Archive for November, 2009


In Maine, the Growing Season Just Keeps On Growing

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Partly out of a rising demand for local produce, and partly because of the innovative farming methods pioneered by Eliot Coleman (The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses, The Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long), the growing season in Maine and other northern states has extended past the first frost.

More and more farmers are using unheated or minimally heated hoophouses and greenhouses to take advantage of the plentiful sunlight on the 44th parallel, building on their existing infrastructure and shifting their harvests to hardier winter varieties. Nowadays, winter gardening is not only possible but profitable.

From the Portland Press Herald:

The vegetable-growing season used to end with the first hard frost in Maine.

Not anymore.

An increasing number of farmers are pushing the growing season into the winter to take advantage of the surging demand for locally grown food. As a result, more farmers are operating greenhouses, branching out into cool-weather crops and creating new markets for their produce.

“Basically, people have gotten into it because their infrastructure is already there,” said Mark Hutton, vegetable specialist and assistant professor of vegetable crops with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Winter farming was pioneered in the 1990s by organic farmer and writer Eliot Coleman and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, at their Four Season Farm in Harborside. The two took a trip to Europe in 1996, following the 44th parallel through France and Italy – the same latitude as Maine – when the idea of winter farming hit Coleman.

“The whole time, we had seen gardens in January with Brussels sprouts and leeks, and the minute we got above the snow line there was nothing,” said Coleman.

Coleman said he realized there was plenty of sunlight in Maine during the winter to grow vegetables – he just had to modify the temperature. So he came up with the idea of layered greenhouse structures that require minimal or no heating.

While there are no recent statistics on how many Maine farmers are venturing into winter gardening, agricultural experts say the number of new winter farmers markets and winter community-supported agricultural ventures reflects the increase.

There are about 18 community-supported agricultural operations selling winter shares of organic crops raised on Maine farms, according to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. The organization has seen its list of winter farmers markets more than double in the past year to more than a dozen across the state.

Read the whole article here.

 

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Passenger Trains: The Future of Transportation?

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Our friends over at PlanetGreen recently interviewed author James McCommons about the future of passenger railroad. They wondered: is it bright?

With the doom and gloom of climate change and the frightening post-peak oil reality, it’s hard to understand why the US is so far behind the times when it comes to trains. Whatever happened to the days of cross-country landscapes zooming by from a sleeper car? Or how about just plain old common sense, sustainable mass transit? It’s crucial to consider the future of transportation in this country. So while we’re shelling out gazillions in gas money (depleting what little reserves we actually have), passenger trains are rusting on their tracks–and what a waste it is.

Planet Green spoke with author James McCommons, whose new book Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service asks–quite rightly–why has the world’s greatest railroad nation turned its back on the form of transportation that made modern life and mobility possible? And, more importantly–what can we do to revive it?

Planet Green: During the crazy year of 2008–when gas prices reached $4 a gallon, Amtrak set ridership records, and a commuter train collided with a freight train in California–you spent a year on America’s trains. Can you talk a bit about what drew you to the system, and what made you want to spend a full year learning more about it?

James McCommons: I’ve been an Amtrak rider since 1975 when I was going to college, so I have long experience with the current system and used it to travel all over the country in the intervening years. Although I’ve had some great train trips, many were marred by late arrivals, missed connections, and traveling on run-down equipment. In 2007, I took a cross country trip on the California Zephyr that was both wonderful and frustrating, illustrating many of the contradictions of rail travel in America. At the end of that trip, I asked myself, “Why hasn’t the rail system gotten any better and is there any hope that it ever will?” I took a sabbatical from my teaching position at Northern Michigan University to research and write the book. As a side benefit, I got to ride a lot of trains and see a lot of country.

PG: What surprised you most about the U.S. train system?

JM: That it isn’t entirely dysfunctional. In regions of the country, such as California and parts of the Midwest, where Amtrak is supported by states and where their departments of transportation have worked out cooperative relationships with the big freight railroads–who own nearly all the tracks–Amtrak actually runs a pretty good service. I was gratified to meet people–including some at Amtrak–who understand passenger railroading quite well and know what needs to be done to move it forward.

DOTs [Departments of Transportation] in Wisconsin, Washington, North Carolina, and Illinois are starting to see rail as a solution to their surface transportation problems. These DOTs understand that they have to be more than just highway departments because we can’t move people and goods efficiently by just building more roads and adding lanes to the interstates. So they are beginning to build rail expertise in their staffs, putting money into infrastructure, working with the freight railroads, and even purchasing trains themselves because the feds and Amtrak can’t supply the rolling stock. Amtrak simply operates these state-supported trains. These states and their corridor services are really models for what can be done across the nation.

[...]

Read the entire article here.

Announcing Our Big Holiday Book Sale: 25% Off Everything. EVERYTHING.*

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Sure, Chelsea Green Publishing is the preeminent publisher of books on the politics and practice of sustainable living. Want to learn how to build your own cold frame? Be prepared for any emergency? Take action against climate change? Understand the food safety debate? We’ve got you covered.

But Chelsea Green, I hear you saying, what have you done for me lately? OK, we get the picture.

From now until January 3, all books in our bookstore are an astonishing 25% OFF. That includes all current books, all backlist books, all DVDs, and even all spring 2010 titles (so pre-order now!).

Looking for the perfect gift book? Allow me to make some suggestions:

 

Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge

For the foodie in your life.

Witty and irreverent, informative and provocative, Cheesemonger is the highly readable story of Gordon Edgar’s unlikely career as a cheesemonger at San Francisco’s worker-owned Rainbow Grocery Cooperative. A former punk-rock political activist, Edgar bluffed his way into his cheese job knowing almost nothing, but quickly discovered a whole world of amazing artisan cheeses. There he developed a deep understanding and respect for the styles, producers, animals, and techniques that go into making great cheese.


Death & Sex

For the curious mind.

It’s two books in one. In Death, Tyler Volk explains the intriguing ways creatures—including ourselves—use death to actually enhance life. Death is not simply the end of the living, though even in that aspect the Grim Reaper has long been essential to natural selection. Indeed, the exquisite schemes and styles of death that have emerged from evolution have been essential to the great story from life’s beginnings in tiny bacteria nearly four thousand million years ago to ancient human rituals surrounding death and continuing to the existential concerns of human culture and consciousness today. In Sex, Dorion Sagan takes a delightful, irreverent, and informative romp through the science, philosophy, and literature of humanity’s most obsessive subject.


Libation: A Bitter Alchemy

For the connoisseur of fine spirits.

Heekin explores the curious development of her nose and palate, her intuitive education and relationship with wine and spirits, and her arduous attempts to make liqueurs and wine from the fruits of her own land in northern New England. The essays follow her as she unearths ruby-toned wines given up by the ghosts of long-gone wine makers from the red soil of Italy, her adoptive land; as she embarks on a complicated pilgrimage to the home of one of the world’s oldest cocktails, Sazerac, in Katrina-soaked New Orleans; as she attempts a midsummer crafting of a brandy made from inherited roses, the results of an old Sicilian recipe she found in a dusty bookstore in Naples.


In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love

For the aspiring chef.

More than a cookbook, In Late Winter We Ate Pears is a love affair with a culture and a way of life. In vignettes taken from their year in Italy, husband and wife Caleb Barber and Deirdre Heekin offer glimpses of a young, vibrant Italy: of rolling out pizza dough in an ancient hilltown at midnight while wild dogs bay in the abandoned streets; of the fogged car windows of an ancient lovers’ lane amid the olive groves outside Prato.


Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

For the budding pickling fanatic.

Bread. Cheese. Wine. Beer. Coffee. Chocolate. Most people consume fermented foods and drinks every day. For thousands of years, humans have enjoyed the distinctive flavors and nutrition resulting from the transformative power of microscopic bacteria and fungi. Wild Fermentation is the first cookbook to widely explore the culinary magic of fermentation.


Search for the Golden Moon Bear: Science and Adventure in Pursuit of a New Species

For the adventurous animal lover.

Search for the Golden Moon Bear recounts Montgomery’s quest—fraught with danger and mayhem—to reconstruct an evolutionary record and piece together a living portrait of her littleknown subject. This beautiful animal is not just a scientific eureka! It is also a powerful symbol of conservation. Search for the Golden Moon Bear is a field report from the frontiers of science and the ends of the earth, seamlessly weaving together folklore, natural history, and contemporary research into fantastic travelogue.


Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting

For the radical micro-farmer.

With this book as a guide, people living in apartments, condominiums, townhouses, and single-family homes will be able to grow up to 20 percent of their own fresh food using a combination of traditional gardening methods and space-saving techniques such as reflected lighting and container “terracing.” Those with access to yards can produce even more.

 
*Everything except items that were already on sale, of course.

What’s Really Behind the Hysteria Over Food Safety? It’s Definitely Not Scary Data

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

By David E. Gumpert

From the Community Blogs

There have been all kinds of scary headlines and stories about food safety problems. The most recent was a front-page story in the New York Times a few weeks ago about a young dance instructor who wound up paralyzed from the waist down after a bout of illness from E. coli O157:H7 contained in a hamburger she ate. The story led to so much public upset that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was prompted to issue a statement saying the case was “unacceptable and tragic.”

Shortly after that, victims of food-borne illness were received by Obama administration officials at the White House for a high-profile photo session.

Besides health care reform, new food safety legislation moving through Congress (passed by the House, about to be voted on by the Senate) is billed as the most urgent consumer proposal in the Congress. It’s supposed to reduce the scary headlines about contaminated peanut butter, pistachios, ground beef, spinach, and other foods that have embarrassed the public health establishment over the last three years.

Unlike health care reform, food safety legislation, which is designed to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more power to monitor food producers and institute recalls, is heavily supported by an array of consumer organizations and health industry professionals, not to mention bureaucrats and legislators. President Obama has indicated he’s ready to sign whatever Congress passes.

But in all the hand-wringing, there’s been very little data presented by public health officials to document that we have a worsening problem with food-borne illness. Indeed, when you review the testimony provided by the FDA and other experts to the House in connection with the legislation that passed there over the summer (HR 2749), no one even tried to make a statistical case that we have a worsening problem with food-borne illness. The best you’ll find is FDA food safety adviser Michael R. Taylor, saying, “Every year, millions of our friends and neighbors in the United States suffer from food-borne illness, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands die.”

The reason FDA experts haven’t provided more convincing data is that it doesn’t exist. Indeed, if you examine the data on food-borne illness, you find a different sort of crisis—a crisis of credibility, based on ineffective and incomplete data gathering and investigation. And some of what is there actually shows declines in rates of food-borne illness.

The bastion of data on food-borne illness is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the data it pushes the public to consider as most relevant is a study scientists conducted more than ten years ago, and published in 1999. The study estimates that 76 million Americans are sickened by food-borne illness each year, with 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. (That’s the data the FDA’s Michael Taylor was quoting from.)

Three things are most notable about this data. First, it is old. Not only is the paper containing its findings more than ten years old, but the data it draws on goes back to as far as 1948.

Second, it is based entirely on what can only be termed wild estimates of the real situation. The number of reported illnesses are miniscule in comparison with the 76 million estimate. Even allowing for the multiplier effect—the likelihood that for every reported illness, there may be between ten and forty times that number not reported—the numbers don’t obviously add up to the millions projected by the CDC. Consider that in 2007, the CDC reported a total 21,183 cases of food-borne illness, based on reports from states and localities around the country. Multiplying that by 40, you still only get 847,000 illnesses, a far cry from 76 million.

Not only that, but the 2007 data of reported illnesses is down 15% from the 25,035 reported in 2001. The Center for Science and the Public Interest, a nonprofit organization that also monitors food-borne illnesses, reported last year that it counted 168,000 illnesses over the 17-year period 1990-2006. That averages out to fewer than 10,000 per year.

The problem here isn’t that the CDC is manipulating the data, but rather that the data is incomplete. Public health officials will tell you that states categorize illnesses differently, and vary widely in their aggressiveness in seeking out information. The Center for Science and the Public Interest in its 2008 report on food-borne illness, reported that “nearly half of all states do not follow national standards for tracking disease outbreaks. Those gaps are particularly troubling given the numerous recent large outbreaks.”

So what’s behind the hysteria on food-borne illness? Clearly, part of it has to do with the dramatic cases being reported of individuals who have suffered serious long-term repercussions. While the vast majority of food-borne illnesses involve mild gastrointestinal problems that last just a few days, the serious cases obviously capture public attention, and stir up nervousness, as well they should. They are tragic.

But there’s another factor at work here as well: a drive to broadly expand the powers of the FDA. As one example, it will have the power under the House legislation recently passed to require highly detailed written food plans from all food producers, including the smallest makers of artisan cheese and meats. The owner of a two-person California maker of specialty cheeses, fruits, and nuts, told me that creating such a plan would require about 100 hours of upfront work, and then two hours a day to be kept up to date. Failure to comply could result in a fine of $10,000 per infraction per day, this for a business doing less than $100,000 of annual revenues.

In addition, the FDA could inspect the records of all food producers at will, instead of the current requirement of having strong reason to believe a problem exists, or obtaining a search warrant. It will also be able to quarantine large areas of the country if it believes a serious source of pathogens exist, and shut down all food shipping in the process. And it will obtain substantial additional budget for inspection personnel.

Before requiring such an infringement on individual rights, and added costs for doing business, it would seem that the FDA should at the least put together data showing the nature of the food-borne-illness problem at hand, and to what extent its new powers will solve the problem. It could be that more targeted changes, costing less in funding for new personnel and foregone rights, could be quite effective in reducing food-borne illnesses.

In California, Students Protest 32-Percent Tuition Increase

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Hundreds of angry UCLA students gathered around the Los Angeles and Davis campuses Thursday to protest an unprecedented 32-percent undergraduate tuition hike.

The board of regents approved the increase as a way to deal with a budget shortfall, but concerned students, faculty, and staff say it unfairly targets lower and middle class students and restricts access to higher education to the wealthy.

From CNN:

Los Angeles, California (CNN) — Angry students at the Davis, California, branch of the University of California refused to vacate the school’s administration building Thursday evening in a show of defiance and protest over a 32-percent undergraduate tuition hike instituted by the California Board of Regents earlier in the day.

About 50 students remained in the building, which was supposed to close by 5 p.m. PT (8 p.m. ET), UC Davis spokeswoman Claudia Morain told CNN. At one point, as many as 150 students were at the building protesting the tuition increase, she said. She said she hopes campus police can resolve the issue without the need to make arrests.

CNN affiliate KCRA captured footage of students outside the building shouting, “Who’s university? Our university!”

Nearly 400 miles south and hours earlier, hundreds of students marched and chanted against the increase while outside the UCLA building in Los Angeles where regents met to vote on the hike.

Protesting students and others say the increased tuition will hurt working and middle-class students who benefit from state-funded education. But officials argue that a fee increase and deep cuts in school spending are necessary because of a persistent budget crisis that has forced reductions across California’s state government.

“We’re fired up. Can’t take it no more,” students chanted as they marched and waved signs at UCLA. “Education only for the rich,” one sign read.

After the vote, students rushed to the parking decks to stage a sit-in to block regents’ vehicles from leaving. Campus police and California Highway Patrol officers in riot gear stood nearby.

As one regent member walked out, students surrounded his path shouted, “Shame on you, shame on you.”

The situation ended without incident as students gradually left the scene.

Read the whole article here.

 

Related:

Can Pot Save Denver’s Struggling Newspapers?

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

The city of Denver seems to have stumbled onto an unconventional model for sustaining its struggling newspaper industry: cashing in on all those freely-flowing medical marijuana dollars. Cannabis dispensaries need to advertise. Newspapers need advertising revenue. Ergo, ipso facto, a match made in heaven.

Denver-based public policy analyst and political strategist Jessica Corry, writing for the Huffington Post, explains this unlikely and fortuitous turn of events in the unfolding marijuana legalization saga.

Denver is a city in love with its newspapers. Even in 2009, many residents still cling to the scent and grime of fresh newspaper print. But as the recent loss of the city’s beloved Rocky Mountain News still lingers, the focus now turns to saving the publications remaining. In an ironic twist of fate worthy of its own front page feature, essential revenue could come from the most unlikely of sources. Marijuana.

Denver’s top alternative weekly, Westword, gets it. On both sides of its most recent edition’s back cover, 32 medical marijuana dispensaries advertised their services. In addition, in the publication’s “alternative healing” section, nearly nine additional pages were packed with similar plugs.

Patricia Calhoun, Westword‘s editor and public face, has no qualms about accepting dispensaries as advertising clients. “It’s first come, first served. No moratorium here,” she said, referencing current efforts by many Colorado cities, including Denver, to enact moratoriums on new dispensaries. Westword has become so popular for marijuana-related advertising that Calhoun says she has plans to release an inaugural guide focusing exclusively on medical marijuana as early as next month.

But Westword hasn’t just stopped there. It has shrewdly utilized the broader issue of medical marijuana to make a notable splash nationally. As the New York Times recently detailed, “Westword, an alternative weekly newspaper in Denver, has the standard lineup of film, food and music critics. But in what may be a first for American journalism, the paper is shopping around for a medical marijuana critic.” According to Calhoun, more than 250 people submitted formal applications for the post.

While medical marijuana may be the source of laughter to some, including late night comedian Conan O’Brien, who joked, “My one suggestion for the editors: Give the guy a deadline,” Calhoun and her colleagues are smart, picking up on what can only be described as marijuana’s gold rush.

But what does this mean for more mainstream publications, who appear conflicted about whether to accept such controversial advertising?

Read the whole article here.

Photo: Reuters

 

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Library Journal Names Waiting on a Train a Best Book of 2009

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Congratulations, James McCommons! Library Journal just named your book, Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service—A Year Spent Riding Across America, one of the best books of 2009.

Waiting on a Train is not only a beautifully written and thoroughly engrossing memoir—it’s an important work that brings to light a fundamental issue in American society: the stagnation, marginalization, and neglect of the passenger train, and how we can reinvigorate rail for a green energy future.

From Library Journal:

So many books, so many best books lists. What makes ours special, and how do we make our choices? …

When LJ’s book review editors sit down with our best books candidates, we’re obviously looking for the strongest writing on key topics—books that will last. But we aren’t just thinking in terms of Big Books: we’ve found that unimpeachably big books are often unimpeachably dull. So we look for a little edginess, a little risk that sets a book apart and makes us sit up and see things anew even when the narrative isn’t perfect.…

Beyond fresh, exciting writing, we’re aware that we’re not looking at books in a vacuum—there’s a dynamic to our work just as there are dynamics to the world we live in. Hence it was exciting that social sciences editor Margaret Heilbrun chose James McCommons’s Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service—A Year Spent Riding Across America just as Warren Buffett purchased the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, promising to revitalize America’s rail travel.…

In joining the author on his 2008 rail travels around the country—that is, where passenger rail still survives—readers get a fine, accessible history of American passenger and freight rail service; a travel memoir with authentically rendered portraits; and a prescription for the future of American railroads. With the country seemingly poised on the threshold of major new commitments to a mythic component of our continental history, this is crucial reading. (“Editors’ Fall Picks,” LJ 9/1/09; LJ 10/15/09)

Read the whole article here.

 

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LISTEN: Diane Wilson Discusses Fasting for Climate Justice on What Now

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Diane Wilson continues her forty-three-day hunger strike for climate justice as she prepares to fly to Copenhagen for the international climate talks there.

In this interview with What Now’s Ken Rose, Diane goes into her reasons for fasting, the indifference of a vast swath of the American public to climate change science, and how she believes one person can make a difference.

It’s your intent to raise awareness about climate change, because people, you know, especially people in the United States, they look around, you know, people in the United States and, you know, you’re not around the pollution and you look at the sky and you’re like “I don’t see anything going on,” it’s like “I don’t believe that.” You know they said probably about fifty, about maybe forty-seven percent of the U.S. population just does not believe in, that there’s a climate problem, that it’s all a hoax. You know? Because they just look around and it’s like “I don’t see nothing.” So that, you know, and I’m from a small county that has—matter of fact, we had half of the toxins that were generated in the whole state of Texas in my little county, and I’ll guarantee you, you get up into a suburb of Dallas, and they’re like “Oh, there’s no such thing as that. That’s a little hoax.” But I guarantee you, you get down where it is happening and you believe.

Listen Now

Read the whole article here.

 

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WATCH: Creating Meaning and Purpose through Sustainable Business

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Urban Revision, whose mission “is to help cities develop safe, sustainable and enriching urban blocks,” sat down with Martin Melaver, author of Living Above the Store: Building a Business That Creates Value, Inspires Change, and Restores Land and Community, for a short video on his approach to socially responsible business and its role in urban renewal.

Melaver says:

We’re a third-generation family business based in Savannah, Georgia. Originally in the grocery business. Sold the business in the mid-Eighties. And when we sold the business, we recognized two things: one is we’d always been in the real estate business—developing shopping centers, things like that, for our grocery business. So that was one, we never realized we were in the real estate business. And two: we hated the real estate business. You know, with its basic despoliation of the environment and its tendency to homogenize place.

And so we decided in the mid-Eighties that if we were going to continue in the real estate business at all we had to create a new paradigm for how a real estate company should work. Pay more attention to the social fabric where we work, urban corps-type stuff, and being better stewards of the environment. So that’s our raison d’être. Creates meaning and purpose for me and a bunch of folks who work with me.

Read the whole article here.

 

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How to Deal with a Few Bad Apples

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Watching helplessly as a fungus starts to take over your orchard can be a frustrating, even heartbreaking, experience—whether you have two trees or two hundred.

Apple scab is a fairly common blight. Even professional apple growers have to deal with it. What do you do when you see those telltale little round greenish spots? Barbara Damrosch has some words of advice.

From the Washington Post:

It is a tale of two trees, one happy, one sad. Both of the crab apples in my garden are laden with white flowers in spring, bear red berries that last into the winter, for the birds’ pleasure, and sport yellow leaves in fall. But one of the trees sports them all too soon, in summer, when the scab fungus catches up with them. Its berries are sparse. The other tree is a vigorous grower with nary a sign of disease. The two are growing in identical plots, with well-amended soil.

Over in the orchard, where the eating apples are, scab is also in evidence. There, the focus is on the fruits. (Sure, you can make jelly from crab apple fruits, but the tiny size of most of those grown for ornament make them fussy to pick.) The Winesaps in particular have exhibited the telltale signs: little round greenish spots that have darkened into the eponymous scabs, as if they were just recovering from chicken pox. The Golden and Roxbury Russets, on the other hand, are largely unblemished, by scab or anything else.

Scab is a very common disease among apple trees. It’s a fungus that attacks in spring, does its work, then overwinters in the leaves and fruits that are shed in fall, until spring rains disperse the spores again. For clear, detailed information about apple scab, consult “The Apple Grower,” by Michael Phillips (Chelsea Green, $40).

Read the whole article here.

 

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