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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."