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Oh, hey! Welcome in!

Small Footprint Family’s goal is to empower and inspire you with the tools and ideas you need to live a simpler, healthier, more sustainable life.

Why would you want to do that?

This really smart man says it best:

photo of Oren Lyons

“With every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come. It’s our job to see that the people coming ahead, the generations still unborn, have a world no worse than ours, and hopefully better. When we walk upon Mother Earth we always plant our feet carefully because we know the faces of our future generations are looking up at us from beneath the ground. We never forget them.”

—Oren Lyons
Iroquois tribal leader

The first step in creating a more sustainable, just, and healthy world is becoming aware of the personal choices we make (and don’t make), and their effect on the lives of future generations.

In other words:

Sustainability starts at home.

On this site you will find articles and videos about:

Plus, our shopping guide will help you find useful, green products like water filters, composting supplies and non-toxic cleaners that will make a big difference to your health, your wallet, and the planet.

I hope you’ll also check out my critically-acclaimed book, Sustainability Starts at Home, available on Amazon and in both large-print paperback and Kindle formats.

In it you will find hundreds of tips, tricks and inspiring ideas that will help you save you thousands of dollars just by making small “baby-step” adjustments to the way you run your household.

My aim is to give you all the resources you need to make powerful choices that improve your health and well-being— and thereby the health and well-being of the only planet we’ve been blessed with.

Be sure to sign up for the newsletter so you are the first to get new how-tos, recipes, gardening tips and special invitations to check out eco-friendly events and products! I’ll also send you my ebook 50 Ways to Love Your Mother – Simple Steps for a Greener, Healthier Planet FREE when you sign up!

If you have any questions or thoughts, I’d love to hear from you!

The Philosophy Behind Small Footprint Family

The choices we make about what we consume (or avoid consuming) are some of the most powerful means through which we can live our values.

We believe the health of our environment directly correlates to the health of the human species. It’s not an accident so many of us are facing chronic illness and cancer at the same time that the planet has become so depleted and polluted. We are inherently interdependent with all things.

To heal one, we must also heal the other.

We believe it is our natural birthright to healthy food and a clean environment. And we believe food should come from yards, farms, pastures, forests, and healthy waterways—not from factories.

These values inspire us to be on a first name basis with the local farmers who grow our food. We join CSAs, and we value organic, pasture-raised animal products, and fairly-traded, sustainable imports.

And we can’t imagine life without growing some food and composting our food waste.

We prefer allergy- and planet-friendly, whole food recipes that make the most of the growing season, are nutrient-dense, and simple to prepare. All recipes on Small Footprint Family are gluten, dairy and soy free, and the majority of them are Paleo and/or vegan.

We recognize the body’s inherent ability to heal when given the right resources, and prefer preventive, nutritional and natural therapies over, or in addition to, pharmaceutical drugs, whenever reasonable.

Like many modern, “green” American families, we aspire to live in eco-friendly, low-impact homes. Even if we rent, we get our electricity from renewable energy. We’re on a budget, and try to buy a lot less, and reuse, repurpose and produce a lot more.

We live and shop with our values, including things like choosing to use cloth diapers, or keep our money in a credit union.

The articles, videos and newsletters at Small Footprint Family will show you how to do all of this yourself, too—and more!

We sincerely hope you enjoy what you read, and take something away that creates more health and abundance in your life.

About the Author

Photo of Dawn Gifford of Small Footprint Family and daughter

My name is Dawn, and I am a writer, small business owner, and a mother to a spunky 15-year-old girl I affectionately call “Fishy.”

In my former, work-a-day life, I was a Master Gardener and Master Composter, horticulture teacher and Extension agent, as well as a certified arborist and Permaculture educator.

I spent 15 years developing award-winning workforce-training programs for “green-collar” environmental jobs in tree care, stormwater management, sustainable landscaping, and urban agriculture, preparing hundreds of urban young people for work making the city greener, cleaner and healthier.

In 2000, I founded one of the first greenroof companies and social enterprises in the nation, and personally built the first greeroofs in the Mid-Atlantic region, which generated both the demand and the workforce to make Washington, D.C. the city with the most greenroofs in North America today.

But after I had my daughter, everything changed.

Chasing a Mystery

It started with the constant nausea and vomiting throughout my entire pregnancy, and then the “new mom exhaustion” I experienced after giving birth to my daughter just never went away.

In fact, it grew worse and worse as the months of breastfeeding progressed, until in her seventh month, I grew so ill that just the act of getting up to go to the bathroom would give me frightening heart palpitations, spots before my eyes, and shortness of breath.

I ended up mostly bed- or couch-ridden for almost four years.

My digestive system quit working properly, my detox system sputtered out turning my skin yellowish and rashy. My hair went very gray, very fast. I even lost a tooth as my reserves depleted more and more. It crumbled painlessly right out of my mouth!

And, as you might imagine, I felt as lost and depressed as I have ever felt in my life.

Meanwhile, my newborn daughter developed severe colic, terrible intestinal issues, horrible eczema, and screamed inconsolably from about 7pm to midnight, every night. She was so sick, it was just breaking our hearts.

Conventional doctors looked at our dismal test results and chased the symptoms around, sometimes prescribing medications that would work for a week or two before our health would decline again.

Intuitively I knew that conventional medicine could not solve my family’s medical problems.

As a researcher by trade, I began looking for possible solutions anywhere I could find them, and I quickly learned that, because my digestion was so compromised, my daughter could be allergic to foods that I had eaten because their poorly digested proteins were in my breastmilk!

Over the course of a couple of months, I eliminated and reintroduced dozens of foods and food groups into my diet in search of the secret combination that would eventually stop the awful pain in my dear baby’s body.

It turns out my daughter was sensitive to almost everything I liked to eat most!

Finally I found the answer to her miserable colic, eczema and green poop, but it required eliminating anything artificially flavored or colored, all grains, all dairy, most tropical fruits and nuts, soy and most beans, cane sugar, most fish and seafood, onions and garlic, celery, and a handful of other odd things.

And, as I cut these foods out of my diet so they wouldn’t be in my breastmilk, my daughter’s colic and her horrible eczema rapidly disappeared.

Just like that.

And to my surprise, I discovered that I felt a lot better without those foods too, and enough of my energy and health returned that I could get out of bed and do a few chores every day.

Just like that.

But living the rest of our lives on such a restricted diet was just not acceptable to me, and while no longer strictly bedridden, I still had less than half of my usual energy back.

What I really wanted to know was Why were we allergic to everything? Why was my gut as leaky as a sieve? And, why did I barely have enough energy to stand up if I ate or did the wrong things?

As a lifelong gardener, I wanted to get to the root of things.

Thus began our healing journey.

Before I got sick, I might have had an environmentally sustainable career, but I was not personally sustainable at all.

I lived on caffeine, take-out, and packaged, convenience foods; I worked 50 (or more) hours a week at a stressful job; and I used mainstream products containing toxic chemicals and heavy metals both at work and to clean my house, or wash and adorn my body almost every day.

But my “early retirement” forced me to shift my environmental expertise and passion from the public sphere to the realm of home and hearth.

I put most of my precious energy into learning how to restoratively nourish and naturally heal myself and my daughter, remove all the toxins and pollutants from our home and our bodies, and conserve resources and sustain my household without my former income.

Sustainability starts at home, after all.

In the fourth year of my illness, after seeing dozens of practitioners who told me it was “all in my head” or that they could not help me, I was finally accurately diagnosed with a blood disorder present in about 10% of the population called pyroluria or pyrrole disorder, which, untreated, causes severe nutritional deficiencies, copper toxicity, poor detoxification, exhausted adrenals and fried mitochondria.

Most of us have too much copper in our bodies and not enough zinc, contributing to a wide array of minor health problems. But for me, the combination of pyroluria, pregnancy and years of a high-stress life, a low-zinc, processed food diet, copper water pipes, coloring my hair, and other lifestyle factors, I had so much copper in my body that my heart literally couldn’t generate enough energy to pump the blood required to hold my body upright, my mind was increasingly losing its grip on reality, and my organs were slowly shutting down.

In a few more years, without adequate treatment, I would have died!

Copper toxicity acquired from me during pregnancy also explained my daughter’s colic and severe food allergies. She, too, was tested and diagnosed with pyroluria and copper toxicity.

My daughter and I practice Nutritional Balancing to restore a healthy mineral balance, and—in combination with reducing our stress and removing all the toxins from our home—she and I are now on our way to a careful, slow recovery.

I am grateful to be alive to share everything I know about environmental and personal sustainability—because they are inextricably intertwined for all of us.

Thank you for being here!

Kudos for Small Footprint Family

Small Footprint family is proud to have been featured on several radio stations around the U.S. and Canada, as well as in NPR’s Here and Now Show,, The Washington Post, The Ethical Omnivore, Green Citizen, the Best Green Blogs Directory, and The Green Mom Review.

Unique Green Living Blogger 2018 Badge
Golden Leaf Award 2018 for Top Eco Blog
Top 100 Eco Friendly Blogs Badge
Top Green Living Site Badge
Top 30 Green Mom Blogs Badge
Best Green Blogs Badge



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