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What is Composting and Why is it Important?

Janis Covey

Rotting food waste with leaves and paper.

Simply put, composting is the breakdown of organic matter such as food waste, leaves, and cut grass which naturally fertilizes the soil.  Compost helps energize the soil, research shows that compost enhances the ability of vegetable plants to stand up to common diseases.  Compost also helps the soil retain moisture.  It is even thought that it may improve the flavor and nutritional content of fruits and vegetables. 

Garbage truck lifting trash can to be emptied on a suburban street.

Composting is also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, by reducing the amount of trash you create.  This is important because it is estimated that an American family produces approximately 20 pounds of food waste every month.  When this food waste is not composted, it has to be transported from the home to a landfill.  This is an extremely inefficient process.  The average garbage truck only gets about three miles per gallon due to the constant starting and stopping as they move from house to house.  Once the garbage is collected locally it can travel up to 500 miles before reaching its final destination, the landfill.  Having food waste handled this way is very inefficient since it could have been handled locally via composting. 

Large cubes of compacted trash at a landfill.

Food waste in the landfill creates another problem not seen with composting: the production of greenhouse gases.  This is due to the fact that oxygen is required for the chemical reaction that turns food waste into nutrient dense compost.  In a landfill, garbage is sealed into airtight enclosures.  This is done to prevent toxins from leaching into groundwater, but this also causes food waste to decompose anaerobically (without oxygen), which produces a gas mixture of methane and carbon dioxide; both of these are greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere contributing to global warming.    Methane is an extremely detrimental greenhouse gas since it is 25-34 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.  Due to the anaerobic decay of food waste in landfills, every pound of food thrown away creates 3.8 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. The good new is that by creating a compost pile, you are cutting down those emissions.

Plants growing in garden beds and pots in a garden.

If you’re like me, these statistics make you want to start composting yesterday, so we decided to do a series of blog posts to get you going on your composting journey. While composting does involve a little effort, we promise you can handle it with minimal interruption to your daily life and without devoting a ton of space in your home or yard! Come back next post to read about how to get started!

Wine Certifications: What do they all mean?

Janis Covey

I know how it is, you walk in to the liquor store and row after row of wine bottles are staring at you.  It’s completely overwhelming and you have no idea where to start or what to look for.  Conventional, Biodynamic, USDA organic: What does it all mean?

Shelf with wine bottles lined up

Conventional wines are just that!  They are wines that are grown with standard guidelines for all food products.

Wines that are certified USDA organic are regulated by more stringent laws; these wines are made from certified organically grown grapes and without any added sulfites.   Sulfites, however, can still be present since they are naturally occurring. The final wine product is certified organic.

Wines labeled “made with organic grapes” means the grapes were certified organically grown but the wine can have added sulfites and the wine itself is not USDA organic.

Picture of wine vineyard with mountains in the background

Biodynamic farming takes organic farming a step further.  Biodynamic farming is based on the writings of spiritual philosopher, Rudolf Steiner.  He believed the vineyard is its own ecosystem and not just rows of vines.  You must care for the soil as well as the plant.  In biodynamic farming, the grapes are grown organically without the use of chemical pesticides just like certified organic farming but it differs from organic farming in its belief that farming is attuned to the spiritual forces of the cosmos.  It incorporates lunar cycles and astrological influences.  Biodynamic certification is not a government certification instead it is an independent company called Demeter Association.  You can learn more here

Conventional wines are just that!  Conventional wine can contain numerous additives not found in USDA Organic certified wines and Biodynamic wines, including some of the ingredients below:

Commercial Yeasts – Many manufacturers add commercial yeasts to speed up the fermentation process. Many of these commercial yeasts are GMO. People who have histamine issues will be more susceptible to the “wine headache” due to the yeast.

Mega Purple & Ultra Red – Manufacturers add super-concentrated dyed syrup, which adds color and sugar.  The sugar adds sweetness and increases the alcohol content.

Pesticides and Herbicides – Most conventional wines contain traces of pesticides and herbicides. Glyphosate is the most used herbicide in US vineyards.

Sawdust – Some manufacturers add sawdust or wood chips. This provides tannins and the flavor of an oak barrel without the actual oak barrel.  This is a cost savings hack.

Sugar – Typically added during the fermentation process, it doesn't make the wine sweeter but it does speed the fermentation process and increase the alcohol content.  Organic wines without added sugar are typically lower alcohol for this reason.

So, now that you have the basics, you’re ready to go shopping for your new favorite wine, right?  If you don’t like trial and error, here are my two favorite vineyards:

Bonterra Vineyards:  This California vineyard has both Organic and Biodynamic wines.

Frey Vineyards: Claiming to be the first biodynamic and organic vineyard in America, Frey Vineyards is also based in California.

Both vineyards offer wine clubs for people who want to skip the store and have the wines shipped straight to the house.

What do you Need to Pack for Camp like a Pro?

Jessica Cottrell

Summer’s here, which means that soon all 3 of my kids will be headed to various weeks at their chosen summer camps for some old fashioned fun. My first child is an extrovert and wanted to head off for his first week away from home at age 7, and I have packed many a camp duffel bag or trunk in the years since, and while I worked at a sleepover camp for years, I still agonized over packing his bag. While different camps have different rules, there are some universal truths of camp life:

1) Don’t forget the sunscreen! You know your child best, however I am 90% sure my children have a very spotty record with actually applying said sunscreen, but I like to think positive and emphatically mention it several times on the drive to camp along with some carefully curated facts about melanoma (which may or may not be your parenting style). I try to send a lotion and a stick form of sunscreen, because different kids like different textures and I feel like the more options they have the greater the chances that they might actually use one. Pack a hat and a sun shirt so if they forget to reapply (or to even apply a first time), the damage will hopefully be minimal. We love the Sunstick SPF 30 by Erin’s Faces, and Erin wanted to help you pack, so use code KOSMATOLOGY10 to save 10% until August 31, 2019.

2) Bug repellent is a must! One universal truth of camp life, at least for all the camps in wide open spaces, is that insects are found in abundance! Nobody likes a mosquito bite, and falling asleep in a strange bed is way harder with angry, itchy spots! We love the Kosmatology Bug Repellent Skin Balm to keep exposed skin bite free. To help stock your camp bag, use code CLEANCAMPING and save $2 off the Bug Repellent Skin Balm. Also, you can check out our previous blog about our bug repellent here BUG BALM VERSUS SPRAY.

3) A shower caddy. I hate buying plastic nonsense as much as the next person, but whether the sinks and showers are in the cabin or a short walk through the woods away, your child will need a place to store their things, and I have found through experience that the easier it is for kids to access shower supplies, the better the odds of them being used. The caddy allows water drainage, which is great, because odds are that the cabins are not climate controlled and humidity can quickly make things gross if toiletries are left someplace wet. Find a caddy large enough to fit shower and tooth-brushing supplies, they’re easy to find at most home goods stores, and you can use it to organize something else in the off camp season.

Child reading a book under a blanket, holding a flashlight.

4) A laundry bag. Because once those clothes are worn on a sweaty, hot summer day, you definitely don’t want them mixed in with the clean stuff. No need to get fancy, a mesh bag will do and is actually my preferred method of bringing home dirty camp laundry - see note above about humidity and wet things. At pickup time, throw all the bedding in for a quick bunk breakdown.

5) A flashlight. Even though most places do have electricity, if your child wants to read before bed, a flashlight is probably the only way to make that happen. Also, if the bathroom is a short walk away from the cabin, a flashlight can make the difference between fun walk at night and terrifying experience! For bonus points, I like to sneak a new book or magazine for pre-bedtime reading in the duffel for my kids to find once they arrive, they’re totally on to this trick, but they pretend they don’t know what I’m doing and they are ALWAYS surprised!

Blank card with floral design and pen sitting on a wooden desk.

6) A stamped, pre-addressed envelope to home. My favorite thing about camp is that my kids don’t have technology to distract them from old fashioned fun, but the downside is that I don’t hear from them. I know they are fine, but when they actually take a minute to send that letter home, it’s priceless!

7) A way to make a friend. Consider sending something to help your child break the ice with their temporary new roommates. Whether it’s a pack of gum (check your camp for guidelines about food), a deck of cards or a soccer ball, it’s great to have something that your child can use to start a conversation with someone new. I’ve also been known to send a care package of things to be shared as a cabin, because kids love mail when they are at camp, but not everyone gets it. Other ideas are simple art kits or coloring books, Mad Libs, or a package of glow bracelets. Another great option is the “Wreck This Journal” series of books, one year my daughter’s whole cabin pitched in to help her wreck her journal and the kids really had some great ideas!

Of course, in addition to all of the above, you need all the clothes, bed linens, bath towels, shower towels, shower shoes, etc that make it onto every list, but I hope this list will give you the confidence to know you packed your kid like a pro. Make sure you label everything you want to come home at the end of camp, or better yet, send the clothes you won’t even notice if they go missing. (You know that tee shirt with the stain or the pants with the hole? Those are camp clothes.) Also, don’t forget to check the weather - my worst week as a camper was when I didn’t realize the week would be cold and rainy and I got everything soaked by day 2; it was the 90’s and I packed myself. Lucky for modern day kids, now we have apps that tell us the weather pretty reliably. If there is rain in the forecast, pack a raincoat; if it’s a heatwave, go for a battery powered fan.

One last tip: You can lovingly collect things and send a care package through the mail to camp so that your child has a surprise. Or, you can pick something and have it sent via Amazon Prime with 2 day delivery and a printed gift message. Forgot flip flops for the shower? I’ve been there and can report that Amazon Prime has you covered. Have a million things to do and no time to curate a care package worthy of Pinterest? Send that “Wreck This Journal” from above and you are covered!

Now that you have packing solved, all you have to do is figure out what to do while the kids are gone! Have any other tips to share? Please comment and let us know of anything I missed or any awesome ideas for care packages.