My Environmental Hero: Chief Oren Lyons

There are many passionate activists working to educate people about the dangers of climate change, and doing what they can to make a difference. They are my environmental heroes, and I’d like to introduce them to you on Holistic House. As the first in a new series,  I decided to begin with Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga and Seneca Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). He is also a member of the Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee. You may have heard of him as a professor, author, publisher, outspoken advocate of both environmental and Indigenous causes, and if that weren’t enough, honorary chairman of the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse team!

Years ago, I sat with him at my first sustainable design conference. He said that when the tribal council of elders gathers to consider a decision, they look at its impact not to the next generation, or even the next, but all the way to the seventh generation. He also told me that while we in our culture call the trees “resources,” that his people call them relatives. Those thoughts have guided me in making many decisions in the years since.


Chief Oren Lyons is a voice for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. He describes it like this: “At first I wanted to defend the Iroquois. Then my sights broadened to embrace other Indians. Then I saw this had to include defending indigenous peoples all over the world.”

In the same way, he has a commitment to protecting the earth. His words are powerful, and I hope that by sharing them with you here, together we can help his audience to continue to grow. I believe that we are in the midst of a crisis on our planet, but it is not too late to take action, wherever we can, to help heal the earth.

Chief Lyons says:

“It seems to me that we are living in a time of prophecy, a time of definitions and decisions. We are the generation with the responsibilities and the option to choose The Path of Life for the future of our children, or the life and path which defies the Laws of Rengeneration.

“We can still alter our course. It is NOT too late. We still have options. We need the courage to change our values to the regeneration of our families, the life that surrounds us. Given this opportunity, we can raise ourselves. We must join hands with the rest of Creation and speak of Common Sense, Brotherhood, and PEACE. We must understand that The Law is the Seed and only as True Partners can we survive.”

He also says:

“Global warming is real. It is imminent. It is upon us. It’s a lot closer than you think, and I don’t think we’re ready for what’s coming. We’re not instructing our people, we’re not instructing our children, we’re not preparing for what is coming. And it surely is coming. We’ve pulled the trigger and there is nothing we can do now to stop it. The event is underway.

“The chiefs, and I personally, feel that we have not passed the point of no return. Not yet, but we’re approaching it. And the day when we do pass that point, there will be no boom, no sonic sound. It will be just like any other day.”

global warming 2

Chief Lyons was born in 1930, and raised in the Iroquois culture on the Seneca and Onondage reservations in upstate New York. He served in the United States Army, and received an athletic scholarship to Syracuse University. In this video, he describes the beginning of his commitment to environmentalism, during a conversation with his uncle after his graduation.

You can learn more about Chief Lyons by watching Bill Moyer’s PBS documentary, Faithkeeperor by watching Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary The 11th Hour. 


How to Garden Green

Blooming Tulips in Garden

Spring is here, and another season of rebirth and growth is upon us. We have a new opportunity, as gardeners, as homeowners, and as earth’s citizens, to make choices that support life, down to the tiniest creatures. Although you may not see evidence of it every day, your garden is teeming with life: bees lazily buzzing from flower to flower, birds flitting through trees brimming with nests and berries, and rivers, streams and ponds in wetlands throughout the region you call home

To really see just how many creatures are part of your micro ecosystem, try this: Sink a clean glass jar, without its lid, into a hole in the ground, and leave it overnight. The next morning, walk outside and enjoy your coffee with the beetles and other little visitors who came to your garden while you slept. Each one is part of a delicate balance that exists in every square foot of your property.

praying mantis

Make Your Garden a Sanctuary

Lawn and garden chemicals are poisons to things that live, including humans and pets. They pollute our water, harm wildlife, and interrupt the delicate balance of our ecosystem. They may also be endocrine disruptors, interfering with the body’s hormonal system in both humans and wildlife. If you’re not part of the suburban quest for the perfect lawn, then your neighbors might be. Killing weeds and encouraging rapid growth of thick green grass may seem the natural thing to do, but nothing could be further from nature.

One hundred million pounds of lawn care chemicals are used by homeowners every year. These include chemicals that kill weeds, insects, and a variety of plant diseases.  A study from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. The average person carried 12 of the 23 pesticides they searched for. Many of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and liver or kidney damage.

This Year, Garden Green 

It’s possible to have a beautiful lawn and garden without resorting to dangerous and toxic chemicals. Make this year your “Garden Green” year.

Boy lies on a grass

Here’s how for the lawn:

  • Healthy soil promotes healthy plants. This is your foundation for every other thing you do in the garden. How do you get healthy soil? Add organic compost. You can make your own, or buy it.
  • Corn gluten is increasingly used as a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer. Organic fertilizers feed your lawn slowly; quick release chemical fertilizers encourage rapid growth that weakens the grass, promotes disease and leaches into nearby surface waters.
  • Tolerate a few weeds. You can dig them out by hand if they bother you, or you can adopt the philosophy of “live and let live.” A few weeds can also provide a home for beneficial insects, which keep the overall landscape in good health.
  • For the first and last mowing, mow down to two inches, which prevents fungus growth. For the rest of the year, keep our grass higher, at three inches, to shade out weeds and foster deep roots. Short grass promotes weeds, shallow roots and thatch.


Here’s how for the garden:

  • Just like in your lawn, add organic material to your garden soil to make it healthier, and less likely to be a host to disease.
  • Spread mulch (chopped leaves, shredded bark, compost) to smother weeds and keep soil moist.
  • Put up birdhouses and bird feeders to encourage nature’s pest patrol to help with insect problems.
  • Carefully choose plants that are suited to your year round temperatures, rainfall and amount of sun required. Look for disease resistant varieties of ornamental trees and roses.
  • A diverse biosphere in the garden best mimics nature, and makes a stable ecosystem. Plant a mix of trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs.
  • Remember that even organic chemicals and pesticides can cause damage if overused, so apply with care, and be sparing in their use!

A few other ideas to make your garden a home for wildlife and a pleasure for everyone:


  • Instead of putting up fences, plant hedges.  A hedge can provide food, shelter and a nursery for wildlife, including birds and butterflies. If you want a fool-proof way to bring butterflies to your garden, plant a butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)! Monarch butterflies love the purple variety. 
  • Set up a wormery. If you have a compost system, add worms! You can buy a full kit, and they’ll eat virtually any organic kitchen waste. You’ll be making the best compost in the world. You might try Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.
  • Encourage other beneficial insects. Lady bugs that eat aphids can be purchased online (Gardens Alive offers lady beetles by mail) or, if you live in Connecticut, at Gilberties Herb Garden in Westport.
  • If you have the space, you can even add a few chickens to provide your family with eggs. They enjoy foraging for garden insects, so they’re a benefit in two ways. Check out Backyard Chickens for more information!

Enjoy nature, and feel good about keeping your little piece of the earth safe and clean. Happy Spring!



How to Clean Green

branch of a blossoming tree

Winter has at long last drawn to a close, and Spring is on our doorstep! It’s time to clean house, literally, ridding our homes of odors, fumes and dust that have built up since we shut the doors and windows last fall. Spring cleaning has been a tradition for hundreds of years. It dates back to the time before central heating, when people threw open their windows to rid their homes of smoke, ash and coal dust, generated by their efforts to keep warm. March was the preferred month for spring cleaning, as it was warm enough to open the windows, but still too cool for insects.

It’s not as crucial for us to thoroughly clean only once a year, but spring is a wonderful time to make a fresh start, and rid our homes of harsh chemicals and toxic ingredients, some of which may be damaging to our health.  Here are some tips on how to “clean green” this year, and enjoy a safe, healthy home that’s good for both you and the earth.

Step Number One: Look in the Pantry

cleaning with lemons

Your new best friends can all be found in your kitchen. Baking soda does a fabulous job on countertops and getting rid of odors. Add some club soda (great for your glass surfaces), olive oil, vinegar, kosher salt, and lemons. Now you’ve got almost everything you need to clean mindfully, reducing your negative impact on the earth.

Step Number Two: Get Rid of Your Commercial Cleaners

green bubbles

Here’s what you’ll be saying goodbye to: alkyl phenol ethoxylates, ammonia, chlorine, lye, formaldehyde, petroleum solvents, and synthetic fragrances. Those are the ingredients in most conventional cleaning products. They actually pollute your home with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals.

Step Number Three: Be Kind to Yourself and the Environment


It’s not always  “Better Living through Chemistry.” After filling our homes with synthetic chemicals, many of which are stored in the body, and polluting our streams and rivers with the residue rinsed down sinks and toilet bowls, it’s time to take back our homes and our health. You don’t have to make your own cleaners from scratch, as homeowners routinely did until after World War II. There are now a number of safe, environmentally friendly products available on your grocery shelves. One of my favorites is Seventh Generation.

In case you do feel up to the task, however, here are a few tips for cleaning green:

Kitchen: Try baking soda sprinkled on counters, tabletops, sinks, refrigerators and cutting boards, use a damp sponge to scrub lightly and rinse. if you need more abrasive action, add a little kosher salt. For stains and greasy spills, you can add lemon juice or vinegar. Vinegar kills most mold, bacteria and germs, and lemon juice has antibacterial and antiseptic qualities, plus it is a natural bleach.

Bathroom: Baking soda and vinegar will clean your sinks, showers, tubs and tile. If you like, add a little lemon juice for a fresh scent.

To clean grout, mix half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with one cup of water. Spray it on the grout, let it sit for one hour, then rinse.

To clean the toliet, use one quarter cup of baking soda with one cup of vinegar. Pour it into the bowl, let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub and flush.

Wood Furniture Cleaner: Make a natural furniture polish from one quarter cup white vinegar with one tablespoon of olive oil. Or you can mix two parts olive oil with one part lemon juice.

Glass Cleaner: Mix one quarter cup white vinegar or one tablespoon lemon juice with two cups water. You can add three to four drops of liquid soap, but it’s not necessary. Spray on glass and mirrors, then wipe off using old newspapers for a fabulous shine.

Floor Cleaner: Mix one half cup Borax with one gallon hot water. For hardwood floors, try a gentler mix of one quarter cup white vinegar and 30 ounces of warm water. Put it in a recycled spray bottle, then spray on a cotton rag until lightly damp. Use the rag to wipe your floors clean.

Carpet Cleaner: Sprinkle your carpets with baking soda before vacuuming to deodorize; to clean stains, mix equal parts Borax or baking soda with salt and white vinegar. Apply the paste to the rug, let dry, then vacuum.

Sterling Silver:  The fumes from commercial silver cleaner can be very strong. Instead, try  making a paste of baking soda and water, and polishing with a soft cloth.