Monday, September 29, 2008

APLS on Education

Hopefully my regular readers won't be too upset by me today. I'm not writing about my garden, but putting up a post for one of the groups I follow. And as the garden winds down there is so much less to write about in the garden.

This month's APLS topic is on education. How do you educate yourself and others on sustainability?

I'm such a bad APLS (yes the pun is always intended) when it comes to education. I find it amusing that I pick to do a post on something that I'm really bad at. I really don't go out of my way to educate myself, at least not usually. Last weekend was the Boston GreenFest. I swear I was going to go, if just for the lecture on sustainable gardening. If you live in Boston, you will understand why I didn't. We got a LOT of rain - over 5". An outdoor festival in the pouring rain, is not a fun thing.

However I do learn. I read a lot, listen to podcasts on occasion, go to science fiction conventions (Don't mock them. You would be surprised that I can always find at least one and sometimes several lectures that involve sustainability issues. I find the people there are very green. I even met a gal that raises grass fed organic beef and one person that lives off the grid. - The food there however will kill you.). I don't specifically do any of these activities for the sustainability issues, but since my interests include science, I run into a lot of knowledge out there. Science Friday (an NPR radio show that loves green issues) had a particularly interesting show on sustainable farming a while back. MIT (my alma mater) is always sending me emails about their latest finds in green energy. Science News often has good information, some of which is never picked up by mainstream media.

So how do I educate others. Well rarely. I am not an activist by nature. I don't like people telling me how to live and I don't tell others how to live their lives either. I also tend to see both sides of an issue. When my son was in elementary school maybe 10 years ago, he came home one day very mad at the South American farmers. He had been taught that the people in South America were cutting down the rain forest for farms, using up the soil then doing it again. I thought this teaching was wrong. I told my son if I were in their position I would do the same thing. OK I'm sure you are all cringing now. But if my family needed the food and I didn't know how to farm sustainably I'd cut the forest down to feed them. It would be a rare person in that position who wouldn't. The problem was not with the farmers. It was with teaching the farmers, and making sure they get a wage where they can live off a sustainable farm. But every problem has many facets and more than one side can be 'right'.

That doesn't mean I don't educate if someone asks a question. If they ask they are fair game. For example, at our farmer's market, I was in line to buy my produce. A nice gentleman was in line with me and asked me why I had empty containers in my hand. This particular farm puts their small potatoes and tomatoes in plastic baskets. I said they were from last week and I'm returning them so they can be used again. He asked me why I don't just recycle them. I gave him a short lecture on the three Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle. We always try to reduce first, if we can't then we reuse, only then should we recycle. Well he didn't think the farm would take them back. I'm mean goodness they've been used before. The horrors they might be dirty. You can't convert everyone immediately but maybe he will think about it. And yes the farm was quite grateful to take them back.

My immediate family is also fair game. The kids especially. It is my job as a parent to educate my kids. From the previous story with my son, you will notice that the school system here does try to educate the kids on sustainability. Personally I think with my family I'm more on the order of being the green nag. Turn off the lights. Turn off the computer. That container is recyclable, so wash it out and put it in the bin. Don't waste the food, if you aren't going to eat it all don't put it on your plate. So yes I'm the mommy nag.

I do occasionally have more serious discussions with them, usually about our food system, because I'm a vegetable gardener and that is my passion.

But also the values we give the kids are important. Buying things and consumerism isn't what makes you happy in life. The Buddhists have it right when they say desire is the root of unhappiness. Don't think you need things to make you happy. You don't need another skirt, more shoes, or fancy things. All that you need are the basics in life; a roof over your head and food on the table. And to be happy you need people; you need community. Wanting STUFF will only make you unhappy. My kids are not big spenders. They don't want to be. They are happy with that.

As to my husband, well he probably knows about as much as me. Maybe what he knows is different, but I don't feel a great need to educate him. He might make a different choice than I do sometimes (for better or worse), butI think he understands the issues.


  1. Great post Daphne. I was not at all upset that this wasn't a gardening post, I think you did a great job. When I saw the October APLS carnival topic I thought "eeek, aside from the occasional rant on my blog or conversations with family/friends, I don't really do much education either." I just don't feel it is my place to shove my lifestyle in other folks faces, nor do I wear my sustainable focus on my sleeve, but certainly if someone asks...

    I love that exchange you had with the man at the farmer's market!

  2. Great Post! I never mind a garden-related deviation.

    Not that I follow Suze Orman, but one of the things I heard her say, which really stuck with me was, "don't spend money to impress people you don't know." It's really true. I like to reinforce that thought when pondering any trendy or extravagant purchases.

    One thing I noticed, in Germany particularly, was they returned cases of empty bottles (beer and water) for a credit, much like some organic milk producers do here and how it was done in the past. It burns me up how wasteful American have become over the past decades, for instance, cars and homes becoming increasing large after improvements were made during the previous energy crisis.

    R,R,R!! Rock on Daphne! Keep up the great work! I love reading your blog and you educate people every time you post.

  3. Jennifer: I know just how you feel. I didn't participate in the first two subjects. I should have at least done the second one, but I didn't do it right away and then life got in the way. I figured I would do this one immediately so that wouldn't happen. It may not be my strongest suit, but I really think teaching in small ways (like with the guy at the market) adds up over time.

    Last night was a very funny story. We were at dinner over at a friend's house. Now let me start by saying these people are not horrible by any means. When they needed a new car they replaced it with a Prius. They belong to a CSA. They are the ones I borrowed the hand crank apple peeling gadget from. They care about the environment. However they are also like most of my friends, engineering nerds. Gadgets fascinate us and sometimes we are overcome. Their latest gadget was an electric powered wine bottle opener. I was wondering how to phrase my comment nicely, but my husband took it out of my hands, "Oh you can open wine bottles and destroy the environment at the same time." Or something to that effect. I almost laughed out loud, but restrained myself.

    Izyjo: Good quote. And the McMansions are really getting out of control around here. The houses are huge. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. One of my biggest beefs with my fellow Americans is the SUVs they drive. Having been a carpooling mom, I understand the love for the minivan (during that stage of the family), but the SUVs I just don't get around here. We have paved roads. There are places in the US where you need an SUV, but not in Eastern Massachusetts. In addition, SUVs don't just eat gas, but make it more dangerous for those of us who choose small cars. Accidents with a small car vs a large car is very dangerous for the people in the small car. And they block your visibility.

    BTW we too have had deposits on beer and soda bottles in Massachusetts for as long as I can remember. It is something that is done state wide, so I'm guessing Tennessee doesn't do this.

  4. Sometimes we have to step outside of our comfort zone a little bit, don't we? I am now contemplating writing on this topic sometime this month. When I saw it, I wasn't sure if I would, but I may now.

    Haha, I know a few of "your kind", the techo-gadget-folks. I work with data at a university, so we have a lot of techo/math nerds around here, you'd be in good company.

    As much as I like new gadgets (and my degree is in psychology/sociology so I am not an engineering nerd), some of them seem so silly - a waste of resources, ingenuity, and time! I saw, awhile back a little base that was an electric lotion warmer. I mean seriously!!

    I bet they are great people, I know many wonderful people who too fall into same sort of trap.

    That is too funny how your husband handled that. I am just trying to imagine their reaction!

  5. Oh yes they are fabulous people, two of our dearest friends. And I too have fallen into the trap on occasion, but hopefully we learn from our mistakes.

  6. I really love the part when you talk about South American farmers cutting down the rain forest. I was actually speaking to my class today about this topic, what people will do when they're so concerned about day-to-day survival that they can't worry about the future. Not to mention, there's a market for those tropical hardwoods... so the reality is that people who buy the wood, or things made from that wood, are contributing to the problem.

    Great post! I also love the idea of you being the "Green Nag" and I think I take on that role in my own family!!!

  7. Oh, and to Jennifer- you can write about how you educate yourself, as well!

    And also, remember that education isn't about forcing your opinion on others. I view it as giving others the information and skills necessary to make their own decision. (But it took me 6 years as a teacher to be able to articulate that!)