The Myths and Facts of Eco-Tourism

Ecotours, adventure tours, sustainable tours, reality tours – if you are seeking a vacation alternative to Disneyland or Club Med, there are certainly plenty of options. However, how do you decide what is right for you, and what kind of vacation matches your values? Do you have to leave your social, political or environmental consciousness at home just to have a good time? The Rethinking Tourism Project, an Indigenous Peoples organization based in St. Paul, suggests we critically examine all aspects of this far-reaching industry, including the “alternatives.”

Tourism is the largest industry in the world. Like other major industries, it is mainly controlled by large transnational corporations, who profit at the expense of local communities and the environment.

In the 1980s, ecotourism emerged on the scene to meet the demands for more nature-based travel adventures. The World Tourism Organization defines ecotourism as a nature-based tourism in which the tourists observe and appreciate the natural environment and the traditional cultures within that environment in a sustainable manner. Sustainable tourism, a term often used interchangeably with ecotourism, emphasizes projects that protect natural resources and sustain the local community, both now and in the future. Ecotourism includes a mixed bag of projects, including mountain trekking tours, hikes in the rainforest and ecolodges, which in many cases are similar to mega-resorts.

For people who enjoy being outdoors and who are concerned about the environment, ecotourism may seem like a good option. Promotional materials use this perception effectively and, as a result, ecotourism is becoming increasingly popular. According to the World Tourism Organization, ecotourism has increased at six times the average rate of growth for the tourism industry. Yet while the demand and supply are growing, so are the concerns. Sustainability is not as simple as adding the phrase “eco.” Ecotourism projects are often self-labeled by tour operators who have an interest in capitalizing on the expanding and profitable market. In many cases, there is little or no thought to environmental and social implications.

As a result, ecotourism has come under fierce attack by environmental, human rights and Indigenous Peoples organizations, who believe there has not been an adequate assessment of its environmental and social costs. Environmental abuses may include the depletion of local natural resources, waste mismanagement, an excess amount of tourists, and infrastructure development such as roads and airports – all of which result in irreversible destruction to land and wildlife. Social problems include displacing local people, offering only low paid unstable jobs and marketing Indigenous or rural people as ‘attractions’ with neither their consent nor an accompanied compensation. Other problems include the lack of community involvement and control in tourist projects, which are often developed and funded by large conservation NGOs.

As global citizens we need to be aware of the problems rooted in the tourism industry and make informed choices about what we do on our vacation time and where we spend our money. Deborah McLaren, author of Rethinking Tourism and Ecotravel states that “Truly sustainable tourism must be locally controlled, limited and focus on local self-reliance for the local population.” She offers the following suggestions:

  • Get involved in your own community so that when you travel you will have a reason to be involved in other communities and will stay involved.
  • Acknowledge the modern realities of Indigenous and rural communities and learn to respect, not romanticize, other cultures.
  • Support responsible tourism organizations. Subscribe to their magazines and newsletters.
  • Volunteer.
  • Study.
  • Pressure large tourism companies to do more than greenwash.
  • Organize a “reality tour” of your own community to examine environmental economic or social justice issues. Make activism a goal of the tour.
  • Contribute funds to support more integrated, diverse, critical tourism studies.Additionally, Tourism Concern, a resource for ethical and sustainable tourism, suggests you follow ‘responsible travel’ guidelines listed in their guide. Mann, in The Community Tourism Guide, states, “Tourism can support local people, cultures, environments and economies, while still being exciting and enjoyable for us. Responsible travel doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself.” So have fun when you travel, but don’t leave your values and social consciousness behind, just those Minnesota winters!

What are Cooperatives Anyway?

At the end of the 18th century, cooperatives began when people started creating organizations through which they could buy products as a group, without giving extra money to a commercial middleperson. For 200 years, cooperatives have been proving that democratically controlled businesses can meet the need for healthier products, workplace environments and business-community relations. Today, there are over 700 million members of cooperatives worldwide, providing everything from grain elevator maintenance to Internet access.

There are several types of cooperatives:

  • Consumer cooperatives. They are most often associated with health food stores but are not limited to edible industries. Sportswear giant REI is one example of a consumer cooperative not related to food.
  • Worker cooperatives or collectives. They are businesses owned and controlled by employees and can be found in nearly any type of business. Minneapolis’ very own Seward Cafe is an example of a worker cooperative. In agriculture, worker cooperatives are common among farmers, who pool resources to gain the benefits of being a large business.
  • Non-profit housing and land cooperatives. They buy buildings or land and provide real estate for members, taking the properties off the speculative market.
    Stephanie Lundeen, co-Founder, Eastside Food Co-opI used to think I couldn’t afford shopping at a co-op, but lately I’m not sure I can afford not to buy the earth-friendlier products and produce most often found in retail co-ops. Or as Paul Hawkens muses, in his seminal book, The Ecology of Commerce, “Why is it that products which harm and destroy life can be sold more cheaply than those that don’t?” His question begs the relevance of price when matters of planetary, community and individual health are at stake. By joining a co-op, you can have a voice, help create sustainable work environments and strive for a better world through the power of cooperation.

    What makes co-ops so different?
    Cooperatives often draw on values from environmental and social justice movements, and thus create very different connections to their communities than purely profit-driven companies. It is also no coincidence that many cooperatives share roots in the social rebellions of the 1960-s and 1970’s. Many cooperatives often distinguish themselves in three ways: their products, their environments, and their relationship with the community.

    Cooperatives have had the greatest successes where more mainstream businesses have neglected a group of consumers or the demand for a product. For almost 20 years, form the bike boom of the early 1970’s until the growth of the bicycle advocacy in the early 1990’s, the bicycle industry all but ignored cycling as practical transportation. So environmentally-minded people were forced to start their own manufacturing and operations shops. To a lesser degree, the same pattern has prevailed for the most ubiquitous cooperative business, the health food store. Organic and whole foods were all but impossible to get at for-profit supermarkets until recently.

    Another way in which cooperatives differ from most for-profit business is in the design of their retail space. With cooperatives, there is often less diversion between “customer space” and “work space” than at a typical store. Bicycle repair stands aren’t hidden in a bike room at a bike shop and cooking and prep are done out in the open at a restaurant. Many cooperatives also demonstrate commitments to social responsibility, and these benefits extend to workers and member-customers alike. The Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco offers a child care center and homemade hot meals for lunch or dinner.

    Cooperatives also have very different relationships with their communities than most for-profit businesses. Cooperative business is cooperation among cooperativesÑwhich can lead to remarkable community-building. For example, Cody’s, a local independent bookstore, works with PedEx to offer same-day home delivery of reading material, in an effort to compete with A creative benefit to volunteers and employees, while working with the community, could be volunteers getting “paid” with performance passes or discounts at other local businesses.

Bartering Services Taking Off in Twin Cities

Bartering? I thought that was something people did in the old days. You know, like, “I’ll trade you this sack of potatoes if you help me put up a fence.” Or something like that.

Reprinted fromwww.coopamerica.orgNOURISHMENT
1 Hold a home-baked bread or dessert swap.
2 Grow your own fruits and vegetables to give away.
3 Share seeds, plants and clippings from your garden.
4 Buy food or supplies in bulk and share with friends.
5 Start a dinner co-op.
6 Arrange a cooking day among friends to prepare food like next weeks’ dinners, pasta sauces or granola in bulk.
7 Start a dinner program in your neighborhood. When something momentous happens to a family (having a baby, losing a loved one, illness, etc.) form a neighborhood team to provide dinners on a rotating basis until the family is back on its feet.

8 Start a babysitting or childcare co-op.
9 Start a pet-sitting co-op.
10 Arrange to look after a sick friend with neighbors.

11 Form a home-repair team. Give and get services from painting to putting up a fence or fixing the roof.
12 Share infrequently used tools and garden supplies.
13 Collect partially used or unused cans of paint to share and exchange. It saves money and cuts down

14 Hold a clothes swap at work, church or in your neighborhood. Have a fashion show and clothes swap with friends.
15 Hold toy or sporting goods swaps/exchanges for kids so they can learn new sports and games.

16 Exchange lessons, like oil painting for guitar playing.
17 Ask a 12-year-old how to get onto the Internet.

18 Start a skills exchange in your community.
19 Start a carpool in your neighborhood or office.
20 Swap your skills for accommodation. Provide accounting, housework, nursing care, childcare or other skills in return for a room in a house. Alternatively, provide accommodations in your house to get the services you need and help a student or young person get started.

21 Make your own money.

22 Adopt a stream or a highway to restore or improve it.
23 Give a traveler a place to stay.
24 Set up an area at a community center, apartment building, church/synagogue where people can leave items they no longer need for others. Give what’s left to a charity.
25 Volunteer your time and energy, in your neighborhood, city, town or region.

But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover bartering – primarily, exchanging one service for another – is alive and WELLtoday in the Twin Cities. In fact, through five local groups (and perhaps more), you can trade, for example, house cleaning or yard work for services ranging from minor car maintenance and child care to tutoring and computer consultation.

Generally, participants receive one credit for offering an hour of service; in turn, they can receive an hour of service. Among the services I’ve offered at the Community Barter Network (CBN) in south Minneapolis are resume preparation and budgeting advice. In return, I’ve received assistance with minor electrical repairs and playing the guitar. It is nice to know I can contact someone else to perform work I’m either not interested in or can’t afford. I also appreciate the fact I can learn new skills and talents from like-minded folks.

For some, developing new skills and talents helps them become more attractive to employers. It may even lead to people outside the bartering community paying for that service. Improving skills also helps barterers feel better about themselves. Whatever skill you offer, whether it’s as simple as walking a dog or just visiting with someone, all are valued as much as any other service. Another benefit of bartering: cost savings. Membership is free. And you’re able to help reduce expenses because you’re paying with time and energy instead of dollars. For some, especially the elderly and disabled, these savings are important. Often, cutting costs through bartering allows them to stay in their homes longer. Participants can also help those in need by donating their credits to them.

Mary Reed-Johnson of Minneapolis knows first hand about the cost-saving potential of bartering. Reed-Johnson, a hair-styling entrepreneur who primarily offers her styling as her bartering service, recalls using a graphic artist and proofreader through CBN to help her complete her first book. “I received 11 hours of high-quality service from the graphic artist, something that would normally cost me $60 per hour or more,” said Reed-Johnson. “That was quite a chunk of change I was able to save.”

Bartering also allows a person to befriend others, something that seems increasingly difficult in a large metropolitan area. Building such relationships creates caring and trust, and this helps strengthen the community. “One of our main goals with our bartering organization is to help build community on St. Paul’s West Side,” said Steve Faust, who oversees the Westside Barterworks. “The best way of doing that is with neighbors getting to know each other, and bartering helps facilitate that.” Carole Broad, CBN coordinator, adds, “One of the hidden benefits of bartering is connecting people who wouldn’t necessarily have a reason to meet, either because of age, location or occupation. I’ve seen some lasting cross-generation relationships formed because of their barter involvement.”

Five service exchange groups which operate in the Twin Cites area include:

Consider bartering…

  • If you’re interested in saving money
  • If you’d like to get to know others in your community
  • If you’d like to learn a new talent or skill
  • If you’re not interested in performing certain tasks yourself
  • If you’d like to feel good about helping others

Community Barter Network (CBN): See Resource Box for contact info. This is the area’s largest bartering program with 220 participants; last year 3,370 service hours were exchanged. CBN is a program of Pillsbury United Communities, and is located at its Pillsbury House Neighborhood Center in south Minneapolis. CBN was launched in 1996, and although the majority of participants are from the south Minneapolis area, the program is open to anyone.

The Hour Dollars Program:Launched in 1997, Hour Dollars currently has 180 members in the Hamline Midway, Summit University and East Side neighborhoods of St. Paul and several other nearby neighborhoods. They are located in St. Paul.

The Neighborhood Service Exchange (NSE): The NSE began in 1998 as a new program of Community Volunteer Service, a nonprofit serving the Stillwater-St. Croix Valley region. The exchange, is open to all Washington County residents. It currently has more than 100 members, but special target groups include seniors, youth, differently abled people and families transferring from welfare to work.

The Westside Barterworks: Serving St. Paul’s West Side, Westside Barterworks was launched in 1997, from within the Westside Citizens Organization. It has about 40 members, and it holds monthly gatherings that double as social outings.

Peace and Community Together (PACT): A 22-member service exchange program started in 2000 by the Peace Lutheran Church. Membership is restricted to church members and those living in Lauderdale.

Save the Rainwater!

Rain gardens are a great way for both the do-it-yourself homeowner and the large corporation to help reduce, or nearly eliminate, rainwater runoff from their property. Reducing urban runoff improves water quality in lakes, creeks, rivers and oceans. Rain gardens, large or small, also help recharge groundwater, reduce flooding, and add precious green space to cities. Planting with various native species provides an oasis of natural habitats for butterflies, birds and other friends.

Sometimes called infiltration basins by civil engineers, rain gardens are simply perennial gardens in slight depressions or swales where rainwater can be captured to soak naturally into the soil. Try to locate your rain garden where runoff water from the roof, driveway, or other hard surface can be directed into it. I have seen small swales and buried tubing used to convey water to the rain garden.

Our urban landscape has a large amount of human-made surfaces, such as buildings, streets, and parking lots that greatly increase runoffÑand significantly reduce soil infiltration. Noted rain garden expert Fred Rozumalski has stated that a study of a native forest area on the East coast showed approximately 10% rain runoff, 50% infiltration and 40% evaporation. Fred went on to say that these results are probably quite similar in Minnesota.

Maintaining this natural rainwater infiltration rate along with groundwater recharge helps insure flow at springs such as the wonderful Camp Coldwater Springs in Minneapolis. Depending upon the soil type, groundwater may flow only an inch or two per year in tight clays, or flow several feet or more per year in sandy soils. Some of this infiltrated rain groundwater will eventually move down into deep underground aquifers. Some of this groundwater will move horizontally and eventually become part of the steady base-flow seepage into surface waters such as springs, creeks, wetlands and lakes.

A property owner can undertake a large-scale construction project, or can work in small, easy increments. I have chosen to increase my rain gardens slowly and incrementally, adding one or two square feet at a time as new plants are added. My home rain gardens are only a couple of inches deep; however, there are many larger projects that are a foot or more in depth.

Excess soil, removed during the creation of the lowered bed rain garden, can often be used beneficially elsewhere in the yard. If the ground surface around the house is flat, the extra soil may improve the drainage slope away from the foundation. If the chosen rain garden area is sloped, extra soil can be packed along the downhill side, thus increasing bed depth with less digging. The yard may gain an interesting feature by building a small hummock, raised terrace, or raised bed garden with the excess soil. Note that you may want to keep good topsoil separate, and then return it as the upper soil layer after excavation.

Many people worry about rain gardens causing mosquitoes. This is not a problem because rain gardens do not retain water long enough for mosquito reproduction. Standing water almost always soaks away within a few hours and usually within a matter of minutes. Mosquitoes require a number of days in standing water for reproduction. If water does remain for a matter of days in your rain garden, then your soil is possibly very clayey and/or very compacted. You may be able to remedy this problem by loosening and adding humus in the upper 6 to 18 inches.

Some people think that a rain garden will cause basement water problems. One rule of thumb is to place the rain garden at least ten feet from the house. However, soil and groundwater conditions vary greatly from one location to the next. If no moisture problems occur, then you may be able to safely expand the rain garden closer. If basement moisture problems do occur, then you will want to move the rain garden farther away.

Some homeowners may be able to get away with literally letting their garden grow wild. But many of us probably have to worry about a city yard inspector who may write a citation for what is thought to be an unkempt weed bed. In this case, one may want to consider such ideas as neat borders, orderly species grouping and placement, regular weeding, decorative fences, walls, walkways and ornamental structures, and neatly maintained adjacent lawn areas.

A variety of native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees thrive in the moist soil of the urban yard rain garden. These native plants should get by quite WELL without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Environments similar to rain gardens have existed for thousands of years in Minnesota in such areas as flood plains, pond and stream edges, and wet meadows. For the last 200 years, modern human development has not been kind to wetlands. Fortunately, more people every year are appreciating the subtle beauty and usefulness of various types of moist and wet lands, whether they be permanent or periodic.

Following are some native Minnesota plants that do WELL in a rain garden with full sun: Turtlehead, Boneset, Great Blue Lobelia, Joe Pye Weed, Riddell’s Goldenrod, Prairie Blazing Star, Sneezeweed, Queen of the Prairie, Swamp Aster, Blue Vervain, Swamp Milkweed, Obedient Plant and Blue Joint Grass.

Sweet Flag does WELL in partial sun. Marsh Marigold, Wild Geranium, Maidenhair Fern, Sensitive Fern and Wild Blue Phlox will grow in full sun, or partial, or full shade.

These native Minnesota plants are among those that do WELL in a rain garden with full or partial sun: New England Aster, Wild Iris, Purple Coneflower, Cardinal Flower, Fireweed, Yellow Coneflower, Sweet Black Eyed Susan, Golden Alexander, Purple Giant Hyssop, Tussock Sedge, Smooth Blue Aster, Culver’s Root, and Mountain Mint.

Rain gardens with partial or full shade can have native plants such as: Yellow Trout Lily, Zig Zag Goldenrod, Blue Cohosh, Virginia Bluebells, Wild Violet, Jack in the Pulpit, Bottlebrush Grass, Interrupted Fern, Lady Fern, Hairy Wood Mint and Bellwort.

Some Minnesota natives that prefer full shade are: Wild Ginger, Toothwort, Wild Leek, Dutchman’s Breeches, Sharp-lobed Hepatica and Sweet Cicely.

Meadow Sweet, Steeplebush and Buttonbush are some rain garden shrubs that prefer full sun. Some shrubs that can grow in shade or sun are Black Chokecherry, Red Osier Dogwood, Dwarfbush Honeysuckle, Highbush Cranberry, and Pussy Willow. Red Maple, River Birch, Paper Birch, Tamarack and White Cedar are some trees suited for the rain garden.

Printable Version Opting for Wind Power

Don Vasatka, The School of Environmental Studies Wind power has always been present in the background of alternative energy resources – an available source of energy but one which is not used to its fullest potential because of its high costs. With increasing fuel prices and more efficient technology, the outlook for wind power in the state of Minnesota is brighter than ever. Currently, Minnesota is only behind California in the state’s use of wind power. Approximately 1.5% of the state’s electricity comes from wind turbines. Of this power, about 90% of it comes from large-scale wind farms. The rest of the power comes from independently owned wind turbines which usually operate on a smaller scale. As with almost any power source, wind power has advantages and disadvantages. Wind power is a renewable resource which emits no pollutants. It is also easy to manage, usually requiring little maintenance once installed. The disadvantages to wind power are that wind turbines can cause radio interference, and it requires that wind must be blowing to be effective. In Minnesota, we are fortunate enough to have a reliable wind source in the western part of the state. With reliable winds, we are a prime place to operate large-scale wind farms. For homes located in rural areas, it may be feasible to install a small wind turbine. The Alternative Energy Store recommends a property size of at least one acre and an average wind speed of 10 miles per hour.

A small, typical wind turbine is installed on a tower 80-100 feet tall and is rated for 10 kilowatts. A 10-kilowatt wind turbine costs about $25,000 plus shipping and installation. Advantages of a wind turbine include reduced (or possibly eliminated) electric utility bills and an offset of as much as 6 tons of greenhouse gases annually. Wind turbines are available in sizes ranging from 5 to 15 kilowatts. Visit for more information. In the past, people have had to rely on the utility company to choose its mix of energy sources and have had no say in how the energy is produced. Recently, for some consumers this has changed. Several electrical utilities in the last couple of years have made the option of wind power available to its customers. They are able to purchase blocks of electricity generated by the turbines for a very small charge. There are several programs, but most households usually pay only a couple of extra dollars a month more to have wind generated electricity. For more information, consult your local utility companies and inquire if they offer this service. Hopefully, as technology improves and demand increases, we will be able to increase our reliance on renewable energy sources, including wind power. With energy availability becoming scarcer, we need to make sure that as we look at our future energy needs, we can create a plan that relies less on fossil fuels and more on renewable energy resources.

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