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Photos by Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
The Kemps’ garden includes potato plants. The peels go in a compost pile.

Growing GREEN

Families helping environment with reusable goods, backyard projects

Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Asher Kemp mows grass at his family’s home with a powerless push mower.
Larry Kemp turns the compost pile in the family’s backyard. The pile was started by his oldest daughter.
The Kemp family cans food items such as pear butter, strawberry jam, peaches, salsa and Queen Ann’s Lace jelly.

“Go green” may be a trendy motto these days, but some people are doing more than vowing to be ecofriendly for themselves: They’re taking the movement to their families – getting spouses and children involved.

Local families share ways they are reducing their effects on the environment:

Cloth diapers

Deana Snyder has five children, ranging from 8 to 16 years old. She did something with all five children that made family members and strangers alike scrunch their noses in horror.

She used cloth diapers.

“A lot of people thought it was grotesque that I would actually take a diaper and wash it,” the Spencerville mother says.

But she liked that they created less waste – disposable diapers take an estimated 250 to 500 years to decompose, according to the Real Diaper Association, a pro-cloth diaper non-profit. The cloth diapers also didn’t cause baby No. 3 to break out in a chemical reaction the way disposable diapers did.

And, honestly, the scent wasn’t that bad, Snyder says. She chose to breast-feed her children, and breast-fed children don’t produce waste that’s as stinky as formula-fed babies, she says.

“There’s a big difference between breast-fed baby poo and formula poo,” she says. “It’s a stronger scent with formula. (With breast milk) … it’s not offensive at all.”

Today, cloth diapers are nothing like they were when earlier generations’ moms and dads were younger. The diapers are all-in-one: cloth diaper, plus an outer cover to keep it from leaking. Plus, parents can use disposable liners, Snyder says, making cleanup easier.

Cost, too, is a plus. Consumer Reports lists disposable diapers as ranging in price from 17 cents to 24 cents each when purchasing a larger quantity box. Cloth diapers, meanwhile, will cost from 85 cents to $3 or more each. A huge savings in the long run.

Babblesoft, a Texas company devoted to technology for parents, estimates that a baby up to 1 year old wets a diaper five to six times a day. That means a parent will spend at least $310.25 a year on disposable diapers – just for urine. A parent would need to purchase 104 reusable diapers to equal that amount.

Compost pile

Becky Kemp decided she wanted to garden for a variety of reasons. Not only does home-grown require fewer resources but, Kemp says, she also knows exactly what goes into each vegetable and herb when it comes from her own backyard. Plus, the flavor can’t be beat.

This year may have been a flop for the endeavor – she wasn’t home enough to keep the garden watered, Kemp says – but other ecofriendly endeavors have worked well, such as the compost pile. Her oldest daughter wanted to start one years ago, and Kemp told her to go for it.

The pile of discarded fruit, vegetables, paper and yard waste is in the back corner of the Kemps’ yard, away from the house.

“You don’t put any meat or dairy products in, but it’s all produce,” the Fort Wayne woman says. “Say you cut a pepper up and cut the core out. That stuff can get composted. Potato peels, apple peels, carrot tops, uncooked vegetables can go into the compost.

“I even cut my son’s hair and put hair clippings in the compost pile, too.”

Though it’s a pile of, essentially, trash, it doesn’t smell – if you do it right. The pile, also made up of leaf litter and dirt, needs to be aerated and turned, which keeps the microbes that break down the pile growing and activated, Kemp says

The pile is the ideal material for growing plants. Some will even accidentally grow in the pile. If Kemp throws squished tomatoes or anything with seeds, it’s not unusual for the plant to sprout out of the pile.

“Sometimes, if you get in there in the right time, you can transplant the stuff, when the shoots are young,” she says.

In addition to composting trash, for the past 10 or 15 years, the family has canned its own food, which reuses glass jars.

“Flavor is a big factor and knowing where it comes from,” Kemp says, and that’s also why the family likes to grow its own fruits, herbs and vegetables.

Other small ways the Kemps stay green is through shopping at farmers markets – which eliminates unnecessary packaging – and reusing items like bread bags in place of plastic baggies.


Susan Penrod of Fort Wayne is a local leader for La Leche League. The group meets a few times a month to answer questions for current and expectant mommies and to share experiences.

Penrod breast-fed her two children, now 11 and 17. When she started, it was because of the health benefits.

Later, however, other reasons became even more important.

“The bonding, certainly,” she says. “The convenience, definitely, and for me personally, the environmental benefits were part of both my initial choice and my reasons for continuing.”

By breast-feeding, she’s not using formula, which is produced, packaged and shipped. There are no cans to dispose of.

“Every step of the way is using resources,” Penrod says. “Here I had a way to bypass all of that while giving my baby this wonderful gift of health and closeness.”

More mothers are following Penrod’s lead. Healthy People 2010 is a national objective to get the United States more healthy, coordinated through the national Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The country has recently met the goal, as recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 75 percent of new U.S. mothers start out breast-feeding.

The Penrods have made other ecofriendly choices around the house. They’ve made modifications to their home, choosing recycled rubber for the roof slates and keeping a smaller refrigerator that many families use, Penrod says.

Plus, the family doesn’t have a hot water tank; it instead uses an instantaneous water heater. Traditionally, hot water is kept hot in a tank, even when the water is not in use. With the Penrods’ system, when someone turns on the hot water faucet, the burners heat the water that passes through the unit only as the water is needed.

Her children’s friends have noticed the family’s efforts and make comments about the family’s consistent recycling.

The family also considers the environment in its choice of vehicle.

“I drive a Civic,” she says. “One of my criteria was I wanted 35 miles per gallon, and my husband drives a little bitty pickup truck.”