Archive for July, 2009

The Secret to Four-Season Compost

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Eliot Coleman is the author of The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses. For a year-round growing operation, he needs a year-round supply of rich organic compost. In the following excerpt, Eliot explains how he does it.

The following is an excerpt from The Winter Harvest Handbook. It has been adapted for the web.

We make our compost from mowed forage crops with added vegetable wastes and clay as described in The New Organic Grower. Since we are close to the rocky Maine coast, we add seaweed. We also add manure produced by our livestock. The compost is turned twice the summer before we begin to use it by loading the compost heap continuously into a small manure spreader that chops, aerates, and throws it out so as to form a windrow as the spreader moves slowly ahead. The end result is a thoroughly decomposed, crumbly product. We spend a lot of time making compost and we use as much as we can make. Good compost is a key ingredient for soil fertility whether in the greenhouse or the open field. Before we got back into livestock, after a fifteen-year hiatus, we would occasionally buy manure compost from a local horse farm. It was made from hay, straw, and manure, but without wood shavings, which I consider detrimental in a vegetable soil. We would limit our purchases to the amount of manure our future livestock would be producing because we wanted to establish the baseline for a truly locally based fertility program for the farm.

In order to have compost available all winter for replanting the greenhouses, we erect a temporary plastic-covered A-frame structure over one of the compost windrows each fall. We build this A-frame out of pieces of straight pipe compost_triangle.pngthat are leftover from greenhouse experiments, but it would be just as easy to construct a frame with poles cut from the woods. Wiggle-wire channel up and over each end and sandbags along the bottom hold the plastic on. This structure keeps rain and snow off the compost, protects against leaching, and is sufficient insulation against the cold to prevent more than surface freezing of the ingredients.

A second layer of plastic draped directly over the windrow inside the A-frame is needed from December thru February during really cold winters. In milder winter areas, if you place your windrow in a sunny site and just cover it directly with a sheet of plastic in the late fall held down around the edges with sandbags or rocks, there should always be plenty of thawed compost available.

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How Much Water Do You Use?

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Not showering every day? That’s awfully…European. Me, I’m addicted to daily showers. Especially in summer. I’m an American, and I can smell like honeysuckle-jasmine every goshdarn day if I want to. But there is one thing our fragrant friends across the pond have on us…on average, they’re using a lot less water.

How much water do you use? If you’re an average American, a lot. Let’s take a look at some numbers. Who knows? Maybe we can actually do something to fight water wastefulness.

The following is an excerpt from Water: Use Less—Save More by Jon Clift and Amanda Cuthbert. It has been adapted for the Web.

Water. We all need it, we can’t live without it, and we are using more and more of it.

Although we appear to have plenty of rain in the United States, our water resources are under pressure. We use 127% more water today than we did in 1950.

Quite simply, we are consuming too much. Our demand for water increases yearly, to the extent that no matter what the water companies do, eventually they will not be able to keep up. Water also requires huge amounts of energy, both to treat it and pump it to our houses, so our thirst for water is damaging our planet in more ways than one.

How much water do you use?

Are you letting money flow down the drain? Find out how much water you use: how much is it costing you?

Bath 40 gallons
5-minute shower 10 gallons
5-minute power shower 20 gallons
Brushing teeth with tap running 2 gallons/min
Brushing teeth with tap off .25 gallon
One toilet flush 3 gallons
Other water use (drinking, cooking, etc.) 7 gallons
Washing machine 40 gallons
Dishwasher 10 gallons
Washing car with bucket 3 gallons
Hose/sprinkler 140 gallons/hour


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Marijuana Is Safer Now Available! 7 Common Marijuana Myths vs. Reality

Friday, July 24th, 2009

It’s a gateway drug… it’s incredibly addictive… it’s twice as potent as it was twenty years ago… it can cause madness, blindness, and death… Booga booga! Lock up your daughters! It’s… POT!

Sigh. There’s a lot of Reefer Madness-style disinformation polluting the air these days—much of it dating back to the days of alcohol prohibition—and no matter how often they’re debunked, the myths just won’t go away. But a sane and rational discussion of US drug policy can’t happen until we dispel these myths and start talking truthfully about marijuana. Like adults.

Want to break the Mexican drug cartels? Help alleviate state budget woes? Steer people away from alcohol—a more easily accessible substance that often leads to violence, addiction, and death? Of course you do. We all do. And we can start by facing reality.

Here’s a short list of some of the most common marijuana myths, and the truth behind them. Light up, and enjoy.

The following is an excerpt from Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert. It has been edited for length and adapted for the Web.

The origins of cannabis prohibition were steeped in prejudice, misinformation, and fear mongering. Inflammatory accusations against marijuana and marijuana consumers were typically unsubstantiated, while evidence refuting these claims often went ignored. Troublingly, nearly one hundred years later, little has changed.

Today, the U.S. government and many law enforcement officials continue to justify the need for cannabis prohibition by promoting alarmist myths that distort the truth about marijuana. Some of these distortions, such as the claim that pot smoking is linked to violent and psychotic behavior, date back to the “Reefer Madness” era of the 1930s. Other myths, like the claim that today’s cannabis is highly addictive, are more recent yet equally specious. Nonetheless, this propaganda serves as the basis for the criminal prohibition of marijuana today.

Therefore, what we intend to do in this chapter is to provide you with an advanced course in the truth about marijuana. In the pages that follow, we will dispel some of the more prominent myths about cannabis by providing sound scientific, health, criminal justice, and economic data. We hope that you will keep these facts in mind the next time you hear government officials spreading lies about cannabis.

MYTH: Today’s marijuana is significantly stronger and thus more dangerous than the marijuana of the past.

“We’re no longer talking about the drug of the 1960s and 1970s. This is Pot 2.0.”1
— John P. Walters, U.S. drug czar (2001–8)

“This ain’t your grandfather’s or your father’s marijuana. This will hurt you. This will addict you. This will kill you.”2
—Mark R. Trouville, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency chief (DEA Miami division)

FACT: The potency of today’s cannabis is only slightly higher, on average, than the pot of twenty or thirty years ago. Marijuana’s increased potency, however, is not associated with increased health risks.

MYTH: Using marijuana will inevitably lead to the use of “harder” drugs like cocaine and heroin.

“Marijuana is a gateway drug. In drug law enforcement, rarely do we meet heroin or cocaine addicts who did not start their drug use with marijuana.”3
—Karen Tandy, U.S. DEA administrator (2005–7)

FACT: The overwhelming majority of marijuana users never try another illicit substance.

MYTH: Marijuana is highly addictive. Millions of Americans seek treatment every year because they become dependent upon marijuana.

“Marijuana is a much bigger part of the American addiction problem than most people … realize. There are now more teens going into treatment for marijuana dependency than for all other drugs combined.”4
—John P. Walters, U.S. drug czar (2001–8)

FACT: Marijuana lacks the physical and psychological dependence liability associated with other intoxicants—including tobacco and alcohol. Very few cannabis users voluntarily seek drug treatment for pot “addiction.” The majority of marijuana smokers in drug treatment were arrested for pot possession and ordered into treatment as a condition of their probation.

MYTH: Smoking cannabis is more harmful to health than smoking tobacco and causes lung cancer.

“Someone who smokes marijuana regularly may have many of the same respiratory problems that tobacco smokers do. . . . Marijuana has the potential to promote cancer of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory tract because marijuana smoke contains 50 percent to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke.”5
—U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

FACT: Smoking cannabis is not associated with higher incidences of lung cancer or any other types of cancer. Compounds in marijuana may even be protective against the spread of various forms of cancer.

MYTH: Smoking marijuana impairs driving in a manner that is worse than alcohol. Marijuana consumption is responsible for tens of thousands of traffic accidents every year.

“The extent of the problem of marijuana-impaired driving is startling. . . . Marijuana smoking [has] disastrous effect. . . . on driving.”6
—Karen Tandy, U.S. DEA administrator (2005–7)

FACT: Marijuana intoxication appears to play, at most, a minor role in traffic injuries.

MYTH: Smoking marijuana causes permanent damage to the brain.

“Long-term effects of using marijuana include ‘burnout. . . . and permanent damage to thinking skills”
—Syndistar/Fox Pro Media antidrug educational pamphlet7

FACT: Marijuana use by adults—even long-term, heavy use of the drug—has, at most, only a negligible residual impact on cognition and memory skills.

MYTH: Smoking marijuana is linked to violence and psychotic behavior.

“Boy on Skunk Cannabis Butchered Grandmother”
“Cannabis Drove Brighton Man to Kill Himself”
“Cannabis Users Risk Their Sanity”
—Assorted British tabloid newspaper headlines between 2007–8, as compiled by the authors

FACT: Smoking cannabis does not cause the user to engage in violent or delinquent behavior. Marijuana does not appear to be a cause of mental illness in otherwise healthy individuals.



  1. Reuters News Wire, “U.S. Marijuana Even Stronger Than Before: Report,” April 25, 2007.
  2. Associated Press, “Locals Ask State Help to Battle Pot Houses,” June 22, 2007.
  3. Karen Tandy, “Marijuana: The Myths Are Killing Us,” Police Chief Magazine (March 2005).
  4. Ask the White House, Q&A with John Walters, January 7, 2005; archived at
  5. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA Briefs and Background: Marijuana, (accessed March 5, 2009).
  6. Tandy, “Marijuana: The Myths Are Killing Us.”

Driven to Drink By Marijuana Laws

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert are on a mission: to begin a rational, commonsense discussion on the question of repealing our outdated marijuana prohibition policy. Budget crises are causing many states to reconsider marijuana as a possible source of revenue. Society’s attitudes have been shifting, as well, as more and more people recognize the backward illogic of the War on Drugs.

Alcohol causes far, far more death, disease, violence, and suffering than marijuana–yet alcohol is a legal substance, taxed by the state. Their new book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? puts the dichotomy in stark relief.

Reuters columnist Bernd Debusmann looks at the book and the controversy and wonders what it could mean for the future of U.S. drug policy.

Tough marijuana laws are driving millions of Americans to a more dangerous mood-altering substance, alcohol. The unintended consequence: violence and thousands of unnecessary deaths. It’s time, therefore, for a serious public debate of the case for marijuana versus alcohol.

That’s the message groups advocating the legalization of marijuana are beginning to press, against a background of shifting attitudes which have already prompted 13 states to relax draconian laws dating back to the 1930s, when the government ended alcohol prohibition and began a determined but futile effort to stamp out marijuana.

How dismally that effort has failed is not in doubt. Marijuana is so easily available that around 100 million Americans have tried it at least once and some 15 million use it regularly, according to government estimates. The U.S. marijuana industry, in terms of annual retail sales, has been estimated to be almost as big as the alcohol industry — $113 billion and $130 billion respectively. On a global scale, marijuana is the world’s most widely used illicit drug.

Since the United States, and much of the rest of the world, plunged into a recession last year, the most frequently used argument in favour of legalizing marijuana has been economic: if it were taxed, the revenue would help stimulate economic recovery just as a gusher of dollars in fresh tax revenue from alcohol helped the United States pull out of the Great Depression after the 1933 repeal of prohibition.

That idea enrages some leading drug warriors, including the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa. In the preface to the U.N.’s 2009 World Drug Report, he asks whether proponents of legalization and taxation also favour legalizing and taxing human trafficking and modern-day slavery “to rescue failed banks.”

Never mind that drug abusers hurt themselves and human traffickers hurt others. It’s the kind of topsy-turvy logic which has made sober discussion of national and international drug policies (largely driven by the United States) so difficult for so long.

The case for adding a compare-and-contrast dimension to the debate is laid out in a statistics-laden book to be published next month entitled “Marijuana is Safer, So why are we driving people to drink?” The authors are prominent legalization advocates – Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project, Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Mason Tvert, co-founder of SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation).

“The plain and simple truth is that alcohol fuels violent behaviour and marijuana does not,” Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief, writes in the foreword of the book. “Alcohol … contributes to literally millions of acts of violence in the United States each year. It is a major contributing factor to crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault and homicide. Marijuana use … is absent in that regard from both crime reports and the scientific literature. There is simply no causal link to be found.”

Read the whole article here.

Get Pickled: Canning Makes a Comeback

Friday, July 24th, 2009

If you’re a fan of living, probiotic superfoods like yogurt, kimchee, or any number of pickled vegetables, this article’s for you.

Vancouver’s offers a few tips on canning fermented foods for yourself and your loved ones, and gives a much-appreciated shout-out to two of our DIY guides for the budget gourmand: Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: by the farmers and gardeners of Terre Vivante and Wild Fermentation: by Sandor Katz.

Self-described “food geek” Andrea Potter is the queen of cool canning in Vancouver. But as innovative, hip things often do, it started by accident.

“I made this raspberry coulis at a restaurant I was working at,” she told the Georgia Straight. “After a few days, it got kind of fizzy. I thought it was lovely, kind of neat-tasting. But the chef said, ‘That’s rancid! Throw it out.’ That’s when I started learning about aged sausages, sourdough bread, miso, sauerkraut, and I really got into this book.”

The book she’s referring to is Wild Fermentation: the Flavour, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (Chelsea Green, 2003). For those who are part of the burgeoning DIY foodie culture, it’s a paperback bible on the 21st-century version of home-based food preservation.

As the head chef at Radha Yoga & Eatery, Potter’s got the food-safety background to responsibly lead a new revolution of an old craft. Fermenting, she said, looks a lot like old-style canning. But instead of an OCD-like focus on sterilized jars, she claims that a finger straying into a jar of ginger beer won’t kill off your nearest and dearest.

In addition, unlike regular canning, in which food is boiled until all bacteria—good and bad—die, fermenting means food is still alive with enzymes, probiotic bacteria, and other goodies. Potter claims her kombucha (a fermented tea) can “battle pathogens”. […]

For those with limited patience, an easy way of preserving fruit is to dump booze on it. The basic technique is to start with a clean jar, layer fruit and white sugar in equal amounts, pour rum or another type of alcohol over the whole thing, and twist on a lid. Voilà—totally doable in a condo kitchen. (For detailed instructions, check out Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation [Chelsea Green, 2007].)

For Potter and McDonald, with the best of the region’s produce bursting into markets and stores, canning is as relevant today as ever. Plus, a can made in July is one less present to buy come December.

Read the whole article here.

We Need an Energy Revolution: Senator Bernie Sanders

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been a leader on everything from health care reform to renewable energy issues. His no-nonsense, commonsense advancement of the progressive agenda should make some of the more spineless Democrats in the Senate hang their heads in shame.

His office sent us this op-ed today, which we’re re-printing below in its entirety. In it, he challenges us to start the renewables revolution, to transition off foreign fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy sources: sunlight, wind, geothermal, and biomass. You can see why we in Vermont are proud to have him representing us in Congress.

The United States today spends some $400 billion a year importing oil from countries like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Mexico, Russia, and Venezuela. Think for a moment what an incredible impact that same $400 billion a year could have on our country if that money were invested here and not abroad, in such areas as weatherization, energy efficiency, sustainable energies like wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, public transportation and automobiles that are energy efficient or don’t use fossil fuels at all.

What we are talking about is an energy revolution that leads us toward energy independence, the cessation of support for foreign dictatorships and the ability to avoid Mideast wars fought over oil. What we are talking about is an energy revolution that will substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enable us to address the global warming crisis that threatens our planet with increases in floods, draught, extreme weather conditions, disease and wars fought over limited natural resources. What we are talking about is an energy revolution that will result in cleaner air, water and food and make us a healthier nation.

And, as our nation struggles to recover from the worst economic times since the Great Depression, what we also are talking about is an energy revolution that has the capability of creating millions of good-paying green jobs.

These are jobs that will occur at every level of education and for every skill set. These are jobs for scientists, engineers, machinists, and electricians. These are jobs for workers who weatherize older homes and buildings and save consumers substantial sums on their fuel bills. These are jobs for factory workers who produce advanced insulation material, energy-efficient windows, improved roofing materials and LED light bulbs. These are jobs that build, distribute, install and maintain wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, solar hot water systems, geothermal heating and cooling systems, and biomass heating systems. These are jobs on our farms and in our forests producing biofuels and converting farm waste to electricity.

I see a future where, by 2025, we are producing a quarter or more of our electricity from clean, sustainable energy sources. I see a revitalized American manufacturing base where instead of importing 90 percent of the batteries used in hybrid vehicles, 46 percent of solar photovoltaic cells and modules, and half of all wind turbines used in the U.S., those product are made right here at home. I see a future where American companies lead the world in the production of hybrid-plug in cars and electric vehicles.

I see a future where instead of creating 330 jobs to build yet another fossil-fuel power plant, we create 4,000 jobs building a solar thermal plant that has no carbon dioxide emissions and does not pollute our air because the only fuel is endlessly renewed, no-cost sunlight. These plants, according to the Interior Department secretary, could provide up to 29 percent of the electrical needs of our country.

I see a future where, by 2020, our nation follows the example of a state like Vermont, which, in the last two years, has seen electricity demand lowered because of energy efficiency efforts. Investing in energy efficiency is cost-effective; it saves 3 cents per kilowatt hour compared to the 14 cents it costs to generate the same amount of power.

I see a future where states compete with one another to see which can be the most efficient, and where businesses seek out efficient states in which to locate so they can reap the economic and environmental benefits for their businesses and employees.

I see a future where getting to work, or to school, or to the store does not have to cause pollution. I see a future where plug-in hybrid cars and electric vehicles are commonplace, producing a fraction of the emissions of conventional vehicles while providing the same mobility for drivers.

I see a future where we rebuild our mass transportation and rail systems. For every $1 billion we invest in public transportation, we create 30,000 jobs, save thousands of dollars a year for each commuter, and dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The bad news is that if we do not act boldly to address the global warming crisis, the consequences for our planet and future generations will be dire. The good news is that we have the knowledge and technology today, which will only improve in the future, to address that crisis. Yes, we can dramatically cut greenhouse gas emission. Yes, we can create an energy independent nation. Yes, we can create millions of good paying green jobs in the process. Let’s do it!

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is chairman of the Green Jobs and the New Economy Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Constipated? Top 5 Green Ways to Start Crapping Again

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

There’s never a good time to be constipated. It’s not fun. Not fun at all. And if you’re reading this, you’re clearly one of the millions upon billions of people every day that may be experiencing symptoms (or may know someone experiencing them) of not being able to take a shit. But, hear this: you will crap again!

I’ve known advertising execs that can’t poop because they’re too stressed. I’ve known editors who say they’ve gone without doing it for two weeks as a result of a deadline, and barely survived. I’ve known people in new relationships who go to their boyfriend’s mother’s house on the Cape and are too nervous people will hear through the bathroom door, and then they come home seven days later to find they’ve forgotten how to poop altogether. And I’ve known myself. I’ve known myself quite well. And one time I couldn’t go because I had just moved in with a guy, and I didn’t want to be “that girl.” A girl who poops regularly. Like normal humans.

Well. I became that girl—and I’m proud to be where I am today. How did I get here? I didn’t join a support group (although I’m sure they exist). I don’t take pills. I don’t stop at the gas station every morning on the way to work, and pillage their potty. Nope. I embraced whole foods. So I reach my arms out wide to the population of those of you maintaining repressed bowels—and I beckon to you. Start your system again. Embrace regularity. You can, in fact, become un-constipated. And this doesn’t mean lactose intolerant people should go buy a cheese wheel and dig in. There are healthy ways to fight this!

While I’m not a doctor, here are my top 5 green (whole) foods to help you start crapping again, from my new bible: Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods by Dianne Onstad:

1. Castor Oil (1 tablespoon with a cup of ginger tea)
2. Psyllium (both the husks and the meat)
3. Fresh Flaxseed or Linseed Oil (also whole flax seeds)
4. Olive Oil (mild, and good for children)
5. Raw Pistachios

1. Blueberries

2. Raw or Dried Prunes (very acidic, not recommended for people with ulcers)
3. Grapes (very cleansing fruit)
4. Ripe Bananas (unripe ones cause constipation)
5. Apples (my personal favorite is fresh-pressed apple cider)

1. Asparagus
2. Carrots (carrot soup also combats diarrhea)
3. Chinese Cabbage

4. Cucumbers (one of the most effective, also good for kidney stones)
5. Rutabaga (warning: can also cause flatulence)

1. Millet
2. Rye
3. Whole Barley (also called “sproutable barley”)
4. Oat Bran
5. Whole Oats (note: oats also reduce the craving for cigarettes!)

1. Basil (also counteracts flatulence, cramps, nausea)
2. Raw Honey (note: for kids under 1 year, may cause botulism)
3. Licorice (also cleans your teeth!)
4. Hemp Seeds, and Hempseed Oil
5. Coconut

I hope your bowels flow like rivers of gold. Whole foods will be your guide on the gondola of pooping again.

For more information on the history of people in relation to their bowels, click here, or if you’re interested in composting your soon-to-be ever-flowing poop, click here.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Weekly Mulch: Environmental News From The Media Consortium

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Chelsea Green is proud to be a member of The Media Consortium (among others like Grist, The Nation, Mother Jones, and Democracy Now!). Their weekly newsletters (many of which we will re-post here) compile news from their member sites.

Chelsea Green author featured this week is Brad Lancaster, author of Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Vol. 1, and Vol.2

Weekly Mulch: Urban Farming ‘Mushrooms’ During Recession.

by Sara Luckow, TMC MediaWire Blogger

Americans have picked up some interesting habits thanks to the Great Recession. Online dating is on the rise because it’s cheaper to vet a date online than pay for a night on the town. Interest in urban farming and community gardening has also spiked, but for different reasons: Home-grown foods taste better, cost less and are better for you.

While technology has made online dating easy, urban agriculture has a tradition of mushrooming during the tough times. During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt inspired millions by planting the first Victory Garden. That tradition continues today: Michelle Obama planted an organic vegetable garden on the White House Lawn.

But urban gardening isn’t just for the movers and shakers. And it’s not always easy to get a garden in the ground, no matter how clear-cut the benefits are. As Todd Heywood of the Michigan Messenger reports, residents of Flint, Michigan are appropriating abandoned lots as community gardens, but are running into some big problems in the process. Flint has no zoning laws that allow for urban agriculture, which makes the legality of these guerrilla gardens questionable at best. The city council will review proposals to update zoning ordinances in September, but Flint’s troubles are a good example of how, even if urban agriculture seems like a practical solution, it’s not always feasible.

In contrast to Flint, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has ordered all city departments to audit unused land that could be utilized for urban farming. City officials have also spent the last year preparing approximately 15 sites for growing produce, according to Mother Jones’ Josh Harkinson. As part of an initiative to encourage the spread and consumption of locally-grown foods, a colorful quarter-acre victory garden was planted in front of San Francisco’s city hall. Newsom’s other creative gardening plans including planting strawberry patches atop bus shelters and fruit trees in street medians.

While Newsom’s goals are intended to be in the best public interest, there are legitimate concerns: Contaminated soil, city pollution and vandalism could make the food unfit to eat. And his proposal to require jails, hospitals and homeless shelters to only serve high-quality, sustainable fare might not work in other metropolitan areas.

In an interview with Grist, food writer and urban farmer Novella Carpenter defines urban farming as ‘growing enough food to trade or sell for added income. Food security and financial savings are big motivators to plant a plot of land, even if it’s just to feed one household.

The popularity of community gardens will likely fall when the economy rebounds, Carpenter says, much like the 20 million World War II victory gardens that disappeared after the troops returned home and convenience foods because ubiquitous. That’s because sustaining a, well, sustainable land plot takes a lot of energy, planning and dedication.

But attempting to eat locally and seasonally can be frustrating if you live in a climate with a short growing season. Finding locally-grown tomatoes during a North Dakota winter is out of the question. But Tom Philpott offers a solution: Investing in technology and infrastructure “can dramatically extend growing seasons in almost any climate.” (Scroll down for link.)

Appropriate technology doesn’t mean complicated or expensive. Chelsea Green’s Brad Lancaster writes about how his mentor, Russ Buhrow, has defied dry climate conditions since the 1980s by harvesting rainwater to irrigate his crops. Without money for extraneous equipment or fertilizers, Burhrow’s sole significant investment was his time.

Deciding which issue to dedicate time and resources to can be overwhelming: Hard times make plenty of big problems to go around. But urban agriculture has the power to alleviate problems related to both healthcare and the recession, which makes it worthwhile despite political, technological or social difficulties.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment. Visit for a complete list of articles on the environment and sustainability, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health, and immigration issues, check out , and , This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

“You Can’t Do Business on a Dead Planet”: Kellogg’s Martin Melaver Interview

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Sustainability makes sense from a business and, more importantly, from a moral perspective. It really is that simple for sustainable business leaders like Martin Melaver (author of Living Above the Store: Building a Business That Creates Value, Inspires Change, and Restores Land and Community). Would you rather get up in the morning just for the sake of a paycheck, or get up in the morning with a sense of purpose (and get a paycheck)?

Business leaders must embrace the future—because without a sustainable, triple-bottom-line, morality-based business plan—there won’t be a future.

From Kellogg World, the alumni magazine of Kellogg School of Management:

In his new book, Living Above the Store: Building a Business that Creates Value, Inspires Change and Restores Land and Community (Chelsea Green, 2009), Melaver provides a road map for achieving sustainability, and explains how the sustainable practices of a real estate company translate to other fields of business.

Kellogg World: What are some of the challenges of investing in sustainability?

Martin Melaver: I think the biggest challenge to moving in a sustainable direction is an internal one. It’s getting over one’s fear of not conforming — fear of taking a path that’s less tried and less familiar. I look at external obstacles as versions of an imaginary line: you just go around it. The thing that keeps you from going around it is your own internal frame of mind and how you see things.

KW: What are some of these external obstacles you’ve faced?

MM: We’ve seen local building ordinances that make little sense in today’s era of limits on our natural systems; investment capital that doesn’t get the longer view of investing along multiple bottom lines; tenant-rep brokers who, because they are transaction-oriented, don’t like non-cookie cutter deals. In the early days, we simply found ways around these obstacles. Now, with a more maturing “green” market, we find those voices and pockets of resistance largely irrelevant.

KW: What drives your passion for sustainability? Is it as simple as you think it’s the right thing to do?

MM: Yeah, it really is that simple. I think there’s sort of a common-sense piece to it too. Which is, if I gave you the choice of waking up in the morning and collecting a paycheck versus getting up in the morning with a sense of purpose about what you do, what path would you take?

KW: If it’s common sense, why aren’t more executives adopting that mindset?

MM: I think many, many people in leadership positions don’t realize how open the field is, and how many options they have. [They believe] that’s how it’s been and that’s how it is and that’s how it will always be. I think a lot of people don’t consider other possibilities. They think about walking within a confined set of parameters that they’ve inherited.

KW: What would you say to an executive who needs to be sold on sustainability?

MM: I think there is a financial imperative and a moral imperative to sustainability. The financial imperative is very simple: Businesses that get sustainability are going to find themselves viable in the future. Businesses that don’t are going to be noncompetitive. The moral imperative is even easier: You can’t do business on a dead planet. Just like you wouldn’t want to be a manufacturer of buggy whips when the automobile comes into play, you’d not want to be a laggard when it comes to a basic focus on energy and water. That’s not sitting in a very smart position.

Read the whole article here.


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Using Trellises, Walls, and Espaliers to Grow Fruit

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Cross-posted on Planet Green.

When most people think of gardening, they think of vegetables, not fruit—especially those who are gardening in small spaces. Who could ever fathom having a peach tree in their Brooklyn backyard, after all? It seems so…so…California. But it can be done. Fruit trees are extremely adept at growing vertically, and berry plants can fit just about anywhere. So yeah, gardening just got a whole lot sweeter, even in less tropical climates. Now all you need is a balcony, a wall, or a neglected dusty corner of your sidewalk.

R. J. Ruppenthal is an expert in growing food with limited land access. In his book Fresh Food From Small Spaces: The Square Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting he gives great tips on how to use trellises, walls, and espaliers to maximize your harvest in minimal space:


Ruppenthal says, “Your space is limited, so you must use it well. It is normally not too difficult to keep small trees and berry bushes pruned. This involves pruning off any dead or excess growth during the winter with the aim of helping the tree maximize its energy into growing its main branches and producing good fruit. Pruning also can help promote good air circulation and sunlight for the branches. If you have a particular space that the tree must fit, you can prune most types of small trees to fit your space.”


“Growing fruit or berries on trellises,” Ruppenthal claims, “can help you train these plants vertically and maximize your space. Simple, two-dimensional trellises often are sold in nurseries and commonly take the shape of a fan or lattice. If you have a south-facing wall, consider training a fruit tree to grow two-dimensionally to maximize your space. Apples, pears, grapes, and figs are examples of plants that can be espaliered (trained and pruned to grow two-dimensionally, often into specific shapes and forms). This is fairly simple to do…

Other fruit grows better on a larger trellis. For vining fruits (such as grapes and kiwi) and cane berries (such as raspberries, blackberries, currants, and gooseberries), you will get more fruit with a three-dimensional trellis. Imagine a vineyard, where a row of grapes grows between posts. Their vines are trained along wires or horizontal supports that are strung between the posts. These must be strong enough, and widely spaced, to support heavy vines laden with fruit. Next, imagine an arbor. It is basically four posts with a stepladder placed horizontally on top of them, and perhaps some lattices on each end. Arbors make great trellises because they support three-dimensional growth: upward, across, and outward. What you need for vine or cane fruits, even in a container garden, is a smaller version of these.

Now…How-To Make a 3-D Trellis

Ruppenthal gives great tips on how to make your own trellis:

  1. Take four posts and string some strong fencing wire around the top corners to make a rectangular frame on top.
  2. Nail the posts to wooden containers or sink them into the ground or container-based soil. “Grapes and kiwis,” he says “will be trained to grow up and then along the wires, while cane berries will be planted into the soil underneath and will grow up through (inside) the rectangular wire frame.”
  3. Keep the canes inside the wire frame and prevent spreading—this helps the berries grow vertically, allowing maximum berry production and easy harvesting.

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