Talk about a win-win: With a community garden tended by an entire neighborhood, you green up some land (empty lots are a popular choice) and get local produce and flowers while sharing the work. To organize your own, gather a few friends, find a plot and get planting. Groups such as Ohio State University Extension offer workshops and resources for first-time community gardeners.
Since 1998, volunteers have removed 58,102 tires, 213 coolers and 54 messages in bottles from Midwest rivers through Living Lands and Waters. The East Moline, Illinois, group sponsors community-based clean-ups on major rivers, including the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois. Find a clean-up near you, then gather friends for a morning on the water. You never know what you'll find. For project info: 309/496-9848 or livinglandsandwaters.org.
By now, we all see recycling's value. But do we actually do it? For a little positive peer pressure, look to Madison, Wisconsin, where 97 percent of citizens recycle. Then make the job easy: Put the recycling container by your kitchen garbage can so recycling is as easy as throwing something away.
Burning calories instead of fossil fuel isn't just for San Diego-style climates. Chicago plans to be North America's most bike-friendly city by 2015. To supplement 100 miles of bike lanes and 50 miles of trails, the city built McDonald's Cycle Center in Millennium Park, offering repairs, rentals and bike tours.
Even farther to the north, Minneapolis was named America's No. 2 biking city in 2007 by the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 4,600 adults commute on their bikes. Add recreational riders, and more than 10,000 people regularly pedal through Minneapolis. Plus, the city increased its 123 miles of bikeways by 37 percent in 2010.
It's getting easier all the time to vacation in places that provide a great escape and a conservation-savvy approach. If you're visiting Wisconsin, look for the Travel Green Wisconsin certification on hotels, attractions, public gardens, golf courses, cafes, campgrounds and more. Businesses earn points in the program through an evaluation process that reviews details such as water consumption and recycling programs. The more points a business has, the greener it is.
Find certified locations at 800/432-8747 and travelgreenwisconsin.com. Among those on the list: Journey Inn (left), an eco-retreat that features a learning center, retreat and natural spa.
A citywide grant program has given some Minneapolis organizations the "green" they need to pursue their ideas to save energy and reduce carbon footprint. Past winners started car-sharing programs and neighborhood clothesline systems. The Hennepin County Medical Center even started a rooftop organic garden (pictured at left); herbs and vegetables are used in patient and cafe recipes.
• St. Louis Earth Day Festival, April 17, 2011 This 22-year-old Forest Park gathering is the Midwest's largest Earth Day event, with more than 300 vendors and exhibits (left). Get inspired by the displays, then treat yourself to organic beer, wine, margaritas and mojitos at the Earth Day Cafe (314/961-5838; stlouisearthday.org).
• Columbia's Earth Day Festival, April 17,2011 Eco Avenue at this Missouri gathering features local groups sharing tips on sustainability and enviro-consciousness. You'll also find two stages with musicians and dancers (573/875-0539; columbiaearthday.org).
• 139th Annual Arbor Day Celebration, April 29-30, 2011 Nebraska City celebrates its hometown holiday with parades, contests, and tree giveaways and plantings (800/514-9113; nebraskacity.com).
Does eating show your eco smarts? Sure, when you choose local, organic food using fewer chemicals and fossil fuels to grow and transport. One of our favorite places to eat locally: Iowa City's Devotay restaurant, where Slow Food guru Kurt Michael Friese features area growers' ingredients in a Spanish-influenced menu.
Running ceiling fans in summer makes sense; it can cut air-conditioning costs by 40 percent. But running it in winter? St. Louis-based Emerson Electric Company recommends switching your fan to turn clockwise in cold weather to circulate warm air downward. This little effort can trim heating bills by 10 percent.
Meet with a group of neighbors and plan an hour each month to comb your streets for garbage. Not only will the block look better, but you'll all enjoy healthier wildlife and safer groundwater. Bloomington, Indiana, offers grants and supplies to interested groups; get details at bloomington.in.gov/pickitup or through your local government.