Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, Or Do Without

Tips for green living from our elders

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Just south of Burlington, Vermont, the residents of the Wake Robin retirement community came together recently to share memories of living in leaner times. Driven more by survival instincts than environmental concern, the experiences of our elders provide valuable lessons in green living.

Luckily, Burlington Free Press reporter Matt Sutkoski was there to record the proceedings.

As a youth, Carmer Van Buren, now 81, moved to Vermont from suburban New Jersey after his father lost his job during the Great Depression. Despite lacking experience farming, the family settled on a small farm in Bradford and learned to grow their own food, manage animals and perform all the tasks necessary to support a farm.

He said a farmer across the road helped the family get started. "We had a lot of trial and error. We really learned self-sufficiency," Van Buren said.

Van Buren said learning how to live sustainably gave him a sense of pride.

Make it do

Alice Cook Bassett, 84, remembers something called "turning sheets." The centers of bed sheets would wear out with use. Rather than buy new sheets, people would cut wide strips lengthwise along the edges of the sections of sheets that were worn out. The worn out sections would be sewn to the outer edges of the less-worn sections, then the two pieces would be sewn together. That left a sheet that was like new in the middle, and worn out at the edges, where it didn’t matter so much, Bassett said.

And these folks still practice what they preach.

The elders at Wake Robin said they continue gardening, avoiding waste and living green just as they did in the Depression. Osgood and Conrad keep bees on the Wake Robin property. Other residents make maple syrup from some of the trees near the residences. Van Buren would like to see a large community garden at the retirement community.

"Environmentalism," Sutkoski suggests, "is so old fashioned."

For those of us seeking to live a greener lifestyle, consider the elders who would gladly share "green lifestyle tips" if you just ask them.

An Earthjustice staff member from 1999 until 2015, Brian used outreach and partnership skills to cover many issues, including advocacy campaign efforts to promote a healthy ocean.