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Illinois Country Living

Grandma Was “Green” Before It Was Trendy

Today’s eco-friendly practices aren’t too far removed from the frugality of the past

by Jen Danzinger

“Going green” is the current buzzword describing a movement to reduce humanity’s negative impact on the earth. Major corporations, such as Wal-Mart, are seeking ways to promote a “greener” image by investing in eco-friendly products, energy and business practices.

With all this flurry over environmental consciousness and rising commodity prices predicted by the media, I wondered what steps I could take to “go green” in my rural home. What I discovered was that my Grandma’s adage of “waste not, want not” and her frugal practices born of the Great Depression and World War II (WWII) have a lot in common with the current “green” movement.

A common mantra is “recycle, reduce, reuse.” There are many ways to reduce landfill waste. An increasing number of grocery stores are offering “green” bags for sale. These inexpensive reusable totes can be used instead of plastic in the checkout aisle. If you’re into crafts, show your flair and bring your own hand-made tote.

During WWII, there was a governmental push to recycle scrap metals for the war. Today, glass, paper, cardboard and many metals and plastics can be recycled. Those of us out in the country may not have the convenience of curb side recycling pickup, but we can enter into a dialogue with the local government about providing recycling bins somewhere in town.

Food refuse can be composted. Not only can you create nutrient-rich soil by composting those dinner scraps, there are even methods available for making a compost mulch that acts as an organic weed-killer. This will come in handy in the garden, which you should consider planting if you haven’t already.

My grandma gardened to keep food on the table. It would make no sense to her to buy produce she could grow at home. Since many of her friends and neighbors had their own gardens, there were ample opportunities to trade tomatoes and rhubarb for carrots and onions. Perhaps now would be the time to discuss with friends and co-workers what they’re growing. Trading produce at work might help save money on gas and food.

Support your local farmers. That ripe tomato sitting in the grocery store was most likely picked more than a week ago, shipped farther than 1,000 miles, and isn’t as fresh as what you’ll find at your local farmers market. By buying local, you’re helping to support small family farms - a tradition struggling in the face of large agribusiness. You’re also helping curb carbon dioxide emissions by ensuring the food doesn’t have to be shipped across the nation (or the world) to get to your kitchen table.

Finally, reuse. Grandma would turn tattered clothing into rags for use in the kitchen instead of paper towels. She would also keep useful items from the landfill by donating to programs such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill or church rummage sales. Similarly, if you have Internet access, you can go to and see if there is a Freecycle Network™ near your home so that you can swap useable goods with other members of your community. According to Dawn Hooser, one of the moderators of the McDonough County Freecycle Network, “People are very friendly and helpful on the group. We have had plants, straw, mowers and materials for repairing barns [exchanged]. Everything we save from the landfill is saving the planet.”

If she were alive today, I think my grandma would be perplexed by the notion of “going green.” She’d claim what she was doing was nothing more than the result of common sense. While many of us were raised with these thrifty habits, for some reason less of us are still practicing them. I’m still evaluating my options for “going green” at home and would love to have any frugal tips or “green” suggestions e-mailed to me at for inclusion on the Illinois Country Living Web site.

For more information:

Going Green

Buying Locally-Grown Food



Reader Response: "I am Coop member and receive and enjoy the ILLINOIS COUNTRY LIVING magazine. I particularly enjoyed your article, "Grandma was 'Green" Before it was Trendy," because this new "lifestyle" reminds me of both of mine. I consider myself "green" and becoming more so; and as I do I remember the lifestyle of my gradmothers. They used rags, recycled EVERYTHING, made things from scratch, and were frugal before it was vogue. Since I first noticed it, I have been reminded of more and more things they did. I am also reminded of when I took Home Ec in high school where some of the ideas you described were taught as just part of good homemaking. Though I like to consider myself rather cosmopolitan, I am proud of the ideas and skills I developed in my younger years from these women and practice today with style."

Brenda Erickson
Egyptian Electric Coop Member

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