Archive for August, 2008

growing to feed a community

August 30, 2008

In a city where few people have outdoor space to call their own, NYC community gardens become a gathering place, a sort of communal backyard and more. The gardens feed friendships and nourish bodies. In the Bronx, one particular garden yields collards and callaloo, an example of both urban agriculture and cultural integration (collards are traditional in Southern American cooking while callaloo is more common in West Indian and Latino cuisine). Members of this particular plot, the Tremont Community Garden, gather to garden, barbecue, and organize trips that fund the garden. They also sell any extra produce at a local farmer’s market. [Source: New York Times]

[Image, Liz Christy Garden, © Donald Loggins 2007]

Often, the roots of a community garden spring from an abandoned lot. The Tremont garden and the first city garden, Liz Christy Garden on Houston and Bowery, began this way. Liz Christy, for whom the garden is named, and the Green Guerrillas started the urban gardening movement by, among other things, planting seed bombs in vacant lots. When the lot where the current garden stands presented itself in 1973, the Green Guerrillas dug in — the NYC Community Garden was born.

Want to get involved?

Related links

Related reading

we could all use a good laugh

August 28, 2008

If laughter is the best medicine, these men in India must be really healthy. As part of a yoga practice, the security workers below get a healthy dose of chuckles.

[Image: Reuters/Jitendra Prakash via Activate]
Indian security personnel practice laughter therapy during an early morning yoga session in a park in the northern Indian city of Allahabad, on August 27, 2008.

Laughter is said to be good for:

  • Reducing stress
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Elevating mood
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Improving brain functioning
  • Protecting the heart
  • Connecting you to others
  • Fostering instant relaxation
  • Making you feel good


Even faking laughter, as many of these guys above are probably doing, has the same health benefits of genuine laughter. [Source: The Laughing Cure, Elizabeth Scott, MS]

Wanna try it?
There are actually laughter clubs across the world, many right here in the states. Find one near you.

up on the roof

August 27, 2008

Green it!
If I had a house or owned a building, I would green the roof. Why would I want to do such a crazy thing? Well it’s actually a very logical thing to do if you want to:

  • Save energy by keeping your home warm in winter and cool in summer
  • Clean the air around your house
  • Clean the rain water that runs off from the roof
  • Keep out the noise of planes zooming overhead if you live near an airport
  • Grow beautiful flowers and even food if you’re not worried about attracting little creatures

[Image: Norfolk Botanical Garden]

So how does one go about greening a roof? It seems fairly easy if you’re handy and follow these steps from Wired’s How-to Wiki:

  1. Get a structural engineering report for the live load of the structure. A standard roof is built to take about ten to twenty pounds of pressure per square foot. A three-foot-square garden won’t add a significant amount of weight; however, a twenty-foot-square garden, complete with wet soil and plants, can weigh thousands of pounds. After investing time and effort on a beautiful garden, the last thing you want is for it to come crashing down.
  2. Shore it up. Reinforcing your intended structure entails more than putting supports under the roof; likely, your structure will require lateral supports as well. Imagine holding a kite string: The wind exerts pressure not only on the kite itself, but your body. Any wind and rain will exert the same force on your rooftop plants.
  3. Lay down the liner. You may want to consult a roofer to install a commercial seamless roof. If you’re building on top of an uninhabited structure, lay down a standard pond liner. The liner will keep the water from seeping into the building; it will also keep the plant roots from eating into the building structure.
  4. Set up the lattice. Skip this step if your roof is flat. Roofs with a slope will need a grid set up over the liner to keep the dirt from sliding off.
  5. Consult a look book. How much effort are you willing to invest? Obviously, more ornate plants are going to require more work than minimalist moss. Wildflowers and their seeds will attract birds and butterflies; scattered items like logs will attract small rodents (and give you a place to sit down). Grasses will need to be mowed occasionally, and moss, while low-maintenance, is…moss. Now might also be a good time to consult your engineering report and decide how heavy your plant load can be.
  6. Mix and lay down your potting soil. Depending on your choice of plant life, the soil will probably have to be custom-mixed. The separate components usually consist of mineral content, such as sand or dirt; organic matter, such as coconut husk or peat moss; and a water-hoarding material like SoilMoist. The organic matter will decompose, fertilizing your garden; SoilMoist absorbs water and releases it as the soil dries out.
  7. Plant your plants! Seedlings, or plugs, are slightly less frustrating than seeds.
  8. Enjoy!

[Source: Wired]

Power it!
I would also install solar panels if I had a house. In PopSci’s EarthTalk column, a woman from Massachusetts asks what kind of panels she should get to heat the water in her home and maybe do more. Here’s the gist of a very practical answer:

1. To generate electricity for your home that might also feed back to the grid, photovoltaics are the way to go

  • What’s involved: Panels, an inverter, electrical conduit piping, and AC/DC disconnect switches
  • Pro: If the sun is shining, power will be generated for the home and the grid without CO2 and other nasty emissions
  • Con: Price may be a barrier with a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars
  • Where to get it: At or the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), you can find reputable installers

2. To heat water for your home, solar thermal is a good choice

  • What’s involved: A solar collector for a basic hot water system
  • Pros: Simpler and less expensive than photovoltaics, a reduced carbon footprint
  • Con: Smaller savings in energy bills than photovoltaics, though over the long run the saving add up
  • Where to get it: RealGoods Solar Living Sourcebook, a comprehensive guide to renewable energy that also sells related equipment

But wait, there’s more! There’s a bonus for switching to solar: Tax incentives. Find out if your state has incentives through the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)

[Source: PopSci]

[Image: Rob Baxter, courtesy Flickr via PopSci]

the techie perspective on urban farming

August 27, 2008

It seems to be on everyone’s radar — I’m talkin’ ’bout urban farming. It’s not just for citybillies. Even techies want their veggies homegrown, off the CO2-spewing agricultural grid, so to speak. Here’s the cool tech perspective from Wired:

Innovations from NASA and garage tinkerers have made food-growing radically more efficient and compact than the victory gardens of yore. “Aeroponics” planters grow vegetables using mist, slashing water requirements; hackers are building home-suitable “aquaponics” rigs that use fish to create a cradle-to-grave ecosystem, generating its own fertilizer (and delicious tilapia, too). Experts have found that cultivating a mere half-acre of urban land with such techniques can yield more than $50,000 worth of crops annually.

Read the full article here.

Related posts

stalking the wild asparagus

August 26, 2008

This one’s for you, Dad!

If you don’t know who Euell Gibbons was (I didn’t), let’s just say he was an expert on wild edibles (he died a year before I was born). Growing up during the Dust Bowl era, his mother taught him how to forage. In the 1960s he was well known for his views on natural, wild eating — he wrote the book Stalking the Wild Asparagus about the subject.

This seems to be my new favorite subject. Though I remember back in high school, on a sort of outward-bound-lite camping trip, eating clover leaves on my solo night when my tummy was grumbling for lack of food. They didn’t fill my belly, but they did plant a seed in my mind for a future passion.

Related post
yesterday’s brooklyn foraging tour

gotta love goats

August 26, 2008

I do at least. They’re hysterical. Like these pygmy goats who like to jump on their dog:

Or this kid who likes to jump on the bed:

How about an office goat?

According to the National Pygmy Goat Association (NPGA):

The Pygmy Goat is hardy, alert and animated, good-natured and gregarious; a docile, responsive pet, a cooperative provider of milk, and an ecologically effective browser. The Pygmy goat is an asset in a wide variety of settings, and can adapt to virtually all climates.

Sadly, we can’t buy a goat because we live in the city — their are ordinances against owning them here (and where would we put the little bugger in our apartment?).
But if you’re interested in getting your own pygmy goat, as a pet, for milking, or maybe for mowing your lawn, try these NPGA-approved breeders:

If you don’t want to commit to having your own goat, you can rent one!

Related posts:

hittin’ the books

August 26, 2008

If you’re a parent, you’re probably celebrating. A student, mourning the unofficial end of summer. It’s that time of year — Back to School. And just like other marketed “seasons,” there’s something to buy. School supplies, accessories, clothes, etc.

But instead of the conventional stuff that was available to me when I was a kid, there’s a whole range of eco-friendly options for back to school.

At the The Green Office, they make it easy to get back-to-school supplies with kits for both students and teachers. For example, for kids in 3rd to 5th grade, for $24.99 a kit would include:

  • 3 Repocket Recycled Pocket Folders
  • 1 Envirotech™ 100% Recycled Wirebound Notebook
  • 1 Earth Write® Pencil (12-pack), Made in USA from recycled newspaper
  • 1 Classic Colors Washable Waterbased (non-toxic) Markers
  • 1 Crayola Classic Colors Crayons, 16/box (non-toxic)
  • 1 Triggerwood Pen (plus refill)
  • 1 Foohy® Colored Pencils (non-toxic)
  • 1 Professional Watercolor Set with Brush, 8 Assorted Colors, Half Pans
  • 1 KleenEarth® Steel Children’s Safety Scissors
  • 1 Washable, Nontoxic, Removable, Restickable Glue Stick
  • 1 Pack of 7th Generation Facial Tissues

They also sell individual products, from recycled paper notebooks and printing paper to refillable pens and recycled content pencils.

Buy Green also has a range of eco-friendly office and back-to-school supplies.

Like this cool set of recycled newspaper pencils ($6.62 by O’BON)

Or this elephant dung paper notebook (that’s right! It’s by Ellie Poo, $9)

And this classic composition notebook of recycled paper ($2.79 by New Leaf)

Check out the back-to-school giveaway at Sustainable Is Good.
They’re giving away 2 bags from act2 GreenSmart that are made from 100% recycled PET plastic bottles. Note: You must be a student to enter. Entry deadline: September 2, 2008. Check out their site for details.

the urban homestead, revisited

August 25, 2008

[Image: Just Food]

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about urban homesteading. While catching up on my back issues of Treehugger emails, I came across this post about the very same subject. In Oakland, California, they’ve got a place to educate wannabe ‘steaders aptly named the Institute for Urban Homesteading.

In their words:

The Institute of Urban Homesteading is a response to current interest in food security, localization and self-determination, We are riding the wave of a massive global movement to change our relationship to food and resources.

Well, sign me up! Oh wait, I live in NYC and don’t have a patch of dirt to dig in. Just a minor problem.

[Institute for Urban Homesteading via Treehugger]

Related posts:
Urban Homesteading: Part 1
Urban Homesteading: Part 2
Urban Homesteading: Part 3

yesterday’s brooklyn foraging tour

August 25, 2008

To round out our weekend of enjoying the great outdoors of this fair borough, my boyfriend and I joined a class called “Feasting for Free in Brooklyn” through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (but led mainly through Prospect Park).

Our teacher/guide was Leda Meredith, a forager before she had even heard the term. Having Greek roots — in Greece, foraging is not some fringe activity — going after wild edibles is in her blood.

When Leda asked us, before starting the tour, why we decided to attend the class, my brain froze. Maybe because I was the first person to share, but most likely because I had so many reasons.

  1. What a great tool to have in case our society collapses
  2. If I’m in the park and hungry, I can just start snacking on some foliage
  3. Dining on wild edibles is in line with a sustainable lifestyle
  4. How cool to be aware of the plants around you, and to be able to identify a poisonous nightshade from a delicious allspice berry?
  5. No need to make a trip to the supermarket, there’s feasting to be had all around us
  6. What better way to spend a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon but outdoors searching for food
  7. The food is really free

Though I only managed to mutter something like, “I like food, I don’t want to depend on the food system, bla-dee-bla.”

So here are some of the things I learned on the walk. DISCLAIMER: Please consult a reputable field guide before harvesting and eating wild plants (there’s a list of books below).

Some generalities about wild edibles (there aren’t many):

  • Any clover-shaped plant is edible (like wood sorrel, see image below)
  • All pine trees are edible; in case of emergency you can chew pine needles for vitamin C
  • Any plant that smells like onions or garlic is edible
  • All fruit with a 5-point crown (like blueberries) are edible
  • When identifying plants, always use more than one trait to identify! Sometimes two very different plants can have the same trait (like Elderberries and a look-alike plant, see below)

Specific plants that are edible (and tasty!):

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)
Tender lemony leaf; pretty easy to identify by clover-shaped leaf and tiny yellow flowers.

Elderberries (Sambucus)
The images below highlight the importance of identifying plants by more than one trait. The berries shown in the third photo are not elderberries. How can one tell? Look at the leaves and stem. An elderberry plant has oblong divided leaves and a bumpy, knobby stem. The second plant below has leaves of a different shape and with a toothed edge.
Elderberries are better when you cook ’em — for pies, jams, and syrup.

Elderberries (Image: Honey Gardens)

NOT Elderberries!
UPDATE: According to Leda, the berries above are a type of Viburnum, and while edible, these are not particularly tasty (even the birds won’t eat ’em!).

Peppergrass (Lepidium)
The small green, tender seeds have a great peppery finish (after a bit of chewing). You can use them as you would pepper, just grind ’em first.

Chufa (Cyperus esculentus)
One of the cool characteristics of this plant is its triangular stem. It’s also pretty fun looking with it’s flowery tufts of yellow/green. At the roots of chufa are tubers that can be eaten cooked or raw and are said to be similar to water chestnuts.

Some plants that are useful for their medicinal purposes:

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
Mugwort can be used as a seasoning in foods and as a remedy to relieve tension or unblock flow (such as stress or delayed menstruation). One of the distinguishing features of the plant is the white/silver underside of the leaf. Though depending on the age of the plant, the leaves can vary from wider and divided (almost like a divided parsley) and narrow (almost like rosemary). The leaves also have a strong herbal scent.

Rose Hips

These babies are high in vitamin C — you’ve probably seen them as an ingredient in vitamin supplements. The orange/red flower has a little tuft of stamen on top. The leaves look like those of a rose and the stem has a characteristic thorn. Rose hips can be brewed in a tea, but be sure to filter out the fuzzy bits.

Plaintain (Plantago)
Not to be confused with the banana, plantago major is also known as “white man’s footprint” because Native Americans claimed that everywhere a white man went he would leave one of these plants behind. (The plant was thought to have been brought here by early settlers from Europe.) Plantain is a natural anti-microbial and is useful in relieving insect bites and other skin ailments. The seeds in the conical part of the flower are the main ingredient of bulk laxatives like Metamucil.

Goldenrod (Solidago)
Often a mistaken cause of seasonal allergies, goldenrod does not even pollinate via the wind but through insects. The flowers and leaves can be made into a tea which can help alleviate sore throat.

Check out more photos here.

Interested in foraging? Here are some resources (as recommended by Leda):

kindle promo

August 25, 2008

I mentioned the Kindle a few days ago and I’ve been thinking that the price is probably a big deterrent for a lot of people (me included). So I wanted to let you know that there’s a great promo going on. You can get $100 off the price if you sign up for the Amazon Rewards Visa Card. See the details below:

Get the Amazon Rewards Visa Card and Get $100 Off Kindle
Thanks to Chase, you get $100 off Kindle when you get the new Rewards Visa Card. Limited time only. Here’s how this works: 1) Apply online. Get a response in as little as 30 seconds. If you’re approved, we will instantly add the card to your account and you’ll get $30 back on your credit card statement after your purchase. 2) Add a Kindle to your cart. 3) Place your order using the Rewards Visa Card and enter this promo code: VISACARDAdditional restrictions apply.
to get the additional $70 savings at checkout.

If you’re interested, click here to get one.