Sustainability > Tips
Tips for the Care and Feeding of Planet Earth
Tip #1: Preserve the Night Sky
by Don Ficken, President, Dark Sky Missouri
The natural night sky is our common and universal heritage. Recent advances in lighting technology have significantly increased the amount of broad spectrum artificial light at night. Artificial light reflects onto the night sky, in some cities turning the night sky grey and washing out this heritage. A growing body of evidence links this artificial light to negative effects on amphibians, birds, mammals, insects, plants and human health.
Every species on earth– vertebrates, invertebrates, even single-celled organisms, has an internal clock. These circadian rhythms and circannual rhythms synchronize with light and environmental conditions. For example, when daylight hours get longer in the spring, that’s a cue for animals to come out of hibernation. Light tells animals when to forage, reproduce and rest. Artificial light disrupts these natural behaviors.
Nocturnal animals have an important role in ecological systems. Red foxes and owls are just a few of the animals with adaptations to successfully hunt under cover of darkness, controlling rodent populations that carry disease. All Missouri bats are insectivores, a huge benefit to agriculture. The eyesight of all nocturnal species is much more sensitive to light. Virginia opossums are a profoundly nocturnal species. At night you can see the tapetum lucidum in an opossum’s eye – the reflective layer behind the retina. These are tiny mirrors that increase the amount of light for night vision in many vertebrates. The dark night is a refuge for urban wildlife, allowing them to continue providing these essential services to mankind.
You can help wildlife and reduce light pollution while still providing great visibility. Technology such as timers, dimmers and motion sensors save money and improve safety. Purchase only lights with color temperature of 3000 Kelvin or below and make sure outdoor lights are shielded so that there is no uplight. Look for the International Dark Sky Association Seal of Approval. Learn more about great residential lighting here.
Tip #2: We All Live Downstream
This has become a motto to the tribe of Missouri River Relief. One day out on the river picking up trash and you quickly realize that we all do really live downstream from one another. Missouri River Relief is a huge community of river enthusiasts, which is part of the even bigger community of worldwide river and waterway enthusiasts and a growing percentage of every person who relies on clean water to live. Once you start to realize how connected we all are, it becomes very easy to care for the world around you and appreciate the necessity of clean water. The movement is contagious. Addicting even.
It’s true, we are in a water crisis. Our security of having clean water, and to have it affordably, with high quality and equal access is at stake. The earth’s surface is 70% covered by water, yet less than 1% is available for human use. 43% of Missourians get their drinking water from the Missouri River, and an astounding 80% of Kansas City’s drinking water is from the Missouri River which flows right through downtown. Sadly, at least 44% of assessed waterways in the United States are too polluted for fishing or swimming. Missouri River Relief finds that the vast majority of the trash we pick up from the river is single-use disposable plastic, such as Styrofoam packaging and cups, plastic bottles and containers and other plastic packaging. This plastic breaks down into pieces that look like food to animals and can absorb and transfer other toxic chemicals in the environment.
The problem feels overwhelming … unless you focus on the things you CAN change. Believe it or not, there are a lot of easy things you can do starting right now to make a difference. We each owe it to ourselves, each other, and the survival of all mankind to protect our precious waterways. Keep it simple. Focus on the streams in your own neighborhood.
Here are some simple things we can all do to protect our waterways.
- Believe you can make a difference.
- Don’t litter. This one should be a given, but let’s take it a step further. Pick up litter while you’re out taking a walk or anytime you see it. Just pick it up.
- Remember the 3 Rs. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Learn more here.
- Attend a river cleanup. It’s a lot of fun, and you meet wonderful people, get a boat ride, and see the world from a view you don’t get every day. There are two cleanups coming to the Kansas City area this spring:
- You can check our website here for more cleanups in Missouri.
- Don’t wash your car in your driveway. The soapy water will lead to your nearest water runoff, which is your nearby stream, which leads to the river, and eventually to the ocean. Car wash facilities have proper, coded, licensed water runoff to keep the streams safe. Learn more here.
- Don’t flush your meds. Take them to a pharmacy instead to be disposed of properly. Meds in the water system can be very difficult to treat leaving the public vulnerable to trace amounts of medicines in the drinking water. Learn more here.
- Take hazardous waste to the hazardous waste facility. It’s FREE! Just do it! But whatever you do, DO NOT dump it out and DO NOT flush any chemicals, paint, or hazardous materials down your drains or toilets. Many of these things are difficult or impossible to remove before wastewater is returned to our streams and rivers. Learn more here.
- Choose more plant-based / organic options for lawn and garden areas. Learn more here.
- Plant a rain garden and fill it with native plants. Rain gardens help filter the ground water, control storm runoff, and provide food and shelter for many endangered wildlife species. Here are some wonderful resources to help you get started:
- https://mowildflowers-net.3dcartstores.com/ – excellent catalog of native plants
- Do not overfertilize. The runoff from an overfertilized lawn causes algae blooms in waterways, which can suffocate other life forms in the water if not properly balanced and harm the water quality. Learn more here.
- Use sand for traction on the winter ice instead of ice melt and salts that will run off and end up in our waterways.
- Sometimes, chemical herbicides and pesticides can’t be avoided, especially when it comes to removing invasive species. Be sure to follow the directions very carefully.
- Pick up after your pet. Yes, it’s gross, which is why no one wants it in their drinking water. Learn more here.
- Adopt a stream through Missouri Stream Team! Learn more here.
Source citations: https://www.americanrivers.org/threats-solutions/clean-water/ and https://riverrelief.org/
Tip #3: Urban Orchards
by Sarah Sikich
Most people think orcharding is a job for only farmers and arborists. While that often is the case for large-scale producers, there is a worldwide network of backyard orchardists who (like myself) are not professional horticulturists! Their small, urban orchards may have only one tree or as many as 15, but they are maintained and nurtured by everyday people who love the beauty of fruit trees and the taste of freshly picked fruit. The second-hand benefits of these small, urban orchards are how they feed the Earth and nourish communities!
- Environmental Housekeepers: All trees, whether fruit-producing or not, perform the essential task of cleaning up our messes! Trees scrub the air of excess carbon dioxide and other pollutants. They also regenerate soil, providing lush material for other organisms and supporting biodiversity.
- Backyard Fruit Stand: A single fruit tree can produce thousands of pounds of fruit in its lifetime. If raised holistically, without artificial pesticides, those fruits can be eaten straight from the tree! As much as I love fruit, even I can’t get through hundreds of pounds every year. Opening my orchard to neighbors and community members to pick fruit provides access to fresh, free produce and provides a community experience that fosters neighborhood comradery.
- Outdoor Air Conditioners: According to the NOAA, the deadliest weather event in the U.S. is extreme heat! Every year hundreds of people die from heat-related injuries, and thousands are hospitalized. Shade-producing trees can lower the ground temperature surrounding the tree by up to 36 degrees. But even more impressive is that through transpiration, trees can lower air temperatures by 10 degrees Fahrenheit (source). Imagine the meaningful impact you can have on the environment by helping lower the summer temperatures of your backyard (all while munching a freshly-picked apple)?
Creating a backyard orchard may sound intimidating, but if you start small, you might find yourself quickly joining the worldwide club of fruit tree nerds! Luckily for Kansas Citians (and other fruit tree fans), we have a wealth of fruit tree knowledge right in our backyard through The Giving Grove. The Giving Grove is a locally-grown nonprofit that supports community leaders as they plant urban orchards in their neighborhoods across the U.S. Giving Grove makes much of its fruit tree care and maintenance materials available for free on its website for anyone interested in starting an urban orchard. They even have lists of fruit tree varieties proven to thrive in Kansas City and suggestions for where to buy them, recipes for holistic pest management, and harvesting schedules. For a small investment of time and money, you can start feeding yourself and Mother Earth this very spring!
About Sarah Sikich: Sarah is a long-time gardener and urban orchard volunteer. She and her orcharding partner, Aviva, maintain a 20-tree orchard located at Hale Cook Elementary in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City. After volunteering with The Giving Grove for many years, she joined their team in 2019 as the Communications Manager. So if she isn’t caring for fruit trees, she’s writing about fruit trees!
Tip #4: Bees
by Christine, The Kansas Bee Company
Bees are responsible for pollinating over 70% of the world’s food crops. That means 1 out of every 3 bites is thanks to a bees’ pollination services. We would bee very hungry without our bees! There are 4,000 different kinds of bees in the world. 2,000 of those live in the United States.
People ask me all the time what they can do to help the bees. Surprisingly, 3 small things would help the bees in a big way.
• Plant flowers! Can you imagine how much nectar and pollen would be provided to our pollinators if everyone planted a small garden in their yard.
• Buy local honey from a beekeeper! A large portion of honey you buy in the grocery store is not real honey. Buying honey from a local beekeeper not only ensures your honey is real, but it also supports a beekeeper, which in turn supports the bees.
• Lastly, consider taking up beekeeping as a hobby! Did you know that having 2 beehives in your urban backyard is legal in most cities? It’s a fun and rewarding hobby.
My website is: www.thekansasbeecompany.com check it out! Bee blessed and bee well!
About Christine: Christine owns The Kansas Bee Company located in Belton, Missouri. Her mission is to bring bee awareness and bee education to people about our wonderful and amazing bees.
Tip #5: Energy Audit
Many of us would like to know what kind of impact we are having on our environment and what we can do personally to protect our planet. While it may be difficult to pinpoint just how much energy we are using, an energy audit on our homes is often enlightening. Having an audit done on your house can give you a good idea of how much energy you are using, especially on a periodic basis. A professional audit can show you different ways your home is using energy, particularly with heating and cooling systems, but also energy used by your household appliances. More importantly, an audit will show us where energy is being wasted, and give us an idea of how to make improvements.
There are several possible solutions to this problem. Your heating and cooling systems may need cleaning or maintenance. An auditor can help find the proper settings for appliances to make our homes more efficient. It’s often beneficial to upgrade appliances and equipment to newer ‘energy-rated’ models. Audits will also show you where heat is escaping or cold is entering your home. Properly sealing and insulating your home is one of the best ways to improve our energy usage.
Having an audit done is educational for a homeowner, and improvements will help decrease our impact on the environment. Also, it can save homeowners money. Auditors can direct us towards possible rebates from programs that promote energy savings and reducing carbon footprints. Most improvements will reduce utility bills 5-30%. Your home’s overall value can increase as well. Helping reduce the strain on the environment in this way can impact homeowners in many ways.
See www.energystar.gov for helpful energy saving information, and energystar.gov/campaign/improvements/how_it_works/home_performance_assessment, for some pertinent information on home energy assessments.
Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns: MyGreenKC.com
Tip #6: Buy Local
by Katie Mabry van Dieren, Owner and Curator of The Strawberry Swing Indie Craft Fair and Shop Local KC
Did you know that shopping locally not only nurtures community, keeps more money in Kansas City, and creates more jobs, it also helps the environment and is more sustainable than shopping at big box stores? When you shop local, the environment benefits in many ways.
• Decreased emissions related to travel: The transportation of goods typically involves gas consumption. Buying locally means goods have less distance to travel to the consumer. Residents of neighborhoods with more local businesses log 26 percent less automobile miles. Locally owned businesses make more local purchases, requiring less transportation and set up shop in town or city centers which generally means less sprawl, congestion, habitat loss, and pollution.
• Decreased packaging: Goods typically need to be packaged for long-distance travel.
• Decreased pesticides: Local farms tend to avoid the pesticides that many national businesses rely on because of the scale of their distribution, which means less damage to the earth and to our bodies.
• Preserved land: When local farms are established, getting consumers to buy the produce means that the land gets protected and used productively. Grocery stores, for example, can use up to 15 acres of land for commercial use because of building and parking lot space. Without local farms, perfectly good areas of land could be used or destroyed for other commercial reasons. Additionally, preserving the land also increases biodiversity. It gives animals, insects, and plants a place to live and grow.
Visit our shop, Shop Local KC, at 3630 Main to shop over 85 local makers, 95% women-owned, including local beekeepers, weavers, painters, canning companies, and grab some fresh flowers while you’re here! We get our flowers from local farmers and growers when the seasons allow. And be sure to follow The Strawberry Swing Indie Craft Fair to see where we are popping-up next!
Here are a few sites you can visit to learn more about why shopping locally helps the environment:
Tip #7: Join a CSA
By Dave Redfearn with Where the Redfearn Grows Natural Farms
You’ve probably heard it all before: 40% of produce grown in the US goes to waste; the average produce consumed in the US has travelled more than 1,500 miles to reach your plate resulting in a massive carbon footprint for every tomato you purchase at the store. I think we’ve all thought about the importance of buying local, especially as a result of recent supply chain issues. But what’s the most environmentally responsible way to do this?
Shopping at a local farmer’s market can certainly reduce food miles, (a good thing for sure) but it may actually increase food waste. Based on USDA data, most produce food waste is the result of logistical issues: variable market demands and timing of crop harvests (supply simply not matching demand). Many farmer’s market growers can’t anticipate market demand or the overall supply at a market. Maybe they’ll be the only ones with green beans that week and they’ll sell every last one, or maybe half a dozen other farmers will bring a truck load each (good for customers maybe but not for farmers). Each week the farmers bring their precious produce to market, hoping to find buyers for it all, but often end up taking home a large amount due to oversupply. If the market vendors in response, cut back on production and don’t bring enough to the market, customers will be disappointed and may stop shopping at the market altogether, resulting in a detrimental impact on the demand side.
Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program from a local farm can go a long way to reduce miles AND food waste as well. At the heart of a CSA is the producer-eater commitment. Members join before the season begins and commit to a share of the harvest. The farmer then has a reasonable picture of the demand through the course of the season and can plant and harvest accordingly. On our farm, we use CSA management software that allows members to customize their boxes each week based upon our projected harvest availability. This allows members to get exactly what they want and for us to harvest only what is needed that week, further reducing food waste. By joining a CSA, you also get a personal stake in how your food is produced. Many farmers use sustainable, earth-friendly growing practices building biodiversity right here in the KC metro area. By being part of a CSA, you invariably get to know more about the production of your food than you could in any other way other than growing it yourself. With every head of lettuce or stalk of celery you can rest assured that you are contributing toward a more sustainable food system and a cleaner, healthier planet.
For a comprehensive list of Kansas City area CSA’s visit: https://www.kchealthykids.org/kcfoodcircledi…/category/csa
To learn more about our farm visit https://redfearnfarm.com/
Tip #8: Make a Zero Waste Event
Content coming soon.
Tip #9: Commuting by eBike
By Scott Cotter
The e in eBike should stand for easy.
How could it not be? You’ve got power assist (of varying levels depending on the bike) so hills are an afterthought, distances shrink as the miles fly by and, if like me, you’re using your ebike to commute to work, you won’t arrive sweaty. Even on hot days.
Instead of fighting traffic and arriving stressed out, an ebike will allow you to ride along in relative silence, listening to birds chirp and children laughing as they play. Instead of being cloaked in isolation – and frustration – you’ll be up close and personal with the world around you, meaning you arrive at your destination rejuvenated.
But the real story is the reduction in carbon released into the atmosphere which, of course, will amplify those good feelings. The EPA estimates the average passenger vehicle on the road gets about 22 mpg and drives around 11,500 miles per year. Research from the agency says the result is 8,887 grams of carbon dioxide emitted per vehicle. That’s substantial no matter how you cut it. Especially considering there are 285 million cars or light trucks registered in the US.
And, sure, you’ll have to charge your ebike regularly but the electrical requirements of a lithium ion battery are a fraction of what it takes to push a 4,156 pound car around, which is what the EPA says is the average weight of a vehicle in the US. At the time of this writing, our local utility, Evergy is producing north of 30 percent of their power from renewables. That further reduces the impact of your commute.
Now, certainly, plenty of people will be concerned about their safety on the road. But I’m here to tell you that, with some blinking lights for visibility and route planning, you can avoid a lot of traffic and ride in safety and comfort. I travel through parts of KC on both sides of the state line and see very few cars. Typically there are more dog walkers than vehicles.
One final issue to consider is clothing. If you’ve lived in this area for any time at all you know that our weather changes regularly and can be pretty extreme. Technical clothing will be a big help here. And you don’t need much of it. I wear regular work clothes and put on a windproof, insulated jacket if it’s cold. Or ride in a t-shirt if it’s hot. Right now without much effort my temperature range for riding is between 38 and 95 degrees. On the days it’s raining or there is inclement weather in the forecast, I’ll just drive. But I look forward to every commute by ebike.
Time to consider how much less you can drive by getting yourself an ebike.