Saturday, January 30, 2010

Eco-Depot Publishes 2010 Schedule

Have some old paint or cleaners laying around the house? What about spent batteries or CFL bulbs? Or maybe even that old radiator fluid you flushed out last summer?

Eco-Depot, the household waste disposal service from the R.I. Resource Recovery Corporation, has published their 2010 schedule. Monthly drop-offs happen at their facility in Johnston (at the Central Landfill) with mobile units hitting various cities and towns throughout the year. Roadshows closest to us:
  • April 17 // Second Beach in Middletown (e-waste included at this event)
  • June 5 // Portsmouth High School
  • July 17 // Department of Public Works in Tiverton
To drop off items, you have to make an appointment in advance. See the RIRRC website for details.

Image Source: RIRRC website

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sakonnet Voices: Kristin Silveira

Local Sogkonnite Living blogger, Kristin Silveira, recently attended the "Agriculture on Aquidneck Island" event over at the Pennfield School. Given all the cool stuff that her and her family are diving into, her perspective on the event is great. Thanks again, Kristin!

I had the pleasure of attending the lecture, Agriculture on Aquidneck Island, last week at Penfield School. It was moderated by Ted Clement of the Aquidneck Land Trust and had four local farmers on the panel. Peter Borden of the Swiss Village Farm and SVF Foundation, John Nunes from Newport Vineyards, Louis Escobar from Escobar’s Farm and Rhody Fresh Milk and Barbara vanBeuren from Aquidneck Farms. Luckily for us (we have four cherubs) they had some of the school’s upperclassmen in another room to watch the children. The event was very well attended, even though it was lightly snowing that evening. In fact, they even had to put out more chairs for all the attendees.

Each gave a short presentation enhanced by video and slides on their ventures. Peter Borden spoke about the work they are doing to save rare and endangered breeds of livestock via germplasm (embryos, semen and genetic material). The Swiss Village sits on 35 acres in Newport, RI, formerly the Edgehill Rehab Center.  John Nunes discussed the history of his family’s land and the development into a large successful vineyard. His beautiful video showed the various parcels around the island they farm and a tease of how they operate -- he encouraged everyone to attend the vineyard for the full tour. Louis Escobar gave a passionate history of inheriting the farm along with the million dollar tax bill. This is when he became connected with (as are Newport Vineyards and Aquidneck Farm) the Aquidneck Land Trust to save the farm. He also talked about how he had to diversify when the price of milk dropped about a decade ago, beginning his corn maze. Barbara van Beuren discussed her grass fed beef, a herd size of about 120 head. They have also begun to raise pastured poultry, in chicken tractors. This is very familiar to me from Joel Salatin’s methods, although she did not specifically state this. In the summer the herd is rotationally grazed and the winter the herd is fed their own dried hay or grass silage. 

Around the room were tables set up with various vendors. Present were the panel’s farms in addition to Sweet Berry Farms, RI Livestock Association, and the Aquidneck Growers Market. All had representatives from their organizations, and various literatures to take home. I was pleased to meet Kim from the livestock association with whom I have many email and phone conversations. My kids were most impressed with the Rhody Fresh milk table as he gave them each a chocolate milk and a key chain. I am sorry to say they we don’t carry this milk at their school, he explained that some companies were reluctant to serve their milk as it was more expensive.

Here are some other upcoming events we learned about. This Thursday, Jan 21st, at URI is “An Economic Development Framework for Sustainable Agriculture" lecture from 10-12. It is sponsored by the van Beuren Foundation, Rhode Island Foundation, and University of Rhode Island. The speaker is Michael Hamm, CS Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, Michigan State University.

Aquidneck Land Trust is hosting their 20th annual meeting Thursday, February 4th at 6pm at the Atlantic Beach Club. Public welcome, complementary buffet and cash bar.

The SVF Foundation’s Annual Visitors Day Saturday June 12th from 9:30-3:00. There is free parking at Fort Adams State Park with a trolley shuttle and free admission to SVF. I really hope to be able to attend this event as the farm is usually closed to visitors for bio-security reasons.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Avatar and Deep Ecology

Sara and I finally succumbed to the ranting and raving and checked out “Avatar” over the weekend. I have a natural pre-disposition to sci-fi-esque movies, so I went in there biased. But what I left there thinking was more than skin deep.

While the story is somewhat predictable, any let down in plot was offset by the amazing quality of the production. Accolades abound and it will surely set the bar even higher for Hollywood. Clearly, that is part of the draw – and its reaping of over one billion dollars world-wide so far.

I agree with the critics that there is significant commentary on many fronts – political, social, environmental. But I see nothing wrong with that. Allowing creative expression – regardless of the muse – to be a vehicle for social commentary is nothing new. It’s healthy and needed.

So what does Avatar have to do with this humble little blog?

The film caused me to remember some research I had done years ago on the topic of ‘deep ecology’. A Google search will turn up more pages than you can shake a stick at. In a nutshell though, the deep ecology philosophy is one that places human kind on equal footing with the rest of the ecosphere. We are not above the environment or anything that calls it home (an anthropocentric view) but just another thread in the fabric of life. As such, the exploitation of nature for the gain of humankind is a fatal error that will lead to eventual demise.

Deep ecology sets forth eight basic principles around which the philosophy/movement is grounded*:
  1. The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.
  2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves.
  3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital human needs.
  4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.
  5. Present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive, and the situation is rapidly worsening.
  6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic economic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of affairs will be deeply different from the present.
  7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality (dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound awareness of the difference between big and great.
  8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes.
Such a platform challenges most modern (in particular, Western) thought, living, religious belief, and supposed strategies and tactics for economic “progress”. 

This equality, balance, and interdependence within the ecosphere is nothing new, however. Native peoples have ascribed to it for millenia (clearly, the inspiration for James Cameron's Na'vi people). The Buddhist concept of ‘interbeing’, often espoused by famed monk, author, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, also points us towards such a view. But alas, Western culture marches to the beat of a different, more ego-centric drum.

Of course, deep ecology has its critics and detractors. But at the end of the day, the details of who’s really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ doesn’t matter. What’s important is the dialogue that surrounds it. Because no matter how you look at it, there is no way humans can keep on multiplying and consuming at the pace we’re at and not tap this proverbial well dry. My opinion is that we’ll start to see the beginning of this unraveling in my lifetime; our kids and grandkids – that’s a whole different story.

Man, the scope of all of this hurts my head. Where do we go from here? Maybe Hollywood can help. ;-)

Some additional resources for deep ecology:
Foundation for Deep Ecology

“Introduction to Deep Ecology”, Context Institute

* Source: 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

DIY Laundry Detergent

Want to save $50 in 15 minutes? Read on.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to become more resourceful on the home front when it comes to the DIY (do it yourself) category. I’m not usually all that handy – as my friends and family can attest to – but 2010 is the year to change all that!

Why? For me, it’s part environmental, part financial, and part this crazy notion of wanting to be a suburban homesteader. At the end of the day though, if a person can learn a new skill, lessen their impact on the planet, live a bit more simply, AND save a few dollars in the process, then it’s worth the while.

So the first “how-to” I wanted to share is DIY laundry detergent.

We were reaching the end of our economy size bottle of store-bought detergent and I figured, what the heck, let’s see what we can do. There are a ton of resources out there for making the stuff and clearly I’m not breaking new ground here, but nonetheless, let me give you the tutorial. (I made a liquid-based detergent because of our high-efficiency washer, but you can find a powder recipe here.)

Most, if not all, of the recipes out there are based on three, easily-accessible ingredients:

•    Basic bar soap (preferably a low-suds, low-fragrance variety)
•    Washing soda (a.k.a, soda ash or sodium carbonate; I used an Arm & Hammer brand).
•    Borax (a.k.a., sodium borate; I used the 20-Mule-Team brand) to brighten and de-odorize

Add to that the following materials:

•    5-gallon bucket (preferably with lid)
•    Liquid measuring cup
•    Dry measuring cup
•    Large sauce pot
•    Box grater
•    Large stirring spoon
•    An empty and clean one-gallon jug

Just about everything you need to get started

Now, for the tutorial:

1.    Measure 4 cups of water, place it in the sauce pot, and bring to a boil

2.    Grate one bar of basic soap into small shavings. I used Ivory because it is low-suds, doesn’t smell all that much, and is cheap. Remember, the cleaning action is not from the volume of suds. In fact, if you have a high efficiency (HE) washer, the less suds the better.

3.    Slowly add the soap shavings to the boiling water, stirring until everything is dissolved and combined. Lower heat and keep it on simmer.

4.    From there, add 3 gallons of warm-to-hot tap water to the 5-gallon bucket

5.    Add 1 cup of the Washing Soda

6.    Add ½ cup of Borax

7.    Add the dissolved water/bar soap mixture; stir all the contents well with the spoon

Everything combined and ready to be capped

8.    Put the lid on the bucket and allow the mixture to stand for 24-hours.

9.    After 24 hours, check out your mixture. Depending on the temperature of where you stored the bucket you should have anything from a liquid with small gelatinous chunks to a full gelatinous mixture akin to a semi-hard Jello. We had the latter because everything is in the basement. Just take your spoon and give it a good mixing. The mixture will break apart and become more liquid-y in the process.

It's tough to see, but our mixture had quite a gelatinous consistency when we first pulled off the lid. It broke up easily when stirred.

10.    When you’re ready to do a load, measure 1 cup of the mixture and add it to your wash as normal

Ready to roll. The little chunks easily dissolved in the wash.

We’ve run a few loads so far and we can tell no difference. If we had something with a stain, I’d probably still try to pre-treat it. But the clothes come out feeling, smelling, and looking fresh. I’m sure you could add some natural oil essence to the mix if you wanted to enhance the olfactory experience a bit.

Now for the dollars and cents (or should that be sense?):

For the DIY laundry detergent:
  • Total cost for all the ingredients (including tax) was $10.04 ($2.99 for the Washing Soda + $3.99 for the Borax + $2.58 for the 6 bars soap). Using the above measurements, we will get 6 complete batches with some Borax to spare.

  • Each batch provides 52 liquid cups of detergent. Multiply by 6 batches and that gives you enough detergent for 312 1-cup loads.

  • Cost Per Load = $10.04 / 312 = $0.03

For the traditional laundry detergent:

Let’s use Tide 2X Ultra Concentrated Liquid Laundry Detergent Original Scent (150oz bottle; 96 loads per bottle) -- something we've bought in the past. At Stop & Shop’s Peapod site, this retails for $19.99. You would need 3.18 bottles of this to give you 312 loads of detergent – the amount we get with our DIY version. For the sake of simple math, let’s round down to 3 bottles.
  • Total Cost = $19.99 x 3 = $59.97 (not including tax)

  • Cost Per Load = $59.97 / 312 = $0.19
Now, I bet you could get the ingredients cheaper (I bought them at Stop & Shop) thus lowering your per-load cost. But even with these numbers, we’re saving $0.16 per load across the six batches (312 total loads) for a total savings of $49.92. Not too shabby for 15 minutes worth of work.

Financial benefits aside, we’re using ingredients that are free of petroleum byproducts, further lessening our oil dependence and eliminating toxins from our home. When you stop and take stock of all the things in your home that uses a petroleum by-product (e.g., plastics for starters), even this very small step feels good.

Good luck making your own! Be sure to drop a line and share your results!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Green News From Across the State at ecoRI

There's a new voice for green news in Rhode Island.

ecoRI, the brainchild of veteran reporter Frank Carini, is publishing twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) with original stories you won't find anywhere else. I've spoken with Frank and his ambitions are noble. More importantly though, the stories at ecoRI are original, well researched, and superbly written.

Be sure to sign up for headlines delivered to your In Box too.

Best wishes to Frank and the ecoRI team!

Follow Me On twitter

So, after a long delay I'm finally up on twitter. Come follow me at See you around!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: $20 Per Gallon

How would your life change if gas cost $4.00 per gallon? $8.00? $12.00? $20.00?

That’s the premise of the new book by Christopher Steiner. While many books on the prospect of higher fuel costs driven by lessening supply and increasing demand are typically of the doom-and-gloom variety, the premise of $20 Per Gallon is that our lives will actually change for the better.

Each chapter looks at the impact of our American lifestyle at ever-increasing per-gallon price points ($4.00, $6.00, $8.00… all the way to $20.00). It’s an interesting and thought-provoking ride through a number of well-research scenarios of what will be lost and gained as we spend more on fuel. Historical perspectives that helped shape our current situations add context, while first-person interviews with field experts help ground the proclamations. Consider the following key game changers from the book:
  • At $6.00 per gallon the SUV dies and we drive fewer miles by the billions. Fewer lives are lost to traffic fatalities and as a society we begin the great Slim Down.

  • At $8.00 per gallon, air travel as we know it goes the way of the dodo and the airline industry is stripped of all but the most savvy players. This drives families and friends to re-localize to a smaller geographic area.

  • At $12.00 per gallon suburbia begins to wither on the vine as more and more people relocate to cities to live more energy efficient lifestyles and take advantage of all that higher density living has to offer.

  • At $16.00 per gallon food shipped from half way across the globe is a thing of the past. Localized food systems based soundly on organic growing principles (no fossil fuel derivative fertilizers here!) take center stage. Processed foods begin their fall from grace as people continue to evolve their healthier lifestyles.
I won’t spoil the "cliff-hanger" $20.00 scenario for you. Now, of course WHEN we see this dramatic rise in gasoline cost is the Million Dollar Question. Mr. Steiner does not get into that. He doesn't have to. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Why? Consider peak oil.

Prior to reading the book, I was already a committed believer of peak oil and the inevitable changes (good and bad) that will ensue as the world’s demand for carbon-based fuels far outweighs the supply. When you consider all of this through the lens of our suburban Sakonnet community, I began to feel a growing sense of urgency. An urgency to engage our community – from elected officials to businesses to citizens just like you and me – to start the discussion of just how we should be proactively planning for that inevitable time. We all need to be a part of this process.

You may remember the post on Saving Suburbia through the creation of a Transition Town movement. I picked up the “handbook” through the inter-library loan system and am giving it a read-through. It’s all about just that – putting aside the typical short-term thinking of municipal affairs to start engaging the broader public in a collective think-tank for creating solutions for evolving and sustaining our communities in the face of peak oil and climate change.

But when I step back from the eco-pulpit, I look out and see very few people out there with that same sense of urgency. As a society, we have forsaken the long-view for the more instantaneously gratifying shorter variety. Proactive planning is a long-lost art. Yes, some of the new recently-passed business zoning laws start chipping away at this, but that is no silver bullet.

The inherent design flaws of our own municipal government structure are a case in point: We are so wrapped up in the (sometimes important, sometimes not) minutiae of day-to-day operations we can never take the time or effort to look out five years, let alone 15 or 20. Few of our elected officials are willing to risk even small-scale political careers on such big and often complex ideas. Further, our simpleton financial process, with its 12-month birth-death cycle, will never allow for long-term planning and investment in serious and substantial community change initiatives. The broader community lacks the necessary context for an informed vote in that knee-jerk, group think arena known as the Financial Town Meeting.

I ask for your honest opinion: Do you sense the same urgency for engagement and planning? Why or why not? Is the vast majority of the population just bogged down by the day-to-day to even care? If you've read this book, how has it changed your perspective on things?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Want to see if you have enough wind on your property for a turbine?

“There’s an app for that…”

Thanks to Amy over at Mariah Power, manufacturer of the Windspire turbine, for the heads up on Windspire Me, their new (free) iPhone app. I haven't downloaded it (sorry, no iPhone in my pocket), but the feedback at the iTunes Store shows that a few folks have been interested in getting their wind on.

This is a great example of leveraging new(er) consumer engagement technology and trends to connect with potential customers and bolster your business. The Windspire Me app exudes a pretty decent "cool" factor too.

What to do after you thrust your iPhone in the air and find you’re in a sweet spot for wind? You can check out Mariah’s dealer listing for starters. I put “02878” into the zip code finder and the closest dealer was Rhode Island Power in Middletown.

With that in mind, it’s good to remember that federal and state tax credits and rebates are out there for residential renewable energy projects. The federal government provides a tax credit of 30%. Overviews of state-level financial incentives for residential projects are here for Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Are you thinking about renewable energy project for your home? Installed a solar array, solar hot water unit or turbine lately? Leave a comment and tell us about the process and outcomes!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Farmers' Market Withdrawal

Because of the weather today, we decided to hang back and not head up to Pawtucket for the Wintertime Farmers' Market. With the market closed last week due to the holiday, we were bummed knowing it would be another week before being able to get some local fare.

That got me thinking: Why not a more locally situated wintertime farmers' market? According to Farm Fresh RI, there are three wintertime markets running in the state each weekend: the one in Pawtucket has the north part of the state covered; the Coastal Growers Market in North Kingstown and its counterpart in South Kingstown/Peacedale handle the southern end of things. Something in the Sakonnet/Aquidneck area would do wonders for the eastern part of the state.

A good number of the growers/producers in Pawtucket each week are from Sakonnet/Aquidneck area (list here). Enough to surely cover the gamut of wintertime offerings. Honestly, it's probably more a factor of two things: demand and logistics.

Could enough traffic be drummed up to drive sales at a level that makes it worth while for the growers? And where is there an indoor facility suitable for housing the market? Pawtucket has both of these covered nicely.

While I have nothing to substantiate it aside from observations at the Aquidneck Growers, Sakonnet Growers, and Colt State Park markets, I think there is enough interest and demand for local food to warrant a wintertime market in these parts. As for location, why not tap one of our local schools? The "cafetorium" at the Tiverton Middle School comes to mind as a great open space.

I know there are a few readers of Sustainable Sakonnet close to the Sakonnet Growers Market. Any thoughts on this? I would be willing to lend a hand in thinking it through if you're interested.

How about other readers? Would you like to see a wintertime farmers' market closer to home?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Hard to believe it's a new decade, but here we are. What next?

I'm optimistic about 2010, both personally and at the community level. There is a lot going on and even more in the pipeline.

On the home front, I'm committed to doing even more to lessen our environmental footprint -- and sharing what we're doing with all of you. Be on the lookout for a new blog series I'm going to call (for now, anyway) "Back to Basics" -- a forum for learning a sharing some things both big and small to help live more simply and sustainably.

In the community, there is much to be done with many things starting to make their way to the forefront -- from Pay as You Throw to municipal renewable energy projects to long-term economic development opportunities. What should the agenda be with our elected officials? Take the January Poll (at right) and start to lend your voice.

2010 is also the year that I hope to make Sustainable Sakonnet more than just a blog. There are many like-minded folks out there and ample opportunity to help connect us a bit more -- to share, to learn, to organize and galvanize our community around topics that are important to the long-term vitality and sustainability of our little neck of the woods.

As for the blog, we'll keep trucking along. This Blogger platform is becoming a bit limiting so I'll be exploring other options (e.g., Wordpress) to enable better organization of the content.

In the meantime, I'd like to try a few new "features" to further seed the dialogue: Up first, a "Book of the Month". Sounds hokey, yes, but why can't the good ol' fashioned book club concept work here too? Stimulating thought provoking (virtual) conversation has never been a bad thing. Check it out (at right). I'll be getting a post up soon to serve as the discussion chain. Perhaps a Movie of the Month is not far behind.

So until next time, I wish you and yours the best for the New Year. Thanks for your support of Sustainable Sakonnet! As always, I love to hear from you -- your thoughts and ideas are always welcome and appreciated!