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Going Green One Bag at a Time

Green Bag Lady starts a revolution with almost 15,00 hand-crafted, reusable grocery bags distributed free-of-charge

A baker and her bread?  A country singer and her backup?  Well, kind of…Teresa VanHatten-Granath is a baker of sorts, a creative person cooking up ways to share her enthusiasm for green living, clean giving and inspiring thousands of others from around the globe to do the same.  A country singer? She and her Bagettes (a team of 14 volunteers) are known to “whistle while they work”, sharing all kinds of inspiring “songs” to pass on an idea born in her very own kitchen.

“It all started one day when my husband came home from the grocery store with a fistful of plastic bags,” said Teresa.  “Why didn’t you use the recycle bags?” she scolded, probably very sweetly.

“Because there weren’t any in the car!” he replied.

Eureka! An idea was born. VanHatten-Granath, an Artist and Professor at Belmont University in Nashville, decided to create an eco-friendly performance art piece that would involve the public. VanHatten-Granath went right to work, designing and sewing practically on the spot, a cloth bag that could be rolled up and fit into a briefcase, a purse—even a coat pocket. 

Local Bag Fever

Franklin Lakes jewlry artist Jane Setter teamed up with the Green Bag Lady recently to do a combined giveaway of Teresa's Bags and Setter's silver and crystal earrings.

"I plan to do another one in April, around Earth Day," said Setter, who is also passionate about the environment.  "I absolutely love what 'the bag lady' is doing!  She has inspired me to make bags myself—the pattern is on her website and is so easy.  I amke them and givethem away whenever anyone wants one."

Setter has also approached the Franklin Lakes Council about a local effort to make the bags as part of the recognition for Earth Day.

Franklin Lakes resident Ellen Reinkraut has also expressed an interest in introducing making bags with her thirty art students who already have a track record of making art for causes.

VanHatten-Granath, who won The Tennesse State Art Commission award for her work, conducts public events, setting up her sewing machine and handing out the bags on the spot, enjoying the interaction of people who happen by. She compels her audience to think about using the bags to replace plastic, citing the statistic that one cloth bag can replace hundreds of plastic bags in its lifetime.  “Marine animals such as Sea Turtles and Dolphins mistake plastic as food, eat it and die.”  

VanHatten-Granath encourages other artists to “think about the ecological impact of their art, as well as producing art that has direct positive impact on the environment.”

The original bags were not uniform in size, more the product of the sizes of pieces of fabric she had on hand. VanHatten-Granath streamlined her efforts by designing one pattern in order to methodically cut multiple pieces.  She started handing them out to her college students—forecasters always say that this age group is responsible for starting trends. She gave them to her friends and the bags just took on a life of their own!

The Bags are a Gift

VanHatten-Granath is adamant about not selling the bags, nor is she trying to get publicity for herself. This is a project from the heart and mind and she views the bags as gifts for a cause. Recipients must agree to do something good with the bags and to send not one, but two photos to be featured on her website. 

“Each bag is numbered.” says VanHatten-Granath, “The names are listed under the heading Teresa’s Toters.”

“If one were to buy one from me,” she continued, “the bags would become a commodity and there is no obligation because the person owns it. A gift is owned by both people.”

This pay-it-forward thinking is part of a growing trend, a bigger picture.  VanHatten-Granath uses donated fabric (a gift) which she and the Bagettes whip into bags (gifts).  They very discriminately give one to a person (gift) so that person will make more (gifts) to give away (gift, gift).  The by-product becomes exponentially more people who adopt a green way of thinking.  VanHatten-Granath’s goal is to make people conscious of recycling, composting, consumption and consumerism.

VanHatten-Granath is not alone in this new, new-age way of living in a world community and the internet is certainly a factor. Environmental concerns are propelling the emphasis in Transition Towns, Green Cities, Organic Living, Permaculture and Sustainability.  Many towns are embracing these trends and will have a huge impact on leaving less footprints in the future.  Recycle Bank is an example a program to reduce wastes by paying consumers for recycled materials that are calculated via computer chips on their trash cans.

VanHatten, the mother of three, two daughters 6 and 9 and a 3-year-old son nicknamed ‘Squeak’, is living her ideals, away on sabbatical in Chile.  She is living aboard a Marine Research Ship, studying the effects of plastic on the environment.  (An adventure you can follow on her blog)

Bags Growing Like Grassroots?

Other giveaway bag ladies are cropping up all over the world.  England’s Morsbags (a self-defined ‘Sociable Gorilla Bagging Blog’) and The Green Bag Lady were featured in the book “Quilting for Peace”, inspiring yet another baggy group known as “Sew, Mama, Sew” (www.sewmama.com ), to run a ‘Grocery Bag Sew-Off’ this past winter. 20 Green Bag Lady Bags were enticing as giveaways for a beach clean-up in California recorded on an ‘Urban Eco Living by the Beach Blog called www.greenlagirl.com.  

The ideas for making and using the bags for good causes are endless- the author, who also received a "VanHatten-Granath Bag", plans on utilizing the idea with Gift of Life and Habitat for Humanity.  Habitat for Humanity welcome bags?  Toiletry/foodbags for the homeless?  Activity bags for Gift of Life heart patients! Projects for schools,  church groups, quilting groups... recycled bags for good causes and sew on and sew on….it really is catching!

VanHatten-Granath and the Bagettes are “sewing like crazy” (with her Dad handling the website and shipping) trying to fill all of the promises for bags thus far.  She has temporarily limited bag give-aways to future events that will be listed on her website.  VanHatten-Granath dedicates her joyous project to her mother who loved to sew and who would be “sewing like crazy” alongside her daughter. (www.greenbaglady.com)

You will also find the free pattern to download on the site as well as many tutorials, testimonials, resources and more.  There is info on donating fabric as well. But remember there is no charge but the promise to do good things with the bags, pass them on to others and report back with stories and photos as proof.

“Become a Bag Lady in your town,” says VanHatten-Granath whose favorite responses are “this was just what I needed to go green” or “we are making bags with our Girl Scout Troop.”

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