Gardening Eden

author Michael Abbaté's Blog

No Waste November Lessons November 30, 2009

Filed under: Michael Abbate,No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 8:23 am

Vicki and I began this little STP (short term project) a month ago.  At the time, we said our goal was to produce no trash for an entire month.  Little did we know that efforts like this are spreading like wildfire (

Motivated by our love of the Creator, and our desire to steward the Creation, we did our best for 30 days.  We faced some unique challenges, including a business trip, over 1000 trick-or-treaters, Thanksgiving dinner, Black Friday, and nearly a week with nine people living in our home, instead of just the two of us.

You might say that we failed – after all, we did, in fact, generate considerable trash that begins its journey to the landfill today.

However, I think about this effort quite differently.  In my view, it was actually quite successful.  Instead of rolling out a trash bin every week, we were able to contain all of the trash we generated during an entire month in a single grocery bag.  That’s an amazing reduction in trash, probably close to 90%.

In addition, we learned many countless lessons on how to live with less while leaving less for the landfill.  Here are our top 13 lessons learned (and when we discussed it in detail):

1.  Think before you toss: first consider reuse, recycle, or compost before trash.

2.  Learn your local recycling options. (Nov. 2)

3.  Learn the joys of composting. (Nov. 18 & 19)

4.  Carry your own cup and water bottle; (and place setting if you attend a volunteer appreciation banquet!) (Nov. 21)

5.  Use handkerchiefs, cloth napkins and towels. (Nov. 8 & 17)

6.  Buy products made from recycled materials. (Nov. 25)

7.  Make packaging a consideration in your purchasing decisions:  buy in bulk, avoid frozen prepared foods, and favor those items that come in recyclable packing. (Nov. 16)

8.  Bookmark; a great source for recycling options near you. (Nov. 23)

9.  Use low-flow showerheads, toilets and faucets. (Nov. 12)

10.  Borrow, don’t buy. (Nov. 13)

11.  Dispose of hazardous materials carefully. (Nov. 22)

12.  Think ahead when you travel. (Nov. 5)

13.  Don’t expect others to match your enthusiasm; lead by example and others will see the possibility, not the challenge.  (Nov. 21)


Vicki and I are going to take these lessons and continue on, learning new ways that we can refuse to make refuse.  Will you join us?  I’d love to hear your struggles, victories and ideas.  Most importantly, don’t lose track of the reason we are doing this in the first place – we have want to honor the one who took us from death to life, from wasted lives to abundant lives.  He deserves every little thing we can do to show our appreciation.


Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life and Our World, by Michael Abbaté, published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, 2009.  ISBN  978-0-30744-499-8.   For more info:


Goal: A Living Christmas Tree November 29, 2009

Filed under: Michael Abbate,No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 1:53 pm

A couple days ago, I mentioned that we were headed off to purchase our Christmas tree.  We had a couple objectives.  First, we wanted to try a tree that was still living, not the typical cut tree that was just a few weeks away from the compost pile.  Secondly, we wanted to get a species of tree that I could plant down along Fairview Creek when the holidays were over.

That shouldn’t be a problem here in the biggest Christmas tree-producing state in the country, right?  Oregon produces about 7 million Christmas trees per year, nearly 40% of all the trees harvested in the US.  The second-place state, North Carolina, produces less than half that many. So finding a live native Douglas Fir or Western Red Cedar ought to be relatively easy.  Or so I thought.

My local nursery had a small but diverse selection of live trees, probably 15 or so to choose from.  Unfortunately, none were the native species I was looking for.  Plant the wrong tree and two things could happen.  Most likely, Noble or Grand Fir accustomed to growing at higher elevations and colder temperatures would not survive very long along our low-elevation creek.  Secondly, even if it were to survive, this would not be a species that would help keep the ecosystem healthy – it would be a foreigner to the birds and plants found along Fairview Creek.

Tree lots and even you-cut Christmas tree farms are abundant in or near the Portland Metro area.  However, they do not offer living trees.  The farms are highly efficient at growing, cutting, baling and shipping trees, and the digging and potting process is not in their business plans.  I thought I might have to give up my dream of a live tree.

There are some fledgling efforts for Christmas tree alternatives, including one local non-profit that offers to rent you a living tree, then plant it in a watershed after Christmas (  However, we did not get our reserved far enough in advance, and I want to plant the tree here, not along some other stream.

Finally, at Portland Nursery (, Vicki and I found a 6 foot Douglas Fir, sheared to be sure, but fully qualified to grow and help shade the Creek for many years after this Christmas.  We brought it home and placed it on our front porch for now.

Live trees bring another consideration – the inside of your house may be cozy and warm to you, but to a living tree, it’s a sauna!  The friendly folks at Portland Nursery recommend that you keep your tree outside as long as possible, and to bring it inside the house for no more than about a week.

This year, our Christmas tree will live on past the holiday season and will help us restore the ecological balance of Fairview Creek.  The gift that keeps on giving, for sure!

Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life and Our World, by Michael Abbaté, published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, 2009.  ISBN  978-0-30744-499-8.   For more info:


Gingerbread Lessons November 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael Abbate @ 5:55 pm

My daughter, Brooke, is in Sunriver, Ore. this weekend with her in-laws.  Last night, she went to see the gingerbread houses entered into a contest at the Sunriver lodge.  One gingerbread house stood out among the rest.  It was made by a school class in the local area.  Complete with a worm farm, recycling center, organic farm and hydraulic dam, it was a sight to see.  

What are the lessons we teach our children?  Do we embrace creation care or teach them selfish living?

Brooke told me once of a woman she worked closely with who shamelessly declared. “I buy water bottles at Costco all the time.  And, I don’t recycle plastic bottles.  I don’t care.  It’s too much work.”

Do you think her children recycle?

I don’t think kids need to be obsessed with the demise of the world or the ozone layer.  But, we can pass on some sustainable lessons to our children.  As a result, they probably will appreciate the world they live in just  a little bit more.  And, they may just learn to live a little less selfish than their parents.



Frenzy of Black Friday November 27, 2009

Filed under: No Waste November — Michael Abbate @ 11:57 am

My family’s tradition is the Fred Meyer Sock Sale.  And, you can’t just get up whenever you please and mosey over to the nearest Freddie’s.  Nope.  We’re there when the place opens–5AM.  And, for what? Socks.

You’ve never seen such frenzied people, hustling from one sock bin to another.  It’s hilarious…and a little stressful.  That’s why we do it.

But, this year, I got to thinking about how quickly we make decisions in this sort of environment. Some of the fancy Chrismas socks, come on little plastic hangers.  Packs of socks come in plastic bags.  How can you possibly think about packaging when you’re moving at the speed of sound?

It, at least, got me thinking.  If we slowed down, just a little, how much wiser would we be?

We’re off to purchase our Christmas tree.  I’ll tell you tomorrow about why it’s extra special this year!


Recycling Thanksgiving November 26, 2009

Filed under: Michael Abbate,No Waste November,Recycling — Michael Abbate @ 10:35 am

It is Thanksgiving Day; a time to stop and reflect on all of the things in our lives that we have to be thankful for.  My list is long, and I hope yours is as well.

There is one thing I have noticed as I have traveled to various places around this planet – most of the developing world recycles out of necessity, not as an act of spiritual stewardship.  Whether it is in Morocco, Central African Republic, or China, I have observed an established system of trash collection and recycling for items that had reached the end of their usefulness for one person, but could be of some utility to another.

Sometimes this phenomenon has tragic results.  In Managua, Nicaragua thousands of people actually live in La Chureca – the city’s dump.  Even small children work up to 12 hours a day, digging through the refuse of 1.7 million people.  This video tells the story of heartbreak and hope:

What is considered voluntary for wealthy people like us is a matter of life and death to the vast majority of people in the world.  What strikes me this Thanksgiving Day is this thought:  If you have a choice, be thankful.  If you are not forced to collect cans out of economic necessity, be thankful.  If you can choose to fill your trash can with the detritus of American culture, be thankful.  If you have been blessed with a house, a job, and people who love and care for you, be thankful.  The result?  I should let my thankfulness be expressed in my actions.

Jesus put it this way:  “…from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  Do you fit this description?  I know I do.  It is humbling to acknowledge that I am accountable for how I handle the blessings of this life.

So, this Thanksgiving, I will reflect on the one who has given me hope and take advantage of every opportunity to pass on this hope to others.  Perhaps in doing this, I can recycle the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life and Our World, by Michael Abbaté, published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, 2009.  ISBN  978-0-30744-499-8.   For more info:


Consume My Waste November 25, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael Abbate @ 8:35 am

As we strive to reduce our own waste, Vicki and I are always on the lookout for products that are made from recycled waste products.  It’s not enough to be someone who recycles – we must also become consumers of those products that are produced from our recycled materials.

Some things happen automatically.  Cereal boxes, for example, usually are made from a high percentage of recycled (“post consumer”) paper.  But what about other items – how can you find recycled alternatives to normal everyday items?  There are several good sources that you can check online.

First, try the Recycled Products Cooperative. They have a great selection of paper products, office supplies, pens and calendars.  I have been a fan of their amazing recycled cardboard binders for many years.

A great source for environmentally-friendly home products of many kinds is Green Home. They have an incredible range of products, from recycled toothbrushes to lawn chairs, shopping totes to clothing.  They even have a whole section of compostable products.  This is one of my favorite sources; go to their site and type “recycled” into the search bar – you’ll have 326 items to choose from!

A fun site that offers jewelry and a wide variety of accessories is Eco-Artware.   They offer a wide selection of fun items, all made from something else.  I’m particularly fond of the Vintage Typewriter Key cuff links!  Check it out:

If you have a personal favorite recycled product or source, please pass it on to me.  In the meantime, go out there and consume my waste!

Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life and Our World, by Michael Abbaté, published by WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, 2009.  ISBN  978-0-30744-499-8.   For more info:


Urban Farming November 24, 2009

Filed under: No Waste November — Michael Abbate @ 10:14 am

I never thought I’d be one to consider raising livestock.  After all, my visits to working farms over the years evoked a deep respect and a deeper understanding that it was not the life for me.  Who wants to get up at 5am every morning–rain, shine or sleet–to tend to the livestock after all.  And, from big animals comes big poop.  Nope.  Not the life for me.

But, in my quest to understand Creation Care, I’ve begun to appreciate the unique relationship between human and animal.  Respect and appreciation replaced laziness.

I’m trying to convince Vicki, my wife, to reach way back to her family’s farming roots and get some chickens.  They are sustainable!  They eat your scraps, they produce food almost daily (eggs, that is) and their waste makes wonderful compost.  There are countless resources for those considering raising chickens in an urban environment:,,

Did you know that more than 50 percent of bee populations have disappeared?  Honey and bumble bees are critical to agricultural success.  Without pollination, we’d be nowhere.  Besides that, honey is one of the most amazing creations of God as far as food is considered.  It is antibacterial, full of natural antioxidants and lasts forever (due to its natural preservatives).  Oh, and as a bonus, you women may care to know that honey is hygroscopic, meaning it helps keep skin hydrated and fresh as it pulls moisture out of the air…  (  Quite the product!  Many people I know are so amazed by the product of the honeybee that they’ve taken it upon themselves to help preserve the creature.  They’re easy to care for and help to keep our plants healthy and productive while also providing delicious honey for our consumption.  Great local blog:  I hope to get my own honeybees sometime soon…

Now, if you’re feeling ambitious, urban goats could be exciting.  They produce milk, which I don’t have to tell you is an important component of a healthy diet. Somehow, I couldn’t picture a little goat hanging out in our backyard, especially with the coyotes we have around.  But, to each their own. They do cut down on landscape management, to be sure.

I admire anyone who takes the plunge into urban farming!