Sustainably Back to School – College Edition

While the heat of summer wanes, for many, the thought of school just around the corner hammers our nerves and sense of freedom even more. So, why not make the most of it? Look forward to that new year of classes. Now add to that a hint of green thinking, and it might just be the best school year ever!

Let’s focus our sustainable minds on the products college students need. To make sure life in the dorms is as comfortable and efficient as possible, there are a few key areas to address: technology, clothing and school supplies.

Technology

Unlike the school days on campus that your parents reminiscent over (perhaps way too frequently for your taste), today’s supplies include some high-tech gear. While laptop computers, cell phones and tablets are energy sinks, they do offer some sustainable benefits. Most notably, these products are eco-friendly in that their existence makes other products unnecessary.

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Working at a desktop can be less expensive. You definitely lose the mobility, though.

One can take an endless amount of notes in class, thus limiting the necessity for notebooks. The fewer notebooks used, the fewer trees cut down. And, if you want to take it one step further, read how to find the most energy-efficient laptops.

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3R’s for Sustainable Clothes Shopping

With the start of school comes (another unsuccessful) football season, new (successful) teachers and a(n overwhelmingly long) back-to-school shopping list. Before darting out to the store to pick up new clothing and supplies, take a moment to revisit the 3Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle.

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Just like you do with your garbage, you can utilize the 3 R’s for your school clothing.

Because you’ve taken to heart the rules of our 3R’s video, you already use the 3Rs on a daily basis. Decisions about back-to-school clothing provide the perfect opportunity to put the 3Rs to work and step up the sustainability in your household!

• Reduce – Rummage through your kids’ closets and see what you have on hand. The greenest back-to-school clothes are the ones you already have! Make a list of items you already own and only purchase what’s needed.

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Back to School Shopping: Big vs. Small

I don’t know if you readers know this, but I have six kids, aged 19 years all the way down to 6 years. Five of them are going to be in school this year. Along with the transition from summer to school bedtimes, my wife and I are trying to find creative ways to get our (younger) children ready for school. We even thought of back to school essays, (What I’m looking forward to most this upcoming school year), but we think there may be a small riot.

We are lucky, however, that every grade sends each student’s family a handy-dandy supply list. One thing that stood out was the need for not only single subject notebooks, but also composition notebooks and loose leaf paper. I thought we were going to a paperless society. (Not soon enough, it would seem!)

 

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You’ll probably find exactly what you need in the big box stores, but do you REALLY need it?

Looking at these lists, they don’t say to go directly to Target/Walmart/BigBoxStore. No, they leave where you get these supplies up to you and you have to make decisions based on what your goals are. Do you want to get your list checked off as inexpensively as possible, or do you shop with sustainability in mind?

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Sustainable School Lunches

With six kids, I understand that it is infinitely easier to let your child eat a hot lunch prepared by the hard-working cafeteria folk. For the most part, the lunch that your school district offers is tasty, well-balanced, and cost-effective. However, if you want to and have the time to make your child their very own lunch, why not make it the sustainable way?

We’ve put together a quick list of how you can make your child’s lunch both delicious AND better for the environment.

Reach for reusable sandwich bags and containers

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On a related note, there’s no need for single-use plastic sandwich bags. Instead, consider a waxed fabric sandwich bag, or one of the many reusable lunch containers on the market. From bento boxes to tiffins, there are loads of choices, although glass jars may be a bit too breakable for some kids. Here’s a collection of some plastic-free lunch containers (from Treehugger).

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Happy #WorldTurtleDay

We here at Happy Dancing Turtle have an affinity with the turtle. The majestic turtle is seen in our culture as both patient and wise. From children’s lessons that indoctrinate the values of “slow but steady wins the race” to famous anecdotes of our world consisting of turtles “all the way down“, the grand turtle permeates our modern mythology in many ways.

Take a look at modern turtle poetry. One of my wife’s favorite poems is a classic by Shel Silverstein. It’s called “The Bagpipe Who Didn’t Say No”. It’s a charming poem told in a bouncing rhyming pattern about a turtle who discovers a set of bagpipes on the shore of the sea. If you’ve never read it, take a quick moment to enjoy it.  It’s only just one way we see an aspect of the turtle in our culture.

 

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Shel Silverstein’s “The Bagpipe Who Didn’t Say No” is a classic.

Another way our culture views the grand turtle is through its use in cartoons. You have many iterations that highlight the eggheaded nature of the turtle. Just look at these two examples:

 

On the left, you see Toby from the classic Robin Hood. He’s good-natured, well-intentioned…nerdy, but a scaredy cat. You could call the turtle on the right a nerd, as well. Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles delivers a punch just like the rest of his brothers, but with the use of his brains.

But, what do these examples say about the turtle? They are continually being represented in our culture, which says to me that they are popular. They’re popular because they have desirable identifiable qualities, such as determination and intelligence. And, above all that, I see another quality in turtles that should be emulated far and wide: resiliency.

Turtles (or more specifically, tortoises) are well-known for their longevity. Only just last decade, the tortoise captured by Charles Darwin himself passed away at the ripe old age of 175 years. Lonesome George, a monument to conservation efforts, passed away at 100 years old. Both these stalwarts lived long, and what is the key to living a long time? You guessed it: Resiliency.

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This is Jonathan, an 182-year-old tortoise. You can see him at age 81 in the picture on the left.

Who would you say has a more resiliency, a turtle or a frog? Who would you peg to have the ability to bounce back from hardship, a turtle or a rabbit? Moreover, who would you say has the ability to endure difficulties, ups, and downs, and do it in a manner only described as “stoic”? You bet you’d say a turtle. I know I would.

So, let’s celebrate the turtle. Let’s hold it high among the best animals. Not that the mighty turtle would ask us for it, but let us pay tribute to it. Good job turtles! You’re an inspiration to not only our organization but to the world! Keep it up!

Water Water Everywhere, Why Bother Conserving?

#WorldWaterDay is today, March 22. This is a day where we take a closer look at our water consumption habits and see what we can do to increase reduction (that makes sense, right?) However, looking at my driveway currently covered under a foot of snow and ice, I can make a general statement that we are nowhere near using up our allotment of earthly freshwater (less than 1% of all water, btw). Therefore, I declare that we must drink and use up as much water as we can.

In fact, since there is an abundance of water (an…overflow, if you will) I decided to see in what ways I could increase my family’s water consumption. Drinking more water equals less water (snow up here) that will fall on my driveway. Here’s a couple ideas that could help. Feel free to use them, too! Continue reading

TedXGullLake is April 22 at Madden’s On Gull Lake

Advocates, innovators, entertainers, and thinkers will take the TEDxGullLake stage to present their “ideas worth spreading” on April 22 at Madden’s on Gull Lake.

Presenters will include experts on climate change and lake health in Minnesota, a developer of nano-capsule technology used for cancer treatment, teachers who innovate to make science and math real to middle school students, and the winner of National Public Radio’s 2016 “Tiny Desk” Concert competition. In addition, topics during the day will range from the impacts of computer light on our brains, to the challenges of midwifery in rural areas, to what it means to be a man in rural America. A transplanted east coast writer and entertainer will share her discoveries after moving to small-town Minnesota. And the creator of the DocuMNtary video series will talk about Minnesota’s innovative technology scene, past and present.

“Variety and balance is a hallmark of TED Talks,” said Kate Hunt, curator for TEDxGullLake and a 2014 TED Fellow. “When you sit down for a day of short presentations, you never really know what to expect. You might hear something familiar approached from an entirely new direction or you might be inspired by a new idea or topic you never knew existed.”

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The Minnesota Harvest Lunch features food locally produced in the area.

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Get to Know the HDT Board – Molly Zins

Happy Dancing Turtle has been around since 2007 and we’ve had many board members. Some are locally famous while others prefer to work in the background. The goal of our board is to give our team a direction in which to point our efforts. With each board member coming from many different backgrounds, we are fortunate to have many different knowledge bases to draw from.

We were thrilled to learn that Molly Zins accepted our invitation to be a member of our board of directors. As the executive director of the Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (CRSDP), Zins has a direct connection with the University of Minnesota Extension program and a deep understanding of the breadth of sustainable practices throughout the region. We sat down with Zins to talk about where she sees HDT currently sitting on the sustainability field, and where she sees it heading into the future.

For a video of the interview, head on over to our YouTube page!

“All the work that goes on here is very closely aligned, if not spot on, with my personal priorities.”

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Zins during an interview recorded on November ’16.

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Back to Basics 2017: A Review

Around early September, we start getting anxious around her. The care-free days of summer begin to shorten. The happy giggles of Eco-Campers are in the rear-view mirror. The CSA shares offer up their tremendous bounty. It’s not because of these occurrences that start to get anxious. No, they’re simply a reminder for us that the seasons are beginning to change to winter, and for us, winter is focused on one thing: making Back to Basics the best event it can be.

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B2B 2017 

First things first, the crew needs to pick a theme. What makes a theme so robust as to make it the central idea on which the event revolves? There are countless avenues to go down. Should we highlight healthy eating? Homesteading? Sustainability basics? The “best” event must have a theme to bring the crowd in.

Or perhaps it’s HUGE vendor area that needs to be focused on first? Do we have the largest sustainability fair in northern Minnesota as the draw to encourage attendees?

Or is it to secure a dynamite keynote speaker? Is that what makes B2B an annual draw? Certainly having well-known, well-spoken leaders in the sustainability field is the key, right? We’ve had educators, restaurateurs, city-planners, and even environmental activists in our keynote position.

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Birds, Bugs, Water & Agriculture

How can we have more birds, cleaner water, better food, and a healthier planet? That seems to be the questions a lot of people are asking now days. You can watch one documentary after another about all the environmental problems we face, many because of or food system. What’s harder to find is examples and stories on how agriculture can provide the food we need, for some nine billion people, and protect the natural world we so enjoy and need.

The good news in agriculture is out there, and you don’t need to go far. Self-reliant and self-educated farmers are implementing practices that build soil health, diversify the landscape, and protect their pocketbook. The farmers, ranchers and resource professionals implementing these restorative practices are new age pioneers, leading the way in conservation agriculture.

Gabe Brown, of Brown’s Ranch, farms 5400 acres in central North Dakota and has led the way in innovative cover cropping, livestock integration, and other soil building practices. In doing so he provides habitat for pollinators and predatory insects, game and songbirds, small mammals, and the microorganisms below ground that fuel the whole system. He protects water quality by increasing soil organic matter and water holding capacity, mitigating runoff and restoring hydrology. This type of agriculture functions as an ecosystem, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, further protecting water, soil, and our children that eat the food he grows. And Brown’s Farm generates greater profits, allowing him to bring his two sons and their families back to the farm, creating the rural economic development everyone wants to see. Continue reading