Archive for Conscious Consumer

Local Government Allows Farming on Village Owned Property, Yes!

And now, more insight from our pal Gina of MySkinnyGarden:

I met Jessica on the Internet. There, I said it.  I know it sounds weird but we both had garden blogs and somehow found each other and learned we lived just blocks apart in Forest Park and that we were both originally from Tennessee.  Within 12 months of meeting, we’d partnered to start Forest Park Community Garden. I have never met anybody so easy to work with. Not only did we share a vision about creating a local community garden but the synergy between us was amazing, comfortable, fast!

While writing this blog post for Green Home Experts it occurred to me that I’ve never really talked to Jessica about her gardening experiences prior to when I met her. I just know that ever since then she’s been on fire trying to figure out a way to make a living doing something she loves. Urban agriculture.

This year Jessica started Forest Park Mini Farm, a small farm located on a piece of land owned by the Village of Forest Park and leased to her for growing herbs, flowers and fresh, organic produce. Jessica sells what she grows at Forest Park Farmers Market every Friday evening and she is also offering shares of her harvest for sale just like large-scale Community Supported Agriculture farms do and she’ll even deliver to your home for free if you live in the area.

I am proud of Jessica for relentlessly pursuing her urban agriculture dream and for her innovation in working with local government to utilize the empty land they own to provide space for eager farmers like Jessica. Most communities have these parcels of land waiting to be developed and allowing them to be farmed in this way is a very safe investment that sends a strong message to the community that they support residents with this entrepreneual spirit and a lot of sweat equity to give. It’s cliché but it nobody loses here.

Jessica still has a few shares available for her Community Supported Agriculture program which starts this coming Friday July 20th. If you live in the Oak Park, River Forest or Forest Park area, you can’t get much more local than purchasing produce from this exciting new mini farm. If you decide not to buy a share, be sure to stop by the Forest Park Farmers Market on Friday evening 3:30 – 7:30 at The Grove where you can buy Jessica’s produce and beautiful flowers, in person.

(And a note from Maria, GHE Queen Bee: I subscribed to Jessica’s CSA and can’t wait to get my first share on Friday!)

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Sandwich Me In

Last year as I was secretly planning Green Home Experts’ expansion, I met a wonderful guy named Justin Vrany. He met with me in our cramped shop to talk about his plans for Sandwich Me In, a sustainable sandwich shop in Lakeview. His passion and drive oozed out of his pores as we discussed ways to work together. His enthusiasm inspired me to keep working away at our expansion plan.

Justin’s dream of creating an eco-friendly restaurant runs the entire gamut. This guys knows what he’s doing! Here are all the wonderful things I remember about Sandwich Me In’s sustainable practices. I’m sure there are more!

–Justin used as many reclaimed and repurposed building materials as possible for build-out.

–Justin sources his ingredients locally and from organic farms.

–Sandwich Me In is this/close to a zero waste restaurant. They recycle everything they can, including packaging waste and other materials that are difficult to recycle.

–All food waste is picked up by a service that brings it to a commercial composting facility.

–Delicious sodas are made in-house using SodaStream soda makers (furnished by us, of course!).

–Sandwich Me In only uses biodegradable and compostable food service products (furnished by us, of course!).

–Sandwich Me In’s cleaning supplies are non-toxic and biodegradable (furnished by us, of course!).

On Thursday I picked up lunch for the GHE staff at Sandwich Me In. I loved the pulled pork, which Justin told me they smoke for 13 years. And he uses an old family recipe for their barbeque sauce! Delicious. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work with Justin, and I look forward to working with him for years to come! Make sure to visit next time you’re in the neighborhood.

Learn more about Sandwich Me In and follow their progress on Facebook and Twitter @sandwichmein.

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On Being a General Store

This morning a new customer walked through the door, collected some cleaning supplies, deodorant, a gift for her co-worker, a few plants, and some paint swatches. As she was taking everything out of her basket to be rung up, she asked, “What don’t you carry here?”

It’s true, I try to offer a green alternative to everything inside and around the home. Of course we can’t carry every single thing, but we sure do try. Over the past four years, we’ve come to be known as the local general store. Need dish soap? Check. Run out of toothpaste? Check. A birthday card? Check. Green has become mainstream for our customers. They shop here because they want to live as sustainably as they can; therefore, they shop as sustainably as they can.

What this tells me is that green is becoming mainstream. When we opened, we were a unique store (with difficult parking and limited hours) that carried green products. Throughout the years we’ve expanded to a larger location with better parking, expanded product selections, and we’re now open 7 days a week! And it’s thanks to the support of our very loyal customers that we’ve found a comfortable status in Oak Park as the neighborhood general store.

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Another Reason to Love Our Customers

We have lots of reasons to love our customers. Mainly, GHE wouldn’t exist without you! But we also have some pretty smart cookies who frequent our shop.

Take Gina G., for instance. I met Gina when she was working to start the Forest Park Community Garden. I like Gina for more reasons than she’s a customer and neighbor. She’s pretty, smart, funny, and an awesome gardener and blogger. In fact, Gina writes My Skinny Garden, a blog that inspires me to do more with my little plot of earth.

A few weeks ago, my worlds collided, thanks to Gina. I was researching which organic seeds to bring into the shop, knowing that I wanted to stay away from GMO seeds and Monsanto. So I Googled one brand name and Monsanto, and immediately red flags popped up everywhere.

Then I Googled Botanical Interests + Monsanto, and guess what came up? This! Seriously! One of my very own customers–smart, funny, cute Gina–had already done all the hard work for me. Sweet.

Last year Gina gave the folks at Botanical Interests a ring and did all the research for me. After seeing Gina’s blog, that’s all I needed to bring Botanical Interests seeds into GHE. Now we have about a hundred different organic heirloom seed varieties.

We hope you’ll come in soon to stock up on seeds, organic potting soil and other propagation goodies. And when you do, please say a little “thank you” to Gina G.!

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Ten Steps Toward a Greener New Year

Ten Steps Toward a Greener New Year

1.  Slay Vampires
“Vampire energy loss” from appliances in passive mode (the clock on your microwave) or standby mode (your DVR scheduled to record something) account for 5-8 percent of your home’s total electricity usage per year.  Slay energy loss by unplugging unused appliances.  Or get a Smart Strip surge protector, which shuts off electricity to dormant appliances.

2.  Detox Your Home
If you’re still not using green cleaning products, what are you waiting for?  If you want to avoid asthma and allergy attacks, carcinogens and toxic chemicals, it’s time to green your cleaners.  Still worried about high prices or the effectiveness of cleaners?  Then you need to stop into GHE, where you’ll get what you need–the right price and a clean home.

3.  Read the Labels
What does green mean?  Are you being “greenwashed” by big box advertisers?  Be sure to read the labels on your food, personal care items, and everything else.  Don’t be fooled by their trickery.  And if you have a question about something, call us!  We’re always happy to help.

4.  Remember Fido…
…and the cat, iguana, etc.  Pet food is often filled with ingredients that animals’ stomachs can’t digest properly.  Skin, behavior and other health problems are often caused by poor diet.  For cat and dog food, we highly recommend our friends at Sirius Cooks in Oak Park.  And we’re happy to provide organic dog shampoo!

5.  Use Pedal Power
We love twofers, and here’s another one: reduce your oil consumption and get fit by opting to use your feet instead of your car.  Map out days that you can walk or bike instead of drive.  Also, you can make life easier for pedestrians with some of our pet-safe ice melt.

6.  Let’s Take This Outside
A green home includes the outdoors too.  Are your fertilizers and herbicides toxic?  Are you composting?  Growing your own food?  Do you leave your sprinkler on and forget to turn it off?  Start planning a greener garden now: non-toxic soil enhancements, composters and rain barrels are all part of a non-toxic home!

7.  Trash the Trash
Can you go a year without garbage?  These folks did!  Composting, growing your own food, and conscientious consumption are a few tactics to help you trash the trash.  Oh, and are you planning on doing any remodeling?  You have lots of options here.  Before you rent a dumpster, check out The ReBuilding Exchange, Murco Recycling, RSI, Habitat ReStore and ReUse People.

8.  Share the Love
So, you’re a green guru by now.  Ready to do more?  Start a green team at work.  Join the green committee at your child’s school.  Help your neighbors detox their homes by being their green guru.  Remember the words of Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spiderman): “With great power comes great responsibility.”

9.  Give Green
This is the perfect time of year to think about your gift giving.  Does your co-worker really need another pair of fuzzy socks for Christmas?  Does your kid’s teacher want another porcelain apple?  Most of us really don’t need any more stuff.  Consider donating to a charity in someone’s name.   Support a local organization they support.  Or, The Humane Society, Heifer International and Habitat for Humanity make gift-giving with a cause very easy to do.

10.  Do Lunch
This one accomplishes a few goals.  Eat better, save money and reduce what you throw away by bringing your lunch to work and packing your kids’ lunches.  Guess who has lots of waste-free lunch supplies?  That’s right, we’ve got Snack Taxis, Wrap-N-Mats, Klean Kanteens, and much more!

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Local Trend Watch

Local Trend Watch
10 Ways Oak Parkers are Going Green

  1. Zero Waste Lunches. Several area schools have received funding from the DCEO to create zero waste lunch days.  This gets parents in the habit of packing lunches with reusable containers and composting food waste.
  2. Rain Barrels. Last summer’s successful “Roll Out the Rain Barrels” campaign (League of Women Voters) put rain barrels on the map—literally.  Residents are more aware of storm water management and water conservation, and rain barrels have become rather commonplace!
  3. Composting. Outdoor bins and piles, vermiculture indoors, whatever suits your fancy.  30% of what we throw away is food waste—unless you compost.  Make better use of your kitchen and yard waste by composting.  The result is nutrient rich—and free—compost for your yard!
  4. Gardening. Food mileage and eating locally are front line issues today.  Many people are returning to the Victory Garden movement by planting veggie beds at home and participating in community gardens.  This is a great way to save money and to know exactly from where your food is coming.
  5. CSA’s. To go further into the localvore movement, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.  Your participation helps fund small farms and ensures you’ll have local, organic produce all summer long.
  6. Energy Incentives. Take advantage of federal tax incentives that expire at the end of 2010.  Insulation, alternative energy, doors, windows and more are covered.
  7. Greener Gatherings. We’re nearing the season for block parties, graduations, and family reunions.  Throw parties with paperless invitations, reusable or compostable plates, cutlery and cups; recycle and compost.  The possibilities are endless!
  8. Shopping Locally. Now, more than ever, local businesses are depending on you to help them thrive.  For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures.  If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here.  Spend it online and nothing comes home.
  9. Cutting Out Cars. Consider biking/walking one day a week.  Reduce your carbon footprint, save on gas, and get in shape!

10.  Getting Organized. Many groups exist in and around Oak Park to
support your efforts.  Interfaith Power & Light is a group of different congregations who are active in greening their communities.  Power of 10 is involved in greening Oak Park. Area schools and PTO’s have wellness and/or green teams.  Start or join a green team at work and in your faith community.  Start a green block in your neighborhood!  Attend Earth Fest on April 24, learn more about the work of the Environmental & Energy Advisory Commission, and get involved!

Upcoming Events
More information about all of these events can be found in the Events section at All of these events are free, unless otherwise noted.

4/17: Great Paint Exchange

4/19: LEED for Homes 101: An Introduction to USGBC’s Residential Program

4/20: Green Tuesday: OPRF Community Foundation Sustainability Vision

4/21: Home Energy Reduction Workshop

4/22: Earth Day 40th Anniversary

4/24: Oak Park Earth Fest

4/27: Green Tuesday: What’s New in Waste

4/29: Renew. Refresh. Reconnect.  Bring a necklace or bracelet that you’d like to refresh.*

5/6: Create a Cocktail Container Garden*

5/9: Kids’ Activity: Create an Ecosphere*

* Denotes a charge for participation.

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Retailing Green in 2010

This is a recent column in Green Building Product Dealer by my friend and colleague, Andy Pace.  Andyhas been a pioneer in the green building industry since 1993, when he opened the first green building supply company in the Midwest, Safe Building Solutions. He is also the founder of Degree of Green® and Green Design Center™.  In addition, Andy is an advisor to Green Building Product Dealer magazine.

He was one of my earliest supporters when I was working to open Green Home Experts, even helping me set up shop selling paint from the room in my house that I now call my bedroom!  I still call on Andy regularly to talk biz, to brainstorm, and for a good morale boost.  He never disappoints.  Enjoy.

Retailing Green in 2010

For several years, I have offered my analysis about the green building industry for the coming year.  Here’s a recap of the last two years:

2008 was the year of green credibility.  As the construction market was shrinking rapidly, manufacturers scrambled to re-brand their existing products to make them appear to have green attributes, even if they didn’t.  Although the industry was still unregulated for the most part, consumers began to demand more in-depth information to prove that these green claims were accurate.  Prior to 2008, many consumers were buying anything that had “green” or “eco-friendly” written on the packaging.  But in 2008, the majority of green-minded consumers started to question what green really means.  And when this happened, manufacturers had to back up their claims or loose credibility.

2009 was the year of RGI, Return on your Green Investment. No longer did the ‘greenies’ and ‘light-greenies’ have disposable income to put into green things to make themselves feel good.  No longer did they spend 10% more for a household item that may or may not affect the earth’s climate.  If consumers were going to spend 10% more for an eco-friendly household product, there needed be a clear sign that the extra 10% will be paid back via an energy savings, or an improvement in their quality of life.

I think consumers finally understand energy efficiency. Friendly to the outdoor environment, that’s great.  Friendly to our pocketbook, even better.  But when builders market their homes as green, energy efficiency just wont cut it anymore.  Green needs to go beyond that.  Lets face it, how many consumers when building a new home or remodeling an existing, actually ask their contractor for the least efficient building techniques?  How many consumers go into their local big box store and ask for the least efficient furnace or appliance?  Due to a combination of the economy (RGI-2009) and consumer knowledge (green cred-2008), energy efficiency is now the new normal.

So, what does 2010 have in store for us?  I’ve been saying for years that once everything is green, then nothing is green.  In 2010, we’ll be at that point.  My prediction is that 2010 will be the year of The Healthy Home.  Consumers will be looking beyond green and will focus on the health and welfare of themselves and their families.

A Healthy Home takes green to the next logical level.  Building a healthy home means that it is healthier, safer, and is free from sources of indoor air pollution.  There are various strategies to use in building a healthy home, but using only one strategy won’t make a healthy home.  A systems approach is needed that integrates the different aspects that comprise a healthy home. Using HVAC equipment that controls moisture to minimize mold, mildew, and provide continuous fresh ventilation is very important. The increase of natural light in as many areas of the house as possible creates a sense of well being for its occupants. Another important strategy is the use of less synthetic carpeting and more hard surfaces to reduce dust and allergen collection areas.

The most critical area to consider when building a healthy home is to avoid using toxic chemicals and materials.  I’m not talking VOC’s. The industry buzz right now is to reduce the amount of VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) found in most building materials and finishes. But, just because a product states it has zero VOC does not mean it is free of ingredients that are toxic (e.g., formaldehyde precursors, ammonia, acetone or odor masking agents, etc.) or that it is free from outgassing.  For example, many companies promote “no odor” or Zero VOC paints to potential homeowners or those remodeling their homes. These paints were not formulated with a view toward human health issues and the elimination of toxicity. These “environmental” paints can contain toxic ingredients exempt from government regulations.  The same holds true for thousands of common building materials.

With health insurance and healthcare reform headlining just about every newscast these days, consumers are getting weary of their own healthcare futures.  Americans are used to taking matters into their own hands, when push comes to shove.  Therefore, more folks will be looking into alternative forms of healthcare and ways to reduce illnesses.  Making the home a safer, healthier space is a logical step.

Retailers need to recognize this trend quickly and adapt their marketing and merchandising to meet the growing demand from the consumer.  If you step outside of the energy-efficient box, you just might find some new green shoots of potential sales.

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