With a new year and a new spring comes energy, renewal and a fresh start, which is why people make resolutions and dive into spring cleaning projects. One thing worth considering this year is a new way to view being green.
Caring for the environment isn’t a new, radical belief or a difficult way to live. Generations of families lived the all-natural lifestyle long before people were calling themselves “crunchy” and social media made it seem trendy to recycle. St. Joseph resident Sharon Gillespie proves that an eco-friendly life is important, rewarding and much easier than you think.
Gillespie has lived in St. Joseph for 27 years, but she grew up on the Kansas plains. She was raised by parents who survived the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, so she knows a thing or two about how to conserve resources.
“That experience stuck with them both until the day they died, and so that was just a way of life at our house,” she says.
Now as a retiree, Gillespie practices green, eco-friendly living every day because it’s a habit she’s formed over the years. She takes her own reusable grocery bags to the store. She recycles bottles and cans. She composts yard waste and food scraps. She makes mulch out of crushed leaves. She collects rainwater. She tends her own herb garden and keeps dozens of potted plants around her home. And she does it all without breaking a sweat. At least, not a mental sweat.
“I have a rain barrel that I collect rainwater in to water the plants, and that not only conserves water but it gives you exercise because it’s laborious to carry all that water,” she says with a laugh, noting that she’ll have 40 to 50 pots total in the spring.
Her habits don’t stem just from routine, though. Gillespie says she is an advocate for greener living because it’s important to have respect for the Earth’s resources.
“There is a huge island of trash in our ocean ... and I think if we keep doing that type of thing, we’re not going to have seafood. The oceans are just so important to our existance that I don’t understand why we consistantly foul them. It doesn’t make sense to me,” she says.
She goes on to explain, “I really believe in water conservation because things like the aquifer under Kansas is being depleted. It’s being used faster than it replenishes itself. Not to mention droughts. ... (Water is) necessary for life and yet we don’t seem to be concerned over saving it.”
A lot of people remain skeptical about adopting environmentally friendly habits because they aren’t used to them or are uncomfortable with the “green” label. Gillespie says people have told her that they don’t have enough time or space for things like composting or recycling, even though recycling in St. Joseph has only gotten easier.
“I don’t find that it takes that much time or that much room. I just keep a container in the kitchen and I sort it when I’m ready to go,” she says. “We’re so fortunate now to have the recycling center so accessible. When I started recycling I had to drive to Kansas City to recycle because there was no recycling center here in St. Joe.”
Composting is an easy habit, as well. Simply keep a covered bowl or bucket somewhere in the kitchen to store fruit and vegetable scraps, then empty it into a contained pile of leaves and lawn clippings in the backyard and let nature do the rest of the work. According to the EPA, most of what fills garbage dumps and landfills is food waste, so composting can help prevent millions of tons of waste going to the dump each year.
Many communities much smaller than St. Joseph have adopted curbside recycling programs or have even made recycling a law. Gillespie hopes to see positive changes in the city’s future that promote more acceptance and support of green living. Instead of throwing old items away, she wants more people to come around to the idea of repairing and repurposing things to add a few years to their lives. Most of all, she hopes people see the fragility that exists in the ecosystem and that they make deliberate attempts to make the world a healthier, cleaner place every day.
“I think it’s obvious that our resources are not infinite, and no they’re not going to run out in my lifetime, but why wouldn’t I be concerned about the people yet to be born? I think they deserve as good a world as I had to live in,” she says.