Family and friends can be the hardest people to change.

Once you start to make big changes in your life to live sustainably, it’s hard not to want to share your passion and the benefits you are enjoying. And why not share it with the people closest to you?

The biggest mistake you can make is to take all the exciting information and skills that you want to share, and then shake it off on to everyone around you. I call this “wet dog syndrome”, and I see it all the time with my students. The content is exciting and my students have already made the decision they want it… but when they go home their friends and family members need a to be strategically informed, not have it flung at them!

Well, here is the single most important tip I can give you:

Start where the learner is at.

Here are the 3 steps I took to help change my family using this tip:

1) My parents already recycled, so they valued the idea of ‘re-using’ and understood the idea of closed-loop systems. That’s where they were at. So I proposed recycling one more thing out of the waste stream coming from their house, and made it easy for them. I gave them a user-friendly composting bin and a pretty little metal bucket to put on their kitchen counter.

What was key about that:

Now they wanted to know how to keep their compost functioning & healthy… Soil education! They then became open to having a worm composting bin inside their house, and now have a beautiful supply of rich soil. Perfect for talking about plant needs, and cool ways to grow food, like herb spirals and Hugelkulturs.


2) My parents like to throw pizza parties. So they already valued community and food. They also liked to have those get-togethers outside and use that precious patio. That’s where they were at. So I proposed a cob oven in their backyard, right next to their patio for quick pizza cooking. Less time in the kitchen, more time outside partying! Not a bad proposal, eh? It helped that I also threw out facts like “Your first pizza cooks in 60 seconds!” How did I make it easy for them? I had it hosted as a workshop so all my parents had to do was pay for the materials and provide lunch to the 8 people who came out to help us build it.

What was key about that:

It got people enjoying food together outside, cooking naturally and efficiently! This builds community and awareness in both the building and the using! And all those people are now talking with my parents about sustainable building techniques like cob and they are also asking about that composter over there….


3) So now my parents have a lot of kicking rich soil (they have been composting for three years and not really applying it anywhere) and they enjoy cooking food outside…. So, they start to wonder what they should use all that compost for and if they could use it to grow some of their pizza ingredients…. This is what I mean by start where the learner is at! Growing food is critical to educating people today! At their request, I built them raised beds to go right next to their cob pizza oven. I educated them on the design aspects of wind and solar for influencing the best place to put those growing beds.

I also get to talk further — about what makes healthy soil, including non-chlorinated town water. They now have a rainbarrel. Oh, and did I mention they now thought it would be great to have a fruit tree or two? Now they have six fruit trees in their backyard. 

So in three simple steps over three years my parents are now the proud owners of a composting system, a cob oven, four large growing beds, and are working towards a mini food forest in their backyard.

So my key advice:

Always start where the learner is at, particularly when it comes to family!

Good luck!

Kenton Zerbin

(Kenton is a passionate educator for sustainable living. He runs a wide array of powerhouse workshops to help others – wherever they are at – so they can create awesome & sustainable homes, landscapes, and communities.)


Edible School Yards for Edmonton
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