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Can it be true? Is holiday shopping really upon us? As we turn towards the upcoming holiday season, many in the NWEI community are asking how we can shop sustainably and give socially responsible gifts. A recent Choices for Sustainable Living group in Kingston, WA at the Stillwaters Environmental Education Center wrestled with the question and wrote about it in the Kingston Community News. Read on for Naomi Maasberg’s musings on how to make choices for a sustainable future.

It seems like summer is barely over and it’s time to think about holiday shopping.

The holiday gift-buying season will be here soon! This is the time of year that gets some of us to the malls and the stores even more often than we would ever like to be. It was in the midst of that shopping season that a sustainability discussion group at Stillwaters Environmental Center was discussing the topic of “Sustainable Buying.” This is one session of the course, with readings from “Choices for Sustainable Living” by the Northwest Earth Institute.

While it was tempting and we felt motivated after the discussion, most of us in the class did not abandon our Christmas shopping entirely. We did discover some good ideas about how to make purchases count and help to determine the real environmental impact of products we might buy. These would apply no matter what the season, of course!

Any product or service is sustainable if it is made, used and disposed of in such a way that it could continue to be made, used and disposed of indefinitely. This is because it would not be extracting any additional resources from the Earth to do so.

In the production of a product, the natural resources used need to be available from generation to generation; this is what sustainability is all about — making sure future generations will have adequate resources to support them. Also, the waste from a sustainable product must stay within the manufacturing loop and not build up or cause pollution.

Right now, there are very few totally sustainable products in the marketplace, but some are much better than others, of course. As shoppers, there are some things we can look for and things to ask ourselves.

– Do I really need the product? Even if a product is “green,” if you don’t really need it, it’s better not to use up the resources — the greenest product is the one you don’t buy! Often, second-hand things will suffice or be better, and certainly not use up more resources.

– Is it safe to use? Check for toxins that are in so many products. They’re not good for you or the environment.

– Is it durable, well made, of good quality that will last? Inexpensive things that wear out quickly require replacement resources to be used. If you need to use some of Earth’s resources, make them last!

– Is it made from recycled or renewable resources? Are the materials taken in a sustainable way? Are the raw materials used renewable ones, like plants? Or non-renewable, like petroleum? How much of the content is recycled goods? Are the materials organically grown or sustainably harvested? It should have this information on the label.

– How will I dispose of it? Think ahead and look for things that have little packaging, and packaging that can be easily recycled. Then, think ahead to when you or someone else no longer needs this product; how can you dispose of it in a way that will not put it in the landfill? Can it be re-used? Recycled?

– How far was this shipped? We get products from all over the world now and think little of it. But many natural resources are used up in transporting things. “Buying locally” is not enough if the product has been shipped to our local store from across the world!

When shopping, try to think beyond the item you see in front of you. Consider all it took to put it in front of you, and ask yourself if it is worth it.

*If you are in the Kingston area, Stillwaters Environmental Education Center is starting NWEI’s newest discussion course, Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics & Sustainability. If you are interested in joining this group, call (360) 297-1226.


This month, Ellen Dawson-Witt is hosting Choices for Sustainable Living in her 192 square food home in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The group is discussing voluntary simplicity, ecology, food and money…and all things pertaining to living more lightly on the Earth. For more photos of Ellen’s ‘tiny house’ and for the full article entitled “Tour of a Tiny House” in the Yellow Springs News, click here.

When Ellen Dawson-Witt wanted to live a more sustainable life, she didn’t take half-measures. She moved to a farm, went off the grid, and downsized to a house the size of a shed.

Fitting her life into 192 square feet was easy for the 56-year-old — she long ago eschewed television and fashion, and got rid of the stuff she didn’t use — and so was living on a farm in exchange for taking care of goats. And she didn’t mind carrying water, using a composting toilet, keeping a wood stove going and lighting oil lamps in the off-the-grid structure that lacked indoor plumbing and a furnace.

She raised some of her food, carried the water she used for bathing and cooking from a nearby well, collected rainwater from her roof for washing, composted her waste and split wood for her wood stove. There were some modern amenities too — three solar panels, which provided some electricity for a lamp, CD player and laptop, and a 1934 gas range for cooking.

“It was fully living in line with my values,” Dawson-Witt said. “I like to know where my food comes from; I like to be in literal touch with the elements and to work with other people.” …

Thanks to Ellen for setting the example that living this lightly can be done – and for sharing it with others through a Choices group!

This month in the Sequim Gazette (Washington), columnist Beverly Hoffman posed a challenge about shifting our thinking and educating ourselves in order to create the changes we wish to see. She reminds us that Fall and Winter are times to come inside, slow down and gather with friends, family and co-workers in the spirit of educating ourselves more deeply as times change. We hope you’ll host others for an NWEI course this season, too! Read Beverly’s article below:

As I talk with my friends, it seems that many of us have shifted our thinking toward a greater consciousness. Like the Joads in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” who, in the Great Depression, had to leave their Dust Bowl Oklahoma land and drive to California in hopes for something better, we know things are changing. And how we respond to those changes might define us, as individuals as well as a country.

At least three ideas seem to be intersecting right now — a sluggish economy with food prices getting higher, a wish to eat healthy food and a growing sense of the need to reduce our carbon footprint on earth. Many of us are thinking about a first-time garden or how to increase the size or productivity of existing gardens. I was at a friend’s house the other day and she was showing me how they planned to change a perennial bed into a raised bed where they could grow vegetables and include a hot frame. Another friend is experimenting with hydroponic (no soil) production. I also saw a class on hydroponics recently advertised. Another friend showed me a small second-year garden where she or her husband gather vegetables each evening for a stir-fry.

In Port Townsend this past month, the Northwest Earth Institute sponsored a weekend conference with Will Allen as the keynote speaker. Allen, the son of sharecroppers, who became a professional basketball player and later worked for Proctor and Gamble, shared hundreds of slides of how he has transformed cultivation practices, using raised beds, composting, aquaculture and vermiculture (composting utilizing worms). He is undeterred about his vision and feels he’s in the infancy stage of his wish for the entire world to have access to good food. He composts on a huge scale to create a rich soil — his answer to growing healthy crops. Then he transforms any offered space — asphalt-covered parking lots or an area where there is infertile soil — by heaping his composted soil on top. He teaches people how and when to plant, how to harvest and how to sell at local farmers markets or to restaurants and school cafeterias. He constantly is learning and experimenting. One idea I loved was his wish to build a five-story structured greenhouse of sorts with an institutional kitchen inside where people could learn to can, dehydrate and freeze crops.

On another weekend I again went to Port Townsend for its Film Festival and saw two movies on alternative gardening. One was about a man who created a garden in the back of his truck, adding a vapor barrier and rich soil. He literally was a gardener on the move, selling his herbs and produce around the city. Another film showed a gardener who was growing rows of produce atop New York buildings. He had to have an engineer figure out the amount of stress a roof with wet soil could handle and then with that knowledge, he laid out beds and was able to produce an abundance of food. Another lady, who lived in a city high-rise with lots of windows in the foyer, experimented with hanging gardens made of suspended plastic gallon bottles tied together and attached to a horizontal PVC pipe with holes punched in the bottom, that was the water source trough. Below the hanging plastic bottles tied to one another, another PVC collected the dripping water and pumped it back up to the feeder pipe.

People are thinking. And creating. And experimenting. And are problem solving. Like the Christ-figure Jim Casy in “The Grapes of Wrath,” many are recognizing that “we” is far more important than “I” and are trying to build communities where people work together and where Mother Earth is protected and honored. Recently I was at a lovely apple orchard party where the hostess invited her guests to pick apples to take home. She also had a cider press where guests filled containers with fresh apple juice. Even the pulp was saved … for a lady to take home to her chickens. While there, I went into the greenhouse and tasted tomatoes right off the vine. So sweet. So juicy. The entire afternoon was a celebration of the harvest and of good friends taking the time to be together sharing a potluck meal.

Times are changing. We might want to visit the Northwest Earth Institute website ( and look at the courses they offer. During this fall and winter, as our lives slow down a bit, we might want to host a group of like-minded friends to study one of their books, such as “Voluntary Simplicity,” “Menu for the Future,” “Healthy Child, Healthy Planet,” etc. Each book is about $21. At the talk by Will Allen, we all were encouraged to find a way to plant something to eat in our surrounding gardens around our homes. We were challenged to educate ourselves more deeply as times are changing.

I pass on the challenge to you.

For the full article, click here.

A rain barrel installed as part of my personal EcoChallenge

This was a record year for our EcoChallenge. A total of 1533 individuals participated–more than 3 times the total from the previous two years combined! As always, we were amazed and inspired by the stories of change, and thought we’d share a few of the insights we enjoyed this year:

  • In his challenge to spend less time in front of the computer, college student Benjamin Guy found that “screens just seem to occupy so much of our livelihood. We need to be able to maintain a certain amount of distance so that we can appreciate the things around us instead of images of those things.”
  • EcoChallenger Susan Joseph Rack found an unexpected insight in her transition to CFL light bulbs: “Some time ago, I noticed a pang of impatience when I turned on a light and the CFL bulb hesitated a second before going on. Now I hardly notice it. I find that that brief hesitation slowed me down a bit, has taught me that rushing is not necessary. A simple blessing from a CFL bulb.”
  • And new bike commuter Greg Karpicus discovered that “there is a big difference between preaching about going green and actually following through. One makes you sweatier but it is so much more rewarding.”

We are particularly grateful for the incredible participation by Multnomah County employees – in all, 565 individuals from 50 different Multnomah County teams took on the EcoChallenge!

We also loved sharing the insights, humor, photos and recipes of our Featured Bloggers – Courtney Carver, Bill Gerlach, Shelly Randall, Stacey Ho, Lauren Savaglio and Kathleen McDade. Visit the Featured Bloggers page to explore their words of wisdom.

This year’s challenge brought home the power of story in helping to shift our individual and collective behaviors toward the future we aspire to. Stories make change more personal, more doable and–in the end–shape our culture and become the norm for how life can be lived. Thank you to all who participated in the EcoChallenge for your inspiring work and I’m looking forward to creating more stories of change with each of you!

If you were not able to join us in the EcoChallenge this year, mark your calendars for October 1-15, for EcoChallenge 2012.

Hungry for Change has arrived! Get your copy today!

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to consider how we can do the most good and the least harm when it comes to what we eat. Until we got our own chickens, it took me at least five minutes to pick out which eggs to buy every time I went to the market. I’d try to figure out how to prioritize the qualities of affordable, organic, humane, local and healthy, and wonder what all the labels really meant.

You see, I think about the ethics of food quite a bit. If recycling was my entry point into taking responsibility for Earth, choosing to eat food that is better for the planet was my second step. I remember learning in my freshman year of college about the resources required to produce a serving of meat as opposed to a serving of grain (for example, it takes about 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat). From that moment on, I started eating less and less meat. Eventually, I became a (mostly) vegetarian for seven years, until I started eating meat again this February because of health reasons. My “going vegan” EcoChallenge the last two weeks has reminded me of the challenges and rewards of limiting my diet in order to live better for the whole planet.

While developing our new course Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability this summer, I was struck anew with how impactful our food choices are. I tend to think I know a lot about the impacts of our food choices because of my history of being a vegetarian, my background in sustainability education, and my residence in the foodie haven that is Portland, Oregon. But through Hungry for Change, I’ve been reminded of the complicated larger systems our food is entangled in. And I’ve been amazed at the new information daily made available, the challenging dilemmas that abound for conscientious eaters, and the myriad innovations that exist for positively changing our food system.

Each person comes to the intersection of food and sustainability for different reasons. For me, it was the environmental implications of what was on my plate. Maybe trying to live healthier brought you there. Maybe you’re concerned about your children’s future. Maybe you want to live with more independence and self-sufficiency. Maybe you just think organic and local food tastes better. Whatever the reason for your interest in food, Hungry for Change has something for you. Participating in a Hungry for Change discussion course will help you learn more about where your food comes from and the far-reaching impacts it has. The action plans and group project will help you invest that new learning in making change for good. And the opportunity to talk with others about food can lead to shared recipes, the planting of community gardens, or life-long friendship!

Consider organizing a Hungry for Change course in preparation for the upcoming food-filled holidays, and connect around food in a different way than you ever have before.

Impact Northwest, a non-profit serving children, youth, families and seniors with disabilities, has 23 people taking on EcoChallenges this year in the areas of sustainable food, trash reduction, water conservation, energy efficiency and alternative transportation. One Impact NW EcoChallenger, Beth Gibbs, is focusing on sustainable food and trash reduction through the following commitments:

  • Foraging (respectfully and with permission) for wild local foods.
  • Trying to make fermented foods and continuing dehydrating and freezing projects.
  • Bringing her own bags every time she shops during the EcoChallenge and having all produce bags be recycled or compostable.
  • Cleaning out unused appliances, items, and clothes, and donating unneeded items.
  • Cooking at home or dining in rather than getting take-out food.

And the Oregon National Primate Research Center has a 19 person team taking on a variety of EcoChallenges. From their blog: “We’ve recently launched a sustainability effort on our campus and are excited to incorporate the EcoChallenge as a way to engage our community members. We’ll be focusing on saving energy, reducing our water use, and increasing our recycling rates. The folks involved in our community garden will surely be considering the sustainable food challenge and we’re looking forward to exploring the challenge for alternative transportation.” 

One ONPRC EcoChallenger, Laura Schaefer, offered the following update on EcoChallenge outcomes: “One of my focuses for this EcoChallenge is to strengthen the recycling infrastructure here on campus and help foster a culture of sustainability…I’m looking forward to watching our recycling rates continue to increase and helping folks get all the right infrastructure in their labs. I’ve already helped set up a handful of new recycling stations this past week and am in the process of ordering new bins for some of our kitchen areas. Thanks for everyone’s continued hard work and dedication to making changes for the better during EcoChallenge…On October 3rd we set-up a new recycling station in the Grove Lab in the Research Building with new bins for co-mingled, glass, and tip box recycling!”

Tomorrow is the final day of the 2011 EcoChallenge! Thanks for the inspiring work you each are doing during these two weeks of action!

As we continue profiling some of the exciting commitments people around North America are taking during the EcoChallenge, today we turn to Denver, Colorado where Christy Cerrone, a University of Denver Housing and Residential Education Sustainability Team member has been examining her purchasing habits and making more local and more sustainable purchases– and fewer purchases overall. She is part of a team of 12 from University of Denver who are taking on trash reduction, energy efficiency, alternative transportation, sustainable food options and sustainable purchasing. Here are a few of Christy’s reflections from her EcoChallenge blog:

On Gas Stations:

One of the most unsustainable things I can think of purchasing is gas for my car. Even though I usually only get gas once a month, I knew that I would have to get gas during the challenge (even if I rode the bus to work every day) and yesterday was the last day I could stretch the gas tank. I wanted to find the “least UNsustainable” option, so I did some research using the “Better World Shopper” guide (they score 75 product categories with five criteria: human rights, the environmental, animal protection, community involvement, social justice) .

We don’t have the top three rated gas companies in Colorado, so the best options around here got “C” or “C-” on the guide. These are Costco, 7-11, Sinclair, or Valero/Diamond Shamrock. I did some digging and found that the Western Convenience I sometimes go to near my house is apparently affiliated with Phillips 66 which got an F in the Better World Shopper rating. Other “F” stations: Conoco, Texaco, Exxon/Mobile. So, while no purchase of gas is good for the environment, I guess now we have a bit of information about which are a little better. Now we just need cars that get 100 miles per gallon or run on garbage and banana peels like in “Back to the Future”!

On the Dirty Dozen, Climate Counts and Guide to Greener Electronics:

Here are a few purchasing guides that are super useful. Dirty Dozen and Clean 15-– tells you which produce has the most and least pesticides and herbicides and which are most important to buy organic. Climate Counts rates dozens of companies in dozens of sectors on their commitment to fighting global warming. Greenpeace has created a Guide to Greener Electronics rating companies on their “policies on toxic chemicals, recycling, and climate change.”

And on Greenwashing and Buying Shoes:

As suspected, finding sustainable running/walking shoes is no easy task! Lots of statements on everyone’s webpages about what they’re doing for sustainability, but how do you know what is real and what is just “greenwashing”? (Wikipedia definition of greenwashing: “a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that a company’s policies or products are environmentally friendly.”) For example, Brooks touts their biodegradable midsole, but if you put shoes in a landfill it doesn’t really matter if the middle layer is biodegradable– it is still in a landfill and the rest of the shoe around it will be there for hundreds of years. The examples are everywhere, but here are a few of the better things I found: Patagonia has a pretty comprehensive environmental commitment.  “Simple” shoes have “ethical supply chain guidelines”.  And 25% of New Balance shoes sold in the US are made in five factories in the US. Still lots of work to do, so for now I am sticking with my old shoes for a while longer…

Only two days left in this year’s EcoChallenge! Share a story with us or contribute at!

This just in from a blogger taking on worm composting for her EcoChallenge!

I was heading home from a class the other night when I tuned into NPR and heard Think Out Loud discussing the 2011 EcoChallenge. I had never heard of this but apparently it has happened before. Every year during the month of October they try to get people to pledge two weeks in which they will make a change in their lives that impacts the environment. During that time, some people choose to ride their bike to work or only eat vegetarian. One woman said she kept a bucket in the bathroom to collect the water that runs while she warms up the shower. She then used that to water her plants or garden or whatever. This can also be as simple as not allowing the water to run while you brush your teeth or focusing more effort on recycling.

I have decided to compost. I still juice a lot of fruits and veggies which leaves a lot of pulp. I also drink coffee or tea on a daily basis. I have been wanting to compost for a number of years but was too intimidated by the apparent complexity of it. So I went down to my local nursery and asked them about composting. They showed me a handy gadget called the Can-O-Worms.

It’s a multi-level compost bin with a spigot for liquid fertilizer and an idiot proof instruction manual. I found it a bit pricey at $150.00 + the $10 compost worms, but I plan on getting the money back with fewer trips to the dump and healthier herbs and veggies…

I actually had a lot of fun getting this thing set up and am excited to yield the desired results. One thing I did learn is that worms don’t move very fast. Yeah, I know, “Duh.” The pulp I just put in there from my morning drink might take them upwards of 3 months to fully digest. So I already know I need more worms. A thousand worms will multiply to 15,000 in a few years, but I know there wasn’t a thousand worms in that plastic container I spent ten bucks for–maybe a hundred. So, if I want these guys to keep up with me I am going to need more–especially since patience is not my forte…

Read the full post here. Only three days left in the 2011 EcoChallenge! Help us meet our fundraising goal by making a donation here.


George Mason University in Virginia has a 57 person EcoChallenge team taking on actions pertaining to sustainable food, trash reduction, energy efficiency and more. (*Way to go George Mason!) Lauren Savaglio, a professor of Public Health, is focusing on sustainable food options. The following are some of her commitments and reflections from her blog:

“One of my specialities is environmental health, in particular food security and sustainability. As much as I am informed and educated, there is always more for me to do to help achieve food sustainability within my own household. Just yesterday as part of one of my classes, we visited a local ecoganic vegetable farm to tour and learn about the process growing food. I feel it’s extremely important to reach out and know who is producing our food and how they are producing it. It is larger than just running to the store and grabbing the easiest thing.

My specific goals for the challenge are to:

  • Purchase ALL my food from the local farmers market…no running to the grocery store to supplement.
  • Purchase ONLY organic/ecoganic foods from the farmers market.
  • Commit to farm tour dates next semester for all my classes.
  • No eating out at all (not even grabbing a bagel for breakfast). Cooking all my meals and snacks at home, where I control the ingredients and production.
  • I eat fish once a week (no meat otherwise), so I will only chose fish that has been sustainably raised…again from the farmers market only…”

You can also learn more about Lauren’s sustainable food actions by visiting her blog at

Rick Holt, also at GMU, is committed to using alternative modes of transport to get to work (in lieu of driving alone), teleworking once a week, powering down the office, collecting rain water, gardening, using reusable mugs and bringing his own bags when shopping- and skipping bottled water! He logged the following on his EcoChallenge blog:

“Rode my bike to work today. It was a little cold at the start, 52F, but warmed up when the sun came up. 20 miles, 90 minutes, of great exercise. No money spent on gasoline, reduced CO2 emissions and got some great exercise. Five minute shower at work. Using a reusable water bottle and coffee mug today.” 

Thank you Rick, Lauren and GMU participants for demonstrating how individual actions add up to meaningful change!

As we enter week two of NWEI’s EcoChallenge, the stories of inspiration and action keep rolling in. Thanks to all who are participating! Here is a peek into what some of this year’s EcoChallengers are taking on…

Greg Karpicus is on the “Green Free Geekers” Team in Portland, Oregon and has committed to taking on water conservation, sustainable food options, alternative transportation AND trash reduction. A brief excerpt from his challenge site: 

What you may not have seen, and what has become his Eco Challenge, is Greg dodging cars and pedestrians on bike through a city of Hispters, Hippies and Fashionistas.The outdoors he can handle but it is this Urban Wilderness that he hopes to survive. After swinging his ice-axe and rolling out of an avalanche on Mt. St. Helens Greg laughed in defiance of nature’s attempt to destroy his morale, but can he handle other people and cars, horns and shouts? We will find out.

Also, he will be making his lunch everyday because he has a nasty habit of eating out and creating more waste and trash. He hopes to keep it local and support local farmers and stores.

He is also committed to forgoing the bottled water and shortening the duration of his showers.

Read more on Greg’s blog–Go Greg!

Benjamin Guy is a college student at Geneva College and part of the Creation Stewardship Club EcoChallenge team. He is taking on energy efficiency and sustainable food options.  Here’s an update from Ben’s EcoChallenge site:

I’ve been talking to people about farm practices that produce lots and lots of beef. I think I would like to take a small chunk out of that problem by not contributing to the high demand for the stuff. So, for one, I want to only eat meat two days a week. It’s hard to switch to locally produced food at the moment since I have a college meal plan. For my energy efficiency commitment, I spend a lot of time in front of the computer screen for school AND recreation. So I would like to reduce the amount of time I use a computer to 4 hours a day (I know that’s still high, but I’m a college student. Baby steps). I also have a couple light bulbs that still need to be changed to energy efficient bulbs. I need to watch the thermostat in my room, trying to keep it off when I can and finding efficient ways to heat my room as it gets colder. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do this. HERE WE GOOOOOOOOOO! 

Good luck Ben!

Martha Ramsey has been making her own cleaning products in reusable containers and Susan Joseph Rack, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church and GreenFaith group EcoChallenger, is taking on energy efficiency and other new sustainable lifestyle habits. Here are some reflections from her EcoChallenge site. She is switching to CFL bulbs, composting and foregoing the plastic bags at the grocery store!

This Ecochallenge is one more opportunity to change small habits that make a big difference to our environment and fosters a spirit of responsibility and gratitude…I started composting at my husband’s urging this summer, but I hated having the compostables sitting on the counter until someone walked them out to the composter in the backyard. So… I devised an insert that hangs inside our kitchen garbage can (the kind you step on a pedal and the top opens)…I am also buying reusable poly-mesh veggie and fruit bags to replace store provided plastic bags. Learn more here.

Thanks to all who are taking new actions! To date we have raised over $10,000 for NWEI’s programs through the EcoChallenge–show your support of NWEI and the 1,400 people taking action toward a sustainable future by making an EcoChallenge pledge today. 

Former NWEI Curriculum Director Meg O’Brien was featured last week on KATU Portland news as she discussed the long-term impacts of doing the EcoChallenge. Watch the video clip to hear Meg discuss her 2010 EcoChallenge and the effects of the challenge one year later.

Meg and her family committed to being a one car family, driving less and biking more. One of the results has been financial savings along with healthier habits. NWEI Executive Director Mike Mercer is also featured. Stay tuned for more EcoChallenge stories as we enter week two of the challenge!

KATU News EcoChallenge Clip:

NWEI was featured earlier this week on OPB’s Think Out Loud with guests Rich Bruer (board member for NWEI) and Kim Smith (PCC professor and third time participant in NWEI’s EcoChallenge). Here is an excerpt from that coverage:

October 1st marked the start date of the annual EcoChallenge. The event, created by the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI), challenges participants to reduce their environmental impact in some way for two weeks. The event may have started small, but as awareness of the challenge increases, so do the participants. Mike Mercer, the Executive Director of NWEI says last year only 375 participated, but this year it’s closer to 1,300 people.

Participants can take the challenge by themselves or work in teams and are encouraged to track their progress daily. A few of the categories suggested on the EcoChallange 2011 website are water conservation, energy efficiency and sustainable food options. The website also has a “Check-In” page where participants can log every day that they meet their challenge.

Are you participating in the 2011 EcoChallenge? Did you participate in the past? What do you do daily to reduce your environmental impact? Click here to see the conversation online.

Let us know what you are doing! Learn more at

This just in from our guest conference blogger, Shelly Randall of, who took the time to recap the events of NWEI’s multi-day biannual gathering a few weeks ago. Thanks Shelly! For those who weren’t able to join, this will fill you in on gathering highlights and outcomes.

Salutations from Port Townsend, a community that is still reverberating with the excitement of hosting NWEI’s biannual North American gathering last month (Sept. 15-18, 2011). The “Will Allen buzz” has yet to wear off, and every one of the 500-odd people who attended his public keynote address seems to still be talking about it. Everyone else in town is eagerly awaiting the video that was shot that night to be edited and released.

Our grassroots efforts to create a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy have gained visibility and been bolstered by the opportunity to host NWEI’s conference, “If Not Me, Then Who? Building Healthy Communities and Local Food Systems One Conversation at a Time.” (Thanks to NWEI for offering reasonable day rates that made it possible for many Port Townsendites to attend the conference part-time.)

In addition to the conversations that started, “Did you hear Will Allen?”, conversations here in Port Townsend are spinning off everywhere:

  • Through new NWEI discussion courses that are starting up this month, in homes and churches;
  • At a talk this week on reconnecting urban consumers to agricultural producers, presented by the director of our state Department of Agriculture and hosted by Port Townsend’s Citizens for Local Food;
  • At this week’s kick-off event for Our Watershed, a NWEI-style, 7-week course being offered at no charge to participants, and available in two geographic versions: the Pacific Northwest and more specifically Puget Sound. Click here to learn more.
  • At meet-the-candidate events with conference attendee and local economy advocate Deborah Stinson, who is running for City Council;
  • Between my 3-year-old son and the 4-year-old son of a climate researcher I met at the conference whose family just happens to live four blocks from mine!

Best yet, our local Chamber of Commerce has invited me and Judy Alexander (chair of Port Townsend’s NWEI steering committee and Local 2020 leader) to present back-to-back in November, and is dedicating two of its weekly meetings to the topic of local sustainability. The Chamber director was inspired by local media coverage of the NWEI conference, and her phone message was waiting for me at the end of the day Friday. What a wonderful and direct outcome!

Before my inspiration from the conference is redirected to these worthy conversations, I want to present some easily scannable conference highlights from sessions I attended. Below, please find short summaries and relevant links to more information. The conference schedule contains details on all the presentations held Thursday-Sunday at Fort Worden State Park…

*Below are just a few excerpts from Shelly’s full post. To read the full recap, visit

Conference Highlights – FRIDAY

Community Building, Sustainable Food and Neighborhood Activism: A Port Townsend NWEI Case Study

Imagine if every Menu for the Future course had a farmer or food producer at the table? That was the case for the 28 NWEI discussion courses organized in our county in 2010. Judy Alexander and Peter Bates (both NWEI organizers) and local Grange President Dick Bergeron shared how they found common ground to pull off this ambitious, and how it helped grow the customer base for local food.

It was an inspiring first session, notable for its outcomes (our county now spends 4% of its food dollars locally, compared with less than 1% nationwide, and there is a push to get that to 20% by 2020), its specificity (how a Google Docs spreadsheet enabled course coordination), and its enduring themes (partnerships, identity politics, how food brings people together).

Peak Moment TV interviewed these three in Fall 2010, and the interviewer’s notes nicely summarize this Town Mouse/Country Mouse collaboration. Click here to read them, and click here to watch the 28-minute video.

Accelerating Community Capital: Developing a Local Investing Ecosystem

I heard this called “the most paradigm-shifting session” of the weekend, and with the Occupy Wall Street protests now in full swing, learning how to promote local investing seems more relevant than ever.

One of the key factors driving Port Townsend’s relatively thriving local economy is the Local Investing Opportunities Network (LION), a clearinghouse between business owners who need capital and potential investors in their community. It’s not a pooled investment or a loan fund, and business owners are not making public offerings—transactions are based on one-to-one personal relationships (which gets around SEC restrictions). Since LION formed in 2006 (it was formalized in 2008), it has facilitated more than $2 million in local investments (primarily loans), with an average investment of $132,000 per active investor.

“It has been not only a huge economic boost for us, but also a profoundly hopeful thing to be a part of,” said presenter Deborah Stinson. She was joined by fellow LION investor Michelle Sandoval and locally financed business owner Crystie Kisler of Finnriver Farm “What we’re finding with LION investors is they have truly aligned their values with their actions and their bank accounts,” said Kisler.

LION’s website offers Local Investing Kits with templates of its legal agreements and forms. Peak Moment TV interviewed LION’s co-founder, an investor, and a locally financed entrepreneur in Summer 2011. Click here to watch the 28-minute video.

Becoming a Hyper-Locavore: Lessons from a 10-Mile Diet

I hadn’t read my conference schedule close enough to realize Vicki Robin would be here, and when I was casually introduced to the co-author of Your Money or Your Life—one of the most influential books of my past year—I couldn’t even speak, I just genuflected. So of course I had to attend Vicki’s presentation later that day.

Who knew it would be so funny? It turned out to be the trial run of her “relational eating” talk, describing her extreme eco-challenge to eat only what grew within 10 miles of her Whidbey Island home for one month in 2010—and she had us all laughing hysterically. Thankfully, she chose September. Thankfully her neighbors bootleg raw milk and cheese, and sell eggs and free range chickens. But at a “shocking” $5/lb, Vicki was forced to cut way back on eating the only meat available to her. In the midst of describing this protein dilemma to us, Vicki happened to look out the window and caught one of Port Townsend’s feral deer in her sights. Instantly, she leaped into a bow-and-arrow stance. “That would’ve been dinner,” she declared, to her audience’s great delight.

Look for her undoubtedly good-humored book to come out next year: Blessing the Hands that Feed Us: Lessons from a 10-Mile Diet (Viking 2012). Vicki blogs at

To read more about Kurt Hoelting’s keynote address about Harnessing the Power of Place to Build More Resilient Lives and Communities, workshops on community walkability, NWEI’s new course Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability and highlights from Farmer’s Market tour and the Farm Tour, click here.

Shelly Randall blogs at and can be reached at or 360-301-2540.

As of Saturday October 1st, NWEI’s EcoChallenge is underway! Here is one EcoChallenger, Courtney Carver, who blogs at Be More With Less, on A Reason for Change – and how her challenge, and commitment to living simply, is shaping her.

I am not the same person I was 5 years ago. I changed my life and life changed me right back. I am more attentive, rested, hopeful and more fun to be around. I care about completly different things than I used to, and want a different future than I had planned. I don’t say any of this to brag, only to demonstrate that slow, deliberate change may start on the outside, but it works it’s way into your heart and soul. Before you know it, you haven’t just changed a habit, but your life as well.

I didn’t wake up one morning and think, “I want to lead a simpler life.” I didn’t jump out of bed, cancel my cable television, quit my job and throw all my stuff in a dumpster. I didn’t change because I listened to the voice in my head that was screaming at me to slow down and take care. In fact, I didn’t have time to hear that that voice at all.

I made a change because I was sick and tired and scared. I made a change because my doctor said, “You have Multiple Sclerosis”. One small change led to another, but the common thread through every change that I’ve made over the past 5 years has been simplicity.

What I changed and simplified

  • § Food. I stopped eating meat. It took me 3 months to drop meat that came from cows and pigs and another 3 to walk away from poultry. 2 Years later I stopped eating fish & seafood and could finally say that I don’t eat anything with a mother. While I changed my diet for health reasons, it is sustained by compassion. I read books like Eating Animals and Skinny Bitch and realized that not eating animals was good for my heart in more ways than one.
  • § Money. I changed my relationship with money. I think I used to be mad at money. I had to work so hard to get it and then everyone wanted a piece of it. I spent more money than I had because I thought I deserved to. I didn’t know I was punishing myself. Now money is a tool, and not tied to an emotion. With the exception of a house payment, I don’t owe anyone any money and don’t believe that I am owed anything by money.
  • § Stuff. I used to think that stuff made me happy. A new pair of boots or beautiful dining room table brought a smile to my face. Today, I own 50% less than I did 5 years ago and am still letting go of stuff. When I moved from New Hampshire to Utah, I drove a u-haul across the country full of my treasures, my stuff. I only remember 1 item that was in that packed trailer. It was a distressed coffee table/trunk. I loved it because I could put stuff in it and on it. I sold it this weekend. I used to play the “what would you take with you if there was a fire” game, and now I know that there is nothing worth running into a burning building for besides the people and pets that I love.

While summed up in 3 paragraphs, those 3 changes came from several shifts and none of them happened overnight. They each resulted in an opportunity for me to be healthier and happier. Each change gave me a chance to redefine the way I view the world and live my life.

Don’t change to find yourself. Change to know yourself.

While I didn’t plan to completely overhaul my life, over 5 years, that is exactly what I did. If you are thinking about a change, start small. Don’t wait until you have to change.

The most surprising thing about simplicity is that when you clear the clutter from your home and your brain, you have the time and attention to hear that voice inside your head and your heart. By reducing stress, you can have the claritiy and confidence to trust that you know what is best for you and to make the necessary changes.

I needed a reason to change, but realize that if I had changed sooner, I wouldn’t have had to go through the sick, tired, scared part. Knowing that one change will lead to another, where do you want to start? If you could change one thing, what would it be? 

In the spirit of change, I joined the 2011 EcoChallenge 2011. For the first 2 weeks of October, I’ve committed to changing my habits and not using paper towels, plastic bags, plastic bottles or any packaged food. Join the Be More with Less Team and come together to do something nice for the planet (and it’s people). Here is the sign up information: 

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