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  picnic Whether you live in the city or the country, the warm summer weather provides the perfect opportunity to get outside and explore your surroundings! In this first Blessed Earth Monthly Challenge, we invite you to spend as much time as possible close to home, in your community. Below you will find some suggestions from the BE team, along with a printable checklist of action items. We would love to hear from you, so please send us your success stories! Did you start a garden, or tune up your bicycle so you could ride it more often? Let us know! We would be proud to hear your reports or see some photos of what you do this month. You can email jessica@blessedearth.org with the subject line “Monthly Challenge” and we will share the stories and photos here on the Monthly Challenge page. Check back to see what others are doing! 1. Ride your bike more often! When the weather’s nice, get out and cycle instead of driving. 2. Eat at home. The average American family spends $350/month eating out. Save some money and cook in your own kitchen. Better yet, grill out!Cooking outside during warm summer months helps you avoid heating your house while cooking. 3. When you do eat out, patronize local restaurants, not chains— they will appreciate your business, and you will avoid the unhealthy foods and excessive disposable packaging of fast food places. Try to find restaurants that use locally sourced food providers. 4. Have a yard sale and get rid of anything you haven’t used in the past year. Thinning out your stuff is a good spiritual and environmental exercise. Plus, buying and selling at local yard sales avoids contributing to our over-materialized consumer culture. 5. Buy local, seasonal food! When you support local co- ops, farmers’ markets, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), you reduce the distance your food migrates and the amount of fuel and packaging it takes to feed your family while supporting your local economy. Enjoy fresh sweet corn in the summer, apples in the fall, and citrus in the winter. You can also find local sources for eggs, honey, and meat. Check out www.localharvest.org for suggestions. 6. Start a garden! Go extremely local and grow food in your own backyard. If you can’t plant your own garden, investigate a local community garden. Join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) and barter labor for part of your “share.” You can even get into canning your food. Canning is a great way to eat local all year-round. 7. Where does your food come from? Visit a local farm. Experience where your food comes from by looking for “You Pick” farms in your area. See www.pickyourown.org for a list in your area. 8. Give back! Volunteer at a local soup kitchen or food redistribution center. 9. Share! Get in the practice of inviting others to your table to share your food. Get to know your neighbors! Host a neighborhood party in your backyard. 10. Take advantage of the hot air to hang clothes on the line to dry. (Even once a week helps reduce the cost of running your dryer!) While you’re outside, take the time to enjoy the beauty of creation or have a chat with a neighbor. 11. Turn off the TV and get outside! Explore your backyard, your street, and the closest park. Encourage your children to do the same. 12. Instead of taking an expensive vacation, consider a “stay-cation”! Stay home, relax, and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation by sleeping outside. You don’t have to drive to Yellowstone to go camping! Pitch a tent in the backyard and discover the sights and sounds of the night. If you feel the need to get away, visit the lodge of the closest state park—just as relaxing as a “real” vacation at a fraction of the cost! 13. When looking for gifts, try small, local stores. You can find unique purchases that will help support the local economy. 14. Festivals! Summer is a great time for art and culture festivals. Check your local cultural events calendar to see what’s in your area. Be sure to support the artists by picking up a one-of-a-kind piece of art! 15. Keep your locale looking beautiful by picking up unsightly litter. Be sure to print this checklist of action items to keep track of what you’ve done this month! Then, send us your photos and stories, and we’ll share them below.   Success Stories: Reverend Jonathan Brake of Centenary UMC in Winston-Salem writes, “We joined a community garden this year because our yard just doesn’t have enough sunlight to grow our own.” He shared these photos of his family’s plot: brakegarden2 brakegarden brakegarden3 Reverend Brake also sent this photo of his son, with the caption “Sam Brake found the Queen Bee at the Peachtree Farmer’s Market in Advance, NC. Meanwhile we found tomatoes, green beans, squash, peaches, and corn. Everything is grown within 50 miles!” brakemarketbee   Nancy G. shared:

“Getting to know the birds in your yard is a wonderful way to deepen your relationship with your own sense of home. Folks can put out water and bird seed or a hummingbird feeder and watch all the birds that respond. In June, many parent birds were bringing their babies into my backyard to teach them to eat seed and drink the water. It was such a gift to watch these almost daily, sometimes very funny, lessons. They hide from us as much as other animals do and so are readily available to teach us about what’s happening in the natural world around us. They have specific calls, in addition to their common song that many folks might be familiar with, like alarm calls and companion calls and even male aggression sounds when the guys are fighting or defending their territories, and even baby birds have specific begging calls. Many of the species belonging to the corvid family, which includes jays, magpies, crows and ravens, have over 40 vocalizations! And once folks start inviting birds to their yards, other critters might also follow that they can get to know as well, like squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, deer, raccoons, snakes, lizards and so many more depending on the location of one’s home in an urban or rural area. And because animals and birds can be territorial, depending upon the circumstances and time of year, folks may start to recognize the same birds and critters coming to their yards. Once they get to know you, they don’t fly away when you’re in your yard – or at least not as often and usually return fairly quickly.”   Karen H. shared, “For the month of July, I challenged my friends and family to clean out their gently used items all over the house. This weekend, I held a Swap and Donate Party where the participants could “shop” the items already collected and organized by category. They could take whatever they wanted. At the end, several people helped to box the items up and label them for delivery to the First United Methodist Children’s Home, ESTHER (a single mother’s ministry), New Beginnings Ministry, and the local library. We also had a new friend who started Onepurse.org, an organization that raises money to help end trafficking of women and children. I think about 10% of the items were taken, and the rest of the items will be going where they are greatly needed. Cleaned-out homes and helping people locally—I’d say that’s a win-win!” 001 collage (1)    

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