Welcome to Earth Month! This month, I’m going to be profiling a number of “green moms” who purposely live in a sustainable way. If you’re interested in green transportation in particular, check out the Family Biking Profiles I did last year for Bike Month in May!
Our first Green Mom profile is of Jen Mendez, who lives in Southern Maryland with two kids, who are four and six years old. She’s one of the most holistically sustainable folks I’ve ever met. I first encountered her at D.C.’s annual urban agriculture festival Rooting DC. Last year, she provided invaluable input into the Outdoors Family Challenge and highlighted it several times on her website and podcast. She runs the PERMIE KIDs Community Supported Education Network and its Facebook page, which has loads of great resources.
Why is it important to you to parent your kids in a “green” way?
I guess that depends on how you define “green.” Education is our greatest resource to ethically and ecologically nourish life and transform the future. “Green” for my family is about Nature and Nature is about natural relationships, not just natural resources.
The word Nature was traditionally used to represent all the universe including the living and nonliving things within it. Nature was viewed in a spiritual context, deserving of respect and admiration. As people have come to think of being “green” the perspective has shifted to think of Nature as a natural resource to be managed, used and consumed. Many have replaced the capital letter “N” with a lowercase one. Coincidence? Maybe, but language is consciousness.
As someone with big shoes who loves children and Nature, my hope is that not just my children, but all “our” children are supported in ways that help them cultivate a feeling of awe and wonderment about, as well as develop a love for Nature. I hope through natural, lifelong child-like wonderment our children seek to laugh, play and ultimately develop a deep, intentional understanding and appreciation for being part of the world in which they live in. This includes the physical environment as well as the social environment.
My hope is that if I intentionally shape an environment, which includes all our relations – living and nonliving, in ways that help children to love Nature as well as the man-made/technological environment, they will value, see the interconnectedness between both (and more) and make decisions to live in balance based on the wisdom that connects us with our ancestors and our children’s children. We value, honor and care for that which we love, so the love for all relationships – within ourselves, with others and Nature – must be at the foundation of learning and living.
What motivated you to care about environmental and social sustainability?
We need to transition from an either/or mentality and embrace the inclusiveness of both and more. We are a part of the one and only planet (that we know of) that hosts life as we understand it today. If we don’t learn to live in balance with all our relations, it is increasingly likely that the planet will no longer support the “story” of human life. And, it is just that – a story (that is still emerging).
We and our children have an opportunity to play our part in co-creating the story through intentional learning and living that aligns with the ethics and values that we wish communicate. It cannot just be a story of scientific know-how, but must include the art of ethically knowing how to use our relationships, knowledge and skills to be part of the dance of life and the future story of the Universe.
What are the biggest steps you’ve taken to be sustainable, especially as a parent?
Environment includes the physical landscape as well as the social. One of the most important steps I have taken to go beyond just being sustainable (which is not enough) by actively cultivate inner- and outer-environments that are regenerative. This means exploring what practices and decisions I embrace that help, hinder or allow me to reside in a regenerative place physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
I learned from a friend and colleague, Dr. David Blumenkrantz, that the word of “business” in Swedish is “darings-liv.” Which literally translated means to nourish life. Imagine what might be possible if we sought to be in the “business” of nourishing life?
In the physical environment, nourishing life included moving out of the suburbs and into a semi-rural area before I had children. I honestly believe we can nourish life in any physical environment. But for me, my passions, gifts, and talents brought me to a home with a couple acres of land. I was able to playful and intentionally integrate my interest in permaculture-oriented thinking and practices, like gardening with community in mind and starting a food forest.
With a “do less with more” small and slow mentality, we continue to be more regenerative in lifelong learning and life. My family and I added 5 kilowatts of solar panels on our home. We did a major landscaping design and implementation project to increase our rainwater capture and use. In the subsequent years since my children have been born, we incorporated a small flock of chickens into our homestead that provide fresh organic eggs and meat.
We have also connected with others in the community. We are learning, living, and working in the business of nourishing life because we are better together. As a result, we do things like buy local, ethically produced foods, willingly share our surplus with our neighbors, and trade and barter within our community. We look local before spiraling out. This includes making a conscious effort to incorporate Nature, Community and our homesteading activities into our children’s homeschooling, as well as the education of other families in our community. We readily share our knowledge and seek to learn with and from others.
It is critical, however, to understand that the examples from our life are not to be taken as a list of things to do to live a more regenerative life as a family. There is an ethical framework that helps guide our perceived choices, decisions, and action, not a set curriculum or program to follow. Rather than thinking of product-based objectives that can be checked off, embracing a regenerative lifestyle must be process-driven. One must work with Nature and thus be open to that which emerges in one’s place, time and community.
Has there ever been a time when you felt like being sustainable conflicted with something that was best for your child?
I don’t know if I would say we have had “conflict,” but more accurately just a series of choices. Life, and parenting specifically, is a constant rebalancing of time and priorities.
It is true that the time I spend on my own tending to my garden, fruit trees, and animals could be spent with my children directly in other ways and I know that many times they would prefer my direct attention. But I seek to balance and prioritize that time spent with the knowledge I am providing my family with wholesome food, by feeding Earth and not just ourselves. I also know I am being a good example how to be a good steward to the land. This is to just give a few examples of the trade-off that is the balance we find.
Children need time to be, play, discover, and deepen their personal relationships with themselves, others, Earth and all our relations. Time “alone” without the primary caregiver(s) facilitating or directing the interactions and intentions of the play is a gift. But it all comes as part of the choices and balancing act we are engaged in every moment, every day.
What’s something you want to do to be sustainable, but haven’t been able to yet?
We will never be “done” working towards the regenerative lifestyle we desire. But there are some things that we would like to be able to do. For example, we would like to retire and build an off-grid underground home that produces all its own energy as well as have enough productive land to provide my family with ethically grown and harvested food year-round while still being part of community in all senses of the word. Wow, as if that isn’t ambitious and utopian-oriented!
Honestly, certain ideas for better “green” living may be good for the planet, but depending on how those things are utilized and integrated into the bigger picture, they may not always lead to a regenerative life holistically. It is important to design from patterns down to details. If something we want to do helps care for Earth, but isn’t helping care for all the other ways that our lives need to be not just sustainable but regenerative, than it needs to be reconsidered. This is part of the “dance” that we wrestle with often when we consider taking new steps to live the type of life we desire.
What’s the hardest part of trying to raise kids in a sustainable way?
It is expensive in all ways, not least of which are time and money. We live in a consumer and product-based society. Unfortunately, the systems that exist are structured in such a way that the cheapest consumer goods are most often the ones that are the least sustainable and frequently harmful for the long-term health of people and the natural environment.
What’s the most rewarding part?
Life is a gift and simply being part of it all – my family, community, Nature – is the greatest honor. Helping my children learn and grow and watching them develop into ethical, compassionate, intelligent and thus all around “beautiful” human beings that can change the story and transform the future has been the most AWEsome reward.
Thank you to Jen for sharing her story! To make sure you see updates to the Green Moms series, be sure to like my Facebook page.