April 26, 2015

For three intoxicating hours at Green Festival Expo, I stuffed my face on organic food samples and marveled at hundreds of new products. This was heaven for impulse shoppers, which meant I went home with a bunch of excitingly odd items to try out.

This annual weekend event continues through today at New York City’s Javits Convention Center (April 24-26).

The 400 exhibitors showcased ways to have a greener lifestyle — from food, fashion and fun for kids to eco travel, green funerals and eco-smart home construction. There were talks, product giveaways and free yoga. Visitors who arrived by bike could park with the valet. All this, for a $10-a-day pass.


Vendors large and small came from all over the country. The message was “sustainability,” which means creating ways for humans to live in greater harmony with the earth. As you might expect, beverage and snack items were everywhere. But I found surprises, like the green funeral booth, which explained sustainable ways to bury the dead at sea or in soil. The wicker coffin pictured in the bottom right photo looks rather comfy asa biodegradable option to concrete vaults and liners:


Green Festival started 14 years ago and usually attracts a crowd — of more than just people. Humane Society of New York represented on behalf of rescue animals. I wish I could’ve adopted these guys! But seeing them reminded me to make a donation to their cause:


Food News

Food was a main attraction, plastered with key words: organic, local, vegetarian, vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, local farm. For my taste, there were still too many processed offerings and sugar-filled junk. I also gave a personal thumbs-down to the $500 oxygen-infused smoothie-making machine.

Yet, there was much to love. Vegenaise, a delicious, egg-free mayonnaise alternative, showcased its two-month-old vegan cheese line. The free samples flew off the trays. These coconut oil-based cheeses are available in slices and blocks, and come in four flavors: provolone, American, mozzarella and garden herb. Tasty!  Update: After this expo, I bought some of this fake cheese at Whole Foods and it was AWFUL. Don’t waste your money on it.


Food is a form of personal activism, which is why I prefer shopping with the little guys. They need support from the bullying of major unsustainable corporations that have muscled into the organic market. (To find out exactly what I mean, please print out this chart that shows exactly what the conglomerates own; you are in for a shock.)

Given the survival pressures, I was happy to meet the folks from GrandyOats, a 35-year-old family business from Maine. Their 20 employees make kosher, organic granola and snacks in a 1910 dairy barn. This fall, they plan to launch a gluten-free granola line and more sugar-free products. I went home with the sugar-free, organic Nori Sesame Cashews, sold in $7 containers (free shipping for orders of $35 or more):

cashewsI also liked a tiny Manhattan business that makes yogurt-coated, organic, gluten-free brown rice cakes (80 calories apiece). Element imports these goodies from its factory in Italy. The distance is not sustainable, and yes, the coatings contain sugar. But they are elegant, and available in a bunch of New York City locations:


Best for last. My most exciting finds involved gardening…

The $39.95 CompostSak pictured below is made from a black, BPA-free, toxin-free plasticized fabric. It’s a large, breathable, lightweight bag that is not supposed to leach chemicals while composting leaves and food scraps. The 30-year-old family business is based in Oklahoma City. Update: As of November 2015, the CompostSak is about one-third full. It seems to be working okay but won’t know for sure until the spring.

I’m also going to grow fresh ‘shrooms, thanks to Smugtown Mushrooms of Rochester, N.Y. Three years ago, owner Olga Tzogas went from foraging in the wild for local restaurants to selling do-it-yourself products that look like weird science experiments. I bought a kit ($24-$34) for shiitakes that now sits on my bathroom counter (they like humidity); it’s supposed to give me a harvest of up to 10 pounds. Also bought plug spawns ($12-$34) for growing hen in the woods on an outdoor log.  Update: The kit was a dud! Maybe my bathroom was too sunny. Whatever, the whole thing dried out. Every effort to rehydrate it failed. As for the plug spawns, I’ve settled them into logs in my yard. But my hopes for success are nearly nil. 

If you want to know how things go for farmer Betty, subscribe to my blog for updates!


Home Product News

For $7, I bought a super-absorbent, sponge-like Swedish dish cloth. Made from cellulose woven into cotton fabric, this Three BlueBird innovation is the first thing I tried out when I got home — my kitchen is dirtier than I realized! Update: This sponge works pretty good. When it started turning gray and ugly, I threw it in the washing machine, which helped. Then, I soaked it in a basin with a few drops of bleach, which REALLY helped. It’s looks clean and nice again. 

towelsAs a reusable substitute for aluminum foil or plastic wrap, I am also giving Bee’s Wrap a try. For $5, I bought a square of this beeswax-infused organic cotton. Sarah Kaeck of Vermont invented it nearly three years ago. It’s washable and should hold its form for about 12 months. Then, the wax that’s left will make the cloth a good starter for a fire in my wood stove. Update: This waxy wrapper works great. Loving using it. 


The best thing about Green Festival was seeing people of all ages and backgrounds exploring sustainability. These students are part of Cafeteria Culture, which advocates for zero-waste in school cafeterias and fought for the recent ban on styrofoam in New York City:


Authors were represented too, by Green Writers Press. Book designer Dede Cummings of Vermont started the company a year ago. Now she has a list of 30+ books, all published on recycled paper. While her home state is more than 95% white, she’s interested in diversity and gave me an advance copy of Yuan Pan’s “The Last Goodbye.” He tells the story of his father’s death after a long illness in illustrations only. No words. It’s lovely:


I also stopped by two booths some of you might find interesting:

  • Reality Tours is a human rights group that runs vacation trips to 40 international destinations. The goal is to explore social, economic and environmental justice in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East.
  • Butterbeans runs healthy cooking classes, school programs and camps for kids in New York City.

And for more info on Green Festivals, check out the basic fact sheet on its website.

If any of these products sound interesting, let me know. Would also love to hear if you’re getting greener too.