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LOCALLY GROWN: Thanks for the opportunity to show you how to reduce and reuse

Friday, August 27, 2010 | 11:55 a.m. CDT; updated 12:00 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 27, 2010

This season of Locally Grown is coming to a close — at least in its current form. Readers, I thank you for joining me on this journey. I’ll continue to write, post pictures and share resources on the locally grown blog, so please continue to share your thoughts and pose questions there.  

I sought to provide some simple steps to help people live more sustainably, and hoped to convince skeptics of the merits of living lighter on the earth, which is one way I sum up sustainability.

A few of you shared your experiences and advice. I thank you sincerely for your insights and suggestions. Maybe more of you tried something new, such as the upcoming No car, Low Car and Whoa Car challenge, or installed a rain barrel or compost bin but didn’t broadcast your green credibility in the virtual world. That’s great too (although if you share, it would greatly help my research).

I learned behavior change can be difficult (I’m still not turning my compost pile enough — sorry sweetie), but incredibly rewarding in the form of fresh, juicy cherry tomatoes a few steps outside of my front door, or waking up late Monday morning and realizing that the trash doesn’t need to go out because the bag isn’t full and all the food waste is in the backyard.

Each week I aimed to provide the science behind my claims, something not done enough in journalism, especially the environmental variety. Stephen Budiansky’s recent column in the New York Times is an example of an engaging article about the true merits of local food, but I can’t tell where he gleaned his data. The environmental blog Grist is continuing the debate in its “Food Fight Series.”

Not surprisingly, it’s a hotly contested topic. What I know for sure is that local food tastes delicious and when I buy it from local farmers who eat it themselves, I know they are stewards of the food they serve and the soil in which it grows.  

There are often not simple answers to sustainability questions (partially because there are so many toxins in thousands of products we use daily) but that’s not an excuse not to act. 

When you’re not sure of the best choice, trust some basic mantras: be a good neighbor, pretend your parents live downstream from you, consider the air, water, biodiversity and soil as valuable resources that we need to protect and preserve — for ourselves and for future generations. Remember there is no “away” where trash goes. It goes to a place where it’s processed, buried or burned. In Columbia its decomposition is powering about 2,000 homes

I hope you’ve learned a few new techniques or considered trying something new. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the many amazing folks who are working to make Columbia a healthy, vibrant, verdant and environmentally responsible community by educating people about urban gardening, leading stream cleaning events, volunteering their time to install solar panels and teaching folks how to compost—to name a few examples.   

But I’ve just scratched the sustainability surface. I didn’t get to make all of the changes I planned in my own home, but while I save for solar panels or wait on a legislative fix for Property Assessed Clean Energy, I can sign up for the next round of the city’s Solar One program this fall and I can continue to look for ways to conserve energy, such as adding more insulation.

Most importantly, I can listen, particularly for the word convenience. It is too oft cited as the reason for buying bottled water, not recycling, and myriad other sustainable behaviors avoided or non-sustainable actions taken.

So I can listen to people’s concerns and try to find ways to make sustainable behaviors more convenient. I find it incredibly convenient that I always have rock star parking downtown or at MU on my bike. I also find it convenient to enjoy some exercise during my daily commute, but I also recognize that not everyone’s ready to hang up their car keys.

Let’s keep the conversation going. What did I miss that you’d like to learn about? For those who read but thought, "I don’t need to do this," why weren’t you convinced?

Michael Burden is graduate student at MU, the local Peace Corps recruiter and volunteer coordinator for the MU Office of Sustainability


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