One of the great aspects of living in Nova Scotia is the enthusiasm with which people within our rural communities have always recycle and repurpose materials. Nova Scotians have a long history of storing things for future use in barns and outbuildings. In our current community, we have numerous social media groups where members request and give away unwanted possessions for free. When we bought our little farm house it came with a barn almost twice the size of the house that was packed ceiling high with bits and pieces of broken furniture, tools, boxes, rope, lumber, newspapers, bottles, and, of course, the ever popular collections of jars tins containing salvaged rusty nails, screws, and hooks, some well over a century old.
As international teachers, we were well-trained in being resourceful. Oftentimes in the developing countries where we lived, manufactured teaching supplies were not readily available, so we would have to make our own. We may have drooled at Pinterest boards showing classroom organizers and manipulatives by resourceful teachers who were career hoarders or closeted Dollar Store shoppers, but the chances of finding items new or used in our local market would be next to impossible, so we would have to find alternative materials or solutions from what few alternatives we had available to us. At home, even things like buying the ingredients for a simple recipe would require creative substitutions. Chocolate chips just doesn’t exist in grocery stores in many countries, neither does buttermilk or lard, so a quick and energizing batch of cookies or a homemade pie could easily turn into a multi-phase science experiment.
In Africa, and earlier on in our personal history, throughout Southeast Asia, our local craft markets featured ingenious uses for making toys, sculptures, jewelry, and costumes from recycled plastics, wood, and metals with such incomparable skill, that many foreign residents deluded themselves into thinking that their production of waste packaging was a benefit that kept such creative industry alive. Even for me, the process was so inspiring that I worked with a group of middle school students for many years collecting beach garbage and making sculptures and jewellery as part of our own local campaign long before a single piece of foreign plastic waste washed up on a Canadian shore.
Thus, inheriting our barn and its contents was like inheriting a magical wardrobe or pot that granted unlimited resources. When we came home on our summer vacations and something broke or something was missing in the house, we began to suggest, “Check the barn; there’s probably something in there that will work instead.” There always was. The barn always provided.
When we moved here permanently and began shopping for groceries and supplies to stock our house, we were appalled and embarrassed by the amount of packaging waste we produced. Even the barn was struggling to cope with the boxes, styrofoam, plastic bags we were amassing. A pivotal moment for me was going into a store and seeing tiny, quail-egg-sized cosmetic sponges, each single one suspended in a brick of moulded plastic about 50 times larger than the sponge itself. I took a photo of one of them to forever remind me of how slovenly the industry of selling mass manufactured goods had become.
We realized that it was not enough to take a stack of recyclable bags to the grocery store, and think a difference is being made to environmental pollution levels. It obviously was not. We had to change the way we looked at what we purchased by considering the packaging it came in.
It became a bit of a game to only buy things where we could find alternative uses for packaging, to the extent that we were able take on other people’s packaging to fulfill the needs of a project. In our own sales, we invest considerable time assembling our own packaging from recycled packaging where we are lawfully able, so our customers know that their purchases have added nothing to the environmental impact by dealing with us.
For example, our soil block carriers are made from deconstructed and reassembled cardboard cereal and drink boxes. In the case of cereal boxes, which in many cases are already made from recycled paper, this is a great option because it has removed the manufacturing pollution from an already great recycled material. Our pillow boxes for seeds are made from old card stock we inherited when someone bought a new printer, our terracotta plant pots and garden decor are all second hand repaired and painted, and our novelty seed bombs, garden fairies, bags, and flowers are all made from reclaimed second hand craft supplies.
While primarily we do these activities out of our love for hand making useful things, but we have continually learned there is value and reward in being resourceful. Having almost zero environmental impact in doing so, is just one happy coincidence, and one we hope visitors to our space will appreciate and engage in, as well.