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Some say it's too hard to live a truly green life. But it's been done. Check out the Milieu family's lifestyle. More...

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The Milieu family is extremely green.  (No, they are not Martians.  They live in Woodstock, CT.)  For starters, their house was built to sustainable design standards.  Unlike the plastic houses that are becoming so prevalent, it doesn’t have vinyl windows, decking or siding.  The frame, siding and windows are wood. Walls, windows, floors and roofs, and landscaping all help passively control solar energy.  For example, native trees provide shade in the summer.  The windows are oriented to maximize natural light indoors.    

Plum Tree
One plum tree in the Milieu's garden yields about 50 lbs. of fruit, which is more than enough for a family of five.

They don’t have air conditioning, so sometimes they move beds onto the porch on a sweltering summer night.  In winter, they heat with locally harvested wood.  Firewood is also used for cooking and warming water for bathing and laundering with phosphate-free soap.  Fresh air and sunshine suffice to dry clothes out on the line. Their water comes from a shallow, dug well.  They also collect rainwater in barrels for watering the garden and washing.  

The family uses things until they genuinely need to be replaced, and recycles whatever they can.  Even bathwater is recycled. (Eli, the youngest, usually gets stuck with the dirty finale.) Due to their lean lifestyle, they really can not afford to throw things away.  They eat even the yucky parts of a butchered cow, including the tongue and tripe (stomach).  Any food scraps are either fed to the animals or composted.  Jenny sews most of their clothes, which are made from all-natural cotton or wool.  Eli ends up sporting a lot of hand-me-downs. When clothes are worn out, they are reincarnated into quilts, rugs or rags. 

The Milieu’s do not own a TV or computer.  In fact, they are completely off the grid.  No Star Wars movies or video games entertain Robert and Jenny Milieu’s three children, Emily, Matthew and Elijah.  The kids spend most of their free time outdoors, hiking, fishing, swimming, collecting rocks and bugs, snowshoeing and sledding.

When the children are ill, natural remedies are generally tried first. The Milieu’s don’t just grow their own herbs for medicinal purposes and seasoning.  They are true “locavores.”  A locavore is someone who eats food produced within a certain radius like 100 miles.  They don’t worry about chemicals in their food. Most of it is organically grown in their own garden.  No pesticides are used.  The wooden fence around their garden is adorned with nestboxes, to take advantage of native bluebirds and tree swallows that consume large quantities of insects.  The children handpick other pests off plants. Manure is added to enhance soil structure and boost nutrients.

They eat homegrown fresh produce from April through September. The rest of the year, the Milieu’s dine on fruits, vegetables and meat that Jenny and Emily either dehydrate, pickle or preserve each fall.  Jars of preserves (and a few jugs of dandelion wine) are stored in their root cellar to keep them from freezing, along with potatoes, turnips, beets and carrots.  The cellar is accessible via a trap door in the shed.  (Robert had a hard time excavating it due to the rocky terrain typical in this area, but was able to recycle some of the “New England Potatoes” to build a stone wall.) The root cellar is also useful for keeping butter and milk cool during the summer.  

They own one dairy cow named Nala.  It is Eli’s job to lead her into the barn early each morning and tie her up.  Then his older brother Matt milks her by hand. Milking her from the side keeps the tail out of the milk and Matt’s face, and also makes it harder for Nala to connect with a kick.  Alfalfa, hay and corn for the cow come from a neighboring farm, in exchange for the Milieu’s excess milk, butter and duck eggs.  

They live on one of the many dirt roads in town. Since Robert Milieu works from home and their children are home-schooled, they don’t need a car or public transportation.  They do own a pair of horses that double as living-tractors. 

Overall, the pace of their life is slow, and their pleasures are simple.  On an ecological footprint calculator, they do lose points for not taking advantage of technologies like double-paned windows, Energy Star appliances, programmable thermostats, hybrid vehicles, or low flow showerheads.  They don’t recycle plastic. They couldn’t care less about greenhouse gases or global warming.  That’s because none of that existed in the mid-1800s, when a family like this would have lived.  The Milieu’s are fictional but realistic folk – only the tense and names have been changed. (“Milieu” is a Dutch word for environment.)  A century and a half ago, rural families lived a totally sustainable lifestyle. Their world is now lost to most of us.  We didn’t invent green living.  We just left it by the wayside.

Originally published in The Villager newspapers on August 29, 2008

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