Friday, December 26, 2008

Saving Suburbia (Part I): To Eco-Village or Not

For a while (OK, years) I’ve thought about how the collective we might go about “saving” that grand ol’ plan of post-WWII expansion known as “suburbia”. Clearly, at the time it sounded like a good idea, but with time comes wisdom and of course, hindsight. Alas we now know that it is at the heart of why the U.S. is leads the world in carbon emissions. You just can’t walk to the store when it’s ten miles and half-a-dozen-40-mile-per-hour-no-sidewalk roads away.

But what if you could start over? Re-architect the whole thing? Build it from the ground up with sustainability woven into every single construction-laden fiber?

I guess that’s the idea behind the eco-village concept. And last week, that hit home with this interesting announcement.

Clearly, if you’re coming to the table with this kind of plan, you’re coming out swinging. Hence you hire a PR agency to pitch it with all the fanfare and spotlights you can (those spotlights, mind you, help to blind you from the details, which many times are scant at this point in the whole thing). You have some fresh concept posters. You give it a cool name.

All that aside, this thing is massive. Six hundred and fifty acres spanning both sides of a major highway; industrial and residential mix-use areas; pre-powered with its own wind and solar arrays build in; agriculture, retail, trails; the list goes on. New zip code anyone?

Not wanting to pass an uninformed judgment, I set out to learn more about other eco-villages. What I found was interesting.

The Global Eco-village Network is a good resource for learning about and finding a large listing of these sustainable communities across the globe. Another listing/tracking site I came across was Intentional Communities.

No matter the listing, traditionally, the typical motivations behind these shared living communities are social, environmental, and/or spiritual. While there is a more-with-less approach it is kind of Three Musketeers at the end of the day – one for all, all for one. Micro-governance structures are in place with shared decision making the primary means of “law”. Many times there is strong link to permaculture.

Check out some of the specific communities I found (I tried to find ones with decent websites). All are in various stages of formation. This list is in no way exhaustive.

Abundance Ecovillage, Fairfield, IA
Nubanusit Neighborhood and Farm, Peterborough, NH
Sawyer Hill EcoVillage, Berlin, MA

My take-away: The new eco-development proposal for Tiverton is at a scale unlike any of the eco-villages I checked out. Is that to say such scale and size is un-doable, contrary to what a sustainable living infrastructure is supposed to be? I don’t know. It reminds me of driving through Utah and seeing new towns being build literally out of nowhere on huge tracks of land.

But the thought of clearing all that land to develop all this makes me wary. I’m all for doing more with that industrial space off of Eagleville and agree that would be great for our local economy. But adding 480 new homes and trying to figure out how to support all that with an already strapped municipal infrastructure is concerning. And then there is the “gated community” portion of the plan – that just flies in the face of what true cooperative living is all about. And finally, there are other potential placement opportunities for renewable energy structures in town (if the town could just its act in gear and push forward with all that).

So, if clear-cutting and building from scratch is not an attractive way to save suburbia, what is? Stay tuned for Part II…

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The No TV Experiment Continues!

A couple weeks ago we hit the 18-month mark with no TV. (Read the background here.) Sara and I continue to relish in the dropped jaws and half-hearted accolades of “That’s great!” when the conversation arrives at our admission of a TV-free life. Most of the time, we imagine people are really thinking, “You crazy freaks.”

Now that the kids are getting older (almost 6 and 4 with a third on the way), the conversation sometimes drifts towards debating the potential social dysfunction and alienation they might be experiencing now or could experience in the future as they interact more and more with peers at school. Let’s set the record straight: We are not militant in trying to shield the kids from watching TV; they see it when we visit friends and family; we continue to borrow movies from Essex Library and will watch some programming via online streams. Our objection has always been about the overload of crappy content and incessant marketing of products.

Unfortunately, you don’t need a TV to be exposed to a lot of media or consumer-specific stimuli these days. We continue to be amazed at some of the things the kids talk about from time to time: cartoon characters, TV shows, toys, food products, etc. Clearly they pick it up through the normal day-to-day interactions with friends, strolls through stores, riding around town, and slick product placements in the few pieces of media they do watch. In a cluttered consumer world, marketers continue to find ways to hit the mark with their messages.

These minor bumps in the road pale in comparison to all the FUN and AWESOME THINGS that continue to come about as a family with no TV. Here’s a short list:

• Playing outside (soccer, pirates, princesses, baseball, building forts, and whatever else their imagination guides them to)
• Lots and lots of reading (and learning to read in the process)
• Cooking and baking with mom
• Building cities and racetracks and castles with blocks, legos, and what ever else is around
• Jamming with the myriad of instruments we have around the house
• Learning to sing and dance
• Lots of beach days swimming, exploring for periwinkles and minnows, and shell hunting
• Visits to zoos, museums, and aquariums (with discount passes courtesy of Essex)
• Camping and hiking
• Learning where our food comes from via our garden
• Planting a sun flower “house”
• Learning to play checkers and chess and all kinds of board games (the ones you remember as a kid)
• Playing cards (Go Fish, of course)
• All kinds of drawing and painting
• Picking flowers from the garden
• Learning the names of the birds who visit our feeders and the trees they perch in
• Playing lots of dress up and “acting”
• Learning a bit of Spanish and French
• Going strawberry, blueberry, and apple picking
• Helping with “housework” (and teaching the value of saving via an allowance)
• Doing cool science experiments for kids (it’s amazing how much fun you can have with vinegar and baking soda!)
• Practicing our numbers and letters; learning to write
• Learning to ride bikes
• Eating dinner together
• Watching the stars and moon and imagining we are astronauts
• Making homemade gifts for Christmas

The list could go on…

The bottom line: We are having lots of fun doing all kinds of things that don’t involve a TV. Sure it’s a bit more work at times but it’s not boring in the least. In fact it’s amazing how much you can connect fun and learning all at the same time. The verdict is still out on if we’ll get a TV at some point. We don’t worry about it too much; if it happens, it happens.

For me, I guess I equate no TV with some kind of simpler living; a getting-back-to-basics kind of thing. Seeking to not give in to the easy out that TV provides and an opening up of so much opportunity to connect, share, explore, and learn.

Can you imagine what might happen if a few more of us ditched the magic box and freed up time for those more important things in life?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Your Local Business Wish List?

Thanks to tillerman over at Proper Course for throwing out some really good ideas for businesses in the north end of town. I thought it might be a good springboard for a more general "Hey, what kind of local businesses would you like to see all over town?"

In case you didn't see tillerman's suggestions:
1. A great little hardware shop. Humphrey's is more oriented to contractors and never seems to have what I want. I end up going to Ace Hardware in Fall River for most things I need for jobs around the house and garden.

2. A boating supplies shop. Like West Marine only 100% better than West Marine.

3. A fish and chip shop serving good old mushy peas. (Hey there's a pork pie shop in Fall River so why not?)
My own list is very utilitarian at this point: a nice neighborhood grocery store and an independent book store.

What's on your wish list?

Or is there a local business that you just can't do without?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Coming Soon: Donut Wars

As the adage says, variety is the spice of life, right? I think this is also true when it comes to economic development, especially at the local level.

So why are we having yet another donut shop in town? In Tuesday's Newport Daily News there was a brief story alluding to a Sip & Dip being put in to half of the empty structure formerly used by Sakonnet Gardens at Bliss Four Corners (Bulgarmarsh and Crandall Roads). While the crux of the story had to do with the debate on putting a drive-through window in and the growing interest in that part of town, I want to talk about how this is just a bad move altogether.

With Sip & Dip, that brings the total number of donut shops to three within a half-mile radius of one another (Dunkin Donuts and Moose Cafe being the others). Do we really need this? Yes, competition benefits consumers in terms of price, access, and variety, but c'mon, we're talking about coffee, donuts, and bagels.

To me, this is a (dough-y, sugary) smudge on our local economy.

So what IS our local economic development plan? I went to the town's website to look at minutes from the Economic Development Committee’s (EDC) meetings to see if I could find out. I will say that out of all the committees in town the EDC’s activities are fairly well documented – if you go to the town website looking for them. While there is lots of the mundane administrative stuff, here are a few things that appeared of interest:
  • Bourne Mill redevelopment and efforts to partner with a still-to-be-formed North Tiverton Business alliance to think through how to develop and maximize the retail component (Did you know that this project will be LEED certified? That is great news.). Other discussion focused on how to develop new businesses in North Tiverton.

  • Something about a “Main Road Initiative”. I believe this ties into reviewing and enhancing the “design standards” for commercial entities along Main Road from Souza Road to the Fall River Line. Of particular interest was discussion of transforming “roads” primarily used for vehicular traffic into “streets” that are much more sensitive to pedestrian needs.

  • Figuring our ways to promote the EDC’s efforts (Though the quoted costs of $2,000-3,000 to build and maintain a website on a yearly basis are way off the mark. Pick up a piece of basic web design software, get a domain name and an ISP and you’re off and running for a couple hundred dollars. Volunteer time to keep it maintained.)

Another positive note is this ProJo story focusing on how the state is stepping up efforts to develop its industrial base and invest in those small-to-medium-sized companies that make up the bulk of the local economic engine. In attendance was James Goncalo, Tiverton Town Administrator.

I’m glad to learn about these efforts and agree that the EDC should be doing more to promote themselves and their activities. That said, I do hope the town can avoid situations like the impending Donut Wars that will be taking place at Bliss Four Corners. With that in mind, here are a few of my own ideas:
  • We have a landfill close to capping. That is dead space unless you get creative. It's also a mountain of would-be energy. Find a company to come in and set up a methane gas power plant. Oh wait, there's already one making nice-nice with the state. Bet you they might also handle some of the infrastructure investment. Or perhaps using all that garbage to create organic fertilizer?

  • Production tax credits have been renewed, the state is negotiating for wind farm developers, towns are looking to invest in renewable energy projects. That's going to mean business for all the players in the renewable energy supply chain (manufacturing, installation, maintenance). How about pitching the town for some of these businesses to set up more local operations?

  • A grocery store; or perhaps a “network” of smaller-scale grocers like that of Green Grocer in Portsmouth.

  • Develop more small-scale office space to attract white collar and professional services companies.

  • Capitalizing on our natural space and attracting next-generation farmers to help further develop our (sustainable) agricultural base.

Developing the local economy is not a shot-in-the-arm, one time deal. It takes vision, strategy, synergistic public policies, and a small army of dedicated people to make it all happen.

The EDC should open its ranks to involve more people, publicize its efforts, and engage every possible link in the economic development value chain. Together we can make it happen without resorting to the Donut Death Star.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Statewide Green Building Resource

Just a quick note to plug the new RI Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. (See link under "Resources" to the right). This is a great sign that interest in sustainable building in on the rise in Rhody. Check out the recent ProJo article.

On a housekeeping note: To help make searching through old posts easier by topic, you can now find a comprehensive listing over to the right under "Explore Posts by Labels". It's certainly going to help me keep track of things! I hope it helps you too.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A New Triple Crown?

We’re nearly at Day 30 P.E. (post-elections) and most people are over the hump when it comes to griping one way or the other. Now it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work. Yet, overcoming divisions (insert your polar opposite of choice here -- red/blue, right/left, pro-this/anti-that) always seems to be the hardest thing. It’s quite the bottleneck of what could be an efficient, productive, forward thinking supply chain of people, ideas, and action.

Newsflash: Sitting around complaining is wasted time and energy -- period. One of our favorite kids' books, "Zen Shorts" by Jon J. Muth, includes a classic Zen story about “carrying” things with you. When you “put things down”, you free yourself to be more. I find this so applicable to our collective situation whether it is at the local or global level.

In thinking about progress that is sustainable and prosperous (“rich” but not necessarily in a fiscal way), there are many platforms in which to build upon. After much rumination, I have arrived at three that I believe create a synergy that allows for both short- and long-term sustainable progress and prosperity: Economy, Environment, and Education.

Alone, they are each important. Together, they create an almost symbiotic ├╝ber-sustainability machine capable of churning out win-wins at every turn (and every generation). Not that the folks elected into local offices have asked for help (from me, at least), here are a few ideas under each of those buckets that I think could allow Sakonnet to BE more. (Caveat: I claim no intimate knowledge of the details of town workings, but for me, an outside perspective is always fresh and useful.)

For existing businesses:
  • Facilitate the creation of a business alliance organization that allows small businesses to join forces for the purpose of “buying in bulk” whether it is for raw materials, supplies, services, or insurance
  • Review and modify where applicable local law and regulations that inhibit a successful small business environment
  • Review contracts and agreements for quid-pro-quo opportunities resulting in net gains for everyone

For new businesses:
  • Seek innovative ways of incubating new businesses such as creating a local forum for idea and innovation sharing
  • Partner with non-traditional entities (academic, professional trade groups, etc) to explore opportunities to seed new business development
  • Consider the creation of a farm incubation program allowing for hands-on training and education for a new generation of land stewards – and helping to bolster our local food security in the process

Create connections between local businesses and schools to enable both an employment chain and an opportunity to learn how business works

Explore the creation of a local currency or rewards program that creates incentives for supporting local businesses

Ensure the integrity of our natural environment for future generations through:
  • Implementation new municipal planning and services strategy (commercial and residential) that creates a sustainable suburbia model
  • Top-down review of town operations for opportunities related to sustainable operations that result in long-term fiscal wins
  • Create new curricula at all our schools that inspires future generations of inquiry, critical thinking, and problem solving when it comes to the environment

Capitalize on our natural resources through:
  • Exploration and implementation of renewable energy projects that benefit the community
  • Enabling and expanding our local agricultural industry through low-cost access to land, farm/farmer incubation projects, and improved market development


Make the Tiverton Public School System a model for the state through:
  • Identifying opportunities to streamline operations and redirect funding to enhancing educational programs
  • Ensuring adequate funding for curricula that will enable our students to excel in more connected, “flatter” world
  • Building bridges with the broader community through enhanced public relations with a goal of sharing the positive “story” of our educational system

Enable life-long learning through:
  • The establishment of a continuing education center (the old Ranger School perhaps?) where new skills, trades, and hobbies can be learned and enjoyed

Of course, there is so much more to be said about all of this. I’ll come back to these with time. But for now, I – and I hope others within the community – want to hear from our elected and appointed officials what the PLAN is. Something, anything. And that brings up one last point for now: Our local government needs to be more accessible, transparent, and communicative (beyond the minimum required by law). The vast majority of people in town have no idea what is going on. And therefore cannot be part of the process OR solution.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sign of the Times

I know this is off the mark in terms of what I like to talk about at Sustainable Sakonnet, but on the heels of the last post I had to do this. This is so tragic, so wrong, so... What a commentary on society.

Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down

Black Friday takes on its true meaning. Pointless. The market price of Life is now less than a television or toy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Silliness of Buy Nothing Day

It’s coming. Only one more day: Black Friday. And its bizarro twin: Buy Nothing Day.

I always get a kick out of BND and even more so, how much effort organizations like Adbusters throw at it. “A” for effort, but frankly it falls short. Trying to raise the red flag of over-consumption one day out of the year is pointless. For me, it’s like America Recycles Day. It’s like trying to stop an out of control freight train with some kite string, duct tape, and three-hour-old chewing gum. Sorry MacGyver.

Humans consume. Western, developed societies gorge. Mmmm, consumer gluttony at its finest. The pace is unsustainable; we all know that. Yet, we go on trucking, feeding (filling) the desire (void) for more (an escape).

What I really get a kick out of is all this talk about stimulus packages. What’s the cure-all for this financial version of pandemic bird flu? A check from Uncle Sam. Spend your way out of what ills you. But heck, if the federal government is feeding their debt machine, why shouldn’t you and while you’re at it, fill your life/homes with more stuff? I do not want to be around when the Federal Debt Reaper comes-a-knockin'...

So let’s take a step back and reconsider a more prudent approach to over-consumption and pointless, superficial spending. While we need to dial back the Stuff Meter on all fronts throughout the year (and I think I’ll be talking about this more with time), there are some more apropos things given the season:

Just (Don’t) Do It. Cherish quality time with friends and family; catch up with them; talk, laugh, and maybe even cry if you want. It’s each other, not the stuff we give, that people really want down deep inside.

Stick to Your Core. If you’re going to spend the money anyway, avoid the headache and hassle of buying all those little things for the extended family and friends. They don’t want or need it (and we all acknowledge this on some level, don’t we?). Consider pooling that money instead and donating it to a worthwhile charity. Then give all those people a card letting them know you did just that. We’ve done that for the past few years and people really like it.

Suggest the Same to Friends. You could be blatant and just drop the message in an email, but there’s a new, more cordial way to ask friends and family to donate what they might spend on you. Redefine Christmas is a site that connects you (and your loved ones) to over 1.5 million charities that could use your money to help others.

Go Homemade or Local. You just can’t beat this one. If you can do it yourself, even better. Sara (my wife) loves to cook so we’ve done cookies, treats, flavored oils, etc. in the past. She is handy with the sewing machine too, so one year we gave everyone pajama bottoms. Sure, not everyone has the time or talent to do that, but consider supporting one of our local merchants in town for your gift needs. You’ll feel even better supporting our local economy.

Honestly, I don’t know about you, but we’re taking a hard look at everything we spend money on and looking at ways to keep everything simple. But you know what, we’re not feeling deprived. It’s all about attitude and getting back to what’s really important. And our kids – they don’t know the difference. They are just happy playing with each other and us. Excessive want of material things is a learned behavior.

I like to think that the silver lining to our current economic free-fall will be the way it causes us to once again look inward, slow down, and get back to more of the basics; be more frugal in our daily consumption; and balance out the need vs. want factor. One small (but important) step at a time.

(Image Source: Adbusters)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tube for Tuesday: Hunger In Rhode Island

Yesterday, the RI Community Food Bank released its annual report on the status of hunger and food insecurity in the state. Not surprisingly, with everything going on both are up this year, continuing a terrible trend. Now, one in six children live in a home where getting adequate, nutritious food is a problem.

The Food Bank distributed 10 million pounds of food last year through its network of nearly 300 agencies. Now I haven't looked at the list, but I'm sure that those networks extend in to our neck of the woods.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it's reports like this that make you pause and be truly thankful. I know we are. More info on the report here and what you can do to help.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Chapter for New Library

I wanted to extend my congratulations to all those involved in pursuing the new library for Tiverton. Securing the land on which to build upon is a worthy milestone and I'm looking forward to starting the next chapter.

Our family relies on Essex Library for so much. From books to CDs to DVDs to getting the scoop on events in town, we're there at least once a week. The kids just love bringing home mountains of books to read and look at. (Full disclosure: There are more piles of books in our house than I know what to do with!)

I used the Library ROI calculator at the State Office of Library & Information Services website to figure out just how much Essex is worth as a resource. While the overall value of goods used per month is $451, the more interesting number is the "Personal ROI". This determines the value you get for every $1.00 in taxes you spend on public libraries in Rhode Island. Our tally: $148.52.

It just goes to show how valuable a library can be. It's a cornerstone of learning, of exploration, of community. And we need a new one. The reasons are many (see the video here). Essex is great; the new library will be even greater. It is an investment in the future of our town and the people who call it home.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nature Makes You Smarter

Yet another reason to protect open space. Courtesy of The Takeaway.

I don't think we needed a scientific study to tell us this, but whatever helps makes the case.

Learning to Read

Today was an important day for our son, Will. Today, it clicked for him and for the first time he was able to take a new book and read all on his own.

With an impeccable memory (for a five-and-a-half year old) he typically memorizes and regurgitates stories back to us after a couple times through. We've been working on stringing sounds together and sounding words out for a while and today it paid off. As a parent, watching your children learn in real time is a humbling experience.

So what's this have to do with sustainability? Everything.

As a country it's no secret that we continue to fall behind the rest of the world in academic performance, particularly in math and science. Closer to home the focus -- at the surface anyway -- is blurred by a seemingly perpetual conflict over funding and contracts. What gets lost are the kids and what we are doing to prepare them for a "flatter" world that will be vastly different from the one we know now.

We need to keep that focus on perpetual learning. We need to find ways to fund programs at all our schools that are innovative as well as invigorating, satisfying to both the brain and the budget. We need to seed our schools with new curricula that reflects our 21st century world and the inherent challenges that it brings; prepare our kids to find cures for the almost insurmountable number of ills that are and will continue to besiege us.

Tiverton is making investments in the physical infrastructure of our school system. Yes, buildings that are bright and clean and outfitted with lots of new things are a good thing. But it's only have the equation. The other half involves stimulating all those minds and inspiring them to connect dots, take the lead, lend a helping hand, and see their role in our future as one of the utmost importance. We must believe in them and their potential at every step of the way.

So with that, I thank all those people and institutions that have helped our son take this first step: Sakonnet Early Learning, the new Ranger School, and especially Essex Library and their supporters for the steady supply of books. Keep up the good work!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hello, Remember Me?

Nearly two months since the last post. My apologies to any regular readers of Sustainable Sakonnet, but there is just not enough bandwidth around to get to everything. Between work, school, and family, spare time is something I haven't had a lot of. If I could only be paid to write this and other things...

But there continues to be glimmers of green hope in and around the area. Special congrats go out to Steve Rys and the Tiverton Recycling Committee for their work in helping to secure over $43,000 from the State as 'reward' for the amount of recyclable material sent to Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation. This is another small bit of evidence that: 1) There are financial benefits to sustainable behavior; and 2) There are other methods of generating revenue for the town in these difficult economic times.

On a different front, our son started kindergarten at the new Ranger School a few weeks ago. I was pleased to see paper and print toner recycling bins when we toured and am looking forward to getting involved in this whole new world of the Tiverton School System. I truly believe that we have a responsibility to teach our new generations all that we can when it comes to living a simpler, more sustainable life. We're going to leave them with quite the mess; we best do what we can to give them the tools to make it better.

With that, I promise to write when I can and continue this ever-important conversation.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tube for Tuesday: Captain Compost to the Rescue

OK, maybe not, but don’t you wish on the heels of that unfortunate DPW news from the last post? Here’s something to help. Did you know that according the EPA nearly two-thirds of municipal waste streams (our trash) is made up of organics? Food scraps, grass clippings, yard debris – all things that could easily be composted and turned into that magical Brown Gold.

We have been composting for years – both the conventional bin method and worm-based vermi-composting -- even when we lived in the middle of Providence. There is nothing simpler than letting nature do what it does best: Run its course and take care of itself. We use two piles -- one in a plastic Earth Machine, the other made from recycled wood pallets -- alternating piles about every six months, building one while the other breaks down and does its magic.

If our landfill is nearing capacity and two-thirds of our waste stream is made up of things that could be recycled o-natural, then why aren’t we taking advantage of something that could help extend the life of the landfill and save some of that precious municipal budget at the same time? Many communities have municipal composting programs that are a win-win for multiple bottom lines.

URI offers a Master Composter program – something I’ve always wanted to do. Do we have any graduates in town? Maybe, maybe not; but wondering if folks might be interested in some composting how-to clinics to learn how to get started. It’s not hard at all. And you don’t need any fancy equipment either. Could us fellow composters band together to form something here?

The benefits of composting are incredible – less waste, better soil, better plants, compost tea, and worms for the kids to play with. Want a good intro to composting? Check out this great video from Kitchen Gardeners International.

DPW Disappointment

Strike number two for the DPW: Today I went to our Public Works Department to get some additional recycling bins. Our family recycles so much that one blue bin and one green bin just doesn’t cut it. Well, it’s going to have to for time being. Why? According to the DPW staff I spoke to today, they will not have additional recycling bins available for at least another month.

This is unfortunate and frankly unacceptable. Tiverton is a town of over 15,000 people – over 6,000 households* – with a landfill that’s nearing capacity let us not forget. How can citizens attempt to do their part for the town and the state if the town itself cannot provide those simple green and blue bins.

Now I did not ask why this was the case (Budget perhaps? Or maybe the RIRRC is back-ordered?) or for how long the “month” line has been going on – I believe I interrupted their lunch break as it was about 12:15 and the four individuals were watching TV in a break room – but what is going on here? Does anyone have any insight into this?

The silver lining? At least we’re not as bad as Houston, TX. Not only do they have the lowest recycling rate of the 30 largest cities in the U.S., there is a 10-year wait for bins. (Thanks, EJO, for the heads-up on that story.)

[*Source: 2000 census.]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Update on Bike Racks

Wouldn’t you know, I have not heard back from our Town Planner or DPW director on my inquiry about creating a network of bike racks across town. Granted, I sent this via email and from what I’ve heard usage of email by our town officials is spotty. (Why have their email addresses published then?)

Next step: Good ol’ fashioned paper-based snail-mail.

But biking as alternative transportation option is getting a fair amount of press coverage. Take a look at this Boston Globe article describing how employers are how helping their employees drop their four wheels for two; or this one about the continuing struggle between drivers and riders over sharing the road; and finally this one about what needs to happen to raise the visibility of bicyclists and bicycling in general.

Closer to home, the RI DOT has a site dedicated to bike travel. It’s OK; at least you can get area bike path maps and read all about the state laws pertaining to bike travel.

An even better site is that of the Providence Bicycle Coalition (PBC). Lots of great info. While coasting around I discovered this Projo article about Barrington’s efforts to erect a covered bicycle shed and get RIPTA to help pay for it. If that works out, I wonder if we could get the same at our Park & Ride? It just goes to show that there is more than one funding avenue out there for these types of projects.

Saddle up for the ride. More to come on this.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Even a BBQ Joint Can Go Green

It’s always refreshing to read stories about small businesses succeeding. It’s even better knowing that they can prosper while not selling out on their values. Case in point: Local businesses in the Davis Square neighborhood of Somerville, MA, partner with some local environmental non-profits to form GoGreen Davis Square (story). Dedicated to lessening the impact of their day-to-day operations, they are taking real steps to make their neck of the woods a bit greener.

Sara and I used to live in this neighborhood years ago and even then it was ahead of its time. The funky, eclectic fare – from restaurants to theaters to shops – is a magnet for everyone from the locals to the ‘young professionals’ to the Tufts/Harvard crowd.

What is of particular interest is the organization mentioned in the story – the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) – and the carbon footprint study they ran. I’ve always wanted to get a baseline carbon footprint reading for the Sakonnet area so that we could have something to measure our progress against. I’ve sent an email for more information and will keep you posted.

Hmm… Maybe there is a GoGreen Four Corners or GoGreen North End in our future… Having a small business association in town might be a good first step to introduce the concept and build interest. See my earlier post on trying to kick-start a small business recycling program for more thoughts on this.

BTW – Redbones (see picture posted in the story) is a fantastic BBQ place. Just typing this has me thinking of their cornbread!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Introducing the Companion Blog

Introducing the Gerlach Garden Journal. Sara and I are having too much fun with our little food experiment not to share. Yes, it's mid-way through the season, but that's OK. Nothing like kicking off right in the thick of things.

We were inspired by all those great personal garden blogs out there. As we learn, we hope to share; if you have tips, please share those too!

Here's a tip Sara heard last week from someone visiting the vineyard (she works at Sakonnet Vineyards): Hold off harvesting your root vegetables (like carrots) until after the first frost. The cold causes the vegetable to release sugars as a defense (think anti-freeze). That means sweeter eats after picking. Can anybody else vouch for that?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tube For Tuesday: Bin Envy

Thanks to my friend, Jamie, up in Maine for the inspiration for this week’s Tube For Tuesday. There are weeks when our recycling bins are so chock-a-block full that I have to hold some material back until the following week. What a recycling buzz kill that is. Well, I’d be made in the shade if I lived in South Portland.

In conjunction with EcoMaine, South Portland recently unveiled new 65-gallon wheeled recycling bins for homeowners, replacing their small 14-gallon predecessors. Granted, they have a single-sort system (paper, glass, plastic, aluminum all in one bin), but nonetheless, it sure makes things a lot easier for boosting recycling rates. Based on the numbers, the double-digit increases in recycling volume should generate a faster ROI on this investment in the form of decreased waste hauling costs and increased revenue from selling raw materials gathers via recycling. Tiverton’s Town Council began discussion of that last notion awhile back. I wonder where it is in the Lost World of Good Ideas.

Thanks to EcoMaine for the video showcasing their recycling center. Some interesting stats within. I know you’ve always wondered what happens to that paper and plastic…

I looked for a video from RI Resources Recovery Corporation, but nothing there. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Going My Way? (Part 2)

Back in early April, I wrote a post espousing the value of carpooling in the wake of high gas prices. (Note: I got a chuckle as I re-read how it was $3.15 a gallon that day. Gas is up nearly $1.00 since that post just over three months ago.) Well, I guess carpooling is starting to get a bit cooler as more mainstream media start touting passenger tag-teaming.

This week NPR ran a story about the trend in social networking sites taking up the carpooling cause. This story leads you to, a new start-up by the founder of ZipCar. While you might find the site useful for finding folks to share rides with, I found the accompanying blog much more interesting.

Every single post on the first page was eye-opening for me. From the silver lining of $4/gallon gas to some true cost of driving analysis (extrapolating the rough math, I’m shelling out way over $10K a year – I need to work closer to home!) to the real connection between carbon emissions and humanity’s fate.

Closer to home, I continue to see a small increase in the amount of cars parked at the Park & Ride on Fish Road. This past week – and on the heels of seeing No Impact Man – my thoughts drifted to how to do even better than just carpooling. I landed at riding my bike to and from the Park & Ride. The problem? No bike racks. Then I thought: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a bike rack anywhere in town.

Hmmm. This is interesting. I’m going to drop a line to our town planner and DPW director to inquire. Even in the midst of suburbia, a bike rack here or there (and the physical and environmental benefits of riding a bike) couldn’t be a bad thing. Stay tuned on this one.

If anyone out there works in the Quincy, MA, area and is looking for a carpool opportunity, drop me a line. Happy trails.

[Images: A Google Image search popped up all sorts of things. I found these WWII propaganda posters to be slightly ironic given our current situation in the Middle East (Should we slide in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?). Also check out the one on the GoLoco blog. Credits: Wagon/Car -- Oregon State Archives image, Folder 9, Box 14, Defense Council; Ride with Hitler – EV World (original source unknown)]

Thursday, July 10, 2008

No Impact Man

What a treat it was tonight to see Westport-native Colin Beavan, a.k.a, No Impact Man, give a presentation as part of the Summer Conversations series at the Apponagansett Meeting House in Dartmouth.

If you haven’t heard of him (which is tough given his coverage in everything from the New York Times to Good Morning America to most green blogrolls), Colin has charmed readers worldwide with the documentation of his homegrown ‘experiment’ known as No Impact Man. In a nutshell, Colin and his family decided to try and have as little impact on the environment as possible for one whole year as they lived their lives in New York City. Phased in over seven steps they systematically brought their cumulative carbon footprint to near zero.

How you ask? Everything from eliminating trash and electricity (save for a solar panel to power his laptop) to eating all local, seasonal food, to not buying anything new. His story tonight was inspiring as it was deeply thought provoking; Colin challenged the audience as he has his readers by calling into question how excessive consumerism (and the detrimental effects in has on the planet) is in direct conflict with our collective happiness both as individuals and as a society. It resonated well with me; it is something I’ve written about often. More stuff does not equal more happiness. More stuff causes us to lose sight of those things most important in our lives: quality family time, conversations with friends and neighbors, the strong fabric of that which is community. As Colin puts it, "Happy planet, happy people."

But what makes Colin’s story all the more powerful is that his intent was never to change the world, rather to change himself. It’s just that the world has had a birds-eye view of his journey and has responded with overwhelming support.

Now that the experiment is over, he’s moving forward, anecdotally noting that he should now be called Moderate Impact Man. I encourage you to spend some time on his blog. If you can’t find time for that, no worries, the book and movie versions of the story are on there way.

(Many thanks to Nate over at Biodiesel Now for last minute heads up on this event and good conversation to and fro!)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Better Than Budget Slashing?

As the town budget drama continues, here’s a bit of alternate universe for you:

Our financial woes are not unique. Municipal and state budgets are feeling the pinch across the country. But, unlike closer to home, some communities are taking a more proactive approach to smart fiscal policy. Some actions benefit the government entity, others help out employees, still, some knock two birds with one stone.

The State of Utah is the latest to entertain the four-day workweek in an attempt to cut back on operating expenses. Read about other communities here.

Determined not to let high energy prices take the wind out of the sails of running a town, some communities are actively investing in alternative energies. Rock Port, MO, has more than enough energy to power everything in town and then some. In our neck of the woods, the recent passing of the Municipal Renewable Energy fund (no endorsement implied by link) should have Tiverton and Little Compton vying to be first in line for significant project funding come January 2009.

And who says your police department needs to be tied to the gas pump? In case you missed this one, the Providence Police Department recently entered into a partnership with Middletown’s own Vectrix for four fully electric scooters (tough to call them scooters, they go 0-50 mph in 6.8 seconds). Granted this solution works better in urban areas, but for general patrolling, it would still work out in the country.

What does all this mean? Gone are the days of easy fixes when it comes to budgets. Savvy communities are getting creating when it comes to making ends meet. They doing away with knee-jerk reactions and embracing innovative, proactive solutions. There’s no reason we couldn’t be doing the same.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sakonnet Growers Market Arrives

Yesterday was a great day for the Sakonnet community. Even amidst the overcast sky and occasional drops of rain, the Sakonnet Growers Market got off the ground. By the time we got there around 11:00, everything was in full swing: Vendors arrayed with their goods, lots of people walking around talking to each other, and most importantly, everyone was supporting our local food economy.

From vegetables to flowers to baked goods and coffee to garden plants, there was something for everyone. In talking to some of the growers, it seems that because of the holiday weekend that some vendors couldn’t be there. But not too worry, more should be around starting next week. Things can only grow from here.

Many thanks to all those people that made this possible. It is yet another milestone in the effort to make our community a more sustainable place for all of us. Hope to see you there in the coming weeks!

Oh, what’s with the picture? Those are some of the wonderful beets we bought from Manic Organic. They are just beautiful, aren’t they? Beets definitely need to be on the list of new vegetables to try in our garden next year.

(The Sakonnet Growers Market will run on Saturdays, 9:00 – 1:00, from July through October at Pardon Gray Preserve on Main Road in Tiverton.)

Saturday, July 5, 2008


Again, almost a month since the last post. But alas, things have been busy. Last week, I wrapped up school for the summer, finally allowing me some free time to tackle that long to-do list, including catching up on the blog.

There are so many things to write about and I hope to bring them to you in the coming weeks. I’d also plan on reorganizing the site to better present the wealth of resources available to us in our efforts to become more sustainable. Stay tuned.

In the meantime – and in the spirit of Independence Day – I wanted to share a bit of our own attempts at small-scale food independence, a.k.a, the home gardens. This is the first year where we’ve gone all out. The pictures show our collection of raised beds where we’re growing peas, pole beans, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, three varieties of tomatoes, zukes, cukes, summer and pattypan squashes, and finally some silverqueen corn. We’ve already harvested spinach, lettuce, and mesclun.

By the fence we put in blueberry bushes and raspberry vines. And on the far side by the stonewall is an attempt at a pumpkin patch for the kids. We’ll see how the latter turn out, as it doesn’t get a full day’s worth of sun. We still have a Concord Grape vine and some rhubarb to plant.

To me, it’s all an experiment. Trying to see what works and what doesn’t. I have a notebook filled with observations and thoughts about how to approach things differently next year. But the prospect of next year’s bounty is only one of the reasons why we’re having so much fun with this. There’s the fact that the kids are getting their hands dirty and looking forward to helping pick what’s ripe. And don’t forget that feeling of walking out your door and walking back with the makings of a fine salad. It just doesn’t get any more local than that.

Casually, I’ve observed more gardens this year – big and small. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s high food prices, maybe it’s a yearning for some greater level of self-sufficiency. The gardening bug is definitely contagious. The more people I talk to about what we’re doing, the more I hear the refrain, “Hey, I want to give that a shot.” We’ve even given some extra tomato plants away as gifts. There is nothing more satisfying than sharing the bounty-to-be.

Here is to the long days of summer and the little bit of goodness that comes from a seed, a clump of compost, the quenching rain, and warm rays of sunshine. It’s a true recipe for slowing down and enjoying a bit of happiness close to home.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wind and Recyclables: The New Cash Cows?

In cased you missed it, last week saw some decent activity and discussion on the sustainability front here in Tiverton.

First, last Tuesday the Town Council held another workshop on the possibility of wind power here in town. Lots of local turbine celebrities from Portsmouth helped paint a realistic picture of what it takes to make a municipal investment in wind a reality. I wasn’t there, but the Newport Daily News had good coverage. My understanding is that next steps is to have our Planning Office do some due diligence around scoping out a feasibility study.

With the right conditions and turbine/infrastructure set-up, wind is just about as cost effective as coal or natural gas. Where people get caught up is the cost. Yes, turbines don’t come cheap at a couple of million dollars a piece, but government incentives do exist (for the time being at least) And by the way folks at the State House are moving, a whole new slew of pro-renewable energy legislation is about to make it easier to develop these kinds of projects.

And if that wasn’t good enough, we have the Council also debating the idea of leveraging our curbside recyclable materials as a revenue stream. That thinking is so refreshing. Why pay a contractor to haul all of this stuff to the Central Landfill in Johnston, when you could try to sell it as source material to a local or regional manufacturer for profit. Thank you Councilman Edwards for being so proactive. Let’s see where this one leads.

What does all of this illustrate? In these difficult economic times (man, that last financial town meeting was a bruiser) we need to think beyond slash and burn budget tactics. We need to get our heads out of the trenches and try to see above the din of day-to-day dismay and think about ways we can make investments to either reduce core operating expenses like energy and/or generate revenue in out-of-the-box ways. (Note: I did not say big-box ways…)

I’d love to have the opportunity to spend a week observing day-to-day operations of our various town offices. I might be going out on a limb here, but I’m willing to bet that the opportunities to make proactive investments in technology and/or other operational features of the corporate world could payoff with a decent amount of ROI. Maybe the town could partner with a local business school to get some MBA students in there to do some free consulting for credit. That would be a fascinating exercise.

R.I. Sustainable Living Festival

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion at this year’s R.I. Sustainable Living Festival, hosted by the Apeiron Institute at their Coventry campus. The session was about using the Internet to build real-world communities. Many thanks go out to my fellow panel members:

• Caroline Brown of the Earth Friendly Gardening blog
• Bruce Campbell and Angela Penn of The Ocean Project
• Sue Korte, who runs both The Providential Gardener and the mega-green calendar site, What Grows On in RI
• And to Mary Grady of the Natural News Network for thinking of Sustainable Sakonnet for the panel.

Each of us brought a slightly different perspective on how to leverage the web to engage and enable folks at the local, state, national, and international levels. A key theme was around providing that one-stop-shopping information destination for our respective readers. It was also great to hear how we all keep on keeping on, trying to do more and more with what resources are at our disposal.

The rest of the festival was great too – aside from the blistering heat. Kudos to my wife and kids for sticking it out! You can check out the full vendor list here. Everything from home energy production to recycled products to education and politics.

The Apeiron Institute for Sustainable Living is a great resource, especially for students. I know of a teacher at the high school who brings his class there every year to expose them to this incredibly important (and missing) curriculum. It’s fantastic to see that there are alternatives to what might be considered the “normal” way of living – and that our students gravitate towards that kind of knowledge.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tube for Tuesday: Local Food a Cheaper Option

After a bit of a hiatus, Tube for Tuesday is back. Here's a great segment from NECN about how locally produced food is getting an edge cost-wise over traditionally supplied food. Why? Local food has lower transportation and distribution costs. That translates into less sticker shock at the check-out. The icing on the cake is that you're supporting your local farmer and economy.

Bonus Round: This story from today is all about this year's growing trend (pun intended) of home gardens in response to rising food costs. You can't get much more local than that.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

One Year with No TV

A year ago today, my family gave up TV. Not voluntarily -- at first -- but we did nonetheless. It was a Friday and I’d just arrived home from work. A brutal thunderstorm was ripping overhead. I ran in, dodging dollop-sized raindrops.

My wife was making dinner in the kitchen and I was playing with the kids in the living room when CRACK!!! The loudest noise I have ever heard enveloped the house. There was a huge flash of light. Everything went dead. We smelled smoke.

Lightening had hit the house – or so we thought. After running outside and verifying that the house was not on fire, we surmised that the bolt must have come down very close to the house. (We later discovered a large hole by our foundation where we imagine it hit the ground. The phone box on the side of the house was blown twenty feet off.)

The surge of electricity did a decent amount of damage: it blew out our two TVs (hence the smoke), the phones, the smoke alarms (hard-wired), the pump on the dishwasher, and the Ethernet port on the computer.

Fast-forward and we learned that our TVs were not repairable. No worries. It was summer and we decided to forego purchasing replacements because we’d be outside a lot. Well summer turned into fall, and fall into winter. Then spring and lo’ and behold, here we are one year later with no TV.

Honestly, it’s been great; and not really that “hard”. We read more, do more creative things with the kids – inside and out. Games, cooking, stuff outside, projects around the house… productivity has shot through the roof! We can’t figure when we had time to even watch TV. The icing on the cake: We’re saving around $100 a month because of no cable and TiVo bills, plus the electricity to run it all.

Now granted, my wife and I will watch some programs online (have to love that streaming media), and the kids will watch a DVD from the library on a portable player from time to time, but for the most part we are tuned out.

What’s this have to do with sustainability? I’m not sure, but I like to think we just consuming less; we’re slowing down a tad and spending more time together; we’re not giving in to the juggernaut of popular media. It has felt good to say to folks, “Sorry, didn’t catch the American Idol finale because we have no TV.”

What helps us keep going is the dropped-jaw look of amazement when we tell people we have no TV. They can’t believe it. Like it’s unfathomable to not be plugged in to the “magic box”.

I love it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Change Agents

Why does one person feel compelled to do their part to lessen their footprint while another does not? The answer represents something of a holy grail to the environmental movement as a whole (myself included). The developing field of “conservation psychology” is devoted to it exclusively. Trying to get others to change their behavior – whether the dynamic is parent/child, boss/subordinate, teacher/student, or peer/peer – is a fascinating process all around (to me anyway).

“Change agent” is a popular term nowadays in the world of corporate-speak. It describes someone who is leading the charge to literally change behavior whether it is at the team, division, company, or industry level. Most often, the change is necessary – the result of some sort of burning platform – with the end result leading to significant improvements in performance.

For our topic of interest, I like to think of the change agent as a thing and not necessarily a person (unless you’re Al Gore, of course). That “thing” is slightly different for each person with the resulting change in behavior varying in intensity. You have your “light greens” installing a CFL bulb or using a reusable bag to your “deep greens” who are taking a hard look at how to fundamentally alter every aspect of their day-to-day.

The following stories offer some insight into these different drivers of change and the resulting shades of green:

• Kill-Two-Birds-With-One-Stone Green – “Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint” (NPR)

• Mainstream Green – “Shopping to (literally) help save the world” (MSNBC)

• Armageddon Green – “Energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare” (AP/Yahoo)

I like to think that here in Sakonnet our change agents are the patches of woods, the little streams, the beaches, the ponds, the neighborhoods, the farms, the conservation land, and all those other elements of our local environment that make our home so special.

So, what gets your green motor running? What shade are you?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Grow a Row, Save Some Dough

On the heels of the “Save a Dime, Hang a Line” post, I couldn’t help but through out another cheeky title. But the fact is, it’s true. Then, I saw this pic on the left from the Kitchen Gardeners International site and it was a done deal.

Until this year, my family has done the basic home vegetable garden – couple tomatoes here, a little squash there, and round it all out with your run-of-the-mill herbs. But this year, we’ve gone all out. Four new 4x8 raised beds, a new berry bed, and in the coming weeks, melon and pumpkin patch. The peas are up and trellised, lettuce and spinach being harvested already; today we’re transplanting a variety of seedlings that we started a couple months ago. Everything will be done organically – no chemicals and lots (and lots) of homegrown compost.

Why? Originally, it was grow more of our food under the guise of getting more local with our diet, as well as to help teach the kids where their food comes from. In recent weeks, the notion of saving money has creeped into the picture. Between fuel costs at the pump and what you are laying out at the grocery stores these days, it just makes sense to be a tad bit more self-sufficient.

I’m inspired by stories such as this one about yet another successful urban farming experience. Suburbia provides most of us with at least a little patch of sunny yard. These folks are reclaiming empty lots and transforming them into a productive local food sources, all the while doing a heck of a job at bringing their community together. Then there is the Dervaes family and their Path to Freedom "project". They are redefining what suburban homesteading is all about. Absolutely amazing.

We’ve talked about the benefits of local food a lot here. Everything from helping the local economy to limiting the impact that transporting food hundreds, if not thousands, of miles wreaks on the environment. Yes, growing some of your own food takes some time and effort. With the former seemingly in short supply for most people, it is difficult to hop on this bandwagon. As with all things, there are options.

Can’t grow your own row? Eat off someone else’s. Sign up for a CSA plot or just go out and support your local farmers market. (The new Sakonnet Growers Market starts up the first week of July.) If you can’t seem to deviate from the normal grocery store path, try to buy fruits and produce that are grown locally. Many stores now list the town/state/country of origin. Lee’s in Westport does a great job of this. If you don’t see a sign, ask.

I’m out to the garden now. Talk to you soon.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Clothesline Saves $20 in One Month

I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since the last post. Things have been extremely busy with the warmer weather and school. The former can be summed up in one word: GARDEN. More on that in the next few days as I take a mini-vacation.

But to kick things off, I just had to pass this along. In the posts about getting a clothesline up and running I mentioned that I’d report back on the electricity savings. Well, the NationalGrid bill came today and lo’ and behold, it’s almost $21 less than last month! Granted, the days are a bit longer so we’re using less lighting, but compared to the same time period last year (that grid on the back of the first page of your bill), we’re down 159 kilowatt hours. A quick carbon calculation shows that we saved 179 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Small amount, yes, but imagine if 100, 1000, or 1,000,000 more homes strung up a line.

Now, we used the clothesline about 75 percent of the time due to the rain we’ve had in past weeks. Our outlay in hardware and rope was about $25, so we’re just shy of realizing a full 100 percent return on our investment (ROI) in one month. With the savings had from here on out, that’s just money in our pocket (and less carbon hitting the atmosphere).

Here’s what I’ve learned through this “experiment”: Small changes in behavior can lead to substantial savings, both in terms of money and environmental impact. We should sweat the small stuff – it REALLY does matter.

I hope to see more clotheslines up over the coming months. Feel free to shoot a comment over if you’ve realized any savings yourself. Now, I’m off to pull some clothes off the line before the rain…

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sakonnet Voices: KELLY KITTEL

Happy Earth Day. This just sounds funny to me. With everything going on around us, I no longer think “Earth Day” is just a day anymore. Green is everywhere. News, TV, radio, big government, small government, schools, kitchen tables, and everywhere in-between. While more reactive than proactive at this point, we are still witnessing the changing of an ethic all around us.

Kelly Kittel, co-founder of Step It Up Aquidneck Island, captures this nicely:

Earth Day is Tuesday, April 22, and I am wondering if we could all pause for a moment to think about this silently spinning orb we call home. Every day is Earth Day for the residents of this planet, all 6.6 billion of us, a staggering number and one that is taxing the carrying capacity of our planet in many ways. Have you thought much about it? Have you thought about the footprint you are leaving? How do you think our planet is doing, overall? Are we taking good care of it? I think the evidence is all around us that we have not been very good stewards. We have major issues facing us like global warming, resource exhaustion, endangered species, crop failure, and lack of clean drinking water to name a few. I keep looking and listening for the good news and am not hearing much in return. So, fellow earthlings, time to wake up and do some house cleaning.

There are many simple things we can do to help the planet and ourselves. Let’s start by making this island we inhabit 100% compact fluorescent. We can encourage our towns to change the traffic lights to LED which last for years instead of months. Look around your house. Have you had a home energy audit? Time to check that off the list. With heating oil prices rising every month none of us can afford to heat the outside. Take inventory of how many things you have plugged into the wall and try to eliminate one or two. Can you live without that hand lotion warmer? nd what is your room temperature? Could you put on another layer and lower the thermostat or open the windows and let the breeze blow through in the summer instead of shutting yourself inside with your air conditioner? How about your appliances? Are they all energy star rated?

Look around you. Is there a sunny spot in your yard where you could grow a tomato or some strawberries? Gardening is a wonderful activity to teach your kids and for your wallet, health and soul! Do you have a place to put a clothesline? The dryer is not only one of the biggest energy users in your house, all that lint you throw away is actually bits of your clothes wearing out. Do you really have a pest problem and is your lawn really not green enough or could you live without adding those chemicals to your house and lawn and, ultimately, the ocean. Are you doing as much as you can to reduce the waste you create, reuse what you can, and recycle what you can not? How much time do you spend outside listening to the birds and observing nature? The average American spends 20 minutes a day, including time spent in a car! Do the kids go out and play? Do you?

These are just some of the many things we can do to become better stewards of our home, the planet Earth. There isn’t another one we can move to when we’ve finished with this one. Remember, we did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. What legacy are you leaving?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

National Hanging Out Day

Well, what do you know? The earlier post on clotheslines drew some great comments from a few readers. Since then, I've had more conversation about the benefits of clotheslines than I can shake a stick at. Some reveled in nostalgia; some planted a seed of interest; still yet others expounded on all those reasons why you couldn't hang one.
On this, National Hanging Out Day, I'm pleased to say that we've finally taken the plunge into the world of clotheslines. My wife and kids surprised me this week with not one, but two -- one for the kids and one for mom and dad. I tell you, it doesn't take much to bring a smile to my face and these things did. Especially when it's something else we can do as a family.

According to Project Laundry List, the sponsor of the Hanging Out Day, clothes dryers are responsible for 6-10% of home energy consumption. So, I'm going to start monitoring the monthly bill and let everyone know what kind of difference I see. It's just another example of a small step we can all take to lessen our footprint AND save some money in the process. What a great win-win.

Happy Hanging.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Small Business Recycling is Needed, But How?

A few weeks ago, the ProJo featured an article about the RI DEM finally practicing what it preaches and hopping on board the recycling bandwagon at their offices. While that’s somewhat humorous, the article does go on to give an update on the state’s renewed effort to get businesses to comply with current recycling laws.

That got me thinking: How does a small business here in Sakonnet actually go about complying with that law? If I’m looking at the right one (and I might not be), all businesses regardless of their total number of employees are required to separate out their recyclables from their trash. The kicker comes if you have 50 or more employees – then you are required to submit a yearly source reduction and recycling plan to the state.

According to the article, 60 percent of the 700,000 tons of waste that go to the Central Landfill each year is generated by businesses. That’s a lot. And I’m willing to bet that a good chunk of that could be recycled in one way, shape, or form. From office paper to bottles/cans to toner to e-waste, there is quite a bit that could find new life via the recycling bin.

But the challenge is making it easy and economically feasible to actually recycle. Larger business might have more resources to throw into making this happen, but small businesses are maxed out with multi-tasking and budget squeezing as it is. I grew up in my family’s small business and can speak first hand to that. Even nowadays, I know people who bring home paper or cans or bottles from their offices to throw in their home bins because they can’t stand to see the stuff stay in the trash.

But as with many things in business, there are both hard and soft benefits to any action. And when the two can find middle ground, it usually indicates a win-win situation.

Take for instance recycling: If given a cost-effective solution for recycling those items typically found in the workplace, the benefits of reducing your trash removal costs could be justified. Now, once you make that part of your business’ M.O., you can tack on the ability to market yourself as an eco-friendly business. As more and more consumers align their values with the purchase behaviors, this begins to bode well for your shop as you can leverage it to boost traffic and sales.

Back to my original question, though. How do you make it viable for small businesses to recycle? Taking a queue from the insurance industry, one business alone may not be able to get the best rate from a recycling vendor, but a group of businesses under the guise of a small business association might drive a more attractive rate. So, does anyone know if we have any kind of small business association here in Sakonnet?

Any small business owners out there willing to share their stories about trying to make recycling work for them?

If all else fails, I guess there is the potential bottle-bill-as-recycling-catalyst to fall back on…

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Media Beef: Newport Daily News

Sorry, this is more of a rant than anything else. Can anyone tell me why the Newport Daily News continues to deny free access to its archives? In a world where most other newspaper websites (maybe except for The Washington Post) I have occasion to visit offer free and unfettered access to past stories, this practice is archaic. You can't even access stories a couple of days old without paying.

I've written them before to inquire about this and have never heard back. Big surprise there...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Sakonnet Voices: ALANA CLARK

I’m happy to introduce a new feature at the blog: Sakonnet Voices. There are many others in our community who share the same passion for the environment and doing what we can to protect it. So, from time to time, we’ll have guest bloggers writing on topics that are important to them. Here is Alana Clark:

My name is Alana Clark and I am a senior at Tiverton High School. I started an environmental club at the high school and we are called the ”Green Team”. Previous to the Green Team there were no groups specifically devoted to Tiverton High Schools methods of conserving and managing waste. One of our goals is to stop the high school from using Styrofoam trays. I recently went to a meeting with Tiverton’s Health and Wellness Committee to address this issue. During this meeting I realized that Tiverton High schools environmental problems are locked in place by what some may call “the man”.

Disappointingly, the high school still uses Styrofoam trays, but worst of all, has given up on using anything else. Their situation reminded me of a quote I heard recently in which Dan Kennedy notes “a lot of people prefer a good excuse to a good opportunity”. Our country is peaking in its environmental awareness, high school students are pitching in to conserve and also to educate, and schools across the country are “going green”, but Tiverton Highs School still uses Styrofoam trays? It just doesn’t make sense.

The most inexpensive and beneficial way to stop this is to use plastic and reusable trays. The committee argued that, even when specially designed lids were placed on the trash barrels, students were lifting up the lids to throw the trays away. I just don’t believe that. I know that students, staff, and the principle want to reduce waste; what we need is the financial support. In 2008, no school should be using Styrofoam trays, so its time for the Tiverton Health and Wellness committee to pick up this good opportunity and run with it.

First off, congrats to Alana for starting the new club. Second, I was shocked to learn this fact about the trays. When I was at THS we had reusable plastic trays that were washed each day. What an incredible amount of waste being generated – every day. For more information on the effects of polystyrene foam (a.k.a., Styrofoam) check out this Earth Resource Foundation report.

We can do better than this. What kind of message are we giving our kids? It is like we are priming them for life in the Throw-away Society. I don’t know all the facts yet, but I’m tempted to think short-term financial thinking is once again driving the boat here. If you have a child in our school system, I encourage you to reach out to the superintendent’s office and school committee to voice your concern. This is wasteful in every sense of the word.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Going My Way?

Well, it’s official. Average prices of regular self-serve hit an all-time high today (even adjusted for inflation). Like you, I cringe every time I pull up to the pump. But I’ve found a simple way to help soften the blow of high gas prices: Carpooling.

Now, before you start to dwell on images of smelly cars filled with less-than-stellar co-workers, dull-as-driftwood conversation, and total inflexibility, let me head you off at the pass. Though movies and TV might have you think otherwise, carpooling is not really that bad. Really! Especially if you’re putting on serious mileage each week.

I’ll use myself as an example: I drive a VW Jetta and travel about 120 miles roundtrip daily to work and back. Translated into gallons, that’s about two to two-and-a-half fill-ups per week. At $3.15 a gallon, that’s about $70-80/week in gas. Now granted, everyone is not traveling as far for their work, but the concept still applies.

Enter carpooling. I’ve been tag-teaming the drive for about a year with a colleague from Portsmouth. We meet at the Park & Ride on Fish Road and truck on up from there, switching off who drives each week. Sure, there have been instances when we’ve had to compromise on leave times, or just up and leave in the middle of the day because of something unforeseen, but for the most part, it’s been smooth sailing.

The benefits are obvious: More cash in your pocket, less wear and tear on your car, less traffic on the road (can you imagine how many fewer cars there would be if even 25 percent of commuters found a carpool partner!), less greenhouse gas emissions, less demand for gas (which could hypothetically lead to lower prices at current supply levels), and so on… you get the point. And through casual observation, I think more people are getting on the carpooling bandwagon – the Park & Ride seems to have more and more cars in it each month.

Here are a few carpooling resources if you’re interested. I haven’t used any so I can’t vouch for them.

RIPTA Carpools

Anybody have a carpooling story they’d like to share? Or other ways you're beating the pump wars?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Speak Out for Renewable Energy & Take the Poll

For the last couple years, talk of Tiverton embracing renewable energy in earnest has waxed and waned; on again, off again, following the ebb and flow of public interest. As Portsmouth trucks ahead, we seem to be stuck in neutral. Even when the pros of pursuing a renewable energy project gain momentum, they seem to be quickly stopped in their tracks by the ever-present cons on cost and applicability.

Well, right now, there are two bills being debated at the Rhode Island State House that could change all of this making it easier for towns to leverage all that sunshine and wind.

In last Sunday’s Projo, an Op-Ed piece by Matt Auten of Environment Rhode Island, and Jim Seveney, Vice President of Portsmouth’s Town Council, nicely explained the legislation, as well as why it is imperative that they pass. One would change the laws surrounding 'net metering' – the ability to take energy produced in one location and apply it to another – and the other would move forward in creating a new municipal energy fund to help cities and towns offset the implementation costs. Passage of these bills would certainly sweeten the pot and remove some major obstacles for more municipalities – including Tiverton and Little Compton – to move from discussion to action.

Take a read through, then take a moment to reach out to our state legislators to voice your support for these bills:

• State Senator June N. Gibbs (info, email)
• State Representative John J. Loughlin II (info, email)

The renewable energy train is moving ahead and we’re at risk of not being a stop along the way. Consider some recent coverage about Coventry, Jamestown, and Portsmouth (again). The environmental and economic benefits of these projects cannot be disputed. We must move forward.

To that end, I'd like to introduce a new feature at Sustainable Sakonnet – the monthly poll. We're a couple days early for an April start, but what the heck. This month’s poll aims to gauge the community's support of renewable energy projects from the funding point of view. Please take a moment to share your views. We'll take the results to our elected officials to help further the discussion. Thanks.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hang a Line, Save a Dime

At some point last summer, a few months into writing the blog, I was thinking about topics to write about in future posts. As I was driving down Lake Road, I happened to look over at one of the houses and what did I see looming in the backyard? A clothesline. And yep, and there was a fresh load out there blowing in the breeze drying away.

It got me thinking: That’s a real simple thing to do to conserve energy at home. Dryers have to be one of the biggest energy hogs in your house (I’ve never seen an Energy Star-rated one). So why don’t we see more clotheslines out there anymore? It seemed like a throwback to yesteryear.

So I filed that thought away, figuring I’d bring it out sometime this summer. Well lo and behold, I stumbled across this New York Times article today and what do you know? The topic of clotheslines is a big thing (relatively speaking, of course). It seems that more and more people out there recognize that letting their clothes dry outside is a simple thing that not only helps the planet, it helps their wallet. But alas, the Jones' aren’t who they used to be and most folks wouldn’t be caught dead letting their tee shirts, let alone underwear, be seen by their neighbors. (Maybe if we talked to our neighbors more and actually knew them, this wouldn’t be such a big deal…)

The Times article, led me to Project Laundry List, a NH-based non-profit dedicated to promoting air drying of clothes as a means for reducing household energy use. Get a load of that. Off their homepage you can link to a slew of stories all about the growing movement and obstacles that many face (both self-induced and community influenced) in throwing up a line. You can also link to their retail partner for a whole host of air drying paraphernalia.

I’ll be the first to say that it is not just as easy as putting up a T-bar, stringing some line, and (first finding, then) buying some clothespins. You need to make sure everyone in your household is on board with you, which is not always the case (personally speaking). But I’m going to try to come at it again this year and start small – maybe the blankets or towels or other non-gender-based items – and take it from there.

How about you? Do you dry your stuff outside? Would you? Why not?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A New Bliss

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Has anyone else noticed what’s happening over in the Bliss Four Corners area? Or better put, what will be happening there over the next few years?

Between the new library, the artists’ community, and the re-hab of the Bulgarmarsh recreation center, this forgotten corner of town looks as though it’s on its way to being quite the destination. I admit, I’m biased here as it is close to my neck of the woods, but this is turning into a nice little area. Hopefully, the increased foot and car traffic will benefit our local independent retailers and eateries as well. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the corner property recently vacated by the garden shop doesn't fall victim to a chain retailer of some sort, or even worse, a competing bank.)

The $64,000 question on my mind: What will become of the old Ranger School? As far as I know, it’s not slated to be used by the school department after this academic year and I have yet to hear anything on plans for its post-elementary school life. Does anyone know? That’s a wonderful historic building (heck, I went to school there) and it would be a shame to lose it to lack of vision. Any thoughts on what it could be in its next life?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Local Food Scores a Win

Many congrats go out to the Tiverton Land Trust, Manic Organic’s Nicole Vitello, the Recreation Commission, and all the countless others who have pulled together to create Tiverton’s first farmers market. This is just fantastic. More than anything, this has me really thinking about spring, summer, and all-things dealing with local food.

Why is the Sakonnet Growers Market such a big deal? It’s a win-win for anyone and everyone who participates:

• Local producers now have a new market to sell their products direct to the consumer. No middle-man to deal with means no mark-up and thus more money in the grower’s pocket.

• Visitors are spending their dollars locally, helping to boost our local economy. And with that, they get the freshest possible food. No trucking hundreds of miles to get from the farm to your table. That in itself is a huge step in lessening our environmental footprint.

• Our community binds together in new and refreshing ways. Farmers markets and the food they offer can thread together what would generally be different people from different parts of town. Not only are you meeting the farmer who grew your food, you’re meeting your neighbors.

I can’t wait for opening day on July 5 and hope to see you there!

But beyond the new farmers market, no discussion of local food would be complete without plugging our local CSA programs. Community Supported Agriculture is another cornerstone of a healthy local food economy. Here in the Sakonnet area, we have a bunch to choose from. Farm Fresh RI recently updated their listings of all CSAs in the state. Check it out, and get in early to ensure your piece of this year’s harvest.

And if you’re looking for something to read as the days are getting longer, be sure to pick up the Spring Issue of Edible Rhody. It’s always great to read about the vibrant food scene throughout the state.

Happy eating.