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Heirloom Tomato. Heirloom Habits. (Or How Much I Have to Learn)

Posted Oct 21 2008 12:12am

Mr. Stripey, a beefsteak heirloom tomato plant, is right now waving at me in the garden bed outside my office window. I vow every year to only grow cherry and grape tomatoes because bigger ones are inevitably a disaster for me. Yet, each year I break down and plant a wide variety anyway. Because, I guess, I'm just a hopeless optimist. Or hopeful.

And so that brings me to what I'm finding has turned into a bit of an interesting journey, this constant back and forth with Kate in Australia about our odd way of living here in the United States (I've been posting comments on her blog as much as she has been posting on mine). She seems to be shocked at many of my posts--about the cuffs for coffee cups, about the lawncare habits of Americans, and now about what on earth I find so hard about trying to make eco-changes.

Here's what I find odd--a woman who has solar power and chops down her own wood. It's not odd in the fact that it's the right thing to do. It's odd, I realized yesterday, in that Kate says it like it's the most normal thing in the world. And perhaps it is, but here in the United States, I literally don't know one person personally (friend, relative, colleague, neighbor) who has solar anything (oh, maybe there's a solar light on the walkway up the driveway across the street).

And so I asked her how common solar power and wood-chopping is in Australia and she told me it was quite common. This got me curious about my options here in Atlanta, especially because, as coincidence would have it, I received a press release yesterday about Georgia Power's Green Energy now being Green e-Energy-certified, which apparently means it meets national as well as local environmental standards.

So I called Georgia Power and asked about its green energy option. Yes, it's more expensive (about 10% more, on average) but here's the kicker. Almost all the available green energy in the program is currently already allocated. So, technically, an Atlanta cosumer (me) cannot join the program, at least not until more green energy contracts are signed (and apparently very few Georgia consumers have solar power and even fewer generate enough power to sell some back). Turns out that the entire state of Georgia is supposedly not such a great state for solar. "Too many cloudy days," the nice lady told me. Here? In Atlanta? This surprises me. But she said that the southwest United States, which is desert, is the best place for solar generation, which probably explains yet another reason why California is ahead on this as well.

I also had a great conversation with the City of Atlanta's Director of Sustainability yesterday. Twenty eight years old. Grew up nearby. Led her middle school on a recycling effort. Saved loggerhead turtles at the coast. Friends ridiculed her for years. Is currently working on greening operations and policies in the city under the direction of Mayor Shirley Franklin, who is a well-known visionary who has taken nationwide leadership positions regarding climate issues and who is in the news almost daily about the sustainability efforts she is spearheading for Atlanta.

So I got to thinking. Adelaide, Australia is drought-ridden. As is Atlanta. Adelaide seems much more eco-conscious than Altanta. But we're trying. Wouldn't it be great if we could become eco-sister cities? Wouldn't it be something if we could build a bridge of knowledge across the world, and we could learn what works for Australia, and Australia could learn that this is new to us (however awful that sounds) and that we are trying, more and more of us each day? And that although tips like turn off the lights sound embarassingly simple, Americans still need to hear them in simple terms because we're still not doing it habitually. Because we still have a bit of a mindset like how reckless I am with basil in summer, like resources are plentiful and there's no need to worry about supply. Yet, of course, there is.

I don't know how to explain this, Kate. Perhaps historically. After World War II, in the 1950s, there was a period of incredible abundance here in the United States. The grandparents were always saving aluminum foil and not wasting bags, and somehow that was seen as something to reject, that it was a reminder of wartime. Clearly, what the grandparents were doing was right and we were foolish to not learn from them. But we're going back to those habits of our grandparents now. We're planting gardens. We're saving aluminum foil. And we're trying.

And so my heirloom tomato plant reminds me of the heirloom habits of my grandparents. And how much I have to learn.
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