Monday, December 31, 2007

Event Notice: Greening Your Congregation

Going green for God. The RI chapter of Interfaith Power & Light is hosting it's first annual "Greening Your Congregation" conference at Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick. Details:

January 10, 2008, 7 pm - 9:30 pm
Bishop Hendricken High School
2615 Warwick Ave, Warwick, RI

According to the organizers, this is the "first interfaith conference on developing a religious community response to Climate Change in Rhode Island." Clergy, lay leaders, parents, educators, business people and other interested individuals are invited to participate. Speaker and workshop details here.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Osprey License Plate

Had to pass this opportunity along.

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island and Save the Bay have partnered with the state to create this new license plate to help support environmental education efforts. Not a bad price either. Half of the $40 plate fee goes directly to fund programs at both organizations.

Pre-orders are being taken now. Download the order form (which contains more information) here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wanted: A Transformed North End

[A belated Merry Christmas to everyone. Things have been busy, hence I've been behind on posts. Here's wishing you a happy, healthy New Year! -- bg]


My brother lives in North Tiverton so I find myself driving through there almost on a weekly basis. I’m sorry, but it’s borderline depressing to see all those vacant buildings yearning for some economic and neighborly activity. What gives?

There’s one stretch in particular that I think could be attractive if given the right investment. Close to the Fall River border, just north of Interstate Insurance on Main Road lies a series of abandoned store fronts. Yes, it absolutely needs some rehab, but the possibilities are exciting if left to the inspired imagination.

There are plenty of examples to draw from: Broadway in Newport, downtown Bristol, Main Street in Warren, all of Wickford, the first two blocks of Westminster Avenue on the west side of Providence. The list could go on. These are places with small mom & pop shops; convenient, walk-able locations; destinations for towns people. Eclectic fare that helps give a community a sense of self and a flavor to be proud of.

When you get down to it, the north side of town could really transform itself into a nice little retail destination that goes beyond the current small-to-mid-size corporate box stores; something to draw out folks from other parts of town. All it would take is one or two new outfits to blaze the trail, create some buzz, and kick-start the momentum. Think of your potential customers: Folks from those high-end condos (that will remain nameless), a large student population, families that descend on the ball fields for either soccer or baseball throughout the year, church-goers, state-line crossers, residents at the eventual Bourne Mill complex, never-mind your everyday residents. The traffic is definitely there.

So what will it take to make all this happen? Better planning/zoning regulations, rehab investment for buildings and sidewalks, more business-friendly allies at Town Hall, a couple of people with good retail ideas and the gusto to give it a shot? What kind of stores do you think would do well? What retail needs could be met with a local business solution? Do we have the best resources to help with small business development in town?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Describe YOUR Sustainable Sakonnet

It’s a cold, blustery, sleet-filled morning. As I look out over the crusty white yard watching the trees sway aggressively back and forth I am finding myself pondering how to grow this effort called Sustainable Sakonnet. I have some ideas, but are they the RIGHT ideas? Will they meet the needs of a community prime with opportunity but short on delivery? Will they meet YOUR needs, the dedicated readers of this blog for whom I am grateful?

If the events of the past week at the United Nations climate conference in Bali have driven home, it’s that it is up to individuals and communities to take the lead in shaping a better future. We cannot wait for others to lead; it is up to us to take up that helm with gusto and determination.

So, what does YOUR Sustainable Sakonnet look and feel like?

What are the needs of our community when it comes to making it a model for sustainability?

If you had a pool of resources available to you to help you lead a more sustainable lifestyle, what would it look like? What activities/resources do you think could help raise awareness with our neighbors and help them take some proactive steps?

Here are a couple things that I’ve been thinking about:

• Developing a comprehensive website that could serve as one-stop-shopping for local information and resources related to all-things sustainable: local food, green building, renewable energy and energy conservation, recycling and waste reduction, green business, etc.

• Launching a dedicated committee (or even non-profit organization) to shepherd and partner with the town and its citizens in areas of environmental sustainability

• Producing a local sustainability video series that could air on Cox local access (and the web)

• Pitching a regular green issues column in some of our local papers

• Creating a speakers series to bring in local experts and organizations to help engage and educate us all

• Creating some kind of dedicated resource for local businesses to learn how to green their operations

• Developing an environmental education curricula to help teach our kids how they can be stewards in both our local and global communities

No idea is too small or too big. All it takes is a little bit of time, effort, and collaboration. You probably have great ideas that I haven’t even thought of. Thanks for chipping in. Together we can do this.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sustainable Energy Group to Meet; Thoughts on ALLCO

In an earlier post, we talked about the fantastic kick-off meeting of a new community group focused on creating and driving a new sustainable energy agenda in town.

While we are still in the early formation stage, our second exploratory meeting will be taking place next Monday, December 10, from 7:00 – 8:00 PM at the Tiverton Community Center on Judson Street (off Main Road, past Holy Ghost Church). Our agenda will focus on reviewing the initial scope of the group that we formulated last time and talk about how best to align ourselves with the town for maximum impact. If you’re interested in being a part of this exploratory discussion please join us. Questions? Email me.

While we’re talking about sustainable energy, I can’t help but pass along a few thoughts on the recent news regarding the potential ALLCO project off Little Compton’s coast. I’ve hung back to observe initial reaction from the community and local papers. All-in-all, it’s been mixed.

I admit that I’m biased, but this matter requires a strong and thorough discourse by everyone involved. What makes the stakes even higher is that this project – possibly the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. -- could have the eyes of the nation on it (assuming that Cape Wind does not progress). We have an opportunity to create the model, not only for the rest of Rhode Island’s offshore projects, but nationally as well.

Admittedly, I understand both sides of the table. Cut our dependence on carbon-based fuels or disrupt wildlife? Dig deep to pay for ever-increasing oil prices or “jeopardize” the pristine view (and the real estate prices they command)? Compromise a new sustainable energy-based economic model at the expense of a well-established local sea-based one?

These are difficult questions with no easy answers. A logical place to start could be by benchmarking all the offshore European wind farms. They’ve been operational for some time. What have they learned? How have their lives and environment changed (if at all)? We need to hear directly from those who have gone before us. The lessons they have learned could shine some much-needed light on the discussion. Closer to home, there are well-informed individuals who could carry a big flashlight here. Let's get the right people at the table before we start a round-robin of misinformation.

ALLCO’s website describes its community-based approach to wind farm development. At the surface, this appears to offer some relief from immediate concerns of Mr. Big-Time Developer coming in and tearing up our neighborhood. Hearing from some of the Midwest ranchers they’ve worked with would also be enlightening.

At the end of the day though, we need to do something to change course. I’d hate to position it as picking the lesser of the two evils, because there’s nothing bad about any of this. But as citizens of Sakonnet (and the Earth for that matter), we need to decide on what kind of future we want to have. Think only in the short-term and we are bound miss out and wonder how future generations will think of us. Think long-term and we have a wonderful opportunity to help set a new course and find comfort knowing that future generations will look back with admiration at the courage we had to think and act progressively.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Review: "Reclaiming the Commons"

This is a retrospective review. I've read Brian Donahue's, “Reclaiming the Commons,” three or four times now and it continues to inspire and educate me. It’s one of those few books where I’ve made more notes in the margins than I can shake a stick at. Looks more like a used textbook at this point. But that’s the hook. Last week, it jumped out at me again from my bookshelf.

I picked it up in 2000 while still living in Providence, in-between stints in Tiverton. Looking back, I have to say that this could have been THE book that solidified my belief that turning this crazy world of ours around starts at home in your own community; that food and farming can be those conduits of change; and that I wanted to someday try to replicate this concept in some form.

The book recounts Donahue’s trials and tribulations of creating a vibrant, self-sustaining community farm and forestry business within the 2,000 acres of public land in Weston, MA. The farm, called Land’s Sake, evolved into a true community commons – that focal point of activity that brings together friends and neighbors, old and young alike, together to create a new bond with the land and themselves.

Weston, while slightly smaller than Tiverton in both land area and population, is similar in its geography and agrarian past. Both have classic New England farming heritages steeped in history, succumbing to the challenges of modern suburbia; citizens out of touch of where their food comes from and the value that a local food economy can bring; youth disenchanted with the wonders of an outdoor classroom and that thing called work ethic.

From market farming to animal husbandry to cut flowers; from community forestry to maple syrup production to apple cider pressing, Land’s Sake has taken the natural resources of Weston and transformed them into a successful community-based business model. What makes Land’s Sake a wonderful model for what a community farm could be is its fortitude in ensuring all of its various enterprises adhere to the four basic principles of the ecological, economical, educational, and esthetic.

They farm organically and practice sustainable forestry; their enterprises are self-sustaining and profitable; they include kids at all levels of the operation ensure a new generation of well-educated land and local food advocates; their work beautifies the land and welcomes the public to it as a respite from their hectic lives.

What I love the most about the Land’s Sake model is that they have forgone the potential for a more efficient operation for the opportunity to involve kids and integrate an environmental education component into their operation. From summer jobs to school-time fieldtrips, kids are working the land while expanding their minds. What a win-win.

Bottom line: As a resident of the Sakonnet area, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Then sit back and imagine reclaiming our own commons. Building that new focal point for our community that connects the past with the present while ensuring a sustainable future. We could do this. All we need is the land and the vision to make it a reality. It’s the total package: Land conservation, local economic and food security development, and inter-generational engagement.

(Note: Tiverton’s library doesn’t carry this book, but you can order it through the online Ocean State Libraries system.)

Have you read this book? Have you ever envisioned a new “commons” here in Sakonnet? Please take a moment to share your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Help Us Figure Out Recycling

Just a quick welcome to Sakonnet Times readers who saw the letter to the editor this week. A version of this letter appeared on the S.T. website a few weeks back. Read the follow-up post and some early replies by readers.

So why is recycling that hard? What do you think we should do to help change individual behavior and start improving our performance across the board? Take a moment to share your thoughts and let's figure out how to move this forward. Thanks.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sustainable Energy Takes the First Step

On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of meeting a new group of friends and neighbors. We gathered to discuss what we could do to help create, drive, and see the execution of a new sustainable energy agenda here in Tiverton. The atmosphere was charged (positively, of course) and the discussion progressive. As the hour sped by the possibilities for our little town became more apparent. From energy conservation efforts to wind power projects to enhancing the town’s master planning document. People smiled.

Three or four of us were confirmed. But when we totaled twelve at the start of the meeting, I knew we had that spark that connects like-minded people and binds them together for a common cause. “Where there is a will, there’s a way,” so the saying goes. I left the Community Center that night knowing we had both.

It’s going to take a month or two to get everything in order organizationally, but just you wait. In the coming weeks, we’ll have messages out to let everyone know where and when we’ll meet next and how they can bring a friend or three in the process. There will be lots of work, but with a team approach, we’ll get it done. We have to.

If you’re interested in getting on a distribution list for our next meeting, email me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

America Recycles (Every) Day

Well, it's been one of those extremely busy weeks like we all get from time to time. Why is it with Monday holidays you always feel like you’re trying to cram a five days worth of work into a 4-day workweek? The bright side is that some VERY exciting things have been brewing on the sustainability front here in Tiverton – stay tuned for a post this weekend that begins to share it.

It was so busy that I could not wish everyone a happy America Recycles Day on Thursday. "A" for effort on this, especially in terms of raising awareness and education, but in the end, this needs to be part of our day-to-day. I don’t need to tell you all the reasons why. But if you were scrambling to find something to share with that Anti-Recycler in your world, you might want to check this out:

The National Recycling Coalition has a great microsite devoted to ARD. Fun, informative, and interactive. Great for students. Be sure to check out the Conversionator and learn how big of a difference just a little recycling can make. (Thanks to Garry for sending this one along.)

And if you're looking for something to do tomorrow (Saturday), then head on over to the Rhode Island Recycles Day event at the Central Landfill in Johnston. It’s a prime opportunity to bring all that paper, electronic, and household waste (e.g., paints, cleaners, etc.) that you just can’t put in our green or blue bins here in town. Most items, aside from TVs can be recycled for free ($5 processing fee for the "Magic Boxes"). Check out the site for more info.

Remember, the more we recycle, the longer our landfill stays open. The longer our landfill stays open, the more time and money we will save before having to truck our trash to Johnston and start paying tipping fees. Besides, throwing all that e-waste and household hazardous waste in the landfill is a recipe for toxic disaster – whether today or 100 years from now. Do your kids and grandkids the favor of not having to foot the bill for cleaning that mess up. Recycle.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Putting Two and Two Together

This morning on NPR, Marketplace launched a new series that places a critical lens on American consumerism. I love this program with their often hip and humorous approach to reporting the news of business. This morning’s story was no different. It focused on fashion's impact on our consumerism society. Here are some quick facts:

• Consumerism has doubled in America over the last twenty years
• Because of the low cost of clothing, Americans are buying nearly double the amount than 15 years ago
• The ripple effect of growing consumerism is wide spread. From working more to feed the "frenzy" to the severe toll on the natural resources of the planet.

When you coast on over to the Marketplace site, you can listen to all the stories in the feature. It's great, thought-provoking material. They also have some "games" you can play, like calculating how many earths you need to support your lifestyle. While I haven't done that yet, it is widely published that if all humans consumed in the same manner as Americans we would need anywhere from 4-6 earths (depending on the report you read). I have three words for you: China and India.

It all boils down to decisions. Next to your intelligence and will, your wallet may be the next best weapon in helping to change the course here in the good ol’ U.S. of A – and the world. And as we make the turn and head into Holiday Homestretch, what you want verses what you need is something we should all be mindful of. Here's to a simpler, more sustainable way.

Any other fellow NPR listeners out there? Feel free to share your comments.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Help Bring Renewable Energy to Tiverton

Congratulations to our neighbors in Portsmouth for voting to fund the 1.5 megawatt wind turbine slated to be sited at their middle school (story). That is a huge nod to the importance of turning the tide when it comes to creating a new energy future for us.

It's our turn now. On Thursday, November 15, I will be joining with some other like-minded neighbors to sit down and explore the feasibility of creating our very own Renewable Energy Committee here in town. While wind is an obvious opportunity, we also believe other energy sources such as solar, tidal, biomass, etc. are worthy of exploration too.

The meeting will start at 7:00PM at the Tiverton Community Center on Judson Street (off Main Road, past Holy Ghost Church). This initial discussion will focus on whether we have the personal and professional resources to form a dedicated group and pursue an aggressive agenda. If you're interested in being a part of this exploratory discussion please join us. Questions? Email me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Stop Drowing In Catalogs

I don’t know about you, but it seems the deluge of holiday catalogs is starting earlier each year. It’s safe to say we’re getting 10-20 per week. I’m sure you’re the same. Here’s your chance to fight back and save a tree or million while you’re at it.

One of Yahoo’s Pick of the Day yesterday was Catalog Choice, a new (and free!) online service that allows you to opt out of pretty much any catalog out there (there are hundreds listed). Launched about a month ago, it’s the result of a new collaboration between the National Resources Defense Council, The Ecology Center, and the National Wildlife Federation. (Read: It is a legitimate service.)

With 19 BILLION catalogs sent annually, these paper precursors to the holidays are eating up 100 million trees annually. Think about that. Think about the carbon dioxide that’s not being absorbed; think about the energy and water that goes into processing 100 million trees into paper. It’s absolutely daunting.

Watch this NBC story to get some more background. Then, get over to the site, create your free account, and start helping to make your holidays a bit more paper-free.

Curious on how it works? Read more about how they have partnered directly with merchants at their blog.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Is Recycling That Hard? (Part Two)

In an effort to broaden the discussion a bit on this subject (and at the insistence of one of our readers – thanks, Ginger!), I submitted a slightly edited version of the original post to the Sakonnet Times as a letter to the editor. It didn't show up in the print version because of everything going on in Portsmouth, but it did land online. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many people in town are checking that out.

In any case, we've had some good discussion so far. In his comment, “michiganmiked” brought up the need to make it mandatory through town ordinances and then impose penalties for those who can't seem to get it right. He referenced a model policy in Derry, NH.

Well, if my memory serves, recycling is "mandatory" in Tiverton according to Chapter 66/Article III of our town ordinances. Chapter 66 (Solid Waste Management) was revised and passed sometime in 2005 (again, if memory serves) while I was on the town recycling committee. I checked the town website for a copy of the current ordinance but couldn't find anything. Best you can do is link to our Code of Ordinances as of 2003. (Comment: How can citizens know the ins and outs of town living if officials can't even update online information that could no longer be accurate. What's the obstacle, here? That info is almost five years old.)

The problem is that of enforcement. Whose job is that? The police? The waste hauling company? The town? First, we need some top-down commitment that recycling and reducing our collective volume of trash is a priority. Then we need to find and empower the resources to enforce it. I agree, if you start not picking up someone’s trash or hitting them in the wallet with fines, they are sure going to stand up and notice.

"michiganmiked" – Do you know how Derry is enforcing their code?

"Shelli" commented on efforts to recycle at a local school in Westport. In terms of Tiverton -- if recycling is “mandatory” -- no one is spot-checking that effort and enforcing compliance. Again, the town needs to step up and lead by example.

It's shortsightedness in thinking and planning that's going to get us in a bind. While our landfill still has capacity, one day it's going to be capped. When that happens, WE (the town) will pay to have our trash hauled to the Central Landfill in Johnston. There, WE will pay a per-ton tipping fee for trash (and penalties for not separating recyclables if that's the case). If the terms are still the same as a few years ago, there is NO tipping fee for recyclables. That's an easy math problem to solve: The more you recycle, the less trash you have. The less trash you have, the less your tipping fees are. The less your tipping fees are, the more money you save in the town budget.

Let me try to get Steve Rys of the Recycling Committee to add to the discussion.

Bottom line: We have to do better. If not for the planet, then for some small contribution to tax relief. Choose your personal priority.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Is Recycling That Hard?

Friday is trash day in my neck of the woods. So each Thursday night, I, like all of my neighbors, go through that time-honored tradition of dragging barrels out to the curb. In our case, it's more accurate to say barrel (single). For a family of four, I take a little pride in putting out one barrel's worth of trash. After filling up our green and blue recycling bins (with proper sorting of materials, of course) and dumping all our organics and food scraps in the compost pile, we're only generating one or two bags of trash each week. Not bad considering the average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash a day.

What I'm still amazed at though is how many households just have a barrel at the curb. No green or blue recycling bins to brighten up the scene. So my question is: Why are people not recycling? Is it sheer ignorance? Laziness? A combination of both, or something else altogether?

When I was part of Tiverton's Recycling Committee a few years back we struggled with that same question. Granted, I’ll say that at the surface you do see more bins out there with each passing year, but we can do – and need to do – better. According to the EPA, only 32% of America’s waste is recycled.

Really, it comes down to changing behavior. Of course, that's easier said then done. Whether you're trying to eat healthier, start exercising, or throwing your soda bottles in a blue bin instead of the trash, the premise is all the same. I think the key to all of this is to start early and have good role models.

The logical place to start is at our schools. That requires that recycling (paper, plastic, aluminum at a minimum) be mandatory. End of story. From a business point of view, it makes good economic sense to recycle and reduce your waste hauling costs. (The Tiverton School Committee can't even figure out Contracting 101, so improving recycling is not even hitting their radar.) But once that problem is taken care of, we should start in kindergarten and teach our kids the why's and how's of it all. Put a bin in each classroom. Give them gold stars for tossing their stuff away correctly. Reward the behavior and it becomes second nature. We all want to receive praise and accolades.

You know what happens next? Domino effect. Kids go home and give their parent(s) guilt trips, wear at them in that way that kids do until the breaking point. Before long, that household has bins at the curb on trash day. Or maybe they are recycling more. At the end of the day, we have our next generation being part of the solution instead of the problem.

So, I ask you: Why is recycling that hard?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tube for Tuesday: Greening Our Schools (Part 2)

On the heels of an earlier post, I came across this amazing video showcasing a new green school in Washington, D.C. The Sidwell Friends School built a new middle school that achieved a Platinum LEED Certification rating (the highest). But beyond the building and grounds, what makes Sidwell stand out is its students and how they have embraced an academic curricula that has environmental stewardship as one of its four cornerstones.

You can learn more about the Sidwell Friends School and their green middle school here.

Let's face it. Our kids are smart, aware, and eager to make their mark. They are going to have to inherit the mess the rest of us are making. Why not prepare them well for this challenge and channel their energy and enthusiasm in the right direction.

Are you a teacher or parent who feels the same way? Drop me a line -- I'd like to see what we can do to make a change in our schools.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Event Notice: Newport Energy Film Festival

Sorry about the late notice but I just came upon this in the Newport Daily News. Jane Pickens Theater and the Sierra Club have teamed up to present four movies with energy related themes back-to-back tomorrow night. Doors open at 6:00 PM with the first show starting at 6:10 PM. For background on the event, read the article.

I won't be able to make it, but if you go, let us know how it was.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Green Building: Where is Our Planner Now?

Here is a new website I just came across: Green Building Blocks. It's dedicated to everything around environmentally sustainable building. As someone who has gone through a remodel recently, I wish I had discovered the site sooner. You can search across the company for green building materials, architects, designers, and everything in between. There is content to help improve your own building skills, plus great video of green designs in action for that shot of inspiration.

We did our best to build green given our budget: passive solar design of our kitchen to maximize the sun and shade, bamboo floors, energy-efficient windows, and Energy Star-rated appliances. We could have done more if the money was there – you can always do more – but every little built helps.

But this got me thinking in terms of all the new development going on in Tiverton. I live close to the new neighborhood being built off Lake Road. Then there is William Barton Preserve and the early-stage development off of Fish Road. When you drive through these (Fish Road one aside for now), what do you see? The cookie-cutter recipe for most new development: Big (really big) houses on clear-cut plots; en vogue architecture (for some; most look straight out of a Sears catalogue) in lieu of sustainable design. Granted, we can't see the inside to know what's going on, but I can't imagine most of these developers approach their projects with green lenses.

This is wrong and irresponsible. End of story. In an earlier post some months ago, I commented on a presentation I saw given in part by our town planner, Chris Spencer. He spoke of a vision for Tiverton -- one that partnered with other communities throughout the state to usher in smart growth, responsible development, and protection of our natural resources. One part of his two-prong strategy focused on “form codes” that strive to positively impact building design.

So where is that strategy in action? The Town should require—at a minimum—all new development to integrate some level of green building into its design. Eventually, remodels of a certain size and scope should fall under that umbrella as well. If you’re going to build McMansions, then they should employ some way to offset their humongous environmental footprint. Heck, with prices averaging around the $500,000 mark, these prospective buyers can afford to be at least a little bit green. (We'll save commentary on pricing out certain demographics and creating an homogeneous community for a later post. But here's to increasing the residential tax revenue, right??)

Now, I have not read through the entire town's master planning document, so I could be in the wrong. But if language is in there about building green, we’re certainly not seeing it come to fruition.

The breath of fresh air in all of this are the pockets of apparent sustainable development in and around town. Smaller designs and no clear-cut plots are a good start. Think of the neighborhood off Old Crandall Road, that new house next to the fire station on East Road, or the eventual artist’s community.

But where is Mr. Spencer? Where is the leadership? If there are obstacles, let's hear about them and figure out a way to get rid of them. In this situation, no news is definitely NOT good news. His silence is deafening.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tube For Tuesday: Saving the Landfill One Diaper at a Time

It's been a busy week, hence no in-between post, but had to pass along a few good clips. Why am I thinking about babies and diapers? Not sure, as my kids are just about out of them. But when I saw these clips, especially the first one showing the composting experiment, it got me thinking about Tiverton's landfill and its eventual maxing out. With over 15,000 residents and over 4,400 designated families (Source:, how many diapers do you think are hitting that landfill each day? Every little bit helps, no?

Now, I'll be the first to admit that going the cloth diaper route is a commitment and not for everyone (we did not do it), but by the looks of these clips, they have come a long way since we looked into them even a few years ago.

The first clip is a promo from G Diapers. I'm not promoting any brand, but you have to love the composting experiment:

The second clip is from the ABC affiliate in Pittsburgh and showcases some green diaper options:

Until next Tuesday...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tube For Tuesday: Edible Schoolyards in Action (Part 2)

Part Two in the series on establishing a new Edible Schoolyards program in New Orleans. This one is all about the kids enjoying the local fruit harvest. Isn't it great to see kids so excited over eating heathly, nutritious, locally-grown food? Enjoy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Greening Our Schools

I have the pleasure of serving as a mentor to one of our high school seniors this year. She is a bright, articulate student who clearly has a lot of drive and initiative behind her. As part of this program, she has to produce a “product” as the culmination of her experience. Her focus? The environment, of course.

In thinking through possible projects for her to take on, we talked about trying to calculate the high school's environmental footprint – basically, the total negative impact the school has on the environment – then implementing some initiative to lessen that. During our conversation I learned that the high school just isn't getting it done even with the little it tries to do to be “green”. Granted, I can't confirm this, but paper recycling (the only recycling they do) is being called into question because it is thought that the janitors simply threw it all in the trash at the end of the day.

In researching this project idea further, I came upon this article at Green Options about calculating your school’s carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide emissions it generates). Great timing! But it got me thinking bigger, way beyond the high school, and how the town should be leading by example here.

Greening our schools would have positive impacts at many levels: From financial, to the health of our students and teachers, to the trickle-down effect that an environmental education curricula could have on all these kids' families and their lifestyles.

We can't do anything about it now, but the town missed the boat with the new Ranger Elementary School. This building should have been designed to be LEED Certified from the get-go. But it is possible to LEED certify an existing building through the remodel process (my employer did it with our building). What are the odds that the rest of our elementary schools will be updated to such a high standard of performance? You don't have to look far for resources on how to make this happen.

Beyond the structure itself, we should be looking at how much energy these all our school buildings are consuming. I'm certain that schools comprise the biggest slice of the pie when it comes to yearly energy costs. Again, some proactive steps could make huge strides in helping to curb the school budget. Just look at what Portsmouth is trying to do with placing new wind turbines at several school locations. Granted, not all our schools will have favorable wind conditions, but they could be taking other steps: Updating heating/cooling systems and insulation, using all CFL light bulbs, heck, even trying to install a solar array or two as part of a science project.

Then there's recycling. Why only paper? Plastic and aluminum should be recycled too. Doesn’t the town know that they once our landfill is maxed and we have to pay to have our trash hauled and dumped at the Central Landfill, that the more we recycle the less our tipping fees will be. Start now and make recycling part of the normal day-to-day routine. It makes me wonder what they are doing with their electronic waste, not to mention the hazardous waste like paints, cleaners, etc. And how about composting all the food waste coming out of the kitchens? (That compost could be used in the school gardens, of course.)

Alas, the list could go on. You get the point. As citizens of this community, we should be raising our voice on this issue. Some proactive steps now can have positive impacts for years to come. Do it for the kids, do it for the positive financial return, do it for the earth… just do it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tube For Tuesday: Edible Schoolyards in Action (Part 1)

I thought we'd start a new feature: Tube For Tuesdays. Each Tuesday, we'll highlight a YouTube video that helps showcase some of the great sustainability work going on out there.

Our inaugural clip is all about the creation of an Edible Schoolyard program in New Orleans. It's a little long for my taste (over eight minutes), but the story is inspiring. Next week, we'll showcase Part 2. See my previous post (immediately below) for some background and link to the original Edible Schoolyard in California.

If any teachers are stopping by, I'd love to know what you think of this concept. I recently drove by the new Ranger school and noticed a big plot of land between that school and the High School. How cool would it be to create some sort of program that both ends of the educational spectrum could be a part of?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Protected Farmland + ? = Secure Local Food System

Let me get something off my chest: My suppressed desire is to be a farmer. I’m not sure where it came from, but it's why I talk about food and farming so much here at Sustainable Sakonnet. But as my wife likes to say, "I didn’t marry a farmer." So for now, I get by with a small garden and big dreams.

To me, there's nothing nobler, more respectable than rising each day and growing that which nurtures and sustains your neighbors. Getting your hands dirty, smelling like rich, fertile soil all the way to your bones; learning how to be a better farmer with each passing season.

I was reminded of this when I received the Tiverton Land Trust's fall newsletter. The cover story, “Will buildings be our last crop?” was all about the need for preserving farmland and averting development, especially in Tiverton. Content is taken from an apparent interview with Mr. Tom Sandham, District Manager of the Eastern Rhode Island Conservation District. The most surprising stat: "Less than five percent of RI’s consumption of edible products is produced in RI." How amazing it would be if we could put in place a plan to grow that.

But saving farmland is only half of the solution. The other: Getting more people to embrace farming as a career and USE that saved farmland. I know that is much easier said then done. But people are doing it. Look at Andrew Orr in Westport.

There are two other ways that we could help chip away at the back half of that equation. While ideally they could work as a one-two punch, we could operate with one or the other (to begin with, of course).

The first is introducing some sort of agricultural education component into our schools. As the TLT highlights, we have that long history of farming here in town. So why not put in place a program that actually teaches that? A couple examples come to mind here:

• Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard project in Berkeley, CA, showcases the soup-to-nuts possibilities of getting kids growing their own food AND eating it.

The Food Project lies right outside of Boston in Dorchester and is connecting kids with the land to drive social change.

• And if we ever had a formal agricultural educational component in our schools, we could start up a Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter. By what I've seen and read, this development program is creating our farming leadership of tomorrow. There are already six local FFA chapters in RI. We should be the seventh.

The second way of fostering the development of future farmers is to create some sort of farm incubator program. These are basically training grounds, where new farmers can hone their skills, and develop and market their products in a more secure environment. Why not take one of these pieces of protected farmland and build that kind of foundational component? Again, some good examples:

The Intervale Center in Burlington, VT, is a huge, multi-faceted program – and a great success story.

The Farm School in Athol, MA, literally teaches kids and adults how to become farmers through intensive hands-on programs.

What I'd like to know is if anyone out there has been a part of or knows of people who have been a part of these types of ventures. Or, does anyone know if these conversations have happened at all in town? If so, I'd be interested in talking to you more.

Bottom line: We do have a rich agricultural heritage in Sakonnet. Saving the land is a great first step. But to truly be stewards of the land, we need to develop that skill and talent to work and cultivate it for future generations.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Help Set the Environmental Agenda at the State House

I received a surprise email today. State Representative John J. Loughlin II reached out to the readers of Sustainable Sakonnet to ask for ideas and input to help craft the upcoming legislative agenda. As he puts it, "I am always seeking new and innovative ideas that we can put in practice to sustain and protect our environment. Your input would be most welcome."

Personally, I think this is great and I appreciate the outreach. We may sit on opposite sides of the aisle with our party affiliations, but if someone asks you for your opinion, you best well give it to them.

Now is our collective opportunity. If you are at all inclined to share your voice, now is the time. I told Rep. Loughlin that I’d circle back with the results of this outreach.

Please, please, please post your thoughts and ideas. Nothing is too small or too big. Pass this on, talk to your neighbors and friends. Let’s connect and try to champion something for Sakonnet.


Sunday, September 2, 2007

11th Hour

So it looks like 11th Hour is the next rock-em, sock-em, wake-up-and-smell-your-unsustainably-farmed-coffee movie to try and move the populous to action when it comes to the environment. Sure to be as popular as An Inconvenient Truth, Leonardo DiCaprio's installment appears to be much more of an in-your-face kind of documentary.

I have not seen it -- the closest showing is up in Harvard Square (a lovely drive, don't get me wrong) -- but a tour of the supporting website, does a good job selling the persona power behind the film. It's a who's-who of the modern environmental movement plus some other well-known faces thrown in for good measure.

Check out the trailer:

Now, I don't know what Leonardo does day-to-day to lessen his environmental footprint, but I do have to give a tip of the hat for trying to leverage his star power for something good. We all know that the more people who are informed and inspired to take action, the better our chances of turning this ship around.

Hopefully, a more local theater will pick this film up so that more of us in the Sakonnet area can check it out. If you've seen it, let us know how it was.

Until then, here's to turning back the clock.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back Talk

OK, I need your help. Sakonnet needs your help. If you ever wanted to get that idea out there, your two cents that by-golly you just haven't had the soapbox to shout from, here's your opportunity.

Where is Sakonnet going when it comes to sustainability? How green is our community? Where should our elected leaders be focusing their efforts? How can you and I help transform our neighborhoods (and neighbors) into more conscious, more action-oriented places of sustainability? What is the most important environmental issue for you?

We need a community agenda. We need to rally our community behind it. We need to see our collective vision into reality.

If you are one of those people who so graciously stop by from time to time to check this blog out, do us all a favor and chime in. Say your peace. Throw something out there for our readers to react to.

You know what's on my mind. What's on yours?

Thursday, August 16, 2007


The need to act today for the benefit of tomorrow is not a hard concept to grasp. Still, the imperative continues to elude a great number of us.

Many, many people write about it; argue the potential consequences; implore us to act. Why isn’t the message hitting home? Perhaps the approach is missing the mark. Maybe we’re looking at the problem the wrong way.

I recently came upon this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, promoter of inter-faith dialogue, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, while at I've read several of Thay's books and have a great respect for him.

With All Our Heart
By Thich Nhat Hanh, "Our Appointment with Life"

When we throw a banana peel into the garbage, if we are mindful, we know that the peel will become compost and be reborn as a tomato or a lettuce salad in just a few months. But when we throw a plastic bag into the garbage, thanks to our awareness, we know that a plastic bag will not become a tomato or a salad very quickly. Some kinds of garbage need four or five hundred years to decompose. Nuclear waste needs a quarter of a million years before it stops being harmful and returns to the soil. Living in the present moment in an awakened way, looking after the present moment with all our heart, we will not do things which destroy the future. That is the most concrete way to do what is constructive for the future. 

Being truly mindful of the present moment. Clarity. Deep understanding. How many of us are there? How many of us are truly awake?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Book Review: "Deep Economy"

I’m back from a week traveling through the vast and varied landscapes of Utah. Simply put: It is amazing, at times humbling, and all in all, a visit that everyone should put on their list of places to see.

The trip was an apropos setting for reading through Bill McKibben’s latest effort, "Deep Economy". Admittedly, while I’ve heard much of McKibben and his efforts, I had not read much beyond the occasional article or editorial. His style is simple, straight-forward, with an engaging prose that doesn’t overload you with facts and figures.

The premise is simple: Society – and in particular the U.S. – has lost it’s sense of community in its quest for what he terms "More" instead of the "Better" (caps intended). The economics of a global society, in which individualistic gain supercedes all else, has eroded that which made the communities of generations before us great (and sustainable). Gone is the inter-connectedness, the ability to be self-sufficient and self-reliant; gone is the importance of getting to know your neighbors instead of pursuing the rat race of keeping up with the Jones; gone is the communal thread that wove the fabric of local nature. The result: A society where most people are less happy and satisfied than even just the generation before them; communities that continue to drift apart with each successive housing or retail development; an environment that just can no longer support this ever-increasing consumption of natural resources in the pursuit of More.

Throughout the book, McKibben uses startling facts the drive home the message. Data from a variety of sources – economic, social sciences, government -- when coupled with real-life examples of both good community in action and the results of bad community breakdown, makes for a compelling story.

The solution? A radical shift in society that will restructure our approach to day-to-day life, not only at the personal level but at the community level as well. McKibben focuses on three critical areas in which this shift needs to occur: food production and consumption, energy, and cultural norms. Admittedly, this shift will take time, even generations, but at our present course, we don’t have many options.

The example I love the most is that of the community radio station. Low watts, limited reach, but oh so organic... It's like community glue in the form of radio waves.

Bottom line: This is a thought-provoking read. One that I recommend to anyone who has the slightest inclination of better understanding the ultimate need to re-invest in our local communities, re-connect our neighbors, and start re-focusing in on those things that truly matter in our world – a world that is quickly succumbing to the self-destructive mantra of more, more, more. If you think Wal-Mart is the best thing since sliced bread, you need to read this even more.

(Note: Tiverton’s library doesn’t carry this book, but you can order it through the online Ocean State Libraries system.)

Have you read this book? Are you a fan or critic of McKibben? Please take a moment to share your thoughts.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"No Farms, No Food."

So says the new bumper sticker on my car. I picked it up this weekend at the annual 4-H fair held down at the Glen in Portsmouth. While the fair was so-so, I really want to tell you about the bumper sticker.

It’s a promotion for a great national non-profit organization called the American Farmland Trust (AFT). Founded in 1980, it aims to protect farmland and farmers through a variety of policy, community planning, and environmental stewardship advocacy and member education programs.

Here’s the kicker stat that got me: Each year, the U.S. loses around 1.2 million acres of farmland to development. To put that into perspective, the state of Rhode Island is around 775,000 acres in size. When you think about it in terms of food security, loss of community resources and prosperity, and the livelihood of thousands of farmers and their families, that kind of loss is huge.

There are a few features I’d recommend checking out:

  • The World as an Apple. This quick little Flash video puts it all into perspective and helps you realize why protecting our farmland is absolutely critical.

  • Farm Bill 101. Every five years, Congress debates and passes a new set of nationwide farm legislation. Think it doesn’t affect you? Think again. This year’s legislation is as critical as ever to the health and prosperity of small farmers from Sakonnet to Seattle. From farmers markets to CSAs to roadside stands, all those things that we love so much about summers in New England could be at stake.

  • Rhode Island Farming Overview. AFT’s overview of issues affecting Rhode Island farmers and an introduction to Rhode Island’s agricultural profile. According to the 2002 USDA Census of Agriculture, Rhode Island boasted over 850 farms occupying over 61,000 acres of total farmland worth a agriculture production market value of over $55M? That’s nothing to sneeze at, though I wonder what those numbers look like five years later.

Now, what happens when we protect all that farmland but don’t have enough farmers to work the land and provide for us? We need to seriously think about that. Given the bounty of farms and farmers here in Sakonnet, we should be giving thought to cultivating that next generation of farmers through new partnerships with our schools, summer work programs, and heck, even starting a Future Farmers of America chapter in these neck of the woods.

I volunteered one summer day a couple years back at one of our local organic farms. It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever worked, but I tell you, I walked away with such an appreciation for those men and women who put the food on my table. Call it crazy, but it was life-changing in a way.

We need to continue to do whatever we can to secure the future of our Sakonnet farms and farmers, to embrace and support the local food security they give us, and never lose sight of the fact that with no farms, there is no food.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Help Promote Recycling

Here’s a great step for recycling in Tiverton:

The Tiverton Recycling Committee has partnered with the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation to create a new sponsor-a-public-recycling-bin program to help improve recycling rates at some our town recreation areas.

Anyone who has spent time at one of our town’s youth sports events knows how much trash is left over after a game -- and how much of that waste is in the form of recyclable cans and bottles. That’s ground zero for the new effort. I think it’s a great partnership between the leagues and the town to help make a difference.

According to the press release, the new CycleMax program runs like this: For a $65 sponsorship (or 5 units for $300), you help the Recycling Committee put a ClearStream(R) CycleMax container (picture from manufacturer) at one of our local recreational areas. This bin is printed with your sponsorship information and monitored by the appropriate youth sports league (e.g., Little League), who transports the recyclables to the Town Farm facility after am event.

It seems the program works. The press release states that CycleMax containers are in use by over 1,500 communities nationwide. The clear nature of the bin helps ensure the public uses it only for recyclable materials (fingers crossed). They are sanitary and portable, making them even easier to use.

This is a great move. Kudos to Steve Rys and the Tiverton Recycling Committee for making it happen. For small businesses in town looking for a worthwhile -- and different -- kind of sponsorship opportunity, this is a win-win.

The Committee needs commitment for at least five sponsorships before the bins can be purchased. If you’re interested, send an email to Cheri Olf at

Come on. They only need five. Sustainable Sakonnet is going to chip in for one. Can four other readers of this blog commit to the same?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Rethinking the Land of Plenty

It’s the Fourth of July. Quite an apropos time to pause and ponder just what it means to live here in the land of plenty. The moniker itself brings on glorious visions of a bottomless pot of proverbial gold; resources to last a lifetime; a to-hell-with-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mentality. Do you remember that bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins?” (Insert overt gagging sound effect here.)

What function does consumption – both our own and society’s collective – have to do with living a more sustainable lifestyle? If we do chose to buy more, does buying "green" make it any better? What impact does the stuff we buy have on the environment? What is a better means to a greener end – personal purchase decisions or broader policy or legislative initiatives (that just can’t seem to get much momentum)?

That’s the premise of a great article that recently appeared in the New York Times online edition. "Buying Into the Green Movement" gives a somewhat humorous at times, thought-provoking presentation of how far being eco-chic can get us. Not very far is the general conclusion.

To an extent, I agree. Think about it. From a socio-economic point of view, the reality is that most of us –whether here in Sakonnet or globally for that matter – just can’t afford to travel down the road of $250 organic jeans, pricey hybrid vehicles, or that $1000 reclaimed shipyard wood coffee table from the Sundance catalog to lessen our environmental footprint. Just no way, no how.

Lessening unnecessary consumption is a topic that could easily go beyond the scope of this blog. But at its core, there is merit to it. Let’s face it, we’ve become a society that equates quantity of stuff with quality of life – no matter the financial or environmental cost. Few people stop to think about all the resources (materials, energy, transportation) that go into making "X" or "Y". We’re desensitized to the true cost of things. Sooner or later, that’s going to come back to bite us.

Call it old fashioned, but it makes me yearn for yesteryear where a community pooled its resources and shared it amongst it citizens. Maybe it’s commune-like thinking, but why couldn’t we pull together a Community Free-cycle center, where instead of throwing that old chair away, we could try to give it a new lease of life. (Envision a local Free Market RI.) Or a Community Tool Center? Come on, do we all need six different shovels, two sizes of hedge trimmers, and I’m-only going-to-use-it-once-but-I-need-buy-it specialized tool that only the contractors have use for?

That’s my take. What’s yours? Is lessening consumption the yellow brick road we need to take to get to the new eco-emerald city? How could we foster that here in Sakonnet?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Georgia Corn? Heck No.

On the heels of yesterday’s post, I had to share this story with you. It drives home how you just can’t beat local produce.

I was at Lee’s Market this evening grabbing a few things for dinner. Now, Lee’s does a great job at giving its customers local produce during the summer, and beyond that, posts the state/country of origin for many of the fruits and vegetables it sells.

I’m grabbing some portabella mushrooms when I overhear a woman ask the produce clerk where the corn came from. He said quite plainly, “Georgia.” With that, she did an about-face and left the corn in the dust.

Maybe she just didn’t feel like corn, but I have to imagine the fact that it wasn’t local had something to do about it. Kudos for having the patience to stick it out a few more weeks until the local stuff is coming in fresh from the farm down the road.

Granted, we all like to indulge now and then with some out of season fare. I know – my kids love apples 24/7/365. That’s fine; I’m not trying to strong-arm anyone. But if you’re going to buy fruits and vegetables at any point over the next few months, try to do your part to support our local farmers and save the environment at the same time. Buy local and organic when you can.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Local Food Made Easier: Edible Rhody

A belated Happy Summer to everyone. After some down time, Sustainable Sakonnet is back. The reasons why are too long to discuss. But it’s summer and the time is perfect to expound on one of my favorite topics: Supporting (and consuming!) local food.

The benefits of local food are obvious: From supporting local farmers and market growers to the health benefits of eating all those wonderful fruits and vegetables to the environmental win-win of locally produced (read: less energy used to package and ship), organic fare. If you’re a Sakonnet Local, I don’t have to point out all those tasty stands. But to get the wonderful community experience of the farmers market, check out a local listing at Farm Fresh RI (my favorite is the Aquidneck Growers Market, followed by new kid on the block, Striper Moon Farmer’s Market)

Earlier this spring I stumbled upon a new publication that celebrates and promotes the bounty of RI: Edible Rhody. This pub is the newest installment in the long line of Edible Communities editions.

The new summer edition (only their second) is chock-a-block full of great stories, recipes, and interviews celebrating the wide diversity of food and fare we have here in RI. I don’t even mind perusing the ads because you can find so many new options when it comes to eating local. Subscriptions are $28 for four issues annually (by season), but if you can find it for free, even better (I get mine at Sakonnet Vineyards).

Out of all the stories, I encourage you to read the one on the new Farm Bill being crafted right now by Congress. It’s a good overview of why this piece of federal legislation is important, where it needs to be improved in order to better support our local food producers and infrastructure, and what you can do to help. The more I read about this topic, the more it brings home the need for doing all we can to secure our local food future.

Here’s to good eating!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Back On Track

Hi Everyone,

Sorry for the hiatus. A few days after the last post (Friday, June 1, to be exact), our house took a bit of lightening in that big thunderstorm. The result: Few functioning pieces of electronic equipment, including the computer and DSL.

The good news: The computer is back from Apple and a new DSL modem has been installed. So we'll be back up and running shortly.

There's been so many things going on to talk about: Recycling sponsorships, family farms being saved, the start of the farmers market season, energy bills being debated. We'll get to them all.

Thanks for sticking around,

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Help Bring the Trail to Tiverton

Have you ever gone for a stroll on the Bristol Bike Path? Or maybe even tried to ride across a few different trails from East Providence all the way to the backyard of the Audubon Society's Environmental Learning Center in Bristol?

If you have, you know first hand what a wonderful backbone such a trail can be for a community. Families and individuals out there riding, skating, and walking their way to health and relaxation, and of course, getting from Point A to Point B in the process. And many times, new small businesses (e.g, bike shops and rentals, refreshment stands) crop up close by to support the burgeoning new gathering spot.

We have that same opportunity in Tiverton and a new group of volunteers called Tiverton Trailblazers is seeing that it becomes a reality. The new path, or greenway, aims to reclaim a long-abandoned stretch of train rails between the Sakonnet River Bridge and the North Tiverton/Fall River line. What makes this effort even sweeter is that the new bridge (ridiculous naming debate aside) will have a pedestrian lane, allowing you to go right over into Portsmouth.

Converting rails to trails is nothing new. Several national advocacy groups such as the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy have been working for years to create a new way for all of us to get around. Closer to home, the East Coast Greenway aims to connect all the major cities along the east coast with one continuous trail. Such inter-modal transportation alternatives are a win-win for any community, especially when they are connected to a wider array of paths, trails, and existing street systems. Carbon-free transportation, improved health and wellness, recreation alternatives, the list goes on.

But it takes a lot of hard work to make it a reality. If you've been looking for a way to give back to the town and do some volunteering, Tiverton Trailblazers might be a great way to do it. Visit their website for more information. There you can see pictures and maps of the proposed trail site, and find out how to lend a hand.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Peking. Moscow. Tiverton?

Well, that’s the question one Tiverton resident is asking of us. In the May 10th edition of the Sakonnet Times, Mr. James E. Correia of Tiverton submitted a letter (can’t find it online, hence no link) where he scolded residents for trying to keep the town green and basically in “the 18th century” as he puts it. Heck, if Peking has a McDonalds and Moscow a Kentucky Fried Chicken, why shouldn’t Tiverton Mr. Correia ponders (read: complains). You can read my formal response in this week’s paper. Here’s another version:

Beside the obvious that you cannot compare the (supposed) amenities of metropolitan areas with that of small-town suburbia, Mr. Correia is lamenting over his need to drive into Fall River for many of the things that make (t)his modern life complete – fast food, laundromats, big-box retailers that squash mom & pop shops, and let us not forget, taxi services.

As far as I’m concerned – and many others feel the same way -- this is where all this should be kept. Does a McDonalds or Wal-mart need to be located every 10th mile on the mile? This doesn’t equate to convenience; rather it’s a reflection of America’s sad love affair with laziness, artificially low prices (and the blind eye that’s turned towards the sweat shops of Asia), and a lifestyle that is out of touch with the natural balance of the world.

I wonder if Mr. Correia is a life-long Tiverton resident. If so, that makes his diatribe even sadder, for he seems to have not experienced all the great small businesses we have in town that could meet most of his needs. Tiverton is the community it is because all of those urban-like-things are not here. As I alluded to in my response letter, a sustainable community is one that embraces smart growth and development — development that achieves economic prosperity while maintaining a character that is representative of its rural nature. So spend your money here, Mr. Correia, and keep our businesses running (and thus paying the town taxes you seem so concerned about).

The best line in his letter is this: “The people who are trying to keep Tiverton in the 18th century should do the moving. Move to some remote village in Alaska or Northern Maine and you can live like hermits with no conveniences.” Funny thing, the local people in these areas are probably very content with what they have and feel their lives very complete. I've been to Alaska and have witnessed that completeness first hand. Rural 18th century New England life meant no plumbing, electricity, refrigeration, and paved roads. Last time I looked, most of us here in Tiverton had those things.

If you are so drawn to Fall River, move there and shorten your commute. But be careful, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Welcome Striper Moon Farmers Market

I was driving down East Main Road in Portsmouth this morning and what did I spy at the bottom of Quaker Hill? The familiar site of Manic Organic’s white pop-up tent and vegetable stand. It’s officially warm(er) out. Better yet, that’s a sure sign that we’re only weeks away from the 2007 farmers market season.

This year, we’ll have yet another option for fresh, local food and fare: The Striper Moon Farmers Market in Bristol. Kudos to Nick Kearney, owner of Striper Moon, for pulling it all together. As he said in an email to me, he hopes it becomes a new “nerve center” for Bristol residents on Saturday mornings. The market will feature local fruits and vegetables from a number of small producers, The Bristol Bakery, and seafood, flowers, cheeses, and other wares from local merchants. Tiverton’s own Coastal Roasters will be providing the coffee. Here are the details:

Striper Moon Farmers Market
47 Bradford Street, Bristol (Google Map)
Saturdays, 9:00am – 1:00pm
June 2 - October 31

Why are farmers markets important?
Fresh + Local = Better For You. Local means your food was picked in some cases hour ago, not days or weeks. It tastes better and doesn’t have to be laden with preservatives. If it’s grown organically, that’s even better for you and the environment. Did you know that the food you buy in the grocery store has traveled an average of 1,200 miles to get there?

Supporting Local Farmers and Merchants. We don’t have to look to far to see a new housing development on what was once a farm. Farming is our connection to the land and the people who work that land here in our communities need to be supported – not the huge agro-business industrial farms in the south and west (or outside the U.S. for that matter). Small-scale local merchants keep communities thriving and are a better alternative to chain stores.

Connect with Neighbors. Farmers markets bring people together. Folks interact, talk, laugh, and even meet new friends. When’s the last time you did that at Stop & Shop?

I’ll see you in Bristol on Saturday, June 2! In a couple weeks we’ll do another post to feature all our local farmers markets.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Tiverton Talks Turbine

One small step for sustainability, one giant leap for…

Time will tell. But kudos to the Tiverton Town Council for kicking off what will only be months, if not years, worth of discussions on how we can harness (profitable) wind power here in town. About 30 people showed up for the workshop held last night to hear Professior Lefteris Pavlides of Roger Williams University give an educational and inspiration presentation entitled, "Wind Power Tiverton".

The Bottom Line: Wind power can be profitable and on equal cost footing with electricity produced in more traditional and carbon-laden ways. What you need is a location with ample (at least 7 meters per second) wind speed and a turbine size of at least 1.5 megawatts. Put that up and your making a profit from the first spin of the 12-ton blades. Even better – your electricity production costs will remain constant for at least 20 years.

Professor Pavlides shared insight from the recent wind power conference at URI where amongst other things, the Governor’s Office released the long-awaited wind power siting study (Note: This is a large file). This is the first step in achieving the Governor’s goal of getting 15% of the state power needs from renewable sources by 2012.

Some interested factoids shared during the Council Workshop presentation:
• The wind power siting study identifies locations both onshore and in coastal waters. If all the coastal water locations were developed, wind power would generate 75% of RI’s energy needs. If just the locations in waters between Little Compton and Middletown were developed, we would hit the statewide goal of 15%.
• Rhode Island exceeds the U.S. EPA’s ozone cap levels. To that end the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that wind power would avert 2,028 asthma attacks in New England each year.
• A Harvard University study found that pollution from Brayton Point Power Plant costs the region $500M a year in unnecessary spending (medical, environmental, etc.)
• Installing and maintaining wind turbines across the state and region means hundreds of new, local jobs.

Of course, concern over initial funding came up. There is more than one way to skin this cat according to Professor Pavlides. Everything from grants to partnering with other RI communities to create economies of scale and "bulk" purchasing power.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come on this. Council President Durfee asked to reach out to other RI communities exploring wind power, as well as connecting with Portsmouth Abbey on lessons learned. For us here in town, the next step – above and beyond thinking about potential sites to conduct feasibility studies with – is to SHOW OUR SUPPORT. Take a moment to drop a note to Council President Louise Durfee or Town Administrator Glen Steckman III and tell them you support wind power in Tiverton.

I’m curious, what are your feelings on wind power in Tiverton or Little Compton? Leave a comment and let’s start a discussion.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hitting the Ground Running

Well, I hope everyone’s Earth Day was enjoyable and green. So now what?

Roman calendar year aside, I think Sunday has ushered in a new time for us here in Sakonnet: the Year of the Earth. Momentum is gaining both locally and globally. Things will start to happen this year; things that will see our community begin its transformation into one that’s more sustainable, prosperous, and inspiring.

We’re going to take this one week at a time, one positive action at a time. It’s the sum of all our individual efforts that will add up to make the difference we all wish to see. Again, I’m inspired by Ghandi’s words, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Let’s hit the ground running. Here are some things we can all do in the coming week to start off on the right foot:

Change a Light Bulb (or three). We’ve heard the facts. So what are you waiting for? This simple action benefits your wallet and the earth. Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) use a quarter of the energy than traditional light bulbs and last up to ten times as long. And with retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot making it easier than ever to purchase them, the time is right see your own bright idea come to light. (NOTE: This is not an endorsement for Wal-mart in the least; I still think they have nearly single-handedly wiped out a generation of mom & pop stores. I welcome the small overture to green their image though.)

Switch to Renewable Energy. You can choose where your power comes from. With New England Green Start(TM) from People’s Power & Light, you can help support clean, renewable energy in Rhode Island, while making a difference in your own home. Why support coal, when you can support green?

Learn About Global Warming. Come see a FREE showing of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” on Thursday, April 26, 7:00, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Tiverton. Brown University’s Professor Steven Hamburg will lead a Q&A session afterward. Free raffle for a cool sustainability door prize. Event notice.

Support Wind Power in Tiverton. Come to the Town Workshop on Monday, April 30, at 7:00 at Town Hall (Highland Avenue) and lend your voice to the discussion. The Town Council will discuss possible wind turbine projects in town. This is where the rubber meets the road. Be there and show your support.

Sign Up for a CSA. Eat healthy and support local food all in one bite. Local farmers are our lifeline to the land. Read the post.

Here’s to the Year of the Earth. As always, your comments, suggestions, stories, and ideas are always welcome. Dialogs are always better than monologues.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Earth Day Week: Beyond One Day a Year

Earth Day is this Sunday, April 22. It comes every year. In fact, this is the 37th year that an official holiday will be celebrated across our planet. Over the last few years, we’ve seen “green” collide with “mainstream” as tree-hugger-like awareness has given way to an almost hip coolness about doing good for our Earth. While that’s good, there is still an air of shallowness to it all. It is not engrained in our everyday; not a modus operandi, but rather a trend du jour for many of our populous.

Award-winning New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, hits the nail on the head (yet again) on this subject with his article from Sunday’s NY Times Magazine article, "The Power of Green". (Full disclosure, I’m a big Thomas Friedman fan.) In a nutshell, Friedman – who is also using this article, I imagine, as a precursor to his Discovery Channel series -- argues that while green has gone "Main Street", the USA still has a way to go if we’re to meet the challenge of global warming. Yet, this challenge is a huge opportunity for our country to once again prove its leadership in the global marketplace and community.

So what does all this mean for our Sakonnet Community? How are we to demonstrate our local leadership to become, as Friedman puts it, "The Greenest Generation"?

We all have a roll to play. As a community we are the sum of its parts – that is each and every citizen, business, and institution. We have an obligation to leave future generations with something better.

Let’s inspire one another. Let’s help each other figure out how to do ONE thing differently that will help our ourselves, our families, and our communities live more sustainably. But let it not start and stop with Earth Day. Let it be something that becomes part of our daily routine, something that IS engrained within us.

What are you doing this Earth Day? What do you want to share with your neighbors? What do you want to pass on to your kids?

If you had to make one change this year to live more sustainably, what would it be? Replace a few incandescent light bulbs with CFLs? Plant a garden or participate in a CSA? Sign up with a renewable energy source program? Buy carbon credits? Commit to supporting local businesses? Ride your bike to the local store?

Post a comment. Send me an email and I’ll get the stories out.

I’d like to put the challenge out there of creating a new local community event for Earth Day 2008. Something to bring our communities together, learn, and walk away with a new inspiration for being part of the solution. Does anyone want to join the cause?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Turbine Trifecta Part 2: Tiverton Ups the Ante

Clearly, I need to be tuning into the Cable Access replays of the Tiverton Town Council meetings if I’m to be up on all the sustainability discussions in town…

But regardless, it is extremely pleasing to read that Tiverton is talking the turbine talk. Last week’s Sakonnet Times gives the details around the Council’s recent discussion to put a workshop on the books to explore the possibilities of renewable wind energy projects in town.

As the article explains, Bob Chew, founder and president of Ocean State Wind and Solar Wrights in Bristol shared his optimistic opinion for the potential of wind power in Tiverton, commenting that based on energy usage data provided to him, Tiverton could move it’s schools and municipal buildings significantly towards being off-grid, while generating some income for the town in the form of renewable energy credits (RECs).

These are things we’ve talked about here at Sustainable Sakonnet. An anonymous commenter even suggested the high school as a potential location. To quote just one figure from Mr. Chew -- if the Town can get past the initial sticker shock and think long-term, our school system has the potential to be saving around $126,000 a year in energy costs.

So, it’s imperative that we get as many people as possible to the upcoming town workshop to lend a voice to the discussion and lobby for this bold move. Details:

Town Workshop
Monday, April 30, 2007, 7:00PM
Tiverton Town Hall, Highland Road

Talking the talk will be nothing but hot air blowing in a breeze not captured by a wind turbine if we can’t push this agenda forward. Walk the walk on over to the Town Hall on April 30 and show your support.

Event Notice: "An Inconvenient Truth"

Celebrate Earth Day 2007 with a FREE screening of Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary about global warming, climate change, and the moral imperative facing humanity. Question and answer session to follow. Open to everyone in the community. All viewpoints welcome.

Special Guest Speaker: Steven Hamburg, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology, Center for
Environmental Studies, Brown University. Professor Hamburg is featured in this month's Brown Alumni Magazine.

This event is co-sponsored by The Adult Spiritual Formation Program, Holy Trinity Church, and your friendly neighborhood blog, Sustainable Sakonnet. Many thanks to our friends at Holy Trinity for the opportunity to co-sponsor and promote the blog!

Event Details:
"An Inconvenient Truth"
Thursday, April 26, 2007, 7:00PM
Upper Parish Hall, Holy Trinity Church
1956 Main Road, Tiverton

Email me for more information.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Community Supported Agriculture

Spring is in the air – even though we had a tinge of snow today. One of the best thoughts to cross my mind in spring is signing up for this year’s community supported agriculture (CSA) program with one of our local farmers. What’s a CSA, you ask?

CSAs are an amazing way to make your lifestyle more sustainable. (A CSA history.) Local farmers who offer CSA programs allow people like you and me to purchase a share of the coming year’s harvest at the start of the growing season for a set price. From there, most CSAs provide you with a weekly bounty of fresh (really fresh) fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other wares at a standard pick up location. Most summer CSA programs will last from June through September or even October.

With a CSA, you assume some risk with the farmer (think drought), but it’s a win-win all around: Farmers expand their local markets; consumers support local growers, eat a more local diet, and have the satisfaction of knowing who grew their food and where it came from.

Personally, my family has taken part in two different CSA programs with local organic farms—one in summer, one in winter—and has loved them.

Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a Providence-based non-profit that helps businesses and people connect with local food sources, has a list of local CSAs in our area. The closest three based on a zip code search using 02878 gives you:

Manic Organic in Tiverton (

Wishing Stone Farm in Little Compton (no website, but you can email owner, Skip Paul)

Simmons Farm in Middletown (no website, but you can email them)

All three of these farms are certified organic, which is even better. But there are more to choose from. Check out Farm Fresh RI to read profiles of the farms, then reach out to see if there’s still room in their CSA programs.

In a later post, we’ll talk about the local food movement in general. But until then, ponder this stat: When the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient has typically traveled at least 1,500 miles. (Source: 100 Mile Diet)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Planning for the Future

I’m a couple days behind and there are so many things to talk about…

On Wednesday night, the Tiverton Land Trust presented a public forum entitled “Planning Tiverton’s Future. About 120 residents gathered at St. Theresa’s Church to learn about future planning activities both at the state and local levels. Many thanks to the TLT for once again bringing the town together on such an important topic. The event happened on the heels of an announcement that the Tiverton Land Trust was recently awarded $400,000 as part of the state’s outlay of nearly $5.4M in open space grants.

Kevin Flynn, Associate Director at the R.I. Division of Planning kicked off the discussion with an overview of the state’s “Land Use 2025” plan, a robust strategy aimed at directing the future growth and development of the state’s remaining 350,000 undeveloped acres. Bottom line – it’s all about applying smart growth strategies to keep urban areas urban, rural areas rural, and a clear divide between the two. An interesting stat: It took 330 years to develop the first 20% of Rhode Island’s land and only 25 years to develop the next 10%. Mr. Flynn anticipates running out of developable land in RI by 2045-2050.

From there, Chris Spencer, Tiverton’s first full-time planner took the podium to set the stage for what’s to come in Tiverton. (Did you know that Tiverton is one of the last few municipalities within the state to have dedicated planner?) First impressions mean a lot, and Mr. Spencer held his own nicely – even where one audience member barraged him with an onslaught of loosely strung together questions that was akin to a record skipping…

According to Mr. Spencer, Tiverton’s past planning woes are rooted in poorly thought out zoning codes and a general lack of long-term planning. Alas, Tiverton is not unique in this predicament; modern suburban design took shape in the 1950’s and has just spun out of control from there. There’s a huge loss of the walk-able community that is defined by mixed-use buildings and common areas (think parks) in a high-density population area.

The future of Tiverton’s planning appears to lie with two strategies: transect planning and form-based codes. Transect planning is a type of planning model associated with the New Urbanism school of thought. Basically, it slices a community into sections ranging from absolute rural to the urban center and dictates varying degrees of complimentary development within each. All along, there is an intersection with the natural environment and respect for maintaining the sustainability of it.

Form-based codes are a shift from traditional zoning codes that focus more on building design and aesthetics rather than strict land use. Mr. Spencer used a variety of diagrams and illustrations to help us non-planner-types understand it all.

Bottom line, as Mr. Spencer put it, we need to focus of defining more of what we DO want and less of what we DON’T want when it comes to development. He sees these two strategies playing out primarily in 4-5 existing areas within town, namely along Main Road (Four Corners, Bliss Four Corners, North Tiverton, etc.). I had one question for him that I was unable to ask because of the swarming crowd around him at the end:

What are the next steps to making this all happen?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Turbine Trifecta?

Things happen in threes, right? Births, weddings, deaths… wind turbines?

In an earlier post I espoused on the wind turbine being tested at the site of the new artists’ community at Sandy Woods Farm in Tiverton. This past week the Sakonnet Times featured a story on Albert Lees III and his desire to help move Lees Market off the grid a bit with the possible installation of a one megawatt wind turbine on a piece of his property.

Mr. Lees deserves hearty congratulations for his leadership. As with most things (think the birth of the Internet), it takes the private sector to take the bull by the horns and make it happen. Unfortunately, waiting for our local government entities to realize the benefits of such forward thinking around tackling energy issues close to home is not in anyone’s best interest. My kids might have kids of their own by that time. Call it delusional optimism, though, but I’d like to think we have a few local officials who could help us champion such causes.

So first we have Sandy Woods Farm; second is Lees; anybody care to guess where the third might crop up? Can Little Compton pull through to create our little own local Turbine Triangle? Maybe there is something in the works that I’m not aware of? If so, drop me a line and let's get the word out there.

I’d love to pull together a Top Ten list of potential locations for renewable energy installations across the Sakonnet area – then mobilize to try and make it happen. I think we could through the right partnerships with local business leadership and town officials who are of similar mindsets.

Anybody care to cast a vote?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gearing Up for Earth Day 2007

Mark your calendars. Earth Day 2007 will be celebrated on Sunday, April 22. Just about 30 days away. Now what?

Well, for starters, Sustainable Sakonnet will be having a special series of blog postings during the week leading up to April 22. We’ll focus on a handful of topics that are informative, actionable, and inspirational.

I’d like to also post any kind of events happening around the community so that we can all share in them. From clean-ups to school projects to tree plantings to recycling, let’s get the word out. Feel free to send an email me at and I’ll put it together.

I’ve always envisioned a larger community event centered around Earth Day. An opportunity for everyone to come together, have some fun, and learn about how they can make a difference in their everyday lives. Good examples of this type of event include the Tiverton Land Trust’s annual “Country Day at Pardon Gray” and Norman Bird Sanctuary’s annual fall harvest event. That is definitely something to work towards.

In the meantime, here are some resources to help you prepare to celebrate Earth Day:

Earth Day Network. National organization that helps promote and organize around Earth Day. Search for local events by state. (Nothing so far in our neck of the woods.)

U.S. EPA’s Earth Day Site. This does not constitute an endorsement of the present administration in the least, but it does get an “A” for effort. The RI DEM has nothing listed, which is a shame.

Earth 911 Kids’ Earth Day Site. Recycling resource Earth 911 presents a robust site for kids, parents, and teachers from elementary through high school.

Until next time, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Connecting Farms, Food, and Kids

Well, we’ve had two 50-degree days in a row and I’m thinking spring. And that makes me think of kick-starting the garden and compost piles. We’ll save composting for a later post. For now, let’s talk about growing food and what we do with that food here in the Sakonnet area.

When I think local food, I think local farmers. We have a lot of them. From community supported agriculture (CSA) programs to local farm stands, we’re blessed with bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables for a good chunk of the year. Local farmers are our link to the land, our link to a time when they were literally a lifeline for the communities they farmed in. While that is still true to an extent, local farmers continue to face tough challenges in an ever-more competitive and price sensitive marketplace.

Now, let’s talk about another issue: School lunch programs and their connection to the health of our kids. This topic has been all over the news of late and for good reason. While lunch programs are regulated for content, there’s only so much that you can provide for a certain price point. Look at the Sakonnet Times every week for the school lunch listing. Pizza, hot dogs (foot long, no less), etc. We can do better.

Let’s create a farm-to-school program. This is a national trend whereby local farmers are finding new markets with local schools to provide them with fresh produce for use by their lunch programs. It’s a win-win all around: Farmers grow their markets; our kids get nutritious, wholesome food that sure beats pizza and hot dogs. Kids are learning about where there food comes from, better nutrition, and creating life-long eating habits that put them on the path to health and wellness.

Check out the new report from the National Farm to School Program entitled ”Going Local: Paths to Success for Farm to School Programs”. It’s a wonderful and inspiring read, showcasing examples of successful programs from across the county.

According the Farm to School website, there are no municipal level farm-to-school programs in Rhode Island. Why shouldn’t we be the first and set the bar for the rest of the state? We have farms, we have schools; all we need is the desire for something better.

Are you a parent? An educator? A municipal official? A farmer? Please post a comment or email me if you’re interested in exploring this further. We can make this happen. This could be sustainability in action.

Need some more inspiration? Check out what Alice Waters is doing in California at The Edible Schoolyard; or closer to home in Connecticut with Chef Timothy Cipriano’s effort called Local Food Dude.