Plant An Extra Row

Extra Romaine Lettuce is Easy to Grow For the Hungry. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Do You Have Any Leftovers?” was written on the sign next to the man sitting humbly on a street where popular cafes and restaurants have sidewalk seating on a Boulder, Colorado street. We were struck to the core by these words.

He wasn’t asking for money or even for “food.” This street beggar simply wanted what we were going to throw away, reminding passers-by that if they had a few morsels they weren’t going to eat at that streetside cafe, he’d be happy to gulp it down. My son had half a bagel wrapped in a napkin that he was going to eat for lunch. He promptly put it in the man’s hands and they smiled at each other as the man gratefully ate the food.

Potatoes Harvested For the Hungry. Photo © Liesl Clark

This direct experience with someone whom we knew was hungry got us thinking creatively about our food and where we have leftovers that might help others. If you have a garden, you’ve likely experienced the good fortune of excess produce to share with friends and neighbors. Why not share it with neighbors who are in need of food? Plant a row for the hungry, and at harvest time take your produce to your nearest food bank to augment the traditional canned goods people donate. A box full of lettuces, tomatoes, squash, or carrots will bring joy to those who might not have had a fresh locally-grown vegetable for months.

Digging for Treasure. Photo © Liesl Clark

My friend, Rebecca Rockefeller, and I planted a garden together with our children that donated over half the produce to our local food bank, Helpline House. Potato harvest was particularly fun for the kids. It’s like digging for treasure. I always make room for a few extra rows of greens, too, to share on our local Buy Nothing group. Anything we can’t eat is shared with our neighbors. It helps us to meet new people who have moved to the neighborhood.

Children Love Harvesting For Others in Need. Photo © Liesl Clark

The children enjoy bringing the boxes of produce we harvest into our local food bank. Last year we donated 148 lbs of food and hope to double our contribution this year. Of course, potatoes and zucchini do add up! Planting an extra row or 2 has helped us rethink our bounty in general. When we have the time, homemade yogurt is donated, along with extra eggs from the henhouse and a loaf of fresh-baked bread shouldn’t be too hard to contribute once a month or so. We’re shifting our food-production model to include more hungry bodies. And we’ll think of the man on the Boulder sidewalk happy to eat our half-eaten bagel because he simply was that hungry. Imagine if we could’ve given him a handfull of fresh strawberries, apples, and carrots picked minutes before.

These Greens From My Garden Went to Helpline House. Photo © Liesl Clark

If you can’t plant a row for the hungry, you can find edible bounty around you to donate. We’re looking forward to doing some foraging for our less fortunate neighbors for watercress and blackberries when the season is right. There’s plenty out there, so why not take a little time out of your day to provide for a few more mouths than your own? It brings joy and a feeling of connection to those around us through the food we grow and harvest with our own hands.

Nasturtiums and Peas. Photo © Liesl Clark

Unstuff Your Holidays And Share

Our kids know to not get us “things” as gifts over the holidays. We’ve worked hard to demonstrate that consuming less at holiday-time means less hassle of managing a household of stuff for the year to come. But, how can we take this one step further and try to bring-about a community-wide movement of buying less “stuff” and consuming what is already around us? I’ve found one way to do this: Get proactive, find the perfectly-shareable things that are out there, and help jumpstart collaborative consumption, i.e. sharing what’s already in our midst.

When I was a little girl, I had dreams of owning a shop and offering everything for free. I wanted to take money out of the bargain and let those who truly needed a loaf of bread simply have it, no strings attached. I imagined the happy faces when my clientele would realize they could take it home, along with the freshly ground peanut butter and handmade jellies. I didn’t have a business plan for this sort of shop, of course, but I knew it would thrive somehow. What I didn’t know then was that I was dreaming of a gift economy. Experience now tells me it works, and it can be a huge success.

IMG_5545, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Six years ago, my friend Rebecca and I started a local free food gathering that happened every Saturday morning before the farmer’s market. Gardeners would bring extra produce they’ve grown and home cooks would offer fresh baked and canned goodies. We’d see grass fed beef being shared, vegetable seedlings, and locally-caught crab at our gatherings. Everyone would bring a basket and take home their fill of produce, fruit, flowers, and other consumables. Participants departed enriched by the offerings and the knowledge that their food bills would be much less that week. A sharing economy is joyful. It brings neighbors together to share their bounty and eat locally-grown, caught, and foraged foods.

Bainbridge Bounty-Share, Photo © Liesl Clark

Taking this successful model of collaborative consumption further, Rebecca and I wanted to help take the burden of buying out of the holidays. What if we opened a “Buy Nothing, Give Freely Gift Boutique?” The idea is truly simple: Every family has, for example, toys their child outgrows and most are made of plastic. Or perhaps families have clothing, jewelry, kitchen items that they never use. Why not offer them up to others in exchange for free goodies that you might be able to give to family members or friends?  I tend to have excellent toy karma. So, we have plenty to keep 10 families happy for years. So every autumn, I start boxing up our unwanted toy bounty in preparation for the free gift boutique.

A Free Gift Boutique Makes Christmas Shopping Easy and Fun

We also have an arrangement with a local school that conducts a gift boutique for their students. When their shop (of donated gifts) closes, they want to get rid of the nice housewares and toys quickly so we pick up those boxes of goods and add them to our mix so kids and adults can browse for gifts for family members of all ages. Some families come with toys and items to share in the shop and others come simply to gather much-appreciated gifts. All are welcome.

The holiday boutique idea is a one day, once-a-year event and pure joy to see the happy faces and thoughtful children as they think of everyone in their family they’d like to find a special something for.

Free Frames! Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Free Housewares, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Free Housewares, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

We took this idea about a thousand steps further and created The Buy Nothing Project, which has grown into a worldwide social movement of hyper-local gift economies set up in communities all over the globe. At last count, we have well over 1500 groups and we’re approaching 200,000 members. We’re like Freecycle, but our emphasis in on community-building.

Free Toys For All Ages, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Yet, this year I didn’t have the time to host a holiday boutique here in our home, so I collected the items from the school, had my kids go through their toys, and I purged things from our housewares, and we’ve simply been offering them up to the community through our local Buy Nothing group. A truck-load of items that I got from the school has been given away, with only 1 box left for Goodwill. Families are so happy to receive items to relieve the burden of gift-buying, and perhaps free up some funds to spend locally.

My reasoning is this: If we all just take our perfectly-usable unwanted things to Goodwill, we’re removing those items from our community wealth. If we continue to share them with our neighbors, offering up what we no longer need or use, our community  benefits in small but measurable ways by buying less stuff in general and saving that money to spend nearby: in a local restaurant or shop, for travel and exploration, for concerts and exhibits, for education. Over the holidays, there’s so much right here in our neighborhoods that’s shareable. The key is to seek those items out, and divert them away from the landfill or anonymous charity, and circulate them throughout the community again and again. I’m warmed by seeing my children’s dollhouse gifted 5 years later to yet another family. These things last many lifetimes, and sharing them sends a message to manufacturers that we don’t need to make so many, especially of they’re well-made.

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So, I look at our “stuff” as a community asset. Things we should keep circulating around our neighborhoods, for reuse, so we don’t go out and buy the same things over and over, producing the mountains of waste we see heading each week to the landfill. If we change the way we handle our stuff, add sharing into the picture, we can make a huge impact on our planet. In fact, each gift, in our original Buy Nothing Holiday Boutique, had a printed reminder of where the gift came from, the benefits of a gift economy, and the responsibility we each have as stewards of each item, ensuring that it stays in our materials economy, and not in our landfills or oceans, for a long time hence.

The Virtues of a Circular Economy, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

25 Uses for Silica Gel

The Many Uses of Silica Gel. Photo © Liesl Clark

The Many Uses of Silica Gel. Photo © Liesl Clark

Silica gel is one of those little-understood materials. Although the little silica gel packets say “Do Not Eat, Throw Away” that doesn’t mean you have to follow this misguided advice and think the little gels are poisonous. You’ve likely unknowingly put some in your mouth already or rubbed it all over your body as it’s used in some toothpastes and also exfoliants. They’re a non-toxic inert desiccant that will dry out anything they sit near. Their uses are many and hence it’s worth thinking twice about throwing them away. I collect them and share them in my local Buy Nothing group every 6-13 months with artists and others who praise their worthiness for reuse.

The Carolina Poison Center has this to say about silica gel:

“The gels are a form of silicic acid, which is similar to sand. Silica gel is non-toxic, meaning that it is not poisonous if eaten. The package says “DO NOT EAT” because (1) it is not food, and (2) it could be a choking hazard.”

The ASPCA also deems it nontoxic, usually producing only mild stomach upset, which typically resolves with minimal to no treatment for your pet.

So, now that we’ve determined it’s not a poison to be avoided, we’d like you to not throw it away because those little packets are useful! Silica gel can be reused over and over again and has some excellent applications in the home and office.

This list will go from the most obscure reuses to the most common:

1) If you have trouble keeping your car windshield from fogging due to moisture trapped in your car, place a couple of silica packets on the dashboard and they’ll go to work for you.

2) Put a silica gel packet inside your halloween pumpkin to stave off the mold.

3) Extend the life of your razor blades by placing silica gel packs in an airtight container with silica gel.

4) Throw in your ice skating bag to help keep the blades from oxidizing.

5) Store a few with your fishing gear, especially dry flies.

6) Fight mold! Stash silica packets in the damp corners of your home.

7) (My favorite.) Use silica gel packets as tiny throw pillows for your doll house. If you cover them with scrap fabric, all the better.

8) Use a little in your kitty litter. Your commercial kitty litter manufacturer does.

 

9) Put packets of silica gel in with your silverware. It slows down the tarnishing process.

10) Place them inside your camera cases, with lenses, to keep your equipment dry.

11) Put silica gel in with your boxes of stored photos and slides to preserve them longer.

12) Your down jackets and down sleeping bags will benefit from a few packets of silica gel to keep moisture out.

13) Put a few packets in with your garden seeds to keep them dry.

14) Stash a packet or 2 with your jewelry to prevent tarnishing

15) All keepsakes in the attic in boxes can benefit from a few silica packets nearby.

16) Keep a couple packs in the pockets of your luggage to keep your clothes and travel items dry.

17) Silica gel and dried flowers are excellent friends.

18) Store them with your electronics.

19) If you have video tapes, DVDs or old audio cassettes, silica gel would be welcome nearby.

20) If you think your silica gel has been exposed to a lot of moisture, you can put them in a 150 – 200 degree oven for a few minutes to dry them out and restore them to functionality again.

21) If you still have silica gel packets hanging about, pass them on to a receptive neighbor through your local Buy Nothing group. Share them, so no one ever has to actually buy them.

22) Use them with your kids to teach about volume. Here’s how one science teacher writes: “I use them in science class. The students love playing with the silica balls when they swell up with water. We measure how much water they can absorbe by measuring them when they are dry then measuring again after a few hours.”

23) When your cell phone falls in the dink, place several packets in a ziplock bag with your wet phone. Leave for 12-24 hours and check for signs of any remaining condensation on lenses, etc. You may just save your cell phone!

24) Another reader tells us that if you put your hearing aid in a ziploc bag overnight with silica gel it can help to keep the moisture out of the hearing aid.

25) Melita tells us they’re a huge help with dirty diapers: “I tape them to the top of the rubbish bin I put nappies in. It absorbs the smells. Every week I change them over. Works a treat!

Don’t stop at 25!

26) Put them in an airtight container with your leftover nori. It’ll keep your nori crisp, not gummy.

27) If you have trouble with dampness in our under-sink cabinet, causing all sorts of damage or the dishwasher powder box to get damp and clump up. Silica gel to the rescue! Throw some packets in with your dishwasher powder.

If you have more reuses for these little packets, please share them here.