Monday, August 24, 2009

Local Food Articles

I've across a few articles on local food recently that are a cut above the fray. They touch on issues of climate change and vegetarianism, and reference studies conducted on the impact of our food choices.

From World Watch magazine, "Is Local Food Better?" is a well researched article that explores the meaning of local food, tradeoffs involved with that choice, and the notion that what you eat matters as much as where it comes from (dairy and meat have a larger impact environmentally than veggies).

The ecological harm of raising and consuming meat is given front and center attention in a Washington Post article, "The Meat Of The Problem." It cites hard-hitting reports that are difficult to refute, such as a United Nation's report that attributes 18% of worldwide greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent) to livestock. But it also has a personal angle, talking about sacrifices that we can all make as part of taking global warming seriously.

Although there are a dozen more articles, the last one for right now is a short and sweet success story. "Produce Truck Encourages Healthy Eating In Detroit," Associated Press, tells of how the Peaches and Greens truck travels the streets of Detroit, selling produce like ice cream. Says author David Runk, "The truck set up like a small market brings affordable produce to families on public assistance, homebound seniors and others who can't reach the well-stocked grocery chains in the suburbs."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Green Colleges

The Princeton Review's 2010 annual guides include green ratings for colleges and universities. It gives green ratings to 697 colleges, a 30% increase in the number of participants from last year. The Princeton Review rates schools on a scale of 60 to 99 in eight categories, including the green rating. This category was developed in 2007 with ecoAmerica, a nonprofit that helped launch the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, among other programs. The criteria cover three broad areas: whether campus quality of life is healthy and sustainable; how well the school prepares students for employment and citizenship in a world with environmental challenges; and the school’s overall commitment to environmental issues.

The Princeton Review also announced the “2010 Green Rating Honor Roll,” of 15 schools that received the highest possible score of 99: Arizona State University at the Tempe campus, Bates College, Binghamton University, College of the Atlantic, Colorado College, Dickinson College, Evergreen State College, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard College, Middlebury College, Northeastern University, University of California, University of New Hampshire, University of Washington, and Yale University.

A new section of Princeton Review’s website is dedicated as a resource area for students and others interested in learning about the ratings and benefits of attending a green college. It includes information on colleges with exemplary environmental programs, questions to ask on school visits, and links to organizations that promote higher education and campus sustainability programs. Check it out at

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More Growing Power Photos

Here are some more photos from my tour of Growing Power in Milwaukee, October 2008.

Below is an old household clothes dryer that Will Allen adapted into a compost screen -- he told us that it's common for the heating element of dryers to burn out, but still have a working motor, making them a common but useful discard.

All vertical space is utilized in the greenhouses.

Some of the hoop houses outside are heated solely by the composting process, with active piles of brewers grains and wood chips in the corners. They provide enough heat throughout the Milwaukee winter to keep the hoop houses above freezing - warm enough to grow hardy greens like spinach and kale.

There is also a productive apiary of bees for urban honey.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Composting Food Waste At Urban Garden

Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power in Milwaukee, had already been featured in a dozen articles before he was awarded a MacArthur "Genius Grant," and now has even more media attention. Here's only the second working farmer to win a the Genius Grant:

Why am I excited that Growing Power is garnering all of the attention, despite the fact that there are other noteworthy urban gardens? Because it is not your average community garden (not that there really is a typical one). As of last year, when I toured the facility, Growing Power was composting approximately 500 tons/year of organics at the urban center, and another 3,000 tons/year at a 40-acre rural farm it operates.

Growing Power composts brewers grains, wood waste, preconsumer food scraps and coffee grounds, most of which it collects (coffee grounds are delivered). At the rural farm, composting primarily takes place in windrows, with worms added toward the end of the process. At the urban garden, materials are processed in vermicomposting bins, an outdoor windrow and in an anaerobic digester.

One of my favorite aspects of Growing Power is that all of their operations are set up to not only be productive, but as demonstrations -- systems that can be easily replicated in other communities. For instance, they offer training workshops on how to build aquaponic growing systems (left). Auaponics integrate elements of hydroponics and aquaculture, creating a symbiotic system for growing fish and plants where the fish waste becomes nutrients for the plants, which in turn purify the water for the fish.

When I toured the garden last Autumn, Will Allen told me, “As more and more agricultural land is lost, intensive growing will be necessary. We produce about $5/square foot of produce annually in our beds, which translates to more than $200,000/acre. Now that is Growing Power.”

About 100,000 pounds of organic produce are grown annually at the 2-acre garden, and sold at an on-site retail store, through its market basket program, as well as to restaurants and food co-ops. This high production requires a lot of compost to replenish the soils. Growing Power doesn't only get invaluable nutrients by accepting all of those tons of off-site organics, it provides a sustainable solution for the community's waste. Diverting organics from the landfill, and returning it to the soil through composting, is an endeavor that I'd like to see more urban gardens take on. Check out the article I wrote: "Composting And Local Food Meet At Urban Garden."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Truly Green Restaurants

A new Zagat guide will feature New York City's green restaurants. To be released this month, the guide is printed on 100% postconsumer recycled paper.

What's important is that these 35 green NYC restaurants showcased in Zagat are
truly green, certified by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). A nonprofit started in 1990, GRA's certification is the real deal, using a point-based system, ranking food service establishments on seven criteria (click to download pdfs with more details):
  1. Water Efficiency
  2. Waste Reduction and Recycling
  3. Sustainable Furnishings and Building Materials
  4. Sustainable Food
  5. Energy
  6. Disposables
  7. Chemical and Pollution Reduction
Yes, composting is listed under Waste Reduction and Recycling. Under the new rating system, dubbed Green Restaurant 4.0, there are three possible rankings for certified restaurants: Two Stars (minimum of 100 points), Three Stars (minimum of 175 points) and Four Stars ("trailblazers" with a minimum of 470 points).

GRA works in four main sectors: Restaurants and other Food Service Facilities; Manufacturers; Consumers; and Distributors. Unlike a lot of "green washing," where companies capitalize on the popularity of sustainability by marketing superficial green aspects of their business, GRA provides valuable tools, and showcases establishments that are making significant environmental choices.

As part of its consumer outreach, GRA has a search engine for finding certified restaurants across the country. Look for a Certified Green Restaurant!