5 Ways Every Military Family Can Go Green

by Raleigh Duttweiler, Guest Contributor

When you think of words to describe military spouses, “hippy” generally isn’t on the list. Hippies don’t tend to marry service members. We fall for guys with overgrown beards and Passion Pit T-shirts and big chunky black glasses. Hippy, green-obsessed girls really don’t fall for Marines.

But the Universe has a great sense of humor.

By the time I met my husband, I had already traded in a car for a bike, prided myself on growing whatever veggies I couldn’t acquire from local farmers in my tiny community garden plot and purchased eggs from the world’s crunchiest guy who kept chickens (illegally) on the rooftop of a nearby building. I stopped eating beef and turned to beans and quinoa for most of my protein needs. I was in my early twenties and as everyone I knew became wrapped up in their years of magical thinking or living dangerously, I was going carbon neutral.

I was one step away from being obnoxiously granola. Ironically, I hate granola.

My husband, on the other hand, was never interested in greening the planet. The proud owner of a gas-guzzling Wrangler, the only green he’s ever been concerned with is the color of his skivvy shorts and maybe, if pressed, the shade of his camouflage when he hunts. In truth, hunting is the greenest thing he does. But even if he’s never been concerned about greening the planet, he’s always interested in ways to green his wallet and as it happens, the two frequently go hand-in-hand.

So even if you have no interest in greening your military life this Earth Day, consider the opportunity to green your wallet. With these 5 easy steps, you’ll find yourself doing both.

5 Ways Every Military Family Can Go Green

1. Reinvent the Victory Garden

The Obamas have done it and written a book about it and every restaurant kitchen worth its salt does it now too. Fad aside, kitchen gardens have long been a part of military life–only they used to be called Victory Gardens. Long used as a way to cut down on the public food supply, victory gardens were considered an important part of the war effort.

Today, they offer a great alternative to the produce at the commissary.

Kitchen gardens are also easy to start. Take your handy-dandy gardening self to Lowe’s or Home Depot and get them to help you get started on what’s the best to plant where you are. Tomatoes are pretty hardy. Mushrooms can grow in a windowless room. We’ve managed to have plentiful peppers wherever we’ve been.

Whatever it is you love, chances are high you’ll be able to grow it at home–even if you don’t have a green thumb.

If you want to start small, try growing some herbs. They are criminally expensive in-store and they’re incredibly inexpensive to grow. Plus, they can really dress up your kitchen.

2. Compost

Don’t act grossed out! I swear to you, composting isn’t as nasty as it sounds. Composting prevents pollution, cuts down on your waste and even remediates soil. Coincidentally, it has the added bonus of greening your yard. And if you’re going to get your own victory garden going, composting will really help.

Because military families move so much, there’s not a lot of sense in investing in a fancy-schmancy composter (no matter how nice they look). Your movers aren’t going to move it. Options like these come in everything from a more-reasonable plastic to galvanized steel with fancy self-turners, but a plastic trash can you’ve poked some holes into can do just as well. Just get a big trash bin at the hardware store and using a knife or the sharp end of a spade, cut 1” holes every foot or so on the bin. Throw in your scraps and you’ve got yourself a $10 composting system.

The trick to composting is to make sure you provide some space for aeration. The holes will let in compost’s best friend–worms–and they’ll do most of the work for you. Once every month or so, go (or make someone go) turn the compost around with a garden shovel, just to give it a good mix. This helps everything settle and decompose correctly. It can be helpful to keep a small tin in the kitchen to store up the day’s odds and ends so you only do one compost trip a day, but in truth, we use a paper bag and it works just as well. It’s just not as pretty.

3. Switch to Cloth

Did you know switching to cloth napkins can seriously cut down on your greenhouse gas emissions? It may sound crazy, but it’s true. Check out the math. See? You’re doing a good thing for the world if you indulge in a set of truly fabulous napkins…it’s selfless! And so much fun.

If you want to go whole hog, swap out your paper towels for a good sponge and the perfect dish cloth. There’s also cloth diapering, which can be a hands-down plus for both the environment and your wallet, but I draw the line at “family cloth.” Eww.

4. Meatless Mondays

Despite our very different upbringings, my husband and I agreed on two things from the start: Collard greens must be made with ham hock and bacon is delicious. So you can see how I was never going to be a good vegetarian. Still, we’re both pretty cost-conscious and eating meat every night of the week is expensive. Even when you buy it from the commissary.

The UN estimates that one-fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat industry–a number that really boggles my mind. Add to that the huge water needs of livestock and the carbon footprint of meat industry and you have yourself one nasty environmental problem. Going meatless one day a week can make a huge stab at reducing your personal share of that. Moreover, reducing your meat intake one day a week can reduce your risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Sign me up, please.

If that’s not enough to sway you, Deborah Madison makes an insanely delicious vegetarian cookbook that is worth an entire entree plate at least 52 times a year. And that’s really what did it for my husband. He wasn’t swayed by the environment (although slightly guilted). He wasn’t sold on the whole carbon footprint thing (as he drank a beer trucked in from Chicago). But with taste-reigning king, I won him over with a chickpea burger and harissa yogurt sauce that even his mother wanted the recipe for. Now he knows that beans are on the menu at least once a week and with our vegetarian meals clocking in at under $5 total, he, our wallet and our world say thank you.

5. Don’t Buy the Hype

Oh, fellow pinners, I know you know my problem. You see a gorgeously designed pin for fabulous DIY home hacks. The ingredients all seem pretty simple–vinegar, a little bleach, some baking soda– surely this is all better than what you can get at Target? Not so fast, my friend. Just because a blogger with decent graphic design skills tells you something is better for the environment, do you have any reason to believe it? (I have no graphic design skills, so you can listen to me.)

While baking soda, white vinegar and lemon can clean a majority of items in your home, they can also do a fair amount of damage. Baking soda can ruin corian countertops and porcelain sinks, lemon can draw every ant in a 30-mile radius and vinegar, however great, may not be enough to tackle the dirty uniforms in your hamper.

Instead of stocking up on mammoth-sized white vinegar containers to which you’ll add half a lemon, 3 tablespoons of baking soda, half a newt eye, some essential oils and a sprinkle of rain dance, consider instead that you’ve probably got some perfectly usable cleaners in your home. Use them—with restraint. To green your cleaning routine, you don’t need to do a total overhaul, you just need to streamline and add in some personal power.

There are some fabulous eco-friendly cleaning brands that won’t break the bank and you can rely on to do a good job. Honest, Dr. Bonner’s, and Better Life are all wonderful, non-toxic cleaners that will actually leave your home sparkling, and Method and Mrs. Meyers are great alternatives too (although Mrs. Meyers sometimes uses non-plant-based ingredients and Method uses artificial coloring).

No matter what your cleaning spray is made of, the No. 1 thing you can do to green your cleaning routine is to up the ante with some elbow grease. For every job you do, expect to do most of it yourself. Let the cleaner be there to help you, not vice-versa. We’ve gotten so used to spray-and-walk-away that we’ve made the terrible mistake of remembering that the cleaning product is there to help you get the job done not the other way around.

The wonderful thing about greening your life is that it’s pretty contagious. After awhile you start doing the math: Instead of forking out $1,400 (minimum) on diapers over the course of 2 and a half years, you could spend $200 on a stash of super fun cloth diapers and then $1.34 three times a week to clean them. You’ll save $800 right there.

And produce–it’s almost criminal what you can pay for a tomato these days. Your wallet and your belly will thank you for that fresh one that’s growing outside and it’ll smell so nice your nose will rejoice too. Even the biggest omnivore will agree that a well-prepared plate of fresh veggies can make as delicious a meal as a cut of beef and with each meatless meal, you’re making your body and the planet a healthier place. When you start to think about it, greening your life isn’t just about doing something good for the planet. It’s about doing something good for every part of your life too.

Do you have any favorite tips for greening your military life?

Raleigh mugRaleigh Duttweiler is a writer and social media expert living just outside the gates of MacDill in sunny Saint Petersburg, Fla. A Marine Corps wife, she has navigated the stress of Active Duty moves, trainings, and deployments, and now that her family has transitioned to the Reserves, she’s experiencing the “weekend warrior” side of military life. (NB: It’s not quite as part-time as advertised.) When not writing about benefits and military families for Military.com, Raleigh posts about truly life-altering, important issues like What Not to Wear to a Military Ball (visible thongs) and Military Halloween Costumes We Love to Hate (ones that generally resemble both military uniforms AND thongs) on SpouseBUZZ.com. She is passionate about spouse employment, higher education, and helping families navigate the often-bumpy transition back into civilian life. Raleigh also manages the SpouseBUZZ and Military.com Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest pages, so be sure to say hi!

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