The Faces Behind Our Food

I have been working at MOM’s for exactly five and a half years, and throughout my time, I have become a conscious consumer who reads labels, goes for organic and fair trade and buys in bulk. But there is an element to consumerism that has just been uncovered to me on a recent journey to Nicaragua with Mayorga Coffee. This element is greater than cost, labels and environmentalism. This is what I believe to be the most forgotten element in consumerism, but is the greatest key to maintaining sustainability and environmental stewardship. It is humanity.

organic farming - Rodale Institute

organic farming – Rodale Institute

MOM’s is a natural foods store. We carry spectacular products made with high quality ingredients. We are intentional about our product selections and put much thought into choosing products that we will carry on our shelves. We work with many local producers. We have a fantastic local produce buying program where we work directly with farmers to bring their product to our stores. We carry products with labels such as “USDA Organic”, “Fair Trade”, “Rainforest Alliance Certified”, “Grass-Fed”, or “Free Range”. Our seafood is sustainable. Our produce is all 100% certified organic no matter what day or what time. We don’t carry meats that were raised with the use of hormones or antibiotics. Our brand name milk is a high quality, organic, grass-fed milk pasteurized at the lowest temperature possible to preserve flavor and beneficial enzymes. We sell some fantastic products and support some great companies striving to do the right thing.

One of the biggest questions I get asked not only when working in the stores, but also in my every day life, is basically this: Why does it cost so much? Why does it cost so much to be a conscious consumer who supports organic products, environmentally friendly products, sustainability, worker/animal welfare and fair trade?  The simple answers are that it costs money for certifications, it costs money to pay people better, it costs money to use sustainable packaging, it costs money to pay labor to raise animals by hand, it costs money to pay the business side of things, and it costs money when a farmer is not receiving assistance or subsidies of sorts. While all of those are accurate reasons for higher costs, I believe we need to dig a little deeper. I believe that the higher costs are associated with benefits to humanity. The costs are associated with real people, people just like us, not only trying to make a living, but also working hard to maintain environmental stewardship in a system unsupportive of such efforts.

organic chia farm - Nicaragua

organic chia farm – Nicaragua

Growing organically is not easy. Rather than jump to the medicine cabinet for the treatment that will fix the plant disease or bug infestation, the organic farmer is constantly looking for another solution. An organic farmer looks for the remedy in biodiversity, crop rotation or geographical measures. The organic farmer learns that nature works together in a perfect harmony and does not need to be controlled synthetically. The organic farmer works to not only preserve the land he is given, but he also strives to improve it. Is this as easy as mono-cropping, using genetically modified seeds, and dumping synthetic fertilizers and pesticides? Ask any organic farmer and they will undoubtedly tell you that organic farming is hard, honest work. They deserve to be paid for producing good food and preserving our precious land.

The EPA states that “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations”.

sustainable seafood - Choptank Oyster Co

sustainable seafood – Choptank Oyster Co

For example, when we purchase products like sustainable seafood, we support a way of fishing that does not put that fish species at risk, nor does the fishing cause disruption to the natural ecosystem by destroying the underwater environment or pulling unnecessary by-catch. Pole fishing is much harder work than bottom trolling, and honest fisherman are finding it harder and harder to catch anything due to the oceans being intensely overfished. They deserve to be paid for their hard work and patience doing the right thing in maintaining our oceans.

Whenever I walk onto an organic farm, I am blown away at how abundant and diverse nature is, and it all has a purpose in working together to maintain sustainability. Farmers rely on nature and it’s natural functions for their farms to be successful.  I remember standing in a cow pasture at Polyface Farm listening to Joel Salatin ask a 7 year old girl: “If cows are herbivores and are supposed to eat plants, why are we grinding up dead cows and feeding them to the live cows for food?” We cannot be a sustainable species if we are not conscious about the way we treat our natural environment and that which provides us with sustenance.  The farmers respecting the environment and working towards soil, animal and food preservation deserve to be paid. What will we be eating in 100 years without those ethical farmers?

Media and environmental groups spend a lot of time talking about animal welfare and how cruel the industrial farming system is to the animals involved. I’ve been to the famous Farm Sanctuary and witnessed the beautiful personality of farm animals. And yes, I agree wholeheartedly that industrial farming is a saddening system with troubling environmental impacts. I also agree that using pesticides is damaging to the environment and is loading up our soils with harmful chemicals. I question whether we should be using GM (genetically-modified) crops without truly understanding the holistic impacts, and it does cost more to purchase alternatives. But what is more important than the above is the safety and welfare of the farmworkers and the producers. Industrial meat processing facilities pose great health risks to the workers. Constant exposure to pesticides put workers’ health at risk. (I read a statistic that 300,000 farm works die every year due to pesticides. In the book Tomatoland, I learned that exposure to pesticides caused women to have babies born with deformities. In the film Bananas, I learned that some farms use airplanes to spray pesticides over the banana farms with no regard to the workers below.) The truth is that many products we consume are produced irresponsibly, rob cities and countries of resources and exploit people for work. Fortunately, the Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade labels protect workers from the exploitation commonly found in industrial scale food production. Unfortunately, those not working under a label are not guaranteed fair payment and working conditions.

organic coffee - Nicaragua

organic coffee – Nicaragua

Last week during my time in Nicaragua with Mayorga Coffee, we visited a chia farm. This is a new project designed to give the coffee farmers another source of income beyond coffee. The chia field was located at the bottom of an incredibly steep hill, the path filled with rocks that only increased the challenge of the trek. It was easily a 15 minute hike each way. On the way back up, in between breaths, I asked one of the Mayorga staff if the farmers had to carry the chia up this hill once harvested. He said yes, and mentioned that the coffee was even further down than the chia field was. He went on to say that people should think about that next time they want to complain about the price of coffee. Wow- I couldn’t agree more. These farmers deserve to be paid very well!

We are a society with a one sided view on food. We go to the grocery store, buy what’s on sale, eat the food and that’s the end. We drink our cups of gas station coffee, eat our cheap fast food and buy the 30 cent per pound bananas. But how often do we stop and think about the source of all the products we enjoy- the farmers and producers? How often do we think about the toll on the natural environment? How often do we think about what the future generations will be left with? How often do we think about the farmers behind our plate?

Mayorga staff, coffee and chia farmers - Nicaragua

Mayorga staff, coffee and chia farmers – Nicaragua

When you think about the social and environmental factors that contribute to food production, it seems that food, label or no label, is too cheap. We have forgotten the faces behind the food, the people just like us working hard to make a sustainable living. How much should we pay for someone else to carry our coffee up a steep rocky hill every morning? How much should we pay someone else to spray pesticides on our tomatoes? How much should we pay someone else to raise and process our meat? Yes, being a conscious consumer does cost more upon first sight. But when considering the social and environmental impacts, the cost is well suited.

Krista works in multiple MOMs locations.

Posted in Book/TV/Movies, Ecology, Organic Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

#InsteadofStuff

booktreeThe holidays are upon us!

Snow-flake and wreath decorations started cropping up in October, and we knew what that meant: get your wallets.  The most consumptive (and possible least eco) time of year was coming!

The problem isn’t giving.  Generosity and giving are wonderful things.  It feels good to give, especially when you have just the right idea.  Other features of the holidays are lovely, too: coming together with family, sharing food, seeing The Christmas Revels or Brookside Garden’s holiday lights.  There’s lots to celebrate: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Solstice, New Years.  What’s not to enjoy?

Well… maybe all the stuff.  And the pressure and expectation of giving not just one or two thoughtful gifts, but many things to many people!  When did gift-giving go from being joyful to being stressful?

coffee sleeve wreathIt makes me sad that the national holiday devoted to giving thanks (already complicated by US history with Indigenous Americans) has been co-opted by Black Friday, which now starts as early as 5:00 pm on Thanksgiving.  The winter holidays too have become enormous sales and marketing opportunities for every retailer imaginable.

As we know, most gifts  take energy and water to produce, to transport, and to display.  The most affordable ones are often cheaply made and quickly break, ending up in landfills.

Yet this is not a call to ban gift-giving and avoid holidays!  There are numerous ways to celebrate this time of year and to give without participating in rampant consumption:

  • Home-made OrnamentsSherry of Young House Love shared the how-to for her home-made tree ornaments this year – made from a repurposed fallen tree branch!
  • Chores: one year my sister gave me a week off of doing dishes.  I enjoyed every minute I spent not cleaning up after dinner.
  • Pictures: and not just photographs.  Buy some frames at the thrift store (reuse!) and have your kids or yourself create a picture to fit the frame.
  • Dates: take your friend, parent, or family member on a date.  To dinner, a movie, play, concert, hike, wine tasting, paint nite, class… the options are endless.
  • Cook for people: I can think of lots of people who would be thrilled to have a week off of cooking dinner.  This could be for a family member or friend!  Imagine how nice it would be if a friend cooked and brought you dinner every night for 1 week.  It would be a lot of work, but only for seven days.
  • Sweets. ’tis the season!  Gluten-free Mexican wedding cookies.  Peppermint bark.  Vegan and gluten-free pumpkin cake pops.
  • Free Babysitting: got nieces and nephews or friends with young kids?  Enough said. 
  • CSA Shares: offer to purchase or split a CSA share and to deliver.  Who wouldn’t love regular fresh produce delivered to their house by a friend?  Sign up at MOM’s through early January!
  • Charitable Donation: in a loved one’s name.
  • MOM’s gift card:  grocery shopping is an integral part of the routine, and what a treat for someone else to pay.
  • Plants:  poinsettia’s are popular this time of year, but lots of house plants are pretty, good for air quality, and easy to care for.  Some can be planted in the yard come spring, too!

Got ideas?  Leave a comment!  Visit Green America for ideas to go green this season, check out #InsteadofStuff on Twitter, and MOM’s Pinterest for more.

Posted in Children, Family, Holidays, Reuse | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Change Your Scenery

If you had told me, when I started in the natural health field at 19 years old, that one day I would be traveling to faraway lands for my job, I would’ve laughed. Then I would’ve finished pricing my products with a little handheld stickering gun, now a relic of the retail past, and moved on to change the tofu water in the bulk bucket.

However, this year the retail gods and goddesses bestowed upon me a lucky opportunity to travel to Costa Rica for a four day tour of a biodynamic farm and eco-resort. The farm is supported by purchasing of turmeric and ginger, and general funds given by an important non-GMO organic supplement brand: New Chapter.

Now I’ve done some traveling, but I’m not exactly Anthony Bourdain over here.

Traveling internationally is still a hair-raising and exciting challenge in and of itself. The flights were easy, and customs was painless, and I found my guides easily and jumped onto the mini-bus that would take us (a small group of retailers from around the country) to Finca Luna Nueva, about 2.5 hours from the airport.

I tried to take in every inch of scenery we passed: factories, neighborhoods, stray dogs, exotic flora, school kids walking home on steep winding roads with no sidewalks, billboards, shops, hydro power facility, and eventually – cows, farms, men clearing land with machetes, forests, huge mountain ranges, horses, bridges, and fields of coffee crops carved out from the nooks between bends in the road.

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The winding, bobbing and dipping of the road put the little mini-bus to the test, and I found myself unusually car-woozy. Looking back, the swirling and jerking probably served to entrance me into a state that would help me absorb the beauty of the change of scenery at Finca Luna Nueva.

We got unpacked into our rooms, and marveled at the open-air rooms and exotic landscape. And the hammocks. And the pool. And the gigantic grasshoppers, asymmetrical flowers, expansive roofs, wood bungalows, birds. And the sounds: of a jungle, of a stream, of the breeze blowing through the expansive wrap-around porch. And the air: made of a wholly different blend of dampness, oxygen, and molecules than the DC air to which I’m so accustomed.

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We each kept our eyes peeled to see a sloth, the elusive prize of our imaginations.

We ate dinner in the open-air “room” by the freshwater pool, a hearty meal made from the ingredients on the farm, as we would for every meal at Finca Luna Nueva. Each day was highlighted by explorations into the gardens, tours of the medicinal plants, cooing at the happy livestock, insights into the complexities of biodynamic farming, reflections on the ingenuity of sustainable hospitality (imagine air-drying all the linens for a resort in a greenhouse tent!).

On field trips we saw wild howler monkeys with their babies (the howl is more raucous than any animal noise I’ve ever imagined, I thought the sound alone might snap my collar bone), La Fortuna Volcano, a small town center, a bright somewhat-egotistical parrot, expansive armies of cutter ants carrying torn bits of leaves forever across the jungle floor, butterflies, spores from a huge reiki mushroom cluster, and I cannot end this list for it goes on in perpetuity.

On a nighttime tour of the thick surrounding forest, we spotted small snakes, various frogs, huge brightly-colored caterpillars that emit cyanide, and heard the piercing chirps of a glass frog. Ishmael (far below, in green shirt), our Costa Rican guardian and guide, told us what not to touch, and named the species we happened upon. Each little pathway from the main resort led us to another Wonderland of knowledge, sometimes led by Ishmael, sometimes led by Steven the fatherly biodynamic turmeric farmer (below, in hat), and sometimes self-led, emboldened by our own curiosity.

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After a couple days it was apparent to me that I was a different person.

The change of scenery became internal. And the world, the physics, the gravity of this place was different. Its as if each cell in my body had been gently replaced by a more buoyant and interconnected cell. Each day registered to me as 2 days. I fell asleep at 10:30 or 11pm, and awoke, partially, at 4:30am to the sounds of I-have-no-idea-what birds, frogs, bats, who-knows-what. An hour of “meditation” on those sounds and somehow I was ready to rise from bed.

For a lifelong night owl, it was quite a change in routine, but I found myself satisfied with it all. I could hike uphill for miles, challenge myself to daring feats (like zip-lining, riding swinging sky trams, traversing shaky hanging bridges and climbing swaying towers that were far, far above the safety of the ground), chew leaves off a plant I had not personally identified and researched, smear myself with color from a plant, slurp goo-ey slime from a fluorescent red fruit that had pliable spikes all over it.  I was someone else.

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The sun came out every day, although the weather channel app insisted it was raining every day, we only had rain for a few hours on one day. I thought, the weather channel isn’t even itself over here, as the sun cascaded through the huge tropical leaves.

On the morning we left, we had a soulful breakfast with the group, lamenting leaving the new bond we had formed amongst the group members. We traded facebook addys, and clinked our glasses of guanabana juice and cups of Costa Rican coffee. On our walk back to the rooms, someone (Tyler) yelled “Sloth!” and we scurried up the hill to find him cuddling a sloth near the base of a tree. She was sweet and gentle and looked a bit as if she’d been spotted by a bunch of teenage groupies, which was close to the truth. She posed for pictures, as any good superstar should, and (s..l..o..w..l..y) ascended the tree, away from our gawking and muted squealing.

Tyler high fives the sloth
Tyler high fives sloth
Debby says Hi to sloth
Debbie says Hi to sloth
Brian says Bye to sloth
Brian says Bye to sloth

I had hoped by now that I would’ve processed the trip, and would have some insightful and spectacular motto to share on the experience.

Upon introspection, I can only say that I stashed a little bit of myself at Finca Luna Nueva, maybe in the cacao trees, maybe in the folds of a fuchsia flower, maybe in the palm of the she-sloth. Its a part of me I willingly give in order to have Costa Rica with me forever. I’ve gained the insight that the “me” that’s here is only an illusion, really.

I have to take a moment to thank Brian, Steven, Ishmael, the cooks, groundskeepers, housekeepers and everyone else at Finca Luna Nueva; and New Chapter for their tireless support of the Sacred Seeds organization on the farm. And also, I’ll thank David & Christine, Kendra, Tyler, Andrew, Jonathan, Linda, Debbie, and Katie for being a great group.

In conclusion, I hope everyone has the opportunity at some point in their lives to change the scenery, not just externally but internally, and that you get to leave a bit of yourself behind. You’ll undoubtedly gain more than you leave.

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Alyssa works at multiple MOMs locations.

Posted in Ecology, Fruits, Gardening, Natural Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Brushing Your Teeth Should Feel Good

On a recent early Fall day, in the wee hours of morning, about 20 MOMs employees showed up at the parking lot in College Park and piled our sleepy selves onto a mini-bus for a trip to adorable Kutztown, PA to see the home of the Radius toothbrush.

Founder, Kevin, at his desk

Founder, Kevin, at his desk

Radius is a brand we’ve carried at MOMs for many, many years. Most of us know Radius for their large and odd-looking toothbrush. Besides those memorable toothbrushes, Radius also makes silk dental floss, and travel containers for toothbrushes, razors, tampons and such.

After a lengthy drive, we got to Radius more than a half-hour late for our tour. We climbed the steps to an old brick building and climbed more steps inside. Suddenly, feeling a little groggy, we found ourselves in a cathedral, of sorts. The radius offices are contained in a beautiful old brick farm building that was restored, painstakingly, by the founder of Radius, Kevin.

After settling in, we learned about the history of toothbrushes (and the lack of innovation and improvement in their design over the past 100 years), and the history of Radius. Kevin and his friend were determined to create a toothbrush that worked with the human hand, not against it. They envisioned a toothbrush that would gently distribute pressure all along the gums and tooth surface, without damaging the gums and tooth enamel.

Their fantasy toothbrush would be easy to hold, and it would feel good to use it. A toothbrush that felt good to use, would help keep us brushing for longer. And it would last a long time, since it would not need, nor would it encourage, the typical human’s habit of jamming and ramming the toothbrush along the teeth. The bristles would remain vigilant, use after use, for many months. This would reduce waste.

Scuba toothbrush in a travel case

Scuba toothbrush in a travel case

From this fantasy, the Original Radius was born: a specimen of ergonomic design and flawless function. It is made in both left-handed and right-handed versions. Later, an extra-flexible version made from recycled rubber, called the Scuba was launched. And years later, Radius offered up the Source toothbrush, which can be fitted for either lefties or righties, and allows for replaceable heads on a recycled-material handle.

A Kidz version, smaller and softer, came to be, and then a Totz version, and a Baby version. All were made specifically with the intent to start humans off on the right, er, foot, when it comes to brushing their teeth. The Baby version is even made to be chewed, as a baby might be prone in the earliest stages of oral health, and to be used by a helpful parent to brush the baby’s teeth for them.

The floss came to be one of my favorite items when Radius came out with a cranberry floss. As many of us in the natural health field know, cranberry helps keep bacteria from sticking to bodily surfaces.

Cranberry floss (now vegan)

Cranberry floss (now vegan)

This is one of the ways that cranberry helps alleviate minor urinary infections. Adding cranberry to floss means it can help work against bacteria in those tight little spaces between teeth. I was sold.

At some point during all these years of innovation and product launches, Kevin’s daughter, Saskia, became CEO of Radius. Her tireless enthusiasm is apparent as she continues to push the innovation forward, rejecting subpar prototypes and designs with ease, quite to the dismay of her father and the other designers. That kind of mix of talent can keep everyone in balance, allowing only the best to hit the shelves.

Saskia’s mother is a shipping manager, and she was rushing around checking on orders and putting out proverbial fires as we sat and listened to our lesson.

Saskia shows us the bristling machine

Saskia shows us the bristling machine

We took a tour, downstairs, of the equipment that bristles the handles and packages the final products. It was cool to see these items were actually being made in the US. I realized right then that I had expected that this kind of production didn’t really exist in the US anymore, having noticed for so many years that almost everything a US consumer uses these days is made in China, Taiwan, or India. It seemed like a mirage.

Saskia wrapped up the afternoon after teaching us a bit more about Radius. We oogled our goody bags and asked questions, said our good-byes and headed out the door. We saw the solar panels next to the building that supply 85% of their power.

During the long trip back, I couldn’t help but realize how cool the Radius company is, and I was excited to try out my new toothbrush. While at first it was a little odd, I soon realized – it felt really good.

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Alyssa works in multiple MOMs locations.

Posted in Children, Energy Resources, Local, Recycling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Restored Faith

I started working at the MOM’s Organic Market Alexandria store towards the end of June this past summer. I was so excited at the prospect of getting to work with a company that truly walks the talk of its mission: Protect and Restore the Environment.

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As a college student, I was the president of our environmental club, Earth Emerson. Studying at an arts school where students were wrapped up in their personal, creative projects, it sometimes seemed like a hopeless cause. The club was small, predominantly female, and fairly disorganized, but I continued with the group making it my own personal mission to get Emerson students to wake-up and save the planet. I succeeded in promoting and creating change at Emerson College, but sometimes students would just walk right by our tables where we would try to raise awareness. They generally acted like we weren’t even there, unless there was free food. It was disheartening and even frustrating at times, but no battle was ever won by doing nothing.

Working at MOM’s has truly restored my faith in humanity. I am so excited with my newest endeavor as Alexandria’s Environmental Restoration Captain. I’ve been able to come back to my roots, and this time I do not feel like my community is blindly passing me by. Employees and customers come in with their kitchen scraps to compost, items to recycle (often those that are so often over looked and thrown into the trash), and they teach me every time I get a new question about the process of composting or recycling. They truly care about their personal impact on our environment.

While there are still many employees and customers that are learning and slowly adding more environmentally conscious practices into their lives, I am constantly in awe of their genuine interest, concern, and hunger for knowledge on how to start turning their everyday practices around. Just the fact that these individuals are shopping at MOM’s is a huge step in decreasing our environmental footprint. Buying bulk foods decreases the amount of packaging going into the landfill. Buying organic decreases the amount of pesticides used during production, which leads to less run-off and erosion protecting our water sources and fertile lands. Buying sustainably harvested fish and pasture raised eggs and meat is a vote for better fishing practices and ethical meat production. Just being a MOM’s shopper is supporting a small business that cares and gives back, buying carbon offsets and providing waste management services that our local, state, and federal government somehow seem to over look making easy and affordable. By supporting MOM’s customers are able to give back without having to do anything other than their weekly grocery shopping.

So, here’s to you, MOM’s customers, employees, and Scott: Thank you all for restoring my faith in humanity. Be the pebble. Make a ripple. Send it out and let’s keep our amazing community of green-minded individuals growing, teaching, and walking the talk.

Kristen works at MOMs Alexandria.

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The Mystery Behind the Numbers

rubbermiadbinRecycling isn’t very intuitive.  Some sorts of plastic can be recycled, some sorts of packaging can’t, it varies in every county… I know I’m guilty of pitching something into the recycle bin and hoping I made the right choice!

Thankfully, Google directed me to The Daily Green, which breaks down what types of plastic the numbers indicate, and what our recycled things become after we toss them in the bin:

  1. polyethylene terephthalate: soda and water bottles, salad dressing bottles.
     Recycles into: fleece, tote bags, carpet.
  2. high density polyethylene: cereal box liners, butter tubs, juice jugs.  Recycles into: pens, benches, fencing.
  3. Vinyl or PVC: detergent bottles, siding, medical equipment.  Recycles into: decks, flooring, mats.
  4. low density polyethylene: squeezable bottles, shopping and dry cleaning bags. Recycles into: compost bins, shipping envelopes, floor tiles.
  5. polypropylene: ketchup bottles, straws, bottle caps.  Recycles into: signal lights, ice scrapers, rakes.
  6. polystyrene: disposable cups and plates, egg cartons, CD cases.  Recycles into: insulation, foam packing.
  7. Miscellaneous: 5 gallon water jugs, sunglasses, computer cases, PLA.  Recycles into: custom made products.
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I had no idea there are so many types of plastic!

But to recycle properly, you need to know more than just plastic types and numbers.  Many counties have distinct recycling programs that only take certain forms of the plastics/numbers above.  My county (MoCo!) accepts plastic bottles 1-7 (except 6) but no plastic wrap, bags, or film.

And what about the things that are less straightforward than plastic bottles, like toothpaste tubes?  Thankfully, TerraCycle exists.  You can join a brigade, or waste collection drive, and contribute all sorts of items you would normally trash (For example, TerraCycle has a brigade for Neosporin tubes!).

There’s more: PLA

greenwarePLA is Polylactic Acid, also known as biodegradable plastic.  It comes from renewable sources such as corn and tapioca root.  Only about 20% of plastic bottles are recycled, the rest ending up in landfills and our oceans.  A biodegradable alternative is a step in the right direction.

Since MOM’s launched Stop the Stuff in 2010, we stopped selling bottled water and have taken many steps to eliminate our plastic waste.  We use PLA for our produce bags, sample cups, and Naked Lunch.

Be aware: PLA is not usually recyclable in your blue bin, nor are PLA bags to be recycled with traditional plastic bags.  As my county plainly states, “we cannot accept for recycling any biodegradable or compostable plastic items.”  I hope this will change soon.  In the meantime, you are welcome to compost your PLA or bring it to MOM’s to put in our compost bins.

Happy recycling!

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A New Pledge

This post is the conclusion to a previous post. Check it out here.

In Olympia WA, Alaffia is a small company that receives raw ingredients from their Togo women’s cooperative, then packages, labels and ships finished products for sale to retailers in the US. Alaffia is proud to provide gainful, rigorous employment to about 50 employees in Olympia. Still, the profits from the company mainly make their way back to Togo, to invest in existing and new programs to support Alaffia’s pledge.

Alaffia employees in Olympia wish Olowo-n’djo well on his trip.

Alaffia employees in Olympia wish Olowo-n’djo well on his trip.

After meeting Olowo-n’djo for the third time, I find myself tempted to sell all my earthly possessions and move to Olympia where I would sleep on his family’s doorstep until he set me to work doing some magnificent, if not difficult, task to aid in the Alaffia pledge. alaffiaStamp

But then again, I know that I have a role in the Alaffia pledge here at MOMs.

My role is to help educate and inspire our customers to purchase the items that support gender equality and community empowerment.

allaffiacurlsadWhat I’ve come to realize in the days since Olowo-n’djo‘s most recent visit is that I can make a pledge myself. As an average user of body care products, I estimate that I spend about $60-$75 per month on hand soap, body wash, bar soap, shampoo and conditioner, and body lotion for me and my husband. If I pledge to purchase only Alaffia products (including Alaffia’s Everyday Shea or Everyday Coconut) to fulfill these needs, I’ll be supporting the hard-working women of Alaffia’s cooperative and the Alaffia programs that are succeeding in boosting opportunities and gender equality in Togo.

alaffia-assortment Everyday-CoconutThe more successful Olowo-n’djo, Rose and the women’s cooperatives are, the more likely other groups will be able to use a similar model to improve their own impoverished communities.

On a selfish note, the truly cool thing about my Alaffia pledge is that I don’t have to sacrifice anything. The Alaffia and Everyday Shea products are no more expensive than the products I normally purchase for these purposes.  The products smell beautiful without artificial perfumes, thanks to their rich botanical ingredients. And the products work great: the sudsy moisturizing washes and shampoos; and creamy, buttery conditioners and lotions certainly are top picks amongst their peers.

To pledge something like this means I have to make a concerted effort, though, to focus my rather unwieldy body care-purchasing habits to this line; forsaking many others, no matter the coupons, or nifty AlaffiaBlack Soaplittle two-for-one bargains that may adorn displays of other brands. [Honestly, I don’t buy dollar deals on junk products anyway.]

My pledge isn’t about giving money away.

And it’s not about quitting my job and devoting my life to serving a distant community (although I certainly admire either of these sacrifices). Instead, it’s about boosting the value of the products the artisan women in Togo make, which is immeasurable in its effect, thanks to Olowo-n’djo and Rose, and their Alaffia pledge.Alaffiakids

Check out Alaffia at MOMs, or a number of other retailers, or visit their website for mail order.

All photos used are either from Alaffia’s various sites, or were supplied by MOMs employees, like Kathleen in the Timonium store.

Alyssa works at multiple MOMs locations.

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