Monday, April 27, 2009

Earth Day, thrift shopping, and water hauling (again)

Last Wednesday was Earth Day and I didn't post, because I wasn't able to do what I wanted to do for it until this weekend.

For most of my adult life, I scorned environmentalism, because I mistakenly thought it was about saving the whales or the trees, but not people. I was never an animal lover either; my parents never let us have pets, except for goldfish, I'm allergic to cats, and I've been bitten on several occasions by dogs.

It was only when I was pregnant and learning about the environmental threats to fetuses, babies and young children, that I began to realize that caring about the environment IS caring about people. Humans reap the consequences of environmental damage just like the rest of nature.

A next step in my journey, I think, is to care as much about the rest of nature as I care about people. I'll never become one of those environmentalists who think that humanity should just die out to save the rest of the planet, but I am growing in my understanding that the rest of creation is valuable in its own right and worthy of concern.

I'd like my daughter to have a greter appreciation for nature than I did, so I decided that I wanted to buy a bird feeder so she could watch birds in our yard. I was partly inspired by catching sight of a blue jay in our yard last week, which flew away before my daughter was able to see it.

I was able to purchase a bird feeder for $7 at Value Village (cue my plug for the National Thrift Store Month petition!). My daughter had a ball playing with the wild bird seed we purchased and pouring it into the feeder, and her dad helped her tie it to a tree. So now we're just waiting to see if we get any visitors. The bird food bag says to be patient, it may take a few weeks for the birds to realize it's there.


Update on water hauling: Dear Daughter no longer uses her hamper (also purchased at Value Village thrift store!) for her dirty clothes, since she discovered that she can turn it over and use it to climb upon and reach for things. (She now uses a cardboard box instead). So I left her bathwater in the tub last night, and this morning, I took her hamper, filled it with the tub water using the bathroom wastebasket, and carried it outside to water the trees, shrubs and flowers in the front yard. It took me three trips and about a half hour. Hubby saw me and said, "That's weird. Cute, but weird!" :) But hey, if it helps save water and helps our plants, it's worth it. I just have to stay motivated to do it, because I could easily get lazy about it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Because hauling water is too much work for anybody

No Impact Man is my favorite environmental blog, one that has provided much inspiration on my own green journey. The blogger, Colin Beavan, along with his wife and daughter (same age as my own), spent a year trying to make as little impact on the environment as they could, while living in New York City. After the year was up, they evaluated their experiences and decided which modern conveniences they wanted back, and which ones they would continue to live without. They chose to continue to live without TV or air conditioning, deciding that those were luxuries, not necessities.

They chose to bring the washing machine back as a necessity. As Colin explained it, doing laundry by hand is drudgery, and therefore some sort of equipment to make laundering easier is a necessity, not just for wealthy Westerners, but for everyone on the planet.

I got a sense of this yesterday. I was doing laundry, including handwashing several dry-clean only items in the bathtub. (See Ask Annie on how to wet-clean dry-clean only clothing). I washed the items with castille soap, a very mild natural liquid soap, leaving me with gray water when I was finished. Gray water is water that is dirty, but not toxic.

I've read several green tips that suggest recycling gray water by using it to water plants.* Since we're trying to take care of the yard now and we haven't had much rain lately, I decided to try this. After about six trips in which I carried a bucket and my daughter a watering can, we'd only watered a few plants in the yard, the tub was still full, and we were tired. To finish the job might take several hours.

I'm not sure whether those who recommend using gray water this way are talking about watering a couple of houseplants, as opposed to your landscape; and I don't think I've ever read any suggestions about easy ways to haul the water. In any case, I feel about hauling the way Colin feels about doing laundry by hand: it's drudgery for anybody.

In case you're thinking about the fact that in many places in the world, people have to haul water or else they have none: this is true, but it is also why many non-governmental agencies work to provide such communities with close-at-hand, easily accessible water sources, because hauling water is so much work. In places where hauling water is necessary, generally it's women and girls who do it, preventing the women from doing other productive work, and keeping the girls out of school. Most NGO's also know that one of the best ways to help a community rise from poverty is to make sure the women can earn a living and the girls can go to school. So unless I can figure out a better way to move this gray water,** I don't think I'll be using it to water the plants in the yard anymore.


* Some people recycle gray water by using it to flush their toilet. If you pour enough water into a toilet bowl, the pressure will force anything in the bowl down. An advantage to this method is that if the gray water is from the tub, you don't have to haul it anywhere.

** Given the fact that water shortages are a real problem in some places now, and maybe everywhere in the not-too-distant future, it might behoove me to try to find a better way to haul it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A few things I miss about Boston...

One of the vendors at the Go Green Expo yesterday grew up around Cape Cod, so we discussed some of the foods that we miss about "back home": Portuguese linguisa, Brazilian cuisine (all of it), and apple cider donuts. It's surprising that the last one isn't available here, given the prevalence of apple orchards. Apple cider donuts are staples of the fall apple season in New England, and they are seriously the best tasting donuts you will ever eat! However, when I attended the fall harvest fest this year at the apple orchard down the street, complete with fresh pressed cider and baked apple goods, they stared at me blankly when I asked about apple cider donuts and told me they'd never heard of them. If there's something that would be great to transplant to this area, cider donuts would be it!

Update: Here is an article in the Washington Post, attempting to decribe the indescribably good apple cider donuts, complete with recipe.

Go Green and Live Well Expo

Yesterday, we attended the first annual Go Green and Live Well Expo at the Tacoma Dome. Our first weekend in Tacoma last year, we attended the biannual Tacoma Livable Communities Fair, a huge event that included not only environmental groups and services, but a number of nonprofits and other groups concerned about making Tacoma a better place to live for everyone. It was a great event, and we made our first friends there (a family with two preschool age daughters), and I made a connection that led to the job I have now. We learned about the event when we stopped at a grocery store to get food and saw a big poster advertising it.

Whatever the Livable Communities Fair organizers did to publicize and grow the event, however, the Go Green expo folks didn't do. There were maybe thirty vendors there, and what appeared to be the same number of visitors walking around, which was disappointing to many of the vendors.

It was well-worth it for my family to attend, however. For example, I met a chiropractor who gave me some great ideas to help with my back and knee issues; a guy who runs an earthworm farm who invited me to come out and see it, so he can help me restart my worm composting bin; and a woman who, like me with my skin and hair care issues, started making her own products to help her daughter's sensitive skin, and has since turned her line of products into her own home-based business.

There were also some representatives there from Tacoma Public Utilities, who were impressed with what we've done so far to reduce our energy and water usage (I brought our bill with us), and gave us some suggestions for other improvements, especially as we begin yard care this spring. My in-laws used to hire someone to do it, but we're going to have to do it ourselves, so we have a lot to learn. (On that note, we were able to obtain an energy-saving, rechargeable battery-operated lawn mower and several yard tools last fall via Freecycle. And yes, the lawn mower, which retails for about $500, was free. The old owner said it didn't work, but thought it might just need a new battery. It cost us about $80 to go to a Black and Decker shop, get them to look it over, clean the mower and replace the battery for us. Now it works jut fine).

Also good were the contacts we made that are possible referral sources for Green Irene. Green Irene sells mostly small ticket items for energy improvements, such as CFL's, energy-saving shower heads and the like. They recommend that their consultants make local contacts who offer the big-ticket items, such as solar panels, to whom you can refer your customers as needed. Along those lines, we met a young guy with a solar installation company called Revosol. We also met a family whose business, West Seattle Natural Energy, installs not only solar panels but also wind energy towers. They're the only wind energy company west of the Rockies. We also met a few folks from different types of home-based businesses that sell items not yet offered by Green Irene, which I will inform the Green Irene corporate office about in case they want to partner. One of these is EcoQuest.

(If you're wondering whether I recorded all this info so I wouldn't forget any of it, you're right!)

Earn money and save the planet: Green Irene

You may have realized by now that money for us is a little tight. Our cross-country move last year cost us thousands, we're earning less than we did in Boston, and, contrary to what the relatives who asked us to move here told us, the cost of living here isn't cheaper. In fact, everything now costs us more, except auto insurance (our rates for that have halved!).

Our heating bills this winter have killed us. Our relatives made the point that the Pacific Northwest doesn't have the temperature extremes that Boston has, so heating and cooling costs would be less. While that may be theoretically true, we lived in an apartment in Boston. We now live in a house, so whatever gain we might have had from the lack of freezing temperatures has been lost in trying to warm a house this big. And it's a drafty house.

We're also now paying for water usage and garbage pickup, which we didn't have to do in Boston. I'm proud of the fact that we've reduced the water usage for this house to one-fifth of what it was when our relatives lived here, and our garbage output is one-fourth of what theirs was. Some of those reductions would have happened automatically, since they have two kids, a teen and a preteen, to our one preschooler. Still, the fact that we've reduced so much is due to the conscious choices we've made to conserve. However, the savings we've realized in water use and garbage have been eaten up by the heating costs.

That brings us to the need to earn additional income. My husband and I recently signed up to become eco-consultants with Green Irene. Green Irene is a green business that trains and equips people to become eco-consultants, who provide households and small businesses with green home and office makeovers. They provide green audits, make recommendations for ways to make the home or office more energy-efficient, less toxic, and more eco-friendly; and they carry a range of products to help you do so. One of the things that impressed me a great deal was that the start-up and ongoing membership costs were very reasonable. Hubby has had other home-based businesses before, so I know that's not always the case. We're still in the training stages, but I'm excited about the chance to do something I care about, and help out our finances at the same time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We've sprouted!

At least the lettuce and the sunflowers have. Cute little buds had appeared in the soil when I got home last night. Now the task is to uncover them during the day, cover again at night, and continue to mist them until they're big enough to transplant outdoors.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gardening uh-oh

I may have mentioned previously that we're living in the home of my husband's brother and his family. We moved to Tacoma to stay in their home because my brother-in-law, who is in the Army, is serving overseas for three years (now down to two).

It's a beautiful house and yard, but if you could have designed something really poorly for growing edibles, this would be it. Edibles (most of them) need a lot of sunlight to grow. The house is built into the side of a hill. The front of the house faces south, the orientation which provides the most hours of sunlight per day. However, there is a carport in front of the house, effectively blocking all sunlight that would otherwise reach the front windows. In front of that is the small front yard that faces the street, and has the most unblocked sunlight of any area around the house.

The back of the house emerges from the hill. The hill that surrounds us keeps the house and yard cool--great for reducing air conditioning bills, but poor for growing veggies. My in-laws had some beautiful landscaping done on their big backyard, which is filled with wonderful trees, shrubs and a fountain. Beautiful, but they block sunlight.

That leaves the terrace, with its spectacular view of Puget Sound, where I had originally thought to have our garden. However, it's covered and faces north--again, poor for sunlight.

As I wrote earlier, the folks from the U-Washington Master Gardener's Program* said that because of all these obstacles, planting in the front yard was the way to go. Yesterday, however, I thought of a new obstacle: deer and bunnies! We're in a suburb right outside of Tacoma, not exactly the boonies, but still, we are blessed with the awesome sight of deer and rabbits in the yard now and then, mostly in the front. I called the Master Gardeners again, and they said yes, the deer and bunnies would munch my veggies, especially the lettuce.

What to do? Raising the plants high enough off the ground will keep the bunnies away. Deer Begone and other deer deterrents don't work, I was told: the smell deters them for a while, but then they get used to the smell and come back. The only thing that will keep deer away is to put up a wire fence at least 8 feet high. Anything shorter, and they'll try to jump over it.

Two thoughts crossed my mind at that point: the fencing might be expensive, and this is not our yard. {{deep sigh}}. OK, what's left? Well, one of the advantages of growing lettuce is that it can do well in shade or cooler temperatures. So the Master Gardener I spoke with said I could try growing the lettuce on the terrace. The herb pots don't need to be big, so I can try to keep growing them in the window downstairs. I'll have to keep the lights on them, and probably warm them for a few hours daily with a heating pad since the house stays so cool in the summer. And it's a good thing I didn't start our tomatoes yet, because those would have to go in the front yard to grow at all. I'll try to freecycle the tomato starter kit.


*According to Wikipedia, "Master Gardener Programs are volunteer programs affiliated with a Cooperative extension service office and a land-grant university that educates the public on gardening and horticultural issues. Typically Master Gardeners answer questions via phone, speak at public events and participate in community gardening displays.

"Master Gardeners are active in 48 states in the United States and four Canadian provinces. It is estimated that there have been over 60,000 master gardeners. The Master Gardener Program was started in Seattle, Washington in 1972, in response to repeated requests for gardening information from community members."

If you want to find the Master Gardener Program in your area, google, "Master Gardener Program" and your city, town or county.


Update: I might still do the tomatoes, after talking with my husband. The Master Gardeners told me that planting beside the house is an option, because deer won't come up to the house. The only part of the front of the house not blocked by the carport is the front door, which we only use when we have parties. (The rest of the time, we use the side door that you enter via the carport). The front door is a double door, and there are two steps leading up to it. So the idea is, we'll place the tomato plant on the steps, in front of the half of the door we don't open. Tomatoes grow up, not out, so it shouldn't block entry, and we should be able to tie the trellis to the steps' railing.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Organic update

Fred Meyer's didn't have any organic milk on sale today, so I purchased the non-organic, hormone-free variety from Trader Joe's. This has become important to me, because hormones in milk can lead to early puberty in children. My family is already prone to early puberty (my mom at 9, me at 10, and my sister at 11), and I want to protect my daughter from hitting puberty any sooner.

Grocery Outlet is a store that sells overstock from other stores, usually at 40-60% off the original prices. The downside is that you can't be certain what they'll carry from week to week, but the upside is that whatever they have is very inexpensive and sometimes they carry organic and natural products. This week I was able to purchase organic celery (99 cents a bunch! Awesome since celery is one of the top 10 most-pesticide laden veggies), as well as several organic canned goods.

We've planted!

Today I got serious about developing my green thumb. I've already had two mishaps this season--first was the newly-sprouted basil plant that hubby knocked over. Second was the sunflower seeds that my daughter and I planted a few weeks ago that never sprouted but molded instead. Turns out that there was no drainage hole in the container, and nothing in the instructions telling me to add one. And duh, maybe I should have known, but I didn't.

In any case, now I know a lot more (as a result of doing a lot of reading, and speaking with folks from the University of Washington's Master Gardener program). So today my daughter and I planted lettuce, basil, chives, parsley, and more sunflowers, using seed starter kits. The sunflower kit once more had no drainage hole, but this time we added it. In about two more weeks, we'll start our tomato seeds, and that will be it for this year, except for a fall lettuce planting. After everything sprouts and grows a few inches (in about a month's time), they should be ready to be transplanted outdoors. If we do well this year, next year I'll add additional veggies.

The good news is that by chance I picked the right lettuce. I just grabbed a pack that said, "loose leaf," because I heard that if you can pick it by the leaf, you can harvest it faster than lettuce that grows by the head. It turns out that I picked black seed simpson lettuce, which is a heirloom variety, meaning it was originally grown in an earlier period of human history, before mass-scale agriculture. Many people are trying to preserve heirloom crops, which often can't be purchased in grocery stores. Black seed simpson apparently is one of the tastiest lettuces and easiest to grow (although fragile for transporting, which is why stores don't carry it).

The bad news is that our huge backyard and beautiful terrace, with the great view of Puget Sound, face north, the orientation which provides edibles with the least amount of sunlight. In addition, our only big, unobstructed windows also face north. According to the UW gardeners, we therefore need to place our containers in our tiny southern-facing front yard if we want them to get enough sun. In the meantime, the seeds starts are in one of the northern-facing windows, since that's the only place they can go, and I have a desk lamp with a swivel head shining on them to provide additional light.

Oh, and by the way: the lamp (and several of my gardening supplies) were purchased at local thirft shops. So this is another plug to encourage you to sign the petition for a National Thrift Shop Month. :)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Boston inspirations

I want to give credit to the organizations in Boston that have inspired some of our vision for Hilltop Farms. The first is "Food in the Neighborhood," led by the Bowdoin Street Health Center, which was where my family received our health care. We were part of the start-up of that group, which aims to bring information and access to good nutrition and healthy, affordable food to the community.

The second is The Food Project, a youth leadership and sustainable agriculture program that, in addition to being one of the "Food in the Neighborhood" partners, engages youth in urban and rural sustainable agriculture, provides food to the homeless, and offers an affordable, twice-weekly farmer's market in the neighborhood where we used to live. A lot of their curriculum materials are available online for free downloads, so I am reading through them to help with the Hilltop Farms planning.

The environment and health in communities of color

So much of this stuff ties together... good health, universal health care, the environment, justice issues, etc., etc....

My family and childhood were fairly stable, and yet my siblings and I, and several of my cousins, spent much of our childhoods without our fathers. Not because they abandoned us or ended up in prison--but because they died. Like many African-American families, my family suffered and continues to suffer greatly from such things as diabetes, strokes, heart disease and cancer.

The same is true of my husband's family, and he himself has diabetes and had open heart surgery five years ago. Back in Massachusetts (which now has a state-wide system of universal health care), he was monitored monthly. Here in Washington state, we pay higher health care premiums, higher co-pays and for the first time ever, have had to pay deductibles. All while earning less than we did in Massachusetts and paying more for virtually everything (except auto insurance).

As a result, my husband isn't getting the level or quality of care he got back in Massachusetts. He had a stress test today, and it was worrisome to his doctor. We don't yet know what it means, but it scares me. I think of my daughter, possibly becoming yet another child in my family to not grow up with her father--again, not because of abandonment or imprisonment, but because of health issues.

My organization and several local churches are working with Amy B and the health department on a new initiative to try to reduce the shockingly high infant mortality rates here in Tacoma, especially among communities of color. We met today and Amy B showed us a segment of a documentary called, "Unnatural Causes." This segment was about infant and maternal health in the African-American community, and how low-birth weight and infant mortality are more than twice as high among blacks than whites, at all socioeconomic levels. One major cause: stress. The film points out that a lifetime of cumulative stress for a mother can affect her babies in utero, already putting the children at risk. Like almost everyone Amy B has shown this film to, those of us in the room were stunned and almost in tears by the end of it.

It's because of things like this that I've become so invested in environmental issues. I nursed my daughter for a long time (longer than I wanted to, LOL!), because I wanted to help her have the best start in life I could, given that she already had strikes against her in her family background. It's why I want to provide her and other children from communities of color with access to healthier, affordable foods. It's why I want to prevent their exposure to toxins.

I'm taking steps to start the Hilltop Farms, identifying partners and looking for funding, but it's going to be a lot of work. And the group that Amy B is trying to pull together is trying to create a web of support for low-income pregnant women and new mothers. The link between the two is that we want to provide women in the group with coupons to shop at the Hilltop Farms farmer's market, as well as recipes and meal ideas. WIC provides $10 worth of farmer's market coupons to recipients for the entire season (June-October). That, of course, doesn't go far at all (and yet, I still saw a long line of women lined up for WIC coupons at the Tacoma Farmer's Market last summer, so there IS a demand). Our plan would be to provide a $10 coupon every time a woman attends a workshop, or something like that.

When we met this morning, we talked about how easy it is to get overwhelmed by all the issues. For me, they're personal as well as professional. Trying not to--since now I know more about how damaging stress is...

And please let Obama be able to put in place some form of universal health care! The lack of it is literally killing our country.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Really cheap green tip

I've read that your typical dryer sheets contain a lot of toxic chemicals. The alternatives such as natural dryer sheets are very expensive. I've tried dryer balls, but they're also expensive ($10 for 2), and I never found them to work very well at dealing with static cling.

So here's a cheap tip: use aluminum foil as a dryer sheet to reduce static cling. I recycle aluminum foil if it's fairly clean (not used to cover meat, for example) by washing it off and letting it air dry. Then I cut it into sheets that are about the size of your typical dryer sheet and throw it in the dryer with my clothes. Some people recommend rolling the foil into a ball, but I've found it works best if it's flat--it will roll itself into a ball by the time your clothes are done. I then unroll it and use it for the next load. I can reuse the same bit of aluminum foil in the dryer for about five loads, which is great since my municipality doesn't accept aluminum foil for recycling (even though aluminum is one of the most recyclable materials on earth).

The foil, of course, won't provide your clothes with a sweet smell. However, if your laundry detergent was scented, your clothes will retain the scent of the detergent when they're dry. If you used unscented detergent and want a final scent, wet a washcloth and either sprinkle it with a few drops of essential oil (such as lavender), or with a scented hair conditioner, and throw that into your dryer.

Note on line drying: I have a dryer rack in my house, which I use for things I handwash (often, my preschooler's clothes!). However, I haven't taken the plunge toward outdoor line drying yet. I've asked line drying advocates how you prevent pollution, pollen and bird poop from getting on your clothes, and no one has yet answered me. And for those living in urban apartments (which was us in Boston, although not currently), you may not have the space to do it. One of my goals is to save enough to buy an energy saving Spin Dryer from Laundry Alternatives.

Hair and skin update

One of my co-workers has a sister who braids and twists natural hair, so now I have two options!

I tried the methods I discussed in my last post: the avocado/mayo deep conditioning, and the witch hazel/jojoba oil scalp cleaning and conditioning. While my hair felt very silky right after the deep conditioning, it seemed frizzier than normal after it dried. I'm uncertain whether to blame this on the witch hazel, but after using it, an almost forgotten old friend returned: dandruff!

I washed my hair with baking soda a few days later followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse, and the dandruff went away. I've decided that I'll deep condition with hot oil instead (by warming up olive oil in the microwave, applying it to my hair, and covering with a shower cap for a half hour, then rinsing out), and I'll return to my old scalp treatment: cleaning itchy spots with white vinegar on a cotton ball, followed by applying pure aloe vera gel to moisturize.

Jojoba oil ($6.99 at Trader Joe's for 8 oz; also available but more expensive at natural and health food stores) does have other great uses, however. It's perfect for removing eye makeup (apply to a cotton ball), and for moisturizing and reducing the appearance of fine lines around the eyes (apply with your pinky or ring finger, since those are your gentlest fingers). I use it at night, because it looks shiny on the skin.

Note on the use of vinegar on the hair: it has a strong smell when you first use it, but it goes away after you rinse it out. Even when you're not rinsing (as when I clean my scalp with vinegar on a cotton ball), the smell dissipates after a few minutes. Vinegar, I've found, is a great deodorizer: use it on something that smells bad (say, your garbage can). After you rinse, the scent that remains is very fresh and clean.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Beautiful few days...

... of weather here in Tacoma. I was able to take my daughter to the park on Friday and Saturday, and hubby will take her to the park today. The good weather will last until tomorrow, and rain returns on Wednesday.

Organic milk

First, check out Crunchy Chicken's update on her Sustainable Food Challenge, especially the comments. It seems a lot of people are like me: already spending less than the monthly allotment (the Food Stamps dollar amount allotted for a family your size), and finding it nearly impossible to add more dollars to their food budget in order to buy more organic, local foods. This, again, is why collective solutions are important.

On milk: I drink mostly soy, hubby drinks only cow's milk, and Daughter sometimes prefers only soy milk, and sometimes only cow's milk. I didn't make it to Fred Meyer last week, but stopped at Trader Joe's. Their organic milk is about $6 a gallon, but they sell hormone-free non-organic milk for $2.49/gallon, which I bought. Daughter thought it tasted funny, but hubby was fine with it.

I stopped by Fred Meyer this morning, and saw that their organic milk is $2.79/gallon, so I will buy some today after work. Hopefully, my daughter will like it. :)

I have a huge question, however. A year ago, regular milk in most stores was about $4/gallon. It's come down in most places to $2/gallon. Since I used to spend so much more on milk, I can accept paying an extra 49 or 79 cents to get a healthier brand for my family. But why has the price of milk fallen so much?

Update: Google is my friend. According to recent reports, milk prices have fallen 50% in the last year, "victims of the economic slowdown in the United States and a cut in exports due primarily to the strong dollar. Milk producers contributed to their own difficulties by increasing production through last year in response to good prices since 2005." Milk producers are slowing down production in response, so prices may rise again.

Update II: The $2.79 organic gallon of milk at Fred Meyer's is half-priced for milk that is close to its expiration date. I bought a gallon due to expire on 4/9 on 4/6. My family goes through milk quickly, so I don't think it will be an issue. Plus, my daughter loved it!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Those "10 foods to always buy organic" lists

You may have seen these in a few newspaper or magazine articles. I appreciate the sentiment: supposedly, if organic food is out of your budget, you can save money by following these lists. These foods are the essential items to buy organic, because they contain the most pesticides. So just buy these organic, and don't worry about anything else, and you'll save money. Right?

Well, just look at the lists:

Top 10 fruits to always buy organic
Strawberries, Cherries, Peaches, Apricots, Apples, Bananas (sometimes), Grapes, Raspberries, Cantaloupe, Nectarines

Top 10 vegetables to always buy organic
Spinach, Carrots, Celery, Corn, Lettuce, Green Beans, Cucumbers, Potatoes, Squash, Hot Peppers

And then those lists often throw in for good measure, the fact that meat, eggs, poultry and milk should always be purchased organic as well.

Notice something about those lists? Especially if you're the parent of a young child, like I am? Yeah, it's many of the fruits and vegetables most commonly eaten in America. And they're the foods most likely to be eaten by a young (American) child. My picky eater will only eat apples, bananas and grapes, and the top five veggies plus tomatoes and potatoes. Throw in milk, eggs and poultry and there goes almost my entire grocery list. So how could I possibly save money by following this guide?

Here, btw, are the lists of least contaminated fruits and veggies, the ones you don't need to buy organic:

Veggies: onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Fruits: avocados, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, papayas, watermelon and grapefruit.

Tomatoes (in sauce) and sweet corn are the only things on those lists my kid will eat. And if you live in more northern climes, none of those fruits will ever be grown locally.

So what to do? Well, I already wash all fruits and veggies with a produce wash (Environné, $3.99 at Trader Joe's for 16 fl. oz), which helps to remove pesticides. I'm going to try to grow lettuce this year, and we plan to rent an apple tree at our local orchard. And I saw an ad recently for Fred Meyer organic milk that said, "Low price every day!" I'll check to see how low. The organic milk I've seen in most grocery stores is often more than twice as much as non-organic. If the Fred Meyer milk is only slightly more expensive, I might go for it.

I'll also keep working on the Tacoma Food Co-Op and Hilltop Farms ideas, to try to bring affordable organic foods to people. Otherwise, these helpful lists are just another "irritating green tip."