How to Make ‘Farm-to-Closet’ Clothing a Reality
By Tara Lohan
If I were to open my refrigerator, the origins of most of the food wouldn't be too much of a mystery — the milk, cheese and produce all come from relatively nearby farms. I can tell from the labels on other packaged goods if they're fair trade, non-GMO or organic.
But if I were to open my closet, it'd be a different story. I know shockingly little about where the clothes I own come from, what chemicals went into making them, or how far they may have traveled.
In recent years the idea of eating from our own local foodsheds has become more popular, but can the idea of locally sourcing things we use be taken beyond food?
Rebecca Burgess wondered that, too. A trained weaver and dyer, she came up with the idea of a fibersheds project about 10 years ago to develop an eco-friendly, locally sourced wardrobe.
The project led to the establishment of a nonprofit, Fibershed, to put some of her experiences into practice. Now Burgess has expanded it even more in her new book, Fibershed: Growing a Movement of Farmers, Fashion Activists and Makers for a New Textile Economy.
As Burgess writes, we're still a long way from local fibersheds supplying our clothes, but fixing that paradigm is the focus of the book.
Burgess describes fibersheds as "place-based textile sovereignty … focused on the source of the raw material, the transparency with which it is converted into clothing, and the connectivity among all parts, from soil to skin and back to soil."
Essentially, it's knowing a lot better where your clothes come from. But it's also about disconnecting from a harmful system and reinvigorating a local, place-based economy where the process of "farm to closet" is beneficial for the environment and all the people involved in the supply chain.
The main focus of the book is explaining the tough work of how to create a fibershed, but she starts with why we need one to begin with. And it's a pretty convincing picture.
"The [textile] industry utilizes thousands of synthetic compounds, often in various combinations to soften, process and dye our clothing, many of which are linked to a range of human diseases, including chronic illnesses and cancer," she writes.
About 98 percent of the clothes sold in the U.S. are made overseas, many in factories where workers face dangerous conditions. These days we also buy more clothes than we have in the past, and we keep them for less time. "Fast fashion" — clothes designed to last just two weeks before being thrown away — is a real thing. And a real problem.
The entire textile economy — much like the industrial food economy — is bad for people and the planet.
So what do we do about it? Burgess spends most of her book focusing on how to build the infrastructure to produce the materials we need locally, ethically and sustainably. And she doesn't skirt around the fact that this is really tough to pull off.
As she found in her initial year-long project, getting local clothes is not nearly as easy as getting local food because the materials for clothes need to be processed in multiple stages. That takes specific equipment and skilled labor — something in short supply in the U.S. these days.
Take cotton, for example.
Burgess's home state of California still grows a lot of cotton, but most of it is shipped overseas for combing and spinning, and then to be cheaply made into clothes. And what's grown here is almost all genetically modified.
"Global-scale commodity systems have done a very good job of making it harder and more expensive to purchase a locally grown cotton T-shirt than it is to drive to a box store and purchase an equivalent garment grown and constructed on several different continents," she writes.
That doesn't mean the system can't be changed. Doing so means supporting existing farmers and helping them transition to more climate-friendly farming practices, she says. Burgess weaves a whole chapter about how good farming techniques can help build healthy soil, an important component for making the most of water resources (which can be sparse in California) and helping to sequester carbon.
As an example she points to California grower Sally Fox, who breeds naturally colored cotton (apparently not all cotton is white) in the Capay Valley and implements soil-building farming practices rotating cotton with heirloom wheat and a flock of Merino sheep.
Burgess also stitches together examples of other plant and animal-based fibers being used in her region of Northern California and explains why they can help supplant the need for synthetic and chemical-based fabrics we mostly rely on now.
There's flax, which produces linen, and is best suited for growing during California's rainy season when farmers don't need additional irrigation water. And of course the use of water-thrifty hemp has experienced a resurgence since most restrictions on farming and selling it have been lifted.
And then there are a litany of animal fibers. In her region in Northern California alone, she writes, there are around 20 different types of sheep being raised, as well as Huacaya and Suri alpaca, mohair goats, llamas, Angora rabbits and guanacos (a close relative of the llama).
But finding the fiber is just one part of the equation. Processing all of this raw material — each of which requires different techniques — is the biggest obstacle.
California produces 3 million pounds of wool a year but has the milling capacity for just 10,000 pounds. That's a very big gap to close — but Burgess and her collaborators are trying. They have a plan for a "closed-loop manufacturing model" that will help bring the right milling equipment close to home and connect it to local producers and artisans. But it comes with a price tag of $26 million.
Every fibershed is likely to have different costs depending on local materials, equipment and expertise, but they all face the same conundrum: How do you produce enough locally sourced materials to fund the systems to make even more locally sourced materials?
In order to move forward projects like this one in Northern California and in other communities around the country, we'll need vastly more demand and real commitment from clothing companies and retailers. There's less in the book specifically focused on how consumers can actively help drive that process. But there are ample resources if you want to learn more about what fibersheds are being developed where you live or how to engage in the process yourself. Don't expect the book to read like a "how to" manual, though. It's more of a thoughtful discussion of issues, obstacles and solutions, including meeting on-the-ground farmers and producers who are putting these practices to work.
At the very minimum the book has made me rethink virtually everything my closet, and even a shift in consuming thinking at this point seems like a step in the right direction. Supporting fibersheds may not be as simple as shopping at farmers markets instead of box stores, but Burgess drives home the tremendous value in just trying.
Her yearlong local clothes experiment 10 years ago, for example, led to new friendships and the launch of four new businesses. Engaging in this kind of process, she writes, creates "opportunities to build new relationships that are rooted in sharing skills, physical labor, and creativity, all of which carry meaning, purpose, and a way to belong to one another and to the land."
That's the perfect antidote to "fast fashion" and a reminder that our allegiance to a disposable, throwaway culture — the one that produces plastic bottles, flimsy T-shirts and weak interpersonal relationships — is what needs to be tossed.
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Julia Conley
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By Beth Ann Mayer
Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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