Back to Days 197-199: Wild Wild Wind in Texas…

Hallo,
remember back in January when we were traipsing through the Southern states to avoid winter’s sting? Well, some of those states got the shaft in the blogging department, and the biggest state in the Union was hit hardest. Here we’ll catch up on what YERT found a little further West – in Roscoe/Sweetwater, Texas.

We spent some time with David Etheredge and his Dad, retired cotton farmer Cliff Etheredge, on Cliff’s farm. Cliff saw wind turbines going up on the hills of Sweetwater and thought, why not on the flat farms of Roscoe? There’s plenty of wind… He traveled to NYC and talked to some people until he got a bite with the people at Airtricity, who came, surveyed the land, and have since installed hundreds of turbines providing power to thousands of West Texas homes.

It may seem unlikely for a state that has historically been our nation’s biggest oil producer to be courting wind, but this is real, and it is really exciting. What’s blowing in West Texas is a healthy interest in wind energy that benefits both the farmer and the environment. The windcoalition website states that, now, “Texas leads the Western Hemisphere in wind energy production, generating enough to power nearly 600,000 homes. This summer, the state surpassed California to become the largest producer of wind energy in the nation.”

We rolled into the Sweetwater, TX convention center late Tuesday to meet Mayor Greg Wortham at the local 4H show. Lambs, rabbits, and chickens were being judged – and kids of all sizes were muscling their critters into acceptable stances of presentation for show. Here we had the really cool opportunity to talk to several farmers whose lives have changed dramatically…thanks to the power of wind. Apparently, there is an epidemic of “dying” towns all over the Mid- and Southwest. Farming has not gotten any easier for those trying to make a living independent of large scale industry. Although wind is an intermittent source of energy, having the turbines gives farmers two things to depend on for cash instead of just their crop. With wind turbines on their farms, farmers have doubled their possible income, and found security they’ve never experienced before.

Wouldn’t it be great to see this trend continue all over the country?

Days 267-270: Virginia! William McDonough Architects and Polyface and Blenheim Farms

What a terrific couple of days in Virginia! Holy cows!
We stopped by William McDonough & Partners in downtown Charlottesville, where Kira Gould showed us the creative building rooms and concepts for commissions all over the world, and architect Kevin Burke, Director of Practice, described how architecture is changing to reflect sustainability and how McDonough’s vision of imitating natural systems is put into practice by the partners in the firm. (For those unfamiliar, William McDonough co-authored an amazing book called Cradle to Cradle with German chemist, Michael Braungart, which rethinks design so that “waste” is understood for what it is – an inefficiency, a flaw in the system. This book joins about 20 others that we consider to be the most important environmental reads of our time, and which make up our traveling YERT library. It’s exactly the kind of thing that innovative and industrial Americans can sink their teeth into, and it’s FUN. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Another book the YERT team can’t speak highly enough of is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma…though here’s where I admit to being the sole YERT traveler who has not yet put the e-book into my headphones thing… Still, that didn’t take away from my enjoying our wonderful visit with farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. I loved it.

We left our little nest at the Comfort Inn in Charlottesville for Swoope, VA, early in the morning, hoping that the full grey skies would hold off letting loose for the afternoon. After driving an hour through beautiful rolling hills and countryside, we came to a great patch of green pasture with russet-colored chickens running all over it, and some little wagons. This had to be it.

Joel’s wife, Theresa, came out to meet us, shook hands and told us that Joel was up with the pigs and would be down shortly, Why didn’t we make ourselves familiar with the chickens in the yard while we waited? We dodged the electric fence and Ben and Mark filmed b-roll of the perky birds until Joel showed up to make proper introductions to “the ladies.” He showed the boys how to catch a hen and hold her with just one hand, showed the nests and eggs in the “eggmobiles.” I had fun filming Mark with the little camera chasing after chickens and getting smeared with chicken poop. Ben helped Joel empty buckets of grain into the little shelters, and we watched Joel pull one unlucky hen from a completely stuck position between the slats…and the rain held off…

There is plenty on the Polyface website to describe what Joel is doing but my take was this: Like Cradle to Cradle, Joel uses the animals and natural systems in the most common sense way possible – a closed loop of resource, rebirth and healing for the earth and her critters…

His cattle graze on pasture, mowing the grass (to a manageable length for poultry) while adding their own manure as compost. Then they are moved on to new grass and the eggmobiles are brought in so the chickens can “sanitize” the cowpies, eating the fly larvae and adding their own droppings to the fertility of the soil.

Then Joel showed us the pigerator. In the winter, a layer of corn is laid down in the dry barn where the cows are kept, and hay is constantly layered thick for bedding, keeping them dry and clean, until by Spring the floor under the cows’ hooves is several feet high. When the cows are let out in warm weather to pasture, the pigs are brought in from the forest (where they have been foraging acorns, among many other delectable things). What results is Hog Heaven! The pigs spend a joyful month rooting around this seemingly endless pile of cow manure and rotting hay for the fermenting corn beneath, turning and aerating the layers into the best compost (really good dirt) you ever saw. And it didn’t smell like pigs, or at least not the pungent stench I remember sharply accosting the nostrils from pig farms in KY and Indiana back when I was growing up. It mostly just smelled like dirt! (People who tune in to YERT will eventually see some pretty fine footage of Ben trying to help the pigs do their job and of Mark accidentally riding one.) Though Mark and Ben got right in there with Joel and the porkers, I still had trouble getting past the fact that they were wallowing in ****, so I pretty much kept my interaction on the level of…conversation, from outside the pen. The animals seemed to really like Joel, coming to him for scratches and pets, and running between his legs. I asked Joel if he ever felt bad/sad taking a pig to market, and he said, “No way. Each one’s got a $500 price tag!” And that is how a farmer makes his living. I sort of rolled that around my brain as one of the bigger pigs came over for my side of the fence for a scratch with the stick I was holding…and then it started to rain…

We left Polyface Farm with a dozen gorgeous eggs, 3 wonderful books which Joel authored (Thank you, Joel!) (he has several), and many new thoughts about pigerators and eggmobiles to take with us on our travels, as well as Joel’s suggestion to visit one of the restaurants which sells Polyface meat. Ben called Angelo Vangelopoulos, the owner of Ivy Inn in Charlottesville, who set up a tasting for us! All I can say is The food was AMAZING. All 3 of us agreed that it was one of our very best meals of the entire trip. Polyface wasn’t the only local organic food on the menu; there were several farms’ fares. But Joel’s pigs were delectable. Mark swore he could taste the trees. And the creme brulee, made with Joel’s ladies’ eggs, was delicious. Mark said it rivaled what he’s eaten in France, and Ben ate the 2nd half of mine. I thought it delicious and I don’t even like creme brulee!

The next day we returned to record Angelo’s thoughts about the challenges of running a small restaurant with organic local food within the guidelines of the FDA, while supporting small farmers. He let us know right away that it isn’t easy but to him there is no other way. Our tummies were rewarded, as is Joel’s livelihood. Before we left, we asked him where he goes when he is looking for something fast, good and not too expensive. He answered with our favorite fast food joint on YERT: Chipotle’s. Already we had come to love and appreciate the hormone-and-antibiotic-free meat, but when we got to the counter of the Chipotle’s just out of town, we couldn’t believe our eyes – they were making burritos with meat from Polyface! Quite thrilling, not to mention outrageously good.

Our last scheduled interview was at Blenheim Farm, on our way to Washington DC. Family-owned and operated by Lawrence & Becky Latane (prounounced “latnee”) and their three 20-something kids on a permanent conservation easement, Blenheim Organic Gardens is part of a larger 400 acre preserve. It began as an organic vegetable garden that expanded as needs and opportunities arose to a fully operating certified organic CSA, with presence at farmers markets.

We spilled out of the car and were greeted by the most gregarious of the family dogs, Gus (who stole much of the film footage, I warn you now, and you will see why at at later date.) I’m terribly sad that I haven’t any photos to show of this lovely family and their fantastic little farm – I started getting a migraine right when I got there, so I couldn’t really see for most of the time we were with them, and then I was off my game! UGH. I was whisked inside and given coffee while the youngest, daughter Sage, passed around homemade lemon squares and then made me eat raw potatoes (she heard they help headaches – Thank you, ladies).

Outside, the boys interviewed Lawrence, and let Becky, Sage, and son, Cameron, say what they love about organic farming. Becky Latane plucked me the sweetest spinach I have ever tasted. EVER. I have never thought of spinach as sweet. She thinks it’s the dirt. Maybe it is. Or maybe its the love. Or maybe I am pregnant and gushy. I am thrilled every time we run into people who are making good things with the earth, every time we encounter respect and harmony.

From Joel’s respect for the pigness of the pig, to Angelo’s regard for real food’s making people happy, to fast food chains willing to take a chance on healthy local meat, to the Latanes’ love for the earth and producing with it, I felt renewed. I feel full of superlatives but that was Virginia for me, and they all made it – wonderful. And baby gets no pesticides!!!

Bush Administration Pursues New Revolutionary Home-grown Alternative Auto Fuel…

Today in DC we had the rare privilege of sitting down with Ilene Tuderyte, one of President Bush’s senior energy policy advisers, to discuss the nation’s energy future and whether President Bush is still even able to affect US environmental policy this late in his second term. We were surprised and encouraged to find that what we thought was a lame-duck presidency, still has a bold vision of what is possible, and Bush recently appears truly to have turned a corner in his environmental and energy positions. Ms. Tuderyte assured us that the president has a very strong desire to help the country wean itself off of foreign oil – and oil altogether, for that matter. Kudos to him. When we pressed her for specific initiatives, she unveiled one of the most groundbreaking ideas we’ve heard all year.

The following are excerpts from an internal Department Of Energy memorandum she shared with us:

“As a nation, we are seeing increasing rates of obesity across all age groups. Nearly 65% of all Americans are now considered obese – a 50% rise in obesity in the last 30 years – and the rate of childhood obesity is rising three times a fast as it is for adults. When it comes to body fat – the U.S. is the world leader. This incredible surplus of cellulite stored in the bodies of our citizens represents one of the most underutilized natural resources we have – a truly renewable energy source that is INCREASING at nearly 3% annually. Oil prices have recently eclipsed $110 dollars/barrel and will likely surpass $170 dollars/barrel by the end of 2008. As the world’s largest consumer of petroleum, we will soon be facing a shortage in our oil supply while enjoying a record surplus of cellulite – our most plentiful home-grown bio-fuel resource. In the next two weeks, we will be making recommendations to Congress to legislate strong financial incentives for domestic auto manufacturers to increase basic research into the development of a cellulite-powered car engine capable of a minimum of 35 miles per pound of human body fat.

With a sharp increase in the number of elective liposuction procedures during recent years, the future of American body fat as an alternative fuel is indeed strong. On a per capita basis, the average American is 58.3 pounds over weight. With 302 million people in the U.S. this translates to nearly 17.6 billion pounds of excess fat. With current national stores of excess body fat at 17.6 billion pounds and projected to rise to 20 billion by 2010, assuming an average fuel economy of 35 miles per pound, human cellulite has the potential to meet all of our national automotive fuel needs by the end of the decade. Several preliminary joint studies conducted by GM and several liposuction labs in Los Angeles and Miami confirm that efficiencies as high as 40 miles per pound are theoretically possible with more energy dense fat from the buttocks and thighs, while belly and underarm fat yield between 23-31 miles per pound, depending on the individual’s diet. An additional fuel efficiency benefit may come from a decrease in mean passenger weight as individuals’ fat is increasingly used to power their cars. However, it should be noted that this may happen at the expense of domestic fat supplies, in which case restrictions will be required and a national fast food subsidy program may need to be implemented to maintain sufficient national fat supplies.

Given that effective public relations management of this unorthodox proposal is essential during the coming months, the DOE will be working closely with American car manufacturers on initial product marketing and positioning. Several preliminary campaigns are:

“Having trouble burning off those extra pounds…FORD’s here to help. The new FORD Fatster.”

“A Lean, Mean, Lard-Driving Machine…the 2009 Chevy Cellulite.”

“Dodge Dimple – Now you can ride on the most durable spare tire of all…yours.”

“Drive your way to thin with a Lincoln Lipid SX.”

“Not a car, not a truck, not an SUV – It’s a Blubber. The Blubber B3 – a vehicle as big as you are.”

“People used to call me Porky, now they call me an environmentalist. – Come check out the all new 6-cylinder Mazda Muffintop.”

“Get it off your butt and into your car – Fat makes America run.”

In short, we believe that a strong national energy policy begins and ends with a triple cheeseburger, milkshake, and side of extra large fries – it’s time we recognized our national obesity “problem” for the energy independence answer it is. And it’s time we replaced high prices at the pump, with live humans hooked up to the pump. We have the need, we have the supply, and we have the technology – liposuction/filling station hybridization. It’s time to get off of oil – and onto cellulite. Time to declare our energy independence. America’s Energy Future Is Fat and Free.”

Oh, and…
HAPPY APRIL FOSSIL FOOLS’ DAY!

flashback to Days 195-198: YERT Does Dallas – Texas Part 1

Monday, Jan 14th, we drove our way from Arkansas to Texas stopping by a very suspicious looking buffet at a Western Sizzlin’ in Oklahoma for what might qualify as food in some parts of the world, but was terrifying to us – suffice it to say a lot of iceberg lettuce, mashed potatoes, and creepy mac and cheese was consumed in the name of dodging the four-day-old “everything else at the salad bar.” Thankfully we made it safe and sound to our fine hosts in Dallas, Tom and Joy, who had agreed to take us in on spectacularly short notice.

We spent Tuesday playing catch up and running errands – as we must on occasion – enjoying an enthusiastic conversation about YERT and the art of quitting smoking with the manager of a local Chipotle franchise over burritos served on pizza pie tins. It’s always nice to see the no-trash rule bringing people together. That evening, based on a photo of the facade and a quick glance at the menu online, I suggested that we take a chance on a little vegetarian Dallas eatery called the Cosmic Cafe. None of us was prepared for what an absolutely wonderful dining experience this was to be. As we travel, one of the most comforting things for me to find in any town is a local haunt where you know you can find reasonably-priced, freshly prepared, creative, delicious food (preferably vegetarian) served with care in an eclectic and friendly environment. Most city’s worth their salt have at least one and the Cosmic Cafe simply blew us away by almost every criteria – ten seconds poring over the menu at the table and the three of us knew we had hit the jackpot. Generally when we find a place like this, we make repeat visits, and sure enough, the next night saw us back once again for their delectable vegetarian fare – complete with a live accordion concert this time.

Wednesday, we headed to the Fort Worth Stockades for a little Western culture to see the running of the bulls, or, as it turns out in Texas, the walking of the steers. The whole gang there really rolled out the red carpet for us and we had a heck of a time learning all about one of the lone star state’s original “low emissions vehicles” – the Texas longhorn steer. Julie even found herself sitting on top of one for a second.

Then we headed into downtown Fort Worth for an interview with one of our key Texas liaisons and a one-woman eco-dynamo, Haily Summerford, Public Education Specialist for the City of Fort Worth’s Environmental Management Department. Haily taught us all about Fort Worth’s “incredible shrinking garbage” and even introduced us to a real-live cardboard cartoon super hero – Captain Crud (he gave a riveting interview) – who’s helped increase Fort Worth’s recycling diversion rate from 6% to 20%. Haily is truly doing yeoman’s work in North Central Texas.

After Crudding about, we hustled over to the EPA’s Region 6 headquarters in Dallas for a sit-down with three of their experts to find out all about the Sustainable Skylines initiative to improve air quality in the Dallas metro area, a team effort between the City of Dallas, the EPA, and the North Texas Council of Governments. Apparently, Dallas was selected from a pool of several cities as the first in the nation to test-drive this innovative program made up of a number 3-year projects which could serve as a model for programs in other cities. This sounds like good news and bad news – the good news is that it finally looks like there’s a program starting up that might help address some of Dallas’ air quality problems, the bad news is that those air quality problems are so severe in Dallas as to warrant starting the program there first. Oh well, better late than never. And of course, so as to leave no stone unturned in this quest for clean air in North Texas, Thursday morning we had an even larger roundtable discussion with the North Texas Council of Governments’ crack-team of air-quality policy peeps in Arlington, TX to get the skinny on Big D’s dirty air and to probe even further into the Sustainable Skylines initiative.

Then, just for good measure we headed just down the road to tour the AbitibiBowater recycling facility – one of the world’s largest newspaper recyclers – where we watched giant machines do all sorts of cool stuff with all things recyclable – shred, sort, compact, cube, tie. In a word it was…neato. By Thursday afternoon, though we’d already seen a lot in Dallas, we were just getting started in Texas and headed west in search of wind…

Stay tuned for more Texas in the next installment (what can I say, it’s a big state and I’m sleepy).

Days 251-254: NC Pt II: the motherload that is Asheville

Going in, we knew that Asheville, NC, would be a hotbed for environmentalism, and we were not disappointed. We were welcomed into the elegant mountaintop home of our new friends, Stephen and Suzie, and were immediately taken under the wings of two of the most sustainable people I have ever met, Bob and Isabel. Here is one of Bob’s amazing sandals that he has been wearing and repairing for the last 5 yrs, made from spare tires and seat belts…

Isabel set up an evening party for YERT at Pearson Drive Garden, one of three community gardens featured in Asheville’s Bountiful Cities Project. It was a really nice potluck, we got to meet a bunch of sweet folks, showed some videos, shared stories and heard what locals are doing. We even had a sign language interpreter there with some deaf people, who suggested that we consider finding a sponsor for ‘CLOSED CAPTIONING for the hearing impaired’ on our videos – something I personally had not thought of before and which we would love to offer.

Isabel drove us to Earthaven – self described as “an aspiring ecovillage in a mountain forest setting near Asheville…dedicated to caring for people and the Earth by learning, living, and demonstrating a holistic, sustainable culture.” We were shown the ropes by Isabel’s teacher and revered permaculturist, Patricia Allison. Both women pointed out that what may look like a garbage dump to the untrained eye, piles of paper and cardboard lying about the garden in seemingly haphazard fashion, is actually nourishing the ground, creating rich new soil. Compostable outdoor toilets have a separate section for PEE!, which is then collected, diluted and used to further fertilize the improving soil. Like The Farm in Summertown, TN, this intentional community is an example of attempting to live sustainably in community….

Another example is the Ash Village Institute, in Asheville city limits. (Isabel also brought us here!) We met Janell Kapoor, another student of Permaculture and tasted several of her many flavors of meade – a naturally fermented honey wine – (ok, I didn’t) before hearing all about Kleiwerks, her natural building website, and getting a tour of their demonstration house, refinished completely naturally. We were inspired to hear how the neighborhoods are taking to their totally green neighbors!

The last things we were treated to by our amazing Bob and Isabel were 1. the totally cool grocery selling all surplus organic stuff at very affordable prices, 2. REAL dumpster diving!! which is mainly hitting grocery dumpsters for perfectly good food being tossed in the dumpster, while it is still clan and edible… and 3. the biggest Goodwill store I have ever seen…it has a huge back section where clothing is sold $1.10 per pound. That is where Ben stepped on the scale for fun and stepped right off again when he realized how much sympathy weight he has gained since my pregnancy…

We can also look forward to video with Professor Andrew Jones. I slept through the entire thing on his couch and cannot comment except that he is an exceptional host who knows how to treat a pregnant lady (feed her bread…Thank you, Andrew!) and that his son is very honest. When I told him I was growing a baby, he said, “Is that why you’re so big?” Yes. Yes, it is. 🙂

Days 247-251: NC Part 1: Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill/Carrboro

Here’s a quick rundown of our early days in beautiful North Carolina.
First we stayed with a terrific little family in the charming town of Carrboro. We walked with the Teals from their house right to the Farmer’s Market! Yeah, that’s the way it should be! Loads of bike trails and walking trails through forests behind people’s houses. 1st place where i actually said out loud, “I could live here.” IF we could afford it. Ay, there’s the rub. Still out of the range of the most modest incomes but nevertheless encouraging to see land being conserved, protected and shared as dear, instead of every house sitting on an acre or more of lawn, all to itself…

Professor Rob Jackson took us into a part of Duke Forest where scientists are pumping in extra CO2 to see if the forest will take in more carbon, grow faster, etc., as a possible solution to the problem of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The boys climbed a high tower above the canopy to see how the CO2 is dispersed, and I sat at the base, drawing leaves on my maternity jeans and making a really poor basket out of long leaf pine needles. Unfortunately, they’re finding not much of a change, really, in carbon absorption or tree growth, unless fat doses of fertilizer are involved, which sort of defeats the purpose, so…back to the drawing board?

We had quite a lovely and thoughtful visit with the elegant Dr. Ellen F. Davis – author, Old Testament scholar, and professor at Duke Divinity School – at her home near Duke University. Dr. Davis has rediscovered what she believes is an unmistakable message in the books of the prophets in particular: Our highest calling as humans is to take care of the natural world that God created. She has recently published a book called Scripture, Culture and Agriculture in which she examines Old Testament biblical text in relation to our relationship with the earth…

And Jeff Fisher has found a way to make Conservation profitable through a Conservation Real Estate Company called Unique Places, LLC. Will this be the beginning of different kind of relationship between land and developers?? Let’s hope so…

We also got to spend an afternoon with some students at Duke’s Nicholas School of Sustainability, thanks to Sonya Reinhardt.

Next time: Asheville: the motherload…

Days 255-258: West Virginia, Mountain Momma…

THIS
MUST
END.

It’s the phrase that’s been going through my head all weekend in West Virginia. We’ve been “digging into” mountain top removal (MTR) coal mining out here – unbelievably tragic stuff and arguably the most environmentally destructive process that mankind engages in.

Saturday morning, we took a small plane up over southern WV – there’s a great little operation out of Asheville, NC called Southwings where pilots volunteer their time and money to take people up in the air to show them the MTR that’s happening out here. Our wonderful pilot, Susan Lapis, has given tours to everyone from Robert Kennedy Jr. to Woody Harrelson and was an unbelievable guide and pilot. There’s really no substitute for seeing this problem from the air. Evidently, everyone who takes the flight has the same initial response to seeing the devastation – “I had no idea!” We were certainly no exception.

Then we visited with a man named Larry Gibson, a mountain-loving native of Appalachia who lives in a humble cabin perched on the last remaining sliver of Kayford Mountain in a sea of MTR coal mining. His cabin used to be one of the low points in the area and now it’s one of the highest. He’s a one-man army taking on big coal and speaking around the country about MTR. Fighting to protect his “family’s mountain,” he was emboldened even further after the coal companies blew up one of his family’s grave yards in the course of destroying a neighboring mountain to get at the coal underneath. Though of small stature, Larry is truly a giant among men – just the warmest, most colorful, caring activist. We first spoke to him in his cabin on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and then returned to him on Sunday for a grand tour of his little “island” in the sea of “big coal,” complete with an enormous mining operation right in his back yard. Having been threatened, shot at, and had his cabin torched, he’s fighting the big-coal monster, and willing to lay down his life to do it. A true hero.

Finally, on Monday, we traveled into a hollow (a valley hamlet, pronounced “holler” if your local) and spoke with Bobby Mitchell and Maria Lambert. Maria lives in one of many hollows that have been ravaged by water pollution from MTR mining, where the incidents of certain cancers and diseases are off the charts – in one hollow, nearly every person has had to have their gall bladder removed. The things that come out of Maria’s tap look like a toxic science experiment gone awry, and the seemingly innocuous creek running in front of her house is untouchable – she won’t even let her granddaughter stick her foot in it. Bobby is helping to organize and empower local citizens like Maria to unite around these issues, get their water tested, and start raising some hell about these life-threatening problems. More often than not people like Bobby and Maria are given the run-around by local agencies and governments, but they continue to persevere. It’s a daunting and thankless process, but there’s nothing like having your life and health on the line to motivate you.

Pictures can not begin to do this MTR issue justice – the amount of devastation going on in Appalachia in the name of cheap energy is just mind-blowing. In Wyoming, coal seams are, in many cases, just under the surface so companies can essentially “scoop” it out rather than burrowing underground like in traditional mining. This kind of strip mining is cheaper and requires fewer workers than traditional underground mining, so in order to stay competitive with cheap Wyoming coal and to make an extra buck, companies that mine in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky are increasingly relying on MTR coal mining. Huge mountains are simply gone and the “overburden” is dumped into the valleys, polluting waterways and ecosystems. Over 1200 miles of streams and rivers in WV have been effectively buried or poisoned from MTR – there are all kinds of heavy metals and chemicals that leach into the surface and groundwater when coal and rocks that were never meant to see the light of day are suddenly and violently exposed (not to mention the witches brew of toxic chemicals used to “clean” and process the coal before it is shipped off). So much illegal is going on in these mountains it’s hard to know where to begin – one mining operation was committing an average of 26 violations per day, every day for 6 years! Of course, all of this has been getting dramatically worse under the current administration.

Many people are finding every color of water coming out of their tap (black, brown, red, orange, green) and are either dying or suffering a long list of ailments from contaminated drinking water. Much of this news never sees the light of day, and the state and local governments seem to be completely in bed with the big coal companies. This is why, despite the current rhetoric on TV to the contrary, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CLEAN COAL. Carbon sequestration is such a small tip of such an enormous ice berg. If our excursion into coal country has taught us anything, it is that coal simply needs to stay in the ground, and more people need to hear about what is really going on behind the hills next to the highway. The things that are kept out of sight from the general population out here (and in many other places around the country) would break the hardest heart. Check out a documentary called “Kilowatt Ours” for more about MTR coal mining and what each of us can do about it.

Finally, the next time any of us turns on a light switch or fires up an appliance, we would be wise to remember people like Maria, Larry, and Bobby – because, odds are, somewhere out in Appalachia, a piece of mountain just disappeared and real people suffering as a result.

why West Virginia wore julie out

I am going to bed early tonight in the hopes that I can recharge my own batteries, fully drained by witnessing firsthand mountaintop removal in West Virginia. Susan Lapis, Southwings Conservation Aviation pilot, flew us over the area to see how coal companies are chopping off mountaintops for the horizontal seams of coal that run through them, and then shoveling the rock, the “overburden,” as they call it, into valleys and streams, filling them completely. Words cannot do justice…so here’s one photo for you to ponder while I am off to sleep…
oh, what are we doing?

Days 244-246: South Carolina: Noisette Navy Yard becoming something new…

Back in November, YERT was contacted by Jim Augustin of Noisette Navy Yards in North Charleston, South Carolina. We kept in touch and were pretty happy that we were able to visit and get a good look at several of the facets of this unique place… Once a working Navy Yard, the waiting space was taken on by Bill Augustin and John Knot, to be developed as a sustainable multi-use community resource center called Noisette

The first person we spoke with was Chris Fischer of Fischer Recycling. I have never seen so much broken glass in one place; it was beautiful, all separated into neat colored piles. Fischer said he started out selling t-shirts at the mall but, seeing restaurant employees carting out bottles to be recycled every night, he was inspired to get in on the recycling gig. He bought a cheap truck, started hauling people’s bottles for them, and a business just grew from there. He assured us that recycling IS lucrative, but he draws the line at plastics. He hates the stuff. I asked him if he had any idea why America doesn’t reuse bottles anymore – his answer: Plastics. All the bottle bills die immediately because the Plastics lobbies are so strong. It hurts their business if bottles are returned and reused. I didn’t even know there were bottle bills being drawn. Here is an interesting article on bottle bills

We also talked with three lovely women from the Navy Yard’s HUB Education Program.
The program’s self-described mission is “To enhance opportunities for Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUB) to participate in construction projects throughout South Carolina by providing education and training essential for managing a competitive construction company…” We found this fascinating in that the program specifically offers women and minorities an opportunity to get ahead in the field. All 3 women felt incredibly empowered by working with the program. WOOHOO!

Finally, we talked with Jim Schultz. Metal sculptor, welder, salty dog, chain smoker, interesting critter, an artist and a gentleman to me, Jim has been burned a few times trying to make a living as an artist but he loves and trusts Jim Augustin and Noisette, and has been working with them now for some time. We found him in his studio with his son, Jeremy, unloading a giant piece of metal he was calling an anvil…and I was banished to the car for fear of old 1940’s paint chips and etc flying around, my being pregnant and all. Jim took us over to the firehouse where we got to see one of his very large works – a welded metal palm tree over 9′ tall – and we also saw two of his pieces over at the Noisette office. My favorite was the fish…

All in all, it looks like the city of North Charleston still has a way to go but Noisette has taken a giant step in starting the ball rolling that is making people proud to be a part of the neighborhood. And we had a great dinner party hosted by our honorary (for now) 4th member, Erika Bowman, and her mama, where we got to meet John Knott as well as some of the other movers and shakers at Noisette. We were honored, and wish them well.

Day 250: YERT Squert update! baby love…

So, for those of you who may not have gleaned from previous blogs (or my facebook page), WE ARE GROWING A GIRL!!! I flew home to KY at 19 weeks to have some checkups, one with a midwife at the farm and one at the ob/gyn office. Here is our little one giving us her sweet profile at 2nd ultrasound…i think she is pretty already…(and I really hope I am seeing the Evans chin)…

Actually, we considered not having the 2nd ultrasound because, at my checkup at The Farm, our midwife suggested that we research “ultrasounds and autism” before we agreed to have another one done. So, of course, I panicked and googled and read and tried to absorb. Ben read, too, and we both felt worried enough to say Let’s skip it. Even though the fact is that nobody knows WHAT is causing the increased incidence of autism in kids in this country. It’s not that ultrasounds are indicated, exactly – it’s more like they can’t be been ruled out.

Day of my appointment in KY, I called the nurse to let her know our decision not to have the test but Nurse convinced me otherwise. She said this was THE ultrasound, the “anatomical” ultrasound, where they check to see if the baby has all its parts, both lobes of the brain, all 4 chambers of the heart, etc…. So i said ok. I have to say, I felt really sort of happy. I wanted to see our baby again, wanted to be reassured, as I hadn’t started feeling any real movements yet at 19 weeks, and I worried that she was still alive in there. Plus I wanted to know if she was a boy or a girl, even though I was pretty sure she was a she. Which she is! And getting bigger every day. Of course, no I actually get to FEEL her moving around, which is the BEST.

Just wanted to let everyone know that I DID in fact build her a onesie out of Ben’s underpants, but I was wrong: it took 2 pairs, not just one. And the eyelets were not a part of his underpants before I made the little outfit. Here it is, front & back. And yes, moms, that is a snap closure. Made in SC, with love, from Daddy’s underpants. Baby girl’s underpantsuit. Will she hate us for this? Not for awhile, anyway…