Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Aiming for a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year

At this time of year, many of us are sending and receiving wishes for a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year. What can help us achieve and maintain these desirable states?


The late Dr David Servan-Schreiber lists positive social connections and an active interest in matters higher than ourselves as essential human needs on a par with the physical needs for food, water, and shelter. http://www.amazon.com/Instinct-Heal-Depression-Anxiety-Without/dp/1594861587/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388471285&sr=1-1#reader_1594861587

Let's use our Green New Yorker Meetup group to increase our connections and our involvement and thereby our happiness ;-)


Dr Servan-Schreiber's observation;
"Every single place where American diet has spread has seen massive increases in obesity rates and cancer rates. Japan is increasing consumption of red meat and dairy products and seeing an enormous increase in obesity and great increases in prostate cancer and breast cancer, which were extremely rare before." http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brainstorm/200904/david-servan-schreiber-cheating-death

Dr Schreiber, who kept his own brain cancer at bay for 19 years, gives us 19 simple anticancer and prohealth rules:

His book:

(Dr Servan-Schreiber has been roundly crticized by the medical establishment for "going over to the woo". Despite this I remain a very big fan of this version of "woo"!)


Does it seem as though our current economy is geared towards wealth destruction? Is it easy to think of ways our society increases the GDP in the short term while actually decreasing human living standards in the longer term?

In contrast, designing a way of living based on the way natural systems capture and use resources leads to prosperity that is genuine and sustainable. http://shadesofgreeninc.org/about/what-is-permaculture/

Wishing everyone an exciting and successful journey towards Happiness, Health, and Prosperity in 2014!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Investing in Agriculture for the Long Term: Finding Hope in a Hungry World via Permacuture Design

Stefan Sobkowiak has been designing a permaculture orchard at Miracle Farms in Quebec:


How different is Stefan's orchard from conventional monoculture?
There is an explosion of biodiversity. In the 5 acre orchard, soon to be extended to 12 acres, there are over 100 cultivars of apples, plus several types of plums, pears, cherries, and countless other fruits and vegetables. Pests and diseases, which are typically host specific, are limited in their ability to spread. Natural predators of the pests are flourishing because of the welcoming habitat. There is no need to use expensive and toxic chemicals. The trees are partnered with plants that are nitrogen fixers and nutrient accumulators. There is no need to fertilize. Productivity and quality increase as costs decrease. A miracle indeed!

A documentary film based on Stefan's work, The Permaculture Orchard : Beyond Organic, about this type of farming is on the way. Let's be sure to catch the release of this film next Spring.

The paraphrasing of Howard Buffett's new book, Forty Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World, is intentional. Howard, sadly, is a fan of big machinery, fossil fuel inputs, irrigation, Monsanto, and monoculture.
Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for enlightenment in Howard's references to "biologically-based nutrient management, and use of legume-based cover crops".

In any case, the most convincing way to promote sustainable regenerative agricultural design is to demonstrate it in real orchards, farms, and gardens the way Stefan is doing! We can participate in a small way by dropping off our food waste for composting to improve our soil. Have you taken a composting class yet?

Stefan Sobkowiak

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 2013: A Month that Highlights the Importance of Resilience

Whew! Still scarred by the ravages of Sandy, we also got to suffer through the spectacle of our beloved country facing the inability to pay basic bills without an increase in its credit limit.

A messenger from Nature!

What can we do to make our own lives more resilient when we live within a culture that fails to design infrastructure that cooperates with natural forces and also fails to manage wealth meaningfully for the long term?

Permaculturist Peter Bane recommends establishing a home based "garden farm". After all, real wealth on Earth basically originates with the capture of energy from the sun by living plants. (No land? Not an insurmountable problem in our city. Check out https://596acres.org/ for some ideas!) To borrow his words, if enough of us become proficient in the skills needed for garden farming, we will progress towards collectively creating "a new commonwealth that can vouchsafe dignity and freedom from want to all of us". http://www.amazon.com/The-Permaculture-Handbook-Farming-Country/dp/0865716668

Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates give a detailed description of their garden farm project in Holyoke MA:

How do we get started? Green New Yorkers Meetup regularly posts local opportunities to learn and practice basic wealth creating and wealth preserving skills such as home composting, growing food, caring for trees, preparing herbal remedies, preserving food, harvesting rainwater, repurposing salvage, conserving fossil fuel energy, home design, and much more! http://www.meetup.com/GreenNewYorkers/

Monday, September 30, 2013

Tree Guards: the Good, the Bad, and the Downright Dangerous‏

We need trees as our partners to beautify our streets, temper the Summer heat, and, most importantly, to clean the air we breath. What can we do to protect our precious trees?

A well designed tree guard keeps people, dogs, and objects out of the tree pit but leaves plenty of room on the street side to allow cars to open their doors and passengers to step out. It allows rainwater to flow into the pit to feed the tree. The pickets are staggered so no one will be tempted to place anything on them. The pits can either mulched or planted with small bulbs or shallow rooted annuals and small herbaceous perennials. Here is the plant list from NYC's Parks Dept. http://www.nycgovparks.org/trees/tree-care/planting  Signe and Guiliana from the W 150 St Block Association in Manhattan point out that it is ideal when the neighbors and their children take an active interest in building and caring for the tree guards to protect the trees. Who can refuse when a child asks you not to let your dog poop or pee in the tree pit?  https://www.facebook.com/unify150

Here's an example of a "Good" tree guard:
Note that for the newest tree guards, the NYC Parks Dept would like to omit the streetside rail.

An unprotected tree:
Stones block rainwater and compact the soil in this treepit and the lack of any tree guard invites intrusions such as this bicycle.

Photo taken on Church Ave in Flatbush

A "Bad" tree guard like this one, however, is at risk of damage from annoyed or unaware drivers and their passengers. In addition, the stones around the perimeter are blocking the flow of rainwater.

Photo from http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=tree+gaurds+photo&qpvt=tree+gaurds+photo&FORM=IGRE

A "Killer" tree pit grill is strangling this unfortunate tree:

Photo taken on Church Ave in Flatbush

Sadly, almost all the tree pits and tree guards we see in our city are in urgent need of improvement. What can we do for the trees near our homes, schools, and workplaces? http://stewardship.nycparks.org/add_trees.php

Citizen's Committee for New York City offers FREE workshops on how to construct suitable tree pit guards and invites New Yorkers to file for grants to cover the cost of materials.
http://www.citizensnyc.org/ http://www.citizensnyc.org/grants
Note that permits are required before any work is done near a city tree. http://www.nycgovparks.org/services/forestry/tree-work-permit

How about helping a tree near you?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Forest Fires: Insights From "Rebel Farmer" Sepp Holzer

Why are we experiencing devastating forest fires and what can we do to mitigate their damage?

Desert or Paradise: Restoring Endangered Landscapes Using Water Management, Including Lake and Pond Construction  by Sepp Holzer  http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Paradise-Endangered-Landscapes-Construction/dp/1603584641

"So called natural disasters and their consequences are created by humans." "Floods,forest fires, desertification, and loss of biodiversity are the logical consequences of the mistakes made by humans for generations." What sort of mistakes is Sepp Holzer thinking of? 

 Water Management

Water is the basis for life and is infinitely reuseable. Holzer retains water from snow melt in the Austrian Alps with a system of lakes and ponds. Polycultures of trees, shrubs, and crops are nourished by the water and in turn protect and improve the soil.


In contrast, in California, water is quickly drained away from upland watersheds for use in the cities. Owens lake and more recently, the briny Mono lake, have seen their waters diverted. The surrounding ecosystems have suffered as a result. Is diversion of water one of the steps leading to the Yosemite Rim Fire? Sepp Holzer states that mature healthy trees do not burn, only trees that are already sickened.

After the Fires Come the Floods

The mixed vegetation in a natural forest, with its many layers of canopy and roots,  protects and maintain soil. After wholesale destruction in a large scale forest fire, the regrowth may not be sufficient to keep soil intact in the next season's rainfall or snow melt, hence floods and mudslides commonly follow.

How Sepp Holzer Restores a Forest and Prevents Flooding

He brings in the pigs! The pigs do what they do best - root around preparing the ravaged soil for the mixture of seeds that Holzer scatters. Holzer also piles up the remaining wood along the contours of the land covering them with soil forming Hugelkultur mounds which store moisture and nourish young growth.
Yes, Holzer's strategy is to observe ecological relationships and let nature do the work.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Can We Heal the Economy and Enhance Our Own Lives...by Growing More Food???

Huh? Is this a simplistic idea?

Today we have a staggering percentage of Americans on government programs such as Food Stamps and Medicaid. At the same time our government is loaded with debt and facing huge upcoming expenses promised by programs initiated decades ago.

How to cope? Austerity measures? Higher taxes? Neither strategy is likely to be politically acceptable.

Now consider the following progression instead:

Let's tap into "Nature's Money" by turning compostables into fertile soil, harvest rainwater, and reuse gray water in the garden, save our own seed and propagate our own plants, then, with the help of a team of like minded friends...
Together we can become healthier and more self reliant...

So...even if our earnings are low, our expenses can be even lower!

Can this kind of austerity feel more like luxury?
Can a self reliant citizenry be the basis for lower government costs and less need for taxes?

I'm trying this strategy out in my personal life. Please join me!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Farming: Garden of Eden or Hell On Earth?

Many cultures have a prehistoric tradition of origin in a
Garden of Plenty
 Yet modern day agriculture involves daily drudgery for low pay:
a Hell On Earth
 How did this come about?
And why is it called "Progress"???

Michael Pollan writes in Botany of Desire "an American farmer today grows enough food each year to feed a hundred people, Yet that achievement - that power over nature - has come at a price. The modern industrial farmer cannot grow that much food without large quantities chemical fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, and fuel. This expensive set of 'inputs,' as they're called, saddles the farmer with debt, jeopardizes his health, erodes his soil and ruins its fertility, pollutes the groundwater, and compromises the safety of the food we eat."  http://www.amazon.com/The-Botany-Desire-Plants-Eye-World/dp/0375760393

The farm workers' lot is far worse than that of farm owners:
Out of 2.5 million workers on America’s farms it is estimated that up to 500,000 are children.
What are their lives like?
"Farmworker women ‘have it all,’ but not in the good kind of way,” says Levy Schroeder, director of Health & Safety Programs at AFOP. “They work in one of the most dangerous and lowest paid jobs—earning even less than their poorly paid male colleagues. They are also responsible for the care of their families and households, often rising first to prepare breakfasts and lunches, followed by 10- to 12-hour days in the field, and then dinner preparation, laundry, and seeing to any other needs of their families.”

Can we bring farming back to Eden? Bill Mollison tells us we can!
"Mollison developed permaculture after spending decades in the rainforests and deserts of Australia studying ecosystems. He observed that plants naturally group themselves in mutually beneficial communities. He used this idea to develop a different approach to agriculture and community design, one that seeks to place the right elements together so they sustain and support each other."
Mollison: "Catch the water off your roof. Grow your own food. Make your own energy. It’s insanely easy to do all that. It takes you less time to grow your food than to walk down to the supermarket to buy it. Ask any good organic gardener who mulches how much time he spends on his garden and he’ll say, 'Oh, a few minutes every week.'" http://www.scottlondon.com/interviews/mollison.html
"if you’re an optimist, you could say (permaculture design) is an attempt to actually create a Garden of Eden." http://www.context.org/iclib/ic28/mollison/

How can we begin to learn to apply permaculture design and get more of our food from a modern day Garden of Eden?
The volunteer opportunities at local community gardens are a start:

Smiling Hogshead Ranch, Long Island City

Enjoy the Summer and its bounty!

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Disturbing Milestone: 400 ppm CO2

During May 2013, for the first time, NOAA's Mauna Loa observatory recorded an average daily CO2 concentration above 400 parts per million. This is indeed a sobering milestone.

 The Keeling Curve:

Scientists almost unanimously agree that human activity is to blame for climate change  


Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org:
"We're in new territory for human beings--it's been millions of years since there's been this much carbon in the atmosphere. The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it."

Dr. James Hansen, former NASA Climatologist:
"If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced ... to at most 350 ppm." 

"We've got work to do, and there's not a moment to lose."
From 400.350.org

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day 2013: How Green Are Our Lifestyles and Habits?


The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, was organized by its principal founder, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson, as an environmental teach-in. Teach-ins differ from seminars in that they are meant to be spontaneous, action oriented, and energized from the grassroots.What have we learned and what actions have we taken in our city since 1970?

"The opportunity for a gradual but complete break with our destructive environmental history and a new beginning is at hand…. We can measure up to the challenge if we have the will to do so—that is the only question. I am optimistic that this generation will have the foresight and the will to begin the task of forging a sustainable society."  http://www.nelsonearthday.net/nelson/index.htm

What can we do as individuals to be part of forging a sustainable society? NYC currently provides a cornucopia of opportunities for training in sustainable living! Taking part in programs which help our members gain a broad range of practical green knowledge and experience is like going to Boot Camp.

Some Green New Yorkers Bootcamp Highlights:
GrowNYC recycle volunteer orientation
GrowNYC green market volunteer orientation
NYC Compost Project classes
East River Blueway Tour with LESEC
Tour Greenpoint Sewage Plant and Digester Eggs
Volunteer at an urban farm - BK Farmyards, Eagle St Rooftop Farm, Smiling Hogshead Ranch, etc
Just Food and Green Thumb classes - urban farming, chicken care, CSA organization, canning, pickling
GreenHomeNYC forums, career workshops, and green building tours
* Volunteer at Build It Green
*Volunteer for oyster planting projects
*Solar City Workshops
*Parks or shoreline cleanup

*on our radar for future Meetups

How far along are you in your Green Boot Camp training?


Friday, March 1, 2013

Can We Cut Our Budgets and Raise Our Quality of Life at the Same Time?

It's official, the sequester has begun. Federal spending cuts have been ordered, $85 billion "across-the-board", about 10% of the budget. The press has been bombarding us with projections about how disruptive and damaging will this cut may be to the economy and to us.

The question comes to mind: Can anyone cut an already tight budget in ways that improve rather than degrade their quality of life? Fortunately many people are already well on the way to building a lifestyle at the individual level that improves their quality of life while reducing the cost.

Some wealth building cost cutting strategies at the individual and household levels:

Cutting Food Costs
Up to 25% of the food purchased spoils without being eaten. Can we improve our food inventory control to prevent waste? How much of our food can we grow ourselves either at a community garden or on our own land? (http://www.forbes.com/sites/bethhoffman/2013/02/07/what-food-do-we-throw-out-how-to-stop-food-waste-at-home/)

Cutting Health Care Costs
Many of our health problems relate to our diet and lifestyle choices. Can we eat more vegetables and berries and less meat? Can we get more exercise to improve fitness?

Cutting Utility Costs
Do we need our homes to be quite so hot in the Winter? So cold in the Summer? Can we reduce drafts with some DIY caulking? Can we use fans instead of A/C in the Summer? Can we make better use of passive solar benefits the way our pets and wild animals do?

Cutting Education Costs
Can we make better use of the many FREE internet resources such as Khan Academy and Coursera? Let's remember that Abraham Lincoln's formal education consisted of only 12 months of classes with various itinerant teachers.

Some of the organizations that help us to help ourselves:

Green Thumb http://www.greenthumbnyc.org/
Just Food http://www.justfood.org/
NYC Compost Project http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/compost/compostproj.shtml
GreenHomeNYC http://greenhomenyc.org/
Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/

A wealth building low-cost business initiative:

On the drawing board - Greg Todd's proposal to set up bike carting of compostable waste from coffee shops and small food related businesses http://www.nycpermaculture.info/events/105698722/
Let's have more businesses that make use of Nature's Money please!

Can it work?

 A few decades ago an American president turned down the thermostat at the White House and wore warm sweaters. He lost the next election by a landslide (and the Federal debt burden jumped under his successor). Does it seem as if each president after that has avoided calling on us, the American people, to make sacrifices together even for vitally important common causes? Why aren't we being challenged to our full potential?

Imagine a nation of people so capable of taking care of our own needs that there is no longer much demand for Federal or State subsidy programs. From such a position of strength, we can reasonably demand lower tax rates. Increased self sufficiency from the grassroots level on up may be just the kind of start we need towards a better future!

While we work on our end....

How about cutting a 'little off the top'?
Cooperating together will get the job done!

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, a "penny saved" is a penny we don't need to earn, and a penny we didn't earn is not taxable. Yay!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How the Most Affordable Food Became the Most Costly

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Lenten Season for many Christians. Many other religions and cultures also have seasonal periods of austerity and sacrifice which typically include restricted food choices.

For Lent, sacrifice traditionally means going meat free, eating seafood instead. The "Fish on Friday" tradition likewise is a respectful sacrificial observance. Huh??? But my supermarket circulars show much higher prices for seafood than meat!?!? Yes seafood has become a much more luxurious and costly food since the time when these traditions originated. (Many types of fruits and vegetables are also higher in price than some types of meat - but that's a subject for a future Blog.)

In the time of Jesus and his apostles, the poor ate fish because it was abundant and cheap.
What has happened to our rivers, lakes, estuaries, and oceans and the life in them in the last several decades?

Pollution and Infrastructure


Deep Ocean Trawlers


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Measuring Our Fossil Fuel Use


Henry Gifford often points out the we need to measure our energy use if we want to manage it successfully.

January is an excellent month to look over our energy bills for the past year, comparing it with the average use of fellow New Yorkers. We can set goals for the new year and decide on strategies to achieve them.

Here, where many people don't have private cars, our buildings account for two-thirds of the energy used by the city.

 Drilling down to the unit level, take a look at the following table. Note these default values represent a very high rate of energy use. Nevertheless our energy cutting needs to start with measurement, so let's fill in our own table of monthly energy use.
Convert therms to kWh by a factor of 29.3
Convert Btu to kWh by a factor of 0.000293

Default Values for Residential Tenant Space Column 1

Column 2

Column 3


Tenant-paid electrical energy use (kWh/unit)

Tenant-paid heating energy use (kWh/unit)





































Source: Values are based on averaged New York State Energy Research and Development Authority data for multi-family residential buildings in New York City from 2006 – 2009 and correspond to the 25th percentile of building energy performance.   http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/downloads/pdf/040111_final_benchmarking_rule.pdf

Some strategies for reducing home energy use - http://www.motherearthnews.com/renewable-energy/Save-Money-On-Energy.aspx#axzz2MXy3Z1ff

Notice how clever some nonhuman New Yorkers are in energy management:

NYC pigeons know have to make use of  passive solar gain and thermal mass

On the other hand, designing a pigeon roost over a pedestrian walkway...well...

Typical Buildings are energy wasters in their construction and operation.

Resilient Buildings are environmentally friendly and energy efficient to the point where they can maintain livable conditions even in the event of extended loss of power or heating fuel.http://www.resilientdesign.org/resilient-design-strategies/

The Passive House standard for building heating and cooling is met with only 15 kWh per sq meter per year (approximately 4750 Btu per sq foot per year or .0475 therms per sq foot per year).   http://www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/FAQ.html

Net Zero Buildings have zero net energy consumption and zero net carbon emissions on an annual basis  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-energy_building 
Living Buildings are environmentally sound, generate their own energy, capture and treat all of their water, operate efficiently, and are aesthetically pleasing. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=earth-talks-living-building

Where are we in the spectrum of home energy usage? What can we do to improve?

Typical Energy Use   Resilient Building      Passive House          Net Zero       Living Building