Category Archives: mini challenges

Experiments in Square-Foot Gardening

This month the mini-challenge is localizing our food.We’re paying attention to where our food comes from at the coop, choosing Minnesota or Wisconsin-grown, rather than California or Mexico. At our last trip, 24% of our purchase was local.

raised bed garden box

One of our square foot garden boxes

The other big effort – especially this time of year – is in the garden.

Last year we worked with the Permaculture Institute for Cold Climates and had an urban farmer create and work our veggie garden. This year we’re back to doing it ourselves, but with a twist. We’ve planted several square foot gardens in addition to a more traditional vegetable plantings directly in the dirt (the circular bed). The square foot layout is intended to maximize yield while minimizing space, to virtually eliminate weeding, and to generally simplify gardening.

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June Mini-Challenge: Eat Local

June in Minnesota means gardening!

Our mini-challenge this month is to take steps to make our food choices more local.

Gardening: If you’ve got a yard, you can start a garden. At our house, we are trying out square foot gardening. We’ve planted some plants in the traditional manner. We’ve got some in boxes with our own soil, and we’ve got 3 boxes planted with the special Mel’s mix. We’ll see how they do.

Don’t have space for a garden? Try a container garden on a patio or deck. One group member who had no sun in her yard walked over to a neighbor and asked if she could garden in her spare lot. The neighbor said yes.

Shop local: Maybe you don’t have time to garden. You can still shop more locally by buying at the Midtown Farmer’s market or the coop. Or visit your favorite restaurant and see if they source their foods locally. Consider signing on to the Eat Local challenge.

A group member reported that if you shop the Seward Coop, your receipt will show you what percentage of your purchase was locally grown. She recently took a class on shopping the coop on a budget and reported that it was very informative and inspirational. She realized she could save a lot more money. There is another class coming up on July 16.

Understand Food Issues: Maybe you’d like to get a better understanding of the issues. Consider joining a book group at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. The next book the group is reading is Slow Death by Rubber Duck, by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, July 19, 6:30–8:00 p.m. at Peace Coffee Shop. “How a dare between two friends became a revealing lesson about how toxins in everyday products affect us all.”

Whatever you do, happy eating!

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May Mini-Challenge: Reducing Trash

This month our mini-challenge goal is to reduce the amount of garbage our households (or businesses) send to landfills. Up for an even bigger challenge? How can you reduce both trash and recycling? (Recycling takes energy, too.)

If you tamed the PAPER dragon last month, you already have a head start on reducing one of the biggest area of trash. If you became part of the Minneapolis organics trash pick-up program (the green garbage can), you’ve made headway in reducing one of the other big contributors to landfills.

Check out an earlier post on organizing to make recycling and composting easier. This month our household will be paying attention to packaging on things we purchase.

Reducing Paper Use: Toilet Paper

When we first talked about the paper mini-challenge at the Longfellow Sustainability Group, Peter joked that he was going to give up toilet paper, to which there was a resounding chorus of laughter and oh no’s. He hasn’t done anything about this challenge yet but I thought I’d look into the options for living TP-free and the environmental effects of our use of toilet paper.

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4 tips to make recycling cleaner, easier and more efficient

One way to really stick with behavior goals, in this case, the goal of more recycling, is to change the environment to make it more conducive to success. To improve our in-home recycling efforts, I made the following changes to make recycling cleaner, easier and more efficient:

  1. Added an easy-to-use, in-home recycling station by the kitchen
  2. Added recycling stations in a few other rooms of the house
  3. Switched to reusable curbside recycling bags
  4. Replaced tall kitchen trash cans with smaller trash and compost bins

Take a look! It’s now really easy to get ready for recycling day. And we’ve reduced our trash tremendously.

Hidden Paper Waste: Alternative Feminine Hygiene Products

Every year, over 12 billion disposable menstrual pads and tampons are thrown away in the U.S. That’s huge!

While these products are really convenient, there’s just no way around the fact that they are costly to the environment in terms of expanding landfills and use of natural resources, not to mention dollars from our wallets. Individually, we women can expect to spend several thousand dollars over the course of our lifetime on this disposable paper/plastic product that typically is not biodegradable.

There ARE good options out there.

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Ending Junk Mail

Recycling paper is better than dumping it in landfills, but it’s still a huge waste of resources to manufacture, transport and dispose. Here’s a  link to tips about ending junk mail. Note: Leslie and I have eliminated a lot of junk mail, but it’s damned persistent. To finally end unwanted catalogs, we had to cut out the mailing labels with the customer ID, and send it back with a request to stop mailing us. We used postage-paid postcards from the post office to simplify the process.

April Mini-Challenge: Taming the PAPER dragon

This month the Longfellow Sustainability Group will be looking at ways to reduce/reuse/recycle paper — all kinds of paper: kleenex, paper towels, mail, magazines, and personal products.

Our neighborhood recycling program picks up clean paper and cardboard. If you are part of the City of Minneapolis pilot program for collection of  organics, you can include your paper waste that has been contaminated by food. It’s not too late to sign up for organics collection. Just click on the link above.

Curbing Our Energy Appetite

Powering Down One Appliance At A Time

water-powered digital alarm clock

I need an alarm clock but I don't need to use electricity. Here is the water-powered alarm clock we got yesterday.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, in 1975 the average household had fewer than two electronic products. In 2007, the average household had 25 consumer electronic products (computers, DVD players, video game consoles, cordless phones, digital cameras, high-def televisions).

It’s going to take a lot more than energy efficient lightbulbs to make a dent in runaway energy use. It’s going to mean taking a long, hard look at what we are using electricity to do. I’ve been going room to room, looking at what’s plugged in and asking myself:

  • Is it something I really value?
  • If so, is there another way to accomplish the same task that uses less or no energy?
  • Can I power this from a renewable energy source?
non-electric carpet sweeper

carpet sweeper

In the past week, we’ve replaced 2 items that use electricity. The water-powered digital alarm clock pictured above tells you time, date, temp and has a decent, though not overly loud, alarm. You need to change the water once every two weeks to keep it running. It is not backlit – which can be both a blessing and a curse. We’ll see.

We also bought a carpet sweeper (again, from Lehmans) to reduce the use of the electric vacuum cleaner. This thing sure does a good job picking up cat hair. And I might develop some arm muscles using it… which wouldn’t be bad.

Phantom Load: Ferreting Out the Energy Vampires

Phantom load is electrical use from appliances that are plugged in but not in use. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, phantom load can account for 5-10% of the average home’s energy use, or some 65 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. That adds up to 87 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in our air and $5.8 billion from our wallets. In other words, the energy vampires located all around our home are bleeding us dry.

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