Deep Down Things: Down-Home Environmentalism

November 25, 2009


By Kendra Langdon Juskus

This is the first year I won’t be traveling to upstate New York to my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. My grandmother passed away last year, and as I reflect on her life this holiday season, I’m re-posting these thoughts, which I originally wrote a year ago, on what she taught me, in her unique way, about living lightly and delightedly on God’s earth.

Three events from the past year—the troubled economy, the presidential election, and, on a personal note, the death of my grandmother—drove me back to a book that’s been sitting on my shelf for a while: 1,628 Country Shortcuts From 1,628 Country People.

My late grandmother, a country woman her whole life, gave me this book, compiled by the editors of Country magazine, and indicated that it was the sort of book “someone like [me] might enjoy.” I’ve never lived in the country, and can’t appreciate advice on how to get an orphaned piglet to eat or how to loosen tight hay bales, so how would this book be applicable to my life? Well, in the case of these hints and daily-life tidbits, less=more, and simple=green. Cleaning suggestions center around safe, household substances like white vinegar and baking soda. Worn-out socks, old milk jugs, pizza cutters, and fishnet stockings can all be repurposed and reused. The life of tools and furniture can be lengthened with a touch of petroleum jelly or some dental floss.

I love this creative, non-consumerist approach to reducing, reusing, and recycling. Nothing makes me more cynical about “green living” than its marketing appeal. We all operate within a consumerist society, and environmentalists are no different. Ecologically sustainable alternatives to everyday items that contain harmful chemicals and materials are necessary. But green stuff is still stuff, and if we’re frugal and creative, we’ll find that the best answer is to have less of it.

Lately, because of the economic downturn, everyone’s been buying a lot less stuff. This enforced penny-pinching can either be good or bad for the cause of creation care. We can go back to buying the (often) cheaper-but-more-dangerous foods and chemicals we bought before the eco-conscious bug struck, or we can live a little more like these 1,628 country people: cooking meals from scratch, repurposing once-used tools and materials, innovating with simple solutions.

My grandmother and I differed in our political views, but as Christians we both delighted in God’s creation, understood the value of good stewardship, and saw the sense behind actions like those recommended in this book. The electoral map that lit television screens last November indicated that more rural states, where many of this book’s contributors are from, constitute an area not immediately associated with environmentalism as it is defined in the media. Coastal areas, on the other hand, largely went blue, and are considered to be home to more vocally “green” advocates. Gross over-generalizations aside, is it possible that people in the red states—like most of this book’s contributors—do much that is intuitively “green”, and that people in the blue states, often more intentionally “going green,” may sometimes overlook the potential of this traditional resourcefulness as part of their green goals?

In the crucible of an economic crisis, and in faithfulness to God’s stewardship mandate, there may be hope that both sides of the aisle will look to frugal, creative solutions for saving resources (both monetary and ecological), and that sharing different kinds of knowledge and ideas will provoke some fabulous down-home environmentalism.

Do you have your own tried-and-true down-home green suggestions? Please share them with us!

Kendra Langdon Juskus is managing editor of Flourish.

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