Stocking Stuffers: Eco Art Supplies

All natural eco finger paints

Are you looking for small gifts that you know your child will use? Try eco-art supplies made from botanical ingredients.

Every year I struggle to convince my in-laws not to give my children tiny, throwaway plastic toys in stockings or advent calendars. It’s a losing game. I can request that they not give the children toys that will be thrown away after the children are bored with them, which is immediately, but that hasn’t worked yet. Instead, I am very careful to keep my own small gifts useful, exciting, and fun. These art supplies are stocking stuffers or advent gifts you can feel good about.

We are constantly on the lookout for more natural toys that encourage open-ended, creative play. We’re really happy with our new art supplies from Glob and eco-kids.

Glob

Glob botanically crafted paint powders are made from fruits, vegetables, flowers and spices with all natural ingredients and organic extracts. Just add water—more water for a thin paint like watercolours and less water for thicker paint like tempera or finger paints. These paints smell delicious. Set of 4 colors in jars or a sample packet of red (that’s pomegranate!). Made in California, USA.

Glob natural paint for children in 4 vibrant colours

eco-kids

eco-kids is a family business making art supplies with natural ingredients like earth clay, cornstarch, flour, spinach, red cabbage, purple sweet potato, carrots, blue gardenia, red grapeseed, and annatto seed. You know these supplies are safe for your child, and they are also such a pleasure to work with. The gentle aromas awaken the senses. Try bags of paint powder, jars of dough, or rock-shaped crayons, all in beautifully vibrant colors. Made in USA.

Eco finger paints for children
eco dough play clay for children
All natural crayons made in USA


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15 North American Made Gift Ideas

We choose products made in Canada and made in USA

We look for quality products ethically made. From the best of the best, we have chosen our favourites to recommend to you 15 North American made gift ideas for the whole family.

Since we have been focusing for the past several weeks on issues that can come up with imported products, as we turn our minds toward holiday gift ideas, we want to share with you our favourite made in Canada and made in USA products.

Nature Mom, who works with these products every day in our Orillia store, says, “I just love all of these products, and they are all amazing manufacturers to work with.”

For Baby

Babies have little awareness of holidays other than the fun and the sparkly lights, but giving holiday gifts is an opportunity to get something special and long-lasting for baby.

Ringley Teething Ring

Made in Canada from untreated Canadian Maple and certified organic cotton loopy terrycloth. The two different materials provide very different textures for a baby to feel with their gums. This straight teething ring is best for smaller babies because our Ringley teething ring with knots may be too big for small mouths. Note that the animal teething rings are not made in Canada. The simpler organic cotton teething rings are handmade in Toronto.

Wooden Rattle

Made in Canada. Because of the differences in the colour and grain of the wood, each wooden baby rattle is unique. No lacquer or paint to worry about, just 100% natural hemp or flax seed oil. Handcrafted with love by a family in their home workshop in Muskoka, southern Ontario.

Kleynimals Key Ring

Made in USA. Does your child want to play with your keys? The problem is lead contamination, sharp edges, and the nasty dirt that accumulates on keys. Give them Kleynimals instead, made from 18/8 food grade stainless steel. This is a new product that we loving. You’ll want to take a turn to jangle the keys yourself.

Wooden Building Blocks

Made in Canada. Every child needs a set of basic building blocks. These beautifully plain blocks can be anything. These blocks are made by a family business in Nova Scotia.

Wee Urban Sleep Sac

Made in Canada. Made from super soft organic cotton and bamboo viscose. When your baby is done with swaddling at about 10lbs, these sleep sacks are designed as a wearable blanket to replace loose bedding, which your baby will roll around and kick off anyway. Keep your baby warm in a sleep bag.

For Family

Giving a board game covers the whole family. You aren’t just giving them a thing; you are giving them the opportunity to spend time together and have fun. As my children grow, we continue to buy new games that we play together as a family.

Caves & Claws Cooperative Games

Made in Canada. This game is a teamwork adventure in which a museum hires a team of Archaeologists to travel deep into a Jungle to find Ancient Artifacts. The players are that team, ready for action and adventure! There are dangers and obstacles to avoid, such as The Creeping Claw, The Nasty Hairy Thing and Big Boulders rolling over entrances. We carry 15 different cooperative games with a variety of themes and pieces. You may want to collect several.

Endangered Species Memory Game

Made in Canada. By the time your child can communicate clearly, you can start to play visual games. This board game can be adapted by age, using just 9 of the card pairs for younger children and all 36 pairs for older children and adults. Includes a full-colour book highlighting the animals in the game that their threatened habitats. Artwork is by Toronto artist Anouk Bickers. Constructed from 100% Forest Stewardship Council Paper (FSC) and printed using vegetable-based inks.

For Mother

I think it is important to give a new mother a gift that isn’t for her baby or her family but for her. She probably needs that care even if she doesn’t say so.

Anointment Skin Care Clay Cleanser

Made in Canada. Anointment Skin Care products come in a wide range of prices and products from lip balm at $4.98 to skin ointment at $19.98. I chose the Herbal Clay Cleanser from two reasons: I love clay skin products, and our customers have left nice reviews for this cleanser as well. A collection of these products would make a nice gift on its own, and a couple of bars of handmade soap would fit nicely in the toe of a Christmas stocking.

Diva Cup

Made in Canada. OK, a reusable menstrual cup is kind of odd as a holiday gift. Maybe between girlfriends it would work. I just can’t help but mention Diva Cup because this is such a good product that will be helpful to every mother. Flexible silicone is great for women who are sensitive to other materials.

For Father

We don’t carry a lot of products for fathers, but he deserves a nice, North American-made gift, too.

Handcrafted Shaving Scuttle Set

Made in Canada, and Made in USA. Switching from conventional shaving foams and gels will reduce irritation and razor burn and provide the perfect lather for a smooth, close shave. Shaving scuttle is made in Price Edward Island by a small family business to be used with Anointment Skin Care Shave Soap. The scuttle and shave soap are made in Canada, and the shaving brush is made in the USA.

Practical Choices

Hitting the right tone with gifts depends on each family. Some families will welcome more practical gifts. If you need to buy for that family, these are great products from great companies.

AMP hemp diaper inserts

Made in Canada. Annie Marie Padorie (AMP) diapers can be used as flat diapers or as inserts for pocket or duo diapers. We chose the hemp flat inserts because our customers really like this, and they are such a cost effective cloth diapering solution.

Bummis Super Brite

Made in Canada. We chose Super Brite covers among all of the Bummis products because they are a customer favorite, and because the colorful prints are a toddler favorite as well. Once your child is old enough to start to show a preference, you might find that they prefer the bright, fun prints. All Bummis cloth diaper covers are made in Canada.

Blueberry daytime trainers

Made in USA. Getting a pair of big kid underwear can be exciting for a toddler. These trainers look at feel like underwear while hiding an absorbent layer of microterry and waterproof polyester to avoid accidents. We love how colorful they are.

Cuddly Wrap Organic Cotton Baby Carrier

Made in Canada. Sometimes the holidays are a time to give a family what they don’t or can’t give themselves. This is by far the most comfortable baby carrier wrap we have found for a newborn. It correctly supports the developing curves of a young spine. Manufactured under fair trade labour practices.

Image © Lev Dolgatshjov | Dreamstime.com

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Imports at What Cost? Sustainability

Sometimes the cost of cheap imports is sustainability both local and global

Cheap imports are cheap precisely because they cut costs by cutting corners—pay less for labour, think less about quality, design less for safety, and don’t worry about the environment. Good business? Only in the moment. In the long term, these short-term savings leave us with big bills to pay.

Over the past month, we have been looking at the true costs of cheap imports. In the cases of unpaid labor, unsafe products, low quality, and pollution, we have focused on what isn’t sustainable. Today, we want to shift toward the positive to show what sustainability looks like when it works.

Give It to Me Quick
Truly sustainable products don’t pass on real costs to others but accept and embrace the real costs, redesigning the product and the supply chain not to externalize the costs but to internalize the benefits.

Sustainability

We reach sustainability when we can meet our own needs while not interrupting the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, issues with imports overlap because they all lead to larger issues of sustainability. As long as we buy cheap products that externalize real costs, we have not yet reached true sustainability because we will pay those costs one way or another. There is no one answer to sustainability, but we can aim in that direction through constant improvement of our choices.

Sustainability isn’t just good for us as consumers. Sustainability is good for business. Happy, healthy workers who are paid a fair wage without being pushed beyond reasonable limits of endurance are more likely to do quality work over the long-term. Designs that start with safety in mind are more likely to become beloved products that provide profits over the long-term. Materials that don’t exploit the environment or cause health issues for those near the point of extraction or for the children who will use the final product are more likely to be stable resources over the long-term.

Yes, the theme is the long-term. Sustainability acknowledges that tomorrow matters.

Does it mean we don’t want people overseas to have jobs? Of course, not! If they build their own sustainable local economies, they will benefit in the same ways we will from our own. If they build sustainable products, there will be less hesitation from others to buy those products.

Does that mean we shouldn’t buy anything made outside our own country or even outside our own communities? Of course, not! For most of us, not everything we want or think we need is made in our local communities, anyway.

Sustainability builds on the positive at the same time that it works to eliminate or lessen the impact of the negative. Sustainability shouldn’t be about creating a collection of insular communities that seldom interact. Sustainability puts the priority on the simplest solutions and looks for those solutions locally first.

What Sustainability Looks Like

One of our favorite brands that we carry at bynature.ca is Montreal-based Bummis. They make great cloth diapering products, but that is only part of the story. They are good people who believe in sustainability at every level in their business. They are meticulous in their design and testing; they are careful in their sourcing; they are generous in their business dealings; and, by all reports, they are a great company to work for. When we look for ethical products, we look for companies like this.

Bummis Made Here

Bummis tells consumers about their sustainable products in a Made Here campaign, in which they tell

“How value for us means so much more than just money – how it has to do with integrity and standards and sustainability. And how when you buy something from us, you are buying into our dream – a dream in which business is on the cutting edge of social change and where the bottom line includes the well-being and prosperity of all.”

In addition to making cloth diapering products Made Here and Worn Everywhere, Bummis has a store in Montreal, Boutique Bummis, where they sell baby and parenting products. Before a new employee can work in their store, they learn about the store Manifesto, which starts: “Everyone that walks into the store should feel welcomed and cared about and secure. Grumpy customers should be loved more because they need it!” Every guideline in the Manifesto, indeed every product in the store, builds connection.

“Our mission is to facilitate the attachment of parents to their children by offering products, information, resources and support that will promote that attachment. And the vision behind that is the belief that profound attachment of parents and children can create a paradigm shift that can engender powerful personal and social transformations.”

Bummis co-owner Betsy Thomas sees the store “as a statement of who we are and what we believe in – a place where every day we actively manifest our company values.”

I learned about the store Manifesto when Betsy Thomas and I sat together on a customer service panel at a business conference. I was particularly impressed that these instructions to employees include statements from past employees. This shows me that the concern isn’t just with who people are in their space in the moment but with who they are long-term and who they become through their experiences. One former employee in particular wrote about how her time at Bummis taught her to naturally present “information and options in a non-biased way,” a skill she carried into her training as a midwife—a skill her midwifery preceptors said made her the most advanced student at any level because people often struggle with the skill of compassionate teaching.

I love using Bummis as an example of ethical products and sustainable business because they practice sustainability on so many levels. They are conscious of having a positive impact on all who come in contact with the company.

Organizations Building Local Economies

Many cities and towns have Buy Local campaigns. If yours does, you can get involved. You can expand and shape the way you and your neighbors think about about and act within local economies.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is a national nonprofit organization supporting “environmentally sound and equitable community development.” The focus is local self-reliance, and that includes buying local. Yes, buying at a local business helps the business, but that isn’t the most important reason to support locally owned businesses. Consider local jobs, local innovations, and product diversity. Read their “Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses” for more reasons.

The Business Alliance for Living Local Economies wants to create “real prosperity by connecting leaders, spreading solutions that work, and driving investment toward local economies.” In their decade of research, they’ve come up with Core Four strategies: local first, DIY entrepreneurs, local capital, and better together. Their members are business owners and other leaders. Read their “Localism 101″ to see what they find matters in building living local economies.

Keep in mind the Local Multiplier Effect. The organizations above and many others recognize that feeding your money and energy back into you local economy multiplies the effect. Buying local is good for you in more than the way it makes you feel. Research shows that when you buy local, $.45 of every dollar is reinvested locally; when you spend a dollar at a corporate chain, only $.15 of that is reinvested locally. Your money works harder in ways you will notice when you spend it locally. This Local Multiplied Effect feeds back into your own community and creates greater wealth than exporting your money to corporate headquarters.

What You Can Do

  • Avoid exploitation. You need to know more about the products you buy in order to know whether workers or environment were exploited to produce them.
  • Be a localist. Look for local solutions first without avoiding solutions from afar when they really will work for you.
  • Only buy what you need.
  • Buy what you need from people you trust. Especially with parenting products for new parents, you need support. You need to know how to use a baby carrier or a cloth diaper. The questions you want to ask are sometimes quite personal. Building a trusting relationship with a knowledgeable store owner can help you focus on what you really need and avoid those baby products you might leave on the shelf and never use.
  • Meet more people so you can develop more of those trusting relationships. When people trust one another, they are accountable to one another.
  • When you do buy, look for products that meet high standards. At bynature.ca we help you with that by adding the icons for our Safe Family Promise to every product in our store.
  • Think about what makes you happy and put your focus there.
  • Shift your focus from stuff to relationships between people. The Canadian Index of Well Being includes tools to help you build resilient local communities.
  • Be part of the change in your local communitybuilding a local economy that is more focused on happiness than stuff.
  • Don’t get caught up in the negative. Reading about child and forced labor can be devastating. Work to right the wrongs, but also work to enhance the rights in your life. Feed the positive relationships in your community.

True Sustainability

True sustainability acknowledges true costs. Businesses that measure their success by a triple bottom line of People Planet Profit already understand that paying up front for people and planet pays dividends to them and their customers in the long run. We don’t need to embrace business that puts profit ahead of people and planet. If we want to give our children the same chances that we have, we can’t put profit ahead of them and their future.

When Betsy Thomas talks about Bummis, one of the things that really sticks with me is her observation that new parents turn naturally toward sustainability when their children are born because children give a face to the future. You and I as parents have a passionate stake in long-term sustainability through our children.

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Changing Colors: Fall Leaves with Children

Child wearing fall leaf wreath

Are your children curious about the leaves changing color? Harvest time is ripe for a little science and a lot of crafts with fall leaves.

All this week, we’re going to post about changing colors—not just leaves changing but other colors as well.

The Science of Fall Leaves for Children

“Why are the leaves turning yellow, Mommy?”

Are you ready to answer? Here is a simple version for the youngest children.

Starting when trees grow new leaves in the spring, a tree makes food from the energy of the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and water from the earth. This process of making food is called photosynthesis. The sun’s energy is absorbed by a chemical called chlorophyll. Leaves get their green color from chlorophyll.

As the days get shorter and cooler in the fall, trees stop making food and the green chlorophyll breaks down. The leaves change color as the green goes away and leaves yellow, orange, and brown.

For an older child, you could explain that the leaves were always yellow and that the green, the chlorophyll, was just the dominant color until the tree stopped making it.

Children’s Crafts with Fall Leaves

It’s always fun to use natural materials to create season-specific decorations. As you are surrounded by fall leaves, you have an abundance of colorful craft materials.

We create strings of leaves as a garland to celebrate fall. Bring bouquets of leaves into the house and put them in a vase. Create a wreath. Use different leaf colors to create a collage. Press particularly beautiful leaves in paper.

And, whatever you do, rake all of the leaves in your yard into a pile and JUMP IN THEM! This is perfect fun for a child (and a parent).

The Funny Part

Fall leaf garland

When I planned this post, it was cold during the days, and I expected it would just get colder every day. Then, today arrived and it was 89 degrees Fahrenheit, and we couldn’t find enough color changed leaves to make a garland.

Fall? Hot leaf garland

The version of the mini leaf garland without cropping context shows my outdoor thermometer. In the direct sun this afternoon, it claimed to be 120 degrees (which it was not). It will probably snow next week.

Resources

Education World has a great collection of explanations of photosynthesis just for children. They include fun fall leaf activities as well.

Wreath image © Olga Vasina | Dreamstime.com

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Imports at What Cost? Environment

What is the cost of imports to the environment

Products made in Canada or the U.S. are produced in compliance with strict regulations. When you buy imports, you have few assurances that making the products did not cause local harm through air or water pollution. Damage to environment and to health through the environment are part of the real cost of imports. We pay now, or we pay later, but we will pay.

Give It to Me Quick

When we buy products made somewhere without tight environmental regulations, the price we pay doesn’t cover the costs of environmental damage. Those costs are paid by the state of origin, the local community, and the workers.

Issues

Having a child means environmental impact. There is no way around that fact. It’s just math. Every human being has an environmental impact, some have more impact than others, and the collective impact of all of us together is not sustainable.

Part of our personal impact includes the real environmental costs of the seemingly benign products we let into our lives. Making stuff has an impact, and sometimes that impact is far greater than it needs to be.

Implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994 meant a de-industrialization of Canada and the U.S. while factories and jobs moved to Mexico. Despite a Commission for Environmental Cooperation between the North American countries, pollution in Mexico was immediate and overwhelming near maquiladoras—factories in Mexico near the U.S. border producing goods for export.

Mexico, though, was an issue of the 1990s; in the past decade, industry and concern has shifted to China. Environmental impacts of moving industry to Mexico pale in comparison with impacts of massive growth in China.

Pollution in China is epic. Severe pollution not only creates an economic burden for the Chinese people, it threatens political stability.

“Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.” ~ “As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes,” Choking on Growth, part 1, New York Times, August 26, 2007.

Pollution is only part of the problem. Biodiversity loss, deforestation, and desertification over 30% of China’s land signal long-term problems. It isn’t just that growth is unsustainable; Chinese growth is sending them careening toward collapse. Chinese citizens certainly aren’t unaware of the impacts of these factories, and some protest. Especially since the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government has turned to environmental regulations and adjusted growth philosophies to lessen the impact of massive growth on their people.

It costs to make extraction and production processes cleaner. When those of us who live in places with tight environmental regulations take production to a place that doesn’t impose those regulatory costs, that means the price of the final product won’t have to cover the cost of environmental damage.

That doesn’t mean there is no cost to that environmental damage. Costs are simply externalized. Externality is a common concept in economics whereby the producer does not directly incur the inevitable cost. A business maximizes profits by forcing the problem onto someone else. In the case of pollution, the state might pay for clean up or for other consequences, the local community might pay through lower quality of life, and the workers might pay with their health.

Look at the tags on your baby’s clothing and the boxes for toys and car seats. Where are your baby’s products made? High environmental costs in exchange for low product costs will happen everywhere you don’t find tight regulation. And, sometimes, even where there is tight regulation, you end up with the high cost of environmental accidents.

Diaper Plant Explosion

When a Japanese chemical factory exploded in September, it became global news because of the chemical they make and how much they make of it. Nippon Shokubai Co makes 20% of the super-absorbent polymers used in disposable diapers globally. The focus of news stories was an anticipation of disposable diaper shortages around the world, but the rest of the story was the local environmental impact of an explosion and fire so big that local people thought it was another earthquake.

In addition to the everyday environmental impact of throwing 16 billion plastic diapers into landfill in the U.S. alone, accidents and the environmental impact of extraction and production have to be calculated into overall impact of diapers or of any product.

Clean Diapers

Some choices leave a child’s environmental impact higher than others. Using cloth diapers means avoiding the 8,000 disposable diapers you would have used and the waste they generate both as 3% of all municipal solid waste in the landfill [Lehrburger] and in production overseas where lax or non-existent environmental regulation allows companies to shave their costs through pollution.

Use any reusable diaper, even a cloth diaper made from oil or gas (polyester, PUL, microfiber, and so on), and you will lower your baby’s environmental impact. Make smart laundry choices, and you will lower the impact more. If you buy organic cotton prefold diapers with diaper covers made here in Canada by Bummis, you lower your impact even more. You don’t avoid all environmental impact of a child by choosing cloth diapers, but you lower that impact significantly.

The Institute for Sustainable Communities

For 20 years the Institute for Sustainable Communities has been helping communities around the world address environmental, economic, and social challenges to make their own community more sustainable. They train and inspire local people to improve quality of life.

Through the Environmental Health and Safety Academies in the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu where most Chinese manufacturing takes place, they are training thousands of factory managers every year in best practices to lower environmental impacts and boost efficiency through safety.

They want donations. The work they do isn’t simple. “We are not interested in quick fixes. When you give to ISC, you invest in lasting solutions to the climate change crisis.”

What You Can Do

Only buy imports if you know something about their manufacture. Favor products and brands that aren’t externalizing environmental costs by outsourcing to countries with loose environmental regulation.

Lower your overall impact with a focus on the three areas that account for 70-80% of the global total of environmental impact: transportation, food, and home energy.

Resources

  • Carl Lehrburger, “Diapers in the Waste Stream: A review of waste management and public policy issues,” 1988.
  • “Choking on Growth,” a 10-part series in the New York Times, December 2007. Includes discussion with a panel of experts.
  • “Environmental Problems in China,” World Wildlife Fund.

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