Raising a family can be a difficult task. Raising a family while pursuing a green lifestyle can seem even more daunting. But Manda Aufochs Gillespie, a.k.a. the Green Mama, is committed to easing the stress on mothers wanting to live in an eco-conscious manner by offering support through a series of classes called the Green Mama Café. Ms. Gillespie launched the interactive classes one year ago at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago and has recently added the Evanston Ecology Center to a growing list of venues.
About three years ago, Ms. Gillespie and her husband, Sadhu Aufochs Johnston, chief environmental officer for the City of Chicago, were the focus of a Chicago Tribune article touting the two as an environmentally conscious urban couple. Inspired by the outpouring of interest, Ms. Gillespie launched a website, TheGreenMama.com, and created the weekly playgroup/seminar designed with mothers and babies in mind.
Ms. Gillespie, who holds a degree in environmental studies and politics from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, admits navigating the large amount of green information became more challenging when she and her husband had their baby, Zella Rose, now 2 years old.
“I realized there was so much information and misinformation out there. It could easily become overwhelming for anyone, let alone a new mother,” says Ms. Gillespie, who envisioned a casual setting where mothers could nurse and interact with their babies while discussing the latest in environmental health issues.
A self-professed lifelong environmentalist, Ms. Gillespie’s nonjudgmental style complements the casual format of the class, creating a safe place for mothers to discuss concerns, ask questions and share insights. In a recent class called “Label Reading 101,” Ms. Gillespie encourages the group of women attending the class to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the given information and to simply take it “one step at a time.”
“Women often come to my classes eager to make the changes they need to live a green lifestyle, but anxious about implementing them. My hope is that the women leave my classes feeling inspired as opposed to feeling guilty,” she says.
One way Ms. Gillespie achieves her desired effect is by helping to build a community of support.
“I believe community is the key component to living green successfully,” says Ms. Gillespie. “When women come together, support each other and share ideas, they become empowered – and that’s what can make the ultimate difference.”
Maureen Gainer Reilly, mother of Noreen, 3, and Brendan, 1, has been participating in the Green Mama Café at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for the past year. She says she and her family have made changes they can feel good about, thanks in part to the advice and support she receives from Ms. Gillespie and the friends she has made in the class.
Some of the many changes Ms. Reilly’s family has made in the past year include switching from disposable diapers to cloth diapers, joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer, and eliminating harsh household chemicals by tossing out the cleaners and using three simple ingredients her great-grandmother likely relied on: baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice.
Ms. Reilly says she believes the notion that being green is expensive is a misconception.
“We have saved thousands of dollars on diapers alone,” says Ms. Reilly, adding they have also saved on gas, cleaning supplies and even food. “Although organic food often costs more than non-organic, we have made an effort not to waste and therefore buy just what we need and nothing more,” she says.
The classes meet at the Evanston Ecology Center every Monday, 10:30-11:30 a.m., from now until December. The cost is $35 for the whole series, or moms (and dads, too) can drop in for $5 each time. The Ecology Center is offering an added bonus: Children aged 1 year and up can attend a structured, hands-on class for $5 at the same time just down the hall.
Topics covered include those specifically baby-related, such as greener diapering and potty-training tips, and topics for the whole family, such as how to eat healthier for less and how to compost.
Ms. Gillespie, who lives in Rogers Park with her husband and daughter, says she is excited to be offering what she refers to as the “think and play group” in Evanston.
“Evanston is the perfect setting for this class, as the parents are very engaged and conscientious,” she says.
The program is sponsored by the Archer Patterson Foundation through the Evanston Environmental Association.
The Evanston Ecology Center is located at2024 McCormick Boulevard
. Registration and additional information can be obtained from the City of Evanston website, www.cityofevanston.org, or by calling the Ecology Center at 847-448-8256.