- Mar 6, 2019 01:00 pm
The making of a barefoot runner
By Orion Russell Blake
February 3, 2010. That’s when it started. I was catching my ...
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Made in Vermont, these sustainably sourced merino wool socks come with a lifetime guarantee: "If you can wear out our socks we will replace them free of charge." Don't be fooled by the cute designs; they're seriously strong, with a line for firefighters and another for endurance athletes. Backpacker calls them "simply the most durable socks we've ever used." The same family has been making Darn Tough for decades, but somehow they just got on our radar and into our sock bin.
Forget bags. Bring this to the farmers market and you'll score compliments from people who know quality when they see it — farmers. Stick it in the trunk and rest assured it won't tip over. The wire mesh body lets you wash produce right in the hod and allows air to circulate, keeping fruits and veggies fresher. Originally intended for New England clam diggers to stow and clean their day's catch, it also makes an ideal garden harvest basket. With pine ends and solid oak handle, this sturdy, USA-made piece has proven itself the most versatile of the many vessels in our house.
This three-piece nesting bento box set is worlds more space-efficient than our old method of packing random Tupperwares into the kids' lunch bags. It not only keeps food from getting squished but also — and this is important for some discerning little ones — from touching. Made of stainless steel, you can throw all parts right in the dishwasher. The California-based company is plastic-free. Holding 3.8 cups, the Three-in-One Classic is just right for little kids or adults who prefer smaller portions. Our five-year-old had no trouble opening and closing the larger compartments but the snack compartment took her some time to jimmy apart. The newly released Splash Box ($35.99) looks like it has solved that problem with silicone tops.
With a single clasp, this slim one-piece lunch box is quick and easy to get into. The Rover is the middle of Planetbox's three sizes, holding about five cups of food — enough for big kids or adults (for littler ones, the $39.95 Shuttle holds 3.5 cups of food and weighs less than a pound). Its five compartments emulate how kids eat, a little of this, a little of that. Two "dippers" let you pack wet foods like ketchup, hummus or yogurt, but a caveat: including a dipper makes the latch a bit harder to close for little hands. The tiny treat compartment in the middle is a fun way to make your kid feel special without overdoing it. It's an investment, so you'll probably only have one, which means you've got to make sure it gets out of the backpack and into the dishwasher at night.
Now you've gotten all the BPAs, lead and packaging, packaging, packaging out of the lunchbox. Time to attack the old brown paper bag, which today is probably made of nylon. Enter a pair of Toronto moms, who got their start as owners of a boutique in search of sustainable pillow-making materials. Today they make durable organic cotton lunch bags that are machine washable, thank you, because wiping with a sponge just doesn't get out that pickle smell. They come packaged only with a recyclable paper tag, and the designs are timelessly adorable. When it comes to being green and letting your kid express herself, you can have it all.
I first picked up a jar of Catskills Comfrey's arnica & calendula cream to soothe the poison ivy that my family was battling. The trifecta of nature's skin healers — comfrey, arnica and calendula — worked beautifully for that and every other skin complaint we've had since: little infected cuts, mystery rashes, irritated bug bites, bee stings. An anti-inflammatory, the label says it also helps with conditions from sprains and burns to eczema and acne to diaper rash. I can't help putting my fingers to my nose and inhaling deeply when I've got it on. The aroma is primarily of coconut but it's got a botanical richness you'd never find in a drug store product. The comfrey, arnica and calendula are hand grown, harvested, dried, crushed and infused into hot oil by a retired mom and pop farm duo in Delaware County. "I do a fine crush," said Seth Hersh, "currently by hand; it's a zen thing." It's pricey so we only use for repair, not daily moisturizing.
$12 for 2 oz
$8.99 for 2 oz
Sunflower Natural Foods Market, Woodstock NY & Rhinebeck NY
Corinne and Ron Brovetto moved up to the Catskills in the 1970s and got some Holsteins. In 2000, in need of a value added product to bolster their raw milk profits, they started making a Dutch-style semi-hard cheese with a crusty rind, aged in a cave on-site. They now milk 38 cows and make 300 to 400 pounds every Wednesday at their dairy in Jefferson, NY. The cheese house, which they built themselves, is open to visitors. They produce a dozen flavors "the Old World way," many of them unexpected: beer, raspberry herbal tea, Lapsang Souchong black tea. I sampled the caraway seed flavor at a farmers market and promptly bought half a wheel — my life's biggest cheese purchase.
The Cheese Plate, New Paltz NY
Harpersfield Cheese, 1677 Route 23, Jefferson NY
The fourth generation of a book-making family is putting a new spin on the classic composition book. Granted, I've always been a sucker for irresistible notebooks, but this is one you can feel good about, whether you're filling it with grocery lists or your novella since it's made of 100% post-consumer-waste pages. From the Brooklyn headquarters of Michael Roger, two Rogers brothers and their dad have fun brainstorming cover designs, which now number over 100, sometimes scanning images from 19th century books, others getting inspiration from museums or even dreams. The paper is chlorine-free and the books are USA-made and printed with soy ink.
Merrily Paper Boutique, Sugar Loaf NY
Sure they grow fast, but do tots really need a new wardrobe every three months? Not anymore. These soft stretchy leggings, hand-sewn by a homesteading mom in her kitchen in Maine, have a roll-up waist and cuff that extend as kids grow, so they're good from about 7 months to three-and-a-half years. They will also be the coolest article in your kid's wardrobe, coming in stark contrasting colors and whacky patterns like skateboarding grizzlies and lumberjack wilderness buffalo plaid. The whale pattern fabric was drawn by the leggings' maker herself. Most of the designs are non-gendered, so they can be handed down every which way.
Do you have a brown thumb on your gift list? This tiny invention — a plug of growing medium that fits inside an empty wine bottle — makes gardening idiot-proof. Developed by a pair of Columbia grads, Urban Leaf turns a ubiquitous waste product, the empty wine bottle, into a hydroponic growing vessel that requires five minutes of set-up, then next-to-nothing more than a spot on a sunny windowsill. Eventually it will leaf out into basil, marigolds or lemon balm, which after four to six months you can re-plant outside and do it all again. The plug is USA-made and biodegradable. They partner with Mid-Hudson Works, which employs to people with disabilities, to assemble the kits. These guys have big plans: "One day we hope to reinvent the food system," they say, "but for now we're focused on bringing a little bit of edible greenery into your life." Upon this writing, our basil has just germinated about a week after planting, which is exciting because it's almost October.
$8 single; $22 for three-pack kit
Having dinner as a family is the holy grail, we know. But being outside together feels just as important. Cooking over a fire pit in the yard lets you do both at once, plus fun factor is high and clean-up, minimal. You can do a lot Boy Scout-style with tinfoil, a stick or a simple wire grill. But this set from Lodge, an American company in its second century of operation, helps you take your al fresco meals to the next level, whether you're camping or hanging around the house, whether you're making pizza, stew or eggs and kale straight from the garden. The two pieces can be configured five ways — the reversible griddle doubles as a lid. Voila, you've got an outdoor kitchen. The USA-made set comes pre-seasoned with vegetable oil baked onto the iron at a high temperature. Just add fire.
Crafted by a homesteading seamstress-mom in Vermont, Bee's Wrap is the answer to that pernicious plastic wrap problem. Infused with beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin, the organic cotton food wrapper is washable and ultimately compostable. We recommended them three years ago; now this young company has moved out of the founder's kitchen into a workshop that employs five local women. Stock up with the new variety pack, whose sheets' sizes correspond to different colors and patterns so you can grab what you need quickly, whether you're covering half a lemon or a fresh loaf of bread. The instructions recommend reusing for a year, but in our house, we've still got three-year-old sheets in the rotation. The minimal packaging is as thoughtfully sustainable as the product.
$42 for 7-sheet variety pack
beeswrap.com or Healthy Thymes Market, Vernon NJ
Sunshine Ferrara used to work in the cosmetics industry, but ordering truckloads of chemicals left her hating herself. Now she makes her own line of organic, eco-friendly, ethically sourced and fun beauty products from home in Wantage, NJ. She's a pro: her bath bombs fizz volcanically, even when you take them out of the water. The delightful line includes a slip-in-your-pocket hand and fingertip balm ($6) and her bestselling healing foot balm ($8) that would make perfect stocking stuffers. Or if you're going for something with a lot of personality, we were taken by her cookie dough sugar scrub, packed in a tiny reusable Mason jar. It smells like happiness because it contains many of the very ingredients, like brown sugar and cinnamon, she uses to bake cookies. The label says don't eat, but if the baby ends up slurping the bath water, you can rest easy cause there's nothing weird in any of her products. Oh and she includes a free gift with each order.
etsy.com, search 'SunshineUSA'
Founded in January by a pair of surfing millennial fishermen, 4Ocean now has eight boats out on the ocean every day, cleaning up trash. Their growing business is financed entirely by the sale of bracelets made of post-consumer glass and plastic bottles (what comes out the other end of those blue bins on street corners). Each bracelet funds the removal of a pound of trash. The plastic gyre is "more than eight boats could ever take care of, but the whole mission is also to kind of educate the public," said co-founder Alex Schulze. "We're trying to inspire them to stop their habits of using 15 single-use water bottles a day." The founders envisioned their blue bracelet as something that would be with you every day, that you could wear with any outfit, "subtle but big at the same time, showcasing your commitment to cleaner oceans." Adjustable by a slip knot, it works as a conversation piece, and a reminder to run back and grab those reusable bags.
The 1764 stone tavern on Warwick's Main Street is swinging open its doors once more. And as in the old days, tavern members can sip beer from their own custom pewter mugs engraved with their names. Made in Sheffield, England these mugs are the real deal; the Warwick Historical Society tracked an old one down in the original. Membership comes with other perks, too, like drink discounts and admission to parties. But mostly, your watering hole can be the very one where George Washington once drank a grog. Roughly half of proceeds from the mugs go to the historical society; the tavern itself is an innovative new money making model for the society.
$100 tavern membership
845-324-8750 or stop by Baird's Tavern, 103 Main St., Warwick NY after 4pm
This homesteading doula-mom started making booties after she discovered that her infant son instantly ripped all other footwear off his feet. "And they made him look like a little woodland elf of sorts, so that was a huge bonus," said Noelle Libby of Maine. In her kitchen, while the "beasts run amok" around her, Libby crafts each pair to order (any size from newborn to adult) using a quilting weight fabric for the outside and a soft bamboo fleece for the inside lining. Elastic in the ankle, plus a tall wrap around the snap section, doubles the stay-on factor, so you can rest easy knowing no feet are freezing on your watch.
She was seeking a crunchy, gluten-free cookie, made of simple ingredients and no refined sugars. "Which led me to the meringue," said Stefanie Jasper, co-owner of the new health food spot, Get Juiced. You'll want to keep popping these bite sized puffs in your mouth, and you won't feel bad about it, either. Made in small batches, with egg whites from friends' small flocks in Vernon, Wantage and Hamburg, these cookies are sweetened with Vermont maple sugar. "We want to use ingredients that are beneficial to most people — not everybody, but most," said Jasper. They use no corn in anything they make, for instance, to avoid the potential for GMO contamination.
$5.50 per 2.75 oz bag
Our perennial favorite sipping whiskey remains Black Dirt Bourbon, made primarily of corn grown in these very mucklands, and distilled in a towering red barn smack in the middle of the black dirt fields. Now we can add another regional standout. Coppersea is a relative newcomer, but they call themselves a heritage distiller and mean it. They are one of a handful of distillers in the country that age their grain the ancient way, right on the floor. Spent grain goes to feed their Gloucestershire Old Spot heritage pigs. Their Excelsior Bourbon is 100 percent made in New York; even the barrel was specially made from New York State white oak. Based on a bottle's appearance in a recent episode of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Excelsior (named for New York State's motto, meaning "ever upward") is indeed headed that direction.
Black Dirt Bourbon,
Warwick Valley Winery, Warwick NY
This parent team — "Mr. Designer and Ms. Perfectionist" — use their life with three kids as their R&D lab. In a barn on their property in Westtown, NY, Dylan Akinrele designs and builds eco-friendly rustic pieces, a business that has evolved from a side gig to a full time job for both of them. It was years ago that Monika Vokoun asked her partner to make spice jars that would stick to their fridge. When new fridges lost their magnetic powers, Vokoun realized: "Huh, there's a product idea." Akinrele came up with a magnetic spice board, whose wooden frame is reclaimed from upstate barns, to hold the spice jars and whatever else, like a recipe or photos, you want to get off the kitchen counter. Spices, it turns out, have their own subtle beauty when you put them on display. You can also write on the metal with dry erase markers. The board is mounted with a super simple velcro system, and the finish is a nontoxic made-in-Vermont coating that uses whey, a byproduct of cheese making, as a bonding agent.
Spice rack from $115
Jars: 8 for $20
At home we just use a stainless steel bowl for kitchen scraps, but we splurged for a pail for our office, where we recently started composting. With its sleek looks and odor-cutting carbon filter, this sturdy little pail may be all you need to change hearts and minds. It turns composting into an elegant enough operation that it can pass muster in the most persnickety of kitchens, or a more buttoned-up setting like an office. These pails come in all sorts of styles and materials, from bamboo to ceramic, so poke around to find a style to suit.
This is how we do our laundry now and it's first on the list for a reason. "Soap nuts" are actually dried berries that grow wild in the Himalayas and contain saponin, a natural soap. Stick "nuts" in the cloth bag and throw them in with clothes. When they get worn out, compost and replace. Ciao
plastic bottles and harsh detergents.
$9.99 for 100 load pack
Beacon Natural Market, Beacon, NY or econutssoap.com
A New Jersey family founded Poofy Organics in 2006 after a matriarch got breast cancer. Everything of theirs we've tried is delicious. This face cream, made of clean ingredients like shea butter, borage oil and kimchi seaweed, quenches winter skin and protects from the sun. A little goes a long way.
Warwick artist Gary Genetti scavenges busted safety glass from junkyards and turns it into nightlights, plates, soap dishes and clocks. The serving bowls are made using Genetti's open source model that can be replicated anywhere.
Studio: 74 Walling Rd., Warwick NY, 845-492-1935
Bowl $148 on amazon.com, search "Junkyard Glass"
You've got a loved one with a weakness for single serve coffee. We can't all be perfect, but "more perfect?" Yes. This funky Michigan roaster came up with the first compostable K-Cup. Because the water filters out the sides instead of going straight through, it also brews a much stronger cup.
$10 for 10-pack, uncommoncoffeeroasters.com
Turn nighttime into outside time instead of TV time. Whether it's gardening or camping, you can do more with two free hands. It doesn't really
matter which headlamp. We recommend going with a brand name; they've gotten quite durable and the LEDs have a long battery life. We like the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp's strap that can be adjusted while wearing.
$39.95 Campmor, Paramus, NJ
These totes look wicker, but on closer examination you can see that they're in fact made of that ubiquitous scourge: thin film plastic bags. Amelia Bunzey, of Goshen, collects used bags, cuts them into strips, strings them together and uses this "plarn" to crochet handbags and straps to hold yoga
mats. She started doing it to cheer up her young daughter who was "verklempt" at the sight of so much trash out the car window.
$18 and up, etsy.com, search "bunzeybagdesigns"
Finally, you can stop saying, "eh, it's kinda upstate" and point to your chest when people ask where you live. This cozy t-shirt or tank top is
screenprinted by hand in Albany.
$20 etsy.com, search "MW neighborhoods"
Turn your rain or mud boots into all-winter boots with these alpaca inserts, which keep your feet so toasty you might just ditch your socks. Made by hand in upstate NY of alpaca fiber and wool.