Saturday, June 28, 2008


A group of very creative Boston Globe staffers recently held a Prius "race" from Whole Foods in Cambridge to a local Hummer Dealer. The winner of the race was the driver that made the trip with the best gas mileage. You can watch the video here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Five Gallons of Peas

Last Saturday I volunteered to work on the Newton Angino Community Farm in Newton. The other volunteers had trouble understanding why I would volunteer if I am not a CSA member. I explained that I teach environmental science at Lasell College and I want to learn more about agriculture.

My morning of farming was really satisfying. It was impressive to see the operation that farm manager Greg Maslow has going on. I became an expert during my two hours at picking snap peas. We ended up filling a five gallon bucket with peas from an area about 10'x30'. I never realized how much food can come from such a small amount of land. I couldn't help but wonder why all homeowners don't cover their property with garden plots. It was enjoyable to chat with the other volunteers and to ponder why peas didn't evolve to be bright red?

I'm looking forward to volunteering at the farm again this week. I am planning on involving Lasell College students in projects at the farm. Professor Lowenstein has taken a group in the past. I'm also hoping I can convince Greg to come speak with my class and maybe provide advice on starting a garden plot on campus.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Milk Shopping

My son just turned 1 which means the pediatrician has given us the green light to shift to feeding him cow's milk. Milk is a challenging decision to make as a consumer. At the grocery store there are many options. The store brand milk is the least expensive. Then there is milk from Hood. There is Garelick Farms milk and Stonyfield Farms milk. Then there are Horizon Organic milk and the Organic Cow. This is just a sample of the choices. There are many more. Which should I choose for the little man?

I know I want milk free of artificial growth hormones for my son so that eliminates the store brands. Hood, Garelick, and the organic farms now use hormone free cows. Then there is the decision about buying organic. Here is where the milk industry can be misleading. For example, Horizon milk may be organic but many have criticized the company for running factory farms. I've decided I would rather buy milk from happy farms over organic milk from a factory farm.

I ran to Pemberton Farms this morning in Cambridge and they had Highlawn Farm milk. The manager of the store said it was great because it was creamier, had more protein, and calcium than milk from Holstein cows. I bought the milk over the Hood option because I knew it would support a local farm. I went to farm web page when I got home and the farm seems to be a nice place and they welcome organized visits from groups of children. Factor farms certainly do not open up to groups of children.

Dining Services at Lasell uses Garelick Farms. Garelick has made efforts on their web page to promote the farms that produce the milk they sell. The video clips are well produced and the farms animals appear to be treated well. Garelick is a large operation so I'm sure this is just a small sample of the farms that supply their milk. At first glance, Garelick appears to be conscious of the importance of local farms and of treating animals well. This seems to be a good decision for Lasell but my research on the company is limited.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Hobby Farm

I'm not sure if my wife takes me seriously yet, but I really want to start a hobby farm. The thought of purchasing a small plot of land in a rural area to grow vegetables is very appealing to me. It could serve as a summer escape from the city and I would be able to teach my son how food grows. I call it a hobby farm because I know the reality of making money working land is very challenging. Probably, I would just grow fruits and vegetables for my family and friends.

I ran across this story today of two Brookline professionals that took the plunge and bought a farm in Chester, Massachusetts. Tom and Doug somehow are able to manage a farm with 15 employees and hold professional positions in the Boston area. Although their operation is much more than I am looking for, their story is really something I can relate to. That should put me one step closer to my hobby farm dream.

I've got a lot of work to do before I can make my hobby farm a reality. Mainly, I need to learn more about farming. I need to start volunteering more for the community farms in the area. As soon as I can free up some time I am going to volunteer for the Newton Angino Community Farm and for the Waltham Fields Community Farm.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Week Without Tomatoes

Last week we traveled to visit my sister in Rochester, NY. Along our journey on I-90, we stopped for breaks, really expensive gas, and something to eat. Almost all of the fast food chains in the service plazas had signs posted stating they were not serving tomatoes. This included McDonald's, the king of the I-90 service plazas. Tomatoes were pulled in response to recent cases of salmonella in about 200 people in 16 states. The tomato scare is just another example of one of the many problems in our industrial food system. The tainted tomatoes were likely from one farm in Florida, and yet, restaurants and grocery stores across the country pulled tomatoes out of fear for customer safety. The FDA still has not been able to identify the source. It is scary, but not unbelievable, that tainted fruit from one farm can almost completely shut down consumption of tomatoes in this country. The scare highlights yet another reason to buy locally and support your local farmers. I'm off to the farmers market!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Backyard Wildlife

Backyard Wildlife
BY Amy Kobak

“Certified Wildlife Habitat,” that’s what the sign posted in my yard says. It’s right at the entrance to my driveway so that when people turn in, they can’t miss it. My husband hung it there last week. Nothing has changed about our yard, but now we have a sign.

Years ago I learned about the Certified Wildlife Habitat program through the National Wildlife Federation. I think it may have been called Backyard Wildlife Habitat at the time. I always thought it was a neat idea and even filled out the application once. I never went through with it though because I didn’t think it was necessary to pay $15 for a certificate acknowledging what I already knew about my yard. But I remained a fan of the NWF. They appeal to me because of the efforts they make to educate and support both grand scale and seemingly miniscule wildlife preservation efforts. The certified Wildlife Habitat program is an example of both. A tiny apartment balcony can become certified as well as a campus or even a community. All those balconies, backyards, and campuses combined are making a big difference for wildlife.

In order to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat there are five specifications that must be met. Three food sources, one water source, two places for cover, two places to raise young, and a minimum of two sustainable gardening practices must be in place. The application makes it easy to know what you have and what you could add or change to meet the requirements.

So why did I decide to become certified now? I found out about the sign. I wanted to put the sign in my yard to promote curiosity. I want everyone who sees the sign to ask me about it. It is my hope that it will encourage others to investigate how they can make their yards better for wildlife, better for the environment. It’s easy to do when you are informed. The NWF website is a great source for this information and you too may wish to have your habitat certified.

By the way, another organization active in promoting discussions in order to help wildlife is the Center for Biological Diversity. They have created where you can download free ring tones of the sounds of endangered and rare species. It is sure to attract attention when your ring tone is the sound of a giant panda!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Bike Commute?

I continue to anguish over commuting to my job at Lasell College by car. I know that an 8-mile commute against the flow of traffic is not terrible, but I still feel I can do better. I teach environmental science and I think it is important for students to observe their professors practicing sustainability. I've tried taking the bus, the T, and the commuter rail. The length of the trip and the fact that my son travels with me to the daycare center on campus present the biggest challenges. I don't have many obligations on campus this summer, so I have time to think about my approach to commuting for the fall. This weekend, I borrowed a Chariot bike trailer from friends, and it now has me thinking.

The Chariot is cool, and my son likes the ride. I would love to ride my bike from Cambridge to Newton every morning, but safety is my biggest concern. The number of bike riders in the Boston area continues to increase, and drivers are more aware of their presence. I can make most of the trip along the Charles, but, at some point, I have to cut up through Newton to reach campus. Will drivers late for work, drinking coffee, and talking on the cell phone give us the room we need to safely reach Lasell? How do I test this? Maybe make the trip with bike and an empty carrier.

I've read countless posts by people praising the bike culture in Europe. I wish we had that culture here. Our friends at the Green Decade Coalition have launched a campaign to promote biking in Newton. I hope they are successful in their efforts and I can feel completely safe riding to work.