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One of NWEI’s 30 partner organizations, Catamount Earth Institute, is wrapping up their Healthy People, Healthy Planet initiative, celebrating 17 discussion courses completed this Winter and Spring! They ran 12 World of Health groups, 4 Choices for Sustainable Living groups and one Menu for the Future group. CEI is now gearing up to host two programs on lawn chemicals as follow up, providing tangible information and action opportunities for course participants. Follow up offerings will focus on “Creating a Healthy Landscape” and how to have lawns without chemicals.

Catamount Earth Institute director Barbara Duncan says “It was Northwest Earth Institute activists from Port Townsend, Washington that spurred me on to try organizing multiple groups of one program…” There are two more World of Health courses starting in April at the Richards Free Library in Newport, NH and the Canaan Town Library in Canaan, NH. The Catamount Earth Institute focuses outreach in the Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire.


Thanks to our friends at Practically Green for sharing this story about two friends (Randi and Janet) choosing an ‘eat local challenge’ in Boise, Idaho! Below is an excerpt from an interview posted on Practically Green’s blog:

Practically Green: How did you ever decide to do this?

Randi: Janet and I had lunch in early December. We got the idea to develop a personal challenge for 2012 and support each other. I’d just completed a class at Northwest Earth Institute called World of Health: Connecting People, Place, and Planet, so I was in a sustainable frame of mind… I wanted to do something to appreciate where food comes from, something that would be healthy for me, my family, and the environment. I was questioning excessive packaging and what really was available from local sources. I wanted to now begin to answer those questions, and better understand what was available organically, locally, especially this time of the year.

Janet: It’s one thing to eat local in Boise during the gardening season – and Randi and I both have vegetable gardens. But in the dead of winter? We decided to try it at an intense level for the month of January…

PG: Any a-Ha moments?

Randi: One tip, set aside time on Sunday afternoon and cook for the week. Potatoes, legumes, hearty soups and stews.

Janet: Before the January challenge, I didn’t really enjoy cooking or planning meals.  When we initially discussed the challenge in December, my hands were sweating at the thought of doing this challenge. I knew I needed to develop healthier habits around food, but prioritizing the time and making it happen seemed like a big undertaking. But to my surprise, there are many local options to choose from in Idaho. The transition was much easier than I anticipated and I actually do enjoy planning meals and cooking now. I also find I’m not wasting food (at the end of the week) by adopting easy strategies and investing this time. These are habits I’m carrying forward past January.

Randi: I was amazed at how wonderful this was from a community perspective. Everyone at our local farmer’s markets was so helpful, supportive and interested in what Janet and I were doing.  Not only was it eye-opening and fun to discover the variety of delicious local food sources, it was enriching to meet the people behind them all.  These connections and relationships will be ongoing. The other thing “that’s next” for me is to learn how to can, freeze, and preserve all the bounty from my husband’s organic garden this summer and fall… so we can enjoy during the winter months next year.

Janet: My family drinks a lot of milk. I calculated: we consume an average of 140 or 150 gallons a year. I recycle the plastic jugs, but one of my goals in doing this challenge is to also reduce the amount I’m recycling and focus on “pre-cycling,” i.e., eliminate the demand on resources before I use them. I’ve transitioned to now local milk bottle exchange and I have completely eliminated the need to recycle the plastic. It was so easy to make the transition and it’s another outcome I’ll continue moving forward too…

Read more on the Practically Green Blog, where you can find tips on eating locally, and see a list of winter foods recipes.


Barbara Duncan of the Catamount Earth Institute in Vermont, a partner organization of the Northwest Earth Institute, recently announced their winter initiative: a series of Healthy People, Healthy Planet discussion groups based on the World of Health discussion course created by NWEI. Courses will be happening at multiple local libraries, food co-ops, a nature center, the Upper Valley Land Trust, local bookstores and the Women’s Health Resource Center. Thanks Barbara for sharing this update!

Catamount’s winter project is offering Healthy People, Healthy Planet discussion groups. Winter in the Upper Valley is long, dark, and cold; one way to cope is to gather with friends and neighbors for good conversation, on a lively topic …  such as shedding light on the connections between our health and the health of the planet.

Healthy People, Healthy Planet conversations are being hosted at 15 venues around the Upper Valley this winter. The 6-session series topics include preventive medicine, food issues, our chemical legacy, simplicity and consumption, and healthy natural systems.

 This free discussion series is based on a discussion guide/anthology, A World of Health, by the Northwest Earth Institute of Portland, Oregon. Guides are available at the Hanover Co-op service desk for $15. (Participating libraries have discussion guides available on loan to their Healthy People, Healthy Planet group participants.) This series of community conversations began with a group at the Grantham Town Hall. Upcoming groups are hosted by the Baldwin Library, Wells River on Sunday, January 8; Shiretown Books, Woodstock, January 11; and Quechee Library on January 12…Sponsoring organizations for the 2012 discussion groups are the Catamount Earth Institute, Co-op Food Stores, the League of Women Voters of the Upper Valley, Sierra Club, Sustainable Hanover, the Upper Valley Land Trust, Upper Valley Localvores, and the Upper Valley Household Hazardous Waste Committee.

We’re grateful to the Jack and Dorothy Bryne Foundation, the Mascoma Saving Bank Foundation, the Upper Valley Sierra Club, the Stettenheim Foundation, the Frank and Brinna Sands Foundation, and King Arthur Flour for subsidizing the discussion guides and providing sets of books for loan by participating libraries. Thanks also to the Co-op Food Stores, the Upper Valley Food Co-op and Health Connections of the Upper Valley for purchasing sets of books to share with discussion groups.

Catamount Earth Institute will soon be on Facebook so that discussion group members can share their thoughts, concerns and information. See you there!

If you are local to Vermont and want to see a listing of where groups will be taking place, click here.

This Spring NWEI was featured twice (stay tuned for the second piece next week!) in the Journal of Sustainability Education.  Below is an excerpt from a review of NWEI’s discussion guide A World of Health:  Connecting People, Place and Planet, written by brothers Larry Frolich and Alan Frolich (Larry is faculty in Biology at Yavapai College in Prescott Arizona and Editor of the Journal of Sustainability Education and Alan practices medicine at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System in Tucson).  For the complete article, click here.

“Everyone in the U.S. knows the ritual:  the primary care health visit. First, the phone call for an appointment several weeks in advance. On the anointed day, several pages of forms to be filled out across a high plastic counter-top.  Then the wait in a vinyl chair, a wall-mounted TV showing kids programs or cable news, the provider running at least 30 minutes late. Finally, the appointment begins with a call from a door beside the check-in counter:  “Mr. F______.”

A medical assistant documents weight, height, temperature, and blood pressure. A now-growing card-board folder is deposited into a plastic door-cubby, and after another 10 or more minutes a nurse enters and asks “the list,” in a fully non-committal fashion:  family health history, smoking, drinking, sexual habits and a number of mental-health indicators.  A recent addition to the ritual in the last five years has been the intense concentration on the computer screen as the answers are filled in.

Then, just as the questions end, as if choreographed, the provider waltzes in for the 20 minute annual allotment of “primary care” covered by your insurance company. The folder is reviewed, favorites from the list of questions are repeated, this time with empathy, a perfunctory exam is performed, and medications and test are ordered as indicated.   Finally, reflecting the more preventive philosophy that has permeated primary care medicine in recent years, the visit is closed with a number of relatively holistic concerns (which sometimes seem to change with the latest news):   “Everyone in the family wears a seat-belt all the time, right?”  “We’re cooking from scratch at home at least three times a week, is that true?”  “Get yourself a good bike helmet and wear it all the time.”  “Do you buy organic produce?  It’s a good idea.”  “And be sure to include a good source of Omega-3’s.”

This, only mildly caricaturized, is the state of the primary care ritual in America today…But if “primary care” is to live up to all that those beautiful two words promise, then it must change, and it must come to include a full picture of an individual, embedded within a family, a home, a community, an eco-system, and even a world-wide web of virtual and digital connections.

This is the premise for “A World of Health:  Connecting People, Place and Planet.” The book is, at its core, a highly informative collection of articles about people, the environment, and health.  The publisher, the Northwest Earth Institute, provides an enticing discussion-group-based framework for the articles, which are thematically organized into chapters, each of which addresses one of the key environmental factors that should be part of our ‘primary care’…”

To read the complete review, click here.

Today we continue our focus on transportation by looking at ways to broaden our reach. Individual behavior change is necessary and important in creating the world in which we want to live. Individual actions inspire, motivate, and change culture, especially when enough people work together to make a difference.  Here at NWEI, we focus on individual behavior change and small group learning through our discussion courses and in our EcoChallenge.

But we also see the vital importance of working together to change our infrastructure, political systems, and broader cultural constructs, as well.

Today’s proposed action is: Broaden your reach.

Cars produce about 20 percent of U.S. carbon emissions and consume about 44 percent of the oil we use. Consider contacting your representative about implementing a fuel tax or raising the standards for fuel efficiency in your state. Environment America is working on some great campaigns aimed at getting America off oil.

Also, consider contacting your Congressperson and Department of Transportation and telling them of the merits of a U.S. Bicycle Route System,  an interstate network of bicycle routes for national non-motorized transportation. You can find out more information here and see what’s going on in your state here.

For the weekend:

Enjoy non-motorized fun, for your health and for the health of the planet. Go for a bike ride, either to a destination you’ve already planned, or just for fun. Or take a hike and enjoy the weather your area has to offer in the spring. Take a picture celebrating your surroundings and how you got there.  Send your pictures to, and we’ll post them on our blog!

So far in the Month of Action, we’ve examined home energy use and personal transportation. Today we turn our attention to our transportation of food.

Based upon a 2000 study by the Center for Sustainable Systems at University of Michigan, the average item of food in the U.S. travels around 1,500 miles to your table. By another estimate that includes transportation of inputs to farms and factories, typical food items travel up to 4,200 miles in their journey along the supply chain. Regardless of how and what you measure, the conclusion is clear: our food travels a long way to get to us these days.

Over three quarters of that second number above comes from inputs in the food production process. This means that in the carbon-calculating process, where your food producer gets his or her goods is three times as important as where you get your food. For example, buying beef from a local cattle farmer might actually be worse than buying beef from a thousand miles away if your local farmer gets her feed shipped from across the continent.

Production accounts for 45% of food’s carbon footprint, and shipping inputs and food transportation account for 29% of most food’s total carbon footprint. That means that the rest of your food’s carbon footprint comes from your driving to the store or restaurant to get it, as driving in a family vehicle is far less efficient than your food’s travel in a tightly-packed semi-truck.

So what should we do?

Today’s suggested action is: reduce your food’s carbon footprint.

Refrain from purchasing out of season food from far away; maybe limit yourself to one or two produce items from outside your region. Or start your own vegetable garden this weekend.

Purchase some panniers and start biking your groceries from the store. Or resolve to patronize your neighborhood grocer or farmer’s market.

Find out what “local” means to your local farmers, and encourage them to purchase supplies from local producers as well.

Buying local can result in fresher and tastier food, a healthy local economy, and reduced carbon emissions. But there’s no cookie-cutter approach to how to eat sustainably. Truly reducing your food’s carbon footprint requires an investment in your community and in understanding your local food system.

For more information, check out:

Excerpt from Think Like an Ocean by Andi McDaniel (used in A World of Health: People, Place and Planet)

Lately, millions of well-intentioned shoppers have begun to connect the food they buy with the land from which it comes. They read the fine print on their vegetables, meat, and dairy to assure themselves that their purchase will benefit the iconic farmer, cow, and beautiful pasture featured on the label. What could feel more wholesome than helping out these friendly, familiar characters, so central to our concept of America?

It’s harder to identify with tuna.

And yet, mysterious though they may be, our oceans sustain us. As renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle says, “Without the ocean, life on earth would simply not be possible. Should we care about the ocean? Do we care about living?” All told, the health of the oceans affects our livelihood as much as our farms and forests do. The connection just isn’t as apparent.

  1. Do you agree with McDaniel’s assessment that “It’s harder to identify with tuna?”  Explain.
  2. To what extent are you aware of the issues plaguing the health of oceans?  Is your environmentalism more “land-oriented” as McDaniel suggests?
  3. What actions can we take to reflect an understanding of the connection between the health of the oceans and our livelihood?

Excerpt from “Beyond the Patient” by Lee Thirer (this full article was used in our newest course, A World of Health)

Hippocrates taught that nature was the doctor, the doctor its aide. Studying the interchange of the internal and the external, a Hippocratic healer paid careful attention to food, exercise, and the ways the waters and the climates acted on the four humors—blood, phlegm, and yellow and black biles, each associated with a particular temperament. By trusting and helping nature, the great healer, to maintain health, Hippocrates’ students sought to provide preventive care over a lifetime. Only after nature had begun to fail would the doctor prescribe treatments that would, in Hippocrates’ words, “help, or at least do no harm.”

For the first time in millennia, however, nature itself is so unwell that doctors cannot fulfill their ancient duties. Twenty-six centuries of medical innovations cannot now protect the patient from the wider world, with its modern stresses and toxicity. And even if they could, modern doctors are focused elsewhere. “We shouldn’t pretend that clinical medicine is really doing primary prevention,” says Ted Schettler, science director of the non-profit Science and Environmental Health Network, “because it’s not—and it’s not particularly interested in it.”

  1. What does preventative medicine look like to you?
  2. If healthcare practioners are to be “trusting and helping nature, the great healer, to maintain health” what actions might they prescribe for individuals? For society as a whole?
  3. What are ways an individual can be “helping nature to maintain health?”

Here’s the third of our salon series which pulls an excerpt from our newest course, A World of Health: People, Place and Planet.  We hope this little snippet gives you a sense of what the course is like.  Enjoy!

“One Approach To Sustainability: Work Less” by John de Graaf

In response to escalating fuel costs, many companies are now considering going to a four-day work week.  They believe this will save large sums on commuter fuel expenses and reduce traffic congestion.  The problem is that they mean four 10-hour days.  But for many American families in which both parents work, such long days will intensify daily stress.

The real solution to this problem is to go to a four-day workweek of eight-hour days.  Total production would be reduced slightly, but this will make us more sustainable.  The commuting/energy benefits of the four-day week would be kept, without the negatives.  We could expect significant reductions in energy and resource use, and in health problems and health care costs.  Talk about a win-win situation!  The Center for a New American Dream, a Maryland non-profit has had such a 32-hour week for 10 years, with excellent results for productivity, creativity and worker morale.

  1. Do you tend to agree/disagree with John DeGraff’s assertion about the positive health and environmental benefits of a shorter workweek?  Why?
  2. What concerns might employers have regarding a shorter work week?  Are they valid?
  3. Does a 32 hour week sound appealing to you?  Would it affect your productivity?

Just because fall is starting to set in doesn’t mean we all need to hunker down indoors.  This article excerpt from A World of Health is a great snippet to give you a sense of what the course is like.  Enjoy!

Excerpt from “Leave No Child Inside” by Richard Louv

The future of children in nature has profound implications not only for the conservation of land but also for the direction of the environmental movement. If society embraces something as simple as the health benefits of nature experiences for children, it may begin to re-evaluate the worth of “the environment.” While public-health experts have traditionally associated environmental health with the absence of toxic pollution, the definition fails to account for an equally valid consideration: how the environment can improve human health. Seen through that doorway, nature isn’t a problem, it’s the solution: environmentalism is essential to our own well-being.

Howard Frumkin, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, points out that future research about the positive health effects of nature should be conducted in collaboration with architects, urban planners, park designers, and landscape architects. “Perhaps we will advise patients to take a few days in the country, to spend time gardening,” he wrote in a 2001 American Journal of Preventive Medicine article, “or [we will] build hospitals in scenic locations, or plant gardens in rehabilitation centers. Perhaps the . . . organizations that pay for health care will come to fund such interventions, especially if they prove to rival pharmaceuticals in cost and efficacy.” …

  1. Has a physician ever prescribed “time in nature” to you?  How would you react if she/he did?
  2. Given that health care in the U.S. is a profitable business, what will need to happen for doctors to start prescribing “a few days in the country” or in the garden?
  3. Do you view spending time in nature as integral to your health and well-being?

What are your thoughts?  Feel free to post your comments here!

By Lisa Frack

Lisa Frack served on NWEI’s curriculum review committee for our new course, “A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet.” Lisa is the Portland-based social media manager for the Environmental Working Group and mother to Coleman (7) and Georgia (4). Following please read an article Lisa wrote for NWEI’s print newsletter this September.  If you are interested in finding out more about the topics Lisa discusses, NWEI’s new program is a perfect place to start–call us (503-227-2807) or visit our website for more information on A World of Health.

When I was pregnant for the first time, I was all about prenatal yoga, checking my baby’s amazing developing body online, and comparing symptoms with friends.  As it should be.

What I wasn’t doing was avoiding traffic pollution because I knew it could cause genetic changes that led to asthma, as a recent study shows. And really, how can you? Nor did I weigh the fish I ate to minimize my baby’s mercury exposure. And I happily accepted hand-me-down baby bottles (reuse! save money!), which I later learned (after years of use) contained BPA.

Nope.  I ate too much, slept a lot, and ultimately gave birth to a (thankfully) healthy, full-term baby boy. It wasn’t until my second pregnancy that I read Sandra Steingraber’s excellent book, Having Faith: An ecologist’s journey to motherhood. In beautiful prose, she weaves the story of her own pregnancy into a scientific report on the critical moments of those nine months, when developing fetuses are most sensitive to chemical exposures. And I’ve never looked back. Read the rest of this entry »

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