Growing “Green” Children

Nov 4, 2009 at 3:51 pm |

By: Jonathan Westfall & Carrie Stevens for

Just Add Plenty of Water and Sunlight, Right?

Taking time to prepare meals that include healthy, even organic ingredients for yourself is challenging enough as it is—as a single parent with several children, I can tell you that sometimes it’s damn near impossible to do. The drive-thru is so much easier and more convenient.

Starting kids out with healthy attitudes and a healthy outlook is worth every ounce of effort that it requires. Not just in regards to food and nutrition, but their overall attitude toward preserving and sustaining our planet. I was greatly encouraged one evening as I tucked my kids into bed for the night, and my oldest son thoughtfully remarked to me, “You know Dad, we lose about 1.5 acres of rainforest every second (about 200,000/day) because it’s cleared by chainsaws, bulldozers and fires for its timber value and then are followed by farming and ranching operations.” To which, one of his younger brothers on the bunk below agreed and repeated the numbers to me. I thought for a minute and said, “Well, what do you think WE should DO about that?” This is the point I would like for them to take away from all of those ambiguous and rather startling statistical factoids; we all have the ability to do something to create change. As it is often said “Every waterfall starts with a single drop of water” and real change can only begin if each one of us takes it upon ourselves to decide to make a difference. The way I figure it, I have the opportunity to make the biggest water drops in the bucket.

Now, I realize that in the 1940’s and 50’s people really weren’t all that concerned with the sustainability of the planet or conservation and recycling and well, the whole world seemed a lot more disposable back then. They smoked in doctor’s offices… while they were pregnant… drinking soda laced with pure cocaine. OK, I get it—everyone was in a totally different “headspace” in those times and we should actually be thankful the human race survived at all, much less having evolved into the much greener, ecologically responsible species we are today for the most part. But, when I come home to find my mom (bless her very misguided heart) proudly proclaiming “Your dishes are done!” having run the dishwasher through an entire wash cycle for a single meal’s worth of dishes, I promise I am disconnecting the water line the very next time she comes to babysit. I have tried to explain to her that I am trying to reduce my household’s carbon footprint and I can see her drifting off… “I’m losing her again” I say to myself. Keep it simple. It’s the same look I get from my kids when I try to explain to them how, “Yes, although it may be inconvenient to turn off the faucet every two seconds while brushing your teeth, it does save about 25 gallons of water every month (per person).” I know the look very well. I refer to it as going “dead fish”. I don’t let it discourage me though. They say you have to repeat a message an average of 9 times before people actually hear you. I would say that my family is single-handedly throwing off the curve. Still, I persevere. I am sure that eventually, something has to sink in… it has to! I try to help it along by following a consistent behavioral pattern that leverages one, if not more of these practices:

A Healthy, Eco-Responsible Diet

It’s really a pretty simple concept; if it’s good for the earth, it’s good for me.

·  Limit trips to the drive-thru and fast food establishments

–    Being healthier overall = less burden on our socioeconomic system, fewer trips to the doctor, less gas consumption, less paperwork generated, etc.

–    Reduces needless waste generated by packaging dodo films

·  Eating healthier, and low on the food chain (choosing beans over chicken or soy milk over cow’s milk, etc.)

–    Reduces our dependency on livestock responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport

–    Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) “livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity”

·  Buy organic food—it’s the greatest contribution you can make to the environment. (No pesticides, no growth hormones, etc.) The ancillary benefits are numerous!

Recycling (and reducing consumption)

These days it simply isn’t enough to recycle alone. We must also reduce our consumption of the products that are packaged in the containers we regularly place curbside on a sunny Monday morning.

·  Get family into the habit of sorting and recycling raw materials to begin with

·  Familiarize yourself with the various types of plastics. Just because something has the recycle symbol in it, doesn’t mean it is recyclable. Look at the number next to the symbol that identifies the plastic to identify whether or not it is recyclable, toxic for the earth or simply too toxic to eat off of! To learn more about plastic, the identification codes and all recycling issues go to recycle bank

·  Give kids their own, refillable metal water bottle instead of purchasing individually packaged water bottles

–    Cuts down on the amount of petroleum consumed to create packaging

·  Lids are often made from a different kind of non-recyclable plastic


You hear it all the time when you’re a kid—“Take care of your things.” Well, the message hasn’t changed all that much, there’s just a deeper meaning these days. The entire product life cycle effects our environment, and when you don’t care for your “things” (whether it’s a toy, or clothing, or your pets, etc.) you are not only being irresponsible, but also hurting our planet by needlessly over-burdening the consumption cycle of goods and services.

·  Consumer goods consume precious natural resources in:

–    Production

–    Distribution

–    Marketing

–    Consumption

–    Recycling/Waste


Probably the easiest of all of the strategies to pass onto your children, conservation has been “in” for years—from Lewis & Clark to Dwight D. Eisenhower (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge became a federally protected wilderness area during his administration) all the way to the present day and Leonardo DiCaprio (Natural Resources Defense Council trustee). A healthy respect for wildlife and/or nature in general is all you need to get in the game. Some ways to contribute include:

·  Disposing of chemicals properly

·  Following guidelines for fertilizing near drainage run-offs and standing water

·  Don’t be a “litterbug”—even picking up after others

·  Planting trees on arbor day or earth day

·  Annual Thanksgiving day “Turkey Hikes” (picking up litter along the way)


Giving back to our communities is probably one of the most worthwhile recycling programs we have at our disposal. Teaching our children to help those less fortunate than ourselves shows them (among other things) compassion: an integral ingredient in all aspects of being “green”. It is compassion for our environment and all living things that motivates us. A compassionate soul is by far one of the greatest gifts you can give a child. It can heal all wounds, feed any famine, quell great strife, and requires surprisingly little to bestow. Children learn by example.

·  It may be something as simple as an investment of time

–    Volunteering at your child’s school a couple of times a month

–    Your local big brothers big sisters program

–    Your local soup kitchen or homeless shelter

–    Let your child decide what field interests them kids health

·  Donating money or old clothing to local charitable organizations and churches

·  Donating services in your field to youth groups or charitable organizations

·  Or just take a moment to hold a door for a disabled person or aiding an elderly person to safely navigate an icy sidewalk.

So, you would think that, with all of these strategies in place I would be single-handedly raising an elite “green brigade” who will deliver our earth unto the first Eco-Age of our planet and all will be right with the world. I even try, every so often to forward web links and helpful tips and interesting video clips to friends and family members to raise their awareness. One day my daughter, with the most sincere and heart felt look of pity (and maybe a little annoyance), said to me after viewing an online video I sent her, “Yeah Dad, thanks for that… Real interesting! That’s like ten minutes of my life I will never get back.” So much for the revolution… But like I said—eight or nine more times and she might actually think about turning the faucet off while she’s brushing her teeth. My mom… well, she might take a few more, but I won’t stop trying.

Photos by: Steven James May

Taken of Carrie Stevens for, Jonathan Westfall, Julienne Green and Jaxon Stevens.

By: Jonathan Westfall & Carrie Stevens for Just Add Plenty of Water and Sunlight, Right? Taking time to prepare meals that include healthy, even organic ingredients for yourself is challenging enough as it is—as a single parent with several children, I can tell you that sometimes it’s damn near impossible to do. The drive-thru […]