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Mom goes green in the recession

May 12, 2009

This is part of a series of personal accounts about how people are surviving the recession. The writers are contributors to Associated Content. For more stories in this series, click here.

Written by Sylvia Cochran

Bills are piling up, creditors are calling even before the grace period has elapsed, the kids’ college funds are virtually zero, and I hear a drum roll whenever I open the IRA statement.

Welcome to a day in the life of a Los Angeles-area stay-at-home mom.

After my husband made it through the latest round (third round? fourth round?) of the cable industry’s layoffs, we were relieved. Nevertheless, California is hit hard by the sudden loss of home-equity capital, rising food and gasoline prices and state sales-tax rates that just went up by 1 percent — now about 9.25.

Frugality started small. I learned to ferret out money-saving billing options from the utility companies. For example, Southern California Edison offers customers the opportunity to apply for a level payment plan. Summer electricity use is higher, and winter use is significantly lower. SCE takes a year of charges and averages the amounts, making the monthly bill predictable and easy to budget for.

Then something interesting happened. To pinch pennies, we learned to go green. We rarely glanced at the Home Depot and Lowe’s displays about energy-saving innovations. But with the cost of energy going up (SCE announced in March that it would raise rates by 2 percent), these displays suddenly held great interest.

Because of the recession, we learned to reduce energy consumption. Now the thermostat on the water heater is set to warm not hot, and one night we turned off all the lights to be surprised just how many blinking status lights were still on.

Since then I have hooked up virtually everything to kill-all switches that I can hit at the end of the day, when I really do not need to have the radio, TV, VCR, DVD player and all the other appliances sucking energy from the wall in exchange for being ready for use.

Being green also means setting up a container vegetable garden. Growing veggies in containers is so easy that it makes me wonder why I hadn’t thought of it before. Seeing how nutritious tomatoes are and how much a single watermelon vine will produce, it’s a no-brainer to grow these in the sunny Southern California climate. I like to take full advantage of the sun and the convenience of the container garden. I am now experimenting with artichokes. Who knew that they come back each year?

In some ways, it is a sad testimony that going green did not happen until a recession virtually forced it on us.


The crops in your garden will be no more nutritious than the dirt from which they come. Remember to add minor elements and blood meal (or fish meal if you can find it).

The tools you use should be hand-powered so you can continue when the Obamaites make gas & electricity too expensive to use.


Excellent start! Ms. Cochran’s best comment was in her last paragraph, i.e. “In some ways, it is a sad testimony that going green did not happen until a recession virtually forced it on us.” And, yes!, it IS fun to home garden in small pots or otherwise. Surge protectors with kill all switches, simple recycling (can bring out the Craft Master in one), and combining jogging with small grocery trips (fresh daily produce!) are just so many ways we can improve our environment AND our health.

Now, if we could just find a way to simplify our banking system…..

Posted by Katherine Vickers | Report as abusive

Great article – this is a wonderful little story – we have taken so much for granted here in the US over the last decade – it is great to see people discovering how to reduce energy and also planting gardens. There is a website where you can even get free heirloom seeds from one million gardens for anyone who has been affected by a lay-off or job-loss. They also have a free online gardening course I’ve been taking – check it out and let’s all do our own little steps that make a big difference…

Posted by william martin | Report as abusive

Great job! Just a note of caution: don’t forget the energy that goes into producing so-called “green” solutions that we find at big box stores and elsewhere. For example, many electronics and appliances branded “energy-efficient” actually contain hazardous materials. (And fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so even if we save on our electric bills in the short term, what about the long-term environmental consequences once these bulbs reach the landfill?) I can’t help but wonder about the total energy that goes into making something as simple and ubiquitous as a surge protector, not to mention the energy required to transport boxes of them from overseas to our stores.

Nevertheless I sincerely applaud your commitments, and I hope that your story inspires others to be more mindful of their energy consumption and connection to food sources.

Posted by Tak Silverspar | Report as abusive

Boston: We have a deck 10′x14′ where we grow blueberries, strawberries, five varieties of tomatoes, three varieties of cucumbers, pole beans, sweet peas, five varieties of jalapenos, yellow onions, garlick, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, oregano, sage, chives, sunflowers, bell peppers (red, yellow and green) and basil. We line one wall with trellises to let everything climb all over. It is the best things we do every year!

Posted by Wayne | Report as abusive

I just can’t make the switch to those bulbs containing mercury. I have had two break and felt like I needed a hazmat suit to clean it up. It makes me wonder if in 10 years or more, we’ll be causing environmental problems from these in landfills?

During times of great stress on finances, Americans persevere and are actually quite creative at saving money and pinching pennies when push comes to shove.

Posted by Caren | Report as abusive

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