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“Daily Acts” Demonstrate Sustainable Living Practices

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I recall the day my son came home from school with information about recycling. It was calledhip-pocket mail” in our school district; messages were sent several times a week by this method. I learned to check all pockets for messages (as well as for loose change and interesting specimens of our natural world) before stuffing the jeans into the washing machine.

This was the beginning of recycling for our family. At least 35 years ago we began separating newspapers, cans and glass because our children were learning about the importance of protecting our planet and we could help reduce the materials dumped into the landfill—right at home. The kids´ contagious enthusiasm soon had all the neighbors recycling. Over the years the rules have changed a bit, but the concept remains the same.

Today we hear much more about sustainable living, using materials and processes that can be recycled or repeated indefinitely. We build our houses using heavy insulation above, below and in the walls to reduce the need for costly heating and cooling. Solar panels and other alternative methods can heat and cool our homes. Change our light bulbs from incandescent to fluorescent. Plant gardens that are more about food than flowers, enriched by soil composted from our kitchen and garden waste. Use paper goods that have been manufactured from recycled goods. Drive cars that use something besides or in addition to gasoline.

Gradually the sustainability movement is gaining organization. A Bay Area non-profit,Daily Acts” arranges tours so interested people can see these sustainable concepts in action. Daily Acts was begun in 2002 by Trathen Heckman, of Petaluma, who believes that by seeing earth-friendly life styles people will be inspired to make changes in their own lives. We agree—a picture is worth a thousand words.

Last year this membership organization scheduled nine monthly tours in the Sonoma area and one in Murphys, illustrating a wide range of subjects such as: The Glory of the Green Building; Food, Fuel and Fruitful Living; Natural Building Galore; Permaculture and Indigenous Wisdom; Birds, Bees, Butterflies and Botanicals; and Co-housing Communities Coalesce.

Topics about daily actions recommended to enrich our lives include: Buy Local, Organic and Fair Trade; Grow Your Own Food: Choose Something Unique; Be the Media: Spread the Word; Use Alternative Energy; Reduce Waste: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Compost; and Healthy Relations: Know Your Neighbors for Friendship and Safety. You´ll find this inspiring reading on their website:

If a plant dies in her garden one woman replaces it with something edible. She started her composting efforts by simply adding the daily coffee grounds directly to the garden soil. Another has changed to environmentally friendly cleaning products. Interested in straw bale construction, one couple has learned how to use straw, dirt, sand and clay on site as opposed to transporting building materials—even recycled—from somewhere else. Alarmed at how much rain water was being wasted, one man devised a system for collecting it for use in irrigating his garden.

The tours, $35 each, illustrate ways for making large and small changes in the way we live. Tours for this year will be listed on their website soon and will begin in April. The organization also offers an electronic newsletter and a journal calledRipples.”

To take these concepts a step further, there is growing interest in co-housing where homes are clustered together in one area of a several-acre parcel so that most of the land remains in open space rather than carved up into equal parcels. Cohousing is defined asbuilding a sustainable society one neighborhood at a time.” This concept is welcomed by many families as well as older people who want less home and land to care for, and more rewarding daily interaction with their neighbors.

Several tours arranged by Daily Acts visited co-housing developments nearby. By searching the internet forcohousing” I learned of communities in Davis, Berkeley, Concord, Emeryville and the East Bay. There are 80 communities operating in the U.S. today, with 100 more in the planning stages. Begun in Denmark in l960, the cohousing movement is international. In the United States the concept began in Seattle in l997 and is now nationwide.

For myself, I have changed most of my lightbulbs to fluorescent. Green paper towels and toilet tissue, available at a local market, are totally satisfactory. Sweaters are a comfortable alternative to turning up the thermostat. When the 2007 Daily Acts tour schedule is posted I´ll arrange to attend several. And I continue to recycle every day.

A feature in the San Francisco Chronicle provided source material for this article, plus a phone conversation with Trathen Heckman, executive director of Daily Acts.

Joan Bergsund, Master Gardener, tries to live in an earth-friendly fashion.