Archive for November, 2006


Local food and carbon, cont’d further

Monday, November 27th, 2006

Fat Knowledge is going to town on this question, doing all the legwork. He/she’s coming up with some interesting results.

Carbon impact of local foods, cont’d

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

One of the comments at Environmental Economics (on the post that asks if buying locally produced food actually is better for the environment, from the standpoint of greenhouse gas emissions) links to a back-of-the-envelope estimate of petroluem used in buying local produce vs. long-haul produce. It’s worth checking out. If all this is true, it’s mildly depressing, but not terribly so. The silver lining is that the local produce sure does taste good–and has the advantage (for the locality) of encouraging the economic mulitiplier of circulating money locally.

CFRA newsletter: ethanol, etc.

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

The latest is out from the Center for Rural Affairs. This November 2006 issue is particularly good, with several articles on ethanol issues. Also “corporate farming notes,” “top 10 reasons why small schools work better,” among other topics. It’s currently available here, but soon will be archived here. Some highlights:

Now is the time to ask critical questions and set farsighted strategies to develop ethanol production in a way that serves the common good.

High oil prices are driving a dramatic increase in ethanol production that will reshape agriculture and rural economies (see article front page). We need to steer it in the right direction. >> PROFIT – We should help beginning farmers, family farmers, and workers in ethanol plants become the owners. Keeping the profits in rural America in many hands will increase the benefit to rural communities…. >> CONSERVATION – If land is removed from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to feed ethanol plants, will the conservation benefits be maintained? There should be incentives to leave parts of fields in contour grass strips, grass windbreaks, grass waterways, and buffer strips…. >> LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION – Ethanol production has already contributed positively to the reemergence of farmer cattle feeding in states like Iowa, prompted by availability of feed byproducts. However, one proposed model for ethanol production would do just the opposite. Some propose co-locating ethanol plants with big feedlots and using the manure to power the ethanol plant while feeding the byproducts on site. Publicly funded research institutions should focus on developing models that integrate ethanol production with dispersed family farm based livestock production…. >> FOOD SECURITY – There is no direct tradeoff between hunger and ethanol production. Hunger is largely not the result of insufficient grain supplies. Nonetheless, extreme shortages prompted by increased ethanol production could contribute to world hunger. USDA projects much more volatile markets in which a severe drought could prompt severe shortages.

Green living tip of the day

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

When you wash your hands at a sink that has a delay in providing hot water, and you are not going to wait for the water to get warm to wash your hands, make sure you turn on the cold-water knob instead of the hot-water knob. The temperature of the water you wash your hands it will be the same (pretty much) and you will avoid forcing the water heater from turning on unnecessarily. Whenever I go to wash my hands, my knee-jerk instinct is to reach for the hot-water knob even when I know that I won’t get any hot water by the time I’m done. Remember, like the mustard seed, the little things can add up to a lot.

Carbon Economics of Local Food

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Over at Environmenal Economics, a reader writes:

I am curious about might be called the “carbon economics” of buying local food. Here’s the deal…

I read everywhere that most food sold at my nearby grocery store travels thousands of miles to get here. The implication is that all those travel miles results in lots of fuel burned and lots of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Does it really?

I live in Raleigh, so a tomato grown in Sacramento, CA travels 2,800 miles to get here. Let’s say an 18-wheeler filled with 20,000 pounds of tomatoes, gets 6 mpg, travels 2,800 miles and emits 23 pounds of CO2 for every gallon of diesel fuel burned. By my calculations, that’s .53 pounds of CO2 emitted per pound of tomato delivered. (My assumptions warrant checking but seem reasonable to me.)

Conversely, say my local farmer travels 40 miles in a gasoline powered truck that gets 10 mpg and emits 18 pounds of CO2 per gallon burned, to deliver 2,000 pounds of tomatoes to my local farmer’s market. That’s about .04 pounds of CO2 released for every pound of tomato delivered. Pretty good! Except for one thing; I’ve got to drive 15 miles to get to the farmer’s market and I’m not likely to buy more than 5 pounds of tomatoes; my car gets 25 mpg and emits 18 pounds of CO2 per gallon of gas burned. So my trip to buy 5 pounds of the locally grown tomatoes emits 2.16 pounds of CO2 for every pound of tomato I buy.

Ooh, what a tantalizing question. Lot’s of interesting comments have been posted there, so you can check it out. A couple quick thoughts: what would the farmer be doing without the farmers’ market? Their different driving pattern will play a role in the final carbon tally. Over time, as more farmers’ markets are established, consumers shouldn’t have to drive much farther than the distance to their standard grocery store; while going a relatively long distance now might be a net-carbon no-no, supporting farmers’ markets could encourage more of them, thus reducing distances.

This is something I’d love to put some more thought into, but I’m out of time. Join the fray and I’ll get back to this later.

Pope on religion: “Matthew Sleeth is da man!”

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Carl Pope, that is, top dog at the Sierra Club. Sleeth went out to the SC hq recently for a confab; explaining to those birkenstock-wearing West Coast elites that they’ve got to avoid high horses if they want to speak to the God-fearing crowd. Pope digs it.

Eliot and Barbara, north but not forgotten

Friday, November 17th, 2006

Here’s a nice article that should inspire some four-season farming.

The Winter Garden | Warming Recipes From Four Season Farm

Maine winters may be icy, but the couple behind Four Season Farm won’t let the chill stop them. The hearty, warming recipes here—some from the farm, others from grateful local chefs—take full advantage of their extraordinary vegetables.

On the coast of Maine, where winter temperatures can go well below freezing and stay there for days—weeks—at a time, winter gardening mostly involves spreading seed catalogs out on the kitchen table and dreaming of May and June. But not for Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman, who live down past Blue Hill, a town on the east side of Penobscot Bay, on one of those long, rocky peninsulas for which Maine is renowned. I dropped in on the couple—partners in life as well as in the enterprise they call Four Season Farm—just before lunch one gray day last February, when storm clouds lowered and a chill wind whipped the ocean waves to a froth. I found them out in one of their unheated plastic-covered greenhouses, in shirtsleeves and sweating slightly as they harvested a surfeit of organically grown salad greens along with baby beets, little white Hakurei turnips and candy-sweet Napoli carrots.

[cont'd]

Fried green farmers’ markets

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

The latest issue of the Nation has an article on the surge in farmers’ markets in Alabama, and the help that is given to this movement by the US government’s WIC/FMNP program (Women, Infants, and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program). And also that the program is way too small. The online version of the article is restricted to magazine subscribers. I’ve taken the liberty of quoting the opening to tantalize you.

A New Idea Grows in Alabama

by MARK WINNE

[from the November 27, 2006 issue]

Dr. Jill Foster was a practicing family physician in Cincinnati when she became increasingly dismayed treating preventable illnesses. “A young female patient of mine who weighed 200 pounds asked me, ‘Doctor, am I obese?’ Foster recalls. “When I told her she was, the poor child was devastated.” As both a vegetarian and doctor, Foster knew that unhealthy diets were the root cause of many of her patients’ problems. So rather than slog upstream through the quickening torrent of diet-related disease, she took leave from her practice to study nutritional science in Birmingham, Alabama.

Had she been looking for the fastest route to the belly of the beast, Foster couldn’t have chosen a better place. According to the Trust for America’s Health, Alabama has the second-highest level of adult obesity (28.9 percent) in the nation. For African-Americans the numbers are worse: 38 percent are obese. And 286,000 Alabamians, or about 6 percent of the state’s population, have been diagnosed with diabetes, a number that has climbed by more than 50 percent since 1994.

As a new resident of Birmingham, Dr. Foster, a petite black woman, soon noticed that most of the people around her were at least fifty pounds heavier than she was. “Poverty has a lot to do with obesity,” she noted, “and so does race. When you’re poor, you eat what’s cheap and what’s available.” She also found that the only vegetables available in the city’s poorer neighborhoods were fried okra and fried green tomatoes.

Foster’s experience comes as no surprise to researchers and community food advocates, who commonly use the term “food desert” to describe the lack of affordable, healthy food outlets across the country. In general, the data show that people living in lower-income, nonwhite communities must travel greater distances to reach well-stocked and reasonably priced food stores than people living in higher-income areas. Healthy food is also more expensive on a calorie-for-calorie basis than junk food. According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the real cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has risen nearly 40 percent in the past twenty years, while the real cost of soda, sweets, fats and oils has gone down.

While Alabama’s obesity rate tops the national charts, the state is beginning to distinguish itself for its efforts to improve its food environment. Tapping into Alabama’s agrarian roots, community leaders, clergy and government officials are hoping that the agricultural sector can play a vigorous role in promoting healthy eating. But is this just wishful thinking in a state where cotton, peanuts and poultry are the dominant farm industries?

Skepticism is warranted. The homepage of Alabama’s Department of Agriculture and Industry’s website reads: “Our department has the responsibility to help the few family farmers that remain in business in any way that we can.” This doesn’t sound like a bureaucracy that can save itself, let alone the hundreds of thousands who are suffering from obesity.

But walk across the street in Montgomery’s capital district and you’ll find a more upbeat view from Don Wambles, executive director of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority. With the intention of helping farmers as well as nutritionally vulnerable consumers, Wambles has increased the number of Alabama farmers’ markets from seventeen in 1999 to ninety today. With his leadership and the commitment of hundreds of community leaders, Alabama now has at least one market in nearly every one of its sixty-seven counties.

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The Depths of Science and the Heart, Briefly Illuminated

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

For Immediate Release
November 15, 2006

Luminous Fish
Tales of Science and Love

By Lynn Margulis

Contact: Jessica Saturley, 802-295-6300 x.106

“Luminous Fish is unadulterated Lynn Margulis, fascinating and fun all the way as you follow her characters—real and fictionalized—through the challenges and turmoils of life. Great reading!”
—J. Woodland Hastings, Paul C. Mangelsdorf Professor of Natural Sciences, Harvard University

What place does passion have in a field known for rational detachment? What private pain haunts the conscience of the man who brought us the atomic bomb? In the face of human frailty, whither science? Renown evolutionist and author Lynn Margulis ponders such questions as she examines the personalities and passions she has known in her thirty-plus years in the rarified field of primary science—science for the sake of knowledge. Genius and profound dysfunction, deep love and monumental criminality all come together in these sketches of men and women whose lives, work and social relations change the world.

Margulis’ deft eye and penetrating insight lay bare the love lives and foibles of three generations of scientists: from René, the naïve atmospheric chemist; to Georges, the workaholic space scientist; to Margulis’ memoir of her Sunday meeting with J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1955. The stories piece together portraits of people obsessive in their work and shares their memories of personal interactions between scientific colleagues.

The struggles of parent scientists in particular come to the fore in these stories: struggles between mates, children and professional obligations. These tales will especially resonate with those who have worked with any aspect of the international scientific community, as well as anyone who has struggled to balance family and intellectual life.

Luminous Fish weaves together memoir and stories of science from the inside—its thrills, disappointments and triumphs. A largely fictional account, it draws on Margulis’ decades of experience to portray the poor judgement, exhaustion, and life-threatening dedication of real scientists—their emotional preoccupations, sexual distractions, and zeal for scientific investigation. The arcane, exhilarating and routine world of research emerges from the shadows of its passive narrative into the sunlight of the personal voice of those who attempt to wrench secrets directly from nature. All of us who struggle to balance family, professional and social commitments with intellectual quests will be intrigued by the humanity of these tales.

Lynn Margulis is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has been elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, and received the Presidential Medal of Science in 1999. Among her many books are Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution; Symbiosis in Cell Evolution: Microbial Communities in the Archean and Proterozoic Eons; What is Life?; What is Sex?; Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species (last three with Dorion Sagan); and Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth (with K. V. Schwartz).


Book available March 2007 | Hardcover | $21.95 | 1-933392-33-9 | 5 ¼ x 8 | 192 pagesFind out more at www.chelseagreen.com/2007/items/luminousfish.com

Mass Audubon reading and wandering

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Over at Mass Audubon’s South Shore Journal blog, they’re taking long walks and talking about books. Latest picks for their book club include our local-kid-makes-good, Tim Traver.

…The week rolled on through Wednesday, when I delivered a presentation on lighthouses to a local church group, and our natural history book club discussed Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Depressing was the word of the day. We did, though, choose books for the first four months of 2007: Tim Traver’s Sippewissett, Edward O. Wilson’s Nature Revealed, Jeff Corwin’s Living on the Edge, and David Carroll’s Swampwalker’s Journal. Friday morning we spent in Marshfield and Scituate, finding 52 species from Fourth Cliff to Damon’s Point to Pudding Hill, from long-tailed ducks to dunlin to red-breasted nuthatches to swamp sparrows….


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