Tag Archive | sustainability

Watching the Cars Go by…. Woodward Ave. Dream Cruise

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Years before I even dreamed that I could live in Detroit, I’d see them on the highway and it would make me wonder.   On summer road trips I would often see shiny, shark-fender cars headed west as we headed east. Cars of bygone eras in reds and powdered blue. Some being driven, some being transported on flat beds or in tow.

Little did I know back then but they were probably headed to Detroit’s Dream Cruise.

I first heard about the Dream Cruise at a lady’s evening out. Being the newbie that I am, when I hear the word cruise, I automatically think – big boat with a midnight buffet.

“No, no, this is the CAR CAPITAL! You have to go to the Dream Cruise, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, man! They rev up and down Woodward for days! Some even pour some kind of bleach in their tail pipe so when they rev their engine they get a big puff of white smoke. It’s crazy!” Said one woman, a slim attorney who sipped away at her white wine.

This is not called the Motor City for nothing. And I’m learning that in Detroit, people take their cars very seriously.

Drive around any time of day, in any part of the city, good and bad, and you will see how people take pride in their cars.

Me? Well I don’t think I waxed a car since I helped my grandpa wax his Oldsmobile Cutlass in our driveway.

Earlier in the summer, as a prelude to the Dream Cruise,  I attended an open house at the General Motors Powertrain plant in Pontiac. On display were cars owned by GM employees as well as the Stingray that was used in the Transformers 4 movie.

This week, NPR featured a series about  the millennial generation and their disenchantment with car ownership.  The series spoke of urbanite teens and 20somethings preferring Zip Cars, sharing cars, tweeting to bum a ride, or moving back to cities with public transportation. That’s a big U-turn from the decades past when teens and those in their twenties couldn’t wait to get their first car. When a whole lifestyle was built around the car.

Can you think of any songs these days written about a car?

But a desire to live one’s life without the love of a set of wheels?

Not in this town.

Last week, millions came to Detroit from all over the country in their roadsters to cruise up and down Woodward Avenue, from downtown Detroit all the way up to Pontiac.

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Then there are the crowds who come to just WATCH CARS. All week. They bring their lawn chairs and sit on the curb with family and friends.

Some take this to the heights of tailgating, complete with tents, hibachis and picnics.

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Do these people care about the carbon dioxide they emit from their gas guzzling vehicles? Or the price of a gallon of petrol these days?

When a particular car they like goes by, they whooop and cheer and shout out comments and questions to the owner:

Sweet Ride!

What year is that?

Did you build that yourself?

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And the traffic is crawling along so slowly, proud drivers are actually able  to give answers to the spectators. They are more than happy to brag about their baby.

Overall, Dream Cruise was a beautiful night and we had a great time. But I couldn’t help but think: these people are willingly – willingly - sitting in traffic. For hours. To show off their chrome exteriors and leather interiors. To breathe in all those fumes. To come together and show off the best of what Detroit has to offer, cars built in the glory years of the American automotive industry.

I spend a lot more time in my car now that I’ve moved to Detroit. No longer are the places I need to get to the most under 5 miles away. No longer is anything just a short ride away.

I don’t care if I had the most souped-up ride in my garage. in my spare time, even in the Motor City,  the last place I want to be in, is in a car.

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When I get to Detroit, I’m shopping here

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We found that house! Still, I will miss the oldness of my old house. So that’s why, on a whim and a search, I found a great blog www.reclaimingdetroit.org

Not only can those old glass doorknobs and beautiful old hardwoods be found here, lovingly rescued from crumbling buildings, but the organization provides much needed jobs and training to Detroit’s population.

I’m putting this on my list of places to check out just as soon as the last box is unpacked:

putting the love back into your older home?.

Photo Challenge: Big

transporting a wind turbine blade. These things are big. Let's hope we see more of these on the road as a sign of the growth of wind as an alternative energy.

transporting a wind turbine blade. These things are big. Let’s hope we see more of these on the road as a sign of the growth of wind as an alternative energy.

Now, full disclosure here, this is not my photo.

But….

I DID take a photo like this on a summer road trip but, thinking I would never use it, erased it from my camera, to be gone forever. The WordPress weekly photo challenge this week makes me realize, you never know when you are going to need a shot, so hang onto everything!

When you take trips on long stretches of roads like we do, every now again at a rest/truck stop, you come across a tractor trailer carrying something enormous.  Curiosity piqued, we HAD to drive closer in the dusty truck stop parking lot to check it out.

Conclusion: Wind Turbines are BIG. Let’s hope that our use of wind energy in this country only gets … bigger.

A Woman with Roots Firmly Planted in the Good Food Movement

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Sue Gardner Smith, manager of the Brighton and South Wedge farmers markets, stands with a old abandoned barn along Westfall Road in Brighton. The barn is part of a site proposed as the Brighton Farm and Farmers Market expansion and renovation project.

Sue Gardner Smith, manager of the Brighton and South Wedge farmers markets, stands with a old abandoned barn along Westfall Road in Brighton. The barn is part of a site proposed as the Brighton Farm and Farmers Market expansion and renovation project. / SHAWN DOWD//staff photographer

Perhaps it is no coincidence that a woman with a surname derived from an old French word meaning “gardener” would become a grass-roots champion of the sustainable and organic food movement in Brighton.

With humble determination, Sue Gardner Smith turned her activism into a career in managing farmers markets — first in the South Wedge neighborhood of the city and now in Brighton.

Gardner Smith was the oldest of seven children growing up on a 70-acre farm in Wayne County that had been in her family for a century. She remembers walking through its cherry orchards with her father and tending to the family garden with her mother and siblings.

Being the oldest in a large family, Gardner Smith developed the nurturing traits of a “mother hen” by cooking meals and caring for her younger siblings. In her early culinary experimentation, some dishes were tastier than others. Even into adulthood, she still gets teased by her siblings at her first attempts in the kitchen.

“When I was nine, I came up with a dish called chipped beef on toast. It was wretched. … I have to say that my cooking and tastes have improved vastly since then,” said Gardner Smith, who now prefers making dishes like ricotta cheese and onions stuffed into Swiss chard leaves she grows at her 10-foot by 10-foot plot in the Brighton community garden, a project also under her charge.

In her experiences of living in cities abroad and in the United States, nothing unites people more than food. She has shopped for fresh produce in the open-air markets and dined in the cafes in the plazas of Brussels. In London, there was the tavern and pub culture, “neutral” places where local neighbors could gather for a meal and a drink at the end of the day.

During her 15 years living in the San Francisco Bay area, she visited restaurants like Chez Panisse and markets such as the Berkeley Bowl, where the air buzzed with a sense of what she called “food energy.”

“It’s not just about eating. It’s how people gather at markets to socialize and catch up with neighbors as they shop. It’s the sounds of local musicians playing among the produce stands. I have long felt that Brighton should have this kind of gathering place, and I’m glad to watch its success,” she said.

Since 2008, the market held each Sunday in the Brighton High School parking lot from May through October is a testament of Brighton’s desire for high-quality and locally grown food. One thing Gardner Smith admits is that from a short-term perspective, eating organic and local is a bit costlier. Also, a recent Stanford University study recently concluded that organic food is no more nutritional than conventionally grown food.

However, she believes these factors will not curb the organic, locavore trend. This is because people are starting to put values on reducing their carbon footprint and the use of harmful pesticides, and developing a direct and trusting relationship between the grower and the producer at local markets.

“The study missed the point and had too narrow a focus. When you buy local and organic, you develop a sense of trust with the farmer, and you are also helping to support the local economy,” she said.

In addition to buying locally produced food, Brighton residents also expressed a desire to get their own hands dirty in avegetable garden of their own. In 2009, the creation of a community garden in Brighton seemed like the next step.

“It seemed like an obvious sister project to the market,” said Gardner Smith, who with a committee helped build a fence and a gate system around 100 10-foot by 10-foot plots on Westfall Road by the historic Groos house. Outside of a few stubborn groundhogs that managed to breach the fence, Brighton residents have enjoyed the bounty of their harvests.

Now that the shorter days and cooler nights of autumn are here, it is time for Gardner Smith and the other Brighton gardeners to put their plots to rest for the winter. But that doesn’t mean that plans for coming years will be put into hibernation.

Her ambitions for future years include using funds from a $250,000 state grant awarded to the town to preserve a farmhouse, a barn and some of the farmland on Westfall Road. The proposed project aims to create a permanent location for the farmers market and an expansion to the community garden with educational opportunities for schoolchildren to learn more about agriculture.

“Not only is my job rewarding, it’s also a lot of fun. I’ve met so many wonderful people in Brighton who are committed to this meaningful work that really has made a difference.”

Indeed, Sue Gardner Smith’s name suits her well.

Photo Challenge: Geometry

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This post is long overdue, but WordPress put up the perfect photo challenge to (kick me in the pants and get writing) I mean, get me motivated:

What is urban? This is what true urbanism should be. A blend of city and nature on a perfect summer day.

I went to a lot of places over the summer, but my favorite destination, for always, remains:

New York City.

Why?

It’s a place where I grew up, and you’d think I would be tired of it already. Seen it all. Been there. Done that.

That’ll never happen. Because there is always something New to discover in New York City. Even for us natives.

For example, in our annual summer visit to New York City, we toured the High Line.

Opened in recent years and built on refurbished elevated rail lines, the High Line lets the visitor walk the thin line between street level and the heights of skyscrapers. It is a strip of gardens, fountains and orchards that blooms right between steel, brick and glass and wooden water towers. It repurposes an older structure that would have otherwise been torn down and instead has been transformed into a public space and one of the best places to snap pictures in all of New York City.

It goes on for about 20 blocks above the West Side’s meat-packing district and there are plans to extend the High Line to more of the old abandoned El.

With fountains, flowers and musical and cultural events, all set in a shining beacon of sustainable public space, to me it’s the best 20 blocks you can walk right now in NYC.

I shot these photos on my dad’s Nikon:

It’s Time to get all Israeli on our Water

Tal-Ya Water Technologies (Tal means dew in Hebrew) developed reusable plastic trays to collect dew from the air, reducing the water needed by crops or trees by up to 50 percent. (photo from israel21c.org)

.Tal-Ya Water Technologies (Tal means dew in Hebrew) developed reusable plastic trays to collect dew from the air, reducing the water needed by crops or trees by up to 50 percent. (photo from israel21c.org)

While gardeners and farmers feel the drought first, it won’t be long until we all feel it. No one, not even your neighbors who keep watering their lawns despite the news that more than 50 percent of the country is facing a drought not seen since the 1950’s is immune.

This summer has been brutal on our water supply. Newspapers and media reports are full of the plight of the farmer as they watch crops wither because most are at the mercy of rainfall for water.

But perhaps this drought is waking us up to appreciate the most precious resource we all take for granted. And it may be time to rethink and apply some extreme agricultural practices as the earth heats up.

In times like these, we can take a lesson from Israel.

Israel is one of the driest countries on the planet. On average, it receives only 19.4 inches of rain annually. Yet, thanks to cutting edge technology, and even more, the stubborn willingness of a people who know that in order to practically live in Israel, you have to believe in miracles, Israel blooms.

A lustrous display of pomegranates in an Israeli market.

This tiny country has learned to efficiently use every drop of water that falls from the sky in the summer or coats the mountains in the north in winter to grow some of the most beautiful produce in the world. Check out this photo of huge greenhouses growing vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes and peppers in the Negev Desert. Check out this photo courtesy of Daniel Lawrence’s blog:

Hundreds of greenhouses line the Negev Desert and grow crops year around. The greenhouses are completely computerized so as not to create any error in the cultivation the plants. Peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes are the main crops grown here.

Israel not only makes the desert bloom, but it has developed technology and methods that the rest of the world can use to reverse and prevent desertification, as noted in this post from israel21c.org. Israel21c.org is an online magazine that offers topical and timely reports on how Israelis from all walks of life and religion, innovate, improve and add value to the world.

So here are a few tips we can learn from Israel to conserve our water resources not only during times of drought, but for the long haul:

  1. Stop Watering Your Lawn. Right Now. – You! Yes, you, the suburbanite! Fuggetabout your lawn. (okay, fuggetabout it is technically a Brooklyn/New Jersey and not an Israeli term, but let’s get back on topic) Israelis don’t have silly things like lawns. Lawns are nothing but vanity.  I’ll say it again: STOP WATERING YOUR LAWN NOW. Your brown lawn has gone into dormancy and watering your lawn artificially just puts more of a strain on its root system. It will come back soft and green when the rains return.
  2. Use drip irrigation – Did you know that agriculturalists in Israel invented drip irrigation technology? Instead of wastefully watering your garden through a sprinkler, where most water evaporates into the air, use drip irrigation to deliver the water right to where the plants need it – the roots.
  3. Save that H2O from your A/C – As shown in the photo above, Israel has developed technologies that draw humidity out of the air for irrigating crops. On a smaller scale, you can do the same by catching water runoff from your central air conditioner (my hose empties into the slop sink) to water plants and vegetables
  4. Less Wasting Water at Restaurants –  When you sit down at a restaurant in Israel, don’t assume that the waitress will automatically fill your glass with endless glasses of water. No way are they just giving water away if it’s not asked for.  You have to ask for the water, sometimes twice – in two different languages, until the waitress gives you a glass of water. So, next time you dine out, if you are not going to drink the water, tell your server not to pour, or refill your glass.
  5. Selective Flushing – Here is a picture of just one type of toilet flush in Israel:                                                                                                                                  The flush mechanism is divided into a big section and a small section.  If you are reading my blog, you are indeed a very intelligent person, so I’ll let you figure out what purpose each section serves.
  6. Shower Shorter, or Shower with a Friend – a drought is a great excuse to share your shower.
  7. Rejoice in the rain: Finally, instead of getting all bummed out when your ball game or picnic gets rained just be thankful. Think of the farmers who need the rain for their crops and livestock (a.k.a. your food, right down to that box of Cheerios and glass of milk at the breakfast table). Any event, even a wedding, can have a postponement, a change of venue or a rain date. But there is no substitute for the blessing of rain.

I pop eese I po peeeze – It’s time to make Watermelon Ice Pops

DSCN1163

First, I have to tell you that my inspiration to write this blog stems from three sources:

222 Million Tons – This is the amount of food we waste each year. This food blog wants to put a change to that by offering delicious recipes and ways to take action on how to waste less food;

Your Kind of Salad: Another food blog where I found this beautiful recipe for watermelon pops;

and, my daughter.

If you were  confused at the headline of this blog posting, you are not alone.

When my daughter was about 16 months old and was being watched by her aunt on a hot July afternoon, it was this occassion that my daughter put together one of her first sentences beyond “I love you.”

It was: “I popeese”

Translation: Ice Pop Please.

It was on this hot day that my daughter wanted what most of us want on a hot day, something very cold.

An ice pop.

So, she repeated this sentence over and over to her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend who could not figure out what she was trying to say.

Now, any other infant would have had a meltdown tantrum at this point. Not my daughter. She simply walked over to the refrigerator, and, with her tiny hand raised above as if she was holding the torch like Lady Liberty, she patiently, and a bit more slowly, repeated

I -Pop – Peeze!

She finally got what she wanted:

Flash forward 15 years:

The other day I came home with one of those cute, personal sized seedless watermelons

I will not make that mistake again.

While it was cute as a button on the outside, inside, it was a mealy, mushy disappointment.

But it was $3. I couldn’t just toss it away. What a waste of food and money.

So, following the recipe I found on Your Kind of  Salad:

I scooped out the watermelon flesh:

Pureed it in a blender

Passed the pulp through a strainer.

Then to this I added one cup of corn syrup (I know this sounds like a lot of a bad thing but the corn syrup adds a nice smooth finish to the pops) and the juice of one lime:

And poured it into the molds:

Then the hard part. You have to wait about six anguishing hours for the pops  to freeze.

At last, they are frozen.

So, when the world hands you mushy watermelon, don’t throw it out, make ice pops!

Grow, Tomato, Grow!

Long ago, in another state, the Garden State, my neighbor Joe, a retired chain-smoking fireman, chided me as I put a tall tomato cage around the tiniest tomato seeding in my garden.

“Yeah right, like that’s gonna grow,” he said with smile as he pulled the waistline of his polyester pants over a plaid short-sleeved shirt.

Two months later, I teased him right back.

We were up to our ears in cherry tomatoes. Picked ‘em by the basket. And beefsteak tomatoes too. I had so many cherry tomatoes I had to give them away, and my city-dwelling co-workers in Manhattan gladly took some of the perfectly ripened produce  off my hands. And of course, I gave some to Joe and his wife Pat because I was a good sport.

This year, I could have purchased some tomato plants that already had flowers or, heaven forbid, green fruit, and stuck them into the ground in my spot in the community garden for instant gratification.

But it’s far more satisfying for me to know that from seed to ripened fruit, I grew a tomato all by myself. When you grow from seed, you can control the variety and are not at the mercy of whatever is sold at the local greenhouse or big box hardware store. It’s also a lot cheaper.

So, once again, I plant a tiny tomato seedling in the ground:

RUTGERS tomato, started from seed in my basement. It’s got a long way to go before I get a tomato.

And, by putting that big metal cage around this tiny seedling, I am saying “I have faith that you will grow and by summer’s end, provide a bumper crop.” And that’s what you call a real homegrown tomato.

Adventures in the Community Garden: Day One

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This will be the year.

This is the year when I, as a gardener, who has lived for over a decade trying to eek out a ripe tomato or a proper cucumber vine in the dappled sunlight of my backyard, will finally understand what full sun means.

This is the year that this gardener becomes a farmer.

For $25, I signed on to care for a 10’x10′ foot plot of earth in The Town of Brighton’s Community Garden. I’m hoping not only to reap some great crops of vegetables and flowers for bouquets all summer, I’m also looking forward to the people I’m going to meet and the stories I will learn from them.

But when I made my first visit to the community garden, located along Westfall Road in Brighton, I wondered what I’ve gotten myself into.

This is the third or fourth season at the garden and many of the plots have been cared for by some pretty seasoned green thumbs. There are plots adorned and accessorized with fencing systems to keep out critters,

neatly divided quadrants, and well-built support systems to grow climbing bean and pea vines. There are plots that have strawberry plants and leeks sprouting up that were planted from the year before:

Some caring gardeners have even designed  a scarecrow:

Then, I located my plot. Plot D-4:

Weedy. Messy. Nothing much to look at. But, hey, I signed on to this, and this little plot of land was mine for the season so I got to work.

It took little effort to pull out the weeds from the soft, loamy soil. The most delicious feeling soil I have ever worked compared to the clay-laden soil in my backyard garden. Did I mention that my neighborhood was built on a former brick making quarry. ‘Nuf said about the quality of the soil.

But out here: The Brighton Community Garden sits on a former cow pasture that was home to  a century’s worth of dairy cows. You guess it, this soil is blessed by 100 years of blessed cow poop.

I weeded and I tilled, the only sounds I heard were the swallows and red-winged blackbirds that swooped and sang overhead.

I did bring along my iPod for company and listened to music on its tiny speakers. And, even though I was alone in this sunny field, I still kept looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was going to run off with it. There are some habits from New York City that don’t die.

After a few hours, my plot looked like this:

Not bad for a first day’s work.

Next up: I’ll install a fence and start planting some seeds.

Eating my way through the CSA: Roasted Tomatillos

tomatillos

With the fall harvest approaching, my first year in subscribing to a local CSA, or community supported agriculture farm, is coming to a close. My family signed on to share a share with another family: good friends  we have known through school, soccer games, and synagogue for over ten years. We decided to go in together in a CSA share as one brave experiment.

The very wet spring that gave way to a very dry hot summer created spotty conditions for the young farmers of the East Hill CSA. Buying into a CSA comes with its risks and rewards, as we were warned. But in the end, joining made me feel good that I am helping local, sustainable agriculture and like the farmers, I am taking a gamble on Mother Nature in hopes of bringing healthy food to my family’s table.

Highs of belonging to a  CSA included (for us at least):

  • The discovery of Kale and Kohlrabi that can be oven baked, salted and eaten like chips;
  • Fresh herbs;
  • A weekly sunflower or wildflower bouquet  in midsummer;
  • Patti pan squash;
  • Bags of mixed greens for salad that include edible flowers like nasturtium
  • Pints of home-grown grapes that really taste like grapes (my daughter proclaimed they tasted like grape candy). Delicious, if you can work your way around the seeds.

The lows

  • Discovering that the weekly box of bounty is not all that bountiful for two families;
  • Sharing one eggplant or two (very puny) sweet potatoes can be an exercise in tactical negotiations between two families (Weekly bartering included exchanges like: “You take the sweet potatoes, I insist!”; “Are you sure?”; “Yes, you take the sweet potatoes, but can I have the one cucumber”; “My kids don’t like Swiss Chard, really, you take the Swiss Chard this week …I’ll take  the tomatoes…” and so on.);
  • Beets. Though the beet offerings as of late are getting more plump, the tiny beets at the beginning of the season in my opinion were not worth the stained hands and countertops for their size;

But readers, as the headline of this blog post promised, this post is about Tomatillos. It’s also about  using the blogosphere to find recipes for my CSA goodies.

Since I’ve been blogging, I have come to appreciate search engines. I find it interesting to learn from my blog stats what search terms draw people to my blog.   For example,  hundreds of people searching for “arugula” or “arugula leaf” have found their way to my blog. So, after my friends decided to bestow  me with this week’s share of almost  two dozen  tomatillos, I returned the favor to the blogosphere by searching for Tomatillos on WordPress.

If you find that you have in your possession a lot of these late-season green, globular fruits with a papery shell, you may want to give this recipe a try for roasted tomatillo salsa that can be used for enchiladas. I found it on Angelinna’s Cottage Blog. Thank you Angelinna, whoever you are.

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