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.   

July 4th, 2008: 50 Down, NONE to Go! YERT Completes Initial Travel…

50 States in One Year? CHECK.
Happy 4th of July, 2008! So here we are – one year later, one year older, and one year wiser. We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last 366 days – through 50 states and nearly 45,000 miles of travel (excluding the ferry from Alaska and the plane to/from Hawaii), we’ve logged over 450 hours of footage and interviewed more than 800 people. And we’ve only accumulated a mere 43 pounds of trash & recyclables over the course of 12 months – including junk mail! We’ll be taking suggestions of what we should do with it – perhaps sculpt it into a giant “garbage unicorn.”

Life-Changing? CHECK.
We left on our 50-state YERT adventure on the 4 of July, 2007 and, my oh my, how our worlds have changed in just 12 months! Julie and I are expecting our first child any day now – conceived and “baked” on the YERT trip. Mark, through this adventure, met Erika, who valiantly jumped in for Julie and me as baby duties took over in these final weeks. And we’ve all gained some really good new habits and learned an incredible amount about how better to live on Planet Earth – all of which we will continue to share with you over the coming months. We still have all sorts of fun videos to create before we declare this project complete, and our first priority is to finish at least one video per state. So to those of you out there in Ohio, Texas, Alaska, and the 25 or so other second-half states: HANG IN THERE! Your videos will be coming out ASAP. We’ll be targeting one video per week, with a few breaks built into the schedule.

World-Changing? CHECK.
While our lives may have changed, the world around us has also changed dramatically. Gasoline prices have risen about 50% in the last year from an average of $2.93/gal in PA when we started to $4.57/gal in CA today (and $4.07 in PA). Oil futures have more than doubled in the past year from about $70 to $145 per barrel. Only San Francisco had banned publicly funded bottled water when we started – ten days ago, a majority of 250 US mayors voted to “phase out” government use of bottled water. Only one US city (San Francisco, again) had banned disposable plastic bags when we started – now that movement is spreading across the globe and numerous cities and organizations around the world have either severely curtailed or begun to ban the use of plastic bags. Numerous “green” TV channels, shows, and environmental initiatives and legislation have taken off in the last year – “green” is going mainstream…big-time. This country is finally turning a corner, and it’s been exhilarating to witness this over the past 12 months – to “hang 10” on the “green wave” as it sweeps the nation – and to have helped turn the tide in some small way. It hasn’t been a perfect process, and huge challenges lie ahead, but there are certainly encouraging signs that people everywhere are starting to wake up.

Party! Party! Party!? COMING…
To celebrate the completion of the road trip, YERT will be holding two finale events, and you’re invited to both. You can expect stories and videos and photos and fun, at special venues with unique environmental features.

The first is a shindig in San Francisco at The Temple – the perfect location for a sleek meet and greet. It kicks off at 6:00 P.M. on Friday, July 11, at this renowned club with its very own sustainability coordinator and a slew of groundbreaking initiatives in place and on the way. And the place just looks cool. Please RSVP on eVite or Facebook.

The second is our Grand Finale in Pittsburgh at the Rachel Carson Homestead – Join us for our final gala at the home of the famous author of “Silent Spring,” on Saturday, August 9 at 3:00 P.M. Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book opened the world’s eyes to the unintended consequences of chemical pest management and essentially jump started the modern environmental movement. YERT’s first stop was her home, and it will be our last stop, too—at least on this particular adventure. Please RSVP on eVite or Facebook.

YERT’s Feature Film? COMING…
It seems that there are few better ways to tell a story these days than in the form of a feature-length film. So for as long as we can scrape up enough money to pay for food, we’ll be working to compile our footage down into a feature-length film with YERTy zip and eco-fun built into every moment. We’ll need plenty of help for the film, so if you’d like to volunteer for a role, make yourself known by writing to us at We’ll need outreach coordinators, video watchers, musicians, editors, and some angel investors – not to mention things that we don’t even know we need yet.

Start Spreading the News!
If you think that YERT’s story is worth spreading around, we’d love it if you did just that—spread it around! We’ll be presenting audience comments at our finale events, and we’d love to include yours. Just send a note to You can also help us enter film festivals, screen our videos at your school, tell all your facebook friends about us, or invite us to give a presentation to your community. We’re open to ideas and want to share, so drop us a line. Make it YOUR Environmental Road Trip.

Thanks to YOU!
This trip wouldn’t have been what it’s been if you hadn’t been a part of it – if you hadn’t tuned in, given us suggestions, helped us when we needed it, inspired us, fed us, housed us, and given so generously of yourselves in so many ways. If nothing else, this year on the road has reaffirmed our faith in the incredible goodness of the American people and of humanity in general. As we heard recently in the New Mexico video, “we’re all in this together” – and together we can meet any challenge. This entire journey has done nothing but confirm that. Our deepest gratitude to all of our YERTian friends out there who have helped make this entire project possible made this adventure truly special. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! And stay tuned – this is just the beginning…


Ben, Mark, Julie, and Erika – Your YERT Team

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.