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Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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ENJOY | The Green Life

By Avital Binshtock

Easy Growing | Trendsetter | Storied Objects

EASY GROWING

Most home gardeners feel confident nurturing such backyard mainstays as tomatoes, lettuce, and rosemary but get intimidated by quirkier crops. So we asked a handful of horticulture experts to recommend some offbeat but easy-to-grow fruits and vegetables.

Click on the fruits below for more information.


TRENDSETTER

"You can learn all your core subjects in a garden." —Laura Turner Seydel


Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist and activist | Photo courtesy of Laura Turner Seydel

Ever wonder who convinced all those famous people to start caring about the planet? In many cases, it was Laura Turner Seydel. The philanthropist, mother of three, and apex Atlanta socialite is an outspoken conservationist who sits on the boards of no less than 10 environmental nonprofits. Her family's showcase home, the EcoManor, is the Southeast's first Gold LEED-certified residence. She's also Ted Turner's daughter.

Q: Why did you choose the environment as your cause?

A: Because my father thought it was important for us to experience nature. From a very young age, our lifestyle centered around environmental issues. We'd pick up bottles and cans along the road, and we'd take them down and get a little bit of change for them. We'd weed by hand, we kept our thermostat to 65 degrees in winter, and if we got cold, we'd just put on a sweater. Other successful businessmen drove big, gas-guzzling cars. My dad drove around in a little Toyota that got about 40 miles to the gallon. He was fiscally conservative, so it was also about the bottom line.

Q: You've gotten a number of celebrities to start living green. How do you do that?

A: I try to live an ethic and set an example. Also, I'm very passionate about it. If I have an opportunity to get to know somebody, I can make a very compelling case for why they should make a commitment. I've gotten really good at being able to talk to people where they are—not just dive in about the doom and gloom. You talk about things they can understand and relate to, and build them up from there.

Q: What advice do you give parents who want to get their kids to care?

A: Lead by example. When we go to the beach, we spend our time picking up trash. You wouldn't believe how much there is. That stuff just washes up. So you start picking it up. Some people see you and wonder what the hell you're doing, but then others are like, "Yeah, that sounds like a fun project." It's getting kids to feel good and be involved and make a difference at a young age. That blossoms into an ethic. I'm also a huge proponent of getting kids out into the garden and getting their hands dirty and losing their fear of bugs and developing a palate for nutritious food.

Q: Your home gets a lot of praise for its appearance. Do aesthetics play a role in environmentalism?

A: Oh yeah. When people heard we were going to build this environmental house, they were thinking something very modern. But we live in an older neighborhood, so we opted for something traditional. People come here and just can't believe that a house that looks so old-world actually can be resource-efficient with such a low carbon footprint. So, yeah, it's real important to most people what their house looks like. And it's becoming increasingly important how much it costs to run the house. For most people, it's about the bottom line and return on investment.

Q: What's your favorite part of the house?

A: My vegetable garden and my chickens. With the composted soil, its worm hotel, the fresh eggs—that whole deal makes me so happy.

Q: How big is the home?

A: We're at about 6,500 square feet.

Q: Do people ever react negatively to the size?

A: Yeah, sure. But we wouldn't have been able to bring people in and use it as a teaching tool if we just had a teeny-weeny little box. We've had thousands of people come through here for public tours, for events we've done for nonprofits, for political causes. And we've generated so much media, you wouldn't believe it.

Q: Are the media doing a good job of covering environmental issues?

A: No. We can't leave it up to the media, because [then] it's going to be about what sells, which is the crime of the day, the scandal of the day, the reality shows. I always remember what Bobby Kennedy Jr. said: "Americans are the best entertained but least informed people on the face of the earth." And it's true.


Storied Objects

Furniture made from reclaimed materials can mean a milk crate turned into a chair or an old door propped up as a table. But the pieces below prove that recycling and elegance aren't mutually exclusive.

Click on the pictures below for more information.

Fruit photos: Fig, iStockphoto/amphotora; all others, Lori Eanes



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