Being Green And Parenthood – Jen Harris Interview
When I saw the July issue of Grow magazine was going to be a green edition, I knew straight away who I wanted to interview: Jen Harris. This Exeter resident is also known as (cloth) ‘Nappy Jen’, founder of the Facebook groups Heavitree Freecycle and Compost Connections, famous for her family of four who never bin more than a crisp-bag full of rubbish.
“Some people think I’m bonkers, I just think I’m green!”
“Ok, I’ll admit that I am slightly obsessed. I really hate waste. I hate the feeling of throwing something away – where is away anyhow? I’m not exactly loaded either, so it really galls me to buy something ‘disposable’. Why buy something disposable when there is always a reusable option?”.
Being green never started as a conscious decision for Jen. Growing up in the middle of Dartmoor, Jen’s parents modelled thriftiness to their children.
“They were both self-employed, so we were good at making things last,”
“We had many pre-loved things, but it was usually good quality. Since my parents are always collecting and recycling in creative ways, I nicknamed them The Wombles. They wear this badge with pride though!”.
Passion For Parents
When Jen was made redundant while on maternity leave with her first child, she started using real nappies and set up Exeter Babies to support other isolated mums. Since then, she has had a second child and the flagship Nappuccino group has expanded to two groups a week. As far as Jen is concerned, cloth Nappies are the answer when it comes to avoiding single-use plastic, keeping chemicals away from your baby and saving a fortune. Eleven years later, Jen still sells cloth nappies but has teamed up with Gill Travis (‘Exeter’s Sling Lady’) to create a community interest company ‘The Baby Room’, a venue for baby groups and classes at Ladysmith Infant
“I’m passionate about parents, particularly breastfeeding mums. I believe that support is vital on our journey into motherhood, but it’s about finding it when you need it”.
At Nappuccino she sells nappies, paper liners, buckets, breast pads, cloth wipes, waterproof wraps and more. She also offers demos, advice and support, signposting and hugs. For green sanitary products she has menstrual cups, washable sanitary towels and liners.
“I’ve read that a woman may use as many as 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. Washable alternatives not only prevent adding this to brimming black bins or inadvertently being flushed, but you have to consider the cost too. Tampons are 10p each, so that’s over £1,100 on tampons!“.
With reuse and recycle in mind you can hire newborn nappies instead of buying them and they also regularly host preloved maternity sales.
Green Fingers In Many Pies
In her passion for green, Jen has founded the popular Facebook group Heavitree Freecycle. It is a local give away, swap and polite request group with over 1,500 active members. Jen started the group after finding the Exeter Freecycle website too geographically widespread and slow.
“I just love Heavitree Freecycle! Just the other day our shower head exploded beyond repair. I asked on Heavitree Freecycle, and within an hour we had another one”.
Another subject that gets Jen going, is compost. It has inspired her to launch a Facebook group called Compost Connections, which enables people to link up with someone who has a compost bin if they don’t have one.
“I have five people who live near our house who use our compost. Composting is easier than people think, it mostly looks after itself. You just need to be aware of what you can put in it and that it does not get too full”.
The bottom of the compost can then be used for growing fruit and vegetables or in plant pots.
Share, Repair, Reuse, Recycle
Jen recently won a water butt from a competition ran by South West Water by uploading a film showing how she siphons their family’s shower water from the bath into the garden for watering the plants. Her family uses bicycles where possible and they mostly shop local. Jen’s green tips include using washable cloths rather than disposable wipes, cereal packet bags instead of cling film and turning old rubber gloves into homemade elastic bands. Household items like bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar, salt and lemon can be used as effective cleaning agents.
Speaking to Jen made me realise that we can all do our bit to stop filling up holes with rubbish, so our children won’t have to deal with it later. We live in a world of abundance. As long as we share, repair, reuse and recycle there is enough for a greener world for us all.
Written by Karin Venema
Photos by Jen Harris, Paula Fernley and Jamie Webb