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The Green Issue

New York Times Magazine
Many articles at original.
(20 April 2008)

Apocalypse now: Cuban permaculturalist

Kathy Sundstrom, The Daily (Sunshine Coast, Australia)
Mention the concepts permaculture, global warming, environmental education and the peak oil crisis five years ago and the reaction would have been a glazed-eyed vacant expression.

Say it today and you can expect dire Apocalyptic predictions about impending doom and gloom with parts of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” quoted with religious fervour.

But these trendy catchwords aren’t vague concepts for Cuba’s Roberto Perez – they’ve been part of his stark reality since the early 1990s when his home country was plunged into economic crisis overnight with its loss of access to Soviet oil, fertilizers and export trade market.

Perez was only in his early 20s when his world changed. Basic essentials – like food and medicine – were not readily available and people faced the very real risk of starvation.

But out of Cuba’s impossible, cruel and unfair crisis – a strong community was formed where people “talked to their neighbours, grew vegetables in their garden and learnt what to do with their waste”.

Today Havana – Perez’s home city – produces 60% of its fruit and vegetables within its city limits and peri-urban areas.

It has transformed itself into an economy that is virtually self-sustainable while leading the way as a “low energy society” where public transport is the norm and recycling is an integral part of life.
(20 April 2008)
Related coverage at Bega District News

And at Green Left Online Thousands turn out to hear Cuban permaculturist:

While in Australia Perez addressed more than 30 gatherings, gave more than 20 media interviews and was applauded by radicals and conservatives alike.

…. One of the more curious stories of the tour involved an address that Perez gave to the Kuringai Council Chambers, north of Sydney. One hundred and fifty people attended, and conservative mayor Nick Elsbeck was moved to proclaim at the end that “We’ve got a lot to learn from Cuba”. Thousands more Australians now agree.

Local Food Action Initiative a recipe to cure society’s ills?

Angela Galloway, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
It’s a liberal manifesto aiming to transform how locally produced food gets to Seattle neighborhoods — from promoting farmers markets to perhaps limiting the number of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores in the city.

Winning raves from some activists as “visionary,” the “Local Food Action Initiative” offers goals as lofty as they are sweeping: racial and social justice, environmental sustainability, improved public health, economic development and more.

Almost no area of city government is excluded by this pet project of Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin, which aims to curtail obesity, hunger and waste while improving access to and demand for fresh, more heathful foods.

But will the proposed resolution, now being considered by the City Council, actually produce results?

… Conlin said the measure is significant in laying the groundwork for an “integrated approach” to a number of food-related issues.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Conlin said. “It’s laying out the work plan for us, for how we’re going to get from here to there. And it’s setting some priorities — and that’s really the critical point.

“There’s a whole lot of different issues surrounding the world of food systems,” he said. “What we wanted to do is bring them all together and recognize that we need to solve them all together. And you’re not going to be able to do what you need to do by tackling them piecemeal.”

The measure would identify “healthy food” goals for the city. Those include: increased reliance on local resources, minimized energy use, an improved food emergency preparedness plan, and promotion of healthful food alternatives, especially among low-income communities.
(21 April 2008)

Life (Mostly) Off the Grid

Charles Wilson, New York Times Magazine
Jules Dervaes and three of his adult children live on one-fifth of an acre in Pasadena, Calif., a block away from a multilane highway. On this tiny sliver of land, they manage to be mostly self-sufficient.

“This is our form of protest,” says Dervaes, who is 60, “and this is our form of survival.” The family harvests 6,000 pounds and more than 350 separate varieties of fruits, vegetables and edible flowers annually.

They brew the biodiesel fuel that powers the family car. Solar panels on their roof reduce energy bills to as little as $12 a month. Goats, chickens, ducks and two rescued cats are in residence. Red wiggler worms turn the kitchen and garden waste into compost, which is then recycled back into the garden.

Dervaes’s father worked for Standard Oil, but his son took a markedly different path. Dervaes moved into his current Pasadena home in 1985 – temporarily, he thought. As the years passed and his hopes of relocating to the country were delayed, he “decided that he wanted to see how much we could grow here,” says his 33-year-old daughter, Anais.

The family generates cash for their limited expenses by selling produce to local restaurants. Though Dervaes and his children are accustomed to the neighbors’ strange looks at their crowded lot, the local chefs don’t seem to share the skepticism. “They’ll call me in the morning and pick the amount that I need for that night,” says Jim McCardy, who owns Marstons, a restaurant in Pasadena. “The flavor is just incredible.”

Eco pioneers, living a homegrown revolution at their .10 acre urban homestead in Pasadena California.

Pasadena, CA
(Northwest Pasadena, one mile from downtown Pasadena)

1/5 acre (66′ x 132′ / 8,712 sq.ft.)

~ 1/10 acre (3,900 sq.ft. / ~ 66′ x 66′)

Over 350 different vegetables, herbs, fruits, berries

6,000 lbs annually
challenging for 10,000 lbs in 2008 (read more)

4 full-time adults, volunteers, and many clients

6.5 kwh day (and going down!)

7210 kwh (as of 2/12/08)

1,000 gallons (as of 2/12/08)

5.2 acres per person

(20 April 2008)
Accompanying video.

Contributor urbanpioneer writes:
Did you read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when you were a kid? Those idyllic days of self-sufficiency are long gone…or are they? The Dervaes family in Pasadena are “urban pioneers” and they share their journey of a self sufficient urban life.

Visit their online journal at LITTLE HOMESTEAD IN THE CITY ( where, for seven years, have documented their journey towards self sufficiency

Ontario set to veto ban on clotheslines

Robert Benzie and Peter Gorrie, Toronto Star
Ontarians will soon be able to air their linen in public.

Premier Dalton McGuinty is to announce today that clotheslines can no longer be banned in subdivisions or almost anywhere else in the province.

In a bid to curb the use of energy-sucking dryers, the new regulation will overrule neighbourhood covenants …

Dryers account for 5 to 6 per cent of Ontario’s household electricity demand. An average machine consumes about 900 kilowatt-hours of energy each year and results in the discharge of up to 840 kilograms of air pollution and greenhouse gases. Each dryer adds about $90 a year to a household’s electricity bill.
(18 April 2008)