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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Welcome to Saudi Albany?

Most observers would agree, though, that changes in regulation do not come from objective scientific studies. (Both sides, after all, can flood any government hearing with experts and impressive-looking scientific reports.) Regulations are determined, in large part, by politics. And the politics of fracking are changing and are very likely to change drastically in coming years. As examples from the last century suggest, the sudden discovery of oil and gas can transform an entire economy and regulatory system to serve the industry’s interests. Economists call this the resource curse — the perverse process in which a valuable discovery like oil, gas, diamonds or gold ends up enriching a few at the cost of impoverishing most of the population. At its worst, the resource curse leads to deeply corrupt regimes like those in Iraq, Iran, Myanmar and Libya. At its mildest, this can create one-industry economies in which there is little innovation and even less resistance to the whims of a handful of powerful interests. Many believe this already describes the oil economies of Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma and, increasingly, North Dakota, where the fracking industry is entrenched. Politically and economically, it’s hard to argue with an industry that has helped keep the state’s unemployment rate at about 3 percent.

If there is an uneasy equilibrium, right now, between environmentally concerned citizens and pro-fracking industrial groups, what will the political balance be like in a decade? What pressures will be on state legislatures and regulators if the projections are true and the millions of workers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and maybe New York will owe their jobs to fracking. There will be trillions of dollars of new wealth. Will environmental and health concerns have any chance against that juggernaut?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Will the West ever solve its water woes?

"The Colorado River provides fresh water to nearly 40 million people in seven states out west: Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. A sizable chunk of U.S. agriculture relies on that water — about 15 percent of the nation’s crops and 13 percent of its livestock. (Indeed, the vast majority of the river’s water is used for irrigation and agriculture.)

But there’s a problem: The Colorado River may soon no longer have enough water to satisfy the region’s needs. Thanks to rapid population growth in cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix, water demand is surging. Meanwhile, the supply of water is dropping — and could keep dropping as climate change speeds evaporation, shrinks the snow pack in the Rocky Mountains, and makes droughts more likely."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

5 Takeaways From NOAA’s New Study On Climate Change And Extreme Events

Click here to read the full article from Kelly Levin at WRI Insights

Many people are understandably perplexed at the U.S.’s recent extreme weather events like record heat waves, torrential downpours, droughts, and wildfires. A new report published by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other institutions may finally offer some insight into climate change’s connection to the damaging and costly extreme events that are on the rise.

Numerous studies have shown that the Earth is warming rapidly, due in large part to human activities. While existing research focuses on climate change’s implications for the intensity and frequency of extreme events like storms and heat waves, due to scientific complexities, most scientists to date have tip-toed around attributing any single event to climate change.

Until now, that is. Last week, scientists from NOAA, the UK’s Met Office, and other institutions published a special report in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) that attributed a number of recent extreme events to human-induced climate change.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How Millions of Farmers are Advancing Agriculture For Themselves

Click here to read the full article from Jonathan Latham at Independent Science News

The world record yield for paddy rice production is not held by an agricultural research station or by a large-scale farmer from the United States, but by Sumant Kumar who has a farm of just two hectares in Darveshpura village in the state of Bihar in Northern India. His record yield of 22.4 tons per hectare, from a one-acre plot, was achieved with what is known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). To put his achievement in perspective, the average paddy yield worldwide is about 4 tons per hectare. Even with the use of fertilizer, average yields are usually not more than 8 tons.

Sumant Kumar’s success was not a fluke. Four of his neighbors, using SRI methods, and all for the first time, matched or exceeded the previous world record from China, 19 tons per hectare. Moreover, they used only modest amounts of inorganic fertilizer and did not need chemical crop protection.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Forecasting Denial: Why Are TV Weathercasters Ignoring Climate Change?

It's been a busy year for TV weathercasters: July was the hottest month ever recorded in the United States, unprecedented wildfires scorched the West, the worst drought in 50 years parched two-thirds of the county. Then, in October, Hurricane Sandy slammed into New York and New Jersey. Yet the cause of much of the meteorological mayhem – global warming – was rarely mentioned on air. The reason: There's a shockingly high chance that your friendly TV weatherman is a full-blown climate denier.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

In the Book Bag, More Garden Tools

Click here to read the full article from Lisa W. Foderaro at The New York Times

Across New York City, gardens and miniature farms — whether on rooftops or at ground level — are joining smart boards and digital darkrooms as must-have teaching tools. They are being used in subjects as varied as science, art, mathematics and social studies. In the past two years, the number of school-based gardens registered with the city jumped to 232, from 40, according to GreenThumb, a division of the parks department that provides schools with technical support.

But few of them come with the credential of the 2,400-square-foot garden at Avenue B and Fifth Street in the East Village, on top of a red-brick building that houses three public schools: the Earth School, Public School 64 and Tompkins Square Middle School. Michael Arad, the architect who designed the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, was a driving force behind the garden, called the Fifth Street Farm.

The idea took shape four years ago among parents and teachers, when Mr. Arad’s son was still a student at the Earth School. The family has since moved from the neighborhood to Queens, but Mr. Arad, president of a nonprofit corporation that oversaw the garden, stayed on. The farm, with dozens of plants ranging from leeks to lemon balm, opened Oct. 19. Already, students have learned about bulbs and tubers, soil science and nutrition, while the cafeteria has cooked up fresh kale and spinach for lunch.

Mr. Arad said a conversation with his two children during an apple-picking trip spurred his interest in the farm. “They said, ‘What? Apples grow on trees?’ ” he recalled. “A lot of kids don’t get to go upstate. This is 365 days a year. It gives them an immediate, visceral connection to nature.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Solar Companies Seek Ways to Build an Oasis of Electricity

Click here to read the full article from Diane Cardwell at the New York Times

Here’s a $70,000 system sitting idle,” said Ed Antonio, who lives in the Rockaways in Queens and has watched his 42 panels as well as those on several other houses in the area go unused since the power went out Oct. 29. “That’s a lot of power sitting. Just sitting.”

Yet there are ways to tap solar energy when the grid goes down, whether by adding batteries to a home system or using the kinds of independent solar generators that have been cropping up in areas hard-hit by the storm.

In the Rockaways, where nearly 14,000 customers still had no power as of Monday morning, volunteers set up a makeshift solar charging station between a car roof and a shopping cart. A multipanel, battery-tied system is helping fuel a relief center’s operations.

In the storm’s wake, solar companies have been donating equipment across New York and other stricken areas to function as emergency power systems now and backups in the longer term. It is important, executives say, to create smaller, more decentralized ways of generating and storing electricity to help ease strain on the grid in times of high demand or failure."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

ISKCON Devotee Elected To Council of Eco-Village Network

From Madhava Smullen at ISKCON News 

Sunset over the bell tower on Krishna-valley's main square (Somogyvamos, Hungary)

An ISKCON devotee, Radha Krishna Das, has been elected to the highest managerial body of the Global Eco-Village Network (GEN) Europe.
GEN describes itself as a constantly expanding group of intentional communities and eco-villages, that bridges all cultures and aims to create a global pool of wisdom for sustainable living.
GEN Europe serves Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and consists of fifty full member communities and over one hundred supporting members.
In becoming a part of their managerial body, Radha Krishna Das—who is also a member of the board of directors at ISKCON Hungary’s Krishna Valley eco-village—joins four other council members.
There’s president Macaco Tamerice, from the Damanhur community in Italy; Thomas Heuser, from ZEGG in Germany; Alfonso Flaquer, from La Base, the first straw bale dwelling community in Spain; and Jana-Momo Mohaupt, from Tamera in Portugal.
Radha Krishna was asked to run for election in the council when GEN Europe held its annual conference at Krishna Valley in July of this year.
The GEN Europe Council - Radha Krishna Das is in the back left corner
150 people from 35 countries attended the 12-day conference, making it the largest international meeting of non-ISKCON members ever held at Krishna Valley.
All were members of eco-villages and sustainable communities around Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
And all were very impressed with the 660-acre sustainable Krishna Valley farm, where 150 resident devotees produce almost all of their own food—including grain, honey, sixty different varieties of vegetables, and more than 600 fruit and nut trees—without the use of any pesticides, chemicals, or artificial fertilizers.
After they saw the farm, we spoke for some time, and they asked me to run for election in their new council,” says Radha Krishna Das. “GEN Europe is an association of eco-villages who are trying to change the direction of the world, and to show good examples of how to live in harmony with nature. So of course I was delighted to.”
This means that Krishna Valley is also now a member of GEN. According to Radha Krishna, this is a very positive development for the ISKCON farm.
GEN Conference at Krishna Valley
Not only can we share our experience with them, but we can learn a lot from them too,” he says. “There are eco communities that are part of GEN that have been running for thirty to forty years now, and have a wealth of technical and social development experience we can benefit from.”
For example, Radha Krishna explains, a Portuguese eco-village advised Krishna Valley on how to develop their water management system so that they could retain rainwater on their land during the dry summer months.
For the past two years, we didn’t have rain for 3 or 4 months,” he says. “It was a catastrophe. The cows could not graze, and we had to put hay on the pasture just so they could eat something. But now, with the help of our friends from Portugal, we can keep the grass green and the cows can graze nicely.”
Radha Krishna believes that becoming a member of GEN could help the progress of not only Krishna Valley, but all of ISKCON’s eco-villages and farm projects.
All of these eco-villages have had their own problems, which in many cases are very very similar to the ones that we’ve had—the social issues, the economic issues,” he says. “So we could learn a lot from each other’s failures and successes.”
Radha Krishna Das explains Krishna Valley's cow protection program to GEN Conference-goers
Many ISKCON rural communities would be eligible to become members of GEN—the only two requirements are being a group of at least 10 to 15 people who live together and work towards sustainable living; and paying an affordable annual membership fee.
Member communities become a part of an organization that is funded by the European Union, the European Voluntary Service, and the German Foreign Ministry. They can avail of special training and education programs recognized by UNESCO, attend GEN’s annual conference for a reduced fee, and vote at GEN’s general assembly.
Of course, ISKCON would also get the chance to network with people all over the world striving for the same goal of living off the land; people who are highly experienced in all the elements of sustainable living such as landscaping, water management, and energy efficiency, as well as getting grants and funding.
GEN wants to share its information with as many people as possible, and truly hopes to change the direction the modern world is going in,” says Radha Krishna.
In the future, we even hope to change governmental regulations and laws to become more favorable towards the development of eco-villages and intentional communities.”

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Monday, November 12, 2012

What Matters About California's GE Labeling Fight

"Whether or not all of this means that the food movement is past the pimply stage of early adolescence, the fact is that California’s labeling fight broadened and emboldened this movement’s power base just as we are heading into a series of regulatory fights over new GE crops in the pipeline, and preparing for what looks like a spring 2013 re-authorization battle over the now-expired Food and Farm Bill.

If the fiscal cliff and other D.C. distractions succeed in keeping Congress from passing a 2012 Farm Bill in the lame duck session despite our insistence that they get off their duffs, then the very same sustainable food and farming forces that gathered together to push for Prop 37 will turn our attention and newly honed skills to securing the kind of agricultural policy that withdraws governmental support from the system of agriculture embodied by Monsanto. For every additional dollar of funding we win for organic agricultural research, that’s one dollar of public funding that will not be devoted to developing more GE crops that fail to deliver on promises to farmers and the public. And in this Farm Bill fight, we will bring to bear a broader base of power as well as a public disabused of the notion that agricultural biotechnology is the best thing since sliced bread."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Learning To Bounce Back

Click here to read the full article from Andrew Zolli at The New York Times

None of these is a permanent solution, and none roots out the underlying problems they address. But each helps a vulnerable community contend with the shocks that, especially at the margins of a society, can be devastating. In lieu of master plans, these approaches offer diverse tools and platforms that enable greater self-reliance, cooperation and creativity before, during and after a crisis.

As wise as this all may sound, a shift from sustainability to resilience leaves many old-school environmentalists and social activists feeling uneasy, as it smacks of adaptation, a word that is still taboo in many quarters. If we adapt to unwanted change, the reasoning goes, we give a pass to those responsible for putting us in this mess in the first place, and we lose the moral authority to pressure them to stop. Better, they argue, to mitigate the risk at the source.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Politics of "Climate Science"

"As has been noted relentlessly this week, Monday evening's third and final presidential debate marked the first time since the 1980s that American presidential or vice presidential contenders were neither asked about, nor inclined to offer up on their own, opinions on climate change and what ought to be done about it.

For environmentalists -- and many ordinary Americans -- it seemed a rather discouraging milestone, particularly as a gargantuan super-storm -- of the sort that virtually all climate scientists have been warning for years would increase in frequency as the planet warmed -- threatens to slam headlong into the East Coast in a couple days' time. "Hurricane Sandy," wrote Daniel Honan at, "Mother Nature's revenge on the 2012 election?"

Phil Radford, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, suggested the absence of high level discussion of climate change at the debates was inexcusable. "I just think it's irresponsible for our leaders to not address one of the biggest challenges facing our generation," he said in a phone call on Friday. "It's one of the biggest security threats we have -- it's a threat to agriculture, it threatens our economy. And to simply not talk about it is one of the biggest failures of our leadership."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Save Europe's Disappearing Cows, Say Campaigners

Click here to read the full article from Sami Grover at TreeHugger

"Those who would build mega-dairies in Britain may not believe that cows belong in fields, but the majority of the public does. Yet while there's been some success by campaigners fighting specific intensive cattle farms, there does seem to be a steady creep toward larger, more intensive, and indoor-only cattle rearing operations in Europe.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is about to fight back.

Citing the statistic that 67% of all cows in Denmark never feel the sun or chew a blade of grass, the WSPA is launching a new campaign to save Europe's disappearing cows and keep them out in the open where they belong."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The 8 Most Interesting Ideas to Revolutionize Urban Farms

Click here to see the full photo essay from Lamar Anderson at The Atlantic Cities

"Today, while the Center for Science in the Public Interest was busy coordinating Food Day events across the nation, we got to thinking about all the delicious plants that will have to grow on buildings if our rapidly urbanizing world is to produce enough sustenance for the projected 9.1 billion people who will need access to fresh food by 2050. Could it really be a coincidence that so many of the causes CSPI addresses—healthy eating, hunger, food security, agriculture policy—find some resolution in the promise of agritecture, farmscrapers, and other utopian portmanteaus? We think not!

As the vertical farming trend has taken off in recent years, many architects and designers have begun tackling the question of how to marry agriculture with architecture. Here’s a look at some of our favorite concepts (most of them un-built) for fanciful food-producing pyramids, geodesic domes, flower pods, and insects."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Food Movement Today

Two enlivening, enlightening, and challenging articles from the Food issue of the New York Times Magazine

Click here to read "Land of a Billion Vegetables" from Mark Bittman

"But I was also inclined to head to the valley because I know that, for the last century or so, we’ve been exploiting ­­ — almost without limitation — its water, mineral resources, land, air, people and animals. Mark Arax, a writer who lives in Fresno and has chronicled the region’s past and present, offered his opinion while serving me and a dozen others marinated lamb, a terrific recipe from his Armenian family: “This land and its water have gone mostly to the proposition of making a few men very wealthy and consigning generations of others, especially farmworkers, to lives in the dust.” I’d already seen an example of how wealth has been concentrated and captured in the valley: this summer, Campbell’s bought Bolthouse Farms for $1.55 billion. Meanwhile, there are thousands of valley farmworkers who are often victims of wage-theft and (illegally) required to supply their own tools.

So for five days I drove through the southern half of the valley. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the agriculture in America’s produce factory; where thoughtful farmers were leading it; and how — if at all — it might become sustainable."

Click here to read "Is The Food Movement For Real?" from Michael Pollen


"Clearly there is growing sentiment in favor of reforming American agriculture and interest in questions about where our food comes from and how it was produced. And certainly we can see an alternative food economy rising around us: local and organic agriculture is growing far faster than the food market as a whole. But a market and a sentiment are not quite the same thing as a political movement — something capable of frightening politicians and propelling its concerns onto the national agenda.

California’s Proposition 37, which would require that genetically modified (G.M.) foods carry a label, has the potential to do just that — to change the politics of food not just in California but nationally too.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Project Aims To Harness The Power Of Waves

Thomas Patterson for The New York Times
A computer-equipped buoy, 103 feet long and ultimately weighing 260 tons, being assembled and tested in Vancouver, Wash.

 From Kirk Johnson at The New York Times

PORTLAND, Ore. — About 15 years ago, this environmentally conscious state with a fir tree on its license plates began pushing the idea of making renewable energy from the ocean waves that bob and swell on the Pacific horizon. But then one of the first test-buoy generators, launched with great fanfare, promptly sank. It was not a good start.

But time and technology turned the page, and now the first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy device in the nation, designed by a New Jersey company, Ocean Power Technologies, is in its final weeks of testing before a planned launch in October. The federal permit for up to 10 generators came last month, enough, the company says, to power about 1,000 homes. When engineers are satisfied that everything is ready, a barge will carry the 260-ton pioneer to its anchoring spot about two and a half miles offshore near the city of Reedsport, on the central coast.

“All eyes are on the O.P.T. buoy,” said Jason Busch, the executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, a nonprofit state-financed group that has spent $10 million in the last six years on scientific wave-energy research and grants, including more than $430,000 to Ocean Power Technologies alone. Making lots of electricity on the buoy and getting it to shore to turn on lights would be great, Mr. Busch said. Riding out the storm-tossed seas through winter? Priceless. “It has to survive,” he said.

Adding to the breath-holding nature of the moment, energy experts and state officials said, is that Oregon is also in the final stages of a long-term coastal mapping and planning project that is aiming to produce, by late this year or early next, a blueprint for where wave energy could be encouraged or discouraged based on potential conflicts with fishing, crabbing and other marine uses.

The project’s leader, Paul Klarin, said wave technology is so new, compared to, say, wind energy, that the designs are like a curiosity shop — all over the place in creative thinking about how to get the energy contained in a wave into a wire in a way that is cost-effective and efficient.

“Some are on the seabed on the ocean floor, some are in the water column, some are sitting on the surface, some project up from the surface into the atmosphere, like wind — many different sizes, many different forms, many different footprints,” said Mr. Klarin, the marine program coordinator at the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. “There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of plan.”

Energy development groups around the world are closely watching what happens here, because success or failure with the first United States commercial license could affect the flow of private investment by bigger companies that have mostly stayed on the shore while smaller entrepreneurs struggled in the surf. Ocean Power Technologies also will be seeking money to build more generators.

“Wave energy is very expensive to develop, and they need to see that there is a potential worldwide,” said António Sarmento, a professor at Lisbon Technical University and the director of the Wave Energy Centre, a private nonprofit group based in Portugal. “In that sense, having the first commercial deployment in the U.S. is very, very positive.”

Here in Oregon, the momentum of research appears to be increasing. Last month, the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center — financed by the United States Department of Energy in collaboration with Oregon State University and the University of Washington — deployed one of the first public wave energy testing systems in the nation, called Ocean Sentinel, about two and a half hours from Portland, in Newport. The first device tested was a half-scale prototype from a New Zealand company.

Fishing industry lobbyists and lawyers worry that a surge of wave energy could repeat what happened when hydroelectricity came to the Pacific Northwest in a big way starting in the 1930s. Builders then did not think through the dense ecological web that nature had devised around the tens of millions of salmon — suddenly blocked from their inland spawning routes — that had over millenniums become a cornerstone species for everything from bears to birds.

“Our greatest concern is that they don’t do what they did with dams — put a lot of them in the ocean and then just stand back and see what happens,” said John Holloway, the secretary of Oregon Anglers, a political action committee for recreational fishing. “We’re advocating a go-slow approach.”

What has not changed is that the Pacific Northwest still has a siren song for wave-energy dreamers in the big, consistent rolling ocean swells that define offshore waters — and make many a boater seasick — from Northern California through Washington State.

“Wave energy is essentially an accumulation of wind energy,” Charles F. Dunleavy, the chief executive at Ocean Power Technologies, said in a telephone interview. In the northern Pacific, he said, consistent winds fuel consistent waves, and the distance they travel in their rolling line creates a huge area of wave energy, or fetch, that a bobbing buoy can capture. Other places with good fetch include some areas off the coasts of Western Europe and South America.

But the project also hinges on squeezing out the tiniest of incremental efficiencies in tapping the waves as they come. On the Ocean Power Technologies buoy, which looks like a giant cannon stuffed with electronics, company engineers pursued an insight that sailors have known in their sea legs since the days of Odysseus: every wave is different.

The onboard computer in each buoy, in communication with an array of small devices called wave riders that float farther out in the ocean, adapts, or “tunes” to each incoming wave, adjusting the way the giant internal shaft rides up and down as the swell passes through. The up-and-down motion of the shaft creates the electricity, which goes to shore through a seabed cable.

In a nod to environmental concerns, the buoy was redesigned to remove all hydraulic fluids, which some critics feared could contaminate the water in the event of an accident; rack-and-pinion gears now drive the mechanics. The three anchoring tethers, said Michael G. Kelly, the vice president of operations at Ocean Power Technologies, were also built to withstand a 100-year storm, but also with enough redundancies that even if two anchors failed the third would be enough to keep the buoy in place.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Detroit Trails: Eliza Howell Park Gets Makeover From Young Trail Blazers

Detroit Trails Eliza Howell
File Photo. A crew of Detroit teens construct a 24 foot wooden bridge over a Rouge River drainage canal. (Jhon Clark) 

Although the re-emergence of Detroit's wilderness has been the subject of a feature film, the story of its young urban trailblazers is much less well known.

This summer, a crew of Detroit youth restored and extended a woodland trail through an overgrown thicket in the city's Eliza Howell Park, an area that has developed a reputation as a hub for illicit activities, not to mention the site of a gruesome discovery earlier this year.

Their labor was part of a six-week summer high school youth employment program called the Detroit Conservation Leadership Corps (CLC). Along with building and maintaining trails, teenagers in the CLC also restore natural habitats and remove invasive species. This summer eight teams of approximately 10 teens carried out work in parks and neighborhoods around Detroit.

The program is made possible through a partnership between the Greening of Detroit, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) and Johnson Controls, Inc. Similar projects take place in Milwaukee, Wis., Baltimore, Md., as well as at international sites like China, Germany and Mexico.

Eliza Howell Park is located in Brightmoor, a sparsely-populated neighborhood in northwest Detroit. It's a place that some people associate with prostitution and other illicit activities. Earlier this summer police discovered skeletal human remains at the park. Neighbors think the bones were dumped there, but the news didn't help to improve the park's image.

Those who worked with the CLC project, however, hope their efforts will change the negative attitudes about Eliza Howell Park.

"We appreciate the fact that some people use the park for walking their dogs and hanging out with their kids." said Jhon Clark, one of two crew leaders who supervised the project. "We're trying to support them and to make it more acceptable and friendly."

The Eliza Howell Park crew certainly had their hands full this summer. Their work included cutting grass from a parking lot to the woods; laying down a wood chip path; widening a trail that had become impassable; creating a new path to the existing Eliza Howell Nature Trail; using downed logs to build "check steps" into a path to slow erosion and improve access; constructing a 24-foot wood bridge over a drainage ditch leading into the Rouge River; and building a sign to let others know about their project.

"The work was pretty intense, but we got it done," said Barri Tiggle, an 18-year crew member who will be attending Grand Valley State University this fall. "Physically, the toughest part I would have to say is getting up when it rains. The mud gets real thick so you have to walk up and try and not fall and not slide."

In addition to the work at Eliza Howell Park, the group also did some work for the local Dacosta Native Plant Garden -- removing non-native plants, turning tire tread marks into a trail and building a fence. Their efforts were supported by members of two local community groups, Friends of Eliza Howell Park and Neighbors Building Brightmoor, who assisted them with things like storing tools and helped them decide what work needed to be done.

Tiggle, who lives in the nearby Rosedale Park neighborhood, said that she had heard of, but never visited the park before her CLC experience. Now she hopes to bring her friends so they can see the results of her hard work.

"I think its a little brighter now. I see more people walking around with their dogs," she said. "I had a negative view of the park, but it kind of changed over time and now everything is just open and colorful."

CLC crews were also active in other parts of the city during this year's season, which ended Friday. Different teams engaged in invasive species removal and habitat restoration on Belle Isle; maintained and beautified plots at the Singing Tree community gardens; expanded acreage at the D-Town farm in Rouge Park; developed and maintained a mountain bike trail at Rouge Park with the Motor City Mountain Bike Association and Friends of Rouge Park; and worked with the Detroit Leadership Academy to develop and implement an outdoor classroom with material from the WARM training center's deconstruction warehouse. For more information about the program visit the Detroit CLC facebook page. To see more photos and video, check out their blog at

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Secret To Solar Power

"If they can, the basic value proposition is this: Say you have been paying your utility, on average, $100 a month. The solar company installs solar panels on your roof, maintains them, monitors them and repairs them for the life of the lease. The output will reduce your utility bill to roughly $20 a month, and you pay around $65 a month to lease the equipment (and the power the equipment produces, along with maintenance). You’re now paying $85 a month total, 15 percent less than you were, the installer has a revenue stream that it can use for cash flow or sell off to an investor and everybody is playing his part in reducing the burning of fossil fuels.

“The most frequent question I get,” Kennedy says, “is: ‘What’s the sting? Where’s the trap?’ ” Lyndon Rive says he still goes to dinner parties, where people know all about SolarCity and what he does, and at the end of his pitch about the solar lease, somebody will say: “So how much does this cost again? What’s the payback period?”

“‘You haven’t heard me!”’ he shouted to me, over the telephone, spelling out his frustration with those kinds of questions. “You get cheaper electricity! Full stop!’"

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Vrindaban Takes A Step Towards Sustainable Energy

The valley barn in New Vrindaban

From Madhava Smullen at ISKCON News

ISKCON’s West Virginia community New Vrindaban has taken another step towards the self-sufficiency that Srila Prabhupada envisioned for it when it was founded in 1968: the community has installed two brand new solar energy systems this year.

Behind the project is ECOV, a non-profit entity formed in the late 1990s with the special focus of realizing Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on living off the land and the cows.

“One solar system was installed on the roof of the community garden building, across the street from the Radha Vrindabanchandra temple,” says ECOV board member Chaitanya Mangala Dasa. “It was activated in the spring, and produces power for a garden shed and guest center.”

Meanwhile, the other system was installed at the Valley Barn, where the majority of New Vrindaban’s sixty cows and bulls reside, on June 12th. Consisting of 26 panels and measuring 42 feet wide and 10 feet high, it produces power for the barn’s lights and animal care equipment, as well as for ECOV’s offices.

In the first week, the two systems produced 114,000 watts of electricity between them; overall, the garden system produces 3 kilo watts per hour, while the barn system produces 5.2.
Holstein Steer grazing outside New Vrindaban Valley Barn

The systems are not independent from the grid, but instead are designed to feed back into the main grid, which will continue to be available.

Both systems are designed to produce enough electricity for the buildings they’re attached to so as to result in a zero dollar electric bill.

“Solar power is a renewable energy source that can help reduce our carbon footprint,” Chaitanya Mangala says.

The new solar systems are currently in a testing stage, as ECOV staff study how well they perform in West Virginia’s climate—the area only gets 150 days of sun a year.

The information they gather will guide future decisions on whether they install more solar panels or investigate other, more efficient types of renewable resource systems.

Even if solar power is chosen as the main energy source, other systems will be incorporated as well, as New Vrindaban moves towards becoming more and more energy efficient. ECOV staff are currently also looking into wind power and bio gas power, which would be run by extracting methane from cow dung.

“Srila Prabhupada clearly stated forty years ago that the main business for New Vrindaban was to develop the simple village lifestyle with residents dependent upon the land and the cows,” says Chaitanya Mangala. “This matches perfectly with the buzz today about developing local economies and minimizing the distance between production and consumption.”

Srila Prabhupada was also a strong advocate of locally produced products, stating, “Anything grown in the garden, that is hundred times [more] valuable than what is purchased from the market.”

ECOV staff are also working towards this goal, planting their own crops in a small demonstration garden as well as the five-acre Garden of Seven Gates. The aim is for the New Vrindaban community to be able to subsist as much as possible on self-produced vegetables rather than those purchased at the grocery store.

The community is also working towards growing all its own flowers for use in the temple, while ECOV staff have planted two hundred fruit trees and berry bushes on the New Vrindaban property.
Manjari, a Brown Swiss Heifer in the Valley Barn which is being powered by solar panels

“All these activities, along with our recent introduction of solar power, represent practical steps towards lessening our dependence on the fossil fuel based economy, and show by positive example that we’re acting on the important instructions that Prabhupada gave us,” Chaitanya Mangala says.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

D.C Gardener Encourages Other Temples To Go Green

Shyam Gopal, gardener at ISKCON of Washington D.C. and his "friend"

From Madhava Smullen at ISKCON News

As environmentally-friendly living becomes more and more of a concern in a modern society where Earth’s resources are fast running out, ISKCON has an increasing responsibility to set a good example.

After all, our philosophy is based upon our founder’s oft-quoted aphorism “Simple Living, High Thinking”—the practice of living naturally from the land while focusing on solving life’s mysteries.
This responsibility doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of ISKCON’s rural communities—it’s also something city temples can join in on, thus lending our society much greater credibility in the eyes of the public.

One of those stepping up to the plate is Shyam Gopal, gardener at ISKCON of Washington D.C.

As well as offering good advice for other temples interested in going green, Shyam is walking the walk himself. That’s something U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama—
who encourages home gardens and planted one on the White House’s South Lawn just 17 miles from the ISKCON temple—would appreciate.

Shyam, 34, comes with quite a pedigree. The son of a gardener and a forester in Berkeley, California, he studied environmental science at UC Santa Barbara, worked as a park ranger and an eco-tourist guide, and served at the ISKCON farm in Mauritius before moving to D.C. in March of this year.
On only one third of an acre at the temple in Potomac, Maryland—a D.C. suburb—Shyam has already coaxed an impressive bounty from the earth.
Eggplants from seeds

“We have heirloom and lauki squash, golden and green zucchini, hybrid and cherry tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, and Thai, serrano, habanero, and cow-horn chilis,” he says. “We also grow eggplant, cabbage, okra, bitter-melon, cucumber, cantelopes, pole beans and bush beans, beats, carrots, mixed lettuce, various pumpkins, and two-foot long watermelons.”

He has to pause for breath, before reeling off a spiel that sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel song. “Then there are all the herbs: basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, dill, fennel, fenugreek, and cilantro.”

With all these, the garden is ISKCON D.C.’s main source of organic vegetables, its sole source of herbs, and a considerable supplement to its overall food purchases.

And that’s not all: the temple doesn’t have to buy any flowers for its presiding Deities in the summer time, when rows upon rows of African, Mexican hybrid and double bloom marigolds, as well as red roses, white Tuber roses, and even seven-foot-tall sunflowers are available to make beautiful garlands with.

All this abundance is no accident. Shyam Gopal cares so much about the plants, which he calls his “children,” that he’s often spotted talking or singing to them. In the future, he’d like to set up some outdoor speakers to play them Srila Prabhupada’s kirtan.

This is nothing to laugh at. Shyam’s holistic, natural gardening techniques are no conconction— they’re embedded in both scientific and Krishna conscious principles.
Morning harvest on July 4th

“In trying to debunk the old research done on playing music for plants to improve their growth, researchers, for instance on the TV show Mythbusters, have only found that they couldn’t disprove it,” Shyam says. “It actually works.”

Plants, he explains, respond to music of all types—classical, ragas, heavy metal, and poetry— as well as simply being spoken to, with vigorous growth, more flowers and larger fruit development. They don’t have favorite genres; they simply like the interaction and are stimulated by the vibration.

“As I’m checking the plants for fungus, damage and pests every day by hand, I talk to them,” says Shyam. “I just say, ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘Oh, you have a problem here.’ And when I harvest from them I say ‘Thank you, we appreciate what you’re giving us for the Deities. You’re doing a great service.’ After all, they’re souls, just like me. I was a plant before. It was a rough life. So although they may not understand my words, I want them to feel on some level that they’re not living in vain.”

Shyam, following the best practices in permaculture, organic gardening, and biodynamics,
is considerate in all areas of his work. Seeing the soil as a living system full of complex, interdependent relationships, he avoids tilling once his garden beds have been made so as not to destroy this infrastructure. Instead, worms, which are carefully protected, do the tilling for him.

He also avoids walking on the beds in order to let the roots breathe. And rather than feeding the plants directly, he feeds the soil—considered to be “the stomach” in natural organic farming— with “Actively Aerated Compost Tea.”

This is made by blowing a household air pump, such as those used for an aquarium or air mattress, into a tank of water holding a “tea bag” made from cheese-cloth. The “tea bag” is filled with worm castings, a high quality compost created by feeding worms vegetable scraps and manure. This liquid compost mixture is aerated for 24 hours, then molasses and seaweed are added.

“Molasses increases good bacteria, and seaweed has natural plant growth hormones, which helps plants to uilize sunlight and photosynthesize better,” says Shyam. “It also acts like a B complex vitamin, boosting their immune system and reducing stress when you transplant.”

As he develops his garden, Shyam Gopal will also add Rishi-Krishi, the ancient farming techniques of sages described in the Vedas, to his practices.

Some of these techniques, written about by the great Parashara Muni in Krishi-Parashara and by Kashyapa in Kashyapiyakrishisukti, coincide with biodynamic principles, and thus are already being practiced in the ISKCON D.C. garden.

For instance, Shyam Gopal works by the lunar calendar, planting seeds as the moon is waxing, and pruning, transplanting and composting as it is waning. He also plants different items on the days the waxing moon goes through different constellations: for vegetables it’s the fire sign; for leaf crops, the water sign; for flowers, the air sign; and for roots, the earth sign. This, amongst all his other practices, makes for tastier and healthier crops.

Shyam encourages other devotees, at any level of experience, to start their own natural organic gardens at their temples or homes.
Morning harvest on July 6th

For beginners, he advises, “Start small. Don’t get overwhelmed by giving yourself way too much work. Start organic—there may be a pest or problem you can’t control organically at some point, but at least start organic and learn that way. And start with things that are easy to grow: herbs, tomatoes, a few flowers for your Deities.”

Specific local knowledge is key in gardening, Shyam says, so get advice from local gardeners in your area who know the local conditions. Your nearest university’s agriculture extension office or its website can also be an excellent resource for this.

Another key to gardening is awareness. “Observe how your plants are growing in different conditions,” Shyam says. “Go outside and check the weather every day. Get to know how reliable your local weather report is, compared to the actual weather. Get a simple rain guage and measure the rain. Get in touch with the cycles of the sun, moon, and seasons.”

Finally, Shyam encourages ISKCON temples to go green by purchasing biodegradable silverware and plates, since so many are used at every Sunday Feast and festival. He also suggests using shredded paper and cardboard boxes in the garden as mulch, and using all rotten vegetables as compost, not allowing anything to go to waste.

“Once you get started and build your knowledge base, it only gets better and better,” he says.

Shyam Gopal is happy to help other ISKCON temples go green and increase their fruit, flower and vegetable production. To speak with him and receive educational resources which he says have benefitted him greatly, please contact him at