Mama Gone Green is a blog dedicated to raising happy children and reducing our impact on the Earth. My name is Taryn and I am the mother of 2 young kids and an environmental studies instructor at a community college in Portland, Oregon. Please join me as I journey through life as a mama, teacher, knitter, photographer, gardener, and environmentalist!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Community Gardens

I am often talking about the benefits of growing your own food, yet not everyone (especially city dwellers) has the space to dedicate to a garden. Community gardens can be found in cities across the country, and can provide a place for people to grow food and build community.
How do community gardens work? Generally, to get a plot at a community garden, you will need to get on a waiting list. When a plot becomes available you pay a fee (usually fairly nominal) and then you get to do whatever you like (with a few restrictions) on that plot of land.
Portland Community Gardens has a wonderful gardening program that is so popular that waiting times often run 2 or more years depending on which garden you are waiting for. The fee charged by Portland Community Gardens is $75 per year, which covers all of your water use in addition to plot rental. In Portland, sustainable gardening is encouraged and gardeners are not allowed to use non-organic fertilizers or pesticides.
Community gardens are not only wonderful because they allow for apartment dwellers to grow their own food, but they also build a sense of community and friendship for the gardeners who grow there. Many gardeners will grow at community gardens to make friendships and to gain tips and advice from those who are more experienced. A wealth of knowledge can be shared while weeding.
Community gardens also provide a wonderful opportunity to teach children about gardening. The community garden that I recently took my environmental science class to visit has a fabulous children's garden that is actually maintained by the schoolchildren in the adjacent building. Garden time has been built into the curriculum! We send our children to school to learn what they need for life; what could be more appropriate than teaching them to be self-sufficient in growing their own food?
Additionally, community gardens often help grow food for hungry people in the local area. Portland Community Gardens donates a huge amount of fresh produce to local shelters and food banks each year. Without these gardens, the fresh produce available to people in need would be even more scarce.
Unfortunately, in these hard economic times, there is not always enough funding to support expanding community gardens programs. If you are able to donate money or volunteer time, think about turning to your local community garden program. Help is always needed to maintain garden spaces and community areas. Plus, this could be a great way to meet new people or learn more about growing food.
If your local community does not have a community gardening program, what about starting your own? Chceck out the American Community Gardening Association for some great tips on how to get a community garden started. Pin It Now!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

I just finished reading Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets, the mushroom guy. This book is written basically as a textbook, but the information in here is pretty fascinating, so it held my interest throughout the book. (disclaimer: I did skip out on the 100-page section that discusses each mushroom variety in detail. I didn't think that information would be particularly useful to me at this time).
The premis of this book is to talk about how important mushrooms are to ecosystems and how they can potentially influence the future of the world! Seriously!
Here are some of the amazing things that mushrooms can do for us:
1. Help restore and protect habitats
2. Filter pollutants out of water
3. Pull toxins and heavy metals out of ecosystems (to clean up chemically polluted sites)
4. Act as a natural pesticide with no harmful side effects
5. Provide nutrients and medicine for human use
6. Improve growth of neighboring plants in garden settings

This book also talks about cultivating your own mushrooms and gives fairly detailed instructions for doing so.
As someone who has pursued science for a living, I found this book fascinating and I have an entirely new appreciation for mushrooms. Those of you who mainly read fiction may not find this book as entertaining, but you can still hear what Paul Stamets as to say on Mushrooms are amazing and I encourage you all to learn more about what they can do for you! Pin It Now!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Grow Your Own!

According to the National Gardening Association, spending $70 on planting an edible garden can yield $350 worth of produce! (That is, as long as no one is cutting artichokes out of your yard, which is sadly happening to us.)
Plus, it is easy to grow your own food organically and it will taste that much better knowing that you are the one who grew it! And- no wasted plastic wrapping, no fossil-fuel pollution from transporting it cross-country, and no trip to the grocery store for you! Pin It Now!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Quick Tip #3: Reuse that Water

It's summer. It's hot out. And your water bill is going up up up in order to keep your yard happy. Am I right?
Looking for a way to save some money on your water bill AND help the environment? Reusing water not only uses less of our precious water resources, but also reduces the energy (and pollution) required to treat the water and put it back into use.
Most of us do not have the money to install a greywater system in our home that would allow us to reuse our own water (and it is not even legal in every state yet!). However, there are a couple simple things you can do to cut back on the water you use.
Put an old bucket in your shower with you. I use an old kitty litter bucket, but any kind will do. As long as you use natural, biodegradable soaps and shampoos in your shower (which you want to do anyways, right?) you can catch any excess shower water in your bucket and once cool, you can use it to water your yard. This water is great for grasses, non-fruiting trees and ornamentals, but don't pour the water directly on any foods you will be consuming. Using this water for non-edible vegetation is completely safe and can actually provide nutrition for those plants.
You can also put a small tub into your kitchen sink. Follow the same rules: only natural biodegradable soaps and don't pour the water directly into your garden. Now you have another source of water to save you money and cut back on the resources that you require! Pin It Now!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Say NO to Pesticides!

Pesticides are routinely used without second thought to rid homes and yards of unwanted pests. However, pesticides can cause dangerous health effects including cancer, asthma, developmental disabilities and birth defects, and these dangers are even more pronounced when the exposure is by children. Children are still developing both physically and mentally, and exposure to pesticides, or any chemicals, during this sensitive time can cause long-term damage-- even at very low exposure levels. Not to mention the environmental havoc that is wreaked by pesticides entering waterways and natural areas.
So, think twice before spraying your garden and yard with harmful chemicals. Do some internet research and figure out ways to rid your yard of unwanted pests in more natural ways. I was having some serious battles with slugs earlier this summer, but after baiting them with beer and hunting them out of my strawberry patch, we have come to a slug level that I can tolerate. I think that some small amounts of plant loss are OK... I don't mind sharing a few of my strawberries... I just want most of them for myself.
In order to reduce temptations for swarms of pests, plant a whole variety of different things in your yard and don't plant huge blocks of space with the same plants. Mix it up! Confuse those bugs! Also, rotate your garden crops and don't grow the same things in the same spots year after year... that is just asking for trouble.
Yes, ridding your pests in organic ways may not be as easy and may take some more time. And yes, you may still see an ant or two around the house or a snail in your garden, but I believe that is a small price to pay to insure that you and your children are not being poisoned! Plus, kids usually think that bugs are totally cool, so the bugs in your yard can be a great learning opportunity for your budding naturalist!
Furthermore, remember that many bugs are good bugs and do important chores in your yard (like pollinating (bees) and eating the bad bugs (spiders)). If you spray pesticides, you not only get rid of the bugs you don't want, but you will lose the ones you do want as well! So keep your home and yard kid-healthy and chemical-free and let the good bugs take up residence in your yard.
AND.. what about your child's school where they spend so much of their time away from home? Contact the school and find out how they treat unwanted 'guests' both inside the school and out. If toxic chemicals are used, spread the word, gain some community support and petition against the use of chemicals in schools. If you live in Oregon you can contact Oregon Toxic Alliance. They recently helped to pass a bill that requires the use of Integrated Pest Management techniques in schools, which will greatly reduce the amount of pesticides and toxic chemicals that children are exposed to. If you live outside of Oregon, see if your state has a similar organization.
Children expect us to look after their best interests-- so is it really fair to expose them to chemicals that could have long term effects on their health? Let's keep our kids safe and just say no to pesticides! Pin It Now!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reuse That!

Last week I took my community college class of environmental science students to two awesome facilities in Portland. Both have been created to protect the environment, build community and inspire people: The Rebuilding Center and SCRAP. The Rebuilding Center is a re-use facility where one can go to buy just about anything they need to build or refurbish something using only salvaged materials. The Rebuilding Center keeps huge amounts of waste out of landfills and allows for people to purchase items much cheaper than they could if buying new. Two thumbs up!
SCRAP is built upon the same concept, but is focused on the resale of art-materials, or anything that could inspire a creative mind. SCRAP started as a group of teachers who didn't want to toss out the remains of left-behind art projects and so an art recycle box was started. It has now expanded to a store and workshop space open to the public. But what an awesome idea. Hello to all of you teachers out there!!!! How about starting an art reuse space at your school or in your community! People can donate creative items that they no longer have any use for, and others can take them for free or at a reduced cost. Imagine all of the resources that could be saved and all of the material that can be kept out of landfills!
So, I leave you with encouragement to start a space in your school or community (or heck, even start small and start in your home!) where art materials or interesting things can be donated and reused. Who knows what sorts of artistic inspiration will come to you from someone else's trash! Pin It Now!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Curried Zucchini Soup

In honor of the mutant zucchini (or kee-kee as my son would say) that we just pulled out of our organic garden (see above), I have decided to share my favorite soup recipe! It has been adapted from The Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special, and it is dee-licious!

2 cups yellow onion, diced
1 tbl oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ginger (fresh or dried)
2-3 tsp curry powder (more= spicier)
2.5 cups water
2 cups cubes potatoes ( i leave skins on)
5 cups chopped zucchini
3 tbl cilantro
1 cup rice milk (but dairy or soy will work as well)
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbl cider vinegar

In a covered soup pot on medium-low heat sautee the onions in the oil about 10 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, and curry and heat for 1 minute stirring continuously. Add water, potatoes, zucchini; cover the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add cilantro and simmer 10 minutes more.
Remove pot from heat and stir in milk, yogurt and cider vinegar. Puree the soup in a blender in batched to remove chunks.

If you have a large family, you may want to make a double batch of this because it goes quick!

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Befriend a Bird!

Birds are amazing creatures and seem to fascinate all of us (especially young children!) with their ability to fly. My toddler will sit by the window and watch birds for long stretches of time. I don't blame him!
Birds are not only beautiful to look at and nice to hear, but can be beneficial to your yard and garden as well! Birds fertilize the soil with their droppings and can help the soil as they scratch around searching for food. Many birds eat insects that are garden pests and some birds help to pollinate plants! All of this work at no charge to you!
All you need to do is provide them a good place to eat and relax. Shrubs and plants that provide seeds and berries are a great addition to anyone's yard (as long as you don't mind sharing some of your food with your feathered friends!)-- especially shrubs that will provide winter forage for birds! Here in the west, snowberry is a great option for winter-berries to attract birds. Bird feeders are also a great option to provide a constant source of bird seed. Birds also need a source of water, as well as a safe place to call home. Thick evergreen shrubs or a birdhouse will usually do the trick.
Looking for a birdhouse for your feathered friends? Look no further! My uncle makes all natural feeders and birdhouses so that birds will want to hang out at your house! Check out his website here. Pin It Now!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Beets! They're not just for borscht anymore! We just pulled some beets up from our garden a few days ago, so I thought I would share this yummy recipe.

What you need:
* Beets (red or golden)- you will need about 1 beet for every 2 salads
* Soft, crumbly goat cheese
* Spinach (or any fresh green will work just fine)
* Balsamic Vinegar & Olive Oil (or a store bought balsamic dressing will work as well)

What you do:
* Trim the beet greens off the top of your beets and submerge the beets into a pot of boiling water (skins on and all)
* Keeping heat on medium-high, boil the beets until tender (45 minutes or so)
* Once the beets are cooked, the skins should just slip off. De-skin the beets and slice the beet into bite-sized pieces. Chill.
* Fill your salad bowls with spinach or greens, top with beets and goat cheese crumbles. Finish with balsamic vinegar and olive oil (or your store-bought dressing)

Quick and easy and super yummy. Even my 20 month old eats this and is especially fond of the beets! Be aware that red beets WILL STAIN, so if you will be sharing with your toddler it is best to either use golden beets, or get naked to eat this salad. Well, you don't have to get naked, but your toddler probably should! Pin It Now!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Review of Gaia's Garden

I recently finished reading Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. Permaculture is a way of living that was developed in the 1970's. The main idea of permaculture is to create human settlements that mimic those of nature. And, because nature is so efficient, these human systems based upon nature end up being quite self sufficient and much more sustainable than traditional human creations. This book focuses on how to design your yard based on the theories of permaculture. Doing so eventually results in a landscape that requires less maintenance, less inputs (and therefore less money) and is much more kind to the environment.
I thought this book was absolutely lovely. It took me quite a few weeks to get through it, mainly because there is lots of information to absorb, and because I am the type of person who is always reading 4 or 5 books at once. But, I loved (almost) every minute of this read.
The author teaches you about the importance of soil and water (in a lot of detail, but not at all boring... at least to me, I am a scientist!). He walks you through the basics of composting, the importance of wildlife and insects to the garden, and includes the human-need for beautiful spaces and plants that yield fruit and food. He explains how to design gardens that improve the soils on their own and landscapes that minimize the need for water.
I love how this book is also quite focused on the yard as a garden, and wanting to grow things that will provide for you. Now that I live in Portland, the land of gardens, and have a garden of my own, this was very relevant information for me (I am still in the serious learning phase pf gardening!). The author talks in detail about how to create food-centered communities in your yard and ways to group plants together so that all of the niches are filled. My one complaint about this book is that I found it to be very centered on folks who live in the suburbs and have at least 1/4 acre of yard to devote to gardens, landscape, compost areas and water features. My entire lot is less than 1/10 of an acre, and once you add in the house, driveway, covered patio and dog area, there is not a while lot left to work with, and I feel like I do miss out on many of the awesome features he has included in this guide.
Our yard is currently in transition, and I am so happy that I read this book before we made any major decisions on what to plant where. This book will allow me to choose plants that work well together and provide a low-maintenace alternative that is better for my family, wildlife and the planet. I would STRONGLY recommend this book to anyone who is considering making major renovations to their outdoor space, even if you are only changing a small area of your yard. Pin It Now!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Get Outdoors!

It's summer! Get outside and explore nature with your family. Experience this wondrous planet that we call home! I have been amazed at the fantastic places I have found within a short radius from Portland... I am sure that wonderful places surround you as well- all you have to do is look! Pin It Now!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Year of Trash

Here is a link to an awesome blog. It is an artist, Kuros Zahedi, who has taken a year's worth of one man's trash and is turning it into a work of art. If you scroll back to the oldest posts (December) you will see the trash in it's raw form (and yes, there is a lot of it). The more current entries show the state of the project as it is now, and what an unbelievable transformation!
This artist has a history of turning trash into treasure, and you can check that out on his website as well. This is not only a great way to reuse what would be tossed into a landfill, but also makes a lovely statement about the amount of trash we produce and the way that us humans treat our planet.
So, check it out. Get inspired. Create something from what you find in your trashcan. Pin It Now!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Food Inc.: A Review

Yesterday I finally had a chance to see Food Inc., the new movie that talks about where our food comes from and how it is affecting our health, the animals and the environment. The movie features Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and several other great reads) who take us through the industrialization of food in our country. This film shows us the inside view of factory farming practices, the over abundance of corn in the American diet, and the appearance of genetically modified foods in the marketplace, among other ideas. I thought the movie was interesting, well put-together, and full of great information (as well as some serious gross-you-out scenes). However, I have read Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and have seen several movies on related subjects (namely The Future of Food and King Corn), so I personally did not walk away from this film with any new information. It was mostly taking the information from the aforementioned books and rearranging it into an educational and entertaining film. But, it was awesome none-the-less and I will plan to show it to my environmental science class as soon as it is available on DVD.
The problem with films like this is that, for the most part, they are preaching to the choir. The majority of America is not interested in seeing an "environmentalist" movie that is going to scare us silly about the food we put into our bodies each day. Most of the people in that theater had likely already read Pollan's book or know about the dangers of genetically modified foods. In fact, in Portland, a town of liberally minded people who are very geared towards eating local and organic, this movie was only playing at one theater. Sadly, this is the type of film that is perfect for mainstream America, for people who don't know that they unknowingly eat genetically modified food every day, for people that buy food based on the monetary cost and not the cost to their health or the health of the environment. But, these are also the people who will probably never know that this film was made.
For those of us who are ready to learn about exactly what we are putting into our bodies every day, as well as the environmental impacts of our food choices, this movie is awesome, and if nothing else, will motivate you to start to change your own diet. So, in short, go see this film! Learn about what you consume and dare to change the way you eat. To find a theater near you, click here. And check out the website and see how you can get involved with changing the world. One meal at a time. Pin It Now!