From Walmart to Craigslist: My Healthy Green Family’s Top Posts of 2011

It has been a busy year!  Healthy Green Mama and I (Free Range Mama) started our blog in April and have written a total of 78 posts.  It has been a year of discovery for ourselves, and an opportunity to share our discoveries with our readers.  We have grown “greener” and “more sustainably-minded” as we search for new materials to blog about and make changes in our own lives towards a healthier, more responsible lifestyle.   Before we start the new year, I just want to take a moment to look back on our most popular blog posts (based on number of hits and comments).  The popularity of some of the posts has surprised me, while others came as no surprise.  In any case, here they are!

I took a month off of spending money this past year, with the exception of food and necessities.  No eating out, no shopping sprees, no unnecessary purchasing.  We even took on projects such as building a new chicken coop with free items found on Craigslist including the shed itself, the windows, doors and paint.  We made an important discovery: we really don’t need many of the things we buy, and that there are ways to complete projects by using repurposed or recycled items. 
While searching for directions to make my own distilled white vinegar I came across a jaw-dropping discovery: it is possible and even likely that companies make their white vinegar from petroleum products, not corn as I previously assumed.  Heinz proudly advertises that their vinegar is made from corn.  That also brought up the issue of GMO corn being used in vinegar.  I still haven’t discovered a good recipe for white vinegar but we did learn how to make apple cider vinegar.
This post is almost guaranteed to change your shopping habits.  Using quotes from Dr Suess’ The Lorax we discover reasons why we should avoid the world’s largest retailer.  Among other things, Walmart has put the very businesses they buy from out of business due to “falling prices”.  Their overseas suppliers have horrendous working conditions for their labourers.   Walmart actually destroy jobs and local businesses by taking over customers and sending the money made from the local people out of the area.  And the environmental impact from outsourcing so many products is unacceptable.  Yet people still shop there.  Make a better choice now!

Ever since the introduction of processed food many years ago the art of wholesome home cooking has slowly been dying.  This post makes suggestions on how we can relearn the skills needed to prepare our own meals from whole food for a healthier lifestyle.

This post, written for inclusion in the Mindful Mamas December Carnival, tells us how we can teach our children to think outside the well-wrapped box and learn to give in order to help others.  Start a new, meaningful Christmas tradition!
Thanks so much to all of our readers!  We are looking forward to a new year of blogging about the topics important to us.  Follow us on facebook and receive regular updates including new blog posts, articles that we find interesting, important recalls and eco-activism.  Thanks for reading, and have a safe and Happy New Year. 

In Defence of My Goats: 7 Reasons to Keep Them.

I recently read a blog post that I really disliked.  It was called Top 7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Own a Goat.  You can read it if you like.  I think the writer was discouraging potential, stupid urban farmers (as opposed to ones who research a bit) from having goats.  I can’t say that goats would be ideal in a city backyard, but I know lots of people do make it work, and it depends on many factors including lot size, neighbours, bylaws and so on. So, if you are contemplating urban farming and still want to maintain an urban lifestyle (travelling, perfect back yard etc) then no, goats aren’t for you.  But I think most urban farmers have a little more common sense than that.  Just as you don’t buy a puppy if you don’t intend to take care of it, you don’t buy goats if you aren’t prepared to farm.  The author says “So if you’re on the fence about them, I’m going to tell you why you should get off the fence.” Or maybe she means the bandwagon.  In any case, I took exception to the article and feel the need to tell you the top 7 reasons you SHOULD own a goat, urban or otherwise. If you are on the fence you need the facts from both sides of the story and then make a decision based on your situation.  No one in their right mind would ever own a goat based on her post.    Notice, I am not just stating the facts, I am counteracting some of the blogger’s complaints at the same time.

1.  Goats are good natured.  They are sweet, friendly and curious.  They love to be loved, they talk to you when you talk to them (and even if you don’t), and they follow you around to see what you are up to. They are not incessant talkers, and I haven’t noticed a ridiculous difference in the does’ talking when they are in heat. 
Lulu and my 2 year old daughter.

2.  Goats are easy keepers.  But they are farm animals, not house animals.   Let’s not compare them to dogs, please!  They don’t serve the same purpose.    Goats eat rough hay, weedy hay.  If it has enough protein content in it, the goat doesn’t need a whole lot else.  You do need to make sure the goat is getting enough and not too much minerals but it isn’t rocket science.   Related more to a deer than a cow, goats eat tree leaves, branches, weeds, brush, and they LOVE our invasive Himalayan blackberries.  They eat the leaves, the stem, the flowers, the berries… everything!  Even the nasty thorns.  That’s a good enough reason, in our area, to keep goats.  They require worming and vaccinating (if you are into that).  They have to have their feet trimmed every month or so.  But they produce MILK, people!  Fresh, tasty, rich, creamy, raw milk.  Dogs don’t produce milk.  So let’s compare them to another producing animal, like a cow. 

Goats love blackberry bushes!

3.  Goats can thrive on rocky, steep, rough terrain, where cows can’t.  They can live on smaller properties because they are smaller animals.  They are foragers and are cheaper to feed.  They live nicely in our yard where cows would create muck holes during the long, wet winters. 

4.  Goats produce milk!  The milk is GOOD!  Unpasteurized, fresh milk taken immediately to be filtered and refrigerated is very mild flavoured.  Most people can’t tell the difference between fresh, unpasteurised goats milk and cows milk.  Goats milk is high in cream.  It is easier to digest than cow’s milk.  And smaller property owners can have fresh milk!  Nigerian dwarf goats, as high as your knee, can produce up to 1 litre of milk a day!  Think, goats milk, cheese, yogurt, soap and so on.  All potentially produced on your own property. 

Good, good, unpasteurized goat milk.

5.  Goats are clean animals.  They don’t wallow in their feces.  They won’t drink dirty water.  They won’t sleep in dirty bedding.  They won’t eat dirty hay.  They are clean; their milk is clean.

6.  Goats are small animals and are easy to move around compared to the alternative dairy producer, a cow.  Our Nigerians, in particular, are only up to my knee.   My 2 year old plays happily with our does.  In fact, they love her!  She hugs them, leads them around on a leash, pets them and brushes them. 
Jesse, a young wether, is smaller than the rooster in this picture.
7.  Goats are smart animals.    Their curiosity will encourage them to check out their boundaries and see what their escape routes are.  But if you have a good fence system they won’t escape.  They know when it’s time to be milked, and they know when you are just walking through the yard.  They will taste-test anything, but I haven’t actually known any goats to eat anything they shouldn’t.  At least, I haven’t given them the opportunity to yet. 
Goats are social animals.  Never have just one or they will pine.

Alright.  I could go on.  I won’t.  Goats have their place, as do dogs, cows, chickens, horses, pigs, and so on.  If goats aren’t the right animal for you, don’t raise them.  Don’t pick them apart though.  Naturally, there are exceptions to all animals, and animals in season will act differently than animals not in season.  Common sense will tell you how to deal appropriately with the animals. If you don’t have common sense then use the internet.  And compare apples to apples please!  I love my dog and she is absolutely NOT comparable to my goats.  Or my chickens.  She is a companion animal not a food producer.  And if you can’t handle the smell of a buck then don’t get one!!!

Goats are part of our family :)

This post has been linked to Common Sense Homesteading’s Living Well Blog Hop #22.

Why pay more? I’ll tell you why.

I want to pay more for my things.

I just bought a slip-n-slide for my kids at the end of the summer. I bought it at 75% off for $2.34. My kids like it and have lots of fun on it. We didn’t need it though. If it cost $20 I wouldn’t have bought it. How many times have you seen something you liked and bought it because it was on sale, not because you needed it? If you are anything like the average North American, the answer would be: often. I am just as bad as the next person, although I am becoming increasingly aware of it and trying to change it.

Wants Versus Needs

Modern society is driven by want, not need. Once our basic needs are met we look towards our wants. Wants are never met. When you find what you want, do you ever, EVER just say “ok, I got what I want, I don’t want anything else anymore”? I don’t. I soon think up something else I want. And if it’s cheap, I buy it. “Hey great! I don’t really need this new sweater but it’s gorgeous and it’s on sale so I am buying it!” If I can’t afford it I won’t buy it. And, in fact, if it is so totally out of my price range that I know I will never get it I no longer want it. Of course if it is made in China and is cheap enough for me to buy then maybe I DO want it… need it? No.

So exactly who gets any money when a slip-n-slide is bought for $2.34? How can that possibly be made for $2.34? A NY Times article states:

Wham-o Slip 'N Slide Wave RiderIn 2007, factories that supplied more than a dozen corporations, including Wal-Mart, Disney and Dell, were accused of unfair labor practices, including using child labor, forcing employees to work 16-hour days on fast-moving assembly lines, and paying workers less than minimum wage. (Minimum wage in this part of China is about 55 cents an hour.)
Certainly, the Chinese labourers are not making money on the slip-n-slide. In fact, by buying the slip-n-slide I just forced Chinese labourers to suffer more. Yikes.

The working conditions in Chinese factories who supply us with our unnecessary things suffer terrible working conditions, despite international efforts to change them. From the same source as above:

And so while American and European consumers worry about exposing their children to Chinese-made toys coated in lead, Chinese workers, often as young as 16, face far more serious hazards. Here in the Pearl River Delta region near Hong Kong, for example, factory workers lose or break about 40,000 fingers on the job every year, according to a study published a few years ago by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Why? Because we keep buying things so cheaply. The Chinese employers are trying so hard to make money and keep costs down they put their employees needs and safety last. All this in a country where the government is so intent on getting ahead there are not enough regulations or people to enforce them.

Do I really need it?

If I had to pay more for my slip-n-slide (or anything else I want but don’t need) I would think twice about buying it. Do I really need it? How much will I pay for something I want but don’t need? Let’s say that slip-n-slide cost $20. I wouldn’t have bought it. Would my kids be any worse for the wear if I didn’t buy it? No. In fact, by buying it just because it is on sale, I am teaching my children to do the same. “Look kids! This is only $2.34. Let’s get it!”

What Do We Value?
How much would the slip-n-slide have to cost me before I value it more? I don’t dry it out and fold it up until summer is over and the slip-n-slide is so sun-damaged it won’t last another year. Who cares though? It only cost me $2.34. I can buy another one. If the slide cost me $20 or maybe $50 you better believe I would be out there putting it away when the kids were done. Actually, I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. So, we place more value in things that cost more, and we spend more time taking care of it so it lasts longer.

How About Quality?
How much are we willing to spend on quality? It’s only a made-in-China piece-of-junk slip-n-slide. It’s not going to last long. Play with it until it falls apart. I don’t care. So why are we buying a piece of junk that isn’t going to last? Why spend the money in the first place? Because it’s so cheap, that’s why! We would never have paid $20 for a piece of junk like that. They don’t last long enough to make them worthwhile. But in our disposable society, when we have disposable income, why not just buy it for $2.34, use it up and throw it out? We are filling our landfills with cheap things that are made in China. They don’t last because the companies who make them can’t afford to buy quality materials since North Americans don’t want to pay more. It’s a vicious circle, really. We want to pay less, so the Chinese make poorer quality things out of poorer quality material so they can afford to sell it to us at the price we want to pay. Then it breaks and we throw it out. It’s not even worth fixing since buying another one is so cheap.

So why pay more? By paying more:

  • We only buy the things we need.
  • We value the items more
  • We fix them rather than throw them out
  • We get better quality items
  • We aren’t contributing to injury and poverty of Chinese labourers

How can we pay more?

  • Invest in high quality items and services that you really need
  • Look for fair trade products
  • Buy locally and support your local economy
  • Buy environmentally-friendly products and services
  • Stop shopping at Walmart and other big box giants who practice the “rock bottom price” motto

How to teach children about spending?

I know a lot of parents who promise to buy their kids a treat (toy or snack) if they behave while shopping. This is actually teaching children to buy things they don’t need. Another, more profitable way to reward children is to give them -say- a dollar instead of a cheap toy. They can take it home and save it. This teaches children to save money, and consider what they are spending their hard-earned money on. It is also usually cheaper than buying a toy, and if you are only buying them a $1 toy anyway, you are contributing to the cycle of over-spending on unnessesary things.

If I stop impulse buying and only purchase quality things that I need I will be saving money in the long run. I could be saving someone’s limb, someone’s youth, or someone’s life. I will be teaching my children a good lesson on wise spending. And this will all lead to a greater, and longer-lasting sense of self-satisfaction than falling prices ever could!

This post has been linked to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Blog Hop.
Related posts:
Dr Suess Wouldn’t Shop At Walmart

My No Spend Month

It’s a wrap! Furoshiki, eco-friendly wrapping.

50% off Christmas fabrics!  Hit the fabric stores!  They won’t be crowded like the malls 2 days before Christmas.  You’ll find good deals on Christmas fabric that you can reuse for many years later.  Just make sure you ask for the wrapping back after the gift is opened :).
A few years back I stocked up on Christmas fabric and real ribbon.  I cut it in generous sizes, and fold it to the appropriate size, as needed.  The first few years I struggled with how to keep the gift secure in its wrapping.  I even used scotch tape which just DOESN’T cling to fabric like it does to paper.
A totally inspiring video taught me a few basic techniques and now, despite my fabric not being double-sided and the edges not hemmed (I’ll get to that some day) I finally found ways to wrap my gifts without the need for tape.  Furochic demonstrates methods of folding, tying, and rolling to make fantastic wrapping for any shape.  You can even make handles for your gifts.  I am in love…
Furoshiki eliminates the need for disposable wrapping paper.  Americans spend billions of dollars a year on wrapping paper, and for what other than beauty?  It is all torn off and thrown away, for the most part.  You can make beautiful wrapping from fabric.  It lasts for years, is much more eco-friendly, and in the long run, is much more economical.
So, this evening I wrapped it up.  I am (almost) done all my Christmas gifts and wrapping.  The flannelet nightgowns and pjs I made for the nieces, nephews and my own kids, are wrapped in fabric.  Despite the fantastic video, my attempts are very amateur, but pleasing enough to me.  Although unnecessary, I used ribbon as well, and some non-furoshiki methods.   The candy cane sugar scrub for my older nieces and sisters are in glass jars and decorated with fabric, ribbon and candy canes.  A few large items are still needing some attention, but I think the size and excitement involved will require very little wrapping.  We were able to find second hand, excellent condition toys for our three children.  Done, done done!  Merry Christmas everyone!

Giving The Gift Of Life.

Welcome to the December Mindful Mama Carnival: Staying Mindful During the Holiday Season
This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants
have shared how they stay mindful during the holiday season. Please read to
the end to find a list of links to the other carnival


Give the gift of life this Christmas.

I grew up in a small town where Christmas shopping was limited and since my mom didn’t drive and my dad worked at camp all week, visits to the nearest city 45 minutes away were few and far between.  We shopped from a Sears catalogue regularly and my three sisters and I all fought over the lastest edition of the Christmas Wishbook.  We would spend hours pouring over the pictures of toys, clothes, sleds, skates and more.  Everything looked so wonderful and exciting.  We would pick out, with stars in our eyes, a new toy or clothing item for Christmas.  I still remember the surreal feeling of opening a new toy, and even the smell of the new packaging.  I am sure my mom loved these catalogues because they guaranteed her hours of uninterrupted quiet time while we lost ourselves in the dreamworld of Christmas.

My children also love toy catalogues.  We get a few in the mail and the children love to look at the wonderful toys and images of children playing with new and exciting things.  One catalogue we get, though, is different.  Instead of advertising toys to buy, it advertises gifts we could give to children or families less fortunate than ours. World Vision offers gifts of life. A well for an African community.  Four chickens to keep a family with food.  An alpaca for an Andean family to make clothing and blankets.  Fruit trees to help a family start an orchard.  A bee hive to start a family business.  A wood-conserving stove to protect children from the dangers of open fire cooking.  You can even help impoverished families in your own country through World Vision.

Let’s teach our children to help others and think outside the (well-wrapped) box.

This catalogue not only inspires the gift of giving in us, but it provides a unique opportunity to teach our children about helping others and thinking outside the (well-wrapped) box.  We can create happiness within ourselves by helping create happiness in others.   Watching my children pouring over this catalogue is a beautiful sight.  Together, we can choose a gift that will change a family’s life.  We can set aside our own wants for a while and focus on the needs of others. 

This Christmas, take a moment to think of things we can do for others less fortunate than ourselves.  From the local food bank or animal shelter to the wide arms of charities like World Vision or World Wildlife Fund, there are many charities needing help right now.  Our children already know how to receive.  Let’s teach them how to give.  Follow us on Facebook to receive regular charity suggestions during the days before Christmas this year. 

Mindful Mama Carnival -- Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ Visit The Mindful Mama Homepage to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Carnival!
On Carnival day, please follow along on Twitter using the handy #MindMaCar hashtag. You can also subscribe to the Mindful Mama Twitter List and Mindful Mama Participant Feed.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

Green Hawaii: Travelling with Green-Tinted Glasses.

Ok, I’ve faced it.  Travelling anywhere short of by sailboat, horse, foot or bicycle is not sustainable, neither is it environmentally friendly.  The huge carbon footprint that I just left over the Pacific Ocean is regrettable.
But it has taken me to a land rich with sustainable opportunity.  Astounding beauty.  Friendly people.  And delicious, locally-grown food.  I often wonder what it would have been like to “discover” a land like Hawaii.  To live on an island with no large predators, no dangerous snakes, no central heating, and so many micro-climates it is possible to suntan in the rain.  The glorious splendour of lush green plants, wildly flowering shrubs and trees, and acres of tropical fruit.  A land where you can literally travel from a desert to a rain forest in a few hours.  An island that is ever changing, ever burning, and ever beautiful. 
Several days spent in Waikiki remind me again that I am not a city girl at heart.  Watching a 50+ story hotel go up in flames, homeless people sleeping in the streets, and constantly keeping my children from dashing into traffic was enough for me.  Yet I found little treasures in the city.  Ocean surf at the doorstep.  Solar panels on hotel roofs.  Rooftop gardens.  Dr Brommers’ Soap in ABC Stores.  And local farmer’s markets tucked here and there.

The Hawaiian Islands have no lack of challenging hikes.  Koko Crater.  The hike itself is a grind.  1000 steps straight up railway ties to the top of the crater.  Not exactly a tourist attraction with the sun and humidity pounding mercilessly down on you, a gun range snapping bullets nearby, and nothing to look at except your feet going over trestles raised 20 feet or more above ground… but the view at the top is worth the climb. 

Once you’ve been passed by Iron Man twice (he does the hike in half the time or less than I do) you reach the top and what a top it is!  Botanical gardens down one side of the crater.  A panoramic view of the ocean and the city below.  And the knowledge that you have to get yourself back down those steep railway ties and across the trestle again, staring past your feet through the gaps to the green bottom below.  Truly stupendous.  I crab-walked over the trestle. 

A city is no city without a Sworovski Crystal store.  But my truly green 2 year old daughter, after walking past the store, pipes up “Daddy look at that recycling store!”  After all, what do we do with glass at our house?  That’s my girl!
On to Big Island.  An island still forming.  Lava still glows red and steams as it touches the ocean.  An island with a mountain so high there are snow storms on it.  An island rich in farm land and productivity.  An island with wild goats, boars and chickens that run free.  Stunning, thick rain forests and pounding waterfalls.  White, green and black sand beaches.  Rainbows and sunburns.  Here, I feel calmer and strangely more at home than Waikiki. 

Big Island offers us a rented Hawaiian home to stay in, complete with kitchen.  Big kitchen.  Now we need groceries.  I mentally scorn the large grocery stores but here, I am pleasantly surprised.  Locally-grown beef, salad mixes, papayas, bananas, sweet potatoes, seafood, avocado and much more are here.  Organic staples are readily available.  We load up with good food and head back to our Hawaii home. 

Day two on Big Island brings us to an old, old friend of my in laws.  Auntie Violet, with her long grey-black braid and dark eyes, lives in Kona up high on the hill.  Her house, an eclectic combination of ancient black and white pictures, rusted flower pots, an ancient piano with candelabras and termites, and bowl full of Halloween candy is open to the Hawaiian breeze, chickens, and honey bees.

Her house, as old at least as she is, seems a part of the hill and held together by no more than age, Hawaiian soil and collectables.  Parts of the house have tumbled down already, and as I enter I wonder at the live ability of the building.  It is compete with running water and electricity however: a single crystal chandelier missing pieces of glass hangs from a wire in the ceiling.  As we sit, a shake and a rattle remind us of the ever-active fault lines running beneath the islands.  The locals don’t do any more than glance around so I ignore it.

Sitting on a table is a book called The Green Pharmacy’s Guide to Healing Foods.  We are kindred spirits, I am sure. When we leave, we pass through thousands of honeybees who have made their home in the side of her house.  An old world Hawaiian visit.  There’s nothing like it and I am enthralled.

Dinners are made of locally-caught mahi-mahi, ahi, or island grass-fed beef, local sweet potatoes, locally-grown salad mix served with local strawberries and tomatoes.  Plenty of island-made ice cream for dessert. Eating in Hawaii can be done very sustainably.  This is what I work so hard for all summer in Canada!  Here, it is available year-round. Restaurants, like Sam Choy’s in Hilo, advertise that they use local, in season products when possible.  Oh, and Kona Brothers Coffee Shop has compostable coffee lids.  Need I say more? 

The one thing I haven’t figured out yet though is why Hawaiians eat so much Spam.  It certainly isn’t a Canadian thing and I have never tried it.  You can buy Spam musubi, and children’s menus sport spam and eggs.  In stores full of locally-grown, flavourful food you can find an isle dedicated almost entirely to Spam.  Well, we all have our faults. 

Driving up to Hilo and the volcano.  On our way, we pass a small herd of wild goats.  Here in Hawaii there are no large predators so feral chickens, boars and goats run free and relatively safely (short of hunting season) across the wilder parts of Hawaii. It makes me think about my own chickens and goats at home.  Coyotes, bears, dogs and mink have all had their share of our goats and chickens in the past, and we are constantly attempting to outwit the wildlife.  Again, I think about how much easier sustainable living would be in Hawaii. 

Hawaii’s volcano isn’t the type to spew fire and brimstone into the air.  Instead, it slowly oozes lava into the ocean and puffs steam out of vents across the lava fields.  As a result, visitors can walk up to some of the vents and observe the sulphuric crystals, the dead plants, the black lava rock fields, and the distant crater billowing smoke and steam.  The effect is, well, incomparable.  Ever walked on the moon?  Well, I think it would be much like the lava fields that have hardened into black rock.

The lava fields are dotted here and there with some green plants valiantly attempting to eke out an existence on the barren surface.  When you think about it, it really is astounding.  This island is still growing, and the early stages are black rock so hard and dense you would think it impenetrable.  But slowly, over time, plants start taking hold and growing in a meagre dusting of soil in nooks and crannies.  Eventually the rock will be covered with lush greenery and sandy beaches just as the other islands are.  One feels rather… small when contemplating the volcano.

Driving back from Hilo you pass through smaller towns.  Pulling up to a station for gas, we notice an old pickup truck with the back piled full of papayas.  We offer to buy some from him.  They look beautiful.  He says we can take 10 for nothing: he just paid $10 for the truck load and will be feeding them to his pigs.  Lucky pigs!  We paid him $2 for 6 and enjoyed them the next day. 

The beaches, naturally, are stunning.  Head down to the end of the beach past most of the tourists and you can find spectacular, small, mostly private beaches with good snorkeling.  Sea turtles glide in for a well deserved nap and warm up on the beach and rocks.  They are amazing gentle giants to swim with! If you have good aim and a few rocks you can knock down some coconuts to have a drink and a 50 Foot Diet snack!     

Mauna Kea.  With a summit of 13 700 feet above sea level, and the world’s largest astronomical observatory this mountain is simply stunning.  Higher than the clouds, the massive telescopes are housed in an ideal location.   The information center at 8500 feet is easily accessible, and every evening there are telescopes set up to observe planets and starts.  The air is among the clearest in the world up here, with no major city to provide light or atmospheric pollution for thousands of miles.  The local towns and cities, by law, have orange street lights to cut back on light pollution.  There is some disillusionment with the telescopes from the native Hawaiians, which is understandable.  Lake Waiau, at the summit and near the telescopes, is rich in ancient mythology and sacred to the native Hawaiian culture.  Even today, people climb Mauna Kea to dispose of  the umbilical cords of their newborns.  This has been thought to bring strength and fortune to the child.  In any case, it is a very special place.  Watching the sun set into an ocean of clouds is spectacular and moving.  You are above the clouds and seemingly on top of the world. 

One of the things that impresses me so much about Hawaii is its self-sufficiency.  Hawaii is so far from the mainland that it is in their best interest to be self-sufficient.  Everything that they don’t grow or produce themselves has to be shipped from the mainland 2390 miles away.  The cost of fuel is somewhat prohibitive so they grow a lot of their own food.  I love this.  Fresh tropical fruit and vegetables, local grass fed beef, chicken, eggs, milk, and so on.  It is very possible to make and eat good, reasonably-priced, locally-grown meals in the comfort of your Hawaii home.  Eating out for 2 weeks would make me sick, with high salt, sugar and fats so a rental unit with a kitchen is worth the money.  Splurge a few times at a restaurant serving local food for a treat.  Roy’s will do!  Try the Dynamite Scallops.  Mmmm. 

Finding public tours of sustainable farms isn’t an easy task although you can just FEEL that there are a lot of them on the islands.  Farm produce stands are abundant and it is here that we found a completely self-sustained farm. 

When you start asking questions opportunities have a way of presenting themselves to you and we scored a farm tour from one of the labourers.  This particular farm is more like a commune, where workers drift from one farm to another, labouring for free room and board.  Except there isn’t much more than a room on the entire acreage… the family with four small children live in a “house” the size of a travel trailer, with a wide awning stretching over a patch of land.  Even with a year-round warm climate where outdoor living is possible, I must admit I prefer a house with 4 walls, bedrooms, and a bathroom.  Not even a composting or a pit toilet exists on this farm.  They apparently neatly take care of business in the bushes.  With a live and let die policy, the chickens are used only for eggs, and they are clearly quite content to free range the gardens, fertilising and snacking at will.  These people eat only food that is produced on the property, and I am introduced to two new magic plants to me: Noni fruit and Moringa.  The soil is hand-tilled (without a rototiller) and is a fertile, dark red-brown.  Taro, potatoes and beets are easily visible, and corn is grown particularly for the chickens.  Papaya, avocado, coconut, oranges, grapefruit, bananas and more are all plentiful.  Although not our style of living, definitely an exciting tour, and very sustainable.  Right up our alley.

All corners of Hawaii are interesting to explore. Near Akaka Falls, a stunningly beautiful waterfall that plunges 442 feet to the rocks below is a small town, equally picturesque.  Little stores such as Same Same But Different, target tourists with locally-made clothing, koa wood carvings, pottery, soap and more. 

Another town,  mostly burned up and buried by a lava flow some years ago, offers a separatist point of view and an Uncle Someoneorother, who seems to be the leader of the little “commune” made up of dope smoking young adults.  Their restaurant is good, the ice cream is local, the flowers on the outdoor cloth-covered tables are real, and the little craft booths are made up of beautiful knickknacks. 

Unique little offerings such as a volcano-warmed freshwater pool right on the ocean serves locals as well as tourists, although a 4 wheel drive is necessary if you don’t want to do the mile-long walk over hot black lava rock.  Here, we chat with a woman swimming with her german shepherd, who says she has been living off the grid for 20 years or more.  Which brings us to another interesting aspect of Hawaii.  Renewable energy.

Hawaiian law encourages new homes to use solar heating for their hot water tanks.  Subsequently, you see solar panels on all newer houses.  Some houses sport solar panels for electricity as well.  Hawaii dabbles a bit in wind power, and the beautiful, almost-silent windmills slowly turn while cows and horses graze below.  The view is very pastoral, and is a picturesque combination of sustainable old world and sustainable new world.  Hawaii has continuous wind like I have never known in my life.  A calm day in Hawaii is a rarity.  More often, the wind gets moving by the afternoon and is blowing strongly by evening.  Air conditioning isn’t necessary since the trade winds keep breezes flowing through the houses day and night. 

Steep, misty valleys with black sand beaches are common on Big Island.  Much of the roads are higher up, and as a result, there are hikes down into these valleys.  Lush, green rain forest grows thickly on the valley walls, and some of the valleys are almost inaccessible but for a path or a steep road.  The valleys often sport stunning waterfalls though, and crashing waves on lava beaches.  Feral cattle and boars roam freely.  Debris is often well polished and washed up on the shore.  We found a tub that three men must have gone to sea in at some point.  (Actually it was an unidentified round fibreglass floating object but I thought of it anyway.)  Ropes and driftwood abound, and earthy swings are hanging from tree branches for children and children-at-heart to play on.  In one visit, some of us observed horses galloping past, with no rider and no human in sight.  Well worth the effort to explore at least one of these valleys. 

I dream about gardening in a land where you can grow produce abundantly and year-round.  No canning, drying, or otherwise preserving food is necessary since you can grow it anytime you like.  Naturally not all things can be grown here (they struggle with things like apples, peaches and tomatoes etc) but the Island of Hawaii CAN actually grow them in the exact perfect location.  With 11 of the 13 world climatic zones, Hawaii can grow almost anything.  The soil is rich in minerals and the regular rain and sunshine promote growth year round. 

Unlike my coastal Canadian land where we battle too much rain combined with cold in the spring, too much heat with no rain in the summer, early cold, wet autumns and zero-growth, cold, wet winters.  In Hawaii you can raise livestock with your greatest concern being building a good enough structure to keep the animals in so they don’t wander off. In Canada, our greatest concern is building structures strong enough to keep predators OUT.    No predators short of hunters and neighbouring dogs bother the livestock.  And surprisingly for a tropical island, the only poisonous things you have to watch out for are mushrooms, not spiders or snakes. 

Beautiful, richly-abundant Hawaii is a fantastic place to visit, and living green even on holidays is possible.  Locally-grown food is easy to find in stores and restaurants.  It is easy to find houses to rent rather than less eco-friendly hotel rooms.  The stores carry green and local products.  Water is plentiful and air conditioning is unnecessary.   Scooters, bicycles and snorkeling and surfing gear are readily available to rent.  Now if we could only LIVE there instead of visiting by plane…  Hawaii, you are a beautiful land.  We already miss your fresh pineapple, your warm wind and your laid back culture.  But not to fear,we will be back.  Even if we have to swim there.