Saving money, saving Earth Author: A Guilford-area woman has combined a lifetime of frugality and a passion for the environment in her new, self-published book.

September 13, 1996|By Diane E. Otts | Diane E. Otts,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Michelle Potter has always been passionate about the environment. And growing up in a single-parent household, she was always aware of a need to be thrifty. But it wasn't until 1987 that she made a connection between saving the Earth and saving money.

"When I started to garden organically, doing things like composting and using cayenne pepper and garlic spray to deter pests, I realized that not only were those methods effective and safe for the environment, but also that it was much cheaper than buying chemicals," says Potter, 37, who lives near Guilford.

"I thought if I could do that in the garden, I could do it in the house," she said.

Soon she was scrubbing all but the most stubborn household grime with baking soda, using white vinegar in place of commercial fabric softener, brewing sage tea as a natural disinfectant, hanging laundry instead of using a dryer and reusing a worn shower curtain as a painting dropcloth.

The first year Potter and her husband, Pradeep Gajria, raised their own vegetables and adopted an environmentally conscious lifestyle, they estimated they saved $5,500.

"Now we're so used to it, we don't even think about it," Potter says of the couple's practices. "We try to repair things that are worn out or find other uses for them. And we do things like keeping a bucket in the bathroom to catch water while we are waiting for it to get hot. When the bucket is full, we use it to flush the toilet."

Even though trees have enveloped the back yard of their townhouse, limiting what they can grow, she and her husband still save about $4,800 a year.

In 1990, the savings gave the couple confidence that they could survive on Gajria's electrical engineering income, allowing Potter to quit the public relations job she held for nearly 10 years to pursue a career in writing.

That year, she was so taken by Earth Day celebrations that she felt inspired to do something to help. "Since I had been writing and editing newsletters for communities and other groups, it occurred to me to begin a newsletter that addressed environmental issues," she says.

Several such newsletters existed, but Potter says none tied environmental gains to financial gains. And so her newsletter, The Savings Source, was born.

"My focus is more on the environment with a twist of saving money," she says. "Some people aren't as interested in saving the environment, but if you can tell them how to save money, you get their attention."

Indeed, saving money is a hot topic these days. Dozens of World Wide Web sites on the Internet are devoted to frugality.

But "green" also is in. An increasing number of callers to the University of Maryland's Home and Garden Information line are asking about organic gardening, says Ria Malloy, one of the university's horticulture consultants.

"People are more aware of the benefits of organic gardening and are more concerned with the use of pesticides," Malloy says.

Through word-of-mouth and an offer of a sample issue via a small magazine called Freebies, the newsletter soon had 3,000 subscribers from all over the country, Potter says.

Early issues relied on her ideas, but soon tips and questions from readers directed her research. The newsletter told readers how to color their hair with fruit, use the water left from soaking dried beans as plant food, prepare a low-cost green wedding and homeopathically care for family pets.

After four years of publishing the newsletter, she says, "I thought that all of this information should be made available in one place." So she compiled and updated the information in a self-published book, "The Complete SAVing Source Catalog: A Guide to Saving the Earth and Money."

She published the book in late August, so it is still too early for sales figures for the 3,000 copies she had printed. But her topic has caught the attention of several small publishing groups, which Potter says plan to introduce the book to the national market in their winter catalogs.

Meanwhile, Potter has promoted the book locally on her own. It is available at David's Natural Market in Columbia's Wilde Lake village and at Cover-to-Cover bookstore in Owen Brown village.

For those who prefer to borrow instead of buy, the Howard County Library ordered eight copies that soon will be in circulation.

Potter is still finding new ways to save the Earth and money.

"I recently learned that you can use cracked corn to prevent crab grass. At the time of year that your crab grass sprouts, spread cracked corn on the lawn," she advises.

"Something about the corn gluten prevents seeds from sprouting. It's natural and birds eat the leftovers."

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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