Monday, April 7, 2008

Pioneers were "green" before "green" was cool!

Since we celebrate both Earth Day and Arbor Day this month, I decided that it might be nice to recognize our ancestors and their "green" ways! They were earth-friendly out of necessity, but you can follow some of their ways of life, learn a little, and make a big positive impact on the earth!

Here are a few ways that 19th century Texans were "Green:"

1. Because of distance from supply lines, our ancestors were often quite self-sufficient. They used local merchandise, grew their own vegetables and grains, and ate what was "in season." Eating "in season" and buying local can benefit us now, also! Your produce travels an average of 1500 miles before it gets to your table. This means that vitamins and taste are sacrificed, and lots of fuel is burned in the process.

What you can do: Try to buy local whenever possible. Support your friends and neighbors. Or grow your own fruits and vegetables! Go organic if you can... Check out or your local extension office for more local information...

2. Our ancestors were recyclers! Leftover dish water was used to irrigate the garden. Clothes were handed down, stitched up, patched, and eventually shredded into rags to use for quilts, rugs and other necessary items. Beef tallow was made into candles. You get the picture!

What you can do: Participate in your local recycling program. Donate your gently used toys and clothes to local charities. Reduce your overall "consumption" so that there's less to recycle!

3. Waste not, want not was a way of life for our ancestors. Our Native American ancestors used every part of the bison when they killed it. Non-edible parts of vegetables were composted into mulch to naturally fertilize gardens. Tools, implements, and furniture were repaired rather than repurchased when they broke. Parts of the corn plant were used for everything from back scratchers (corn cobs) to mattress stuffing (corn husks)!

What you can do: Do some composting of your own! Buy only the food you need and be sure to eat/freeze all of it (and eat your leftovers). Repair things around your house rather than discarding broken items to purchase new. Get creative with ways to repurpose common things! Make "throwing away" your last and final option...

4. Our ancestors didn't use disposable cups, plates, utensils, sippies, paper, bags, etc. They used slates for school (paper was too expensive to be "wasted"). They washed and reused their tableware. They used fabric tablecloths.

What you can do: Just say "NO" to disposable unless absolutely necessary. Use your paper sparingly, and use the back side of discarded paper as "scratch" paper. Carry your own water bottle rather than drinking from plastic. Take your own bags to the grocery store. If you really need to use disposable tableware, try eco-friendly options like these or these.

5. Early to bed...early to rise. Yep...our ancestors followed the sun when they set their workday. Candles and lamp oil were in limited supply, so in general, 19th century families were up with the sun, and in bed when the sun went down. They took advantage of natural light so that they could make the most of their limited resources.

What you can do: Take advantage of natural light as much as possible. Turn lights off when you leave a room. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents when possible. Unplug appliances that are not in use to prevent the "phantom load" phenomenon.

6. Our ancestors didn't have "digital waste." Period. What I mean by "digital waste" is that they didn't have computer monitors, televisions, stereos, mp3 players, and other electronic items with potentially dangerous components that they needed to dispose of.

What you can do: If there's anything we currently excel at, it's coming up with tons of "digital waste." So how can we safely dispose of it? First, if your item still works or only needs minor repair, you might try freecycling it. Perhaps someone else can bring it to life! You can also check with your local Environmental Management agency. In Fort Worth, you can contact them here. Many computer companies will take your old computers back, so investigate those options before you buy new, and support those companies with recycling programs! Encourage television manufacturers to help further recycling efforts as well!

7. Our ancestors built their homes with nature in mind. They took advantage of natural shade, they situated their homes so that breezes would run through "dogtrots," and they used natural light. They also used local, earth-friendly materials.

What you can do: If you are building a home, keep nature in mind. Contact local agencies to help you determine how your home can be more "green." In Texas, find out more information here.

These are just a few ideas. From your experiences with Log Cabin Village and life on the Texas frontier, what else can you think of? Leave us some comments with your thoughts...

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