Tuesday, December 29, 2009
OK, maybe "addicted" is a strong word, but my affinity towards this untapped weapon in the war on planned obsolescence just keeps growing by the day.
After the debacle with Freecycle Tiverton/Little Compton, Sara stumbled upon its much-better-off cousin, Freecycle Newport (RI, of course) on Yahoo!. Since then, we've been up and running -- getting stuff we need and giving stuff we don't need a new home. The site boasts over 2,000 members and depending on your preferences when you "join" the group, you can get regular emails with all the new listings. Folks post for things they want, as well as for what they want to give away.
It's been fantastic, having scored a few things for the baby as well as some old greenhouse panels I plan to use building new cold frames in the spring. On the flip side, we've given away everything from an old stairway railing to a weight bench that I'm sorry to say has seen more action from the dust in the basement than me and the dumbbells.
All this freecycling has me thinking on a couple different levels: On the home front, I wonder to what extent we could supply what we need around the house with freecycled goods from others. How's that for a budget-saving strategy?
Much more broadly, imagine what would happen if manufacturing (and all that other supply chain activity) as we know it were to suddenly stop, eliminating any "new" stuff from being produced. Is there enough good "stuff" already out there to provide the masses here in the U.S. with what they need? Maybe -- if folks could reach beyond deep-rooted consumption-laden behaviors and seize back the concept of "need" versus "want". Tack on some fleeting know-how for fixing what's broken (instead of reaching for the garbage barrel) and you might just have a recipe for success.
Of course, that's a bit of hyperbole, but you get the picture.
In any case, the fact still remains that freecycling works, especially when empowered by this lovely thing called the Internet. It's a virtual camaraderie in the fight against the behemoth engine of consumption. And coming off the holiday season, I'm sure we all have a thing or two (or three) that we could pass on in this way.
Monday, December 7, 2009
"No way," I'm sure you'll say. "Can't be done."
I admit, the idea of a suburban lifestyle sans the car is a tough one to sell. The inherent layout and design of your typical suburban town is self-limiting: Disconnected neighborhoods spread out over a large land area; roads built primarily for four wheels and little else; small pockets of limited economic and business activity that cause consumers to drive long distances to get what they need, when they need it; a general car-centric mentality that's so engrained it's tough to buck.
All that aside, a few things have happened recently around town that do provide a glimmer of hope:
- News that Stafford and Crandall Roads will be receiving new "Share the Road" signage courtesy of of the RI DOT that aim to raise awareness of and promote bicycle traffic. This is in addition to new signage that was a part of the Main Road corridor improvement work that happened over the summer.
- Last week's passing of new business zoning regulations that will set the stage for transforming the north end and Bliss Four Corners parts of town into more pedestrian-friendly and inviting community-scapes.
- Continued development of the new artists' community at Sandy Woods that showcases the effectiveness of mixed-use neighborhood and community design.
Clearly, this will not enable all of us to leave the cars at home and still get things done. But what else do we need? Here are my two-cents:
- Continued partnering between Town Planning and Economic Development entities that look to shape other pockets of value-added business development in town. Basically, cut down on the distances that people have to travel to secure the necessities of living while promoting local businesses. Start with basics such as food, then go from there with a preference for small, mom-and-pop style endeavors. This could be at the macro, multi-neighborhood level, or in the case of the Sandy Woods project, at the micro, single neighborhood level.
- Partner with local businesses and/or the town to install bike racks to encourage car-less travel
- Continue to repair/install sidewalks
- Renewed enforcement of speed limits and other safe driving behaviors to create a safe environment for walking, biking, etc.
- Exploration of in-town public transportation (e.g., small-scale bus or shuttle services) to get people to these new town centers
- Take additional cues from other urban-based transportation planning playbooks
What about you? Would you ditch your car once or twice a week if the infrastructure was in place?
Sunday, December 6, 2009
November's poll tapped into your interest/willingness to go at a really local food diet. While only five people chimed in, 60 percent said they would with the balance split between "maybe" and "no". That's still positive in my book. Looking at all the stuff we picked up at the Pawtucket Farmers' Market yesterday, I'm still convinced that even now, a good part of our diet can come from local producers. I've started compiling listings for a local food guide and hope to be able to share an early version in the coming weeks.
Now for December's poll: Last week's Sakonnet Times reported on the passing of new zoning codes for business in Tiverton. These new codes aim to transform sections of town such as North Tiverton and Bliss Four Corners into replicas of downtown Bristol or Warren (my comparison, not the paper's), with their walkable, more community-friendly approach to integrating store fronts, roadways, sidewalks, and parking. What do you think?
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Now, I don't know the details of what it costs to maintain/operate these buildings, but it would be a shame to lose them to a knee-jerk decision that only sees the short-term gain and not the long-term value to the community.
previous post I've mentioned that Nonquit would make a wonderful home for a community arts center. As for the old Ranger (where I went to elementary school), perhaps it could recycle itself into a new, bigger, and better town hall? With all the development happening in the Bliss Four Corners area (library, recreation center, etc.), relocating Town Hall to this neck of the woods could go a long way in redefining this (sort of) center of town.
The bottom line: With all the history and character that these buildings exude, to lose them for the wrong reasons would be a shame. Please lend you support. Can't make it to the meeting? Drop a note to Town Clerk, Nancy Mello ahead of the session at email@example.com.
[Images Source: Town of Tiverton website]
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
The Green Buildings Act (2009-S 0232B), passed by the General Assembly in October and signed into law by Governor Carcieri this week, requires that all new major public facility projects and major building renovations in Rhode Island, including schools, be designed and constructed in conformance with high performance green building standards.
The new law applies to new construction of more than 5,000 square feet and renovation of spaces greater than 10,000 square feet if such projects receive any funding from the state. The law takes effect immediately but will apply only to buildings entering the design phase after .
Under the law, must conform to the internationally recognized (LEED) rating system or an equivalent high-performance green building standard, including the Northeast Collaborative for High-Performance Schools Protocol.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
So says Carin Froehlich of Perkasie, Pennsylvania, the focal point of this article about the growing tensions between folks who want to save a dime with line-dried laundry and communities who are not so hot-to-trot about seeing their neighbors garb flapping in the breeze.
Give me a break. Can the powers that be find something else much more worthwhile to spend their time on?
We've been line drying for over a year now and I just LOVE it. Call me crazy, but I look forward to getting out there for a few minutes -- often by myself -- and just putting up the wet stuff piece by piece. It's almost meditative for me, especially early in the morning when the sun is just starting to peek through the trees and the bird songs are being carried on the tip of that slight breeze blowing by.
But beyond the psychological benefit (for me anyway), line drying does save money. No doubt about it. Less carbon in the air, more cash in your pocket. Works for me.
Project Laundry List, a non-profit promoting line drying and line drying rights, is quoted in the article with the statement that up to six percent of a home's annual energy usage is tied to the clothes dryer. If your monthly National Grid bill averages about $100, that six percent works out to $72 per year. I can sure find something else to spend that on. I bet you can too.
Here's to exercising our collective "right to hang"!
[Photo Credit: Sallster via Flikr]
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I'm not sure of the farmers/producers that will be on hand, but it's safe to say there will be lots of great things to pick up. This might be one of the last times to help support our local farmers this season. Hope to see you there!
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I have a couple ideas and wondering what you're thoughts might be. We could:
- Create a new online community using a tool like Google Groups or Yahoo! Groups. Folks could create new discussion threads on topics that interest them (home-scale renewable energy projects, gardening, local food, kids & the environment, homesteading skills, etc.); maintain a new community calendar of events; etc
- Meet face-to-face on a regular basis in a relaxed, loosely organized way. Maybe it's a green film series with discussions, or maybe even more of a meet and network approach a la the Green Drinks model (Providence, Newport).
- Any other idea you might want to throw out there. I welcome your feedback!
Coming off of our Local Food Weekend (see previous post), I'm really interested in how feasible eating a totally locally grown/produced diet could be here in Sakonnet. Have you thought about it? Tempted to start out with just a totally-local meal (Thanksgiving is coming up!)? Or maybe try it for a week? Or a month? Granted, fall/winter might not be the most appealing time of year, but as the Wintertime Farmers' Market shows, there is still plenty of fresh, local, seasonal food out there.
To help with this idea of fostering a more widespread approach to eating local and in season, I'm starting work on something that I hope you might find of interest -- a comprehensive list/guide of as much locally grown and produce items as I can find. Basically, what's out there and where you can get it. Tapping into resources such as Farm Fresh RI, Edible Rhody, local grocery stores and the like should make for a good guide.
Knowing my schedule, it's going to take some time to pull together, but I'm hopeful it will be worth it. If you have a favorite local food product, feel free to comment on this post or drop me a line. Thanks!
Monday, November 9, 2009
On Saturday we headed to Pawtucket for the first weekend of the Wintertime Farmers' Market. What an amazing space. Located in the south end of the Hope Artiste Village, this indoor market was buzzing with activity. From veggies to meats and seafood to cheeses to jams and just about everything in-between. We scored some lunch from the Hewtin's Dogs cart, washed it down with some very tasty local soda courtesy of Yacht Club Bottling, and then hit the market.
Walking along, surrounded by over thirty different producers just brings the importance of supporting and growing the local food scene home for me. It is community nirvana. While we were there, our friends Eric and Jenna introduced us to one of their friends, Steve Hancock of NorthStar Farm in Westport. Steve had a booth at the market where he was selling some amazing greens and radish (amongst other things). Actually, the Sakonnet area was well represented at the market with a number of farmers/producers setting up shop.
Food, Inc. We had this documentary in our Netflix queue for some time and it finally was released this week. Over the course of an hour and a half we were floored, astonished, mortified, and motivated. You MUST see this film; then tell all your friends to watch it. Honestly, you will never look at "food" and your grocery store the same way again.
If you're not into documentaries, no worries. The film is extremely well produced with a story line that hooks you from the first minute. We finished the movie recommitting ourselves to work even harder to ensure that as much of our food as possible is locally grown and in season. I'm sure you will too.
Seeing Food, Inc. is really driving home the notion of trying to assemble a comprehensive local food resource guide. Maybe you call it the "100-Mile Diet". Maybe you just call it smart eating. Whatever you call it, we really need to try and do all we can to foster our local food systems: Conserving farmland, bolstering farm education and training programs, enabling local market development, and then leveraging that market to change our eating behaviors for the better. We can do it. We have to do it.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Well, after six months, we're pulling the plug again. Technically, not on the TV, just the cable. This time around the reason is not due to a lightening storm. Rather, it's a combination of things: part financial (really, $75 to watch TV in my own home every month?), part dissatisfaction with garbage programming, part avoidance of all those commercials.
Don't get me wrong, we were very select in what we let the kids view: primarily PBS, sprinkled with a dose of the National Geographic, Science, Green, and Discovery channels. But even still, we were amazed on how influential the few commercials they saw were. Case in point: My four-year-old daughter telling me out of the blue one day "Daddy, don't hide it, solve it." in reference to my graying hair and some men's product she saw.
No way are we going to have our children be the foot-soldiers for a legion of advertisers. We have a responsibility to protect our children from succumbing to the lure of consumerism so early in life. Our little planet cannot afford to raise yet another generation of "stuff"-mongers. We must do more with less; be satisfied and thankful for what we have; not yearn for the empty happiness that buying and using more brings; avoid being another cog in the wheel of planned obsolescence.
Alas, we look forward to the blank stares and silly questions from people who cannot fathom the thought of no cable (even the Cox representative on the phone asked Sara, "What are your going to do for TV?" when she canceled in). We are OK with it and so are the kids. Not once have they inquired about why they can't watch their shows anymore. Instead, we've been busy dusting off some board games, popping some popcorn, and having a healthy dose of unplugged fun together. Cadoo anyone?
Sunday, October 18, 2009
But a couple of weeks ago, we dove into the deep end and committed ourselves to a MMM (mostly meatless meals) lifestyle by ramping up to 99% vegetarian. The only hold out: bacon (for Sara) and the occasional fish. I've been totally meat-free for three weeks, so it will be interesting how I handle the next wave of seafood fare.
The two oldest kids (6 and 4) present an interesting dilemma. We have decided to not force them to give up meat -- both for dietary reasons and the fact that we want to encourage the maturation of their decision making. But they have been fine, taking in a chicken nugget here and turkey sandwich there. We're grateful that their young palettes are so willing to try new things.
All of the success so far goes to Sara and her prowess in the kitchen. It's amazing what can pull together; it keeps things interesting and far from routine. We've tapped into a few new cook books from the library, as well as getting some newbie tips from this starter guide at Vegetarian Times. The bonus: Our grocery bills are down a bit because we're buying a lot of staples (beans, legumes, rice) in bulk. And we're squeaking out the last bit of fresh veggies from the local seasonal harvest (and looking ahead to some of the winter time farmers markets to see how we'll keep the local stuff coming).
For us, this all makes sense: Healthier eating that is more in line with environment. The toll that the raising, slaughtering, packaging, and shipping of animal products is well documented. We hope our little bit of a MMM lifestyle will result in a win-win for our family and the earth.
For some added inspiration, I'm thinking of picking up a few books by Michael Pollan through the inter-library loan system. Has anyone read any of these? Thoughts? Is anyone else out there finding success with a vegetarian lifestyle? Feel free to share your story.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
This morning, I watched as one of my neighbors had their lone trash barrel emptied by Patriot (the waste hauler) with no recycling bins in sight. As I said before, this new rule is only going to be successful if two things happen: Enforcement and Education.
So far, neither appear to be happening. I sent our DPW director an email just now saying just that. If you're going to talk the talk, you have to be ready to walk the walk. Granted, this could be an isolated incident (we'll see next week), but if your front line people (the hauler employees) are not sticking to the plan, then you might as well toss that plan right out the window.
Now for the education:
Most of us know this (I hope), but NOT EVERYTHING IS RECYCLABLE. There was a letter to the editor in this week's Sakonnet Times lamenting that even though this person recycles "pretty much everything" all their toy box plastic from a recent party was not picked up. My guess is that the plastic this person is talking about is neither #1 or #2, which is what we're currently limited to. (Check out the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation's list of recycling FAQs and a copy of their Recycling Don'ts brochure for more how-to. Or this quick tutorial on the plastics numbering system.)
Again, this new rule presented the town with a prime opportunity to engage the community with a recycling education campaign. Maybe that's still in the works? Timing is everything though and from where I sit, time is ticking away.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
I've known the owners, Frank and Holly, for a few years now, but this was the first chance I've had to get inside and see how they are harnessing the sun (and a few other things) to generate power, hot water, and lessen their overall environmental footprint.
For me, this all just makes sense. When done properly, building green or adding green features to your home doesn't have to break the bank. Many times, it is cost-competitive with traditional building techniques, but with the added bonus of a long-term positive return on your investment. Now, coming up with the cash to front all of this is another story entirely...
Here are some pictures from the tour along with some commentary. For more info (details on the design, rental availability, contact), visit their website.
Facing south, you can see the solar domestic hot water collector on the roof and the 1,800 kilowatt PV (photo voltaic) solar panel array. While we were there the water temperature on the roof was 105 degrees, helping to keep the water in the in-house storage tank right around the same temperature. This water is used not only for washing but the radiant heating system as well. As Frank says, the system "heats it when you need it", utilizing an electric-powered on-demand heater unit to boost the temperature of the water to a slightly higher temperature only when the time is right. This way, you are not wasting energy keeping large volumes of water at a certain temperature 24x7.
Here, Frank is standing in the "control room" up on the second floor and talking us through how the system works. His hands are on the aforementioned water storage tank. You can make out a bit of the on-demand heater unit off his right shoulder. (This was my first time shooting pictures with my new phone -- forgive the learning curve.). The total cost of the system installed (he did it himself, saving on labor) was around $4,500. He expects the system to pay for itself in energy savings in just a few years.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Have you ever wished you could meet up with other like-minded, eco-conscious neighbors and share experiences and know-how? Looking to learn more about a particular green topic and value the first-hand experience that someone else may have?
I'm trying to gauge interest in forming a more dynamic -- yet informal and relaxed -- community (virtual or in-person) and would value your input and interest. Take the poll, comment on the post, or drop me an email! Thanks.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
The results (based on six responders; hey, it's a start...), clearly lean towards enabling our students with education rather than trying to tackle the problem through infrastructure:
- 83% voted for enhancing the eco-education curricula
- 66% felt retro-fitting with energy efficient components was the way to go
- Finally, there was a three-way tie for the remaining options with 50% giving the thumbs up for exploring on-site renewable energy solutions, increasing the amount of local food on the menu, and/or enhancing recycling and composting efforts.
Last week, members of THS' Green Team attended the Sustainable Schools Summit in Providence with their faculty sponsor, Eric Marx*. The event, hosted by The Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living, allowed students to interact with professionals from across the green school spectrum as well as peers from across the state. Eric sent me a copy of the press release they put together afterwards. Here is what some of the student attendees had to say about their experience:
"At the R.I. Sustainable Schools Summit I attended a workshop on Nutrition and the Farm to School System put on by KidsFirst, an organization which works to make school lunch more nutritious. Today in schools it’s mandated that 50% of all grains be whole wheat and many of the unhealthy food options have been eliminated. The aim of this workshop was to try to incorporated local farm products into our everyday lives. The importance of buying local was emphasized greatly. Farm Fresh RI and the Market have developed a service and are now attempting to supply “non-stop” convenience store with fresh produce from local farms. Since Tiverton doesn’t have a grocery store, this may be something the Green Team could look into because Green Team isn’t just about increasing the sustainability of the school but the community as well."
>> Chantal Galipeau
"'Tools for Schools' is a system that works to create better indoor air quality. It has been discovered that bad air in schools has actually affected the health of people who breathe it on a daily basis. Both teachers and students have gotten sick from the pollutants in the air. Tools for Schools proposes that schools should seek a solution to the air problem. They recommend putting dehumidifiers and other air cleaners throughout the school. This small act can reduce the amount of “bad air” greatly. The better the air, the better the health of the people who breathe the air."
>> Lauren Rollings
"I attended the workshop entitled “Smaller Footprints = Big Savings” and learned about things schools and households are doing to limit their impact on the earth while saving money in the process. Many schools are starting to appoint “energy managers” to the staff; in fact we heard earlier in the morning from Karen Verrengia, an energy manager for the Cranston School Department who ran this workshop and shared ideas and resources through which she has saved tens of thousands of dollars for Cranston taxpayers and untold harm to the earth. Free services include rirrc.org, which brings awareness to elementary schools through “Max Man” visits and lessons, as well as need.org., energystar.gov , and nationalgridus.com which all help individuals, families and schools track energy use. I hope to explore with The Green Team this year things we could do here at the high school including fixing thermostats and monitoring more closely light usage."
>> Maddie McGreavy
"The No Child Left Inside Coalition (NCLI) was recently established to improve environmental literacy----or the understanding of the systems of the natural world---in Americans. This group aims to improve student achievement through hands-on outdoor activities that contribute to healthy lifestyles. Currently, they are hoping to pass the NCLI Act which will help fund and support schools with new environmental education. If this act is passed the country will receive $100 million per year for five years to incorporate environmental education activities into schools. Along with the RI Partnership for Children in Nature, NCLI Coalition plans to develop a curriculum for elementary schools this Fall. For more information visit www.nclicoalition.org."
>> Alex AzevedoBeyond the students, Eric has his eye on partnering with several colleagues to develop a new multidisciplinary unit on the environment this year, inspired by attending the “Growing the Green Curriculum” session at the conference.
I'm extremely encouraged by what The Green Team is doing and hope that we all can find ways to support their efforts. Now that our oldest is in the first grade, I'm interested in exploring what can be done at the elementary level to bolster eco-education curricula and keep the pipeline of next-generation eco-caretakers strong.
(*Full Disclosure: Eric is Sara's cousin as well as being a long-time friend of mine.)
Saturday, September 26, 2009
According to the story, BBB will take on brewing some new labels, both their own and some contracted third-party ones. That said, it's good to see this local business -- one that aims to have a carbon negative footprint -- continue amid challenging times.
Now, I need to get down to Westport and see about picking up a few of those last remaining cases...
So far, Sara has cooked up peaches, apples, carrots, and squash. This stuff is so good, I'd honestly sneak a few of the containers in my bag for lunch -- but alas, I won't steal from the mouth of this babe.
For us, making our own baby food makes sense on so many fronts:
- Nutritional -- You make it so you know what's in it. Real simple. And since we're freezing everything in either these cool little Baby Cubes or ice cube trays, there's no need for preservatives.
- Financial -- Store-bought organic baby food jars are in the $0.60 - $0.70 range according to PeaPod. Since we're getting most of this stuff for free (courtesy of the Gerlach Garden or Sara's mom), our "raw materials" cost is near zero. With Bodhi eating about two container's worth of solids a day, we're saving over a dollar a day. It doesn't sound like much, but add it up by month and you can see the impact.
- Environmental -- Way fewer food miles traveled here. Less CO2, organic growing, seasonal eating (for now) -- it's a win-win.
- Developmental -- In terms of developing Bodhi's palette, he's getting real, fresh food. You know THAT difference between fresh and not-so-fresh. He's getting it from the get-go. We think that will give him a step up when it comes to developing good eating habits.
Looking ahead to when we can expand his palette beyond just the basics, Sara has taken a few baby food recipe books out of the library to read through. I can't wait to see what she cooks up.
(Photo Credit: Carrot Cube, Sara Gerlach)
Thursday, September 24, 2009
When I was on the town Recycling Committee back in 2004-2005 we discussed this but could not move it forward. If memory serves (and it's foggy), there was always the technical "rule" in place that stipulated that the waste hauler was not to pick up the trash barrel if they saw recyclable materials in it (read: no bins used). But no one could figure out a way to enforce it; nor did officials want to deal with the barrage of citizen complaints that could result by leaving barrels full at the curbside. But now, as the landfill begins to show more signs of brimming, the town is clearly changing their tune.
This is a step in the right direction, but we need two things in order to succeed: education and enforcement.
If the town was on their toes, they would seize this opportunity to partner with Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation on a public education campaign. There are still a lot of people out there who don't use bin; maybe it's ignorance, maybe it's a lack of know-how. Regardless, the time is right for a bit of a refresher course. What goes in the bin, what doesn't; other recycling resources like Eco-Depot for household hazardous waste; etc.
And by all means, the town needs to enforce the rule they are putting in place, no matter how many "complaints" come in. Stick to your guns on this one. Because if this doesn't work, I'm quite sure a Pay As You Throw program is lingering in the wings.
(*I'd link you to the announcement, but I couldn't find anything on the town website to show you. [Why?] And a quick glance at the Sakonnet Times site shows only one letter to the editor. I would have thought there would be more reaction to this. Maybe the times, they are a changing.)
On a related note, I came across this event happening this Saturday in West Warwick. The eWaste Festival aims to be the first of its kind in the country, trying to save the planet from all that electronics waste while having a bit of fun in the process.
Suggestion for 2010 (if it's still around): Multiple locations. I can't image folks from this side of the state are going to venture out to the hinterlands of West Warwick.
Monday, September 21, 2009
A sustainable community is one that goes beyond the bounds of just being sensitive to the environment. Local economic development, a high-yielding agricultural base, strong schools, long-term municipal planning, the list goes on. Throw one more in the mix: a thriving and inclusive arts scene.
This morning, I was interviewed by a consultant working with the Sakonnet Arts Network on the development of their long-term organizational and program strategy. The consultant, Jim, was talking with folks around town to gauge their opinions on the community, their need for and use of local arts programming, and how the Sakonnet Arts Network could be a partner in promoting and solidifying a strong arts “backbone”.
It was a great conversation and I walked away thinking about those elements of the human experience that have the ability to rise above those things that tend to (unfortunately) define us and place us into certain boxes: Status, title, zip code, emblem on your car, etc. The arts – whether they be visual or performing – are one of those elements that brings people together and levels the playing field.
That led me to think about how that ability to rise above shallow definitions is just the thing that a truly sustainable community needs. A vibrant arts program helps bring color, shape, sound, and voice to our neighborhoods, our schools, and various other meeting places around town. It unifies rather than separates; it slows us down just long enough to take in the best in human self-expression and creativity; it gives external form to the formless inner experience.
I hope that those at the Sakonnet Arts Network are able to capitalize on all the input being gathered from around town and realize their goals.
(P.S., Maybe one of our vacant elementary schools could even be transformed into a new home base for them! It would be a shame to lose those buildings and locations to yet another trivial real estate development.)
Thursday, September 17, 2009
As my friend, Jamie, aptly asks after reading this, "Why doesn't anyone listen to what this guy has to say?"
This, on the heels of the new report from MIT's Sloan School and The Boston Consulting Group making the case (again) that sustainable business practices are a need-to-have not nice-to-have for today's leading companies.
All of it just makes absolute sense to me. What do you think?
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Over the past few weeks we've been in the mood to clear house. The semi-annual sweep through just about everything that results in a decent amount of give-aways. Even though we are not extravagant when it comes to buying superfluous "crap", you just need to thin things out, especially when it comes to the kids' stuff. This time around though, we had more than just the clothes and toys to give away. Instead of tossing it in the trash or putting it at the end of our driveway with a "FREE" sign, I wanted to find another avenue for passing it on.
I've always been a big fan of freecycling (hence the stuff at the end of my driveway), but I was curious if there was a more organized option. Our friends in Cape Elizabeth, Maine have an amazing "Swap Shop" at their municipal transfer station where folks can drop off stuff for others to rummage through. It's well organized, clean, and I usually pick up a thing or two when we're up for a visit.
So I searched out "freecycling" and came upon freecycle.org. Once there I searched by city/state and lo' and behold, there was a Freecycle Tiverton/Little Compton Group. Awesome! I created an account and requested to be added to the group (you have to be "approved" for the group before you can post items you're looking to acquire or get rid of).
That was nearly a week and a half ago. I received an email with a list of dos and don'ts for the group (auto-sent, but the attached document was from the group administrator, Nicole). But I'm still waiting to be "approved".
This could be an awesome resource for folks. It's frustrating that it has to be such a cumbersome process to get up and running.
So, Nicole, if you're out there, please, please approve my account ASAP!
Friday, September 4, 2009
This is a fantastic opportunity to help be part of the design process for our new library. Come get an update on the project and participate in breakout sessions with other neighbors on key elements of the new library's design and program development.
Click on the image to see the details. Map to Tiverton Middle School.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Earlier this week, Kristin stumbled upon Sustainable Sakonnet and reached out to say hello. Looking at her blog is almost like finding a long-lost twin separated at birth: Similar look, feel, and vibe. It's a great site chronicling what it's like to live and raise a family here in the Sogkonnite/Sakonnet area. I love the focus on local, seasonal food and what to do with it once you get it in the kitchen.
Here's to everything we all to do make this neck of the woods a bit better!
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Will is also one of those kids that asks lots of questions and absorbs more than I think he does. Case in point:
During a recent visit to Essex Library, Miss Janet (the children's librarian) was looking for the kids to think about and draw what they thought the new library would look like. Tiverton Library Services is taking a bold leadership position by pursuing a new structure that aims to be the first "green" library in the state by incorporating elements of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability into the design.*
Well, Miss Janet was interested in the kids' vision of a "green" library. This is what Will came up with:
When I got home from work that day and he showed me his drawing I was floored. Often we talk about all things related to the environment and sustainability; when traveling around Sara and I try to point things out that help reinforce that. To my surprise, he's been listening. When I asked him to describe all that was going on, he told me about the things I've noted on the picture.
Go figure. There are moments where as a parent I take a step back, smile, and glow with pride. Maybe there is hope for the future.
(* Full Disclosure #2: I'm a past member of the Library Building Committee)
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Going with gDiapers was a tactical line item in our Green Baby strategy for Bodhi. But after almost four months we're throwing in the towel and transitioning out of the gDiaper system. Why? Dollars and "sense".
For almost half of what we pay for gDiapers we can get nearly double the amount of conventional diapers. It pains me not to be able to compost our pee-only diapers and lessen our waste stream, but when push comes to shove, the Wallet Factor always seems to win the battle in this theater of economic war.
So that got us thinking (and to some extent, condemning): Why does trying to be an eco-conscious consumer have to break the bank so much?
Now I clearly understand the dynamics of supply-and-demand-meets-eco-label-premium, but if we're going to change broad-stroke consumer behavior, green products cannot be just accessible by certain socioeconomic strata. It creates a kind of Green Haves vs. Green Have Nots.
That being said, changing mere consumer behavior is not the silver bullet solution to our environmental woes. We all know that. But at the end of the day, I believe limiting overall consumption (a.k.a., buying boatloads of stuff) is a better strategy across the board. Doing more with less and changing the tide of consumer excess has more longer term traction.
Much easier said than done, I know. It's something that will take hard work and deliberate thought. And in today's world those are two things many try to avoid at all costs. Yet another conundrum.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
We still do all those things that we’ve done in the past – your basic to-do list for sustainable living: limiting consumption, the Three R’s, composting, growing some of our own food, frequenting locally-owned businesses, etc. This manner of living has become the norm. When is enough enough? How are you to do more in your own day-to-day? Especially when you are confined by the reality of finances, budgets, free time, and sapped motivation?
I’m at a crossroads: Not sure what to do with this ‘passion’ for being green, for this blog, for all of it. Taking a step back, it’s clear that right now with three young children my priority (and free time) is with my family, where it should be. There are many things happening in town that are slowly pushing the sustainability agenda – some I’m aware of, some I am not. I’m OK with that. When I started this blog, there was little coverage of ‘green’ things, no opportunity for a conversation. Now, not a week goes by when even the (real) local media is not covering a story related to local food, renewable energy, etc. This is good progress.
I want to do so many things – big and small – that they get in the way of each other, stalling progress on every front. Perhaps you’re familiar with that feeling? As Sara likes to tell me, “You need to uni-task!” (the arch nemesis of multi-tasking).
What else is clear is that I need the proverbial shot in the arm to kick-start things. Mostly likely this will take the form of a career change or new job; something to sink my teeth into during most of my waking hours. The perfect scenario will be finding something in the for-profit green sector – marrying my strong business background with this personal passion of mine. Maybe I’ll start to blog about my trials and tribulations of trying to find that perfect white-meets-green-collar experience? Or maybe it's just as simple as a paid writing gig on the side?
This post is a bit more personal than I like to get. But it's done in the spirit of sharing. We've all been in this sandbox before, trying to figure out what to play with next. Here's to a virtual camaraderie. Be well.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
As you may remember, we are taking steps to try and limit Bodhi's environmental footprint from the get-go. It's hard to believe that he's 10 weeks old already, but even in that time, our eco-motivations are paying off:
- Recycled Clothes -- Bodhi is growing at a tremendous rate. Since coming out at a whopping 10 lbs. 6 oz. and 21.5 inches, he's put on over three pounds and two inches. Needless to say, we've had to dig into Brother Will's old stuff sooner than we thought. Thank goodness we kept so much of his clothing. That's really helped save some money and eliminate the need to buy more stuff.
- Eliminating Waste -- We're using the gDiaper system. This enables us to compost Bodhi's pee-only diapers (flushing is also an option but we're giving our septic tank a break on this one). On average, we're tossing about 5 lbs. of pee-pee diapers (that's about 6-8 individual diapers) into the compost pile each 1.5 days. That works out to 100 lbs. of used diapers being kept out of the landfill per month. (30 days/1.5 * 5 lbs.). Not too shabby.
So what's next for Bodhi? Hopefully, our garden escapes the stranglehold the weather has on it, finds it groove and can start producing some veggies that we can use to supplement our solid food expenditures come the fall. Beyond that, it's a boatload of recycled toys that will start to make their way from the basement into our living room and a bunch of new handmade outfits that Sara plans to make for him in the coming months.
Anybody have any other green baby tips worth sharing?
Thursday, July 16, 2009
During my research I happened upon a UK-based movement knows as “transition towns”. I squirreled away my notes and there they sat until one day, fellow Sustainable Sakonnet reader Jeremy happened to forward a note about a NY Times Magazine article chronicling transition town efforts here in the U.S. I just love when things come full circle like that!
In a nutshell, the transition town premise is that Peak Oil and Climate Change will negatively impact life as we know it in the not-so-distant future. The solution: Start preparing now by figuring out how to solve these pending dilemmas at the community level.
To that end, the Transition Town (TT) movement offers community members a literal game plan and playbook for recruiting and organizing their fellow neighbors, then developing solutions for everything from energy to transportation to food. TT doesn’t provide communities with the answers; it merely supplies the tools for you to figure that out on your own.
It appears to be working with – according to the article – over 150 TTs in existence across the globe. Closer to home, a national arm of the grassroots organization has formed (Transition United States) to provide guidance and resources to communities through hands-on training and ongoing support. One by one, a network of Transition initiatives is taking root across the county: Los Angeles, Boulder County, Colorado, Sandpoint, Idaho (the feature location for the Times Magazine article).
Now, I read something like that and say, “Let’s rock! This is something that we could do right here!” Then, the reality of community organizing hits me upside the head and retorts, “Sakonnet could never get something like this off the ground. Too polarizing. Too tree-hugger. You’ll get kind words of support but little action. People are too pre-occupied with other things…” The list of excuses goes on.
But could we?
I know from professional experience that if you involve others in the solution, they are more apt to support it, give it a try, and less apt to shoot it down. From that angle, the TT concept makes sense. But do enough people in our community feel this passionate about the potential life-altering consequences of the post-carbon crash and climate catastrophe to do something of this scale?
Please, someone, take me off of this pessimistic ledge I’m holding on to...
More TT resources:
• Official TT Wiki
• TTs in action (Ashland, Ireland)
• TT coverage on TreeHugger.com
• Rob Hopkins (TT Founder) YouTube interview
Sunday, June 21, 2009
If Saturdays don't fit your schedule and you haven't signed up for a CSA program, not to worry. There are plenty of other market locations and hours in and around the area. Here is Farm Fresh Rhode Island's list of the ten closest markets to zip code 02878.
I've seen more in my travels though: The Green Grocer in Portsmouth has local fare on Friday afternoons (2:00 - 6:00, if I remember the sign correctly). And yesterday, I saw Wishing Stone Farm of Little Compton had a stand set up in North Tiverton by Sakonnet Bay Mannor. According to the sign posted and their website, they are there each Saturday from 3:00 - 6:00.
Bottom line: 'Tis the season to get out there and support our local farmers and food artisans. Fresh, local food makes sense no matter how you slice it. And the more we patronize them, the stronger our local food economy roots grow. (Check out these cool stats from Farm Fresh Rhode Island on the growth of farmers markets across the state.)
Hope to see you out and about!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
It’s happening again. That feeling. That grandiose notion that somehow I could pull off some crazy homesteading “experiment” out here in the middle of suburbia.
Every once in a while (OK, a few times a year, especially during the summer) I get caught up with thoughts of our family surviving in a low-impact, provide-everything-we-need-ourselves kind of way. You can see some of the evidence flowing over at the Gerlach Garden. Perhaps it’s my incessant desire to find that equilibrium with nature; that sense of eco-stasis where I know we are not taking more than we can give back. Maybe it’s homesteading or off-grid or whatever you want to call it.
The reality is: We’re nowhere close to that. Yes, we (or maybe just me; I don’t want to speak for Sara and the kids) try to live a simple, peaceful existence amid the hustle and complexity of this world we call home. The latest book I’m perusing – “Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills” by Abigail R. Gehring – would have me secure a couple dozen acre parcel, fell my own timber and build a house, become astute in animal husbandry, and till acres of fields storing my wares for the long, cold winter. Not going to happen any time soon. But there are things I’d love to try my hand at:
• Having a much larger garden to drive a robust canning and freezing operation
• Building a root cellar
• Rebuilding our chicken coop and getting some new chicks
• Try our hand at goats (for the milk and cheese)
• Bee keeping (for honey and wax to make candles)
• Getting set up with a solar array for energy and hot water
• Making our own soaps and cleaners
• …and the list could go on…
Now, clearly I don’t need to be 100% homesteading to do any or all of this. But it’s the image, the throwback, the nostalgia of that homesteading lifestyle that enamors me.
Increasing your self-sufficiency is a growing movement though – whether it’s in the Outback, suburbia, or the urban jungle. I am inspired by it all.
I have to imagine that here in the Sakonnet area we are steeped in people and experience in many of those tried and true “homesteading” skills. Wouldn’t it be amazing to connect all of these people and bring them together to share and learn? Pretty cool. Let me put it on that ever-growing To-Do list…
(Image Source: National Archives)
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Waking up to the sun and symphony of birds, we got going early. The kids were barely out of the pajamas before they were outside playing. Taking advantage of the warm breeze, I had clothes out on the clothesline early aiming to get a few loads dried sans electricity.
With the line strung, we headed into the garden to see how things were going. It’s been a bit of a late start (with everything going on) but we’re getting into the swing. Planted some more onions, radish; transplanted broccoli and lettuce; weeded the raspberries and blueberries.
But by far, the best part of the day came after lunch, when we headed down the road to Weetamoo Woods for a hike -- our first with Bodhi. The east entrance (Lake Road) is right around the corner from us, so we try to get out as much as we can for hikes. Today’s destination: The old mill “ruins” along the Red Trail. Here are some pics from our walk in the woods.
We keep working on teaching the kids how to "read" the map and follow trail blazes.
The "Water Tree" -- a favorite spot to rest, even early in the hike. This tree has a cavity at its base that collects water. The kids love to poke around on Critter Patrol.
Some quiet shots by Sara as she let us blaze ahead:
Now, I’ve lived in Tiverton for a good part of my life and spent many an hour in Weetamoo growing up (watching meteor showers off of High Rock), but this jewel (the Mill ruins) never came across my path until Sara and the kids took me there for the first time a few months back. Will and Millie just love exploring all around, climbing rocks, and seeing what might be along the water's edge. I need to do some research and learn more about when it was in operation, who ran it, etc. Does anyone know?
I am always in awe of this kind of stone work. What I wouldn't give to be able to lay stone like that!
With all the recent rain, the water was flowing nicely.
Many thanks to all those volunteers who help maintain the trails. We’re so thankful we have this get-away in our backyard. Want to ramble yourself? Check out the most current trail map and get out there.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
What’s staggering is the potential energy that would come out of this farm: Average electricity production would power 200,000 homes; when at max capacity, the number of homes is double that. Check out the Cape Wind website to learn more.
The article also gives a brief but less-than-detailed update on the two proposed off-shore projects here in R.I., stating that the permit process is underway and that the smaller of the two eyes completion sometime in 2012.
Closer to home, each time I drive through Portsmouth and see those turbines spinning it puts a smile on my face. Why? The simplicity and logic of renewable energy. And the technology is getting better -- and for the bean counters, more price competitive -- each and every day. Carbon-based energy is on the down-and-out. Granted, there is a LOT of work to do before we awaken to this Renewable Nirvana, but projects like Cape Wind are definitely putting us on the path.
Curious -- would you support economically viable renewable energy projects here in town? What do you think the general public's position in on these sorts of things?
Friday, May 29, 2009
In terms of sea levels around coastal New England – and the Sakonnet area in particular -- it could mean a lot.
Imagine our little coastline redefined in significant ways by 2100: The loss of our beaches and other waterfront properties where the land slope is small; the potential need to re-route Main Road down by Grinnell’s Beach; living history being swallowed by the sea. Imagine our own little bit of environmental refugee action as people and families need to abandon their “ships” for higher ground.
This New York Times article is a quick synopsis of new research coming out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research warning that an accelerated melting of Greenland’s ice sheet could have a more profound effect on the sea levels of the northeast U.S. and Maritime Canada. Of course, while these climate models are based on current and historical data, they are just models. That means they could be wrong. Or right. Or somewhere in the middle.
While it’s just one of many possible scenarios based on a plethora of variables, it would behoove us not to care, not to pause and consider those worse case scenarios and use them to light that fire of action; of caring about what such impacts might have on us or our families in our later years. The first step in figuring out how to solve a problem is acknowledging that both the problem AND the potential impacts exist. From there it’s about working together to find solutions – big and small -- and putting them into action.
I’m on board. How about you? Each one of us continues to have a roll to play in our everyday lives to help our little neck of the woods stay vibrant and inviting not only in the short-term but that seemingly far off (but not really) future.
Call me crazy, but I like to think that my great-grandchildren might some day stroll along Fogland Beach and hold one of the same small, round, smooth stones that I might have held and tossed into the river myself, throwing it back to the water to ride the waves and tides once again.
[Photo Credit: Sara Gerlach]
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
If you're a fan of T.D.S., you'll immediately get how much Samantha Bee is mocking this guy who is arguing that promoting organic, local food is elitist and will drive obesity rates in the U.S. If you've never watched this witty, sometimes abrasive, mock news program, get ready for a bit of uncomfortableness...
On a serious note, I can't believe (actually, I can, sadly) that there is an organization out there -- one with such an austere name as the American Council on Science and Health -- that could even attempt to argue such a position. But then you realize that they have been underwritten by some of the biggest names in the chemical, pharmaceutical, and package foods companies and it all begins to make sense. You have to love a healthy dose of spin when you see it... Enjoy.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
|Little Crop of Horrors|
Thursday, May 14, 2009
BODHI MAXWELL GERLACH. Born May 4 and weighing a whopping 10 lbs 6 oz. This is our third and I think final foray into the baby scene. Sara is doing great; Will and Amelia have not left Bodhi's side since he's come home. We are all adjusting and figuring out the new 5-person routine. For now, it's that kind of good Fifth Wheel feeling.
I've dubbed Bohdi (pronounced Bow-dee) the "Green Baby" as we are trying to minimize his environmental footprint from the get-go. So far, it has been all about recycling as much as possible from his brother and sister (clothes, furniture, etc.) and the dirty "D" word -- diapers. We've been using gDiapers this time around. Check out their website for full background, but we were drawn to these for two reasons: the ability to compost those soiled with pee only and frankly, they are kind of cute. A recent Boston Globe blog post mulled over the diaper options for eco-conscious parents.
While we have yet to add any to the compost pile (that's just the way it is with newborns), we do feel that what we are disposing of is, by volume, less than what we would have been doing with conventional diapers. Time will tell. We have yet to try the dissolve-in-your-toilet method for disposal.
The only drawback so far (though minimal) is their availability. We have been picking them up at Green Grocer in Portsmouth. The fact that they stock these is icing on the cake for such a great, local depot for all things organic.
Up next for Green Baby is food. By the time we hit our stride with produce from the garden, Bodhi should be making the transition into more solid food. We are aiming to produce some of our own -- peas, carrots, and the like. Stay tuned.
Curious about the name Bodhi? Here is some background. I continue to be inspired by my readings on Zen Buddhism and we just thought the name was beautiful and special. When you put the two things together, you get our little guy.
First, my 12-day trip to China. This was the capstone requirement of my 16-month Executive MBA program at Northeastern University. Four cities (Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Beijing), numerous business presentations and tours, and a bit of sightseeing later and I can’t believe we’re done. It was an eye-opening experience – one that I wish more Westerners could have as I believe it would do wonders for expanding the broader perspective on this global stage we’re now living in.
Next came graduation. Finally it’s over. Honestly, the event itself was lackluster and anti-climatic. But, with the degree in hand, I can start to move on. What’s next? I’m not sure. I’ll be heading back to the health insurance world on Monday, eager to see what happens. But deep inside I continue to feel a strong longing to do something “more”; something that contributes to a mission that is more near and dear to my passions; something that for me, I can see more tangible results. Ideally, this “more” will be in the green sector (for-profit for now – sorry, I have a family to provide for). Alternative energy is a sector that has strong growth potential. There are many others. Time to start that networking…
Most importantly, we had our third child, a boy just over a week ago. Our family is ecstatic. I’ll give him his own post…
Finally, I’ve been trying to dive into some projects that have been on the back burner for a while – reseeding some lawn, building new garden beds, screening last season’s compost (amazing) and feeding our perennials, and some odds and ends around the house.
The best thing about this time off has been reconnecting with my family. I didn’t realize how busy I had been over the past 16 months. So it’s no wonder that I’ve been feeling a bit “lazy”, wanting to cash in on that R & R capital I’ve been earning since starting my MBA. That also includes writing. Honestly, I’ve been uninspired of late. The reason why, I’m not sure, but I just can’t seem to beat it. I’m hopeful that as the garden begins to grow and blossom, so too will my eagerness to write and continue sharing (and learning) about these things that help this footprint of ours.
I hope all is well with all of you.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
I came across the Windspire unit a few weeks back and it has intrigued me ever since. Manufactured by Mariah Power, this nine-meter horizontal blade unit looks a bit more home-friendly than its more traditional looking vertical blade cousin. A visit to their website discovers that they are now manufacturing the 1.2 kW version of the Windspire in Michigan. A larger 3.0 kW as well as a direct-to-batter version appear in the works. While this is eligible for tax credits, I couldn't find anything on the base price at the Mariah site. A third-party site stated a cost of $4,000 for the 1.2 kW unit.
I have no idea if and how Mariah would ship the Windspire to our neck of the woods. A possible alternative is someone like Northeast Windpower of Westport Point who installs your more traditional vertical blade units. I've seen at least one unit in Westport put up by this company. In fact, from certain vantage points these "personal" wind turbines seem to dot the Westport horizon.
I don't have time for it now, but it would be interesting to do a full comparison of similar sized units in terms of footprint, energy generation, noise factors, etc.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Why stop there though? You could capture the spirit of this by just getting to know your neighbors better, helping out each other, sharing some tools or know-how, etc. You get the picture. It sounds nostalgic, but hey, it worked for generations. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
What do you think? Would you do it?
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Here is a great local event that's worth supporting. THS' Green Team (the student-run environment club) is hosting the first (of what hopes to be an annual) Greenstock Environmental Fair on Saturday, April 11, from 1:00 - 4:00. All are welcome.
There looks to be a little bit of everything for everyone in the family: Music, food, educational exhibits, a "trashion" show (where fashion meets trash), plus some local environmental groups will set up shop to share in the event.
Hope to see you all there. Many congrats go out to all the students who worked hard to pull all this together. I continue to be inspired by the next generation of environmental stewards!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
There are lots of things to ruminate on and get out to the masses. No time for in-depth stories, just sound bites for now:
Wind Power Taking Center Stage (Again)
Over the next few weeks, I’m sure the local papers will start covering Tiverton’s new moves in the pursuit of renewable energy for the town. More information to come but in brief, Tiverton has joined with several other East Bay communities (Little Compton, Portsmouth, Bristol, Warren, Barrington) in a joint venture known as the Easy Bay Energy Consortium. I’ve was asked to be of part of the group (thank you!). We’re just getting started, but the immediate priority is to sign on to the group’s grant proposal to fund a broad-based feasibility study to locate viable wind power locations within our immediate geography. Stay tuned!
Kick-starting the Garden
Well, the seeds are started and already lots of little green shoots are sprouting. We can’t wait to get out there and get the garden going again. This year, we plan to double our growing area and trying all kinds of new things (part of the Green Baby plan). Be sure to follow all the details as the season progresses at my other blog (co-written with Sara): The Gerlach Garden Journal. And with all the recent press on local food, our little patch of food independence feels so good.
I mentioned in an earlier post that we’re trying to minimize our baby-rearing footprint with Number Three – hence, the nickname "Green Baby". It’s been interesting to think about and while a dedicated post will do more justice on the topic, here is what we’re thinking so far: Recycle clothes, furniture, toys and other items where possible; compost as many diapers as we can (we’re going with G Diapers) to limit waste; and grow as much of our baby food as possible (the shift to solids will coincide nicely with the late summer harvest). Lots to think about and we welcome any experience you might have with keeping your baby green and happy.
Until next time, be well.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
THS' Green Team, a student-run organization focusing on raising awareness and helping to educate fellow students on environmental issues, is hosting a family movie night. The details:
GREEN SCREEN MOVIE NIGHT AT THS
Friday, March 13, 6:00pm
Tiverton High School, 100 Brayton Road
Featuring Disney/Pixar's "Wall-E"
Admission is free and all members of the community are welcome; snacks and treats available
"Wall-E" is a great little movie; our kids love it. While animated, there is a great earth-friendly message tied to it. Come out for a fun night, see your neighbors, and help to support this great student organization. Hope to see you there!