Roundup Friday August 28, 2009

1.  Farm to hub to table—Jane Black, The Washington Post 8/26/09

In Charlottesville, Virginia, the nonprofit Local Food Hub has emerged to bring together local farmers’ goods and distribute them as needed to area businesses, organizations and individuals.  The Hub can take vegetables and chicken and quail eggs from the one acre Down Branch Farm and merge it with other farmers’ produce to supply kitchens such as the one at the Jefferson Area Board of Aging, which serves 3,000 meals each week.

The trend has spread across the nation to serve the demand for a link between farmers and consumers.  Grasshoppers Distribution in Louisville distributes produce from 100 state farmers to 75 restaurants and schools.  Burlington, Vermont’s Intervale Center already sells produce from 20 farmers to individuals and will add nearby restaurants, hospitals and universities this winter.  Northern California’s Growers Collaborative estimated 400 tons of produce had been distributed to 19 regional hospitals in the last year.

The Obama Administration is supporting these kinds of networks as well.  “What we’ve got to do is change how we think about, for example, getting local farmers connected to school districts because that would benefit the farmers delivering fresh produce,” Obama said to the Organizing for America health-care forum a week ago.

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the best opportunity for new producers is a local market.  “It’s enhanced if they can be joined together with other local producers so sufficient quality and quantity can be established for schools, hospitals, jails and other purchasers.”

Local Food Hub’s director Kate Collier, owner of a gourmet food store in Charlottesville that shows its lowest profit margins with produce, presented a prototype plan for food distribution to a panel of local food advocates in 2008.  The plan would support small farmers and increase access to their products.  In response to the issues left to be worked out, the group pounced on the idea.

$305,000 was drawn from local foundations and individuals and Collier started the nonprofit.  A warehouse and refrigerated truck for deliveries was part of the budget, as well as liability insurance required for selling to large institutions.  Five people were hired to market, manage and educate the community on the benefits of local food.

Local farmers like Down Branch Farm’s Dick Proutt were sold on the idea of delivering to a single market rather than sitting all day at a farmer’s market. He added the money was better as well.  Larger farmers too can focus on farming rather than marketing and delivering.  Whole Foods Market requires voluminous paperwork, and one local farmer spent six weeks this summer getting heirloom tomatoes into their stores.  Roundabout Farm’s Megan Weary said that’s “six weeks I could have been selling them tomatoes.”

Weary added the Hub consolidated deliveries as well as the time it took to build relationships with bigger buyers.  In the first six weeks, 30 institutional customers signed up with the Hub. Independent grocers, restaurants and local elementary schools will soon be joined by the University of Virginia’s dining services.  Still, prices of national distributors can’t be beat.  At the peak of the season, zucchini can be bought for as little as 40 cents per pound in volume, while the Hub’s fair price is 94 cents a pound.

Volume providers can afford to wash, chop and bag produce.  Organizations like the Hub provide only the distribution, the buyer preps the produce.  This requires rethinking and reorganization for large institutions that have grown complacent with cheap, ready-to-eat foods.  And regional distributors insist they can’t shun the market price for more local produce.  One advantage for places like the Hub is they know where their food comes from.  With E. coli and other contamination outbreaks more common, this bodes well for small distributors.  Yet the nonprofit model has been the favored option for distributors who cannot compete in economies of scale.

The Obama administration’s Department of Agriculture will be devoting 5% of its business and industry budget to local production.  Vilsack added “What we’re looking at is how can we more effectively use [those funds] to create a whole new way of thinking about the rural economy.”  The Hub’s Collier predicts the organization could profit from $1.5 million in annual revenue in 6-8 years.  Small farmers are using the opportunity for connecting with wider, more stable markets.

2.  Breckenridge ban on street skateboarding returns—AP, The Denver Post 8/27/09

Citing skateboarders didn’t follow through on promises to follow traffic laws and self-regulate, Breckenridge Town Council voted to reinstate the ban suspended a year ago at skateboarders’ request.  Four summonses and five warnings to street skateboarders were noted by police.  Two accidents were also noted, one an alleged hit-and-run by a skateboarder.

3.  Brewery buys commuter bikes for staff—John Darling, Medford Mail Tribune 8/27/09

Already renowned for its commitment to environmental issues, Standing Stone Brewing Co. of Ashland has purchased new bikes for every employee who agrees to ride to work 45 days a year or more.  The brewing company purchased custom-fitted 24-speed Kona bikes emblazoned with the brewery’s head badge, hops vines and the phrase “Standing Stone Commuter” from Ashland Bicycle Works for 17 employees.

The bikes cost around $7,600 and went to employees with over 1,000 hours of work logged with the company, owned by Alex and Danielle Amarotico.  “It’s awesome to work for a company that’s so interested in sustainability,” one waitress and college student said.  “I’m going to use it every day to get to work and college.”  The restaurant’s carbon footprint will shrink, employee health and fitness will be nurtured, and additional parking places will provide Ashland tourists with space for vehicles.

Owner Alex Amarotico said “The employees went crazy over it, a real buzz in the air.  They will come to work more energized.  It’s great for morale.”  He hopes the concept will spread to other businesses.  A 35% state Business Energy Tax Credit combined with a $450 price tag for each bike made the purchase especially attractive.  A 15 minute parking space has been re-designated by the city Traffic Commission for a sizeable bike rack in front of the brewery.

Ashland Bicycle Works owner Tim Schurr called the bike “a good, quick-handling, fast-accelerating commuter bike.”  He added the program “shows real proactivity and is a healthy alternative and green solution to downtown parking.”  He lauded the tax credit which could with saved gasoline pay for the bikes in a few months.  He wants to draw other employers into a similar program.

Employees sign a waiver of responsibility, cannot use the bikes while drinking, and lay down a $150 deposit that is fully refunded when they complete their minimum required biking days.  They were effusive about the program.  A bartender said “It’s one of the coolest things any employer has ever done and it reduces our carbon footprint.  We’re all very excited.”  A city councilman chimed in that the city could shrink over-long spaces and convert yellow zones at either end of downtown blocks to further encourage the shift for businesses.

4.  UO freshmen combine bonding with intro to sustainability—Abby Haight, The Oregonian 8/27/09

Courtesy of the Office of Sustainability at the University of Oregon, 10 freshman students will spend four days getting to know first-hand local agriculture under the office’s “Project Tomato” campaign.  In addition to opportunities to make new friends and become more familiar with the UO’s sustainability programs, the experience will offer a four day retreat that includes a two night stay at local farms.

First participants bike to farms east of Eugene then camp out at Pleasant Hill Orchards/River Bend Farm where they’ll learn about permaculture.  After harvesting 1,000 pounds of tomatoes and exploring Eugene’s urban agriculture scene, they’ll return to make up to a week’s worth of pizza sauce at the UO dining hall kitchen.

5.  Sierra Cool Schools:  The Third Annual List—The Sierra Club, Sierra Club Magazine September/October 2009

The University of Utah was not on the list, nor any other Utah college or university.  A total of 135 colleges were surveyed across the eight categories of efficiency, energy, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste, and administration.  The Cool Schools survey rated colleges on their environmentally responsible practices, which a college admissions strategist at said was now a common concern among students researching schools to attend.

A recent survey by testing preparation company Princeton Review showed two-thirds of applicants applying to schools are influenced by a school’s environmental report.  In response to growing demand, Harvard has achieved top honors in energy efficiency, Yale re-vamped food operations, and University of California at Los Angeles renovated its waste management program.

University of Colorado at Boulder topped the list in combined scores followed by University of Washington at Seattle, Middlebury College, University of Vermont, and College of the Atlantic.  Oberlin College ranked 10th, Arizona State University at Tempe ranked 13th, University of Oregon ranked 25th, Oregon State University ranked 40th, University of Montana ranked 50th, University of Idaho ranked 51st, Naropa University ranked 74th, University of Wyoming ranked 104th, and Texas Tech University ranked 135th.

See the full annual list:

Hear Sierra Club’s Avita Binshtock talk about how and why they ranked the schools as they did:

6.  Willamette University earns more praise for green policies—Abby Haight, The Oregonian 8/27/09

Willamette ranked 17th of 20 schools featured in the Sierra Club’s third “Cool Schools” issue for green and sustainable programs.  The National Wildlife Federation placed Willamette at the top for sustainability drives last year.  Joe Bowersox, director of Willamette’s Center for Sustainable Communities said “We are pleased to be included in this short list of the green elite.  Willamette is working hard to create a culture of sustainability across all sectors of the university.”  Of eight categories, Willamette placed high in efficiency, purchasing, food and transportation.  Two new buildings are scheduled for LEED gold certification.

7.  State moves to limit chemical in drinking water—Kelly Zito, San Francisco Chronicle 8/21/09

In what could be a nation-leading trend, California has proposed maximum drinking water levels for cancer-causing chromium 6, featured in the 2000 film Erin Brockovich.  The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment will recommend a threshold of 0.06 parts per billion, below which the heavy metal’s presence would pose negligible risks.  Chromium 6 has been linked to cancer in humans, including a 2007 federal study that linked the toxin in drinking water to tumors in mice and rats.

Even after review and public comment, the proposal won’t set an enforceable standard, but would set the stage for future regulations that would empower authorities to clean up toxic drinking water sources.  The US and California currently regulate total chromium presence in water, while 52 of California’s 58 counties have tested positive for chromium 6 in drinking water.

Erin Brockovich highlighted cancer occurrences linked to chromium 6 with residents of Hinkley in San Bernardino County.  The residents won a $333 million settlement from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and Gov. Gray Davis ordered a standard developed by the end of 2003.  A blue-ribbon panel found no risks in 2001, but two panel members were found to be paid PG&E consultants. The 2007 study is considered conclusive.

8.  Oil companies undermining climate partnership—David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle 8/24/09

The United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) evolved in 2007 from large American corporations like DuPont, Ford Motor Co. and PG&E who see global warming as a serious threat.  Environmental organizations like Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council lobbied congress and helped facilitate the climate bill that will come before the US Senate this fall.  But some oil companies—namely ConocoPhillips and BP—that have been a part of the partnership have defected in order to participate in an oil industry campaign against the climate change bill.

The American Petroleum Institute with a coalition has been hosting public rallies in cities such as Houston, Texas and Greensboro, North Carolina that appear as grassroots assemblies.  The Institute has been e-mailing oil company executives with campaign details and requests to participate.  One such e-mail was leaked to Greenpeace, who has made it public.

ConocoPhillips encouraged people to attend the rallies on their website, and BP, though not encouraging, shared information with employees about the rallies.  Greenpeace Research Director Kert Davies said “It’s not my intention or desire to see USCAP fracture, because what they represent is important.  It looks like selfishness has returned, that each corporation is going to pursue its own selfish interest.  And that means we will get nowhere.”

Brian Hertzog of PG&E, parent company of Pacific Gas and Electric Co., said, “Everyone’s still committed to the principles in the blueprint, and I think that’s a powerful thing for people in the Senate.”  Sensitive to negotiations over the climate change bill, the partnership praised House passage without endorsing specific components of the bill.

A spokesman for BP noted issues with the bill, though climate-change regulation was a different story.  According to the spokesman, BP informed employees about the rallies but called attendance “a personal decision”.  He added that BP and others believe that the bill does not conform to the blueprint offered by USCAP, and that will be a major concern for them.

9.  Here’s why natural gas prices are so low—AP, SLT 8/27/09

At a seven-year low, 80% lower than last summer, natural gas has “become so cheap that it has become competitive with coal for generating electricity from big power plants,” the AP reported.  With low demand and new technology that has opened up holdings previously considered unfeasible to drill, industry-backed American Clean Skies Foundation claims the US has a 118-year gas supply based on 2007 production levels.  Consumption is expected to drop another 2.6% this year, and stocks for this winter’s heating already sit at record levels.  New climate regulations may further extend natural gas usage and infrastructure for transportation.

10. Town’s troublesome turkeys spared death—AP, SLT 8/27/09

La Conner, Washington’s resident turkey flock will be trimmed from 20 to 7 birds in response to resident complaints that the birds destroy yards, peck houses and shed feathers and droppings.  While killing was considered, adoption offers have curbed the idea in favor of trapping.  The birds are considered a tourist attraction.

11.  Confirmation hearing set next week for new DEQ director—Judy Fahys, SLT 8/27/09

The Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Confirmation Committee will meet Sept. 1 to review the nomination of Amanda Smith as director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.  Smith was nominated by then-gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. earlier this year, but confirmation stalled when Huntsman was nominated ambassador to China.  The position has been unfilled since former director Rick Sprott retired in December.

12.  Détente in public lands debate?—Jennifer Napier-Pierce, KUER 8/26/09

The annual Land and Water Symposium held at Alta, Ut. featured attorney and former BLM chief Pat Shea squaring off with Utah Rep. Mike Noel.   Shea proclaimed the nation’s founding fathers sought ‘one nation under law’, a policy he says extends to the public lands.

“The United States citizens have sponsored and paid for that land since the beginning of that land being under the United States jurisdiction,” Shea said, “And the idea now in the 21st century they should get that free so that people in the states could handle it is simply contrary to our constitutional history.”

“Imagine what the West would be like if we didn’t have Yellowstone National Park, we didn’t have Grand Teton, we didn’t have Bryce, we didn’t have Zion, we didn’t have Grand Canyon.  Those are areas that have generated enormous amounts of revenue, but they make us whole as a nation because we believe they are ours.  They’re not the citizens’ of Nevada.  They’re not the citizens’ of Arizona.  They’re the citizens’ of the United States.”

Republican Representative Mike Noel countered the federal government had gone too far in managing the public lands.  “What I’m saying is its overkill.  What has happened now is we’ve gone way beyond the pale in these environmental regulations.  We’ve gone way beyond what was ever anticipated by Congress.”

The federal lands own 97% of his legislative district, Kane County, Noel lamented.  “We don’t want the federal government coming down here and directing our lives.  None of you like the Internal Revenue Service.  Why do you want to have federal agencies managing and having total control over two-thirds of our state and the surrounding areas of the state.  That’s what’s created the problem in our mind.”

Noel insists local residents must be included in discussions on local energy development and rural road control.  “Their life matters.  Just like I read about all the issues up here in Albion Basin and the individuals that want to protect this are and what you think about this area.  People in Kane County and Garfield County and Wayne County and Piute County and generations that have lived there:  their life matters.”

Shea believes local control can become too provincial without check.  “Sometimes local interests or even regional interests can be so narrow on either economic development or maintaining a lifestyle that the national interest that has sustained that land is forgotten or not paid attention to,” Shea countered.

“I know it’s been one of the more exciting debates since Lincoln-Douglas,” Governor Herbert added.  “May I harken back to that ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.  Maybe this is the ‘Conflict in the Canyon’.  Herbert returned to his inaugural speech theme that urged reason and compromise with land, energy and water policy.

“It’s time that we get past the talking past each other, the view that we are right and they are wrong, us versus them, and see if we cannot find some way to work together in what I call good faith,” Herbert spoke.  “Unless we do that, we will not find solutions.  We’ll continue to have this civil war that continues and we’ll never solve the problems.”

13.  Tidy up the Jordan River, mayors say—Jeremiah Stettler, SLT 8/26/09

Convening for a roundtable discussion on watershed issues for the Salt Lake Countywide Watershed Symposium on Wednesday, seven Salt Lake County community mayors agreed more action should be taken to improve and preserve the Jordan River corridor.  Uncertain however were talks aimed at finding a resource for funding for the upgrades, though several ideas were pitched.  The Blueprint Jordan River Implementation Committee, made up of elected officials and community leaders, will continue to brainstorm on the issue and others in hopes of creating an attractive recreational corridor.  Mayor Ralph Becker said, “We all see the Jordan River as a gem that has been underutilized and underappreciated.  It can be a tourism possibility, but it will take us making the investment up and down the river.”

14.  Widening artifact probe snags another defendant—Pamela Manson, SLT 8/26/09

The latest indictment accuses Robert B. Knowlton of Grand Junction, Colorado of selling a Cloud Blower pipe, a Midland Point and a Hell Gap knife and mailing them to Utah.  Knowlton has an internet relic sale site titled Bob’s Flint Shop, and in his sale of merchandise to the FBI-BLM informant known as “The Source”, he said the pipe came from the excavation of the Big Westwater Site in southern Utah.  Other pieces reportedly came from near Moab and Telluride, Colorado.  Knowlton makes the 26th defendant indicted on charges stemming from the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

15.  USU research:  Algae may fix Logan’s sewage mess—Brian Maffly, SLT 8/26/09

Logan’s five wastewater lagoons have a longstanding history of high phosphate contamination from detergents and agricultural runoff.  The contaminant threatens sensitive downstream wildlife habitat and has resulted in costly clean-ups.  The city is now collaborating with Utah State University Research Foundation.  Algae grown in the ponds by the foundation will feed on the phosphate and in turn produce a biofuel resource.

Coupled with a $500,000 state grant, the 460-acre pilot project will grow algae on the lagoons that will be harvested and converted to methane for generating electricity.  The phosphorous will be extracted and sold to industries such as fertilizer manufacturers.  Under the current system, Logan has been spending $250,000 per year on aeration to prevent algae blooms and has been considering a $180 million treatment facility to combat phosphorus.

USU’s Energy Dynamics Laboratory (EDL) researchers came up with the idea.  Foundational projects have been affiliated with the Utah Science, Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative, including an algae to biofuel project.  The Logan project will be the first large-scale attempt in field conditions for many of the initiative’s ideas.  USTAR’s biofuels team leader said “Every time you scale up you find new issues.”

One consideration is whether to use indigenous algae species or imported strains.  Fast growing strains with high lipid content have been favored.  Logan’s wastewater system is one of the largest in the country.  The project could serve as a model for other systems.  It discharges 14 million gallons per year into Cutler Reservoir and the Bear River drainage and ultimately the water flows into the Great Salt Lake, home and stopping place for millions of migratory birds.

EDL and other USU divisions work to prove technologies and make them commercially viable.  EDL’s interim director Doug Lemon sees the algae project turning into a profitable enterprise.  “We can take those technologies to the marketplace with a little more agility than if we were a non-profit,” Lemon commented.  “We want to create jobs and it brings revenue back to the foundation.”

16.  Feds offering cash rebates to buy green appliances—AP, SLT 8/25/09

Utah has won funding to participate in the federal stimulus money program for “Energy Star” labeled products.  Details on who will qualify and the start date have not yet been released.

17.  Wyoming officials relocate young grizzly—AP, SLT 8/25/09

The bear was trapped in the Cody region and moved to a Bridger-Teton National Forest grizzly bear conservation area.  The mother was moved on Sunday from near a cattle depredation site to the Blackrock Creek drainage close to Togwotee Pass.

18.  Utah to turn over fabled Range Creek canyon to U. of U. archaeologists—Paul Foy, AP, SLT 8/25/09

The remote canyon, home to a wealth of prehistoric artifacts and structures, will be turned over to the University of Utah for use as a permanent research installation.  University archaeologists will become permanent stewards of the canyon, which was unknown and protected by a local ranching family until 2004, when the state took control of the canyon.

Remains of ancient settlements, eroded pit and cob house remains, standing grain caches, and trapezoidal pictographs with spiked hair styles typify the canyon.  Chief curator Duncan Metcalfe of the Utah Museum of Natural History noted the study of natural history and archaeology in the canyon would continue.  The museum conducts a summer school in the canyon.  A spokesman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) said public access and wildlife habitat would still be protected.

Freemont people are believed to have inhabited a twelve mile stretch of the canyon intensively for as much as three centuries up to around 1,200 A.D., though indications suggest some human habitation occurred earlier and later.  Disappearance of the significant population is not understood.  The Fremonts knew distinctive basket weaving, animal-claw moccasins and farming as well as hunting.

The university is offering around 4 square miles of deer and elk habitat near Gordon Creek Wildlife Management Area in Carbon County, trust lands granted the university at statehood.  DWR will trade 2.3 square miles of canyon bottom in Range Creek.  Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) is brokering the trade, which it favors.  SITLA will hold title to ranch lands while the university will control the parcels with its own trust land holdings.

Public access is strictly controlled between land covenants and congressional legislation from purchase of the canyon.  Some rules could change to facilitate research and protection of sites.  A university caretaker oversees the canyon which sits mostly behind locked gates and is snowbound in winter.

19.  Hogle won’t release video of elephant birth—Matthew D. LaPlante, SLT 8/25/09

The birthing video is considered useful for scientific review, but proprietary and will not be released to the public.  Controversy over potential backlash should anything have gone wrong, or perceived issues with humane treatment of the animals, may be driving the decision.

20.  Utah’s Hogle Zoo debuts three male tiger cubs—AP, SLT 8/25/09

The Amur, formerly Siberian tiger cubs are the first litter born to the female, who was born at Hogle in 2003.  The Amur has been placed on the list of critically endangered species.

21.  Herbert calls for compromise in public-land feud—Judy Fahys, SLT 8/25/09

Governor Gary Herbert spoke at a land and water symposium held at Alta, urging compromise.  The ski resort is built on public lands.  Representative Mike Noel, a Sagebrush rebel from Kane County, said Alf’s Restaurant couldn’t be built in his district owing to restrictions.  He said a one-mile fence or waterline to an existing well in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument demands overwhelming time, money and paperwork.  Attorney and former BLM boss Pat Shea argued for federal management of the public lands.

Robyn Pearson, deputy director of the Utah Division of Natural Resources said, referring to trees killed by beetles and fire-prone cheatgrass that also is widespread, “Some challenges we face know no boundaries.  For the betterment of our natural resources, we all need to find some common ground.”  Pat She, responding to a prompt from Gov. Herbert, said “I’m willing to kiss Mike Noel today, although it might be misinterpreted in various quarters.  There are very few people I am not interested in sitting down and having a discussion with.”

22.  Japanese beetles in Utah County almost all gone—Dawn House, SLT 8/24/09

But five males could be left in a three-year spraying campaign in Orem to eradicate the insect considered a high threat to agriculture and gardens.  No females have yet been found.

23.  Pretenders singer, PETA grill McDonald’s over chicken slaughter—David Burger, SLT 8/24/09

Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, a long-time vegetarian and animal rights supporter with a vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launch a nationwide campaign to press McDonald’s to adopt more humane slaughter standards at the 242 S. 700 East franchise.

24.  Settlement talks ongoing in dispute over trust—Pamela Manson, SLT 8/24/09

Navajos in San Juan County are still fighting a decades long lawsuit over alleged mismanagement and unreported accounting of an oil royalties trust that began pumping funds out of the Aneth oil field as early as 1955.

25.  Sizing up sustainable food—Talk of the Nation, NPR 8/21/09

ESR Editor’s note:  This 35 minute radio program features James McWilliams, author of Just Food:  Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly and associate professor of history at Texas State University in Austin, Texas; Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food:  An Eater’s Manifesto and professor of journalism at University of California Berkeley in Berkeley, California, and Brian Halweil, senior researcher at the World Watch Institute, Sag Harbor, N.Y. Food miles are contrasted to other ways of efficiently going green while shopping for food.


26.  Head in sand—Tribune editorial, SLT 8/25/09

On the recent hearings in the state Legislature’s Interim Public Utilities and Technology Committee over climate change ahead of this fall’s national congressional climate bill debate.


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