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Cool ideas - May 6

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On Small Farms, Hoof Power Returns

Tess Taylor, New York Times
ON a sunny Sunday just before the vernal equinox, Rich Ciotola set out to clear a pasture strewn with fallen wood. The just-thawed field was spongy, with grass sprouting under tangled branches. Late March and early April are f..arm-prep time here in the Berkshires, time to gear up for the growing season. But while many farms were oiling and gassing up tractors, Mr. Ciotola was setting out to prepare a pasture using a tool so old it seems almost revolutionary: a team of oxen.

Standing just inside the paddock at Moon in the Pond Farm, where he works, he put a rope around Lucas and Larson, his pair of Brown Swiss steer. He led them to the 20-pound maple yoke he had bought secondhand from another ox farmer, hoisted it over their necks and led them trundling through the fence so they could begin hauling fallen logs.

Mr. Ciotola, 32, is one of a number of small farmers who are turning — or rather returning — to animal labor to help with farming. Before the humble ox was relegated to the role of historical re-enactor, driven by men in period garb for child-friendly festivals like pioneer days, it was a central beast of burden. After the Civil War, many farms switched from oxen to horses. Although Amish and Mennonite communities continue to use horses, by World War II most draft animals had been supplanted by machines that allowed for ever-faster production on bigger fields.

Now, as diesel prices skyrocket, some farmers who have rejected many of the past century’s advances in agriculture have found a renewed logic in draft power. Partisans argue that animals can be cheaper to board and feed than any tractor. They also run on the ultimate renewable resource: grass.

“Ox don’t need spare parts, and they don’t run on fossil fuels,” Mr. Ciotola said...
(3 May 2011)



Bringing Sustainability Home

Staff, Nourishing the Planet

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge recognizes innovative strategies with the potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Each year, a distinguished jury awards $100,000 to the winning strategy to support further development and implementation. This week, we’re featuring the 21 semi-finalists currently under consideration for the 2011 award.

Solar Power Villages aims to improve quality of life while reducing environmental degradation, particularly in arid regions of Africa, by establishing reliable food production, eliminating deforestation for cooking and heating fuel, and eliminating air pollution from cooking exhaust. To do this, Jürgen Kleinwächter and his team at Sunvention have developed a greenhouse that provides both a controlled environment conducive to crop production, and solar thermal heat collection. Heat generated by the greenhouse is stored in tanks of vegetable oil which can be used for cooking or converted into electricity by using Stirling generators.

Plant Chicago is creating Chicago’s first zero-waste vertical farm and food business incubator to be used as a replicable model for future urban development. Housed in a former meat processing plant, the farm integrates aquaponic and hydroponic systems to produce tilapia and basil. This food will be utilized by food enterprises, a community kitchen, and educational facilities housed within the building, and the waste produced by the kitchens will feed the farm. Plant Chicago began under the auspices of Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center, a successful green business incubator run by John Edel.

Through economically self-sustaining, community-run “Marine Protected Areas” (MPAs), Blue Ventures shows impoverished fishing communities that protecting marine biodiversity from over-fishing can result in increased incomes. Led by Ashoka Fellow Alisdair Harris, PhD, the MPAs use a scientifically verified method for determining fishery recovery period to guide management decisions and prevent depletion of the resource. In four years, 25 villages along 200 km of Madagascar’s coastline have adopted the strategy, creating the largest community-managed MPA in the Indian Ocean.

FishNET is developing a user-generated online database of specific monitoring and surveillance information to better monitor illegal fishing and support enforcement efforts. The project seeks to integrate various technologies like radar, acoustic monitoring, vessel detection systems, and space-based remote sensing to enable anyone to report violations. Project leader Shah Selbe is supported by Stanford University faculty, The Center for Ocean Solutions, and Fisheries Forum.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

(25 April 2011)



Upcycling: 2011's greenest decorating trend

Julia Nelson, the ecologist
Make do and mend might not sound particularly exciting but, says Julia Nelson, a little creative upcycling can turn junk into something spectacular

Many things get better with age. Quality clothes, classic cars and antique furniture all become ever more lovely as the decades roll past. Whether you like to keep second hand pieces the way you find them or upcycle them into something new, finding or rescuing something with timeless appeal always feels like a triumph. Artist Catri Osborne-Barrett believes that ‘the potential for upcycling is enormous, from damaged furniture and quarter-full tins of paint to the buttons on a stained and torn shirt.’

Growing up with a family who ran a storage and removal business, natural hoarder Catri wasn’t allowed to throw out customers' unwanted items so began experimenting with techniques for giving other people’s junk a new lease of life. ‘AlI the pieces I upcycle have been rescued from landfill and although I work with anything, it’s usually furniture as that seems to be what people throw away most often.’ She specialises in turning damaged furniture into contemporary, iconic pieces and constantly develops new techniques. She also likes to experiment with different materials. ‘For me, another person’s rubbish is my treasure and I see upcycling as a way to give old things a renaissance,’ she says. ‘It gives me a thrill to turn something that people turn their noses up at into something that they desire and are willing to pay money for - all created with materials that people have thrown away. To me upcycling is all about giving something a ‘new life.’ ..
(19 April 2011)



Brixton Windmill reopens after restoration

BBC News
Brixton Windmill has reopened to the public following a five-year restoration project.

The Grade II-listed Ashby Mill, as it was formerly known, was built in 1816.

It was still a working mill in the early 20th Century but fell into disuse in 1935 following the death of Joshua Ashby, grandson of the original owner.

The windmill, which underwent a £581,000 restoration programme, is situated in Windmill Gardens in Brixton, south-west London.

'Absolutely fabulous'
Streatham MP Chuka Umunna MP and ward councillors officially opened the mill at 1515 BST.

The opening ceremony, which was preceded by a parade and walk at Windrush Square at 1400 BST, featured bands, a theatre performance, and other entertainment.

Jean Kerrigan, chair of the Friends of Windmill Gardens, said: "We've been working since 2003 for this day and it's all now come together and the mill is looking absolutely fabulous.

"It's been repainted, refurbished inside, all the workings have been polished, oiled, painted and made to work properly and it's really looking glorious."

Guided tours of the windmill are due to take place from 1545 BST.

The restoration was funded by a grant of £397,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund plus extra money from Lambeth Council and the Friends of Windmill Gardens.

The windmill will now be able to begin production once again grinding locally sourced and grown wheat and barley.
(2 May 2011)



EU unveils plans to pay fishermen to catch plastic

Fiona Harvey, the guardian
Fishermen will be paid to catch plastic, rather than fish, under bold new plans from the EU's fisheries chief, aimed at providing fleets with an alternative source of income to reduce pressure on dwindling fish stocks.

Maria Damanaki, commissioner for fisheries, will unveil a trial project in the Mediterranean this month, which will see fishermen equipped with nets to round up the plastic detritus that is threatening marine life, and send it for recycling.

The move is intended as a sweetener to fishermen who have bitterly opposed the European commission's plans to ban the wasteful practice of discarding edible fish at sea. Fleets fear they will lose money by not being able to throw away lower-value catch.

Damanaki vowed yesterday to press on with her plan to eliminate discards, citing the strength of public opinion on the issue, whipped up in large part by the Fish Fight campaign waged by the food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Two-thirds of the fish caught in some areas is thrown back, usually dead, because fleets exceed their quota, unintentionally catch juveniles or species for which they lack a quota, or because they prioritise higher value fish and throw away lesser species. About 1 million tonnes are thrown back each year in the North Sea alone.

"Ending this practice of throwing away edible fish is in the interest of fishermen, and consumers," Damanaki told the Guardian in an interview. "It has to happen – we cannot have consumers afraid to eat fish because they hate this problem of discards."...

...Fishermen who clear plastic will be subsidised initially by EU member states, but in future the scheme could turn into a self-sustaining profitable enterprise, as fleets cash in on the increasing value of recycled plastics. Cleaning up the rubbish will also improve the prospects for fish, seabirds and other marine species, which frequently choke or suffer internal damage from ingesting small pieces of non-biodegradable packaging.
(4 May 2011)



National Trust's Wimpole Home Farm seeks online farmers

BBC News
For a £30 annual fee, 10,000 farm followers will help manage Wimpole Home Farm, in Cambridgeshire.

The National Trust says its MyFarm project aims to reconnect people with where their food comes from.

It was partly inspired by the online Facebook game Farmville and follows the example of Ebbsfleet Football Club which is run on a similar basis.

Decisions about the running of the team in Kent has been in the hands of MyFootballClub subscribers since 2008.

Monthly decisions
Wimpole Home Farm, which is converting to organic, is currently commercially self-sustaining.

The 1,200 acre site is home to rare breeds of sheep, cattle, poultry, horses and goats and produces meat, eggs, wheat and oil seed rape.

Subscribers will be expected to make key decisions on which crops to plant, which animals to buy and whether to put in measures such as new hedgerows to help wildlife.

They will be asked to make 12 major monthly decisions during the course of the year as well as other choices.

The options put to members will be within parameters dictated by climate, legislation, and the requirements of the environmental stewardship scheme which the farm is signed up to, as well as the heritage protection given to the estate.

The MyFarm website will feature video updates, webcams, information about farming and expert opinion and subscribers will also be entitled to a family ticket to visit the site....
(4 May 2011)

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