Fifty-two weeks in a year means 52 weeks of reporting, writing and editing Source. Whether the topic is unfamiliar or something we’ve always kind of wondered about, preparing every issue of Source presents an opportunity for us to learn.

Along the way we’ve found that our stories also reshape the way we look at the world and indeed, live our own lives. Often we read Green Plate Special and are prompted to add new things to our diet, or rethink the way we cook old things to be more sustainable. Mary Pols got to “Meet” 52 interesting Mainers this year, and their unique forms of sustainable living have informed us about our own lives. Meredith Goad’s weekly Homegrown columns teach us better ways to buy local, while Tom Atwell’s gardening column provides solutions to the dilemmas we all face in our home gardens. Marina Schauffler’s Sea Change gently and consistently reminds us to buy less, get outside more and hang on to hope despite the often grim environmental news.

As New Year’s approached and we prepared to say goodbye to 2016, we reflected – in no particular order – on some of the changes we’ve made in our own lives, big and small, because of Source. It’s good fortune to be so empowered by one’s work.

1.Connect with nature

Meredith Goad

Meredith Goad, staff writer

One of my more pleasant reporting days this year was spent at the farm of Albie Barden, a gentle soul who is working to preserve Maine’s heritage varieties of flint corn.

Barden has an evening ritual in which he goes outside to “acknowledge” all the plants and animals that live on his farm and gives them a blessing. The idea touched me because I used to be a major nature girl. I spent most weekends in college backpacking, river rafting, bird watching and cross country skiing in the Rocky Mountains.


Then along came adulthood, career and lots of time sitting at a desk writing stories. Over the years I have still hiked – including climbing a mountain in the Himalayas and exploring a dormant volcano in Hawaii – but my connection with nature has often come more through gardening than galavanting through wilderness. It’s all too easy to lose that connection with nature on a day-to-day basis.

Barden’s simple gesture reminded me that I need make more of an effort to notice the natural world every day, and be grateful for the communion, for the sake of my own gentle soul.


2.Waste not – compost the right way

Christine Burns Rudalevige

Christine Burns Rudalevige, Green Plate Special columnist

I begrudgingly took on composting in my kitchen in May 2016, just shy of two years of writing Green Plate Special columns. The lessons learned were not the ones I’d expected. I’d previously bucked the simple sustainable eating measure for two reasons: the resulting rich compost would be useless to me as my thumbs are anything but green, and I feared a fruit fly infestation.

By subscribing to the Scarborough-based We Compost It service, which provided the five-gallon orange bucket I keep in the garage and collects its composting content weekly, I have not had to learn to deal with fruit flies. And since the drop-off point for my allotment of resulting humus is the Mid-coast Hunger Prevention Program in Brunswick, I’ve not had to learn to use it, either; my share gets put to good use throughout my community.


What I did learn, though, was the discipline it takes to make sure your compost bucket does not become a catchall for food you simply don’t feel like dealing with at any given moment.

I’d previously been diligent about tucking crusts of bread into the freezer for future bread crumbs and saving onion ends, celery tops and carrot peels until I could add them to the stockpot. But with a bucket in the garage I was tossing things with utter disregard because, in my mind, I was not wasting food, I was composting.

My self-correction followed a talk given by Mark King of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection on the Food Recovery Pyramid, which provides a framework to help municipalities, institutions, corporations and restaurants decrease the amount of perfectly good food they now toss into trash cans. King clearly defined composting as a last resort, not a first step, in how you divert usable food from the waste stream. Since that day, I’ve made certain that nothing goes into the bucket that hasn’t already had the culinary life sucked out of it first.


3. Banish platic water bottles; use reusable

Lisa Botshon, professor, University of Maine at Augusta

Lisa Botshon, professor, University of Maine at Augusta

I’m not sure why I resisted getting a reusable water bottle for so long, but now that I have one, I can’t imagine life without it.


I bought this one – a sporty 12-ounce insulated Kleen Kanteen with a no-spill cap – because of the zero-waste initiative that we began at my university last semester. While I’d not been a heavy consumer of disposable water bottles, I was certainly known to knock back a Poland Spring from time to time, especially at campus events or conferences. Now that I was trying to be much more mindful about the amount of plastic that I was using, though, it seemed imperative that I cease and desist all forms of unnecessary plastic consumption.

The first time I tried out my new reusable water bottle, I was traveling to a conference in Denver and took it to the airport. It passed through TSA perfectly well (empty, of course), and then I was able to fill it at a water fountain near my gate. When I wanted hot water, coffee shop employees were happy to oblige. The flight attendants filled my bottle several more times during the two legs of my flight, precluding the need for those little plastic cups that are so ubiquitous on airplanes. The man sitting next to me on the first flight was similarly inspired and asked to fill his bottle, too. By the time I got to my hotel, I figured I had NOT used at least two plastic water bottles and four plastic cups. Plus there was my neighbor who didn’t use a cup, either. And that was just the first day out. My Kleen Kanteen and I have been inseparable ever since.


4. Eat less beef

If Americans ate 30 percent less beef, it could help the environment considerably. So says Physicians for Social Responsibility. We say pass the tofu, or chicken, or some other form of protein, at least some of the time.

If Americans ate 30 percent less beef, it could help the environment considerably. So says Physicians for Social Responsibility. We say pass the tofu, or chicken, or some other form of protein, at least some of the time.

I’ve never been a big beef eater. When I do have it, I go for it – a big, juicy burger made by a chef, not McDonald’s, or a juicy cut of prime steak.

Still, even I could cut back – a small gesture that, if everyone did it, could have a real impact on climate change. At a vegan food tasting sponsored by the Maine Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility in July, I learned that if Americans ate just 30 percent less beef, it would be the equivalent of taking the tailpipe emissions from 10 million cars off the road each year.


And that seems worth giving up a burger or two.


5. Become a slow fashionista

Mary Pols, staff writer

Mary Pols, staff writer

When I was assigned a story on Slow Fashion I had to ask my editors, is this a thing? Do people know about it? Because I didn’t. Now that I’ve reported and written that story, I look at everything in my wardrobe differently. I learned about the hideous amount of waste involved with Fast Fashion – a term which translates into cheap and all-too disposable clothing and accessories. The average American throws away about 82 pounds of textiles every year. The amount of energy put into making that stuff is astounding. Most of it happens in Third World countries. I realized how much that trendy (and cheap) shirt I picked up at the mall two years ago cost the world environmentally. First, there was growing of the cotton (with pesticides), then processing and dyeing (with pollutants that probably went right into a river in Pakistan, except for the stuff I put on my on skin), cutting and sewing it (by barely paid women, mostly) and then shipping it across the world. So that I could get a bargain. Or think I’d gotten a bargain.

I’m radically reconsidering how and what I purchase to wear from now on. For a good 15 years I’ve been buying only well-made (and expensive) shoes on the grounds that they last. Now I’m applying that idea to any new clothing I bring into the house. I’ve mended my favorite pair of jeans, so that I’ll get another few years out of them. And I am pricing (used) sewing machines so that I can make some Slow Fashion myself. I might even take it a step further and plant some flowering plants in my garden come spring so that I can experiment with natural dyes. I’m so grateful I learned what not to wear.



6. Study up on GMOs

1130630_modified.jpgGenetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs are a nightmare to write about. A lot of people don’t understand what they are, namely plants or animals that have been genetically modified to increase their “good” traits. Meaning good traits for commodification, particularly in American markets. Many people have genuine fear that those modifications are messing with those who consume them. Local author Caitlin Shetterly is one of them. When I read her book “Modified” so I could write a profile of her and the book for Source, I learned how complex her world of consumption became after she was diagnosed with an allergy to GMO corn – not just what she eats either. She also stays away from anything where GMO corn might be an ingredient. Like paper cups, which are often lined with a wax that contains corn.

There’s science and policy and emotion wrapped up in this complex issue, enough to make some tune out. The legislative battles around labeling food are by no means over, and the jury remains out on who is “right” and who is “wrong.”

But on a personal level, one can take action. A new federal labeling law, although opposed by some for being too industry friendly, means there will be more information on supermarket products. I’ve been a Michael Pollan style grocery shopper for years, hugging the supermarket’s perimeter and staying away from the highly processed middle aisles. I already eat mostly natural foods. But Shetterly’s book heightened my awareness of how relatively briefly we’ve been living with and consuming GMOs, and thus how little we know about their long-term effects. Going forward, if there are two products next to each other, otherwise identical except that one’s label indicates it doesn’t contain GMO ingredients, I’ll take that one. Is it a health necessity? Not that I know of. But it can’t hurt.


7. Emphasize native plantings


Tom Atwell, Maine Gardener columnist

Tom Atwell, Maine Gardener columnist

When I started gardening 41 years ago, I wanted ornamental plants that made a visual statement. I loved stunning plants with large blooms. I knew that invasive plants such as Asiatic bittersweet and honeysuckle existed and should be avoided, but I didn’t think their numbers were high, and I didn’t intend to plant them.

In the past year, though, my understanding has grown more nuanced, and I learned two important facts: First some non-native plants that my wife Nancy and I had planted in our garden believing them to be well-behaved – such as the Japanese tree lilac that I loved and rugosa roses – are showing up, unwanted, in public lands where they are outcompeting natives.

Second, native birds and other animals need connected pathways of native plants to thrive. In urban and suburban areas, like where I live, and where few native plants typically grow, gardeners bear a heavier responsibility to plant an assortment of natives that will shelter and feed the wildlife.

Our vegetable garden will be an exception, where we will continue to plant what we like to eat. Also, we’ll keep the non-native azaleas and magnolias we love – and even replace them if they die. But going forward, we’ll invite native fauna into our property with native flora, and I’ll be questioning myself hard before I buy any ornamental plant that wasn’t born in Maine.


8. Buy less everything


In researching columns on simple living, I got reenergized to winnow accumulated stuff – again. This time, it dawned on me that I’d repeat this process indefinitely unless I began acquiring markedly less. Being a green consumer helps, but the lowest impact choice is clearly to avoid non-essential purchases in the first place.

Our family has stopped buying single-serve items, many supplements, and paper towels and napkins (trust me: our boys never deemed those essential!). Gift exchanges are far more modest and impulse buys are increasingly rare. Our online purchases dropped in 2016 to a quarter of what they had been two years earlier.

Buying less leaves our household and the planet better off: I just wish we’d figured out that simple equation much earlier.


9. Meet Maine’s flora

Read Glen Mittelhauser's guides to the plants of Acadia and Baxter State Park and you may find yourself wanting to explore Maine more closely.

Read Glen Mittelhauser’s guides to the plants of Acadia and Baxter State Park and you may find yourself wanting to explore Maine more closely.

I wrote about two Maine naturalists this year, one from days gone by and one contemporary. Botanist Kate Furbish was born in the 19th century and devoted much of her life to chronicling Maine’s flora, teaching herself botany. The paintings she made of Maine plants were collected this year in a beautiful two-volume set that is a joint effort of Maryland-based publisher Rowman & Littlefield and the Bowdoin College Library in collaboration with the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.


Furbish died in 1931, but even long gone, I fell seriously under the sway of this woman who flew under the radar and lived in a modest but dedicated life. She was from my hometown, and now I feel her presence, especially when I go running or cross country skiing on trails through a Brunswick preserve named after her. Because of her, I’ll never look at “weeds” quite the same way.

Then there’s someone like Glen Mittelhauser. He’s the guiding hand behind a new book, “The Plants of Baxter State Park,” for which he’s spent hours, days, weeks roaming that park, where I confess, I have never been. He’s also a regular visitor to other far-flung corners of Maine, where he studies the plants, counts them and creates maps for the future. He’s thinking about the botanist 50 years down the road, trying to process what the natural world will look like then. “What tidbit can I get in there for them?” he told me as we stomped around a salt marsh on Mount Desert Island together. I’ll look at Maine’s natural world differently because of Mittelhauser too, and in my own garden I’ll be planting and cultivating more native plants. I’m also going to get my Maine-born but not well-traveled enough self to Baxter. Where there are 857 types of plants. Imagine that. Because of Mittelhauser and his colleagues’ work, I don’t have to; I could identify them myself.


10. Work on saving water

Peggy Grodinsky, Food and Source editor

It was impossible to be in Southern Maine, or really anywhere in Maine, this past summer and not be thinking Drought with a capital D. Source reported on it. Everybody reported on it. Some combination of those reports and living smack dab in the middle of the long, dry season produced a gradual and organic change in my behavior.

I started the summer with a rain barrel that I’d ordered from the city of Portland; that was before I knew we were in drought. But by the time I was thinking about my basement dehumidifier, it was clear that the rain in Maine had no plans to fall on a plain or anywhere else anytime soon. One day, when I was heedlessly pouring a bucketful of dehumidifier water down the drain, a lightbulb – presumably a LED lightbulb – went off in my head. Why don’t I use this water in the garden? So I did – that day and for the rest of the summer and fall.

I had a similar epiphany when boiling pasta for dinner. As the dry summer lingered, I began watering the garden with gray water left from cooking vegetables and from rinsing dishes, too. I brought the oven timer with me into the shower and worked on shorter showers. Taken together, these were surprisingly easy habits to form and to maintain.

I’m well aware that my modest water savings over the summer did not change the world. My behavior change didn’t even change Portland. But if we all did our bit…


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