Friday, August 29, 2008

McDonalds or Farmer's Market

Friday morning's I treat myself to a scone from one of my favorite bread vendors at the Farmer's Market in Union Square. I usually make my purchase and head straight to work but this morning I took a little time to walk the length of the market. The farmers were still setting up but customers were already strolling sleepily into their stalls to check out the fresh produce. Along the way I saw a Greenmarket manager give the egg lady a high five, maybe to celebrate that they made it to the end of summer. Another vendor was loading purple peppers into a milk crate and an organic milk vendor was knitting to pass the time between customers.
As I reached the north end of Union Square a well dressed young man was walking between two vendor stalls with a small red and yellow paper bag, his purchase from McDonalds. Every time I walk through the market, I marvel at these people that would rather purchase an egg mcmuffin than support a local small business. The same with the fruit vendor just south of the square. People line up to get bing cherries or bananas whose origin is unknown when they could have peaches and plums from local farmers if they walk another two blocks.

Am I the odd one or are they?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Chenchita's Group Community Garden

This summer we (Phil and I) bought a membership at Chenchita's Garden.
The garden is located at 112th Street and Madison Avenue in Harlem. We have a 4 foot by 8 foot raised bed and in spring we planted a variety of plants, tomatoes, peppers, basil, lettuce. onions, all in that little space. I would have planted more but I was advised not to as some of the plants would crowd out others as they grow. Now that the plants are about 2 months old, we can see that more clearly. Today we staked up the tomatoes which had started to take over, weaving all over the other plants. Hopefully this will save the peppers and basil. Oh, we also planted broccoli.
Mirta and Jose are in the garden next door and they have a great cherry tree in the center of the garden. It's now fruiting and the cherry's are lovely. They were a special treat for all the work we put in, building more beds, transplanting and cleaning up the garden. My back is very sore as a result.

Monday, June 9, 2008

What is Protest?

I've been thinking about the concept of protest for a while.
Protest often evokes images of sign carrying and slogan shouting. It may also generate images of violence, of police, of hippies or counter-culture protesters. Those are the images that the media
show us and many of us have had some exposure to protest. Either we've participated in protests in the past (and still do), or we've seen them. A lot of people can say that they've never participated in a protest or wanted to. A lot of us assume that protesting is something liberals do, but this isn't true. Plenty of conservatives find issues to protest about. OK, so that's enough on the basics about protesting. People do it regardless of their political leanings.

What I've been thinking about is how people are protesting outside of this model. What are people doing that might be considered a protest? Why are they doing it? Would they consider what they do protest? So we're getting a good way into this without clarification. How about if we start with what a protest is? Saying the protest is an expression of disagreement with a prevailing opinion is rather simplistic, but accurate nonetheless. If we take this definition and look for signs of protest, there are plenty.

I just read an article about Richard Reynolds, a guerrilla gardener in London. Guerilla Gardening is a form or protest. Where urban land is laying wasted because there's no development or use on it, Reynolds will plant a garden. Somehow landowners, business owners and police have found this to be offensive and he has been harassed by all these groups. The point though is that his form of protest does not fit the prevailing image.

How about the many folks who live off the grid. Isn't their very lifestyle a form of protest. They have their own reasons for doing it, and yet they have decided that they do not want to participate in the same form of energy distribution and sourcing that the majority of people tap into in order to power their households.

Now that I've been seeing protest in many different forms, I've been watching for it and there are plenty of examples. Sandor Katz is a common name among people that are into fermentation. I look at this as another form of protest.

I think I'll stop there for now. More later.

Friday, May 30, 2008

An Escape Quandary

We're in a quandary. Here's the problem. We know New York City is not sustainable nor is it a place we want to be when people get panicy about an rotting economy, high food and energy prices and other signs of a collapse. But here we are, buying membership in a community garden, taking position on its board and helping to rejuvenate it. I'm talking about Chenchita's Garden at 112th Street and Madison Avenue in Harlem.

We're really enjoying creating our little garden plot and helping to set up other plots and planting tomatoes, lettuce and other veggies. There's a lot of work that can be done there and it's exciting to be part of its transformation into a permaculture garden. You'd think we'd put our thoughts of escaping aside. Not really, but it's a source of more than a little confusion as to what we really want to do and how we want to extract ourselves from the city.

I met an old acquaintance recently and we had lunch today. He told me that he and his partner bought a house hours from the city and he takes the train to and from every day. Initially, they had arranged that he would work from home several times a week so the commute wasn't an everyday routine. Then his employer changed the rules and he could no longer telecommute. Now they've told him that they are moving his department from Times Square to Seacaucus, NJ. Well there's no way he would commute there, there are no direct trains nor hardly any indirect trains that go there. That's the scary part of escaping to me, being stuck where you've escaped to.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2008 NYC PDC Workdays - May 31 and June 1

This weekend the students and organizers of the 2008 NYC Urban Permaculture Design Certificate Course will be practicing what they've learned at two sites in the region.

On Saturday, May 31, 2008, we will be working in Chenchita's Community Garden at 112th Street and Madison Avenue, placing constructed raised beds and filling them with drainage material, compost and soil.

This Sunday, June 1, 2008, we'll be helping Kevin and Sarah of Regeneration CSA in High Falls, NY make sheet mulch beds and transplanting. We may also take on the construction of a hoop house at Epworth Camp.

To find out more about Regeneration CSA, go to their website at:

Workdays are free for 2008 NYC Urban PDC students; non-students are welcome to join us for a sliding scale fee of $10 to $40. Don't worry, you'll be put to work, and you'll learn a lot!

Here's some photos of the last workday at Regeneration CSA

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Spring Surprises

Well, I'm not so enamored with that squirrel anymore. I put out my planters to take in the fresh air and sun last weekend. The large planter, the one the squirrel used to live in, with a mint plant freshly transplanted in it. Then the long planter with it's lonely calendula sprout coming up. And finally a yogurt container with some poor soil and the sprouted black walnut inside.

Wouldn't you know, just as I'm leaving for work on Monday, I spy that squirrel jumping into the planter with the calendula. I run back in the house and open the window to scare him away and as he bounds off, he upends the whole long planter, dumping most of its contents on the fire escape. The mint was unharmed but I brought it in anyway fearing he was after it for the black walnut. I thought squirrels didn't have very good memory, so I assumed it had forgotten about it's little treasure. I neglected to bring in the yogurt container though and of course, he was back and raided it and the black walnut was once again in his possession.

Now I'm little gun shy about setting the remaining mint plant out to be raided again. I'm wondering if the smell of the mint repels squirrels and that was why he didn't get into it. Oh well, I'll have to be content with mint for now. I plan on bringing the long planter to Shabazz and Josephine's to get some cuttings of oregano or sage or rosemary. Spring marches on...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Surprised by Spring

Sunday, April 13, 2008 was a permaculture design course workday at our friends Shabazz and Josephine's home in Newburgh, NY. I was looking forward to it in part because we learned so much the first time (March 23, see some photos :
I was also looking forward to transplanting a peppermint plant I bought at the Farmer's Market in Union Square. I intended to transplant it into an improvised planter I got when Phil and I took an organic gardening workshop with Deb Tyler at Local Farm in Cornwall Bridge, CT. I used that planter last year to grow one basil plant and one mint plant. The mint didn't last too long, but the basil made it through the summer. I neglected that planter last fall and as the basil withered someone else took interest in it. A squirrel. Eventually that squirrel took up residence in the planter, somehow carving a home into the soil an adding much of its own accoutrements, like leaves, and bits of trash. I guess it lived there off and on for 3 months, but with the first warm days, the planter was empty and lifeless again. So I intended to reclaim it and on Sunday morning I retrieved it from our fire escape and brought it to Newburgh.

There was a lot of matted squirrel hair in it but also a lot of soil and leaves. I tossed the hair and turned the remaining soil, adding some root mulch to the bottom as instructed by Sharon Kimmelmann, our PDC co-organizer. But as I was emptying the soil out, Sharon spied something at the bottom of the planter. It was a large sprout. She inspected it for a while and proudly announced it to be a sprouted black walnut! It seems our furry friend had left a gift for the use of the planter. I now have that sprout in a small planter on our fire escape along with the transplanted mint plant and am looking forward to enjoying both as they grow this spring.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Revolution

Just finished reading Sandor Katz's book: The Revolution will not be microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements. What a great book! I felt like here's someone who understands what's going on in the country and is ready for it, at least where food is concerned. Particularly poignant was the chapter on neutriceuticals in which Sandor talked about the precariousness of being tethered to the health care system via prescription drugs. Sandor is HIV+ and takes several different drugs that cost much more than anyone should have to pay to stay alive. Why is this poignant? Because I'm in the same boat. I too am tethered to the health care system via prescription drugs and it sucks! I don't pay nearly as much as he does. His meds are subsidized by the state he lives in, mine, luckily, are part of my employers health care plan. So we're both lucky. But what if that state support goes away or I lose my job? What then? No one should have to live with this kind of weight on their shoulders or over their head. Unfortunately, many do and many others are not as lucky as Sandor and I are.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Peak Oil in the Library

I had to see it to believe it. The cover story of Library Journal was "After Oil". The story was even more incredible. It was an accurate representation of peak oil and various scenarios that could play out in American libraries. Take a look for yourself at:

It's all there. Except that the issue of an economic downturn and the fate of libraries isn't resolved enough for me. If things get really bad, will libraries be staffed and open anyway. There's an assumption here that they will be. I wouldn't assume that. Nevertheless, the author, a library school professor in Florida, is on target enough to suggest that people will be in the library asking about permaculture and ecovillages. Bring em on!

Of course, there's always a nay-sayer and sure enough the first commenter online to this story found it one-sided and unrealistic and too "gloom and doom". What I find funny is that he disagrees that things will get so bad that people will be making soap and growing gardens. Hello!
People are doing this already and you don't even know it! This is the type of ignorance that I fear. An ignorance that is undermined by complacency. As a result I sent my own comment to Library Journal thanking them for bringing peak oil to the attention of librarians and cautioning that despite the fact that we don't know the depth of impact peak oil will have on libraries, librarians (and anyone else, for that matter) should follow the developments and be prepared. Just because something has always been doesn't mean it will always be.

Friday, March 21, 2008

2008 NYCPDC Class, March 1-2, 2008

We started the 2008 NYC Permaculture Design Certificate Course
on the first weekend of March. There are 23 very diverse and
interested (and interesting) students. Here's some photos of day
two when Rafter Sass taught everyone about Liberation Ecology.
There are several pictures of Rafter because he told us he has
not pictures of himself teaching so we indulged him.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Blaming Bush

It's fairly often that we hear people blame Bush for where we're at. He gets blamed for the fiasco in Iraq, he gets blamed for oil prices, he gets blamed for the failing economy. Poor George. He gets blamed for everything. And now, heading into the twilight of his presidency, he's thinking of his legacy and looking to Africa to battle AIDS while also defending torturous interrogation tactics like waterboarding. He's a classic American, paradoxical. Why? Because the ability to hold two contradictory views at once seems to be uniquely American. Or maybe not, I don't know enough about people in other places. What I'm driving at though is that Americans really are quite clueless about reality despite our penchant for reality television.

The reality about our reality is not that it's George Bush's fault. He's too easy of a scapegoat now that he's so out of favor. Really it's our fault, every one of us. It's our fault the economy is failing. We continue to put faith in bankers whose bottom line is what's best for the shareholder and not what's best for the little people. It's our fault that oil prices are what they are. What the hell did you buy that SUV for? To buy more gas? It's our own fault that we're in a war quagmire in Iraq, in part because a majority of us voted for Bush and we were too stupid to ask questions about the invisible link between Saddam Hussein and 911.

So next time you hear someone pushing blame on Bush, correct them. They can feel whatever they like about Bush, but their just casting blame in the easiest place possible when they should be thinking about blame when they look in the mirror. Time to wake up!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Strand Book Store is a real local business

This week I had two opportunities to visit the Strand Book Store on the corner of Broadway and East 12th Street. Strand, for those who don't know, is one of the few non-chain, small-box used book stores in New York City. Around the 1930's they were one of over 40 used book stores on Book Row in Manhattan. Today they are the only used book store in and around Union Square. Their headquarters is on 12th Street, but they also run another, smaller store downtown near South Street Seaport as well as a kiosk near Central Park.

For my work I arranged a tour of the Strand for librarians who are interested for themselves, but also because Strand offers librarians discounts to buy books for their libraries. So I had made arrangements with the Events Manager, Christina Foxley who would conduct the tour. I'd never met her in person, so when Phil and I went to the Strand to see Ed Begley, Jr. talk about his TV show and book, Living Like Ed, Christina said she would be there making sure things went smoothly.

I arrived after Ed's talk but did stay for a lengthy Q & A. Phil talked about the permaculture class starting in March and offered his flyers to anyone interested, then asked if Ed believed we could continue to grow exponentially, meaning the population, if our planet has finite resources. Of course, Ed said no, but he also said that permaculture is a great thing and that people should talk to Phil about it afterward. It was like getting a free commercial for our class. Thanks, Ed!
Anyway, Christina came up to Phil after that and said he could leave some of his brochures at the Information Desk. That was an unexpected but pleasant surprise. Both Phil and I were very grateful.

So the next day, Christina led about 30 of us on a tour of the book store including stops in the 5th floor warehouse, the rarebooks floor, the remainders area in the basement, as well as the event space and art book section on the 2nd floor, then to the children's section and a short talk with Fred Bass, the owner. It was a very good tour and the librarians asked a lot of questions and Christina and the managers we talked with were very gracious hosts. What I was most impressed by though was how Fred Bass answered a question I asked. I asked Fred where he sees the Strand going in the next few years, if he's planning to expand in any way. Fred responded that they had just finished a renovation of the headquarters store and he was content to work selling quality books and not expanding the business.

When you think about his competition, Barnes and Noble and Borders and the business model they use, what Fred said has much more power than it does without the comparison. Fred is a book person and he's in the business because he loves the business. The CEOs of Barnes and Noble and Borders bookstores are not book men and are not in it because they love it. What they love is making deals and making investors happy. Fred Bass is not interested in that. His resistance to growing his company is a sign that he also values his role as a local business and a local employer. The Strand employs 200 people, a small number compared to his big competitors, but still large for most small businesses. By not taking risks on growth, Fred ensures a safe and stable work environment for his employees, a quality product for his customers and a well-deserved reputation in the city as a quality used bookseller.

If only more businesses ran on those principles instead of on getting money for investors and upper management we'd be in a better economic situation these days.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Working with Wood

Phil and I escaped NYC for President's Day weekend to learn some woodworking skills. We like to go to the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster, PA because we're very fond of the Master Cabinetmaker who teaches their woodworking classes. His name is H. Clair Garman. Our first woodworking workshop we took at the Winter Institute in 2006. We made a Candle Stand that you can raise and lower. Unfortunately, both sit unfinished on our bedroom floor, collecting dust. We went again last June and this time did different projects. Phil made a corner shelf and I made a mail holder. We also worked on dovetailing, which is not easy to do, but that's another project for later

Here's a photo of our project, a chimney cabinet. It's only about 17 inches wide and 10 inches deep. But believe me, it's not easy for a beginner. When we get to class all the wood parts are already cut for us. There were two side pieces, 7 shelves, a frame made up of 5 pieces, the doors were 5 pieces, the back was 1 piece and the hinges and latches.

We had some trouble with the measurements of side pieces of our cabinet. They weren't measured right and thankfully, Clair had his right hand helper, Ian Beaumont, there. Ian was a great (read patient) help to us. He set the right measurements and sliced off extra and made it all fit right. As you can see from that description, I have no idea how he did it, but he did it. So by the end of the first day, Phil and I had a standing set of shelves.

An Interlude

That evening Phil and I went to an Amish home for dinner. Our bed and breakfast hosts, Dave and Gerry, suggested it and made the arrangements for it. I have to confess it was a strange experience. The Amish couple, Mary and Aaron were very nice and they had two charming boys, 4 and 2 years of age. We didn't feel any discomfort from them, but we weren't really comfortable with the other folks. Dinners like this usually include about 10 or 12 people and there were 5 other couples besides us. We kind of stuck out like sore thumbs as the only non-gay couple. But Phil had a great time playing with the 2 year-old and the food was good and there was plenty of it. So we left satisfied.
From there we went to a lecture back at the museum by an economics professor, Farley Grubb, from the University of Delaware. He gave an interesting lecture on how two men from Germany found their way to America.

We were in kind of a hurry the second day because we only had 3 hours to finish our piece so we didn't take too many pictures, but we were able to get the doors put together by putting three rails together sliding the panel between the three then adding the top rail. The rails were glued together and a wood pin inserted at the corners. The bottom door didn't fit exactly so we had to plane and sand it some to make it fit. Then we put the hinges and latches on and puttied the nail holes in the sides and we were done. The finished piece isn't sanded smooth or stained or painted, but sitting in our kitchen, it leaves a lovely wood smell that reminds us of the wood shop and it's a nice symbol of our teamwork to create a nice useful piece of furniture. We're using it to hold all our glass containers.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Banking on Hope

There's a lot of excitement about Barack Obama these days. And just when he needs it. He's winning big in many state contests, winning delegates and super delegates. And he's got the backing of a number of star power folks. I can't help but wonder though, whether Obama is sinking into the pockets of the powerful and elite that easily influence our elections with their money. Is he really a change or more of the same? Will he really be able to change the direction America is going? I hope that folks really listen to what he says before deciding to vote for him. For that matter I hope folks do this for any candidate. What I mean is, are voters really differentiating between nebulous talk that folks want to hear and solid policy statements that reveal his intentions. The latter is the real substance and it's what we should look for when candidates speak.

For me, I no longer see much difference between either political party. Consequently, I don't trust any of them, apart from Dennis Kucinich. In the end it's a money game and the candidate with the most money usually ends up the winner. Where does this money come from? Corporations and the rich. And where does the real, middle and lower class voter fit in there? Well they end up being duped into thinking that the candidate that gets trumpeted about the most is the candidate for them. Believe me, I'm no expert on elections or the voting system, but I can smell pretty well and what I smell during election time is rotten. Voter beware!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bee-ginning With Bees

Phil and I helped our farmer friend, Deb Tyler, of Local Farm in Cornwall Bridge, CT with her Bee-ginning With Bees workshop this past Saturday, February 9, 2008.

Bee-ginning With Bees is one of Deb's Old Style Life Skills workshops that she does every first Saturday of the month.

This workshop was taught by Mark Moorman of Sprain Brook Apiary in Woodbury, CT and the workshop took place at the UCC Parish House in Cornwall Bridge.

As you can see, I took some pictures of this workshop and even figured out how to display them here.

The first picture is of an actual hive that was overwintering. Mark took out one of the wood slots in the middle (don't know the proper term) and showed us that the bees had formed a ball in the middle of the hive to keep warm. Unfortunately, they didn't survive.

Deb hauled out two big boxes containing a hive kit and equipment for beekeeping. Mark and a young workshop participant are taking out all the various parts.

And here's the kit all put together including three smokers and a hat, the guy in the back, Norm, is looking at the gloves that also came with the kit.

Here Mark is showing how to get a smoker going. He used strips of cardboard rolled up and the end set alight then dropped in the smoker.

Phil's first puffs from the smoker.

After we came back inside, Mark showed us how you start a hive. That box would contain the worker bees and the can at the top allows you to take out the little box with the queen and put her in the hive first while holding the other bees in the box. Then once the queen is settled, you can let the other bees in the hive.

After lunch, Deb was ready to show folks how to make candles with bees wax. It took a lot of patience and dipping to create candles.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Economic Stimulus For Who?

Your leaders in Washington want to give you a present this tax season. They want to give you money to spend in order to help out the economy. This may seem like a nice idea, but think about it for a moment. If you receive $600 say, what will you do with it? Pay ahead on your credit card? That payment will go to a large credit card lender. Pay for a high ticket item like a Playstation or plasma TV? That too would go to a big box store. See the pattern. Our leaders are giving us money that will eventually end up in the coffers of big box banks or corporations. Really, it's a gift to corporate America by way of the American people, making our leaders look good and the people happy to have more stuff. Unfortunately, the people are also probably overlooking the fact that next year during tax time, they'll find that that gift will be part of the income they'll be taxed on. Nothing is free.

What to do with your gift, then? Save it. Buy from a local store so that money will stay in your community. Invest in yourself by learning something new. Whatever you do, do it responsibly.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Where the $ comes from and where the $ goes

Check out this website: Money Track at Political Base

I knew this kind of information was available, but now it's even more available than before. You can home in on your state, county, town, neighborhood, or street to see where political contribution money is going. I closed in on my little town in Queens and found out that of the 7 contributions 5 are for Guiliani and 2 are for Clinton. The two for Clinton were given by Chinese folks. None of the contributions for Guiliani were given by Chinese folks.

See who's giving what in your neighborhood.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Film Screening and Presidential Candidate Encounter

We made it through our weekend film screening with a respectable crowd, smaller on Friday than Saturday as it was rainy and nasty Friday. But we're grateful we got the number of people we did. Several of the people I invited came, my colleague and friend from the midwest, Rita, and my co-worker Aleksi and his girlfriend Lisa. The panels on both nights were diverse and interesting, including Karen Washington of NYC Community Gardens Coalition, Eli Ishchayil of the Black Socialist Organization, Paula Lukats and Owen Taylor of Just Food, Ian Marvy of Added Value, Cleo Silvers of For a Better Bronx, Abu Talib and Bobby Watson of Taqwa Community Garden and several others.

Through the panel, we were really trying to stress that our community includes all races and some of the folks with the strongest community ties are black. Consequently, on Saturday, we had a very special guest visit from Cynthia McKinney, who is running for the Green Party nomination for president. Cynthia could only stop by for a short while, but I can attest to her credentials. She is the only candidate who has the courage to talk honestly about the issues that are affecting us as a nation. I applaud her courage to run for president and hope that the Green Party and others accept her.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Happy Kidney Birthday - 24 years

Something rather strange just happened. I don't usually "surf" the web, but tonight I did.

I receive a weekly email called Neat New Stuff from a fellow librarian by the name of Marylaine Block. She scans the web for interesting sites and shares them with anyone interested. She posted her weekly list of a dozen or so sites this evening and one of the sites was, a U.S. Government website focused on organ donation and transplantation. I am interested in this site because I am a kidney transplant recipient. So I looked around and found out that if you need a kidney and are put on the waiting list you will wait an average of over 1100 days.

I was put on the kidney recipient list in December 1983, 6 months after graduating from high school. By then I was feeling run down and enervated. I was living with my parents still and I sat and read most days in the flower pattern rocking chair that I swivelled to face the front window to take in the low winter sun. I assumed that I would have to wait quite a while before I would get a call to come to the hospital. At that time the waiting period was considerably less than 1100 days. But in the late evening of January 31, 1984 I received the call that there was a kidney for me and that I should come to the hospital as soon as possible.

What was so strange about the web surfing I mentioned above? It was that I had totally forgotten about my kidney birthday, yet here I was surfing the web for links about transplantation. Celebrating my kidney birthday is a rather low-key affair, usually nothing more than a reminder of what happened and how lucky I was. Easily forgotten. But what I'm not factoring in is that without that transplant I wouldn't be alive. I received a cadaver kidney, meaning someone had died and their kidneys were donated so that someone else could live a longer and healthier life. What a wonderful
gift that is!

Something else I learned from the website is that organ donation can be as easy as filling out a form online. In New York State it's that easy. To find out how to register as an organ donor in your state visit:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


We went to the NOFA-NY conference over the weekend. NOFA stands for Northeast Organic Farming Association. It was held in Saratoga Springs, New York at the Saratoga Inn. Frankly, we splurged and got a room at the Saratoga, tickets for all meals, pre- and full conference admission. The food was very good and we learned a lot from the individual sessions. Here's some of the highlights:
  • learning about domestic fair trade from Elizabeth Henderson, author of Sharing the Harvest: a guide to community supported agriculture;
  • two unique and engaging half day sessions on gardening and permaculture;
  • a keynote by Brahm Ahmadi of People's Grocery in Oakland, CA., which was one of the few times during the conference that the focus was on non-white folk;
  • going to a session on beginning livestock farming by Jim and Adele Hayes, parents of Shannon Hayes, the author of The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook, then when we were talking to her father after the session, Shannon called her father's cell phone and he handed her over to Phil to ask her why she wasn't at the conference;
  • meeting Bobby Watson and Abu Talib of Taqwa Community Garden in the Bronx who are also in "Escape From Suburbia".
But not all was well and good in NOFAland. We ran into a friend who is the executive director of a non-profit in NYC and she was not having a good time. We asked why and she said that she was not feeling very welcome at the conference. This individual is an African-American woman. She felt hurt that folks at this conference were actually acting rudely to her. Unfortunately, she had assumed these folks would be on the same page as her, as would I. What I took away from that conversation was a greater sense of isolation that this woman was feeling as well as the realization that NOFA-NY is overwhelmingly white folks. It's too bad that some of these white folks haven't gotten over their racism.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

NYC Premiere of Escape From Suburbia

The long awaited sequel to End of Suburbia will premiere in NYC on Feb. 1 and 2 at Wollman Auditorium at Cooper Union. Take a look at the event flyer for more info. I'll be on the panel
after the film along with Greg Greene, the filmmaker, Martha Ma, Editor of Eater's Digest, Paula Lukats of Just Food and a good friend who is also in the film, Sarah Williford as well as other assorted local activist types that love local, organic food. Don't miss this opportunity. Oh, and we may have a very special green guest. Can't say who it is yet as the plans haven't been finalized yet, but, our fingers are crossed and we're nearly squealing with excitement.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Leaving NYC

Here's a discussion between some folks who either live in NYC or used
to live here and have now moved away:

The focus is mostly on food and costs, not reasons that we're thinking of leaving but interesting nonetheless. Phil and I are lucky. Phil has owned our 1 BR for over 20 years and our maintenance in under $500. So we're not really in the same boat as these folks. But the thought of selling our apartment and moving to another still in NYC sickens my stomach. $2000 for rent! I'd move back to the midwest before paying that too!

Lopsided Economies

Take a look at this map.

It's an interesting statement about how large the economies of each US state are. It's also interesting in it's sheer totality as the notes say, the total US GDP almost equals the next four economies: Germany, Japan, China, and the UK.

What I think of when I see this information though is the quandary of alternative energy. Often when Phil and I talk to people about peak oil or energy alternatives people immediately gravitate toward solutions, or what they perceive to be solutions, like wind, solar, hydro, etc.
The reality is that none of these alternatives alone can match the amount of energy oil offers.
All of these alternative used together looks a lot better but still can't match what we get from oil.
Think about how much easier it must be for one small country to refocus their attention on renewable energy as opposed to how difficult it is for that to happen here in the US.

The operative word in a discussion about energy alternatives is scalability. The amount of energy used from oil in the US is astronomical. But scaling up an alternative like ethanol would require vast amounts of farm land for corn production. That's farm land that grows food for people. It's not easy to create a balance there and when folks are changing what they grow with a profit mindset, they often don't consider the impacts.

For a more informed discussion about biofuels specifically, David Fridley is the guy to talk to.
Here he is making the case.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Adventures in Healthcareland, Part 3

Well, as you can see I made it out alive. Nobody told me till the last day I was in that I could unplug my ball and chain (the IV) and walk around on battery power. I also found out that someone from the TV and phone company come around everyday to collect $5.75
for the phone or $6 for the TV for rent for the day. That's outsourcing at it's best and no, I do want to miss the football games! I did have to rent the phone though as I had to conduct some work by phone (the other ball and chain). Anyway, only today did I call up my insurance company to find out if I needed to do anything about this hospital stay. They said I'm 100% covered. I didn't say anything for a couple seconds because I was so surprised that I would not have to face some obstacle. What a relief. This is how it should work for everyone not just me, a privileged white man with a cushy white collar job. It's just too bad the system doesn't work this well for everyone.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Adventures in Healthcareland, Part 2

Luckily for me, my roommate is sensitive to pain and groans a lot so the nurses come in to attend to him quite often and check on me in the process. But overnight it's tough to get a good night's sleep, someone's always there to take your temperature or check the IV, the my roomie starts groaning again. His percocet has worn off.

I awake in the morning to more groaning and other noises I can't place so I put in my hearing aid. My IV machine is dinging, a dinging at a high enough pitch that I couldn't hear it before. There's also a woman screeching over and over about being hungry. "I'm hungry. Can I eat please?" "It's time to eat. Can I eat please?" This goes on and on until she seems to break into sobs. No one responds that I can tell, apparently her laments aren't important enough to warrant action. Eventually she gets fed as do the rest of us. I get a liquid diet. I feel slightly hungry, a good sign, but still have a slight fever.

After breakfast my roomie starts in again with his groans, oy.....oy.....oy. At one point the woman was at it at the same time. "I need to go home. Call me a cab so I can go home." "OOY" "I need a cab to go home" "OOY" "Will someone call me a cab" "OOOY" and so on. I was tempted to turn off my hearing aid. But when the TV and phone must be rented, this entertainment comes cheaper.

Later, Phil stopped by to keep me company. We made friends with one of the nurses. She'd been working as a nurse for a while and told us that she'd worked at a posher hospital in Manhattan but found the patients too self-important for her. She liked the neighborhood feeling of this hospital. But she also shared something disturbing. She doesn't get healthcare insurance through her job. Is that amazing or what? A healthcare worker working with sick folks everyday, but doesn't get healthcare insurance for herself. OK, that's it for tonight. I'll try to finish this tomorrow so I can move on to other things. I hope you'll stick with me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Adventures in Healthcareland, Part 1

Yep, I had an adventure in healthcareland last week and I had to take a couple days to recuperate.
I got the flu on Wednesday. Came home from work at noon and gradually felt more miserable as the afternoon wore on. I've had this flu before, one where my stomach is in active revolt and has pulled the switch on accepting any new donations. Phil took me to the emergency room soon after he came home around 7:30. I didn't think I'd be able to get up and around, but I did and made it to the hospital OK. Thanksfully the emergency room wasn't too busy. I have a trump card that I can play in the situations that gets me seen quicker than most folks. I let them know I'm a kidney transplant patient (which I am). Of course that wouldn't trump any true emergencies like heart attacks and stabbings.

Phil was upset that when I was asked about next of kin, I said him but was corrected that it had to be a family member. I gave my father's name and was asked what the phone number is and I said I don't know (and I don't). Maybe that got through. Anyway, stuff like that really rattles Phil's chain. Then later when the doctor came in he asked Phil if he were the father. Obviously we weren't giving an overt enough picture of a gay couple.

So they admitted me and I was wheeled up to a semi-private room on the third floor. My roommate was recovering from knee surgery and seemed to be in a lot of pain from all the moaning he did. By the time Phil left for the night I was still fighting a fever and nausea and now had an IV stuck in my arm. I soon found that a few things were wrong with my room. The call bell didn't work. The TV and phone had to be rented per day and the phone didn't even have a cord to the wall outlet. And that my IV was controlled by electricity, thus I was tethered to my bed pretty much, unable to go the the bathroom. Luckily, one of the nurses gave me a portable urinal, because I was getting saline in my IV, and a lot of it, and it was going through me without a problem. More later...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Notable Articles

There were a couple of good articles in the New York Times yesterday, January 7, 2008.

One was about plastics containers for water: The (Possible) Perils of Being Thirsty While Being Green by Alina Tugend. I got several things out of this article. One is a better sense of the differences between plastic containers. Another is an understanding of the numbering system used on plastics. I also learned how bad things can get in your body from plastic containers. And finally, but also most importantly, I learned not to microwave food in plastic containers. As a result, I'm going to buy those glass microwavable containers I saw in the Lehman's catalog.

The other article was about how folks in New Hampshire are concerned about energy prices. It seems that many folks there drive quite a ways to get to work or to where ever they're going and many are feeling pinched by gas prices. And if that's not pinching them, then they're feeling it from the price of heating oil for their homes. Unfortunately, few of the politicians slugging it out there this past week were talking about energy. Surprised? Don't be. They're afraid of talking about energy. Bill Richardson isn't, thankfully. And of course Dennis Kucinich doesn't shy away from many issues. It's just unfortunate that the majority of candidates think they can skip around important issues like this. Sooner or later, they'll be forced to take a good hard look at the looming energy problems waiting on the horizon.

Fundamental Economics

Phil and I started a free class last night on Fundamental Economics at the Henry George School. It was an interesting experience. The majority of the class period was taken up answering a questionnaire that introduced many economic elements. The point, in part, was to make those introductions but also to acknowledge that people in the class think differently about various aspects of the economy.

I'm very challenged by economics and I don't know much about it. Thankfully I was able to avoid it in high school and college because I would have been thoroughly overwhelmed. So I was of two minds when filling out this questionnaire. Some questions completely baffled me, like "Are periods of recession and unemployment unavoidable in a market economy?" I don't understand enough about market economy or recessions and unemployment to answer so I answered based on my distrust of the market and said no, that these are avoidable. But in answering other questions I tapped into non-economic learning I've had. For instance, the question: "Can earth's resources support an increasing population?" prompted immediate no's from both Phil and I because we've often discussed overpopulation especially what Albert Bartlett has to say about it (

What I found most interesting about this first class was listening to how entrenched the other students are in the current economic mindset. Some of those students answered the last questions by saying yes. Another question asked us whether we consider various circumstances as wealth. Two of the items listed were: "Trees in a virgin forest" and "Wood in a lumber yard". I said no to the first one because I believe that just because you have a virgin forest doesn't mean that you need to create wealth with it. It has value outside of wealth just as it is. Others in class looked at it as potential wealth, that you could hold onto it with the intention of eventually selling it when you can make a good profit on it, much like a house or stock.

I was reassured about where the class was going to go when the instructor concluded the class by writing down what he called the Georgist Syllogism:
All human beings have a right to live.
No one can live without natural resources.
All human beings have a right to natural resources.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Inside Burt's Bees

There's a story in the New York Times for January 6, 2008 about Burt's Bees. It's quite enlightening and sad because it talks about how the company started and grew and was sold to big corporate interests. But I'm more angry than sad after reading it because it's a good example of greenwashing.

A little background.
Apparently, Burt Shavitz kept bees at his home in Maine, a converted turkey coop, the article says. He went into business with Roxanne Quimby, a woman he helped when she was down on her luck. There company grew in popularity but at some point the two decided to split up with Burt trading his share of the company to Quimby. Eventually Quimby sold the entire company and made about 325 million. Shavitz got 4 million and a $130,000 house. He also gets money for the use of his name and likeness on Burt's Bees products.

Here's where it turns sad. Quimby sold Burt's Bees to AEA Investors who kept the sustainability mission of the company but expanded the brand into large retailers like CVS and Walgreens. Then Clorox bought the company for over $900 million and continued to extract the company roots by bringing in an executive from Unilever to run Burt's Bees.

An interlude.
This past summer I attended the Northeast Organic Farming Association Conference at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. One of the workshops I attended there was a make your own lotion class. As you can guess I learned to make my own lotion: what ingredients (all natural, of course), how to combine them, etc. During the class I learned a couple important lessons outside of the main topic.
  1. Lotions and other personal care products that are produced by large corporate manufacturers want you to believe that they are natural, but if the word "fragrance" is listed in the ingredients, you are not being told the truth about that product. Fragrance is a catch-all for anything the manufacturer doesn't want you to know is in their product, very likely a synthetic fragrance. While we were talking about this several people pulled out different product they use, one was the famous Burt's Bees lip balm. Fragrance is not listed in its ingredients, but several people said they no longer trust them since they were bought out by corporate interests. I went to their website to see for myself and found several products that list fragrance in the ingredients but they try to mask it with a slick "natural bar" trumpeting the ratio of natural to synthetic ingredients used to make it (Hey, I'm 99.33% natural, congratulate me!).
  2. The other lesson I learned was a mantra the teacher repeated during the class: If you can't eat it, don't put it on your skin. The lotions she showed us how to make were made with water, different types of oils (olive, grapeseed), beeswax, and vitamin E. All things that are edible.

Back to the article.
I was rather annoyed when I read that the current president of Burt's Bees repeated this teacher's mantra in a publicity stunt where he ate a spoonful of Burt's Bees hair conditioner. I doubt that he got this from her, but I do see this as the height of hypocrisy. Why? For several reasons:

  1. The article goes on to say that Burt's Bees gets most of its beeswax from Ethiopia burning up a lot of carbon along the way. I know several people around New York who would be glad to offer up some beeswax for compensation. Which brings up my next reason...
  2. Where does your $3 go for that tube of lip balm? North Carolina. Not to your local economy, but out of state. I'll give Burt's Bees credit for being community minded and helping build homes through Habitat for Humanity and other worthy causes in North Carolina, but they miss the real message about supporting local economies.
  3. What keeps Burt's Bees from making all their products 100% natural. Why do they have to add any synthetic ingredients? Especially if, as the article goes on to say, Burt's Bees has taken on the role of industry policeman, testing competitor's products for "natural" authenticity. If you ask me, I'd tell Burt's Bees to get their own house in order before they start telling other companies what to do.

So in the end I trust Burt's Bees even less and won't buy their products if my life depended on it. What you can trust though is people like Burt Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby. Turns out Roxanne is helping conserve land in Maine and Burt Shavitz moved back to his (now expanded) turkey coop.

It is possible to get personal care products that don't have "fragrance", parabens, or other synthetic ingredients and support local economies. I buy many of mine (except lotion!) from a friend in upstate New York. You'll probably have to pay more, but after all, if you can't eat it, you shouldn't put it on your skin.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Books of Interest

Here's some new books I came across that look interesting:

Rogak, Lisa. A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein.
I loved "Where the Sidewalk Ends" and used several poems from it in a poetry project I did in high school. The reviewer says Silverstein was good at any art he picked up, screenwriting, poetry, songwriting, etc.

Dowd, Michael. Thank God for Evolution!: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.
I add this in part because the title is great, but also because it brought back a specific memory from high school too. I went to a private, Protestant-Church run high school and in biology our teacher told us that he believed in both creationism and evolution. Of course to a class of naive 10th graders this was heresy and some vigorously debated evolution with him (I wasn't one of them, already having doubt, even then). But thankfully, that teacher had the courage to be honest about his beliefs, much like the authors of this book. It's that type of honesty that we need n order to face down fundamentalist of all stripes.

Youngs, Bettie B. The House That Love Built: The Story of Millard & Linda Fuller, Founders of Habitat For Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing.
Obviously, this book is about the folks who started Habitat For Humanity and according to the review, not everything is chocolate and roses, but it looks interesting simply because this group does such good work.

Vileisis, Ann. Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get It Back.
Any books list has to have one about food or cooking and here's a good one. That title says it all, almost. Sounds like a book that spells out why real food is better than fake food pushed on us by food manufacturers (You know who they are). Get thee to a farmer's market.

Building Intelligence Group. Intelligent Building Dictionary: Terminology for Smart, Integrated, Green Building Design, Construction and Management.
I'm throwing this one in because I would have bought if I still worked at my last job, running the information center for an environmental engineering firm. Nevertheless, this type of info is fast becoming needed info that folks will need to understand if they want to keep up with changes in the construction industry.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Years Thoughts

Bill Moyers had the author Thomas Cahill on his show a while back. One of the questions he asked was what Cahill would focus on if he were alive in a thousand years and wanted to tell folks about the early 21st century. He responded by saying that in this society we have a shared nightmare and a shared dream. I can't recall what he said the dream is, but his discussion of our shared nightmare gave me food for thought. He said our shared nightmare is racism, and he gave examples like our slaughter of American Indians, enslavement of Africans, and bombing of the Japanese.
As a New Yorker I'd like to think that life here is a celebration of diversity and it is to a certain extent. It's also a hotbed of racial tension that you don't necessarily see in the paper but you do see if you look close enough to everyday interactions. But racism doesn't just involve whites, we're all guilty of racism whether it's a simple thought or unconscious action and we can all do ourselves some good by thinking about our own racist feelings. It's just too bad that we don't think about it enough. Happy New Year.