By Robert Burgess
Tower Hill staff
News about climate change – 2017 was particularly hot – can seem daunting, even hopeless at times. What can one person really do to make a difference? A lot, actually. We challenge you to try a new kind of diet in 2018. The Carbon Diet. Much like Weight Watchers, the Carbon Diet is all about portion sizes. Except, in this case, we’re not talking about just what’s on the dinner plate, but what’s in your life. Using less fossil fuels, eating less processed food, giving more to green charities, and increasing the portion of plants in your life … these are practical steps you can take. The cumulative effect could change – and save – the world.
1) Start a vegetable garden. If you’re new to gardening, start with a four foot by eight foot raised bed, made from untreated wood from your local lumber store. Pick a sunny spot in your yard, fill it will bags of organic compost, and you’re off!
Visit Tower Hill’s annual plant sale or buy some seedlings at your local nursery to get started: Nearly foolproof veggies include cherry tomatoes, summer squash, Swiss chard, and bush beans.
If you don’t have space for a garden bed, you could see if there are any Community Gardens in your area that would lease you a spot for the growing season. Tower Hill has classes for you to hone your skills and a wonderful vegetable garden that’s worth the visit for inspiration alone. Square Foot Gardening is a solid book to start with and your gardening friends will have other great suggestions.
Already have a kitchen garden? Maybe it’s time to expand! Your garden will reduce the number of food miles your dinner has to travel, thus reducing the amount of fossil fuel needed to ship produce across the country, and in some cases across the Americas. If we all had one four by eight veggie garden and a compost pile to go with it, the positive effects would add up. In addition, nothing will get you as in tune with the earth’s natural cycles like tending a garden.
2) Think about your yard as a potential edible landscape. Maybe start with planting one edible item each spring. Consider bushes like blueberry, hazelnut, and high bush cranberry, brambles like raspberry and blackberry, trees like heirloom apple and pear varieties, and vines like grapes and arctic kiwis.
Do you need your lawn for a practical reason (kid sports, barbecues, etc.) or does it exist for aesthetic reasons? If it’s the latter, maybe it’s time to start transitioning that space into an attractive, low maintenance pollinator meadow or food forest. You’d be reducing your food miles, you’d be reducing the fossil fuels needed to produce food on an industrial scale, and you would be planting perhaps the best means of sequestering carbon – through trees.
If you don’t feel like eating your yard, consider plants that benefit local wildlife such as Winterberry, Chokeberry, and Dogwood. Many experts believe the key to fighting climate change is to plant more trees and to protect the trees we already have – which is a concept we at Tower Hill are passionate about.
3) Eat more whole foods. Or as writer Michael Pollan calls them, real foods. This may be beneficial to both your carbon diet and healthy diet. Processed foods use fossil fuels to make and package them for long distance travel and a long shelf life. They also create waste which takes significant energy to dispose of. We and the earth will be better off when we choose foods that require the least amount of packaging. For example, potatoes are better than hash browns in the frozen food section. Rice from the bulk bin at your local grocery is better than boxed Rice Pilaf. Meat from the counter – or local farmer – is better than individually plastic wrapped frozen cutlets.
Eating more plants and less meat will also reduce your carbon footprint, according to experts.
Finally, we at Tower Hill are particularly passionate about local agriculture and serve farm/garden to fork meals at our cafe as often as we can. We feel the food is tastier, more nutritious, and less of a burden to the environment, the closer to home it was grown.
4) Getting from Point A to Point B. Think about how you get around to that lumber yard, the garden center, the community garden, your area botanic garden or arboretum. Is there an opportunity for you to cut down on your consumption of gasoline (even when it’s cheap at the pump, its effects on the environment are very expensive to counter). Can you walk, bike, take public transportation, or carpool to the same places? Would the gas savings help make up for the cost of a hybrid or electric vehicle? It may be inconvenient to trade in your big vehicle – you feel safer in it, you can fit more in it, you can handle the snow better in it – but think about how inconvenient it will be when climate change’s effects reach low level cities close to the sea, cause more severe weather, and disrupt our food systems.
5) Vote with your dollars. You may have heard this phrase before, but it’s important now more than ever. If we want businesses to continue to become greener we need to show them we are willing to spend a little more and be inconvenienced to help improve the environment. That means stepping up for Energy Star appliances when it’s time to replace an old machine; considering solar panels on your home if feasible; visiting your local farm stand and farmers markets; considering buying something used on occasion rather than new; seeing if tissues and paper towels made of recycled materials might suffice in your home; maybe passing on an air conditioner most of the summer and learning more about pellet stoves for the winter; choosing organic; and considering the more sustainable of two products whenever you have the choice.
6) Support organizations that share your values. You can do this by donating your time, your money, or both. Tower Hill Botanic Garden would not be the thriving nonprofit it is, making the world a better place for people and plants each day, without its crew of excellent volunteers, its ever-growing extended family of members, and its thoughtful and generous donors. Working together to save the planet for future generations will be a team effort. It will take you making thoughtful choices at home, nonprofits getting the support from you they need, businesses catering to your green choices, and government facilitating each of those entities. Finding an organization to help is easy. Here are just a few of our favorites:
Tower Hill Botanic Garden’s efforts to inspire New England and beyond to protect and cultivate plants.
Mass Audubon’s Make the Switch to Green Energy program.
Robert Burgess is manager of public relations at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts.