Did you know . . . ? columns
by Pauline Knaeble Williams
Fortunately, moments before I renounced my worldly possessions and moved to the woods to harvest my own wheat germ and pedal about on two wheels, I came upon VERA
(Voorhees Environmental and Recreational Alliance). They offered a more moderate antidote to my rising angst over the smell of exhaust fumes, the stagnating water of the stream that once flowed clearly near my home, and the clutter of trash that I watched gather like parade goers, curbside.
VERA was established in 1997 to stem the rapid disappearance of open space in Voorhees, to bring public awareness to environmental issues, and to promote the preservation of undeveloped land for recreation, health, education and natural beauty. This nonprofit, member-supported organization played a key role in encouraging Voorhees residents to vote for open space preservation, helped develop the environmentally-friendly Township Master Plan, and has been conducting educational and services projects for youth.
VERA was instrumental in convincing Voorhees, Evesham and Medford Townships to collaborate with the Delaware Regional Planning Commission to obtain a $50,000 planning grant. The funds are being used to map and evaluate, for possible conservation measures, land beside the Rancocas Creek. Also, at VERA's urging, the Township established a Bicycle/Pedestrian Path Task Force which meets regularly and will soon seek state and federal funding for the construction of safe and enjoyable paths.
I joined VERA and arrived at my first meeting expecting Birkenstocks and Save the Whale T-shirts. What I found was an array of professional, knowledgeable people that I could not fit into any stereotype. And what came out of that meeting, from a discussion on how we could better
disseminate information pertinent to environmental issues in our community, was the idea to write a column.
Through this monthly column we intend to provide information that enables us, as Voorhees citizens, to live lighter on the earth while preserving a lifestyle that we can enjoy and one that generations to come can also enjoy. The column will propose practical and feasible suggestions to aid individuals interested in making environmentally responsible choices. It will offer useful strategies that are neither daunting nor radically imposing. You will not be asked to hug a tree or live by candlelight. By each of us implementing simple practices and actions into our daily lives, we can help to foster and preserve the beauty and richness of our town while living in harmony with our natural surroundings and resources. An appreciation for the big ball we walk on can only help us to better appreciate ourselves and the people we are here doing laps with.
Look for "Did You Know . . ." to be published once a month in the Voorhees Trend. Meanwhile, for more information on environmental issues in our hometown and the ongoing work of VERA, please explore this site.
Reduce Junk Mail
By cutting down on the amount of junk mail you receive, you save many trees. Over 100 million trees are destroyed to produce junk mail - an "average American adult receives almost 560 pieces of junk mail each year."
Write: Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008 and simply say, "Please place my address on the direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service list of consumers who do not wish to be contacted by mail for marketing purposes." This will stop much of the junk mail.
To stop getting most credit card junk mail, call 888-567-8688
Ask the publications and groups who write you to not share your name and address with others.
Co-op America, Fall 2000
The beauty of composting is its simplicity. I began my life as a composter with the most makeshift approach to giving my broccoli stalks a chance at rebirth: a plastic bucket, a spade, and a wedge of earth in the backyard. With little to no effort and even less attention, my comp, slowly but successfully, posted its way back to nature. Since those early days I have graduated from heap to bin, I manage to turn my pile of goods a little more frequently, and I have high hopes for what will transpire by springtime.
The benefit of composting is two-fold. First, consider that of the almost 200 million tons of mixed residential garbage headed for landfills each year, 68% of it consists of organic material (yard, food, paper and wood waste). Composting kitchen scraps and yard waste can reduce trash by up to 30% per household. Secondly, what results from the natural process of the decomposition of organic materials is a nutrient rich compost that can be mixed into flower and vegetable beds, blended with potting soil or spread on the lawn as fertilizer. Compost is rich in essential plant nutrients and enhances the soil=s ability to hold water and air, beneficial for plant survival in time of drought as well as during periods of abundant rain. Additionally, compost helps stimulate the release of nutrients already present in soil and helps protect plants from disease and pests.
Left on its own, all organic material will decompose and there are few Amistakes@ that can be made when composting. But here=s how to get going. Start a pile. The microorganisms in compost need oxygen and water to survive so keep your pile no larger than 5 ft by 5 ft, to allow air to penetrate the center. Turning the pile periodically will accelerate the compost process. Keep the compost about as moist as a wrung-out sponge, adding water or dry material as needed.
For best results layer your compost pile with the proper proportion (2:1 ratio) of high carbon Abrowns@ and high nitrogen Agreens@. Browns include leaves, twigs, wood chips, sawdust, used napkins or paper towels. Greens include grass clippings, plant cutting, fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags and coffee grounds. Browns are slow to decay by themselves while greens may smell and lack sufficient oxygen for optimal decomposition without browns. Avoid adding meat scraps, dairy products and oils as they are slow to break down and may attract critters. Do not use grass clippings that have been sprayed with pesticides or weed killers.
Composting can be done by simply dumping your materials in a heap or by using a bin to contain them more neatly. Bins can be constructed from wood or chicken wire or purchased at garden supply stores. It will take three months to one year for your organic material to become compost. Start today. It=s fun!
Gone are the days of milk pails, handkerchiefs and returnable coke bottles. We live in a throw-away society. There are disposable dishes, diapers, razors, even cameras. At my favorite deli, even the plastic silverware is wrapped in more plastic. It might make life easier, but it has its price. It puts a huge bulge in the garbage bin. Fortunately, recycling offers an opportunity to trim some of our waste output. Simply recovering the print run of the Sunday New York Times leaves 75,000 trees standing. Aluminum from a recycled soda can uses 95% less energy than one made from raw materials and reduces the water and air pollution caused by its manufacturing by 95%.
Assuming most of us already participate in the recycling program offered to residents in Voorhees and those that don't will start tomorrow, the following paragraphs contain some further reuse and recycling ideas.
The Voorhees Public Library is a used battery drop-off site, offering an easy way to avoid the commingling of batteries with trash. Batteries contain heavy metals including mercury and lead that, if not disposed of properly, can leak into waterways and pose serious health risks to aquatic life, wildlife and humans.
Reduce the use of bags. Ever run in for five grocery items and leave with six plastic bags? Encourage your “baggers” to economize while packing. Decline a bag when purchasing only one or two items. Reuse your bags. Some stores even offer a rebate when you furnish your own bags. Even more radical, consider purchasing cloth or string bags - perfect for a short shopping list. And definitely recycle plastic bags, which most grocery stores collect near their entrances.
What to do with household items that are collecting dust in the garage? Instead of setting them out for the garbage truck, why not a yard sale? Combine your sale with neighbors if your collection is a little skimpy. Or donate household items and clothes to the Salvation Army or similar organizations that distribute to others in need.
Up for a more challenging task? Encourage businesses where you shop or work to start a recycling program. While funding for enforcement and incentive programs is limited, state law does mandate that commercial businesses recycle. Business owners can contact their trash vendor to find out what recycling options are available to them. Before doing that, they may want to call The Association of NJ Recyclers (908) 722-7575 or the Camden County Division of Environmental Affairs (856) 858-5241 for information on making recycling affordable and plausible. An option for small offices is for a conscientious employee to bring home recyclable items to be placed curbside for residential pick-up. Businesses in Voorhees who do recycle are welcome to email VERA at: Board@veravoorhees.com
to have their name listed on VERA's website.
Wading through the barrage of ribbons, boxes and bright paper, the casualties of my son's second birthday party, it occurred to me that I better do a follow up article to last month's theme of recycling. Recycling is essential but responsible consumerism is a preemptive step that deserves a share of the spotlight.
Imagine, just for fun, buying what we need rather than what we want. Using goods until they wear out rather than until we are in the mood for an upgrade. A heartfelt attempt to fix the toaster before chucking it. Hard to envision? Well how about considering investing in quality products that will not need to be replaced as often as the economically cheaper, but less well-made versions? Notice what the item you are thinking of purchasing is made out of, not only for an indication of its durability but as a conscious approach to investing in products that are constructed from natural materials (paper, cloth, wood, silk, leather, etc.). Natural materials eventually decompose versus synthetic ones, such as plastics, which either outlive our grandchildren or diminish air quality when burned (check out our website if you want to know the facts about the air quality in Camden County).
In addition to an awareness of what we are buying, we can also pay attention to the packaging it comes in. Opt for products housed in cardboard, paper or at least recyclable plastic. Avoid items that are sold with excessive packaging or if they are a necessary purchase, voice your concerns to the manufacturer. Choose the tangerines that are not wrapped in plastic and set on a stylish, yet superfluous Styrofoam tray.
Other choices conscientious consumers can make? Forget plastic silverware. Analyze the necessity of straws. Buy low energy, long-lasting light bulbs, they cost more initially but will save you money in the long run. Invest in the most energy efficient appliances, especially when it comes to refrigerators and dishwashers. Remember bars of soap, toothpaste without pump dispensers, books of matches.
Back to the party. I don't want my kid to be weird so I did buy the batteries that were required to operate his new toys, although I'd prefer to dam our household flow of battery-run toys and gadgets not only because batteries pose an environmental concern but I've had enough of things that blink, beep and shimmy.
For those of us with young ones, would I be going too far if I uttered the words cloth diapers? I read recently it takes 500 years for one “disposable” diaper to break down in a landfill. I've got a new baby coming at the end of the month. Send me diaper pins, I'm giving it a whirl.
“What is that,” my young son asked? We stood on a small bridge suspended above the tiniest trickle of water pushing onward, determined to regain its strength as a stream. I paused, wondering how to explain to a two year old why a hubcap and a floormat would be scattered among the rocks and sand (and plastic bags) at the bottom of the stream's bed.
His storybooks of talking ducks afloat in clear blue streams have no resemblance to what we see on our strolls to the park. Why are humans careless, unconcerned with the repercussions of their habits? How have we gotten to the point where it is too taxing to think beyond the desire to empty our cigarette butts out the window? What distinguishes humans from other living beings? Our ability to litter?
So the stories with the fresh bubbling brooks are a lie. I imagine this betrayal will hit my son harder than the truth about Santa. It did me. As a kid I kept wondering, if cars were contributing to the widening hole in the ozone layer, why were we still driving around in one?
Thankfully the world is glorious in its resilience. In its insistence to grow through the cracks despite concrete and weed killer. I am comforted in a strange way, by the thought that humans will eventually meet the fate of the dinosaur and then the termites and the crab grass will have their day. That a tree will grow, not fall, in the forest when finally there is no one (with a chain saw) to hear it.
More optimistically, perhaps it is our ability to pick up, rather than discard fast-food containers, crushed spring water bottles, candy wrappers, that really defines us as a species. Perhaps we could redeem our best qualities by spending an afternoon volunteering at a river cleanup, or better yet organizing one. Perhaps we could convince our children that we hold their futures to our hearts, by cleaning up after ourselves and if need be after others around us.
Thinking it time I put my money where my mouth is, I spent earth day down by the creek. With the baby fussing in the stroller and my son shouting enthusiastically from the path above as to where I could find my next soggy item, I stuffed, in no time, three bags full of trash and then scampered up the bank hollering for a wet wipe. The mothers at the park behind us thought I was a lunatic but the three of us walked home, delighted with our efforts.
To get involved in keeping our rivers and streams clean call VERA at 768-7187 or Jack Sworaski of the Camden County Division of Environmental Affairs at 858-5241. Look for “Did You Know…” to be published once a month in the Voorhees Trend.
“I don't believe there's a drought,” said the garden center manager to a customer. “Look at all the rain lately.” Do you doubt the drought too and wonder if water restrictions are another way for government to tell us what to do?
To understand the drought, it helps to know how our water is supplied. In South Jersey, most household water comes from aquifers - underground layers of porous rock, gravel and sand. Water is drawn from aquifers through wells and replenished by rainfall soaking into the ground. As the region (and its aquifers) becomes more covered with parking lots, driveways, streets and buildings, more water bypasses aquifers and runs off into streams and rivers. In times of modest precipitation, the problem of depleted aquifers is exacerbated.
Unfortunately, little planning was done to preserve our water supply and natural resources. Now, we are beginning to pay the price.
Clean water, of course, is essential to our well being, and to the well being of all living things. Though we cannot change history, we can help protect our aquifers and waterways. Protecting these resources helps protect our drinking water, reduces the need for expensive water treatment plants and helps insure the survival of wildlife.
To do your part for our watershed, follow mandatory drought restrictions. (See www.njdrought.org
for up-to-date information.) Never put trash, oil or pesticides into storm drains, because these substances will get into aquifers and waterways. Clean up after your pet to keep animal waste from becoming contaminated runoff.
For best absorption and to avoid disease, water lawns (restrictions permitting) between 5-8 a.m. Better yet, with 30-60% of the potable municipal water in the U.S. being used for maintaining lawns, consider reducing your lawn size. Planting options include native groundcovers, trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers. Adding compost to soil will increase its water-holding capacity; mulching plants also helps keep soil moist. (Find lots more information in the Lawn and Garden section of VERA's website: www.veravoorhees.com
Early one morning I walked briskly with my three month old strapped to my chest in a carrying pouch. A woman stopped her mini van to ask if I might need a ride. I was struck by her thoughtfulness and the pleasant way in which she smiled. I told her I had no destination but was walking simply for the sake of it. She drove off looking slightly puzzled by her encounter with a pedestrian. Some things go out of style, like sidewalks.
I grew up in a city where school, the bakery and the gumball store were spread no further than a child's legs could venture. If we could not get somewhere by foot, we found somewhere else to go. And come evening time, it was not for exercise as much as entertainment that propelled my mother and her pack around the block, awed by trees transformed into purple-dusted statues and delighted by the spark of each porch lamp as it blinked on like a firefly welcoming the night.
The world is a different place at dusk and then another after darkness has set in. Sight takes a back seat to the other senses. Sound and smell and the chalky light of the moon make it hard to remember sunshine. There is no way to feel it through a windshield. An engine's hum ruins the genius of crickets.
I attempt to remind you of the world outside our houses, our cars, even our backyards in hopes that we might rediscover the magic of a walk. Environmentally we may not save the ozone layer if we hike to pick up the dry cleaning instead of driving four blocks. But what it may do is let us meet our neighbors, enjoy their flowerbeds, pick up an empty coke bottle and discard of it. We may develop an eye for the storm drain and what slides into it. We may notice that we share our street with a woodpecker, that the pear tree is bearing fruit this year, that it is easy to be friendly to people when you pass them on foot.
Get outside so you know what is worth preserving. Make contact. Connect with the living things around us. Discover the infinite possibilities of the color green. Travel at a pace that requires no speedometer. Watch clouds. Listen for thunder. Remember that our ancestors spent most of their time out doors. We can survive twenty minutes. Forego air conditioning for an evening, dare to be hot.
When we begin to appreciate, not only the earth as an amazing bundle of intricate life forms, but our place within it, perhaps we will find it easier to oppose its destruction. The future is possible.
Confident that his mother, with needle and thread, Scotch tape, or perhaps a brown burlap sack, can put together a convincing costume, my son has declared his wish to be a dragon for Halloween. Wanting a side-kick, he intends for his baby sister to transform into a delicate yet grotesque dragonfly. So in our real life reference search for fire-breathing creatures and flying insects, we have come to appreciate not only the abundance of winged bodies aflutter this fall season, but a whole world of life forms at home in our backyard.
Last month's column featured the benefits of landscaping with native plants and made mention of the complimentary relationship between native plants and wildlife. This article aims to provide more detailed information on creating a wildlife habitat.
If you enjoy the sight of butterflies hovering over your flower beds or the sound of birds singing from your tree branches, then consider the following ideas to help make your yard a conducive environment for wildlife.
Begin to think of your property as a mini-ecosystem, with a complex food chain of plant-eating insects destined to become protein for larger creatures higher up in the food chain. Recognizing this natural balance, and choosing not to disrupt it with insecticides and pesticides, is the first step in establishing your habitat.
A further measure is to actively assist wildlife in securing food, water, cover and nesting areas, the elements necessary for survival.
A landscape with native vegetation, as it has co-evolved with native wildlife, offers the best source of food. Trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, succulents and even grasses provide fruit, seeds, nuts, pollen, nectar, foliage, sap, buds and twigs to sustain a wide variety of species year round.
Along with food, water is essential, both for drinking and bathing. Birdbaths, small ponds or recirculating waterfalls, if kept clean, can help meet this need. In the winter time keep birdbaths free from ice. If not adept with an icepick, consider a heated birdbath.
Lastly, cover ensures protection from weather and predators. It also offers a safe place to raise offspring. Evergreen trees or shrubs provide year round cover, as do holly and live oaks. Deciduous shrubs offer great summer cover. Even rocks, logs, mulch or brush piles can function as shelter.
While I am not expecting to attract wildlife in the form of fire-breathing dragons, I do welcome its mosquito eating side-kick, the dragonfly, for as big a feast as it likes. I hope you may do the same. For more ideas on creating a wildlife habitat in your backyard go to http://www.nwf.org
This morning as I stepped out the back door to shake out a rug, I ran smack into the most amazing autumn day. Deflected sunlight, filtering through the brilliant crimson of my turning dogwood, fell softly on the garden, humble in its varying state of decay. The sky, a dusty blue, brought a handful of emotions the clouds the day before had not. Around the door step, where vegetation was still thriving in a wet and unfrozen ground, arose the smell of an earthy mixture of fern and decomposing leaves.
Looking down my gaze fell immediately on the bird, still and rigid, and staring at me with its one exposed eye. The yellowest fleck of a marking above its beak contrasted against the muted browns of the rest of its feathers. I waited for a moment, thinking I might detect some slight movement. But it only stared.
I dressed my son in a warm jacket and brought him by the hand out into the back yard. With the unique ability of a two year old to be genuine and full of exaggeration at the same time, he said with a loud gasp “Ahhh, what a nice day.”
When I showed him the bird he bent down next to it wanting to see its face.
We squatted there for a long minute, impressed with its gnarled claws and delicate beak, its eye that seemed so much like ours and yet not. I realized my son was waiting, as I had, for it to move. I tried to explain to him that death was permanent. He said, “Never mom, even if we take it to the doctors office, it will never move again?”
We dug a hole under a bush, a few feet from where it lay. The soil turned to expose crawling life forms, the biggest of which was an earthworm, plowing its way back into the bank we had exposed. We placed the small bird, not yet as stiff as I anticipated, next to the worm. A likely pair, I thought. The worm, this time, could catch the bird.
While I was stumbling through a poetic attempt to thank the bird for having given us its song, Mason interrupted my eulogy with his need to know what would become of the bird now buried in a grave adorned with a sprig of holly.
Life is cyclical. All things beginning on the smallest scale, to end up the matter that sustains the growth of something new. Where the soul of a bird goes I do not know, but that its body becomes a gift for the bushes above, is a lesson in generosity that nature demonstrates tirelessly. I was glad I bent down this day to notice.