Archive for the 'healthy living' Category

FinnPo and the Maitreya EcoVillage

I had a friend in Eugene told me about an EcoVillage in downtown Eugene, OR, where I would surely find someone to write about for the blog. After finding the village, I wandered in and was greeted like an old friend who had not been seen for a while by a short, chipper man, with buzzed gray hair and twinkling eyes. He was FinnPo.

FinnPo in front of an Icosa Hut


After he finished some wood he was cutting for windows (where he lives, they make their windows), FinnPo and I sat down and talked about sustainability while we enjoyed some frozen plums. I discovered that FinnPo is a vision of sustainability through his interconnectedness with other people and living things. He is in tune with what brings a happy, pleasurable, and a spiritually fulfilling lifestyle. FinnPo gathers inspiration in part from The Ringing Cedars by Vladimir Megré, a true book series about the life lessons from Anastasia. Born in 1969, Anastasia grew up in the forests of Siberia where she gained infinite knowledge of humans relationship with nature, and the importance of interacting with the earth as a community. After Megré stumbled upon her, he realized that everything she taught him should be published. Subsequently, there are nine books that have sold over 10 million copies and translated in to twenty different languages with no advertisement. Her teachings include lessons on nutrition, ecology, sexual relations, the universe, and God. The books began a movement in Russia and beyond, inspiring self reliant communities that provide physical subsistence and spiritual fulfillment.
It is not a consequence that FinnPo lives in the EcoVillage, Maitreya. EcoVillages are rural and urban communities with a goal to become socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable. To live sustainably, Maitreya has five rules:
1. Renewable resources shall not be used faster that they can regenerate.
2. Nonrenewable resources shall not be used faster that renewable substitutes (to be used sustainably) can be found & developed.
3. Pollution and waste shall not be put into the environment faster than the environment can absorb and render it harmless.
4. The human population shall be kept low enough that the above three conditions can be met.
5. The above four conditions shall be met under conditions that are democratic and equitable enough that the people of the world will stand for it.

Inside the Cob house

Currently, FinnPo is one of 33 people who live on Maitreya, which takes up less than one acre of land. FinnPo builds Icosa Huts, small living huts that provide sleeping quarters and privacy. He helped start ‘Resurrected Refuse,’ a small business that reduces Eugene’s waste stream by putting materials that were to be thrown out to work. Minus the hardware, all the huts on Maitreya are made from salvaged materials. They share living, cooking, and bathroom facilities, and some have office space in the houses. Maitreya also has a straw bale community center, a house that is open for the public to reserve. A tactic of green building, straw is an agricultural waste product, and has a very high insulation value. As a guest, I slept in the cob house, a structure made from soil, clay, sand, and straw – imagine a house that when it reaches the end of its life can dissolve back in to the earth. Almost all of the space that is not taken up by a man made structure produces food, so whenever I walked in and out of the village I found myself ducking under grape vines or avoiding tomatoes. Also, a rainwater swale collects water to be fed back underground instead of running off into the sewers.
It was a joy to be a guest at Maitreya. Finn Po encourages us all to start the Ringing Cedars series, and after seeing such devotion and care for one another, I think I have to pick it up.

Dan uses Veggie Oil

Ever dream of buying a van, putting a mattress in it, and driving down to Costa Rica to explore Central America, surf all day, and sleep on the beach every night?
Nick, of Portland Oregon, lived that dream, and throughout the 30,000 miles he did not pay for fuel once, and he only filled up his tank three times. Nick is carpenter and musician. He splits his time between labor and playing in a Latin rock -with reggae undertones- band. A couple of years ago he wanted to take a trip. A long trip, to Central America. He wanted to drive, but something about driving all that way disturbed him. Fuel would not only be costly to him, but he would be responsible for all of those carbon emissions. The answer seemed obvious- vegetable oil.Dan in back of his van. (Tank is below wooden platform)
Veg-oil, which can be burned in most diesel engines, has zero emissions when burned, and is free; an almost too perfect answer to Nick’s need of guilt-free transportation. He bought a six cylinder Ford work van, and with his friend converted it to run on veggie oil. Technically, all you need is a vehicle with a diesel engine, but simply pouring it in to the tank is not the safest of ways to go about it. The proper way is to install a two tank system, that due to the higher viscosity of veggie oil, starts and shuts down the engine on diesel fuel to give the veg-oil time to heat up. Nick and his friend welded a 300 gallon tank that sits in the back of the van. His fuel source was not hard to find either. Nick found some people with stock piles of veg-oil that he took off their hands. Veggie oil is a waste product that most restaurants pay to get picked up and disposed of. If you want some, ask the restaurant owner if it is OK to scoop some out. Usually they are more than willing.
Using veg-oil is not biking, but it is still radically alternative to other fuel sources. The time and money devoted to converting it was more than worth it to Nick, who encourages more people to make the switch. I am waiting for the day when my bike breaks down, and first car that came by was powered by veg-oil. Tomorrow, maybe?

John Egan

John and Laura in the Bighorns

John is an educator, cyclist, naturalist, pianist, and a big fan of creamy peanut butter. He calls Buffalo, WY home, but has traveled around the world, mostly on a bike. He has logged over 100,000 miles on a bike, and the most beautiful place he has ever been is Glacier National Park, in Montana. That does not say a lot, however, because John respects the beauty of his natural surroundings everywhere he goes, from the trees in his front yard to the Big Horn mountains, which are actually in his backyard.
Seeing landscapes outside the mechanized city skylines and suburban developments is the only way to instill a caring for the health of the non-human. How can we care that our cars, plastic bottles, and conventional food degrade our world if all we see is roads, buildings, and grocery stores? How can we change to live in harmony with nature if we see nature as another entity altogether? The answer is to gather a perspective that puts us on the same level with other life forms. To walk amongst the trees, explore a cave, climb mountains, pick berries, and swim in rivers is to experience our world as other, non-human animals do.
In his spare time, John studies ice crystals in the winter and wild flowers in the summer. He knows the mountains well, and took us up for some relaxation off of the bike. We basked in the lupine and climbed a spire of rocks that overlooks a valley. It was so nice to venture off of the pavement and spend some time surrounded by moose, wildflowers, and ancient trees.
When it comes to environmentalism, seeing is believing, and changing; not in society but in the individuals thoughts on how we should treat the environment. Change in society will come when those same individuals choose to take action and make different choices with a regard for the perspective on the environment they found when they were outside.

A Ladybug found some Lupine

Everyone should be exposed to the beauty and fun that is offered by the outdoors. John is one of many who take time to respect what was here before us. But ‘nature’ is more than that. It is what gives us oxygen, collects and filters our water, and grows our food. Why we destroy it in the first place is a whole ‘nother blog, but experiencing it will help you find reason not to.

Cohousing Kelly

Kelly is a student at the University of Chicago. She needed to find housing close to school, and instead of living in a dorm chose to enter a cohousing situation.

Kelly and a kitten


Cohousing is not housing provided for by the company you work for. It is a shared living arrangement in which inhabitants of the house or community collaborate in the operation of their house or houses. Residents are committed to living as a community, operating as one big family.
I currently live in a house with seven guys. What makes Kelly’s house different from mine is…well, there are a lot of differences but the main one is the system of cooking and taking care of chores. A large calendar in the kitchen dictates each resident’s bi-monthly cooking night. Every night the residents sit down to a home-cooked meal. When it is time to clean dishes, the dish washers take care of it. Everyone in the house has a job that they take care of. Example roles include floor mopper (Kelly), maintenance man/woman, shopper, and bulk food orderer, whose responsibility is to monitor the abundance of each bulk food and find the best price when it comes to re-filling the bin.
I was thoroughly impressed, the house seemed like a bunch of brothers a sisters…very responsible brothers and sisters who respect each other. It was such a pleasure staying there. Someone baked a loaf of Amish friendship bread, which is like a moist pound cake with chocolate chips. Both Laura and I had to control ourselves from eating too much of the loaf on the kitchen counter, made for anyone to nibble on.

Community Kitchen

Deciding to live in a cohousing unit is a healthy choice. You will be involved with a loving group of people who take care of each other. Everyone depends on each other a little bit, creating a very close knit community and necessitates healthy relationships between residents. Your ecological footprint is rather low too, from sharing so many resources with other people.
During our stay, Laura ended up flooding the kitchen and Kelly had to mop it all up!

LEDs in Action

The hallway that leads to the bedrooms in Susan’s house is lined with pictures she has taken on her treks around the world. While I was looking at a beautiful photo of Crater Lake I noticed it was a little dim, so I looked up to the light. It was apparent that the lights in the lamp fixtures were no ordinary incandescent bulbs. Nor were they the compact fluorescent bulbs that I have seen in most fixtures I have looked into. Even the ferry we took to Long Island had light-emitting diode (LED) lights, the future of lighting.

CFLs come in all shapes, sizes, and colors

CFLs come in all shapes, sizes, and colors

A compact fluorescent light (CFL) uses 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and will last ten times longer making for an easy, efficient, low cost solution to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released in to the atmosphere at your expense. LEDs have the ability to use half the energy of a CFL and last four times longer, roughly 30,000 hours.
All lighting options will have their drawbacks. 90% of the electricity you pay to light an incandescent bulb ends up as heat, the other 10% as light. Their low cost makes them attractive, but they’re horribly inefficient when contrasted with the CFL, which does contain a tiny bit of mercury. When I say tiny bit, I mean only about 5 milligrams, so if one happens to break in your home there is no reason to have a baby about it. If you do happen to have a baby around the broken CFL, I would remove him or her from the room for a little while, but no reason to freak, for reasons explained here. CFLs should also be disposed of properly, and this link will help you find a place by you to do that. As I saw with Susan’s LEDs,

Susan's LEDs

Susan's LEDs

they were dimmer than CFLs. Their light is also directional, which makes them tough for indoor lighting where you need a space illuminated and not just one spot. The cost per bulb for an LED is steep, even though you would end up spending more on incandescent lighting over the life of the LED. Susan bought her LED bulbs because of their efficiency and lack of mercury. A pioneer in the home lighting world, Susan is a little cooler, both figuratively and literally for using them. She is also a little ahead of the game, for in the near future we will all be as cool as Susan with LEDs lighting our hallways.
For a great in-depth and unbiased comparison between the three types of bulbs, including comparisons of savings, check this out!

Fey

Americans eat beef like Laura eats candy, and Laura

Fey with her meat and vegetables

Fey with her meat and vegetables

eats a lot of candy. On average we eat about 65 lbs of beef a year, about 1/3 of our annual consumption of meat. On account of the demand, the meat industry has been industrialized to the point where your steak comes from a cow that was fed corn based feed with antibiotics and hormones mixed in to help the animal fight off any diseases it would get from living literally on top of its own fecal matter with thousands of other cattle a necks length away. That steak might be cheap, but the hidden costs include heart disease, food-borne illnesses, and environmental degradation to list a few.
Central Market

Central Market

I hopped in to the Lancaster Farmers Market to find out what the meat options were and found Fey, a local who was picking up some steaks at the Country Meadows Farm stand. The farm raises all kinds of meat from beef to lamb and does so in a responsible way. The animals graze on grass and are not fed any hormones or antibiotics. I asked Fey why she bought her beef there instead of at the supermarket, and she said as ruminants, cows are not supposed to eat anything but grass; their digestive systems are not built to process corn based feed. She is absolutely right, how are we supposed to stay healthy when the animals we eat are not healthy? The farm also encourages customers to build a relationship with their farmers, and tear down the barriers set up by supermarkets that disconnect us from our food.
The Market in Lancaster is an impressive sight, the entire building packed with people eager to buy directly from their farmers. It used to be open only two days a week but another day was added because so many people support it. So the next time you are craving that burger find a grocer near you that sells local grass fed beef, it will be high in Omega 3’s, CLA (reduces body fat), vitamins and minerals, and help out the land and local business.

For an in depth look at the beef industry, here is a link to Michael Pollan’s

K.K. Haspel

I had never heard of biodynamic

Zinnias are planted in bewtween the spinach to keep it warm

Zinnias are planted in bewtween the spinach to keep it warm

farming until I met K.K and her husband Ira who live on their farm in Southold, a quiet town in the East End of Long Island. The couple has been building on a vision they had the day they first laid eyes on their farm nine years ago. Today a variety of vegetables, flowers, and fruit trees all grow in harmony within the ecosystem.
Biodynamic farming involves homeopathic preparation of the soil, planting and harvesting in accordance with certain positions of the stars (following the Stella Natura Calendar), and, of course, composting. The idea is to have healthy soil. “Healthy soil equals healthy food, which equals healthy people.”
The farm at dusk

The farm at dusk

Considering the physical and spiritual needs of plants may sound too far fetched compared to conventional or even organic methods of farming but increasing the fertility of the topsoil is truly the only fully sustainable way to farm. The plants and birds have a symbiotic relationship: the plants attract bugs, many of which the birds eat, and the birds attract bugs which are beneficial to the plants that the birds don’t eat. No pesticides or herbicides are used which leads to stronger and more nutritious plants. K.K. found out about biodynamics in a class at the Pfeiffer Center in Chestnut Ridge and then the Nature Lyceum School for Environmental Horticulture where she now teaches a class in the subject. Her farm keeps her busy attending to her CSA orders. Unlike most Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in which you sign up for a season to receive a bag of whatever vegetables the farm grows every month, K.K. asks the customer to tell her what they want to eat. That way she can prepare a basket of food that she knows will get eaten. She has clients all over the island, including Manhattan, who know where the best tasting and healthiest food is. Not only can K.K. grow sweeter and tastier food than other farms on the island, but more of it per acre, and still she increases the nutrients in her soil.
What was more significant than what K.K. was doing was how she sounded. She is very passionate, and means it when she says “Real food is an endangered species.” We have lost touch with our food, buying and eating genetically modified food that comes from who knows where and was sprayed with who knows what chemicals. K.K. has a story that she tells of a woman who did not know tomatoes grow from seeds. The food we buy in grocery stores is tasteless and lacks nutrition, especially when compared with that grown in K.K.’s garden. If our health is something we would not like to take for granted, we can start with feeding ourselves with that which we know is healthy for us, and the planet.