Don’t Throw Out That Baby Shampoo!

February 29th, 2008

Since this month’s publication in the medical journal Pediatrics of a study linking infant exposure to shampoos, powders and lotions with increased urinary concentrations of phthalates, many parents have been replacing their favorite baby brands with organic alternatives. There’s cause for concern, since phthalates have been linked to changes in male reproductive development.

But there’s a difference between replacing and throwing out. In their zeal to get rid of questionable baby products, some parents are throwing out bottles of shampoo. Talk about an eco-mistake!

Instead of throwing the packages out, why not donate them? Of course, you won’t want to donate them to children’s organizations, but there are some great options that will enable the products to be re-used by populations that won’t be at risk for reproductive damage by phthalates – and where the health benefits of a shower or bath would far outweigh any other potential risk! (And of course, you can always use them yourself. In fact, many people dismiss this study. Here’s a counterpoint.)

If you do decide to donate the products, here are some options for re-use. Consider the following:

• Check out freecycle.org You can post a message offering the products and cautioning people to use them only for adults.
• Many charitable organizations offer showers to the homeless, and are constantly in search of toiletries. A great example of this is the “Water Ministry” run by Saint Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. But organizations like this exist nationwide. Contact your local homeless agency to see where you can donate shampoos, soaps and lotions.

For a comprehensive list of natural baby products, check out the EWG’s research here.

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2008

Forget Eco-Sins. How about Eco-Mistakes?

February 26th, 2008

Somewhere along the line, the most die-hard environmentalists started using the term “eco-sin” to describe their environmental wrongs. It’s curious really, when most people have either abandoned the notion of sin or recoil in shame at the thought of willfully committing a sin against God’s creation.

Let’s cut each other some slack. Wouldn’t it be much more encouraging if we simply acknowledged our eco-mistakes? For the fact is, just as the pious know that none of us are without sin, so too are none of us “greens” in fact perfectly green.

Consider the following:
- an environmental advocacy group holds a meeting that welcomes attendees with green balloons (Sin?/Mistake? Ack! Plastic’s bad for the Earth, bad for the fish!);

- attendees at the same meeting leave their crumpled napkins, bottles and food behind on the tables, causing the cleaning staff to indiscriminately throw recyclables into the trash containers (Yikes! A meeting about recycling where the expert recyclers don’t recycle!);

- a new government building in a county that levies fines on businesses for non-compliance with recycling does not make recycling containers available in its snack areas (Judge not what I do, but what I say);

- a group of “green Moms” plans a “green” fundraiser, then encourages sponsors to purchase new items for giveaways at the fundraiser (Eek! Whatever happened to Reduce/Reuse?)

Eco-sins? No, eco-mistakes. We’re all human. Reversing long-held behavioral patterns is one of the hardest things to do. And that’s exactly what we’re in the process of doing – learning to change old behaviors.

That’s why the role of Mothers and Fathers is so critical. If we can just get it right with this next generation, there won’t be so many “eco-mistakes.” The next generation, having grown up with an innate green consciousness,  will know better than us.

– Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Save us from the EcoMoms?

February 23rd, 2008

It figures. Just when, for a nano-second, I felt like a trendy, cool green “EcoMom,” a backlash has started. It’s only been a week since The New York Times featured a group of EcoMoms on the front page of the Saturday paper. That was followed by my own 5 minutes of blog fame when one of my favorite bloggers, La Marguerite, profiled yours truly as an example of an EcoMom.

Now, in today’s Financial Times, you can read about concerns that green Moms are setting the cause of feminism back by worrying about when to run the laundry machine at energy-efficient times. “Save us from the eco-mom?”

I think we have bigger things to be saved from….hazardous toys…poor water quality…disappearing animal species…global warming…unhealthy and unsafe food in school cafeterias…terrorism. The list goes on.

As for the EcoMoms, fasten your seatbelts – I think we’re just revving up!

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2008

When Green Means Chic

February 22nd, 2008

There was a time when the Greens conjured up images of anything but fashion. The original “Greens” were a political movement that rejected fashion and other bourgeois values. But today’s “Greens,” at least in the US, are primarily female and, as the New York Times pointed out, increasingly bourgeois. So of course they’re interested in fashion. Perhaps that’s why twice in the past few hours I’ve stumbled upon green fashion launches – Organic Style, a new online “green style” magazine, and today’s launch of Mimi and Motherhood Maternity’s new lines of organic cotton clothing and “eco-accessories.”

Organic Style is a brand extension of Organic Bouquet, and an adaptation of a print magazine published for several years by the venerable Rodale Press, the leading health and wellness publishing firm. Organic Style is quite highbrow, promoting items such as cruelty-free footware “custom made to your specifications” for $450 to $800 per pair, luxurious eco-friendly resorts with suites costing $1500 per night, and “the world’s tallest roses,” starting at $249.95. It’s like Town&Country for the eco-set.

At the other end of the spectrum is Motherhood Maternity, offering organic cotton maternity tops for just $17.  The selection is quite small, with just fifteen items encompassing organic t-shirts, Burt’s Bees potions, and organic pregnancy and baby books. Mimi’s selection is more upscale than Motherhood’s, so you’ll pay a higher price for an organic cotton top – about $30 more than at Motherhood.

What I really want to know is – where can I find regular (non-maternity) stylish organic cotton tops for around $17?

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2008

The Real Reason to Use Green Eco-Friendly Cleaners

February 20th, 2008

One advantage of Clorox’s “green market” entry is that the general population (as opposed to the environmentalists) is being made aware of the advantages of eco-friendly cleaners. But the real reason for Moms to use green cleaners may surprise you. In fact, I discovered this quite by accident the other day, when an accident of another sort – the juvenile variety – struck my bathroom tub.

There was a time when I would have groaned and hustled my little darlings out of the way while I dumped copious amounts of Ajax, Clorox, Mr. Clean, and what-have-you into the tub, waited for the noxious fumes to dissipate, and then quickly wiped everything away before my eyes started to tear and my throat began to burn.

But with eco-friendly cleaners, you no longer have to worry about the fumes. The fact that their plant-based ingredients are healthy for you and healthy for the Earth means that you can involve your darlings in messy clean-ups without any worry of health effects. For a generation of kids that seem to have largely escaped household chores, this is a revelation.

My son gleefully pushed the trigger button of the “friendly cleaner” and asked what else he could do to help. I was thrilled that together we got the cleaning job done in a fraction of the normal time. He was so eager to help that together we cleaned the entire bathroom. My husband was in shock when he returned home (he always worries when I clean of my own volition, thinks I’m coming down with a fever, been abducted by space aliens or something of the sort).

So there you have it – give those kids some responsibility – give them a “friendly cleaner” and turn them loose!

Works for me!

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2008

Six Tips for Choosing a CSA that’s Right for You

February 18th, 2008

With the growing popularity of both the “eat local” and the organic movements, membership in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) cooperatives is on the upswing. Last week’s post discussed six reasons to love a CSA, and this week we’ll cover six tips for choosing a CSA that’s right for you. After all, each CSA has its own “personality” and you’ll need to find one that fits your convictions and lifestyle, or else you may be disappointed.

Following are six factors to consider when choosing your CSA:

1. Volunteer commitments – Traditionally, CSAs have required volunteer commitments from their members. The extent of volunteer hours and obligations will vary widely from CSA to CSA. Common volunteer chores include: working at the farm, driving a delivery truck, unloading the delivery truck, bagging produce, setting up the pick-up location, and working during share pick-up hours.

2. Veggie, Ovo-lacto-vegetarian, or Carnivore? – Some CSAs offer organic meat, whereas others are completely vegetarian or ovo-lacto-vegetarian, meaning you may be able to get milk, eggs, or cheese along with your vegetarian share.

3. Local / Organic Commitment – It used to be that organic implicitly meant local, but that’s no longer the case. Generally speaking, most CSAs will have a preference for local, organic food. But what happens in the dead of winter? Unless you live in a warm climate, you’ll likely face one of two scenarios: either your CSA will ship in organic produce from warmer climes, or you’ll be subsisting on a lot of root vegetables. Some members may welcome the addition of organic oranges, while others will decry the fossil fuels used to ship them to your local CSA.

4. Communications – Leveraging communications tools such as listservs and blogs can make all the difference in the community spirit of a CSA. Is there a way for members to connect to discuss issues such as switching volunteer hours, selling shares during vacation weeks, or recipes for the obscure veggies in your latest share?

5. Delivery and/or Pick-up Hours – If you’re habitually the last person to pick up your share, you may find the pickings are slim. What are your CSA’s pick-up hours and how do they regulate the food distribution?

6. Farm Visits – Can you visit the farms that grow your food? For some members, this is the essence of joining a CSA.

When choosing a CSA, consider what’s most important to you. Typically, you’ll be dealing with a CSA for about six months, so a little upfront research will go a long way toward ensuring a happy experience.

What’s been your experience with CSAs? Please leave a comment and share!

- Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Babies: Why do We Need all this Stuff Anyway?

February 17th, 2008

My loathing for Cheap Plastic Crap is well established, but there’s some plastic crap that’s rather expensive and which I’ve considered necessary. Things such as baby monitors, for example. That belief was thrown into question today when a friend from Mexico held up our baby monitor and asked, “What’s this for?”

His child is the same age as ours, his house is the same size as ours, and yet he and his British wife find they can manage quite well, thank you, without the tons of plastic crap – baby monitors included – that takes over American homes.

Something to think about.

– Lynn

Copyright OrganicMania 2008

Organic Frozen Baby Food? And Bloggy GiveAways! Interview with Heather Stouffer, Founder of Mom Made Foods, LLC

February 15th, 2008

Many new Moms make a list of all the things they are going to do for their baby. Making home made baby food is often near the top of that list. But a lot of these new Moms find that time gets the best of them, and they simply can’t follow-through on everything they’d like to do. So they end up like yours truly, with an unopened “frozen baby food ice cube tray” collecting dust on top of the fridge, and jars of organic baby food sitting inside the kitchen cabinets.

Now there’s another option. Back when I posted about a sale on organic baby food, I heard from several companies making frozen organic baby food. Frozen organic baby food didn’t exist five years ago when I had my first born, and last year I left the grocery shopping to Darling Husband (DH), so I wasn’t aware of this new option until I heard about it through the OrganicMania community.

mommadefoodsproductimages_stacked_small.jpgwirkenphoto-mom-made-foods.jpg

Following is an interview with Heather Stouffer, founder of Mom Made(Tm) Foods LLC and another “Organic Mommypreneur” in the spirit of Karen Gurwitz of Mothers & Menus, who was interviewed here as well. OrganicMania was curious about why a mother would choose frozen baby food, and Heather was more than happy to discuss this, along with a host of other interesting issues about organics and feeding a growing baby.

OrganicMania: We all grew up eating jarred baby foods. In fact, the icon of a happy baby was the perfect little “Gerber baby food baby.” What made you decide to look beyond the conventional, beyond jarred baby foods?

Heather Stouffer: When my son Emory, who is now nearly three, was a baby, I found it difficult to find the time each day to prepare home made baby food. I couldn’t find any freshly made, store-bought alternatives that I felt good about feeding him. So I started to think about making my own brand of frozen organic children’s foods. My brother is a professional chef, and he helped and inspired me.

OrganicMania: Why did you choose to focus on frozen baby food? What is it about frozen baby food that is special?

Heather Stouffer: My goal is to produce organic food products for children that are as close to homemade as possible. Freezing is our “preservative.” Research has shown that frozen food can be as healthy or even healthier than fresh food, depending on how long it takes fresh food to get from the farm to your table. It can be quite time intensive to go from the farm to a distributor to the store produce section.

This is in contrast to frozen food, which is picked at peak harvest and then either directly frozen or gently cooked, for example, blanched, to capture peak freshness, and then frozen. Of course, if you’re talking about locally bought produce from a farmer’s market versus frozen, the frozen food might be less fresh, but still pretty close to being on par with fresh food.

But then if you compare it to jarred food, there’s a big difference. The jarring process is very intensive. In order to jar food, you need to cook it at extreme temperatures. You can actually see the color change. The food is cooked to death, and natural nutrients are lost in this process. You see the difference in the color and the loss of texture. Jarred baby food has a “yuck factor” for parents when they feed it to their babies.

I believe babies and young children starting their journey into a lifetime of eating, should be fed the very best from the start – foods that we would welcome tasting along with them.

OrganicMania: So you’re suggesting that frozen baby food tastes better and is more nutritious than jarred baby food?

Heather Stouffer: Yes, it’s sheer delight. We freeze Mom Made products immediately after they are prepared. So it tastes like I’m biting into a fresh Bartlett pear right off the tree, and it tastes like a real sweet potato. It tastes like real food that adults eat, unlike the way jarred baby food tastes.

It sounds simple but after parents taste our food, I often hear them say something like “ooh, yum, it tastes just like a real apple!” It makes me laugh because it’s as though they expected it to taste awful. The great taste of Mom Made Foods means baby has a better experience learning to eat than is typical with jarred foods. It’s better for your baby too.

OrganicMania: You could have chosen to make conventional frozen food, which still would have been a new option for babies and would have provided the taste advantage you describe. Why did you choose to make an organic baby food?

Heather Stouffer: Your baby’s first year is the most important for growth and development. Organic food is best because your baby’s brain, immune system, and hormone system are still developing. Many non-organic fruits and vegetables contain pesticides and toxins, which can affect how our little ones grow and develop. Plus, organic food is better for the environment than conventional food, because farmers use natural methods like crop rotation and composting instead of chemicals.

OrganicMania: How much does Mom Made Foods cost as compared to jarred organic baby food?

Heather Stouffer: The retail price is $3.99 for two 3.5 ounce containers. The price difference with jarred is in the quality and care we put into making each individual serving. We use only fresh ingredients in our products and do not add any fillers, preservatives or junk.

[Editor’s note: This compares to the prices noted in this post of the non-sale price of $1.05 for a jar of Earth’s Best baby food, so this would be $3.99 versus $2.10 for roughly the same quantity of jarred organic baby food].

OrganicMania: Quite by accident, I’m starting an interview series focusing on what I call “Organic Mommypreneurs.” You’re the second interview, with more to come. Why do you think so many Moms are starting organic businesses?

Heather Stouffer: I have found that the organic message hits home with many of us moms once we are pregnant and have children. All of a sudden you’re responsible for this other little person. It’s something Moms are focused on, and so we identify the gaps in the market.

OrganicMania: How do you do it all? What advice do you have about combining motherhood and entrepreneurship?

Heather Stouffer: Focus is critical. At any one time, there are 67 things that need to be done. You need to pick out the top three strategic projects that you are doing and focus on them. Then, at the end of the day, if you didn’t get to a task that impacts one of your strategic projects, you need to ask yourself, what did I get done today? It can be really difficult some days…some days more than others.

Also, I always advise other entrepreneurs to seek out and maximize the existing resources for small businesses. You need to be able to pick up the phone and call people, which can be scary sometimes. But you need to get the word out there about what you are doing and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

OrganicMania: What’s next for Mom Made Foods?

Heather Stouffer: Right now, our products are distributed in the Mid-Atlantic region, but we’re in discussions now with national retailers. We’ll be launching new products and massively expanding our distribution this year.

Update 5/29/08Full disclosure: Lynn’s consulting biz, Miller Strategic Marketing, is now working on an assignment for Mom Made Foods. At the time this post was written back in February, there was no relationship between us. Pretty cool, though – we met through OrganicMania and now will be working together!

Editor’s Note:

And leave a comment to win Bloggy Giveaways of a Mom Made Foods rebate coupon for $3.99, a baby spoon, and for those of you who aren’t yet convinced, my two trays of unused baby food/breast milk storage cubes – a $12 value! (I’ll even wipe the dust off the $12 price label!) I have 10 coupons to give away, so leave a comment with your address (no fears, the comments don’t show up till I enable them, so I’ll delete your address before posting your comment to the blog!) . I’ll mail the coupons out to you. The winners will be contacted by email.

Photo Credit Family Picture: Wirken Photo

— Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Credits and Offsets for Non-Green Valentines?

February 12th, 2008

Maybe you’ve heard of the pollution credits and carbon offsets made available to Big Business. Today I’m wondering about credits and offsets for non-green Valentines. You see, last week I blogged about Green Valentines, happily recalling the days when I enjoyed making simple homemade “green” Valentines with my son.

I expected to do the same this year. But this year I don’t have a preschooler. I have a BIG BOY kindergartner whose best friend is giving out Hot Wheels Valentines.

“They’re shaped like real Hot Wheels,” my son breathlessly explained, “and they say, ‘Hope you’re right on track for Valentines Day!’” By this point, dear readers, you know what’s coming, don’t you?

“Mama,” he pleaded, “please, please, I don’t want to make my Valentines this year. I want Hot Wheels Valentines.”

I was scandalized. After all, there I was, telling the entire blogosphere about the joys of making home made “Green Valentines” and my own son was begging me to buy commercial Valentines cards!

Fortunately, I’ve been a parent long enough not to say “no” right away, so I told him I would “think about it.” And think I did. I thought about how he was the kid at summer camp who told the other campers that their tunafish sandwiches were poisonous because of the mercury and other toxins in the tuna. He was the one who pointed out at birthday parties that the floating balloons would eventually end up in the ocean where they could hurt the fishies. Clearly, he’s an eco-aware kid – maybe even “too” eco-aware (if there is such a thing at this tender age).

Did I want him to grow up with a complex about Valentines Day? Flash forward twenty years. “Sorry, darling,” he would tell his fiancée, “I never celebrate Valentines Day because I hate it. I think it’s because as a kid my mother made me make these queer ‘green Valentines’ when all the other boys got to hand out Hot Wheel Valentines. Now I hate Valentines.” His fiancée would sob, break up the relationship, and there would go my future grandkids!

That’s when I started wondering about the offsets and credits. After all, based on the blog comments and emails I received, I know at least 10 women had decided to make Green Valentines with their kids. Didn’t I get some credit for that to offset the purchase of commercial kiddie Valentines?

You can take yourself as far as you want on the green journey, but what about your loved ones? As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Sometimes, it’s hard to be green.

– Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania

Six Reasons to Love a CSA (They’re More than Just Kale!)

February 11th, 2008

Some Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups have a reputation for providing their members with little more than an overabundance of kale, chard, and root vegetables with a few sprigs of parsley thrown in. CSAs, as you may know, are collectives formed to purchase a farmer’s or a group of farmers’ crops. Members share in the bounty (or the loss) and the farmers are guaranteed a set price for their crops.

CSA Pick-up Point

While it’s true that through my recent CSA experience, I have learned I prefer chard to kale, the recent growth in the “buy local” movement and the growing popularity of CSAs means that if you join one, you’re likely to enjoy a far broader range of foods than in years past.

Following are six reasons to love a CSA (Part 1 of 2 Posts on CSAs)

1. Variety – It’s easy to fall into a rut at the market, picking the same familiar veggies and fruits every week. Through a CSA, you may be exposed to celeriac, black radish, salsify, purple top turnips, passionfruit, persimmon, kabocha squash, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet white turnips, and Big “Florida-type” avocados, in addition to those CSA stand-bys, chard and kale! Some CSAs also provide fantastic farm fresh cheese and wonderful varieties of home-baked bread.

2. Commitment – Since you are required to pre-pay for your CSA membership, you’ll likely make it a point to get your CSA share every week. C’mon, admit it. How many times have you resorted to processed or convenience food because you simply hadn’t made it to the market for something fresh?

3. Inspiration – With the abundance of new foods to experiment with, odds are you’ll have to dust off that old cookbook and take a look at some recipes for the unfamiliar produce in your share. Cooking and discovering new recipes are all part of the CSA adventure! (Check out this blog with recipes matched to shares from the Spiritual Food for the New Millenium CSA).

4. Family Learning – My kindergartner is learning about where food really comes from, how delicious fresh organic and biodynamic food tastes, and even how to carefully measure produce on the scales. As part of our volunteer commitment to our CSA, he’s also learned how to bag flax seeds and practiced counting and sorting more than 100 bags.

5. Health – Between the variety of food, the desire to cook more healthy meals at home, and the forcing function of receiving a pre-paid weekly CSA share, odds are your regular diet will become much healthier.

6. Fun – I love visiting the CSA with my children. It is a fun, relaxed escape from the surrounding urban area.

And of course, the most important reason to join a CSA is to help the environment by supporting local, organic and biodynamic farmers.

Please check out this post explaining what’s behind the biodynamic food in some CSAs, and come back next Monday for the second part in this series, which will discuss how to choose a CSA that’s right for you.

To find a CSA near you, visit LocalHarvest.org.

– Lynn

Copyright 2008 OrganicMania