Environmental Stewardship

The Environmental Stewardship Work Area helps us become responsible stewards of God's creation, and care for humankind. We

  • Provide environmental education
  • Encourage individual and corporate green living habits
  • Help the church take steps to make our facilities more energy efficient and earth friendly
  • Provide avenues for environmental social action

Exploring our Relationship to Meat in an Informed Era

For most of us I expect, our relationship to meat and its relationship to us was fairly elemental growing up in the Midwest. Farmers raised it, and we ate it. We weren’t likely to ask probing questions such as what the livestock ate, what the conditions were on the farms they inhabited, or how they were slaughtered. We certainly weren’t interested in the water, energy and other resources that were required to sustain these livestock. In fact, even with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, and the associated mounting pressure to develop a higher consciousness around the widespread application of toxic herbicides and insecticides such as DDT, most of us didn’t make – or maybe didn’t want to make – the systemic connection between poisoning the land and its creatures and poisoning ourselves.

Growing Awareness of Connection Between Us and “Livestock”

This clear connection between poisoning our food sources and poisoning ourselves seems elemental in hindsight of course, but the 60s and 70s were a window of great tumult in the country, and it seemed that many of the strongest voices of protest were being spent on pressuring our leaders to withdraw from the Vietnam War, or to address the persistent racial/cultural and gender divides that plagued the nation, and many would say, plague it to this day. Perhaps we had too many societal challenges to canvas to have given our food supply and our shifting relationship to its production and consumption the attention it deserved.

While the history of organic farming practice dates to the 1930s, it exploded in the 1990s and continues unabated today. The organic meat movement might arguably be linked to the discovery of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or, as it became more commonly known – Mad Cow Disease. The first confirmed case in the US was in late 1993. This frightening disease attacks the brain and spinal cord of the infected animal. Consuming meat from an infected animal can cause serious illness or death. Millions of cattle in Britain have been destroyed to prevent the spread of the disease to humans. Its emergence has provoked a growing global dialogue on the safety of meat and meat by-products, not limited to this disease, but encompassing the complex system of bringing meat to market.

Other influences have driven more farmers to consider establishing more organic practices, including social consciousness of the treatment of animals, a connection between lean meat protein and better health, and shifting lifestyles.

What is Organic Meat?

One of the great ruses of this rise in interest in healthier eating has been the seemingly endless references to “natural” foods. Whether in advertising or on labels, for years we have been assaulted with claims of natural, naturally derived, low-fat or fat-free foods from every corner of the supermarket, radio and television. Many of us now cast a critical eye towards these claims, and are more vigilant in reading labels and not being taken in by overzealous advertising. Much of this knowledge has been driven by consumer advocacy organizations pressing the FDA to require more accurate, digestible and honest labeling and claims associated with many of these “healthy” foods. 

I think that we are beginning to sort out the discussion on organics – and organic meats – in a similar manner. The agricultural producers, and markets, are starting to recognize that consumers are asking critical questions about the meaning of organic and its relationship to other challenging issues in our food ecosystem such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), transportation and energy costs to produce and get foods to the consumer vs. locally-raised and distributed foods, trade practices of the producers, and the link between humane treatment and slaughter of animals raised for consumption and our own health.

There are now clearing, if not crystal clear, defining elements for meat to be considered organic. Foremost among these are their living environment, lack of hormones or antibiotics, healthy feed source, clean water source, sustainable practices, etc. The US Department of Agriculture has clear standards in place dictating what meats can be noted as organic. These standards, along with those for other organic foods, are explained in its National Organic Program. However, once a farm or producer has been certified as organic, oversight has been problematic. As of 2013, new oversight standards were implemented through the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the US Department of Agriculture.

Like any costly process linked to a multi-billion dollar industry, there will be producers looking to sidestep requirements when not scrutinized, so we all benefit by our vigilance and awareness of the standards. Ask questions of your local grocer, push for more organic meat choices and consider supporting those stores that are open and educating about their organic meat choices. For example, Whole Foods Markets meats are USDA certified organic but also adhere to the Global Animal Partnership Animal Welfare Rating System.  In practice, I think that consuming more locally produced organic meats, fruits and vegetables when possible is a great way to get closer to the issues and gain a more realistic understanding of our intimate relationship to the foods and meats we consume.

Christmas Light Recycling

Recycle Christmas lightsDon't throw away your tangled, frayed  or burned-out Christmas lights this year! This holiday season, the Village of Downers Grove is offering recycling of Christmas tree lights and extension cords.

A receptacle is available at the Public Works Facility, 5101 Walnut Ave through February 1, 2014. Items may be dropped off, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Acceptable items are: Mini-lights (also known as Italian lights); C7 lights; C9 lights; Rope lights; LED lights; and Extension cords.

Visit the Village of Downers Grove website for more details.

'The Story of Timmy Tomato' by Tommy Turnip

Environmental StewardshipTimmy (The name means one who honors God) traces his genealogy back to the Andes Mountains of Peru, South America. Timmy’s ancestors’ last name was originally Tomatl, which meant round and plump to the Aztecs. In the 16th Century, Spanish conquistadores took the tomatoes back to Europe with them. In the 18th Century, tomatoes were brought to Quebec and Louisiana by the French. Now the tomato is the most widely grown fruit (Yes, technically Timmy is a fruit.) in the Americas.

Timmy and his relatives suffer and die if the weather is too cold. For Timmy to fulfill his career objective of being a food relished by others and eaten as part of the earth’s ecosystem, he must be grown in a warm climate. Some of Timmy’s second cousins are grown in local greenhouses, and spend much more of their life in the warm confines of their home than on the road. However, Timmy, a Better Boy tomato, was conceived in California and transported to Chicago to fulfill his career objective. In fact, 40% of the world’s tomatoes are grown in California. At first, Timmy thought travel would be great. Then Timmy learned that to prepare for the trip he would have to be washed in chlorinated water, then dried with blasts of warm air and covered with wax. Timmy also learned about the large negative environmental impact this travel has on the earth and he became sad and no longer ripe for use. In particular, long-distance transportation of many of his Tomato family is contributing greatly to greenhouse gas emissions, air acidification, and smog. For example, global warming pollution for food transported by airplane is 500 times greater than pollution from transportation of locally grown foods!

The solution, Timmy does not want to travel; he wants to be close to home, thirsting for a local greenhouse for his offspring and for all future relatives, so they can spend more time on the vine and less time on the road. Some sources say that on average, produce arriving at some Chicago food markets is transported more than 1,500 miles. Yes, sometimes economy of scale can be more efficient, but for most produce, if you want to lessen your negative environmental impact on the earth and preserve the earth for your future family, eat locally grown produce. To see what is in season in our state, or other states, you can visit the Eat Local website.

By the way, in case you were wondering, my friend Timmy Tomato, asked me, Tommy Turnip, to emerge from underground and share the roots of his story. Timmy, who by his very name wants to honor God, knows that we can all make a difference on the planet, one tomato at a time.

The Green Tomato

If you are what you eat, then how is the earth related to what we grow
and what we consume?  

Environmental StewardshipAs Christians, we are all charged with the responsibility to care for our planet.  This 2013-14 church year the Environmental Stewardship Work Area has chosen as its theme "The Green Tomato."  Why did we choose this topic?  We all wanted to better understand the interrelationships among how we eat and environmental stewardship.  Perhaps there are things that we can do that will benefit both ourselves and the planet. 

Specifically, as our overall population continues to live longer, we all are aware of the need to eat more healthily throughout our lives.  We also are aware that we must be responsible care-takers of the Earth.  We will be looking at the effect food production has on our Earth’s environment and the implications environmental stewardship has on how and what we eat.  Some of the topics we will examine are:

  • the benefits of locally grown food/produce
  • how meat production and use impacts the environment
  • how herbs can be used with health and environmental benefits
  • the health aspects of food as it may pertain to Type II diabetes, valve replacements, cholesterol, plaque and cancer
  • the benefits of organic food for children, and what sustainability means with respect to food and the environment. 

We hope you are also eager to find out more about "The Green Tomato."  Bon appétit avec la responsabilité!

Environmental Stewardship Work Area: Weed Prevention Study

History:

Over the past two years the Environmental Stewardship Work Area (ESWA) at DGFUMC has looked for an area on the grounds of the church to take responsibility for general maintenance, planting, mulching, and overall appearance.  During the Spring/Summer of 2011 the group asked the church if they could be responsible for the semi-circle area between the main entrance/exit to the church off of Maple Ave (see picture).  After becoming responsible for the area, the ESWA gathered one Spring evening in 2011 to remove weeds, plant new Coral bells (Heuchera), and put down mulch within the area.  Over that Summer the group set up a bi-weekly weed removal schedule in which a member of the group would be responsible for removing weeds during their selected time slot. 

Study:

This went so well that the ESWA thought of ways in which to expand their role within the area and to relate it even more to what the work group stands for: Environmental Stewardship.  During the Spring of 2012 then, the group decided to begin a weed prevention study within the area using various chemical-free weed prevention options.  A designated area within the semi-circle area had the mulch removed and three types of weed prevention tactics were used: 1) commercial weed matting with mulch on top, 2) wet newspaper with mulch on top, and 3)  mulch directly on top of the dirt (acting as a control).  The same bi-weekly weeding schedule as the previous summer was used except during the Summer of 2012 each person would report back on the number of weeds they found within of the three areas, ranking each in order from the most to the least amount of weeds found.  The study took place from late April through early November 2012 and data was collected every two weeks throughout this time period.

Results:

As 2013 began the work area had lots of data and it was then time to analyze it.  Overall, 14 times weeds were removed from the area throughout 2012, so there were 14 sets of rankings of weed growth within the three environments.  After the data was collected and tabulated, we discussed the results at our monthly meetings. 

  • 3 times out of 14 the area with the commercial weed matting and mulch had the most weeds
  • 2 times out of 14 the area with mulch only had the most weeds
  • The area with newspaper and mulch never had the most weeds
  • ~80% of the time all the areas reviewed against each other had a similar number of weeds

Analysis:

Even though there were some differences in the number of weeds reported in each area it can be concluded from this study that overall there was no real difference in weed growth from one area to another as no one area had the most weeds more than 21% of the time.  Nearly 80% of the time observations were made there were no differences between weed growth due to using weed matting or newspaper with mulch vs. just using mulch.  What could this mean for around the house?  You can spend more money on weed matting or try to use newspaper to prevent weeds, but in the end you'll want to cover both with mulch to give a natural appearance.  With this, the study may lead one to believe that simply using mulch alone with a bit of maintenance throughout the season will give as good a barrier against weeds as other methods. 

Benefits of Mulch:

Benefits of mulch are well known as it inhibits weed germination and growth, holds in soil moisture for your plants, moderates soil-temperature fluctuations, insulates plants throughout the winter, helps keeps roots cool during the summer, and, depending on what you use, adds a bit of nutrients to an area as it breaks down.  There are many mulch types out there, so feel free to ask any representative at your local nursery or store what mulch type would work best for your specific area.

Final Thoughts:

Not only was this study fun, interactive, and time spent outside.....it was fun.  Such studies as this can be done at smaller and larger scales and provide pathways for communication between a family.  In the end it will give parents information and time with their kids while at the same time helping their children learn and promoting environmental responsibility.  Ask any local library or book store for environmental/nature books relating to education and activities and you will find environmental activities for your family to participate in year round.

Earth Day Celebration - April 28, 2013

Are we good stewards of our planet? On April 22, more than one billion people around the world will take part in the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day. Come to our Earth Day presentations sponsored by the Environmental Stewardship Work Area to see how you can live, work and move toward a responsible life on our planet. See how the church has responded to conserving energy and becoming a good steward. Exhibits will be in the parlor and the front parking lot after all worship services on April 28.

What do you do? What is your reason? Exhibits will help you look at various ways you can help. In your household, at your work and and as you move, there are many ways to become good stewards of the earth.

Date: 
Sunday, April 28, 2013 - 9:15am to 12:30pm

We can all be Environmental Stewards...Just Outside Our Front Doors!

While it’s daunting to consider the global environmental challenges that we face, all of us can steward our little piece of land with some forethought and responsible decisions. From the plantings we choose to the hardscapes we create, nearly every decision we make about our property and landscape impacts our environmental footprint.

A Virtual Tour Around Our Property

Take a short stroll out your front door…sure, grab your coffee or drink! As you walk take in your surroundings – lawn, trees, bushes, plants, ground cover, patios, decks, walkways, lighting. We each have our own style and approach to creating and maintaining our outdoor space. Some of us become more attached to our property and its sanctity than others, but for those who own a home it’s nearly always a significant part of your investment.

The inside of our homes may be pristine or a mess, but far fewer strangers or neighbors will ever know whether we have mounds of laundry, dishes or magazines and books strewn about. Many more will know the state of our outdoor property. For that reason alone many of us are willing to invest in keeping up the appearances of our property. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that we’re so superficial that we obsess over the appearance of our lawn, drive, shrubs and trees – no, not us – but we are all laid a bit bare as the weather improves and neighbors drive, walk or ride by with greater frequency. We don’t have the equalizing influence of barren trees, messy walks and snow-blanketed lawns. We get out and begin sprucing up, planting, sweeping, seeding, treating, mowing, watering and, aargh – weeding!  And that’s okay. In fact, I think it reflects as much respect and appreciation for our neighbors and neighborhood as it does at least a bit of our keepin’ up with the Joneses mentality.

But I digress. Back to our stroll. If you need to warm up your coffee, please do. As you walk your property ask yourself what you know about the improvements. Start with the big stuff – like that massive tree whose limbs are quickly encroaching on your roof and gutters. Is that a Silver Maple or a Red Maple? Would I know the difference? Is it healthy? How old is it? Does it support wildlife? Is its canopy appropriate or is it encroaching on other plantings? When it’s reached its natural life span what will we do? Replace it? What with? I know, stop already! Consider the same for your lower plants and shrubs. Then ask yourself about the material of your walk, patio or deck. How much energy went into its production? Are the materials sustainable? Recyclable? The questions can seem endless.

An Environmental Gem in our Backyard

Most of us aren’t arborists or even terribly well-informed on our trees, shrubs, and other plantings around the home. But we’re in luck. We have a living classroom right in our own neighborhood – well Lisle to be accurate. The Morton Arboretum is a vital resource to gain actionable knowledge that you can use to make better decisions about what to plant, how to maintain our properties and the many small steps that we can take to become better stewards in our own back – and front – yards. They offer classes, informative plaques as you walk the grounds, great food, an incredible children’s outdoor discovery museum (for the kid in all of us) and great staff who are always happy to engage and answer questions. And I promise you won’t find a better outdoor gym!

Before visiting their site – or better yet – making a day of it on the beautiful grounds – here are some questions to consider about your property and ways that we can all begin to be better environmental stewards:

1. What do I/we know about our trees and plants?
     a. Are they native to the region?
     b. Are they supportive of a healthy ecosystem in the region?
     c. Do they offer shade and help to reduce cooling costs of the home in warm months?
     d. Are they resistant to pests?
     e. Do they support pollination or help to sustain wildlife?
     f. How much watering do they require?
2. Have we considered further improvements to our property that impact the environment?
     a. Have we considered a rain barrel to capture water for our plantings?
     b. Have we considered a mulch barrel to spread as nutrient-rich cover for our soil?
     c. Have we considered a raised garden or flower bed to grow healthy vegetables, add some beauty and educate kids in a fun way on environmental issues?
3. Do we use chemicals on our lawn and trees/shrubs?
     a. If yes, how toxic are these chemicals to people and wildlife?
     b. Can we reduce or eliminate these chemicals – or consider a non-toxic treatment?
4. What can we do to create healthier and more natural hardscapes and exteriors?
     a. Have we considered the source of materials?
     b. Are they natural, renewable and local?
     c. Can we recycle or repurpose materials from replaced walks, patios, decks?
     d. Have we considered painting or refurbishing siding vs. replacing?

Here’s hoping that the next stroll you take around your property will have you beaming with pride that you’ve made one or two better decisions about your environmental stewardship!

Forgetting about the "Reduce" in "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"

As Americans have gotten better at recycling over the past few decades many forget that recycling is just one of the steps in the sequential “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” process to try to minimize our impact on the Earth. In 2008, the recycling rate reached an all-time high of 33.2% for Americans (per data from 2010). This is great as recycling rates overall have risen steadily since the 1960’s. But with this it may not be apparent to everyone that the amount of waste sent to landfills has also risen dramatically since the 1960’s. Recycling doesn't have as direct an impact on the amount of waste sent to landfills as reducing what we buy, reducing our waste streams, or reusing items within our households. The 3 “R’s” of waste reduction are really a sequential process in which everyone should try to first reduce the amount of waste they procure or produce, then reuse the materials they have, and finally recycle materials left over from there. Even with recycling rates increasing, we as Americans and a global community will only see the amount of trash we send to landfills increase in the decades to come from increased consumerism and rising population numbers. With this we need to remind our children and generations to come about the importance of reducing our waste streams and how the 3 “R’s” all work together in a specific order.

Alternative Modes of Transportation to Minimize Your Carbon Footprint

Mass Transit
Whenever possible use mass transit, especially when commuting to work. In the suburbs Metrarail offers railroad service to downtown Chicago. Their website is www.metrarail.com. The schedules are posted on their website. When you arrive in Chicago use the RTA bus service. Their website is www.RTAChicago.com. For suburban bus service Pacebus provides a variety of bus services. They offer a vanpool program, paratransit service, a fixed route bus system, and a vanpool incentive program. For more information, go to www.pacebus.com. Mass transportation is good for the environment and it helps save money.

Benefits of Walking and Bicycling
Studies have found that walking and bicycling helps reduce your carbon footprint. Walking and bicycling produces no pollution, and helps make the roads safer. In congested areas cyclists and pedestrians breathe less fumes than drivers. Walking and bicycling also help reduce your waistline.

Benefits of Carpooling
Studies have found that carpooling helps reduce carbon dioxide. Taking your car off the road one day a week will help keep the air clean and remove congestion from the roads. Combine car trips instead of making separate trips throughout the day, combine errands to help reduce your carbon footprint. When possible, park in a central location and do all your errands. Also, be sure to bring reusable shopping bags when doing your errands.

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