.

Raising Healthy Eaters

Healthy food has been important to me for a long time. I loved pregnancy and breastfeeding, and because I’ve always been a “good eater,” feeding a baby, inside or outside, just meant I could eat more. But when it was time to feed my first child solid food, I sooner would have known how to feed a puppy. I was determined to start her off right, so I dove into books, articles, and mommy blogs to find out what works.

My oldest is nine now, and my second is five, and for the most part, they are good eaters. The baby stage was the foundation for good habits, and all that time with the books and blogs, the steamer and food processor, cutting veggies into finger food and insisting on whole grains…it has paid off, but the work’s not done. Yes, my kids complain. They make faces. They poke at their vegetables and ask for more bread instead. It’s part of parenting. However, I do think I have fewer food-based battles than other families I have spent mealtimes with. Thanks to all that early and ongoing research, I’ve found and stuck to six critical practices around food.

  1. Be a role model.

Eat healthy foods yourself. Don’t complain. Smile and say, “Mmmmm.” Remember, you’re the grown-up here. I am honest when I don’t like something. Sometimes I eat it anyway, sometimes I pass on it.

Examples: “I don’t really like peas, but I eat them anyway because I know they are good for me.”

“No thank you, I don’t care for green apples.”

I even ban “yucky,” “eew,” and “gross” when talking about food, especially when seated at the table. It’s not only rude to the cook (a.k.a. me), but if an older child says, “Spinach is gross,” younger children are automatically deterred from trying it. A polite “No thank you” is preferred, or a simple “I don’t like it” is OK.

  1. Distinguish the difference between “snacks” and “treats.”

It’s not just semantics, it’s an important distinction. Snacks are healthy mini meals, with the intention of nourishing the body and brain and staving off hunger. A treat is something special to have once in a while. After nine years, I am still reminding my husband and daughter to use the right term at the right time. A cupcake is a “treat.” An apple with nut butter is a “snack.”

  1. One family, one meal.family-dinner

Do not make special meals for picky eaters. Try to include one or two sides at each meal your child does like. It makes the other foods easier to try. When they are old enough, the option for them to make themselves a peanut butter sandwich is OK. But they need to make it, not you.

 

  1. Do not turn mealtimes into battles.

Don’t try to force them to eat. Do not make pleasing you an incentive to eat. It puts all the power in their court. If they don’t eat dinner tonight, breakfast is just a sleep away; they will not starve.

Use: “You don’t have to eat it, but you aren’t allowed to complain about it.”

Not: “You can’t leave the table until you finish your broccoli.”

“Please eat your tomatoes for me.”

I do make eating veggies a prerequisite for having dessert, if there is one, but I don’t use dessert or treats as an incentive.

Use: “If you’re not hungry enough for green beans, you’re not hungry enough for cake.”

Not: “If you eat your peas, you can have a cookie.”

I do make an exception when it is a holiday or birthday party with family and friends around and everyone is having dessert. But if it’s just the four of us, the kids don’t get dessert if they didn’t eat a good dinner.

  1. Verbally encourage them to be adventurous.

And praise them when they do try it. Tell them you’re proud of them. Your praise means more to them than you may think.

Example: “You tried beets! It’s OK if you didn’t like them, I’m proud of you for trying.”

  1. Keep trying.

Research shows that it takes up to ten tries of a new food to decide if you like it or not. I have to thank my daughter’s science teacher for this tidbit. She learned this in class, brought this knowledge home, and reminds us all with pride. She keeps trying new foods, and so do we all.

Choosing vegetables, whole grains, and cooking from scratch isn’t just about taste, it’s about habits. I am constantly reminding myself that we want to raise adults, not children. Healthy eating is just one of those foundations that we help them build now; it will support them for a lifetime.

Tips for Healthy Snacking

With school back in session, many of us have kids coming in the door at 3:30 absolutely “starving” after a busy day of learning and playing. While it’s easy to hand them a pre-made, packaged snack, there are much better, healthier, earth-friendly snacks that they will happily gobble down.

So, how do you get your kids to actually eat that healthy snack?

kids vegThis first step is to get them involved. Kids, and most adults, are much more apt to get excited about something that they have some say in. Ask them what they want and have them help prepare it, whether it’s cleaning and chopping fresh fruits and veggies or mixing up homemade granola, if they help make it, chances are they will want to eat it, too.

 

Don’t go overboard. A snack is just that, a snack. It’s not a meal, it’s just a little something to give them a boost until dinner time. Giving too many choices is overwhelming and could also cause them to fill up on snacks and not be hungry when it’s time to sit down for the next meal. Also, finger food is the best snack food. Anything that kids can eat without utensils is way more likely to get eaten!

Make it interactive. Offer some different sliced up fruits or meat and cheese cubes that kids can put on a skewer to make their own kabobs. One of our favorite snacks at Eco Camp is Moose Lips. Each kid gets apple slices, raisins, a spoonful of peanut butter, and a butter knife. They then spread the peanut butter on an apple slice, top it with another apple slice, and stick raisins to the peanut butter that squishes out between the two. This one also makes for fun pictures!

Prep ahead of time. If you want your kids to eat those delicious fruits and veggies, have them all chopped up and ready to go so they don’t have to wait. Spend a little time on the weekend cutting up carrots and celery or slicing up a watermelon so that when your littles are hungry it’s quick and easy for them to grab that healthy snack. Some of that prep work can serve dual purposes, too. Another tried and true, and more substantial, Eco Camp snack is bagel faces. The kids are given half of a bagel spread with cream cheese, then they choose what they want from the assorted cut up veggies and arrange them on their bagel to make a face. All of the veggies you use for bagel faces make great salad additions, too!

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Eat the rainbow. Kids love color! Offer a variety of fresh fruits and veggies and challenge your kiddos to eat at least one item from every color of the rainbow. Or, go the opposite and eat all foods of one color. Have them help pick out snack foods that are all red, like cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and watermelon. Or orange like carrots, cantaloupe, and cheese. Each day can be a different color!

Get creative! If you have the time and the interest, there are many ways to present snacks that will make them irresistible to kids! We’ve made rainbow fruit fish, Oscar the Grouch out of broccoli, and Elmo out of cherry tomatoes. If you need a little inspiration, a quick Google or Pinterest search will have your snack schedule set for the rest of the school year!