10 Green Retro Activities Making a Comeback

Jars of fruits on a wooden table
Photo: sk/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Call it nostalgia. Call it recession-era thinking. Whatever the reason, more people are interested in simpler living. They’re trying to get away from factory-produced food and goods and seeking low-tech machines and local, back-to-basics approaches to everyday life — all of which is good news for the planet. As the following trends illustrate, emulating the past can mean a more authentic, low-energy, reduced-carbon lifestyle.

1
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Milk delivery

Photo: Marco Verch/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Once upon a time, the milkman delivered door-to-door, bringing fresh-from-the-cow dairy goodness to families everywhere. The rise of supermarkets and the rush of modern life put an end to that — until now, that is. It seems that old-fashioned milk delivery is making a comeback in communities across America. Some dairies are even offering a new green twist. Oberweis Dairy in North Aurora, Illinois, for instance, delivers milk, cream, butter and ice cream from cows raised without artificial growth hormones. Texas Daily Harvest, a farm near Sulphur Springs, Texas, delivers fresh organic dairy products and other produce to homes and businesses in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

2
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Home births

Photo: Jason Lander/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

If you’re reading this, chances are you were born in a hospital. It’s long been the location of choice for deliveries — believed by most to be cleaner, safer and more modern. But a funny thing happened between 2004 and 2009. The number of home births rose by 29 percent. Experts aren’t exactly sure what’s behind the DIY birth movement, but they speculate it may be related to cost (delivering a baby at home is about one-third less expensive than delivering in a hospital) and the yearning for a more intimate experience away from rushed and distracted medical personnel.

3
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Meat butchering

Photo: Tinou Bao/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Meat lovers tired of mass-produced, machine-cut supermarket lamb chops and chicken breasts are in luck. The corner butcher shop is back — and this time with a sustainable slant. Around the country, small-scale butchers are hanging out their shingles, offering local, grass-fed and organic meats cut on the premises. One example is The Meat Hook in Brooklyn, which sells everything from London broil to homemade gourmet sausages, all from livestock raised on small, sustainably operated farms in upstate New York. Avedano’s Holly Park Market in San Francisco offers similar fare and even runs butchering classes for those who want to slice their own pork ribs and porterhouse steaks.

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Using a typewriter

Photo: Yasuo Kida/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

No more energy-hogging computers and printers. No more keeping up with the technology race. Manual typewriters — those click-clacking standards of old-time newsrooms and secretary pools — are back in vogue, and enthusiasts are popping up all over. Many aficionados are into collecting old models (and the ribbons, corrective fluid and other vintage paraphernalia that go with them), while others enjoy gathering for type-ins at bookstores and bars. Riding the nostalgia wave is a revival of typewriter repair shops.

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Matchmaking services

Photo: Wedding and lifestyle/Shutterstock

Many singles tired of the online dating scene are longing for a more traditional approach to finding love. Enter the matchmaker. That’s right, old-fashioned matchmaking services are on the rise. OK, so maybe enlisting the help of a dating go-between isn’t greener (other than the fact that you're not using a computer). But the services’ growing popularity is part of a renewed craving for personalized service and more meaningful face-to-face connections — things the Internet with all its convenience and speed can’t provide. Check out the Matchmaking Institute to find a matchmaker near you or train to become one yourself!

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Frontier skills

Photo: Sterling College/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

There was a time when folks knew how to survive on the land, grow their own food, make their own clothes and build their own homes. Granted, most of us aren’t looking to go back to our frontier roots, but a few pioneer wannabes are seeking to learn those old-time skills and live a more frugal, earth-centered life. Several groups are only too happy to oblige. Practical Primitive, for example, offers classes in acorn processing, advanced bow-making, bone working, traditional shoemaking and stone tool making. Those looking for something a little less intense — and maybe more practical — can learn canning, cheesemaking and beekeeping at places like the Institute of Urban Homesteading.

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Barnraising

Photo: Sterling College/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

In the old days neighbors pooled their collective muscle to help one another erect barns and other structures. The practice has waned in modern times (except maybe among community-minded groups like the Amish), but there are signs of a small resurgence. The residents of Benton County, Oregon, for example, got together recently and built a barn at the fairgrounds powered by solar roof panels. The Worchester Community Action Council in Massachusetts runs weatherization barnraisers where volunteers come to a home or building and install energy-efficiency upgrades. And in Arizona, the Watershed Management Group uses the same model to help homeowners install water-saving features in their homes and on their properties.

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Using vintage sewing machines

Photo: IQRemix/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

These vintage machines are often cheaper, more durable and less technologically complex (meaning they don’t break down as often and are easier to repair). They’re also readily available on eBay and Craigslist. For this reason, many DIY-clothing devotees with a passion for reducing, reusing and recycling swear by old-school sewing machines. Granted, many vintage models are electric powered so you’re not saving much energy. However, at least one subset of purists (e.g., fans of the website Treadle On) prefer going completely off grid with “human-powered” machines that use a hand crank or treadle.

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Gold prospecting

Photo: patti/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

With the down economy, many are taking their financial futures into their own hands — literally. They're looking for nuggets of wealth — gold, that is — which they hope will yield bigger profits than paper stocks. Certainly mining isn’t the greenest of practices, but at least one proponent of the new gold rush argues that with demand for gold continuing to rise, small-scale prospecting is far more eco-friendly than massive, corporate-run gold-mining operations.

10
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Old-time transportation

Photo: Ed Webster/Flickr [CC by 2.0]

Railfans are more 19th century than 21st century, and their fascination with all things rail-related is at an all-time high. They line up along train tracks and thrill to the rush of engines and freight cars roaring past. They explore unused rail lines, tunnels and stations. Some even collect timetables or strive to ride every line in a railroad network. Likewise, bygone-era canals seem to inspire similar fascination and devotion. Enthusiasts around the world (called gongoozlers in Great Britain) are drawn to canal boats, towpaths, locks and collecting canal-related postcards and paintings.