Monday, December 20, 2010

Slow Season!

Warmest wishes and deepest apologies for the lack of posts lately. The holidays are a busy time of year around here! Please feel free to spend some of your Internet-browsing hours looking through old posts here on Just Saying or on the following sites/blogs/links/stories that have captured our attention lately:

Mental_Floss: 18 Fun Facts About Your Favorite Christmas TV Specials

MSN 'A Year of Mystery Meat' - Read about the experiences of a Chicago area public school employee who ate school lunch every day for a year

Green-Up Your Computer with ECO BUTTON

Recent GMO News - Bt Cotton Failures in India (also here)

Get to know The Fabulous Beekman Boys or just watch Farmer John's Goat Cam!

And if those happy Beekman goats made your heart grow three sizes, consider making an end-of-year donation to one of our favorite organizations, Heifer International, to gift a goat or a share of one. Learn more and donate here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


While finding yourself beneath mistletoe in North America during the holiday season traditionally implies luck and increases your chances at stealing a smooch, the trees that the partially-parasitic Phoradendron flavescens are commonly found growing from are not so lucky.

Botanically speaking, the plant is a 'hemiparasite,' which means that it is capable of producing its own food by photosynthesis, but more often it sends out roots to penetrate the branches or trunk of a tree and steal nutrients. The seed is spread by bird droppings in the crown of trees and because mistletoe is an evergreen, like Christmas holly, it is most visible in the winter when the leaves of host trees have fallen. Perhaps most interestingly, the familiar Christmas decor is often "harvested" by shotgun. How romantic.

So how did a parasite become a symbol and tradition during holiday festivities? I don’t know for certain, but some say the answer lies in Norse Mythology. In ancient Scandinavia, if enemies met by chance beneath mistletoe in the forest, they would lay down their arms and hold a truce until the next day. This custom went hand-in-hand with the Norse myth or Baldur, whose mother, Frigga, made every object, animal and plant promise not to harm her son except mistletoe, which she overlooked. After a mischievous Norse god killed Baldur with a spear fashioned from mistletoe and brought winter into the world, his mother declared the plant sacred. Baldur was eventually resurrected and Frigga ordered that any two people passing beneath it must celebrate Baldur’s life by kissing.

More recently, Washington Irving wrote about a now often-overlooked aspect of the mistletoe tradition in a footnote of “Christmas Eve”

“The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases.”

Those berries, by the way, are poisonous despite the fact that they have long been considered an aphrodisiac.

So if you find yourself beneath a parasitic plant this season, think of traditions of peace and the tree that is now free of a nutrient-thief. Or, if you need an exit strategy, distract the smoocher by spewing the fun facts you’ve just learned!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2010 Holiday Gift Guide

There are only two more shopping weekends before Christmas and you know what that means: It will be near impossible to find a parking spot at the Columbia Mall. The good news is, you've been to that mall before, know the national chains that have stores there (and a bit more about their respective carbon footprints), and can get those items online in plenty of time if need be. So why not take the stress and uniformity out of this holiday and do a little out-of-the-mall shopping?

The Baltimore Sun has made unique, local shopping and gifting super-easy with their all-encompassing Holiday Gift Guide and Top 100 Baltimore Stores. They also point readers towards one of Just Saying's favorite places to pick up unusual knick-knacks, art, and home decor: Museum Gift Shops.

Speaking of art, if you happen to be out and about in Annapolis this Sunday between 10am and 5pm, stop into the Sheraton Annapolis Hotel for the 8th Annual ALS Artisan Boutique featuring 55 artists selling handcrafted jewelry, pottery, painting, original children's clothing and accessories, woodworking, photography, confections, and luxurious bath and body products to benefit patients and families battling Lou Gehrig's disease. Admission is free and raffle tickets to win an iPad or iPod Touch are $10.00. If you or your children are fond of the Corduroy childrens' book series, toss your fave in your purse because the illustrator, Lisa McCue, will be making an appearance. McCue has illustrated tons of famous childrens' books on your shelves, not just ones about every one's favorite bear, so check out her library for additional titles (Cork & Fuzz, Fuzzytail, Sebastian and so many more) you may be gifting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

File Under: Adorable

I see this every morning on when I drive into the University of Maryland, College Park entrance near the Greenhouse and the Comcast Center. I hope to witness dozens of feathery family crossings in the spring.

Friday, December 3, 2010

'Tis the Season...

...for JustSaying to remind you about our favorite simple ideas to help make the holidays more green (and to post pictures of cute holiday animals).

  • Get a real tree. Ideally, one grown locally as opposed to say... shipped to a Home Depot near you. Not only will your home smell like lovely pine without any artificial sprays or candles, but you are contributing to a business that is good for the planet. I know, I know: Instinct dictates that cutting down trees = bad. But that isn't exactly the case in the business of Christmas trees because higher demand = more trees planted.  Christmas tree farms are a big business. We're talking about 56 million trees bought each year that grew and absorbed carbon dioxide for 5-16 years before gettung tied to the roof of your car. Read all about it in an earlier year's post, "Purchase the Pine, People." (By golly gosh, those are some cute sisters in that picture!)Of course, purchasing the tree - roots and all - to be replanted after the holidays is the absolute greenest of the green but not everyone has the land for that.

  • Make your own gift tags from last years Christmas cards. Or email me to receive a bag full of them for free in exchange for donating your old cards. Each year, JustSaying gives our home-made, re-purposed tags to friends and family and they are always a hit. 

  • Consider purchasing gifts that give back through organizations like the World Wildlife Fund. Not only will you be donating to an important cause, you'll get on the mailing lists for similar organizations that send out holiday-themed return address labels and wrapping paper made from recycled materials (and a request for a small donation).

  • As far as online shopping,Amazon is one of our favorites because of their eco-friendly frustration-free packaging. If you can't find what you are looking for on there, be sure and sign up for an account on your favorite sites so that you can save items in your cart until all your purchasing is complete and can be sent in a single shipment. Save yourself the shipping fees and save the packing materials and shipping miles.

  • Use LED lights and put them on a timer. If you aren't fond of the bright-white, grab a colorful strand instead.  

If you've got any tips for the season, please feel free to share them in the comment section as this is the first of several holiday posts.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Can you have your tech gifts and buy local too?

According to our fave BaltTech expert and writer, Gus G. Sentementes, quite a few hardware, software, accessories and games that may be on your list originate in Maryland so you can shop tech with a slightly smaller footprint after all. The money spent with the companies on this list will also help to support Maryland's technology entrepreneurs and businesses. Find links to Gus's finds below and read more about the items and "Cyber Monday" on

  • Polk Audio is a Baltimore-based company that produces speaker systems for cars, boats and the home.

  • M-Edge, of Odenton, Md., and ZeroChroma of Baltimore, Md., make cases for the Amazon Kindle, Apple iPads, and electronic readers by Sony, Borders and Barnes & Noble including: the Latitude Jacket for Kindle and the iPad case/stand.Bethesda Softworks, based in Rockville, makes a lot of video games for PC, Xbox and Playstation, and even the iPhone. Extra fun fact: "Fallout 3" was designed by a Loyola University graduate. Firaxis Games, makers of the popular "Civilization" video games is based in Sparks, Md.

  • Hunt Valley-based Oculis Labs makes some very cool "Private Eye" software that uses a computer's webcam to detect when someone other than the computer owner is looking at the monitor and blurs the screen when it detects an eavesdropper or if the user turns his head away. (This one gets Just Saying's nod for being the coolest in the bunch)

  • Baltimore Audio Tours sells a CD or digital download for an MP3 player that delivers an auditory tour of the city.

  • Baltimore-based, interactive design agency Fastspot created Jumbalaya: a $1.99 word game for sale in the Apple App Store.

  • Ellicott City-based company, sells rescued, discounted gift cards to Cheesecake Factory, Bed Bath & Beyond, Radio Shack and more.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Big News for Food Safety

Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser weighed in on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Bill, calling it the "best opportunity in a generation to improve the safety of the American food supply," in a New York Times Op-Ed published yesterday. "This legislation is by no means perfect. But it promises to achieve several important food safety objectives, greatly benefiting consumers without harming small farmers or local food producers."

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill tonight. Here are some basic objectives of the bill:
  • The bill would, for the first time, give the F.D.A. (who oversee 80% of American food) the authority to test widely for dangerous pathogens and to recall contaminated food.
  • The FDA would gain resources and authority to prevent food safety problems, rather than respond to them after people have become ill.
  • The bill would also require large-scale, high-risk food-production plants get more frequent inspections.
  • For the first time, imported foods would be subject to the same standards as those made in the United States.
  • Small farms are exempt from the bill and may continue to be regulated under state and local laws. 
  • Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma is annoying.

Gotta Get to Gilroy Gardens

There are a few places I'd like to see with my own eyes in this lifetime. One is this fantastic Circus Tree exhibit at the Gilroy Gardens Family Theme park in Gilroy, CA that I just learned about. Seriously? How remarkable are these? Here's what the park's website has to say about them:
An amazing example of man's patience and imagination once known as the Tree Circus has been rescued from a forgotten plot in the Santa Cruz mountains and transported to a new home in Gilroy, California where they are now the centerpiece for our horticulturally based theme park. The collection of unusual trees appeared often during the 1940's and 50's in Ripley's "Believe-It-or-Not," "Life" magazine as well as other publications in the United States and other parts of the world. These trees represent one of the most visible demonstrations of the love of nature by man - first to create and nourish, then to maintain, and finally to preserve and cherish these stunning creatures.
The process that allows for such enchanting trees is called grafting. Commonly used by nurseries to give plants stronger root systems and faster growth, grafting is a precise and delicate art form originally used to propagate fruit trees that otherwise cannot be reproduced "true" to the original cultivar from seed. Learn more here

Readers may also be interested in the other exhibits at Girlroy Gardens including but not limited to their: Majestic Gardens, Learning Sheds (modeled after old-fashioned apple sorting and packing sheds), and the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) Exhibit.

And if you happen to be out on the left coast this holiday season, click here for more information about the Holiday Lights and other seasonal attractions.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Apples to Apples

Ever wonder why some apple varieties are quicker to go brown once sliced than others? It's got to do with varying PPO (polyphenoloxidase) levels. Horticulture professor at Cornell University, Susan K. Brown and NY Times Science writier C. Claiborne Ray explained the brown apple phenomenom in this week's Q&A:
Cutting an apple releases compounds from within cells that interact with oxygen in the air in a process called oxidation, said Susan K. Brown, professor in the department of horticulture at Cornell University.
“The browning is primarily because of a chemical reaction catalyzed by an enzyme called polyphenoloxidase, or PPO,” she said. Phenolic (nutritional) compounds in the fruit are oxidized into slightly colored compounds, called quinones, which then change to form darkly colored pigments, she said.
“Different apple cultivars vary widely in their PPO levels, total phenolic content and rates of browning,” Dr. Brown said. A variety may have less browning because of low PPO, low phenolics or some combination of the two.
Many popular cultivars, like McIntosh and Fuji, are fairly prone to browning, she said, but Cornell has developed some varieties that brown much less than most on the market. Other factors affecting the rate of browning include the ripening stage of the fruit, the length of time in storage and any topical treatments that have been applied.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Michael Pollan to Compile Another 'Food Rules' Book

This time, with more rules and illustrations! Yay! Check out the open call (full text below) for new rules for the 2nd Edition of 'Food Rules' that Michael Pollan wrote for (and possibly other publications/sites):

Last year I published Food Rules, a short book offering 64 rules for eating well. Food Rules struck a chord with many people, who found that it helped them navigate what has become a treacherous food environment, whether in the supermarket or restaurant. Many of the rules were submitted by readers, and since publication I have received a number of excellent new ones. So I've decided to publish an expanded edition, with additional rules and also illustrations, which the painter Maira Kalman has agreed to create. The premise of Food Rules is that culture has much to teach us about how to choose, prepare, and eat food and that this wisdom is worth collecting and preserving before it disappears.

In recent years, we've deferred to the voices of science and industry when it comes to eating, yet often their advice has served us poorly, or has merely confirmed the wisdom of our grandmothers after the fact. "Eat your colors," an Australian reader's grandmother used to tell her; now we hear the same advice from nutritionists, citing the value of including in the diet as many different phytochemicals as possible.I've also found that many ethnic traditions have their own memorable expressions for what amounts to the same recommendation.

Many cultures, for examples, have grappled with the problem of food abundance and come up with different ways of proposing we stop eating before we're completely full: the Japanese say "hara hachi bu" ("Eat until you are 4/5 full"); Germans advise eaters to "tie off the sack before it's full." And the prophet Mohammed recommended that a full belly should contain one-third food, one-third drink, and one-third air. My own Russian-Jewish grandfather used to say at the end of every meal, "I always like to leave the table a little bit hungry." Many rules reach across cultures and also time, but some of the ones readers have submitted are specifically about navigating the modern food landscape: "It's not food if it comes to you through the window of a car." "Don't eat at any restaurant of which there is more than just one." "A snack is not the same thing as treat." "If a bug won't eat it, why would you?" and so on.

Will you send me a food rule you have found memorable and useful? Perhaps one passed down by your parents or grandparents? Or something you've come up with to tell your children -- or your self.

Please send your suggestions to Thanks in advance for your attention and help.

As you all know, 'Food Rules' is very close to this blogger's heart because she contributed rule number 21 to the first edition. I hope that you all will join me in contributing ideas for the next edition. I will include the best ones in the next edition of Food Rules, which will be published next fall and will be pleased to acknowledge your contribution if you so wish.

Climate Change and the Chesapeake Bay

Just found this great segment on Terpvision:

TERPVISION FALL 2010: CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE CHESAPEAKE BAY (Segment 2) from University of Maryland on Vimeo.

Learn more from CIRUN.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Turkey, Tofu or Pheasant?

Okay, folks. We better get down to the meat of this holiday before everyone runs out to purchase (or hunt) their turkey or turkey alternative. Let me start by reminding you guys that turkeys themselves are a fairly new addition to the Thanksgiving holiday. The birds on the first Thanksgiving tables were pheasants and ducks, a far cry from the six-eight legged super NFL turkey.

Heritage Turkeys: For Food Activists and Slow Food Friends

These gobblers are the ancestors of the common Broad-breasted White industrial breed of turkey you will find in most grocery bins and their breeds (including the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, White Holland, Royal Palm, White Midget and Beltsville Small White) have been preserved alongside their quality of life. Raising heritage breeds is more costly and time consuming for the farmer but better for biodiversity, the turkey and the consumer. Supermarket turkeys grow to an average of 32 pounds over 18 weeks. Often times they can't even walk and their narrow genetic base leaves them highly susceptible to disease. Heritage birds, on the other hand, take 24-30 weeks to reach their market weight and live their lives with far more dignity. Read more about Heritage turkeys here. And click here to browse the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Turkey Farm listings.

Pheasant and Small Game Fowl: For the Hunters

Those of you who stay basic and dine on self-caught meat like the Pilgrims get the award for being the most sustainable. John Manikowski, the creator of the Wild Fish & Game Cookbook, wrote a wonderful essay for the Global Gourmet back in 1996 that is a great how-to as well as why-to for those of you plan to dine on pheasant or another kind of small game fowl.

Tofurky: For the Vegetarians

Having spent quite a few Thanksgiving holidays as a vegetarian, I think it is safe to say that even a conventional store-bought feast offers more than enough for a great "side item sampler." But of course I realize that our vegetarian hosts out there may want to have that main dish in the center of the table so in comes the notorious Tofurky. Kudos for the fact that no animals were harmed in the making of your meat-substitute, but please remember that the Tofurky, like the common Broad-breasted white turkey found on the shelf nearby, is probably not the most sustainable choice.

Turducken: For Heaven's Sake, How Are You On This Blog?!

Visited Wikipedia for this one. Their definition is as follows: "A turducken is a dish consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed into a de-boned turkey. The word turducken is a portmanteau of turkey, duck, and chicken or hen. The thoracic cavity of the chicken/game hen and the rest of the gaps are stuffed, sometimes with a highly seasoned breadcrumb mixture or sausage meat, although some versions have a different stuffing for each bird. The result is a fairly solid layered poultry dish, suitable for cooking by braising, roasting, grilling, or barbecuing."

Our definition: A gluttonous dish consisting of several factory-farmed meats shoved into one another (likely by machine) that may have some historical and traditional relevance to the very wealthiest of 18th century diners but now caters mainly to the growing obesity epidemic in America (not to mention heart disease and many other health problems associated with a western diet).

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

Before we dive into our suggestions for your holiday menu, we thought we'd post a few factoids about the belly-swelling feast we Americans will be celebrating this Thursday. Special thanks to Discovery (for the video above) and the U.S. Census Bureau for their "Facts for Features" Thanksgiving data.
  •  242 million turkeys were expected to be raised in the United States in 2010. This number is actually down two percent from the number raised during 2009 (which together weighed 7.1 billion pounds and were valued at $3.6 billion).
  • Where do all these turkeys come from? 47 million from Minnesota, 31 million from North Carolina, 28 million from Arkansas, 17.5 million from Missouri, 16 million from Indiana, and 15.5 million from Virginia. And that only accounts for about two-thirds of this years U.S. turkey production.
  • Last year (2009). 1.9 billion pounds of sweet potatoes were produced in the U.S.
  • 2.2 billion bushels of wheat were produced in the U.S. in 2010, mostly from North Dakota and Kansas.
  • We trade turkeys. $7.3 million big ones worth of U.S. imports of live turkeys from January through July of 2010 — 99.1 percent from Canada.
  • In 2007, the average American consumed 13.8 pounds of turkey.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Welcome, New Readers

Just Saying is proud to announce that, with the help of our loyal and loving readers, friends, family and fans, we won the Health & Wellness category of the Baltimore Sun's Maryland Outstanding Blog Award for 2010. The prize is an ad campaign with, aimed to draw new readers to the blog. In anticipation of all the upcoming visitors, we've compiled the following smattering of posts to help everyone learn what Just Saying is all about. Happy reading!

Our roots:
Orchard History: Part I
Orchard History: Part II

Going beyond recycling:
Following Waste
To Recycle Bin or To Trash Can

Watching what we eat, especially meat:
The Great HFCS Debate
Don't Have a Cow
Eating Animals
Chicken Tracker

Keeping it local:
Thin Line Between Commercial and Local
Farmers Markets

University of Maryland
Farmville = Ugh

Watching the food movement in America:
NY Times Food Issue Coverage
Paul Roberts on the Future of Food
Food Movement Rising

Michael Pollen
MP on Diet Reform
MP Encounters

Creature Appreciation
Squirrels, Anything Squirrels, Squirrels = Awesome

Again, these are just a few of the many topics we explore on this blog. We hope you will also browse by typing key search words in the Just Searching Google tab or by going month to month looking for things (or pictures of squirrels) that interest you.

Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Homestead Gardens Pics

"Pavlov's Chickens"
"With Cold Weather Comes Sweaters"

Garlic Planting at Shaw Farm

'Tis the season to get that garlic in the ground. I had the pleasure of helping Farmer Brian Hughes level beds, pin plastic insulates, and plant stiff-neck and soft-neck garlic for the Shaw Farm CSA members come spring. The soft-neck is in the bed on the left, being planted by a CSA member, Tim. The bed on the right is the stiff-neck. If you're interested in planting some garlic in your own garden, The Daily Green put up a nice How-To earlier this fall. It's getting late in the season though so... hurry!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2010 CalorieLab, Inc Obesity Stats

For the fifth year in a row, Mississippi has been ranked above all others in terms of obesity rates. What's more alarming, at least to me, is to see a graphic representation of the "one in four American adults are obese" statistic. Read a thorough analysis of CalorieLab's findings here. Also, kudos to Colorado, where only one in five people are obese therefore making them the "thinnest state."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Meaty Munchkins

The "food" you love in a bite size ball! Dunkin' Donuts is now offering Sausage Pancake Bites. You can get three for $1.59, or six for $3. Here is the nutrition information based on three of them:

Busted at the Bird Feeder...

... despite the walnuts on the squirrel bench specifically for him and his squirrel friends. Maybe he couldn't find a nutcracker?

Commercial Wind Turbine Developments on the Maryland Coast

Timothy B. Wheeler for The Baltimore Sun reports:

"The federal government on Monday invited bids from wind power developers to place turbines off Maryland's coast, taking the first step toward what could be the nation's largest offshore commercial wind project to date.

The Department of Interior identified a 277 nautical-square-mile area off the state's 31-mile coast for possible leasing, largely accepting the recommendations of a state task force that has been studying offshore wind prospects since early this year. The turbines nearest to shore could be placed 10 nautical miles off Ocean City and 20 nautical miles off Assateague National Seashore."

And while we're on the subject of wind, I'd like to remind everyone to check out the incredible ideas born from the GE Ecomagination Challenge. Winners and new partners will be announced on the official site on Tuesday November 16th, 2010.

Another Heart-Breaking E-Waste Site

Photo: Untitled, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana 2010 © Pieter Hugo
South African Photo Journalist Pieter Hugo has been documenting Ghana's Agbogbloshie Market, a notorious dump site for Europe's outdated computers that I've only just found out about via Treehugger. Just like so many other impoverished towns in third-world countries, people in Accra, Ghana scavenge the toxic, poisonous, and polluted wasteland for digital technology fit to sell at the near-by market and suffer the externalized costs of our consumerism.

Makes you think twice about upgrading your computer and cell phone, huh?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Great News on the Healthy Happy Meal Crusade

I know, I know.... having "healthy" and "Happy Meal" in the same title is oxymoronic. Just keep reading...

San Francisco lawmakers approved legislation yesterday limiting fast food chains' abilities to include toys in kids meals with excessive calories, sodium and fat. The law also requires that a serving of fruit or vegetables be included with each meal. So if all goes according to plan, these corporations will no longer be able to reward children for eating convenient, unhealthy junk.

Despite McDonald's Corporate representatives' claims that such a law would "take the joy out of the Happy Meal," the measure drew enough support to overcome an expected veto and I'm sure lots of us hope to see similar laws popping up (faster than McDonald's) nationwide.

Frog Found in Frozen Veggies

A few weeks ago, Marty and Tim Hoffman of Grand Lodge, Michigan found a surprise in a bag of frozen veggies: a little frog (who unfortunately did not hop happily away upon thawing).

The couple immediately alerted the FDA as well as the grocer where they purchased the veggies. The grocer pulled the veggie bags from freezer shelves and checked for frogs but no more were found. The FDA is currently investigating. Read more here.

As upsetting as this untimely frog death is, I'm not terribly bothered by the so-called incident and do not intend to take this opportunity to criticize food safety regulations in America. In fact, I find the frog's presence refreshing. If these vegetables are being grown and harvested in a frog-friendly environment, that's lovely news (especially considering more than 120 frog species have gone extinct since the 1980s). So hooray for biodiversity. I'm just sorry they didn't find the little fella before the freezing process.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Should have seen this coming...

...someone dressed up as KFC's Double Down. I guess it was for Halloween?? Read more here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trick or Trivia?

1.) In 1985, the candy industry actually lobbied to to move the end of Daylight Saving Time into early November - after Halloween. They hoped that the longer days would increase the time spent trick-or-treating and boost candy sales. The National Confectioners Association reportedly "pleaded with U.S. senators and, according to some reports, left pumpkins full of candy on their chairs." In 2007, more than twenty years later, the candy makers' wish was granted and Congress altered Daylight Saving Time to accommodate.

2.) You may notice that you don't see "high fructose corn syrup" in the ingredient lists of candies anymore. Rest assured that you are still getting your dose - it is just a name change to "corn sugar."

3.) In 2009, Americans consumed 24.3 pounds of candy per capita.

Answers: All trivia. (Sources: Mental Floss, Census Bureau)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sustainable Agriculture: At UMD's Institute of Applied Agriculture

Walk around any college campus in autumn, and you’ll see sidewalks illustrated with neon, chalk‐written invites to rush sororities and attend student government rallies‐‐but if you want the real news on the University of Maryland, College Park campus, you’ve got to look up as well. Up to the roof‐top community gardens, that is.

Fruits, veggies and herbs are growing as strong on the top of the campus diner as they are in the Greenhouse. Soil nurtured by student volunteers this summer produced more than just delicious heirlooms and a sense of community scarce in modern society. It produced a group of students interested in sustainability.

The Institute of Applied Agriculture (IAA), in the college of Agriculture and Natural Resources, partnered up with the Accokeek Foundation to create a program designed specifically for Sustainable Agriculture that officially began this fall semester.

Brian Hughes, a University of Maryland graduate in Landscape Architecture with nearly 20 years farming experience, teaches the new course required for the major but open to allstudents: Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture. Interest in the course this fall was sogreat that students found themselves waitlisted.

Wednesday nights, earth‐conscious students pile into a small classroom in Jull Hall to learn how to integrate sustainable conservation practices into their respective courses of study and perhaps most importantly: their own farms and gardens. The class met on Hughes’ organic CSA Shaw Farm in Columbia, Maryland once this semester already. Seeing the health of carefully nurtured soil on a bio‐diverse farm enhances students’ understanding of soil health, compost practices, and the rich atmosphere of community supported agriculture.

“I’m excited to be at the beginning of a shift like this,” Hughes said while waiting for students to arrive on the farm. “I feel like the university needs to catch up with the students on this creeping awareness. Interest in sustainable and organic agriculture used to be the fringe but it’s becoming common now.”

The enthusiasm and activism of students interested in this resurgence of community‐supported, sustainable agriculture is contagious. Class discussions allow for spirited and constructive debates between students from varied backgrounds and courses of study. Many have spent summers working on organic farms while others come with a strong background in economic and environmental policy. A handful have grown up on or worked on conventional farms and offer a grounded perspective for the fundamentalist organics. Hughes encourages cutting‐edge Urban Farming and Aquaculture majors to share their perspectives and concerns about farm run‐off and the importance of small, local farming ventures. Several students have even begun a small, honor‐based book exchange in the computer lab of the IAA’s main building, Jull Hall, to which local author and conservationist Ned Tillman has agreed to gift copies of his award‐winning book The Chesapeake Watershed: A Sense of Place and a Call to Action.

On top of regular coursework, the unique certificate program allows students to spend six months in a full‐time cooperative position with local farms and organizations to plan, plant, cultivate, harvest and market various products. Upon graduation, students will have the tools to start or manage sustainable agricultural operations or seek employment at established operations, parks, schools and organizations focused on natural resource management and advocacy.

IAA Director, Glori Hyman, hopes that the new Sustainable Agriculture Program will provide a growth area within the Agricultural Business Management Program, which has been stagnant for the past decade. A partnership with the Accokeek Foundation will help place students in co‐ops and internships catered to their specific area of interest.

“Two years ago we met with the Accokeek Foundation and began working on a plan to jointly offer education and training in sustainable agriculture,” Glori explained. “Matt Mulder, the Director of the Center for Agricultural and Environmental Stewardship at the Accokeek Foundation, helped us design the curriculum and the Introduction to Sustainable Agriculture course.”

“This type of educational opportunity in sustainable agriculture has not been available in the Mid‐Atlantic region,” Mulder adds. “Until now, those interested in this style of learning have needed to leave the area to get the educational component or they have had to cobble together information from various programs. The consolidation of information will prove invaluable to farmers whoa re just beginning their careers or those who are looking for ways to enhance their existing operations.”

Established in 1957 to protect the view from Mount Vernon across the Potomac River, the Accokeek Foundation became one of the nation’s first land trusts. The educational nonprofit stewards 200 acres of Piscataway National Park where visitors can hike trails to the wetlands, walk through a native tree arboretum, visit an outdoor living history museum, and observe an award‐winning forest restoration project.

IAA Horticulture graduate Carin Celebuski is currently enrolled in the Sustainable Agriculture course and interned at Accokeek’s Eco‐System Farm last year. “The Integrated Pest Management practices there are remarkable,” reported Celebuski. “Conservation strips and proper irrigation make a huge difference as far as energy consumption and pesticide use.”

The eight‐acre USDA‐certified organic vegetable farm is a model for farming in the future. Its aim is to achieve optimal production per square foot, as opposed to maximum yield per acre.

For now, the IAA’s aim is to pull all these conservationist components together to provide an educational resource for the progressive agriculture student.
*Note: For mor information about the program, which yours truly is currently enrolled in, check out the IAA website.

Autumn on the Clover

B-E-A-U-tiful time of year to be out walking the dog in Anne Arundel, or any other Maryland county. Here are a few photos from our neck of the woods:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ecomagination: Tag Your Green

This. Is. Fantastic.

General Electric's has launched a new eco-challenge called Tag Your Green that urges all of us to "use the Internet to get inspired, get involved, and get everyone thinking and acting more responsibly." Videos like the 'Eco-Badass' are popping up all over Howcast and YouTube. There's even a flickr photo challenge. Read more here. Any proceeds of the program will benefit charity:water, a non-profit working to bring safe drinking water to developing nations.

Love it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

File Under: Ridiculous

During Sustainable Agriculture class discussions at the University of Maryland, Institute of Applied Agriculture this semester, farmer and teacher Brian Hughes often talks about the spectrum of sustainability - the idea that at this time, within developed countries, it is near impossible to run a business, farm, restaurant, school or home in a manner that could be deemed completely sustainable (unless of course you were living in an Ecovillage). Rather all fall somewhere along the spectrum. To one side we have people and communities are conscientiously operating with very little impact on the soils, people, plants, animals and economy around them. Others, well, land on the other side where this cr*p has broken the record for ridiculous. TIME Newsfeed reports on the world's most expensive house constructed in Mumbai:

India's richest man, and Forbes's fourth richest man, Mukesh Ambani, has built the world's most expensive house in Mumbai. It is estimated to be worth $1 billion. The lavish building– named Antilia, after the mythical island– has 27 stories, is 173 meters high and has 37,000 square meters of floor space — more than the Palace of Versailles. It contains a health club with a gym and dance studio, at least one swimming pool, a ballroom, guestrooms, a variety of lounges and a 50-seater cinema. There are three helicopter pads on the roof and a car park for 160 vehicles on the ground floors. It's obviously quite a job keeping all this running smoothly, so the house, if you can call it that, also boasts a staff of 600. And all this for just Ambani, his wife and their three children to enjoy.

Somebody is already storing up for winter!!