How a mompreneur used online learning to startup a biz

Most people don’t think of YouTube or Pinterest as online learning sites, but when used properly, they’re a rich source of knowledge.

Tami Shidawara-Vazquez started her business after she had her second child. After maternity leave from her FedEx job, she was looking for ways to earn some extra income. She was trying to think of things she could do at home. This is when this Silicon Valley mom decided to become a mompreneur and educate herself through online learning.

“I started making cakes for events.  I love creating sculpted cakes. It’s an art form for me. The kids go crazy for it when they see the cake come out. They love it. I love the reward of seeing kids’ and adults’ faces. They’re so wowed by it. It’s fun to see their reactions,” Tami said.

online learning train cake mompreneur startup

Tami made this train cake for a boy who was turning five years old.

“I also like the fun of trying to figure it out. Most of the time I’m creating something I’ve never done before. I have to Google the theme or go on Pinterest to see how other people have done it. Pinterest is my usual go-to place for ideas and online learning. Sometimes I find helpful DIY videos and tips,” Tami said.

“But doing cakes was hard with the kids. It was too hard to do baking and decorating with kids who need constant attention. They were always trying to sneak a lick of frosting or stick their fingers in the cake. It was too hard to juggle a cake business with kids that age,” Tami said.

online learning flea market

Tami Shidawara-Vazquez (left), pictured here with her friend, Violeta Sy (right) at the DeAnza Flea Market in 2013.

Tami started looking for other things she could do. That’s when her friend, Violeta Syintroduced her to shabby chic.

“Violeta was thinking we could do the flea market together. I started painting furniture and some wall decor. We went to DeAnza Flea Market together to see if our stuff would sell. She did really good. I did ok. It was a fun experience. I met some people who really encouraged me. I got some really good feedback from customers. It made me want to keep going and learn new stuff and try new techniques. It worked out and I started doing more and more pieces,” Tami said.

painting online learning kids toolbox helmet safety Restoration Illumination

Tami’s oldest son practicing safety-first with his bike helmet on.

The first project she did was an old wood toolbox that her boys did with her. Tami picked up this toolbox at a garage sale. They sanded it and stained it. Then they planted succulents in it. Ricardo was five and Mateo was three when Tami kicked off her wood restoration business with this first project.

handmade toolbox succulents online learning painting gardening children projects

This handmade toolbox is one of the first wood painting projects Tami did with the boys.

Tami chose Restoration Illumination as the name of her business because she wanted to restore things and give them a new life. “Restoration” is a means of giving an old item a new life. “Illumination” is a way of seeing things in a new light. She also liked that the name rhymed. Check out some of her pieces on Instagram at Restoration Illumination.

Tami liked the idea of starting a business where her boys could get involved. online learning painting kids boys family business

Tami liked the idea of starting a business where her boys could get involved.

Online learning opened up a whole new world for this former FedEx manager. She taught herself how to do shabby chic by watching YouTube videos and clicking through Pinterest links. By following along, she learned the techniques. From there she discovered farmhouse style, French Cottage, industrial, Funky Junk, and Trash to Treasure.

Online learning offers the flexibility that this mompreneur needed to gain the skills to build her business. As she was learning new techniques, she taught her boys the basics along the way.

boys painting helping work family business mompreneur online learning fun kids activities summer

The boys are always eager to help out. Tami loves watching them paint even when she has to redo their work.

“I have a home workshop. I started working in my back yard with just a couple projects. As I started getting more projects in, I started using the carport. I took over the carport and then as I added on even more projects and the work started coming in more, I took over one part of the garage. Then as it grew even more we built a little overhang. It’s been three years now. I’ve taken over the whole back yard,” Tami said.

boys power tools safety adult supervision family business

“My boys love any chance they get to use power tools. They know that safety is first. They can’t just play with them. They know that they’re actual tools and they can’t use them unless an adult is with them,” Tami said.

In addition to learning from YouTube videos and how-to articles, Tami also learns from shows on HGTV, DIYNetwork, and Great American Country.


“My older son enjoyed prepping and sanding this vintage chair for restoration. This was one of our earlier projects,” Tami said.

Tami is a big fan of Joanna Gaines, the “Magnolia Mom,” and host of HGTV‘s Fixer Upper show. This is one of Tami’s favorite shows for online learning.

“I’m inspired by Joanna’s down-to-earth personality and style. She renovates homes that others wouldn’t want and helps them to see the potential in it. They’re low-key and fun to watch. I love how when she’s staging, the kids come over and they have dinner together. I love how she involves her kids and makes time for family,” Tami said.

Tami is also a fan of Flea Market Flip, a competition where two teams have $500 to spend at a flea market. They have three projects that they have to do and one day to complete all three projects. Whoever has the most profit in the end wins $5,000.

“I love seeing what the teams come up with. They have a list of projects to do. I like seeing what they pick and how they turn it into something very unique or something with a new purpose. I like seeing the whole thought process of what they do,” Tami said.

boys flea market fun online learning painting selling furniture

Tami’s boys like going with her to the flea market because they get to find something fun for themselves, like Pokémon cards or Legos.

Salvage Dawgs is another one of Tami’s favorite shows.

“They go into old historic buildings that are being torn down. They get to go into a building and save pieces from inside before it’s demolished. They’re saving history and repurposing it. They find a lot of great stuff, a lot of architectural salvage. They usually show one project they’re working on and how they repurposed it for their shop,” Tami said.

“I watch shows after the kids go to sleep or when they’re at school. Or I watch after dinner is done and the homework is done. The boys get bored with the shows. They prefer to watch cartoons or play video games,” Instead of watching TV, I like to do things with them outside, things they can get involved with. Gardening is one activity that they do at school and we do at home. They were interested in planting a garden. They picked out some plants from Los Altos Nursery,” I like the gardening. It’s an activity plus it gives them a sense of pride that they’ve picked it out, they care for it and they get to watch it grow. It also gives them the responsibility to keep checking on the plants,” Tami said.

“The reason I started this business was because I wanted to take care of the kids and be with them at home. When I’m at home and working outside, the kids can be playing outside or they can be helping me out and I can still watch them while I’m working,”  Tami said.

jug repurposing boys garden gardening online learning

The boys love using their repurposed milk jug to water the garden they planted in their back yard.

“I started selling on Craigslist. As people came to buy things like a dresser, I would ask them if they needed anything else for other parts of their house. I got people interested in doing more work just by asking. Then I’d get referrals from them and it grew from there,” Tami said.

Most of Tami’s repeat customers are people who purchased one item from her and turned to her for help in finding more pieces. Tami especially enjoys working with these clients and shopping for them, finding the perfect piece. She likes working with customers who want to do an entire room in a new theme.

“Now Ricardo is helping more. He’s seven. When Mateo helps out, it’s more for fun and I usually have to redo it. He just turned six. Ricardo is getting to the point where I can use his work. He does signs and distressing. He’s good with banging up wood and distressing with hammers and chains. He’s good at it and he likes to do it,” Tami said.

“Sometimes they’re eager to help out and surprise me. I’m just afraid one day I’m going to come in the house and find out that they distressed all the furniture with hammer and chains,” Tami said.

online learning lettering Restoration Illumination mompreneur

Tami is especially excited when customers think it’s an authentic piece, but it’s something she just painted.

“You can learn a lot on YouTube! I love what I do. I can easily work twelve to fifteen hours a day,” she said.

Today, Tami considers herself a junker who loves shabby chic and French Cottage design. She also likes farmhouse style, especially for kitchens. She enjoys creating decorations that pull everything together.

If you’re interested in seeing some of Tami’s repurposing projects, check out:

9 Ideas to Repurpose Junk Into Treasure

“If you’re a working mom looking for a way to spend more time with your kids, I would definitely say to do something that you’re passionate about. That makes it really easy to love your work. If you need more skills, online learning is a great resource and a lot of it is free. It’s easily accessible, right at your fingertips. Even my boys use online learning for school to learn reading, spelling and math. If it’s something your kids can do with you, you can get them involved and use it as a bonding experience. It’s a chance to help them learn new skills. The more you can get them involved, the more time you get with them, and maybe you can even start a family business. The main thing is to just do what you love and try to keep the kids involved. But don’t get so wrapped up in your work that you’re not present with them. You need to be there not just physically, but for their needs as well. If they ask for help with homework or they want to show you something they did at school that they’re excited about, don’t put it off.  Make time to be there for them when they need it,” Tami said.


9 Ideas to Repurpose Junk Into Treasure

Tami Shidawara-Vazquez is part of a movement of people who love to repurpose to help keep stuff out of landfills. She’s especially interested in furniture and other things made of wood.

When a piece of furniture is damaged, a lot of people put it out on the curb. Tami likes to find things that people are ready to trash, especially if she can get it for free. What some people see as broken, she sees as raw inventory that she can repurpose into something new.


vintage car mirror repurposed as a decorative shelf

She likes to fix things, paint things, and transform them into something different. She hopes to inspire people to see things past their current state. Here are nine ways she repurposes trash into treasures.

1. Repurpose old parts to light up your home

When Tami saw a Pinterest picture with vintage car mirror repurposed as a little shelf, she knew she wanted to do a similar project.

She started with a cabinet door discarded from a kitchen remodeling project. She has accumulated all different shapes of cabinet doors, but for this project, she chose this thin cabinet door because it was an appropriate frame for a tall candle.

She’s always looking for new ways to use cabinet doors. She decided to do a wall sconce. She thought using a car mirror would be a great idea because most people have never seen something like this.

RestorationIlluminationCarMirrorCandleHolder repurpose

vintage car mirror and cabinet door repurposed into candle sconce light

People are always remodeling kitchens, so it’s easy to find old cabinet doors. She got a door, painted it and distressed it. It was hard, however, to find a deal on a vintage car mirror, but she finally found one at an estate sale.

“Sometimes it takes a long time to find some things, but if you’re patient, you can find interesting things when you least expect it.” Tami said.

This wall sconce can provide ambient lighting in just about any room.

Tami often responds to Craigslist posts when people are getting rid of things. Sometimes things are already spoken for when she replies, but sometimes she’s the first person to respond, or they agree to keep her on file and call her later.

In this case, she connected with a contractor. She let him know that she likes to repurpose stuff and she’d be happy to haul away unwanted items such as: leftover wires, fence boards, cabinet doors, drawers, windows and doors.

2. Repurpose drawers to create focal points

Tami loves giving new life to old drawers. During remodeling projects, people typically toss out old drawers because they don’t think there’s any use for them.

“But, the possibilities are endless. You can paint them, stencil them, decoupage and Mod Podge them to totally customize them to match your decor. You can hang them on a wall, put them under a bed, put your kids art supplies in them on the top of a table, or just about anything else you can think of,” Tami said.

repurpose drawer beverage water kitchen chalk paint stencil

repurpose a drawer into a practical decor for entertaining

Tami often gets drawers from contractors who are remodeling a kitchens. They have to pay to have trash hauled away, so they don’t mind at all if she does it for free.

drawer repurpose decorative box enjoy life pine cones chalk paint stencil

repurpose a drawer into an uplifting centerpiece

There are endless combinations you can do with drawers. You can put anything in them and put them in any room of your home. You can put towels in them in the bathroom. In the living room you can use them for drinks, newspapers, or recycled papers. On a craft table, you can use them to store your paint, brushes and paper. You can also utilize space under desks or other underutilized areas.

“Drawers are like a blank canvas. You can do anything with them,” Tami said.

3. Repurpose boards to organize with style

One of Tami’s customers saw a picture on Pinterest of a bathroom towel hook. She loved it and wanted to recreate it. The Pinterest photo linked over to a post that explained how to do the project with suggestions on where to find the supplies, including buying the vintage-like door knobs from Hobby Lobby.

“They offer a good deal on these knobs. People at flea markets often charge more for authentic vintage knobs like this,” Tami said.

With the original inspiration photo, Tami was able to transform some scrap wood and trim into a towel holder for her client who needed to increase towel storage in a small bathroom.

Restoration Illumination door knob vintage towel holder repurpose shabby chic

repurpose door knobs into towel holders

Tami got a board that she cut down to the sizes a bit longer than the door knob plates. Then she got some wood trim and mitered them for the decorative top. She painted the boards and knob hardware with Annie Sloan white chalk paint. She painted the door plates so that it all blended together. Then she distressed it to make it look old.

repurpose door knobs into towel hooks

repurpose door knobs into towel hooks

Tami’s customer was so excited. She absolutely loved them. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to find these in a store so she was thrilled that Tami was able custom make these for her.

4. Repurpose boxes to create more storage in your home

Tami searches for all sorts of things at estate sales and on Craigslist. She usually starts searching around Wednesday for estate sales coming up, typically on Friday, Saturdays or Sundays. If she finds estate sales that she likes, she signs up for their email updates.

Tami found this interesting crate at an estate sale. She had to flip it upside down to turn it into a table, so she had to take the bottom off and put it on the top. She wanted the Chinese characters to be the right way up. Then she stenciled the “HK” and “SF” letters on the top.

Restoration Illumination Repurpose Crate stencil table storage

repurpose a crate into a side table

“Crates provide great storage. They’re one of my favorite finds because you can do so much with them. You can hang them on a wall, put wheels on them, make ottomans out of them, or turn them into tables. If you stack up a pile of them, they make a great backdrop for wedding photos.” Tami said.

Tami did this project on her own just for the fun of it. She ended up selling it at a booth at Not Too Shabby.

5. Repurpose vintage pieces into multifunctional works of art

“I found this piece folded up against a closet door at an estate sale. The vinyl top was ripped. I couldn’t even tell it was a table. I saw the wood and I was curious. I looked at it closer and discovered it was a card table. I loved the potential of the wood. I knew I could make some sort of wall art or a sign out of it so I bought it,” Tami said.

Restoration Illumination Card Table vintage repurpose

look for ways to repurpose “damaged” pieces

“I removed all the vinyl and sanded it. I went to Graphics Fairy to look for some royalty-free images. I found one I liked and scaled it. Then I did a chalk transfer and hand painted it. I love French graphics and how the lettering looks really old on this one,” Tami said.

Restoration Illumination Card Table Sign Art stencil repurpose

repurpose a vintage card table into multifunctional art

“I liked this project so much that I decided to keep it in my own home. I only recently started keeping pieces for a while. People often see my stuff and think that my whole home is decorated in this style, but it’s not. Most of the things I do sell right away. They never make it into my home. I can’t keep everything.”

“I have “visitation rights” to some of my favorite pieces. I love seeing them when I go back to do other projects at their homes. It’s fun to see how people use pieces in their homes. It’s often different from what I envisioned.”

“I plan on keeping this one for a while. It’s something I can use for shows to display how to repurpose tables. It also shows the sign work I do. It’s a good example of my style.”


“You never know what you’re going to find at a flea market. You can often find rare things at a decent price.” Tami said. She enjoys both buying and selling at DeAnza Flea Market.

Tami occasionally sets up a booth at arts and crafts show such as the Harvest Festival. She loves seeing all the other art and meeting other creative people and seeing the things they’ve come up with.

6. Repurpose furniture to add color to your garden

“I have tons of chairs and many of them are broken. But just because they’re broken doesn’t mean you can’t use them. I had so many chairs, I knew I should start doing some thing with them. I was looking for ways to use them around the house or yard,” Tami said.

“I recently painted a red chair and I thought it would be fun to do some chairs in other bright colors. I had a big pot that happened to fit into the frame of this one. The pot rests in the seat frame,” Tami said.

Restoration Illumination Yellow Garden Chair repurpose chalk paint distressed art

repurpose a chair into garden art

This chair was originally a worn brown stain. She painted bright yellow Annie Sloan chalk paint and then she distressed it. When she does pieces for the outdoors, she tops it off with a coat of Minwax water-based Polycrylic protective finish.

7. Repurpose damaged furniture into new storage

When people have a chest of drawers that’s broken in some way, most people throw them out.

“But dressers are so fun. You can make a kitchen island out of them. You can put wheels on them and roll them around,” Tami said.

Tami got the idea for this bar upcycle from a picture she saw on Pinterest. She fell in love with the idea of doing a similar project.

Restoration Illumination Cabinet repurpose chalkboard paint chalk paint farmhouse

repurpose a chest of drawers into a beverage cabinet

“I started searching for a dresser that I could convert into a bar. I found this one at a Kuzak’s Closet estate sale. I chose this piece because the top drawer had a drop front which made it ideal for a beverage bar. The railings on the middle drawers were broken so I removed them, gutted it out and made a shelf inside. I cut out a section of the bottom drawer and added chicken wire. I like when you can see inside a drawer. I love adding farmhouse style features,” Tami said.

Restoration Illumination Cocktail Cabinet repurpose chest of drawers shabby chic farmhouse

click here to learn more about his bar upcycle that Tami purchased from a Kuzak’s Closet estate sale

Tami painted the main part with Annie Sloan white chalk paint and the sides with chalkboard paint. You can keep it fresh by changing the words. This bar upcycle project can easily change moods for different events, seasons and gatherings. By changing a few words and accessories, it easily converts into a cereal bar, coffee bar, or anything else you desire.

8. Repurpose small-scale pieces for kids play stations

To create a kid’s play station, you can repurpose an old cabinet, nightstand, or any small-scale piece of furniture. Tami used a pegboard to hang the toy tools. She spray painted it with a glossy metallic silver paint to create the illusion of a magnetic board.

You can also use small-scale furniture to make a little kitchen island, an oven, a produce stand, a lemonade stand, or just about anything else to spark a child’s imagination.

Restoration Illumination Workbench children's play station tools repurpose

repurpose a cabinet into a workbench

This was a nightstand that Tami converted into a kid’s workbench. She saw an idea on Pinterest and she thought it would be super cute for her kids.

At the time her youngest was around three years old. It was a great place for him to store his play tools. He was able to put his little tool box in the bottom. Her boys love getting involved and helping. They love to watch, sand and paint.

“Sometimes I would have to repaint projects. They thought they were helping, but they were really making more work for me. But after a while, they got really good at it. I wanted to get them involved and allow them to be creative. It’s a bonding activity that we can work on together. I love doing projects with my boys.”

Now that they’ve outgrown the toddler tool station, she’s going to repurpose it into a kitchen playstation that she’ll sell. Things can be repurposed even after they’re repurposed.

9. Repurpose vintage items to enhance a wedding theme

Suitcases can be used for a lot of different purposes. Some people cut them in half and mount them to a wall for a shelf. You can decoupage them, paint them, or turn them into tables.

Paris Suitcase Repurpose Restoration Illumination stencil decoupage

repurpose a suitcase into a gift card box for a wedding

Tami turned this vintage suitcase into a gift card box for a wedding with a Paris theme. For weddings, she likes to use suitcases for card boxes. The paper used for this decoupage project was from an antique French hotel directory from early 1900s. All of the letters are in French, so all the pages were vintage to start with. She stenciled “Paris” over the pages to top off the French theme with a stencil she purchased from Maison de Stencils.

After the wedding, this sort of storage box can serve as a wedding souvenir and home decoration for years to come.

Restoration Illumination LOVE sign repurpose wood sign art wedding chalk paint

repurpose wood pieces into a sign

“I have tons of wood around my house so I try to find ways to use them such as for signs or candle holders. I wanted a positive word, so I chose love,” Tami said. A sign is also something that can be used for a wedding and easily be used as  year-round home decor.

“If something looks like trash, try to find another way to use it and repurpose it, give it a new life, another chance. It’s a shame to see things getting dumped. There are others who would love to get their hands on it and repurpose it,” Tami said.

Once you get a hang of the idea, you begin to see things for their possibilities, and come up with ideas to transform things in unexpected ways.

Tami checks Pinterest every day to get ideas and inspiration on how people are repurposing. She does searches with keywords like: shabby chic, junk, flea market and farmhouse.

Restoration Illumination Logo shabby chic farmhouse junk repurpose

If you’re interested in commissioning Tami for a project, contact her at Restoration Illumination.

Experience the gourmet farm-to-table lifestyle in Maui

If you’re headed to Maui and you want to try some of the best local foods, you’ve come to the right place. Following are several ways you can experience the farm-to-table lifestyle on the island. A few dedicated people have grown a family of several small companies that successfully thrive on living local. On a recent trip to Maui, I had the opportunity to interview Robert Comstock, the General Manager of Pacific’O Restaurant. Here’s what I learned:

“We have such a cool company,” Robert said. “We’re a lifestyle company. We keep everything contained to our passions. There are a lot of aspects. In Hawaii it’s called Ohana. It means family. We enjoy working together and spending our holidays together.”

Pacific'O restaurant on the beach

Pacific’O restaurant on the beach

Native Hawaiians had a sustainable system where the farmers traded with the fishermen so that they could all have a complete diet. It’s called Ahupua`a. It’s a Hawaiian word that means a self-sustaining unit from mountain to sea. We strive to live by this principle and we give people a number of ways to experience it:

Entertain the family at the Feast at LeLe

It’s hard to think about traveling to Hawaii without going to at least one luau. The Feast at LeLe is a sit-down dinner featuring five courses from the Pacific island nations of Aotearoa, Tahiti, Samoa and Hawai’i. This farm-to-table dinner includes a sunset show spotlighting music and dance from these four Pacific islands. At this table-service feast you get to eat authentic food from each different region.

Sunset Feast at LeLe in Lahaina, Maui

Sunset Feast at LeLe in Lahaina, Maui

Every table is intimate and offers a panoramic view of the West Maui sunsets. LeLe is the ancient name for Lahaina. This is the beach where the royal family of Maui would feast and entertain.

Splurge at Pacific’O fine dining restaurant in Lahaina

When you ask questions at Pacific’O, you’ll be happy with the answers you get.

Ask about their view. If you’re looking for beachfront or sunset dining in Maui, this is as good as it gets. “The location has been a big part of our success,” Robert said. “Other local restaurants such as Lahaina Grill are also rated highly, but they don’t have our view.”

Pacific'O on the beach

Pacific’O on the beach

Ask about the competition. “Pacific’O is the first privately owned restaurant to own its own farm in Hawaii. Today there are only a handful of farm-to-table restaurants in all of Hawaii,” Robert said. If you want to eat at a quality restaurant, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Ask about their menu. Chef Anton moved to Maui shortly after graduating from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in San Francisco. Prior to joining the Pacific’O team, he spent ten years honing his craft in some of Maui’s highest ranked restaurants: the Sheraton Maui Resort, Gerard’s, Kimo’s and Star NoodleExecutive Chef Anton Haines has established himself as one of Maui’s rising star chefs by creating delectable menus based on in-season locally sourced foods.

Pacific'O Executive Chef Anton Haines

Pacific’O Executive Chef Anton Haines

Ask about their fish. “We are the top purchaser of fresh fish on Lahaina,” Robert said. “Giving cash back to the economy has several benefits. The money goes straight back into the fisherman’s pockets. Because the fish are caught and eaten locally, the distribution has very little impact on the environment.”


Local fish, such as Onaga, are caught one day and delivered first thing the next morning to Pacific’O.

“The main benefit for you is that you get fish that’s been out of the water for only a day. The fish served here is about 85% local. The difference is that you see fresh clear translucent cuts, not the cloudy fish you see that’s older. When you taste the local fish here in HI, it’s lighter.  The government’s version of fresh fish is 20 days. You typically see fish wrapped in foam and you have to just trust what the labels say,” Robert said.

StahlerFreshGroundPepperCartoon“Once the fish comes in, it hangs for about 20 hours to give the chef some working time with the fish, and then it goes to your plate. Not only does it support the local people, once the fish are filleted and broke down, the rest of it is composted back into the compost tea at their farm. Nothing is wasted.”

Ask about their ingredients. Pacific’O has set the standard for farm-to-table cuisine on Maui. Local fruits and vegetables supplied by their own 8-acre farm in Kula, and free range eggs come from The Neighborhood Farm in Launiopoko. At any given time, about 30-70% of the produce comes from their own O’o farm. There’s nothing else quite like it on the island. The rest is locally sourced as much as possible. But in order to provide a full menu, they apply their own 70-mile rule, because they do get some foods from the big island.

Ask about their farms. If you want to learn more about where their food comes from, you can visit the O’o Farm and The Neighborhood Farm.

Enjoy a farm-to-table gourmet lunch outdoors at the O’o Farm

Enjoy a truly unique island experience at the O’o Farm in Upcountry Maui. Explore the gardens, learn the ways of all natural growing and sit down for a gourmet lunch prepared in your presence. The vegetables are harvested with you and then prepared in an outdoor kitchen.  It’s a pure expression of Hawaiian cuisine benefitting your body and soul. It’s as fresh as fresh can be! This is a guided tour of the farm where you can learn about sustainable growing practices. Even if you don’t have your own farm or backyard garden, you’ll appreciate this tour.

O'o Farm Tour Lunch Upcountry Maui Hawaii

Forage and feast at O’o Farm in the misty forest of Waipoli in Upcountry Maui

In 2000, surfing buddies turned successful restauranteurs, Louis Coulombe and Stephan Bel-Robert purchased over 8 acres of near-virginal upcountry land to grow natural produce for the Lahaina restaurant, Pacific’O. Louis, who’s passionate about flying, first noticed the property when he was paragliding. The property which had been a hippy commune years before, but it wasn’t maintained. It was overgrown with wattle trees.


O’o Farm in Upcountry Maui, Hawaii

Louis and Stephan made a plan to set up natural growing practices and started executing the plan to clear the property and to plant exciting products for the plate. At first the diversified farm was largely experimental with a citrus and stone fruit orchard and a few coffee trees. Since then, they’ve diversified quite a bit. Today they focus on growing the things that are expensive to purchase and things that grow well in the Kula environment at 3200 feet.

Their goal is to provide vegetables locally sourced from Maui water, dirt and sun. It takes top dollar to even grow the plants, but it was especially challenging in the beginning since this place wasn’t set up for agriculture. They only have one hose for 8.5 acres, for example. The water comes from a water shed. It rains up there hundreds of inches a year. The farm is located in a place called the misty forest where mist drips off the trees.”

The chefs here don’t just see interesting pictures in a culinary magazine and decide to ship in ingredients from all over the world. When they want to add something to the menu, they first have to grow the crop, and know they can sustain it before they release the dish.

Get a caffeine buzz at the O’o Farm Seed to Cup Tour

Since roasting coffee was part of Louis’ weekend relaxation anyway, he decided to try roasting coffee beans for their own operations. Stephan is French and enjoys his coffee too. That’s how Aina Gourmet Coffee began. In 2009, Stephan, Louis and their chef partner James McDonald opened Aina Gourmet Market, a local foods marketplace with a full coffee bar serving 100% Maui grown and O’o Farm roasted coffee. They created a relationship with Ka’anapali Coffee Farms to grow five varietals on about 250 acres. O’o Farms purchases the beans and roasts them on their farm.


Aina Gourmet Coffee Tour at O’o Farm

They built a world class coffee tasting room with an amazing view. Now they have a Seed to Cup tour on the O’o farm. You can walk through their tree groves and see the different stages of coffee trees. You can pick berries and then move up into the tasting room where you observe a live roast. It only takes about 15 minutes. And then you get to taste the coffee. The beans are single varietal, like a single varietal wine. They don’t over roast.

CLICK HERE to buy Aina Gourmet Coffee

CLICK HERE to buy Aina Gourmet Coffee

Wake up to Aina Gourmet Coffee in a luxurious resort

Coffee connoisseurs enjoy their morning brew as much as wine enthusiasts enjoy an evening glass of red. They describe their sips in terms of body, acidity, flavor and finish . . . ranging from mild to wild. Aina roasters focus on creating the perfect conditions to attain the right balance of flavors. All Aina Gourmet Coffee is 100% Maui grown and 100% O’o Farm roasted.

“Aina Gourmet Coffee is our brand of coffee. It’s grown on Ka’anapali Hillside by Ka’anapali Coffee Farms. We take their beans to our farm and roast them up there. We also grown our own coffee at O’o Farm but only enough to sustain the farm guests,” Robert said.

Aina Gourmet Coffee  is served at at Aina Gourmet Market in the Honua Kai Resort & Spa at Ka’anapali Beach, and also at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalu Resort. Both markets are very busy and have a big following. We also make our coffee in a French press at Pacific’O and we sell it whole or ground in half-pound and one-pound bags at every venue we have. From ground to roast is about 2-3 days. With this turn-around time, you don’t lose any essence of the coffee itself,” Robert said.

Get to know some local chicks at The Neighborhood Farm

Participate in the Egg Farm & Gourmet Lunch tour at The Neighborhood Farm in the scenic West Maui Mountains. This is a free-range chicken farm in Launiopoko. It sits on 15 acres of agriculture land at the top of the hill. This educational chicken tour is for both locals and tourists interested in learning about how to farm chickens.

Free Range Chickens

During the first part of the tour, you enjoy spectacular ocean and mountain views, learn about the history of the area and meet local chicks. These beautiful free-range hens are kept outdoors so they can enjoy fresh grass and bountiful bugs every day. The 750-1000 birds enjoy coops with million-dollar views. They’re contained by soft electric fences to help keep the predators out. This is a concept of how you can raise eggs locally, without large-scale commercial farming. The farm provides eggs for local restaurants and grocery stores.

The second part of the tour is followed by a meal served in the seaside ambiance of the Pacific’O restaurant in Lahaina. It’s about 10 minutes from The Neighborhood Farm. This gourmet meal features dishes from freshly gathered eggs. Contact Pacific’O to make reservations for this lunch tour.

Harvest produce at the O’o Farm volunteer program

If you’re interested in volunteering at the farm, you can pair up with a farmer to do some real harvesting. You get lunch and you get to spend the day working with Head Farmer Richard Clark and Orchard Manager Ancil Clancy.

Which of these experiences suits your taste?

These interdependent sister companies make up one small lifestyle company that has grown from the ground up, literally. If you cherish your health and the well-being of our planet, support farm-to-table businesses like these. Because of the popularity of their food and tours, it’s a good idea to make reservations at least several days in advance.

Tools like Yelp, UrbanSpoon and TripAdvisor give local businesses the opportunity to thrive among big and impersonal, but well-known franchises. Yelp and UrbanSpoon even allow you to search for “farm-to-table” restaurants by location no matter where you are in the world.

ValleyIsleKombuchaIf you’re willing to take the time to read through customer review rants and raves, you’ll often find that local businesses do a better job overall of providing personalized service. And you have the opportunity to experience the local culture as well as support people in pursuit of the dreams and passions. How many people have the opportunity to do this when they work for a franchise?

“We know who not to purchase from,” Robert said. “We only buy from people we know really well. We have Valley Isle Kombucha on tap here at Pacific’O to support a local producer.” When you choose to support lifestyle companies, everyone benefits.

“We’re all fisherman, all the owners and management. Stephan has a sailboat in the harbor. We go spear fishing on the back side of Lanai. It’s nice when you can park your boat in front of your restaurant,” Robert said.

Franchises are basically branded distribution systems. In most cases, their main focus is on maintaining the consistent taste and feel of their brand. Most are more concerned about their profit than your health. Why eat mediocre food from afar at a franchise when you can eat wholesome locally grown fresh food at a farm-to-table restaurant?




Ted’s Aquaponics Pods Could Feed Thousands

Not long ago, Ted Zimmerman learned that human waste, or treated “sludge,” was being used as fertilizer on crops near his home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. WFMZIf this is what we have to do to grow food now, he thought, there must be too many people. Sludge can be treated to varying degrees of ‘safety,’ but even biosolids that are considered Class A have associated odors and potential risks.

Ted was already paying about $4 per head of organic lettuce delivered to his door by a local enterprise specializing in local and organic produce.

“Even when stores label their stuff as organic, you really don’t know where it’s coming from or how many people have handled it,” he said. He started looking for ways to grow his own food in a small area and came across the concept of aquaponics. He determined he could grow his own lettuce for less than $4 per head and know where it was coming from.

Ted did some research, learning a lot from Sylvia Bernstein, the author of Aquaponic Gardening and owner of The Aquaponics Source, a supply store.

And then he built his own pod system. The outdoor-only expanded clay media-based system came first, followed by the indoor system which allows him to grow year-round. The indoor “winter pod system” is an 8x8x8 cube that uses vertical growing structures from ZipGrow and a standard piece of 4″ pipe. Inside he can grow anything green and leafy, but not things like tomatoes (which require many more grow lights).

Outside he grows summertime produce such as tomatoes and zucchini in direct sunlight in the larger media-based pods.

The roots of the plants are constantly in water, but the plants don’t drown because there’s so much oxygen available in the water. He uses every opportunity to spray, tumble or split the water. Surprisingly, in the daytime plants take in carbon dioxide and in the evening they give off oxygen.

Ted designed his growing pods into two main parts: the bottom contains fish and the top contains plants. This humid pod supports about 15 tilapia and 9 koi in a 175 gallon tank made from repurposed Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs).

IBC containers in truck

IBCs are stackable containers mounted into a pallet that can be moved using a forklift. Ted purchased some used IBCs and cut them in a 75/25 split. He uses the bottom (larger) parts as fish tanks, and the tops as plant containers. He purchased 275 & 325 gallon food grade Coca Cola containers for about $100 per container.


As Ted was experimenting with his first pod, his biggest learning curve was the fish. He didn’t know much about them. The koi cost about $4.75 each and within the first few months he lost about four of them. Although he learned that the colorful ones are stronger than ones with less color, he decided not to use koi again since they’re too sensitive to changes in water temperature, quality and PH. “And you can’t eat them,” he said.

“You can grow more plants, but you need more fish. Tilapia work best because they and grow and mature quickly and you can pack them in at about one fish for every three gallons of water and then harvest them as they grow. Where I live in Pennsylvania, it’s a little cold for tilapia for quite a few months of the year, but I keep them heated to about 68° F in the winter and they survive.” He purchased a STC-1000 digital thermostat and created a thermostatic pump controller to help control the water temperature. It turns the water pump on and off as needed to protect the fish.

aquaponic cycleWhat Ted struggled with initially was trying to keep the temperature consistent in the environment. A 20 degree temperature change is too much for koi to take. If your koi ponds are underground, the ground helps to stabilize the temperature.

“You have to keep them warm enough. They won’t eat or spawn if they’re too cold, and they don’t like it when the water level goes up and down a lot. Heating the water is easy, but cooling it is harder. If you use catfish or bass you can grow more cold-weather plants like kale. They tend to like colder temperatures.” The next stage of Ted’s system may very well be an earth-sheltered greenhouse at 56° F, which is ideal for trout and bass. It would also be much less expensive to operate since the earth provides both heating and cooling.


“We named all the fish,” Ted’s daughter, Kyra, chimed in. “I like ‘Cash’ and my sister likes ‘Poker.’ We named one ‘Pizza,’ because it looked like a pizza with black olives on it. We named another one ‘Noki.'” The girls went on to talk about Speckles, Pebbles and a few others that died during the learning process, to everyone’s horror.


Ted buys seeds from SeedsNow.com which sells all organic, legacy heirloom seeds. His family of four enjoys butter crunch and salad bowl lettuce, for example. He changes the crop seasonally, growing things like tomatoes, basil, zucchini, summer squash and oregano. Heavier and quick-growing plants such as squash and pumpkins work better outside in the ground, Ted learned.

Gardeners learn a lot by trowel and error! Garden Digest

2013 10 03 aquaponics first year end

In the summer he doesn’t use the vertical indoors system. Instead, he uses a horizontal flat bed. Tomatoes have to be trellised because the growing media is very light and won’t hold the plants upright. If you aren’t already a gardener, you can begin by learning some basic gardening skills. Some plants sprout either male or female flowers, for example, and they won’t produce unless you have both.

How well is your garden growing? Only thyme will tell. GardenDigest

Kyra likes that she can have fresh lettuce all the time. She also likes having pet fish. “A spider got in in the summer pod and made a big web. He eats all the flies. We named him Noah,” she said.

Noah, the spider.

Noah, the spider.

The indoor plants require some fertilizer such as iron and carbon. The lettuce grows really well. Ted can grow a head of lettuce in about 22 days. “It can grow as fast as it wants to. When you grow in a pod, you don’t need to spread plants out as far. There’s enough nutrients for the plants,” he says. In just a few months, Ted was already growing more greens than his family could eat.

Ted Zimmerman's Aquaponics Grow Pod equipment

The units are even more cost effective in a city or restaurant district. When a lot of food is grown in a concentrated area, it’s very cost efficient. “They’d have to be in rows. I’d use all horizontal beds. The ideal width is about three foot rows with fish tanks at either end,” Ted says.

His great dragonfly hatch happened late last year. The first dragonfly, ‘Henry,’ was soon renamed ‘Henrietta’ when they discovered dragonfly larva within one of the outdoor tanks. Since there are no pesticides or other contaminants, both good and bad insects are in abundance and must be controlled or balanced to a degree. Dragonflies are good guys. They eat mosquitoes and many other insects.

2013 10 05 aquaponic dragonfly hatch2

“If I can do this on a small scale, I can do it on a larger scale. Once it’s plumbed and up and running, it only takes about a half hour of interaction a day to run which is less than it takes to care for an outdoor garden.” Ted says. “Aquaponics is easy on the environment. You can do it with natural or unnatural light. Mirrors help to bounce the sunlight.”

Kyra likes the worms and ladybugs in the outdoor gardens. The girls help put worms in the dirt which helps to aerate the ground.


Ted invested about $2,800 to build his first system. He has his own workshop with saws and other basic tools. He admits to being a handyman. He built everything from scratch, so if you don’t already have the equipment, it could cost more.

Ted lives on about 1/4 acre. He hasn’t had any resistance from neighbors regarding his growing pod or solar-electric power (essential to offset the electricity for pumps and lights). His neighbors can see the pods but they’ve never said anything.

If you’re familiar with the Biosphere project, you know it’s difficult to create a fully closed-loop system, even with large scale biodiversity. But SkyyGreens has figured it out.

SkyyGreens Aquaponics, a skyscraper farm in Chicago, is producing sustainable organic foods in the center of the city. It’s a closed-loop system that uses 90% less water than typical farms and cuts out the majority of the cost of transporting goods from farm to table. “This is the sort of thing that every city needs,” Ted says. “Grow food within the same building that it’s being consumed.”

Scientists at the Epcot Science Project at Disney World in Florida are engineering super tomato plants. They won a Guinness World Record for the most tomatoes harvested from one plant in a year. Their sixteen-month old tomato plant produced 32,000 tomatoes within a year! PhotoGardenBee

Why did the gardener quit? Because his celery wasn’t high enough. GardenDigest.


If you grow vertically, you can grow more on less land. Ted is already experimenting with this aspect using ZipGrow towers. If it’s scalable relative to the building size, you can decrease your cost. When you’re selling more, you scale up. When you’re selling less, you can scale down.

Ted would like to commercialize his pods into a farmers (pod) market where people could come to buy not only fresh, but “still-alive” produce and fish. He’d also like to help restaurants design their own greenhouse pods. In restaurant pods, chefs or customers could select fish or produce prepared and eaten on the spot. Ted’s homemade pod design may eventually feed thousands.

If you’d like Ted to help with your aquaponics project, you can reach him at bigfeats@rcn.com.


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11 Equipment Essentials for Easy Everyday Exercises

It’s easy to fall into a sedentary lifestyle, especially if you rely on a car to get around. But don’t worry, you don’t need to go out and buy expensive equipment to become more active. There are countless ways you can assimilate more activities into your daily life. It’s best to introduce small changes over time. You don’t need to go out of your way to exercise or go to the gym. There are many alternatives that are much more practical.

people walking

72-year-old Phil Woods is on a 2,700-mile mission (25 miles/day) to inspire older adults to walk more

Why exercise anyway? Many centenarians have spent decades doing activities that keep them up and moving around on a daily basis. But the activities not necessarily strenuous in the way you may think. You don’t need to join a gym or participate in a team sport in order to exercise.

Many centenarians were relatively poor for part or most of their lives. Many of them did, and still do, rely on walking, biking, or public transportation as their main mode of transportation. Some were farmers or laborers. Others have never worked outside the home, but raising a family, cooking, cleaning, gardening or participating in community activities have kept them moving around day after day for many decades. These activities are surprisingly simple, but profoundly beneficial over time.

Here are 11 equipment essentials that can help you live a more active lifestyle:

1. Walking shoes. A good pair of comfortable shoes is one of the most valuable investments you can make in your health. Walking is especially important if you work at a computer or have a desk job where you sit for numerous hours each day. Your body tenses up if you sit in one place for too long. If necessary, set a reminder alarm to go off every 30 minutes or so and get up to walk around and stretch. If possible, take a few breaks throughout the day to walk for 15 minutes or more. If possible, go for a brisk walk during lunch and after work. If you want to increase the intensity of your walk, pick up your speed and jog or run for part of the time. Women especially need to be reminded to wear comfortable walking shoes as often as possible. KEEN has lots of great choices on boots, shoes and sandals. High heels may be ok for some special occasions, but as these models demonstrate, heels are not appropriate attire for walking. Here’s why . . .

2. Broom. Sweep your floors. Clean your home. The next time you feel annoyed by the fact that cleaning is one of those jobs that never ends, think about some of the benefits. Be thankful for your home and the fact that you have the mobility to keep it clean. When you clean your home, you have opportunities to kneel down to clean things on or near the floor, lift buckets full of water, and stretch upwards while cleaning door trim or vents. Why pay for a membership to a sweaty gym when you can workout for free in your own home? Do cleaning exercises instead.

3. Drying Rack. When you hang your laundry up to dry, you get more exercise than you do when you toss everything in the dryer, especially if you’re bending over to lift items from a laundry basket and reaching up to a clothesline. By hanging your clothes up to dry, you reap numerous benefits. Washers and dryers increase the wear and tear on your clothes. When your clothes aren’t soiled, use the gentle cycle on your washer and skip the dryer. This also helps to cut back on your electric bill. The less time your clothes spend in the dryer, the better. Laundry exercises are much more practical than the bending and stretching exercises you do in an aerobics class.

Laundry Study Shows Americans Have Few Hangups

 4. Music. People go to Zumba, in part, because they can feed off the energy of the music and the people around them. But you don’t need to go to an exercise class to listen to music that energizes you. Download some workout songs that you like and listen to them often, like when you’re cleaning your house or hanging up clothes. When you wear headsets, not only do you cut off other people, but you may even put yourself in danger if you’re out walking and don’t hear the honk of a car. Use them cautiously.

man walking up stairs

5. Stairs. Whenever possible, use stairs and escalators instead of elevators. Even if an escalator is moving, you can use it like a staircase. Keep walking. If people are in front of you, excuse yourself and ask if you can pass by. In many cases, escalators give you a little extra exercise because the rise is typically a bit higher than standard steps. The best part about stairs is that you don’t have to pay for them. If you get out on a regular basis, you’ll find staircases in many places.

6. Cast Iron Cookware. Trade in your teflon and aluminum pans for cast iron. Cast iron pots, pans and muffin tins typically weigh a few pounds. So you get a mini workout every time you lift them, rinse them out or store them in your cabinets. Teflon and aluminum add toxins to your food, so it’s better to avoid them anyway. When you cook at home you have a much better idea of what you’re eating. So remember that it’s not enough to just buy cast iron cookware. You also need to get into the daily habit of cooking healthy meals at home in order to benefit. My kitchen is well stocked with Lodge Cast Iron Cookware. I pump iron every day.

7. Bike. The bike is one of the most efficient forms of transportation. Not only is it a great way to get around, it’s also good for you. Why buy a stationery bike that doesn’t go anywhere when you can buy a real bike that can take you places? By biking more you may be able to save money by using your car less. Be sure to get a bike that suits your size so you’ll be comfortable and safe when you ride. As you find more ways to use your bike, you might want to add some accessories, such as lights, a basket or a rear mount bike rack, so that you’ll use it more often. I love my Wald basket and bungee cargo net combination for quick errands. Bike riding helps you maintain balance and endurance. If you want a cardio workout, ride your bike in a hilly area or pedal faster. Remember to wear a helmet and a good pair of biking gloves.

8. Public Transportation Pass. People who rely on public transportation are more likely to walk more. If you own a car, do what you can to rely on it less and less over time. If you don’t live near a public transportation stop, consider driving to a commuter parking lot and finishing your commute on public transportation. If this isn’t practical, you may be able to find other ways to use public transportation. When you plan trips, look into your options of traveling by bus, train or plane instead of taking your own car. Next time you travel, see if you can manage your trip without renting a car. The less you rely on a car, the more active you’ll tend to be. ClipperCard

This CAR Game Will Drive You Crazy

old man woman gardening

9. Trowel. Grow your own vegetables. Gardening helps you connect with nature and it has the added benefit of supplying you with of food. Even if you don’t have a yard, you can use a trowel to do basic gardening with potted plants. When you have plants inside or outside your home, you’ll get a little more exercise as you water them, repot them from time to time and swap them around to different locations in your home. If you have access to a balcony, porch or yard, you can grow more and get more exercise as you kneel down to do some weeding or bend over to cut clippings from your herb plants.

10. Sportswear. Wear comfortable sports attire as often as possible. This makes it easier for you to stretch and flex. Do more of this every day. If you get any resistance at all, you want it to come from your muscles, not your clothing. Depending on the type of work you do, you may be able to find lots of great sportswear that can double as casual wear for work. This makes it easier for you to walk, bike or stretch before, during or after work. Columbia Sportswear

11. Water bottle. As you increase your physical activity, make sure you stay hydrated with water. Avoid all drinks that contain high fructose corn syrup. If you head out for a walk, take a large water bottle with you. Fill it with water or a fresh juice drink. Drinking some extra water or fruit juice is a great way to flush your body and curb your appetite.

Drink Distilled Water to Detox and Defend Your Body

You don’t necessarily need to make these specific changes to your lifestyle. What is important is that you think about the simple things in your daily routine and, over time, make minor changes to incorporate more activity. Seek activities you enjoy. If it isn’t fun or rewarding in some way, it will be difficult to maintain anyway. As you find ways to be more active every day, you’ll find that there really is no need for you to do something silly like run on a treadmill in your garage.

Although running, weight lifting, or high-impact sports may be good for your heart, they tend to be damaging to your knees or other body parts that get overused. Most centenarians report that they were active throughout their lives, but typically not in highly strenuous activities. They’re more likely to work out in their garden than in a gym. They’re more likely to be walkers than runners.

Some people are so lazy, they don’t even exercise good judgment. Alfred E Neuman

Seek ways to add practical activities to your lifestyle. The more movement you incorporate into your daily life, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Active living every day is much better for you than irregular binge workouts a few times a month.

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Michael Mobbs offers 9 tips for a more sustainable home

Would you like to cut your living expenses in half without giving up modern luxuries? Me too. That’s why I wanted to meet Michael Mobbs and see his home that’s (almost) off the grid in the heart of a big city. On a recent trip to Sydney, I had the opportunity to meet with Mobbs and get a private tour of his Sustainable Home. Here’s what I learned . . .

SusHouseCover2print.inddSince 1996 Michael Mobbs has lived in a unique house in the center of Sydney, Australia. If you rode by on your bike, you wouldn’t notice anything different from the outside. Only a plumber or electrician working on the inside would know the difference. With three other house friends, Mobbs’ total annual water and energy bills are less than $300 AU or about $280 US. His three bedroom home is about a 40 minute walk from the Sydney Opera House.

He has solar panels on his roof. The electric company sends him a check to pay for the clean solar electricity he puts into their main grid lines.

In 1996 he disconnected the water and sewer. He uses rain water that falls on his roof in place of tap water. He treats his own water that flows from his toilets, washing machine and kitchen sink. The system recycles the water back into the house. He uses the recycled water to flush the toilets, wash clothes and hose his beautiful backyard garden. He doesn’t pay any water or sewer bills. In his book, he describes how the simple wastewater system works.


Michael Mobbs Sustainable Home backyard water treatment garden

The house is still connected to gas. The annual bill is about $200 US.

“I’m not special, kinda short, have no handy skills and can barely drive a nail. If I can do it, you can too,” says Mobbs.

Even if you do own a home, you may not be ready to generate your own electricity and collect and process your own water. But you can begin with smaller projects. I asked Michael for some tips that almost anyone could apply regardless of where they live. Here are some of his recommendations on how to save money even if you’re renting an apartment.

1. When one of your lights goes out, replace it with an LED bulb. LED lights are much more efficient.

2. Paint interior walls shades of white. This also applies to outdoor areas, such as fences. White reflects light back into your rooms. Avoid dark carpet, walls or furniture. Black eats light while pale colors bounce it around.

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Michael Mobbs Sustainable House

3. Install a water efficient shower head. You can take it with you if you move. It saves the energy that it takes to make the water hot and it also cuts down on your water usage. It can save over 15,000 gallons of water a year in a four-person household. This is especially important if you have one or more people in your household who take long showers. Even if you take short showers, you can relax knowing that the same amount of time will cost less.

4. Get a water and energy efficient dishwasher and washing machine. This can knock up to 50% off your energy and water bills. Efficient ones will use about 10-20% of what the standard guzzlers use.

Laundry Study Shows Americans Have Few Hangups

5. Get the most energy efficient refrigerator possible. It runs 24/7 and is typically the biggest energy-using appliance in your home.

6. Catch rain water if you can. You can use it to water your indoor and outdoor plants. You may be able to do this even if you’re in an apartment and only have access to a small balcony.

SusHouseCover2print.indd7. Grow food you can eat. Even if you don’t have a lot of space, you can grow mint, garlic, rosemary, lemongrass and other plants suitable for indoor environments or small spaces on balconies. Grow mung beans for your salads in a glass jar on your window sills. Get involved with a community garden if there’s one in your neighborhood. If you have too much of one type of food, swap surplus food with other gardeners.

8. Buy food from your local farmers markets. Fresh produce is always healthier and more nutritious than the store-bought refrigerated stuff.

9. Compost fruit and vegetable scraps to make soil for your pots and/or garden. Even if you don’t have a lot of space you can add worms to your compost and they will turn it into fertile black gold (dirt) in 1-3 months.

Mobbs says a modest meal which includes a small portion of meat puts a much greater strain on the environment than a meal that’s fully vegetarian. We need to think about our overall impact on the environment even outside our homes.

“The energy and water needed to keep me alive is about 20-40 times greater than the energy and water needed to run my house. Yes, my house saves over 100,000 liters (about 20,000 gallons) of dam water a year by harvesting the water which falls for free using the natural stormy energy of the skies. But in ten days of eating the typical Australian diet, there’s over 100,000 liters of water needed to grow, harvest, clean, store, package, transport and refrigerate my food. My little tummy uses far more water and energy than my house,” says Mobbs.

Michael Mobbs Sustainable House with Lorraine

Dr Lorraine Haataia with Michael Mobbs in front of his Sustainable House in Sydney, Australia

The costs, designs, products, materials, tragedies, mistakes, truths, and failures of his house and tummy are spelled out in his two books: Sustainable House and Sustainable Food.

“Plug the leaks in your home. When you take steps to reduce your living expenses and environmental impact, you may ultimately reduce your financial stress and have the chance to invest in new opportunities with the money you save,” Mobbs says.

A few years ago my husband and I traded in our big suburban home with a 3-car garage for smaller living quarters. This freed up both time and money giving us the opportunity travel to places like Sydney.

The next time you’re in Sydney, be sure to tour Michael Mobbs’ Sustainable House or see the scaled down version of his home at the Powerhouse Museum near Darling Harbour.

In the introduction of his Sustainable Homes book, Mobbs offers some of the key lessons he learned through the decisions he made with his own home. If you aspire to create a more sustainable home, look for others in your community who are making changes in their homes and lifestyles. You’ll get there much quicker if you share your challenges, successes and fears with them.

Steven Wright recently moved into an all electric house. One evening he forgot to turn off the lights before he went to sleep. When he woke up in the morning to let his dog out to pee, the front door wouldn’t work. 

Take a look at this candid interview with Mobbs as he explains how he handles some of the resistance he faces as a positive change-maker doing things that seem perfectly logical. His advises everyone to have the courage to say, “I can do this.”

It’s helpful when your cohorts share common factors such as weather, jurisdictions and local suppliers. And even better if they have some professional experience that might help to expedite projects. Mobbs happens to be an environmental lawyer by trade. In 2009, The (Sydney) Magazine listed Mobbs as one of Sydney’s 100 most influential people. See the About Michael page on the Sustainable House website to learn more about him.

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What if You Come Down (to Earth) With Symptoms of Sustainability?

If you or someone you know has some of the following symptoms, you may be coming down (to earth) with sustainability. It can be contagious, but some people have strong resistance. Scientists believe that it may have something to do with a jean mutation. The jeans can be modified or removed, but some people don’t like to change because they’re comfortable just the way they are.

Sustainable World PeopleJust as a person who has obesity may begin to rely on a wheelchair to get around, a person who has sustainability may begin to rely on a bicycle to get around. Physical and mental conditions shape the surrounding environment.

Although some people feel uneasy about sustainability at first, they quickly begin to adapt to the condition. Some people do really crazy things like take up gardening or sell their cars. Once you catch sustainability, don’t be surprised if people with the mutated jeans call you crazy.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with sustainability, it’s helpful to join a support group with like-minded people who prefer trees over traffic and borrowing over buying. As the symptoms of sustainability increase, you may fall deeper into a wishful state of Utopia-euphoria wanting more people to contract your enthusiasm. Webweaver Earth

Here are some of the symptoms of sustainability:

Air. You go to parks and into the forest where the air is fresh and trees are plentiful. AIRNow

Banking. You closed your bank account and opened an account at a local credit union. Credit Union National Association

Whenever you go near a bank, you get withdrawal symptoms. PunOfTheDay

Bathroom. Your bathroom has a window which provides natural light and ventilation. American Restroom Association

Why are environmentalists bad at playing poker? They avoid the flush. Jokes4Us

Biking. Your bicycle is one of your main modes of transportation. People For Bikes

This CAR Game Will Drive You Crazy

Charities. You give generously to a local nonprofit or faith-based organization and they give back to the community. Charity Navigator

Cooperation. You quit your corporate job to work for a co-op. National Cooperative Business Association

Energy. Your home is drawing power from renewable energy sources. Renewable Energy World

Food. You have access to organic fruits and vegetables within walking distance of your home. GMO Inside

Gardening. You have fun working together with your neighbors in the community garden. American Community Gardening Association

Healthcare. You have access to affordable healthcare. Michael Moore’s Health Care Proposal

Housing. Your home is affordable and you help others who need housing. Habitat for Humanity

Laundry. You hang your laundry out to dry. Project Laundry List

Laundry Study Shows Americans Have Few Hangups 

Leaders. You’re a good communicator and leader. Toastmasters

Library. You enjoy going to your local library on a regular basis.

Lighting. The sun is your main source of light all day. VELUX

Music. You hear nature sounds or appropriate tunes that enhance your home, workplace and other public spaces. American Music Therapy Association

Names. You’re on a first-name basis with your neighbors and workers in local businesses. NeighborWorks

Organics. You buy organic foods in the local farmer’s market and grocery stores. CCOF

Outdoors. Your home and workplace outdoor spaces are green and welcoming. Alliance for Community Trees

What did the activist get when he sat on the iceberg too long? Polaroids. Jokes4Us

People. You treat everyone with respect, regardless of their age, race or social status. Grassroots International

Pets. You often take your dog along wherever you go. Go Pet Friendly

Plantscaping. You have plenty of indoor plants. Plantscape Industry Alliance

Prevention. Your healthcare provider incentivizes doctors for prevention. American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Why We Need to Do Doctor Reviews on Our Last Doctors’ Visits

Recycling. You have a donate box, a recycle bin and a compost pile, but you don’t have a garbage can. SCARCE

Sustainable Communities IndexSalary. Your boss doesn’t make too much more than you or your colleagues. Salary

Schools. Your kids attend schools which teach them how to create a sustainable future for themselves and the community. Edible Schoolyard

Seeds. You trade seeds and plants with your neighbors. Seed Savers

Sharing. You borrow stuff and lend a hand. mesh

Steps. The staircase in your workplace is more attractive than the elevator. StairPorn

Your Best Excuse for Not Going to the Gym

Students. Your kids are participating in solving real issues in the community. Youth Service America

Transportation. Your community is investing heavily in public transportation, bikeways, sidewalks and pathways. American Public Transportation Association

Volunteers. Your neighbors are engaged in making the community a better place to live. Volunteer Match

Water. Your drinking water is pure and safe. Local waterways are full of healthy marine life.  American Water Works Association

Weight. You’re healthy, not malnourished or obese. Weight of the Nation

Sick of Diets? Film Diet Plan Will Help You Escape the Fat Trap

Work. It’s easy for you to find work opportunities near home. Smart Growth America

If you’re experiencing several of these symptoms, stay calm. If you generate too much excitement, the zombie police with mutated jeans may try to attack. They are known to be mindlessly unreasonable, doing raids on people who sell fruits and vegetables, for example. Check out this raid on an organic food store in California.

Zombie Police - resident evil

What’s the difference between zombies and patched jeans?

Zombies are dead men. Jeans are mended. JokeIndex

If you or your loved ones are coming down (to earth) with sustainability, the best thing you can do is band together with other level-headed people and come up with a smart plan to protect yourselves in the event of a random zombie invasion.

Yes! logo

Advice From The Scarecrow: Take Up Gardening

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

You’re walking on a dirt path and you come to a fork. To the left you see a NO TRESPASSING sign. There’s a fence surrounding a cornfield that extends into the horizon far as you can see. You see gigantic tractors driven by men wearing masks. They’re spraying a mist on the crop. It smells bitter. You start coughing.

You turn to the right. Through the distance you spot a house. A woman is pulling weeds near the front porch. You smell roses and hear birds chirping. As you walk toward the house a dog greets you, wagging his tail.

“Don’t mind Lucky, he’s harmless,” a man wearing a straw hat says as he pops a cherry tomato into his mouth. “They’re delicious, want one?” he asks as he extends a handful of tomatoes.

“What do you get if you cross a collie with a rose?” the man asks you.

“Don’t know,” you respond.

“A collie-flower,” he says as he pops another tomato into his mouth.  Jokes4Us

You’re at this fork in the path every time you buy food. Which is more appealing to you? The factory farm to the left or the organic approach to the right?

Look to the left. Conventional produce contains synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, and petroleum based fertilizers, which are known to pose health risks to all living beings, especially children and wildlife. These chemicals and processes strip top soil of nutrients, depleting the nutritional value of the produce. The runoff from this industrial agriculture wreaks havoc as the poisons travel downstream.

Even our government is starting to take things more seriously. The White House recently confirmed the use of chemical weapons in Syria. They say the government has been feeding Monsanto sandwiches to rebels.  JokeBlogger

Gardening is easy when you do it one foot at a time.

Gardening is easy when you grow plants one foot at a time.

Look to the right. The food tastes better and has more nutritional value. When you buy from farmers who work in harmony with the local environment, you help protect the community, environment, and food supply for future generations. Buying or growing organic helps to reduce toxins in the air, soil and water. And most importantly, it minimizes the number of toxic critters swimming around in your body.

Feel the difference. Fresh organic produce is more effective at building your immune system, protecting your liver, and supplying you with life-sustaining energy. Experience the health benefits for yourself.

Although organic foods typically smell and taste better, you can’t always tell the difference. Your stomach and organs, however, know the difference. They work hard on your behalf to sort out the good from the bad.

But why do organic foods cost more?

“It’s quite simple,” George Carlin says,”McDonald’s breakfast for a dollar doesn’t factor in the cost of the coronary bypass surgery.”  ManWalksIntoaJoke

You get what you pay for. I decided long ago that it’s worth paying more for organic products to increase the nutritional value of food for me and my family, and to reduce our exposure to toxins. I’d rather give a few more dollars to my local farmer today, than tens of thousands of dollars to a hospital later.

Gardening is easy when you grow plants one pot at a time.

To help keep your food costs down, support local farmers who use sustainable farming methods, join a local food coop, or take up gardening as a hobby. A little extra effort today may save you from discomfort or disease later.

Gardening is easier than you think. Adopt an edible plant today. If you have questions, these guys can help:

Mel Bartholomew, Author of All New Square Foot Gardening

Edward Smith, Author of Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible

Give the gift of life. Next time you pick up a gift for a friend, take a rosemary or an oregano plant. Not long ago I gave a plant to one of my friends who knew nothing about gardening.

“Anytime I need help,” she told me, “I put on short-shorts and bend over to pull weeds. My neighbors are always willing to come over and give me a hand.”  Funny-Jokes

Would you rather buy from the guy wearing the mask or the one wearing the straw hat? It’s not a hard question. You can always purchase things later, but even if you’re Steve Jobs, you can’t buy a new body . . . now or later.

It seems that some people get lucky when it comes to health, but it’s not all due to chance. If I were a betting person and had to pick which guy would outlive the other, I’d put my dollar on the guy wearing the straw hat.



Vandalism Strikes on Poor Landscape Design

In a suburb neighborhood with miles of green grass lining the roads, you’re bound to have an occasional immature driver who wants to show off the abilities of his four wheel drive.


The members of the homeowner’s association (HOA) who oversee the landscaping in Julington Creek Plantation in St. Johns County, FL, think it’s a good idea to advertise the fact that the HOA is going to pay the lawn maintenance company to replace the sod every time this happens. And they want the hundreds of homeowners who drive by this to experience a moment of frustration and loss as they head back to their nice safe homes in the suburbs. Maybe the HOA is hoping that parents will go home and scold their innocent teens.


Every day, a small army of men and women from Nanak’s Landscaping arrives to mow miles of grass, trim miles of shrubs, and weed countless flower beds in this large planned development. The homeowners pay for this costly recurring service.

The sign confirms that the HOA is dedicated to keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them for the past decade. Instead of thinking of more sustainable ways to manage the landscaping, they’re going to buy sod and pay Nanak’s to make the grass look like new again.

There is no real corrective action on this incident, just an advertisement of the obvious–someone ran off the road. A corrective action would involve adjusting the landscape design to reduce the number of “tear up the grass” incidents, and the cost of repairing them. No problem has been resolved by this sign.

Given the current state of the economy, it would make much more sense if the HOA and its paid vendors focused more time figuring out what landscaping modifications can be made to make the neighborhood landscaping more sustainable and reduce the overall maintenance costs for the customers they serve. I encourage Nanak’s and other large landscaping companies to become ISO 14001 certified to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

Be careful what signs you post. They often say much more than you intend. If you’re interested in finding a long term solution to a recurring problem, or if you’re interested in ISO 14001 Environmental Management System certification, contact Dr Lorraine.

If you’re aware of other similar issues with signs or greenscaping, please feel free to post a comment. I’d like to hear your story.

No Impact Man Enlightens World

No Impact Man is one of the most inspiring documentaries I’ve ever seen!

Colin Beavan and his wife, Michelle Conlin, inspire the world by changing their way of life in the Big Apple. Colin believes that we all have a voice and we all need to take responsibility for our own actions. But Colin and Michelle aren’t just preaching; they’re the real thing! They phased in big changes in their own lives over a one year period to reduce their impact.

Colin and Michelle show how individual customers can make daily decisions that can also change corporations. Sometime in the near future, I hope to meet this couple I respect very much.

Get to know them in their reality-TV-like documentary where they welcome the world into their New York City home:

Publish Post

Michelle says the no impact way of life gave her the following benefits:

  • time slowed down
  • she felt like she lived more in the moment
  • she was much happier
  • her family became much closer

Change yourself to change the world with the No Impact Project.