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  • Kate Egelhof

Earth-Friendly Fun: Celebrating Sustainably

Summer is here! We’ve entered the season of grilling, graduation parties, lake cabin visits, fishing excursions and picnics. From Mother’s Day and Memorial Day all the way ahead to Labor Day (okay, maybe we’re not ready to think about that yet) we’re ready to celebrate—and, of course, since we’re Harmony Co-op, we’re ready to do so in an eco-friendly, sustainable, and all-around green way! How do you balance fun with mindfulness and responsibility—doing right by the planet without feeling like a stick-in-the-mud? It’s totally possible, and we have a few suggestions for making your summer both fun and sustainable.

Let’s start with the basics—food! (That’s literally what we’re about here, after all.) Plant-based foods are not only generally healthier but also better for the environment; in addition, you may wish to consider organic, locally grown/sourced items as well as what’s currently in season. Locally grown items are not only more likely to be (and stay) fresh, but since the transport time is shorter they use less fuel (and therefore less pollution). Organic farming not only is important in returning nutrients to the soil, but it greatly enhances carbon sequestration; trapping carbon in the soil prevents it from returning to the air as CO2, helping slow climate change. If you do consume animal products, look for meat or dairy that’s organic as well as free-range or pasture-raised; not only is it more humane, but the nutritional content and Omega-3 levels are often enhanced. Plan your meal ahead of time as best you can (this is when RSVPs really come in handy, so you don’t overbuy ingredients and waste food or underbuy and have to run to the store last-minute); pick ingredients that everyone can eat and send people home with leftovers if you have a lot.

Planning an outdoor event? Great! Backyard barbecues or bonfires are a time-honored tradition in the Minnesota Northwoods summer—of course, so are the mosquitoes and ticks. With Zika and West Nile Virus spread through mosquito bites and the range of diseases and parasitic infections carried by ticks (including Lyme disease and anaplasmosis), it’s more important than ever to protect ourselves. There’s a dizzying range of options on the market, from traditional chemical repellents to natural and botanical oil blends, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. DEET is very effective but has the potential for very harmful side effects (like neurological problems) and is harsh enough to melt plastic (you definitely want to keep this on your clothing and not your skin). Picaridin (made from a plant in the pepper family) and citriodiol (synthetic lemon eucalyptus) are effective DEET alternatives; there are also numerous natural/plant-based products on the market, some of which have been used by indigenous peoples for centuries. Citronella is derived from a species of lemongrass and works by masking the odors that make us attractive to mosquitoes; cedar oil, rosemary, and geranium oils also have been found to have repellent properties.

As delightful as it feels to be outside on a Minnesota summer day, the life-giving rays of the sun can exact a price on our skin. In fact, even a “healthy” suntan is the result of skin damage caused by sunlight. If you are going to be outside away from the shade, it’s important for both your immediate and your long-term health to use a sunscreen as well as other protective measures. There are many varieties of sunscreen and sunblock on the market; while often used interchangeably, sunscreen traditionally refers to chemical sunscreen while sunblock--though misleading, as nothing blocks sun rays completely--refers to physical sunscreen. Chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate, and retinyl palmitate absorb into the skin, filtering UV rays—but they can cause potentially harmful side effects (like endocrine disruption) as well as being environmentally harmful (Hawaii banned the sale of oxybenzone and octinoxate as they are toxic to coral reefs). Physical sunscreens—traditionally zinc oxide and titanium oxide—block or reflect sunlight when applied on the surface of the skin. While there is some concern regarding nanoparticles of zinc and titanium oxide and their potential absorption into the skin, most experts feel that physical sunscreens are still the safer option—particularly when considering skin cancer risks. In addition to sunscreen, to help avoid sunburn and sun damage the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends limiting your sun exposure during the time of day when the sun’s rays are strongest (between 10 AM-4 PM), wearing loose-fitting and tightly-woven clothing, wearing a hat and sunglasses (your eyes can also be affected by UV radiation, causing cataracts) and keeping to the shade.

Now let’s talk decoration! Whether you’re a Pinterest-perfect detail decorator or you’re just happy if all the plates match, visual appeal is an important part of any celebration—and it’s just as important to use recycled, recyclable or otherwise sustainable decorations. We all love a bunch of colorful, bobbing helium balloons, for example, but unfortunately so do sea turtles—a deflated balloon looks enough like a jellyfish that the turtle can attempt to eat it and become sick or die. If you can’t have a party without balloons, at least make sure that they are indoors or securely fastened down and popped and properly disposed of afterwards. If you’re planning an event that requires an RSVP, you can save energy and paper by using recycled cards, making your own invitations, or sending them electronically (social media is great for this, too). Think about using cloth tablecloths instead of disposable plastic; if you’re eating something messy, it’s a great excuse for old newspapers. Don’t even worry if the plates match; using non-disposable plates and utensils is both more environmentally friendly and it looks a little fancier, and mismatched plate settings can add a bit of charm. (If you do go the disposable-plate route, make sure you pick plates and utensils that can be composted or recycled—or better yet, stick to finger foods and skip the forks entirely!)

Speaking of recycling, make sure you dispose of all the garbage properly once your event is over. Beltrami County recently changed its recycling system to make it even easier; you don’t even have to sort your cardboard from your cans, as our recycling bins go to a facility in Fosston that sorts them on site. We have several recycling bins around town where citizens can bring their containers and cardboard, as well as the waste transfer station in the industrial park; one set is located behind Target and another at the TomStop on Irvine Avenue north of town. Food waste can be composted—and for those of us in apartments or otherwise unable to start our own compost heap (we are in bear country, after all) Beltrami County will be implementing a composting pilot program this summer, which we are all very excited about! Worm bins are another great way to take care of food scraps while creating garden fertilizer, and anyone with chickens will be aware that they are great at turning food waste into delicious eggs (also fertilizer).

Whether you’re a year-round local or a snowbird, a city tourist or a seasoned country dweller, you’re in Bemidji for a reason and this is the best time of year to get outside and enjoy our lakes, streams, forests, fields, and all the natural resources we are so fortunate to live among. Rent a canoe at Diamond Point Park and see Bemidji’s downtown from a new angle. Try a staycation at Lake Bemidji State Park and have a camping adventure without leaving town or throw your graduation party there and bring all your friends swimming. Pack a picnic lunch and check out our area network of bike trails. Go fishing and catch your own dinner, then grill them right there on the shore (or go fishing and throw them back and get a pizza afterwards, no judgment). From charcoal and grilling planks to spray-on sunscreen and essential oil bug balm, from veggie party trays and local steaks to organic berries and dairy-free ice cream, we at Harmony Co-op have you covered for all your summer fun needs so you can concentrate on having fun!

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