Tag Archives: Keeping It Local

12 Lane Highway of Choices

Deciding to head down the road of sustainability and self-sufficiency is very empowering, but it can get a little muddy. At some point you start looking at all of the areas you want to impact, or decrease your impact in, and realize that what you thought was a bike path is really a 12 lane highway of choices heading off in all directions. It’s a daunting prospect and can scare you back into your old habits. But have faith, it gets better.

It usually starts with a specific area; let’s say, independence from fossil fuels. This is an outstanding place to start, but what can we do to get started? The high gas prices of the late 2000s illustrates one way. When refined gas prices went through the roof, consumers fought back. We, as a consumer base, reduced total fuel consumption by few percentage points for 2008. It doesn’t sound like much, but that is millions of barrels of oil, and it was enough to make the oil companies to pause and decide to take a loss in their profit margin to get people back on the road by reducing prices. Getting a dime out of an oil company is an achievement. A few million dollars? Well, that is downright amazing.

Making changes doesn’t have to be a major impact on your lifestyle. If every American makes one change to reduce their carbon footprint or reduce consumption of natural resources or go a little out of their way to support their local economy, it all adds up into a better environment and economy. It may seem like that step is small, but with enough of us taking those small steps it will have a huge effect overall. Some of the small things that have a big impact are things like choosing reusable bags for shopping, taking a walk or bike ride to run short errands instead of hopping in the car, or shop at the local farmers market. These are small changes in lifestyle that can make a big impact on sustainability.

My wife and I have been using reusable shopping bags for a couple of years now. It was a very small change in our lifestyle but makes a difference and it makes us feel good too. We also started walking more, for health and to run small errands like going to the bank, small trips to the grocery store or out to lunch, getting a hair cut, and any errands to stores that are close by. For us, a round-trip walk to the bank takes about 20 minutes, which is isn’t much longer than taking the car.

Once you start making these little changes you tend to start thinking about other small changes you can make that will further your sustainable and self-sufficiency goals. If you take them one at a time and get used to it, incorporating other small changes is easy. By the time you know it, you are making a big difference. Some hard-core activists take on the “total life makeover;” stop bathing and move into a tree hammock. That’s great for making an impact statement, but it doesn’t work for most of us. Take the time to think about what changes you can make that will have a positive impact but won’t be so difficult to follow through with you’ll just give up.

For my family we started by paying a lot more attention to recycling and reduced our “garbage” volume to about a third. Next we moved on to reusable bags, then walking whenever it was practical. Our latest change is in green waste disposal. Food waste that used to go into the garbage can with a plastic liner we now save in a covered bucket. For the time being, we are still sending it to the dump (although not in a plastic bag so it can’t decompose), but that is just until I figure out how much green waste we generate and how much of our recyclables are compostable.

Yup, compost. Living in an apartment complex in big urban area presents a number of challenges that can limit getting involved in activities like composting. There are considerations like space allotments, local laws, and neighbor and building owner complaints. I have been looking at vermiculture and vermicomposting (raising worms and composting with there help) as a good way to convert our green waste and keep it out of a landfill. Because there are some technical aspects of this, it is a project that requires a little forethought and preparation. I am taking my time and working out the bugs (no pun intended), before I make the commitment to my family, the environment and our potential new partners, the worms.

Some of the things to think about if you are considering urban composting are: how much compostable waste does my family produce? How long will it take to process that volume of compostable waste? What is the best system to use? The first one requires taking the time to figure out realistically how much waste you generate and how much of it is compostable. Compostable waste includes most “green” kitchen waste, pretty much all organic matter fall into this category with a couple of exceptions: fatty and greasy waste and bone. These are not good to add to the mix because they take longer to process and generate unpleasant odors and attract bugs. Most other organic matter can breakdown with little to no offensive smells, especially with the help of our worm friends. We ca also include a lot of our paper and cardboard waste in there too, further reducing the volume of material that needs to be transported away.

As you have probably guessed, this is my current long term project. I will be posting more as things progress, for now I will leave you with this…

Think about what small things you can do to make a difference and give them a try.

A win for Keeping It Local!

Today was a good day. I went to Walmart, not to buy anything, but to pay off the last of our credit account. Actually, this was a double win for us and a win for Keeping It Local (a not yet existing organization / movement.) With out credit account paid off we can now close that account for good.

Why close it? Let’s go down the list. First off we have chosen to not support Walmart anymore. Second, it closes an account with a credit card company that charges outrageous fees, which is good for our budget. Third, it is one more step towards moving away from all of the big corporate companies that have bought, traded, and crushed by any means possible, American small business.

Yes, I know it’s a rant. But I am okay with that. I have been fighting to keep small businesses alive and well for years and it just seems to get harder and harder. Locally, at least here in San Jose, California, the city government seems to have a blood thirsty revenue generating attitude. Unless you are a big player or a non-profit, you just don’t count. Small businesses are swamped with municipal, county, state and federal regulations and fees to the point that some people find it much easier to conduct business illegally and stay off the grid while others do everything they can to stay afloat in the current economy while complying with all of the taxes, fees, and regulations.

What happened to encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit that Silicon Valley was so famous for? Sure, tech and bio-tech companies can still start up, and other companies can find incubators to grow them for acquisition, but what about the neighborhood mom-and-pop stores? It takes some work to find locals to buy from these days. Here in a major metropolitan area some of them have survived, but what about the small towns across the country that were basically shut down? Those company towns that lost it all when the company moved production overseas?

I am having a conversation with a friend online as I am writing this article and what I am getting at is unfolding in that conversation. Her son commented on something I had written on Facebook. He posted a comment about buying bike parts at his local bike shop. This is great and it makes me happy to see that. I asked if he knew about the bike shops supply chain. Do they by form U.S. manufacturers or overseas? I have no idea myself. I have plans to build a bike-truck at some point but I haven’t gotten in to it so I am actually a bit curious.

This is where we can make the difference in our economy. Let’s run with this local bike shop. If I go in to my local shop and ask “Where do the parts come from?” I am opening that supply-line dialog. If I get a response that they sell parts from overseas and some made in the good old USA, I’m going to chose the ones made here, and I am going to tell the owner of the bike shop that I prefer to by local, that’s why I am here in his shop instead of buying online or at some mega-store. I am also going to tell him that if he is willing to stock more U.S. manufactured parts I will go out of my way to promote him and his store.

Now lets take a different track. Lets say that all of the parts are made overseas. This is where we start another supply-line dialog, one that begins with asking: Are there any U.S. suppliers? Why don’t you carry them? I want to support your business because it is a local business but if you buy all of your parts directly from an overseas supplier, that is only keeping a small percentage on my money in the local economy.

We have to take the time to get to know who we buy from and how they operate, and it has to be a dialog. We can’t say, “Oh, you buy overseas, never mind.” We as consumers have to express why we are asking and how important it is to us that we support the local economy.

There are things that will be outside the “buy local” ideal. We are most likely not going to find pharmaceuticals produced in out town and they will have to come from somewhere else, but we can control where and who we buy products from. For me it has become a matter of conscience, a personal decision that I am committing to. Keep It Local is an ideal that I am aspiring to. Won’t you join me?