This cover is from April 2009 but I picked it for the trees :)
Every now and then I stumble upon a copy of The Sun (no, not the tabloid. This SUN is way more cerebral). My friend Mel usually has a copy sitting on her coffee table or I find the occasional copy when house sitting. The black & white cover photos are always striking and the articles thought provoking. Last month, my mailbox was graced with an invite to receive a free trial issue. It arrived today! And after today, I will be a subscriber.

I was immediately drawn to an interview with environmental activist, Julia Butterfly Hill (April 2012 - Issue #436). Like many of us, I first learned about Julia somewhere between 1997 and 1999 when she brought the nation's attention to the slaughtering of old-growth forests. What began as a two-week tree sit, turned into a two-year and eight day statement. Her mission...to not only save the 180ft redwood tree she called home and the three acres surrounding it but to transform logging into a more sustainable practice. Considering that 3,000 acres surrounding the tree are now protected and a cascade of reforms have followed including the SmartWood Certificate, I would say she and her fellow comrades have succeeded. But of course, their fight is a never ending battle.

Julia's tree is called Luna. It is a thousand-year-old redwood happily situated on a steep hillside in Humboldt County, California. I have a feeling she was a deep thinker before her 738-day act of civil disobedience but her insight definitely had time to marinate and this article captured her profound perspective. The following are some of my favorites excerpts from that interview:

When comparing her "forest name" to how she endured her experience in one of California's worst winters, she said,..."I went through the process that caterpillars go through to become a butterfly. The caterpillar is literally liquefied inside the chrysalis. Most of us want to become the butterfly, but we don't want to go through what it takes to get there."

When finding contradictions even within the environmental community..."I go to meetings all the time where they serve coffee in paper cups with plastic lids...How can you say, 'No more drilling for oil,' when you're drinking coffee from a paper cup with a plastic lid."

When talking about how to change the world we live in..."One of the best things about unsustainability is that it's unsustainable; at some point it has to collapse."

When talking about the power of community..."Many people get involved in the presidential election yet do not know who sits on their board of education, their city council, etc. They don't know the people whose decisions affect their lives on a daily basis, yet they believe they are going to change the political debate from the top down."

When talking about anger as a motivating force..."Most often we are angry because something we care about is being threatened. Caring is almost always underneath our anger...When I am angry, I breathe through the anger to get in touch with what I care about, then transform that anger into intense compassion."

Julia believes we all have a metaphorical tree; "something we give our life too." She wants to help foster people's innate yearning to "clarify their purpose and their passion" in this world. So she started, "What's Your Tree?"  For her, it was Luna which has grown into something much larger. The What's Your Tree Project encourages everyone to discover what they love most and do something amazing with that calling.

Parting thought..."It's impossible not to make a difference. Every choice we make leads either toward health or toward disease; there's no other direction. The question is not 'How can I, one person, make a difference?' The question is 'What kind of difference do I want to make?'" - Julie Butterfly Hill

Here is the last in a series of articles that recently ran in the Spring 2012 issue of Edible Reno-Tahoe. When I was first assigned this story, it seemed pretty cut and dry, a discrepancy between Waste Management and one of their commercial customers. But when I would talk to one person, their story wouldn't corroborate with the person before so I kept looping back and that would lead me to someone else. It quickly became an investigative report. After my fifth call back to some people, they commented, "You probably didn't know what you were unearthing when you accepted this story, huh?" No, but I enjoyed unraveling the knot and piecing the puzzle together. Here is the first part of the story but for the complete version, click here.

When managers at Great Basin Brewing Company in Reno, NV contracted with Castaway Trash Hauling to take its food and beverage waste to RT Donovan Company's regional composting facility in Sparks, it seemed to be an appropriate business-to-business move. But when Waste Management of Reno got wind of the transaction it called into question, "Who owns the garbage?" Leaders at such environmentally friendly businesses as Great Basin Brewing are conscious of the byproduct their services generate. Great Basin, for one, constantly is looking for ways to recycle as much waste as possible.

"We currently recycle between 93 to 95 percent of our waste," says Tom Young, owner of Great Basin Brewing in Reno and Sparks. "And we are investigating ways to reduce that even further."

But when Great Basin Brewing managers first contacted Waste Management officials to manage their organic waste back in the summer of 2010, Waste Management officials were not set up to service such a small account. That did not change the fact that the Great Basin folks still wanted to compost their organic waste. They needed an alternative and looked to Castaway in Sparks to do the job.

Read the rest of the article online at Edible Reno-Tahoe, click here:

Happy cows graze outside of Jackson, CA in Amador County.
Sometimes you need to shake your snow globe to really be able to see what you are doing. Today, I had that chance...

I've had my head down pretty seriously for the past four months; focused on what it will take to create a regional and secure food system in Tahoe. So much so that I haven't roamed very far from my home in that time. It's allowed me, however, the creative freedom to take the best of what I've learned and sketch what I want in a sustainable food future. Inside this bubble, it's easy to create my own blue sky. But to be sustainable you need perspective and stepping outside our peripheral gives us that vision. .

I left the house this morning on auto pilot treating it just like any other day where I had a list of things to do and meetings to attend. The only thing is, they weren't in Tahoe. Just as my second cup of coffee was kicking in, the bright, spring-green hills of California's Central Valley came into focus. I was driving to Amador County. The view was in stark contrast to the 6ft of snow that recently fell in the Sierra Nevada over the weekend. I was just two hours from home. It was surreal. As the grassy pastures rolled to the horizon, I suddenly felt very small. And my goals for an equitable, food economy felt just as far away as that horizon line. I knew I had joined a big movement but seeing that expanse was a strong dose of overwhelming. "Just look at all that farmland Susie! You can't wave your wand to sustainability."

I took a deep breath and stared down my goals. Out there are a lot of farms that feel the same way I do and many who don't. I will find the ones who want to work with me now and believe the new food system we create will attract others to join down the road. Prioritize and start checking things off one at a time. That's all I can do.

In seeking my truth, I find clarity.

Me showing off my notes for worm composting!
When I first arrived back into Tahoe last fall after being on tour for my independent study, I met with the editor for Edible Reno-Tahoe magazine, Amanda Burden. When she asked if I wanted to do a few articles dealing with compost, I thought maybe I was wearing a sign on my forehead that says, "I love compost!" She must have read my blog to know my obsession. Regardless, I jumped at the chance. Here is the beginning of one of those articles. You can read the complete story online in the Spring 2012 issue. Click here or grab a copy if you live nearby!

To the naked eye, vegetable and fruit scraps may look like garbage but really they are just undecomposed soil. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans toss out 15 percent of their food annually. Within the entire food system, waste comprises nearly 40 percent when factoring in overproduction and expired food. In addition most yard waste (leaves, grass clippings, and branches) ends up at the dump, too. What a waste of waste!

We need to not only manage our food supply better, but also divert as much organic material away from landfills where it generates methane, a greenhouse gas. Instead, we should turn it into a renewable resource that can organically fertilize our soil to grow our food.

For the rest of the article, click here!

I just had a series of articles come out in the most recent issue of "Edible Reno-Tahoe" magazine. Here is the first in that series! It is a profile that I did of an organic farm just west of Reno, in Fallon, NV. The entire article can be found online or in print if you live in the Reno-Tahoe area. Otherwise, click here!

“I’m worried we don’t have a good story,” Terri Marsh says modestly as we get acquainted and walk across the drive to meet the chickens. “Every farm has a story,” I say.  It quickly became evident that Rise and Shine Farms most certainly did have a story.

Driven by a changing economy and a desire to be self-sustaining, Terri and Mike Marsh decided to supplement their professional careers with a market farm on their property just west of Fallon. The Marshes started with a small, 14-person egg community-supported agriculture program (CSA) in 2006. By the next year, they had expanded to a 78-person egg and vegetable CSA. With that, Rise and Shine Farms was born...

Read the rest of the article in the Spring 2012 issue of Edible Reno-Tahoe, click here!

Amish farm in Ohio
I recently saw a documentary on PBS about the Amish way of life called, "The Amish." It reminded me of my own unique experience this past summer when picking up veggies for a CSA program in Cleveland. I wanted to share the story again. Don't read ahead but my favorite part is the ending.

It was just past 8am as we rumbled along country roads through the rolling hills of Amish country south of Oberlin. The humidity index was already pushing 80% as thunder clouds hovered above treetops. It was going to be a hot and muggy day. We would spend the better part of the morning visiting seven Amish farms and picking up vegetables for Northeast Ohio's progressive CSA program, City Fresh. And that's just for today. Four days a week, collections are made from a pool of 25 farms which supply shares to over 800 members throughout City Fresh's three counties. it progressive because...scaled pricing helps more privileged neighbors subsidize the cost of a share for low-income neighbors. Pick-up locations are called "Fresh Stops" which basically puts a farmers market where a farmer's market would not normally exist...in the inner city. It is just one way that NE Ohio is striving to improve access to healthy, quality, local food especially in economically deprived, urban areas where availability is the weakest..

Pictured here is the farm of Reuben and Mary, our first pick-up. Dogs barked and kids peaked around barn doors as we entered the yard. Never had I had cause or reason to enter the property of an Amish family. I felt honored and humbled. Honored to have the opportunity to visit and meet members of this private community at their home. And humbled by their sustainable lifestyle and the culture they have preserved amongst modern-day temptations.

A City Fresh Stop near a vacant lot in Cleveland.
I approach modestly after climbing down from the truck making eye connect with a cheerful smile. While reserved, their reception is warm and genuine.The little ones stare wondering, "who is this person?" I wink back hoping to catch a closer glimpse of their beautifully, uncomplicated life. Reuben was rinsing and packing the last of the eggplant order with the help of his two eldest daughters. He lingered after by the truck talking with me and the driver, Roger. Roger hands Reuben a letter. it is from Reuben's brother, Joe, who lives a couple miles away....mail delivery! And Reuben gives us something to take back. We go there next. Reuben and Joe look like brothers with their big, blue eyes and curls which roll up under their straw hats. Joe and Rachel are part of a certified organic, Amish co-op called Greenfield Farms. They've been organic pretty much from their start in 2005. And were one of City Fresh's first suppliers. They farm 11-acres testing their soil throughout the spring and summer for what organic fertilizers they need to input. But they plan to wean themselves off any applications and just go with straight manure and compost. Rachel nods and confirms, "yields are higher and the produce is bigger and tastier when we amend with manure in the fall and no organic fertilizers in the spring."

Our last stop is David' farm. He is a shrewd businessman. He keeps Roger on his toes as they discuss prices and next week's order. When appropriate, I introduce myself. He asks if I work for City Fresh. I tell him about my independent study and interest in helping local, organic food to move better through a regional, distribution system. I wasn't sure if he got what I was saying. But a little while later, he asks Roger and I if we would like a watermelon to take home. He had extra. He hands it to me and says, "that's how food moves!" He gets it :)

Aquaponics system: water tank for fish with trellis above for plants
Monday the 5th is three days before the full moon and according to the biodynamics calendar, it is a good day to plant above-ground, leafy green vegetables. It will be our first official planting in the grow dome. And what better veggies to start with than cold-hardy, winter greens like spinach, arugula, parsley and bok choy.

Meanwhile, waiting patiently in the back corner of the dome is the 3200gl water tank. It plays an essential role in regulating temperatures in the dome acting as a thermal mass in winter to capture heat during the day and as a cooling mass in summer to keep the dome from overheating. But in true permaculture spirit, the tank can serve dual, even triple purposes....permaculture likes when you stack systems and cycle different eco-services.

One of the dual functions that the water tank will serve is for Aquaponics. I'm just learning about this technique but I'm already fascinated by its potential. Both aquaponics and hydroponics grow plants without soil. The plant is suspended in a tray allowing only its roots to touch nutrient rich water that is being circulated. Hydroponics uses nutrient additives to feed the plants where as aquaponics generates its own nutrients between a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants. The fish poop then microbes in the water convert the amonia-rich waste into nitrates making it available to the plants to absorb as food. The plants then filter the water as it passes through the system and back to the fish. It's a closed loop, organic system unlike hydroponics which takes a lot of inputs many of which can be synthetic.

Tilapia is a common aquaponics fish and they eat water based plants like duckweed or watercress that float on the water's surface. At full capacity, a 3200gl water tank could hold enough fish to grow food for three 900sqft domes. But in our system, aquaponics is an added value not the primary growing style. Soil-based farming is our focus and the water tank's primary role is to regulate temperature in the dome. Aquaponics allows us to stack an additional function on the water tank and by running it at a quarter of its aquaponics capacity, we can use the nutrient-rich water to not only feed the aquaponic plants but irrigate the crops in the gardens beds as well. By building a trellis above the the water tank, we can take advantage of the open space above the garden beds that would otherwise go unused.