Veggies Fresh from the Farm–Without Getting Dirty!

…well unless you want to…

Imagine receiving a weekly delivery of farm fresh vegetables, flowers, dairy and pasture grazed beef every week without getting one ounce of dirt on your hands…for those that agree that a little dirt won’t hurt you, there are ways to get your farming fix by helping to plant crops for your local farmer and with each delivery you’ll smile knowing you played a part in cultivating the delicious bounty before you.

This perfect balance of free veggies with or without dirt does exist, and it’s called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) my friends!

Community farming initiatives started out in Japan and Chile in the early 1970s, with influence in the United States coming from the biodynamic agricultural traditions of post World War II Europe from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The idea crossed the pond in 1986 and the idea of CSAs was born simultaneously at Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts and at the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire.

CSAs help to create a local, safe, and sustainable community. When people share in the harvest and even planting of their own food they feel a sense of pride. The benefits of owning a share in your local CSA is knowing exactly where your food is coming from, how it’s grown, and who the farmer is, minus the concerns of genetically modified organisms, cruel animal farming practices, and the contribution to fertilizer laden ecosystems from harsh over use. Because they are not government funded, the best part about CSAs is that all they need to thrive is involved members, farmers looking for community support, green thumbs and a good piece of land.

CSAs do have a few drawbacks just like anything else in this world. Shareholders must adjust to eating with the seasons and the inconsistencies of the harvest. Many CSAs will send out surveys asking what’s working and what families would like to see grown, but the farmers make the final call, and with any CSA, you take what you get.

But the thought of paying half the price of retail for locally grown produce, flowers and locally raised dairy and meat products outweighs any negative aspects in my opinion. If you keep track of how much you spend on average in the produce section or your local market each week–then multiply that by 26 you’ll have a figure to compare with what a six month share at your local CSA would be.

Great websites like Local Harvest and Sustainable Table can help you find local CSAs in your area, the farmers are more than happy for you to contact them regarding CSA product and pricing information.

Love your farmer–eat locally!

Posted by Amanda| follow me on Twitter

Become a Jedi of the Farmer’s Market

Now that spring has officially sprung itself here in our lovely state of Rhode Island my thoughts are drifting towards the 2010 farmer’s market season. I am a huge fan of the Aquidneck Growers’ Market; I get there early so that I can get first dibs on all the goodies while sipping on an icy cup of deliciousness from Custom House Coffee. Since buying locally is the biggest way to high five mother earth I thought I’d put together some tips and tactics in preparation for the upcoming season–to make sure you find the produce you are looking for.

Straight from the horses—or in this case farmer’s mouth

Don’t be afraid to talk to the person tending the booth—it is an amazing opportunity to speak with the people who grow it–they want to answer your questions! Ask where your food comes from, are they certified organic? If not ask why, I guarantee they’ll have a good reason…maybe they are a very small family run farm who practices sustainability because the price tag of organic just doesn’t add up…but hey…sustainable farming is great too!

If you don’t know how to cook parsnips, rutabagas, artichokes or that some squash blossoms are edible (and delicious when panko breaded and fried!), ask for suggestions on preparing them.

Make a list, no need to check it twice

Knowing what’s in season won’t be very hard to figure out while you are at the farmers market since it will be all around you…but doing a little recon before making any purchases will help you out in two ways.

  1. Do a little research for in-season produce and look at seasonal menus to help you figure out what you’d like to be looking for and what to do with your locally grown haul. Oranges and Avocados don’t grow in Rhode Island in May…but Asparagus does!
  2. Make a loop around and take in all the sights before buying (I like to grab a coffee and a blueberry muffin…grazing while I take in the sights) you’ll kick yourself if you find amazing looking basil two tables down…for half the price!

It always helps to have a few loose ideas in your head as to what you are going to do with your produce…often the grower will want to hear about that delicious blueberry trifle you made the week before, your feedback can help them sell to the next person who doesn’t know what they’d do with a pound of fresh berries.

Money talks…debit cards walk…

Please oh please do not get frustrated when the farmer forgets their credit card machine at home…unless you are at in indoor farmer’s market most of the time there is no electricity at such events. You’d think this was common sense…but since I’ve seen it—I had to put it out there…

Also don’t be afraid to use your cash to shop for bargains—it doesn’t hurt to ask especially if you are at the tail end of the day—if two items for $5 instead of $6.50 will work.

Tote along for the ride…

Since fresh produce hasn’t been dipped in wax or petrified to survive shipping thousands of miles it will absolutely bruise and damage easily. Collapsible market totes, boat tote bags and coolers will become your new bff and always go with you to the market. Damp paper towels or cheese cloth in water proof containers or baggies will protect herbs from wilting on your way home—and can be used in the refrigerator to help keep them a little longer. Chances are your farmer will have a few recommendations for storing, watering, and enjoying your purchases.

Do or do not…there is no try.” ~Master Yoda

Happy hunting–see you at the market!!

Here are a few great websites to help you along your journey:

Local Harvest

Epicurious’ seasonal map

Farmers Market online in season listing

Posted by Amanda| follow meow on Twitter

Green Life Smart Life Founder On Panel At Greener Gadgets Conference

Kimberly Lancaster, Founder of the Green Life Smart Life (GLSL) project, will be a speaker at this year’s Greener Gadget’s Conference on Feb. 25th in New York City.  Speaking on the “Green Living Begins at Home” panel, she and four other industry experts will discuss sustainable design strategies and tips for creating plans for a home that is both high-tech and green.

The GLSL project was designed to demonstrate the implementation of green building techniques and smart home technologies to achieve LEED® for Homes certification. Not only did the project achieve LEED® for Homes certification, but was rated by the US Green Building Council as Gold certified. The Narragansett, RI 4529 sq/ft home scored 92.5 out of 136 points and is the first LEED-H Gold home in RI and only the second completed LEED-H project in the entire state.

“Every day we make choices about what we are going to reuse, recharge and recycle in our home. By being aware of the impact of the choices you make, whether it is the amount of energy a device consumes or where it ends up at end of life, we can all minimize our environmental footprint,” stated Lancaster.

Lancaster is also the founder of Caster Communications, a full service public relations firm specializing in consumer electronics, clean technology and sustainable design. Caster Communications was the development and marketing team for the Green Life Smart Life project.

The Greener Gadgets Conference, sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) will cover issues on energy efficiency and sustainable design, along with innovative advances in packaging and product manufacturing to end-of-life recycling solutions. It will emphasize ways in which electronics make a major impact by utilizing renewable energy in developing nations.

Pixels Versus Paper

An old friend back at the Forest Society brought an interesting subject to my attention last week…he asked if I’d seen any research lately on which is greener – eBooks or printed books…or as he called it the carbon footprints of paper versus pixels. The majority of the info that he’d found actually came from the paper industry…so as you can imagine of course they claim their research shows that paper has a smaller carbon footprint than pixels—this prompted me to go online and do a little digging just to see what those whom are interested in the subject have to say.

In literature put out by International Paper titled Are Pixles Greener than Paper? they state Electric Data Centers (EDC) that power internet servers use 1.5% (enough to power 5.72 million homes) of the total energy purchased in the United States while the pulp and paper industry uses .7% (enough to power 2.76 million homes). They also say that the paper and pulp industry is one of the largest consumers of low-carbon and renewable energy with sixty percent of their energy coming from carbon-neutral sources, while the electronics industry purchases more than ninety percent of its energy off the grid and from fossil fueled sources. The consumption rate of data centers doubled in the U.S. from 2000 to 2006 and it is estimated that it will double again by 2011.

I took this report with a grain of salt since it was published by an international paper manufacturer, but they do bring up some good points when it comes to statistics on paper recycling versus electronics recycling…how many of you have wrapped something naughty up and stuck it in the trash because it’s just easier than taking said item to your local transfer station or waiting for the hazardous waste recycling days that seem to only come around once a year and of course the weekend that you are out of town—D’oh!

We all know paper is biodegradable, recyclable and reusable…but did you know that an estimated sixty percent of paper is recycled while only eighteen percent of electronics are e-cycled…with 1.84 million tons of electronic wast shipped to landfills in 2006 alone…I didn’t…YIKES!

On the other hand, according to Kris Kiler, the Founder and President of TypeLabs another way of looking at things from an eBook versus paper point of view is that 37 million pieces of paper thrown away each year do not get recycled, many retailers will even rip the cover off paperbacks to obtain credit for not selling the book—the rest goes in the garbage. There is also the gasoline used to get to the bookstore, for each gallon of fuel we use, we create 22 pounds of greenhouse gases and that doesn’t include modes of transportation that get the printed book to the retail outlet…

eBooks do need energy in order for you to read them, and yes there is an environmental impact of creating the device, driving to the store to pick it up—but you can use it over and over…the reuse of the device will most likely consume minimal energy when compared to the production and purchase of the paper book—and if you are able to purchase green energy from your local utility, you aren’t using an extreme amount of fossil fueled power to begin with. Those that are lucky enough to live within walking distance of the library (like me) have a lesser impact by borrowing books—but I’m sure my fellow bookworms like myself also own plenty of traditional dead tree books. The concept of Eco-Libraries is neat, but I’m not sure if I would really be jazzed about living in a world without the smell of old books…

So which do you prefer…pixels or paper…??

Posted by Amanda| follow me on Twitter

Some no-no’s of taking it to go

The other night while sorting through the mounds of bills and junk-mail one glassine window in an envelope sparked a discussion about how such things including to-go containers can now be recycled and composted thanks to companies developing materials from plant fibers, sugar cane waste, and corn.

It dawned on me that since I eat, breathe, and live as green as I possibly can maybe it’s not as common knowledge as I thought that there have been great advances in the worlds to-go options.

I am always amazed when eating out when my leftovers are brought to me in some kind of awful Styrofoam container…in fact many U.S. cities like Seattle and Oakland have begun to ban the use of Styrofoam in restaurants and grocery stores. It’s like come on people it’s time to get with it and use an environmentally friendly package, it not only becomes a permanent part of our universe, but according to the EPA it’s a hazard to your health! It makes me think twice about bringing my own container with me the next time I visit that restaurant, or asking them to just wrap my leftovers in foil—if it won’t make a huge mess on the ride or walk home.

I’ll admit that it does slip my mind quite often to ask what kind of containers they package to-go items in, but it’s something I’m trying to get better at and be more conscious of. It’s being more away of little things like this that can help you reduce your footprint and tread a little lighter.

Posted by Amanda | follow me on Twitter

Paper towel challenged

While making lunch this afternoon (well if you count opening the can, pouring soup into bowl and heating for 3 minutes “making lunch”) I spilled a little of my soup on the counter. Immediately without looking up I grabbed for a paper towel, wiped up the spill and threw the towel away. The little hippie on my shoulder screamed at me for what I had just done. A mere tablespoon worth of liquid had spilled so why didn’t I just grab the sponge and clean it up the old fashioned way–well for one…this tree hugger is also a germophobe and sponges are known for being breeding grounds for bacteria!
In my head I began contemplating the great paper towel versus a sponge or dish towel debate. Quite the conundrum a germaphobic hippie…don’t get me started on how I feel about the shower curtain liner touching me…or friends whose toothbrushes are stored on the backs of toilets. Now there are certain things I must use paper towels for like patting down mapley deliciously smoked bacon on Sunday mornings, but mainly for picking up the more than occasional doo poo (I have two vindictive Mini Schnauzers who despise my social life and like to leave love notes in front of the kitchen door) or the freshly barfed up grass. But for the most part my large collection of bar mops and dishtowels should suffice–right? I mean as a child I didn’t die from my mothers and Grandmothers use of a dishcloth or dishtowels..right?

Now some of you are saying oh you aren’t a real tree hugger if you are using paper towels man…WRONG, first read my license plate — TREHGR — second, any educated person or forester will tell you that we need a healthy and sustainable forest product industry, yes folks that means hugging trees while they are standing up or laying down! We do need to harvest our forests to keep them vibrant and healthy. The key word is sustainability here, we have to find that balance within our homes.

I am not saying in any way you should ban paper towels or toilet paper use in your home (I need more than two squares unlike Sheryl Crow!) but be more conscious of your usage. If you have the ability to start a compost pile please do it and then you can enjoy the game of how little waste you throw out each week. Food scraps can be turned into free dirt for your own homes, friends and neighbors. Those paper towels will biodegrade nicely as long as you haven’t been using them to bleach your sink!

We should all remember that first we must reduce before we reuse and recycling should be our next option because there is no place called away where we can magically throw things.

That being said I’ve realized that even the green can get a little greener, and it will help my wallet not be so lean as well — have you noticed the high price for something you’ll only throw away?! I’ve challenged myself to use less and only when the situation calls for it, I challenge you all to do the same and get comfortable with being uncomfortable!

To help you get your creative reduction juices flowing visit some of my favorite places:
Paper Towel Alternatives
Paper Towel Challenge!

Posted by: Amanda

Why Energy Management in the Home Will Be Mainstream

2009 is certainly the “Year of the Smart Grid”, as dubbed by Greentech Media GTM Research but there are many wondering how exactly Smart Grid technology is going to be adopted where arguably it matters most – the customer’s home.  While advancements in power delivery are absolutely necessary to ensure the grid is able to evolve with the growing demands in supply and meter data management along with energy storage are rapidly expanding industries, there are several good reasons why the general population will need to be on board with this transformation.

For one, demand response and peak pricing event notification to consumers are largely voluntary initiatives.  In order for utility companies to effectively transform their grid to be smarter and more reliable, they need their customers to participate.  Additionally, funding for Smart Grid projects are abundant now – between private investment firms pouring millions into different segments of the end-to-end Smart Grid (Foundation capital example link) and U.S. Department of Energy stimulus grants available to utilities interested in upgrading their grid to AMI and smart meters.  But not every Smart Grid deployment is proving to be a success (see example in Texas of failed trial) – what happens if consumers don’t eventually support and adopt this technology?  Ultimately, the success of this rapidly growing industry largely depends on how successful utilities and Smart Grid companies can be when convincing customers and consumers that they need energy management in their lives.smartgridaugmentedreality

So why is it destined to become mainstream?  It’s simple, really.  Energy management is just another way of providing people with information.  Information about their own behavior – information that should already be available.  Being able to monitor and control energy usage makes as much sense as being able to monitor cell phone usage and subsequent bills.  Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if the phone company sent you a bill every month that had no breakdown of minutes used, text messages sent and received, overages and surcharges – and expected you to pay it, no questions asked?

Imagine if you called up your phone company to inquire about the charges and they told you there is simply no way for them to tell you where each charge came from or why your bill might be higher than normal this month.  This would be unacceptable and yet, this is what happens every month when you receive your energy bill.  It might be higher or lower but aside from the general kw used and price per kilowatt, you receive virtually no information about specific usage in your home.  What loads ran higher this month?  Did you leave something running for a few days, explaining the small spike?  What could help you save money without drastically altering your lifestyle?

The fact is that our modern lives are chock full of information we don’t remember living without.  Caller-ID, online banking, real-time cell phone usage, instant pricing on almost any consumer good via the internet.  Technologies that were once believed to be a nice thought but fairly unnecessary quickly become facets of our day-to-day.  The argument that energy management solutions will only help consumers save small amounts of money each month and are therefore largely inconsequential is completely misguided.  Does caller-ID save us money?  Maybe if we are trying to save minutes on our cell phone by ignoring unwanted calls, but not in any real, meaningful way.  The cost savings is a benefit, no doubt, but certainly not the only one.

The current electric grid is a dinosaur – in delivery, consumption, conservation and data management.  It is the last big network not upgraded to an IT based system and the millions and millions of utility customers in the U.S. suffer because of it.  We are left in the dark (no pun intended) on a service we have no choice but to pay for in order to live.  The energy debate isn’t simply one of environmental concern (though it undoubtedly is and should be) or one of cost-savings.   It is the right of information – a right we have come to know and expect from service providers in our society.  It is the ability to know what we’re paying for, to change our behaviors to reflect what we spend and to participate in demand response or peak pricing events as we see fit.

While it may not seem feasible now, as more utilities acknowledge the need to transform their grids to be sustainable, effective and reliable, the availability of consumer energy management solutions will grow.  Once utilities allow their customers the opportunity to monitor and control their energy usage, it won’t be long before customers won’t be able to remember a time when they weren’t able to do so.

Posted by: Ashley Daigneault / follow me on Twitter