Tag Archives: zero-waste

Urban Gardening Blog: Backyard Bounty

Hello, Jessica here! I am one of the interns for Green Writers Press this summer, and I bring to you all my family’s small farm in our backyard in Brooklyn, New York.

Our cat, called Sour Veggies, amongst the squash vines and spinach.

As a student of environmentalism and as a city-dweller, urban farming is a phrase I am very familiar with. At times though, I have found that the urban farming conversation presented in New York is often lost in the larger folds of “green” living trends: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, co-ops, heirloom tomatoes, and such. People are more likely to depend on markets to provide them local, fresh foods, than to plant and grow produce themselves, this being because of a lack of time and space, motivation, and of knowledge and/or experience.

If you look up “New York urban farming” on a search engine (Yahoo and Google for me) today, there is only a handful of fresh results. There are about two media posts written about community urban agriculture in New York for 2017 and they are mostly lists that account the projects going on. (See the bottom of this post for some of these links.) It seems to be a quiet but promising start, with indoor and hydroponic projects going on, and even aquaponic farms that grow plants in a closed system with fish, using the fish poop as plant fertilizer and the plants as water filterers.

A community urban farming project can only be successful if there is solid support and demand from the community. Not only would it need a community to give it material resources, but also people willing to put in the effort to grow and manage produce. Take America’s victory gardens of World War II or even Cuba’s urban agriculture conversion in the 1990s as examples of large scale urban growing projects. Though both those scenarios were formed in times of dire need, they act as models of potential community based pathways; nothing, really, is stopping us from creating our own local, fresh produce or of demanding that there be public space provided for it.

But enough about big projects, let’s return to my family’s backyard. By showing how my family manages a no-frills kind of backyard farm, I want to contribute to the demystification of the difficulty of growing food, something not just urban dwellers, but anyone who relies on outside food resources seems to be under.  We are very fortunate to have this plot of land and though this is not an example of growing produce in extreme urban spaces without access to land, I hope our narrative will add to the slow but steadily growing landscape of New York urban farming and expose people to how it is nourishing our life at home.

My family farms on a six by three yard plot of upraised soil, and have built a nine foot tall overhanging trellis for the squash. This trellis spans the length of our backyard overhead and come July, the squash vines completely cover the trellis to create a sort of shadow-speckled retreat underneath. The vines will leave the soil, climbing the tied up poles and nets to bask in the sunlight, and the squash, as they ripen, will dangle underneath the trellis like green chandeliers. This kind of farming that allows plants to transcend the ground is called vertical farming. Vertical farming is an efficient kind of farming for small plots of land: above, vines can grow and below, on the open, but shaded soil herbs and other shade-tolerant plants can grow. Vertical farming is becoming a practical alternative in cramped urban spaces like New York City, where many projects are using vertically stacked layers to grow herbs and vegetables indoors.

Our backyard farm. Note the overhanging trellis built for the vines.

For my parents, who both grew up farming rice patties in southern China, growing their own produce is not simply an optional green alternative; it is inseparable from their way of living. It is a source of pride for them that they can provide for the home in another way besides having full time jobs.

Young cucumbers climbing on the vine. @urbanveggies6x3

We grow cucumbers, winter melon, bitter gourd, spinach, ginger, yam leaves, tomatoes, and other vegetables. What growing a small farm has taught us is that there is always more than enough, and our bounty is shared amongst family and friends. Nothing is sold for commercial purposes and my family uses only one kind of insecticide, a slug and snail killer, in our practice.

Links on New York urban farming:

http://www.amny.com/lifestyle/brooklyn/brooklyn-farms-urban-agriculture-is-booming-1.9354334

http://www.nycfoodpolicy.org/11-nyc-urban-agriculture-organizations-follow-social-media-right-now/

http://www.okofarms.com/

https://www.theverge.com/2016/6/15/11937882/verticulture-aquaponic-farm-brooklyn-fish-poop-fertilizer

 

Follow us on Instagram @urbanveggies6x3 to see how our kind of urban farming can be done, and follow us @greenwriterspress to see how an environmentally conscious publishing house works.

Jessica is a student at Bennington College and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her family.

 

JOURNEY TO ZERO WASTE, Part 2

By Maya London-Southern

Register for Plastic-Free July here!

Bulk in the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

BULK! It’s so important that I’m writing my entire second blog post about it. Even if everything you need isn’t available in bulk where you live, chances are this is where you can find a lot of things you do need or want.

When it comes to shopping sustainably, bulk is the ultimate lifesaver. While items bought in bulk likely still came in disposable packaging, the customer’s choice to buy in bulk as opposed to individually wrapped products reduces the amount of packaging used. The truth is, unless you’re growing all of your own food, it’s practically impossible to buy food without someone producing some type of trash along the way. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and by refusing this unnecessary packaging in everyday shopping, a consumer is voting for change.

 

Packaged pasta (the bag will end up in landfill) vs. bulk pasta at the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

You might be thinking about the paper and plastic bags that many grocery stores have for customers to put their bulk products in, and you might be thinking these bags aren’t very sustainable and don’t really align with the Zero Waste movement. You’d be right to think so. Paper is always better than plastic, but because the bag is made to be used only a few times at most, it is an unnecessary waste of resources. Some grocery and health food stores even charge you extra for using their bags and give you money back if you bring your own containers. There are several sustainable alternatives to the bags at the store:

Jars

A tower of jars filled with chili spice, chickpeas, and olive oil, all of which I bought in bulk.

The perfect container for so many things, especially liquids—it can even be a to-go cup for cold drinks. If you plan to use a jar for liquid, it’s not a bad idea to test to make sure it won’t leak—Mason jars have always been reliable for me in this regard.

When using it for bulk, weigh the empty jar and lid (called collecting the tare or unladen weight). Write the tare on the lid or type it in your phone—you can type the PLU (product look-up) number into your phone as well. This way, you can tell the cashier the weight to subtract from the total weight of both the jar and the bulk product in it, so you won’t be overcharged. I love using jars because they’re easy to clean and easy to unpack—I just move the jar from my shopping bag into my pantry. Jars are easy to access as well. Many grocery stores sell empty ones, but you might already have a few in your house already, they’re just filled with food. Once they’re empty, hold on to them rather than tossing them in the recycling (you can scrub the stickers off with white vinegar or olive oil).

 

 

 

Cloth bags

A pillowcase-turned-bag.

Jars are great, but sometimes it’s easier to bring lighter, more compact containers. Reusable cloth bags are perfect for this. Some grocery stores sell them, but you can also make your own using old pillowcases. I cannot stress how simple this is. As long as you have access to a sewing machine and know the absolute basics on how to use it, you can do this. Believe me, I CANNOT SEW and I did a sufficient job.

To make it, you will need a pillowcase, a safety pin, and either ribbon or string. I’m writing my own instructions that I adapted from http://sewdelicious.com.au/2012/02/pillowcase-to-drawstring-bag-tutorial.html.

 

  1. Turn the pillowcase inside-out.
  2. Think about how big you want the bag to be and cut accordingly. When cut into fourths, a standard pillowcase will make four bags that are a great size for bulk shopping.
  3. Sew the cut sides so that three of the four sides are sewn, but leave a slit (about an inch or two long) unsewn at the top of one of the sides near the opening.
  4. Fold the top of the opening the length of the slit over itself and stitch all the way to create the casing for the string.
  5. Turn the bag right-side out.
  6. Pin the safety pin to the string or ribbon. Pull it through the bag’s casing.
  7. Once the pin is out of the other end of the casing, determine how long you want the drawstring to be and cut the string or ribbon accordingly.

 

Other bulk products to watch out for

Grocery and health food stores range in the amount of bulk they carry. It wasn’t until I was actively trying to only shop in bulk that I realized my food co-op in Middlebury, VT had oil and liquid soap in bulk. The Brattleboro Food Co-op has an even wider selection: along with all the food, there are soaps, oils, shampoos, vinegars, honey, nut butters galore—there’s even beer on tap in refillable growlers and soap bars for you to cut for yourself.

Bulk in the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

Now that I’m regularly shopping in bulk, I can’t imagine going back to buying packaged products. I have so much fun filling my jars and bags, and I’ve saved a lot of money because it’s cheaper (not to mention I can no longer buy those packaged snacks or drinks I used to impulsively grab off the shelves). I honestly love bulk, and I love knowing that I’m not bringing any new garbage into my house that would eventually end up in a landfill. Not to mention, I’m avoiding unhealthy food, because that usually only comes in packaging. Altogether, I feel so much healthier, thriftier and better organized. I cannot recommend bulk shopping enough!

Thanks so much for reading, check back for more Zero Waste posts soon!

~~~~

Maya London-Southern is a 2017 Green Writers Press summer intern and a student at Middlebury College.

 

 

 

 

JOURNEY TO ZERO WASTE

By Maya London-Southern

Though the United States ranks third in the world for highest population, it generates by far the most trash. The nation produces over 250 million tons of waste annually, with the average American throwing out about 4.5 pounds of garbage each day (China, with a population four times that of the US, generates about 190 million tons per year). But for thousands of years, humans did not produce any trash, and people have proven that even in this era of consumerism, it is possible to live without generating garbage.

Source: Armaud Martinez. www.istockphoto.com

Lauren Singer is such a person. She is at the forefront of the Zero Waste movement, and can fit all the trash she’s produced in the past four years in a 16oz mason jar. She is the author of the blog Trash is for Tossers. In 2014, she founded The Simply Co, which makes sustainable and toxin-free laundry detergent, and this past May, she and Daniel Silverstein opened a pop-up store called Package Free in Brooklyn.

I first heard of the Zero Waste movement in passing, but didn’t pay much attention to it until I saw a New York Times interview with Singer in January 2017. I was attracted to the way the lifestyle massively simplified her life, and I realized that what she was doing actually aligned with my desire to live minimally. The sustainability aspect was a plus in that. As I read more of her and Bea Johnson’s (a woman living a Zero Waste lifestyle with her family of four, and author of the book and blog Zero Waste Home) blog posts and watched each of their how-to videos, I realized that if I lived this lifestyle (or even just adopted aspects of it), I would declutter my life and save money, all while reducing what I send to landfill. It would need some adjusting to, but I saw the massive benefits to be well worth any growing pains.

I started with the basics, which was really just a consciousness of what waste I produced every day and an understanding of what could actually be reused, composted or recycled.

The simplest change was always bringing a reusable bag with me when I went shopping. A lot of people already know about this sustainable alternative, but by making myself commit to refusing any plastic or paper bags, I saved resources, resources that if I had used would have either sat around in my room or I would have just used for trash (but in not producing trash, you don’t have a need for the plastic to dispose of it either).

Source: http://www.istockphoto.com/

 

I would also sometimes throw out banana peels and apple cores when I wasn’t near a compost bin on my college campus, but over 25% of all food the US produces for domestic sale already ends up in landfill. What’s more, when food waste is in landfill and unable to compost, it generates methane, which traps heat within the atmosphere. And according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, landfills make up 34 percent of all methane emissions in the country. When possible, the best option is to eat or use your food scraps for something else. This saves the energy that would otherwise be used to grow and transport new food products. For example, you can make water infusions with citrus peels (more resourceful ideas to come in later blog posts). But if nothing else, please please compost your food waste. Producing more soil instead of more landfill and methane was something I had to learn, but it’s actually a very easy transition.

Through Trash is for Tossers, I also learned that there are some easy swaps I could make. Instead of plastic toothbrushes (between 850 million and a billion of which end up in landfill each year in the US alone), there are toothbrushes made of bamboo, which are compostable (except for the bristles, which can be removed and recycled) and packaged in recyclable and/or biodegradable products. Singer recommends Brush with Bamboo. When you’re done with the toothbrush, you can also upcycle it for cleaning, art crafts, or plant markers (I upcycled my first one to use as a bottle cleaner).

Source (both photos): https://www.brushwithbamboo.com/

 

I made these changes over the school year, but I decided that I really wanted to try to go completely (or as much as possible) Zero Waste this summer. I started on June 1, and so far the only waste I’ve produced are a few fruit stickers, which I keep in my designated summer garbage jar. Dede Cummings recently gave me marigolds from her garden, so I emptied my trash jar to use as a temporary vase (it looks much nicer filled with fresh flowers than with trash).

I will talk more about what I’ve done to avoid producing trash in future posts, in the meantime, check out Trash is for Tossers and Zero Waste Home. I hope my own blog can be a way to get the word out about Zero Waste and encourage more people to adjust their lifestyles. Not everyone has to go completely Zero Waste in order to make a difference, but there are a lot of small changes anyone can make that will not only be better for the planet, but also get rid of unnecessary clutter in your life, save money, and be better for your health.

Thanks so much for reading, check back for more Zero Waste posts soon!

~~~~

Maya London-Southern is a 2017 Green Writers Press summer intern and a student at Middlebury College. 

 

Welcome GWP’s Summer Interns

GWP 2017 Summer Interns (l > r): Cameron Hope, Jessica Zeng, Maya London-Southern, Deja Haley, Josh Bovee, and Lydia Golitz

GWP is a proud participant in the Bennington College Field Work internship program, which we have been doing since our inception in 2014. We also work with interns from other colleges who are all extremely motivated young people and care about the fate of the earth and want to do everything they can to foster a sustainable environment. We welcome this summer’s stellar group!

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