Tag Archives: Cynthia’s Blog

Raising A Green Baby

Tip of the Month – July 2016

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President of Sustainable Danville Area

When asked to define sustainability, I often say that it is acting in a way to protect our natural resources for future generations. As I write this, I’m days away from welcoming the future generation of my family—my first grandson. This child will be welcomed into this world by his parents and a doula in a birthing pool hopefully on his due date, Father’s day…what a present for this first time dad!

I thought I could not be more thrilled when my son shared the news on Thanksgiving Day, but then I got the baby shower invitation. Just above the RSVP line it said: “the parents have decided to use cloth diapers”. With the average baby using 6,000 diapers before potty training; choosing cloth diapers helps eliminate some of the 49 million disposable diapers sent to the landfill that then sits for 200-500 years before decomposing.

Cloth diapers have come a long way since white rectangular fabric that required a degree to fold properly and safety pins to hold in place, but sure to prick your fingers. Now, there are cloth options that are fluffy, soft, and as absorbent as disposables and fitted with snaps or Velcro and elastic legs for extra protection. Some even offer waterproof lining to prevent leaks or pockets that can be stuffed as thick as your baby needs. Because these diapers are easily adjusted they are can be washed and used until the child is potty trained. And while using a diaper laundry service saves a percentage of water usage; home-washing is the economical choice. But both reduce the ecological footprint over disposables by more than fifty percent.

It only seems logical that if one chooses cloth diapers, then you should consider eliminating baby wipes as well. If the average child goes through 6,000 diapers, then at two wipes per change, I figure 12,000 wipes are used and that doesn’t count other various uses adding to that number. Instead, use the following mixture and place cloth wipes in a wipes holder or freezer bag.

Cloth Wipes “Recipe”

3 cups warm water

2 Tablespoons olive oil

3 drops of lavender essential oil

2 drops Tea Tree Oil

2 Tablespoons organic baby wash

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Soak baby washcloths or other soft cloth and place in wipes holder. Do not wring out completely. The wipes holder will keep wipes moist until ready for use.

Reviewing my grandson’s (I like saying that) baby gift registry, I see that the green choices don’t stop at diapers and wipes. Here are a few other ways the parents are choosing to raise a healthy, green baby:

  1. Pumps and glass bottles – Breastmilk is the most ecologically sound food source since it is produced and delivered without using other resources. While artificial baby milk is a necessity for some, it uses resources and creates pollution like all other processed foods.
  2. Glass containers – Preventing chemical exposure from plastics is a good enough reason to eliminate plastic use. If you can’t eliminate all plastic containers, then avoid warming food in them and always hand-wash to minimize heat leaching the chemicals from the container. It’s also important to use less canned food since the resin-based lining of these cans often contains the harmful chemical bisphenol (BPA).
  3. Filtered water pitcher – Instead of buying purified bottled water, reduce plastic waste with in-home water filtration system or a simple counter-top unit.
  4. Baby food steamer and blender – Make your own baby food from seasonal, organic fruits and veggies ensuring your little one’s food is richer in nutrients and without pesticides. Buying bulk in season lowers costs and you use can flash freezing to save portion-sized for later use. If you can’t buy all organic, check the Environmental Working Groups (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” list to find the safest bets for you and your family.
  5. Gently-used clothing and toys – With friends ahead of my son raising green babies, they will be the lucky recipients of well-loved items that are locally-made, including organic, cotton clothing and wooden toys. We’ve already covered the importance of limiting plastic exposure, but given how quickly babies grow; utilizing used clothing is not only economical— it reduces the carbon load of producing items that are used for only a month or two.
  6. Natural bath care products – Good Guide was started by a dad worried about the ingredients in sunscreen he was using on his young child. Now you can check the ratings for shampoos and body lotion before using it on your baby. Another way to save your baby’s gentle skin and save water is to skip a few of those daily baths and sponge bath just his bottom.

The most touching of all the requested items was for friends and family to contribute to the library for the new baby. I loved passing along my son’s copy of The Wild Things, one of his favorite books. The complete set of A.A. Milne’s classic based on the adventures of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh will have to wait until the baby visits Nonna’s house.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today:

http://yourmonthlypaper.com/current.html

 

 

 

Getting to Zero Waste

Tip of the Month – April 2016

By Cynthia Ruzzi

As we approach Earth Day 2016—a day set aside for the past 45 years to channel our energy and consciousness towards caring for our planet—I find myself thinking about the Sustainable Danville Area motto, Every Choice Counts.  It is a phrase that has encapsulated the practices of many in our community and guided Sustainable Danville Area for the past six years. For some, it is a reminder that small changes contribute to a greater difference and for others it has led to lifestyle changes that deprioritize convenience in order to protect our special place for those that come after us. And while it is a reminder to make ecological and environmental choices that preserve our community and planet for future generations, the word ‘environmentalism’ is not the antonym to ‘luxury’ or ‘good-living’.

Not a plastic bagWhen I shop, I carry a natural cotton jute bag from Dean and Deluca—a stylish choice for a man or woman—or my favorite, Anya Hindmarch “I am not a plastic bag”, that she designed in the 1970’s to create environmental awareness. You have to admit either of these choices is better than a flimsy plastic bag from a local grocery store. And with Danville following Walnut Creek this July by banning single-use plastic bags, it might be time to start your very own collection.

If you’ve read Sustainable Danville Area articles about the importance of eating whole, local foods without pesticides, growing native, drought tolerant and edible gardens, driving electric, using LED lighting or creating art without chemicals, then you know our dedication isn’t just about what’s on the outside of the bag. However, with all our green practices, we still drink fine wine, coffee and eat chocolate—biodynamic, organic and fair trade but delicious none the less.

Which got me thinking…how far would we have to go to consider caring for our planet a sacrifice? In honor of this Earth Day, let’s find out! I’ve challenged myself and my family to be ‘zero waste’ for one week and to see which one of us can make the least waste. From Friday, April 15th – Friday, April 22nd, we will make choices that prevent any contribution to the landfill—and for extra points we’ll limit what we need to recycle. Here are some of the morning-to-night plans we’ve discussed to accomplish our goal:

  1. Food Shopping – Carry reusable bags for transporting food stuff. Buy only items with no packaging, recyclable or compostable packaging. We’ll use mesh or cotton bags for produce and other bulk items. I’ve readied a bunch of glass and BPA-free plastic containers that customer service at my local grocery store will weigh and tag for use for liquid and other items, like fish and meat. My husband already uses a French press for his daily coffee, so no filter to trash or even compost.
  2. compostCompost – Luckily, we will avert any food waste going to the landfill since Alamo and Danville have curb-side food scrap recycling. All food waste, including bones, cheese, citrus peels and other oily/fats (which I would never put in my backyard composting bin) can be included in our organics bin. If you are not already participating in this program, you can get a nifty plastic container for under your sink by calling Republic Services at 925-685-4711. Please do not leave this container outside for pick-up. Instead empty it weekly into your organics green bin. More details can be found online at http://www.recyclesmart.org/app_pages/view/251
  3. Body and face care – I suspect this will be my area of weakness. Even though I use organic shampoos, face creams, etc. their packaging is usually no better than conventional products. Secretly, if I don’t run out of anything during the challenge, I’m fine…but I’m trying to negotiate a handicap with my husband just in case.
  4. Entertainment – I’m feeling good here. We love downtown Danville restaurants and with over 27 of them participating in the food scrap recycling program we don’t have to exclude this activity during the challenge. I’m notorious for having leftovers, so I’ll be traveling with my own ‘doggy-bag’. For places that rely on plastic utensils (my favorite yogurt shop), I’ll rely on the bamboo travel set of spork, knife and chopsticks I recently bought at Whole Foods.

I’m sure there will be other facets of our lives that we’ll find alternatives for during the challenge, but overall we don’t expect to be inconvenienced, just slowed down a bit. The extra time it takes for us to accomplish our daily tasks will allow us to be more mindful and grateful for what we have and hopefully live more in the present.

I welcome you and your family to join our challenge. Post pictures and comments to www.facebook.com/sustainabledanville and let’s try to get to zero waste.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today:

http://yourmonthlypaper.com/current.html

 

Inside Cosmetics

 Tip of the Month – March 2016

BY CYNTHIA RUZZI

Have you seen the short video, ‘The story of cosmetics’ by Annie Leonard?  I was floored by the facts presented so simply.  Even though I am someone who spends a lot of time reading food labels and trying to stay away from processed foods, I rarely stop to consider what my latest skin care regimen (read wrinkle reducer) might be doing to my health and that of the environment.

Keeping your family healthy should include more than focusing on what they put into their bellies.  Have you considered what skincare products might do to them?   At home, look at the labels of your favorite products – while you might have fun trying to pronounce words like, METHYLISOTHIAZOLINONE you might be shocked to find this chemical is linked to immunotoxicity. Hopefully, that will be enough for you to ‘wash that shampoo right out of your hair’ and look more closely at the other products you’re using.  Honestly, if you can’t say it, should you spray it, slather it or even dab it?

Other parents have come to similar conclusions.  Dara O’Rourke, a professor of environmental and labor policy at the UC Berkeley was prompted to start the company, GoodGuide, after realizing he didn’t know what was in the sunscreen he had applied on his young daughter’s face.  After checking analysis that most consumers don’t have easy access to; Dara found the lotion contained an endocrine disrupter, two skin irritants and a carcinogen activated by sunlight.  Now GoodGuide helps consumers make purchasing decisions by providing online and mobile information on the health, environmental and social performance of products and companies.  While shopping, I can use my iPhone to scan the bar codes on the items I’m considering purchasing and the GoodGuide application gives me a score on the product’s safety. And to help teens understand the importance of non-toxic sunscreen here’s an easy to read guide from the Environmental Working Group.http://static.ewg.org/reports/2014/teensunscreen/pdf/EWG_teensunscreen_guide_2014.pdf

The average adult woman uses 12 different products daily and for the average teen girl that number is closer to 20.  When you figure that each product averages 20 chemicals (some not required to be listed), that’s approximately 400 potential toxins our teens are exposed to daily.  This means that when our teenage girls are most susceptible to chemical damage to their maturing bodies, they are exposing themselves to higher levels of potentially harmful cosmetic ingredients.   A few years ago, the Environmental Working Group did a very readable and relevant study about the burden of hormone altering chemicals on teen girls: http://www.ewg.org/book/export/html/26953  Hmm, if we aren’t moved to free ourselves from the beauty industry’s hold on our teens’ fragile psyches, how about protecting their physical health from unknown and hidden chemicals?

Remember if a chemical is not ingested, then they are not reviewed rigorously by the FDA.  Skincare products can use terms like ‘Herbal, Natural and Organic’ without the legal restrictions applied to food.   If you use a body lotion every day on your largest organ, your skin, you can expose yourself through absorption to a significant amount of toxins.  We can start by cutting down our exposure to toxins with our water and food, but don’t forget about what we apply to our skin.

Look in your cabinets and check that the products you use aren’t harmful to you and your family.  Don’t forget to check infant care products as many leading baby shampoos have formaldehyde and dioxane.  And while you’re ‘cleaning house’, please consider replacing antibacterial soaps which often contain triclosan, a carcinogen linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity.  Visit GoodGuide at www.goodguide.com or use the cosmetic safety database provided by the Environmental Working Group http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ for guidance and to check what’s in your products.

Once you’ve cleaned those cabinets for your health, go one step further and make sure aren’t ‘eating’ your exfoliate. Popular cosmetic manufacturers use microbeads in facial scrubs, soaps – even toothpaste – to add an abrasive cleaning quality to their product.  Microbeads are tiny bits of plastic that are designed to wash down your sink and shower drain as you use the cleaning product.  Unfortunately, these tiny bits of plastic also make it past our water treatment facilities and flow by billions of particles into our local waterways. Microbeads sponge toxic chemical pollutants along their travels and become snacks for fish that are caught for human consumption.  So, if you like to eat fresh water fish or seafood, there’s a pretty good chance those microbeads and their pollutants wind up in your stomach. Check whether you’re skin products contain microbeads by using EWG’s iphone app Skindeep or visit their website, EWG.org.  Have a favorite natural, home-made skincare routine?  Share it with us at sustainabledanville@gmail.com or at Facebook.com/sustainabledanville and remember to visit us athttp://www.sustainabledanville.com.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News/Alamo Today:

http://yourmonthlypaper.com/current.html

Running with the Green Dogs

TessBy Tesla Faraday-Einstein, Majestic Mascot, Sustainable Danville Area

Some environmental pundits say that the carbon impact of a pet can equal that of driving a large car. As an expert on the subject, I can pretty much say my people would be lost without me in their life. Not only can they count on a kiss whenever they’re feeling down; but once my stomach starts growling in the morning, I’m a punctual alarm clock. Most of my kind can entertain kids for hours with a Frisbee or ball—me, not so much. And while I don’t want to brag, my imposing size and bark keep my people feeling safe. I tend to get my people off the couch for a brisk walk every day. And since the average person burns about 150 calories in 30 minutes of exercise…add up five days and I’ve got them losing a pound a week! And ‘between dogs’—I pretend I’m interested in the squirrels just to pick up the pace.

But let’s face it, with over 78 million dogs in the United States it is important to make sure our people understand how ‘walking’ a little more lightly helps take care of us, the planet and the community we love. Let’s start with a subject near to my stomach, food.

Eating and living more organically these days? Shunning the chemicals from your foods and your cleaning products? Buying local? All these principles are important for us dogs as well. While you might think its cost prohibitive for you to feed me organic food, you might find that it’s just pennies a day that you’ll save in the end in veterinarian visits. It is important for you to know what goes into every food bag and where it’s produced. Food that is produced overseas requires an excess amount of energy to get it to our door and may not use processes that are environmental-friendly. Consider local brands that have limited ingredients with the majority being meat and vegetables.

Food produces waste, so let’s not beat around the bush—let’s talk poo. First of all, furry friends please talk with your people, tell them—It’s not okay to leave my poo ever, even in a bag, at the side of the road, street, trail—even if they plan to pick it up on their way back…nobody wants to see that, for shame!” Bags do add up, so please purchase bio-degradable ones. Better yet, designate a small area in your own fenced yard and fill it with pebbles and train your young ones to do their business there. Using a shovel to collect the waste into a stainless steel covered can reduces the number of bags needed and keeps our walks smelling fresh and embarrassment free. My people even considered a composting doggie toilet for their yard, but it turned out to use many gallons of water and that’s a precious resource in our continued drought conditions.

When not properly trained or allowed to roam freely, dogs can harm native wildlife or precious landscaping. Dog parks are a great alternative, as long as you’re not driving miles to visit a preferred venue. Playtime is a major priority for me—tired dogs are good dogs, so purchase a good supply of environmentally friendly toys and rotate them out every few days. Truth be told, I rather have a stick, a deer antler or a rope instead of a plastic toy any day!

I’m not one of those dogs that particularly like bath time, but once resolved that it’s gonna happen and I’m clean—I like the way my people nuzzle me. Unfortunately, just like human grooming products, dog shampoo, flea treatments and other care products can contain a large amount of chemicals which get washed down into our waterways and aren’t great for us dogs either. Most organic liquid soaps are fine for dogs, like Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap, but my people usually use Burt’s Bee shampoo to keep my coat shiny and clean.

Far be it for me to be politically correct—my people got me from a reputable breeder instead of a shelter. It’s a long story, but I’m happy we’re together. But there are lots of reasons to adopt a shelter dog. There are over 2.7 million adoptable dogs (and cats) that are still euthanized each year in the US because too many pets come into shelters than there are resources and dollars to care for them. Many of these are happy, healthy pets whose people could no longer care for them, not because the dog did anything wrong. Consider adopting one of these furry friends and not only will you get a great dog, but it’s wonderful for your self-esteem since you’ll be saving a life.

Have a great green doggie tip? Share with us at www.facebook.com/sustainabledanvillearea .

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

Please turn off your smog.

Tip of the Month – October 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

Recently on a beautiful morning, with a lovely temperature of 68 degrees, I arrived at the dry cleaners at the same time as another car. As I turned off my vehicle and collected my garments, I admired a young father and his two young children—who were reading peacefully in the back seat. The father mirrored my actions, gathering his garments before exiting his car, but, he left one step out – he didn’t turn off his vehicle. Instead, this father left his car idling.

Idling is when a driver leaves the engine running and yet, the vehicle is parked. Every day in the US millions of cars and trucks idle needlessly, sometimes for hours. Certainly there are times when a driver may not be able to avoid running their car engine, such as when stopped at traffic signal or stuck in slow-moving traffic…but honestly, stepping into a store for five or ten minutes is not one of those unavoidable times.

Besides the inexcusable danger of the possibility that one of his precious children might have wandered to the drivers’ seat for any number of reasons and accidently or intentionally thrown the car into gear endangering their lives and others – this father added to unnecessary air pollution that his family and all of us don’t need.

An idling car spews out as much or more unhealthy smog and soot as a moving car. Nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds are the main health-harming pollutants. These pollutants have been linked to asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and cancer. Unfortunately, children and the elderly, along with those with asthma and other chronic health problem are especially susceptible to the dangers of car exhaust.

Idling cars also emit carbon dioxide (CO2) which is a main heat-trapping gas leading to global warming. Each day, Americans waste approximately 3.8 million gallons of gasoline idling their cars. To offset emissions in our community, we would have to cover the entire land mass of our city each and every year with new trees.

Besides polluting our air and wasting gas, idling is also a poor practice for modern automotive engines. Many have a misconception that idling is beneficial for our car engines, but this outdated habit actually harms the car, our wallets and the environment.

Here’s four ways to be idle free:

Turn off the ignition when you’re waiting for more than 10 seconds. Just idling for 10 seconds wastes more gas than restarting the engine. Car experts share that if you idle longer than 10 seconds both you and your car engine are better off if you turn your vehicle off and then restart it when ready to move.

Warm up your engine by driving it, not by idling. Modern cars require only a few seconds of idling time before they can be driven safely, even in winter. The best way to warm up a car is to ease into your drive and not revving the engine. In fact, the engine warms twice as quickly when driven verses standing still.

Warm up your car’s interior by driving. Driving is also the best way to get your car’s heating system to deliver warm air faster. Remember when you sit in an idling car you are breathing in dirty exhaust fumes that leak into the car’s interior cabin. Is the warmth of sitting there worth damage to your health – or the health of your children?

Take care of your car engine.  Restarting your car frequently is not hard on the engine, nor will it provide undo wear to your battery. The opposite is true – engine idling forces it to operate in a very inefficient and gasoline-rich mode that can degrade the engine’s performance and reduce mileage.

By understanding the effects of idling and reducing the times you do so can improve your car’s performance, save you gas money and most importantly – keep the air clean for those we love.

Want to learn more about reducing pollution, waste and preserving our environment? Follow us at www.facebook.com/sustainabledanville or visit us at www.sustainabledanville.com

 

 

 

 

 

Dollars for Turf and Toilets

Tip of the Month – September 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville

The California Department of Water Resources has announced new rebates to help replace old, inefficient toilets and lawns with water-saving alternatives.Besides the $100 rebate to replace one toilet per household, the bigger rebate is $2 per square foot for lawn replacement, up to $2,000 per household. www.SaveOurWaterRebates.com.

Now is an opportune time to replace your water-thirsty lawn because if the weather forecasts are right, we should soon receive El Nino soaking rains. My husband and I converted our front and backyard lawns in response to the 2008-09 EBMUD emergency requesting a 20% reduction in water use by residential customers. We stopped watering our lawns¾and plants¾with the idea that anything that couldn’t make it on once a month watering would be replaced.

front yard

There are many classes and free resources about drought tolerant plants including seasonal sales from The Garden at Heather Farm in Walnut Creek and the Horticulture Program at Diablo Valley College. I worked with Chris Finch, a drought tolerant plant expert that helped write the publication, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry climates of the San Francisco Bay Region  to identify plants that appealed to me and would work in our community’s climate. EBMUD also has a resource list of local nurseries, demonstration gardens, classes and events, and books where you can learn about and view native plants.  Additionally, some local nurseries will design a lawn conversion planting plan for a fee and then rebate the fee as credit toward plants purchased. (Click here to investigate East Bay nurseries that offer significant “Tear Out Your Lawn” challenge discounts and free consultations.)

After laying a new path of Kentucky Blue Stone pavers, we tapped off our sprinklers that would later be converted to drip irrigation.  During the month, our neighbors and friends saved newspapers and cardboard to use for sheet mulching. This is an important step

in the conversion process because the sheet mulch kills the lawn and suppresses further weed growth while improving soil nutrients and structure and encouraging favorable microbial activity.  Sheet mulching is a wonderful labor saver because it spares you the hard work of actually tearing out the lawn.  However, if your lawn is full of tree roots you may have to do some additional digging or rototilling to rid the area of roots before you can lay down an effective mulch covering.  (Click here to learn more tips for sheet mulching success.)

 

cardboard

 

Once we had our plant layout, we knew exactly where we needed water, so we converted our sprinklers to drip irrigation. This weekend project was accomplished with a trip to the local hardware store that offers a screw-on octopus replacement to sprinkler heads that make it easy to connect tubing and drippers.

pathway Once the sheet mulching was done, we covered it with 5 inches of compost. I was able to plant over 60 plants in one afternoon and because I used 4-inch sized pots and there was no need to dig into the cardboard/newspaper. While I was doubtful the plants would fill our yard, Chris assured me that they would be full-sized by spring. But she was right. I encourage you to visit lawn conversion page to see more pictures and learn more about the process.

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

 

 

 

Save Every Drop

Sustainable Danville Area – Tip of the Month – August 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi

I’m optimistic! The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported a 90 percent chance of El Niño lasting through the winter. I don’t want to appear insensitive to the hardship of severe weather, but a moderate to strong El Niño usually means a ‘wetter’ California. In case my ‘rain dance’ delivers, the National Weather Service says it’s best to be prepared, so I’m getting ready to save every drop!

I’m ready to catch that rain right out of the airor at least off my roof. Previously, our small house had five downspouts funneling rainwater from the gutters away from our foundation and into pipes leading to the storm water drain at the end of our street.

No More! Over five years ago, I purchased a 75 gallon rain barrel. The simple installation included:

1. Choosing a downspout close to the area where I would use the collected water

2. Placing the rain barrel where the overflow would be able to soak into the ground in my yard. Working with the grading of your property will avoid drainage problems affecting your foundation or your neighbor

3. Balancing the rain barrel on concrete blocks to give extra clearance for my bucket under the spigot and gravity to move water through a hose

4. Preparing my downspout meant disconnecting the line where it leads to the storm drain and sawing above the top of the rain barrel. Leave room for the elbow to be attached. The elbow is a flexible plastic or metal sleeve that goes over the metal of the remaining downspout directing water into the top of the barrel. A few screws or glue between the elbow and downspout and I was ready to put the barrel in place.

Please don’t drink the water from your rain barrel I use the collected water on flowers, trees, shrubs and before I replaced my thirsty grass that too.

A visit to Bend, Oregon was the inspiration for replacing the other downspouts at our house. Many homes in Bend have large chains hanging from their roofline. Instead of trying to hide ugly, noisy downspouts, these rain chains move water from their gutter to the ground in lovely cascading waterfalls. Some folks let the water fall into basins that trickle over pebbles, minimizing the splash and creating Zen-like sounds. Most home had large, rustic chains, but others used copper cups that let the drops fall from one cup to another, creative an entertaining visual on a rainy day. Back at home, I found more inspiration on Pinterest and Houzz,my go-to Internet sites for all things home décor.

Rain chains or Kusari doi’ have been used for hundreds of years in Japan to transfer rainwater to large barrels for household water usage. The philosophy of feug-shui implies that rain chains can bring a positive energy flow into your home by transporting the water element with a sense of tranquility. If this energy is the calmness I feel listening to the gentle sounds through my window, then I agree that rain chains are a wonderful way to add an outdoor ambiance to your home.

Rain chains are not only pleasing to the eye and ear, but they are also environmental friendly. Retaining water on your property helps to reduce soil erosion and water pollution and may even help reduce uneven house settling. Local clay soils are prone to ‘shrinkage’ due to lack of moisture. Dry spells, like the current drought, can cause soils to contract causing uneven settling of building infrastructure which leads to cracks in foundations and walls. Wonder if this explains the hairline cracks in the newly ‘re-stucco-ed’ walls of our home? Either way, I’m saving every drop for a non-rainy day.

What about you? Join us at http://www.facebook.com/sustainabledanvillearea or http://www.sustainabledanville.com

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

Can I? Yes, You Can

Tip of the Month – July 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

I have to admit I was jealous— toiling in my office when I received Carol’s text. The photo showed she was already testing her brand new Ball Fresh TECH Electric Water Bath Canner with Multi-Cooker. With urgency, I replied ‘whatcha cookin?’ I imagined early season peaches, green beans or even the first tomatoes. The possibility was endless and I counted the days until my new canner would arrive—or Carol shared some of her ‘to-die-for’ dill pickles.

Home canning is one of those passions that folks rarely talk about, but ardent ‘canners’ spend hours lovingly processing and ‘putting up food’. There are so many reasons to consider canning food at home, starting with its:

Love in a jar: For some, canning is a connection to their past—a reminder of time spent with family or a link to their heritage. Maybe it’s a jar of preserves based on a family recipe that brings you back to after-school snacks or a crisp dill pickle in the middle of winter that smacks of a summer’s picnic, but its right there in the jar no matter when you need a flood of memories.

A joyous gift: It’s hard to go wrong sharing the gift of food. There’s something special that comes from presenting or receiving home canned foods. I don’t feel the pressure to consume it immediately, but I also appreciate the love and caring that has gone into the preparation of the gift. I pack my pantry with jams, pickles, pasta sauces and apple pie-in-a-can and when the holidays roll around…well, I have a back-up plan to cover everyone on the list.

It’s a matter of taste: Let’s face it, locally grown, harvested in season produce or fruits, canned when just ripe, beats a commercial product any day. I know the quality of the organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables I preserve and it beats a supermarket’s effort any day. Best said by Eugenia Bone, avid food writer and author of Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods, “Preserving is an extension of the values that made you shop in the farmers’ market in the first place.” If asked, I’d agree and add…the values that bring me back to the garden again and again. The terroir sweetens more than the wine –

Health is wealth: My first choice is organic fruits and vegetables whether I’m growing or buying them. This way I can help my family avoid harmful additives and pesticides. Home canning also helps avoid BPA, a harmful chemical often in the plastic lining of metal cans, such as those used for tomatoes.

Eating for the planet: Canning your own food lowers your environmental impact. Mason jars are reusable and thus reduce the packaging associated with buying conventionally packed foods. Additionally, consuming foods that are trucked thousands of miles burns fossil fuels contributing to pollution and often delivers foods that are rendered tasteless from being picked and packed before peak ripeness. Simple home canning allows you to enjoy delicious ‘pantry to table’ food year-round from your own backyard.

Save a penny: Eating seasonally is not only good for the planet; it’s also good for your pocketbook. When you grow or buy produce in season, it’s bountiful and therefore cheaper—making canning an economical way to stock the pantry.

There are countless resources online, including Getting Started videos from Ball, the Preserving Authority. http://www.freshpreserving.com/tools/waterbath-canning You’ll also find recipes for everything from jams to pickles, along with one of my favorites I use as gifts:

Apple Pie-in-a-jar (7 16oz pints)

http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipes/apple-pie-filling

  • Submerge 12 cups organic sliced, peeled medium apples in 4 cups of water and ¼ cup lemon juice to prevent browning
  • 2 ¾ organic sugar
  • ¾ cup cooking starch
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 ½ cups unsweetened apple juice
  • 1 ¼ cups cold water
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 7 16oz pint size glass preserving jars, lids and bands

Directions:

  1. Prepare water canner. Heat jars in water until ready for use. Do not boil. Wash lids in warm soapy water and set aside.
  2. Blanch apple slices (2 batches of 6 cups) in large pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove with slotted spoon & keep warm in covered bowl.
  3. Combine sugar, cooking starch, cinnamon and nutmeg in large stainless steel saucepan. Stir in apple juice and cold water. Bring to boil, stir constantly and cook until mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Add lemon juice and return to boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  4. Fold apples into hot mixture. Before processing, re-heat, stirring until apples are heated through.
  5. Ladle hot apple pie filling into hot jars leaving 1 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims of jars. Center lid on each jar and apply bands until fit is fingertip tight.
  6. Process jars in water canner for 25 minutes. Remove jars and set on kitchen towel on counter to cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex when center is pressed.
  7. Tag with date. Add your favorite pie crust recipe if preparing as gift.

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning the chemicals out of your home

TIP OF THE MONTH – June 2015

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President Sustainable Danville Area

Growing up, cleaning wasn’t just about removing the dust. Our house wasn’t clean until you could smell the Pine-Sol, LYSOL, Windex and Mr. Clean throughout the house. While many of us now use cleaning products that include enticing scents like Magnolia Lily or Jasmine Mint, these synthetic fragrances just mask the noxious solvents that we use in our households year after year.  Many conventional cleaning products are based on petrochemical VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and create air pollution within your home. Unfortunately, these chemicals build up in your home each time you use these cleaners. As they evaporate, the can make their way into your body and are dangerous to your health, causing dizziness, eye irritation, skin rashes and respiratory problems. I decided long ago that it isn’t worth risking our health and so I set out to find alternative products to make my home sparkle.

Once I started my research, I couldn’t believe how many things could be cleaned with white vinegar. The magical elixir of half vinegar and half water cleans everything in my home from windows to toilets. I even add a little baking soda and grape seed oil to wash apples and other fruit before eating. Kids love the ‘science experiment’ caused mixing these ingredients – just one tablespoon of baking soda added to the water and vinegar provides an entertaining show of foaming bubbles.

So we have windows to refrigerators to countertops covered, but what about the cooktop and oven? You guessed it…vinegar and water for general cleaning and for those stubborn stains – mix half sea salt and baking soda, add water to form a paste, cover the spot and let it sit for ten minutes and then spray with your vinegar mixture to scrub your ‘Comet’ clean. For the most serious gunk, I turn to Bon Ami, the barkeepers’ friend and rated a 10 for health by GoodGuide.com.

Since we’re talking ‘gunk’, nothing is worse in my book than cleaning grout. For most situations, I find if I dampen the area with water and then sprinkle baking soda on the area – followed by a light scrubbing with an old toothbrush, things look as good as new. I read that one part hydrogen peroxide to one part water is great for getting rid of mold. However, only mix what you’ll need for the current application as hydrogen peroxide loses effectiveness when exposed to light, air and water. Explains why it’s sold in brown bottles. Hydrogen peroxide is also a wonderful alternative to bleach. Add a cup to your whites as you would bleach and enjoy the whitening benefits without the issues associated with laundry bleach to you and your clothes. Besides the effects of the chemical off-gassing, and the warnings on major brands that product may cause eye irritation and skin burns, chlorine bleach is harsh on the fibers of your favorite T-shirt shortening its life. While we’re talking about laundry, use laundry soap without NPE (nonylphenol ethoxylate) which is an endocrine disruptor and estrogen mimic. In other words, it can mess with your hormones and reproductive functions. Unfortunately, manufacturers’ aren’t required to disclose detailed ingredients and such information to consumers. Once again, I turned to GoodGuide.com and boy was I surprised to find that the brand with the cute snuggly bear fairs the worst!

Here’s a few of my favorite ways to save money and reduce chemicals when cleaning your home:

Air Freshener: Add 10 drops lavender (or other essential oil) and 2 tablespoons baking soda to 2 cups hot water. Pour into spray bottle.  For a whole house freshener, bring 2 cups of water with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon to boil and let simmer on the stove top.

Disinfectant:  20-30 drops tea tree extract, 3 tablespoons castile soap and white vinegar. Mix in a 16-ounce sprayer and top with water. “Germs be gone”.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Sprinkle baking soda in toilet, spray with vinegar and scrub

Furniture polish: ½ cup lemon juice, ¾ cup olive oil. Mix and add to spray bottle. Polish with soft cloth.

Dishwashing rinse:  White vinegar. I just pour it straight into the compartment for spot-free glasses and dinnerware.

And while we’re cleaning, there’s one more thing to ‘clean out’ of your routine. Antibacterial soaps and hand-sanitizers. Most of these products rely on Triclosan, which is an active ingredient in pesticides. Triclosan is quickly absorbed into the skin and entering the blood stream is known to cause allergies, hormonal and neurological side effects.  Our dear friend Peggy Yamamoto shares her secret alternative as gifts in lovely blue glass bottles: Mix 3 ounces vodka, ½ teaspoon glycerin, 15 drops tea tree oil, 25 drops lavender oil.

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May is Bike Month

Tip of the Month – May 2015

It’s a celebration of bikes; a reminder to get rolling again; a gateway to riding more often; a time to evangelize the beauty of bikes; and much, much more. Since 1956, May has been recognized as National Bike Month and the League of American Bicyclists has sponsored this celebration of bicycling for decades. National Bike to Work Week and Bike to Work Day are often cited as the month’s flagship events—but Bike Month is about so much more than just getting to and from the office.

Bike East Bay went out and asked local bicyclists why they ride. It turns out, we all have different reasons; some of us ride because it’s cheap or because it’s simply the easiest way to get around. Others ride because they believe riding bikes is a way towards strengthening their community’s sustainability and health.

With growing cultural awareness around health and wellness, sustainability and economic savings, bicycling is being seen by new and broader audiences as a simple solution to many complex problems, from reducing obesity rates to increasing mobility options. And while a Saturday ride on the Iron Horse trail demonstrates the growing number of multi-generational bicyclists—the National Household Travel Survey showed that the number of trips made by bicycle in the U.S. more than doubled from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in 2009.

This year’s Bike to Work Event is scheduled for Thursday, May 14th. Throughout the East Bay, there will be over 100 Energizer Stations to fuel your journey to work, school and about town. The event’s organizers, 511.org and Bike East Bay have a simple webpage to help you find an Energizer Station along your route. Visit https://bikeeastbay.org/energizer for an interactive map of where and when on May 14th, you can pick up your free Bike to Work Day canvas bag and other goodies to make the ride fun. Take the pledge to ride this May at the You Can Bike There website http://www.youcanbikethere.com/ and be entered to win prizes at the end of the month.

Bike commuting is a growing phenomenon with over a 62% rise since 2000. Bicycling is a ‘zero-pollute’ travel option and the Bay Area is the best place in the country to ride a bike to work, school, on errands or to a local restaurant for lunch or dinner. There are thousands of miles of bike paths, lanes and routes and the 511BikeMapper http://gis.mtc.ca.gov/btp/ can help you find them. For longer trips, combine bicycling and public transit and 511.org will guide the way with information about taking bikes on transit http://bicycling.511.org/infrastructure/transit.aspx

Need more reasons to consider riding your bicycle this season? One study showed that the average bike commuter lost 13 lbs. in the first year without changing their diet. While that’s enough to get me ‘back in the saddle’, 511 Contra Costa is rewarding folks who make the change from driving alone to bicycling—or carpooling, taking transit or walking. The Drive Less Commuter Incentive Program provides eligible participants a $50 check. To receive the incentive you must live or work in Contra Costa County, be 18 years of age or older, would otherwise drive alone to work and lastly, complete the brief questionnaire to determine the effectiveness of their program. Want to apply? Visit http://511contracosta.org/commuterprogram/ to get started today.

We want to know what motivates you to ride your bike locally.  Is there anything that would encourage you to use this transit mode more often? We want to hear from you. Send us your pictures from Bike to Work Day and join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sustainabledanvillearea or email at sustainabledanville@gmail.com.