The Farm Stay Vacation

Consider making your next family vacation a “haycation” by booking a farm stay. Already common in Europe and Australia, farm stays are garnering greater interest in the U.S. as more people are looking for ways to connect with nature, simpler times, and local food sources.

Simply put a farm stay means reserving accommodations on a working farm or ranch. The accommodations may be a room in a farmhouse or other farm building that's been converted for company; or, you may get to pick your own camping spot on the farm. The experience varies from farm to farm. Some are geared towards families with young children, while others are more adult-oriented. Some involve daily chores and activities, while others simply offer classes and demonstrations for those interested. Bottom line: You won't have to put in a full day's work as a farmhand to earn your keep.

If the thought of starting your day by gathering eggs for a a down-home breakfast and ending your day sitting in a rocking chair watching the sun set over the fields appeals to you, check out or for more information on booking your very own farm stay vacation.

Water Filtration Options

Avoiding bottled water is an important part of being green. By switching to tap water in reusable bottles, you help keep plastic bottles out of landfills and avoid Bisphenol A (BPA) and other contaminants that may be present in bottled water. Unlike bottled water, tap water is regularly tested with the results openly reported.

Most municipal water sources are safe for consumption, but the chemicals used to treat the water may leave an unpalatable aftertaste. And some private water sources may, at times, contain unhealthy levels of certain contaminants. Both issues can be resolved with a home water filtration system. Determining which system is best for your home depends on your current water quality. Before purchasing a filtration system check with your local Department of Public Works or the EPA website for your city's water quality report.

Once you know what issues you need to address, consider one of these options for home water filtration:

Faucet-Mounted Filter. Most faucet-mounted systems use a carbon filter. Carbon is a porous material that absorbs impurities as water passes through. These filters remove lead, PCBs, chlorine byproducts, certain parasites, radon, pesticides, herbicides, MTBE (a gasoline additive), trichloroethylene (a dry-cleaning solvent), some volatile organic compounds (VOCs), certain pharmaceuticals, and some levels of bacteria. You will need to check the filter package for more specific details about what it removes. It's best to select one labeled as meeting NSF/ANSI standard 53. A filter that is NSF-certified is third party verified to reduce health-related contaminants under specified conditions. For most people an activated carbon filter with NSF Standard 53 certification will be enough.

Reverse-Osmosis System. If your water quality report shows you need a greater level of filtration, a reverse-osmosis system may be a better option for you. Installed under the sink, these systems treat water as it comes into the home. Reverse-osmosis systems push water through a semipermeable membrane that works as an extremely fine filter removing impurities. Often used in conjunction with a carbon filter, these systems remove all the contaminants listed under faucet-mounted filter, plus perchlorate, sulfates, arsenic, barium, nitrate/nitrite, fluoride, industrial chemicals, heavy metals (like cadmium, copper, and mercury), chlorides, certain parasites, and pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, these systems waste a significant amount of water during the filtration process – 4 to 9 gallons (15 to 34 liters) of water for every gallon (3.8 liters) filtered. Some systems will store that used water and re-purpose it for toilet flushing.

Ultraviolet Light Unit. In the rare case that your tap water contains unsafe levels of bacteria, an ultraviolet light unit can help. These under sink systems use high frequency light to kill living organisms. Class A systems kill bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Class B systems reduce nuisance microorganisms and are not intended for disinfection. It is recommended these systems be used in conjunction with a carbon filter to remove additional contaminants.

While your water quality is a (if not the) major factor is selecting a system, it's also important to compare initial purchase price, installation, filter prices, and other operating and maintenance costs. Faucet-mounted filters cost $20 to $50 and require a replacement cartridge that costs about $10 every three to six months (more often if you have hard water). Reverse-osmosis systems can range anywhere from $100 to $1,000 depending on size and quality. The membrane must be replaced every two or three years for $100 to $200 and filter cartridges every six months for $40 to $100 each. An ultraviolet light unit can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 for a basic, self-installed unit to $700 to $900 for a whole-house, plumber-installed system. The filter and lamp must be replaced annually for about $150.

Regardless of which option you choose, it will have to be properly maintained to be effective. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's maintenance directions to keep your water filtration syetem working properly.

Green Tip of The Day

Charge your cell phone with a car charger or your computer's USB port when you're online to save energy and money. Less than 10% of the power drawn from a wall plug by a cell phone charger is actually used to charge the phone. The rest is wasted. So, at the very least, make sure to unplug all electronic chargers once items are done charging.

Green Tip of The Day

Next time you fill up on gas, make sure not to top off your gas tank. Once the nozzle clicks off the first time, the gas you're paying for is not going into your tank. You’re wasting money on gas that is stuck in the hose or getting ready to spill on the next person. Topping off your tank damages the vapor recovery system that's designed to minimize the amount of vapors released into the air. Gas vapors pollute the air with volatile organic compounds that are harmful to our lungs and our environment.

Green Up Your Bathroom

With its heavy use of water and electricity, the bathroom is responsible for a significant portion of your home energy costs. Therefore, it's a great room to start with when greening up your home. A few small steps can make a sizable impact.

Start by reducing water consumption.
  • Install low-flow shower heads to save water without sacrificing pressure. An efficient shower head will save a family of four up to $285 per year. They typically cost less than $15 and are simple to install.
  • Put an aerator on the faucet and cut your annual water consumption by 50%. If you are in the market for a new faucet, look for 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute (gpm) models.
  • Install a low-flow toilet. They use only 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to 3.5 gallons per flush for pre-1994 models. If you have an older model, adjust your float valve to admit less water into the toilet's tank. To check for tank leaks, put several drops of food coloring in the tank and see if the color makes its way into the bowl, indicating a leak.  

Then, focus on energy usage. The energy used to heat up water accounts for 19% of total home energy usage, so reducing hot water will significantly reduce energy consumption. Here are the simplest ways to cut back on hot water.
  • For about $20 and 5 minutes of your time you can make your hot water heater more efficient. Just put an insulating jacket around your water heater and secure (with tape, wire, or a clamp) foam pipe sleeves around the hot water pipes and three feet of the cold water inlet pipe. Doing so will save you up to 10% on water heating costs and cut down on the time it takes for your shower to warm up.
  • When it's time to replace your water heater, look for an energy efficient model. They may cost more up front, but you'll quickly make your money back in reduced energy costs. 
  • Turn the temperature on the water heater down to 120 degrees. Doing so will reduce the heater's energy consumption by 5% to 10% and prevent scalding.

And don't forget one of the easiest ways to save energy . . . replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use 66% percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer.

Opting for eco-friendly materials in your towels and bathroom d├ęcor is another great way to green up your bathroom. Due to its excessive use of insecticides and pesticides, conventional cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop. Therefore, towels made from organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp are better options for your health and the environment. Shower curtains and bath mats are perpetually damp so they're prone to dank smells, mold and bacteria. Curtains and mats made of natural, washable materials, like organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen, and cork, are easier to maintain, last longer, and have a smaller environmental impact than plastic products. Even curtains made from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester are better options than PVC shower curtains because, despite being petroleum-derived, they do not off gas like PVC.

You may not give it much though, but bathrooms require a lot of caulking and conventional caulk contains chemicals that can pose a health danger without proper ventilation. Safer, greener caulk is low in VOCs, lasts at least 10 years, and can be cleaned up with water or a mild solvent. Avoid using PVC- or oil-based caulk. Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends polyurethane caulk for sealing masonry and acrylic latex caulk is good for dry surfaces like plumbing penetrations and gaps in wood.

Finally, take a look at your everyday habits.
  • Shorten your shower by a minute or two and you'll save up to 150 gallons of water a month.
  • Turn the water off when you brush your teeth and save 4.5 gallons of water each time.
  • Don't forget to recycle toiletry bottles, soap packaging, and cardboard toilet paper rolls. Keep a small recycling container in the bathroom if it helps you remember to recycle.
  • Use simple, nontoxic substances, like vinegar, peroxide and baking soda, to green clean your bathroom.

Follow these guidelines to reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, and reduce waste and your bathroom will be cleaner, healthier, and greener. You'll save money, while protecting your health and the environment.

Note: For bigger home renovations check out Green Home Improvements for help selecting eco-friendly countertops, flooring, and paint.

Why Organic Costs More

If organic foods don't use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, why do they cost more? I've heard the question multiple times, so let's finally discuss the answer.

To start, organic foods don't necessarily always cost more. Some products cost the same or even less than conventionally grown foods. So shop around, compare prices, and don't always assume organic will cost more.

Economic law tells us that as the demand for organic foods continues to grow, their cost will continue to decrease. In the meantime, consider the following reasons for the higher cost of organic foods:

Organic foods cost more to produce. Organic farming is more labor intensive and involves greater operational costs. Instead of using pesticides with known health and environmental risks, organic farmers rely more on hand-weeding. This also means that these farmers run a greater risk of losing all or part of a year's crop. Also, the chemical fertilizers conventional farmers use are inexpensive to buy and to transport. Organic fertilizers, like compost and animal manure, are bulkier and more expensive to ship. Even organic feed for cattle can cost up to twice as much as conventional feed.

Organic farmers rely on crop rotation to keep their soil healthy. This means that up to a quarter of their land at a time may be left to lie fallow. Most conventional farmers, on the other hand, use every available inch of land to maximize profit despite the fact that planting the same crop on every acre every year is an unsustainable practice.

Government subsidies are geared towards agricultural conglomerates that use chemically intensive farming practices. So, while you may pay less for conventionally grown foods at the supermarket you're actually already paid a price for them through your taxes.

Organic farms tend to be smaller and, despite their growth, only account for 2.5% of the U.S. food marker, so they don't benefit from the same economies of scale as larger conventional farms.

Some of organic foods' higher cost comes from the retail rather than the grower. Some organic foods do not sell as quickly as their conventional counterparts, so the retailer increases the price in order to make the same amount of money per space.

It's also important to be aware of the less obvious costs of conventionally grown foods. While many conventionally grown foods cost less at the market, you still have to factor in the cost to human health and the environment. Consider the higher incidence of some cancers and other diseases among farm workers and their families, as well as the environmental cleanup (e.g., contaminated water supplies and air pollution) paid for with our tax dollars.

According to the World Resources Institute, when measured with traditional cost analysis methods the average farm shows an $80 per acre profit. But after factoring in the external costs of soil loss, water contamination and environmental degradation caused by farming practices, the average farm shows a $29 per acre loss.

Then there is the loss of our traditional farming industry. Large corporate farms have forced millions of family farms into bankruptcy. In fact, over 4 million farmers have disappeared since the 1970s. Most of today's organic farms are are small scale operations just looking to stay solvent. When you support organic you support farmers that are putting sustainability before profit.

The organic food market is still small, but it's growing quickly. Just over the past five years there has been a significant decrease in organic food prices and that is due, in large part, to all those people making a statement with their grocery dollars and buying organic. The power of the purse.

So if anyone ever asks you why organic food costs more when it requires less chemicals, tell them it's simple: Organic food is better quality food grown in a sustainable manner that preserves human health and the environment. Hopefully that will help loosen a few purse strings.

Green Up Your Bedroom

For those wanting to live a healthy and eco-friendly lifestyle it makes perfect sense to green up your bedroom, the place you spend a third of your life. Here's a guide to help you make your bedroom healthier and greener.

The Bed
Avoid mattresses filled with polyurethane foam. Polyurethane is a synthetic material made from petroleum products. That means it is produced from limited fossil fuel resources (often creating toxic waste in the process) and it is not biodegradable. Polyurethane off-gasses toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which decreases indoor air quality. Plus, mattresses made with synthetic foams are treated with polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) fire retardants. In 2010, after years of study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that PBDEs are bioaccumulative and toxic to both humans and the environment and began working on a voluntary phase out of the chemicals by the end of 2013.

To protect yourself from such toxins opt for a mattress filled with cotton (preferably organic cotton), wool (naturally flame retardant), or natural latex. The greenest option, latex, is anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and dust-mite proof. Just be sure the latex is at least 97% natural. If opting for another natural filler, use a hypoallergenic mattress protector to prevent dust mites.

Bedding and Other Fabrics
It's a little known fact that bedsheets are often treated with chemicals to make them soft. And thanks to its excessive use of insecticides and pesticides, conventional cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop. Hence, sheets made from organic cotton or bamboo are better for your health and the environment. Avoid sheets with labels like moisture-repellent, stain-resistant, or fire-repellent – clear indications they've been treated with chemicals. With more and more stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Pottery Barn offering organic bedding, the selection and availability of eco-friendly linens is greater than ever.

When selecting pillows look for hypoallergenic and organic pillows filled with wool, organic cotton, buckwheat or millet hulls, or natural (at least 97%) latex. Pillows made from recycled polyester fill are another eco-friendly option.

For blankets, wool is a greener options than polyester. Down comforters attract dust mites and, because they draw in moisture and don't dry quickly, can produce mold. Wool is lightweight, warm and quick-drying.

Wash bedding weekly to cut down on dust mites and other allergens.

Before purchasing any new furniture take stock of what you already own. Sometimes you just need to move pieces around to give your room a fresh new look. Also consider any other items you may have stored away that you could re-purpose or re-finish to use in your bedroom.

Then, if you really do need a new piece of furniture for your bedroom, consider purchasing vintage or used. By purchasing pre-owned you keep items out of landfills and avoid buying new pieces you'd eventually have to dispose of. Check out antique shops, thrift shops, Freecycle, Craigslist, and eBay. And remember: you can always change hardware, reupholster, paint, or stain a piece to make it your own.

If you do decide to purchase new, take careful consideration of what furniture is made of. Steer clear of pieces made from manufactured wood products (i.e., particleboard, fiberboard, plywood) because they typically contain formaldehyde glues. Products made from metal and glass are safer options because they are inert materials which don’t offgas.

When purchasing solid wood furniture look for wood that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international, non-profit organization that requires companies to meet strict economic, social, and environmental standards to become certified. Look for the FSC logo on furniture, ask your retailer, or use the FSC's online database to find certified vendors. Other healthier, more eco-friendly options include furniture made from reclaimed wood or a renewable resource like bamboo.

Look for furniture finished with no- or low- VOC paints and stains. Alternatively, purchasing unfinished furniture you can finish yourself is a great way to get quality, customizable pieces at a reduced cost.

Carpets made of wool (a renewable and biodegradable resource) and other natural materials (such as plant fibers, jute, and seagrass) are greener options than traditional carpet which is made of synthetic materials and backed by SB latex, a petroleum product that contains the toxin styrene and is a suspected carcinogen. Also, more and more companies are introducing eco-friendly carpeting options made from recycled products like recycled plastics and organic materials like corn.

Carpet, however, can be hard to clean and can harbor dirt, dust and mold. Greener, more allergy-friendly flooring options include bamboo, cork and natural linoleum (a long lasting material made from natural ingredients such as linseed oil, wood resins, cork, limestone, and jute). Then, you can always add some natural fiber area rugs that can be thrown in the washer to clean.

Indoor Air Quality
Paint is a great, inexpensive way to give a room a whole new look, but traditional paints contain harmful contaminants that are damaging to human health and the environment. According to the EPA, paints, stains, and other architectural coatings are the second-largest source of VOC emissions after automobiles. When looking for low-VOC paints seek out products certified by a third party such as Green Seal and make sure that the VOC levels are measured after the tints are added.

Never use mothballs. Naphthalene, the substance mothballs are made of, can cause respiratory problems, damage to the liver, and neurological damage. Plus, the EPA has classified naphthalene as a possible human carcinogen. Products made from cedarwood are safe and just as effective at protecting clothes and linens from moths.

Despite how nice they may look or smell, traditional paraffin candles and the smoke and soot they produce can contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles can decrease indoor air quality. Paraffin is the last petroleum byproduct removed in the refining process (right after asphalt). The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. For a healthier, greener alternative look for candles made from soy or beeswax, scented with essential oil, with non-lead wicks.

Adding an air-cleaning plant or two to your bedroom can help improve indoor air quality. A NASA study showed philodendron, English ivy, spider plant, dracaena, weeping fig, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and snake plant to be the most effective at removing common pollutants from the air.

Finally, try to open your windows and air out your bedroom for at least 15 minutes every day. The EPA and the National Lung Association both recommend opening windows to ventilate air and lower indoor air pollutants.

The Greenest Water Bottle

If you read Drinking Green, you know that swapping bottled water for tap water is healthier for you, the environment, and your wallet. A quick recap for those who missed it: Unlike bottled water, tap water is regularly tested with the test results openly reported. So by replacing bottled water with a reusable bottle filled with tap water you can be sure that you're getting properly purified water, save about $1400 a year, help cut back on the 47 million barrels of oil used every year to manufacture disposable plastic water bottles, and keep at least some of those bottles which take 450 years to break down out of landfills.

But which kind of reusable water bottle is best? Greenest? Here are some tips to help you find your own eco-friendly water bottle.

Consider durability. Make sure to buy a reusable bottle that will last because it's only being green if you actually use it in place of disposable bottles the majority of the time. You may need one bottle for the office or running errands and another for more rigorous activities. And if you're going to try keeping one in the car, make sure it fits into your cup holders.

Make sure your bottle is BPA-free. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a substance used to make plastic food containers firm. It also happens to be a hormone disruptor (a fact known since the 1930s) linked to an assortment of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, early puberty in girls, low sperm counts in men, reproductive problems, liver disease, and asthma. If you're shopping for a plastic or aluminum bottle, look for a label that says BPA-free. Otherwise, it's likely to contain BPA. Stainless steel bottles are always BPA-free.

Plastics Bottles. Plastic reusable bottles are lighter and easier to use for sports than metal bottles. While they take fewer resources to produce than metal bottles, they are not as durable as stainless steel. Bottles made with plastic no. 3, no.6, and no. 7 polycarbonate contain BPA. Plastics with recycling codes 2, 4, and 5 are considered safer.

Metal Bottles. Metal water bottles are very durable, making them great for everyday use. Since aluminum is reactive, aluminum water bottles must contain a liner to prevent leaching. It is those liners that may contain BPA. Also, lined aluminum bottles are not recyclable. Stainless steel, on the other hand, has been used in the food industry for a very long time and has proven to be durable and safe, without any impact on taste. Plus, stainless steel can be cost-effectively recycled compared to plastic which is typically only recycled into a lesser product.

Best Choice. If you can only buy one reusable water bottle, stainless steel is your best option. It does not leach any harmful chemicals, lets water retain its taste, and has the smallest carbon footprint of all your reusable water bottle options.

Still, ANY reusable bottle is a better option than bottled water. So, find the bottle you like best and will use consistently. Then raise it up and toast to your health, saving money, and protecting the environment.

Food Additives to Avoid

A truly healthy diet consists of a variety of whole, unprocessed foods. That means eating real pieces of fruit rather than “fruit flavored” products and whole grains like oatmeal, quinoa and barley instead of “made with whole grains” goods. It means eating an actual snap pea instead of a snap pea that's been freeze dried, disintegrated into flakes, processed, and reconstituted into a snap pea-shaped chip-like snack product.

When food came from the farm or small, local grocers eating whole, unprocessed foods was easy. Now that so many of our foods are processed, packaged, and shipped by major conglomerates it has become harder to avoid food additives – substances, like preservatives and coloring, added to food to alter its appearance, enhance taste, or increase shelf life. While food additives contain little or no nutritional value, several of them can have harmful effects on human health.

While it's nearly impossible to avoid processed foods completely, it is a good idea to at least avoid these additives which conclusive studies have found to be harmful:

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT). BHA and BHT are antioxidant preservatives used to help keep oils and fats from going bad. They're most commonly found in cereals, chips, and vegetable oil products. Multiple studies have shown these substances to cause cancer in rats, mice, and hamsters. Some will argue that those cancers occurred in the forestomach, an organ that humans do not have, but the scientific standard holds that any chemical that causes cancer in at least one organ in three different species demonstrates a likely possibility of being carcinogenic in humans. That is why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has classified BHA and BHT as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."

Food Dyes/Artificial Coloring. Food dyes are used in a variety of processed foods, from fruit snacks and candy to baked goods, cereal, and sausages. Although artificial coloring has been used for years, its use has increased fivefold in the past 50 years. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has reported that Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Yellow No. 6 and Red No. 4 have been found to contain cancer-causing properties. As if that wasn't enough, food dyes have been shown to cause hyperactivity and ADHD in children. Of most concern are Red No. 4, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6, which account for 90% of the food dyes found in food today. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to make any determination as to whether certain foods with artificial coloring should be banned or made to include a warning label.

Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil. Hydrogenated vegetable oil is created when food manufacturers transform liquid vegetable oil into a semi-solid shortening by reacting it with hydrogen. This process creates trans fats, which have been proven to increase bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol, and make blood vessels less flexible, thus increasing blood pressure and promoting heart disease. The FDA has stated that gram-for-gram trans fat is more harmful than saturated fat. And a Harvard School of Public Health study estimated that trans fat caused about 50,000 premature heart attack deaths annually. Nutrition labels must, by law, list the amount of trans fat per serving, but labeling regulations allow for some deception. A food containing 0.49 grams per serving or less of trans fats can be labeled "0 grams trans fat.” Only the label "no trans fat" actually means no trans fats at all. Since both the American Heart Association and the Institute of Medicine have advised consumers to consume no more than 2 grams of trans fats a day, it is important to read labels carefully. One can quickly exceed that 2 gram limit by eating just a few “0 grams trans fat” foods.

Mono-Sodium Glutamate (MSG). MSG is a flavor enhancer and preservative used in a variety of packaged and canned foods, including soups, canned meats, salad dressing, chips, frozen entrees, and restaurant foods. It can be listed on labels as "natural flavoring" or "glutamic acid." One study dating back to the 1960s found that, when administered in large amounts, MSG destroyed nerve cells in the brains of baby mice. More recently, a report by the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine states that MSG promotes the growth and spread of cancer cells within the body. The report also suggests a link between MSG and sudden cardiac death. Finally, a study reported in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Autoimmunity linked MSG with obesity and inflammation within the body, particularly the liver.

Olestra. Olestra is a calorie-free synthetic fat that cannot be absorbed as it passes through the digestive system. It is most commonly found in fat-free or reduced-fat chips. Olestra can cause digestive problems, such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and flatulence. It can also interfere with the body's ability to absorb fat-soluble carotenoids (which help reduce cancer and heart disease risk) from fruits and vegetables. Although the law allows products made with olestra to be labeled “fat free”, they actually contain substantial amounts of indigestible fat. Healthier alternatives are baked chips and snack foods, which are still crunchy and lower in fat and calories without any of the unpleasant side effects.

Potassium Bromate. Potassium Bromate is an additive used to help activate flour and increase the volume of bread. It has been banned in just about every industrialized country except the U.S. and Japan. It is rarely used in California where a cancer warning would be required on the label. The concern is that while most bromate quickly breaks down into harmless bromide, a tiny amount of bromate may remain in bread and bromate itself has been shown to promote kidney and thyroid cancer in animals. Due to this risk, many millers and bakers over the past decade have stopped using bromate.

Sodium Nitrite/Sodium Nitrate. Sodium nitrite and nitrate are preservatives that enhance the color and flavor of processed meats like bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch meats, smoked fish, and corned beef. While no studies have definitively shown nitrites and nitrates to cause cancer, researchers have found that adding nitrite to a food as a preservative can promote the formation of cancer-causing chemicals in that food, particularly in fried bacon. Companies now add ascorbic acid or erythorbic acid to bacon to inhibit those chemicals and this measure has ameliorated the problem. While the risk of cancer is small, studies haven't proven conclusive and it is still advised that those more susceptible to the risk, such as children and pregnant women, avoid consuming cured meats processed with sodium nitrite/nitrate. And since nitrites and nitrates are primarily found in fatty, salty foods, most people would be best advised to keep consumption to a minimum.

This brings up a good point. Simply avoiding these food additives does not make for a well balanced, nutritious diet. Avoiding processed foods is only one part of a healthy lifestyle. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar and salt can be more harmful than all these additives combined. Yes, it's best to avoid certain additives, but the best thing you can do for your health is follow the golden rule of healthy eating (and living) . . . Everything in moderation!

Natural Pest Control

Pests. They can cause trouble both inside and outside your home. But the last thing you want to do is expose yourself and your family to the noxious chemicals most commercial pest control products contain. The simplest, and not to mention cheapest and healthiest, thing to do is use natural methods to eliminate pests. Here's how.

First, remember that prevention is the best form of pest control. Sweep up crumbs, vacuum, and wash dishes before they attract any unwanted guests.

If no matter how tidy you keep things the ants keep marching in, try one of these ideas:
  • Mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of liquid soap with a quart of water in a spray bottle and spray the ants. This concentration is safe enough to use on plants.
  • Place bay leaves, cloves, lemon juice, cinnamon, coffee grounds or cayenne pepper at the ants' point of entry. All these produce odors found offensive by acute-smelling ants.
  • Mix borax and sugar (so the ants will bring the borax back to their nests) and sprinkle along the ants' trails.
  • A spritz of vinegar will eliminate ants' scent trail, so go ahead and give an extra spray while cleaning green.
  • Sprinkle baby or talcum powder on the ants, their scent trail, and at their point of entry.

If your problem is fruit flies, start by taking care of how you store your fruit. Fruit flies lay their eggs in overripe fruit, so store any fruit about to become overly ripe in the refrigerator. Then, try the following:
  • Leave out a glass of either apple cider vinegar or white wine (fruit flies apparently like both) with a bit of detergent mixed in. The flies will die shortly after taking a drink.
  • To make your own fly paper, boil together water, sugar, and corn syrup and spread the mixture on heavy paper or cardboard. Leave the traps out where the flies tend to congregate and they'll soon be stuck.
  • Fruit flies don't like basil, so try keeping a basil plant in your problem area or spray a mix of basil oil and water around your kitchen.

If you're pestered by mosquitoes, start by removing any sources of standing water. Change the water in birdbaths, fountains, and any other garden water features at least twice a week. Then, try the following repellents.
  • Mosquitoes dislike the scent of marigolds, lemongrass, rosemary, mint, and clove. Incorporate some of these plants in the outdoor areas you use the most.
  • Mosquitoes also dislike lavender so try using its essential oil on your skin and/or keeping the fragrant plant in your favorite outdoor areas.
  • A dab of vanilla extract on your pulse points can also help keep mosquitoes at bay.
If you do happen to get stung, try one of these all natural bug bite remedies

If you have a wasp problem, you can create a simple and effective trap with an old soda bottle. Cut off the top third of a 2-liter bottle. Turn the cut off top over and place it into the rest of the bottle so the bottle neck is facing downward. Use tape or a stapler to firmly and tightly attach the bottle neck to to the rest of the bottle. Fill the bottom of the bottle with soda, fruit juice, or jam. Wasps will enter the bottle and become trapped. Clean and refill the trap daily until there are no more wasps.

Slugs can be a gardener's nightmare. Any tactic used to eliminate slugs must be safe enough to use on the plants they love to munch.
  • Your best bet may, believe it or not, be beer. Place a few small bowls (or tuna cans or pie plates) of stale beer in the areas of the garden where the slugs are most active. The slugs will crawl in and drown. The trick is to make sure the container is pushed into the soil enough so that the beer is about an inch lower than the soil. The slugs must fall in and be unable to get out, not just take a sip, get buzzed, and keep on eating your plants.
  • You can also create a slug trap with fruit rinds. Start by cutting a grapefruit, orange, or lemon in half and scooping out the flesh so only the rind remains. Place the rind, skin side up, where slugs are most apparent. Let the rind sit overnight. Then, lift the rind and dispose of the slugs you find underneath. Repeat this process until there are no more slugs.

Here are a couple all-purpose garden pest repellents. 
  • Mix one or two crushed garlic cloves, a teaspoon of chili powder, a tablespoon of dish soap, and a cup of water. Spray the mixture anywhere flies, aphids, and beetles are bothersome. This solution is safe enough to be sprayed directly on plants.
  • A simple mix of dish soap and water (about a tablespoon of soap to a gallon of water) sprayed directly on pests can help take care of aphids, mites, and thrips.

As for mammal and bird pests, red pepper spray makes plants less palatable. Mix cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce with water and a teaspoon of dish soap (dish soap helps remedies stick to plant leafs) and spray any areas being damaged by squirrels, mice, rabbits, deer, or birds.

Sustainable Seafood Guide

Seafood can be an integral part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. Many fish are a good source of lean protein, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids (an essential nutrient that helps boost immunity and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and other diseases). Yet, for all the nutritional value of seafood, fishing is having a devastating impact on our ocean ecosystems. Over the past 50 years advances in fishing technology have allowed people to fish farther, deeper and more efficiently than ever before leading to the depletion of as much as 90 percent of the large predatory fish (shark, swordfish, cod, etc.) from the world's oceans.

While overfishing is threatening our food supply and marine economies, oceanic pollution is threatening our health. A lot of seafood is contaminated with metals like mercury, industrial chemicals like PCBs, and pesticides. These toxins usually originate on land and make their way into the smallest plants and animals which then get eaten by bigger species. Contaminants continue to accumulate up the food chain so the largest fish, like swordfish and shark, end up with the greatest concentration of toxins.

By making better informed decisions we can help protect our oceans and our health. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program researches and evaluates seafood products for sustainability and then develops recommendations to help consumers and businesses make ocean-friendly seafood choices. You can use their online database, print out a pocket guide, or get recommendations on your mobile device.

Seafood identified as "Super Green" is good for human health (i.e., low in environmental contaminants and good sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids) and does not harm the oceans. The current “Super Green” list consists of troll- or pole-caught albacore tuna from the U.S. or British Columbia, freshwater coho salmon farmed in tank systems in the U.S., farmed oysters, wild-caught pacific sardines, farmed rainbow trout, and wild Alaskan salmon. Other good choices include farmed arctic char, farmed barramundi from the U.S., wild-caught dungeness crab from California, Oregon or Washington, wild-caught longfin squid from the U.S. Atlantic, and farmed mussels.

Don't eat seafood, but take a fish oil supplement for the health benefits? Mercury, PCB and dioxin contamination is a risk for you too. Fortunately, the Environmental Defense Fund investigated the purifying process of 75 of the most popular fish oil supplements. Make sure your brand comes from one of the companies purifying their fish oils to meet stringent safety standards.

Permeable Pavers

Many communities across the U.S. are working to improve water quality by reducing storm water runoff. Just think: Every time it rains that water you see running into storm drains is carrying an assortment of debris, pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants into the same local waters we use for swimming, fishing, and drinking water.

Hard surfaces, such as roofs, pavement, and patios, are the main contributor to storm water runoff because they prevent storm water from naturally soaking back into the ground. To combat this problem many cities are issuing guidelines or regulations directing homeowners and builders to use permeable construction materials for walkways, patios, and driveways.

If a new patio or driveway is on your to-do list, consider using permeable pavers. They look like typical brick pavers but are more eco-friendly because they allow water to drain and return back to the earth rather than run off into storm drains.

Greener, Safer Kids' Toys

Every parent hopes to provide the best for their child. Parents want to give children toys that will entertain and enrich their minds, not ones that can harm them and the environment we work so hard to protect for them.

Toys considered “greener” are safer for children (especially the very young ones who put things in their mouths), are made of more sustainable materials, and are manufactured in way that produces less environmental waste and pollution. Here's what to look for when seeking greener, safer toys for your child.

Start with the best toy of all . . . imagination. Your home is already stocked with things your child can play with. Add a wooden spoon to a few pots and pans and you have a drum kit. Old clothes make for a great dress up session. A little creativity is all you need to act out your favorite fairy tales. And never forget the endless possibilities a cardboard box holds.

Crafts are another great way to get kids using their imagination. A few simple supplies like non-toxic paints, glue and scissors can help your little artist transform boxes, paper rolls, used paper and cardboard, pine cones, rocks, leaves, and such into their own masterpiece. Before throwing anything away think of how you might be able to use it in an arts and crafts project. If you're not particularly crafty, there are plenty of books at the library full of ideas. Put together an “invention box” with paper holders, bottle caps, leftover bits of ribbon and yarn, left over art supplies, etc. and see what your child's imagination comes up with.

Who needs toys when you have the whole great outdoors to play with? A University of Illinois study found that children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were able to raise their attentiveness scores simply by taking a walk outside. Being in nature can benefit your whole family's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. You can plant a garden together, go on a nature walk right in your own neighborhood, hit the playground, or play something as simple as tag or hide and seek.

When you are looking to purchase toys consider buying used. There are great deals to be found in thrift stores and on eBay, Craigslist, and Freecycle. Many consignment stores will check for recalls for you or you can check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission web site yourself before making a purchase. Buying secondhand toys saves you money and helps keep perfectly good toys out of landfills.

When purchasing new toys, take into consideration the toy's durability and longevity. You want toys that are solidly constructed so you don't have to buy a replacement after a short time. A multi-faceted toy that can be used in multiple ways (think blocks and simple dolls and cars) will last much longer than a gadget toy that only performs one function. Long lasting toys save you money and cut down on trash.

Avoid toys made with polyvinyl chloride (i.e., PVC or vinyl). PVC releases toxins into the environment through every step of its life cycle – from manufacturing to disposal. Many PVC toys also contain phthalates, hormone-disruptors with strong links to cancer. Opt for plastic-free toys made of wood, cloth, wool, or paper.

Avoid metal kids' jewelry and toys with small metal pieces or magnets. These items are perpetually being recalled due to lead content or paint. Despite all the recalls, a study by the Center for Environmental Health found that many of these products still on shelves are also tainted with lead. Even if lead is not an issue, there are still other toxic metals, such as cadmium, antimony and barium, being used to make imported kids' jewelry.

Toys made of wood, on the other hand, are a great idea. Wood toys last much longer than plastic ones and, so long as they are not treated or painted, they are safer for young children to chew on. Toys made of bamboo are a particularly good option because bamboo is a fast-growing renewable resource that requires no pesticides and little water.

Thanks to its excessive use of pesticides, cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop. Not exactly the what you want your little ones snuggling up with. When selecting fabric toys, like stuffed animals, opt for ones made from organic and naturally-dyed cotton, bamboo, or wool whenever possible.

It's one thing to say avoid toys made with PVC or painted with lead paint and quite another thing to actually try and figure out what toys are made of. Toys today do not include an ingredient list on their labels, which can make the shopping process difficult and worrisome for parents. Especially when you consider that about one third of the 1,500 toys tested by the Ecology Center contained medium to high levels of toxic chemicals. Fortunately, sites like and provide a tremendous resource for conscientious toy shoppers.

The scientists from have analyzed data taken from numerous sources and rated toys based on environmental, social, and health attributes. You can use this online database to view the top- and bottom-rated toys in various toy categories or look up a specific item. If your item is included in the database (and it is a good-size database), it will let you know if the item contains lead, mercury, chlorine, or other unwanted chemicals. has tested thousands of toys since 2007. This online database, created by the nonprofit The Ecology Center, is based on research conducted by environmental health organizations and other researchers throughout the U.S. and includes information on over 8,300 products. Each product tested is given an overall rating, as well as an individual chemical rating for cadmium, chlorine, lead, arsenic, bromine, mercury and, for some product categories, tin.

Once you find a company that offers green, safe toys you and your child like, stick with them. Today even companies like Amazon and Toys R Us have an Eco-Friendly or Green toy category. They wouldn't do so if there wasn't a market for it. By continuing to demand safe toys for our children we can continue to increase this market until the day when all toys will be green toys.

Green Home Decorating

Modern. Traditional. Country. Eclectic. Whatever your personal home decorating style, you want your home to be a place of comfort. A place that is welcoming to family and friends, but can serve as your own personal fortress of solitude when needed. Furnishing and decorating your home in an eco-conscious manner helps protect your health and the environment. Shouldn't that be included in the “creature comforts of home”?

Green home decorating doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. Use the following guide to get you started and you'll soon realize how quickly eco-friendly decorating can become second nature.

Start by taking a look at what you already own. It's amazing what you can do by simply moving furniture around. Moving furniture and accessories (like lamps and wall art) around a room or even from one room to another can help you achieve a whole new look. Before you get rid of anything ask yourself if it could be used in another space or completely re-purposed.

You don't need to be especially crafty to refinish home goods. Update a sofa with a slipcover or make a bookcase new again with a fresh coat of paint. Simply changing the knobs on a dresser can give it a whole new look. Go online for a never-ending supply of ideas on how to re-purpose and re-finish furniture.

If there is anything you do want to get rid of, consider making your trash someone else’s treasure. Have a yard sale, use Craigslist or eBay, and check out local consignment shops. You’ll make money, while keeping those items out of landfills. You could also try organizing a housewares swap with friends. Donate anything you don’t sell or swap. Look into organizations like the Salvation Army that take donations (many provide a free pick up service) or try Freecycle – an online nonprofit that helps you to donate to people in your community.

If you are looking to buy, you may want to consider checking Freecycle for free options first. Then, check out thrift stores, garage sales, Craigslist, and eBay.

Eco-friendly home goods are a fast-growing industry. If are looking to buy new, you now have several more green options than you would have had just a couple years ago. Even stores like Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Target have started offering organic, eco-friendly, and sustainable home goods. When shopping for home goods:

Start by considering a product's durability and longevity. Resist choosing the cheapest option if you know you will only be using it for a short period of time. It's better to save up and shop around for something of quality that will last than to buy a quick fix product you'll have to replace in short time.

Look for upholstered furniture covered in natural materials like organic cotton and wool and filled with natural latex foam. Avoid any upholstery labeled as stain resistant since that means it's been treated with a chemical containing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labeled as "likely to be carcinogenic to humans." Studies show PFOA to be present in the bloodstream of 9 out of 10 Americans so you want to cut down on exposure whenever you can.

When buying a mattress look for one made of natural latex (not memory foam!) covered in organic cotton or wool (which is naturally fire retardant).

Consider sustainability when buying wood furniture. A lot of today's wood furniture relies on unsustainable harvesting methods. Look for wood that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international, non-profit organization that requires companies to meet strict economic, social, and environmental standards to become certified. Look for the FSC logo on furniture, ask your retailer, or use the FSC's online database to find certified vendors.

Also consider furniture made from reclaimed wood or a renewable resource like bamboo. Bamboo is a great choice because it’s fast-growing and requires no pesticides and little water. It's incredibly versatile, used to make furniture, window treatments, flooring, textiles, plates, utensils, and more.

Steer clear of furniture made from manufactured wood products (i.e., particleboard, fiberboard, plywood) because they typically contain formaldehyde glues. Also avoid products made with vinyl or imitation leather since they most likely contain phthalate-based PVC. Products made from metal and glass are safer options because they are inert materials which don’t offgas.

Also consider how products are finished since many paints and stains contain formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Unfinished furniture you can finish yourself with low- or no-VOC paint or stain is a great way to get quality pieces you can customize yourself at a reduced cost.

Local craft fairs can be a good source of well-crafted, unique, and eco-friendly artisan furniture and home goods. Or, you can take your search global with eBay’s World of Good website. is a multi-seller marketplace for socially and environmentally responsible shopping. You can search for unique products from around the world that match your interests and values. You can search for products based on the labels “people positive”, “eco positive”, “animal friendly”, “support a cause”, or a combination. Shopping never felt so good.

So go forth and decorate to your heart's content. Just remember: “A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams.”

Note: For bigger home renovations check out Green Home Improvements for help selecting eco-friendly countertops, flooring, and paint.