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Peace of mind comes from simple choices

In a lot of ways, Michael Karsh is just like you or me. He has a car. He has a full-time job. His schedule sometimes gets away from him. But Karsh also has made conscious choices to alter his everyday routine so his imprint on the environment is ...

In a lot of ways, Michael Karsh is just like you or me.

He has a car. He has a full-time job. His schedule sometimes gets away from him.

But Karsh also has made conscious choices to alter his everyday routine so his imprint on the environment is a little lighter than the average person's.

He drives to work sometimes, but prefers to walk. He buys groceries, but also grows vegetables in a community garden and composts the trimmings. Much of the way he lives his life is driven by a "less is more" ethic that favors savoring what is, rather than fretting over what could be.

"A lot of green choices are driven by people feeling bad, like they have to do something they don't enjoy," Karsh said. "To me, I look at it as a way to increase your quality of life with what you have. Green choices are about enjoying the things we love."

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For instance, Karsh said he prefers to walk his daughter home from school, rather than drive her. That way, they can spend time together outdoors, enjoying the sunshine, bird songs and occasional rain puddle. Growing beans, garlic and squash in his two garden plots provides time together with his wife, Charlotte, and their two children. And cooking from scratch not only averts processing-induced pollutants and excess packaging, but can be fun and calming.

"They're very real, very down-to-earth people," said Mary Dragich, who has known Mike and Charlotte for about 10 years. "Their emphasis is very much on being gentle with people and with the earth."

In his job as produce manager for the Whole Foods Co-op, 610 E. Fourth St., Karsh has cultivated sales relationships with small-scale organic growers, primarily in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Giving these farms business bolsters the regional economy, Karsh said, and promotes a growing style that creates fewer pollutants, causes less erosion and spares the earth greenhouse gases that would result from trucking produce in from farther away.

"I think his emphasis on stocking the shelves at the co-op with local farmers' [produce] is a testament ... to appreciating what we've got and working within our means," Dragich said.

Last year, Karsh said, the co-op had sales agreements with nine regional farmers. This growing season, he has lined up 22 growers to provide the co-op with berries, salad greens, mushrooms, root vegetables, apples and pears. Locally grown tulips are available now, and salad mix from Wrenshall will arrive Wednesday. At the height of the growing season, about 40 percent of the co-op's produce will come from regional sources.

"He's been a catalyst," said David Helf, a member of the co-op's Board of Directors. "He's been proactive about contacting people he's heard of who might be interested in growing organic produce and getting them on board."

Everyday life, though, can sometimes run afoul of Karsh's earth-friendly intentions.

Karsh is taking night classes at the College of St. Scholastica to earn his degree in business administration, and his wife is earning her master's in social work at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Combining those commitments with the demands of two children and the extra hours that came from the co-op's new location two years ago left the Karsh family without a lot of free time. That meant Michael Karsh drove more and walked less than usual.

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Day-to-day, he said, hedidn't have much of a problem with the hectic pace until his car broke down.

"It forcibly broke me out of that," Karsh recalled. "I was reminded how important it was to slow down. I was getting a lot of stuff done and getting it done efficiently, but I didn't have a whole lot to look back on."

Karsh said he doesn't think that his walking to work or composting kitchen scraps will solve the world's environmental problems. But it's a stewardship issue he feels compelled to address.

"I'm not going to save the world. That's not in my job description," Karsh said. "But it is in my job to respect it and take care of it as much as I can."

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