In honor of Earth Day, I'm reposting my "green manifesto" which was originally written as an interview with blogger Gwen Glover DeRosa, author of Cast the First Stone. You can find the original post here.
Meet Kelli, Chicago Artist and Green Living Inspiration.
The tinking of glass against metal drew my roommates and I to the front picture window every Monday morning. We would giggle as the local recycling company worker tossed bottle after bottle, crate after crate into the bins on the bed of his truck. It was 2005. I was a college junior and my recycling efforts began with the glass remnants of our Saturday nights.
I continued recycling after moving to Chicago from Central Illinois. As I switched apartments and neighborhoods, my efforts gradually increased. My focus in Lincoln Square was cardboard six-pack holders from my waitressing gig at Smokin' Woody's. Albany Park boasted my roommates' wine bottles. Those efforts were officially made mine in Uptown and I became aware of the amount of post-consumer waste I was producing. Living the life of a bartender, I bought a pink Genuine Buddy from Scooterworks on Damen and Foster to zip down Lawrence Ave at three in the morning. I also dragged myself out of bed every Tuesday morning to peruse the weekly produce at the farmers market under the Western Ave Brown Line stop. I stuffed all my goodies in an "Obama '08" cloth tote and was off again, a pink blur heading east on Leland Ave. I started learning about organic eating and the slow food movement. I began considering the effects "cardboard food" had on my body and my recycling bin. I witnessed my roommate suffering from low-energy, depression, and obesity. I questioned the link to her processed diet and nightly box of Mac 'n' Cheese. My primary goal was to eat as "fresh" as possible, to eat things that did not come pre-packaged or in any package for that matter.
That summer of 2007, as I was being introduced to all things "green" and "eco-friendly," I found myself with spare time (that I had lacked in college) and I took up sewing. I had dabbled as a child under the influence of my Grandma Donna, a talented quilter and seasoned crafter. Aside from a blanket I made when I was five, I have been completely self-taught and lacking precision, I do not measure a single inch of fabric. My goal aimed toward creative release and using up my collection of tee shirts acquired at Monmouth College.
I soon found myself in the aisles of Unique Thrift Store at Lawrence and Clark. I began taking home cartfuls of quirky tee shirts and reclaimed bedsheets (linens are still my preferred fabric today). When I displayed my first tote bags, my roommate laughed in my face, scoffing, "Someone would pay money for that?!" I take great joy in averaging sales of 350 bags per year over the last three years if for no other reason than to prove that conversation wrong. Barely 2 1/2 years later and I'm working toward making my sewing a full-time job!
Not long into my sewing foray, I realized that I needed a retail outlet to accommodate my growing inventory. I sold my first two bags to a couple of JPUSA girls off a card table on the lawn of my Uptown apartment. A coworker introduced me to Etsy and I began selling my totes, soon realizing that people around the world were already making a living selling their handmade goods! Through the next months I did (and continue to do) daily research and networking to consistently and constantly improve my business. I entered my first craft show in May of 2008 with business cards I glued to the back of a tampon box and bags draped on a headboard I found in the alley behind the school. I continued to enter craft shows around Chicago and started meeting like-minded people which has been truly transformative. I continue to gain invaluable experience and insight from every show I do and crafter I meet.
My red-headed lovey and I tied the knot and moved to Rogers Park in June, partially to lessen our commutes and also because we admired the grassroots and artist spirits so heavily associated with Chicago's furthest northeast neighborhood. Our primary goal was to decimate our carbon footprints. We stand committed to remaining a one car (and scooter) family, biking or using public transportation when possible. We began vermicomposting in a rubbermaid container on our back porch and Jimmy built me a tabletop herb garden from wood reclaimed from Northwestern University. The neighbor boy once asked me if I grew dirt! I soon became vegetarian and Jimmy drastically cut down his meat intake. When we got a kitty that August, I discontinued use of all chemical cleaners and began using vinegar and baking soda in my housekeeping. greenie bean recycle continued to develop and evolve. I entered the Glenwood Ave Arts Fest (and met Gwen!), put bags on consignment at theHeartland Cafe, and began selling at festivals across the city. The spirit of shopping local was born during this time as well. As a family, we strive to support independent businesses first and foremost and will gladly pay a few dollars more to help someone like us achieve their dreams. It is essential and vital to the success and wellbeing of our neighborhood and Chicago communities.
2010 has brought many challenges and opportunities in its short three months. We migrated back to my husband's home neighborhood after buying a large, three bedroom home with a front yard in Portage Park which was a dream come true for a small town girl like me. As a testament to my country roots, our beautiful, red, urban farmhouse was originally built as a barn. I started a blog"Our Urban Farmhouse" to document our homemaking. We continue to recycle, now utilizing the recycling services at North Park Village located at Pulaski and Ardmore. Our compost has a space of prominence in the front yard and I'm busy developing plans for my first raised vegetable beds. As I've been researching more about urban homesteading, I've realized it is already in movement form. Urban Homesteading is revolutionary and practiced across the country. As a result, I see chickens and potentially a grey water system in our near future.
My challenge to all I encounter is this :: Start right where you are, one step at a time. Stop throwing your food in the trash today. Go to your local True Value, get a $7 plastic tote and a $3 bag of potting soil and make yourself a compost bin. Join Freecycle right now. Give away your ripped jeans, yoghurt containers, and old cat piss-stained carpet you tore out of a spare bedroom (I did!). List your furniture on Craigslist. I rarely throw away one thing in my personal or business life that can be reused. Somebody out there will reuse it. My fabric scraps are a quilter's heaven. It's so easy.
Donate all your stuff to the Brown Elephant--where they raise money for AIDs health services. Boycott Dominicks and Jewel for a month and visit your local fruit market. I love A&G Market at Belmont and Central -- I get everything from fresh kaiser rolls to granola to horseradish cheddar cheese. Join aCommunity Supported Agriculture (CSA) effort and get fresh, organic veggies delivered to your door once per week. We signed up for Irv and Shelley's and it has changed the way I eat vegetables. Bike to work, change all your light bulbs to CFLs, reprogram your thermostat, and commit to not buying one new piece of clothing for the next year (I'm on month three). Use the money you save to begin eating organically.
Being more socially and environmentally conscious is a very personal yet simple daily decision that will improve your health, spirit, home, and community. You will find benefits you could have never imagined. Try it. Any step you make is one in the right direction. And for the love of God, take your cloth bags with you to the grocery store. If you don't have one, I know where you can find one!