Category Archives: Weekly step

A video lesson on catching chicken.

I have officially signed up for another year working out for my uncle on Purring Dog Farm and I still don’t know why I participate in the ritual masochism.  It’s going to be my fourth year and the farms fourth year as well.  The only difference between this year and the past few is we’ll have a few interns on hand and I’m actually going to be scoring some college credit as well.

I’m making this my goal for the week, even though it’s going to take a summer.

A taste of Tennessee.

Where else can you release a batch of homicidal chickens out to get eaten by coyotes?


Back Home and Back Online

When I got home this year the Swiss and Rainbow Chard I had planted before leaving were in full bloom, even now in December they are hanging in strong!

I left Tennessee and with it my blogging. Suddenly I had too much to do, I was too tired and various other excuses. I’m back online, however, and happy to report I’ve finally quit smoking, at least I’ve been smoke-free for three days! As for America’s most sustainable smoke, I know that the 100 percent organic cigarette offered by American Spirit has to be in the top five but I still have no conclusive answers but true to form I plan to find some.

I’m working on a degree in Horticulture now as well, hoping it helps me in a future of homesteading.  For now though its just enough to put some words on this page and call it a day.

This weeks step quit smoking and log another post.

Smoking the “good” stuff: A search for America’s most sustainable smoke.

Smokers in this picture,4. Currently smoking,3. Currently rolling,1. Total viewers of 2010 World Cup Final,700 million. Smokers Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 Billion. Smoking is still the Earth's pastime.

I’ve made a pledge in my head a while back to have my weekly updates posted on Sunday’s. I figured it’s about time I actually said that.  The reason for this is mostly so I can keep track of what week I pledged to do something and so I can remember to keep up with my goal of taking one step towards sustainability each week.

Now that I have that out of the way, it’s time for this weeks step.

For a while I have been attempting to quit smoking, the reasons aren’t really related to this blog or sustainability in general.  I’m just tired of  the subtle sickness that comes along with the burning pleasure of a good cigarette. I’ve had allergies for a while without knowing what they were and realized that whenever I smoke the allergies get worse and my head goes from being slightly uncomfortable to the point where I feel like laying down, ignoring the world and napping my way to the end of the day. In summery, I’m an addict.

The act of smoking, it has recently been pointed out to me, isn’t sustainable in itself seeing as it destroys the user over time instead of helping them. My focus on a renewable world has never factored in personal health. I’ve figured as long as I’m not hurting anyone else, it doesn’t matter what I do. I’m not here to preach and I’m not here to get preached at. Informing is a different matter, however, and I never mind getting details I didn’t know before or understand (thanks Trista).

The point of this blog isn’t to tell the world how to live; the point of The Sustainable Student is to show how one person is attempting to live a life that won’t impact the future for others and it doesn’t mean that my way is right but it’s an attempt. Smokers I’m not attacking. Non-smokers don’t attack. It’s common knowledge now that if you smoke health problems fallow.

Disclaimer aside this week I am pledging to become actively involved in a search for finding the most sustainable cigarette. Unfortunately I get the feeling this means I’ll have to kick my old drinking buddy, Camel Light, into the gutter.

Finding information about the production of cigarettes hasn’t been an easy task so far. These companies have developed powerful marketing teams and know how to soften almost any blow. Finding negative information on farming practices for companies like this will be the equivalent to finding a ninja in his home town. Searching by brand names is ineffective, all that pops up for these are websites that require a user to log in.

For now I’m going to be focusing on a couple of Americas power players, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Philip Morris and American Spirits manufacturer Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company.  As long as I continue smoking, I’ll keep updating the list of companies I have researched.

My research so far shows the hipster and hippie mainstay of American Spirits is winning out.  Their website submerges viewers into a world where you’d think that American Spirit’s manufacturers, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company(owned by RJ Reynolds Tobacco, the creature behind Camels) are a co-op of small time organic farmers, not a major U.S. tobacco subsidiary.

All three of these companies try to harness the image of eco-conscious, caring and community oriented members of your hometown. Slick tongues and vague statements help them drive this idea home.

Right now I’m focusing on the  agricultural processes used in growing the tobacco for the cigarettes.  Later I will tackle the other slippery processes that gets a leaf from a field to my mouth.

Philip Morris – This link guides to what Philip Morris says it is doing to promote sustainable agriculture.

R.J. Reynolds – On their website R.J. Reynolds does not have any information regarding the growing processes of their tobacco, at least none that I could find.

Santa Fe Tobacco Company – The creators of American Spirits put a lot of emphasis on image. Considering themselves a “green” company they put a lot of work into showing their growing processes.

So far American Spirits are the leading pack, when it comes to finding America's most sustainable cigarette.

I’ve realized that this journey to find the most sustainable cigarette is going to be long. It’s like flowing down an uncharted river, never knowing whats around the bend and constantly wondering if that last move to the left was the correct side to pick when the river forks. For now I’m smoking spirits and emailing the companies to see what percentage of their product is organically grown.

Weekly step update #1

This is the first check-in about my progress on the trail to living a sustainable life.   These are the changes that I have pledged to make so far and this is how well I’ve been keeping with them.

My "green canteen" isn't the only stainless steel container in the house. My aunt and uncle purchased these because before all they were using was plastic bottles and eventually they decided to get away from leaching plastics.

No more plastic bottles:

I have been doing good on this front.  Soon after taking on the challenge I realized that I didn’t buy that many water bottles anyway, my family is a different story.  Ultimately I decided to swear off all plastic bottles in general.  Recently it’s come to my notice that instead of going with plastic when I stop into a 7-11 what my hands end up latching onto is usually a can or glass bottles.  I’m going to have to do a little research to find out if this is actually progress towards reducing my impact on the earth, or if I’d have to give up glass and aluminum to make a real difference.

Watch labels and avoid foods with the chemicals calcium chloride and calcium disodium EDTA.

When I came up with this step I was having severe stomach problems and starting to move towards an sustainably farmed food diet.  Both of these chemicals are known to be associated with stomach problems in high doses and they are both preservatives, like arsenic used to be.

I have started to read labels due to a gluten allergy I recently found out I have, but I have slipped more then a couple of times on eating calcium disodium EDTA and calcium chloride which sneaks into more foods then you’d suspect.  Tonight I ate Calcium disodium EDTA in Italian salad dressing.  I didn’t read the label until after eating.  The horseradish sauce from Arby’s also contains the chemical.

No Coffee from large chain stores:

Calypso Coffee

So far I have been able to accomplish this goal completely.  In the town I’m currently there are no coffee shops, just diners.  In downtown Knoxville I have discovered a few coffee shops that are locally owned and on the farm everything we drink is made from grounds bought at Ingles.  I’m stilling sipping down the coffee purchased from Calypso Coffee in Coeur d’Alene Idaho.  It still taste like sweet nectar in comparison to anything I’ve been able to drink since.  To ensure that coffee stays fresh you can put it in the freezer until grinding and when you brew it up, it will be almost as good as it was when you left the shop.

Planting a garden:

A radish eye's view of the garden.

I’m still in the process of starting my garden but proactive steps are being taken.  The garden I planted earlier this year is being managed by my mom back in Oregon until I get back.  Out here the lettuce and arugula aren’t making but radishes and spinach have survived the scorching sun and are living well.  Today we purchased a flat of peppers from the feed store in town for $1.  These are all healthy plants.  When we went in to buy feed, the owner said we could get em for half off.  Shortly after that he changed his mind, and said we could take the whole bunch for a buck, he wanted to get rid of them. This is another reason why I like to shop at locally owned businesses.  If someone made this type of deal for us at Lowe’s or Home Depot they would be fired, but locally owned shops give you a personal experience with the owners and often this deal works out in everyone’s favors.

New step towards sustainability for the week: Learn to can food.

I’m actually really excited about this step.  Canning my own food has been something I’ve wanted to do for some time now and I’m finally at a place where it’s possible.  After shopping around a bit I was able to find out where to get the cheapest canning supplies in town.  In my quest for finding the cheapest canning supplies I searched the nearby Farmers CO-OP, K-Mart, a local hardware store and Ingles.  Between all the shops prices ranged from $8.49 to 9.99 for pints and $8.99-10.99.  The ultimate winner in the battle of the prices was Ingles with Pints at $8.49 and quarts at $8.99.

My aunt started canning last year and this year I have already made a few attempts but none have been what I would call completely successful.  What I’ve learned is that canning is a safe business when precautions are taken.  If corners are cut too short though consequences can be deadly.

Our recent forray into the world of canning involved packing 14 quarts of pickles. Unfortunately all the lids didn't seal, so we're going to be eating a lot of pickles this week.

Canning becomes a sustainable concept because durring in many areas the options of local food drops off.  If buying food locally and seasonally, canning can extend the time your eating home grown green beans from a couple months to year-round.  Not only is canning a good choice to keep healthy, local food around but after you get past the start-up costs canning is as expensive as buy jar lids.

Storing food isn’t only for the individual looking to spend hours in the kitchen, however.

One simple way to keep cucumbers fresh for a long time is to wait until a jar of pickles runs out but keep this juice and container.  If you add a new batch of cucumbers to the brine and leave the mix in the fridge after about a week you’ll find another batch of crisp fresh pickles just waiting to be consumed.

On the Road: Experiencing the death and resurection of Americana.

It’s been a long time since my last post.  Sick, exhausted, lazy and stressed describe the last few weeks, but now I’m back and running.  Actually, since I still haven’t quit smoking running isn’t in my immediate future, but I’m back and driving.  Currently I’m burning a path out to Tennessee for a  summer on the family’s organic vegetable farm in Sweetwater.  Right now I’m based in small-town Montana, a place called Kalispell living the rural mountain life for a few days and exploring the skullcap of our nation.

Calypso Coffee in Coeur d'alene

This place was an Idaho panhandle surprise with plenty of local art and in-house roasted coffee

I’ve started to learn after a few cross-country pulls that making any assumptions about a town that you haven’t visited is probably a bad idea.  In small-town, Tennessee we encountered gangster rap and got made fun of for wearing straw hats.  In Coeur d’Alene, hidden on one of the many modern looking side streets, I encountered an independent coffee roasting company named “Calypso.” The shop had surprised me.  The walls were covered with abstract paintings and the dimmed lights hanging from the  gutted out warehouse style ceiling illuminated a room riddled with influence from the more western coffee mecca’s of Portland and Seattle.

I remember on a trip out to Tennessee last year as a couple of friends and me drove on Interstate 40, after crossing the Sierra Nevada’s, we couldn’t find anything without a Starbucks stamp on the side until the Smokies.  America is changing.  Where coffee used to be a bitter grog brewed out of a Folgers can and drunk for effect not flavor, small town coffee shops and roasters are popping up all over the nation.  The morning blend is now a staple everywhere but the vacuum can’s are showing their age and with some luck these behemoths will rust away with their creators, the coffee conglomerate.

After stocking up on freshly roasted coffee in Coeur d’Alene, I blitzed through the rest of Idaho before grabbing lunch in the back of my Impreza alongside one of Montana’s many swollen rivers.  A few hours later I was in Kalispell. This morning the exploring started again.  My Kalispell guide, Sadie, is a friend that moved out to this area a few months ago from Portland and had discovered a good coffee shop within walking distance.

Colter Coffee Roasters

Sadie and Colter Coffee are definitely the better parts of this fair city.

Two local owned coffee shops in two towns I expected to be podunk have forced a lesson upon me, America can’t be described by old-time folklore or decaying stereotypes.  This country is dynamic and trends are constantly effecting the way our communities evolve or fall apart.

Locally owned shops are important to both me and to the overall concept of sustainability.  Shopping local isn’t just about supporting the face you see, it also has greater implications.  The revenue gained by taxing business’ based in your community goes back into your community, instead of supporting the suffering businessmen of the Channel Islands. Plus having a human employers that doesn’t base their hiree’s future’s on an immovable points system, or impractical decisions made by “corporate” is a nice benefit.

This week’s step will be to eliminate drinking coffee from large chain stores( Starbucks, Tully’s, Seattle’s Best, Dutch Bro’s).This seems like a weak step from the viewpoint of someone who’s never left the Northwest, but out east the game does change.

The midnight drive to find “fourth-meal”

Last night hunger drove me into an Albertson’s searching for burrito makings.  The crave isn’t odd for me, usually it’s satiated by a simple trip to Taco Bell, but not that night.  I’ve been trying to avoid fast food for a multitude of reasons lately only one of which being the fact that most chains don’t work to support their local community. Instead, I signed up to make the burritos by hand.  As an experiment I decided to buy all “organic” ingredient to see what the cost difference would be.

I haven't found any good local sources for avocados, boullion cubes or rice.

Beans: At first I couldn’t find any beans that were certified organic, until I found one white can of organic pinto beans.  After finding that first can, I realized for nearly every type of canned bean they carried, there was at least one organic option. My favorite part about buying 12 0z’s of organic pinto’s was the simplicity of its ingredients list, organic pinto beans, water and salt.

Price: $1.49

Non-organic alternaltive: $ .89 Extra ingredients: Calcium chloride(preservative) and calcium disodium EDTA(for color).

These are both chemicals that have been connected with stomach problems.  Here are a few reputable Web sites that show what these chemicals are used for and what their effects are

MSDS for calcium chloride

Calcium disodium EDTA


After beans I searched for meat.  The item nearest to organic beef that Albertson’s offers is a harmone free, grass fed beef.  Although technically not organic, which could be for any number of reasons, the option was still better than buying beef with packaging that can’t even promise its contents doesn’t consist of a cannibals.

Price of harmone-free, grass fed beef: $5.49 a pound.  Equal fat alternative:$4.49.

The movie “Food Inc.” does a good job explaining where our meat comes from and why buying local isn’t a bad idea.


Albertson’s had no organic alternative for tortillas.

The rest of the ingredients were already at my house: a two-year-old bag of rice, 2 WINCO avocados(not organic), boulion cubes( add to boiling water before adding rice to add a lot of flavor to the plain grain) and lettuce from the Milwaukie Farmers Market.

The final product, topped with roma tomatos and Tapatio!

I’m not going to say because I used a better beef and organic beans that the burrito tasted better, but it was pretty damned good and the fresher, cleaner ingredients didn’t change the flavor at all.  However, the knowledge that I didn’t partake two chemicals that are known to cause stomach problems is relieving to me (I have IBS and stomach problems I love to avoid).

This weeks pledge:

Watch labels and avoid foods with the chemicals calcium chloride and calcium disodium EDTA.

Green Canteen Review: Bamboozle the Canteen

Bamboozle the Canteen
It may save me from contributing to the 28 billion plastic bottles used a year but this canteen is not green.

I was going to make this second post about the complexities of defining sustainability, complete with an interview from Clackamas Community College’s former Sustainability Committee Chair Jim Grabil. Instead, I bought a water bottle.

The “Green Canteen” is a 16 ounce thermal aluminum container of contradictions. I bought it in a fit of debauchery at Wal-Greens with an ultimate plan in mind to denude the red lie.

Sustainability is in right now and although it is a positive and progressive movement there is still the usual batch of salivating predators trying to tear off their pieces of an uninformed consumer. Any company with a marketing department has thrown the word green on at least some part of their product and Wal-Green’s is no exception.

The Canteen’s label displays the features, 100 percent recyclable (down from 110 percent which state required them to change due to the laws of nature), stainless steel body produced without the use of toxins, a life expectancy of 100 years and its even made in the super local location of China.

Although recyclable materials are a good start and an unknown method of “toxin-free” production seems to be like a good thing, the Chinese production kill the concept of supporting the local community. The fact that Wal-Greens is child company of Wal-Mart brings another layer of confusion to whether this bottle is really green.

In reality it is just another normal water bottle with a different label. There are advantages of stainless steel canteens but just because it’s not a plastic bottle does not mean it should be marketed as a sustainable product.

The road to sustainability will be marked by the dead bodies of imitators, and this canteen is going to one of them.

This weeks move: no more plastic water bottles.

Cost: $3.49 (and they last a lifetime if treated right)

This site explains some of the benefits of moving away from using plastic bottles.