Getting Green With French Paper

Lately we’ve been getting in an eco groovy mood and have been looking through our ingredients and supplies to see if we can get a little greener.  This is a fun exercise we do several times a year because we just don’t think its a good idea to rest on our environmentally conscientious laurels.

So, you may be wondering what little gem our search uncovered?  Only a sixth-generation, family owned paper company that has been making paper in the USA for 140 years.  Hold on, it gets better!  In 1922 the French Paper company installed hydroelectric generators on the St. Joseph River which flows by their mills in Niles, Michigan.  Since that year, they have been generating all the power they needed, and a little extra for the rest of us!

Here is an old school post card with a pic of the French Paper mills next to the river


The environmental impact of producing all that power on site is huge.  They have saved the equivalent of one million barrels of fossil fuel and have avoided the release of more than 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere (the equivalent to the use of over 4,878,049 lbs of coal).  While we are big fans of carbon credits and support companies buying these to offset their carbon footprint, credits just can’t beat this type of onsite, renewable energy!  Way to go French Paper!


So you are probably reading this thinking, Wayne, this is really cool but what does a paper mill in Michigan have to do with  Whispering Willow , a little soap company in North Carolina. Well, it just so happens that we use thousands of sheets of paper annually labeling bar soap, neck & eye pillows and more.  So, in the coming weeks you will notice that the labels will look a little different.  We are transitioning to French Paper’s Speckletone kraft paper.   Speckletone is French Paper’s line of recycled paper which they have been making since 1955 (talk about being ahead of the trend)! Our labels will be a little lighter in color and you will see more natural flecks and shives.    We will also eventually start using French’s standard copy paper for our office use and are working on some ideas that may be perfect for some of French Paper’s other lines of great paper.

So this is how I (known for being a little wordy) like to announce that we are changing our paper supplier.  Whoever said ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, just didn’t get it!

Be Well,

The Bearded Soap Guy

Checking in on the Bees

Although we keep bees, we have (mostly) allowed them to keep themselves this season.  We had a few extra hours on Saturday and decided it was about time to take a quick peek and see how they were faring.

Below is the hive in our back yard.  We added an extra super the last time we inspected and left the feeder on the top in case they are in need of water.  Last year when it got so hot, the girls chose our neighbor’s pool as their water source (not the best idea for anyone!), so we want to do our best to avoid those complications this year.

Our Hive

I had my trusty camera, so Wayne did all the heavy lifting (good excuse, huh?).  First things first, we removed the cover and located just a few (hundred) ants.  Ugh.  We’ll have to work on that a bit.  Next we remove the feeder to find the girls buzzing around and none too happy to see us.  I firmly believe the less you inspect, the less tolerant of inspections the bees become.

Here’s where the fun begins.  Wayne commented that he was hearing the girls rather loudly.  That’s not surprising if they are aggravated, but something about the way Wayne said it made me pause.  Two beats later, Wayne goes running (literally) across the garden in his bee suit (yep….our neighbors were outside…of course), through the garden gate, directly to the hose.  He turned it on, took the nozzle, aimed it at his face, and pressed.  He was left wet and gasping a bit.  After making sure he was okay, I almost collapsed giggling.  Other beekeepers will likely know what happened.  For those who have not been in a bee suit I’ll explain: there are zippers.  A collection of them.  If you forget one or two (like the handy ones around your hood), bees get in and often get ever so slightly frustrated when they can’t get back out.  Wayne had been collecting “friends” inside his hood while we were out there.  They were becoming less friendly the more time they spent with him.

Thankfully Wayne’s quick (and comic) reaction meant that he ended the experience with only one sting, and it’s in his beard. So, although it is painful, it’s not noticeable at all.  After double checking for bees in his suit (and finding one other rather aggravated bee), we carefully zipped him up and returned to the inspection.  My guess is that he’ll double check zippers next time.


The first super from the top was FULL of honey.  Totally and completely.  It’s great news as it means the girls are thriving and collecting; however, it means that they are likely honey bound.  We’ll need to either harvest, or add an additional super.  Otherwise they may start storing honey in the brood chamber and there will be no where for the queen to lay.


Speaking of which, here’s one frame from the brood section.  The capped cells all contain developing brood.  The pattern is a bit strange.  You would normally see the whole middle filled in – almost in a football shape.  Wayne suggested that maybe those were newly hatched and/or the queen is making her way there now.  Who knows.


We didn’t pull out any additional frames as the girls were rather grumpy and had been open a while because our of detour   to the hose.  Wayne will be poking around again on Monday to add a super if nothing else.

As Wayne closed up the hive, I wandered around the garden a bit.  It is a total mess right now and needs weeding and training of the vines that are trying to take over.  Our bee balm is one plant that I’m glad is getting a bit out of control.  Not sure what it is that I adore so much, but I just find them gorgeous, and (bonus) the hummingbirds love them too.

Bee Balm

Atherton: A Shopping Destination

We love farmer’s markets.  Really.  We are aficiandos (aka snobs) of sorts.  It seems strange, but market visiting is what we tend to do as our touristy thing in almost every city we visit.  Out of the markets we visit, we also prefer the locally-focused, producer markets.  No resellers, most everyone tends to know everyone else and in general folks are friendly and quick to chat even with strangers.

The details above may explain why Wayne and I have been so excited to be a small part of the growth of Atherton Mill and Market in Charlotte.  The market manager, Lynn, has clear ideas about the focus of the market and aims to build the space into a one stop shopping location for area residents as well as building a reputation as a tourist destination for all the other farmer’s market aficiandos like us.

A few weekends ago, Wayne and I were able to attend the market together to work our booth.  This rarely happens, so I took quick advantage of the situation and wandered off with my camera.  I wanted to provide an example of the variety of goods one can find at the market on any given day.

First and foremost, there are plenty of farmers.  Produce brings people to markets and the selection at Atherton is always gorgeous.

These little white cucs are my all time favorite:


Swiss chard has such vibrant colors


Lovely onions








Vidalias onions (this photo was perfectly put together by John who saw me poking around with the camera and decided to participate.

Vidalia at Atherton Market

Need some wine to go with dinner (or lunch)?  The Vinmaster Wine shop is usually on hand and is happy to provide samples and make recommendations.

Vinmaster Wine Shop

The Chosen Roaster sells a variety of nuts and has a make-your-own trail mix setup.

The Chosen Roaster

Eggs abound all year.  I prefer local eggs.  The taste and nutritional content just doesn’t compare with grocery store options.  Plus, farmers markets eggs are always prettier.

Farm Fresh Eggs

Duke’s Bread always offers an amazing selection of breads and accompaniments.  Come early as they frequently sell out.  I’m a huge fan of their tomato oil.

Duke's Bread

Simply Local offers a variety of items that can’t be found elsewhere in the market.  Everything is local, and has been vouched through the owner before being sold.  We’ve bought yummy crackers from them several times already and next week we plan to try out the rice that was grown just around the corner in Morganton.

Simply Local Crackers

Ohh-lio Express offers yummy wines, vinegars, and a selection of other treats.

Ohhlio Express

And, a requirement for most early morning shoppers, Monks always has a yummy blend brewing.  They sell iced coffee and teas this time of year, and offer their beans for sale as well.

Monks Coffee

A few of the foods not pictured?  How about sweets from Cardais Gourmet, meat from Windy Hill Farm, Seafood from the Charlotte Fish Guy, honey from Cloister, various teas from Urbana, and loads of milk & dairy products from Simply Local.

Of course, there are non-food related items of interest as well.  I got lucky and caught a quick picture of someone playing the violin.  He was awfully good and made me quite jealous of his talent.


Outside Clothesline Candy can be found selling adorable aprons, dresses, and skirts most Saturdays.

Clothesline Candy

And the balloon guy!  Between him and the kid’s zone at the back of the market, there is a  never ending source of entertainment for all the kids who are wandering through.

Balloon Man

Oh, and you can buy soap too!  🙂  Here’s my Wayne in all his smiling glory.  Our booth has recently changed, but I had to include this picture all the same.

Whispering Willow

Did I tempt you?  For all the locals, we hope to see you at Atherton soon.  For those not around our area of NC, I hope you use this post as inspiration to visit your local farmer’s market.  Get to know your farmers and small business owners. Talk to them.  Ask them questions.  Support them.  You’ll make new friends around every turn, and your community will be stronger for it.

Urban Farming – Michigan Controversy

I’m sure by now most people have heard about this case, but as I generally avoid the news, I’m quite a bit behind.  I heard about this a week or so ago and it just keeps rattling around in my head.  Amazing.

Julie Bass is a homeowner in a neighborhood in Oak Park, Michigan.  Like most of us who wander into gardening, she has a bit of a back story.  It seems that a tree belonging to the city pushed it’s roots into a sewer pipe and flooded Julie’s yard, lawn, and house.  They pulled up the yard, had everything repaired, and were left with a few mounds of dirt.  After some reading and contemplating, they decided it would be a great place to grow some veggies rather than replacing the lawn.  They put in some raised beds and got to work.

Bass Family Garden

The front lawn belongs to Julie and her family…what she wants to do with it is up to her, isn’t it?  Not according to Oak Park.  The city send Julie several warnings stating that she was violating ordinances and that she needed to remove her garden beds.  Amazingly, when Julie refused, the city followed through on their threats and charged her with a misdemeanor.  She had a trial date set and was looking at significant jail time.

What was the zoning ordinance in question you ask?  According to Julie’s blog: “all unpaved portions of the site shall be planted with grass ground cover, shrubbery, orother suitable live plant material.”

Bass Garden

Being the brave one, Julie decided to fight back.  She started a blog and a facebook page (OakParkHatesVeggies) and a petition was circulated.  As you can imagine, there has been an outpouring of support.  The petition had over 30,000 (!!) signatures and (most importantly), Julie was victorious.  All charges were dismissed.  Her family can now grow their vegetables in (relative) peace.

As it turns out, this is not that rare of a story.  There was a family in Toronto as well and one article mentioned some grumblings in Utah regarding a front yard garden.  I love reading stories about Urban Farming, but I must say this is not something that I expected at all.

Image Source: Flickr CC: jacksonoffice2003, oakparkhatesveggies