IMG_9146One of the simple pleasures of a living in a small town is riding a bike everywhere you go. My husband and I love to pedal downtown to Howard Park every Saturday morning for our local Farmers Market. We’ve frequented much bigger Farmers Markets in Florida and the Bay Area, but there is nothing like the friendly and eclectic mix in Fairfield.

There you can chat with Fairfield’s Amish and Mennonite neighbors who sell pasture-raised organic eggs (Robert Yoder Farms from Bloomfield), the healthiest flower baskets you’ve ever seen (Lengachers Greenhouse in Keosaqua), and freshly made pies and bread from a Brighton family. Smiling Amish teenagers help sell the produce, and shy younger children hide behind their mothers or chase each other in tag games under the trees, their bonnet strings and long dresses flying in the breeze.

IMG_8556And then there are our amazing certified organic farmers, like Steve and Susan McLaskey, who run the new MUM Student Organic Farm. Steve is from my hometown of Naperville, IL, and is a descendent of the Goodrich family, who more than a century ago donated their farmland for Goodrich School, where I attended elementary school.The talented Dale Goodale is wandering around the market, having already sold out of the spring greens and sweet organic carrots he started in February inside his greenhouse. In early May you could buy his spectacular hand-tapped maple syrup if you got to the market early enough.

IMG_6416I never miss a chance to talk with older, local farmers, such as Ernie Hinkle, who at age 90 still shows up every Saturday morning. He was one of the founders of the Fairfield Farmer’s market. Even though he’s not certified organic, Ernie hasn’t used pesticides or chemicals on his garden veggies for decades. The former mayor of Birmingham, IA, Ernie and his wife raised over 30 foster children and adopted six.

Last week I bought a bag of spring lettuce greens from Ernie and was treated to a story about his time in vaudeville. He’ll regale you with a song if you ask him. I also bought organic pasture-raised eggs from Steve and Kim Keller, whose father was a friend of Ernie’s and also a founder of Fairfield’s Farmer’s market. They carry on their father’s farming tradition and are certified organic. (The eggs, by the way cost only $3.50. In the Bay Area organic, pasture-raised eggs were 8.50 a dozen!).

IMG_8540

The Farmers Market is also a great place to meet friends, who gather for the food, music and fun. Eventually we settle down at a crowded picnic table and eat a hot lunch of the best Ethiopian food in the Midwest from our friend Gannet and her daughter Hermella. The lentil samosas are a treat I look forward to all week.

 

 

IMG_8533One of my favorite vendors in spring is Rolling Prairie Acres, run by the Webster family of Sigourney, Iowa. They start garden veggies in their greenhouse for the rest of us to plant in our gardens in spring. Every year I buy three kinds of tulasi (holy basil plant), tomatoes plants and zuchinni starters. All their plants are grown pesticide free, chemical free. Last year when the sow bugs mowed down my squash plants overnight, I asked Doug Webster for a bug-resistant squash. He recommended a bottle guord called Cucuzza, whose stinky leaves and thicker skin repelled bugs. Its vines wrapped around our garden and grew over 200 lbs of long pale green squashes that tasted a bit like zuchinni without seeds.

IMG_8529My Indian friends thought they tasted just like lauki, bottle gourd, and cooked them into fantastic Indian dishes. My gardening partner Charlotte Judge dubbed this prolific plant the Cure for World Hunger. I bought six starters from Doug Webster this year, to share with our friends.

It’s encouraging to see kids getting into the spirit of growing and selling produce along with their parents and grandparents. At Rolling Prairies, Doug’s son Dawson taught me how to plant a seedling in a peat pot. And Paloma and Marisol Braun, aged 13 and 10, run their own business selling snow cones at the Farmer Market. Marisol told me how she markets their tasty drinks: “I whisper to one of my friends that the stand is open and they whisper it to their friend and pretty soon there’s a whole line of kids at our stand.” Talk about word-of-mouth marketing savvy!

One Saturday in early May I drove my car to the market so I could buy flats of seedlings, and ended up with too much to carry away from the Lengacher’s booth, where the Amish parents had left the selling to a teenage daughter Lydia and her older brother.

IMG_8559Seeing my two flats, Lydia politely asked, “Would you like help?” I declined, not wanting to distract them from their job selling. I grabbed one of the flats and started to my car, only to hear bare feet padding behind me. It was Richard, the six-year-old younger brother of Lydia. He smiled shyly under his straw hat and I could see the gap in his teeth where a new tooth was growing in. He never said a word, but he carried my second flat to my car, happy to be helping and grinning all the way.

 

Photo credits: Linda Egenes

Photo of Linda Egenes by Charlotte Judge

BY LINDA EGENES

Shel Pink is a lifestyle futurist and founder of the cutting-edge SpaRitual, a vegan nail, body, and lifestyle brand. Now at the forefront of the Slow Beauty movement, Shel sees the green movement transitioning towards a discussion of slow ideals in direct response to a lifestyle that has become too fast.

With a background in art, business, ecology, Ayurveda and meditation, she also participates in think-tanks and nonprofits to improve the environment. Here Shel takes time from her busy life as an entrepreneur, activist, wife, and mother of two to speak to Enlightenment.

Ecology Beauty and Consciousness with Shel Pink

 

Q: You created a cosmetics company that was vegan, organic, and good for the environment long before “eco” became a trend. What were some of the influences that contributed to that vision?

Shel Pink: My entire life I’ve been making connections and noticing socio-cultural patterns. In college I studied art history, social movements, and social trends. I saw something bubbling under.

I knew that there were more consumers, like me, who wanted healthier beauty products. I called them “enlightened consumers.” At that time they were marginalized, but I knew their voices were going to get louder. People said, “No way. This is going to be a trend but it’s going to be fleeting.” But as we’ve seen, the eco, vegan, and organic trend just got stronger and it’s affected all aspects of our lives.

Q: What is “slow beauty” and why do you feel it’s important in our stressed world?

Shel Pink: It’s about expanding your concept of beauty to include health and wellness, and embarking on a slower path to beauty. For the past 150 years the beauty industry has been product centered —and very much about external beauty and this concept of “anti-aging.”

I feel we need to open up new dialogue and stop trying to “anti” age because we’re not against ourselves—when you buy into that you’re internalizing a tyrannical approach to your beauty and your health and your wellness.

We use the Slow Beauty blog as an educational tool to engage readers to develop and sustain a personal Slow Beauty practice. Slowbeauty.com is a resource for those looking for examples of how to get off the fast track.

Q: How does meditation and consciousness fit into slow beauty?

Shel Pink. I talk about seven “Outposts” or paths to slow beauty (spa tradition, rituals, renewal, self-expression, meditation, nourished mind, and mindful consumption). Once you decide to embark on a slower path to beauty, the Outposts serve as places, spaces, and experiences to support your decision.

Transcendental Meditation is a holistic approach to beauty health and wellness

Although all Outposts are essential, meditation is an important one that people need to explore right now. I see that meditation will explode in interest in much the same way yoga did a decade ago. Research on TM shows that it slows down the aging process. It’s a more pleasurable way to approach aging, versus punitive ways such as botox and plastic surgery. It’s a more holistic approach to beauty, health, and wellness as opposed to the fragmented approach that we’ve been buying into for all these years.

Consciousness is the future. People are getting burned out, tired of checking multiple voice mails and emails and being engaged 24/7. If you’re racing, you aren’t experiencing quality of life; you aren’t really productive at the end of the day. Slow beauty is about connecting with your authentic self—about raising your consciousness and putting that out into the world.

Q: What are the most important benefits that you receive from your daily meditation?

Shel Pink: It’s reduced my stress levels. After working all day, you can feel parts of your body hold onto the stress. When I do the TM I literally can feel that part of my body relaxing and stress melting away.

I also have moments during flu season when people around me are getting sick, and I feel I have this extra protection from it. Stress compromises the immune system, but because stress is melting away with TM, I’m less prone to catching people’s colds and flu.

I think it’s increased my focus and stillness. And it’s created more awareness. We go through life being reactive to situations. I feel that meditation practice helps you be more still, so when a curve ball is thrown at you—and every day we have curve balls thrown at us—you’re less reactive. You are more thoughtful about your responses instead of being automatically reactive or emotional about it.

Q: As a mother and entrepreneur, how do you manage to fit meditation into your busy schedule?

Shel Pink: I fit it in the morning because if I don’t do it I feel that something is missing. I almost crave it. And in the afternoon it’s a welcome reprieve to tune out from the meetings and deadlines for 20 minutes. I’m lucky because we have a training theatre in our office and it’s soundproof. It really refreshes me and helps me get through the rest of the day.

I usually get home from work from around 4:30-5:00—although I’ll continue to work on things after kids go to bed. I try to be balanced about work and family. My husband, Ran, is a music producer, and he learned TM two years ago. And that’s been really great, to have my husband doing TM as well, because we protect each other’s meditation space on the weekends.

Ayurveda and meditation with Shel Pink

In fact, we have made meditation a part of our family philosophy. I love that we are teaching our children to be aware of the benefits of meditation at an early age.

Q: What advice can you give for someone who wants to start a business today?

Shel Pink: Do a lot of research. And I’m a big believer in concept writing. The most important thing about starting a business is to have the insight, to know what is the need—and that you’re putting something out there that is going to help solve an issue or a real need.

I’d also like to say, believe in your ideas. Sometimes people will push back. I’ve learned now that if some people say “no” or react in a very strong way, negatively—that there’s something there, that you’ve hit a nerve. So keep pushing forward with what you believe in and develop your intuition and inner voice. Listen to that even if it’s very quiet. Make it stronger and louder because that’s what’s going to guide you through all phases of starting a business.

Linda Egenes is co-editor of Enlightenment: The Transcendental Meditation® Magazine. She is the author of five books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 12. Reprinted with permission.)

IMG_6322According to the dictionary, sustainable means “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” Or “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.” Other people might define it as the energy going out never exceeding the energy going in.

When I think of the words “sustainable living” I think of my parents, who, like many people born in the Depression years, lived a more sustainable lifestyle than most families today. My mom, who calls herself the original recycler, saved tinfoil in a giant ball, washed out plastic bags and hung them to dry, and even packed our lunches in used Pepperidge Farm bread bags.

My dad caught a ride to work so they would only need one car. My dad was an engineer who did not believe in designing machines with planned obsolescence, and he fixed his own tools and machines rather than buying new ones. He also designed and built our passive solar home in 1959, which had six-inch walls and was energy-efficient in an era when fuel prices were so cheap that many homes in our northern-Illinois neighborhood were built without any insulation at all.

On one level they had it down—they fixed, reused and recycled almost everything in their environment, so that the energy going out pretty much equaled the energy going in. Without knowing it they were early pioneers in the sustainable movement of today, which aims to rely on sustainable resources such as the sun and wind so we don’t have deplete our remaining reserves of unsustainable fossil fuels.

I was proud of my parents, and I took their example to heart, reducing my own energy consumption by becoming a vegetarian, and in later life ended up writing many articles about the sustainability movement.

But even while growing up I started to wonder if this principle of sustainability could be taken a step further—could it be applied to our human bodies. Was there a sustainable source of energy within? Most people I knew felt so tired at the end of the day that they couldn’t even enjoy the evening. Even though I was a young person, I felt pretty tired myself. I studied, worked as a waitress and took a bus to high school at 7 a.m. and returned at 5 p.m.

I started to wonder, could there be a way we could draw on resources of energy from within our own bodies, so we could end up at the end of the day with the same more energy (or more) than we started with?

Fortunately for me, when I was a college student I went to a lecture on the Transcendental Meditation technique and the young TM teacher giving the lecture told us, “Inside each of us is an infinite field of energy, happiness and bliss.” This idea rang true for me—that everything that most of us try to get from the outside, could actually be found on the inside. Most of us sense that there is a great deal more creativity and intelligence and yes, energy, inside us than what we have access to as we go about our daily lives. We sense it, but we don’t know how to reach it.

I started the TM technique at age 19, and I can honestly say that I have more energy every year. My 86-year-old mom comments on this all the time. “You have so much more energy than you used to!” she likes to say.

Research on the TM technique tells us why this can happen. The practice of Transcendental Meditation produces a state of profound relaxation much deeper than ordinary rest. When practicing the technique, there is also increased alertness and more orderly brain function, as shown in EEG patterns. The result is a state of “restful alertness.”

This state of restful alertness is experienced from the first meditation, and when you dive deep within, your mind settles to quieter levels of thinking, transcending the pressures, worries and agitation of the active mind.

Women who practice TM regularly, twice a day, report that this state of enhanced energy and alertness starts to spill over into activity. The inner silence, happiness and energy you experience in meditation replenishes your depleted reserves, so you can meet the responsibilities of home and work with greater ease. And by releasing deep-rooted stresses, your mind and body become more vibrant, more stress-resilient, so situations that used to exhaust you or challenge you no longer seem like a big deal.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Shel Pink, an eco-thinker and consultant who established SpaRitual—a vegan, sustainably sourced line of spa products and cosmetics—long before words like “eco” and “green” became popular. She now promotes the principles of “Slow Beauty”— which she defines as expanding your concept of beauty and aging to include the slower path of health and wellness rather than the punitive path of anti-aging through botox and plastic surgery.

“Consciousness is the future,” she says. “It’s such a fast world, an extraverted world. I think people are getting burned out, tired of checking multiple voice mails and emails and being engaged 24/7. People are really craving slowing down. If you’re racing, there isn’t the quality, you really aren’t productive at end of the day. Slow Beauty is about slowing down and connecting with your authentic self, to help raise your consciousness and put that out into the world.”

As a sustainability leader and a mother of two, Shel not only advocates regular meditation to create “slow beauty,” but she and her husband practice the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day to help meet the demands of their busy lives. “It’s reduced my stress levels,” Shel says. “After working all day, you can feel parts of your body hold onto the stress. When I do TM I literally can feel that part of my body relaxing and stress melting away.”

Shel says that if she misses a meditation, she feels that something is missing. “I almost crave it. And in the afternoon it’s a welcome reprieve to tune out from the meetings and deadlines for 20 minutes. It really refreshes me and helps me get through the rest of the day.” She also points to the research on the Transcendental Meditation technique, which shows that the rejuvenating effects of meditating twice a day actually slows the aging process.

Maharishi, the founder of the TM technique, talked about this exact point when he wrote in the The Science of Being and Art of Living, “The system of Transcendental Meditation, however, is the most effective way to bring the mind to the field of transcendental Being, where it will naturally acquire life-energy for performing any amount of hard work and for producing the most effective and desirable results. This drawing of energy from the field of Being is the most striking aspect of the art of living, for it brings the active life of the day-to-day world into communion with the source of limitless life—energy, power, intelligence, creativity and bliss.”

And, it seems to me, that a person who is able to conserve their own energy, to sustain their life energy without exploiting or ruining their own body, will be able to make more sustainable choices for her environment as well.

As the great poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry says, “The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got to learn to save and conserve. We do need a “new economy”, but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste. An economy based on waste is inherently and hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product. We need a peaceable economy.”

Perhaps the future of sustainability is about having more energy at the end of the day — a way of living that itself is energizing. A way of living in harmony with out own inner nature, so we naturally create a positive impact on the precious eco-system all around us.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, November 20, 2013. Reprinted with permission.)

Kauai Aquaponics
December 22, 2012

Three stages of cracking a macadamia nut

The first day my husband and I arrived on Kauai’s north shore we were resting after meditation. Suddenly we became aware of two small eyes peering at us from the top of the stairs. Soon we were chatting with Micah, aged six, like we’d known him his whole life. Micah and his brother London, nine, were two of the best things about our trip–raised by their parents Dee Dee and Chris Almida, they were a constant source of information about surfing, herbal lore, native plants, and how to crack macadamia nuts.

 

 

Kauai Aquaponics

London shares his garden creation.

 

 

And since we were staying in their treehouse guest room ( Mount Meru Hale airbnb), we were warmly welcomed into their family for ten days.

Kauai, it turns out is a sustainable living mecca. With growth carefully controlled, you get the feeling that the spirit of the island is running things instead of the tourists.

 

 

Our tour guide, Micah, teaching us about the taro plant garden.

 

 

To teach us how the native Hawaiians carefully managed their ecosystem, Dee Dee and Micah took us on a tour of the Limahuli Garden and Preserve (a National Tropical Botanical Garden). Dee Dee, Micah and London do volunteer work there once a week to help preserve and restore native species. The terraces are incredibly beautiful, and connect the top of the mountain to the lowlands around the shore in one ecosystem called an ahupua‘a  by the ancient Hawaiians.

 

 

The Almida family (Chris, Dee Dee, London and Micah) stand in front of their aquaponics project.

One thing we were curious about–what were those trays of water sitting in their driveway?

It turns out that Chris and Dee Dee are adventuring into a sustainable way to raise food. Having left their farm on the big Island four years earlier, they were looking for a way to farm without the back-breaking work. Aquaponics, I learned, is a symbiotic system that combines the best of fish farming with hydroponics farming.

The fish waste feeds the plants, and the plants feed the fish, purify the water and keep the fish healthy. The result is high-density green crops AND tasty fish in a short time. The Almida’s have joined forces with other islanders to bring aquaponics to Kauai on a commercial basis. With limited farmland on the island, it’s a smart sustainable solution for every family’s need to grow their own  fresh, organic food.

One of the best things about spending last winter in Oakland, California, was the availability of fresh, locally grown produce. Coming from the frozen Iowa farmscape, this felt miraculous. There’s a farmer’s market for every day of the week and more—four in Oakland and four in Berkeley. Being a fresh-foodie, I decided to sample a different East Bay farmers market every week.

5 Tips for Cruising Farmer's Markets

Sugar cane, lemongrass and winter squashes at the downtown Berkeley Farmer’s Market

My husband, Tom, and I hit the downtown Berkeley market (Martin Luther King and Center) on a Saturday morning in January. It’s a great place for Asian produce. I saw something that looked like bamboo, but on questioning the Lao farmer, I found out it was sugar cane. I had seen sugar cane being juiced with a hand-cranked press on the streets of Mysore in the 1980s (and one hot afternoon completely forgot the first rule of travel in India: “don’t eat from the street.” The juice was cool and thirst-quenching, but a few hours later I was terribly sick—probably from bacteria). Anyway, not having a handy sugar cane press in California, I passed it up.

But by now I was friends with the Lao farmer, and she told me how to use the lemongrass. This brings me to

Tip #1: Talk to the farmers. Ask them where their farm is, how the foodis grown (sometimes they are not certified organic but are in essence organic), and how to cook the food you’re buying. 

 Farmers Markets

Broccoli Romanesco

I bought winter squash and fresh lemongrass, which my Lao farmer friend instructed me to cut up and add to veggies while they steam. I found more detailed directions on how to prepare fresh lemongrass  at About.com. I also learned to make Thai Tofu Noodle Soup using the lemongrass, bok choy and Asian greens that I bought at the market.

And I met a new veggie friend—Broccoli Romanesco, which is the flower of a type of veggie that’s green like broccoli, has an amazing sculpted shape like an artichoke, and tastes like cauliflower when cooked. Which brings me to

Tip #2: Try to bring home one new ingredient from every farmer’s market, one you haven’t seen before. It can open up a new world. 

Rainbow carrots—-sweet as candy at the Farmers Markets

Rainbow carrots—-sweet as candy

On subsequent weekends we explored the Tuesday afternoon Berkeley market (Derby Street and MLK Drive), which had the sweetest walnuts I’ve ever tasted. At this market you not only bring your big bags to haul off the produce, but you’ll need your own smaller bags for loose items like lettuce or snow peas. Otherwise, you can use the free paper bags (which makes it necessary to rebag your produce for the fridge when you get home) or pay .25 for a bag made from recycled ingredients. Which brings me to

Tip #3:  Bring your own bags (big ones and lots of small ones too). This is a great way to use those smaller plastic bags you’re always trying to recycle. 

We did the Grandlake Farmer’s Market in Oakland the following Saturday (Grand Ave. and Lake Park Ave.), festive and fun with great music, kids and babies sprawled on the lawn. This is one of the great things about Farmer’s Markets—they make shopping for food a relaxing social event instead of a chore.

My sister Cathy and poppies at the Temescal Farmer’s Market in Oakland

By the next Saturday my sister, Cathy, and her daughter Liana, who live in the Bay area, joined us. Liana found some tangelos that she adored, Cathy and I bought the 3-bunches  of poppies for $5. Which brings me to:

Tip # 4: Share your finds with your friends and family and they’ll soon be hooked on Farmer’s Markets too. And the more we support local farmers, the more they’ll flourish and grow more healthy and tasty things for us to eat.

 

 

That’s me with a bag of fresh veggies and fruits

At this point Tom and I hit the Sunday morning Oakland Montclair Farmer’s Market (which, funnily enough, was only a half-mile from our apartment), and fell in love. It was the right size, the right day, the right mix of growers, and Cathy and her family loved it too.  We got into the habit of meeting them there. Cathy and I would cruise the market first, and then go back for the best buys. So that’s my last piece of advice:

Tip #5: Cruise the entire market first, then go back for the best prices and the best-looking produce.

 

After the market, my favorite thing is to cook a meal right away using the produce I just bought. At some markets (like the Tuesday Berkeley market), you can get much more than fresh produce—we bought dried cannellini beans, dried cranberry beans, fresh pasta, freshly ground flour and olive oil—just about everything you need for a fabulous meal.

 

 

And that’s my husband’s favorite part of shopping at farmer’s markets.

 

 

 

As Green As It Gets
November 21, 2010


The Iowa Source cover story on MUM’s SLC written by Linda Egenes

Building the Future: MUM’s Sustainable Living Center
New Zero-carbon Classroom Showcases Green Living
http://www.iowasource.com/fairfield/2010_11_slc.html

Sustainable Living Center: It Takes a Team to Go Green
http://www.iowasource.com/fairfield/2010_11_slc_team.html

Goin’ to the Country
July 9, 2010

Me celebrating the 4th with new friends Pakshi Raj and Vaj

Last weekend my husband and I were invited to a 4th of July celebration at the home of Claudia Petrick, my editor at the Iowa Source. Tom and I drove a mile or two north of Fairfield, turned onto a country road, and entered another world. Claudia lives on a five-acre spread with organic gardens, a pear and cherry orchard, and horses.

These guys are living in horse heaven

Soon after arriving, I follow my friend Cynthia Arenander to the cob house barn where her impressive dressage steed, Pakshi Raj, boards with Claudia’s handsome Arabian, Vajrashrava (“Vaj” for short, meaning “thunderbolt” in English and “diamond” in Sanskrit, a perfect name since he has a white diamond on his forehead). At first I’m intimidated by Pakshi Raj’s immense size and mythical horse energy, but when Cynthia places a flower on his head I can connect to his playful side. I feel even less intimidated when Cynthia tells me that her husband Alarik plans to film Pakshi in a Mr.-Ed type video for their line of organic anti-aging products.

Cynthia has a mythical force of her own–she was given this spectacular steed when a horse whisperer told its owner that he would prefer to live with Cynthia. “I’ve been around horses all my life,” she says as she slips on the horses’ bridles and leads them to the front yard where they graze in idyllic beauty next to Claudia’s lily and bee balm garden.

Cynthia, Claudia and I relax on Claudia's deck while the horses graze behind us

It’s soothing to spend an evening in the country, and my mind and body relax in a way they can’t even in the low-stress environment of our home on the Maharishi University of Management campus. I wonder again whether we shouldn’t move to the country, despite the fact that my husband doesn’t like to garden or mow or work in the yard. I grew up on a tall oak forest about 5 miles from Naperville, IL, and found solace in nature—but also some loneliness from living so far from friends. Not to mention the work that goes into keeping up a country home. I know my own limitations, and I’m completely in awe of what Claudia has created. The question on everyone’s lips all evening is “how does she do it?”

Back inside there’s a vegetarian feast for the eyes and palate waiting, mostly prepared by Claudia: wild rice salad, mung bean cakes with a tangy tahini-lime juice-tamari-turmeric sauce, a golden quinoa salad, steamed beets, tomatoes with pesto. For recipes, Claudia says, “The wild rice salad comes from Miriam Hospodar’s Heaven’s Banquet, slightly altered. The rest is sort of made up. For the sauce, I started with tahini, and then added the other ingredients and a little water ’till it tasted right.”

Others have contributed: Dolly Donhauser with a creamy potato salad from Martha Stewart, the Arenanders with a green salad from their garden, Maggie Squires with crispy sweet-and-salty middle eastern crackers.

Claudia brings in the boys

After the meal, which ends in a sumptuous homemade fruit shortcake, we trail outside to put the horses to bed. “We treat our horses better than we treat ourselves,” says Claudia with a laugh. They get vitamins, organic food, loving attention, regular brushings.

Shepley, Pakshi Raj, and Maggie make friends

Fireflies spark the sky as Claudia and Cynthia take turns showing their horses canter around them in a circle. When the horses leap we “oooo and ahhh” in unison as if the horses were fireworks.

In the deepening twighlight we stand at the end of Claudia’s driveway and gaze at the fireworks display over nearby Cypress Villages, an up-and-coming eco-development of Vedic architecture homes that are LEED-certified. Beside it the Jefferson County fairgrounds fireworks also light the sky—and soon we spot the golf course display south of town, and in the far distance Mt. Pleasant’s. What better way to celebrate the 4th—with light in all directions.

Moving Toward Green
April 6, 2010

Web Marketing Can Save Energy & Resources

Last spring while setting up a series of book talks around Iowa, I started to question this fossil-fuel extravagant way to sell a few books—not to mention the cost of gas. Then my publisher fired off an email, “Create an online presence and market your book that way.”

Gulp. Even though I wrote website copy for a living, learning how to set up my own site felt daunting. But determined to finally enter the digital age, I attended a free Internet marketing seminar by three consultants based in Fairfield: Ellen Finkelstein, Phyllis Khare, and Lee Leffler.

From the tools and strategies they shared, I was able to create a blog and social media campaign to market my books—without driving my car or printing a single flyer. In other words, I suddenly went greener and reached a wider audience, too.

Green Marketing Mavens Ellen Finkelstein, Phyllis Khare, and Lee Leffler

Going Paperless

Of course, virtually everyone who uses a computer is moving toward a paperless, greener business model. But some, such as Ellen, Phyllis and Lee, are forging ahead, using cutting-edge technologies to reduce the use of fossil fuels in a variety of ways: working at home to avoid a commute, training clients using webinars instead of traveling to on-site seminars, creating e-books and e-courses instead of paper-based products, and marketing their services using social media and email.

“The information economy is a paperless, green economy, if it’s structured correctly,” notes Lee, who calls herself “The Newsletter Gal” and writes e-newsletters, websites, and blogs for organizations such as the Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation.

For Lee, establishing a green business was a lifelong dream. Inspired by Ralph Nader as a student, she founded a still-running eco-radio show in 1989, but it wasn’t until 2005 that she was finally able to realize her dream.

“Back then most businesses were still using paper newsletters and wasting trees,” says Lee. She positioned herself as a green entrepreneur, helping businesses market with e-newsletters to save resources. She joined Green America and landed a coveted spot in the Green America National Green Pages. Today she continues to pursue a green agenda, participating in a recycling program, running her website from carbon-neutral EcoHosting, offering sustainable living tips on her blog, and working from a home office to eliminate commuting.

Ellen Finkelstein found another way to switch to a paperless business model—by writing e-books. A best-selling technology author of numerous paperback titles such as AutoCAD 2010 & AutoCAD LT 2010 Bible and How to Do Everything with PowerPoint 2007, she has racked up combined sales of over 300,000 and seen her books translated into 14 different languages.

She wrote her first e-book two years ago because she wanted to reduce paper waste and create products that were more environmentally friendly.

“When you think of the trees used in paper books, the carbon fuels used in shipping, and the costs and energy involved in running a bricks-and-mortar publishing house, traditional publishing is a very 20th-century institution,” says Ellen. “I still update two of my print books each year, but I like the idea of having more editorial control with e-books, and by cutting out publishing and shipping costs, you retain a larger portion of the profits.”

Reducing Fossil Fuel Use

For Phyllis Khare, going greener came with a sudden career move. In the midst of a 12-year stint touring Iowa schools on the Iowa Arts Council roster as “Miss Phyllis,” a children’s music educator, she decided to take time off to indulge another passion: exploring web technologies. Today she has reduced her commute to a few steps—working from her home office as a consultant specializing in web design, Internet marketing, and social media.

“According to one survey, businesses using social media such as Facebook and Twitter reaped 24% more profits than those who used conventional, direct-mail advertising in 2010,” she says. “And the use of the earth’s resources is much less.”

Even though her clients are scattered around the country, Phyllis holds business meetings using video Skype and screen-sharing programs—and trains others to do the same. Ellen also uses webinars to train professionals to give presentations online.

“There’s a synergy of factors—saving money and saving the environment—that is creating a huge demand in online training instead of flying presenters long distances,” Ellen says. “And of course, this is a perfect situation for someone who lives in Iowa, to be able to train professionals anywhere in the world without leaving your home.”

(I wrote this article for April’s Iowa Source–you can view it online here)

Don’t miss a chance for a free Marketing Make-Over Sessions with Phyllis, Lee and Ellen on Tuesday, April 20 at 1:00pm

Event: Marketing Make-Over Sessions with Phyllis, Lee and Ellen
What: Informational Meeting
Start Time: Tuesday, April 20 at 1:00pm
End Time: Tuesday, April 20 at 2:00pm
Where: Fairfield Public Library

The Zen of Bees
December 17, 2009

It’s a warm December day in Iowa—the kind where you can stand outside for hours and not feel cold. I’m on my bike, headed to the southern edge of the greenhouses on the Maharishi University of Management (M.U.M.) campus. I’m humming a happy song because today at lunch I happened to run into Alex Kachan, a faculty member in the M.U.M. sustainable living department. He’s teaching a course in natural beekeeping and invited me to observe the students as they open the hives to feed the bees.

Of course I have a vague idea of the importance of bees and their fragile existence on this earth. They are crucially important to us, since they pollinate about one-third of our food crops (including our livestock’s food,  as alfalfa and clover and more), yet they are dying now in vast numbers due to decades of manipulative management and environmental stress, which some call the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder. And I have read something about biodynamic beekeeping theory, in which the beekeepers maintain a peaceful, nonviolent mindset and behavior (practical hive management) resulting in no need to wear protective gear when they open the hives. The bees on the M.U.M. campus are not yet certified biodynamic, but the faculty are working toward that.

“Biodynamic beekeeping is more spiritual in its approach,” Alex Kachan explains. “It recognizes that bee hives are an organism rather than a machine with interchangeable parts. Everything the beekeeper does aims to enhance the well-being of the bees, rather than focusing on how much they can produce as a kind of honey factory.”

Alex Kachen and I stand behind a bee hive.

Alex Kachen and I stand behind a bee hive.

When I arrive at the spot behind the campus greenhouses, the eight students are sitting quietly behind the hive. No one is wearing protective clothing. With Alex Kachan’s gentle guidance, they take turns mixing organic sugar and spring water and a little sea salt in a large bucket. Already scout bees from the three hives are buzzing around the bucket of sugary goo, but the students are unperturbed. Alex says they should make the mixture in a spot farther away from the hive next time.

In talking to the students later, away from the bees, I find out that most of them are majoring in sustainable living, such as Sondra Cladwell, who owns a small sheep farm with her husband in New Mexico and plans to keep bees there. She loves bees. Last time, a bee took a liking to her and crawled on her arm for twenty minutes, like a pet.

Justin Saving traveled to Fairfield on a David Lynch Visitors Weekend and decided to enroll. “I’m a Kansas City boy,” he tells me. “My interest in organic agriculture started with my interest in organic foods. I used organic foods to lose 100 pounds. While looking into the sources of the organic foods I was eating, I found out that you don’t always know where they come from, and they’re also expensive. That’s when I decided I wanted to grow my own.”

Victor Castillo says he and his girlfriend, also a sustainable living major, found out about the university’s programs on its website, and are delighted with the loft they rent downtown Fairfield for 1/10 the price it would cost them in New Jersey. They are serious about their plans to establish two sustainable farms, one in Dominican Republic, where their parents have already purchased land, and one in Maines. “I think people are going to need local food sources to survive in the future,” he says quietly.

These students all practice the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day to reduce mental and physical stress, and so do I, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m relaxed enough to be a biodynamic beekeeper. Seeing how the bees react will be a kind of test.

When it’s time to open the first hive, I panic. “What if I’m not calm enough?” I blurt out. I’m seeing visions of tearing through the forest surrounded by a swarm of bees. “We’ll take a moment to settle down before opening the hive,” Alex reassures me.

Sondra gently moves bees out of the way while Viktor prepares to pour the liquid syrup into the hive.

Sondra gently moves bees out of the way while Viktor prepares to pour the liquid syrup into the hive.

Finally, after a few minutes of quiet, the time has come. Josh Wilson pries open the first hive. I move into a better position to take a picture, but Sondra warns me not to stand in front of the entrance, where the bees come and go from the hive. The aggressive guard bees could attack you if you step too close to the entrance. But no one gets stung, even when the students take turns prying the covers off the other two hives. In one hive, the bees are collected in the exact spot where the students have to pour the liquid food, so Sondra gently nudges them out with a stick so they won’t drown.

Josh talks quietly to the bees as they buzz around his unprotected face and arms. He calls them “girls.” I learn that not just the queen but all the worker bees are female. One of the male students jokes, “Otherwise, nothing would get done.”

These bees were purchased a year ago from California, and were originally fed with genetically modified corn syrup. But bees live for a short time (except for the queen bee), between three weeks and three months.

“So these bees have actually been born on our campus,” says Alex. “Bees are sensitive barometers. They sense the environment, and we are very lucky to have a calm feeling here. I think the bees feel that.”

Stories Behind the News
November 1, 2009

I once visited the farm and mail-order bookstore of an Amish author named David Wagler. An intelligent man with traditional white beard and a habit of challenging whatever you said, he wrote and self-published his own books.

Amish - Stories Behind the NewsDavid also was a contributor to the weekly Amish newspaper called The Budget, a collection of newsy letters written by a designated reporter from each Amish community across North America (and one or two in South America as well). The weekly letters, which usually start out with the weather, keep far-flung relatives and friends abreast of each Amish community’s births, deaths, visits, travels and other important events. Some people call The Budget the “Amish Internet,” and a recent NY Times article likened it to blogging and Twitter.

An excerpt from The Budget, from my book Visits with the Amish:
LUDINGTON, MI
Nov. 25—27º this morning with a light blanket of snow on the ground again, and sunshine. Received the snow yesterday.

The non-Amish neighbor bought a heifer recently at a sale, which seemed to have been someone’s pet. But it did not want to yield to authority and butted him down, in over the electric fence. Thankfully he wasn’t seriously hurt.

AmishUsually the letters follow a regular formula, but David Wagler liked to pepper his with long discourses on the moral dilemmas Amishmen face as they walk a fine line between the “English” and Amish worlds. Much to his dismay, the editor of The Budget usually cut these discourses out. But David had the last word—he gathered them into a thick book, Stories Behind the News, which every Amish person I ever met seemed to be reading.

I think of this blog a little like that. In my books and magazine articles I write about green and healthy topics, but there’s always so much more that I want to say. This blog serves as an outlet for my compulsive need to interview cool people wherever I go. In the past—true confessions here—I’ve been in Italy or California or anywhere, Iowa, and found myself gripped by the thought, “I’ve got  to write about this!”

Sadly, once I get home I don’t always have the time to query a magazine, or worse, the magazine I’m thinking of rejects my idea. So there I am with photos and recorded interviews and notebooks stuffed with observations and ideas—and nowhere to put it (not to mention that I’ve wasted the other person’s valuable time). So now I can ask them if they want to appear in my blog—and from there I can always take it to the level of an article or book.

One thing I want to be clear about—I’m not setting myself up as a person who is perfectly healthy or already living a completely green and sustainable lifestyle (just one look at my raggedy garden will tell you that I have a long ways to go in the green department!). Like many of you, I’m on a very personal journey to make my life more healthy inside and out. And I’m hoping that by connecting with you, we can help each other live a more sustainable life.