As our economy continues to constrict, people are looking for DIY options in every area of their lives. If you’d like to try your hand at herbal remedies, custom-blending your own spice mix or tea, or creating a signature scent for your home or person, the go-to source is Mountain Rose Herbs. For over 20 years, Mountain Rose has provided all the bulk organic herbs and spices, teas, essential oils and tools one needs to become a home herbalist. They also offer their own countless concoctions, including the new Epicurean Organic line of seasoning blends and exotic salts. Especially suited for summer (and especially affordable, at $4 a bottle) are the Grilling Herbs, a 100% certified organic, incredibly aromatic blend of garlic, rosemary, thyme and other spices, and West Indies Rub, a mild Cajun-like medley, minus the heat, for island-inspired dishes. Also nice for beating the heat: Cucumber Mist Aroma Spray (2 oz., $10.95) and certified organic and fair trade Vanilla Rooibos Tea, naturally sweet, caffeine-free and perfect over ice (4 oz., $5.25). —Jessica Rae Patton
CONTACT: Mountain Rose Herbs.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
What would a trip to the nude beach be without a pair of binoculars? Just kidding—Nikon surely had birding in mind when it created its new Ecobins Binoculars ($199.95). They are lightweight and relatively compact, at 9.5 ounces and 4.8 x 4.5 inches. The lenses are arsenic- and lead-free Eco-Glass; the neck strap and carrying case are made from TENCEL, a sustainable, biodegradable Euclalyptus wood pulp fiber. Ecobins are fully fog proof and waterproof, too, for that trip to the beach—I mean, bird sanctuary. —J.R.P.
HEALTH, SWEET HEALTH
For those who still think of chocolate as a treat, luxury or, heaven forbid, junk food, consider a recent study published in the April 2008 Journal of Nutrition: "Results indicate that regular consumption of chocolate bars containing plant sterols and cocoa flavanols and as part of a low-fat diet may support cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure." If that isn’t incentive enough, there’s the new Signature Series from Newman’s Own Organics. Whether you indulge in an Espresso Dark, Orange Dark or Mocha Milk bar (2.25 oz., $2.99; 3.25 oz., $3.69), both your body and conscience will feel better, knowing that the cocoa is from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. The amount of said cocoa in each bar ranges from 34% in the milk chocolate varieties to 70% in the delightfully bittersweet Super Dark bar. —J.R.P.
CONTACT: Newman’s Own Organics.
PUT DOWN THAT DONUT
The Fruit Guys are aiming to help offices combat the break room table full of fattening sweets with farm-to-office fruit deliveries. The deliveries come in a 75% to 100% post-consumer recycled box that’s teeming with fruit just ripe enough to eat for either 25 or 50. Selection changes weekly to reflect the shifting growing seasons and varying tastes. There’s a "Harvest Flyer" mix with mandarin oranges, a variety of pears, tangelos, strawberries and grapefruits, an "Organic" mix of similar, but all-USDA stamped fruits and a "Staples" mix with apples, bananas and oranges. Prices range from $32 for a 25-serving case of the staples, to $84 for a 50-serving box of organic fruits. But the savings in terms of employee health and wellness, not to mention increased energy and productivity, are truly priceless. —Brita Belli
CONTACT: The Fruit Guys, (877)Fruit-Me.
ONE-STOP SUN STICK
The folks at Eco Lips make big claims about their products, beginning with their motto: "The Best Lip Balm for the World." All Eco Lips items are petroleum free (there’s even a "gallons of petroleum saved" counter on the website) and their new SPF 30 Eco Lips Face Stick ($8.99), with 82% certified organic ingredients, is touted as being the most organic sunscreen on the market. All we know is it glides on easily, is moist enough for lips but not overly greasy for the rest of the face and comes with a handy, reusable carabiner clip. We’re big fans of products that eliminate the need for other products, and this 2-in-1 is one. By the way, the precise application of the stick also makes this a great choice for protecting tattoos from the sun’s fading rays. —J.R.P.
CONTACT: Eco Lips.
Considering all that goes into building a skateboard—a deck (that’s the board part) is typically comprised of seven layers of hard-maple veneer pressed together with glue, finished off with sealant and paint—it’s great to see them getting a second life after the first one’s been thrashed out of them. Skateboards have been repurposed into furniture, shoes and handbags; now eco-crafters Seven Ply Designs are turning them into eye-catching jewelry. Among their creations are necklaces ($26), chunky belt buckles ($34-$38), bangles ($22), pocket-sized mirrors ($26) and cute post earrings ($16) referred to as—what else?—"Skate Spots." —J.R.P.
CONTACT: Seven Ply Designs.
THE RISE AND FALLS OF NIAGARA
Just out in paperback, Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies by Ginger Strand (Simon & Schuster, $16) is perfect for reading shotgun on a summer road trip to Niagara Falls. This is not another kitsch-and-lore travel guide to what many consider one of the natural wonders of the world—take the word "natural," for starters: As Strand writes in her introduction, "On every level, Niagara Falls is a monument to the ways America falsifies its relationship to nature, reshaping its contours, redirecting its force, claiming to submit to its will while imposing our own upon it." She describes the actual dialing up of the falls for the sake of a splashier show from April 1-September 15. But, not too splashy—any possibly unstable rock face has been blasted from the Falls by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The goal of making the Falls as alluring a tourist destination as possible has been taken up most enthusiastically by the Canadian town of Niagara, Ontario, which out-Americans America with "ten blocks square packed with hotels, casinos and franchised restaurants
the monotony of our worldwide monoculture." The U.S. side—the town of Niagara, New York—is an environmental eyesore of brownfields, landfills, Superfund sites and beleaguered motels. Its legacy includes the development of—and waste disposal from—atomic weapons. Strand writes o
f the many identities of Niagara—two towns in two countries, a cluster of waterfalls shaped as much by the Army Corps of Engineers and the local power-supply companies as by nature herself. She reveals the complex history of the region, including the manufacturing of the Maid in the Mist legend for tourists" sake, at the expense of the legacy of local Indian tribes; the ongoing struggle for Niagara, New York, to reconcile its rust-belt demise, environmental degradation and desire to return to nature; the area’s history of hydroelectric power and honeymoons; its place in the history of the Underground Railroad and disastrous urban planning.
Written with humor and an admitted obsession with Niagara—the Falls, the towns, the legends—this is as close as one can get to the Falls in all their complicated glory without donning raingear. —Jessica Rae Patton
THIS LAND IS OUR LAND
The worldwide conservation movement may have done wonders for protecting land and biodiversity, but it’s the latest threat (alongside extractive industries and tourism) to indigenous people, writes Mark Dowie in Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict Between Global Conservation and Native Peoples (The MIT Press, $27.95). From the Miwok, Paiute and Ahwahneechee of Yosemite Valley, to the Maasai of Eastern Africa to the Adevasi of India, a quest for conservation is creating millions of new refugees. Twelve percent of all land on Earth—or 11.75 million square miles—is now under conservation protection. "That’s an area greater than the entire landmass of Africa," Dowie writes. And over half of that land was occupied or used by indigenous people. Early environmentalism has some skeletons in its closet—particularly celebrated naturalist and author John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club in 1892 and sought to protect the Yosemite Valley (what would later become Yosemite National Park), in part by getting rid of its Indian inhabitants. The exclusionary national park model developed at Yellowstone and Yosemite would be replicated across the world. Tourists—and even hunters—however, remained welcome.
Dowie writes, for example, that "about eight thousand tribal people and low-caste farmers living in the Kuno area of Madhya Pradesh, India, were summarily uprooted…and moved to twenty-four villages on scrubland outside the borders of a sanctuary created for a pride of six imported Asiatic lions." India has as many as 600,000 conservation refugees, according to Dowie. What’s worse, native people are often moved in the name of conservation only to have the land turned over to big development—teak and eucalyptus plantations in India—what Dowie calls "the fig leaf of conservation."
An initial move to protect native rights has come in the form of the Forest Rights Act, much maligned by wildlife conservationists. The United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has offered protection, too, but though 140 nations supported the measure, four were against it, including the United States. A remaining danger, writes Dowie, is that the tribal people allowed to remain on their lands will be expected to remain "native," and be encouraged to "turn their community into a human zoo, where proud adults are paid…to dress up in ceremonial garb and perform fertility dances for visiting ecotourists." —Brita Belli
A NATURAL READING SELECTION
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt and Company, $16.95) is a young-adult novel set in a small town deep in the heart—and heat—of Texas in the summer of 1899. The book’s principal character is as much the Texan environment—its plants, creatures and the river water that comes alive under a microscope—in which its 11-year-old heroine lives as the girl herself. Not that Calpurnia—or Callie Vee, as she’s known to her six brothers and starchy, proper parents—is one to be overshadowed by her surroundings. She is spirited and curious, and far more interested in recording all she sees in her Scientific Notebook than piano lessons or baking the perfect pie. Calpurnia receives an unexpected education—including a copy of Darwin’s The Origin of Species and access to the home library heretofore off-limits to children—from her irascible grandfather, a cotton merchant turned naturalist. First-time author Jacqueline Kelly interweaves Darwin’s ideas throughout the book; both through her characters" experiences and more directly, with a passage from Species introducing each chapter. She clearly conveys how suspect his theories and the notion of women in the sciences were at the turn of the century, but pens a protagonist fit for the challenges of her time and circumstances, and an instantly classic literary heroine. —J.R.P.