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The Good Life Lab: A powerful message on life, stuff, and true sustainability

7 Oct

In late September, students at Smith College were blessed with a lesson in the environmental, physical, and emotional impacts of stuff, and our insatiable desire for more of it. Wendy Tremayne, author of The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living, and her partner, Mikey Sklar, gave an hour and a half long talk about their adventure from one extreme lifestyle to another, and the incredible lessons that we can all learn from their change. In 2006, they both left their high profile, high stress, and highly taxing careers in marketing and on Wall Street, sold (almost) everything, and bought a piece of land in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Their goals were to decommodify (commodify: treat as a commodity, commercialization) their lives, reconnect with nature, use their skills (and acquire more) to make what they need rather than buy it, and live an abundant life.

They succeeded phenomenally. In a couple of years, they had built a sustainable home, were growing about 50% of their food (and were making just about all of it), had learned dozens of new skills, and were living a more relaxed, interesting, secure, exciting, and abundant life then before – on under 30,000 dollars a year. The Good Life Lab includes everything from lessons on how staggeringly unsustainable the current “ideal lifestyle” is to step by step directions on how to make your own biofuel. It serves as both an exciting story to spark interest and inspire a new way of looking at the world, as well as a guidebook on how to embark on a making versus buying lifestyle.


One of the most inspiring things I took away from this talk (and perusal of the book afterwards) is how irrevocably intermingled human sustainability is with the sustainability of the earth. When Wendy and Mikey decided to dive in head first and live a decommodified life, they were not only switching to a much greener way of life with a much smaller carbon footprint, but they were allowing their own lifestyle to be just as sustainable and kind on a personal level. In a developed world that is afflicted with all kinds of chronic illnesses, cancers, anxieties, loneliness, and more, yet full of items to buy to supposedly fill those holes, it is no wonder that many people feel rushed, stressed, and uneasy. As the planet suffers from our continual need of commodified goods and an ever-growing GDP, we are also suffering. As Wendy said in an interview ”We go to work to earn money to buy back the world that we already own”, and this work, which for many people is both stressful and draining, makes it necessary to purchase instead of create our livelihood.

One of the most reassuring stories that Wendy had to tell was that of her experience during the market crash in 2008. She and Mikey moved out of New York City and took their money out of the stock market (which everyone was telling them was a terrible idea) right before the crash. They were fully entrenched in the decommodified life by the time the severe repercussions hit a most of the nation. As it turns out, they were not affected at all by the economic downturn, nor were the rest of their neighbors living a similar lifestyle. Life in Truth or Consequences, with a strong local economy that was largely trade based, continued on normally. When living outside of the “system”, YOU determine your well-being and livelihood,  not the businesses on Wall Street. What is more secure than that?

I recommend Wendy’s book to anyone who feels as if they are craving a change in their day-to-day hum drums of life (or anyone who would like to learn how to fashion a fire breathing  trampoline). This book is a message to remember ourselves, our skills, what is truly important to us, and how we want to experience our short time on this earth. It is a message to take care of the planet while taking care of ourselves. If that is not the definition of true sustainability, I’m not sure what is.

-Savannah Holden, ’16

Savannah Holden is a sophomore and prospective Government major, economics minor, and sustainable food concentrator. She is loving her new job as a CEEDS intern, and tries to spend as much time as possible reading, cooking, being active outside- all while figuring out how to travel more!

Creating a Sun Hive

24 Aug

I’m a student in the Environmental Concentration: Sustainable Food. In addition to the typical six courses required for a minor, concentrations at Smith require that each student engage in practical, hands on experience related to their topic. My first practicum experience for the Sustainable Food Concentration was absolutely amazing.

I started out the summer at Hampshire College’s Food, Farm and Sustainability Institute.  This program counted as both an academic and practical experience towards my concentration and I was also able to use Praxis funding towards the cost of tuition.  The program ran from early June to mid July during which time I went to class for three hours each day and learned about pest management, soil health, livestock, and fermentation.  We participated in animal and veggie chores as well as amazing field trips on Fridays.  Fellow Smithies Theo Sweezy (’14) and Casey Rau (’16) were also in the program.  I would recommend this program to anyone interested in agriculture in the Valley, especially others in the Sustainable Food Concentration.

I decided to attempt to create a Sun Hive while I was writing my final paper for the Institute about biodynamic beekeeping. I had not thought about how integral honeybees are to agriculture, but after learning about Colony Collapse Disorder and watching the documentary Queen of the Sun I became passionate about the issue of disappearing bees and wanted to do something about it. After the Institute ended, I still needed to complete approximately 100 more work hours to fulfill my obligations for Praxis, and so the idea of creating a biodynamic hive was born.  I absolutely love Smith courses but so often assessments are tests or papers, so this was a way to learn through a hands on project– and a lot of trial and error.

I chose to create a Sun Hive because it is so different from Langstroth box hives and it aesthetically pleasing.  The purpose of a Sun Hive is to create a safe haven for bees and not honey production, although during honey flow a honey super can be added to the top.  The Sun Hive has removable arch frames so the comb can be inspected for mites and diseases.

With my father, blacksmith Larry Crockett, who helped me tremendously with the woodworking aspects of this project.

I purchased the design plans for the Sun Hive from a biodynamic beekeeper in California and he corresponded with me through emails and phone calls throughout the process. Completing the Sun Hive took about a month.  The most time consuming aspect of it was collecting harding grass from my fields and processing it: cutting off the seed heads and side leaves, drying it, spraying it with water, beating it with a wooden mallet to make it pliable, and then sewing it with rattan cane.

I entered the hive in the 251st Hardwick Fair where it won a state award from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, which was a huge honor.


At the Hardwick Fair with friends from Smith.
(L to R) Amelia Burke (’15) Haley Crockett (’15) Anuujin Elbegdorj (’15) Missy Kubik (’15) and Charlotte Dzialo (’16).

-Haley Crockett, ’15

Haley Crockett is a rising Junior from Lamont House.  She is an American Studies major, English minor, and a Sustainable Food Concentrator.

First Environmental Science and Policy Program Lunchtime Event!

21 Feb

On Thursday, February 14th, the Environmental Science and Policy Program held a lunchtime event for ES&P/MS&P majors and minors—the first gathering of the semester! We had the opportunity to meet new people in the major, exchange advice about courses at Smith, brainstorm ideas for future ES&P events, eat delicious pizza and apple cider, and embroider cloth napkins!

Utilizing cloth napkins can help reduce generated waste. According to Tree Hugger, a cloth napkin that is washed about 50 times per year will produce 2.5 grams (for linen napkins) to 5 grams (for cotton napkins) of GHG emissions. Conversely, using one paper napkin per day for an entire year would generate 10 grams of GHG emissions.

ES&P/MS&P students: Keep an eye out for emails regarding future lunchtime events, program lectures, and outings!

‘LIKE’ our new Facebook page to learn about program events and activities

– Emily Dwyer, ’13

Love the Planet on Valentines Day!

14 Feb

Make a Valentines day card out of recycled materials or newspapers and magazines! You can make envelopes out of any kind of paper. If you have a plain envelope, you have a pattern! Just disassemble the envelope and cut out your choice of material around it. If you want to make multiple envelopes and want a more sturdy pattern, you can first cut out the shape of the envelope on cardboard.

Large envelope pattern on cardboard salvaged from the recycling (Made by Elaura Dunning)

Small Envelope Pattern on Scrap Paper (Made by Elaura Dunning)

Once you cut out your pattern fold the edges together to form the envelope. With a glue stick, glue together the bottom three flaps, leaving the top flap open so you can put your card inside. Another method of envelope making is to use a standard envelope and attach the newspaper or magazine page to it with glue.

Envelope made from a standard envelope (for structure) and a magazine page

For the card, start off with some blank paper, preferably recycled, and attach images from the magazines or newspapers. For more texture, you can also add found objects, fabrics, ribbons, and buttons. Here is a card that was made with some construction paper and magazine clippings.

Nicole Downer 2014

CEEDS Intern