There’s been a slow, but consistent shift in the conversations between parents at the playground. We’ve replaced debates over Ferberizing with discussions about which fertilizer is the most environmentally friendly.
“Green” is the new black. And everyone, it seems, is dressing up for the party. Canvas bags are all the rage now at grocery stores. Recycling bins are the norm in most neighborhoods and businesses in Charlotte.
Going green is nothing new for Helen Chickering, who has two young children. She remembers growing up in the midst of the huge oil crisis during the 1970s, with a father who worked in the oil industry in Texas. She was constantly reminded to turn off lights and appliances, and to conserve wherever possible.
She brought that background with her to the Carolinas where she’s raising her family.
And while one could make the argument that we’re in the midst of another crisis called global warming, Chickering suggests a kinder, gentler approach when teaching children about how they can help Mother Earth. “Don’t scare kids about climate change and tell them the polar bears are going away. Keep it simple by getting kids outside to play. If they can develop a love for the outdoors now, it’ll be easier to teach them about these issues later on when they can understand it,” she says.
The key, of course, is getting on their level and making it fun.
Chickering suggests buying blank canvas grocery bags and having children decorate them with puffy pens and rhinestones. She’s also recycled old blue jeans with her children by cutting the legs off, sewing up the holes, and adding decorations and straps. The beauty is that the lesson can continue when kids take their handmade (and environmentally friendly) creations to the grocery store or farmers’ market. They can make their own decisions about fresh produce, and learn about organic and pesticide-free foods.
Buying and consuming organic food is an easy way to “go green.” But it can also be expensive for budget-conscious families. The good news is that you may not have to switch to a completely organic grocery list. Experts say some produce is particularly high in pesticides, while other fruits and vegetables aren’t quite as affected.
According to the non-profit Environmental Working Group, peaches, apples and bell peppers tend to have the highest average pesticide load. Pineapples, frozen sweet corn, avocadoes and onions often have the lowest.
You may also want to look for ways to eat local produce. There’s a chance it may not be organic and free of pesticides, but there is a green advantage to buying and eating local food. When you buy at grocery stores, most of the fruit and vegetables have traveled a long way in gas-guzzling trucks from the west coast, South America or other countries.
“Go talk to the farmers who actually grow the food you’re putting in your body,” says Mark Hibbs, owner and head chef of Ratcliffe on the Green restaurant in uptown Charlotte, specializing in organic and local ingredients. “I grew up on a farm and started cooking when I was 9 years old,” he says, “and I knew then that I wanted to grow up and honor the local farmer.”
Growing your own vegetables is another “green” option for organic produce. Rather than spraying pesticides on your tomatoes and peppers this summer, consider purchasing ladybugs. They may look sweet and innocent, but ladybugs are really predators — eating aphids, immature white flies, spider mites and other bad bugs.
Also, consider supplementing your garden soil with composted vegetable scraps you’d normally throw in the trash. Compost enriches soil with added nutrients and improves soil texture, aeration and water retention. Adding earthworms can also help.
As our drought continues, though, you’ll need to be a little creative when it comes to watering your garden. You might consider putting a rain barrel on your property to catch any extra rainwater you can get. Just pop a screen on top of the barrel to keep out bugs, leaves and other debris.
Chris and Gloria Clackum, who raised two boys in the Matthews area, purchased one several months ago to help their parched lawn. Not only is this a “greener” way of watering, but Chris says they’ve saved an average of $25 a month on their water bill. RainBarrelUSA — located in Waxhaw — sells 55-, 60- and 80-gallon rain barrels and all the attachments necessary.
You can get a smaller “rain barrel” effect by putting a big bucket in your shower to catch the extra water that’s wasted while you wait for the water to warm up. And instead of pouring the leftover water from steamed veggies or boiled eggs down the sink, use it on potted plants after it cools.
Recycle, Reuse Reduce
Teach your kids the three R’s — Recycle, Reuse and Reduce. There’s virtually no excuse for those bottles and cans to have their final resting place in a dump or waterway when we can just toss all of our recyclables right out our front door!
Through its voluntary CURB IT! program, the City of Charlotte offers everyone free recycling bins for plastics, glass, cans, newspapers, magazines and even junk mail. According to CURB IT! statistics, as many as 45 percent of all Charlotte residents participate in the recycling program. However, we throw away six times more trash than we recycle.
Recycling might just be the easiest way to start teaching our children about the bigger issue of global warming. Even kids as young as 3 and 4 are capable of putting plastic bottles and cans in the recycling bin. Starting at a young age makes kids more likely to think about recycling and the environment as they grow up. After all, they will be the ones to inherit the Earth when we are gone.
For more ideas on ways to “green” your home, see our article 10 Ways to a Greener Home
“William is Going Green” by James Martin, II. “William” is a green hybrid garbage truck. He and his friends work to clean up a fictional city and help teach children about going green at a young age.
“Going Green: A Kid’s Handbook to Saving the Planet” by John Elkington, Julia Hailes, Douglas Hill and Joel Makower. This book lists ways young people can help save the planet, such as feeding the birds and closing the refrigerator door.
“The Lorax,” by Dr. Seuss. The beloved Dr. Seuss had going green on his mind long before many of us did. “UNLESS someone like you … cares a whole awful lot … nothing is going to get better … It’s not.”
My First Green Book” by Angela Wilkes. This book is filled with great color photos and lists projects that kids can do to help recycle and cut down on water pollution.
Visit these Web sites to learn more about green living:
www.ewg.org (Environmental Working Group)
Erika Edwards is a Charlotte freelance writer and mom.