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Alice Waters, original foodie and creator of Berkeley, California’s Chez Panisse, made a stop at Buford Middle School’s City Schoolyard Garden last week. (Cramer Photo)

This spring, goats have loomed large in what I think of as the headlines of our household: “Goats Escape; Are Recaptured. “Novice Farmers Await Birth of Unknown Number of Kids.” “Twins Born to Tan Goat; Cuteness Overwhelming.”

Last Tuesday, the headline read “First-ever Goat Milking.” Our second set of twins was born on Monday. The new babies looked great, but mama had a problem: Her udder was lopsided. One teat was very swollen, and the kids wouldn’t nurse there. The more they nursed on the other side, the more lopsided she became.

So we determined to try to milk her—a first for us. We got a few tips from friends with experience and read up online. Then we marched inside the goat fence with a bowl of warm water, a leash and collar, and a bucket of treats.

Mr. Green Scene lured the lady with celery, grabbed her horns, and held her while I clipped on the collar and leash. We secured her to a nearby tree and offered her grain. Then I washed her teat, to help her relax and let the milk down, and began milking with the technique I’d read about: thumb and forefinger around the top of the teat, other fingers squeezing in turn, top to bottom.

And right away, it worked! Milk squirted onto my shoes and onto the ground. Mama goat was very cooperative (for a goat). I milked and milked, feeling elated. Ten minutes later, she looked nearly symmetrical.

At this writing, we’ve milked three times and our goat family’s still not entirely out of the woods. But I still consider it a victory—for learning on the fly, in pursuit of larger green goals. It was our personal Earth Day. Milky shoes and all.—Erika Howsare

 

BULLETIN BOARD

Money for honey: Governor Bob McDonnell just signed into law two bills—one sponsored by Senator Creigh Deeds of Charlottesville—that will award beekeepers in Vir-
ginia $200 for every new beehive, up to $2,400. Bees are good for everybody, the pols figured. Now they’re good for your wallet, too.

Reel food: The documentary Food Fight screens April 26 at 7pm at C’ville Coffee. Learn all about an often depressing topic: agriculture policy and food culture in America. Then, brainstorm solutions during a discussion led by Paul Freedman of the UVA Food Collaborative and Stacy Miller of the National Farmers’ Market Coalition. 

Planetary software: On April 14, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization released its new Cville Bike mApp, which lets cyclists record trips and routes via smartphone. The data will inform long-term transportation planning. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Forestry has developed, InFOREST, a program that lets users estimate carbon sequestration from forested areas and see how a proposed change (say, logging) would impact local waterways.

A foodie legend visits Buford’s garden

“Every child in this country deserves to be nourished and inspired,” said Alice Waters to a group of about 30 at Buford Middle School on April 18.

Waters, chef and owner of Berkeley, California’s famed Chez Panisse restaurant, was in Charlottesville last week for a dinner for big-ticket Monticello donors. She spent Wednesday afternoon visiting Buford’s City Schoolyard Garden, a small plot of land that produces vegetables and cultivates learning. 

CSG program director Linda Winecoff said she was inspired by Waters’ own Edible Schoolyard, a 40-year-old nonprofit that supports the creation of educational kitchen gardens at schools around the country. 

“With my background in landscape architecture and my kids in school, I thought, why don’t we have this in Charlottesville?” she said. 

Two years later, with a grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, the City Schoolyard Garden is a vital component of the seventh-grade curriculum at Buford Middle School. 

Garden educator Emily Axelbaum said students apply what they learn in science class to their garden efforts. They’re currently experimenting with homemade “compost tea” and predicting its impact. In groups of four, they tend to their plants, measure and record their growth, and are graded on the whole process. 

Principal Eric Johnson said he also uses the garden as a quiet place to meet with students. “There’s nothing like being outside and talking,” he said, adding that students often feel more at ease in a “peaceful setting.” 

Seventh-grader Elizabeth Beling is one of about 12 students who participate in the after-school gardening club. “It’s a lot of hands-on, which I really like,” she said. 

Winecoff said she wants to one day see a garden at every school in Charlottesville. That’s Waters’ vision, too. She loves to see schools in “every little corner of America” introducing their students to gardening. 

“It’s beginning to be a way of life here,” she said.—Laura Ingles

 

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The City Market opened for the season on April 7. It runs from 7am to noon every Saturday through November. 

We watched kids moving inside the bellies of their pregnant mama goats this week. Of our two does, one is clearly wider in the middle, so I laid my bet on her having twins. The other is having a singleton. So say I, from my position of total inexperience.

It’s exciting to have livestock, but we’re only a few weeks into it and I am way out of my depth. For example, there’s the small matter of these upcoming births. When the kids enter the world, we’ve been advised to be present—not to help the does birth, which they can do on their own, but to rub our shirts on the noses of the kids to imprint them with our scent.

O.K., great. But goats don’t labor very long—we were told it takes about 15 minutes. So how am I supposed to make sure I’m around? And will the new mamas actually let me get that close to their wet, wobbly babies?

We’ll find out. I didn’t used to know how to pick up a chicken, but I’ve learned. There’s a way of being with animals—somewhere between tender and harsh—that farmers all over the world seem to know. It’ll come with experience and probably a few mistakes.

It was amazing, watching those babies kick inside their mothers. As the does stood in front of me, briskly munching vines, their sides fluttered and rolled. Soon, all will be revealed.—Erika Howsare

Institutional locavores 

 

We’ve all experienced cafeteria-style dining: unidentifiable meats, mushy colorless vegetables, processed desserts. But schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions may be on their way to fresher, healthier menus with local ingredients.

The Piedmont Environmental Council hosted two workshops in Charlottesville in February and March entitled “Farm to Food Service,” where professionals gathered to talk local food sourcing, budgeting and preparation for institutional menus.

“We’re all in this thing together,” said Mike Curtin, Executive Director of DC Central Kitchen, which turns leftover foods into meals for at-risk individuals while providing culinary experience for previously homeless or hungry adults. Curtin said 40 to 60 percent of produce does not make it off the farms, and the willingness of institutions to accept less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables is vital to the local food movement.

He compared photos of cucumbers found in a grocery store to misshapen cucumbers of varying sizes. While the smooth, uniform vegetables may be more appealing, he asked, who will know the difference once they’re cut up for salads? Grocery stores may never accept such imperfect produce, but smaller institutions can reduce waste and incorporate local foods by claiming these leftover fruits and vegetables for their kitchens.

Bekah Morris is the executive chef at Village at Gordon House, an assisted living facility in Gordonsville. “Incorporating local foods, being more environmentally friendly, and leaving less of a footprint is something that I personally am interested in,” she said. As someone who cooks for over 30 people every day, Morris wants to add variety and nutrition to her menus.

Many of Morris’s experiments—like chicken quesadillas—have gone over extremely well. Seasonal lettuces and cabbages have made their way into residents’ salad bowls, too.

Harris said her first step was to meet with the Garden Patch in Orange County, a shop that sells plants and produce straight from the Patch’s own farms. Harris said she plans to keep in contact with the Patch regarding what produce is available and when.

“We live in an agricultural community,” Harris said. “And it just makes sense.”—Laura Ingles

BULLETIN BOARD

High flying: Nelson County’s Kite Festival, presented by the Rockfish Valley Foundation, hits the skies in Nellysford on April 15. It’s free, and includes everything from duck races to kettle corn and (of course) kite flying. The RVF will also hold a stargazing event on April 14. Call 361-1296 for more info.

Bring them back: On April 7, volunteers for The American Chestnut Society helped to plant 400 chestnut trees in a “breeding orchard” in Crozet. The chestnut, once an important part of American forests, was nearly wiped out by chestnut blight between 1900 and 1940.

Go underground: April 22-28 is Cave Week in Virginia. That means you can get into commercial caves for a discounted price and are 
officially encouraged to learn more about Virginia’s 4,000 known caves (most of them in the Shenandoah Valley and southwest). See 
vacaveweek.com.

Tap in: Charlottesville residents, show your civic pride by signing up for the Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation before April 30. The city is part of a nationwide contest 
to see which town can get the highest percentage of residents to pledge to save water. It’s free to enter, plus you get a t-shirt. See smywaterpledge.com. 

The nature right here

Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle, opened his talk at the Paramount March 15 with a sobering picture. Most adults, he said, tend to imagine the future as a post-apocalyptic world, with social, environmental, and political chaos. He shared with us an alternative vision—in which we re-wild cities and regenerate nature—and stressed the importance of connecting children and adults to nature to achieve this future. 

How ironic, then, that our local environmental organizations, one of whom sponsored Louv’s talk, are leading us in the opposite direction. The unquestioned assumption of many pro-environment organizations and individuals is that we need to preserve and protect “nature.” Unfortunately, in this view, there is not a whole lot of nature in the urban area, as it has been paved over, killed, and polluted out of existence. Therefore, in order to preserve “the environment,” environmentalists promote development in the urban area’s remaining green spaces, and sprawl all around its edges. They call this “smart growth.” 

I understand this perspective; I used to share it. I chose to live in the city, largely because I did not want to contribute to sprawl and be auto-dependent. I thought that the more people in the city, the better, as long as somewhere, out there, nature was protected. The problem is that I unconsciously took for granted that compact development would look something like Louv’s green future–that city parks would be sacred, that the city’s edge wouldn’t sprawl, and that access to nature would be understood and respected as a right of the urban dweller. A city that has room for both a lot of people and other nature, though, cannot be filled with cars, roads, and parking lots. Similarly, a city that can afford to regenerate its soil and water, and use green infrastructure, cannot spend its tax and utility revenue extending its road, sewer and water, emergency and other services further and further out.

The dogma that auto-dependent growth is inevitable has led, and continues to lead, to unseemly and counterproductive “compromises.” In an attempt to avoid a bypass in the rural area, local environmental organizations supported a road through Charlottesville’s central park. In an attempt to preserve rivers and steer sprawl as close to the city as possible rather than further out, these same organizations supported a new dam and reservoir in our forest park. These examples are representative of a prevailing attitude I’ve heard repeatedly from government and non-profit organizations and community leaders alike. 

To care about the nature “out there,” city residents and their children need to experience it right here. I have spent countless hours and a lot of energy driving my children to parks or natural areas and supervising them there because there is nowhere to play outside my door, nor woods or streams (that aren’t dangerously polluted) within walking distance. Few people have the time or inclination to do this. Adults see a dark future because they know, at least subconsciously, that our current systems are unsustainable. Yet the very organizations we count on to protect our future are complicit in its destruction. It is time for a paradigm shift.—Joanna Salidis

 


 

 

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Spring wildflowers were the main attraction during an April 1 Sierra Club hike along the Rivanna River at Key West. (Photo by John Robinson) 

Nobody really thinks the water is fine in Virginia. But depending who you ask, you might be told that it’s getting better, or else horribly impaired.

Offering the former viewpoint is the state Department of Environmental Quality, which just released a water quality report on 1,200 Virginia watersheds. The official quote on this report from DEQ Director David K. Paylor is a model of neutralized wording, with phrases like “considerable progress” and “continued improvements.” Yet we are told that 840 miles of streams and rivers joined the impaired waters list in 2012. (Another 260 miles were removed because their quality improved.) Of 18,460 stream and river miles assessed, just 5,350 met standards for high water quality. Another 33,700 miles went unassessed; you do the math.

Meanwhile, Environment Virginia, a green nonprofit, is beating the drum on pollution. Its March 22 report names Virginia the second-worst state in the country for toxic water pollution, with 18 million pounds of toxic chemicals dumped in the Commonwealth’s waterways annually. We’re talking arsenic, mercury, benzene, and others—chemicals that give people cancer and keep them from having healthy babies. The New River takes the brunt of Virginia’s pollution, but locally, the James River receives 1.1 million pounds of toxic pollutants every year.

In the “what do we do next?” department, the two reports differ further. At the top ofEnvironment Virginia’s list: Industrial polluters should knock it off. (Stunning in its simplicity, no?) Meanwhile, the DEQ report is a lesson in the complexities of regulatory rubber meeting the road. The rules—and their enforcement—are numbingly complicated. (“General permits are written for a general class of discharge with similar effluent characteristics.”)

As a working adult, I understand that the real world is messy. But as a person, and a parent, I want a lot more than “considerable progress.”—Erika Howsare 

Harvesting heritage 

“You can overlook food so easily,” said Paul Hughes. “We’ve lost a lot of traditions that way.”
Hughes, a UVA graduate student, is involved with the Institute for Environmental Negotiation, and was one of many students to organize and host Food Heritage: A Central Virginia Gathering on Monday, March 26.

The gathering featured six booths where attendees could sample foods, share stories, swap recipes, and learn about local farms and processing places. Tanya Denckla Cobb, UVA professor and founder of the Virginia Heritage Food Project, said the event was the first step in information-gathering for the public.

Denckla Cobb explained the importance of food heritage in Charlottesville and elsewhere. She pointed out that you couldn’t go to New Orleans without ordering jambalaya, or Philadelphia without a cheesesteak. But what about trying a “spiedie” in upstate New York? These skewers of marinated meat, brought by Italian immigrants in the 1920s, were popular during her childhood.

“Now they have a spiedie festival,” she said. “That didn’t exist when I was growing up, but they’re capitalizing on their food heritage.”

Which begs the question: what is Charlottesville’s food heritage?

Denckla Cobb says it’s complex—thus the need to gather this information before it is lost. Attendees at this event ranged from gardeners and chefs to students who were simply interested in learning about food, and the group’s drive seemed to center on the desire to promote local food.

Alice Cannon, a gardener from Earlysville, attended the event in hopes of meeting others who share her passion for growing and enjoying food. She and her husband are “self-sufficient in tomatoes, garlic, and herbs,” and their garden supplies them enough lettuce, potatoes, beans and asparagus to last all summer.

Cannon explained that, as an avid gardener in support of the local food movement, she looks for opportunities to meet people and learn about food heritage.

“It’s very much a supported thing to do in this area,” she said.

Denckla Cobb hopes that, with the accumulation of information at events like this, she and others will be able to preserve and promote the region’s food heritage in a way that will interest and excite people.

“We want to find a way to apply this knowledge,” she said. “Is there something we can do around tourism? How can we build jobs? How can we build something that we can be proud of, so we can celebrate our food heritage? We don’t even know what’s really possible.”—Laura Ingles 

Of merkels and landfish 

The season of the morel mushrooms is here. I have to admit that morels, otherwise known in these parts as merkels or landfish, are not my favorite culinary mushroom, but with butter and garlic they are pretty tasty. Many people ask about finding them and possibly growing them. Morel hunting spots are like fishing holes. Not many folks reveal the exact spot they found the mother lode, and that huge mushroom found a few years ago always seems to grow a bit with each retelling. Growing morels involves a moderate level of skill. There is much Internet information about cultivating them.

I usually begin looking when the lilacs are beginning to bloom and the turkey hunt is on. There are a few places to look that seem to have higher rates of success, such as tulip poplar forests in flood plains, old apple orchards, and sites of recent forest fires—although I have found them on the spring run in the mixed hardwoods, and they are known to spring up in weird places.

BULLETIN BOARD

Super healthy: It’s official: The new Martha Jefferson Hospital, on Pantops, has the nod of approval from the LEED program, which certifies green buildings. MJH earned the honor for (among other things) water-efficient irrigation, recycling during construction, and low-emitting paints, adhesives, and other building materials.

Greener way to go: The 14 Trappist monks who live at Berryville’s Holy Cross Abbey are planning to add a “green cemetery” to their 1,200-acre property. Those buried in Cool Spring Natural Cemetery will not be embalmed, and their bodies
will be wrapped in shrouds or placed in non-metal, biodegradable caskets.

Where are we, anyway?: Dr. Katherine Lofkin will give a presentation called “Placemaking: A Blueprint for Our Future,” April 26 at the Omni, 5:30-7:30pm. A panel of locals will also weigh in on Charlottesville’s “community narrative” and sense of place. Reserve your $40 spot by April 19 at cvilletomorrow.org/event.

There are several important things to know when harvesting these fungal delicacies. If you find them in the city, know that they are excellent bioaccumulators of lead and heavy metals. So, consider telling the tale rather than eating them if they are near the road, old painted buildings, or areas where pesticide has been applied in the past. If you are lucky and the mushrooms reveal themselves to you, you will want to keep them fresh (refrigerated in a paper bag works well) and cook them soon. Morels are poisonous until cooked thoroughly and the vapors while cooking are toxic, so beware and take care as you prepare your wild feast.

One other word of caution when eating wild mushrooms: Always know what you are eating. Get a good field guide or two and hunt with a friend who knows mushrooms until you are familiar with the important identification features. If you are an accomplished or aspiring mushroom hunter, consider joining the new Mushroom Club that is forming in Charlottesville. The first organizational mushroom foray will be on Earth Day, April 22, at 10am at the Ivy Creek Natural Area.—Mark Jones

 

 

 

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Local groups are involved in opposition to a very large coal-burning power plant proposed for Surry County. It’s estimated that it would contribute to as many as 200,000 lost work days, due to downwind residents’ health problems, over its 60-year life span. (File photo)

Life churns along, and with it a mixed bag of environmental developments in Virginia. The press releases in my inbox right now offer a patchwork reality, in which some environmental issues improve, some worsen, and others get more muddled.

One e-mail tells me that in Virginia, beekeeping is getting more popular—perhaps good news for the decline of bee populations here and everywhere. (Beekeeping class, Ivy Creek Natural Area, April 1: see localfoodhub.org!) Another announces that the EPA is offering help—to the tune of $4 million—to local governments trying to cut down on water pollution that damages the Chesapeake Bay. A third brings the cheerful news that Virginia’s state parks are planning a bunch of special activities for families during the first two weeks of April, when many schoolkids are on spring break.

In the less encouraging department: A state study of proposed uranium mining in the Southside is going to be conducted with little public input and no transparency, by a committee headed up by a former natural gas lobbyist. So much for science.

Vandana Shiva spoke at UVA last Tuesday (see below for more), and she offered clarity amid the confusion. Recent world events, like the Occupy and M15 movements, she believes, are signs of change: the coming of “earth democracy.” She said, “I believe this is unstoppable.”—Erika Howsare

BULLETIN BOARD

Get planted: Monticello’s Center for Historic Plants offers a free open house at Tufton Farm March 31, 10am-4pm, with workshops on wildflower photography, landscaping with native and naturalized plants, and cool-season veggie gardening. So much knowledge! Did we mention it’s free? See monticello.org.

Double X on wheels: Speed-seeking women, take note. Tuesday nights in April, there’s a series of women’s bike classes at Community Bikes on Preston Avenue, in which you can learn how your bike works, how to fix it, and rules for safe riding. Plus: adult bike rodeo! Classes meet April 3, 10, 17 and 24, 6-8pm, with a group bike ride May 5, 9am-noon. $25-75 sliding fee. E-mail shellbellding@gmail.com for registration info.

Teens in the woods: The Virginia State Parks Youth Conservation Corps is taking applications from kids ages 14-17 who’d like to spend three weeks this summer working in a state park with a 10- to 14-member crew. They’ll learn about natural history, teamwork and (we’re guessing) poison ivy. Apply before April 13 at virginiastateparks.gov.

Clarion call
Dr. Vandana Shiva names a couple of titans —Einstein and Gandhi—as her inspirations. During her March 20 lecture at UVA, she quoted Einstein to the effect that we cannot solve our problems by using the same mindset that created them. In other words, the environmental crises we face will only worsen if we continue to fight against the Earth rather than work with it.

Dr. Shiva, a philosopher, environmental writer and activist, physicist, and eco-feminist, has been named by Forbes as one of the top seven most influential women in the world, and received the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, the “Alternative Nobel Prize.”
As part of the Brown College Visiting Environmental Writers and Scholars series, Shiva presented a peaceful, non-violent vision for the world and all its forms of life—a notion she calls “earth democracy.” Suggesting that we “re-write the Declaration of Independence for all life,” she insisted that in order to have a “real green economy,” we must respect the rights of all species—not just humans, and certainly not just corporations.

Shiva explained how Monsanto and other large corporations have gained control over the worldwide food industry, particularly through the rapid spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the name of economic growth. In an article on The Understory, she pointed out that Monsanto wrote the World Trade Organization treaty on Intellectual Property, which forces the patenting of seeds as intellectual property. According to Shiva, such corporate control over the growth, processing, and distribution of food is equally destructive to biodiversity and the livelihoods of farmers, with many being forced off their land.

“Every farmer I know who has left the land faced foreclosure,” Dr. Shiva recalled. She then described the “epidemic of suicides” in India, stating that in the past decade, about 250,000 farmers have committed suicide, usually by drinking pesticides.

With the primacy of “economic growth” comes the use of land as a commodity and, as Shiva said, “the idea that certain people are disposable.”

To protect nature and the human right to food and water, Dr. Shiva founded Navdanya International, through which about 80 community seed banks have been set up. The banks allow farmers to find and trade thousands of seed varieties that have been saved and passed through generations, without genetic interference or corporate domination.

“The more you work with nature, the more food and nutrition you will produce,” Shiva said simply. “The natural role of people is to be a part of nature.”—Laura Ingles

A power plant in the balance
In December 2008, the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) proposed to build the largest coal plant in Virginia, in Surry County. It was to be 1,500 megawatts, in the small town of Dendron (population 272). With Surry County residents leading the way, and advocacy organizations like our Charlottesville-based Appalachian Voices and the Southern Environmental Law Center backing them up, we have so far kept this project from moving ahead.

The regional opposition to the plant comes with good reason. In addition to adding to the demand for mountaintop removal coal, it has been predicted (using EPA-approved methodologies) that this coal plant would cause serious health problems for those downwind over the course of its 60-year lifespan. Among other problems, analysts estimate that pollution from the plant would cause over 1,300 asthma ER visits and contribute to over 2,400 heart attacks and 200,000 lost workdays.

Locals were successful in delaying the initial local zoning approval for a year, but the Dendron Town Council voted in early 2010 to approve the zoning. However, it rushed the process and failed to provide proper public notice, and a lawsuit from a local lawyer and blueberry farmer followed. Over the last two years, during which ODEC tried to keep this suit from going to court, the opposition movement has grown significantly, with people from Richmond to Virginia Beach joining Surry County residents in the fight. The Town of Surry, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County have all opposed the coal plant. Virginia Beach, Williamsburg and Representative Bobby Scott have all officially expressed grave concern. Also opposed are the Norfolk-based Consortium for Infant and Child Health, The Virginia Asthma Coalition and the American Lung Association, as well as nearly every conservation organization in the region.

Recently, the judge ruled in favor of the blueberry farmer, and the Town of Dendron had to hold another public hearing and vote for local zoning. Now, over three years after it proposed the plant, ODEC is just getting around to receiving local zoning approval—and the opposition keeps growing.

At previous public meetings, members of the Dendron Town Council have failed to ask a single substantive question or show anything but blind support for what could be the largest coal-fired power plant in the state. Also, at all five of the previous public hearings the predominantly local speakers have been overwhelmingly opposed to the plant. The meeting on March 5 was no different. Yet after the hearing the Dendron Town Council immediately began reading the motions from pre-printed scripts to approve the massive coal plant, which it did unanimously and without discussion.

So, after a three-year delay, ODEC has achieved its very first, very minor step toward permitting the plant. The broader opposition, already strong across Hampton Roads, just keeps gaining strength, and Appalachian Voices and our partners will ensure that this project never breaks ground.—Mike McCoy

Mike McCoy is the Virginia Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices.

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Opportunity knocking
I ate lunch last week at a local joint where diners are supposed to bus their own dishes, separating silverware, trash, and plates. This I was dutifully doing when I noticed some signage encouraging me to separate recyclables, too.

The sign said the restaurant’s plastic cups and dishes could be recycled. But those items dotted the trash can. Why? The recycling bin was hidden underneath the bus tub, while the garbage was easily at hand. Anyone who wasn’t paying full attention, or didn’t care that much, wasn’t gonna recycle squat.

Ergonomics matter. You can’t bring your own bags to the grocery store if you keep forgetting them at home because they’re stored in an inconvenient place. Far better they live in the car. You won’t compost the core of the apple you eat at work if you have to schlep it back home to a compost bin. (Well, actually I do that all the time, but I have a high tolerance for organic matter in my purse.) More to the point, people (as in “the public”) won’t improve their habits if businesses and institutions make it difficult or counterintuitive to do the right thing. I love the green recycling bins on the Downtown Mall, but how come they’re less numerous than the black garbage bins? What’s the message there?

Then again, we’re talking about individual choices. At a workshop I took recently, a fellow student who also happened to be a farmer noticed that people were throwing away food scraps. She announced that she’d take that valuable stuff home to her pigs, then provided a bag. If only all systems were that quickly improved.—Erika Howsare


 

Not bypassed yet
Jack Jouett Middle School lies in close proximity to the proposed site of the Western Bypass. Critics of the road, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, have argued that the increased traffic will adversely affect the air quality of nearby school children.

The point is, nature organizes along a path of least resistance. Or put another way, nature organizes to optimize the use of energy in the system.

 

Danger zone
Remember 2004, when Charlottesville was named the number one city to live in the U.S.? Well, the city and its surrounding countryside made it onto a different list this year: the Southern Environmental Law Center’s top 10 most endangered areas in the Southeast. Charlottesville has long been known as a special place to live—and now it is being recognized as environmentally endangered, due to the proposed Western Bypass around 29N.

This is the third year that the SELC has released a most endangered list, and according to Marie Hawthorne, director of development and marketing at the SELC, deciding what places make the list is based on urgency—whether or not an area is at high risk of permanent environmental damage in the next 12 months.

“The environment includes the air we breathe and the water we drink,” said Hawthorne. “But it also includes the character of the community.”

Morgan Butler, senior attorney at the SELC, says that if the bypass is approved, the surrounding areas will suffer severe, permanent damages. He notes that the bypass would run just a few hundred feet from the area’s primary drinking water reservoir, and he worries that children will be in danger, as the bypass would pass near elementary schools and their playing fields.

The bypass is intended to relieve traffic congestion on 29 and is, according to Albemarle County Board of Supervisors member Ken Boyd, “long overdue.”

Boyd said that VDOT has made recent updates to the plan based on environmental studies, and that, despite its proximity to drinking water, the bypass would pose minimal threats to the environment and to the county’s overall health. A contributing factor to the high cost of this bypass (estimated at $245 million), according to Boyd, is the “great deal of precaution” taken toward minimizing environmental ramifications.

“It’s important for our readers to know that this is not a done deal,” Hawthorne said. While the bypass has local approval, a lengthy federal process is still underway, giving concerned locals time to act.

Butler encourages concerned individuals and groups to contact the Federal Highway Administration, and to “let their local leaders know that they’re opposed to this process.”—Laura Ingles

Path of least resistance
On our farm in Cismont, we design much of our work by observing and mimicking nature. Winter is a great time to reexamine how we use energy and to create work that uses our finite resources more efficiently. By modeling our energy and resource use on natural systems, we can shift our ecological role from consumer towards producer.

Mark Jones splits wood at Sharondale Farm in Cismont. (Photo by John Robinson)

We design the farm and our home to yield benefits on many levels. Our goal is to use energy more efficiently and more optimally for our lifestyle, which requires time for play and family. For example, to minimize fossil fuel use, we heat the house with wood. Chopping wood is hard work, with visible and useful results. The physical rhythm opens a space for meditation and communication. It also warms us at least twice.

Splitting firewood is not just brute strength, but employs finesse in the placement of the force applied. Understanding the flow patterns of the wood structure informs each strike to find the path of least resistance. Other energy patterns here on the farm reflect the same flow. Animal trails cut across the hills rather than straight up and down; weeds occupy bare soil more rapidly than mulched areas; fungus grows faster along the grain of wood than across it.

The point is, nature organizes along a path of least resistance. Or put another way, nature organizes to optimize the use of energy in the system. In permaculture, these observations inform the design of the farm and farm work. For example, my favorite berries—currants, gooseberries, strawberries and blueberries—are planted along the main garden paths, so when they are in season the furthest many of them travel is the length of an arm. We coppice the willows at waist height rather than at ground level for easy pruning.

Our perennial polycultures of useful plants are maturing and need less maintenance. Waste from mushroom production is used in the garden, and we have a crop of feral mushrooms in the mulched beds most of the year. Trips into town are planned so time and energy are kept to a minimum. The food we eat is mostly local, from our farm and from farmers we know.
By observing and understanding our ecological niche, we can mimic natural systems. And, by applying our intelligence and imagination to the resources we have available, we can work smarter rather than harder and consume less external energy.—Mark Jones

Bulletin board
Barrel of funds: In order to finance the construction of a biodynamic garden project, the Charlottesville Waldorf School will hold a rain barrel sale on March 3, 9-11am. Barrels cost $90 (Charlottesville and Albemarle both offer $30 rebates); you must reserve yours at rainbarrel sintl.com. Black or terra cotta?

Village person: Douglas Olson will rap about the idea of an Eco Village —what it is, why it matters—at the Unity Church of Charlottesville, March 6, 7-9pm. Any of the following topics might come up: permaculture, alternative energy, green buildings, and (this is interesting) nonviolent communication. In other words, a recipe for better living.

Interpretive chance: Anyone who’s at least 17, and has time to give away this summer, can apply to the Virginia State Parks AmeriCorps Interpretive Project. Job description, paraphrased: Learn about interpreting parks, rack up customer service experience, develop “water craft skills” (!). Apply before March 31 at www.americorps.gov.

 

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Green Scene: This week's greenie news

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Living where we do—that is, on seven acres of rocky, sloping ground that was logged a couple of decades ago—it’s clear to me that we are not even close to being in charge. There are large parts of my property I’ve never set foot on because the plant life is too thick. It’s literally all we can do to beat back the wineberry, privet, and paradise trees from the acre or so that surrounds our house, keeping those rapacious growers from swallowing the yard and garden, season by season.

NICE DAY FOR A WALK

Members of the local Sierra Club gather at Dripping Rock on the Blue Ridge Parkway, February 18, for a six-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail. (Photo by Brianna Larocco)

One summer, a massive wall of blackberries fruited in the “the back field” (so called because it’s relatively clear of trees, though it still grows 10 feet high with stickweed). I happily filled containers with berries and made a few pints of jam. The next year, some other viney creature had claimed the spot, suffocating the berry bushes.

In winter, it’s easier to walk through our strange, homely woods, where opportunistic trees are clutching space among big stumps—reminders of more stately predecessors. We were out there this month, and I was shocked to see how much a group of poplar saplings had grown since the last time I bothered to notice them. Nothing stays the same in this scruffy place; everything keeps changing, and if you turn your back too long, you feel the rush of time the next time you look.

Opossums raid our chicken coop; ladybugs storm the attic. Cobwebs breed in the dining room. A huge wild turkey ran through the yard last weekend.

It’s all so alive that it takes your breath away.—Erika Howsare

NEWS BRIEFS

Bigger tables: Local food’s big with families, but what about schools and hospitals? The Piedmont Environmental Council holds a free two-part workshop, February 24 and March 26, aimed at bringing more institutions on board with the locavore trend. More info at pecva.org/Events.

Forever forested: Benjamin, Terry, and Thomas Warthen took 223 acres of their land on Piney Mountain—southwest of Charlottesville, within view of Monticello—off the table for future development. In January, the family granted the Virginia Department of Forestry a working forest conservation easement—Albemarle County’s second such easement in the
past year.

Go outside and ping: Why bring your smartphone hiking? To use the new Virginia State Parks Pocket Ranger app, which lets you personalize routes, mark favorite fishing spots, share wildlife spottings with other users, and lots more. Download it for free at stateparkapps.com/apps/va/apps.php.

Transition living
To hear the Transition movement tell it, sustainability’s no longer as simple as recycling soda cans and changing out light bulbs. Instead, we need to tackle issues surrounding peak oil, climate changes, and economic inequalities.

No simple solutions to such far-reaching environmental and economic crises. But the Transition movement—which began in the U.K. and has spread to over 100 U.S. cities and towns—aims to address these thorny problems on an everyday, local level, building community resilience.

On February 11 and 12, Charlottesville took a big step toward joining the list of official Transition Towns with a weekend workshop at CitySpace. Holly Edwards, former vice mayor, kicked off the weekend by declaring that the Transition movement “can create a society that is more abundant, more socially equitable, more environmentally friendly, and more spiritually connected.” Three Transition trainers then introduced the model to 36 attendees and raised questions about how to gain momentum and engage the public.

That includes underrepresented groups. “It’s all about finding ways to approach them passionately and as peers,” said Andrew Moore, newly active Transition member. Moore said the group wants to reach not just the upper middle class white families who already buy organic vegetables and ride their bikes to work, but also families of color below the poverty line who can barely buy groceries. Michelle Ba’th Bates, Executive Director of Female Perspective and a Transition member, noted that underserved populations are often more concerned with day-to-day survival than energy efficiency.

“It’s about listening before it’s about helping or teaching,” said Sarah Frazer, a Transition Charlottesville member. If jobs are the issue, it’s about helping to create “resilient, locally-owned jobs.” If access to healthy food is the issue, it’s about working with the farmers’ market to accept food stamps, or establishing community gardens. If energy efficiency is the issue, it’s about working with renters (because most energy efficiency programs focus on homeowners) to help lower energy bills.

Freeman admitted that many people—and groups—will hesitate to get involved because they already have too much on their plates. A multitude of Charlottesville groups are already making sustainability efforts, and Freeman said that one of the greatest challenges thus far has been collaborating and combining with these groups.

Transition Charlottesville doesn’t want “to be just another group,” said Frazer, “but to give leverage to the strengths and aspects of groups already here.”—Laura Ingles

Plastic hangers (and other stuff you don’t need)
You’ve probably already noticed: Most of what we buy is made to be thrown away. This includes everything from food packaging to electronics to clothes hangers.

Our usual plastic hangers are not recyclable. Plastic hangers are made with a mix of plastics, which makes them nearly impossible to recycle in current facilities. What to do when they break? In the old days, I would toss them in the recycle bin, cross my fingers, and hope for the best. But the truth is that they end up in a landfill anyway. Metal hangers aren’t much more eco-friendly. The plastic coating that is applied to keep them from rusting also makes them difficult to recycle.

In 2009, I made a decision to stop throwing things away. When I looked around my house, I saw a sea of disposables. I had to find alternatives for all of those old products that I used to take for granted, like toothbrushes, sponges, and pens—just to name a few. Once I got into the habit, I could spot potential garbage before it made its way into my shopping cart or drifted into my home. As any conscientious consumer knows, to reduce waste is to go against the grain of our consumer culture. Everywhere you turn, there is some piece of packaging sneaking into your life.

But there is good news. A quick Internet search reveals creative ideas to replace almost any disposable product. Companies and individual craftspeople are responding to demand, and they’re offering alternatives to all of those items that we’re so used to throwing away. If we use our purchasing power to support the alternatives, we’ll make an impact on the supply of eco-products—and we’ll save money and lots of resources in the long run.

Try it for yourself. It’s fun. You could pick one household item per month and start phasing in non-disposables. Spend 10 minutes researching your options, and pick the alternative that sounds like the best fit. Experiment. See what works for you and then spread the word to the rest of us. How about a homemade sponge? Or a wooden toothbrush? Try switching from pens to pencils. And the next time you clean out your closet, give it a makeover with some recycled cardboard hangers. At the end of their lifespan, they can be composted, recycled, or used in your fireplace.

For information about these alternative products and more, visit http://zerogarbage challenge.info/.—Rose Brown

Rose Brown heads up local nonprofit Stream Watch and occasionally gives talks about her Zero Garbage Challenge project.

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