Everything in the Anna Sova line of organic products shouts high quality and commitment to natural living. Founder Anna Walker explains, "Smell our wall paint, and you"ll see it smells like food, because we use food-grade ingredients. There are no petrochemicals here." For an added pleasure, you can mix the company"s aromatherapy blends into the paint for long-lasting fragrance. Walker, who grew up on a Texas equestrian horse farm and has designed more than 4,000 products over her years as an entrepreneur, offers a range of organic cotton, silk and alpaca linens, bedding, towels and other items that rival the rich colors and high quality of major designers but are made with social and environmental responsibility as a guiding principle. For instance, Walker explains that after she felt poisoned from the chemicals off-gassing from the conventional silk that had been in her bedroom, she flew to Asia to learn how to prepare the fabric in toxin-free, traditional ways for her new line. —Mike LaTronica
CONTACT: Anna Sova, (877)326-7682, www.annasova.com.
The "Queen of Herbs" Arrives
Relax this winter with some delicious, refreshing and energizing tulsi tea. Tulsi, or holy basil, is related to culinary basil but has been revered in India for millennia for its medicinal properties. Packed with antioxidants, caffeine-free tulsi is said to help our bodies "adapt" to different types of stress, promote calmness and clarity, minimize cold and flu symptoms, and strengthen immunity and stamina. Now, Organic India has created a line of certified organic tulsi teas, which are distributed in the U.S. by OM Organics (100 gram canister for $8, with $6 refills, or 25 tea bags for $5). Besides the original flavor, try the blends of tulsi with ginger, gotu kola, thought to improve memory and concentration, caffeinated Darjeeling, green tea, and chai, a blend of freshly ground spices and Assam. I remember when my mother would use fresh tulsi leaves, right from our backyard, for a nice cup of refreshing, soothing tea. —Jayasudha Joseph
Do you enjoy shopping online, but would appreciate an auction site that is more in keeping with your values? Look no further than Vegbay, which is essentially an eBay for the environmental, animal rights and green communities. Vegbay is better than the giant auction site for two reasons: it"s free to list stuff, and you never have to wonder if what you"re bidding on violates your ethics. To be eligible for listing on Vegbay, your item has to follow these rules: "[ No] items that contain animal products or by-products, leather or any product that has been tested on animals (such as cosmetics and household products). Cruelty-free items only." Like eBay, there are lots of categories of goods to choose from, and hundreds of items to buy (and hopefully more as folks catch on). On a recent visit I spotted an essential oils starter kit, aromatherapy spray, organic cotton t-shirts, doggie care packages, gift certificates to natural products retailers, hand-crafted greeting cards, autographed posters, movies on DVD, and heirloom and organic seeds. The Connecticut-based site is run by volunteers, one of whom told E, "The purpose of Vegbay is not to make money, but rather to provide a free service to the eco-conscious community." —Starre Vartan
CONTACT: Vegbay, www.vegbay.com.
Men Have Needs Too
Aubrey Organics has completely revamped its entire line of men"s products to include hair, skin and facial care. With products ranging from $8 to $22.50, the Men"s Stock collection is both affordable and functional. The Ginseng Biotin Hair Care system uses the Chinese herb He Shou Wu to promote healthy hair growth and cedar wood and peppermint oils to stimulate the scalp, along with a natural coconut base that leaves hair smelling lightly fragrant. The Flaxseed Lignan Facial Care system is instilled with organics that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents to keep skin smooth and clean. My favorite offering is the shaving system, which is available in three scents. The face scrub prepares skin gently while the aftershave balm hydrates and the aftershave lotion tightens skin.
Jason Natural Cosmetics has also created a shaving system that works and feels better than almost any I"ve tried. The 6-in-1 shaving lotion is made with organic aloe vera to lubricate and sooth skin during shaving while the jojoba beads add a fragrance and texture that is unlike typical gels. The 6-in-1 aftershave is made with the same aloe vera base and adds chamomile to sooth and witch hazel to tone. The greaseless formula is absorbed quickly by thirsty skin, leaving only smoothness behind. The best part about the Jason system is that it protects against razor burn by eliminating harsh chemicals that would usually irritate skin after shaving. After using the product several times I never experienced the normal bumps and irritation that we"ve all come to associate with foamy drug store shave gels and alcohol-based aftershaves.
Also now owned by Jason"s corporate parent, Hain Celestial Group, is Zia Natural Skincare, which has just launched a new line of luxurious men"s personal care items, such as a fragrance-free face wash fortified with aloe vera and vitamins A, C and E. The shaving products include algae extracts to aid razor glide and eucalyptus and plantain to treat and soothe skin. —M.L.
According to Susie Hewson, founder of Natracare, "Even if your feminine hygiene products aren"t clogging your toilet, filling up the nation"s landfills, killing off our marine life or inducing toxic shock syndrome, they may still be exposing your body to dioxins." Instead, Natracare makes feminine hygiene products that are chlorine free and 100 percent cotton. Offerings include tampons ($3.49 to $6.99), sanitary napkins and panty liners ($3.29 to $4.99). Natracare also produces a line of baby toiletries—such as shampoo ($11.95), lotion ($15.95) and oil ($12.95)—that are made from certified organic ingredients and essential oils and that contain no parabens—a preservative that was found in the breast tissue of women suffering from breast cancer in a recent study. Natracare also provides a teaching program to help students and instructors understand the issues of puberty, menstruation and reproductive health, as well as how those factors can be influenced by environmental problems. The program includes lesson plans, notes, fact files and task sheets aimed at nine to 17 year olds, and features the Monthly Matrix, an interactive video diary that helps explain the complex changes that occur during a woman"s menst
rual cycle—changes that are mysterious to many American girls as well as boys.
The fact is, many women still cringe at the thought of their menstrual cycle. Not only due to the irritation and discomfort associated with it, but also the fact that the fragrances and absorbing gels used in conventional products have been linked to reproductive disorders, endometriosis, birth defects and cancer. In 1993, GladRags created cotton reusable menstrual pads in different sizes (day one pack for $10.50, day three for $32.50). Yes, reusable! And before you cringe again, know that GladRags are made of highly absorbent, heavyweight cotton flannel and terry cloth and can be machine or hand washed. Gladrags sales have prevented the disposal of more than 30 million menstrual tampons, pads and packaging. These are environmentally friendly, cost-effective alternatives to the disposable products that deplete resources, produce waste and create pollution during their manufacturing and bleaching processes. GladRags also offers a variety of alternative women"s products on its website, including Organic Essentials tampons ($5.99 for 20 without applicator and $6.15 for 16 with applicator), Jade and Pearl Menstrual Sponges ($8.99 for two), The Keeper Menstrual Cup ($35) and—if you are allergic to latex—the Diva Cup, made from silicone ($32.50). —J.J.
Grandy Oats has been making granola in a 100-year-old former dairy barn since 1979, and owners Aaron Anker and Nat Peirce (two University of New Hampshire graduates, both of whom drove VW vans in college) proudly proclaim, "In 2004, we estimate that we used 100 acres of organic oats—grown on land that was not poisoned with chemical fertilizers or pesticides, near rivers and wildlife areas that did not absorb chemicals and by farmers who did not have to handle chemicals. In 2005, we used 150 acres." The product line includes roasted nuts and seeds, trail mix and packaged granolas. The latter is $4.49 for a 13-ounce package, and comes in Mainely maple, cranberry chew, cinnamon apple crisp, berries jubilee and consciousness raisin flavors. They"re all delicious, and should probably come with a warning sticker cautioning consumers about their addictive properties. —Jim Motavalli
CONTACT: Grandy Oats, (207)935-7415, www.grandyoats.com.
Disposable Dining, The Right Way
How many times have you experienced pangs of regret throwing out perfectly reusable virgin plastic plates or tableware? Now you can eat guilt-free, thanks to recycled products from two companies with their hearts in the right place. Stalk Market makes its tableware for picnics, kids" parties or what have you from waste sugar cane fiber (also known as "bagasse"). Priced between $2 and $4 per package and available at Wild Oats stores, it is biodegradable, microwaveable, freezer-friendly and oil resistant, not to mention 100 percent compostable. The product line includes 11.5-ounce bowls (sold in packages of 25); seven-inch dessert plates (35-packs); and 10-inch dinner plates (25-packs).
Recycline"s Preserve plateware and cutlery is made from 100-percent recycled plastic, including recycled yogurt cups. The high-rimmed seven- and 10-inch plates ($4.50 for 10 pieces and $7 for eight pieces respectively) are dishwasher safe and recyclable in some locations (#5 plastic). The cutlery (sold in a 24-pack for $5.50) comes in three fun colors, including lilac, pear green and tulip red, packaged in a reusable container. —J.M.
A Fascinating Farmer
Winner of the audience award at Slamdance, as well as the best feature award from the Chicago International Documentary Festival, The Real Dirt on Farmer John is truly a unique take on the state of American farming. The film covers 55 years in the life of John Peterson and his rural Illinois family farm, and is the vision of veteran filmmaker Taggart Siegel and his nonprofit production group Collective Eye. From Super 8 home movies of Peterson"s boyhood growing up close to the Midwestern Earth to voice-over narration about his adult hopes, dreams and personal struggles, viewers gain a unique perspective on what it means to go against the conventions of an insular society in search of a better world. Peterson"s passion for his family"s land, and for growing healthier food, is inspiring and reminds us just how much goes on behind the scenes of the foods we eat every day. Today, Peterson"s operation is a model of success in organic and community-supported agriculture, but getting there has been a long, strange journey, from painful deaths in the family to hippie idealism, and from crushing debts to a mysterious fire and public backlash. —Brian C. Howard
Global Warming on the Home Front
There is no shortage of global warming books on the market today, and E Magazine has added its own Feeling the Heat to the pile. The publishers of Climate Change Begins at Home: Life on the Two-Way Street of Global Warming by Dave Reay (MacMillan, $24.95) had the useful idea of aiming a book at runaway carbon emitters—in effect, us. Reay is a professor who studies global warming at the University of Edinburgh, and his book is informative and engagingly written. You"ll learn, for instance, that your car is probably your biggest climate emitter, followed by your home, your food, your flights and your waste. There"s a cornucopia of good advice here about reducing your carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately, Climate Change Begins at Home was written for British audiences, and is full of unexplained or untranslated references to Smart cars, chip shops and cubic metres. There are some useful charts, but the material would have worked better on this side of the Big Ditch if it had been organized into lists and bullet-point to-do lists. Sad to say, the people who will wade through the chunks of Eurocentric text are probably already making lifestyle changes for the planet. —J.M.
Hate Wasteful Packaging?
Consider this alarming fact: each year every American disposes of more than 300 pounds of packaging materials. All that trash adds up to 30 percent of the world"s total municipal solid waste stream. In the book Paper or Plastic: Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World (Sierra Club Books, $16.95), author Daniel Imhoff takes readers on a fascinating tour of a $500 billion-a-year industry, and discusses potential reforms and their obstacles. Imhoff offers a thorough guide to choosing among, and, more importantly, avoiding, the often bizarre world of product packaging. Imhoff"s simple answer to that confounding checkout counter question, "paper or plastic?", is neither. From buying bulk to buying local, and carrying your own reusable shopping bags, you can take this staggering problem into your own hands. —Daniel Scollan
The Real Underground
Below our feet and out of sight lies a dynamic, diverse and abundant biological community. Yvonne Baskin follows pioneer scientists uncovering the world of soil ecology in Under Ground: How Creatures of Mud and Dirt Shape Our World (Island Press, $26.95). The wonders of nature and cutting-edge science are elegantly communicated in this engaging book. Baskin journeys to exotic Antarctica to study the life beneath a seemingly barren landscape and to the more familiar English coast to learn about the role of bottom-dwelling organisms in the ocean ecosystem. She finds that these soil creatures provide essential functions for our Earth from building healthy soils to nutrient cycling and water purification. Unfortunately, soil life is increasingly threatened by such human activities as forest clear cutting, over-fishing and the spread of invasive species. —D.S.
Healthier Nation, Healthier You
In Prescription for a Healthy Nation, Tom Farley and Deborah A. Cohen (Beacon Press, $24.95) delve into the vital topic of public health and discuss ways in which it can be improved. The authors critique America"s current health care crisis, and suggest ways for Americans to reduce their medical expense bills, which for many are skyrocketing. Farley and Cohen write, "Just as poor sanitation caused infectious diseases in the nineteenth century, an unhealthy physical and social environment is causing major killers like heart disease and cancer and AIDS today." The authors call for a "curve shift," and call on policy makers and public health officials to not just concentrate on the sick, but on everyone, to encourage everyone to live healthier. Although many of the ideas in this book are not entirely new, Farley and Cohen ask people to wake up and take responsibility for their actions. —J.J.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
"Like Thoreau, I intend to travel widely on Katahdin today. For the first time in nearly five years I"ve climbed above tree line into the realm of the Native American mountain ghost Pamola, the Cloud Maker," Eric Pinder writes in the opening chapters of his novel North to Katahdin (Milkweed Editions, $15.95). Katahdin marks the climactic finale to the 2,160-mile northward trek of the Appalachian Trail. Pinder has watched the numbers of hikers and tourists grow throughout the years, and compares their motivations to one of Katahdin"s very first hikers: Henry David Thoreau. North to Katahdin is a book that speaks lovingly and respectfully of nature. Pinder interweaves poetic musings with hilarious anecdotes from the people who call the wilderness home. Pinder is a poignant and insightful observer who recognizes the soul of a very old and very wise mountain. —Kate Slomkowski
Greening the Next Generation
Did you ever hear the tale of the wild horses that once fled capture and extinction at the hands of man by descending into the sea and changing form? Wild Heart Ranch Books would like to tell you and your child the story. Wild Heart Ranch founder and author Dawn Van Zant has integrated wildlife conservation into vividly illustrated children"s tales of action, adventure and bravery. Three such stories, I Sea Horses: From Sky To Sea, No More Nightmares: A Dream of Freedom and Bradford and the Journey to the Desert of Lop are presently in bookstores. Van Zant"s tales fictionalize, yet explain in easily understood and endearing terms, the hardship and demise of America"s wild horses. Bradford, a real young boy who suffered from the ravages of Ewing"s Sarcoma, goes on a fictional journey to seek out and save the wild Bactrian camel. Each of Van Zant"s stories ends with an outline of a related on-going conservation project, from Project Seahorse to the Wild Camel Protection Foundation. Available plush animals can also bring the main characters right to your children"s waiting arms. —Shauna Dineen
CONTACT: Wild Heart Ranch, (888) 889-9213,www.wildheartranch.com.
Learning From Dolls
A fun, creative approach to environmentally friendly architecture is what you"ll find in Green Dollhouse, edited by Fred McLennan, Jill Boone and Jason F. McLennan (Ecotone Publishing, $19.95). This colorful, unique book celebrates the fascinating ideas of the winning contestants to the 2005 Green Dollhouse Project competition, which was a national event sponsored by Sustainable San Mateo County in California. Each dollhouse depicts an actual scale-model home designed with sustainable features.
The book profiles selected dollhouses, with lots of close-up images, and includes instructions and lessons so readers can explore green building ideas on their own. Green Dollhouse also shows you how to take various materials from around the house and turn them into a lovely, vibrant model. For example, turn a spray bottle or baking tin into a miniature bathtub, or turn a shell and clay into a bathroom sink. Reuse, energy and water efficiency and use of nontoxic materials are some of the many sustainable practices adopted by the creators of these dollhouses, making the ultimate goal the idea of a "green home" more acceptable and viable to the real world. The youngest contestant profiled is a sixth grader who built a colorful dollhouse called "The Patchwork Home," which includes three different types of renewable energy: wind, solar and hydropower. —J.J.
The City Mouse Without His Country Cousin
Memoir-style essays poetically describe Lisa Couturier"s efforts to find and appreciate nature"s pure presence in the places where man has attempted to completely alter it in The Hopes of Snakes (Beacon Press, $23). Whether they are mice in New York City subways or crows in the suburbs, the stories Couturier tells about our fellow creatures reveal the author"s passion and connection to all living things. She describes creatures that have adapted to the confines of man"s constructed world, but are no less intuitive or majestic for it. Readers will learn about snowy egrets, peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks that make their homes in America"s most densely populated county. Even coyotes can be found at the fringes of our cities. Through her well-trained eyes and thought-provoking descriptions, Couturier reminds us that looking for the details in unsuspected landscapes can reveal reasons to revere life. —Jennifer Veilleux
Don"t bother looking up "Valley Forge" on a Connecticut map; the onetime industrial engine (producer of hoes, hammers and oxcart wheels) survives only as the name of a rural road. In 1940, the Saugatuck River was dammed by the all-powerful Bridgeport Hydraulic Company (BHC), flooding the river valley and carrying away farms and mills. In Village of the Dammed (University Press of New England, $24.95), author James Lomuscio offers a warmly written and personalized account of the flooding and its aftermath. It"s a cautionary tale today for citizen activists who want to fight City Hall (or water companies). The nonprofit Saugatuck Valley Association took BHC on, but couldn"t stop progress. Valley Forge lives on only in the book"s haunting photographs. More than a ha
lf century later, a new coalition (this time including actor/residents Paul Newman and Robert Redford) took on BHC again, this time to stop an unspoiled company holding known as Trout Brook Valley from becoming a luxury golf course and gated community. With high-watt star power and good lawyers, the good guys won this time. —J.M.
Boondoggle in the Desert
As the fascinating, quirky 2004 documentary Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea (not to be confused with the 2002 Val Kilmer thriller The Salton Sea) makes abundantly clear, America has made a terrible mess in the southern California desert. Created by an engineering accident in 1905, when Colorado River levees broke and spilled into a depression 280 feet below sea level, the 380-square-mile Salton Sea is a mind-boggling mix of contradictions. It is teeming with imported fish, yet suffers mass wildlife die-offs and farm waste loading. It once supported a booming tourism industry, but is now largely deserted except for a few eccentric residents. Some environmentalists want to see it returned to its desert past, while others argue that is must be preserved since it now hosts legions of the plants and animals that have been pushed out of their historic California homes by human activities.
Covering much of the same ground that Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer visited in Plagues, Greetings from the Salton Sea: Folly and Intervention in the Southern California Landscape, 1905-2005 (Center for American Places, $25) by Kim Stringfellow takes a thoughtful look at the body of water that shouldn"t be. The striking, smartly designed book is full of vibrant photos that will help transport readers to this otherworldly place, where rust-stained marshes, boarded-up hotels and mounds of rotting fish and algae bare witness to humankind"s folly. —B.H.