Monthly Archives: November 2014

Raising Fields: What History Can Teach Us

When you come in for a landing at Palm Beach International, you pass over a network of blue waterways, canals, inlets, and bays that link pastel buildings and homes to the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal.  In fact, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway that touches my life and yours if you live and work here, is a much larger network that runs North-South, from Norfolk, Virginia to the Florida Keys, some 1,090 miles of navigable interstate.  This Blue Highway is what makes our part of the state so attractive to boat-loving vacationers and retirees alike.  It is also what puts South Florida’s future as a tourist mecca, retiree haven, and agricultural giant (second to California) at great risk from sea level rise (SLR). The experts in local government and higher education know this:

The risks from sea level rise are imminent and serious. This is not a distant problem, but one that is affecting us now and will certainly affect our children.  Sea level rise will impact millions of Americans and threaten billions of dollars of building and infrastructure. — Sea Level Rise Summit 2013

And so do the insurers and activist organizations, and all have our work cut out for us, given the denial in Tallahassee and among billionaire developers.  The latter are (for now), as one Facebook comment had it, so 20th Century.

???????????????????????????????Attorney Mitchell Chester isn’t waiting for anyone’s blessing to bring the message of SLR to whomever will hear it and act upon it. The fastest way to get up to speed on sea level rise is to visit his site SLRSouthFlorida for the latest news on the subject. It’s not good news for us coastal dwellers, but it may also represent an opportunity to save the Florida that people have loved almost to death, and to prosper in an entirely different way (and I don’t mean Waterworld).

I first heard Mitchell Chester speak at a breakout session at the Second Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium in July, sponsored by The Arthur R. Marshall Foundation for the Everglades, the Oxbridge Academy and the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County.  The session addressed the need for our legal and financial systems to “engage the shared emergency of sea level rise.”  Meaning, of course, that they are not doing so in any significant way.  Currently, for example, you will not find any warning about the threat of a rising sea to your property in your real estate disclosure documents.  Mortgage documents also reflect the same myopia.

Last week, I heard Mr. Chester making an electrifying presentation to the Climate Action Coalition meeting about his idea to save the billion dollar South Florida agriculture, “some of the best growing fields in the U.S.”  He was here, he said, “to bring reality to the recommendations” of adaptation and mitigation contained in the South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan.  Without action, our ability to grow 250 food crops (and feed the country) could end “as soon as the second term of the incoming American president.”  Whoa!  That’s within 10 years.

In a nutshell: “For [Florida’s] agriculture, it’s either up or out.” As he pointed out, the strategy of containing the sea by building up the land is nothing new. The Dutch have been doing it for centuries, and are still the masters of their dike-and-windmill system in modern times.  The Maya and Aztec also created farm lands on human-made mounds and managed excess water with canals, according to Raising Fields, the website created by Mitchell Chester to educate and make a case for adaptation of this kind.

While the ocean will advance and someday cover Southeast Florida, the use of mound farming and elevated agricultural strategies will serve to extend the life of valuable rural properties and precious growing fields.

For us South Florida residents, it could be an idea whose time has come.  And, as if to anticipate the drum beat about jobs gained or lost that plays through every political discussion, this proposal has an answer.  To build a new agriculture for a wetter, water-logged South Florida — and continue to feed all those urbanites who rely on farmers they’ll never meet — it will be everybody in, everybody working together: engineers, economists, architects, agronomists, water experts, farmers, environmentalists, mapping experts, permitting agencies, planners at many levels. And that’s before the first shovelful of soil.

Links to help you dig in 🙂

SLRSouthFlorida
Raising Fields Blog  — you can back up into the main site
South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan
EPA Climate Change Adaption SE
That Sinking Feeling – NBC Report

 

 

 

Greenier Than Thou?

OK, I’ll admit that our switch from Florida Power and Light to Pear Energy, a renewable energy broker over a year ago, right after we began our lease of a Nissan Leaf, made me feel a tad smug. Competitions about one’s carbon footprint don’t seem out of line, given the state of the Planet.  Not to mention that I managed to convince a small number of friends to make the switch.

Pear Energy imageWe stuck with Pear despite accusations in social media that the company was engaged in ‘green-washing,’ because here in South Florida, there seemed to be no better choice.  The company’s move from Miami to Amherst, MA, gave me pause but it was business as usual. Here’s a link to the discussion between that convinced us we’d rather fight than switch back: http://www.greenwashingindex.com/pear-energy-how-green/ I’ve written some damage-control PR in my life, so I appreciated how Pear answered its critics:

… it is important to keep in mind that we are an independent REC seller, which is a different model than that of a local utility’s green energy program. Local utilities are established, profitable businesses that simply add REC sales into their mix of services, as one very small share of their overall operations. These established utilities do not need to generate additional revenue through REC sales because they use their profits from selling electricity generated by coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy to provide a tiny subsidy to their purchases of clean energy RECs. By contrast, because REC sales are one of Pear Energy’s main activities, a portion of our charges must go to supporting our staff and our business operations. So, to summarize: 100 percent of all of our business activity supports the development of green energy in the U.S.

So imagine my surprise yesterday, when I received this email.

Dear Marika Stone,

Your Pear Energy account is officially closed as of November 10, 2014. As previously mentioned, Pear Energy is no longer offering our residential renewable energy service for homes and small businesses.

  • You will receive utility bills again. Please make payments directly to FPL normally. In addition, you may be receiving a verification email from your utility due to the recent changes made on your account.

Thank you again for supporting renewable energy and helping to build the green economy.

Sincerely,

The Billing Department
Pear Energy
(877) 969-7327
www.pear-energy.com

Apparently, I wasn’t the only customer who was upset at the news because today, another email arrived from Pear Energy offering us renewable energy via one of its partners, Acadia Power.  We’ll look before we leap, of course.  I won’t be surprised if there is a whole lot more of this kind of shaking out as we move toward renewables, and neither should you be.  In fact, I welcome it. Stay tuned

REC – Renewable Energy Certificates

https://www.facebook.com/PEARenergy

Gallery

Walk to the grocery store challenge

This gallery contains 35 photos.

Originally posted on Walkable West Palm Beach:
Strong Towns recently issued a challenge for its readers to walk to the grocery store. The idea is to get out of the car and experience this essential activity from a different perspective…

Symphony of the Soil, Part II

When I teamed up with fellow activists, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida and Brian Kirsch of Gray Mockingbird Community Garden, to bring Symphony of the Soil, Deborah Koons Garcia’s documentary, to a packed Muvico cinema in West Palm Beach last year, I had no idea that 14 months later, I would be up to my own elbows in dark, rich-with-compost soil and a new community garden.

This project, a first-of-its-kind partnership between CROS Ministries, the gleaning organization that supplies thousands of pounds of food to local food pantries, and my home congregation, 1st UU of the Palm Beaches, is itself symphonic in that it is composed of many different elements blending harmoniously.  As our minister, Rev. CJ McGregor, realized that 1st UU has plenty of well-drained open land on the congregation’s property, most of it bathed by 6-8 hours of sunlight, year round, he didn’t need much persuading to take the next logical step.  CROS Ministries brings dedication to feeding people in need, experienced volunteers, and growing knowhow.  Gleaning director, Keith Cutshall, has the patience and kindness of someone with deep practice in soil management, growing vegetables, and working with volunteers of all ages. CROS Ministries also supplied its own truck for transport of soil, mulch and other necessaries.

garden expansion1We received a gift of dark, compost-rich soil from Green Cay Farm, the life and work of Ted Winsberg, farmer, soil scientist, and local philanthropist.  Ted and his wife, Trudy, are well-known in their community of Boynton Beach as instrumental in the creation of Green Cay Wetlands and Nature Center on 170 acres they sold to Palm Beach County for one-third of its appraised value in 1997, specifically for that purpose.  Ted also provided our project five sturdy wood frames for the raised beds, all built of recycled lumber on his farm.

This enabled us to follow the no-till method of raised bed growing, developed by the University of Florida Extension, originally introduced to us by the garden founder, the late Wayne Reynolds, after whom the garden is named.  In addition to saving enormous amount of labor, albeit supplied by an enthusiastic team of volunteers within the congregation, a not unimportant side benefit of the no-till method is that no heavy earth-moving equipment is needed so the surrounding area is left unscarred.   When you’re planting among established trees and shrubbery, the value of this is obvious. First, we had to determine an overall layout for the garden.  For aesthetic reasons, we decided to organize the boxes in a semi-cigarden expansion17 step 1rcle around existing vegetation, mulching around them so the whole becomes a no-mow area. Mulching on the planted areas after seeds sprout, will also help conserve water. Thanks to another generous gift, we will be investigating drip and soaker hose type irrigation. Ground cloth goes down first, right on the grass, followed by the wooden frame which helps anchor it.  Keith Cutshall had picked up the wood boxes from Green Cay Farm earlier in the week and delivered them to our site.

garden expansion 18garden expansion 20

Recycled cardboard — the kind of sturdy box-stock movers, supermarkets and liquor stores have in abundance for the asking, get split and laid over the cloth next.  This also helps keep the soil moist and the grass out of the growing area.  Soil was hand shoveled from the truck and hauled over by wheelbarrow and bucket.

You can see a little bit of our earlier experiment with cinderblock for a raised bed in the above photo.   Wood looks more attractive, but cinder block can be painted and the open areas can also be used for planting complementary herbs or marigolds to control pests without artificial additives.  Here is the sugar snap pea bed, readygarden expansion5 for the time when they need a place to climb.  Just look at the color of the soil! Seeds — pole beans, peppers, tomatoes and sugar snap peas — were also donated by Eden Organic Nursery Service, and El Sol‘s Sunshine Community Garden, already a partner of the congregation, supplied us with hardy tomato seedlings.  El Sol’s weekday hot lunch program will be the beneficiary of our harvest of fresh, locally-grown vegetables.  CROS Ministries will remain on the project, Keith assured us, their volunteers helping ours to tend the growing beds from now through harvest time, and beyond.  When the work was done for this sunny, cool Saturday, we celebrated with an ample lunch supplied by another 1st UU volunteer.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone — just another day in the life of a constantly surprised convert to the power of growing food and community.