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Experts give tips on living sustainably
Rain barrels collect water at the Linwood Nature Preserve. The water is then used in the gardens instead of becoming water runoff. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Sustainability tips:

  • Buy locally grown food
  • Cook own food
  • Plant vegetable and native plants garden
  • Don’t remove or bury topsoil
  • Repurpose items
  • Buy reusable items

When buying groceries, county extension program assistant Robin Friedman always reads her food labels. If it contains palm oil, an oil made from the African oil palm tree, she puts it back.

Friedman knows if she buys a palm oil product, she promotes deforestation and harms animals such as orangutans.

“We make a huge impact on buying something that comes from far away,” she said.

Friedman’s choices are working toward sustainability, a concept involving methods that do not harm the biodiversity of the planet.

“Sustainability is thinking about the choices we make on an everyday basis and how that impacts our world,” she said. “It impacts people, the animals and the environment.”

Living in a country that consumes tremendous amounts of resources a day, it is hard to imagine how Americans’ choices affect foreign countries and its residents. But Friedman said overconsumption can be detrimental to places such as Inner Mongolia.

“Inner Mongolia has a huge amount of space that is now desert, no biodiversity,” Friedman said. “There are no bugs, no insects. They can’t grow anything.”

Even though no deserts are in Hall County, University of North Georgia biology professor Justin Ellis said he sees desertification happening locally when wooded areas are cleared and buildings are constructed.

“You clear the vegetation area and then you cut into the earth and the topsoil is normally buried or removed,” Ellis said, pointing out the best option is to reuse the topsoil.

Without the topsoil, the once fertile land loses its ability to absorb water and grow vegetation, he said.

People, animals and the environment are all interconnected and Friedman hopes people will start thinking before they consume.

“Young people, they love and appreciate the natural world,” she said. “All you have to do is just take them outside.”

Friedman encourages adults to take children outside and encourage them on making informed choices about the environment. Then kids will become stewards and teach others about protecting the planet.

“They go home and tell their parents and help their parents make changes,” Friedman said.

However, change does not come easily or happen overnight. But if everyone makes small changes, then there is hope for the future, she said.

“Is it something that I can continue to use or somebody else can use?” Friedman asked. “Do I really need to consume this? Can I buy it locally? Is it made well or made in the U.S.? Make good choices.”

Buying local not only helps maintain sustainability, but it helps the Georgia economy.

“When you buy locally, you are reducing the carbon footprint of your food,” Ellis said.

When you buy from the store, most of the money typically circulates outside the community. But when a consumer buys from a local farmer, the money stays in the area, the professor added.

The University of Georgia conducted a study in 2010 showing if each household spent $10 on local food a week, the Georgia economy would grow by $1.9 billion.

If changes are not made now, biodiversity will cease to exist.

“We will become unhealthy as human beings and the animals will become ... extinct more and more because resources are finite,” Friedman said.

But Friedman does not see the effects as irreversible. Actions are being taken to grow sustainability, including here in Gainesville.

The Redbud Project is one small step to preserve the local environment.

According to the Redbud Project’s website,, “The Redbud Project is a community movement committed to preserving the imperiled habitat of native species trees, shrubs and wildflowers in forests of Hall County.”

The movement promotes awareness, education on native plants and is a model for conservation.

Redbud Project Executive Director Margaret Rasmussen said to protect the environment, “ecosystems need to be balanced.”

Clear cutting and placing concrete and asphalt is endangering the ecosystems. When you clear the trees and flowers, then the insects go, Rasmussen said. And when the insects are gone, the birds migrate elsewhere.

Friedman said a step toward sustainability is educating the public with community gardens, culinary lessons and teaching residents how to grow their own gardens.

“Get the whole community involved and encourage seed to the table in the kitchen,” she said.

Another step to help preserve limited resources is repurposing items, which is different from recycling.

“(It is) literally taking something and creating something new,” Friedman added, “a new product out of an old product.”

A friend of Friedman’s repurposes plastic grocery store bags, turning them into chair cushions.

Simply thinking as a global citizen can change your mindset.

“We never had to think about others around the world,” she said, “but what we do today affects us, affects others around us and around the world.”

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