A rain barrel.

This month, in honor of Earth Day (April 22), I spent some time explaining to my son Abel, who is almost five, why it’s important to take care of the earth. The issues are hard for a preschooler to grasp, but the practical applications make a least a little bit of sense to him. What follows is a list of some of the things our family does to be eco-conscious. Abel is involved in all of these in one way or another.

Before Abel was born, a few of my friends, who were finished having children, very generously offered us some of their castoffs. Baby clothes, strollers, exersaucers, all sorts of gear . . . It was wonderful not to have to go out and purchase these things new, especially since they would only be in use for a few months. To return the favor, in a sense, I decided that I would distribute our own hand-me-downs the same way. So I made note of the people I knew with children younger than mine, and began asking who needed what. To this day, there are a number of families to whom I occasionally bring bags of clothing, toys, books – anything we no longer need. And my own benefactors continue to keep us in their “network” as well. So we are delighted when we receive a big bag of Size 5 Boys clothing, for example, or some well-loved Transformers. Sharing clothes, toys and gear is good for the earth in a number of ways – it keeps usable items out of the landfill, cuts down on the demand for the production of new things, and provides countless opportunities for reuse. Plus who doesn’t love free stuff?

Speaking of free stuff, do you know about If not, you should check it out. Freecycle hosts local message boards where you can post notices about things you would like to give away, for free. So maybe you bought a new couch and would like to pass along your old one to someone who doesn’t mind the faded upholstery or outdated color. Or maybe you have a closet full of odds and ends that you know you’ll never use . . . but someone might. Post a notice on Freecycle, and very likely someone will contact you to see if he or she can come pick it up. You can make requests there too. Need a size 6 Batman costume in January? Someone out there is probably itching to get rid of his. On the South Shore, there are Freecycle networks based in Kingston, Hingham, Holbrook and Quincy. Go to the website to sign up for daily emails.

Want to cut down on the amount of trash your household produces? Start composting! If you set aside all of your vegetable waste — think fruit pits and peels, stale bread, half-eaten meals, things like that (no meat or dairy products) – you can put it in your backyard composter and turn it into soil. We bought an odor-resistant stainless steel compost crock, which we store under the kitchen sink. All of our appropriate food waste goes in, and when it’s full, we add water and bring it out back to the black plastic Earth Machine we purchased at a discount from our town hall. Over time, this waste breaks down into beautiful, nutrient-rich, dark brown soil, which we add to our raspberry patch and our tomato pots. One of the best things about this process: our kitchen trash doesn’t smell like rotting food!

The Rain Barrel
Every year the North and South Rivers Watershed Association makes large plastic rain barrels available at a discounted price. Some town halls offer them as well, and of course you can buy them from garden/yard supply companies too. What do you do with a rain barrel Place it under a gutter downspout, and collect the runoff. There’s a tap on the side of the barrel, so you can fill a watering can anytime the barrel is sufficiently filled. This is a great way to cut down on the amount of municipal water your household uses, which in turn drives down your annual water bill. Plus little kids love to play with the tap. To order yours ($82.95) through NSRWA, call N.E. Rain Barrel at (877)- 977-3135 or purchase online at Pickup will be at the NSRWA office in Norwell between 4 and 7 PM on June 9th or after.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
April 2011

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit To browse 15 years of Nature (Human and Otherwise) columns, visit