Category Archives: environment

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sally and her daughter, Emma, and April and I were down at Pemberton Farms doing some advance scouting for the Big Dig this weekend. (That’s what we’re calling the Green Roof Project. It’s only funny if you’re a Bostonian.) Several of our gardening friends mentioned that we should go early. We’re not the only ones responding to the food prices with a garden and, as the only local gardening center, Pemberton Farms is running low on everything.

As Sally and I puttered around, marking things to be held for us until the weekend, I noticed a guy in those oddly pixelated fatigues that the army is wearing these days. At least his pants. He was wearing a khaki t-shirt, despite the chill. He was middle aged and broad across the shoulders with short short hair — dunno what color, it was that short — and a deep tan. The tan — and I guess the posture — caught my attention. It’s May in New England. No one has a tan.

He wasn’t handsome, per se, but he had a sort of charisma that made my attention come back to him again and again. Even April, who has been spooked by uniforms, smiled at him and waved.

He was marking many of the same sorts of plants we were — food plants. I figured he was just a local vet with a green thumb until three guys — all in the late twenties — walked up to him and snapped off lazy salutes. He nodded at them and they started going back behind him, picking up everything he’d marked off and carting it up to the cashier.

They were also tanned, with short hair, wearing pixelated pants and t-shirts. One guy had a c-leg, one guy had a metal arm, and the other guy walked slowly and stiffly. And suddenly it all fell into place.

That was The Colonel.

Apparently he’s planting a garden. The implications of that are staggering, and not just because the Parks Department is going to have kittens. He’s planning on keeping his little tent city at least through the summer and he’s putting down roots. He’s going to feed these folks from the land on the Esplanade. (And let me tell you, the landscapers are going to be pissed off beyond measure!)

They had just about gotten through their purchases when one of their cell phones rang. The guy with the c-leg talked for a second, said something, and just like that, they were all gone gone gone, speeding off on bicycles, the plants waving in the wind on the back of a trailer.

About five minutes later, a convoy of BackWater Thugs pulled up in big black Humvees with tinted windows. April, naturally, spazzed and Sally and I sort of hunkered down in the apple tree section, cooing at April and hoping they would leave. A couple of JBT (jack-booted thugs) jogged through but they didn’t stay long in our corner — a wailing two year old is no one’s idea of fun — and then they peeled off again, quite dramatically, only to come to an abrupt stop half a block later at one of the fourteen lights on that section of Mass. Ave.

We paid up and left pretty damned fast after that.

Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008

Happy Turkey Day!

I’m fighting off a tryptophan coma and trying not to think about the pile of dishes in the kitchen. Our local feast went pretty well. Everyone was very appreciative of April’s turkey impressions as they arrived. The hard cider from the Berkshires was a big hit too. We may have to take another trip out to Colrain to get more.

It was weird to think of Gil stuck down on the Mall, so I called and asked him to do the grace for us long-distance. Ain’t technology grand? Neve’s care package got through, sans the fudge, as expected. The protesters apparently made up costumes like schoolkids; paper pilgrim hats and indian head-dresses. Gil said the big tofurkey was kinda undercooked, so he was glad to have Neve’s turkey-leg.

There were rumors last week that we’d have a new boss at EPA. The rumor was that Admiral “Skip” Bowman was going to be the new EPA Administrator, via recess appointment. Rep. Kucinich is among a group of legislators who are staying in town this extended weekend to keep Congress in session. I wonder if one of them will swing by the Washington Monument for a plate of tofurkey?

Monday, Nov. 17, 2008

There was a big broadcast e-mail and voice-mail at work today. I’m surprised the news media haven’t really picked it up yet.

The acting Administrator of the EPA and the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Energy, and Transportation sent out a joint press release requesting that Americans refrain from traveling for Thanksgiving this year. Between the high cost of oil and the heightened security situation, the Government expects that cutting holiday traffic by as little as 30% will save billions for fed, state, and local governments. Their also hoping that a serious cut in demand for gasoline and jet fuel will prevent a spike in costs and not spook Wall Street.

I don’t know how well this is going to go over with the American public. “Over the River and Through the Woods” is the only holiday song for Thanksgiving (well, except for Alice’s Restaurant). Travel is as much a part of the holiday as the turkey or football.

Of course, a savvy politico would note that this press release does set the national conversation for at least this week. It can only be to Bush’s advantage to talk about anything else but the delayed election and the protesters camped in his back yard.

Neve and I have traveled every year to at least three different grandparents’ houses (it’s a bitch being a child of divorced hippies). I think we’re going to take the PTB up on their offer and hold an orphans’ dinner here. I didn’t need the agita of dealing with the Sturbridge tolls anyway.

Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008

Matt made a point earlier about how farmer’s market prices will rise as the supermarket prices rise.

I beg to disagree.  I think.

I was an English major, so my grasp on economics is dodgy. But hear me out.  First, I’ve already locked in the price for my CSA next year. I acknowledge that may just delay the price hike. But really and truly, my CSA isn’t nearly as dependent on oil as a mega farm. First, it is in Amherst, so it’s only 100 miles from farm to table. Transportation has never been a huge part of the cost. Compare that to shipping it in from Cali. or Chile or even Florida. Second, it’s organic, so there are no petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc. incorporated into the cost. Third, it’s tiny,  so it doesn’t require huge combines and tractors to harvest (they do a lot of harvesting by hand).

What it comes down to is this: the price of oil is only a tiny percentage of the cost for local, organic, sustainable food. It’s an enormous, huge, big honking stinking cost for all other food.  (Read Omnivore’s Dilemma. Seriously, everyone who eats should read it.) SO I’m not sure that the price of oil will drive up my food prices.

Now, supply and demand could, in fact, do just that. I’ve seen it before. Two years ago, my supplier for local, pasture raised, organic chickens got featured in The Globe and suddenly there was a waiting list. (But as a regular customer, I got first dibs. Nah nah nah nah!) But I don’t think that my farmer’s market or CSA is going to be cheaper — I think oil would have to go up even more to make that happen. And local food has some serious drawbacks.

First: Choice. My CSA is a big box every week with whatever is in season. If you’re looking for strawberries in November, you’re SOL. In fact, if you’re looking for strawberries any time but May and June, you’re SOL. If you wanted onions and the onion harvest got eaten by the cows (happened!) then you’re SOL. If you don’t like celeriac and it’s the week for celeriac, you’re SOL. If you want to make a giant batch of sweet potatoes and you only get three, you’re SOL. You have to be flexible and willing to try new things to enjoy a CSA. Those are not American traits.

Second: Effort. I get food that still ahs dirt on it and I need to scrub for half an hour. I get giant batches of one veggie on week and need to can or freeze of pickle  it if I want some next month. I get food I’ve never heard of before and need to research it before I cook it. Most Americans are not only unwilling to do that, they are unable. It’s a full time job for me, preserving and preparing food from scratch. In the world of Rachel Ray’s 30-minute meals with stock from a carton, veggies from the freezer, and pre-boiled shrimp, those skills have been lost. What’s more, since msot families have two working parents, they simply don’t have the time.

Third: Effort, part two. I need to haul my butt down to the center of Huron Village once a week on Thursday mornings for my veggies, out to Concord once a month for my chickens and eggs on Friday afternoon, and down to JP once a month for my beef on Monday at noon. If I want something other than my CSA, I have to go to the Farmer’s Market in Davis between noon and five on Wednesdays. Since most people work, those hours don’t work for them. Also, I needed to pay for next year’s veggies last month and most Americans don’t think that far ahead.

So I don’t think that my local stuff is going to go up that much. I could be totally wrong. But I don’t think so.

Sunday, Nov. 9, 2008

I’m sitting here in shock. Sticker shock.

I guess I should have expected it after the prices at the pumps skyrocketed. But it hasn’t been covered in any of the news stories, we’re all concerned about the attacks, the body counts, the clusterfuck in D.C. And it’s not like prices haven’t been creeping up for the past two years. But I just got back from my first regular grocery shopping trip since Halloween and I’m stunned.

I just paid $100 for some really basic groceries. At Shaw’s, too, not Whole Foods.

I didn’t notice, really, until I checked out. On my way in, I did see a notice posted on the door about a slight increase in prices due to a steep increase in fuel prices. I’ve seen that notice a couple of times over the past two years so I walked by without registering it and just grabbed my usual stuff. Only at the milk case did I kind of pause — I’ve been paying about $5 for half a gallon of organic whole milk.  That’s a lot when we go through two gallons a week. (Paul and I both like milk, too. And it’s one of the only things I haven’t been able to find from a small, local, artisinal producer.) I grabbed the usual two half gallons from the fridge and happened to glance up and see that the price for the regular (non organic) milk was $5/half-gallon.

But, because I was in a crowded busy store with a cranky toddler, I didn’t think to look at the price for my milk. Imagine my shock when I saw it come up for $7 at the cash register!

My CSA didn’t have enough carrots this week for a batch of lamb stew so I’d bought some carrots — $4 for a pound of carrots. (Okay, organic carrots.) I stared at them and realized, suddenly, that they were imported, if that’s the word for it, from California.  Of course they were expensive — with gas at $4/gallon, everything is going to cost a lot more to ship across the country.

Suddenly, for the first time, my insistence on buying local makes financial sense as well as ecological sense.  Supermarket prices are higher than the farmer’s market. I was in such shock that I didn’t think to pop over to the meat counter and check out the price of chuck and chicken. (Of course, I don’t actually know how much conventional chuck and chicken cost before this spike since I’ve been buying them from local farmers for so long. )

Of course, the farmer’s markets and my CSA both end in another three weeks. I’ve got a share at the Drumlin Farm winter CSA for root veggies and whatnot but it looks like my food budget is going to spike suddenly. We’ve got the cash, so it’s not a hardship for me, but I worry about my friends who are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008

Because I’ve had a few people comment on it in e-mails, here’s my formal correction.  If you payed close attention to the news, you’d know that the explosion in Houston was at the ExxonMobil facility in Baytown, TX not further down the channel in Texas City.  Neve got the two confused because everyone kept talking about how the explosion and fire was like the Texas City Disaster in 1947.

It’s just another case of the media missing the important bits.  The explosion last Friday was nothing compared to the 1947 explosion.  But the 1947 accident didn’t release a cloud of hydroflouric acid vapor either.  It’s going to take a while to sift through the wreckage to determine which will be the deadlier and costlier disaster.

I just heard from some of the Emergency Response folks here (the ones who aren’t on loan to Region 6), that that cloud was utterly preventable.  EPA has been pushing to replace the hydroflouric acid with hydrochloric acid for a while now, but the big oil companies don’t want to spend the money.  Gas prices are already through the roof, maybe you could be good corporate citizens and spare some lives?!

Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008

So the last Friday of every month is the “Go Green Walk/Ride Day” in our parts. You are supposed to wear green and eschew driving for more eco-friendly methods of transportation like the bus or the subway. Normally that would be next week — however, next Friday is Halloween so I guess moved it to yesterday. I bumped into one of their little events last night on the way back from Mr. Crepe.

I like the concept… sort of.  I’m all for walking and riding. Paul and I use our car about once a month, if that. I walk everywhere and so does April. How many not-yet-two-year-olds do you know who can walk two miles? And I like that this organization is working to improve the (not fabulous) public transportation system around here. I mean, I love our subway but it’s not the best in the world.

But it seems to me that the majority of the effort is promoting that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you put on a green t-shirt on the last Friday of the month. Also, if you buy from sponsors (while wearing green), you get free stuff! You’re not actually doing anything, mind you, but you’re showing your support for all things… green. And shopping. Never forget the shopping.

I think that’s what bugs me. The consumerism attitude towards the environment. It’s like those stupid (red) t-shirts the Gap was selling a couple of years ago. They were helping to raise money to defeat… something. Do you remember? Didn’t matter, really, as long as you had the cool logo t-shirt.  Or the shampoo at the local drugstore that had a pink cap and claimed that it helped support breast cancer. Now, I gotta assume they meant help fight breast cancer or support breast cancer research but I’m still not sure that I think buying overpriced strawberry shampoo is helping fight breast cancer. But hey! You can feel good and shop at the same time.

Our political and charitable instincts have been so blunted by apathy and dulled by our bloated consumerism that we regard shopping trips as major political statements.

You want to “go green”? Skip the free coffee (with purchase) at the local coffeeshop that sponsors “Go Green Day”. Coffee is necessarily shipped from halfway around the world. Instead, resolve to lower your thermostat two degrees. Buy a pair of used jeans instead of new. (Do you have any idea how many pounds of fertilizer and pesticide go into one pair of jeans?) Agree to buy fewer and smaller Christmas presents this year. Or none! Bake cookies instead. Skip the bags at the grocery store and bring your own. If you must have that latte (and I admit, I must) bring your own cup (I do!).

Okay, I’m done. For now.