Dirt Therapy: What Does it Really Mean to be Green?

Dirt Therapy is a regular column in the Capistrano Dispatch written by GNTG founder, Marianne Taylor Take the lead from grandma’s book, live more simply

In this age of protecting our health, preserving the environment and conserving resources, the word sustainability comes to mind. So what does it actually mean and how can these sustainable practices help you, your family and make a difference in the community?

There are various definitions and debates surrounding sustainability among leaders in the field. Simply put: It’s the concept of living within our limits, understanding the interconnections among economies, society and the environment and providing equitable distribution of resources and opportunities. Still confusing? Think grandma pre-20th century.

Our grandmothers and society before them lived sustainably and naturally.

Past generations knew how to stretch a dollar, plan the day, the week, the month and the year ahead, made meals from scratch, sewed buttons and clothes, stitched socks, gardened, shared seeds and bulbs, harvested crops, canned food, made household products, ate well, slept well and didn’t need medicines to get up or go to sleep.

The daily demands of life exercised them, moved them and connected them to the community and the land. Their lives had meaning. They knew what it took to survive and used what was needed. Waste not want not was their motto. They lived simply to simply live.


We could all learn a lot from our grandmother’s generation about environmentally friendly green living. This lost generation has inspired a huge crop of today to again be green, using old-fashioned practices and avoid (or not rely as much on) technology. As populations explode and resources become limited, we can all be part of the sustainable revolution.

Where do you begin? You can start today using 10 tips I’ve found from grandma’s recipe book for a greener home.

  1. Hang your laundry out to dry. The smell of fresh clothes is fabulous, the sun bleaches the whites and the practice saves on electricity.
  2. Can seasonal foods. It was a necessity back in the day. Canning today supports local organic farmers and gives you high-quality food all year round with essential vitamins and without pesticides. You can reuse the glass jars as water glasses too.
  3. Use basic ingredients for cleaning. My mother’s favorite remedy utilized baking soda and vinegar for everyday cleaning—no nasty chemicals or gasses.
  4. Learn to sew. Clothes today are so inexpensive, but what about sewing a loose button, patching a hole in your favorite jeans or shortening and letting out hems?
  5. Reduce food waste. Grandma knew exactly what was in her fridge. She used everything from peelings to bones to make a soup stock. Leftovers were re-created into new dishes and scraps were composted. Fifty percent of all food produced today is wasted.
  6. Grow your own food. Use a container or create a raised bed. You don’t need much space, just time daily to watch your garden grow. Not only will the food taste better, you’ll feel better with personal satisfaction and good health.
  7. Make a quilt. Nothing feels better then snuggling with grandma’s quilt. Repurpose old fabrics, such as T-shirts and worn out clothes. Join a group, enlist your neighbors and start a new tradition. Pick up some knitting needles while you’re at it.
  8. Use dishtowels and rags. Reduce household waste and cut down on paper towels. Use newspaper to soak up and dispose of bacon grease.
  9. Collect rainwater. Even though we’ve had very little rain these past few years, prepare for next season with a rain barrel at the end of the eaves trough and use it to water plants.
  10. Resist the urge to upgrade and update. Oh those magazines from our favorite stores. The must have dishes, bedding, blankets, decorations and furniture. My mom always had the same ol’ stuff with very little turnover. She was a living proof that while welcoming her guests she didn’t need to impress. Her home was lovely with smells of baked bread, fresh flowers cut from the garden and coffee waiting to be served.

Using any or all of these tips will start you on your way to greener living.

Get your children involved in many of these practices, it’s fun to garden or make a quilt together. These lasting traditions, along with quality of time spent together, will naturally create happy moments just like grandmother’s days.