Stop by your local thrift shop today!


Have you ever shopped at a thrift shop? If you haven’t, or if it has been awhile, give it a try—you might be surprised at what you find. Shopping at a thrift shop is like shopping at a garage sale. You can find all different types of items for a cheap price. Thrift shops or second-hand stores also make an effort to sell only lightly handled/lightly used items that will still last a long time. Thrift shops sell items ranging from clothes, to cookware, to furniture.

So why should you go out of your way to shop at a thrift shop? First, you can save money. Most thrift shops also support the local community—places like Goodwill and Salvation Army not only sell used items but they also support citizens who are in need of assistance. Shopping at thrift shops helps support the local community. Lastly, shopping at thrift shops supports the idea of “buying local.” Most items found in malls or large department stores were shipped from a far distance, which requires vast amounts of fossil fuels and energy. If more people shop at thrift shops, large companies may get the message that people care about the environment and they want to support the local community.

At Gundersen Health System we believe that purchasing local is very important, along with reusing/recycling items. For example, we reuse blue wrap from the OR that is used to wrap surgical instruments. Instead of throwing it away, we partnered with the Coulee Region RSVP (retired senior volunteer program) whose volunteers sew the blue wrap into items such as aprons and bags that are handed out to patients and visitors. By reusing blue wrap, we save money by avoiding purchasing items such as tote bags for our patients. The most significant savings have taken place in the Breast Center where we have saved approximately $4,000/year. We also purchase local foods for our cafeteria such as dairy products and meat. Any individual can make a positive impact, no matter how small. So when the time comes to buy furniture or cooking supplies for your college student, save some money while supporting the local community by going to your local thrift shop!

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Buy fresh: Shop your local farmers market


Have you ever been to a farmers market? If you haven’t, it is worth going. There are many people who have the pre-conceived notion that because the items sold at a farmers market are fresh, they will be expensive. However, farmers markets are usually not expensive at all and in most cases they sell vegetables and fruits cheaper than at a grocery store. Why? Because the items sold at a farmers market are grown and produced by local farmers, so the food doesn’t have to travel as far, thus eliminating large travel expenses. Other benefits of going to a farmers market include
• Getting to know local farmers and how they grow their food
• Supporting your local community
• Getting fresh-picked food
• Finding a large variety and quantity of fruits and vegetables not found at a grocery store
• More than just vegetables (many farmers markets also sell flowers, herbs, dairy, and meat)

At Gundersen Health System we believe that a healthy diet supports a healthy lifestyle, which is why you will find locally sourced food items in our cafeteria such as cottage cheese, yogurt, coffee, and beef. Our Chef, Thomas Sacksteder Certified Executive Chef (C.E.C), visits local schools and teaches young students about seasonal vegetables and fruits, how to prepare them, and why it’s important to buy local. So not only is buying local something we support at Gundersen Health System, but it is also something we teach.

Interested in learning more about sustainable foods at Gundersen Health System? Check out this link to our Envision website: Sustainable Foods

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Why are honeybees important?


Did you know that honeybees pollinate over 90 different crops or one third of all crops in the United States? They are essential to today’s agriculture business and without them it would suffer greatly. Unfortunately, the honeybee population has decreased significantly. By 2007, there was an estimated loss of 2.7 million bee colonies in the United States, which was projected to have an $8 billion to $12 billion effect on the agriculture business.  The severity of this loss can be compared to the number of bees that pollinate almond trees. It takes around 1.5 million bee colonies to pollinate 750,000 acres of almond trees, which in turn produce around 2 billion pounds of almonds. So what is causing this loss?

There are many different theories including sickness among bees, or the fact that they are being overworked. However when bee colonies are infected by a common disease, the loss is only around 15%, which is significantly lower than what is being witnessed today. Now bee colonies are disappearing by 30% to 90%. Another theory known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) occurs when bees disappear by the masses (thousands) with no rhyme or reason as to how they disappeared. Scientists believe this mysterious disappearance could be caused by the insecticides and pesticides used on cropland.

So what is being done to prevent this? In March 2013, European countries passed a European Commission Proposal to ban pesticides that could be harmful to bees. The United States has not passed any proposals yet to ban harmful pesticides. So what can you do as an individual? You can grow a garden that is honeybee friendly (filled with flowers and not treated with chemicals). If you know someone who owns honeybees you can inform them of the issue and ask that they not treat their crops with chemicals. You could also purchase sustainably produced food that is not treated with chemicals. Any individual can make a difference no matter how small!

Learn more about sustainability at


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The benefits of biking to work


Have you ever considered riding your bike to work? Many people would say they do not have enough time in the morning to bike to work, or their office building is too far away. Even with challenges like this, there are still people who bike to work almost every day—even if they do live far away.

There are many perks when it comes to biking to work such as getting a workout in every morning/evening, reducing car emissions, close parking to the building (pictured above is a bike barn located right outside a Gundersen Health system office building), and the fact that you will be setting a positive example of a healthy lifestyle for your coworkers, family, and friends.

If you are someone who wants to start biking to work but you don’t know where to start, consider taking small steps to begin with, such as purchasing a light weight bike that is meant to travel long distances, or getting a basket to carry your work items in. Then find a route to take to work and practice on a weekend and see if it something you can manage. If you are satisfied with your bike route, consider inviting coworkers to bike with you, or maybe you bike to work in the morning and a friend drives you home in the evening. Or perhaps begin with biking only a couple times per week, then start biking more often. Some office buildings even have locker rooms with showers so you can clean up before you start work. There are many ways you can start—you just have to try!

May is national bike month, and recently La Crosse, WI, participated in the Bike to Work week. Businesses can compete against each other to see which business can get the most people to bike to work, and some businesses even hold competitions within their organization to influence their employees to take on healthy lifestyles. Perhaps an event such as this will get you or your own company more interested in biking to work. Not only will you be benefiting yourself if you bike to work, but you will also be benefiting the environment!

Learn about other ways to help the environment. Visit


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The basics of composting


Are you interested in starting your own compost pile at home? Here are a few tips and facts to get you started. Compost is rich in nutrients, breaks down tough clay soils, and also helps soil retain water. It is also shown to improve the fertility and root development of plants. What you put in the compost is highly important. You want a 3:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen. They are the fundamental elements in compost. Bacteria and fungi digest or oxidize carbon as an energy source and ingest nitrogen for protein synthesis. Let’s say you have 100 pounds of carbon material, you would want only about 3-4lbs of nitrogen material added to that. Too much nitrogen can add an unpleasant smell. So what would be considered carbon material? This could include leaves, dried grass clippings, shredded newspaper, shredded cardboard or even hay. Nitrogen can be found in vegetables, ground coffee, or kitchen scraps. You want to avoid adding in meat, dairy products, grease and bones because they will attract unwanted pests. You can either pile your compost materials in a spot in your yard or you could get a compost bin—either way works just fine.

So once you have all of your materials together, what’s next? Compost needs sufficient surface area so that the microorganisms are able to digest more material and multiply quickly. This speeds up the process. You can increase the surface area by shredding the materials you add to your compost. Compost also needs sufficient water (40-60% of it needs to be wet) so watering it with a hose regularly is important. Compost also requires mixing to keep it aerated because oxygen is needed for decomposition to take place. You can aerate a compost pile by using a pitch fork or shovel and mixing the materials—making sure to expose the compost at the bottom and in the middle. Compost also decomposes faster in high temperatures—between 90-140 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter months, decomposition will slow down and you may notice your compost pile steaming.

Other forms of compost include vermicomposting (using worms to break down the material). This requires hardly any work on your part but may attract fruit flies. Compost is easy to do and can be achieved on both a small and large scale level. So next time you have food scraps, don’t throw them away, instead start a compost pile! It will save you money, reduce what you send to the landfill, and be beneficial for your soil.

There is still time to register for Envision’s Sustainability Management seminar, May 20-22. Our Envision program is about much more than renewable energy and energy conservation. It’s about the full spectrum of sustainable practices–from the products we buy and those we’re done using to our energy program and more. We’re taking the lessons we’ve learned along the way and offering that knowledge to you in an affordable 3-day course.

Learn more at





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Utilizing solar lighting at home


Are you one of those people who is interested in solar lights but turned away by the price? Solar lights don’t have to be expensive, and if you are looking for ways to save money, solar lights may be perfect for you. As technology improves with solar, so does the price. Today, you can go to almost any large department store and find solar lights for the garden and patio without spending a fortune. They are easy to install because they require no wiring or switches; you can simply place them in the garden, and during the day they will store sunlight in a battery. Most solar lights have a darkness sensor so they turn on independently at night. The amount of time that the light lasts depends on the size you decide to purchase. However, the bigger the light, the more expensive it will be. Several small lights have the capability of providing a lot of light, so make sure to consider the options.

One of the ways we use solar at Gundersen Health System is through our solar panels installed on the parking ramp in front of the hospital. These solar panels were installed in 2008 and provide energy to the parking ramp. Overall they provide enough energy to power two to three homes. Our effort to utilize solar energy is large scale, however small efforts can also make a big difference, especially if taken on by a lot of people. So next time you shop for garden lights, consider going solar!

Envision® can help you with renewable energy projects! Find out more at


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Why are marshes important?


Marshes, also known as wetlands, are frequently inundated (flooded) with water.  Plants found in marshes such as the common cattail, lily pads, and duckweed are adapted to the saturated soil conditions. Animals commonly seen in a marsh are otters and muskrats. There are many different types of marshes including coastal, inland, fresh water, salt water, riparian, and more. Marshes get their water from surface water (rain/runoff) and ground water. Now that we have covered the basics of marshes, why are they important? Marshes act like filtration systems because the vegetation in a marsh uses up excess nutrients for growth that could otherwise pollute the water such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Marshes also help to reduce damage caused by a flood by storing and slowing the water. This is especially important when marshes are in a watershed (an area where surface water—such as rain or snow converges to a single point). Fresh water marshes tend to have a neutral pH as well which leads to an abundance of life—far more than what is expected to grow due to the sometimes minimal sizes of marshes.

Non-tidal marshes are most commonly distributed through North America. Most of these are freshwater marshes which have highly organic soil underlying the floor of the marsh. Here in La Crosse we have a marsh that separates north and south La Crosse. It is known as a riparian marsh because it occurs alongside a river (Mississippi River). It is called the La Crosse River Marsh and it is about 1,077 acres in size. It is home to many animals and plants species. Unfortunately, like many marshes today, our marsh is in risk of disappearing. Today many marshes are degraded by excessive deposits of nutrients fromspe farming and construction. They are also degraded by over flooding. There are ways to preserve marshes. This could involve the city purchasing the marsh and declaring it as land that cannot be built on, or there could be plans that prevent houses or other structures from being built near a marsh. If you live near a marsh, do your part, and protect a piece of wetland that is beneficial to so many plants and animals.

Learn more from a leader in environmental stewardship by visiting


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Preserving our grasslands


Pictured above is a small area of grassland located near Gundersen Health System’s Onalaska campus. In the Midwest grasslands are known as prairies but around the world they have different names. For example, in South America they are called Pampas. Grasslands grow in areas where there is not enough rain to support a forest, but not so little as to form a desert. Here in the Midwest our prairie grasslands are known as temperate grasslands because they average around 10-30 inches of rain per year and have two seasons: a growing season and a dormant season (grass does not grow during the dormant season because it is too cold). The other type is tropical grasslands that grow in areas where it is warm year around.

So what is so important about grasslands? Grasslands are important because the soil tends to be deep and fertile. This is ideal for growing crops and having pastures. Grasslands are also home to several varieties of insects and small animals. Native grasslands also help to preserve the fertility of the soil. One of the best ways to sustainably manage prairie grassland is through controlled burning every two to four years. Controlled burning is essential for many reasons because it kills off invasive grass species and weeds, exposes the soil to the sun allowing for a longer growing season, burns off excess leaf litter allowing for more plants to seed and grow, and provides nutrients to the soil through the ash.

Unfortunately, only about one quarter of the earth is covered in grasslands because a majority of them have been converted into croplands. Having more croplands is essential to supporting our growing population, however today many of the croplands are suffering from infertile soil because they have been repeatedly treated with chemicals and harmful farming practices (such as no crop rotation which is important for maintaining soil fertility and preventing insects and weeds from adapting to the environment). Because of this, there is a push to preserve the remaining grasslands and to convert current croplands back to grasslands, or into farmland that is sustainably managed. If the grasslands disappear, we will have less fertile soil around the world, which means less soil for plants to grow. If you are near grassland or know where one is, help preserve it by participating in the call to action of burning every two to four years.

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The importance of bird houses



The photos above are of a bird house located in the grasslands near the Gundersen Onalaska campus. Why is it important to have bird houses? Bird houses are also known as nest boxes because they provide a safe place for birds to build their nest and raise their young. In the winter, birds will also huddle together for warmth within a bird house. More than 50 different species of birds nest in bird houses. In suburban areas where there is less vegetation or natural environments, bird houses are essential in providing the birds with a safe place to raise their young. When birds migrate, bird houses also provide them with a place to rest. It is important in general to help preserve the bird population because birds eat seeds and spread the seeds different areas, which in turn promotes plant growth. Birds also partake in eating pesky insects. 

Are you considering building a bird house at your house or on your organizations land? First consider the type of species you are building it for, how big you want it to be, and where you plan on putting it. The material it is made out of is also important—wood prevents the house from becoming too hot when the sun hits it. Simply searching for bird houses online will provide you with the resources you need to start building your bird house. Take action today, and help support the native bird population by building or purchasing a bird house.

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Eat fresh and save money!


Thinking about starting up your own garden this spring? This blog will share a few tips with you on how to get started. A problem that many beginning gardeners have starting out is they want to plant as much as they possibly can, and buy several different varieties of vegetables and flowers. What ends up happening is the garden becomes so crowded that many of the plants don’t last. Here are a few tips to help you save money and ensure your garden will grow:

  • Less is more! Planting too many plants next to each other can cause overcrowding and prevent your plants from getting equal access to necessary nutrients or water. Instead of planting twelve tomato plants, plant six and space them farther apart. This will help ensure that your plants will grow and provide you with a bountiful harvest. Starting off with fewer vegetables in your garden will also help build up the nutrients in your garden and help you learn what grows best.
  • Use compost as a fertilizer. Fertilizer is essential because it provides plants with the necessary nutrients to grow, like nitrogen. Compost is also free and can be made in your own backyard. Leaf residue, bad vegetables, leftover food or even grass clippings can be added to your compost pile.
  • Plant items you like to eat that would normally cost you a lot of money to buy at the grocery store like herbs.
  • Saving water is important too! Use mulch throughout your garden to retain moisture and prevent you from having to water as much. Mulch can include woodchips, hay or even lawn clippings. Mulch can also prevent weeds from being as prevalent.
  • Plant native plants that are accustomed to the area and do not require as much water.
  • Buy rain barrels that will collect water so you can water your garden for free!
  • Considering using drip irrigation to water your garden. This will allow you to water only certain plants at a steady pace. You can make your own drip irrigation by poking holes in a hose.
  • Reuse items from your home to use in your garden—for example, instead of throwing out your milk jugs, fill them with water and poke holes in the cap to use as a watering mechanism. Or reuse old brooms as scarecrows to keep pesky animals away.
  • Lastly, make sure you are planting your garden in a spot that receives plenty of sunlight!

There are many more tips that can help people save money and energy in the garden so take the time to do your own research. At Gundersen Health System, our new hospital includes an outdoor patio area with plants. Not only does this outdoor garden look beautiful but it will be a peaceful area where patients can go and feel safe. As you can see, gardens can have more than one purpose; they can be used to produce a harvest, for their aesthetic beaut,y or even for healing purposes. So if you haven’t started a garden yet, why not give it a try?

For more information on green practices, visit

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