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American Ingenuity in Haiti
Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times
Sasha Kramer, left, and Sarah Brownell run a hand-to-mouth aid group, called SOIL, that helps turn waste into much-needed fertilizer.
(29 March 2009)
Kristof points out two big problems in developing countries are 1) sanitation, and 2) improving agricultural productivity. The project he reports on involves the construction of outhouses that separate solid and liquid wastes, and composting the solid wastes for an agricultural amendment.

Related story from Grist: In India, leading a lavatory revolution.


To urban hunter, next meal is scampering by

Charlie LeDuff, Detroit News
Detroit retiree, 69, supplements his income by living off the land

Detroit – When selecting the best raccoon carcass for the special holiday roast, both the connoisseur and the curious should remember this simple guideline: Look for the paw.

“The paw is old school,” says Glemie Dean Beasley, a Detroit raccoon hunter and meat salesman. “It lets the customers know it’s not a cat or dog.”

Beasley, a 69-year-old retired truck driver who modestly refers to himself as the Coon Man, supplements his Social Security check with the sale of raccoon carcasses that go for as much $12 and can serve up to four. The pelts, too, are good for coats and hats and fetch up to $10 a hide.

…Today people got no skill and things is getting worse,” he laments. “What people gonna do? They gonna eat each other up is what they gonna do.”

A licensed hunter and furrier, Beasley says he hunts coons and rabbit and squirrel for a clientele who hail mainly from the South, where the wild critters are considered something of a delicacy.
(2 April 2009)

Small farms, big rules

Fred Afflerbach, Temple Daily Telegram
A Connecticut congresswoman’s plan to overhaul federal food safety standards has ruffled some feathers down at the family farm.

And we’re not talking about the bard rock chickens.

With four generations farming and living on about 200 acres, the Richardsons say their operation is the antithesis of corporate agriculture.

Eighty acres is dedicated to growing corn for feeding chickens and pigs, but none for the cattle, Kay Richardson says, because that just ain’t natural. Cows evolved with four stomachs for digesting grass. The mobile chicken cages that move pullets around the pasture also spreads fertilizer and keeps one area from overuse.

When it’s time to slaughter, they haul the animals directly to a local, small processor foregoing the large feed lots. They sell the meat to restaurants, farmers markets and on the Internet under their own label.

But if the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 becomes law, Mrs. Richardson says Mom and Pop farms like this will pay the price. Going back a few years, Mrs. Richardson points out contamination problems with spinach, tomatoes and peanut butter, which have sickened thousands, is the byproduct of lax oversight at large producers, not family farms.

“Small farmers and small processors only do one chicken, one pig, one cow at a time,” Mrs. Richardson said, watching Hampshire pigs roll in mud. “You’re not going to have that possibility of cross-contamination like you do in the big areas. We don’t want the government to interfere with what we feel like is freedom to live on our farm and freedom to sell our own meats and produces.”
(28 March 2009)
The government has a poor record for sensitivity to small-scale producers. This latest legislation seems to confirm the trend. -BA

Loggers Try to Adapt to Greener Economy

William Yardly, New York Times
LOWELL, Ore. — Booming timber towns with three-shift lumber mills are a distant memory in the densely forested Northwest. Now, with the housing market and the economy in crisis, some rural areas have never been more raw. Mills keep closing. People keep leaving. Unemployment in some counties is near 20 percent.

Yet in parts of the region, the decline is being met by an unlikely optimism. Some people who have long fought to clear-cut the region’s verdant slopes are trying to reposition themselves for a more environmentally friendly economy, motivated by changing political interests, the federal stimulus package and sheer desperation.

Some mills that once sought the oldest, tallest evergreens are now producing alternative energy from wood byproducts like bark or brush. Unemployed loggers are looking for work thinning federal forests, a task for which the stimulus package devotes $500 million; the goal is to make forests more resistant to wildfires and disease. Some local officials are betting there is revenue in a forest resource that few appreciated before: the ability of trees to absorb carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that can contribute to global warming.

Pragmatism drives the shifting thinking, but a critical question remains: can people really make a long-term living off the forest without cutting it down?
(28 March 2009)