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Archive for the ‘environmental education’ Category

Tuesday night I posted about making Muesli. The next morning, my musings on Muesli felt so very trite when I heard on the BBC news that nuclear waste had contaminated the water supply in Tokyo. According to the BBC, “Radioactive iodine levels in some areas were twice the recommended safe level.” They’re warning that the water is not safe for kids to drink.

Oh my god.

This particular piece of the disaster in Japan strikes at a very old fear for me. My parents were  “no nukes”  since the 70s . At least that’s as long as I can remember them being publicly vocal about their opposition to Indian Point – our own neighborhood Nuclear reactor on our own local geologic fault.

As a child I was at first terrorized by the thought of impending nuclear winter and then desensitized.  I remember thinking recently people have been making a fuss and worrying about Indian Point since I was a toddler.  There’s nothing to worry about.  Not true.

For me, in addition to being horrified and terrified that my worst nightmare is happening to the entire country of Japan, it also made me less upset that I paid $24 dollars for two bags of greens and tub of organic, grass-fed yogurt on Saturday. That food may have cost me more money but it cost the planet less energy.

Eating home-made muesli or locally sourced canned tomatoes  or sticker shock farmer’s market greens won’t prevent  more nuclear disasters. But if we can change how we consume energy — and how much — we can start to change our driving need for energy sources.

We are taught to want. We are told every day to want whatever we want whenever we want it. We are taught that we are entitled to a good life of plenty. We drive to the farmers market. We turn the lights on during the day. We don’t shut down our computers. We buy bananas from Ecuador.

I’m picking on things I actually still do to make my point, which is simple. We don’t need to figure out how to make safer nuclear reactors, we need to consume less energy.

What I am trying to do comes down to a daily self evaluation  – to make a conscious choice to be mindful of what I buy, what I do, how I behave. To think about the impact my life has on the world.  make changes to my life to minimize that impact more and more every day.

I want to use less energy to live a healthier lifestyle. I want it for myself. I want it for my kids. And I want it for the planet. New York is the Tokyo of North America. That nuclear waste may not have hit our reservoirs yet, but for me at least,  it’s hitting home.

Protest Indian Point and Nuclear Energy in general. If it’s not safe, it’s not an option.Learn more from the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Indian Point Campaign . Or read the  Clearwater’s call for Indian Point to be closed and decommissioned – not relicensed.

Here’s a frightening little snippet from Clearwater’s argument:

“In 2008, Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory published a report that stated that a “magnitude 6 or 7 earthquake … destined to originate from the Ramapo Fault Zone” was statistically overdue and would cause hundreds, or even thousands of fatalities and billions of dollars in damage. Located at the convergence of two fault lines, a recent US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) report revealed that, in fact, Indian Point reactor 3 has the highest risk of earthquake damage of the 104 active US nuclear plants.”

What’s your little difference?

Over the last year,  I’ve been focusing on learning how to eat greener in order to lighten my impact on the world.  But as a “symbolic” act of solidarity with the world, I want to teach the kids to not turn on the lights during the day. What I’ll  ask them is this : “Why turn on the bathroom light to brush your teeth in the morning if you already have the sun shining brightly?”

What else can we do to move away from our fuel hungry habits and live less-impactful lives?  I’m looking for little things, the “pennies in our pocket” of our environmental waste.  Share your thoughts with me here.

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I love, love, love their yogurt. Their buttermilk is a God send. And in the spring, their spinach is so sweet you can mistake it for green candy. So I was disappointed when I served up a plate of Hawthorne Valley Farm bacon this past Sunday. The kids took one bite and B whose love for bacon is maybe only rivaled by his love for chocolate and Blockland said “Eww.”

I have to admit, when I first took the bacon out of its package, I was surprised by its very unstrip-like quality. As I lay it on my tray to stick in the broiler, each slab looked more like a paper-thin pork chop. But cooked, it reformed into a fairly traditional bacon-like mass. Unfortunately, I have to agree, overall it tasted a bit more like back flavored sawdust.

I really wanted to like this bacon. It was sold at the Inwood Farmer’s Market so it was easier to get than my latest favorite from Dickson Farm Stand. And Hawthorn Valley Farm is a biodynamic farm. biodynamic farms, which all of us who’ve read The Omnivour’s Dilemna know, are super cool. Michael Pollan’s storied of his experiences at Polyface farms made  Joel Salatin and Polyface farms. (Although in looking at their website, I see that Polyface calls itself a “family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market.”)

I was surprised to find out that Hawthorn Valley Farm been around for long time. According to their site way back in 1972, “a group of pioneering educators, farmers, and artisans” (read Hippies) bought a farm in Harlemville, New York – which is Columbia county on the Massachusetts border. Their goal was to give city kids urban a “hands-on experience of what it means to be stewards of the land.” For the first seven-years they learned firsthand, “the immediate challenges of the loss of small family farms and the threat to childhood development posed by an increasingly materialistic and mechanistic prevailing worldview.”

It’s hard to believe that this kind of thinking has been around and been being practiced since I was a kid. It’s also hard to believe that despite the banter about conscience eating and the increasing organic movement, for the most part, unfortunately the worldview is still pretty much “materialistic and mechanistic.” Think about the difficulty the organic movement is having fighting the introduction of more and more GMO crops.

But actually, by 1972, this kind of thinking about food and farming was already 50 years old. Hawthorne Valley is a Demeter certified biodynamic farm. That means it follows the practices of Rudolf Steiner – a scientist, philosopher, and founder of the Waldorf School.

Back in 1924, a group of European farmers approached Rudolf Steiner. The farmers were noticing that seed fertility, crop vitality and animal health was declining. Steiner held a series of lectures that talked about the farm as self-contained and self-sustaining living organism.  He believed that the farm should be “individualized” and that the farmer shouldn’t bring outside materials onto the farm. Instead, the farm was responsible for creating and maintaining its own health.

In this way, biodynamic agriculture is not just about being organic – it’s about growing the grain that feeds the chickens right on the farm and then fertilizing the pasture with the manure from the cows. A biodynamic farm everything is local and everything works in harmony.

Sounds like something worth seeing. The goods news is at Hawthorn Valley Farms you can. They have a lot of educational programs and some of the programs look super cool are for kids. They have a farm and arts program where kids from anywhere are invited to participate in a bunch of different workshops, events and farm experiences. Some of these programs look camp like – i.e a two-week Kids Can Cook course. But others are day trips like a day at the farm where kids can milk a cow, feed the pigs, herd the cattle or other activities for 50.00/per activity. That fees covers the cost of up to two adults with up to two children.

Truthfully, although I blog about meat a lot, I am down to eating red meat only a few times a month. Bacon, is still a treat I will get the kids, and maybe that’s why I’m picky if it’s not totally delicious. I will probably give Hawthorn Valley Farm bacon a second date, but until then, it gets an apologetic thumbs down. On the other hand, I am interested in visiting the Hawthorn Valley Farms some time later this Spring or next summer to check out their educational programs and their farm stand too.

Educational Programs Nearer NYC:
The Stone Barn (A visit here has been on my to-do list for almost a year)

Bronx Botanical Gardens (Their family garden programs are amazing. Good for even very little ones. My kids started at two. But they also have adult lectures and classes. Again, on my to do list)

What’s up next in The Kitchen:
Taste testing my Jersey Crushed Tomatoes.
Turning my packing peanuts into a hydroponic herb garden. (Thanks to Eric from Seattle’s suggestion.)
Figuring out why my chicken has to eat GMO feed.

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It’s no surprise that we Americans feel that we are the best at everything. I don’t normally think of myself as being Amero-centric in this way, but last year, when my au pair from Columbia told me about Bogotá’s no car day I was really shamed. As our friends in San Francisco and Seattle will tell you, New York is a certainly a city on the slow path to being green — take our mediocre recycling program, for starters. (I still have to lug my plastic garbage  to New Jersey!)

There are many lessons to be learned from how things are done in the rest of the world. As in this case  they come from Bogotá, Columbia where  for over 10 years, they have been kicking cars out of the city — for one day at least.. Imagine the perspective we would all have if more of us were forced to rethink our favorite, gas-guzzling of mode of convenience — the private car. Even for those of us who  don’t have a car this could make a huge impact — can you imagine a sultry, summer NYC  day without the sound of city traffic. I would love to live in that New York moment. But until that time, here is my old au pair (and friend’s ) description of life in a big city on a car- free Thursday.

A view from Bogotá’s No Car Day by Carolina Parra:

“Bogotá’s day for the clean air began in February of 2000 restricting the use of private cars from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m and motivating people to use alternative transportation such as bicycles, walking, skating or the use of public transportation.

Later in October of 2000 the Mayor’s office made a public consultation asking register voters to decide about subjects such as the “no car day” and the daily restriction until 2015 with a positive result therefore holding the “day for the clean environment” on the first Thursday of February.

This year on Thursday, February the 3rd in the “no car day” more than 1.000.000 “private use” cars were out of circulation and only school buses, taxis, public buses, motorcycles and cars with corporative logos were allowed on the streets. The city saved 30% of its regular gas production, mobility was better and you could see crowds of people riding their bikes to work. The weather helped us as it was sunny and it didn’t rain.

Our massive transportation system “Transmilenio” had 1,7 million passengers that is 50.000 more than the same day the previous week and 2,6% higher than last year; yes it was crowded but not traumatic I found it relaxing as there was very light traffic and half the noises you usually would hear coming from the streets.

On a sad note about 350 tickets were given for those who took their cars out, and there’s still people who voiced their discomfort in not being able to use their car one more day due to the fact that Bogotá has a daily restriction for vehicles depending on the last digit of their license plate twice a week. However in a city with more than 6 and a half million habitants it becomes necessary to stop the congestions that we used to face before the restriction was practiced.

Other countries in the world have no car days but they only close main roads for the use of bicycles and walkers but Bogotá includes all the city perimeter, this fact, turns Bogotá’s no car day in the event with more citizen participation in the world. Also worthy of notice is the fact that we hold the day for the clean air on a weekday we still have to go to work or school and carry our daily activities normally and even though is not exactly comfortable it still is something most of us are proud of.”

For more information about no car initiative around the world check out these sites:

World Car Free Network

CarBusters (An online journal)

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On Monday morning,  I heard on the BBC news brought to me by WNYC that a report from England, calledT he Foresight Report on Food and Farming Futures, had been released indicating that unless we change our ways we were not going to have enough food to support the growing population of the world for the next 20 years.

The Foresight Report indicated that the food production system will need to be radically changed, not just to produce more food but to produce it sustainably. Ok not really news — more like the substantiation of what we know.

According to the BBC report, Professor Beddington, the reports author said: “We’ve got to actually face up to the fact that this is a complicated problem which involves vastly different levels of society and we need to be persuading policy makers not to think about food in isolation, not to think about climate change in isolation, not to think about water in isolation, not to think about energy in isolation. All of them are intimately related.”

I love this quote. If I could I would plaster it everywhere. Turn it into single for Justin Beeber.

I know that there is a lot of emotionally charged doomsday info out there, but what I thought was pertinent or striking about this study was that it was commissioned to provide data backup to observatory evidence. According to the official press release, “the Foresight report is the first detailed study across a range of disciplines to have put such fears on a firm analytical footing.”

I am not the fastest blogger out there. Even in this case, I’m “reporting” on something I heard two days ago. But as I’ve been thinking about writing this blog, I have been even more struck by the US media silence. I checked the usual suspects, the NY Times, The Washington Post, ABC news – even NPR.

Of course it wasn’t mentioned in the president’s state of the union address. But couldn’t Obama have used this info to drive home the point that energy, food and environment are actually one issue?

And it wasn’t mentioned in the president’s state of the union address. Couldn’t Obama have used this info to drive home the point that energy, food and environment are actually one issue?

I started to wonder, is report not valid? Is it somehow a hoax. I checked snoops.com – it didn’t show up there either. Ironically, every time a new report comes out talking about how this food or that food will cause cancer, stop diabetes, increase childhood obesity, decrease varicose veins or heart disease, make you age slower etc. it’s plastered all over everything. But the fact that in 40 years, a percentage of the world will not have food and the mainstream media doesn’t say a peep.

When I started to peruse other bloggers, I discovered Ground Reality. Apparently the report was all over the media somewhere but Ground Reality points, the information is a reiteration of what we know instead of solid steps on how to change things. I agree. Although to my point earlier, this kind of report is the kind of lynch pin pundits usually gravitate to, to give a bit of credibility to their agenda.

Maybe it’s because the community recognized that the report is in part an attempt to give some justification to GM practices. As Ground Reality author, Devinder Sharma so eloquently stated.

“Well, the fact of the matter is that if Prof Beddington had not come out openly in support of GM Crops he wouldn’t have been made the Chief Scientific Advisor in the first instance. I am not being unkind to Prof Beddington, but whether we like it or not this remains a fact. You cannot hope to rise in your career if you do not express faith in the risky, harmful and unwanted regressive GM technology. If you dare to question the technology, you are hounded out. Such is the power and control the GM industry has.”

So in other word, this report was just regular old diversionary marketing play for Prof. Beddington. Companies sponsor self-serving research in the form of white papers all the time. Maybe so, but what does it say that the American Media didn’t pick it up? That ABC and Fox news were so savvy they sniffed out the biased foundation of the research. Or that our industrial farm complex is so strong in the US that we don’t need reports to legitimize industrial farms stronghold on things. Take what happened yesterday.

The power of the GM industry was also in the news this week. The government agreed to deregulate alfalfa: My friends at the Cornocopia Institute reported that yesterday USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the agency will fully deregulate Monsanto’s controversial genetically engineered alfalfa.

Here’s the problem with genetically engineered alfalfa. Alfalfa is pollinated by bees and other insects and has a pollination radius of five miles. If a bee cross-pollinates organic or just plain old conventional alfalfa with the genetically modified (GM) version owned by Monsanto, Monsanto gets ugly. And they don’t go after the bees who are doing their job and propagating – but they go after the victim farmer who didn’t want Monsanto GM alfalfa mixed in with their crop in any case.

According to the Cornocopia Institute planting of GE-alfalfa could begin this spring. They report that Forage Genetics (owned by Land O’ Lakes) has millions of pounds of Monsanto’s seed in storage. I guess the only thing I can do is go on a Land O’Lakes boycott — not that I buy very many of their products anyway.

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Does anyone know how to say compost in Spanish? Actually, its a rhetorical question. I know.  Last night we looked it up, me and my two au pairs — the veteran on her way back to Columbia and her new replacement who just arrived last week from Argentina. I’d enlisted their help because our vermiculture indoor worm box — the miraculous worm condo —  has been, shall we extending its ecosystem into the kitchen  Don’t get grossed out,  the worms are not escaping — although in the last worm bin I had several years ago, they did climb the clear walls when I turned their a little too swampy — this time it’s fruit flies.

Which brings me to rhetorical question number 2 — how do you get rid of fruit flies? An apple cider vinegar trap of course. It’s easy to make, just put a bit of apple cider vinegar in the bottom of a cup and add a funnel so that the flies can go down, but can’t get back up. It’s working more or less.

I wish it would work a bit more. Because two days ago I go I got a call from Zane’s teacher,”The children are asking about their worms and rolly pollies.”

When I got the worm bin last June it was light. There was one layer of compostable material topped with tons of slightly damp newspaper. Then there was one layer of compost — perfectly moist and as pretty as the cookie crumbs and gummy worms you see on  a “dirt”  pudding dessert. Little did those worms know that when the kids were on vacation, I put them to work.

You have to remember, my goal has been to reduce garbage and eat from the farmer’s market. that means we’ve had a lot of veggies come through the house this summer. Even though I make a ton of vegetable stock and I don’t compost those remains because they made the bin way too messy. Even though I throw out our fair trade banana peals. Even though we were away for two weeks in the summer, our bins are overflowing. It’s amazing how much garbage we make.

Ok. I know I am not selling indoor composting, but I really love it. Despite the flies (Which are going away!)

“I hope you are not getting to attache to the bin,” the teacher said in her voicemail. Well, the truth is I have.  But no worries, I found this YouTube video detailing how to make myself a  new one. And I’ll never give that one up!

Worm bin resources:
If you’re not into the do it your self option, you can  Get your condo at the Union Square. But I have to warn you,  they call this a condo, but seriously, the copy must have been written by a NYC real estate agent. Cozy studio would be a better description. However, this is a great type of bins to use if you have smaller children. It’s clear and the kids can see the whole process happening.

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My peaches  it turns our are not organic. According to Dr. Weill I should give them up.
I’m not sure I’m ready.


My CSA share on Tuesday included a big, juicy box of peaches. Organic peaches?
Grown without pesticides? I’m assuming so. But after my talk with the farm
stand DTT veteran last Sunday, I thought it was time to make sure. So last night
I emailed Ted, my  CSA farmer and asked him for his opinion.  Here’s what I
wrote:

Dear Ted,
I’m a Washington Heights CSA member and I was wondering if you could answer
a question for me or direct me to a resource. I’ve been asking farmers
everywhere I eat and buy about what they’re growing. Several times,
conventional farmers have answered me with, “You can’t grow ____ without
chemical pesticides.”

I had this experience last Sunday when I was upstate around Hudson NY. The
farmer  was referring to plums. Yellow plums much like the ones I had gotten
from you the week before.

He told me two things:

1) In order for stone fruit to grown here in the North East they need to
have fungicides and pesticides applied. It’s because our weather is so damp.
Is that true? Do you do that?

2) Organic farmers use organic pesticides and fungicides by the gallons.
Conventional farmers only use a tiny bit of chemicals, which then biodegrade
within a few days.

I’m obviously skeptical, however, I’m not sure where to research these
questions. I know this is a busy time for you, but if you wouldn’t mind
pointing me in the right direction for some answers I’d be super
appreciative.

Ted wrote the next morning. Before I could even start this post. He said that it was true that stone fruit could not be grown in the North East without some sort of help. Apparently my peaches were not organic — I must have not read the CSA info as carefully as I should. He also said that he didn’t know of any organic stone fruit growers in the Northeast because right now they don’t know how to do it.

“Organic vegetable growers were told they couldn’t grow good vegetables without pesticides, too, but the persistence of growers, the dedication of numerous university researchers, and the commercialization of a handful of effective biorational pesticides has proven them wrong. One day this may also happen in the stone fruit world, but it will be much more difficult because of the high humidity levels here. Organically grown apples are a relatively new thing in the Northeast. It was thought to be impossible on a commercial level. New, pest-resistant varieties and new biorationals helped make that possible.”

I had only recently learned from the documentary of Michal Pollan’s book Botany of Desire, that apples were not native to New York. It was a big surprise to me —  I grew up with an orchard down the road and an apple tree in my backyard. I was pretty surprised to find out that apples were not native.

Ted didn’t know first hand what organic stone fruit growers did use but he had heard that they use quantities of sulfur and copper as fungicides. I’m not sure why the conventional farmers are trying to bad mouth organic pesticides and fungicides. Is it because they feel threatened? Or is there some truth to there being a potential health hazard to organic practices like using  sulfur on fruit. (I’ll add it to my list)

In terms of what fruits can be grown organically, he said: “Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, currants, and gooseberries can and are being grown using organic techniques. Grapes are being experimented with.”

I’ve switched from organic to local apples. And we’ve been eating peaches and nectarines all week. So, it seems I’ve taken a placed a bit of wobbly stake in the ground about buying local over organic. Still,  I don’t feel confident. The environmental working group has quite a few articles on pesticides. I need to read up on them. And I guess the next step is to contact the farm that supplies my CSA fruit and ask what kinds of synthetic pesticides they use and see what they have to say about their place in the dirty dozen. There’s so much to learn. And wait til you hear what the farmer said about milk. Coming soon.

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Greenpeace orangutan activists protest HSBC involvement in destroying the rain forest and it's inhabitants in Indonesia.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the office this morning. A bunch of orangutans informed me that the UK bank HSBC (one of the world’s largest financial institutions)  might be helping an Indonesian palm oil manufacturer deforest large sections of the Indonesian rain forest and add several tons of green house gas CO2 to the atmosphere.  And, according to Greenpeace, by  investing in deforestation HSBC is pushing endangered species like the orangutan and Sumatran tigers to the brink of extinction.

That’s a lot to take in before my first cup of coffee.

According to a Greenpeace website blog HSBC positions itself as an environmentally responsible bank.  Their  policy is not to invest in companies that destroy rain forests and they offer mutual fund that invests in companies offering climate solutions. This all sounds pretty good.

But here’s where it get’s tricky. HSBC has a fund called the Global Climate Change Fund and one of its holdings is  Sinar Mas, Indonesia’s biggest palm oil producer.  The Sinars Mars  company is part of the  Global Climate Change Fund portfolio because they are looking to turn palm oil into a climate-friendly, low-carbon,  biodiesel. This still sounds sort of good.

Here’s the problem, Sinars Mars seems to be destroying Paradise rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands to make room for its palm oil plantations, often breaking industry standards and Indonesia law in the process.

HSBC has an ethical forestry policy, which means they won’t ” finance plantation converted from natural forest since June 2004.” The loophole is that this rule currently does not apply to its asset management funds.  I’m confused. Isn’t having a company in one of your funds the same as investing?

So what does this mean to the world? According to a January report by  Renewable Fuels Agency, the UK government’s biofuels regulator, wiping out rainforest to make palm oil fuel doesn’t really help  the environment at all. In fact it does a lot of harm.

In fact, the article in the Guardian quoted the report,  stating: “If palm oil expansion causes loss of natural forest, the carbon release associated will negate any potential carbon savings from the use of palm biodiesel.” The land use change emissions from deforestation would take “130 years to repay” in carbon benefits from palm oil biodiesel, and the “carbon payback for biodiesel feedstock produced on peatland can be measured in millennia”.

Its hard not to get a little depressed when a government agency is talking about damage that will take hundreds to millions of years to repair.  Or when Greenpeace tells me more animals are endangered, basically  by corporate greed.  And even worse, if it weren’t for those activists in Monkey suits this morning, I’d probably have never known.

Sign this Greenpeace petition and tell HSBC that their corporate loophole isn’t going to fly. Tell them to have the courage of their convictions by pulling their financial support from Sinar Mas and their illegal, unethical  deforestation practices.


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