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‘Soaking Up’ My New Found Water Knowledge


Earlier this week I attended the Get Water Smart Workshop hosted by Seattle Tilth and Jessi Bloom (yes, the irony of her last name was not lost on me) of N.W. Bloom. When I walked into the room, Maren Neldam from Seattle Tilth was walking the group through a pollutant runoff watershed model to demonstrate how different chemicals and rain water follow gravity into the Puget Sound Watershed. She then added ‘sponge shaped’ habitat to demonstrate how soil that collects runoff literally soaks up the water and chemical liquid mixture buffering it from running directly into the water system.

Once we were all back in our seats, Jessi Bloom presented on Water Smart Gardening practices. The key takeaways for me were as follows:

  • Goal is to slow down the water runoff process by using it as many different times as possible before it flows into the Puget Sound. She used an example of runoff from her barn gathering in a cistern, then flowing into a duck/chicken water trough, then into a rain garden. I also discovered a new program being tested by the Port of Seattle called Splash Boxx, an experimental garden in a boxcar.
  • We walked outside to see what appeared to be a perfect rain garden set up, but was not being used for that purpose, at the Washington Park Arboretum. She talked about ‘following the rules that nature has set’ by allowing the earth to act as a filter for water and different plants that could be used in a rain garden. Programs, such as 12,000 Rain Gardens, allow people to help build this type of landscaping providing hands on experience while helping others before implementing one yourself. She recommended doing it yourself because of the glut of unprofessional service providers currently ‘saturating’ the market. She also shared the importance of conducting a perc test along with some landscaping worst case scenarios if one is not conducted.
  • Her insight on perennial edibles and the benefits of using native plants for vegetable gardening inspired me to slightly shift my focus on my gardening final project. These plants do not require as much work, require less fertilizers and pesticides, are mostly drought tolerant, and do not need as much water. Although we’ve addressed these topics in class, I had not yet incorporated these practices into my project.
  • Bioremediation was a ‘new word to me’ which was brought up during the Q&A portion of her presentation. It’s a waste management technique used to clean up toxic environmental waste. Apparently mushrooms can be used through this process to break down toxins eventually turning them into carbon dioxide and water.
  • Pervious pavers and porous concrete were referenced several times as a tool to aid in limiting water runoff.

As the presentation wrapped up, Maren from Seattle Tilth offered up a box of water saving tools as take away schwag from the event. I personally have used the shower timer every day since the presentation. The water bottle for the toilet tank has been replaced with bricks from my garden in all toilets within our household, and the floating row cover is currently in place over one of my garden beds to keep the critters from eating my seeds. All perfect takeaways to aid me in reducing my own water footprint at home.


Taking the ‘Waste’ Out of Food Waste

Any food waste statistic makes my toes curl. Literally. Because the United States of America is a land of excess we unabashedly discard food without a second thought. Or so it seems. But that might be my overly sensitive side talking.

If food waste is being measured it means it matters. Yet global companies like Monsanto feel we need to produce more food generated to feed the future population of the planet. The global food crisis feels a little beyond my/our reach so I’ll leave that up to the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation for now.

What I can do is ‘vote with my fork.’ That meaning I can choose the food that goes into my body by buying organic foods from local farmers. Since we are talking about food waste here check out what some grassroots organizations are doing to make an impact in there little part of the world:

  • Food Lifeline – They stop people from going hungry by applying ingenuity to this largely logistical problem.
  • Former Trader Joe’s Executive, Doug Rauch, is opening a grocery store for food items past their ‘sell by date.’
  • Grocery Auctions – A popular clearing house for food that is past its prime.
  • Gleaning Network – Group that harvests food for farmers that might not be able to sell their product otherwise.
  • Freeganism – The practice of eating and reclaiming food that has been discarded.

My personal best practice for not wasting food is turning food that is about to go bad in to delicious dishes that can be frozen to consume at a later date. So if you’re looking for a personal chef to help you do the same, I’m your gal.

Being a Sustainable Restaurant

I grew up working in the hospitality/restaurant industry. While I burned out on working the day to day restaurant grind 20+ years ago, the industry and my love of food has carried over into my current passion for the political food system as a whole. So when I decided to research one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, IL to see how they were doing with their sustainability efforts I was thrilled with what I found.

Uncommon Ground was the first restaurant in the nation to have a certified organic rooftop garden. Because the neighbors in their community literally helped them to carry four tons of soil up the stairs to create the rooftop garden, they keep the area accessible to the neighborhood for viewing and educational purposes. The restaurant is continually recognized for their sustainable efforts which in turn is providing them with the designation of being the leaders in their chosen field. They also offer an internship program for aspiring restauranteurs that dream of one day opening their own sustainable operation.
The Green Restaurant Association(GRA) has been the third party organization to set the ‘sustainable standard’ for the restaurant industry. According to their company website their vision is to, ‘Create an environmentally sustainable restaurant industry.’ The GRA recognized Uncommon Ground as the World’s Greenest Restaurant just last year. This designation did not come easy. It took over four years for them to reach this achievement. Most restaurants become certified by achieving 100 points through their systemized process. Uncommon Ground first received 228 points when they applied and worked their way up to earning 447 green points to achieve the highest standard to date.
The bar has been set high by this two restaurant operation based out of Chicago. And the recognition they are receiving is showing others it can be done. If I were to ever have a change of heart and decide to open my own restaurant, Uncommon Grounds is the type of restaurant I would emulate. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

Exotic Garden Compost

I just received a phone message from Dr. Doo, the Prince of Poo, from Woodland Park Zoo letting me know that I am able to pick up some of the famous zoo doo as part of their spring Fecal Fest. I’ve been waiting for this moment for three years now. Can you tell I’m excited?

Mostly because this is a win/win situation, and I love win/win scenarios. The Woodland Park Zoo saves $60,000 a year by not schlepping animal poop waste to landfill, and makes $15,000 to $20,000 each year from people purchasing it once it has been turned into compost. They create roughly one million pounds of the most exotic compost available in the Pacific Northwest every year. They created a process of creating ‘green gold’ by working with nature to turn poop from non-primate herbivores into a useful product and making a profit (for a nonprofit). Plus you receive a voicemail message from Dr. Poo himself informing you that you are the lucky recipient. That’s almost as good as having Carl Kassel’s voice on your home answering machine.

Zoo Doo Video


Plans for my bday inspired by this video

Plans for my bday inspired by this video.

Taking the Food Stamp Challenge

Share Our Strength recently posed a challenge to its audience to live off $30 a week in food groceries, the average amount provided in the state of Maryland. Since I live in Seattle where the cost of living is higher I chose to take on the challenge utilizing the Washington state guideline ($200 per month / $50 per week / $7 per day).

The goal? To raise awareness in people who do not have to utilize Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Note the program went through a ‘rebranding’ effort in 2008. Key word is ‘supplemental’ – this is not a stand alone initiative. So you are not expected to live solely off this dollar amount yet so many people do.

I took the challenge. And continue to to this day. Though I could easily go on a tangent about the latest statistics and politics surrounding this program my goal here is to share my first hand experience with you.

Eye Opening Moments

Starting the Challenge From Scratch – I had a fridge full of food when I started the challenge. Luckily I had not taken out the recycling for the week so still had access to receipts from my food shopping trips to refer to. That and the fact that I am pretty anal about the amount of dollars I spend on food so the computing of costs for dishes came quite readily to me. Which I needed in order to cost out meals as I consumed them (see food cost breakdown example below). It’s just not feasible to start the challenge without using what you have on hand. Flour, milk and eggs included. That is the only way to calculate true dollars spent.

Changing Habits – Another area I’m already good with is packing snacks to take with me so I do not ‘impulse eat.’ However one day I did not prepare properly. The urge to stop and grab a sandwich at one of my favorite neighborhood joints to satisfy my hunger just wasn’t an option. Typically I could justify supporting a local business for a $10 or less lunch but during the challenge I couldn’t. So my tummy grumbled and I became very cranky until I was able to get home to some already prepared food in the fridge.

Eating for One – One word – leftovers. You have to be okay with eating the same dish throughout the week. I had a big pot of beef stew that lasted me all week. So the cost was manageable. Here is a cost breakdown of the stew:

Beef – $9
Bottle of Wine (yes, the wine went in the dish) – $8
Bag of Carrots – $1
Bag of Potatoes – $2.50
Bag of Frozen Peas – $2
Whole Onion – $1
Mushrooms – $2
Beef Stock – $3
Chocolate and Spices – $2
Total – $30.50
Divided by 9 meals = $3.60 per meal

Though I may never eat stew again this was a pretty balanced meal considering alternatives that many people eat while on the SNAP program.

Social Life – I had a few offers to go out to eat with friends/family throughout the week and had to politely refuse. By accepting food from others you are ‘living outside the means’ provided. But it did offer some creative solutions. Example – Instead of going out for happy hour with a friend I offered to host one at my apartment. Even though alcohol is not covered under the program, the potential to have snacks/food with the drinks was there. To minimize temptation we stayed in; ambience included.

Most people have a budget for their food expenditures utilizing coupons, buying in bulk, even visiting food pantries to supplement the program. I tend to purchase items on sale at the one of four grocery stores I visit balancing my purchases between them. I realize this is not the most organized approach and I plan to challenge myself in this area. The first step – read ‘Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals’ provided by the USDA.

Yes, I did go over my budget. Mostly because I got cocky with how well I was doing five days into the challenge. So decided to do a little shopping without a list. Lesson learned. With a little practice I know I can do it. And will continue to using more resources than I started with.

Time to head home for some lunch since my tummy is beginning to grumble.

I signed up for Heart Walk as part of Te

I signed up for Heart Walk as part of Team Deltek. Help us raise $$ for the Amer. Heart Assoc.