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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Sustaining Our Health and the Planet: How Local Consensus Helps Get Things Done

In little over a month from now, those of us who are concerned about the health of our planet will be observing Earth Day, on April 22, 2011. Each year, Jan Huston Doble, who blogs at Thanks for Today, organizes a communal cyberspace celebration of this event. Fellow bloggers are encouraged to post a relevant item on their own sites with a link back to hers. Alternatively, readers may leave a comment about sustainability on Jan’s blog. This cyber-event generates so much traffic that several suppliers of gardening products and services are eager to contribute prizes to wining entrants. Yes, there is a contest! To participate in this unique observance, or to read additional thoughtful comments and opinions on the subject, click onto this link.

Preserving the earth and our health is a serious matter. Wherever it is realistic to contribute to sustainability, concerned citizens have been making incremental changes in the ways they conduct their lives. It is surprising how effectively local commerce and communities can rise to the occasion, without assistance from distant federal agencies, where and when there is a consensus among the citizens, that a status quo is no longer acceptable.

In an earnest attempt to preserve our health, our planet and our precious resources, here are a few examples [and there are so many more] of what is being done in some communities in North America:-

  • In order to reduce pollution in the core of the city, municipal officials in Montreal voted to install a bicycle rental program whereby citizens can rent a bike in one part of town, and drop it off at their destination.
  • Massachusetts, along with the states of California and New Mexico, has set targets to reduce carbon emissions. With a program similar to that of Montreal, the municipality of Brookline, Mass. has introduced a car service, using miniature automobiles.
  • There is at least one supermarket chain in North America that has accommodated customers who demand organically grown produce and organically raised cattle and poultry. Those who opt for these foods are the same ones that consume health and beauty aids made with safe ingredients. Decisions are made, about which safe toiletries to buy, only after consulting the Environmental Working Guide website.
  • Some utility providers conserve resources by offering energy at discounted rates outside of peak usage hours. This encourages consumers to run their appliances when energy demands are low.
  • In the Mid West, where water in drought season has become a scarce commodity, some local communities have installed cistern-type collection systems to recycle rain water for irrigation. Here the watering of lawns is regulated through community by-laws. Other home owners are reconsidering the need for resource-hungry lawns altogether. For some, self-sustainable gardens are a viable option.
  • Plants that are invasive and that threaten local ecology have been outlawed in many states.
  • In an attempt to moderate consumption of unhealthy food, New York City banned the use of artery-clogging trans fats and ordered that the caloric value of food be displayed on restaurant menus.
  • Most states ban smoking in public places, both indoors and out, and post signs in rest rooms instructing employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom.
  • In many communities, homeowners have been legislated into re cycling kitchen waste that is later converted into compost, while other refuse is sorted and recycled in order to reduce the size of land fills.
  • An increasing number of gardeners are opting to use organic matter to enrich their soil rather than commercial fertilizers. Also, they are attempting to grow crops for their personal consumption, even on tight little plots in urban areas.

An example, that demonstrates how powerful citizens can be, may be observed in the way that huge, mass market retailers were forced to stop selling milk containing the growth hormone rBST, after female medical problems were reported in girls as young as 8 years old. Usually, too large a number of consumers deliberately disregard publicity about herbicides, pesticides, and other toxic substances found in the products that they use or consume daily. They also tend to ignore the nutritional deficiencies or health risks of certain food products. However, the disturbing side effects of pre-mature puberty in little girls were too serious to ignore and consumers voted with their wallets against purchasing the undesirable milk. That was a rare occasion when the powerful lobbying activities of a chemical company that supplied the growth hormone, were stymied by the actions of a surprisingly well-informed, determined public.

I’m not a big fan of rallies, pickets, protest marches, parades and other boisterous crowd scenes. I suspect that the only benefit from these manifestations is to supply camera crews with fodder for cable news and salaries for the bused-in professional protesters and their organizers. I am also skeptical of the actual net benefits of extreme ranting at the blog level. [Polite ranting is OK :)].

I believe in respectful grass roots initiatives that influence both consumer behavior and the agendas of local officials. Gardeners, farmers, conservationists, and citizens concerned about a large variety of issues that impact our health and our planet need to ensure that their opinions will be heard. In addition to educating the public, and voting with our wallets when we shop, it is important to remain active in our communities to make sure that somebody is listening. Politicians pay attention to their constituents. They also care about the number of bodies that turn out to vote for or against them. In most North American elections, only 35% of the population exercises that precious privilege. For the largest truly democratic continent on earth, that number is too low.

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Reader Comments (5)

Wonderful post, Allan! You have brought up a really good point and one that resonates with order to make points and to be heard, one must always be respectful. Not everyone is coming 'from the same place' physically or emotionally. In order to make changes we have to start at the local, grassroots level and do whatever we can but not necessarily what everyone else 'thinks we should' be doing. I have learned so much just by reading blogs and I tend to want to make changes when I read posts written by gardeners who seem reasonable and not extremist in their attitudes and opinions. Each community has different requirements for what is allowable/acceptable and we can choose to go beyond those requirements but many will not bother if they are being aggressively made to or if they aren't given the chance to really 'understand' why changes are important. I'm making small changes each year, just baby-steps, really--but ultimately if we all do a little bit it can have big consequences and hopefully, that is what will happen when we share openly about this important issue. You write so smoothly and effortlessly, Allan! I enjoy your posts and really appreciate you participating in this project!

March 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJan @ Thanks for today.

Thank you for your kind words. Even though the deportment of most garden bloggers is modest and self effacing, a compliment on our work is always appreciated.

As for my effortless writing, I must confess that having grown up in a multicultural part of Montreal, my command of the English language was sabotaged by the cacophony of foreign tongues that I heard around me . Every blog is an effort to write because I keep hearing the syntax of other languages in my head. I am so relieved to know that, for others, my writing reads smoothly. For me, that is a great compliment. Thanx.

March 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterAllan

Allan, This enumeration of all the beneficial changes that are happening lifts my spirits. Thanks.

March 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

wow, what a wealth of information you are! and so many wonderful ideas - I love the bicycle drop off! I too like to change by viewing and reading about others experiences, so this exchange of ideas around earth day is great.

March 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterafricanaussie

Lots of good tips. I think it's great that certain national grocery train is offering more organic food than most. Digging a little under the surface though, even though it's organic, most of their meat products are not coming from free-range, pasture-raised environments. This is definitely a higher level for those looking for the best quality food for themselves and for the health of the planet, and pasture-raised meats and eggs are becoming more widely available through food co-ops and CSAs. is a great place to find information about the health and environmental benefits of pasture-raised, and to find sustainably, humanely raised, local food.

March 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlinda

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