Garden Briefs

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

When The Government Regulates Your Garden

OAK PARK, DETROIT - Jeff Gillman and Eric Heberlig have written a sweetly provocative book, “How the Government Got in Your Backyard,” about the ways officialdom dictates what we can and cannot do in our gardens.
If the authors wanted to write a sequel, Julie Bass could suggest the title: “How the Government Got in Your Front Yard.”
Bass lives in the Detroit suburb of Oak Park, but her street of red brick ranch houses might be any mature neighborhood in America. Close set and tidy, the homes have front yards that for generations have embodied an iconic conformity of foundation shrubbery and unfenced lawns. Bass wanted a more active use for her real estate. After her front lawn was excavated to repair the sewer this spring, she replaced the grass with five raised beds for vegetables. If she was going to water the yard, she figured, she might as well raise food for her husband and six children. Within a few days, the garden police came calling.
She said she was told to remove the offending garden and replace it with the municipal code’s demand of “grass, ground cover, shrubbery or other suitable live plant material.”
“We are sticking to our vegetables,” she said in an interview. This disobedience, inevitably, brought the might of the municipality down upon her. Facing more than 90 days in jail, she hired a lawyer. The charge was dismissed while the city studies its law. Bass says the case could be reopened. Meanwhile, she is harvesting tomatoes, basil and cucumbers.
Gillman said people get “outraged” by such cases, “and they should.” In the annals of vegetable crime, he is particularly angered by the case of Joseph Prudente in Bayonet Point, Fla., sent to jail in 2008 when he didn’t show up at court to answer a charge that he failed to re-sod his worn-out lawn. In this case, Gillman writes, the complaints had come from that extension of local government and ace guardian of landscape behavior, the homeowners association.
“Usually homeowner associations are reasonable, but at times they’ll become insane power mongers,” said Gillman, who teaches horticultural science at the University of Minnesota. His co-author, Heberlig, is an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Does government belong in our gardens? Absolutely. Who wants neighbors with extremely toxic pesticides or who create public nuisances that degrade a whole community? But there are times when government might go too far.
The popular view of what constitutes a landscape is narrow, and those limitations are probably shared by the people who make laws and those who enforce them.
There is a difference between a yard of weeds, which is a product of neglect, and today’s eco-sensitive ornamental gardens that to untrained eyes might look weedy. The contemporary green garden takes many forms, and most, ironically, tend to advance some environmental public policy. Examples include a xeriscape garden of drought-tolerant plants, a native plant garden of indigenous flora, a pollinator garden for insects, a rain garden to slow runoff or, yes, a vegetable garden to become less reliant on industrial agriculture.
You could probably interpret most of the weed ordinances across the land to ban all or most of these earnest garden forms. What is “suitable” flora and what isn’t, and who gets to decide?
Many laws were written decades ago, when the typical vegetable garden was big and resembled a little farm. “Neighbors feared it would affect property values or attract rodents, whereas many of the gardens and plantings today don’t fit that model,” Heberlig said. “Yet the ordinance was written without that type of nuance.”
It should be said that the looser a garden type, the harder it is to make it look appealing. Asters, goldenrods, joe-pye weed, milkweed and other native perennials all grow in the wild, but in the right hands, they can form a handsome landscape of multi-seasonal interest. Vegetable gardens may be the hardest form to make eye-catching, usually because too little effort goes into establishing a framework of paths, fences, containers and the rest, or into weeding, tying and general maintenance.
Clipped edging of herbs, geometric beds, attractive paths and sitting areas are among the elements that can raise the lowly vegetable plot into a kitchen garden or, ooh la la, a potager.
“It’s hard to make sure the design fits in with surrounding neighbors and doesn’t make people freak out,” said Edamarie Mattei, a garden designer whose Silver Spring company, Backyard Bounty, specializes in eco-friendly landscapes.
“A garden is a little bit like a sonnet,” she said. “You can have all the freedom you want but within a structured form.”
The decorative vegetable garden has been taken to its zenith by author and gardener Rosalind Creasy. When I visited her front vegetable garden last year in a rarified neighborhood of Los Altos, Calif., it was a thing of beauty — and structure. She has championed the beauty of fruits and vegetables. The artichoke relative cardoon was nine feet tall; the bronze fennel sported umbels of yellow flowers. “The red orach was so beautiful with the dahlias a month ago,” she said, guiding me along the roadside bed at the very front. Nestled inconspicuously in the front was her dark green chicken coop. Several young hens were cooing softly. “I don’t eat them. I can’t handle that. They’re raised from hand.”
from The Washington Post

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Heavy-Duty Nets To Protect Pedestrians At Santa Monica Farmers Market

Nearly eight years after an elderly driver sped through the Santa Monica Farmers Market, killing 10 and injuring dozens, the city is poised to install new signs, highway-style barricades and "dragnets" capable of stopping errant vehicles.
The system, in the planning for three years, is slated to be in place by the end of May at entrances to the downtown markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The key new safety feature will be nets, resembling those on tennis courts, with heavy-duty cables running across the top and bottom. Patterned after the arresting gear used to snare jets landing on aircraft carriers, the dragnets are designed to catch and stop vehicles — even those traveling at high speeds — without serious injury to the driver.
"We created what we felt would be the most effective and nonlethal way to stop a car from entering the market," farmers market supervisor Laura Avery said.
George Russell Weller was 86 on July 16, 2003, when he crashed his Buick LeSabre through a wood-and-plastic barricade and plowed through pedestrians at the popular open-air market. Investigators determined that Weller mistook his gas pedal for the brake and accelerated for about 20 seconds along 21/2 blocks of Arizona Avenue between 4th Street and Ocean Avenue. He was convicted in 2007 of 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and was sentenced to five years' probation.
A year after the calamity, federal transportation safety officials found that the city's 18-year-old plan for keeping traffic off that portion of Arizona was inadequate, with warning signs that were too small and posted too close to the market. Contributing to the severity of the accident was the absence of a rigid protective barrier system, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded.
Ultimately, the city of Santa Monica and other defendants agreed to pay $21 million to settle dozens of civil lawsuits arising from the crash.
Soon after the crash, Santa Monica stationed police officers and vehicles at the entrances. The city decided against installing bollards like those on the Third Street Promenade, saying they could harm motorists and prevent access by emergency vehicles.
The Dragnet barrier selected by Santa Monica has been used for years in New York and Michigan to seal off highway construction zones. In Wyoming, Hawaii and Massachusetts, the system is used to stop runaway trucks.
"We've caught everything from motorcycles to school buses and tractor-trailers in the nets," said Michael Kempen of Impact Absorption, the New York company that sells the technology for civilian use.
Although the city had hoped to launch the $219,000 safety system on Saturday, officials decided that workers needed more training in how to put up and take down the two nets that will run across each entrance. Avery said the city is also designing and building carts to help ferry the equipment to market entrances.
"It's been three years in the design, manufacturing and implementation," said Kate Vernez, assistant to the Santa Monica city manager. "This could be a model, and we need to get it right."
from The Los Angeles Times

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Bolivia To Make Compost From Illegal Coca

As a stimulant in humans its properties are well known. Less well documented are the powers of the coca leaf to perk up the average plant.
But now the authorities in Bolivia are experimenting with turning illegal coca harvests into organic fertilizer, and they say the results look promising.
Every year Bolivia confiscates almost 700 tonnes of illegal coca from drug traffickers. The government's coca director, Luis Cutipa, believes that turning this excess into fertiliser will deprive criminals of their raw material for making cocaine, much of which goes to Brazil and on to Europe. He is optimistic that compost made from coca can be made on an industrial scale.
Seized coca is held in warehouses and government buildings, and even in Cutipa's office. Outside La Paz, in a coca-growing region of the Yungas forest, Lucio Copa is working on the pilot project, testing the compost on coca bushes. He says vegetables and fruit trees should also do well with this fertilizer.
Miguel Callisaya, head of the project, claims the coca leaves, when mixed with household rubbish, tree leaves and chicken manure, are the best in world. "It is high in nutrients. It's of better quality than earthworm compost."
Plants seem to thrive on the fertilizer; where it was made, weeds are growing larger and taller than in a neighboring field.
But the project could do little to resolve Bolivia's growing drug problem.
Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, a Bolivian NGO, says that though the coca compost campaign is laudable it will have little impact on Bolivia's anti-drugs effort, the success of which relies far more on demand in the west than on supply at home.
from The Guardian

Monday, April 04, 2011

Recession-Racked Shoppers Still Spend On Organics

For the past three years, American consumers have been on a shopping diet. They’ve cut nonessentials from their shopping lists. They’ve made do. They’ve thought twice before buying.
And yet they’ve continued to open their wallets for natural and organic products.
Many shoppers say these items remain on their shopping lists because they’re concerned about their health, the environment, America’s agribusiness or all three.
It’s that dedication that has made organics a bright spot for many retailers and is allowing some to expand, including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, the California-based grocer known for its array of foods without preservatives, additives and other unnatural ingredients. Two Trader Joe’s stores are slated to open this year, at Ward Parkway Center in south Kansas City and Leawood’s One Nineteen.
The commitment to organics has surprised some who predicted at the onset of the recession that penny-pinching consumers would avoid such higher-priced items.
“I think possibly that a lot of organics are bought by a higher demographic that’s a little above average and were not as impacted by the economy as other economic groups,” said Brian Todd, president of the Food Institute, a New Jersey group that studies food prices.
Yet despite the ongoing pressure on some shoppers’ budgets, the results are clear.
Last year, overall sales for the grocery industry were up a modest 1.8 percent, according to the Food Institute. Sales of organic items more than doubled that rate of growth, up 4.4 percent in the 52 weeks ending Feb. 20, according to Symphony IRI in Chicago.
Shoppers like Kris Kirschbaum are behind those figures.
Kirschbaum lives in Greenville, N.C., but drives to Raleigh once or twice a month to stock up on natural and organic items at Whole Foods.
Kirschbaum, uses coupons when she shops and says she learned to live frugally when she was a graduate student making $1,000 a month. Now a healthful diet is her No. 1 priority.
“It’s just a health issue,” she said. “This is where I choose to spend.”
Part of the reason sales are staying strong is that organic products are more widely available than in the past.
Major grocery store chains have also bulked up on organics. That comes on top of a shift in the product manufacturing world, with large companies such as Kraft and Procter & Gamble introducing more natural selections.
That availability has led to a new type of organic shopper: the dabbler.
Catherine Dameron shops at Lowes Foods, Food Lion and Walmart. She often, though not always, selects organic items.
“If it looks fresh and the price is about the same, I’ll do it,” she said, shopping at a Raleigh Walmart last week and loading her cart up with bagged spinach, strawberries and other natural foods. “The quality has improved.”
And, Dameron added, it has gotten more affordable.
“Ten years ago, when I started shopping for more fresh fruits and veggies, I noticed my food bill went up probably about 25 percent. Now it’s evened out.”
The demand for organics is so strong that it is spreading to other areas of the grocery store, particularly health, beauty and cleaning supplies.
Companies like Seventh Generation and Burt’s Bees have experienced success with their natural and organic products.
Clorox credited its Burt’s Bees line with strengthening its overall results in its quarterly earnings release last month. The company reported a 3 percent decline in overall sales but a 3 percent rise in sales in its lifestyle category, driven largely by Burt’s Bees products.
Still, some think demand for natural and organic products may have hit its peak.
Kurt Jetta is president of a Connecticut consumer research firm called the TABS Group. His recent research shows that the percentage of shoppers who bought natural or organic items has remained steady, in the 38 percent to 39 percent range for the past three years.
It’s the number of retailers carrying natural and organic items and the number of products each is stocking that adds to the impression that organic sales are exploding.
“All these retailers are getting on board and expanding their sections and having these big offerings,” he said. “That’s a big explosion in inventory. The retailers have gotten on the hype a bit too much.”
Plus, he said, the fact that an item is organic or natural is just not that impressive to shoppers anymore.
“There will always be this real core of committed people,” he said. “That’s why Whole Foods and similar stores continue to grow. But we would expect that to turn and retailers to start weeding down.”
But some shoppers say they will remain loyal to organics and hope retailers don’t trim their offerings.
Melissa Smith of Raleigh said she started to buy natural and organic items because her pets had special needs and are sensitive to chemicals. The habit has transferred to her family’s food purchases as well.
“I grew up on a farm,” she said. “We raised our own meats. We grew our own vegetables. All that has stuck with me. Yes, it may be a little bit more, but it’s worth it.”
Though product labeling can be confusing, natural and organic do not mean the same thing.
Organic refers to items that are produced, manufactured and handled using organic means and certified by agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA also has different levels of organic certification, from 100 percent organic to Made With Organic Ingredients, which means the product is made of at least 70 percent organic ingredients.
Natural refers to food items that are not altered chemically or synthesized. These are generally from plants or animals.
from The Kansas City Star

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Using Bamboo To Fight Climate Change

Bamboo--technically a grass, not a tree--has the potential to significantly offset carbon emissions, and has been the center of discussions this week during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun.
The "grass" is stronger than steel and is a buffer against climate change in two ways: by providing low-income communities with a material to build climate-resistant homes and by sequestering carbon faster than other species such as eucalyptus. It also grows at the rate of 1.2 meters per day.
"Bamboo is a remarkable resource for driving economic development, and is readily available in many of the world's poorest countries," said Coosje Hoogendoorn, director-general of International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) in Cancun.
"Bamboo should be referred to as the wise man's timber," said INBAR regional coordinator Alvaro Cabrera, because it helps support the livelihoods of 1.5 billion people, grows fast, is found across the globe, and is a significant source of trade dollars at about $5 billion per year.
China, India, and Vietnam are the main sources of bamboo for trade and there is talk of developing schemes whereby bamboo stocks come labeled with a sustainability certification and indication of the the source country. The bamboo discussions held today in Cancun indicate the growing effort to diversify climate change tactics.
from Fast Company

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Gift Of Fresh Produce In These Boxes

And now for something completely different — a gift that truly keeps on giving. It comes in a box but has no ribbons. Unlike a new puppy, it takes care of itself. It isn't Godiva chocolates, but it's definitely edible. So, what is this unique and delicious Christmas gift that you can give away or give to yourself?
It's a self-sustaining vegetable garden that requires no watering, no fertilizing, no weeding, in fact, no work at all except picking the bounty. Mike Saraylian, born and raised in Laguna Beach, is the man behind Harvest To Home, a seasonal organic vegetable and herb garden service. Make your choices from a seasonal menu and the pre-planted box(s) will be delivered and installed with optional stand, trellis or self-watering system.
We visited Mike, and he showed us the endless flats of seedlings and garden boxes with young plants, being prepared for delivery. Each winter box contains six to 14 different plants — either herbs, lettuces, vegetables or a mix chosen by the customer. Sitting out on the deck surrounded by edible greenery, Mike told us that after attending UC Santa Barbara, he came home and worked in the RV industry, eventually becoming a manager. He moved on to Blick Industries in Laguna Canyon and worked in sales and marketing. His job involved traveling around the U.S. and Europe.
In Italy, he was amazed by the brilliant flavors of a simple salad made with perfect tomatoes and freshly picked lettuce, and dressed only with oil and vinegar. Mike said he had loved to cook since he was a child, and after his Italian epiphany he found himself thinking about everything he was eating and developed an interest in health and diet.
Every Friday at Blick there was a company barbecue on the rooftop. Mike always made the salads from the 70 boxes of garden produce grown right there on the roof by a retired doctor, Myron Wacholder, who was the father of one of the employees. The doctor became his gardening mentor.
Mike came up with the idea for his business, inspired by those boxes on the rooftop. Although he knew about sales and marketing, he had no clue how to start a business, but he was influenced by his boss, John Blick, who said that if you really want to, you can do anything. Mike had some money saved, got some from his family, then taught himself every facet of business from designing a website to accounting and operations.
In the beginning, he found himself building planters and shoveling dirt. He ate what he grew and lost 15 pounds in the process, but he became addicted to freshly picked vegetables and herbs and hopes you will too. He is filled with passion and energy for what he does and has grown his business like his vegetables: with care. Now, you can see his boxes at a growing number of restaurants around the OC, including: The Cottage and Coyote Grill in Laguna, 118 Degrees in Costa Mesa and Cucina Alessa in Newport, Huntington Beach and now Laguna.
The beauty of these planters is that you can be a great gardener without benefit of a green thumb. They are constructed so they are semi-hydroponic. There is a separate reservoir of water beneath the soil, which the roots eventually reach. You can refill the reservoir yourself or purchase their inexpensive watering device, which is spliced to your garden hose and automatically does the job. Before the plants reach your home, they have been sprayed three times with an organic mixture made from neem oil and hot pepper wax. They also have an organic spray for caterpillars. No additional fertilizer is needed.
from The Daily Pilot

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Sustainable Settings Can't Compost Way Out Of Toilet Issue

CARBONDALE, COLORADO - Sustainable toilets at Sustainable Settings have ironically thrown a wrench into the farm's attempt to comply with health-code requirements.
Brook Le Van, executive director of Sustainable Settings, thought installing composting toilets at the farm and learning center outside of Carbondale would be sufficient to satisfy Pitkin County's requirement for restroom facilities. That has not quite been the case.
The two sides have been at odds for three years over the toilet issue, prompting a two-hour meeting Wednesday between Sustainable Settings' board of directors and Pitkin County commissioners that failed to produce a compromise.
Rather, sympathetic county commissioners told Le Van that Sustainable Settings' ability to host school groups, adult workshops and other programs remains limited, based on the capacity of the two composting toilets that were installed last summer, along with a hand-washing facility.
“No matter how much we support and appreciate and love what you do, you still have to comply,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield.
“The health issues are very real,” added Commissioner Rachel Richards.
Commissioners essentially directed Sustainable Settings in December 2007 to cease most of its programming because there were no public rest-room facilities available at the farming and ranching operation, located about 4 miles south of Carbondale off Highway 133.
The Sustainable Settings store, where its agricultural products are sold, could continue to operate, but visits by school groups and other programs were suspended.
The board of directors subsequently put the 240-acre property up for sale, intending to move the operation to a place where, Le Van suggested, costly regulatory requirements wouldn't threaten its viability.
The real estate market subsequently tanked, the property was taken off the market and the board agreed last spring that Sustainable Settings would stay put. A commercial well was drilled to comply with a county requirement and the two composting toilets were installed at a cost of about $10,000 — the most the nonprofit could afford to do, Le Van said.
And, the composting toilets meld with the nonprofit's sustainable philosophy, he noted. Having a vault toilet pumped, and the waste trucked elsewhere, would not.
“Are we complying? We thought we were. Now we're finding out, well, we're limited,” Le Van said.
Based on the manufacturer's input on the toilets' capacity, Sustainable Settings remains limited in the size and frequency of groups it can host. Gatherings like community potlucks are not allowed. Neither is camping by visitors.
And, because the toilets are in an unheated building and the hand-washing facility was an outdoor affair, they essentially don't work in the winter months, leaving Sustainable Settings with functioning facilities from roughly May through September or October.
But the farm's representatives suggested Wednesday that the toilets can be emptied regularly, and the contents moved elsewhere at the farm to complete the composting process, meaning they can function all year long and with unlimited capacity.
“It's a litter box, basically,” Le Van said.
State regulations allow for composting of waste elsewhere at the farm, according to Carla Ostberg, county environmental health manager, but that plan assumes that the composting process would occur first in the toilets. If the state is OK with bypassing that step in the process, commissioners indicated they'd agree to it, as well.
Le Van conceded Sustainable Settings needs public restroom facilities, but the cost of installing them is a hurdle. He told commissioners he'd like to work with Ostberg on determining exactly what will be required to meet the needs of Sustainable Settings' future vision, which includes a new barn and a dairy barn, as well as a commercial kitchen where farm products will be made.
The operation currently includes livestock, poultry and crop production, and the farm now has nine dairy cows that will provide members in a co-op venture with fresh milk, he said. Similarly, the farm has members who prepay for a share of the organic produce.
Sustainable Settings had been hosting about 9,000 visitors annually before the county ordered aspects of the operation shut down. Visitation dropped by about half, Le Van said. The drop-off had a financial impact, as some of the programs involved a fee paid to the nonprofit by participants, he said.
The farm also hosts a couple of large fundraising events (with portable toilets) each year, and Le Van asked commissioners to exempt the nonprofit from the county's special events permitting process, which involves time and expense. The commissioners declined. All special events are required to get a permit, said Commissioner George Newman, refusing to set a precedent by letting Sustainable Settings out of the mandate.
from The Post Independent