It’s soap, not dope!



While in Bismarck, North Dakota, YERT spoke with Roger Johnson, the state commissioner of agriculture, about a crop he feels would be a wonderful asset to North Dakota’s economy. He has been trying to get it approved for many years.  “There are farms just ten miles into Canada growing it and making a profit. We’ve made it legal at a state level in North Dakota, and yet farmers here cannot grow it, as it would be against the Federal law,” he said.

What he was referring to is industrial hemp. His is not a plea we have never heard before, but his voice stands out amongst the “legalize hemp” community.  Sitting in a pressed shirt in front of a bookshelf and an American flag, he looked like the last person you might expect to empty a bag full of hemp milk, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, hemp fabric swatches and hemp balm onto his large desk (which, in fact, he did). But don’t be fooled. He’s a big fan, and carried his support all the way to D.C.

His reason? Reason.  He finds it quite difficult to comprehend how our neighbors to the north as well as most (all?) of Europe has managed to legalize and profit from the growing of industrialized hemp.

It wasn’t always this way.  Hemp, the non-psychedelic cousin of marijuana, has been touted for hundreds of years for its ease of growth and wide array of uses.  It is a source of clothing, textiles, oil, food, paper, biofuel, lotions, soap, rope, conditioner, among many other uses. Some of the first US settlers grew hemp to make a strong canvas for sails, and it is thought that the Constitution was drafted on hemp paper.  Even as late as World War II, the US government encouraged farmers to grow hemp through the “Hemp for Victory” campaign when more than 400,000 acres of US soil was dedicated to support this war effort.

Since then, the plant has become confused with marijuana, though the two plants are easy to identify as distinct plants with the naked eye. The leaves and stalks are different to the trained eye, while even an untrained eye can distinguish the two based on growing height alone.  Roger suggested that he would we able to quickly identify illegally grown marijuana from a plane if necessary.

One of the most common misconceptions is related to the presence of THC in hemp. This chemical is responsible for the “high” induced by marijuana, but is found in very low concentrations in hemp.  As Roger put it, “Sure. You could ‘smoke’ hemp, but the joint would have to be the size of a telephone pole.”

Roger was also quick to suggest the idea of random sampling to ensure that marijuana isn’t growing hidden amongst the hemp plants. The notion that drug dealers might try to “hide” marijuana plants in a field of hemp concerns some, but not Roger. He pointed out that though hemp and marijuana are distinctly different, they do cross pollinate. This would create some very weak marijuana, and bring up the levels of THC in the hemp- making it likely that the marijuana crops would lose their potency, and that the farmer would get caught.

So if hemp is so great, it’s easy to identify, and straightforward enough to regulate it, then why aren’t we profiting from it here in the US?  Politics, red tape, and lobbyists from plastics companies like Dupont.  If you’d like to join Roger Johnson in his fight an easy first step would be to check out the following sites: (video)

And send a standard form letter to your representative here:


To Cross The Moon With Wind Power


. . .Or, “If BMX racing is now an Olympic sport, why not snowkiting?”

To Cross the Moon, also known by the hip acronym “2XtM”, is a wind energy awareness project started by Sam Salwei. An avid snowkiter, Sam decided to use his passion for snowkiting (a growing outdoor sport where a person in skis or a snowboard is pulled by a kite) to promote another passion— wind power.

Through two expeditions, Sam and friends have used the awesome power of the wind to pull them across the winter landscape of North Dakota, holding educational seminars with community groups along the way. Together, they have informed around 10,000 people about the potential of wind power in the state, demonstrating just how much power there is in the wind, and how foolish it would be of us not to take advantage of it. According to the 2XtM website, North Dakota is ranked as the number one state for wind energy potential.

Ben, Mark, and I were swept away one afternoon when we met with Sam and his girlfriend, Kathryn. Literally, swept away. Because it was the middle of summer, we each got to try kiteturfing, same idea as kitesurfing, but on land. After a quick lesson and getting strapped in, the kite took off, and so did we. Ben probably got the strongest impression of how strong the power of the wind truly is, by getting dragged across the field by a runaway kite. (His clothing bore the holes and grass stains to prove it.) Mark, the runner of the group, wouldn’t let the kite get the best of him, and rather than have it pull him down, he would run after it, with Sam laughing and shouting, “Where are you going?!”

I also had the chance to take on the wind with a smaller handheld kite that was still incredibly powerful. It kept flying away from me; I just couldn’t hold on tight enough. Every now and then I would feel in control- even if only for a moment- and experience a balance of tug-and-pull. Feeling the wind pulling the kite, literally harnessing its power with my two hands, was incredible. Right then, I realized, that there is power- energy- embodied in every gust of wind, power that we are wasting by not taking advantage of it. It felt clean, powerful, and abundant.

Restaurant Review!

Mark Enjoying Dinner

Last night I went with a friend to try some new vegetarian fare. It was okay, but lacked lustre. Why is it so difficult to find decent local, organic grub?

Actually, wInterview With Common Roots Owner, Danny Schwartzmane found that it’s not as difficult as it may seem. We found it so easy, in fact, that after some deliberation, we have decided to change the name of YERT from “Your Environmental Road Trip” to “Your Everyday Restaurant Tour.” Each day, we will bring you the latest reviews of mom n’ pop diners and RubCommon Roots Sandwichy Tuesday’s chain restaurants from interstate exits from across the nation. Well, not exactly, but with all the experience we have from the hundreds of restaurants we’ve dined in throughout the year, we probably could!

One restaurant really stood out as a champion of local, fair-trade, eco-friendly, and downright delicious food- and we almost didn’t go. We’ve heard the hype before (“You’ve got to go to such-n-such restaurant”) and have been impressed, but never so much as at Common Roots Cafe in downtown Minneapolis. Thankfully, Rebecca Lundberg and her daughters insisted that we go, and treated us to a meal.

When we walked in, we expected a quick meal before darting off to other engagements, but we were so impressed by the end that we chatted with owner Danny Schwartzman. This restaurant is truly leading the way for all restaurants striving to be all. At any given time, the food- from the flour to the vegetables to the cheese to the honey-is at least 50% local, and the combination of local, organic, and/or fair trade ingredients hits a soaring 89%. The tables are made from recycled barn doors, and the counters from pressed sawdust. The coffee is fair trade, and the wine and beer locally sourced. The restaurant itself is a haven for knitting groups and green drinks meetups from around the city. The freshly made pasta is superb. So good, in fact, that we went back the very next night. We highly recommend Common Roots if you are ever in the Twin Cities area.


Other Favorite Green/Local/Organic restaurants:

Galactic Pizza, Minneapolis, MN

Many of the ingredients for the pizzas at Galactic Pizza are locally sourced, some of the profits go to charity, and if you order from home, your pizza will arrive in an electric vehicle in the hands of a delivery person dressed as a superhero. Metallic tights and organic cilantro anyone?

Local Burger, Lawrence, KS

Fresh, organic, and local fast food. Their grass-fed elk burger (you read that right!) and homemade veggie burger pose a big threat to our national icon, the Big Mac.

Ivy Inn Restuarant, Charlottesville, VA

The Ivy Inn does an incredible job of weaving local ingredients into its menu, including naturally raised pork from the nearby Polyface Farms (another YERT favorite!).

Day 318 Honk if You’re Carfree

Bike/Walk to Work DayWe are still in catch-up mode as we excitedly welcome Ben and Julie’s new baby into the world and rev up for the next phase of YERT.  Bear with us as we work to get you caught up on where we’ve been and what we’ve seen! Now to spend a couple more blogs wrapping up Minnesota . . .

* * *

Many people recognize PortlandBike/Walk to Work Day, Oregon as one of the most bike and public transit friendly cities in the nation.  The city is so well known for its mass transit efforts that help the environment, in fact, that YERT’s Oregon green video is centered around this theme.  But would you have guessed that Minneapolis- a city known for its chilling winters- would come a close, unofficial second?

On the Twin Cities’ Bike/Walk to Work Day walkers, bikers, and the sun were all out in full force.  The parks scattered throughout downtown help to break up the high rise buildings and the Greenway- a bike/pedestrian path that extends for twenty miles- provides a straight pathway for commuter cyclists riding to work downtown.  We camped out at the Greenway and stopped a few riders for some of our ‘peeps’ on the street. For some, even the chilling winters were only a small worry compared to the benefits of saved parking fees, additional exercise, a shorter commute (in some cases), fresh air, and smaller carbon footprint.

Also while in the twin cities area we interviewed Ari Ofsevit with hOurcar, a car sharing service in Minneapolis.  Like most car sharing programs, the concept is simple- rather than drive a car Ari of hOurcarof your own, you reserve one online for only the hours you need it. Pick it up at a designated neighborhood spot, drive it around for the hours reserved, then return it to the same spot when finished. Gas is included in the hourly price.  It offers a lot of convenience without a lot of hassle.  Unlike many of the larger car sharing services, however, hOurcar is a nonprofit, dedicated to the mission of promoting environmentally sustainable communities.


Here are some ideas and tips that might make a carefree, car-free lifestyle a bit easier.

Buy a great book- Who wants to sit in traffic, anyway?

Carpool- Yeah, you’ve heard this one before, but this time actually do it!

Pimp your ride– Take pride in your bike. Get it ready for a trip to the grocery store, for transporting papers to the office, and for riding after dark by outfitting it with side bags, a light, and a basket.

Hitch a ride- Type “ride share” into Google to find a bunch of sites that offer ways to meet up with others interested in carpooling or dividing the expenses and driving of a longer trip.

Live near work- Probably the easiest way to cut down on the amount of driving is to live, work, and play in the same area. If having all three isn’t a possibility, at least try to live near where you work, as commuting accounts for 734 billion miles driven by Americans each year.   

Day 320: Green Businesses And Basements

Setting up in Jeannie's living room







In this year on the road, YERT has come across many individuals planting seeds of green right from their living rooms, kitchens, and basements.

We met two such people in the Twin cities area in May.  Jeannie Piekos was kind enough to host us for lunch at her home in Minneapolis along with her family and two dogs.  It was an appropriate place to meet, because that’s where her green business started.  After years of washing out bags by hand, Jeanie asker her husband to design a device that could wash the bags in the dishwasher. The result:  Bag-E-Wash.

Plastic zipper bags really are convenient— great for helping parents pack kids’ lunches, freezing leftovers, hauling food to/from a tailgate party—but they’re also incredibly wasteful when used only once.  Bag-E-Wash helps maintain the convenient lifestyle we have grown accustomed to while also becoming more environmentally responsible.  Just a few pieces of nylon snap together to hold, wash, and dry plastic zipper bags in the dishwasher.  She recommends using the freezer bag variety because it is durable— lasting up to 50 washes— and,

like all zipper bag companies she’s researched, does not release toxins even after many uses. 

Tony Kvale has a similar story.  His board game, Head1Liners, looks like any other game on the shelf, but is made of recycled materials paper, soy-based ink, and recycled glass.  He works from his St. Paul home with help from his 3-yr-old daughter, Greta, who receives free room and board for helping her daddy sort colored game pieces in their basement.  🙂


While Tony’s wife, Brenda, made sidewalk chalk drawings outside with Greta, Ben, Mark and Tony played a round of Head1Liners, which is simple and easy to pick up.  One player chooses a picture from a box and then all of the players must each make up a headline for the image.  All the players vote (but not for their own!) and move according to the number of votes they received.


Wanna try? Kudos to whoever comes up with the best headline for this shot of Ben. (It’s a sneak peak of what is coming up in a future blog entry.)





Day 317: Busy Bees in the Twin Cities

The Twin Cities did a great job of keeping us busy as three little bees—so much in fact, that we decided to pay a visit to our black-and-yellow striped friends with beekeeper hobbyist Stevie Ray.

Colony collapse and declining bee populations is a serious and scary situation we’re facing. So serious, and so scary that even Haagan Daaz is airing depressing commercials to help save the honeybees.  It’s estimated that the honeybee population in the US has declined by 25% over the past few years alone; some sources say the decline in the wild honeybee population has been as much as 90% since the 1970’s. 

I’ve never been fond of bees, but even so, I recognize how critical they are for our survival.  The vast majority of crops in the US is non-native, and relies on the cross-pollination of bees in order to produce food for us and the livestock we raise.  As it stands already, some farmers pay large-scale beekeepers to drop palettes of bees into the middle of their land to ensure that the crops like broccoli, onions, apples, and avocados get the pollination they need.  Without this, the crops prosper and eventually die off.

Colony collapse- a recent phenomenon where bees mysteriously abandon their hives- poses very serious concerns for the survival of honeybees. The exact reasons for decline colony collapse are unknown, but are often attributed to insecticide use, urbanization, GMO crops, mites, and pollution— which limits bees’ ability to find flowers.

Bees truly are fascinating. After goofing around in beekeeper outfits for a couple hours, it was easy to see why beekeeping makes such a great hobby.  It takes a minimal investment of time and money, the extra honey makes a great gift for friends, and farmers love you.  Oh, and the fact that the majority of the US food supply may come to depend on the hives of local beekeepers is also pretty enticing.  You can’t say that about stamp collecting. 😉


Did you know?

  • Honeybee colonies are 95% female.

  • The queen bee is the only female capable of reproducing.  She mates only once, storing the sperm in her body.  As her female worker bees pet and preen her, she secretes a toxin that keeps them sterile.

  • Bees are totally capable of staging a coup.  To overthrow their queen, the other bees will pick a particular larva to be their new queen.  By secretly feeding this larva royal jelly, the worker bees (or is it the males?) actually change the DNA of the larva from a small, sterile female worker bee into a larger, elongated and fertile queen bee.  As soon as she is born, the original queen is assassinated.

  • By ingesting small doses of allergens over time, eating local honey can help build a resistance to allergies in your area.