Here I am, shopping at the Farmer’s Market and actually considering getting a composter for the apartment. How did I get this way? The answer is not simple, of course, but I should give credit where credit is due. Let me offer up a recipe for raising a Clean Hippie by way of explanation. A Clean Hippie, like I’ve said before, is someone who is conscientious without trailing a scent of patchouli after her, and who can gossip and giggle with only occasional lapses into political diatribe about the injustice of farm subsidies, and who enriches her shopping experience with an awareness of natural dyes and organic cotton. It’s fun being a Clean Hippie, and deeply rewarding too. I’m a happier person for it. Who wouldn’t want that for their daughter? So without further ado:
Leesa Johnson’s Clean Hippie Recipe
Start with one part freedom to roam. I grew up smack in the middle of 180 acres of pine forest in North Carolina, at the end of a long gravel driveway that picked its way around the old trees (Mom didn’t want to cut down any more than she had to) on its way back to our big house overlooking the pond.
Mom didn’t care if I wandered out into the woods by myself. I’d let myself and the dog out of the front door and set off, picking through brambles, hopping over streams, and ducking into dark alcoves of branches to explore. I don’t even remember Mom telling me to stay out of the woods during hunting season, though she must have. When Nana fretted over my climbing the holly tree, covering myself with scratches, Mom shushed her and said to let me be. After all, the holly tree was the best to climb – it’s branches are like sturdy ladder rungs spiraling up the trunk. I learned that there is nothing to fear from the woods, they are a safe place for a little explorer like me.
I kept wandering when we moved to Annapolis, claiming the woods behind our condo as my new territory. Mom was so supportive of this quirky habit, that when I repeatedly broke out in a rash from poison ivy, she valiantly trekked into the woods to find the offensive plant and burn it. She could have insisted I stay and play on the lawn. But she didn’t, and that is love, my friends.
Add two summers at an eco-minded summer camp. My first introduction to the concept of “Leave only footprints” was up in the mountains of North Carolina, at a place called Green River Preserve. I went with my best friend Jenny and had a perfect time. The first night I got the bejeesuz scared out of me by the bellowing bullfrogs. But then the next night I was woken up by a symphony of birds so astounding, that as I laid awake in my cabin, I thought there must be some sort of magical gathering in the woods.
The counselors and campers played games to simulate what happens when there are too many deer for the forest ecosystem to support, and I learned that the mountain moss we so cavalierly trampled across was hundreds of years old and deserved a little respect. We even dipped ourselves in freezing cold water looking for salamanders and learned about Native American culture.
I also got my first taste of conscious consumption, though the message didn’t quite sink in. When I announced the first day that my favorite food was breaded veal…oh boy, did I get an earful about the conditions of calves bread for veal.
Gently mix in parental concerns about healthy eating. I’ve just introduced my Mom to Omnivore’s Dilemma, but in many ways, she was way ahead of the curve. I was reminded of this as I watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, as he fought the administration over sugary, flavored milk. I’ve teased my mom a lot over the years for the fact that I was the only kid in my class to not get chocolate milk. That’s right, when the milk crate arrived in our classroom, there would be 11 chocolate milks and one white milk for me. Mom says she just didn’t want me to get fat, especially when we were smack in the middle of barbecue country. Instead of twinkies for snacks, I got tins of fruit. We would still go out to Bud’s BBQ for special occasions, and Nana always snuck in Lucky Charms when I stayed at her house. Ok, and we went to McDonald’s and Sonic. But for the most part, I was outside of the norm in our little town.
Fast forward 6 years. After I read Fast Food Nation in high school, I announced that I was going to start doing my own grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Mom just nodded and said I could use her credit card. It was much more expensive than Giant, but she supported my decision. And after she read Fast Food Nation too, our next and last fast food stop together was at Sonic for old times sake as we toured colleges in the South.
Let rise in environmental studies. Man, that high school class was a wake-up call. I would joke with my friends that it seemed the whole premise of the textbook was “The bad news is that we are going to be wiped off the planet. The good news is that people are starting to recycle a little bit more.” It wasn’t that gloom-and-doom, but it felt like it. It made me really think about our collective hubris and casual destruction.
Add to that an Economics of Natural and Environmental resources in college, along with Natural Capitalism a required textbook in my Business Strategy class, and I was a full convert.
Bake in a hot mess of curiosity. I’m such a nerd. I’m a repository of obscure facts and bizarre stories, to the point where I drive people nuts breaking into conversations over and over saying “Did you hear that…?” I listen to NPR, blog-stalk Grist and EcoSalon like it’s my job, and have officially declared non-fiction as my genre of choice. The world is full of crazy facts about degrading eco-systems, endangered animals, and the exact amount of carbon saved if we all unplugged our appliances, and I love them all. The more I learn, the more I want to know.
This too I can credit to Mom. She’s the one who would listen to NPR in the car, instead of always giving into me on music preferences. We’ve gotten Time and Newsweek in the mail for as long as I can remember. I read The Rape of Nanking when I was in middle school, just because it was on our shelf. Mom is also a firm believer in the “Did you know?” type of conversation. You could fill a tanker with the kind of obscure stuff she has on tap.
There you have it – how to bake eco-friendliness into your offspring. There was nothing remarkable about my upbringing, yet there was just enough there to teach me that it’s important how we treat the soil, air, water, and animals around us. And just like unplugging your phone charger may seem insignificant, giving your kid an apple instead of Muffin Bites for a snack may seem like a small thing…but in the long run it can make a huge difference.