Archive for the ‘Stories & Projects’ Category

At the Heart of the Beans

Ok, I’m not going to lie to ya; I haven’t been thinking much about green living recently. I’ve been thinking baseball! Our hometown team, the St. Louis Cardinals, won game 6 of the 2011 World Series with a walk-off home run by David Freese.

Game 7’s about to start as I write this, and Daughtry is singing the national anthem in front of a line of Joplin South Little League players from Joplin, Missouri.

Joplin tornado damage

Photo licensed under Creative Commons by KOMUnews on Flickr

Do you know about Joplin? May 22 this year, an EF5 multiple-vortex tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, and destroyed half the town. We were all amazed as we watched video spans of the city–nothing but debris.

Many businesses and organizations reached out to help in whatever way they could, but one stands out to me in particular, a company already dear to my heart for their environmental work: Starbucks.

My husband and I own our own LIFE leadership business. I also, however, work for Starbucks. Our manager, along with other regional store managers, recently returned from a trip to Joplin. Today he shared stories with me about his experience.

Starbucks has been with the residents from day one, he said, first reaching out to Joplin Starbucks partners, then donating $25,000 into community rebuilding, and this week serving coffee 24/7 while Extreme Home Makeover builds 7 houses in 7 days for Joplin tornado victims. The region’s store managers were brought in to help, too, because the communities Starbucks stores call home are just as important to the company as profits. In fact, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz visited one of the St. Louis stores while the managers visited Joplin, my manager told us, and when Marcel, our Regional Manager, began apologizing for not meeting Schultz during the CEO’s visit, Schultz quickly cut him off saying, “You’re the one doing the real work.”

I do hold Starbucks dear. Outreach to Joplin isn’t what made me love the company, though. They’ve always taken steps to help communities flourish and to protect our environment.

Starbucks Shared Planet

Photo licensed under Creative Commons by makipapa on Flickr

Starbucks currently has two certified organic coffees, one certified Fair Trade, many more certified environmentally and ethically responsible by Conservation International; cocoa mixes are ethically sourced; full and part-time partners are given full medical, dental, and vision insurance; initiatives taken in nation-wide stores, such as the change from continually running spoon rinse dipper wells to partner-activated dipper wells, reduce water and waste; stores’ compact fluorescent and LED lighting and cups and sleeves made from less plastic reduce energy consumption and resources used (and Starbucks has a goal of making all paper and plastic cups 100% recyclable within a few years); in-store, high-pressure blasts clean pitchers rather than partners rinsing pitchers with the more-wasteful tap; spent coffee grounds go to local gardeners and farmers; and renewable energy purchases fuel 20% of the total electricity used in U.S. and Canada stores; among other initiatives. Starbucks even began making some stores LEED certified (the first at 1st and Pike in Seattle).

Learn more about Starbucks’ environmental and community objectives in the Global Responsibility Report, and then, if you haven’t visited a Starbucks recently, do it.


Greentaining: Sealing My Leaky Ducts

air duct sealed with metal tape

air duct sealed with metal tape

When our friend, Richard, an HVAC professional, installed a new air duct in our new house a few weeks back he suggested we seal the leaks in our duct system.

“Feel this,” he said, putting his hand over a joint in a duct and waiting for me to do the same. I did so and felt a rather strong current of air. “Feel that air? Your system would be a lot more efficient if you sealed these with tape. You can do it yourselves with duct tape—that is why they originally called it duct tape—though you’ll need to replace it at some point, or you can use a metal tape like I’ll use to seal this vent I’m installing.” (paraphrase)

Aside from efficiently using energy, which is always important to me, I wanted comfortable, evenly heated and cooled rooms, a high priority to my temperature-sensitive self.

Of course, it always takes two people telling me to do something before I buy in.

Today that second “person” was Energy Star.

According to, “Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by 20 percent or more. Accessible ducts, such as those in attics, basements, crawlspaces, and garages, can be sealed using a specialized sealant called duct mastic available at home improvement stores (duct tape is not recommended).”

old duct tape from my air duct system

Old duct tape from my air duct. This is why not to use traditional duct tape.

The duct tape they’re referring to is the cloth-backed rubber adhesive duct tape of which we quickly think. Of course, I didn’t listen to that, either, and initially began sealing my ducts with duct tape until I found an old piece of duct tape, loosely hanging from a pipe, that illustrated why standard duct tape is a poor choice. (See my photo.) Ewe.

Duct Sealing: Do You Need To Do It, and How?

aluminum tape for sealing leaky ductsSo check out your air system (even you apartment dwellers). Turn on the air and put your hand in front of the metal joints. Do you feel air?

If you do, go to your local home improvement store, pick up some aluminum foil tape (Nashua Multi-Purpose Aluminum Foil Tape 322 HVAC, $6.58 at You can use mastic tape or mastic sealant instead, if you wish. We’re literally going to tape over the leaks to prevent air from blowing out of the system where it shouldn’t.

Next, clean the joints on which we’ll apply the tape with soap and water.

Begin sealing the air leaks by taping all the duct joints you can access. Even if it doesn’t feel like air is escaping doesn’t mean it won’t in the future, so tape around the duct in every place you can reach where two pieces of duct join.

Tape all joints on the furnace including the corners.

Finally, seal vents and registers where they meet floors, walls, and ceilings.

That’s it! It may not be perfect (less easily accessible leaks may still exist) but you’ll already enjoy a more efficient air system and, likely, more comfortable rooms.

Easy peasy.


What do you think? Have you sealed leaky ducts either yourself or by an HVAC professional?

What other easy energy efficiency projects have you done?

Additional Resources:

US EPA Energy Star “Duct Sealing” Brochure (printable)

Home Sweet New Home: Can You Move GREEN?

It’s been a while since I last wrote. Why? My husband and I bought a house, decorated the entire thing, and moved! What a stressful and exciting month and a half for us.

Which has made me think. What should and can we do to limit our negative environmental impact during our move? It isn’t just the environment I want to protect; I want to protect our family’s health. I don’t want to inhale unnecessary chemicals or accidentally allow toxins to absorb into our skin. But how much money can I spend to take these precautions, and what precautions do I need, anyway?

We had some tough decisions.

For example, I wanted to paint our home with an environmentally safe, no VOC paint such as Mythic Paint (recommended by Practically Green), and we needed quite a bit to paint all but 3 walls in our new home. We could get conventional paint for free from my husband’s work, though. Which do we choose? In this particular case we chose to use a low-VOC conventional paint and leave the house open for several days before we moved in (we had two weeks before we needed to move out of our apartment). We did not have access to good respirators while painting but we did make sure to buy reusable latex paint and odor respirator masks, paint with all the windows open, and break frequently to fresh air. We made sure to wear these masks when doing other mudding and sanding work, too. Not perfect, of course, but better than doing nothing.

Next, how to get rid of the weeds and grasses that reclaimed about 40 percent of our stone driveway? My mother-in-law wanted to use a conventional weed killer, of course, but that was out of the question; I wasn’t about to spray poison on the driveway, walk on it, and then bring it into our home on my shoes. I knew I could use a safer and all-natural week spray but, let’s face it, it’s still a poison meant to kill. We decided instead to use a rake to pull out the nuisance plants by the roots. It’s tough work and time consuming but it doesn’t require a single chemical. As the plants whose roots remain in the ground grow back I’ll use boiling water to spot-kill weeds and grass. Boiling water kills the plant at its roots, Healthy Child Healthy World says, though it doesn’t discriminate from wanted and unwanted plants. In this case, that’s irrelevant, as the nuisance plants are surrounded by rock. Boiling water also kills weed seeds.

We planted four fruit trees, two apple species and two peach species, so we can have nearly organic fresh fruit in the future. We’ll be able to control the substances used on our trees and can control the methods used to deter pests. After our trees were in the ground we applied a layer of worm castings around the base. of each tree. Using compost also helps build the soil for a healthier lawn and garden, including supporting the good organisms that allow your space to flourish. Compost is almost always safer for your family, of course, but it’s also better for your plants. Chemical fertilizer is fast releasing and much of it seeps past the roots and into underground water supplies, never being absorbed by the plants you want to nurture. Compost is slow-releasing; nutrients enter the soil gradually, meaning you don’t get the immediate turbo charge like chemical fertilizers but you will see prettier plants over a bit more time.

Your plants will be healthier, too. Chemical fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, the three main nutrients needed by plants. However, plants need other nutrients, too, found in compost but not in most fertilizers including natural fertilizers. Compost delivers these other essential nutrients. Think of it like this: we used to think that all humans needed for a healthy diet was the right proportion of macronutrients: carbs, fats, and proteins. Then we realized that vitamins and minerals, or micronutrients, play an important and essential role in keeping us healthy and feeling good. In the same way, plants need more than just the right proportion of N-P-K. They need nutrients found only in decomposing matter.


Did you move or make improvements to your home? What steps did you take to keep your family safe?


Healthy Child Healthy World: Kill Weeds Without Herbicides

Healthy Child Healthy World: Natural Garden Care

Does the Eco Tallit Exist? It Does Now.

An eco tallit made from a fair trade silk scarf and some linen fabric

Learn how to make an eco tallit from a scarf on my Squido0 page

A few months ago I decided I wanted a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl. Easy enough. Lots of specialty stores sell tallits online, as do auction sites and At the same time, though, I decided I wanted a pretty, feminine tallit in line with my other values: sustainable, chemical free, and safe for the farmers and artisans.

Finding a tallit that met my requirements was not so easy. In fact, I only found a few links that addressed the idea of an environmentally friendly tallit at all.

I did find, however, directions for sewing a tallit in which I could choose the fabric. I initially contacted a seamstress friend of mine, but I couldn’t find affordable fabric that made me happy. That’s when I birthed my idea for a semi-homemade eco tallit.

It would be a tallit from a scarf. Not just any scarf, an organic or spray-free or naturally died or fair trade scarf, wide like a shawl with fringe on the ends.

After all, the type of fabric and the chemicals used to weave it can make a fabric environmentally friendly or not. Conventionally grown cotton, for example, is the most chemical-laced fabric in the world, according to Organic Fabric Online. Fabrics, such as nylon, made from plastic require petroleum for production and may leach chemicals—not the best choice unless you find a scarf made from recycled bags or soda bottles.

Some raw natural materials grow faster than others, too. Hemp is one of the most sustainable fabrics. Many consider bamboo renewable and sustainable, but I’ve heard conflicting information about the sustainability and chemicals used to make bamboo fabric, and I’ve chosen to delay purchasing bamboo fabric until I find a more definitive answer. Artisans’ working conditions also deserve consideration. Fair Trade Certified scarves and shawls ensure artisans receive premium wages and good working conditions.

The perfect scarf is organic or spray-free, sustainable, and fair trade. Of course, the perfect tallit is also an expression of your personality. I found a beautiful silk fair-trade scarf and linen fabric for the atarah and corners.

The tallit turned out beautifully and only took a few hours to make (note: I know basic sewing skills but am not a sewer). Really, it’s beautiful, and almost anyone could do it, especially because I created a page on Squidoo complete with videos and lots of photographs to show you how:

How To Make an Eco Tallit From a Scarf

And while you’re there, leave me a message stating you stopped by. I love little notes. 🙂


Organic Fun at Pesto Festo

Ferguson Farmers Market. Photo Attribution | Chris Bates | Ferguson Farmers Market on Facebook

Ferguson Farmers Market. Photo Attribution | Chris Bates | Ferguson Farmers Market on Facebook

Saturday, my husband and I attended the 2011 Pesto Festo at the The Ferguson Farmers Market.

Pesto Festo by EarthDance FARMS

Voted the best farmers market in Missouri, the Ferguson Farmers Market (Ferguson, Mo.) is a weekly summer market featuring local farm stands with conventional and organic fruits and vegetables; specialty vendors and artisans selling breads, doughnuts, wild mushrooms, and soaps; and demos from green groups and businesses such as Robinson’s Rain Barrels and GreenStrum.

Shoppers blended their own smoothies by hopping on a bike that powered a blender.

Shoppers blended their own smoothies by hopping on a bike that powered a blender. Photo Attribution | Chris Bates | Ferguson Farmers Market on Facebook

This particular day, EarthDance FARMS, an organic farm and cultural organization situated on the historic Mueller Farm in Ferguson, celebrates with the community and the other market vendors by hosting its annual Pesto Festo. Initially, Pesto Festo acted as an annual fundraiser for EarthDance FARMS. Today it’s an annual market celebration of sustainable food, arts, relationships, and music. For four hours market goers and volunteers shop produce and baked goods and collect free black-eyed Susans. To the front of the market, children and teens gawk at the farm truck, a truck bed filled with layers of gravel, dirt, and delicious looking plants, as volunteers give away packs of flower and vegetable seeds. A woman sits at the corner of a tent painting flowers and leaves on a rain barrel with an assortment of brilliant paints. A man rides a bike, its wheels powering a blender filled with fresh fruits and bright green chard.

My husband and I came this day not only to buy freshly picked produce and sample the local fare but also to compete in the day’s Pesto Cooking Contest.

As part of Pesto Festo, the Pesto Cooking Contest invites competitors to create a delicious and original pesto sauce to serve with crackers, crudites, or other treats. Traditional pestos have just a few ingredients: fresh-picked basil, olive oil, pine nuts, salt, and often garlic, blended smooth. Today, though, the pestos that lined the judging table were entirely different. A chunkier sauce with a deep reddish color tasted of sun-dried tomatoes. One entrant, or perhaps an EarthDance volunteer, brought a pesto noodle salad, bright flecks of basil standing out on the light noodles. Another, the color of mahogany, tasted of chocolate and mint. My favorite sauce, besides my own, tasted of basil, nuts, and chiles. Ours, a Hawaiian influenced pesto, joined the traditional basil and oil with nontraditional Macadamia nuts, candied pineapple, and homemade crystallized ginger.

As we waited for the judges to announce the winners, Molly Rockamann, founder of EarthDance FARMS, and a dozen other children and adults collected in the space in front of a band. Some picked up hula-hoops, a familiar sight at the market. Others picked up their feet and danced swing moves to familiar songs.

Then a staff member from EarthDance FARMS picked up a mic.

We’re very pleased to announce, she said, the winners for the Pesto Cooking Contest. Third place, the dessert pesto of chocolate and mint. Second place: ours! Our Hawaiian Pesto! A creamy Southwestern pesto took first.

I went home smiling, bags of goods in one hand, our winnings of Ferguson Farmers Market bucks in the other, and lots of new knowledge of local green projects. Can’t wait until next year.

Related Resources:

Ferguson Farmers Market

Ferguson Farmers Market on Facebook

EarthDance FARMS

EarthDance FARMS on Facebook

Drummers Keep a Greener Beat

St. Louis Taiko Center Open House

St. Louis Taiko Center Open House - June 18, 2011 | Copyright Shandi S. Greve Penrod | note: children's faces have been lovingly blurred; they are not disfigured children.

Yesterday I attended the open house for St. Louis Osuwa Taiko‘s new studio, St. Louis Taiko Center, which the group acquired a few months ago and fitted as a practice studio and taiko center. While the group is not yet completely committed to going green it was cool to see the steps they were taking.

One of the members, the group leader, in fact, rides his bike to practices (what a leader!). A recycling bin sits in the greeting room. Second-hand chairs line the greeting-room walls. The studio, though, made me particularly happy.

I gave a big smile as I entered the large, open space and saw the walls. They used new materials designing their studio, sure, but made a big green choice, too. The studio was originally a stock room. A big garage door, through which semi-tractor trailers could unload, makes half the back wall. The original walls and floors are cement. The group, of course, needed to add sound-absorbing material so the deafening echoes wouldn’t damage members’ eardrums.  Along with new egg crate foam they chose second-hand paper egg crates to absorb sound and decorate the walls of the studio. They also have second-hand cubicle walls they plan to use at a future date in the studio for additional soundproofing.

This group is a great example of how one can make environmentally aware choices without breaking the bank. Even small choices make an impact, as I’m sure they noticed in their smaller construction expenses. I don’t want to forget to applaud those of use who are in the beginning stages of learning to make environmentally aware decisions.

St. Louis Osuwa Taiko comprises part of a growing number of people environmental entrepreneur Josh Dorfman would fondly call lazy environmentalists, and I thank St. Louis Osuwa Taiko and all others who make similar small efforts to keep chemicals and other materials out of our shared environment. Less new polyurethane foam, for example, means fewer toxic chemicals off gassing into the air and dispersing into neighbors’ homes.

The smallest choices matter—more than one may think.

Eco Tweet Tuesday – Top Whole Living Tweets from the Last Week

You can learn a lot of great information and find great resources transmitted in 140 characters or less. Here are a few of my favorite Whole Living Tweets from the last week.

Do you tweet about environmental, natural health, or other whole living topics? Leave your Twitter address in the comments below and I may add you to my Twitter list.

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