April brings Earth Day, milder temperatures, more reasons to spend time outside, and a renewed focus on all things “green.” Environmental sustainability is all about finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint, using natural resources in responsible ways, and regarding our surroundings with kindness and care. Here in New York we are gifted with varied and diverse natural beauty, from the shores of Montauk to the Adirondack Mountains. Surely our landscape is a source of inspiration to the innovative creatives of New York Makers, and our community of artists and makers give back to the environment in many ways too.
In a time when a number of U.S. policy-makers continue to regard the health of our planet as secondary to profit and progress, it is more important than ever to vote with our wallets. It is both economically effective — and not to mention delightful — to put environmental beliefs into action by foregoing big box stores in favor of shopping from independent makers, who not only put heart into their products, but also create goods with respect for the earth’s resources.
We caught up with some of our New York Makers to hear how exactly a “green” philosophy infuses their creative processes with care for the planet.
Catskill Provisions offers all-natural, organic, gourmet food and spirits, using 100% raw New York State Honey at the core. After first starting to keep bees, founder Claire Marin was inspired by bees’ Zen-like devotion to their work of honey-making and how well they worked together in harmony with their environment. We can all use a reminder of how to live a more mindful, environmentally sound life from bees. They work peacefully, with incredible diligence. They echo the cues of mother nature. According to Catskill Provisions website, “Together, we work towards the greater good: environmental protection, vibrant local economies, and, of course, our health and well-being.”
Catskill Provisions’ Raw Spring and Fall Honey Duo Set. Photo Credit: Catskill Provisions
Francesco Mastalia has traveled the world photographing tribal, spiritual and indigenous people. Recently, his work has taken a more local approach. In a series of portraits of Hudson Valley farmers and chefs, anthologized in the book “Organic,” Francesco confronts and captures the various states of mind around the “organic” concept. To those in the book, “organic is far more than a packaging label. It is more of an all-encompassing approach to living with integrity. Harvests aren’t guaranteed, weather cannot be predicted, and yet farmers and chefs forego pesticides or hormones, tools that may better help them control their output, but will tamper heavily with the sacredness of an earth-grown product. Organic farmers and chefs understand and perpetuate the holistic agricultural and cooking methods that have been around for generations.
Francesco Mastalia’s book “Organic: Farmers and Chefs of the Hudson Valley.” Photo Credit: Francesco Mastalia
Roosevelt Grooming Company’s mission is to make your shave the most honest part of your day. Inspired by the slow and conscious precision of Theodore Roosevelt’s “Barber Hour,” this company creates straight razors, shaving creams, lotions, and oils that transform men’s grooming experiences into a conscious ritual rather than an uninspired, rushed task. All products are produced in small batches, made with natural ingredients, are vegan and animal friendly, and are proudly made in New York State. Their products are made with the environmental integrity that mass-produced products simply and sadly lack. Stocking your shelves with such goods will permeate your mood with positivity and radiance.
Smock is a husband and wife-owned print shop based in Syracuse, New York. Debbie Urbanski and Harold Kyle cut no corners in their impeccable eco-business philosophy. Smock is a shining example of expansive thinking regarding sustainable business practices. Smock was the first print shop in the U.S. to offer printing on bamboo paper, which is both beautiful and sustainable. According to their website, bamboo “generates up to 35% more oxygen than hardwood trees, and absorbs 4 times the carbon as well. It’s the fastest growing plant on this planet; it grows without pesticides or fertilizers; and it requires very little water to grow.” Their thorough commitment to creating green and gorgeous work extends even further — they offer bus passes to employees to encourage use of public transportation, are entirely wind-powered, and subsidize CSA memberships with organic local farms. Smock is rooted in history, tradition, and environmental mindfulness.
Smock’s Anti-Fracking Letterpress Cards. Photo Credit: Smock
Vegetabowls is a small ceramics company based in Buffalo, New York, owned by husband and wife team Melanie and Justin Mckenney. “We do as much as we can to be environmentally conscious. In production we are able to save and recycle our clay scraps. We use biodegradable packing peanuts when we ship, and we also reuse or recycle our cardboard boxes. When checking out our customers, we offer an email or text receipt instead of paper. When executing the designs of our bowls, we chose clay over plastic for durability, function, aesthetics, and that it is healthier, for us and the earth, to eat out of,” said Melanie. They utilize real fruits and vegetables in their creative process of slip-casting to create a line of functional pottery. Their bowls and mugs replicate the texture and feel of the fruit used, such as cantaloupes, grapefruits or heirloom tomatoes. Vegetabowls seek to be an everyday reminder of the importance of local farming, healthful eating, and handmade production.
Vegetabowls' Cabbage Sculpted Bowl. Photo Credit: Vegetabowls
The Hudson Standard works with local organic farms to create handcrafted shrubs and bitters. “From ethically foraging botanicals in the Hudson Valley and sourcing from local farms, to composting all our waste, we try to be very mindful about the environmental impact of our business through every stage of production,” said Anja Rothe of the Hudson Standard.
In 2012, Marianne Courville, who was running Hudson Wine Merchants, the store she co-owns with her husband, Michael Albin, on Warren Street in Hudson, began experimenting making bitters in her Hudson Valley studio using locally-sourced ingredients. She also dabbled in concocting the lesser-known shrubs – syrups made from fruit, vinegar, and sweetener, a Colonial American culinary tradition made new again. Like bitters, shrubs are an unusual and versatile cocktail mixer, but with the added bonus of blending perfectly with seltzer to create a tart and sweet ‘mocktail’ that satisfies even the most the discerning palate. Today Hudson Standard has expanded to offer Strawberry Rhubarb Shrub, Apple Coriander Maple Shrub, Cassis Berry Shrub, Ginger Bitters, Celery Bitters, and Love-Struck Bitters.
“We owe so much to the land where we live. Our favorite part of creating these products is going into the mountains and forests and collecting plants for our bitters and small batch shrubs. In the spring, we hand harvest spruce shoots, in the summer it’s spicebush twigs and leaves. We tend to our gardens, growing wormwood, lemon verbena, thyme, hyssop and source fresh tulsi, ginger and turmeric from local farms. Our shrubs and bitters have a sense of place and you can taste that in the final product. We’re proud to create from a sense of stewardship and happy that the end result relays that integrity,” said Rothe.
The Hudson Standard Strawberry Rhubarb Shrub. Photo Credit: The Hudson Standard