We shop organic and local and tote our groceries home in reusable bags (tucking them into the hatchbacks of our gas-guzzling SUVs, though, more often than not). Some of us even compost our food scraps and use them in the garden.
But how many of us do all of the above and much more? That deeper shade of green is still somewhat rare among Sacramentans. “I think people like us are always kind of [considered] oddballs,” says Jude Lamare, a retired environmental consultant who is part of a small but übercommitted force of what we like to call Super Greenies. “It’s nice to see people paying attention, but we have so far to go.” We recently spent time with Lamare and a few other eco-living locals to learn more.
Debbie Hudson made her first solar cooker 20 years ago, an unwieldy contraption she crafted out of a cardboard bicycle box and set up in the parking lot at church camp to demonstrate how to bake cakes. Her sons, then teenagers, were mortified. But the camp drew fellow Christians from other sun-rich countries, Hudson recalls, and she could not squander an opportunity to teach about such an energy-saver.
When Hudson, 67, retired four years ago, she began volunteering for Solar Cookers International, a nonprofit based in West Sacramento with programs in East Africa. By then, the makeshift ovens were more compact. She brought several to Rwanda last year, where she educated a group of pastors about how to use them.
At home, Hudson solar-cooks regularly May through September. She sets her box in the backyard and makes everything from lasagna (with no-cook noodles, as it’s impossible to maintain a boil) to beef Provençal, sometimes accompanied by steamed asparagus and diced red potatoes. “It’s basically [like] a Crock-Pot on low,” she explains. An avid baker, she even has developed a recipe for solar Kahlua cake.
“I’m interested in living lightly,” says Hudson, who traded in her late father’s Chrysler in 2006 for a white Toyota Prius. She recycles regularly and is committed to getting by on less. “Our society produces so much trash. . . . I’m trying to be more content. I don’t have to have a lot.”
There’s composting; then there’s vermicomposting—and every time Camille Kustin pulls her compost bin out of the kitchen cupboard and removes the lid, her guests start. “People are always surprised to see the worms,” she says.
Kustin has been using red wigglers to turn her food scraps into fertilizer for two years, producing a top-tier compost her gardening friends call “black gold.” In fact, says the 28-year-old Environmental Defense Fund policy analyst, “I could sell it and make a fortune.” Instead, she gives the compost as gifts and uses it in the container garden she tends at her midtown apartment. The worms go over so well that Kustin’s colleagues encouraged her to vermicompost at work, too.
Raised with a healthy respect for animals and nature, Kustin says she simply is striving to be “socially responsible.” She sold her car five years ago when she moved to Michigan for graduate school and gets around town by bike. She shops at thrift stores for clothes and relies on Craigslist and garage sales for furniture. She uses natural cleaning products and compact fluorescent light bulbs around the house.
When she goes out for coffee, Kustin brings her own mug; ditto shopping bags at the grocery store. “My big-gest thing lately has been cloth napkins,” she adds.
The payoffs to living this green and lean are great: Money she normally would spend on car insurance and gas, for example, is spent on travel to Uganda, India and elsewhere.
“I don’t judge people who don’t live my lifestyle. I know most people don’t,” says Kustin, who concedes that it helps to be single and without kids. “It’s a choice on my part. People do what they can.”
Years before green went mainstream, Jude Lamare biked to work from Curtis Park. Twenty years ago, she moved into a downtown high-rise to further cut her transit and other energy needs, choosing a south-facing condo on the 14th floor, in part, to benefit from the winter sun (and is thankful the sun shifts slightly north in summer).
On those occasions that she needed to drive, Lamare used her methanol-fueled car. In 1995, she began ordering organically grown fruits and vegetables from Good Humus Produce, going to a local drop-off point every week to collect her Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, box from the Capay Valley growers. And she has devoted her professional career to environmental causes, helping to bring light rail to Sacramento and working on clean-air initiatives.
Lamare, 65, met her partner, Jim Pachl, 64, through their advocacy work with the Sierra Club. He moved here from Oakland in 1998; the two share her 1,200-square-foot condo. They got rid of her car and kept his but mainly walk or take public transit. They rented office space a handy four blocks from home for their nonprofit, Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk, which seeks to protect the threatened raptors’ habitat in California.
The couple’s green lifestyle includes their consumer habits. Pachl shops for clothes only when threadbare necessity dictates; much of Lamare’s wardrobe is made up of family hand-me-downs. At the holidays, they donate to favorite charities and occasionally buy jams from Good Humus to give as gifts. “I’m not really interested in gifting as a recreational activity,” Lamare quips.
“I am led by concepts of sustainability, the benefits of sustainability,” explains Lamare, who appreciates that garbage and recycling trucks stop just once a week at her building, though it is home to 142 residential and commercial units. “But the personal benefits are so great. I just wouldn’t want to have to give them up.”
David Whitaker used to be what he calls the “typical Californian”: He’d wear shorts and flip-flops around the house in winter, cranking up the heat to stay warm. In the summer, he’d bypass the backyard swimming pool, cooling down with the a/c on.
His eco-minded roommate at the time objected, and her vocal concerns resonat-ed with him. He then became known around the office as the guy who washed and reused his Ziploc bags and foil wrappers. “It’s like anything—the more you learn, the more you pay attention,” says Whitaker, who works for the Sacramento-based media post-production outfit PACSAT Post.
Then, as the United States was poised to invade Iraq in 2003, he got into a debate with his brother at a family dinner about oil’s role in the invasion. When an ad came on TV that night, soliciting vehicles to benefit the local SPCA, Whitaker decided to donate his car to protest the war.
“The first few months, I was in an absolute panic” without a car, he admits. Though Whitaker lived a mere five blocks from his S Street office, grocery options were few; he was limited by what he could carry home by bike. Seven years later, he has an assortment of shoulder bags: larger ones for weekly farmers market runs, smaller ones for the midtown Safeway or Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.
When Whitaker often visits San Francisco on weekends, he takes light rail and the train. He is a booster of SMUD’s Greenergy program, which provides energy from renewable sources for a modest monthly surcharge. And he is pleased to see more co-workers cycling to work than they did a few years ago.
“Maybe it rubs off on someone else,” Whitaker says. “When my brother told me [his family] had bought a hybrid [car], I thought, ‘Wow—I have had an effect.’”