Tag Archives: community

Organic American Spirits Win: Hipsters rejoice!

I was completely unable to retire my burning desire for Camel Lights. Spirits regardless of their eco creds gave me a headache and always seemed to last long enough to get about 2 minutes late to every class.

I’m brooding. I haven’t had a cigarette I can remember smoking in the last 12 days so I felt it was a good time to do a sustainable tobacco update. When I started doing a little online research my fellow members of humanity began a campaign of disappointment. I found a few articles that actually addressed “eco-friendly” cigarettes, but when I heard the arguments against them I was dumbfounded. I’m used to anti-smokers hurling featherweight complaints but to actually berate a product for being “more ecologically friendly” seems to me to be a new low.

Should Cigarette Companies get to Market Eco-Friendly Products?

This was a main question that I encountered during my reading and honestly it was infuriating.  I’m not mad that a movement has started to bare companies that greenwash (claim to have sustainable credentials that aren’t viable) their products.  We are at the point now though where the term “green” has been slapped onto everything from diapers to private jet companies (http://www.flygreenjets.com/ I kid you not)  so to me picking on cigarettes as an argument for ecological growth seems wasted. A pack-a-day habit, still doesn’t compare to the drive down to 7-11.

America’s most sustainable smoke

I do, however, have an update that is valid to the sustainable cigarette topic.

This brand is leading the pack in terms of eco-marketing. The next best step is to grow your own!

The Canadian company du Maurier released a new packaging around 2006 that was considered “more environmentally friendly” but like a trusty steed, good ole American Spirits still hold onto their mantel with the release of the 100 percent organic cigarettes.

A Few of the Haters: There are definitely valid arguments below about environmentally friendly truths, I just don’t like to be singled out. Smoking may kill polar bears, directly or indirectly, but I’m guessing the nickel-metal hydride batteries popped inside any Toyota Prius probably aren’t too for the environment either.  And unlike RJ Reynolds they won’t give a full list of their ingredients.

http://redgreenandblue.org/2009/06/28/eco-friendly-cigarettes/

http://www.eco-friendly-promos.com/2009/07/07/sustainable-cigarettesfriend-or-foe/

http://grassrootsgourmet.net/2009/04/21/organic-cigarettes-saving-your-american-spirit-one-puff-at-a-time

http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/businesspolitics/tobacco-industry-latest-to-make-ridiculous-eco-friendly-claims/864

Tobacco Ingredients for the Curious and Masochistic

The biggest surprised encountered during my search today was how easily RJ Reynolds offered up their ingredients and how exhaustive their list was.

The chemicals from all those truth commercials

Weekly step

From now on I’m going to find one “greenwashed” product a week to highlight and avoid.

Just a little more potential greenwash: Prius Outdoes Hummer in Environmental Damage

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Overwintering: The Year Round Experience.

Black opal

I bought this African Blue Basil last year. After waiting for seeds to be produced for the entire summer, I learned that this plant is a hybrid and has the reproductive potential of two mules. With a little cloning this plant has lived on the last three months in my bedroom.

Looking out the window I can finally see the sun’s arch reach over the neighboring apartments, a signal of the approaching spring. Pretty soon gardeners all throughout the Northern Hemisphere will be elbows deep in dirt preparing for another year of foodstuffs.

This year, instead of heading to the nearest Home Depot for the cheapest seeds I can find, I’m utilizing one of the coolest concepts that I have heard of in a long time. I am buying my seeds from a company called Seed Savers Exchange(SSE).

So what I’m buying brand name seeds?

The Exchange realized that as agriculture become more standardized the plethora of seeds that were saved within families for generations were being lost.  The mechanical mass extinction event was taking place and the exchange felt it had to act. The company started an exchange based seed bank.  Members throughout the world share their seeds with the company and other members around the world. Through the organization members are encourage to either buy and sell with each other. SSE also sells to the general public although it only offers an sampled selection of the vast variety of seeds at their disposal.

The seeds they save are all heirlooms, meaning they have been reproduced continually for at least 50 years.  Although these seeds are going to prove to be more expensive than my old shopping habits, I’m going to be winning in the long run. Since all of these will be non-hybrid plants, the seeds will be viable for saving and hopefully regrowing next year.

This weeks step is to buy heirloom seeds.

Seed Savers Exchange

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.

What the “F**r trade” does sustainability mean anyways?

Green is the new everything.
It’s no secret that the recent cultural turn towards sustainability has met its vast success because it’s now cool to “go green”. When a Pabst drinking hipster will yell at someone for not recycling, we are looking at a strange, confused, yet hopeful future.

The words green and sustainable are inescapable part of our daily lives for many now but the terms have become empty because of the amount of times and reasons for their use.

So what does sustainable mean?

For the amount it is used, finding a clear-cut definition of what sustainability means isn’t the easiest task.  Words like organic, local, green have all become closely associated with sustainability and people who use anything with those tags seem to think that the product their associated with is sustainable. You can’t trust a label to authenticate that a product isn’t harmful to our future.  Instead, you have to carefully consider the different aspects of what the product is and how it is made

While searching for the definition of online I ran into a sight Ecoedge.ca.  Douglas Barnes, a permaculture designer from EcoEdge Design, a company that creates sustainable systems for homes, farms, gardens and water systems, seemed to have nailed down the wobbly question of what the word means.

“A system is sustainable if over its lifetime it produces or stores more energy than it consumers in its creation, operation and maintenance.”

At first this definition may seem overly complicated or thick but later in his definition Barnes gives an example of how this can be applied.

“Think of a bank account as an analogy. How long can you continue your lifestyle if you are continually spending more money than you earn? Sooner or later, that lifestyle will come to an end.”

This is just one corn farm I encountered going cross-country. As of 2007 PBS stated that 20 percent of U.S. produced corned is turned to ethanol but is that good? Two articles at the bottom of this post contradict each other in an attempt to answer this question.

Before stumbling upon this definition of the word, I was using a different view for looking at sustainability.  My definition was that if something isn’t causing harm to earth or people then it was sustainable but the statement was vague and left a lot to interpretation.

Barnes interpretation of sustainability gives an in-depth description of what to consider when purchasing products or creating sustainable systems.  But sustainability has absorbed so much and the word has swelled to such giant proportions, with arms reaching so wide, that it cannot be bound by one definition alone.

Merriam-Websters dictionary defines sustainability in the way that I have seen it used frequently.

“A method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” Or “Capable of being sustained.”

No matter how you choose to look at sustainability, it becomes a matter of perception whether or not something is sustainable. I asked Barnes to break down sustainability into categories, hoping to somehow make a shortcut to deciding whether or not something is sustainable.  What he offered me was something less than I expected, the unadulterated truth.  There is no idiots guide to sustainability or 8 fold path towards a renewable world. To be a  sustainable consumer it requires individuals to be well-informed and think independently.

“Sustainability is a very holistic concept … artificially breaking it down into categories has inherent problems. Consider grain-fed, shed-raised dairy cattle versus pasture-raised cattle. If you look at the methane emissions from the grain-fed cattle, they are lower than that of the pasture-raised cattle. Considering the cost of this release of a greenhouse gas that has 22 times the heat storage capacity of CO₂, one might be tempted to say that grain-fed dairy cattle are more sustainable than pasture-raised cattle. But this ignores the costs in fuel, soil, and water table damage (and associated health costs that go with polluted groundwater) involved in growing, processing and transporting the grain – not to mention the costs involved due to increased instances of E. coli in grain-fed cattle.

“So, you can see the difficulty in categorizing sustainability. Things are so intertwined that one really needs case-by-case consideration.” Barnes stated.

When I consider my future and think about steps I’m taking towards a sustainable existence, I’m realizing the importance of research.  I’m also starting to get the concept that if I truly want to explain my journey to the end of my destructive ways, I’m going to have to justify why the steps are important, both to myself and to whoever reads this.

Buying a product or starting a practice solely because it’s generally accepted as sustainable isn’t enough. If my mind ever seems to miss a detail, I’ve killed enough brain cells to make this happen more often than I’d like, I fully encourage anybody to fill me in. I don’t know everything and I’m quickly realizing that I almost know nothing.

On that note it’s time for a weekly step.  Lately I’ve been filling my head full of all sorts of anti big ag propaganda, “King Corn”, “Food Inc.”, “Fed Up” etc … in all of this listening and learning I have realized one of the big enemies in our world comes from corn. The sprawling fields of corn that cover the waist of our nation and produce one hell of a boring scene to any road trip, are one of the United States sustainable curses. In more ways than one this corn breaks dooms our world to a poor existence.  Having crops grown in the midwest and shipped to all parts of the country means that by the time consumers can get their hands on this corn, it has taken more energy to ship the carbon based gold than it can produce.

I admittedly have a bias when it comes to corn. After watching crop after crop of the sensitive food source get wiped out by bugs and soil problems, I can only imagine what goes into making thousands of acres of perfect, weed free corn.

This isn’t the only breach in the definition of sustainability that corn has made.  Many of the methods used to produce a majority of American corn spit yellow phlegm in the noble face of sustainability.  The soil used to grow these crops have often become depleted of nutrients required to grow natural corn leaving us with a chemical hybrid, ever heard of crop rotation?  It would seem that a lot of farmers have not.  Instead of letting the ground restore itself, chemical fertilizers powerful enough to level buildings are added to the crops and as a result our environment takes the hit. A result of soil not getting organic substances, such as compost, is that our land is slowly being hit by desertification, leaving a future dust bowl within reach.

While the lawyers and the companies behind the chemical fertilizers will vehemently fight the gloomy light that has been cast on their products, their ploys at reassuring the public are about as convincing as big tobaccos argument that cigarettes don’t cause cancer, just fun.

Now that I’m finished with my long-winded rant this is my step

The beauty of capitalism is that we can make votes that count.  Every item we choose to purchase effects what companies will start offering. If consumers demand sustainable products then businesses will start to sell them. This week I’m voting, no, on one of big corns major products and no longer buy products containing high fructose corn syrup.

I personally like taking elimination steps because by cutting something out, you aren’t required to spend any money and right now I am broke.

Corn syrup definitely makes us fat, but is corn ethanol good for us? Again I find myself tripping over my own feet trying to find an answer.  Ultimately, I’m still stuck within the hazy fog of whats important and realizing that E-85 is shadowed area, perhaps lacking the green tint that it promises.

It takes less energy to create than it produces according to the USDA’s article Net Energy balance of Corn-Ethanol. This fact alone seems to stand up against the Eco Edge definition, but this is only one aspect of the crows nest

The doublethink kicks in when you do a little more research however.

A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford University as well as a few other organizations say that it may be energy efficient but it isn’t sustainable in a paper entitled, Climate change and health costs of air emissions from bio fuels and gasoline.

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.

Digging In: Cultivating for a small garden.

Not everyone has access to a tractor but as far as cultivating goes there probably aren't too many quicker or more efficient options.

It’s been hot lately which means the soil has been dry and easy to work, a blessing when it comes to tearing up a plot to grow a garden in.  In my experience cultivating, it is almost impossible to start upturning the earth when your working in a sticky sludgy ooze. So for a while I was playing the waiting game to actually start digging in.

Last week sometime I took advantage of the hot spell that we’ve been experiencing ( days of 90 plus) and dug in.  This time around I used a tractor to work the soil with.  I know that the goal of this garden is to show that planting can be done in a small city space and using a tractor is very counterproductive to that goal. But in the past two years I have used three different types of tools for cultivating, a tiller mounted on the back of a tractor, a Rear Tine rototiller, which is about the same size and shape of a lawnmower, and a human powered small garden cultivator.

When I was planting my home garden in Oregon earlier this year I used the small garden cultivator to tear up my 8×8 garden space and then used it again to plant 3 flats of Zinnias, but after the long days of work here in Tennessee the tractor called and I answered.

This is a rear tine rototiller. Automatic rototillers can shred the time it takes to cultivate a garden, however, this super time saver comes at a price.

Like I said though, it’s not an easy task to get a tractor in the city and especially into a community garden plot or apartment garden.  You might find a mob of people chasing you because you tore through there property to get to a spot and the 15 mile per hour max speed of the machine your using probably won’t be able to keep you ahead of the crowd for long.  You may get a few of the rioters with the front end loader but you’ll probably lose the fight ultimately. In the city the best options are rototillers and hand cultivators.

A rototiller is excellent for small to medium sized gardens.  Many are self powered and according to my uncle, the farm owner who has used many varieties of tillers, rototillers do a finer job of tilling than its cousin, the mammoth tractor.  It’d be hard however to till much more than an acre with any type of hand-pushed rototiller or even “self-powered” varieties that still require a lot of pushing and tugging to maintain a good line.

This is the down and dirty, cheap but effective manual cultivator. Running $25 this is perfect for small gardens

Small garden cultivators are perfect for the size of garden I’m working on right now.   If you don’t have room to store a rototiller or if they would cover your gardening area in a couple of pass overs with the one to two foot wide machine then I would definitely suggest using the garden cultivator.  They require elbow grease and aren’t for the lazy, but neither is gardening. A huge advantage to these types of cultivators is their price.  A small garden cultivator will run you around $25-30 dollars depending on where you shop. Even the smallest rototillers start at $200, a large investment for a micro garden.

If you are like me and trying to start a garden on a budget, then it’d be worth searching around for a friend or parent who already happens to have one of these tools around.  If all that you can get is a automatic rototiller then that seems perfect, but none of these options are terrible for borrowing.

Dixie Lee Farmers Market: An almost interview with the manager.

Ginger, far right, speaks with a constomer about the market outside the managers booth. My uncle has now been selling at the Dixie Lee farmers market for the last 3 years.

I had an interview recorded on my cell phone with one of our market managers, Virginia.  We were talking about the advantages of shopping at Farmers markets and why she initially wanted to get involved.   But somehow between the end of the conversation and the time the cell phone/recorder was getting slipped in the pocket the audio was lost.  Unfortunately I lost the glitz and glamour of having her quotes and I’m stuck having to paraphrase what she said.
Ginger with her husband Jess created the Dixie Lee farmers market just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.  What I found out about there experiences wasn’t a punch in the face type of surprise but something a little more subtle and uplifting.

Jeff and Ginger have somehow conned a master gardener into coming to the market every few weeks. This board that she brought describes different aspects of raised bed gardening. The market isn't just a selling place, the idea is to create stronger and more self reliant community.

She started off with a story.
A few years back Ginger asked a girl where lettuce came from and the girls flat, innocent and honest response was, Ingles( a local grocery store).  This was a sad statement for Virginia, or Ginger what people call her when they aren’t acting professional.  Building from that she said that one of the biggest benefits that people gain from shopping at farmers markets is an understanding of where food comes from and meeting the people who get their hands in the ground to make it.
She went on to discuss the debate between which is better, organic or local and commented that what people are coming to find out is that local food seems to be winning the debate.  Organic is nice in concept but just because it’s earned the label doesn’t necessarily mean much.  The food that isn’t organic isn’t necessarily worse, many farmers work with a policy on food that isn’t organic in the government certified version of the word but the process’ that these farmers use can actually be more beneficial to the health conscious consumer.  She went on to explain how some organic produce is sprayed with “safe” pesticides and explained that even if food is organic it can still come from anywhere.
Organic cows from Nebraska being shipped to Tennessee may make for healthier meat, but odds are the farms that produce them are corporate owned and the cattle don’t necessarily get a better life, just better feed.  Another point of concern to the truly sustainably minded consumer is the fuel used.  Buying from local farmers will save on the price hike for gas as well as the environmental consequences brought on by shipping mass amounts of Organic corn fed cows.
What I brought away from my conversation with Ginger was a sense of understanding food.

Just as a disclaimer I can’t remember if she actually asked the girl where lettuce came from, it could be any vegetable but my mind has a hard time retaining the subtler details.

After a short hiatus due to traveling and exhaustion, I am now returning to the weekly step.  This weeks step is I will be planting a garden.  I’ve been picking brains and planting seeds all week so tomorrow I’ll starting plotting my progress.

Dixie Lee Farmers Market