Friday, November 26, 2010

Jon Stewart's bit on Energy Independence

Funny bit looks back over eight administrations and the lip service paid to reducing US dependency on foreign oil.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Many municipalities are trying to cut costs by reducing trash pick-up from twice a week to once a week. This helps reduce tipping costs, the price paid per ton that towns pay to dump their trash. Instead of worrying about where to store trash for that once-a-week pickup, try precycling.

Precycling involves some mindfulness regarding if you really need “it” or not. If you don’t really need it, then don’t buy it so you don’t have to toss it. Even if you can recycle an item, recycling uses enormous amounts of energy to transform trash into something useful.

According to the EPA, Americans throw out 25% of the food they buy. Sticking to a meal plan and shopping list will reduce the amount of food that either never makes it to the table or ends up on the hips. Anyone can compost, even apartment dwellers. One tenant I know uses an igloo ice chest with a charcoal filter attached to the underside of the lid. He chops up his food scraps, coffee and filters and brings his igloo to the town recycling center each week. He has cut down on the use of paper products to save him the trouble of shredding paper towels, etc. for composting.

Eat whole foods and buy in bulk. Packaged foods usually include preservatives, sugars, and other ingredients that are not health-supportive. Instead of sandwiches, try whole grain pilafs as a base for vegetables, tofu or meat. Most “whole grain” commercially prepared breads contain ingredients we don’t need and very little grain. Whole grain amaranth, millet, and quinoa are easy to prepare, are full of nutrients and fiber, do not contain gluten, and portions can be cooked, frozen in muffin cups and steamed later on, which makes meal preparation quick on a busy weeknight.

Instead of lunch meats, buy whole chickens or turkeys, poach them and use the broth for other dishes. Simmer the bones in stock to up the nutrient content in chicken soup. Slice the meat for sandwiches, salads and soup. Buy tofu in bulk and freeze it.

Orange juice has been marketed as a health food and it is not. It is pasteurized, usually contains synthetic calcium and other fortifiers, and is basically sugar. Opt for seasonal fruit over a commercially prepared juice. If the kids don’t like water, make “fruity water” by floating various kinds of fruit in water. Let the kids make their own yogurt combinations as well. Buy in bulk and portion out what they need and let them add their own fruit, preserves, and nuts.

There are so many eco-friendly, kid-friendly containers available now, as well as reusable sandwich wrappers that open up to make a placemat. If you sew, consider stitching one up yourself.

In addition to food scraps, more than 30% of our trash consists of paper. Clean with brushes, sponges, squeegees and rags. There are many recipes online for homemade cleaners using distilled vinegar, borax or baking soda that work very well without harsh chemicals. Using a squeegee on shower walls, bathroom mirrors, and windows eliminates the need for paper towels.

I still have several decades-old pieces of furniture that have been painted, stripped, stained, varnished, and painted again. Some pieces I picked up off the curb. They are much more interesting than the items in today’s furniture stores, and are very well made. Be creative in ways to use odd items – a chair as a nightstand, a birdcage to hold stationary.

How are you precycling? Post your ideas, recipes for potions, lotions, cleaners and other ways you’ve lightened your trash load.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Water-Wise Landscaping Tips for Fall

With autumn in the air, consider taking the following steps in your yard and garden to prepare for a more water-efficient winter, spring, and summer:

  • Compost. Soil that is enhanced with compost holds moisture better and reduces runoff, which can help you save on irrigation next summer. Add a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost to the top of the soil and dig it into the top 6 to 12 inches of the planting bed. Or simply layer it on top of the bed, a technique called “topdressing,” and let the earthworms do the heavy lifting for you.
  • Mulch. Mulches such as shredded bark spread evenly over the surface of the soil reduce the amount of moisture that soil loses through evaporation and plant transpiration. Mulching also helps keep down the weeds. Spread a 2- to 4-inch layer on all open soil, but keep mulch away from the trunk or stem of plants.
  • Adjust. Remember to readjust your irrigation system schedule to reflect the changing seasons and precipitation, or turn it off when it is no longer needed.
  • Winterize. Having your pipes freeze and burst not only wastes water, but it can cause a lot of damage. Before the first frost, remember to unscrew hoses, drain outdoor spigots, and either turn off their water supply or use an insulating cover to protect them from freezing.
  • Consider your plant palette during the cold winter months. When you start planning your garden for spring, try to incorporate locally adapted or native plants that are already accustomed to the soil and weather patterns in your area.
  • For more ideas on environmentally friendly landscaping, see EPA’s GreenScapes page or the WaterSense outdoor page.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Transition Bergen in Community Life

Environmental group hopes to increase awareness
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Of Community Life

While some venture off to Findhorn to find solace, others, such as Colin Keegan, headed there to learn.

Colin Keegan, a resident of Washington Township, spent three months living in the Findhorn Ecovillage to better familiarize himself with different ways to live sustainably. Colin is pictured above (third from left) with several of his classmates at the base of one of Findhorn's five windmills, which generate about 20 percent of the electrical needs for the Ecovillage.
Colin Keegan, a resident of Washington Township, spent three months living in the Findhorn Ecovillage to better familiarize himself with different ways to live sustainably. Colin is pictured above (third from left) with several of his classmates at the base of one of Findhorn's five windmills, which generate about 20 percent of the electrical needs for the Ecovillage.

The 22-year-old from Washington Township spent a semester during 2008 living on the Findhorn Ecovillage in Scotland, which, he says was a "demonstration site for ecological living." Colin, then a student at Ramapo College pursuing a bachelors degree in social science with a concentration in environmental studies, chose to study abroad to better familiarize himself with sustainable living.

Initially begun as a spiritual community in the 1960s, Findhorn has since evolved into a model that strives to present principles of living sustainably in terms of the economy, the environment and society.

"A lot of people there were burned out activists who have been pushing for decades to get something done with varying degrees of success, but some sort of just burn themselves out& They tried to push for change and kind of needed to retreat for awhile," he says. "But for others, it was a vibrant place to get good ideas and experiment with something and then take it elsewhere. For me, it was something I wanted to learn and use& I kind of think we need to adjust the places we already have set up rather than going off into the country and living a completely sustainable life."

Colin says he regarded his time at Findhorn as "a three-month intensive," in which he lived an eco-friendly building, worked on the ecovillage's farms and attended classes.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect, says Colin, was learning about the array of sustainable technologies that have been developed and are presently in use at Findhorn — including renewable energy systems, ecological waste water treatment and organic food production.

In addition to enjoying learning about methods of living more in tune with the environment, Colin says he liked "the community aspect" of the Findhorn Ecovillage.

"There was a sense that we're all in this together in terms of big issues such as climate change. There was an immense awareness of issues and it was exciting to have a concentrated, hopeful group of people together," Colin says.

Now, he is hoping to impart some of that attitude right here in Bergen County.

Colin, along with fellow Pascack Valley residents Meredith Kates, Rob Holmes and Gene Wozny, recently organized Transition Bergen, an environmental group based upon the Transition Movement, a popular grassroots initiative that grew out of Europe.

Last fall, Colin, eager to share his experiences overseas, began attending meetings of the Pascack Sustainability Group, where he met Meredith, Rob and Gene. The three were aware of the movement in varying degrees, says Colin, but were curious to learn more.

At the time of Colin's stay abroad, the Transition Movement was spreading throughout Europe.

The movement emerged from the work of Permaculture Educator Rob Hopkins and his students at the Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland. The group worked to address challenges presented by climate change and the peak oil crisis by creating a "strategic community plan" that strives to "go beyond the issue of energy supply and find sustainable solutions for the economy, education, farming, food and health," according to

During days off from classes and working, Colin says he, along with other eco-villagers took day trips to neighboring areas in Scotland, many of which were in various stages of "transition" in terms of the movement.

The initiative has since spread virally, with many groups throughout the world copying the model and initiating their own Transition process in their communities. Since spreading to the United States, there are 74 official "transition towns" across the country.

Colin says he talked a bit about his observations of the movement, which prompted Meredith, Rob and Gene to read "The Transition Handbook," a "how-to" book for establishing a "transition town."

Subsequently, the foursome wound up creating Transition Bergen, a group designed for people interested in learning how to practice more sustainable lifestyles.

"We have to do something to adapt to climate change, depleting fossil fuel and the economic situation. What we're trying to do is take a broader view and define it a little more."

According the group's mission statement, it hopes to "foster greater community resilience and develop a plan for the future that is less dependence on fossil fuels."

Transition Bergen hopes to work with residents, government, businesses and other organizations in the county to develop an "Energy Descent Plan", which will examine how communities can "transition away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner more reliable sources of energy," according to its mission statement.

Transition Bergen is aiming to host book and film discussions and workshops about sustainability, Colin says. In many cases, becoming more eco-friendly doesn't necessarily require large scale actions, he explains. Just some of the simple things people can do to boost their sustainable activities include changing to more energy efficient light bulbs, walking instead driving, composting leftover food scraps, buying local products and reusing items as much as possible, he says.

In sum, the Transition Movement is "about teaching people to live with far less," Colin states.

The group is presently looking to expand its membership base, says Colin, who estimated there are about 60 people in the group. Transition Bergen also hopes to be able to tie in some of their events with other local environmental groups, such as the Pascack Sustainability Group.

"It's a process of making people familiar with it," he believes. "It's a matter of educating& showing this can work and to use less energy in the process."

For further information on Transition Bergen visit or e-mail

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Humanitarian Economics

In this talk, renowned Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef makes the case for a more ecologically-grounded economics that works for people and reveres life:

Granny Green Machine's Wiggle Worm Wiggle Video

Our own Granny Green singing and educating about soil-building benefits of our wriggly friends in the dirt:

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pumpkin Soup

2 tblsp. butter
1/4 cup chopped bell pepper
2 tblsp. chopped onion
1 large sprig parsley
1/8 tsp. thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 (8 oz.) can tomatoes (crushed)
1 (1 lb.) can pumpkin (~ 1 1/2 cups cooked mashed pumpkin)
2 cups chicken broth or stock (can substitute veggie broth)
1 tblsp. flour (can substitute arrowroot or cornstarch)
1 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add bell pepper, onion, parsley, thyme and bay leaf. Cook 5 mins. Add tomatoes, pumpkin and broth. Cover and simmer 30 mins, stirring occasionally. Press mixture through food mill or wire strainer (or put in blender - this step isn't necessary if the pumpkin was pureed first).

Blend together milk and flower (or arrowroot or cornstarch) and stir into soup. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture starts to simmer. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.