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. http://www.tiverton.ri.gov/town/town.html]

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.

[Image: BikePortland.org, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bikeportland/43605746/]

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 goloco.org, 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.