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(Re)Thinking Green

By April 19, 2024No Comments
Living Local – Christina Nifong

The journey to eating local, for me, began with a quest to shrink my environmental footprint.

Back in the early 2000s, I reasoned that feeding grain to cows had to be worse for the world than feeding it directly to people. And that eating produce from plastic shipped halfway around the planet had to be worse for my health — and Mother Earth’s — than growing the same veggies in my backyard.

So my husband and I made some big changes. We planted a garden, picked up our reusable bags, and found our way to area farmers markets. We replaced plastic kitchen containers with glass and metal, took a hard look at our single-use consumption (goodbye Kleenex, hello hankies), and created a way to compost in our tiny backyard.

For a while we maintained a flock of backyard chickens (how I miss those eggs!). We preserved as much as we could — think drying herbs when they are at their peak, turning a bumper crop of tomatoes into jarred sauce, and freezing fruit we picked from area farms or bought in bulk from local farmers.

Two decades later, many of those changes have become second nature. It doesn’t seem hard at all to separate food scraps from trash. Or to meal plan with plants at the center of our plates.

Others, though, are ready for a re-think.

As my kids have grown from curious toddlers, happy to dig alongside us in the dirt, into busy college and high school students, there’s less time to maintain a big garden and flock of layers. There are fewer mouths at home to feed — and more weekends spent moving someone into a new apartment or watching them on a stage in a faraway city.

And yet, there are sustainable choices to be made no matter where we are on life’s path.

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act offers significant incentives to households who invest in electric vehicles, solar panels, heat pump water heaters, and more. If you’ve got some savings in the bank, this might be the time to make a big dent in your home’s energy consumption.

The changes I’m contemplating are more modest. As I did in the early aughts, I am evaluating every moment of my day and asking: How can I use less? And reuse more? What are the behaviors I can change that, over time, might make a difference?

A few shifts I’m embracing:

🌎 We are turning our heat to 64 degrees at night and during the days when no one is at home. It’s an extra step (time to invest in a smart thermometer, I know) but one that consumes less fossil fuel and saves on our energy bill. We have long been big window openers in spring, summer, and fall. I love the many months when we get by without using heat or air conditioning at all! This summer we’ll bump the temperature up in the house a degree or two, in an effort to save on energy use in all seasons.

🌎 I am on the hunt to create a more sustainable bathroom, including shampoo and lotion that I can refill, soap with little to no packaging (bonus if it’s locally made), zero-plastic toothpaste, toothbrush, and floss, and nontoxic candles in containers that can be refilled or repurposed.

🌎 When we travel, we are packing our own shampoo, soap, and more (they can be transferred into small reusable containers if need be) to avoid the single-use plastic that proliferates in hotel bathrooms. We also pack our stainless steel coffee cups, double-walled water bottles, hankies, and cloth napkins. It’s not the end of the world to use a paper napkin, but it’s really not hard to bring our own for a weekend getaway.

🌎 After a terrible Wendy’s meal a few years ago, I declared the end to all fast food — even on road trips. We’ve since chosen local diners or fast-casual options as a step up in food quality and a significant reduction in landfill trash.

🌎  My husband is a dedicated bike commuter. Me? Not so much. But I am vowing to bike and walk more. It’s good for my health, my wallet, and my community’s air quality. Maybe it’s that trip to the (very walkable) post office or library. Or a mid-week dash to the farmers market or co-op for just a few items. Every replaced car trip feels like a lean in the right direction.

🌎 We are thinking more intentionally about what we plant in our yard. I love the blueberry bushes we’ve tended for several years and our backyard border of raspberries. As we add and replace landscaping, I am striving to put in as many food-producing perennials as I can (asparagus fronds are so pretty, even after their tasty stalks are gone). When I can’t plant food, I’ll opt for native plants that attract pollinators.

🌎 Cooking from scratch has been a central feature of my day for decades. And yet …. It can be so easy to pick up that plastic-boxed shortcut. Who has the time to soak beans from the bulk bin? There is no farmers market run at 9 pm on a weekday. I am giving myself grace, acknowledging that we are all making trade-offs constantly. But I am also nudging myself to always buy as unprocessed and local as I can and spend the time to do the work that comes with it. Think of cooking as a practice. It is good on so many levels. We just have to commit.

🌎 I am looking to strengthen my ties to sustainability-focused groups. Choosing a green option is often harder, more expensive, and/or more time consuming. Finding like-minded friends can help me stay the course. I’ll be searching for communities who garden, clean up the environment (plawking, anyone?), or are committed to recycling.

Spring brings new energy and the chance to try new things. Here’s to a greener 2024!

This article first appeared in our 2023 Spring Issue

Christina Nifong is a gardener and home cook, a mother to three, a writer of essays and articles, and the marketing and communications director for Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP). She loves the amazing flavors captured in a meal made with local food, the satisfaction of finding words that make an idea spark from the page, and sharing those passions with others. Find more of Christina’s writing at:

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