Archive for the ‘Lifestyle’ Category

DIY: Sew Your Own Cloth Pantiliners

Cloth pantiliners from scrap fabric

Cloth pantiliners from scrap fabric

If you were to look at my academic record, you might suspect that I went after the least practical degrees on purpose. I didn’t: I just have impractical interests. Along with having a degree or two in English, I have a minor in theater arts — costume design. I used to make fairly elaborate Renaissance costumes. Now I hem, mend, and sew cloth pads. How far the mighty have fallen!

I mostly now use menstrual cups, which are less messy and lower maintenance than cloth pads, but I still like my mini cloth pantiliners from Mimi’s Dreams and don’t regret jumping off the disposable pantiliner bandwagon. I wanted a few more and have lots of fabric scraps kicking around, so I decided to make some for myself. I tried out a few different patterns, and came up with my favorite.

So, here’s a little tutorial on making your own cloth pantiliners.  They’re fairly quick and easy to make. These are tiny, thin, unobtrusive daily liners or light cup backup. You can make wider, thicker versions for cloth menstrual pads.

You will need:

  • Smallish amounts of fabric (OK to use old towels, the ugly flannel shirt you were going to get rid of, other things you have lying around the home). More detail later.
  • Thread. I like matching it to the fabric, but to be green, I should say: use whatever you already have.
  • Pins. Not the safety pin type.
  • Some type of closure. I like sew on snaps. There are also ones you can hammer in, buttons, and (if you really must) Velcro dots.
  • A sewing machine. The thicker the pad, the stronger your sewing machine should be. Lightweight is fine for these pantiliners.
  • An iron, preferably with good steam power. Ironing is not optional when it comes to sewing. Sorry.
  • Bandaids if you’re new to sewing and prone to klutziness. Pins are sharp and irons are hot. But I hope you won’t need those.

Step 1. Find or make your pattern.

cloth pantiliner pattern

There are lots of free patterns out there. You can also trace a disposable pad or make your own pattern. I knew I wanted something a little narrower and thinner than my Mimi’s Dreams minis, so I used graph paper to draw a pad that was 7″ long and 2″ wide, with 1.5″ wings (they need to be long enough to overlap by 1/2″ – 1″). This is tiny, by the way — most pads are 2.5″ across and often much longer. Then I added seam allowance to all sides, folded it in quarters so it would be symmetrical, and cut it out. If you make a pattern like this, be sure to have a 2″ straight edge that you can leave open to turn the pad inside out later. I’m using the side of one wing.

The insert pattern is just the pad without the wings or seam allowance (2″ x 7″, in my case). Depending on what fabric you use and how much absorbency you want, you may want more than one layer of the insert.

Step 2: Get your fabrics together.

cactus fabric

Cactus print cloth pantiliners!

Cloth pads usually have three layers:

  • a top layer of something soft and absorbent, like a cotton flannel or quilter’s cotton
  • an absorbent core  (cotton flannel, terry, natural fleece)
  • a moisture resistant or moisture proof backing, like polar fleece.

You don’t need very much fabric. About 1/4 yard of each will yield 5+ liners. I’m using a quilter’s cotton on top that was scrap from a friend’s project. (I realized only after cutting that a cactus print might not be entirely appropriate for its intended purpose.) The core is from a 1/4 yard cut of cotton flannel sheeting. The back is a black synthetic suede that is thinner than fleece yet offers some moisture resistance.

Wash, dry, and iron all your fabrics on the highest / hottest settings you are likely to ever use on your cloth pads. Even though I line dry 90% of the time, there are days on which I want (or need) clean liners now and send them through the dryer. Do not skip this step! Your cloth pads will warp.

Step 3. Cut out your fabrics.

If you’re testing out a new pattern, I would just make one, but it saves time to cut multiples out. Make sure your pattern is parallel with the selvage (the finished edges of the fabric), pin, and cut carefully around your pattern. You can also trace it and cut on your tracing lines instead.

For a thin, everyday pantiliner, I use two layers of flannel for the core, so cut two of the inserts for every one of the top and bottom layers.

Step 4. Sew the insert to the top layer.

Cloth pantiliner insert

Be lazy: sew straight lines!

Pin and sew the insert to the wrong side of the top layer. Some people sew ovals or squigglies. Sewing tight curves is a pain, so I just stitch two lines on the edges of the insert. Tip: if you sew in the same direction for both lines, you’re less likely to get wrinkles in your insert.


Step 5. Sew the top and bottom layers together.

cloth pad project 006

More pins.

Pin the top and bottom layers together, wrong sides facing. (Lots of pins. Fabric likes to shift on you when you’re sewing.) Now sew the sides together, leaving at least a 2″ gap on a straight edge somewhere for turning.

Iron and then clip the curves (both concave and convex). Otherwise they won’t look nice or lie flat when you turn everything inside out.

cloth pad project 007

Clip those curves. The right wing has been left open for turning.

Step 6. Turn everything inside out.

This is the most miserable part of the process, because you’ll end up with something limp and misshapen and begin to think that paying $4 for a cloth pantiliner is a good deal. Plus it’s easy to not leave quite enough space to turn and have to wrestle with it. (2″ is the absolute minimum — the thicker the pad, the more you’ll need.)

Use your fingers or a tool to press the seams open, and then iron with lots of steam until it looks presentable.

Step 7. Topstitch around the whole thing.

cloth pad project 009

If you want the finished product to look nice, go slowly on this step. I manually adjust the foot around the curves because my current sewing machine has only two speeds: 0 and a whole lot faster than I want to be going. Be sure to tuck in and sew over the seam that you left open to turn the thing inside out.

Lines a little crooked? Oh well. It’s only underwear.

Step 8. Attach some sort of fastening.

I like sew on snaps, but you could also do buttons or some kind of tab closure. All done!

You can read about my earlier adventures in cloth pads here. I think having some basic sewing skills is quite green if you want to be able to mend old clothes or make new things out of scrap fabrics.

Do you use cloth pads or liners? Have you tried making your own?

Seafood Watch: Do You Eat Sustainable Seafood?

California Leopard Sharks

Leopard Sharks. Credit: MoonSoleil

I admired the jellyfish, the octopus, and the nudibranchs, but in the end, it was the California leopard sharks that won me over. They cuddled up against the diver and nudged their heads against her arm, taking squid gently from her hand. It was the first time ever a shark had elicited an involuntary “Aww” reaction from me.

I’ve been going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium since I was eleven. (Honor roll field trips FTW!) There are arguments against keeping animals in captivity, but for me, getting up close and personal with a leafy sea dragon reminds me why I care about this planet and inspires me to keep caring.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium earnestly promotes ocean conservation, particularly through its Seafood Watch program. Overfishing is one of the most critical issues facing our ocean ecosystems, and the MBA’s Seafood Watch Pocket Guide distills a whole lot of solid scientific data into a handy wallet-sized guide of which fish you can enjoy without guilt, and which you’re really better off avoiding. They take into account fishing practices, population, and impact on habitat. Your seafood choices matter! 

Seafood Watch. Credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium

I’m vegetarian and have fond memories of my pet betta fish (RIP, Superfishy), but if you eat seafood, please download the free pocket guide or Seafood Watch app and tell your friends about it. There are different regional versions that address the choices you’re most likely to face at the supermarket or in a restaurant.  They’ve made making good choices as easy as possible.

Since I’m nosy, I got in touch with Ryan Bigelow, the Seafood Watch Outreach Manager, and peppered him with questions about Seafood Watch. Read on for his thoughtful answers.

Q: How did the Seafood Watch program get started?
A: Conservation has always been one of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s founding principles. Back in 1999, we were looking at our internal purchasing decisions. (The aquarium goes through a lot of seafood to feed its animals!) We started putting out informational placards on our restaurant tables about sustainable seafood. When those started disappearing, rather than hiring more security guards, we came up with the Seafood Watch pocket guide. Since then, we’ve handed out more than 40 million pocket guides and worked with major companies like Whole Food and Aramark, restaurants, commercial fisheries, aquariums, and other conservation groups. Basically, we provide the science behind the sustainable seafood movement.

Q: How’s the ocean looking in 2013?
A: There’s room for hope, especially in US, Canadian, and Australian waters – places where government regulations have been driven by consumer consciousness. More and more fishermen are on board. We’re definitely not out of the tunnel yet, but there’s some hope, including for species like the bluefin tuna.

Q: What are the most important factors that go into deciding how sustainable a species is?
A: Our scientists look at both wild seafood and aquaculture (farmed seafood) and evaluate their impact in a lot of ways. For wild seafood, we look at how a species is fished, levels of bycatch, habitat damage, overfishing, and more. For aquaculture, we go by what type of species is raised, what it eats, and how the farm affects the environment. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has 2,500 total recommendations, about 270 of which are online. A pocket guide has about 75. It’s incredibly difficult to condense so much information, but our goal was to offer enough information to help people make good choices without being overwhelmed.

Q: Would you ever put invasive species like Asian carp on the green list?
A: Yes, we absolutely would. The problem is that there is rarely an established commercial fishery for invasive species. And there’s potential that creating a market for invasives is that fisheries might not just fish until a species was gone – they might want to maintain it or even expand it.

Q: The pocket guide makes distinctions between fish raised or caught in different ways or places. What if we can’t get this information?
A: Sometimes consumers just won’t have the information they need, and this brings up issues like the need for better labeling. For example, wild salmon caught in Alaska might be processed in China before being sent back to the US. It can legally be called wild Alaskan salmon, but it’s probably not what you had in mind. Even though people won’t have all the pieces, we hope Seafood Watch gets people to think about the issues, ask questions, and start conversations. If you can’t tell if something is sustainable, we recommend not buying it. Most restaurants will have at least a few options that are on the green or yellow list.

Q: What about pet food? I have no idea what kind of tuna is in tuna for cats, much less how or where it was caught. Is there a way to buy canned fish responsibly for my cat?
A: We pay attention to what kinds of people are interested in our program, and pet owners keep coming up. The best answer I can give right now is that we’re looking into it. The problem with pet food is that it’s made as cheaply as possible, and that often means that sustainability was not a consideration.  A good rule of thumb  – not just for pet food – is that if it’s caught in an environmentally responsible way, it will be marketed that way. For example, troll/pole caught canned tuna is always touted as such.

Q: Why doesn’t the Monterey Bay Aquarium recommend just eating less fish?
A: That hasn’t been our message up to now; rather we recommend that people try to diversify the types of fish they eat, moving away from just tuna, shrimp and salmon . We work closely with fishermen and want to support those doing the right thing. We don’t want people to think that eating seafood is bad – we believe seafood can be sustainable if done well, and we want people to continue enjoying it.

Q: I’m a vegetarian. What else can I do to take care of our oceans?
A: Even if you don’t eat seafood, you can help get the message out, ask questions at restaurants and supermarkets, and advocate for the oceans. Any support is good support!


Thanks, Ryan! I hope you’ll take a moment to download the guide and tuck a copy in your wallet today. I’m planning to snoop around my local supermarket and see if they’re up to snuff and write letters if they’re not…

Do you eat seafood? Do you try to ensure that it’s sustainable?

The Crankypants Guide to a Green Holiday

This is my idea of a Christmas tree. Photo credit: Humboldthead

Around this time of year, my Twitter feed explodes with things like, “Eco-friendly tree decorations!” and “Greenest stocking stuffers!” and “How to make eco-friendly tinsel out of Capri-Sun wrappers!” It’s all well-intentioned (or mostly; some of it is still trying to sell you stuff you don’t need and will never want), but at the same time, I have to wonder: how green can you really make the highest-impact, most wasteful holiday of the year by replacing things you don’t need with slightly lower impact versions of things you don’t need? 


Uh. Sorry. I think my Grinch is showing. But tongue firmly in cheek, I came up with a list of revised suggestions for a [more] eco-responsible[-ish] holiday. You know, for grouchpuss greenies. Extreme? Nah…

  • Be poor if you can possibly help it. (And if you can’t, I have to think that you’re not trying hard enough.) Poverty is the single best way to cut down on decorations, gift-giving, traveling, and impulsive holiday buys, like the bouncy inflatable Santa my neighbors down the street have. I’m finding that it also forces me to be more creative. Instead of buying stuff this year, I’m reusing, doing without, or coming up with creative workarounds and unusual presents (dress altering services, anyone?). Also, I hope you really, really like my pottery.
  • Stop traveling to see people you don’t like. Sharing DNA is not a good reason to spend your time or your carbon dioxide on people you can’t stand. I don’t recommend this as a networking strategy, but it works amazingly well if you want some extra time and peace for the holidays. And in the same vein:
  • Stop buying presents for people you don’t like. With regards to the people we don’t know well or like much, yet still feel obliged toward…can’t we just come to a non-gift agreement already? A plate of cookies and a card, maybe? A handshake to imply goodwill without the transfer of material goods?
  • Put off inessentials until the last minute. If you’ve waited till now to get up your Christmas lights, you might as well not do it at all because it’s so much effort for a two week show. I’ve had finals up until yesterday, so I’ve been putting off everything, with the end result that I am not likely to bake cookies, write cards, or make a mix CD this year. It’s okay. Every couple years is fine.
  • Try a non-meat-based holiday dinner. Taste-wise, Tofurky is somewhere between a rubber tire and a salt lick. But if you’re already feeling glutted (Thanksgiving was only a month ago) or guilty about the impact of your holiday ham, there are lots of tasty, meatless, or low-meat alternative holiday dinners. How about pumpkin and sage pot pies? A mushroom and tarragon pate? I have my eye on a couple of veggie holiday recipes to try this year.
  • Draw a line between doing things out of tradition and doing things that are meaningful to you. As the daughter of an angry ex-Catholic schoolgirl mother and a vaguely Confucian father, I can’t say that my family ever went all out for Christmas. But we did do the tree, the presents, the holiday ham. As a tree lover, I can’t bear the thought of cutting down a live tree just for decoration. As a tree hugger, I can’t see myself getting a fake tree. And as a vegetarian, I’m not about to go for the Christmas ham. So that leaves presents (but not many of them, because I’m poor), which I genuinely enjoy taking the time to choose or make, wrap, and give. Kevin and I also like to go for a drive in the redwoods on Christmas day, which isn’t very green, but has become a tradition that we’re willing to swap out others for.

My bottom line is the same as it usually is. Cut out the stuff that doesn’t actively, actually make you happy. Enjoy the stuff that does. And don’t let social expectations bully you into doing otherwise. Happy non-denominational winter holiday of choice!

I’m off school until the end of January, which is exciting because chemistry gobbled up all my brain bandwidth and left me gibbering about acid-base equilibria and stoichiometry and volumetric flasks. (You know this if you follow me on Twitter.) I have a few posts that I just haven’t had the brain space to write, so I’ll get those up and catch up with your blogs and resume normal functions until the next semester starts. Hope you’ve been well!

Breaking up with eco-perfectionism

Tea ball. Evil incarnate? Photo credit: Jlodder

For the first six months of this year, I skirmished daily with my tea ball. Actually, make that tea balls. I am outnumbered 2 to 1. One has a tiny metal latch that you need to thumb closed. The other is spring-operated and shuts with the predatory snap (if not the force) of a bear trap.

Convinced as I was that my daily tea bag habit was trashing the planet, I was resolved to give up tea bags altogether in favor of loose leaf tea. Every morning, I awoke determined to conquer these simple kitchen gadgets that would make me a better greenie.

Yeah. And pretty much every morning, the score card looked like this: Tea ball: 2; Jennifer: 0.

These things are evil.  So evil that I am tempted to start calling people I dislike ‘tea balls.’ They sneered at my attempts to close the latch in my pre-caffeinated total lack of motor control. They snapped shut on my fingers. They leaked out bits of tea (rooibos was the worst) so that every cup ended with a gritty mouthful of dead leaves. They were a pain to clean, so I left them in the sink. In the morning, I would blearily dump out a sodden ball of tea leaves, attempt a quick swipe with a sponge, and start the whole process over again.

In June, I signed up for a class that required me to be out of the house and awake enough to drive by 7:30am every day. About halfway through, I made some quick triage calculations and caved. I went for a box of 100 Irish breakfast tea bags for the following reasons: 1) I am exactly the kind of tea drinker who scoffs at boxes of 20 bags; 2) Irish breakfast has a lot of caffeine; and 3) the more bags in a box, the less likely they are to be individually packaged.

Now it’s October. I’m not sure where my tea balls have gone. I secretly hope the dishwasher has eaten them.

I’ve struggled for a long time with whether tiny personal actions matter. My response has usually been to say that they matter in a symbolic way, as daily, personal reminders to live consciously. What I never thought to ask myself is this: what is the trade off of agonizing over spinach bags, tea bags, plastic dental floss boxes, the occasional disposable paper coffee cup (used to hold tea, of course)?

I think there is a cost, actually. Speaking for myself, I’ve always had a finite amount of head space. (Go ahead, make a crack at my intelligence.) I am totally the Anti-Multi-Tasker. If I’m concentrating on my blog, I can’t work on my novel. If I’m fully engaged at work or school, I can’t really do justice to my blog. There’s just not enough time or space in my head to go full tilt at everything I’m interested in at the same time. And what I’ve come to realize is that fretting about the small stuff leaves me with less energy, time, and headspace to do things that might actually benefit this planet. Like plant trees, volunteer with my local native plant society, get involved with local conservation. For me, the fact that there’s always more to fix in my own life has been a sort of excuse not to get outside of it. And finally, there’s the danger of that ‘OK, I’ve done enough’ complacency when I have arranged my life to relatively green standards.

It’s true that there is plenty of room for improvement in my own life. I still have a car. I still haven’t made an attempt to vermicompost indoors. I still haven’t switched to cloth toilet paper. I still use tea bags. But…you know what? I’ve been a vegetarian for years. I’m not having kids. I travel maybe once a year. I don’t shop much. I live with another person and share resources. For a developed world citizen, I’m doing okay on most of the big impact lifestyle habits. Actually, I’m tired of futzing around with the little stuff that might reduce my negative impact ever so slightly, and am finally maybe-kind-of-ready to leave my armchair.

My growing issue with focusing on green living is that it tends to start and end with one’s own life, and the problems we’re dealing with are so much bigger than that. They require education, research, legislation, and communication.

I’m delighted to announce that I am finally getting close, after much haranguing with my condo association, to planting a new tree outside my window where the last one was removed. Planting a tree is a small first step away from the armchair. Getting myself fully scientifically literate is another. And after that? Who knows?

What’s your relationship with eco-perfectionism? Has it changed over the years?

DIY: Make kitty litter bags from newspaper

Plastic bags are a precious commodity in my house. In the past few years, we’ve settled into the reusable bag groove and hardly ever miss a beat these days. Nothing changed when San Jose banned the bag at the beginning of this year. Our remaining plastic bags come from the odd produce bag (we don’t always remember to bring our reusables, and some things like green beans and cherries can’t really go in the bag loose), my mom (who likes to give me food and thinks I am too skinny — yes, she’s Asian), and bags that food came in (bread, potato chips, frozen vegetables).

We definitely don’t have enough for me to use one every day to clean Brie’s litter, so I came up with another solution a while ago: origami kitty litter bags. Oh yeah. Green, meet the ancient art of paperfolding.

A few years ago, I was really into origami. I think my crowning achievement may have been the two headed crane (two heads plus a tail and wings, made from a single square piece of paper). It’s still hanging from the mirror on Kevin’s car. The fold that I use for cat litter bags is traditionally known as a cup fold. It will actually hold water if you use sturdy paper and chug. But even better, it’s quick and easy, reuses materials, and biodegrades (or would, if you use non-clay cat litters and our landfills let things biodegrade). I find it especially satisfying to fold up an annoying politician’s photo and use it for cat excrement.

This is just about the simplest origami fold I know, and one of the most useful. Observe.

Step 1: Take a full sheet of newspaper. The San Francisco Chronicle is very close to square, which makes things easier. Notice the original vertical fold. We’ll need it later.

Step 2: Fold in half along the diagonal. You’ll notice that the top and side corners are slightly offset because the paper isn’t perfectly square.

Step 3: Bring the right corner up. This step requires a little eye-balling, but you’re basically looking for the bottom of the right corner to be parallel with the original vertical fold of the newspaper.

Step 4: Turn it over and bring the left corner up. You can adjust if things aren’t lining up well at this point.

Step 5: Fold down just the top layer. Turn it over and fold down the other side.

Done! You should now have a pocket in which to deposit all the lovely leavings of your favorite feline. Attention: this fold stays together best if you pull it wide apart (the mouth should look square or diamond shaped) while putting things in it. That locks everything into place.

Once you know what you’re doing (and this is by no means rocket science), it takes 5-10 seconds to make one, as long as the cat doesn’t come over and sit on your newspaper. (I sometimes leave out a sheet of extra newspaper just so the cat can sit on it and leave me alone.) On Sunday, the only day on which we get a newspaper, I sit down, pull out my least favorite sections, and make a stack of kitty litter bags for the week to come. Even if you don’t get a newspaper regularly, you probably have a neighbor who does and would be happy to share.

You won’t save the planet doing this, but if your plastic bag drawer is empty, it’s a reasonably green solution. Dog owners, I apologize, but I’ve got nothing for you.

Want to feel connected to nature? Go field sketching.

3pm at the barn. It’s at least 90 degrees in the sun, and I’m sitting under a willow tree by an overgrown pond, waiting for my friend as she visits with her horse and does mysterious things (not sure I really want to know what it means to ‘clean his sheath’). It’s a parched, dusty, yellow afternoon. Out on the pond, invisible frogs make thrumming noises that sound more like generators than croaks, an egret (or perhaps a crane or a heron — I don’t know my birds) stalks on long legs, redwing blackbirds swoop from above, and hundreds of blue and red dragonflies shimmy a few inches above the water. I am sketching to pass the time.

This is one of the plants growing by the pond. It’s called little mallow (Malva parviflora), and you probably have some near you.

Caption: ‘Mallow – edible but slimy’

(Here’s a real photo of little mallow. Nope, I definitely don’t have a future as a botanical illustrator. Oh well.)

As my friend Emily puts it, sitting quietly outdoors is a great way to reconnect with nature. 

I’m not a spiritual person, but field sketching is one way I connect to the world around me. I wouldn’t be an environmentalist if I didn’t have that appreciation of all the weird and wonderful things that call Earth home. I also like sketching because drawing switches off the noisy, word-oozing part of my brain, and lets me see without the filter of language. It doesn’t matter that I’m not particularly good at it. Every time, I rediscover how interesting everything is when I pay enough attention. And, while you’re being still, you might just see some other things you wouldn’t have seen.

So…I have a challenge for you, if you care to accept: go outside and draw something this week. I think you’ll come away with a different understanding of the ‘ordinary’ things you rarely really look at.  If you like, send it my way and I’ll post it here with a link back to your blog.

I talked to Emily, a science illustrator, for her top field sketching tips, and here’s what we came up with.

  • Be able to identify poison oak / ivy / sumac and know whether it grows in your area. You’ll be sitting while drawing. Picking the wrong spot is definitely capable of ruining your spiritual experience. Or any experience, for that matter.
  • Pack a picnic and go with a friend (if you like company).
  • Find a comfortable spot first. Then choose something to draw close by. While some things are worth discomfort, that’s not the point of this particular exercise.
  • Pick a good subject. Something stationary and relatively small, like a plant with countable leaves, is a good place to start.
  • Insecure or uptight about your drawing skills? Emily recommends a little alcohol to loosen you up. (I haven’t tried this personally.)
  • Don’t worry about the results. No one expects you to turn out fabulously detailed and precise sketches. It’s one of those journey-not-destination things.

Have you gone field sketching lately? Or do you feel inspired to go now? I’d love to hear about your field sketching experiences and see your drawings. 

My Love/Hate Relationship with Farmers’ Markets

I can count the number of times I’ve been to a farmers’ market this year. On my fingers. On one hand. (My time in Hawaii excepted, because the promise of tree-ripened mangos, papayas, and apple bananas can entice me into all sorts of things I wouldn’t normally do.) The discrepancy between belief and action surprised me until I realized that my appreciation of farmers’ markets is primarily intellectual. For all the good fruit, community-building, local-economy-supporting, environment-supporting vibes, I don’t like being there.


I took Beth’s Show Your Plastic challenge (well, at least the collecting part) this week, and found that most of my plastic waste is, in fact, packaging from delicate summer fruit: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. It’s all stuff that I could readily get at the farmers’ market with significantly less plastic; I just don’t feel much motivation to go. First world problem? Oh yeah.

I’ve identified the reasons I don’t go to farmers’ markets more often. Maybe you can help me come up with solutions.

Problem #1: I hate crowds.

As in hate hate. If you can have claustrophobia about being enveloped by people (small spaces without people = no problem), that’s what I have. Being stuck in a sea of elbows, bad perfume + body odor, and double-wide baby strollers makes my blood pressure rise and my mood plummet. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that my local markets enjoy such good business. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can only be at the farmers’ market for a few minutes before I start to shut down and look for an empty corner in which to whimper.

Problem #2: The good farmers’ market is at the same time as my pottery studio time.

There are two nearby weekend markets. The Saratoga market, which has reasonable prices, manageable crowds, and really good fruit, is on Saturday morning. So is open studio at pottery. There is very little that I prioritize over being elbow deep in mud on Saturday mornings. Seeing friends? Sleeping in? Buying food? Meh.

Problem #3: The other farmers’ market has an unacceptable level of smug. 

The Campbell farmers’ market: a little richer, a lot whiter, and a whole lot smugger. It’s like taking the entire weekly population of Whole Foods and concentrating it on three street blocks. Phenomena observed there: designer reusable bags, eco-sunglasses, bamboo baby strollers, crappy overpriced crafts, pedigreed dogs with non-toxic toe nail polish, yoga goddesses going on about their latest juice cleanse. I don’t particularly like the ambiance at Whole Foods, but the Campbell market is about ten times worse and just as expensive. Time it takes for this place to get my back up: 5 minutes. Time it takes for me to complete my shopping: 20 minutes. I’m rubbish at math, but even I can see that that isn’t a good equation.

Problem #4: I don’t like talking to people.

One of the touted benefits of going to farmers’ markets is getting up close and personal with farmers. Here you can talk to farmers about their growing practices, pest management strategies, crop rotation, colony collapse. It’s a terrific thing to know how your food is grown, but that doesn’t change an inherent personality flaw: I don’t like talking to strangers. I have a limit of maybe five new people a day, tops. So once I’ve talked to a few farmers, I’m done, and just want to mutely shove cucumbers into my reusable produce bags. In fact, I sometimes welcome the anonymity of buying from the supermarket, where I can’t be guilt tripped into paying $4 a pound for organic heirloom tomatoes that the grower wrested at great personal cost and effort from nematode-infested soils.

Problem #5: I can’t always justify the cost.

I would love to support my local farmers all the time, but it bumps up my grocery tab by as much as 50%. $3 for a small basket of strawberries, $6 for a dozen truly cage free, happy hen eggs, $2.50 for a pound of potatoes. Ouch. I still have no guarantee that they are grown more sustainably than the stuff at my local greengrocer. In The Conundrum David Owen has a rather harsh invective against farmers’ markets, but asks a question I would love to know the answer to: if lower efficiency farming uses more land to produce the same amount of food, is it really greener? It’s a complex question that has to take into account externalities from conventional high efficiency farming (higher levels of pesticides, nitrogen run-off) and whether the small organic farms take away land that would be otherwise available for wildlife (perhaps not), but once again, I find myself wishing sustainability were a quantifiable term.

What kind of relationship do you have with farmers’ markets? Got any clever solutions for me?

Photo credit: NatalieMaynor

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