I have two special places in my yard prepared for the pear trees that I will get this weekend. They need sunshine, nitrogen, well drained soil. I ordered them from Backyard Abundance, a non-profit organization in Johnson County, Iowa that is helping people grow their own food within 10 minute walking distance of their home. In my case it is within 100 feet of my front and back doors.
This is Earth Week and Arbor Day is on Friday, so it is the perfect time to find ways to improve the health of our lives with plants and eco friendly practices.
My husband watched “Green Fire”, a movie about Aldo Leopold the “father of modern conservation”, and is now reading his book, Sand County Almanac. Cedar Rapids held a fabulous event last weekend called Eco Fest sponsored by may local organizations.
What are you doing to celebrate Earth Week or Arbor Day? Is your community doing a ‘clean up project’ or other event to beautify your area? Have you been able to spend time outdoors appreciating the wonders of Mother nature?
Share your thoughts at the Eco Family Blog http://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/isuecofamily or our Eco Family Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/ISUEco-Family !!
Connection with Nature, Environment, Food, Health
My dear friends in NW Iowa and Minnesota are still recovering from the ice storms recently. They are cleaning up lots of broken trees. Although it is a very sad thing to see a precious tree snapped off, all is not lost. That tree can live on in another form as materials for outdoor playspaces!! If you are handy with a chainsaw and have a child care center or playground that could use some new experiences, consider these ideas from Nature Explore outdoor classrooms. Children learn so many skills by interacting with natural materials. Here are just a few examples!
- Stepping stumps – develops estimation skills required for math, balance and body awareness
- Log balance beam – develops awareness of material properties and physics, large muscle strength and self confidence
- Tree cookies (slices of a trunk that can be used as building materials or flooring) - develops small and large muscles, physical strength, math and science skills, imagination, problem solving, language and social skills!
If you are lucky enough to have a hollow log or even a rotting one, both can provide endless hours of exploration and learning about the natural world. Talking about decomposition and habitat are much easier when you have real live (or dead) examples!! Please don’t be afraid of letting the kiddos get dirty. They need to experience messiness in order to be good scientists, chefs, engineers and pilots, teachers, fathers and mothers!
If you are thinking about introducing some natural items to your outdoor (or indoor) play spaces, consider the elements of a well designed space to maximize children’s learning. Nature Explore, a collaboration between the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation is a leader in research behind outdoor classrooms. Arrange the outdoor space into well defined activity areas. For example, place the building area near a flat surface and provide lots of standard blocks as well as sticks, tree cookies, stumps, stones, bricks and other items that children can experiment with. Choose a separate area for climbing and crawling like a series of stumps of varying heights (keep them under 18″ if you have children under age 5), a hollow log and a balance beam.
They also have great resources for your family, church or school to use at www.natureexplore.org.
What experiences have you had with downed trees?
Connection with Nature, Environment, Health, Waste Prevention
Thanks to a recent spring rain, my rain barrel is FULL! I am grateful that in Iowa we have the freedom to collect rainwater for our outdoor uses. I use rain water for my container gardens, the annual vegetable garden, flower beds and my newly planted blueberries and aronia bushes. I also use the rainwater to wash my car - if it gets really dirty. When I have more rain water than I can use outdoors, I empty the barrel into empty milk jugs to use for my indoor plants and, if need be, to pour flush toilets in an emergency.
I hope we don’t have a water emergency this summer, but drought predictions continue. Last summer our community well was low and we were asked to reduce our water usage. We were given a few suggestions like ‘don’t water your lawn, wash your cars, or fill pools’. I knew there were many more things a household can do to reduce the demand on water supplies. After a little research, we came up with a pretty good list of things the families in our neighborhood association could do to reduce the demand on our well.
In the home, there are a number of practices that can save hundreds of gallons of water. Families can reduce their water consumption with a few easy changes. The best practices for saving water indoors include:
- Fix leaks. Leaks are the biggest water waster. Even a slow leak in your faucet can waste up to 300 gallons of water per month.
- Install low flow. Replace toilets made before 1995 with newer low flow models. This can reduce bathroom water usage 30-60%. Faucet aerators and low flow shower heads can reduce water usage by 40%. Replace dishwashers and clothes washers with more efficient models.
- Slow the flow. Flush less. Take shorter showers. Run only full loads in the dishwasher and laundry. Don’t use the garbage disposal – compost instead.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers many educational resources for families to learn about water conservation. Here are two tools your household can use to create water conservation habits indoors and out! One family in our Eco Family Virtual Conference has already reduced their water consumption by 23%!!
Please share YOUR thoughts on water use in the Eco Family blog!
Water quality & conservation
Oh my goodness! YOU should hear what the Eco Families are doing about STUFF!
After watching the PBS video on happiness, 3 young cousins sorted their toys and gave away a huge pile! Another family went through their clothing, donated some, consigned some and developed an ingenious system to use all year so they would know at a glance what they had worn or not worn in the last year. Everyone talked about what a new economy would look like and what it would take to make the change from a scarcity focused consumer culture to an abundance focused cooperative society. We pondered what it would be like to localize our energy, food and other goods and services.
Most households are doing many best practices for sustainable living. We shared what kind of ‘changemakers’ we thought we were. It takes connecters and worker bees, teachers and investigators, writers and speakers, and many more talents to create sustainable neghborhoods and communities. We will look deeper into how to enhance relationships with our neighbors close and far away during May before our June online gathering. It was interesting to see how our conversations about the material things we choose are closely related to the relationships we have with others.
This month we are exploring resources about food – what we eat, where it comes from, how we can influence food systems. Please join us for “FOOD” in the next Eco Family Virtual Conference! We will be looking at how to make sustainable choices about a very tasty topic!! http://www.extension.iastate.edu/linn/news/live-green-2013
What’s in your pantry?
Energy, Environment, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention
Meet my new friend, Jason! He is helping my husband and I determine the right ‘array’-ngement for solar power for our home. I learned so much in our 2 hour visit with him!
We want to generate enough energy to replace our current electrical use. We have a couple of options – to install an array (several modules connected to each other) of photo-voltaic (PV) cells on our roof or as a stand alone in our yard. Jason taught us about the electrical engineering of the system and how it works to bring electricity into our home. I am excited to watch the meter run backwards on those sunny days! He helped us consider our shade trees, our roof style, direction, elevation and slope to think about the best possibilities for solar PV installation.
We looked at 12 months of current electrical use and he calculated the type of system needed to supply our current energy needs. Our nearly 35 year old roof can easily hold a 4lbs/square foot solar array, however we do need to think about how old our current shingles are and if we want to upgrade before the installation. These babies (PV cells) will last for 30 years! I don’t want to have to take it down to re-do the roof in a few years.
Then we looked at the tax credits, loans, rebates and incentives that could make it more affordable for us. Although we get our electricity from a local co-op and rebates are not available, there are still some good options that will help shorten the payback time. You can learn more about solar incentives at www.dsireusa.org We still have some research, thinking and talking to do before we decide anything, but I am encouraged at the potential to change my power source from coal to solar.
I have been watching the industry for decades and wondering when the technology would become affordable and practical for home owners. I think it has arrived! Germany has been doing it for years and has much less solar exposure than Iowa does! We are choosing to work with a NABCEP (North American Board of Certifed Energy Practitioners) Solar PV installer. You can find one in your area at www.NABCEP.org
Iowa has great solar resources – we trust it to grow our crops, why not trust it to power our homes and businesses?! What bright ideas do YOU have about solar power?
Energy, Environment, Public policy
You are invited to our Open House on Monday, March 25, 4-6 pm! Tour our new location at 383 Collins Road NE, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Win really cool gifts like low flow shower heads, faucet aerators, meet our red wigglers, and see all of the programs Iowa State University Extension & Outreach offers in Linn County!
We invite you to come and tour our new office space, meet staff, and learn about some of these programs including
♦ Parenting Education Consortium
♦ 4-H (K-12 Youth Outreach)
♦ Eco Family
♦ Master Gardeners
♦ Play and Learn
♦ Nonprofit Management Academy
♦ Family Finance
♦ Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program
♦ and so much more!
Stop by on your way home from work or bring the kids – we’ll have a fun hands-on Science activity for youth to try. You’ll be be able to visit with a Master Gardener about any of your plant questions, learn tips on how you can live a more eco-friendly life, gets tips for balancing your finances, hear about many of our upcoming classes and events and much more!
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Linn County Extension at 319.377.9839.
Please note: The handicapped entrance is at the back of the building and you may use the lift at the bottom of the stairs to reach the second floor. If you need any special accommodations to attend or have any questions, please let us know in advance.
Hope to see you live and in person!!
Connection with Nature, Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation
What’s the story of stuff in YOUR home? I keep taking things to donate or consign and there is still STUFF!
10 years ago, my husband and I tried to get rid of a piano that ‘came with our house’. It was no longer “tunable”. It was HUGE and took up sooooo much space in our family room that we barely avoided hernias each time we moved it to make room for our growing family’s activities. We tried to sell it, give it away, donate it but NO ONE wanted it. We did not have the desire or skills to transform it into a useful piece of furniture and freecycle did not exist in our community. I hate to admit this publicly, but, we pried it apart, heaved it out the back door, dragged it (with the pickup truck - that’s how heavy it was!) and burned it. We both looked at each other and said ‘this is just wrong!’ On one hand, it felt wrong to destroy a musical instrument, but it was equally wrong to have stuff that didn’t bring us joy and took up so much energy and space. We vowed then, that when we brought anything ‘new’ into the house, something had to go out. We have honored it some times and not others. But we certainly are better at choosing carefully the belongings we know we have to store and maintain.
This month, participants in the Eco Family Virtual Conference are exploring the story of stuff in their lives. They are taking action to adjust their consumption, simplify and enjoy life MORE! The virtual conference is actually a flipped classroom, meaning you get all the videos and materials and even have cool activities you can do at home all month before we gather online.
Reigster today for only $15 and see what a difference you can make in the Stuff that makes up YOUR life! http://www.extension.iastate.edu/linn/news/live-green-2013
What’s the story of stuff in your life?
Energy, Environment, Health, Waste Prevention
Talk about ENERGY with this bunch of parents, kids, grammas and grampas, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews!! It is another awe-inspiring month with the Eco Family Virtual Conference! We have world-changers here – you know the kind they call Super Heroes!? and they are doing it in their everyday extra-ordinary lives. Together we learned about alternative energy like solar, hydrogen, nuclear, wind, biomass, geothermal hydropower. We also discovered that best strategy is conservation – reduce our demand on energy and that it is important to diversify our sources of energy.
Several families started unplugging electronics to reduce ‘phantom power’ waste and reduce their electric bills. The kids are asking a lot more questions and showing more understanding of sustainable living issues. A dad said “This class got us talking and thinking more than we have about sustainable living. One mom is planning to look at the last 2 years of electric bills and help the family set goals to reduce electricity consumption each month. She plans to give the kids allowance bonuses when they reduce their useage! One family has cut their water usage by 23% compared to the same month last year! Another family is using gray water – saving shower water and using it to pour flush toilets. Another family said This class has given us an opportunity to find other small changes we can make around our apartment to help the environment.”
AND, they are NOT being quiet about it either! They are telling their co-workers, family members and friends about the changes they are making to live more sustainably!
We are offering you a special deal this month. You may have missed the first 3 months of the Eco Family Virtual Conference, but now you can’t use the excuse that you can’t afford it. YOU can attend the last 3 months of our series for only $45. And that is for all the friends you can gather around your computer!
Register here: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/linn/news/live-green-2013
Join us today!! Our next topic is STUFF and the materials and videos are waiting for you to explore them before we meet online on April 4. Get in on STUFF ! Here’s the catch – you have to tell us (and others) what you learn about living sustainably! What did you discover this month?
Okay, so you’ve changed all your incandescent lightbulbs to CFL’s or even to LED’s. Have you had your utility company do an energy audit of your home? Have you weatherized your house or apartment to maximize your heating and cooling efficiency? Here is your chance to explore all the ways you can save money and reduce your energy footprint. The Eco Family Virtual conference session on Energy is on Thursday, March 7. You will join individuals and families all over Iowa from 6:30 – 8:00 pm from the comfort of your home. Sign up today for this session or get in on all 4 of the remaining virtual conference sessions.http://www.extension.iastate.edu/linn/news/live-green-2013
Over the years, my husband and I have added insulation to the attic and walls, replaced old appliances with Energy Star ones, and replaced the 30+ year old drafty windows. My father-in-law has wind power on his farm and we explored it for our home. Growing up on the prairies of Iowa I am well acquainted with the power of the wind! But, alas, we do not get adequate consistent wind speed in our location, so wind generated power is not an option for our home. We are now exploring solar as an option toward achieving less dependance on the grid. We found a local expert and will be discussing the possibilities for our home. I am interested in seeing how much the current technology can generate, what it will cost to install and what will be needed to maintain a solar system for our home. Stay tuned! I will fill you in as we go!
What is in YOUR alternative energy dreams?
‘Living Green in 2013′ is the catchy phrase coined by the Fabulous 15 plus families who are in the Eco Family Virtual Conference! Who knew that you could take your old medications back to the phamacy or change up your cleaning supplies to banish toxic chemicals in our water and soil!! Super Heroes indeed! These amazing people are choosing family citizen science projects like counting birds at their bird feeders for the Cornell FeederWatch http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/ , fixing leaky faucets, and planning outdoor adventures in their community!
YOU TOO can get in on the action by signing up for Month 3 of the Eco Family Virtual Conference and start exploring the educational resources we have gathered for you on ENERGY! You can still watch the recorded sessions on Water (January) and Living Green (February) and explore those resources, too! It is only $70 for your whole neighborhood or extended family, provided you can get them all in the same place – might have to plug in the big screen or rent the movie theater to get all your closest friends there! Better yet, call your local county Extension office and see if they are hosting an Eco Family Virtual Conference there! You have to bring your own snacks!
As Sara Stikx said “I peeked” at what is coming next month, and it is SO amazing that I can’t wait to try some of the new ideas! Tell us what you are learning about living green in 2013!!
Connection with Nature, Energy, Environment, Food, Health, Public policy, Waste Prevention, Water quality & conservation