Category Archives: Green Living

Oh Local Christmas Tree?

Christmas treeThroughout my life, there have been Christmas tree farms within just a few miles, often selling gorgeous Douglas fir for under $10 or Noble firs for under $20. Oregon is the cut Christmas tree supplier to much of the nation. Christmas tree farms are usually located on land that isn’t good for farming other crops. The thin soils around Tualatin, stripped by the Bretz floods at the end of the last Ice Age, were really only suited for the minimal needs of the trees, not the greedy roots of food crops. Grandpa said Tualatin was like farming on a doorknob, and was happy his farm was on the good soil of the Tualatin Valley instead.

You can find local Christmas tree u-cut farms through PickyourownChristmasTree.org. and locate farms that sell wreaths through LocalHarvest.org

Each year while living in Tualatin, I’d travel all of two to three miles to one of many u-cut tree farms and saw down my own tree, strap it to the Subaru, and home again jiggity-jog. Each year I would discover that the tree stand didn’t fit and I’d have to buy a new one. One year I got a mighty Noble fir (any tree $15) that ended up about 16 feet tall and weighed too much for both Rich and I to pull upright. Somehow, I had managed to drag it in the patio door myself. We had to saw 4 feet off the bottom to eliminate the bottom branches so it could be uprighted, and even then was enormous. That puppy would have brought over $100 retail.

Then the housing boom hit and the urban growth boundary was expanded and most of the tree farmers sold out to developers. I was unwilling to go further afield to source my trees and began to buy from the church lot or even the lot at the grocery store. The trees were still fresh because they were local, but far more expensive. I didn’t like spending $50 for a tree that used to cost me $10-15.

Finally, I tossed it in and bought an artificial tree at the after-Christmas sale. I loved helping to support the local tree farmers and the boy scouts who would come by to recycle the old trees. But that era had passed.

My ornaments were another factor. When I travel, instead of buying t-shirts or heavy stuff, I would buy an ornament of some sort to remind me of the trip. Many of them were too heavy for Douglas fir branches and required a Noble fir. Noble firs cost too much at retail prices. An artificial tree has no problem supporting the heavier ornaments.

The Christmas tree reminds me of what our area of Oregon and Washington used to be, the land of Christmas tree farms. How many of those overpriced houses that replaced them are now in danger of foreclosure or can’t be sold? It’s a different world. I want to support keeping local farms alive, but it will have to be with a wreath or some other sort of holiday product.
Photo © Wendy Bumgardner

Thankful to Avoid Traffic

This is the first Thanksgiving in the new house, living less than five miles from work and having a wide variety of commute routes home. The traffic on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is always the worst of the year. Before, I was 24 miles from home and it sometimes took 2 hours to get there. I began planning to see a movie after work to wait for the traffic to die down before going home.

It’s a great pleasure to work local. I filled my gas tank today at $1.89 a gallon – a price we never thought we would see again. But I use far less gas at any price nowadays. I’ve gained time to spend on something besides driving 50 miles each day.

Living in a Food Desert?

The Oregonian had a feature article on a family living in a food desert neighborhood in Portland. Once a month they take a long bus ride to the Winco in Clackamas, based on the low cost of the food and that they can get there without transferring buses. The grocery stores closer to them are far more expensive or can’t be reached without a bus transfer. I found the article very interesting on many levels.

The article says a lot of energy has gone into getting farmers markets in more locations.
I love farmers markets, but they are not a bargain solution and you can’t get a full range of products at most of them. Veggies and fruit, yes, sometimes bread, rarely meat, fish, eggs or milk products (and always very expensive). Even a complete vegan would have trouble building a balanced diet as there are rarely beans or other protein.

Winco, on the other hand, has a full range of products at great prices. The one near me has a good organic produce section, and their regular produce section, bulk food section, and milk aisle beat even many of the boutique stores for selection. I hate shopping there because it is crowded during normal hours. But I discovered that at 7 am you have the place to yourself, they are stocking but have good selection.

As a walker who subscribes to a CSA, this summer I’ve been basing my diet around the CSA produce and farmers market produce, supplemented with meat from Costco. I make the 1 mile trip on foot to Winco when I need bread or canned goods I can carry back in my backpack. I do that as a fitness activity. Now with bad weather, the farmers markets and CSA down for the winter, I’ll be driving.

The Portland Transport site has a good discussion of the article. Naturally, a lot of folks who try to live car-free post that the family should shop more often on foot or by bike. They shouldn’t put single/couple grocery expectations on a family. I can get by with one or two bags that I could carry 1 mile from Winco, but a family of 4 or more will have a huge load even if they have staples at home.

I grew up in the farming country around Forest Grove. Despite having our own large garden, fruit trees, home-canned fruit and veggies, and beef from grandpa’s steers, we still had to make a weekly trek to the grocery store and fill up the station wagon with bags to feed a family of 6. We were a family that never ate out and didn’t buy prepared packaged food. But it was still a LOT of groceries, every week.

The nearest bus stops to my house are a half mile away and have frequent service, which is a big improvement from living in Tualatin. But that is still a significant distance to carry or wheel any load. Something to think about if age or infirmity ever limits my ability to drive.

Plastic in the Kitchen

I’m convinced that everything I wear, eat, and sit on will eventually be determined to be carcinogenic, cause diabetes, or give me wrinkles. Trying to avoid one chemical just sends you into the loving arms of another. I don’t use disposable bottled water bottles because they fill up landfills. But the big 5-gallon jugs for our water coolers are polycarbonate made with bisphenol A. OK, I’ve mostly switched to using the filtered water from my refrigerator at home. Next, I am sure to find that the filter may contain toxins. And I’m sure the water reservoir for my two Keurig coffeemakers is made of polycarbonate.

If I stop using Stretch-Tite wrap or Costco’s re-branding of it because it is made of PVC, will I then find the replacement is just as bad? I recall being told not to cover food in the microwave with a paper towel because of dioxins in the paper towels!

For what it’s worth, here is the Green Guide on Plastic Containers, with their current take on what to avoid and what to use instead. At least my Baggies are still thought to be “safer.” I guess it’s all like “safer sex.”

Green Houses

When we went house shopping last year, we were not focused on “green” construction. Location, location, location and items such as a 3-car garage and jet tub factored more into the equation. This is where we plan to live until forced into a skilled care facility. But “green” is the new black. We visited the Clark County Parade of Homes in the Moongate development in Felida, next to Vancouver Lake. The emphasis was on green construction for homes in the $850,000 plus category. That still buys a lot of house here in Vancouver, Washington. Of the houses, there were only two that I would consider living in. The first was The Cottage. I love the French farmhouse exterior. This was also the only house that had a garden area – raised beds along the side of the house. I also loved the reclaimed farm timber flooring. The green features were in the insulation and durability of the building materials. But at 2 1/2 times the price tag of our house for less than 600 more square feet, it’s no bargain. It had a decent-sized covered patio for outside cooking, but not what I’d want for the pricetag.

The second house, the Hannah Marie, had the decor we loved – “Old World theme interior decor.” Medieval, actually, and we loved it. But the hand-scraped hickory flooring was a bit too rough hewn for my taste. And there was one element that was a deal-killer: the covered deck off the kitchen and master suite faced the street. All of your neighbors would be in on your outdoor entertaining. It is a very unfortunate part of the design. There is another patio in back, but it was off of two of the other bedrooms without any real access from the kitchen. My take home from this is the name of the designer, I may contact her to spice up our fireside room and master suite.

The Northwest Haven home looked a lot like Skamania Lodge. It had a wonderful private back patio with a terrible design flaw – it was effectively uncovered. While there were some slight overhangs and one tall overhang, it was easy to see that there was nowhere on that patio that would be shielded from the rain.

The Green Haus was built to be LEED certified. But it was obviously designed for people who mostly eat out. The kitchen was small and strangely designed, and it had only a small eating nook and no formal dining room.

The New Castle home had the best outdoor living space – a large covered patio with fireplace just off the kitchen. You could definitely have a wonderful outdoor kitchen and lounging area out of the elements. The master suite had a “Master Spa” attached. I found the layout of the spa area to be cumbersome. You have to weave around the vanities all the way to the back to get to the gigantic walk-in closet room. The closet room was gi-normous, but it was inconveniently located.

While Moongate touts its views of Vancouver Lake and “Oregon hills,” none of these homes had a view except a slight one from some of the upstairs small bedrooms. I am happy we decided not to buy in the Felida area as it is just a little too far off the beaten path. My commute would still be under 10 miles, and Rich could still catch the Pill Hill Express a couple miles away. But it is a long walk to any real grocery store. I enjoyed myself yesterday by walking the 1 mile walk to Winco to buy bread and tortillas. That is plenty far to go on foot for essentials.