She grew up in the jungle, fell in love with the outdoors, and knows how make just about anything. Meet Nikki Fotheringham, a one-woman sustainability powerhouse with a passion for adventure, camping, and delicious DIY bugsprays. She’s also the author of a breezy campfire cookbook that we couldn’t put down (two words: peach cobbler). We asked Nikki to tell us about Greenmoxie, her adventure-meets-sustainability blog, and how we can stay motivated to make a difference.
What role did the outdoors play in your childhood?
Well, I think it’s easy to have a love affair with the outdoors when you grow up in Africa. We lived on the east coast of South Africa, next to the warm Indian Ocean with temperatures between 25-32 degrees Celsius (77-89 F). Rainstorms would come and go in half an hour. It was warm, perfect. And while I had heard about people who grew up in cities who had never seen a cow, I didn’t realize that that was a thing until I started traveling and went to places in the US where I couldn’t get a vegetable in a 20 mile radius!
Do you think people are more disconnected from the land now?
Well, not entirely. I think it’s more a phenomenon of urbanization and technological changes, and becoming more connected to devices. Every step toward progress is, in some degree, a step back from nature. I think that has a lot of adverse effects on people psychologically and in terms of their happiness. I was just fortunate to have a childhood spent outdoors. It was a gift. The joy that I get from being in nature is such an overwhelmingly positive force in my life, it’s something I want to share with other people.
We imagine your family didn’t need to really take trips to “get away?”
No, we didn’t. But I think that even in developed countries there is a culture of connecting with nature that some people just have. Maybe it’s instilled in them by their parents, by seeing natural places when they were younger. It becomes a lifestyle then. That’s probably what happened to me. We never thought—hey, let’s get out of the city and connect with nature! It was never a conscious decision. It was just that when we thought of leisure time, it was always in a natural setting.
Do you feel this philosophy shaped your desire to help people live sustainably?
Absolutely. From when I was child until now, I’ve seen how things have changed. Part of the reason was moving to North America, where people are more fortunate than where I grew up. It seemed to me—they have everything! They’re sort of living the dream! But there was this undercurrent of dissatisfaction, which I could never understand. And I felt like perhaps it was that disconnection from nature.
We talk a lot about this—how to keep our connection to nature alive. It seems like an uphill battle sometimes.
Yes. I remember reading a study that said that children who are exposed to nature have an exponentially greater likelihood of pursuing those kinds of experiences later in life than people who weren’t. That’s not to say that people who are exposed to a natural setting or camping in their later life won’t enjoy it, it’s just really important to instill that love of nature in kids.
If there’s no connection between the kids of this generation and nature, why would they bother to preserve it? If they’ve never seen an elephant in a natural setting, why would they care if they go extinct? It has to be an imperative. People aren’t going to work to preserve something they have no connection to. It’s not just about making them happier and more fulfilled as people, it’s also about preserving the future.
Right—people make changes because of the things they care about.
Yeah, I mean, we’re also asking a lot. We’re saying, very often, hey, if you want to be sustainable you have spend money, make an effort, or go without something. We’re asking them to significantly change the way they live. There needs to be a reward for that.
Have you designed Green Moxie to reflect that belief?
We try. First, we encourage camping, hiking, etcetera, and try to make those activities as simple and attractive as possible. People love reading about things like how to make a fire, how to cook food outside, and so. It’s like watching food shows on TV. They may never make the dish, but just exposing them to that outdoor lifestyle and showing them how fun and interesting it is, may make them more likely to go outside, go camping, or take a vacation that’s got a more natural aspect to it.
So first, we promote outdoor living and outdoor activities. And the second thing is we make sustainability as accessible and cheap and easy as possible. So there’s a bunch of DIYs on Greenmoxie on how to do everything yourself, from creating your own makeup to making your own air fresheners and repurposing things around your house. We want to have people think about their carbon footprint and how they can reduce it in ways that are fun and creative, and aren’t all about spending a bunch of money at Whole Foods or going without meat.
Once people start being enthusiastic about sustainability, we find that they make small incremental changes which, when you look back on their lives, add up to really big changes.
Is there one example you’ve seen that people have tried out and has worked really well?
One thing that’s really taken hold is Meatless Mondays. The consumption of meat creates one of the biggest carbon footprints in our world, outstripping even transport in terms of how we contribute to global warming. If we can go without meat even one day a week, that makes an enormous difference. If everybody did it, it would make a very significant difference! It sounds like a big sacrifice to some, but if when we suggested Meatless Mondays and offered tons of really easy, really delicious recipes, then it was like, “Oh, it’s just one day! We can do that, easy.”
Last year, we did something called Transport Fridays. One day a week, we said, don’t take your car to work. Instead, use any alternative—walk, bike, carpool or take public transport. Again, it’s that manageability issue. “I love my car, I’m not giving up my car, but.… I guess, one day a week, I could ride my bike.” We start doing it one day a week and before you know it, it becomes a habit.
What advice do you have for people who feel like they themselves can’t make a difference, or who are trapped by inertia?
In Africa, we have this saying, the person who thinks they can’t make a difference has never spent the night with a mosquito! The smallest thing can make a big difference! I say, you’re now part of an army of people across the world who are personally making that commitment. Change starts with each of us. And it’s happening! You can see it with companies, governments, what kids are learning in school! It’s the individuals that drive the change. We vote with our dollars, we elect people.
What are some of your tips for enjoying the outdoors in a more sustainable way?
Everything you do can be sustainably and cheaply while camping. For example, don’t buy chemical bugsprays when you’re camping, make your own! It’s really easy, you just need a few ingredients, and it works! The natural insect repellents have a much broader spectrum of what they will work on—the horseflies, mayflies, etcetera. And most of these natural insect repellant recipes come from First Nations peoples. They had to deal with mosquitos way before DEET came along, right? Burning sage, sweetgrass, all of those things work too.
The second thing is, you don’t have to have all the gear. You don’t have to spend a bunch of money to enjoy the outdoors, or have a family vacation. Go to the park, get outside, go for a walk in the forest. You don’t have to stay the night. For most people, when they think of going on a camping holiday for the first time, it seems overwhelming for them. Those are the people I want to help to get outside. Borrow a tent from a friend and just get out there—play.
Check out Greenmoxie for a thousand more ideas on how to live sustainably while looking good and feeling like a badass. Check out Nikki’s other book on eco-friendly DIY living, available in print and as an e-book. We are delighted to showcase Nikki’s talents here and will be offering a few of her recipes in our future menus. For now, enjoy this delicious recipe from The Flaming Marshmallow, her inspired tome of campfire meals.
· 4 Peaches halved and pitted
· 4 Tbsp. brown sugar
· 4 Tsp. butter
· 4 Tsp. oats
Place the peach halves on the foil and top with butter and oats. Sprinkle brown sugar on the top. Wrap and place on the hot coals for 10-15 minutes until peaches are cooked through. [Note: For a more decadent dessert, add chocolate chips, nuts or substitute granola for the oats.]