America is hungrier than ever for sustainable food systems. Can we build them?  

November 2, 2020 by  
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America is hungrier than ever for sustainable food systems. Can we build them?   Carol J. Clouse Mon, 11/02/2020 – 01:30 In the spring of 2020, many small farms across the U.S. found themselves in a bittersweet predicament. Restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus were forcing restaurants — major buyers for the local farms that serve urban areas — to shut down. The loss of these key customers might have wiped out many of these local growers, if not for another COVID-19-induced phenomenon: individual shoppers started calling — and calling — and calling. “The farms we work with are seeing a huge spike in demand [for direct sales],” Dan Miller, CEO and founder of the crowdfunding platform Steward , told me when we spoke by phone in early April. “But now they have to quickly switch their businesses to meet that demand.” So Miller, who launched the platform in the fall of 2019 to provide funding to small, sustainably run farms — operations often underserved by traditional finance — soon found himself expanding Steward’s services to help these same farmers shift their business model. Stories of small farms pivoting their operations on a dime were easy to find in the early months of the pandemic: these farmers worked overtime to meet customer demand, added services such as online ordering and home delivery, and jumped into action to prop up community food banks struggling to serve an influx of the newly unemployed. Compared to the industrialized and supersized food system most Americans live with — represented by rivers of wasted milk and COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-packing plants that killed more than 200 people — these distributed systems looked healthier, safer, and more environmentally sustainable than ever. They also looked more agile and resilient. Crises often present an opportunity to reimagine current systems, so I wondered: Would that happen here, with food? Would the food consumption trends driven by the pandemic wind up as a paragraph in the history books — like the ” victory gardens ” of World War II — or could it lead to lasting change? And how do we transform this moment of crisis into a more resilient, sustainable, healthy and just food system? Crises often present an opportunity to reimagine current systems. At GreenBiz Group’s virtual clean economy conference, VERGE 20 , last week, speakers and participants addressed questions such as these, discussed how to make sure that these changes stick and identified what challenges stand in the way. During a session delving into lessons from the pandemic, panelists agreed that the No. 1 barrier to changing the current food system is financing. “The financial services that are out there … are really not calibrated for the moment we’re in,” said Janie Hipp, CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund. “If we’re going to actually build an agile and resilient system going forward, then we have to invest in it.” One example of the financial challenges sustainable farms face comes in the form of crop insurance. If a farmer wants to transition a farm from conventional practices to organic or regenerative ones, costs are associated with that transition. However, insurance policies typically do not cover them, so the farmer is forced to take on the extra up-front costs and risk. The same holds true for traditional agriculture financing, developed for conventional farming. Loans are typically underwritten based on the equipment, inputs, volume, prices and insurance coverage of conventional growers. These factors are different for organic and regenerative farmers, so the numbers often don’t work, resulting in loans being denied or unaffordable. This increased access to capital could help scale the market, which hopefully would bring down the cost and make this more nutritious food more widely available, said Matthew Walker, managing director at S2G Ventures, a food systems-focused venture fund and mission investor. “There’s a lot of work to be done to provide affordable nutrition … and allow those who are seeking to grow organic, or use any tech enabled process that might be better for soil health, better for nutrition, to at least get started,” he said. This increased access to capital could help scale the market. Making healthy food available in disadvantaged neighborhoods, where affordable, fresh vegetables are hard to come by, is the mission of the Green Bronx Machine , but founder Stephen Ritz — a VERGE keynote speaker — didn’t wait for systems change. Established in 2012, the program uses hydroponic and vertical farming technology at its indoor teaching farm at a South Bronx school, where kids learn how to grow and cook vegetables themselves. Each week throughout the school year, the kids take home bags of groceries to their families. Green Bronx Machine also operates a “food for others” outdoor garden and summer youth employment program in the Bronx, which serves food-insecure families in the community. And it has various other partnerships and serves as a model for schools in other districts, including a program in more than 60 Chicago schools, sponsored by the foundation of Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews , who joined Ritz on VERGE’s Building a Better Food System for America’s Cities panel. Like the farmers who work with Steward, the Green Bronx Machine’s student farmers pivoted when the pandemic hit, Ritz said in his keynote. “As COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill, it became the ultimate manifestation of three larger illnesses: racism; greed; and corruption,” Ritz said. “And we found new ways to secure and distribute food to those who needed it most.” This has included providing weekly grocery delivery for 26 food-insecure patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, who are recovering from cancer, and for 55 of the most vulnerable families in the Bronx, across a 26-mile route that includes walk-up buildings. “The truth is children want to be part of the conversation. The truth is children don’t let differences divide them. The truth is children are smarter than you think,” Ritz said. As COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill, it became the ultimate manifestation of three larger illnesses: racism; greed; and corruption. When New York was the epicenter of the pandemic  — a place where by May, the virus had killed more than 20,000 people, primarily in under-privileged neighborhoods such as the South Bronx — food grown by a bunch of kids was delivered to families who may not have eaten otherwise. The Green Bronx Machine joined community farms, urban farms and small family farms in offering a lifeline to their communities. They proved themselves resilient in a crisis, and their numbers are growing, but they remain a teeny, tiny part of the gargantuan American food system. In 2017, there were 16,585 certified organic farms, a 17 percent increase from just a year earlier, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s latest Organic Survey , released this month. These farms accounted for 5.5 million certified organic acres, an increase of 9 percent over 2016. This impressive growth marks the continuation of a decade-long trend. And yet, certified organic acres still represent less than 1 percent of the total 911 million acres of American farmland. (Although I should add that the survey’s three-year lag does not provide an up-to-date picture, and farms that use organic or regenerative practices but have not been certified don’t get counted.) The main challenges for these farms is getting the infrastructure and operational capacity in place to support a growing customer base. Curious to see whether the direct sales demand Steward’s farmers saw in the spring was continuing to hold, I checked back in with Miller. By email, he told me that demand had held and offered an example from Fisheye Farms, an urban farm in Detroit. Fisheye, he reported, already has sold out their entire winter CSA and is fielding inquiries for spring. CSA stands for “community supported agriculture,” a system where customers buy “a share” of the farm. They pay a fixed rate to receive regular boxes of whatever’s in season. Every other week, from November through February, members of Fisheye’s winter CSA will receive spinach, kale, carrots, turnips, radishes, micro greens and more. The cost is $300, or about $38 a week. “The main challenges for these farms is getting the infrastructure and operational capacity in place to support a growing customer base,” Miller said in his email. “Even the farmers with the most demand still need capital to run better, as they can’t finance everything they need just on cash flow.” In other words, to replicate and scale what these farms do, and build distributed food systems that are resilient, sustainable, healthy and just, will take time, cooperation and a lot of green. Pull Quote Crises often present an opportunity to reimagine current systems. This increased access to capital could help scale the market. As COVID-19 brought the world to a standstill, it became the ultimate manifestation of three larger illnesses: racism; greed; and corruption. The main challenges for these farms is getting the infrastructure and operational capacity in place to support a growing customer base. Topics Food & Agriculture Food Systems Risk & Resilience Organics VERGE 20 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Photo by Oleg Demakov on Unsplash. Close Authorship

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America is hungrier than ever for sustainable food systems. Can we build them?  

Why building owners should take charge of EV adoption

September 10, 2019 by  
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Plus, three strategies for buildings to manage the increased electrical load.

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Why building owners should take charge of EV adoption

California partners with UN on climate insurance

July 31, 2019 by  
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California is the first state to work directly with the United Nations on a natural infrastructure insurance program that could help protect communities from wildfires and other disasters. The California Department of Insurance is working on a year long initiative with the United Nation’s Environment Program to develop insurance practices that manage and reduce risks, specifically related to wetlands and forests. Related: Every year, humanity ‘overshoots’ the natural resources earth can replenish “We have a historic opportunity to utilize insurance markets to protect Californians from the threat of climate change, including rising sea levels, extreme heat and wildfires,” says Insurance Commissioner for California Ricardo Lara. “Working with the United Nations, we can keep California at the forefront of reducing risks while promoting sustainable investments.” In 2018, California experienced the state’s deadliest wildfire, which cost $12 billion in insurable losses and killed 85 people. According to experts, the increased severity of wildfires is likely due to climate change . Insurance services can offer compensation for risk reduction strategies, such as effective forest management or protecting utility infrastructure from possible disasters. “A sustainable insurance road map will enable California to harness risk reduction measures, insurance solutions and investments by the insurance industry in order to build safer, disaster-resilient communities, and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy,” said the U.N. lead, Butch Bacani. Other countries have initiated similar natural infrastructure insurance programs, including protections for coral reefs and mangroves, which reduce coastal flooding and erosion. Via LA Times Iamge via Flickr

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California partners with UN on climate insurance

The ultimate guide to eco-friendly period products

July 31, 2019 by  
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If you’re a person who is serious about protecting the environment, you’re probably conscious of how much trash you generate every time you have a period. In addition to being chock-full of plastics sent straight to landfills, pads and tampons also contain harsh chemicals that are toxic . Yet most people continue exposing their bodies to these products month after month. Luckily, there are better options out there for both you and the planet — here’s a guide to help you find what might work best for you. “Anything coming in constant contact with your skin will land in your bloodstream for distribution throughout your body,” Dr. Joseph Mercola wrote in an alarming Huffington Post article about the dangers of menstrual products. Despite the potential dangers, the chemical ingredients in tampons and pads are an industry secret, protected by nondisclosure policies that favor corporations, manufacturers and innovators but put consumers at serious risk. So if you want to cut down on polluting nature and your body, consider this comprehensive guide on more sustainable product options available right now. As always, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider to help determine the best options for you. Menstrual cups Menstrual cups are one of the most eco-friendly options out there. If you can get over the initial learning curve, they are easy and convenient to use. Why we love them Although the up-front sticker price is higher, when you calculate how much you spend every month on tampons or pads, the savings are obvious. The cups are comfortable and barely noticeable once they have been inserted — the same way you might get used to a tampon and hardly realize it is there. They are especially easy for travelers who want to save precious space in their luggage and say goodbye to last-minute, emergency trips to the convenience store. Most cup brands come in multiple sizes and some even come in varying levels of firmness, depending on your preference, flow, age and whether or not you have had a vaginal birth. The cups are capable of handling even heavy flow days, with most users reporting minimal — if any — leaks. Below is a brief review of a few popular brands. Diva Cup ($35) The Diva Cup is the most recognized and popular brand. It has three sizes (including one for teens), lasts up to 12 hours and is made from medical-grade silicone. Sustain Natural Period Cup ($39) These cups are flexible, compact and made entirely of medical-grade silicone . They claim to hold three tampons-worth of liquid and are available in two sizes. This is also the only brand that currently offers a microwave case for cleaning the cup. Peachlife Menstrual Cup ($22) Also made of medical-grade silicone, this cup uniquely comes in a variety of firmness levels (soft, medium-firm and extra-firm). Unlike other brands that come to a point, the Peachlife cup has a silicone ring at the bottom for easy removal (but remember, you still have to break the suction of the cup; you cannot just tug on the ring!). Cups are not without challenges Menstrual cups cannot be recycled at the end of their lifecycles, but when you calculate how many pads and tampons you averted from landfills, this product is worth it. The cups can also be difficult to maneuver at first. Once you have practiced and get the hang of folding the cup, inserting it and then breaking the seal to remove, it’s just as easy as any other option. It typically takes about three periods to fully adapt to using a menstrual cup. Because of cultural and religious beliefs, some people do have objections or hesitations to using a cup. Related: Study shows menstrual cups are safe and just as effective as tampons, pads A new spin on ‘period underwear’ Absorbent underwear brands like THINX and Lunapads are increasing in popularity and market share. They are simply underwear that you wear during your period that are specially manufactured to absorb menstrual blood. Why they’re so easy If you know how to put on your undies, then you know how to use these — they have all other products beat in terms of ease of use. They are also eco-friendly, because you wash and reuse them each time you have your period. That means they do not produce landfill trash every month. The downside of absorbent underwear Period underwear is more expensive than your typical pair of underwear because of their patented absorption technology . You will also need a few pairs depending on the length and flow of your period and how often you’re able to wash and dry them. Like the cups though, when you tally the cost of underwear against lifetime tampon expenses, they’re a smart economic choice. The horrors of tampons and better options “The average American woman uses 16,800 tampons in her lifetime — or up to 24,360 if she’s on estrogen replacement therapy,” said Dr. Mercola. That’s a lot of trash , but it is also a lot of time that your body is exposed to toxic chemicals. Cotton is better; organic cotton is best You may have heard health experts say that cotton underwear is best for promoting vaginal health — the same goes for tampons. Look for brands that specifically say they are made from organic cotton, but assume that most conventional brands are now made from plastics and synthetic materials. These materials are not breathable, can get fragmented and left behind and might encourage health problems like yeast and bacterial growth. Most tampons are also bleached with substances linked to abnormal tissue growth, abnormal cell growth and immune system suppression. Americans use 7 billion tampon applicators every year; the chemicals in the applicator, phthalates, have been generally linked to organ damage, lower I.Q. and asthma. What to try instead Using tampons without applicators will significantly cut down the plastic waste you generate. Brands like o.b. offer tampons that can be inserted with just your finger. Seventh Generation offers a chlorine-free, organic cotton tampon that reduces your exposure to chemicals. Organyc also offers a 100 percent organic cotton tampon. What about pads? Many people prefer pads for comfort or cultural reasons; however, the average sanitary pad contains “the equivalent of about four plastic bags, and this doesn’t include the other chemicals like BPA , BPS, phthalates and toxic dioxin created by the bleaching process.” Even though they have plastic in them, pads are never recyclable because they have been contaminated with bodily fluid. Because pads have a bigger volume than tampons, they produce even more waste. The average person throws away between 250 and 300 pounds of pads or tampons in their lifetime. What to use if you prefer pads There are reusable sanitary pads online that significantly reduce the amount of trash produced. Simply place the pad in your underwear; when it is dirty, rinse it with cold water and then add it to the laundry. You can buy reusable pads from Gladrags or find cute designs via Etsy. You can also try your hand at sewing your own . Disposable tampons and pads dominate the menstrual care market, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With small personal changes, you can protect your health, wallet and the planet. Images via Shutterstock

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When Is Composting Better Than Recycling?

June 9, 2016 by  
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It’s a testament to our increased awareness of waste management and environmental issues that we now often have several options at hand when it comes to getting rid of things that have outlived their purpose — reuse, recycling, composting,…

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When Is Composting Better Than Recycling?

June 9, 2016 by  
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It’s a testament to our increased awareness of waste management and environmental issues that we now often have several options at hand when it comes to getting rid of things that have outlived their purpose — reuse, recycling, composting,…

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Electric Turbochargers to Improve Engine Efficiency

November 23, 2014 by  
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In the ongoing quest to improve, electrically powered turbochargers may be the next step in increasing engine efficiency for automobile engines.  The first such to be included in a production model is slated to come in 2016 from Audi on its SQ7 SUV. Turbo boost has been a popular way of increasing the power of an engine without increasing its size.   Ford’s EcoBoost is an example of this approach, using 3-, 4-, and 6-cylinder engines in vehicles which had previously used larger engines.  Turbocharging an engine increases the amount of air, and therefore fuel, being fed into the engine, providing better performance from a smaller-sized engine. Conventional turbos use exhaust gasses to spin the turbine that forces more air into the engine.  This is efficient, but it produces “turbo lag” as the engine needs to increase speed in order to develop the boost.  But an electric turbo can respond almost instantaneously, providing added power without any delay.  Furthermore, as Green Car Reports notes, “a more responsive turbo will help the engine produce more low-end power, meaning drivers won’t have to venture higher into the rev range–and increase fuel consumption–as much.” This becomes a more viable option with the increased computerization of engine control systems, which can read the driving conditions and trigger small amounts of boost as needed. Whichever kind of turbo is used, the benefits come from having a smaller engine, both in terms of the overall displacement of the cylinders, as well as the mass of the engine itself.  Smaller engines mean less weight the car has to move, which helps in efficiency.  And the smaller displacement means less fuel is routinely used, while the power that would have been available is still there, thanks to the boost of the turbo. via:  Gas 2.0 image credit: Wikipedia/NASA

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Electric Turbochargers to Improve Engine Efficiency

Nobel Prize Awarded for Blue LEDs

October 7, 2014 by  
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The Nobel Prize in physics this year has been awarded to three scientists, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura, for their work in the development of the blue LED. LEDs were first developed in the early 20th Century, and the first practical, commercial LEDs were brought to the market in the 1960s.  However, the earliest LEDs were red or orange.  The development of blue LEDs was crucial to the ability to make “white light” LEDs, which combine blue, green, and red (or sometimes blue and yellow) to create an acceptable light source for general illumination.  The high efficiency of LED light bulbs and LED displays which we enjoy today stems from this research work. As the Nobel committee noted, “As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth’s resources.”  With the increased use of LEDs for lighting, demand for electricity is reduced.  We salute these three as EcoGeeks of the highest order. link: Nobel Foundation Press Release image: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Gussisaurio/Wikimedia Commons

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Nobel Prize Awarded for Blue LEDs

INFOGRAPHIC: Americans Used More Energy, Increased Carbon Emissions in 2013

April 7, 2014 by  
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The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory just released its annual energy flow charts, and the latest infographics reveal that Americans used more energy in 2013 from all sources — renewable, fossil and nuclear. In total, Americans used used an additional 2.3 quadrillion thermal units in 2013 compared to the previous year. With the increase in energy usage came a rise in carbon emissions to 5,390 million metric tons, which marks the first increase in Co2 pollution since 2010. Read the rest of INFOGRAPHIC: Americans Used More Energy, Increased Carbon Emissions in 2013 Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: “wind power” , biomass , carbon emissions , fossil , infographic , lawrence livermore national laboratory , nuclear , petroleum , renewable , renewable energy , solar , thermal units

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Fracking Could Damage New York & Pennsylvania Tourism, Too

July 12, 2011 by  
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Another study showing how fracking is hardly an unqualified good as it’s proponents would have you believe: A new study shows that while in the short term hydraulic fracturing wells will likely have little impact on tourism, over time the increased industrialization of the landscape that comes with fracking could do serious damage to tourism….

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