Backyard and Downstream

Story contributed by MN350 writer Claire Curran, St. Peter, MN

Housesitting in St Peter, MN doesn’t sound like a great opportunity to do my part to prevent climate change. I’m under no illusions, I know the things I do every day do not compare to the policy decisions that are degrading the global climate. Yet, even in these first few weeks I am hopeful. I am hopeful that choices I make do have an impact.

This summer I have the wonderful opportunity to housesit for one of my favorite professors. Her home is a sanctuary compared to college life. So often as a student living in a dorm I feel as though I have no meaningful opportunity for choice. Most of my daily decisions are predetermined, the food I eat in the cafeteria, the coffee I drink and the dorm I live in. This summer has been my first opportunity to make my own choices albeit, with an unfair advantage. My professor, the owner of the house I’m staying in, doesn’t own a microwave and survives the summer heat leaving the AC turned off. A vibrant garden grows in the backyard, full of plants that aren’t chocked by fertilizers and pesticides. The blooming plants, herb garden and blowing trees are accompanied by countless birds, rabbits and insects all of whom have found refuge in the tall grasses of her yard, an escape from the chemically green and impeccably cut lawns of most every other house on the street.

I’m doing my best to follow suit. My car remains parked in the garage and my trips to the local food coop and farmers market are made on a bicycle. My clothes dry proudly in the wind and the dryer remains silent in the basement. The outlets are left unplugged. Lights switched off. Doors and windows thrown open, welcoming in the fresh breeze.

These are small things. I’m not changing the world. But I’m happy for the opportunity to do my part, to make decisions that choose the health of the world over my own comfort and convenience. At 350 we’re connecting the dots across the world, finding the impact of climate change as people are experiencing it every day, on the ground.

Here in St Peter, I can see changes too. The trees bloomed too early; some even shriveled in the cold and won’t bloom again. Every spring, the sidewalks and streets of St Peter fill with pond sized puddles. The Minnesota River floods, algae builds in the river as the result of eutrophication, when chemicals, mainly phosphorus, used in fertilizers stimulate excessive plant growth, which deoxygenates the water and kills significant percentages of fish populations. Still, the lawns of St Peter are bright green, despite documentation of water pollution in the Minnesota River by the City of St Peter.

The choices I make every day might not be changing the world in the way I wish they could, but they’re changing my world, my community. The fertilizers my professor doesn’t pump into her lawn never make it in into the Minnesota River, the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico. They don’t contribute to the dead zone. Birds are happier to nest in the trees in her yard, and fish are happier to swim in a Gulf of Mexico where they don’t suffocate from deoxygenated water. My food doesn’t travel 500 miles to reach my plate, I vote for local, organic agriculture every time I buy my groceries at the coop where I’m a member-owner, instead of the corporate grocery store chain.

I’m connecting the dots between the choices I make, the benefits I see in my backyard and the impact I see downstream. What dots can you connect?

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