Saturday, June 30, 2007

Philly's Second Street Farmers' Market

2nd St. Farmers' Market
Originally uploaded by mverges
Today my friend Sean and I went to Second Street Farmer's Market in Queen's Village. The market held no pretense; it was low key and simple. This relaxed atmosphere provided me with ample time to survey the selection and ask where the food was harvested.

The good news is that all the foods were locally produced. We bought onions from Conchohauken, which is located about 10 miles outside of Philly. We also bought swiss chard, rainier cherries, squash, zucchini, and a chicken. The swiss chard was from Roxbourough, PA, about 7 miles away; the cherries, squash, and zucchini were from from Hammond, NJ, about 25 miles away; and the grass-fed chicken was raised in Chester County, which is about 50 miles away from Philly.

Geez, it's easy to eat locally-grown, organic food in Philly!!

Tomorrow, Sean and I are going to check-out the Headhouse Farmers' Market, which is making its debut in Old City, a historic district in Philly. Sweet! In the meantime, feel free to see more pictures taken at the farmers' market by clicking on flickr photo.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Article from Slate Magazine

This is an article my mother sent me recently I thought would be appropriate

Will My Plastic Bag Still Be Here in 2507?
How scientists figure out how long it takes your trash to decompose.
By Juliet Lapidos
Posted Wednesday, June 27, 2007, at 6:20 PM ET

How long will those bags last? Starting July 1, most large grocery stores in the state of California will be legally required to recycle plastic shopping bags. In Europe, even stricter anti-plastic measures are gaining traction. Retailers in Modbury, England, for example, recently committed to an outright plastic-bag ban. News reports have cited a statistic that the ubiquitous receptacles take 500 years to break downin landfills. How do we know?

Actually, we don't. Plastic bags have only been around for about 50 years, so there's no firsthand evidence of their decomposition rate. To make long-term estimates of this sort, scientists often use respirometry tests. The experimenters place a solid waste sample—like a newspaper, banana peel, or plastic bag—in a vessel containing microbe-rich compost, then aerate the mixture. Over the course of several days, microorganisms assimilate the sample bit by bit and produce carbon dioxide; the resultant CO2 level serves as an indicator of degradation.
Respirometry tests work perfectly for newspapers and banana peels. (Newspapers take two to five months to biodegrade in a compost heap; banana peels take several days.) But when scientists test generic plastic bags, nothing happens—there's no CO2 production and no decomposition. Why? The most common type of plastic shopping bag—the kind you get at supermarkets—is made of polyethylene a man-made polymer that microorganisms don't recognize as food.

So, where does the 500-year statistic come from? Although standard polyethylene bags don't biodegrade, they do photodegrade. When exposed to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, polyethylene's polymer chains become brittle and start to crack. This suggests that plastic bags will eventually fragment into microscopic granules. As of yet, however, scientists aren't sure how many centuries it takes for the sun to work its magic. That's why certain news sources cite a 500-year estimate while others prefer a more conservative 1,000-year lifespan. According to some plastics experts, all these figures are just another way of saying "a really, really long time."
Sometimes, even banana peels don't decompose once they reach the landfill. For sanitary reasons, modern landfills are lined on the bottom with clay and plastic to keep waste from escaping into the soil and are covered daily with a layer of earth to reduce odor. The landfill, then, acts like a trash tomb—the garbage within receives little air, water, or sunlight. This means that even readily degradable waste objects, including paper and food scraps, are more likely to mummify than decompose.

Eating Locally in Philly

When I signed up for Crunchy Chicken's Local Food Month Challenge, I forgot that I would be traveling to Philadelphia, PA the first week in July. So how am I going to eat locally in Philly when I know nothing about this place?

Well, thank goodness I discovered the Reading Terminal Market today. This place is humming with local produce from Lancaster, Kennet Square, and Westchester, which are located right outside of Philly.

Whew!! So tomorrow I begin Local Food Month Challenge in Philadelphia. Sweet! :0)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

For Meghan...

Meghan's earlier comment about the tension between convenience and good intentions reminded me of Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego.

For those of you wondering what the heck I'm talking about, the Id (i.e., Devil) reflects our desire to please ourselves with immediate satisfaction (i.e., eating fast food), whereas the Superego (i.e., Angel) reflects our desire to live according to a set of morals (i.e., living a "green" lifestyle).

Freud argued that the Id and Superego are two opposing psychological forces. To mediate this conflict, Freud suggested we have an Ego (i.e., the self) to ensure that both the Id and Superego's goals are met.

Oh dear, I can't believe I just posted a blog about Freud's structural theory of psychodynamics!! Meghan, I hope this puts a little smile on your face!! I suspect Experimentaholic will not appreciate this posting!!

What's the Definition of Organic?

What does the term "organic" mean to farmers, manufacturers, and the USDA? I thought this label reflected an agricultural process of growing foods free from pesticides, herbicides, and other synthetic chemicals. Since reading the Omnivore's Dilemma, I've applied this term to rearing livestock free from antibiotics, hormones, and other chemicals.

Yet, the "organic" label may be changing. If the USDA passes a new set of regulations, 38 substances that have been previously banned from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, will be included in the "organic" category.

To read more about the organic-label issue, go to the USDA website here. I also found another helpful blog that discusses this issue in greater detail.

Ready, Set, Action?

When this project first began in August, one of my goals was to film a documentary about the consumption of plastic bags from a personal perspective. To meet this goal, one of my students wrote a grant, which was awarded by Indiana Campus Compact.

Since August, we've generated tons of footage shot inside and outside the classroom. It's been fun filming this experience, even though I hadn't realized I would be serving as the guinea pig for a lot of the scenes. (Yah, I know, I should have figured as much!) And we've had a tremendous amount of support from Instructional Media Services (IMS) at IU South Bend.

Here's a picture of Jim Yocom, Director of IMS, taking some shots at BagFest:

So, overall, I've been quite fortunate in making a documentary about this project. But this lofty goal has also been confronted with its own set of challenges. For instance, my student quit on me, which was disappointing because I thought we had a solid working relationship. And an employee at IMS agreed to take over the film project, but he's since moved away.


Anyway, I just ordered 503 DVDs for this documentary, which has yet to be edited and scored, and I don't have anyone to help me finish this film!! Good grief. I suppose one could argue that I'm being presumptuous by ordering these DVDs, but I'd like to think I'm simply being optimistic. Regardless of these differing perspectives, I believe that somehow this documentary will be completed. Anyone with film skills interested in helping me finish this film? :0)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Flow & Ebb of Environmental concern

After reading your post "What's Important to me", I thought this would be an interesting response of my own. It was something I wrote on one of my own blogs but thought this a better forum to share.

I recently turned in two term papers for the summer classes I have been taking. Walking home after class (something I have really come to enjoy as it saves energy and money!), I breathed in the fresh, warm summer air and sighed happily. "Ahh I thought, finally some free time to work on my own projects and live a little easier."
Later, sitting in front of my computer, attempting to write a report about Bagfest, an event which took place at IU South Bend and aimed to "Raise public awareness on the consumption of plastic bags and instill personal responsibility that inspires behavioral, environment, and economic changes." We raised 72,440 bags to be recycled in only one day and the event was a huge success, not only with students and faculty, but within the local community who showed up in droves to donate their old, used plastic bags. During the semester that our class worked on this project, students, myself included, were inspired to increase their own environmental awareness and change their attitude towards waste and recycling habits.

I was one who definitely caught the 'green' bug. Although I live in an apartment which doesn't promote recycling, I bought my own bins to separate my glass, plastic, and paper recyclables and I made an attempt to decrease my own waste footprint by using dishtowels instead of paper towels, printing two pages per sheet or using both sides, and reusing what I could. I was truly inspired to take action and did...for a while. Then finals came and life got hectic. Instead of making my own food, I was now eating on the run which meant buying food and throwing away the wrappers and containers that they came in. Instead of taking the time to make sure I brought my recyclables in when my bins became full, I my attention was on what I had to do next and my previous efforts fell to the wayside. Not to say I didn't continue to make the best effort I could. But it got me to thinking. Granted, the smallest effort is better then no effort at all but how do we increase and sustain an attitude of activism and environmental concern on a daily basis? Is this something that has to be done individually or are there ways that we can stay encouraged to continue to fight for a better environment even when life throws us curve balls?

For myself, I continue to think of it as a new year's resolution that I make every year. It goes well for a while and then commitments and deadlines and stress take precedence and it isn't until I can sigh and take a deep breath of clean air that I remember how much more I could be doing for the environment.Still it is one step at a time and Bagfest was at one point referred to as a "grassroots movement." It takes time for change but change is the only constant in life. As for me, I continue to take at least one small step a day and as time goes on perhaps that will increase to two steps a day and after that...who knows.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

This looks like an interesting documentary about a Midwestern farmer trying to find his voice, both on a professional and personal level.

For more information about this quirky farmer, check-out the website:

What's Important To You?

I've been thinking about what's important in my life, both professionally and personally. In the context of my class project, it was important for me to visually grasp and comprehend what 380 billion plastic bags looks like.

The task was ostensibly simple: Take my bags out of the kitchen cabinet and count them; you do the same thing. And together, we form a massive pile of plastic bags.

Executing this task, however, was anything but easy. It took me eight months of hard work (i.e., writing, presenting, practicing, planning, ordering) to implement this collaborative event.

But, we did it. My students and I transformed this idea into reality. Starting from zero, we began with a clean slate:

Then we pitched the first set of bags into the container:

Just moments later, we had a small pile of bags:

In one hour, we tallied and pitched 14,640 plastic bags into the container:

At 2pm, we tallied and pitched 53,712 plastic bags:

At 4pm, the final count was 72,571 bags:

Now that BagFest is over, was it worth all the effort?

Some of my students thought so, but not everyone thought this project was worth the effort. One of my students wrote in my teaching evaluation that "many students dreaded attending class because it was a constant state of pretending to be enthused about recycling and making BagFest a success."

Yeouch, that hurts.

But isn't it unreasonable to think all of my students would consider this to be an important project? I certainly had my goals outlined for everyone, but I recognize that what's important to me may not be important to you.

So, I'd really like to know: What's important to you?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ikea Bags the Plastic Bag

Just three months ago, Ikea implemented the "Bag the Plastic Bag" program here in the U.S. Talk about a radical, "green initiative." Ikea is the first retailer to address the plastic-bag issue in our country.

Ikea now charges customers 5 cents for using plastic bags. In addition, Ikea sells reusable bags for 59 cents as an alternative to using plastic bags. (Wow, what a bargain!)

All proceeds from the bag program are donated to American Forests. This is a non-profit organization whose goal is to plant 33,100 trees each year to offset carbon emissions produced by folks driving to and from Ikea stores.

Is this a small step? Absolutely. Is it worth all the trouble? I think so. Anything we can do to reduce our dependency on non-renewable resources is certainly worth the effort. (Remember: Plastic bags are made from polyethelyne, which is orginally made from crude oil and natural gas.) So provided we each do our small part, collectively, we can make a big difference.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green

Who knew how prophetic Kermit the Frog was when he said, "It's not easy being green"?

I thought of this quote as I reflected on a recent comment posted on the blog. The blogger discussed the idea of a "conceptual revision," which describes our ability to change the way we think about a given event or situation.

As this blogger noted, we have a standard way of thinking about our shopping experience: Drive to the store, get the shopping cart, put goods in the cart, queue in the check-out line, pay for the goods, and leave the store with armfuls of plastic bags containing the purchased goods.

This "schema" works quite well; that is, until you want to change it. So what does it take to revise the way we think about our shopping habits?

I struggled with this question some time ago.

And trust me, this was a trial & error process. (To use another fancy word, what I'm talking about is learning via successive approximations. Thanks B. F. Skinner!) With repeated practice, I was able to gradually change my shopping habits.

Of course, there's another way to change behavior, and that's through legislation. To date, plastic bags have been banned in South Africa; Manitoba, Canada; and San Francisco, California. Bangladesh, Ireland, and Taiwan have imposed taxes on the consumption of plastic bags.

I wonder how likely it is for the U.S. government to introduce legislation on the plastic-bag issue. In the meantime, however, let's encourage each other to bring reusable bags for our shopping needs.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Check-Out Carnival of the Green

I just discovered another carnival fanfare, this time through Treehugger. Carnival of the Green is an online hub for folks who blog about environmental issues. This week, Enviroblog is hosting the 82nd Carnival of the Green. I like this idea because it provides an opportunity to connect with other people who share a similar passion for the environment.

Yours truly will host a Carnival of the Green next year. I can't believe I already know what's on my agenda for Mar 31, 2008!

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Plastic Bag is Not Our National Flower

Folks in South Africa used to regard plastic bags as their "national flower" because so many of those bags littered the streets. Well, not anymore. Just last month, legislation was passed to ban the distribution of plastic bags. If retailers are caught using plastic bags, they may be fined $13,800 or sent to jail for 10 years.

Geez, given those stiff penalties, I'm sure there's been a significant decline in using plastic bags!

Shoppers are now responsible for bringing their own reusable bags with them. Is it a big deal to ask folks to bring their own bags when they go shopping? Or put another way, would you like your national flower to be a plastic bag?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Organic Milk, Please!

To get a headstart for next month's Local Food Challenge, I biked to the Farmers' Market today with the goal of buying local veggies. Well, that was the plan. Instead of buying veggies, however, I bought organic milk from Susan Siemers, who purchased this milk from Traders Point Creamery, which is Indiana's only processor of organic milk located in Zionsville, IN.

So far, so good. The cows are grass-fed and the milk is produced without using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, synthetic hormones or antibiotics. And it's as close to buying 'local' milk as I'm going to get. So I consider this a small victory.

And I met a new friend today! Susan is passionate about organic farming. She's a farmer herself. (Oh, but she's not your prototypical farmer--Susan has a finance degree from Northwestern University!) She's also a member of the Walkerton Dairy Herd Association. We had a lively discussion about Monsanto, genetically-modified foods and its potential health implications, statistics, and the consumption of plastic bags. Yes, it was quite a dynamic conversation!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Up For a Crunchy Chicken Challenge?

I've been inspired to participate in the Local Food Month Challenge, thanks to reading Crunchy Chicken's blog. Along with other folks from across the country, the goal is to eat more locally grown food and decrease the consumption of eating packaged and imported food.

I like this challenge: It's encouraging to know there are other folks trying to make positive, lifestyle changes. And it's great to check-in with them in the blogosphere--perhaps I've stumbled across some kind of virtual support network. Crunchy Chicken also likes to poll her readers and report those statistics on her blog--very cool!

Elkhart Recycling Plant Explodes

I heard on the radio this morning that a recycling plant exploded late last night. The fire is so bad that firefighters are still working on the scene to control the blaze. Sadly, one man died while trying to escape from the fire. The captain of the fire department said this is one of the worst fires he's seen in a long time.

How will this explosion affect us? Folks who live near to the recycling plant have been asked to conserve water. Firefighters need all the water they can get to squelch those flames. I can't help but wonder what other repercussions will follow now that this recycling facility is gone.

For more details, click here to read the story published in today's South Bend Tribune.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fast Food Nation Resembles The Matrix

When I watched Fast Food Nation this week, I was struck by how this film reminded me of The Matrix, which is one of my all-time favorite movies.

These films have several parallel themes. For example, both films reveal the human tendency to resist accommodating new information into our current beliefs. These films also show a hidden, yet present discrepancy between the actual "real world" and our perceptions of the "real world."

Turns out, I'm not the only one who's made these connections. To see these similarities for yourself, click here to watch this animated spoof on youtube.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fast Food Nation

My fascination with food continues! This film is a visual analogue to Eric Schlosser's book also entitled, Fast Food Nation.

The film provocatively reveals the hidden (and intricate) system behind the fast food industry. It weaves together several factors, which on the surface, appear disconnected. For example, what's the connection between illegal immigrants and fast food? But when you take a moment to consider how these issues may be connected, the story becomes much richer and compelling.

Of course, another issue has emerged for me, which concerns personal responsibility. As I learn more about these food issues, I become more empowered to adjust my lifestyle habits. I suppose my philosophy of life doesn't reflect the"Ignorance is bliss" mantra. Instead, I try to live my life according to this philosophical model: Follow your bliss. For me, it's recognizing (and respecting) the Big Picture: I am not alone, but connected to other people, plants, and animals.

Anyway, if you're curious to learn more about this issue, feel free to watch this YouTube trailer!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Why Are Beef Prices Rising?

Lately, I've been pondering over the "real" cost of beef. Turns out, this is a complex issue. To appreciate its complexity, first consider three major players:

  • Corn

  • Oil

  • Cows
Here's the bottom line: Beef prices are rising. Because oil prices have increased, there is a greater demand for ethanol. (Ethanol is an alternative fuel that's primarily made from corn.) This increased demand for ethanol has resulted in higher corn prices.

But what's the connection between corn and beef?

In today's agricultural climate, most cows eat corn, not grass. Because it costs more money to feed cows due to increased corn prices, these costs are passed onto consumers who eat steak.

Isn't it amazing to see how these factors are all connected? (Of course, there's another key player to consider: The US government.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Drinking Water...28 Billion Bottles Each Year

On today's Morning Edition, I heard a story about the increased demand to recycle water bottles. Turns out, most folks trash their used water bottles. If US recycling facilities have it their way, however, more bottle bills will be passed to increase the recycling rate of water bottles. (The current recycling rate for water & soda bottles is 23%.)

From an environmental perspective, passing a bottle bill sounds like a great idea. It simply doesn't make much sense to toss precious resources into landfills. After all, water bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (i.e., crude oil and natural gas), which are non-renewable resources.

But don't forget about economics: Recyclers will make tons of money from selling old water bottles to businesses. According to the Container Recycling Institute, Americans consume approximately 28 billion single-serve water bottles each year. How much money will businesses profit from recycling used water bottles? China knows the answer to this question. They're the #1 importers of this product.

All this talk about recycling, however, ignores the other two R's: reduce and reuse. We can sidestep this issue dramatically by using reusable water bottles.

Since hearing Elizabeth Royte's featured speech at BagFest, I made the switch from using plastic bottles to this ultra-cool reusable bottle made from aluminum. It really was just a minor tweak in my drinking behavior. If you're interested in making the water-bottle switch, check out this website:

Saturday, June 09, 2007

I'm a Blogging Chick!

So I just became an official member of Blogging Chicks, which is a blog dedicated to promote female bloggers. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I became intrigued by the idea of joining other empowering women in the blogosphere. Tomorrow's apparently a "carnival," which from what I've gathered thus far, is a virtual method for getting connected with other female bloggers. I've submitted a little blurb for tomorrow's carnival. Let's see if I make the cut!

Beauty (and the Beast) at the Indiana Dunes

Today, Dawn and I took our puppies to the Indiana Dunes, which is located along Lake Michigan. Our mission: To give the pups plenty of exercise so that they would be conked out by the time we returned home. And mission accomplished! The pups are now peacefully napping. :0)

Not knowing what to expect, we brought our cameras to take a few photographs. After climbing the summit of one of the dunes, we saw this incredible view:

Isn't Lake Michigan beautiful? My face immediately fell, however, when I turned my gaze to the right. Here's what I saw next:

Not a pretty sight. And I was really hoping to take my mind off these sort of issues. Well, not wanting to feel jaded, Dawn and I took the pups to the shore and then trekked along the trails. And we had a blast!

Here's a pic of Dawn with her pup, Lucy:

And here are my two critters, Jack and Willy:

So despite seeing the beastly refinery, we all enjoyed our Saturday outing to the Indiana Dunes. :0)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Instructables: A TOTE-ally Easy Way to Save the Earth

I found this really cool website that offers step-by-step instructions for creating your very own cloth bag! And you don't need to be a sewing wizard to make this bag. Sweet! I was also humbled to discover that my blog was listed as a reference, so I'd like to return the favor by pointing you to this site:

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Stable Commodities, Changing Values

This summer, I have the pleasure of reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, which tracks the connection between the foods we eat and how it's produced (or manufactured, in some cases).

To be sure, this book has opened my eyes about our eating habits. One point I recently learned was about the business strategy of pairing commodies (i.e., corn) with values (i.e., health) in order to make money.

Take General Mills, for example. When this business first began, it initially sold whole wheat.

To increase profits, General Mills began processing its wheat into flour. And to promote the sale of flour, they marketed this product by attributing the value of good health and purity.

Sold! Who doesn't want to miss out on those virtues?

What's most interesting to me was how these values have gradually changed. Not long after, General Mills began processing their wheat to create cake mixes and cereal.

Instead of pairing these products with good health and purity, General Mills promoted the value of convenience. It seems as though this has been our mantra for some time now. It's got me thinking: Given the obvious benefits of having convenient products, what are its negative side effects?

From a cognitive standpoint, I know that having these products at my disposal means I don't have to think about where these products come from. This is not a matter of being forgetful; I'm blithely ignorant of this information. The underlying issue is that the value of convenience disconnects me from my place in the food chain. I'm so disconnected that I have to remind myself that Lucky Charms are partially made from whole wheat!

The take-home message is that while commodities are here to stay, our values will change. Which value could possibly trump the value of convenience?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

When the Going Gets Tough...

I suppose in the natural course of Life, there are moments when we'd rather do anything else but confront the mission before us. Why bother? As a good friend recently told me, "it's not like a single person can really make a difference."

I feel weighed down by that assessment. I really do.

I guess the bottom line is that, as an individual, I'm not trying to save the world. (Gosh, just writing that line makes me wonder how narcissistic I'd have to be if I truly believed that I alone could save the world!)

Instead, the only thing I try to do is take responsibility for myself in the context of my surroundings. Turns out, much of my daily existence takes place in the academy when I'm not at home. Perhaps this is why BagFest developed as it did, and why this project has extended to other areas in my life.

It's also comforting to know that other folks share this belief. Take Michael, for example. He and his classmates have been taking action to clean the Hautapu River in New Zealand. As Michael said in a recent post, "What we found wasn’t very promising but also reiterated why we chose this project and what we will be endeavouring to achieve in the remaining weeks."

Michael's comment reminded me that anything worth pursuing comes with challenges we must attempt to overcome. I guess the ultimate challenge is this: When the going gets tough, am I the kind of person who accepts things just the way they are, or am I the kind of person who tries to do something anyway?

Friday, June 01, 2007

BagFest Chats Continue

In the current edition of Indiana Living Green, freelance writer Marianne Peters reviews her experience at BagFest. Click here to read the article.