Go Play Outside; It’s Free. 

By Neva Knott

When the recession hit in 2010, earlier even, for some, I thought to myself, this economic upheaval will bring people around. I thought our culture might come back to some core American values–neighborliness, thrift, value, home-made, waste-not-want-not. Can you tell I was raised by a father and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression?

I honestly thought the recession might bring America back to valuing people and places and interactive experiences over things.

Richard Telford wrote in his post, Lessons from My Father, earlier this week:

While my father’s early childhood years were lean ones—one meat meal per week, an adult border sleeping on a second bed jammed into his bedroom to supplement the family’s meager income, abrupt departures from one rented space to another in the worst times—my father often spoke of them as carefree days.

As I read Rich’s words, I was thought of using nature as an alternative to money-stuff. With the recession came money problems anew for many Americans, yet overspending is a cultural norm. I realize I rant often about rampant consumerism as an act of environmental degradation, but what I thought about in response to Rich is deeper, expansive, even.

I began to think of my own carefree days. My family lived on the shore of a lake when I was very young. In the evenings, we would climb into a small wooden row boat and my dad would row us around the lake at sunset. I learned of lily pads and lake weed and bull frog song. I felt the air cool and the lake water droplets on my skin. I was content and I imagine were my parents. I learned to fish off our little dock there. Every weekend, we’d camp, making our way around Washington state.

NevaFish

The author with her first catch.

When I was 12 and 13, I often babysat my cousin. There was a swamp in a small wood near our house. I’d take him there to “hunt alligators.” This was also the time of growing up when my sister and our neighborhood friends would stay out until just past dusk, playing badminton in the cul-de-sac. When we were bored, we were told to go find something to do. Translation: ride your bike, pull weeds, go outside and quit bothering your mother.

How much did my bike and a few badminton birdies cost in comparison to the digital pastimes children have today?

These memories are easy to find if you grew up in the 60s or 70s, and the Facebook memes float around to remind us. These were, as Rich quotes his father, “carefree days.”

Another blogger I admire, one who has made guest appearances here on The EE, Aleah Sato, wrote today on her blog, Jane Crow Journal:

When I was a girl, my family was too poor to own anything, but the countryside itself was ours, a place of unbridled adventure—

Experiencing nature feeds the soul and clears the mind. It makes us healthy. And, it can ease some of the economic burden of today’s prescribed lifestyle. None of us has to buy in… each of us can choose to step outside the economic frenzy of the mainstream American lifestyle by literally stepping outside.

Let’s Use the 12th Man Mania for the Greater Good

By Neva Knott

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Seattle Seahawks logo, courtesy of Wiki commons.

I live in Olympia, Washington, just a hour south of Seahawk central. Every Friday across this region is some sort of fan celebration day–bank tellers, coworkers, grocery checkers, people on the street are regaled in blue and green–jerseys, cupcakes, gee-haws. In my research for this piece, I’ve been unable to find exact statistics on fan expenditure, but I did find that Forbes magazine tallied the annual expenditure of tailgating at $10 to $20 billion per year across the nation. Fan spending is big business, so much so that KING 5 News ran a clip the day before the Superbowl entitled, “Fans Pack Apparel Stores to Buy New Seahawks Shirts.” Another piece by Forbes gives the average of $33 per fan spending at a Seahawks home game. In addition to these team-rah-rah related expenditures, each fan–each 12th man–spends, in my observation, a day or more per week supporting the team.

This year was the Seahawks’ second in a row as a Superbowl contender. The money that flows because of this event is astounding. US News reports an estimate of $14.31 billion in consumer spending for the Superbowl. Let’s say half of that was by Seahawks fans–$7.15 billion. Forbes reports that $360 million comes from TV revenue, tickets cost $500- $1900 for a total of $6.3 million in sales, and the top player, Russell Okung, makes $8,760,000 a year, while Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll pulls in $8 million. If these ticket prices seem extreme, get this–US News reported that, three days before the game the last few tickets available from the NFL sold for $10,000 plus.

Football fever clearly opens the wallets of many. I wonder, how can the time and money spent on Seahawks fandom be put to use in the off-season? What if, just imagine what if, the seven billion dollars Seahawks fans spent last Sunday, or on a smaller scale the $33 per person per stadium attended game, were spent on community service? Stewardship of the environment?

I did imagine, and I researched some numbers. Here’s what I found:

Washington State Parks will operate on $107 million dollars during the 2013-2015 biennium, a decrease from the pre-recession budget of $134.4 million for the 2007-2009 budget cycle

According to the Office of Financial Management:

  • The total budget for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission for the 2013-2015 biennium is $132,415
  • The total budget for the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Funding Board for the same budget cycle is $10,174
  • …for the Puget Sound Partnership, $19,005
  • …for the Department of Natural Resources, $432,780

According to the National Park Service, the Olympic National Park’s budget for 2014 was set at $12.9 million, but was cut by $640,000 due to “five percent sequestration.”

Looking at a broader context:

The Nature Conservancy’s total annual budget (including programs outside of Washington state) for cost of programs for 2014 was $401,429

Surfrider Foundation ran all of its programs in 2013 on $5,731,720

While reading about Surfrider’s programs, I learned that President Obama has proposed, for the 2015 fiscal year, zero funding for the EPA BEACH Act grant program.

These statistics elucidate the sharp contrast between sports money and environmental funding and philanthropy. For example, the Olympic National Park budget is $4 million less that the combined salaries of the Seahawks’ top-paid player, Okung, and his coach, Pete Carroll. Money follows values; what I am proposing is a shift in off-season values and expenditures, from entertainment and participation in the collective consciousness of the fan base to civic duty and participation in promoting sustainability, whether it be environmental or social. Don’t care about plastics in the ocean? Never use state or national parks here in Washington? Fine; shift your jersey dollars and time to a soup kitchen, to a reading program at your local library, to volunteering at the zoo.

Budget deficits at the government level are part of the post-recession economy. Just as Seahawks fans pay for their own blue and green cupcakes, game tickets, woot-woot noise-makers and team shirts, we as citizens and park visitors, beach goers, need to pick up the tab, both in terms of money and time, to keep our common spaces functioning and to sustain social safety-net programs.

Next Sunday, what will you do, with no game on the screen?

The Local Yolk–Beer, Backyard Chickens, and the Business of Building a Sustainable Food System

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By Neva Knott

When the environmental movement began in the 1970s, the focus was on protecting and honoring nature instead of depleting it for human consumption. While this same protection of nature is still at the core of environmental advocacy, a new environmental perspective has emerged recent years, a more personal movement–that of food sourcing.

I’ve heard that the easiest way to go green is to green your food source. It’s certainly the most immediate and possibly the most effective.

To eat within your foodshed, to eat the 100-mile-meal, to know your farmer are practices that benefit your health and promote a green triple bottom line–people, the planet, and profits. In graduate school at Green Mountain College, I learned that most food on the American table travels 2,000 miles before eaten, a shocking and disheartening statistic. John Emrich’s new book, The Local Yolk–Beer, Backyard Chickens and the Business of Building a Sustainable Food System, tells stories of the “good food movement,” the alternative to commercial, bland, environmentally exploitive, well-traveled food.

All writers here at The Ecotone Exchange hold Master’s of Science degrees in Environmental Studies from Green Mountain College. John is no exception–he was one of our cohort there. Previously an investment banker, he now runs Backyard Chicken Run, an urban chicken supply business in Chicago, and gathers stories of other entrepreneurs looking join the local food movement. Though I haven’t yet convinced John to join our team at the EE, I did get his permission to share a segment of his book here.

When I first read The Local Yolk, my heart was warmed by the case studies John had collected, putting faces to the ideal of greening your food source. What most impressed and enthused me, though, was John’s explanations of how to make growing and sourcing good food–sustainable agriculture–a profitable venture. Profitability is story not yet told in, and one that is often easily lost in the check-out line when buying organic, local food. With John’s permission, I give you an excerpt from Chapter 17, Tao Theory: Zen and the Art of Investing in Sustainable Food…

“In my prior life, I had owned shares in one of the publicly traded fertilizer companies, so I understood the “bullish case” for fertilizer from the perspective of the chemical companies: a billion or so people in Asia were moving to the middle class and would switch from a rice diet to a protein diet (i.e., a diet with more meat), generating rising demand for the grains to feed livestock and therefore the inputs of chemical agriculture that made monoculture grain-growing viable on a massive scale. At the time I met with the fertilizer manufacturer, the company was forecasting that the United States would become an exporter of corn to China the following year. The future was bright.

“As I tried to put a value on the organic farm, the light bulb went on. The chemical companies’ gain was the farmers’ pain. The chemical inputs of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium were all either directly or indirectly tied to natural resources that would become increasingly scarce and expensive over time, but farmers had to have them to succeed in conventional agriculture. Moreover, industrial farmers buy seed from a monopoly. The two things that an industrial farmer or farm investor could say for sure were that they had no control over their costs, and their costs were going higher. Farm subsidies are often criticized for being a gift to larger corporate farms. They would be more accurately described as a subsidy to the chemical companies and industrial buyers of grain (food processors). The conventional farmer, big or small, is getting little more than his costs reimbursed over a lifetime of work.

“The sustainable farmer doesn’t have the same exposure to cost pressure. After the sun itself, manure is the ultimate renewable resource, replacing the increasingly costly fertilizers. Yet, because I believed in the secular trend towards organic food, the sustainable farmer would continue to benefit from rising market prices for organic crops (for example, organic grains) over time. I was concluding that sustainable farming was a good business investment.”

John writes on to explain the mechanics of Impact Investing and Micro-Lending, and how these strategies can promote the good food movement while providing economic opportunity and promoting environmentally sound agriculture.

The Local Yolk is a smart blend of case stories, anecdotes, background knowledge, and research. You can follow The Local Yolk and Back Yard Chicken Run on Facebook and can learn more about the book at www.thelocalyolkbook.com.

Not the Maple Syrup! Loss of Vermont Maple Trees to Climate Change

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By RJ Thompson

Photo courtesy of Sandiwood Farm, Wolcott, VT

I remember the first time I had real maple syrup.  I was around the age of ten or eleven and on a ski vacation in Vermont. Like any young skier, I was anxious to put my snow-gear on and run out the door to catch the shuttle to the mountain, but my aunt convinced me I should eat some breakfast before hitting the slopes. That’s when my taste buds were introduced to one of nature’s most splendid treats.

What I experienced next was a life-changing moment.  Warm Vermont maple syrup cascaded down upon a heaping stack of steamy buttermilk pancakes as the scents of both collided to form a smell that can only be described as euphoric.  I took my first bite and quickly realized something was very different.  The pancakes were out of this world!  The skiing could wait.

Reflecting on that experience nearly twenty years later, I find myself not only wondering what the heck I had been putting on my pancakes the first ten years of my life, but also what I would do if maple syrup no longer existed as we know it today.  Most of us (not me) would probably get by just fine with the artificial high-fructose corn syrup goo that congeals on a plate if you don’t touch it after a few seconds, but some individuals, particularly Vermonters reliant on the maple industry for a big part of their income, may find themselves in hard times.

While 2013 yielded Vermont’s largest maple crop in 70 years. The increase was mostly due to advancements in technology such as maple lines that are far more efficient than the traditional method of gathering sap with metal buckets.  Linking multiple trees together with one tube that flows into a large barrel has drastically increased sugaring output; however, this innovation may not be enough to guarantee a perpetual syrup surplus in Vermont.

Why the grim outlook?  It turns out global warming may be pushing the sugar maple out of Vermont and into Quebec.  That’s right; we’ve managed to alter yet another species’ habitat with climate change.  What does that mean for maple sugaring in Vermont and future generations enjoying their first authentic Vermont maple syrup experience?  The survey is still out, but there are many scientific computer models that predict sugar maples will virtually disappear from Vermont by the end of the 21st century.  As temperatures continue to increase, sugar maples will begin to migrate to more favorable conditions found at higher latitudes and elevations.  That means Quebec, the world leader in maple syrup production, will get most of Vermont’s precious sugar maples in less than 100 years.

Humans will always favor the growth of sugar maples because of the tree’s high economic value (maple syrup is nearly worth its weight in gold, so it makes sense to keep these trees around as long as possible).  We can alter soils to increase the propagation of sugar maples, but that’s not a sustainable practice.  Instead, we must look at the big picture and use Vermont’s maple tree as another symbol to take action against climate change.

If the melting of ice caps, near-extinction of polar bears, increasing sea levels, and higher frequency of natural disasters are not enough, consider the Green Mountain State without maple syrup.  Sure, it will still be available from Quebec and other parts of Canada, and it will most likely taste the same as those delicious pancakes I had some twenty years ago, but Vermont will have lost a $40 million industry and one of its sweetest, most delicious treasures.  Not to mention, we’ll have to rely on yet another import.  So, the next time your pancakes need a lathering in syrup, consider leaving your car and riding your bike to the store to pick up that bottle of gold we call Vermont maple syrup.  The effort will be worth it.