Hooray for LED Lights!!

Browsing the lighting aisle in Home Depot about a month ago, I uncovered an exciting new light bulb. Well, not new, LED (light emitting diode) technology has been around more than 50 years, and three scientists where just honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics for their development of the blue LED technology in 1993. (The blue was needed the create white light and that was an enormous breakthrough.) What was so exciting about my trip through the lighting aisle was the price point- a two pack  of  40w replacement LEDs for $10.97.

While CFLs are more efficient than the old incandescent technology, and have provided a bridge technology, the  breakthroughs of LEDs will hopefully soon render them obsolete.

Here are some reasons why LEDs are a better investment than CFLs.

Non-toxic: Unlike CFLs, LEDs don’t contain mercury, so they don’t need to be recycled.

Long-lasting and less waste: LEDs can work for 100,000 hours, that’s around 20 years and that reduces waste and the need to buy new light bulbs and throw away old ones. That’s about ten times longer than CFL bulbs and 100 times the life-span of incandescent lights.

Energy efficient: The 40w replacement LEDs I purchased uses 6w of energy. The 60w replacements use 10w of energy. I found that replacing four 15w CFLs with four 6w LEDs- daylight, I got a better lighting effect.

Cost-effective: My new 10w (60w equivalent) LEDs estimate they cost about $1.20 a year  to run.

Cool: LEDs emit about 3.4 btu’s an hour. Compare that to 85 btu’s for incandescent and 30 btu’s for CFLs. That means that the energy used to light the bulb doesn’t escape and heat the room, reducing air conditioning costs.

Choices: Soft white, bright light, daylight, dimmable- you choose.

Instant On: No more waiting for those CFLs to heat up.

It’s been said that by switching over to LEDs, the US could reduce it’s total energy consumption 20%.

So what are you waiting for?? Make the switch to LEDs today!!

Annie Leonard Returns With The Story of Change

Annie LeThe Story of Stuffonard is back in with a new “story”. This one is called the Story of Change. And she is asking you not just to “be the change” but to organize and work together for a better world. “After all, would we even know who Gandhi was if he just sat back and sewed his own clothes while waiting for the British to leave India?” Leonard questions.

Annie Leonard recalls that throughout history, successful movements all began with a big idea plus a commitment to work together and then turned that into action.

She reminds us when Martin Luther King Jr. organized his March on Washington, he only had 23% popular support. “Whatever you have to offer, a better future needs it,” advises Leonard. But she cautions, ” there are no ten simple things we can do without leaving our couches.”

The path to a better future might not be crystal clear. But, “faith is taking the first step even though you don’t see the whole staircase,” as Dr. King pointed out to us.

There are also resources on the Story of Stuff website to help you get started. Like this one that asks ‘What Kind of Changemaker Are You?’


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Joel Salatin: Folks This Ain’t Normal

UntitledI just finished the latest book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World, by farmer/author/educator extraordinaire Joel Salatin.

This book is overflowing with the type of contemplative life wisdom you’d expect from a Buddhist monk. Ponder this little gem: “In our Western Greco-Roman compartmentalized fragmented systematized linear reductionist individualized disconnected parts-oriented thinking, we tend to disassociate the seen from the unseen. We do so at our own peril. We are all, every one of us, simply a manifestation of this invisible world.”

And this one, Do you ever wonder why people have such an unprecedented demand for sensationalism, for fantasy, for celebrity? It’s because life without responsibility is boring. Personal responsibility is thrilling. Wow, what a ride! Sure, dependency is easier. It feeds my laziness, but it doesn’t feed my humanness.”

While you might not agree with everything in this book, you definitely appreciate Joel Salatin‘s perspective and his opinions on how to fix our broken food system, our broken selves and our broken world.

I’ll add, I met Mr. Salatin a couple of months ago at a speaking engagement he did at Camino de Paz Middle School in Santa Cruz, NM. He’s even more charming in person than his books convey and he has rightly earned the title (given him by the New York Times), “High Priest of the Pasture”.

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It’s Not Rocket Science to Change a Lightbulb

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I’m buying a new house and the current homeowner gave me a grid of their electric bills for the year. I couldn’t wrap my brain around why their electric bill was so high, until we started poking around the house. First, all of the light bulbs are incandescent bulbs. “(Gasp) Do people still use incandescent light bulbs?” I mused. I guess my answer is yes. But with the next generation of light bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) lasting 8-15 times longer and using two-thirds to three-quarters less energy, the question should be why are people still using dinosaur technology, uhmm, I mean incandescent light bulbs?

Other options include LED (light emitting diode) bulbs. The LED bulbs use even less energy, 2 watts to give 60 watts of energy and lasts for up to 15 years. It is more expensive though. We saw a 2 pack of LED bulbs at Sam’s for $19.98.

Doing some comparison shopping at Lowes, Home Depot and Sam’s Club, my son and I uncovered a great summer discount program sponsored by our local utility, PNM. So the already inexpensive prices were even cheaper. So, get out to your local store and grab some energy efficient bulbs because the PNM promotion ends August 26, 2012. If you are located somewhere else, check out your local utility for summer promotions. Even if you don’t have a promotion going on right now, the energy savings over the long run makes purchasing energy efficient bulbs well worth your investment!

Remember that the CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, so you can’t throw them in the trash. There are lots of places to recycle them. Home Depot and Lowes both do. You can also check out Earth911 to find a location near you.


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Straw Bale Worm Composting

Description unavailableWorms are industrious, tireless workers. Did you know worms never sleep?  They eat our garbage and turn it into productive soil. Worms can be kept in a small bin with no odor in an apartment or small space. They are part of the solution to our collective nature deficit disorder.  It’s no wonder that Charles Darwin spent almost 40 years of his life learning from worms. They are super amazing creatures.

One of the schools I taught gardening at this summer had set up a straw bale worm composting system in the spring. By the end of the school year, they were separating all their worm-friendly lunch scraps and adding them to the bin, all but eliminating the compostable waste component going to the landfill.

They set it up something like this. First went in a layer of bedding (carbon) that consisted of dried leaves, shredded paper, shredded cardboard and some loose straw. This layer contained little or no nitrogen as you don’t want the layer to heat up in advance of the worms arrival. Red worms will not survive if the pile is above 95˚C or hotter. About 12 inches of bedding is a good place to start. Wet the bedding with a hose. Make sure you have adequate drainage. Worms need to stay moist because they break down oxygen from the water and breathe it in through their skin. But, too much water will drown the worms.

English: Red wiggler

English: Red wiggler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After two or three days, when you are sure the pile is cool, introduce your worms. The ones they used at the school are the same ones I have in my home worm bin, Eisenia fetida, or red wigglers as they are commonly called. These worms thrive in piles of rotting vegetation and are ideal to stay in your worm bin working their way through the decaying matter. The school added around a pound of worms to the bin to start.

Begin feeding the worm your waste slowly at first, two- three days a week for the first couple of months. Dig a hole in the bedding and deposit your food scraps, then cover over the hole. Worms will increase their populations depending on the level of waste in the bin. Within a couple months, you can feed them everyday. And make sure to continue to water the top of the worm bin as needed.

Do not turn the compost in the worm bin. Turning compost invigorates bacteria and may make the pile too hot for the worms to survive.

Foods you should not put in your worm bin are meat, cheese, any dairy, garlic, onions, anything salty or covered in a sauce. Also avoid citrus peels. Citrus has an essential oil in its peel that is used as a natural insecticide and can be harmful to the worms.

To harvest the worm castings in this system, you should begin by adding the kitchen waste on one side. When you are completed with the one side, work toward the other. The worms will migrate accordingly and you can dig out the castings on the other side.

A rule of thumb in worm composting is to keep your bale at least two parts carbon (brown stuff like straw or dirt) to one part nitrogen (green stuff like grass clippings or kitchen waste). Too much green will make your pile anaerobic- slimy and smelly. Too much carbon will have no negative consequences. The carbon bedding serves as a home to the worms, but is also part of their diet. Keeping the layer of brown on top of the green waste will greatly reduce the chances of being visited by rodents and other pests interested in grabbing a quick bite to eat.

I’ve seen some posts online that show that you can continue with the straw bale system into the winter months if it is covered properly. I think this is pretty cool, but have no first hand experience with it.


Red Wigglers in my Worm Factory Worm Bin

For my personal compost, I use the Worm Factory 5-Tray Worm Composter kept indoors during the colder months. And by the way, I love the worm factory. It is so easy, the worms migrate from one tray to the next leaving behind their castings for you in a lower tray. The casting tray can easily be emptied into your garden and you have an empty tray to add to to the top to begin the process again.

Happy Worm Farming!!




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World Ocean Day- Water is Life

English: A Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata) r...

English: A Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata) resting on hard Acropora coral. Lighthouse, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

June 8th is the day we set aside to honor the world’s oceans, because as Jean-Michel Cousteau reminds us in the below video, “water is life”.

It’s helpful to be reminded, but it is also sad. Sad that humanity has evolved to the point that it needs to remember that the consumer society that we participate in is killing our life support systems.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the oceans. From warming ocean temperatures that are bleaching coral reefs, to the accumulation of carbon dioxide which leads to acidification, to overfishing and pollution- both garbage and chemical; the oceans and their inhabitants have taken a lot of abuse from man.

So on this day designed to honor our oceans, here are some ways you can show you care everyday.

1.) Don’t use fertilizers or pesticides in your yard. If you must, use organic pest control methods or try  compost. Use those leaves and grass clippings. Fertilizers and pesticides run into rivers and streams when it rains. Rivers lead to oceans. As a result, vast dead zones have been created in our oceans. This run-off kills ocean life -both microscopic and mammals like manatees. If you are reading this post you probably don’t need to be reminded that if it’s strong enough to kill a manatee, you probably shouldn’t be putting it on your lawn.

2.) Don’t litter. Well that one is obvious so how about expanding on it for #3…

3.) Pick up litter. It’s not enough that you don’t litter, you’ve got to pick up all the litter that other people have created. If you live in a coastal area, get a group together and clean up your beaches. If you live somewhere else, clean up a water way, your school, or your neighborhood. In this life, it’s not enough not to add to the problem, you also have to be part of the solution.

4.) Use environmentally friendly household cleaning products.

5.) Buy products with less packaging and less plastic. Use reusable bags.

6.) Find out what your community is doing to ban plastic bags. We know it’s great that you don’t use them, but you need to get them out of your community all together to make a greater impact. Check out here to see what other communities are doing.

7.) Join a group like the Surfrider Foundation or the Ocean Conservancy or Green Cross International.

8.) Get active. Instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity, grab onto the ones that are around you now and help out in the present. You will be rewarded by a feeling of purpose and numerous friends who share the same goal of adding to the good. This sounds like the perfect reason to begin today.


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Food for Thought: A Brunch with Joel Salatin

UntitledYesterday was the 5th of May, Cinco de Mayo, a big celebration in Northern New Mexico, as you can imagine.

It was also the 350.org ‘s Connect the Dots event with actions going on worldwide like this one of firefighters in the Santa Fe Forest remembering the largest wildfire in New Mexico history that was connected to climate change.

My family and I spent our day at another lower profile, albeit just as important event, the Food for Thought brunch at the Camino de Paz School and Farm in Santa Cruz, New Mexico. The brunch’s guest speaker was Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms.

Set in the idyllic country, 23 miles north of Santa Fe, Camino de Paz is a private Montessori middle school for students in grades 7-9. The farm provides a model classroom for the hands-on learning that goes on here. Camino de Paz is also a working biodynamic farm where the students tend to goats, sheep, horses, and chickens while raising crops that they sell along with their eggs, goat milk, and hand-made soaps through their CSA and a farmer’s market. Students even learn to use a QuickBooks program to manage their farm-related businesses.

UntitledThe young learners understand their connection to the earth and the larger eco-system around them. This observation wasn’t lost on Joel Salatin who spent the day before working with the students on the farm. Salatin lamented that today’s youth are at risk for hospitalization due to injury sustained from walking into utility poles while being consumed by looking at an electronic screen and wearing ear buds.

Looking slimmer than I’ve seen him in the past, Salatin talked about the unconditional love one receives from working on a sustainable organic farm. “The chicken’s not thinking about it’s divorce” and “the cow  doesn’t care about the Dow Jones Industrial Average.” The animals radiate complete love in being allowed to live their life to the fullest potential of their being while working as a partner in this symphony of creation.

Therein lies the physiological difference in how Salatin, the Camino de Paz kids, and local sustainable agriculture people view food differently from most the rest of the country. One this side, the small farm, sustainable foodies see our food system as biological; it has resiliency and can heal.

The corporate industrial agribusiness worldview is that this system is mechanical, reductionist, linear. That’s why, as Salatin puts it in an interview, “we can pull DNA structure and genes from a pig and put some in a pepper plant and some in a salmon and have a brand new life form; that’s a parts-oriented thing, like pieces of an engine.” The latter system lacks respect. As Joel calls it, honoring the “pigness of the pig” and the “cowness of the cow”.  And a society that views life with “that kind of conquistador, mechanical, disrespectful, manipulative mentality will soon view its citizens the same way and other cultures the same way,” asserts Salatin.

This was food for thought as we enjoyed the breeze, the love that created the delicious farm meal, and the interconnectedness of all life at Camino de Paz. For another course, check out Salatin’s new book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World.


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You Are What You Eat and What You Toss Comes Back to You

What goes into the oceans, eventually ends up back in you. As the big brained-mammal at the top of the food chain, we can’t expect to kill off  the bottom of the chain and still survive ourselves.

Surfrider  has a campaign called Rise above Plastics created by Pollinate.  This PSA campaign lends a strong visual to the truth that nothing is truly disposable, it may change form, but returns to us in one way or another.

Surfrider Foundation wants you to the Plastics Pledge on their website. By doing that you are pledging to:

– Use reusable bottles for water and other drinks. By using just one reusable bottle, you will keep 167 single-use plastic bottles from entering the environment.

– Use cloth bags for groceries and other purchases. For each reusable bag, you will save approximately 400 plastics from being used.

– Recycle the plastic bags and bottles you already have. For every thirteen plastic bags you don’t use, you will save enough petroleum to drive a car one mile.

We can go beyond this by working together to institute plastic bag bans in our cities like those in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. When Ireland placed a hefty tax on plastic bags, within weeks plastic bag usage dropped by 94%.

It is encouraging to see so many communities taking this issue up. Check out the progress at http://plasticbagbanreport.com/category/bans/.

What is your community doing about plastic bags?



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Junk Mail Recycling at My Condo

Untitled I like that the condo I am renting provides this junk mail and paper recycling bin at the mailboxes. It allows them to capture the recycling that might otherwise end up in the garbage. I know that so many times at my house junk mail would go directly from my mailbox to the recycling bin. This bin lets us capture it on a community scale.

When I peaked in, I noticed that the bin-although emptied this past week- was almost completely filled with those annoying newspaper style inserts that the postal carrier sticks in your box. As far as I know, there is no way to opt out of this type of junk mail.

I’ve never met anyone who actually reads these flyers. I don’t know how marketers track the effectiveness of these blast advertising campaigns. Obviously the method they use isn’t very effective or else we wouldn’t be having them stuffed in our mailbox on a weekly basis.

Since you can’t really opt-out of this type of junk mail, the community recycling bin at the mailboxes seems like a the best option. Better to recycle than throw it in a landfill.

UntitledTo opt out of most other forms of unsolicited mail, there is Catalog Choice. Pay your bills on line and get e-statements. I’ve been doing this so many years, I am always surprised to see people still getting paper mail statements and bills, especially young people.

And don’t forget the first R is REDUCE. You don’t have to recycle something- like that bank statement- if  you just get your statements electronically.

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On the Farm at Finca Luna Nueva

Finca Luna Nueva

The connectivity of life is easy to contemplate at New Chapter’s Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica. Nestled in the primary rainforest, Finca Luna Nueva is a 200 acre biodynamic organic farm and sustainable eco-lodge.

Biodynamic farming has its origins in the 1920s where farmers along with Rudolf Steiner developed fundamental principles linking the farm-organism to the larger cosmos. An organic biodynamic farm incorporates dynamic forces in nature, such as the cycles of the moon, into its farming methods.

Biodynamics also emphasizes a holistic approach to agriculture, where the interrelationships of the soil, plants and animals are taken into account in developing a self-sustaining farming system. With that said, the farm tour at Finca Luna Nueva was a real treat. To see a productive farm, set in a wildly biodiverse natural habitat as opposed to rows upon rows of monoculture, was like catching a glimpse through the window of time into another world of possibilities for our future.

Pig at Finca Luna NuevaPreserving species habitat and biodiversity, Finca Luna Nueva is working with the Children’s Eternal Rainforest to connect 182 acres of adjacent secondary forest to the 50,000 acres that are already a part of the Children’s Children’s Eternal Rainforest Conservation area. Biological or habitat corridors like these are important in the rainforest to rejoin ecosystems; restoring a connection that was broken due to human development. These kind of projects are going on throughout Costa Rica to restore the habitat destroyed by the deforestation of the past.

One of the most significant projects at Finca Luna Nueva is the Semillas Sagradas or Sacred Seeds Sanctuary. Home to around 300 neo-tropical medicinal plants, the Sacred Seed Sanctuary not only preserves these medicinal herbs, but also the traditions of the Central American indigenous people.

According to New Chapter CEO, Tom Newmark, we are losing rainforest at a rate of an acre/second and somewhere between 50-200 species on planet earth go extinct every day. Parallel to these extinctions, is the extinction of language and culture where someplace around the world a language dies every two weeks. Much to the peril of all humanity, indigenous people are seeing their historic connections severed.

Steven runs the Finca Luna Nueva farm and lodg...

Steven shows us vanilla seed pods.

The Sacred Seed Sanctuary project brings together the wisdom of the ethnobotanists along with the shamans and abuelas to preserve this sacred knowledge for humanity. Steven Farrell, who runs the operations at Finca Luna Nueva, told me that it can take up to six years to establish a plant in the Sacred Seed garden. For many neo-tropical medicinals, there are no written records. To establish a plant from the jungle to the Sanctuary often involved studying it to determine its botany and how it could be reproduced. Also, finding the precise location in the garden where the plant can survive takes time. Often plants are moved around to find the most optimal conditions for the species to flourish.

There is so much natural ancient wisdom to absorb at Finca Luna Nueva. The farm creates a sustainable vision for the future of humanity into a model we should all try to emulate.

Pura Vida!

Sacred Seeds – Finca Luna Nueva from Ashley Glenn on Vimeo.


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