Our Voices, Green Choices is a blog highlighting green projects and programs happening at the Library as well as providing news about all kinds of "green living" topics both locally and beyond. We want to educate and inspire our community to embrace a greener lifestyle by sharing ideas and conversations with each other.
Posts by lmulford
My mother-in-law called me last week and was bursting with excitement. She had picked her first crop of green beans and her first big ripe tomato from her vegetable garden. This is nothing new for her. She’s been gardening for years and years, but the fun of harvesting those first fruits of your summer-long labor of love never gets old.
So what if you’re new to gardening - how do you know when fruits and vegetables are ripe for picking? Knowing when to harvest will guarantee the freshest, most flavorful and nutritious produce from your garden. Here's a good article from Mother Earth News that offers detailed information on how to pick produce at its peak flavor.
Don’t have a garden? The local farmers’ markets are the next best thing to having one in your own backyard and they’re bursting with the best of summer’s bounty right now. Check out this great color-coded guide to find out what’s currently in season and then you can pick up the freshest produce around.
Want to learn how to preserve these great flavors of summer? Join us on Thursday, August 25 at 7 p.m. for the next Growing Green program, “Preserving the Harvest”. Master gardeners from the University of Illinois Extension Service will offer information and handouts on which methods are best for preserving each type of produce.
Check back next week when I’ll share a couple of my favorite recipes using the best of summer’s produce. We’d love to hear about your adventures in gardening either here or on our Facebook page.
Would you give up your career as a journalist in Manhattan to start a cooperative, self-sustaining farm with the man you love? That is what happened to Kristin Kimball, author of The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love, this month's Reading Green selection.
It is a candid and poignant chronicle of Kimball and her new husband's journey to grow everything needed to feed a community on a 500 acre farm near Lake Champlain. It was an ambitious idea, a bit romantic, and it worked. Now, every Friday evening, all year round, a hundred people travel to Essex Farm to pick up their weekly share of the "whole diet"—beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, maple syrup, grains, flours, dried beans, herbs, fruits, and forty different vegetables—produced by the farm. The book is an irresistible read filled with vivid descriptions of landscape, food, cooking and marriage.
You can read more about the author and an excerpt from the book here; then come join us for the discussion on August 18 or August 27. You don't have to read the book to attend but you might certainly want to after the discussion.
Learn more about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in Illinois here. To find CSAs in our local area click here.
How is your garden growing? Have so much produce that you could feed your whole neighborhood? Consider donating your extra fruits and vegetables to the Daily Herald’s Giving Garden program. Food pantry officials across the suburbs are seeing an increased demand, so they are relying on local gardeners to help out in providing nutritious fruits and vegetables to families struggling to make ends meet. Be a giving garden by dropping off your produce at one of these local sites. It’s a green idea that’s good for everyone.
Where’s your favorite place to get the best of summer’s bounty? Let us know here or on our Facebook page.
With the consumer product industry’s ability to introduce new upgrades to products at a much faster pace, we’ve become more casual about “out with the old and in with the new”. Who doesn’t enjoy getting the latest and greatest in new technology? If it’s affordable for us, why not?
Because we’re consuming more and more of the world’s resources which in turn is creating more and more of the world’s waste. This is what bothered Annie Leonard and led her to create the film, The Story of Stuff, which has been viewed over 12 million times by people around the world. People had so many questions after viewing it, that last year she published her groundbreaking book of the same name, so people would have a greater understanding of the life cycle of all the stuff we use every day—where our cotton T-shirts, laptop computers, and aluminum cans come from, how they are produced, distributed, and consumed, and where they go when we throw them out.
Ms. Leonard’s book is this month’s Reading Green selection for discussion. Its full title is The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession With Stuff Is Trashing The Planet, Our Communities, And Our Health - And A Vision For Change. Join us on Thursday, July 28 or on Saturday, July 30 when we'll be screening the 20 minute film and discussing it and the book.
The book offers a well-researched and eye-opening account of the life cycle of all the stuff we buy and suggests some solutions for the problems created by all of it. We’ll talk about those and some of the actions people can take to help lessen the environmental health impacts on our lives and how we can reduce our ecological footprint.
You do not have to have read the book to participate. In fact, you might want to read it after seeing the movie and listening to the discussion. It’s an easy read, eye-opening and enlightening. It will make you think twice before you run out to buy the next new thing that the media tells you “you have to have”.
The Library is continuing to collect small electronics for recycling in the blue bin near the Checkout Desk. We are working with Recycling Avenue, a nonprofit company run by a group of young adults who are physically challenged. All donated items are tax deductible. Forms are available on the bin. Learn more about Recycling Avenue.
The dog days of summer are officially here so instead of dialing down the air conditioner a few degrees, try some of these tips for staying cool and reducing your utility bill at the same time.
- Be a Fan of Fans. Using stationary, ceiling and whole-house fans is one of the greenest ways to keep your cool in the summer. They use less energy than central air and window units, are less expensive to install and best of all, can dramatically lower utility bills by reducing the need to rely on air conditioning. I have a whole house fan in my home and ceiling fans in all the bedrooms and using them efficiently is an amazing energy saver.
- Install a programmable thermostat. This is a great investment. In the first year after installation, you can reduce your energy bills by more than you paid for the thermostat. For every degree you raise your thermostat, you reduce your cooling costs between 7 and 10 percent. Even if you don’t have a programmable one, set it higher when you’re out of the house for any length of time. Read more
- Close your blinds or shades during the hottest part of the day. Opt for white window shades, blinds or drapes to reflect heat away from the house, and be sure to close curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day. Read more.
- Use heat-generating appliances sparingly. Avoid using the oven on hot days -- use the microwave, cook on the stove, grill outside or my favorite - treat yourself to dinner out. Get more tips on avoiding heat buildup.
- Visit the Library. When the power was out for a number of residents after the last storm, the library was a very busy place. It’s air conditioned and during July you can also enjoy the free dinosaur exhibit, Origins: The Dawn of Dinosaurs Check it out and all of the other summer activities happening at AHML.
Read more about keeping your cool here.
Do you have some good suggestions for staying cool during the dog days of summer? Share them with us here or on our Facebook page.
With summer celebrations in full swing, you’re sure to be spending more time outdoors maybe at a BBQ or watching a fireworks display. Unfortunately, the swarm of pesky mosquitos will be there too. Here are a few tips on how to keep them at bay in some natural ways instead of spraying all those chemical-infused insect repellents
- Mosquito Dunks - If you have water features in your yard like bird baths, rain barrels or ponds, consider getting some mosquito dunks available at hardware stores and garden centers. Also called larvacides, mosquito dunks are bacteria tablets that you can drop in standing water to kill mosquito larvae.
- Burn some citronella candles - They have been shown to reduce mosquito bites by up to 42 percent.
- Rub on some herbs. A handful of crushed herbs gently rubbed on the skin releases their essential oils that often will repel bugs for a short period of time. Try lavender, lemon balm, lemongrass (where citronella comes from), lemon thyme, and even basil or rosemary. Check out this video to learn about more plants that repel mosquitoes.
- Love those scented geraniums – many gardeners say that swishing their hands through the leaves of geraniums gives some protection against bites. Also catnip is said to be 10 times more effective than DEET. While it’s a very invasive plant, a pot or two on the patio couldn’t hurt.
- Try a product called Bite Blocker. It contains soy, coconut and geranium oils and is much safer than putting chemicals on your skin.
- Learn more about outsmarting mosquitoes here.
Do you have a favorite natural way to fend off mosquitoes? Let us know either here or on our Facebook page.
Would you be willing to be a green pioneer in your neighborhood and rip out parts of your carefully manicured lawn? Huh? Why would I want to do that? I would tend to agree with that response except I’ve just finished reading this month’s selection of the Library’s Reading Green discussion group, Second Nature, by Michael Pollan. It has really made me consider a different perspective. This is a fun book to talk about and I hope you’ll join us on June 23 for the discussion.
Chosen by the American Horticultural Society as one of the 75 greatest books ever written about gardening, it’s a witty collection of essays that explores attitudes towards nature and wilderness, environmental questions, and what gardening teaches us about the overlapping of nature and culture. He has a chapter titled, “Why Mow? where he muses that "lawn mowing feels like copying the same sentence over and over." He offers a lot of food for thought about the absurdity of trying to grow something that is not native nor even suited to the geography and climate of most of our country.
Where did this love affair with the perfect lawn come from? According to Ted Steinberg, author of American Green ,it emerged in the aftermath of World War II, fueled by the surge in homeownership and the rise of suburbia. Social norms and corporate advertising made lush green lawns both desirable and achievable with the right products, of course, that had to be used season after season.
At the same time, I’ve been coming across the term “sustainable landscape” in more and more places. There seems to be a cultural shift taking place to convert the once coveted green lawn into a green-smart landscape as we face the realities of what all the fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals are doing to us and our ponds, streams, lakes and wildlife. The Daily Herald had an article about it last weekend, "Saving Creeks and Lakes – the Lawn and Short of It".
Garden Designer Rebecca Sweet also talked about it in her article, "So You Want to Create a No-Lawn Front Garden". She comments that she’s been noticing a growing trend over the past few years with more and more people wanting to replace their labor intensive front lawn with a beautiful low-water, low-maintenance garden. Take a look at the before and after photos she has provided. These are quite impressive makeovers.
So not quite ready to go out there and rip up your back 40? Maybe there can be a happy medium in moving toward a more sustainable landscape. When many of the trees in my yard reached a level of maturity where they were providing great energy-saving shade for our home, they were also putting a kibosh on the growth of our sunlight-starved grass. I finally decided to have a good portion of my lawn replaced with native perennials and shrubs. Sometimes I miss the wide expanse of green grass, but I love the plantings and the trees more and just like this new type of landscape, I’m learning more and more about living the way nature intended.
On a very recent dreary, cold day, I found myself pining away for a sign of summer and thinking, " wouldn’t it be perfect to be able to get up early on a warm and sunny Saturday morning and head down to the local farmers market"? No longer just wishful thinking – the time has finally come! Farmers markets are busting out everywhere and the Arlington Heights market opens this Saturday, June 11, right behind the library in the parking lot at Vail and Fremont. The market will run from now until Oct. 22 and the hours are 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Farmers' markets offer farm-fresh, affordable, convenient, healthy local products such as: fruits, vegetables, cheeses, herbs, fish, flowers, baked goods, meat and much more.
Supporting a local farmers market is one of the greenest things you can do. Why?
- The produce you purchase will be fresher than anything you can buy in a store.
- It will have traveled fewer miles to get to you.
- Small local farmers are less likely to use lots of chemicals in growing their produce.
- You can actually talk to them to find out exactly what growing methods they use.
I'm a bit of a market aficionado always looking for the best of the best so if you've been to the Dane County one on the capital square in Madison, WI you'll know what I'm talking about. That's worth at least one road trip over the summer, but there are so many in our area that you'll really enjoy getting to know. The Palatine and Elk Grove Village markets also have Master Gardener booths where you can ask the experts questions about anything that’s growing in your yard – veggies, herbs, flowers, perennials, etc.
Here are some tips I learned long ago after visiting my first farmers market a few years back:
- Always bring cash – it’s rare to find a vendor that takes credit cards.
- While we’re talking about money, plan an allotted amount for your purchases. It’s easy to get dazzled by the array of enticing booths.
- Bring your own bags – be green or face the evil eyes of others when they see you walking around with ten different plastic bags.
- Bring resealable containers to pack items like your berry purchases. Vendors do not provide them for you.
- Arrive early – the early bird gets the pick of the produce, gorgeous fresh flowers and yummy baked goods and, oftentimes, free samples.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions – most farmers love to chat with customers about what they're growing..
And speaking of “growing”, don’t forget to register for our next Growing Green seminar, How Does Your Garden Grow, on Thursday, June 16 at 7 p.m. We’ll have a team of gardeners talking about how to efficiently maintain your vegetable garden and reap the most from your plantings.
And If you make it to one of the local markets this weekend, give us the dirt on what you thought was the best thing about it. We’d love to hear from you here as well as on facebook and twitter.
Want to learn more about what happens after you drop your trash at the curb or toss it into the dumpster? Head out this Saturday, June 4, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to SWANCC’s Open House at the Glenview Transfer Station located at 1151 N. River Road in Glenview.
You’ll find out what happens to landscape and solid waste before it heads to the landfill and you'll even have some fun while you're at it. The Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) holds the open house annually to raise awareness about the importance of source reduction and recycling practices.
Take a look at the planned activities – there’s something for everyone:
• View garbage being processed from an enclosed gallery
• Check out educational exhibits
• Learn how materials are handled on garbage pickup day
• Play lawn games and win prizes – weather permitting
• Bring American flags, eyeglasses, hearing aids, batteries and mercury-containing
thermometers for recycling. (Please be sure to bring mercury thermometers in a sealed
Do not bring Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs or Household Chemical Waste.
Keep bringing in those discarded cell phones, laptops and more to the Library. Our Small Electronics Recycling program has been so successful that we will continue collecting items on an ongoing basis in the blue bin near the Checkout Desk. Check here for accepted items.
Have some good ideas or tips on how to reduce or recycle the amount of what we throw in the trash? Let us hear from you and we'll share it with others.
No, I did not just misspell the name of our planet. It happens to be the name of 350.org founder Bill McKibben’s latest book and the Library’s Reading Green book discussion choice this month. The full title of the book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. “Eaarth” is the name McKibben has assigned both to his book and to the planet formerly known as Earth.
Today the Earth with one “a,” according to McKibben, no longer exists. It has been carbonized out of existence. Two-a Eaarth is now our home. However you feel about the whole global warming issue, McKibben’s book makes for a great discussion. At first glance the premise sounds a bit grim, but the book actually forges a more hopeful outlook towards sustainability. He offers suggestions for how we can adapt our habits and change our thinking by relying more on local economies. Buying products from local growers, farmers and food artisans keeps money in the community, supporting the local economy as a means towards sustaining the type of community that will be able to weather a changing planet. (excerpt here).
You do not have to read the book to join in the discussion, but you just might want to afterwards. Please join us this Thursday from 7-9 p.m in the Lindsey Room.
After filling my car’s tank with $80 in gas this weekend, my foot lingered for a moment on the brake pedal. Now you really do have to put more planning into all those short little errands you used to run without thinking twice about it. A recent study revealed that US households spent nearly 9% of their total income on gas in April. That’s double what was spent two years ago. You can’t really avoid the pinch at the pump these days, but there are some simple ways to save some of your green.
- For starters, we could all slow down a bit. Every 5 mph you drive above 60 mph is like paying an additional 27 cents per gallon for gas. Consumer Reports found that slowing from 75 to 55 mph boosted gas mileage 33%.
- Idling gets you nowhere. Literally – Zero mpg. If you’re waiting for a train to go by or waiting for your kids to come out after school, turn off your car. The Arlington Heights Cool Cities Coalition put together some very interesting facts about idling (pdf) and how it not only wastes fuel and money but also pollutes our air.
- Be a BFF with your bike. May 16- 20 is National Bike to Work Week. Not only is it good for the environment, it’s even better for your health.
Check out even more tips to fuel your savings.
We’d like to hear some of the ways you’re trying to save some green on gas. Share here or on our Facebook page.