Walking the Green Path: Greener Paths at the Crossways

Walking the Green Path: Greener Paths at the Crossways

On my latest walk along the Superior Hiking Trail, I had the opportunity to enjoy steep rocky climbs, quiet shaded woodland, soft pine needle trails, cascading streams, and scenic overlooks of Lake Superior.   Our eighteen-inch wide track could easily have been missed if you strayed a few feet off.  If left alone for a few years, the trail would return to the woods.

This was a lot like the rest of the hikes my wife and I have made along the trail. However this time the trail included something new, caution signs to watch out for mountain bikers crossing our path.  We were hiking a portion of the trail that went through the Spirit Mountain Recreation Area, and on this particular warm Sunday afternoon, mountain bikers were racing downhill through a carved out series of twists and turns.  I felt saddened by the impact this trail was having on the quiet woods and on us as hikers.

Am I wrong to wish that someday everyone might choose the path of least impact? Am I wrong to hope that there might be more respect for the earth and more care for its future?

The previous evening we ate at Northern Waters, a Duluth restaurant that is helping to lead efforts for improved worksite conditions in their community. It has made commitments to sourcing responsibly, to paying its staff a living wage, and to caring for the earth.  As I drove past a busy McDonalds to make my way to eat, I wondered, why don’t others make the same choices I’m making?

Am I wrong to want everybody to avoid large corporate businesses that have so many negative impacts on workers and the earth?

Having enough resources to make choices surely plays a part in this dilemma.  Getting the right information is helpful too.  Having a critical willingness to look past the marketing and stories used to sell harmful products can lead to better choices.  Sometimes just being provided with the access to a better option is enough. Unfortunately, all of those take work, and when you are struggling with other things, it may feel like it’s just too much.

Over the nearly twelve years of running Butter, I’ve often found myself in positions where a better option suddenly became available.  After going along with a certain ingredient, a certain producer, a certain way of doing things and feeling mostly ok with it, something better would come along.  Sometimes the choice would have been there all along; I just didn’t know it was there. Sometimes there is a new option I’ve been watching for.  Sometimes I learn something from another restaurant that has more information that they share, helping me make a better choice.

Finding a Better Source of Honey

On my list for many years has been the challenge of working with honey.  I know a lot about the role of bees as pollinators, and I’ve made many choices over the years to support a better habitat for bees. A few years ago, I came across a honey producer in St. Croix Falls who was caring for the earth and who had the capacity to supply much of my baker’s honey needs.  However, its cost made it more difficult for me to use it for all of my café’s needs; so I continued to keep another cheaper brand for our service counter, even though I knew very little about how it was produced. Over the years this bothered me, even as I’ve tried to find the resources to afford a better option.

Affordability affects my ability to purchase honey as an ingredient, and my ability to set a price that works for my customers. If my customers can’t afford to purchase something, it doesn’t make sense to use it, even if I have a better source.

With all the efforts in our city and state to protect pollinators and to increase pollinator habitat and awareness, there are some producers who have the resources and capacity to help us all make better choices.

The crew at Beez Kneez has worked tirelessly (kind of like worker bees) to educate and support better policies for bees.  Our neighbors at the Center for Performing Arts have introduced community members to raising and supporting beehives, including training beekeepers.  Here at the café, native flower plantings along our boulevard and the installation of pollinator-friendly flower patches provide food and habitat desperately needed to support working bees.

It was with a sense of joy that I was approached by a local honey producer, Bare Honey, to help me make a change I have wanted to make for many years.  Through our collective efforts, we now can provide local wildflower honey for customers to use to sweeten their drinks.  I am growing more hopeful that our food and restaurant industry will continue to grow and change in order to support these better choices for consumers and for me.

In the end, it comes down to making the better choice when I have the opportunity. I’m aware that at times I haven’t had the energy to make the choices needed to make the change.  But on my most recent hike on the Lake Superior Trail, the seven-mile stretch required a lot of energy; especially on the last uphill climb to our waiting vehicle. I felt grateful to have had enough energy to be able to make the choice with the lowest impact.

As for the two young mountain bikers who whizzed past us through the parking lot and onto the hiking trail we had just left, my wish for them is that they have the opportunities, energy, and education to make better choices to care for our earth, so we can all share a future along a greener path.

Walking the Green Path is a series of stories by Daniel Swenson-Klatt, the owner of Butter Bakery Cafe, about what it’s like to run a small business focused on sustainability and building community.

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