FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Long before the world was going green, before it was "cool" to recycle and before anyone started using the word "upcycling," my family was way ahead of the curve.

My dad found every way to conserve energy, compost anything, and find a second and third use for everything, down to a broken shoelace.

"If you tie the ends together, it makes a great hook," my father would tell anyone who admired his makeshift fasteners.

The land surrounding my parents' rural house was a hodgepodge of vegetable gardens and fruit trees -- all piled with heaps of the previous year's compost. Among the do-it-yourself fertilizer were scraggly patches of grass, which we used as paths to navigate throughout our horticulturalist's wonderland.

After visiting friends' houses and seeing their well-groomed flower gardens and landscaped yards, I was embarrassed to invite them over, fearing they would mock me for the railroad ties and miles of years-old chicken wire surrounding the gardens.

But, every year, from May until September, my family and neighbors had their fill of fresh, organic produce from our own backyard.

I never truly appreciated my parents' zany efforts until college, when I took a few environmental studies classes and learned about the dangers of pesticides and hormones in my food, and the importance of minimizing our waste, or carbon footprint.

For a long time, I thought my parents were solely and wholeheartedly concerned about the environment. Although I realize they were doing their part to preserve the Earth, they mainly were just looking for ways to save money.

Shutting off lights when we weren't in a room and finding a second and third use for a piece of scrap wood or an old wire hanger were habits passed on to them from my Great Depression-era grandparents.

Only after I graduated and was supporting myself did I realize that being kind to our environment and saving money go hand in hand. I started to see it as a win-win situation.
Because of my parents' ways, I was fortunate enough to have the luxury of throwing out pieces of furniture that -- according to my dad -- still had a lot of life left in them.

Although I have long left the nest, my parents still continue to push their thrifty ways on me; sometimes I just give in. Their old sofa cushions now serve as beds for my dogs and their old, wobbly dining room table is a laundry station in my basement.

I sometimes chuckle to myself as I toss an old, holey sock or T-shirt in the rag box, realizing that I'm slowly becoming my parents. And the beauty of it is that I don't have to reuse these things like they did; I want to, because I know it's the right thing to do, by minimizing the waste we put in landfills.

It's not just finding a second use for used items. Out of habit, I began to make sure I had a recycling receptacle each time I moved into a new place.

I admit the desire to ensure recyclables are put where they belong sometimes results in people teasing, calling me a "garbage picker" or a "hippie," because I find myself not giving a second thought to reaching in the garbage to pull out a recyclable.

Recycling is such an important part of our lives that most businesses and offices have a special container for these items.

I don't think I'll ever be able to stress enough how easy and effective it is to recycle. So, I urge -- no, I challenge -- everyone that instead of tossing your soda can in the trash, head over to the recycling bin and do your part.

There are so many things we can do, that require little effort, to ensure our environment stays clean, such as picking up a piece of trash as we walk by -- or in some cases, stumble over it.
If you already do your part to protect the environment, then start a garden this year!

Did you know that 30 vegetable seeds cost less than what a pound of that same produce would cost if you were to buy it from a store?

If you don't have room outdoors to plant veggies, then get a window box planter. You can start your seeds now and have fresh veggies by the middle of the summer -- all it takes is some sunshine and water (and a little love).

And the next time you go to throw out an old clothing hanger or broken shoe lace, pause for a second and think about all the other things you could use it for. Our future, the environment and your wallet will thank you!

Although we observe Earth Day on April 22 each year, every day should be spent thinking about the Earth. The Fort Drum community is invited to some special local events designed to help clean up the community and educate us about the importance of preserving our Earth.