Friday, January 4, 2019

Living green, not red

I find myself fascinated by the green lifestyle. Not the movement; the politics drives me nuts. But a personal lifestyle? I'm on board.

As it turns out, I'm rather astonished by how much "greener" our lifestyle is than for many committed environmentalists (such as here and here). I just figured what we did was ordinary and commonplace, but I guess it's not. Therefore I thought it would be interesting to start tallying the things we do that are considered green. Here's a partial list:

• We "only" have two kids. We didn't do this to conform with any environmental considerations, of course (rather, we got a late start on our family), but limiting children is one of the biggest nags among environmentalists, many of whom consider "breeders" as contemptible. (Me, I think large families are lovely and children a blessing.)

• We don't commute since we work at home. A tank of gas will last us about a month. Every three or four weeks, I go into the city (an hour's drive away) for errands.

• We don't have air conditioning. Here in North Idaho, it rarely gets hot enough to need it. The few times in summer when the mercury climbs too high for comfort, we rely on fans.

• We don't have central heating (that's what wood cookstoves are for). A lot of environmentalists are against wood heat. I guess I can see the argument if you're packed cheek-by-jowl in the suburbs; but in rural areas, it's common.

• We switched to LED lightbulbs. I used to hate the sickly blue tint of LEDs, but in the last few years they've made remarkable advances and we've happily swapped out all our bulbs, which use a fraction of the wattage of incandescent bulbs while maintaining perfectly adequate light levels.

• We keep our electricity use low. We pay about $55 a month to run a business, a home, and a farm (this is average – our bill is lower in summer, higher in winter when we have a stock tank heater in use).

• We buy in bulk. Better prices, less packaging.

• We eat our leftovers. In fact, those are some of our favorite meals. (I'm always surprised how many people don't like leftovers.)

• We transitioned from disposables to reusables many years go and have never looked back. The germ of this idea happened when our girls were babies and we couldn't afford disposable diapers. We used cloth diapers and line-dried them.

• I've never given much thought to a "capsule wardrobe" for the simple reason I hate clothes. (I'm kinda like an "anti-fashionista.") So, by default, I have a capsule wardrobe. I wear a few pairs of sweat pants and T-shirts 99 percent of the time (shorts in summer), and I have two church outfits (one for winter, one for summer). Socks, underwear, appropriate winter clothing (coats, scarves, etc.) and that's about it.

• We wash laundry in cold water (except whites). We don't use a dryer. Ever. Well okay, maybe once a month for when I wash our bathroom carpets and I'll use the dryer for about 20 minutes. Everything else gets line dried year-round on drying racks.

• We keep our recycling low since we don't use a lot of stuff that comes in recyclable containers. Notably we don't buy a lot of packaged foods. Since China stopped taking plastic recycling last year, the whole issue of recycling is becoming less and less green. Far better to reduce the use of products that call for recycling the empty containers to begin with. When we do purchase something, I try to consider the packaging and opt for the least plastic-y version.

• We don't recreationally shop. Ever.

• When we do need to shop, our first choice is thrift stores. That's where 90 percent of our clothing and household furnishings came from. Don also makes a lot of our home furnishings (the joys of having a woodworking husband!). Literally every household furnishing we own is either second-hand or hand-made. The exception is a couch/loveseat combo we purchased new in 2003. We figure second-hand anything is far greener than any new "green" items.

• Our woodcraft business is quite green too. We buy our wood from sources that follow the recommendations of WARP (Woodworkers Alliance for Rainforest Protection). Nearly all our shop waste is either burned as fuel in the woodstove, composted (sawdust), or burned on a burn pile once or twice a year (in other words, our shop is nearly zero-waste). We can even burn old sanding belts, as well as broken rubber bands, used duct tape, and rubber hoses (all part of the assembly process). Old broken tools (belt sander, planer, etc.) go to a metal recycling center.

• Neighbors use us as their tin can and newspaper recycling drop-offs. We use tin cans to mix the inside coating material for our tankards, and since we seldom buy canned food, neighbors will save their cans for us. We use newspapers a lot -- both as firestarters for our woodstove, and to wrap our tankards when we ship.

• We raise our own organic grass-fed beef. Goodness, the last time we purchased beef in a store has to be 20+ years ago. I honestly can't remember the last time.

• It goes without saying our garden is organic. We even "recycle" tractor tires into hugely productive garden beds. We also use a drip system to keep water waste to a minimum.

• A lot of our food is beyond "locavore." It's more like "home-avore." We had a huge harvest this year that took a long time to process (canning garlic, tomato sauce, and carrots, shucking popcorn, shelling dried beans, etc.). I just read an amazing statistic: that 17 percent of the American diet comes out of cans. I'm a passionate canner, so I can our own food, which ironically leaves us short on tin cans, which we sometimes use in our woodcraft business (which is why our neighbors save their cans for us).

• We compost like crazy. We have three levels of compost: kitchen, garden, and barn. Kitchen waste goes to the worm composter; garden waste goes to the compost bins in the garden; and barn waste gets tossed on the giganto compost pile which is the favorite place for the chickens to hang out. We use a lot of the compost in the garden, and friends and neighbors can help themselves for their own gardens.

• We don't have a vegan diet, largely because we prefer to produce our own milk, meat, and eggs. Since losing both our dairy cows this year (Matilda and Polly), we're back to buying milk -- but hope to obtain another Jersey soon. Some have criticized our diet even so, arguing we could grow far more food if we turned our 20 acres into a giant garden. But we're not farmers, we're homesteaders. Our goal is not to produce 20 acres of tomatoes (imagine how much water that would use!), but instead to create a well-rounded, well-balanced diet by what we raise, grow, or produce ourselves. Deal with it.

• Our entertainments are rock-bottom on the carbon footprint scale. Potlucks. Books. Gardening. Puzzles. Walks. Visiting.

• Thrift stores are our best (shopping) friends. My goodness, what don't we get from thrift stores? As far as household goods, very little.

• We homeschooled our girls. Is homeschooling "greener" than public (or even private) schools? Of course it is. No transportation required. No school buildings needed. No indoctrination taking place. The benefits go on and on.

• We seldom fly. The last air trip I took was in 2015, taking Older Daughter to nanny school in Ohio. (This sometimes backfires. Every time I fly, things have changed so much about how to get tickets, etc. that I'm always clueless.)

• We don’t keep up with the Joneses. We don’t purchase anything to impress anyone, we don’t dress fashionably. We don't have electronic gadgets (two computers and one 10-year-old "dumb" phone is the sum total), and certainly don't upgrade. Why upgrade if the products still work?

• Relatively speaking, we don't have too many appliances: washing machine, dryer (seldom used -- it came with the house), kitchen range (propane), toaster oven, tiny microwave (for heating up leftovers), blender, slow cooker, bread machine, refrigerator, and two chest freezers.

• We don't have a dishwasher. I dunno, I just never minded washing dishes by hand.

• We have a hot-water-on-demand water heater, so we don’t have a tank of water to heat.

• We're very close to a zero-waste household. This was surprisingly easy to do once we adopted a non-disposable lifestyle. As an experiment over the last year, I monitored our kitchen garbage. I installed a fresh garbage bag on April 19 and didn't change it out until November 24 (it wasn't full, but we had turkey bones that would otherwise smell). That's 219 days without changing the garbage. I weighed the bag and it came in at 9.5 lbs. About three pounds of that was a replaced door handle Don discarded when our old one stopped working. In other words, aside from the door handle, Don and I created about 6.5 lbs. of garbage in a bit over seven months. The average American makes about 4.5 pounds of trash per person per day, or about 1600 pounds per year. If Don and I were "average," we should have produced 1,971 lbs. of garbage between us over those seven months.

• Along those lines, I try to "zero waste" grocery shop, using bulk bins, loose produce, and cloth bags.

• We don't buy bottled water. Our well water is delicious. When traveling, I use a cheap knock-off metal water bottle I have absolutely fallen in love with.

• Ziploc bags are some of my best friends. This goes against most "green" advice, but Ziplocs (yes, actual Ziplocs -- one of my few brand loyalties) can be amazingly efficient and useful. These little wonder-bags have endless uses, and are endlessly reusable. I can't tell you how many times I've washed and rewashed these bags -- they last a long, long time. I keep a number of bags in my grocery-shopping kit (consisting of cloth bags and Ziplocs with a piece of masking tape on one corner). These are the bags I use at the grocery store bulk bin.

I write the bin number on a piece of tape on the corner and they're a whole lot more sturdy than the store bags (and I can wash and reuse them). Plus, I don't need to use the twist-ties provided by the store.

I throw away (well, recycle) perhaps one or two bags a year, and have about 30 quart- and gallon-sized bags circulating at any one time. (Here's a photo of several bags, washed and upended over tall utensils to dry.)

So that's a tally of how "green" we live. Nothing about this lifestyle is onerous, sacrificial, or difficult. It's just second nature. It's just how we live.

Why do we live this way? Several reasons. It's cheap. It's fun. It's sustainable. It's low-impact. It's challenging. And it drives the liberals nuts.

Why does it drive them nuts? Because too many environmentalists believe you can’t be properly "green" unless you go along with the green political agenda. Let’s never forget one thing: to many progressives, the earth is a goddess. To challenge the leftist orthodoxy – particularly regarding the health of Mother Earth – is akin to blasphemy. But we prefer to worship the Creator, not the created – which does NOT excuse our personal responsibility to live as low-impact and green a lifestyle as possible.

Yet progressives wouldn’t call us "green" because we don’t support the draconian agenda they would impose by force on everyone (except, apparently, most of the politicians passing the legislation). In other words, we live green, not red.

To us, "green living" is the best option for being self-contained and prepper-minded. The less we have to depend on outside sources, the better. During the lively discussion that took place on last week's post about paper towels, for example, our interest in avoiding paper towels stems mostly from our interest in NOT having to purchase them. Cloth towels, once purchased, become part of our prepping arsenal.

I found an interesting photo essay awhile back called "Seven days of garbage" in which the artist photographed volunteers lying amidst the trash they created over a period of one week. It was both horrifying and fascinating. Should we ever be called to lie in our own trash, I'm hoping our output would be far more modest.

Now here's something interesting. I haven't been able to find the original source, but I caught wind that Thomas Jefferson believed America was incapable of true democracy unless 20 percent of its citizens were self-sufficient on small farms. This would enable them to be real dissenters, free to voice opinions and beliefs, without any obligation to food producers who might hold their survival at stake.

So there you go. Our homestead is an act of patriotic defiance.

Plus we get strawberries.


  1. Hey, I'm a liberal, and I think what you are doing is fantastic! Love it... You provide a great model to follow.

  2. nothing better than fresh strawberries, except maybe fresh tomatoes, oh wait fresh corn is yummy also.

  3. I enjoyed your article on living green. We live on a small farm in the mid south with small livestock. Everything but onions peels and citrus gets divided between the rabbits, chickens, ducks and pigs. Most of what you described, we also practice. I got a big smile when looking at your ziplock bags air-drying because that is what my kitchen looks like also. We are moving towards getting rid of all disposables but we are not there yet. Most of paper or cardboard is shredded and either used as fire starter or for rabbit bedding. Any cans are used for target practice. Chicken eggs shells are recycled for calcium for the animals, any fat is rendered and added to dog food in the cold weather. Our most expensive extravagance is basic satellite internet and TV for the family. In the winter I can be found near the wood stove reading a book. We are not totally “green” but we are getting there.

  4. I gotta laugh every time some "celebrity" gets up on the soapbox and starts deriding us "unwashed masses" for not going "green." These same people fly around in private jets, drive gas-guzzling cars, and live in houses with "carbon footprints" larger than my town! How 'bout THOSE for "inconvenient truths?" Somehow though, we're the errant children that need to be "taught" and need to pay penance for our ways, even though we, the people with more sense than dollars, are "green" by default!

    I remember when "repurposing" wasn't a fad, but a way of life! Even store-bought foods came in containers that were intended to be re-used once empty! Living in a Long Island suburb, our family of five's total weekly trash output wouldn't even fill one 30-gallon trashcan. Now, almost no packaging is reusable. Even baby food jars, once the mainstay of small parts storage in my dad's shop, are now unsuitable for that purpose due to their "one use" lids. Still, what containers can be reincarnated are. Food scraps and fridge contents that have gone over to the dark side see a second life as eggs, once they've been through the pigs with wings... er.. chickens. We try to waste as little as possible.

    I wish I could dry our clothes on a line. We have the perfect hot, dry environment for it. Unfortunately, that same environment brings with it a freeloading houseguest; DUST. Hang clothes out where I live, and they'll be dirtier when dry than they were before washing!

    I have relatives who save egg cartons for the produce of our coop. I find it a HOOT that "organic" eggs now come in clear PLASTIC cartons!!! Heck; the mulched paper ones last us YEARS! Somehow though, being able to SEE the eggs through the packaging makes them "better for us..." On the upside, those clear cartons make great greenhouses for sprouting seeds!

    I drive out of necessity. That being said, I buy used vehicles, and DRIVE THE WHEELS OFF OF THEM. I'm usually the "terminal owner," or one step from it. While under my stewardship, they're maintained for optimum reliability/fuel mileage and minimum emissions. We did buy one new car back when I was young and stupid. We bought it a year before our oldest son was born. I gave him his first driving lesson in that car a year before we sold it...

    I'm not a hoarder, but I am a "re-user." Machines that have gone off to Valhalla are stripped of screws, nuts & bolts, wheels, and whatever else that might keep another beast of burden running without further cash outlay or a trip to the store. Any discards made of unfinished wood are dismantled, with any usable pieces stowed in the barn for future use. Larger pieces of finished wood go the same way. Wood is usable to me as long as it's big enough to make something out of. Once too small, it serves as kindling.

    Our county instituted "no-burn" days, when we're supposedly forbidden to use our fireplaces/wood stoves. Again, our "representatives" foisted this on us "for our own good," while at the same time going nowhere if not by jet or limo. These are also the same people who have no issues with illegal aliens burning their trash in the back yard, which is 100% illegal where I live year 'round, due to wildfire concerns. I have two words for these "representatives..." two words, and one finger... When it's cold, I burn!

    All in all, I find that the term "going green" usually involves having to HAND green to someone else in order to comply. Most of it's a crock!

    As for homesteading being a form of patriotic defiance; our homesteads may indeed become the last bastions of American values in short order!

  5. Patricia, I love this post, although it makes me realize what a shallow, materialistic boob I am. After finishing our Christmas celebrations with our family, we had a mountain of trash. And I don't even know how many suits and sport coats I have (at least a dozen), which I only wear to church. I truly admire your frugality and am resolved to conserve a little more. Thanks again.

    1. I also enjoyed this post, and like you, I found myself lacking. Patrice and Don rock. Miss Georgia

  6. I love the power hand picture / painting "Gardening is a defiant act" or something. I liked it so much that I screen captured it and had a T shirt made for my wife. She loved it. My car is only 10 years old and though I could purchase a new one why? I mean it gets me from point A to point B and almost everything still works just fine so why? If I remember your last "new" car had something like 100 000 miles on it and as far as I know it is still doing just fine. I do have to admit that I don't wash my ziplocks.

  7. I'm not a homesteader, and lemme tell you if they ever discontinue Ziploc bags (the brand), I'll be inconsoleable. Right now I have multiple quilting sewing and knitting projects stored in the large sized bags, because they take up less room and lay flatter than the boxes and such they sell for that. You keep up with that beef, baby!

  8. This was an inspiring read. Thanks, Patrice!

  9. So accurate, Patrice!

    I too have heard the arguement many times that crops should be grown where cattle now graze and that we should be vegan to save the earth. I can show you thousands of acres in my area that are rocky (from small to Titanic iceberg size deposits of limestone and granite), 15 to 25% of it at a 40 degree incline). The soil is often clay (you have written about your experiences with a similar soil type). Water can be scarce and most well water is alkaline with a sodium content well above suitable irrigation levels. This makes it expensive to crop as it requires massive amounts of fertilizer and most land does not have an option of irrigation. It can be used to graze livestock for consumption, but for growing vegetables in a sustainable manner? Sorry.

    I might add that the steak I enjoyed this evening as part of a celebration of my sister in law's birthday was fabulous! Natokadn

  10. I got as far as the title. The Maidments preach that 'milk can come out of glass bottles', not plastic. Would someone them about cows?
    Montana Guy

  11. I am an progressive environmentalist...But I have to disagree with your interpretation of how WE think.

    I can only assume that the article you referred to is obviously a staunch-right-wing piece of the usual propaganda you surround yourself with. No surprised there!

    But here is the truth about what progressives really think from a progressive:

    I totally believe in your lifestyle...sincerely! Hats off to you. Wish more could follow your example. It would be far better for our planet if they did!

    ...this...of lieu of your misinformation on how all environmental progressives think and believe. J.

    1. Nobody you vote for lives that way. Most of them own homes that consume the same power as a small factory. Propaganda yourself.

  12. Which is really the ultimate problem - it is not about truly living "green", it is about the power to impose the agenda on other people.

    Living conservationally takes many forms. If we valued that end instead of a very specific path to get there (e.g. the "green" agenda), how much more progress could we make?

  13. Wonderful article...thank you! Your electric bill is fantastic. Other than line drying and using LED light bulbs,can you recommend other ways that you save electricity?

  14. i am one of the 'liberals' you talk about, but i farm, garden and recycle same as you. rather than lumping all 'liberals into a group and complaining, why not just use the word 'people' or 'humans' and leave out name calling.

  15. I do a lot of the same things as you. I proudly wash my baggies. I live my life the way I want to. If people don't like it then they don't have to come over.