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Written by Suki Wessling   

Santa Cruz County Families Find New Ways to

“Go Green”

By Suki Wessling        



When Safeway introduced its own line of organic food products, it was clear that organic foods had hit the mainstream. While relatively few families eat exclusively organically grown food, most are aware of the benefits and at least try to fit some organics into their budgets.


But past the issue of food, “green” products – products that are ecologically friendly in a number of ways – have been slow to make their way into the family home.


“Though the "green movement" has been around for decades, ebbing and flowing, [Former Vice President Al] Gore helped catapult global warming and all things green into the main arena,” says Sharon Evans, owner of Eco Design Resources of Santa Cruz.


Local businesses and entrepreneurs have been at the front of this new wave of interest in green living.


Ken Foster, owner of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping, a bicycle-powered gardening service that has been thriving since the 80’s, has seen a slow evolution since his business was an anomaly. “The Santa Cruz "landscape" has evolved clearly towards sustainability,” he says. “The City of Santa Cruz is a growing supporter of sustainable business.”


The range of green products and services now available to Santa Cruz families – and sometimes invented by them – is astounding and growing every day. After starting our day with organically grown foods not only from not-so-green giants like Safeway, but more importantly from all our local grocery stores too numerous to mention, our home can be completely built and outfitted with natural and green products.


Like Eco Design Resources, Greenspace carries non-toxic paints and wall finishes, eco-friendly home furnishings, flooring, countertops, water saving devices, cleaning supplies, and more. Rather than striking a competitive tone, Greenspace manager Ben Kimitsuka celebrates the support such businesses receive. “I think it speaks volumes of Santa Cruz as a community that two stores of our kind can be supported,” he says.


Along with shopping for products to support a family’s daily needs, Greenspace’s most popular product is low-VOC (volatile organic compounds which off-gas into the air) paints. “Zero VOC paint is one of the easiest green things to introduce into the home,” Kimitsuka suggests.  “Also, it is very practical: to be able to move into your newly painted room the same day you paint is huge.  And unlike many new green products, it is affordable.”


Evans of Eco Design Resources explains further: “Homes are built "tighter" today than ever before – i.e. sealed better to be more energy efficient for heating and cooling. The upside is energy-efficiency; the downside is how it affects indoor air quality. It's been proven that indoor air quality in a typical home can be 10 times worse than a smog-alert day (outdoors) in Los Angeles!”


And it’s not only the paint that families should consider, but the furniture, toys, cabinetry, and the stuff beneath their feet. “One family had a small space under their stairs that they turned into a play-space for their daughter,” says Evans. “They were concerned about the little girl being in such a small room for many hours, so they consulted with us on the carpeting.”


Other local stores specialize in such goods as bedding, clothing, or special use products. Tammy Pitttenger started her mail-order business, Organic Abode, four years ago. Like many green business owners, her business grew from her interest in making her own home safer for her family, including two young daughters.


“Like many people interested in organics we began with food,” Pittenger explains, “but soon came to realize that so many of the products we interact with daily, like carpet, bedding, mattresses, cleaning supplies and beauty supplies contain chemicals and agents that were not only harmful, but unnecessary.”
Organic Abode recently went online and has seen interest from across the country. Similar Santa Cruz County businesses are exclusively online, such as Nubius Organics, or are located in a physical store, such as Santa Cruz’s Eco Goods.


Laptop Lunches, a green product invented right here in Santa Cruz, have been all the rage at local elementary schools. Tammy Pelstring and Amy Hemmert met as moms at a park. They became jogging partners, and shared interests in nutrition, fitness, and the environment. They cooked up the idea for a more ecologically friendly lunchbox after their children entered school.


Designed to look like a laptop computer, the Laptop Lunch System is a modular lunchbox that allows parents to pack lunches without any disposable packaging. Although the $34.99 price tag might look high, Hemmert promises that it can pay itself off in seven weeks. And with the concerns about products made in environmentally unfriendly countries like China, the Laptop Lunch’s green credentials can’t be beat.


“The containers and book are made here in California where the cost of labor is high and environmental laws are strong,” explains Hemmert. “All of our products are lead-free and phthalate-free.”


And what of the time when your kids are at school? There is a growing awareness in the building industry in general and specifically at schools that healthy kids are educated in healthy buildings. Chartwell School, a Seaside school specializing in the education of children with learning differences, opened the doors of its new LEED-certified campus in 2006. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a rigorous certification process of green building practices coveted by green builders nationwide.


In Santa Cruz, the Loving and Learning afterschool program run by the United Methodist Church of Santa Cruz will be moving into their new LEED-certified building at the beginning of the 2009 schoolyear. “The interiors and furnishings are being designed and selected to have the minimal amount of off gassing possible with the goal of reducing respiratory problems such as asthma and allergies,” explains Jennifer Sherry, the program’s director. “The playground will


incorporate hands-on play stations which explain how the green elements work to help our environment.”
Sherry believes that green school practices won’t just benefit the kids’ health, but will also affect their education. “Teaching resourcefulness and conservation to children will ensure these actions to be almost second nature to them as adults,” she says. Eco Design Resources seconds the educational message by offering a free Healthy Schools Program to local educators, and Laptop Lunch Systems come with educational information and a free newsletter.


Our local schools are also taking part in making us a greener county. PVUSD has incorporated biodiesel buses into their fleet, and the Santa Cruz Public Works Department offers a free School Recycling and Waste Reduction Program that includes recycling bins, teacher resources, and a free quarterly kids’ magazine called Trash Talk! The fall issue featured Carden School’s goal of becoming more ecologically friendly by raising chickens on leftover food, composting, and recycling.


Between the times when they must be indoors, children are healthiest when spending lots of time outdoors. Terra Nova’s Ken Foster points out that if you have a gardening service, your children might be playing in a dangerous environment. “There are a lot of toxins that are used in the landscape industry.


Many of them like weed killers are known carcinogens. These toxins affect children more than adults because of their young growing bodies.”
And on top of that, children spend an enormous amount of time in cars.  Santa Cruzan Christy Nerell became a part-time PR person for Zigo, a new bicycle expected to hit the market in a few months. The bicycle has a detachable child-carrier mounted on the front, and was designed by a parent as well.
Nerell is pleased that she can work for a product she believes in during her limited time. “The nice thing about being a stay at home mother is you can really decide what is worth your time,” she says. “I feel that the Zigo meets a need...it is a safe and effective way to transport your children, get exercise, and keep your imprint on the environment at a minimum.”

Suki Wessling is a local writer and publisher of Chatoyant. She is the mother of two children.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 October 2008 00:29
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