THE LIFE IN AN OYSTER

WORDS: NATE BERNITZ

IMAGE: JESSY KORTANGIAN

I remember the unexpectedness most. After spending almost every summer of my childhood exploring the rocky coastline of Maine and Nova Scotia, I thought I understood my relationship to the ocean. It was a place of immense beauty, mysterious creatures of all shapes and sizes, undiscovered frontiers, and in desperate need of protection.

But years later, as I discovered the muddy shores of the Puget Sound in between classes, I stumbled on something. It was an oyster, but not like any I had ever seen. It was the length of my forearm, covered in a quilt of Christmas colored seaweeds and crawling life, it seemed strangely alone. This oyster didn’t seem to need protection from the likes of me or anyone else. It seemed like it had survived countless tribulations and had been there longer than anything. I needed to know its story.

It turned out that throughout the small, narrow inlet where this old oyster lived were oyster farms. These are marine farms, otherwise known as aquaculture. These oysters were cultivated from their free-swimming larval stage to about a year old, when they were harvested and brought to oyster bars, restaurants, and groceries throughout the world. At first, I was skeptical.

But when I spent time on some of these farms, I discovered beaches full of abundance. More like ranches than farms, the growing equipment and oysters seemed to attract unimaginable life and biodiversity. Eel like gunnels and hermit crabs hunkered down during the twice-daily low tides that exposed the mudflats. Enormous moon snails and sunflower stars lurked around sweet spots especially dense with shellfish, ready to feed with reckless abandon when the frigid estuary dutifully flooded the beach again.

As much life as was visible at low tide, lying dormant to avoid detection from curious seagulls flying overhead, what was most incredible was what these farms looked like underwater. A friend of mine found out by deploying underwater cameras, and we watched in amazement as flounder, seals, sea ducks, and even octopus came in droves to enjoy the buffet provided by the farm. It was a sight to see.

These commercial farms are home to hundreds of thousands of oysters and clams, each filtering dozens of nutrient rich gallons of water every day. 

Whatever was in that water was in the oysters and clams too, and the farmers understood that better than anyone. Rain brought what’s known as nonpoint source pollution from throughout the watershed into the rivers that fed the Sound. From abandoned pet waste at local parks to over applied fertilizers and pesticides in people’s yards, the rain skimmed it all into streams, storm drains, and rivers that eventually made their way to these oyster farms.

It wasn’t environmentalists on the front lines of this challenge, lobbying for legislation and passing out pet waste bags. No, instead it was the oyster farmers - after all, their livelihoods were at stake.

Oysters could only be harvested from clean water. When water quality declined, the farms were closed and workers were sent home without pay. But when the water coming down the rivers was clean and the storm drains were dry, the water quality bounced back in just days. After all, the tides flushed water from the inlets to the Sound and into the Pacific twice a day. The oysters were usually safe to eat just days after that.

On the same beach I found that lone oyster, I worked with some college classmates to get necessary approvals and support to start an oyster farm. We realized there was no better way to galvanize support for keeping our water clean and beach protected than to involve the student body and the community. When we broke ground, curious students wandered down to the beach - many for the first time. As students from across the country and the world pulled on hip waders and rubber gloves and trudged through the campus’ temperate rainforest and down to the beach, they discovered what I discovered: oysters are life.

After months and months of farming those tidelands, both during warm summer days and frigid winter nights, we completed the farm to table cycle that has captured the hearts and souls of people all over the world for generations. We carefully and joyfully gathered as many oysters as we wanted, and we slurped the best oysters any of us had ever tasted. They were ours, and they were perfect.

To this day, I don’t know where that lone oyster came from, but I know where it took me. Years later, the school’s oyster farm is still there too. I don’t know the students tending to it now, but I do know how important they are. People protect what they care about, and care about what brings them joy and enlivens their senses. Even now, the first oyster I tasted from our garden keeps my fire lit. 

As it turns out, those oysters don’t need our protection. But the water they live in does. So when you slurp your next oyster, thank the coalition of water protectors and oyster farmers who made it possible. And by all means - farm on.

The school referenced in this article is The Evergreen State College, and the oyster farm is called The Evergreen Shellfish Garden.

BUILDING A WASTE-FREE FUTURE

WORDS & IMAGE: LINDSEY MCCOY

I’m a girl on a mission to have less plastic in my life and to make it easy for others to do the same. Why? Since it lasts forever, I worry about future generations choking on all the plastic that we are thoughtlessly discarding. I’ve already seen it happening on the islands of The Bahamas where I used to live. 

The Bahamas are as beautiful as you imagine. Turquoise water, sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze. We lived for ten years on a small island, a few miles from the main island, which means it was a boat ride to the grocery or hardware store. Life there meant finding creative solutions to problems. You couldn’t run to the store when you needed a new something, or even if you needed a new part to fix something. There was a lot of reusing and repurposing. 

In these islands the difficult logistics of transportation means there is no “away” to throw your trash. There’s really no place for it to go. So the consequences of our disposable lifestyle are much more apparent than they are in the U.S. Litter, wind and waves place our discarded shopping bags, water bottles and flip flops on the side of the roads, in the waterways, and across beaches. A visit to “Junk Beach” on a nearby island shows the reality that every piece of plastic ever made still exists. The evidence of plastic’s persistence is everywhere. 

My work in The Bahamas doing environmental education meant I was more aware of the plastic problems we have created than most. The fact that there could soon be more plastic than fish in the ocean weighed heavily on my mind. I started taking action: carrying a reusable water bottle, reusable grocery bags, skipping the straw at restaurants and bars. I looked for other ways to use less plastic. But one room in my house remained resistant to my efforts: the bathroom. 

I am not known for my craft skills. Collapsed birthday pinatas for my son, failed halloween costumes and ragged scarves with large holes were the results of my attempts. Based on my checkered history, homemade bath products were not going to be my solution. Plus, getting supplies on a small island would necessitate trips abroad or filling the suitcases of visiting friends. I searched for other options, but I couldn’t find any that worked for me and my hair. 

As we contemplated a move back to the States to give our son some of the experiences I treasured from my childhood, baseball and soccer leagues, gymnastics and pottery classes, without having to coach them or create them, I realized that I might be able to solve my own problem. Even better, I might be able to help other people use less plastic in their lives. 

I recruited my sister, Alison Webster, who has a design background, and a lovely sense of style, to help me create a Netflix of shampoo. You order the bottle and when you’re finished you send it back to be reused. That was the basic idea at the time. Happily, she said yes. Then the real work began.

From the initial idea it took almost two years to figure out how to make the concept a reality. There were quite a few hurdles. First, we had to check with the FDA to make sure there were no legal issues. It was a long confusing email and phone call chain, but they finally assured us there was no reason not to go ahead, although I think they doubted our sanity for trying it. Then we had to find the right container and a shampoo manufacturer. The first few natural product options resulted in straw-like hair that no one would want, no matter how good it was for the environment. We persevered and found a great product, but then we had to convince them to refill our bottles once we had cleaned and sanitized them. It took some explaining, and an in person meeting, but we knew we’d found the right partner when they said they’d be willing to give it a try. 

The other challenge was making it easy for others to eliminate some plastic from their life. We want Plaine Products to be a easy, simple option for purchasing quality, natural products that don’t add to the plastic problem. So here’s how it works: you order your preferred products in our aluminum bottles. When your bottles are low you order a refill, or you can subscribe and we’ll send the bottles automatically. When the refills come you’ll switch the pumps over and send back the empty bottles in the refill box, Plaine Products covers the cost. Then we clean the bottles, refill them and reuse them. 

As far as we know we’re the only company that are taking responsibility for our packaging in quite this way. And we are very proud that are products are have a biodegradable formula, are cruelty free, and have organic, vegan ingredients. We hope that shampoo, conditioner and body wash are just the start of a packaging revolution and that these small choices, when taken together, can have a big impact. 

ERICA NEAL of YELLOW SWING GARDEN

IMAGES: ERICA NEAL

I've found tremendous grace in the musings of Erica Neal of Yellow Swing Garden. Her dynamic online journal is a gorgeous exploration of homesteading. I especially love her belief that one doesn't have to be an expert—in gardening, in cooking, in environmentalism—to have treasured insight. 

Over the course of the next few months, Erica will be sharing her stories with us at Loam. I'm so excited to welcome her into our community—I hope her journey will inspire you to truly grow where you are planted. Herewith, an introductory interview with Erica. 

Through Yellow Swing, you tell the story of your growth as a gardener. What experiences inspired you to dig deeper into homesteading?

It’s been a broad combination of things that drew [my family] to living in a more connected, conscientious way, but the simplest answer is probably valuing quality over acquisition and a family history of resourcefulness. We didn’t set out with the idea of “homesteading” because we were city people and that label or description wasn’t as mainstream nine years ago.  

It started more with early conversations about our future family. We knew that we wanted to give whatever children we had “the best” and our version of the best was green space, beautiful food, peace, creativity and a foundation of faith. For us, faith is what inspires a stewardship mentality and community focus. Trying to live out these ideas and pursuing these desires is ultimately what translated into modern homesteading (and an interest in permaculture). 

I think those elements translated into more “old fashioned” practices because I’ve been very inspired by my grandparents and great-grandparents. They were city people who never let go of their country roots. So as a kid I went fishing, learned how to build little houses out of scrap wood, wire lamps, tend a garden, cook, sew, etc. We’d volunteer at church or community organizations. We’d also take trips to a little house they built in the country (southern IL) just to be out of the city.  All of that was the best. It just also happened to be a lot of what’s associated with homesteading.  

What are a few of your favorite ways to cultivate self-sufficiency skills at home and in the garden?

Well, I think there’s this idea that self-sufficient living is building a personal compound that can sustain itself miles away from any urban core or town. It really isn’t limited to that situation. We’ve cultivated self-sufficiency skills by not outsourcing certain tasks that we can do ourselves if we just have the patience and are willing to learn new things. So before we had the space to start a garden, we’d shop as mindfully as possible from co-ops, small grocers or a farmer’s market and I learned how to make things from scratch that we’d typically buy processed – like sauces, snacks or simple baked goods. Recently, I’ve been wading into fermentation, canning and preserving; and honestly, it’s little intimidating. 

When we lived in an apartment, we didn’t call maintenance for every issue.  We practiced fixing leaks, insulated around drafty windows, and repaired our thrifted furniture. Then we bought our first house. It was a lovingly maintained (very original) 60’s ranch. So we got comfortable with power tools, learned how to care for the trees and hedges, do some light electrical, plumbing, and tile work. It was a … comedic education. We had plans for a garden in that house; but were relocated after about 18 months.

And finally, after a very difficult pregnancy with our first son, my midwives told me that the severe hyperemesis I experienced would likely be worse with subsequent pregnancies, requiring daily medication with a home IV pack. I trusted them; but didn’t believe that was the only possible solution. So I started studying holistic nutrition and herbal medicine that could prevent or lessen the severity of being sick, and it was successful. We had two more boys and I never had to be hospitalized or on a prescription medicine regimen again. That was a huge motivation to rethink wellness for our family and seek genuine, healing remedies.  

So before we ever had the space and time to start a garden, we’ve been building sufficiency skills across the spectrum; in apartments, in a house, in big and small ways. The first season we did start a garden, it was so basic and the most valuable skill I learned was how to replant after things died… repeatedly. In other words, I learned how to persist past the frustration of being a novice.  We started very small – with a few containers – and it’s given me the ability to learn, experiment and fail on a small scale, with little risk. And just like everything else we’ve set out to do, we know there will be a time to scale up and expand. We’re just being patient and enjoying the process right where we are. 


How has raising a family shaped your relationship to permaculture?

Our move towards more sustainable living started nine years ago. Then, we realized that what we were doing fit under the umbrella of modern homesteading about two years ago. And when we initially thought “homestead”, we thought we’d need acreage, livestock, equipment, a high efficiency off-grid house...After we overwhelmed ourselves, we decided to write down why we wanted to pursue all of this, what we hoped it would accomplish, and how on earth we might manage it between work, children, and time for each other.

Then, a few weeks later, while browsing the Mother Earth News bookstore, I saw this book with a striking rooster on the cover called The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town and Country by Peter Bane, and ordered it. On pg. 56 there’s this diagram outlining his vision for a permaculture farm and it was almost a 1:1 match with our own list.  The biggest difference, is that we were thinking in terms of conventional land use and Permaculture is indigenous land use. It’s smarter, works in partnership with nature, and doesn’t depend so heavily on the micromanaging hands of man.

We realized that by planting in an ecosystem model, we could easily use less land, money, time labor, and still enjoy plenty of food for ourselves and our community. It’s liberating to know we can offer our boys an amazing landscape to learn and play in at home, without cutting them (and us) off from the urban cultural amenities we enjoy. For us, permaculture allows us to strike a balance. It was the “how” we were looking for.    

 What kind of change do you hope to inspire in your community?

I hope to take the practice of permaculture and homesteading from niche to a very normal way of living. By that I mean, there’s this beautiful movement of people engaging with earthcare, food justice, and climate action. The coverage of that engagement has the ability to freeze these powerful moments into imagery that recalls the Civil Rights and Back-To-The-Land movements. The flip side, is that if you don’t see yourself as powerful or revolutionary, this work may seem too big. But the truth is, these revolutionary moments are full of regular people; introverts, suburbanites, gen x-ers, baby-boomers etc. It’d be like Clark Kent reading a story about Superman and feeling inadequate. We all have the power to create positive change. Sometimes we just need to see a familiar face in the crowd before we feel comfortable joining in.

I’ve been that person who felt too regular or quiet to create impact. I’ve been the the black woman scanning the homesteading and permaculture landscape for other brown faces. And I’m still the person who prefers to be supportive behinds the scenes vs. on the frontlines. It’s because I am that person, that I decided to show up and be a familiar point of connection for others.   

As our larger vision manifests more and I learn more, I would love to facilitate workshops, volunteer garden design services and find ways to encourage anyone who thinks they don’t have the time, space, or resources to practice sufficiency, because we all can. Again, right now I’m just getting a handle on occupying space as a writer and blogger. I’m practicing patience and feeding bigger dreams.

How do you embody hope—for a healthier planet, for a promising future—in your everyday life?


Wow. This is like the biggest question that might draw out the shortest answer. We remember that every act of kindness and mindfulness counts, and that progress can happen in small increments. Anger isn’t a sustainable motivator, so we create moments of joy. We share our dreams with friends, family, and our boys, because even if they don’t get it, conversations can spark new ways of thinking.  Lastly, it sounds cliche; but the future is being made by simple choices everyday. So we set our intentions and do our best to make good choices. 

ART IN PRAXIS: A CONVERSATION WITH JESSICA SOLOMON

WORDS: GRACE WINGO

IMAGE: OLIVIA OBINEME 

EXCERPTED FROM LOAM SUMMER 2016: A WOMAN'S WORK

In search of something new to read one rainy Sunday evening, I grabbed “Mystical Hope” by Cynthia Bourgeault off of my shelf. Since winter, I’ve been on somewhat of an inner spiritual journey, inspired by a food and sustainable self-care educator that I met last fall. Although our encounter was brief, I felt inspired to cook more, compost more, and interact with nature more through learning about plant medicine and gardening, among other things. Essentially, I’m finding ways to deepen my relationship to myself, others, and the planet in ways that align with my values. As a result, one of the things I’m curious about reading are diverse spiritual texts that range from the New Age to Buddhism and books on the Kabbalah. 

In “Mystical Hope,” Bourgeault talks about hope as an “abiding state of being.” For Bourgeault, hope evokes a physical quality, a sensation of “lightness of being,” a presence, a feeling of joy, an energy. It’s not tied to an outcome. It is rooted in an experience. 

Her language reminds me of the the way I feel when I seek to live sustainably. The idea that hope comes from within us resonates with my desire to tune into the abundance of possibility, spontaneity, and joy that exists within the Universe.

“Mystical Hope” also inspired me to reflect on the ways in which I choose to cultivate a sustainable life. As stewards of creation, how do we create mindful systems and organizations? How can we take on meaningful work and relate to people in ways that are conscious? 

And so, curious to explore the power of stories, community building, and culture, I reached out to my friend (and badass entrepreneur) Jessica Solomon of Art in Praxis. Art in Praxis melds arts and culture into the work of organizational capacity building, transformation, and community engagement. Throughout our conversation, Jessica and I talked about everything from June Jordan to systems change to being unapologetic about who you are.

Grace Wingo: Tell me about what you’re currently doing for a living and/or for pleasure. 

Jessica Solomon: I’m a practitioner and I work with organizations and changemakers around ways that they can be more intentionally strategic in their work. My work is really around people, supporting people who are doing movement work. How can you be most impactful in your work as a changemaker? That’s a question that guides a lot of my work.

One of the methodologies I use in supporting people in being more strategic is leveraging culture and the arts to do that work. How can we use the power of story, the power of ritual, the power of the narrative of who we are and what we believe in, how can we leverage that to be more intentional about our work? How can we think about communities as ecosystems? And how can we use the network to do more work, to be more effectual?

I’m really invested in systems change. I had a conversation with somebody, interestingly enough an artist, who in some ways was being co-opted, a black male artist was being co-opted by a white male artist, and there was a really intense conversation around this person and I asked him to look at the structures that had permitted this artist, this white man, to do this work over time. So many of my questions and a lot of my interrogations and inquiries are around systems at play that allow injustice, oppression, and racism to happen. How can we dismantle a lot of that? How can we break those down? A lot of my work is working with changemakers and organizations who are committed to that kind of work and who are intentional in doing that kind of work.

There’s a commitment to social change. And we also recognize that as an organization they may need some support in being their best selves. And they also have an interest in leveraging arts and culture as a way to get to that. 

GW: So something I want to know is you do this awesome work, and it’s pretty, major, in systems change and dismantling systems that create injustices. One of the things I’m interested in is how do you stay hopeful in the work that you do?

JS: I think part of it is bringing in the idea that none of this is new. If we open ourselves up enough we can go back and look at lessons from our ancestors and people that came before us, and in some ways it’s all a blueprint and there’s also a space to create and carve out new spaces. But in some instances, we can learn from the past and we don’t have to recreate a lot of that. I think a lot of people have learned those lessons for us in some ways. Knowing that I can go back and just remember that “oh, I’m not crazy, this happened, something like this happened before.” This isn’t me necessarily struggling up against this huge thing. This is the thing I was born into.

What keeps me hopeful is to engage with young people who are unapologetically who they are and don’t have that baggage. A friend of mine calls it “unmolested blackness.” Which means pride and comfortability in your skin that a lot of us don’t have. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but I think a lot of young people don’t have the same burden that I have, this notion of being Black in America and what this might mean and the implications that might come with that. And it’s refreshing to see young people stepping up. And also remembering in the Civil Rights Movement, young people ran that. The elders were there but young people were at the frontlines, especially in Baltimore, and seeing that played out is really inspiring and gives me hope. It definitely gives me hope. And none of this is new and we always have an opportunity to tap into history. 

An example of this for me is June Jordan. She was an amazing scholar, poet, and lover of young people who lived in Harlem in the sixties. She was also good friends with this futurist white man named Buckminster Fuller who was brilliant and came up with all kinds of crazy stuff before people could even handle it. And she was like, you know what? My neighborhood is decaying and it’s really not safe. And I want to do something about it. She was also an architect.

The only reason I know about June Jordan of course, about this project that she did, was because a friend of mine wrote about it in an obscure-ass blog, and I actually Googled it, to see who wrote it, and realized that oh, people have been collaborating on projects around space and place and race since at least the sixties, if not before. So it just reminded me that “Jess, the stuff you’re doing is not new, it’s just called something different.” And I’m actually glad about that. I’m actually really glad about that. She was a radical black woman. So she documented this project but it never happened. For me, the lesson, and there are so many lessons, is about being open to something because I might be set in my ways.

GW: I can definitely understand the wisdom of people who have come before us. I read something about how your design principle is to make new words and make new worlds. Can you tell me more about that? What does that mean and the part about designing for inclusion?

JS: So oftentimes, a lot of my work is about strategy. And for me that requires the organization or person to really imagine a vision for what the world will look like if they achieve the thing that they want to do. So we start with that vision. Which for some people is a stretch. Because we are not invited to imagine in general. Most of us are not invited to fully, actively imagine the world that we want. So when I tell people to do that, it requires them to take a step back and really kind of own the concept that we could do this. That’s part of the idea of building new worlds. What does it mean for the people you work with if you actually do the thing you’ve set out to do? What does that look like? And now that we have that, let’s work backwards. What are the things that you’re going to do today, a year from now, three years from now, to get toward that vision?

Because, borrowing from Adrienne Maree Brown, all of this is science fiction. All of this social justice stuff, we’re making it up and we’re building new worlds, so what kind of world do you want to build? Knowing that you are building one, regardless, where do you actually want to go? It’s an invitation for people to envision [the world that] they want. 


And designing for inclusion will require and call in different skill sets that you might not have and I won’t, so how do we create spaces for everybody? How can we be more mindful in the way that we use spaces? Sometimes, it’s just education and making people aware, and sometimes, it’s dealing with our own implicit bias. And that’s a challenge for me as a facilitator. I was telling someone that I have more edges around ability. That’s been a challenge for me. It’s something I’m working on, how can I recognize when I’m being ablest? And how does that show up in the way that I facilitate spaces? How am I showing up for my trans brothers and sisters? How does that show up in the way I facilitate? We all have our raw edges, and for me, I want to be more transparent about it so that I can invite other people to do their work

GW: What advice can you give to other women who are thinking of or want to take the path toward becoming an entrepreneur? 

JS: I think the lesson, would be, for any woman, anybody interested in entrepreneurship, is just being ready for what that means, and how everything falls squarely on you. The thing about a job that is great is that your work is spread out over time. But you know because you are on contract with this organization, you’re going to get paid. You can make up for the time on another day or another project. Or it’s just you and everything boils down to you. If you don’t produce what you need to produce, then that could have repercussions on your livelihood and you have to be ready for that. I don’t think entrepreneurship is for everybody, and that’s not a bad thing. If I found a job that aligned with my values and was a match, I might take it. There’s no question. It’s just what I feel I’m being called to be in this moment. And I’m being open to that. I feel so incredibly blessed and fortunate to have people around me who support me and hold me down. I also have people who don’t understand it and that’s hard. And I realize that I can’t really engage with people who see it as “that’s cute” or “you’re so different.” That’s not where I’m at. It’s important. So just being ready. 

Oh, another thing. Today a lesson came up for me. I’m about to take on a longer-term project right now, and I’m excited about that. The way that that project came about was by me showing up fully. And because I showed up fully, people around me were able to recognize who I was and what I could bring and that over time turned into a job. So that idea of being bold and brave is important. You know when you’re brave, and still showing up. Even when you’re afraid. Even more importantly when you’re afraid, that’s when you show up. That takes being grounded.

And having a spiritual practice that helps me get grounded and guides me [is vital]. Some kind of practice to ground yourself and who you are and why you chose this path and why this path chose you. Find community, think about strategies, and just know that it’s a ride.

GW: I think you’re awesome. Is there anything else that you want to share?

JS: I think as women we’re not necessarily groomed to be entrepreneurs. I know for me, it was already embedded in my family. My grandma would post bus trips to New Jersey. She would make fish dinners and people would pay. I think a lot of it is already embedded in culture, but it wasn’t called entrepreneurship, it wasn’t called sustainability. It was called taking care of family. And I think a lot of us need to go back to that. And recognize it for what it is and maybe update it and call it sustainability or environmental justice, but [recognize that] it was passed down to us.

 

As Jessica so aptly puts, these ideas and plans and motions are embedded in culture. It’s exciting to know that the work of creating social change comes from a deeper place within us. Just like Bourgeault’s vision of mystical hope, these qualities were passed down to us,  inherent within the “wellsprings of our beings.” 

In a time of innovation during this massive digital age, it can be easy to forget the social, emotional, psychological and physical processes of our elders that guided us to this moment. There is wisdom embedded in the work of social change. Wisdom is a steady stream of consciousness moving through us, always available to tap into. What draws me to the work of Art in Praxis is the acknowledgement to our ancestors and the honoring of our roots and where we came from. Honoring the past because that is how we got to this present moment? I think that is radical. 

 

 

THE SIMPLY CO.

WORDS: KATE WEINER

IMAGES: THE SIMPLY CO. 

When I first started living a trash-light life, I was humbled to realize just how much I already had—and how much I didn't need. Sorting through the clutter in my cupboards awakened me to the ways in which we scribble in the empty spaces in our lives with stuff. 

Founded by Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers, The Simply Co. is an antidote to the culture of stuff. It's a return to the idea that less is more as well as a celebration of the power of simplicity to generate lasting environmental change. The Simply Co. creates 3-ingredient detergents sustainably packaged in beautiful (and reusable!) glass jars. Because we really don't need all that much to live well and in wonder—and we definitely don't need the thousand and one chemicals that taint the most common household cleaning products in our homes, in our bodies, and in our environments. 

I recently connected with Lauren over the phone to talk about transparency in the cleaning product industry, merging environmentalism and entrepreneurialism, and how to curate a chemical-free home. Her wise advice will empower you to start making simple swaps this very day. Living with less truly is the key to living better.

KATE WEINER: The Simply Co. crafts toxin-free and sustainable detergents. What inspired you to focus on creating change in the realm of home products?

LAUREN SINGER: I started this company because I had been making my own products for years and then started getting e-mails from people about how they loved the products that I was making but that they didn't have time to create their own. They would ask me What do you suggest that I can buy in stores that has the same qualities [as homemade goods]? So I went searching. Although I found some beauty products that were just as natural [as the products that I made], the same wasn't true for cleaning products. There are over 85,000 industrial chemicals used in the cleaning product industry. And on top of that, chemical companies aren't even legally required to be transparent about that. As a basic human right, we deserve to know what's going into our homes and into our bodies!

KW: What kind of challenges have you faced in growing your own business and how have you worked through them? 

LS: [The biggest challenges that I face exist at] the intersection between having all these ideas for how to run and to scale a zero waste company and getting other companies on board with that vision. There are so many things that I want to accomplish through this company but some stores aren't ready yet. I want to get bulk to be a mainstream resource but most people don't yet utilize bulk in ways that are necessary to sustaining a bulk model.

I'm not currently taking investors so I am growing at a more sustainable pace. It's been good and bad, because I can't just hire a million people all at once [to spread the word about The Simply Co.] but at the same time, I know exactly what's happening in my company, I have complete control over the quality of my products, and I know my vendors personally. This will give me sustainability in the long-run.

KW: The Simply Co. product line isn't just functional—it's also a thing of beauty! Do you see this celebration of aesthetics and simplicity as part of your approach to environmental activism? "The Beauty Way" is something we talk a lot about at Loam so I would love to hear your perspective on that.

LS: Totally! Inherently, more sustainable products are more beautiful. Within the cleaning product industry, good design is an afterthought. That's why I wanted this product to feel luxurious, even though it's detergent, because it imposes more value on the product and helps consumers realize [that quality] is something that they should be paying attention to. I only have three ingredients [and the simplicity of the design calls attention to that]. Typical products have 20+ ingredients so I hope that The Simply Co. drives the conversation on how simplicity and design can create sustainable living choices.

KW: How do you envision growing The Simply Co. in the coming year? 

LS: I'm coming out with a new box that will hold more laundry detergent. [Using boxes] will allow us to lower the price point and to enter markets that won't accept glass products. Anytime someone makes the decision to use my products, they're not supporting something that is potentially damaging and dangerous to their own bodies, their own homes, and the environment.

KW: In addition to founding The Simply Co., you're at the helm of Trash is For Tossers, a zero waste lifestyle blog. How do you merge environmental activism and entrepreneurialism? 

LS: I don't think that they are different. What I'm doing is completely a form of activism. I saw a problem—an enormous amount of toxic chemicals in the cleaning product industry—and a government that's not mandating transparency. My work is providing a solution to that problem that I hope creates a standard that all companies should be held to.

KW: What characteristics do you think are important to cultivate as an activist and as an entrepreneur?

LS: Consistency. If I say I'm going to be a certain way, I'm going to be that way. Don't give yourself a box unless you can stay in it. Live your values. What you do might change but be intentional about it. It's important to believe in what you do and not care what other people think. And not imposing your values on other people is also really important!

Oftentimes, our first reaction to people who believe or who act differently than us is to push them away. If there's someone who doesn't understand what I do or think it's stupid, I want to invite them into my world and show them how [I live zero waste]. My goal is to be inviting and not repelling. 

KW: What are your favorite tips for curating a chemical-free home?

LS: I use so few things! One of the first things I like to tell people [who are making the transition toward trash-light living is that] if you're in the process of reducing your waste, be sure to use up what you have first and recycle the containers.

To clean, I use The Simply Co. laundry detergent, liquid castile soap for dishes and scrubbing, baking soda for when things are sticky, and white vinegar infused with essential oils as an all-purpose cleaner.

And that's kind of it. I've realized you don't need anything else!

Love The Simply Co.? Check out the following video to learn how to live lighter. And be sure to use the discount code SIMPLYLOVESLOAM to order a luxurious detergent of your own. 

 

 

 

 

SWEET HONEY FARMACY

WORDS: KATE WEINER

IMAGES: COURTESY of SWEET HONEY FARMACY INSTAGRAM

Scrolling through Sweet Honey Farmacy's Instagram feed during a little Loam "research" session, I felt as if I'd found a kindred spirit. Jme's snapshots of full moon harvests and medicine making resonated with the kind of life I envision for myself. My morning meditations and evening walks and weekend hikes rarely feel like enough: I want every day to be rich with the loamy goodness and succulent sun kisses that I experienced during my summers working in urban agriculture. Sweet Honey Farmacy rekindled that dream. 

I recently reached out to Jme of Sweet Honey to talk wild crafting and creative freedom. Jme's journey into homesteading took root during a "magical" ten-month apprenticeship at a homestead in Canada and has since grown into an ongoing education with herbalists in Oregon. Our conversation inspired me to get making: my hope is that Jme's wise words will do the same for you!

It's been four growing seasons since Jme connected with Co-Founder Lili Tova of Flying Coyote Farms. Jme met Lili at a little farmers' market in Sandy and the two quickly bonded over their passion for farming and interest in homesteading; of what it felt like, Jme shares, "being around all this abundance." Jme joined the Flying Coyote Farm, and after several years working on an isolated farm, found home. 

For most farmers, late spring through fall are full with sowing seeds and reaping the harvest. The dormant winter days, however, bring the opportunity to try something new. Jme and Liliy began to craft together during their downtime, mixing herbal remedies, fermenting goods, slow cooking nourishing bone broths. Their little passion project grew branches after their success at Portland's annual plant medicine gathering. "We had no intention of starting a business," Jme says, "but we had such a tremendous response."

Jme moved to Flying Coyote, drawn by the opportunity to grow an herb garden and inspired by Sweet Honey's succulent momentum. At first, Sweet Honey was focused on nutritional products—nutrient-dense broths, probiotic-rich products—that were made in-house. When Flying Coyote established an internship program, however, Jme and Lili split roles and Jme, now the Farmacy's sole owner, expanded Sweet Honey to integrate contributions from their growing customer base as well as to reflect Oregon's rich climate. 

As Jme notes: "My product line has changed [over the years]. It's now a small line of herbal medicine. I get to glean goat's milk for soap making [...] I have a small apiary share and so honey figures into my products. It's a really special relationship." Jme takes cues from the world surrounding and that, to me, is what makes Sweet Honey so beautiful. This Farmacy is about seeing how we fit into nature and not how nature can cleave to us. "I've gone through so much change in the last few years," Jme says. "I'm actually taking this summer to be in process [...] in an expansive place where I'm just trying to listen to see where [Sweet Honey] wants to go instead of trying to create something for her to go toward."

This generosity of spirit and trust in the process is part of the Sweet Honey Farmacy experience. Through Sweet Honey's hands-on workshops, Jme is able to share the skills that have helped the Farmacy thrive. "It's so exciting for me to be able to turn people onto the process," Jme tells me. "I love demystifying the process. Last winter, I taught an herbal body class during the holiday season so that people could make gifts for their family. I remember when I was learning [how to make my own salves] and I was like 'really?' I get to see that [spark] in people's experience."

Moving forward, it's Jme's mission to continue to tune into where Sweet Honey wants to go and nourish opportunities to teach. "Sweet Honey is still in a moldable place [...] I want her to grow how I'm growing. I want to stay small enough that I don't have a big account that will lock me in forever. [My hope is to] teach people as I'm learning and have a lot of creative freedom." Jme would like to incorporate a seasonal, CSA-model product line that empowers individuals to take control of their physical and emotional wellbeing during the changing seasons. Manifesting this project, however, is contingent on the stirrings of Sweet Honey's soul.

We're rarely invited to listen to our projects. Talking to Jme reminds me that Loam is a creature of her own. She's bigger than me, has a complex vision I could never control. To Jme, Sweet Honey is neither purely business nor solely a passion."[It's a way]" Jme shares, "to keep me active in what I'm already interested in. I get to stay committed to that practice which is important to me. I get to be more honest and authentic with my value system." 

Sweet Honey Farmacy is hard work because creating is hard work. It takes love and discipline and a willingness to learn. But hearing Jme treats Sweet Honey as her own entity—as this luscious something that exists outside of Jme—strikes me as a bighearted way to take off the pressure to be productive. 

Our passions, our projects, have lives of their own. What would happen if we gave these lives their own space to grow? If Sweet Honey's success is any inkling, it would be pretty damn sweet. 

 

 

 

MOUNTAIN FLOWER DAIRY

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

Nestled in North Boulder, Mountain Flower Dairy is home to more than thirty goats. The dairy shares a 25-acre parcel of land with Growing Gardens and Long's Gardens. It's a beautiful example of the power of integrative urban agriculture to both strengthen soils (goat manure can help to fertilize plants) and support local farms (if not for the historic Long's Gardens land, this site for urban ag couldn't have taken root).

On a blue Colorado morning, I spoke to Taber Ward, Mountain Flower's Co-Founder and Executive Director, in MFD's sweet little office space. As she pasteurizes chèvre for that afternoon's summer camp class, our conversation meanders from the real cost of food to the beauty of hands-on work. "Animal husbandry means being embodied," Taber says. "[It's about] taking care of the things I love." 

Taber grew up in upstate New York before migrating north to McGill for college to study anthropology and food systems (a girl after my own heart!) In Montreal, Taber worked on a rooftop farm as well as was part of a fresh-from-the-farm delivery service that brought nourishing fruits and veggies to communities throughout the city. A summer spent working on a goat dairy affirmed Taber's passion for animal husbandry. In 2012, Taber and Co-Founder Jonathan Vaught reached out to the Long Family to set up a working dairy. In the years since, Mountain Flower has established  a raw goat milk CSA (170 families get milk from just 14 goats), a kid's summer camp, and interactive workshops. The site has grown into a hub for community that links urban dwellers to the loamy soil underfoot. During summer Saturday visiting hours, families gather by the tall grasses to feed a goat; Wonder Press, downtown Boulder's destination for wholesome juices and ghee-rich coffees, donates some of its leftover pulp to serve as a sweet snack for the herd. In this way, MFD's situation at the nexus of rural and urban enables the farm to knit together the diverse threads of community that course through Boulder. Those goats are doing good

In collaboration with the Dairy's Board of Directors, Farm Director Michael Montgomery  and Education and Outreach Coordinator Madelynn Evensen, the team is working to revitalize the idea of what farming can be. "[Mountain Flower] is much more about animal rights and public health," Taber notes. MFD is on a mission to challenge the fetishization of our food and land. The farm's hope is to create a working model that will attract younger farmers by providing flexible hours (Taber works full-time as a lawyer as well) and shared responsibilities. Although this means higher labor costs, it also translates into a farm that fits into future visions of what kind of permutations living sustainably can take. Wandering through Mountain Flower's pastures later that day, I realize that this farm embodies the kinds of principles that I could bring back into my own life. The romanticization of farm life has been erased at MFD; you get the sense that the team works damn hard to nurture this space into being. In place of this fetishization, however, grows something far more nuanced: a holistic slice of urban agriculture life that is dedicated to exploring embodiment. How to be, how to live, how to tend to this world and everyone we love within it in ways that heal our landscape and not harm it. 

DAYDREAM DESSERTS

WORDS: KATE WEINER

IMAGES: COURTESY of the DELECTABLE DAYDREAM DESSERTS INSTAGRAM

At Wonder Press, the rad women-run juice bar & coffee shop in downtown Boulder, nothing pairs better with the turmeric-inflected Golden Latte than the Mad Dunk Cookie from Daydream Desserts. No wonder this sunflower seed cookie layered with date caramel and coated in raw cocoa is perpetually sold-out; it's the perfect mix of wholesome goodness and crave-worthy sweetness (as I'm writing this, my friend and I are both trying our very best to share a cookie we would both much rather have all to ourselves). 

Inspired by Daydream Dessert's delectable line-up of raw goodies and biodegradable packaging, I reached out to founder Emma to talk baking with whole ingredients, shopping the farmers' market, and supporting honeybee conservation. Our conversation reinvigorated my desire to support local producers as best I can. This is the beauty of actually interfacing with the people who provide you with the food on your plate—you come to realize that every purchase you make implicates you in a broader network of passionate project makers who are working to nourish sustainable ecosystems. 

As Emma shares, Daydream Desserts stemmed from her work as a food photographer and recipe developer for her mom's raw honey company. The health benefits of raw honey—and the vital role honeybees play in our environment—is deeply important to Emma. Honey figures into most every one of Daydreams's desserts; her hope in the coming year is to develop a marketing campaign that educates consumers about bee conservation as well as encourages a culture of ethical eating (because if we want bee populations to flourish in our world—and anyone who wants to eat sure does—we need to support local pollinators). 

This is also why Emma cares about using compostable packing despite the higher price point. As her company grows, her goal is to continue to support the small economies that she values most—whether that means using glass over plastic, buying from her fellow vendors at the Boulder Farmers' Market, or sourcing from biodynamic suppliers. 

At the end of the day, Emma's work is about bringing our values and actions into alignment. When she talks about wanting Daydream to be a lifestyle and not just a dessert line, she's referencing the necessity of living, eating, cooking, and creating in ways that foster our vision for a healthy body and healthy environment. When you buy a cookie from the supermarket, it's just a cookie. But when you scoop up a treat from Daydream? It's a vote—however small and sweet—for sustainable agriculture and flourishing pollinator populations. 

And with that, I think I'll tuck into just one more Mad Dunk.