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Articles by

<Amanda Park Taylor>

03/06/13 1:42pm

worms.jpg

On February 14, Mayor Bloomberg announced the introduction of a pilot program for composting, aka curbside recycling of food waste and scraps. In Staten Island. Predictably the complaints began immediately, as Staten Islanders and their Republican reps asked City Hall to ‘stop putting garbage and Staten Island in the same sentence’ and declared themselves future victims of excessive enforcement.

Why the Mayor’s office would choose the most conservative, least green part of the city to roll out an essential, but delicate and demanding program like this is beyond me. They claim the high number of single-family homes will make early implementation easier, and I’m sure on a very practical level that’s true: one house, one bin, no need to tackle the logistics of compost-keeping for multi-unit buildings of varying sizes.

But practical considerations pale beside the battles of winning over hearts and minds already hardened to environmental issues, and educating those who seem likely to need a ground-up course in the whys and wherefores of composting itself. The energy the city will have to expend to spread the word, and pick up waste from a relatively sparsely populated borough seems like a poor investment for a probably tiny return.

Far better to tackle logistical issues with a more willing group of residents, living closer together: Park Slope, for example, seems like a better place to start. Already inclined to be green, many Slopers are well versed in composting, with area community gardens and farmers markets accept compostables; I’d also wager there are enough people already trying to deal responsibly with their food waste to start the municipal program with a bit of energy.

And since the administration will have to figure out how to deal with something more complicated than single-family homes pretty fast, why start with the exception, rather than dealing with the rule?

Oh well. You, me and everyone else can take solace that there can be, and there is, a good deal of composting happening in the absence of any city program. I used to have to schlep a carefully camouflaged compost bucket from Williamsburg to Union Square: while it was sometimes fun to watch riders catch a whiff and try to figure out where the smell was coming from (the horror!), I’m happier living in a city that now has many more options. McCarren Park is a lot easier to get to…

GrowNYC collects food scraps at 25 greenmarkets around the city. Numerous community gardens accept compostables, and the wonderful folks at Build It Green NYC are now collecting from commuters at the N/Q train at Broadway in Astoria on Tuesday mornings.

For the truly dedicated, there’s always the DIY approach: vermicomposting, or maintaining your own worm bin at home. It really is easy and, as long as you do it right, clean and odor-free. And of course diverting your compostables means your actual trash is much more pleasant to deal with—no more drippy coffee-ground spills or slimy veg scraps.

To that end there’s an Indoor Composting workshop at the Lower East Side Ecology Center tonight: for the low, low price of $5 you can learn the ins and outs of worm care, and score a worm bin for the discounted price of $44. And just think of the cocktail party conversation you’ll be able to make: tell anyone you have a pound of worms living in your apartment, and I guarantee you’ll have their attention.

03/01/13 9:44am

food trucks

  • “These food trucks are killing me.”

Over on the Atlantic Cities blog they recently asked one of the tougher questions out there (well, tough for those of us who like a banh mi on the run): ‘Are Food Trucks Worse for the Environment Than Storefronts?’

It’s tough to consider any takedown of the food delivery system so many New Yorkers, from Midtown office grunts to Brooklyn flea-market goers, hold dear. Our own Dear Leader Health Commissioner Thomas Farley declared New York ‘the capital of mobile food vending’ (SEXY, no?). But there are some very real, under-considered issues in play, and they don’t all favor the meals-on-wheels model.

Grounds for comparison are hard to find: operating hours, approaches to service (menu variety) and traffic patterns (of customers, and the trucks themselves) vary widely within both camps, and between them, as do levels and kinds of power consumption. Brick-and-mortar restaurants use more power, but tend to be open longer, serve more people, and don’t have to dole out all their product in disposable packaging, with disposable utensils.

02/07/11 10:44am

compost

Boy, do we love to encourage New Yorkers to compost. With an estimated 17 percent of the city’s waste stream comprised of compstables, it’s near-criminal that we don’t have more options for doing good with our rottables, or doing great, like San Francisco’s citywide program.

But things are looking up for those of us long resigned to schlepping our scraps to Union Square on the L train (sorry for the smell, fellow commuters!) or biking them to Fort Greene or Sunnyside.

Starting March 5th, GrowNYC has announced a new pilot program will take effect, and expand compost collection to three more Brooklyn greenmarkets (McCarren Park, Grand Army Plaza, and Brooklyn Borough Hall), and three more Manhattan ones (Abingdon Square, Inwood, and Tribeca) too.

Find out what and how to compost here, and get the complete list of sites and hours here (http://www.grownyc.org/compost/locations). And get on it- biodegradeable waste releases loads of greenhouse-trapping gases.

02/04/11 1:33pm

killer bees

  • Watch out for the Stinger!

You may have followed our coverage (nail-biting!) of the recent, successful campaign to repeal a longstanding ban on keeping bees within city limits. Now that beekeeping is legal, hives are popping up across Brooklyn, and this weekend the borough will be hosting a comprehensive, two-day workshop on all-natural/organic hive management, taught by Upstate bee masters Chris Harp and Grai St. Clair Rice, of Honeybee Lives.

This is the first time Honeybee Lives has brought their often sold-out show down to the city—usually aspiring apiarists have to schlep all the way up to Rosendale or Chestnut Ridge to learn from these rock-stars of the pollination world.

There are a few spots left in the two-day bee-stravaganza at The Commons on Atlantic Avenue: all you locavore/diy/foodies should call Grai at 646-522-7656 for information on how to sign up ASAP. Spring is coming…

01/31/11 2:36pm

dirt candy

  • Small restaurant, funny chef.

I have to admit I’ve always felt weirdly close (because we’re not actually close—at all) to Chef Amanda Cohen. She’s the genius behind Dirt Candy, a vegetarian restaurant in the East Village that has often felt like a custom-made gift to me, a food-loving (but brown rice indifferent) vegetarian. She’s given me a place to take my food-loving but non-vegetarian friends and family, a place where I can hold my head high and show that you don’t have to give up anything when you give up meat. Crispy tofu, represent!

Also, we share a name, and she usually acknowledges this with a little smiling nod when I check in for my reservation (Dirt Candy is a strictly reservations kinda joint, with fewer than 10 tables).

She’s Canadian too, and I’m married to a Canadian—the inclusion of an upscale mint, sweet pea, and chocolate Nanaimo bar on the dessert menu is like secret code from the underground: Canucks ‘r’ Us. I had never heard of the Nanaimo bar until husband and I were preparing for Canadian Thanksgiving (yes, they have their own, on a totally different day, in October) a few years ago and he suggested we make some to go with the poutine and tortiere that were the only other specifically Canadian dishes he could think of. Some day I hope to see poutine on the Dirt Candy menu: Cohen’s already got cheese curds (deep fried!) on the menu, as part of her celery salad… all she needs are some fries and gravy.

But my favorite favorite thing about Amanda Cohen, also attributable to her Canadianess (or so says the aforementioned husband) is her funny funny blog. Entries describing the staff meals at Dirt Candy (“family meals” for you present and former restaurant workers) alternate with descriptions of the development of dishes on her menu, food events attended, and random bits of improvisation like this one, “My Pop-ups RULE, Your Pop-Ups Drool” which had me in tears (of laughter) earlier today (I was just double-checking the menu to better plan my order for my birthday dinner later this week.)

In the past month I’ve launched so many pop-ups I can’t even count them anymore […] My personal favorite [is] The Commodore Beckwith, located inside the 2nd floor bathroom of the Union Square Barnes and Noble. The Commodore Beckwith almost had a customer but it turned out that what my floor team thought was a party of one was actually just a man looking for a place where he could stick newspapers down his pants.

I’ve opened a pop-up inside another pop-up (SLX350, a credit-card only, micro-financed, micro-pub with a Mediterranean influence), I’ve popped-up and popped-down so quickly that sometimes my pop-ups bend time and space around them and exist only inside a single moment of crystalized time (Sha-Bam, a cash-only, reverse amuse bouche lettuce atelier). Last Friday, a customer was leaving Dirt Candy and they said to me, “I really enjoyed my dinner at Dirt Candy,” and I thought to myself, “Fool, you have no idea that you were not eating in Dirt Candy but in The What What Hut, a one hour pop-up concept serving Dirt Candy food with a deconstructed twist.”

Heh.

Cohen’s also apparently working on a Dirt Candy Cookbook, due out next year, and if it’s anything like her website, well, it’s gonna rule.

SEE YOU AT THE WHAT WHAT HUT.

01/22/11 3:23pm

archie and edith

  • Now picture them in a tuxedo and a gown.

Maybe you remember the sad then happy, then really sad, then really happy, story of Archie and Edith, the two senior lap dogs who lost their home, and were taken in by BARC in Williamsburg? Edith was kidnapped a few months ago by a lunatic, separating her from Archie for the first and only time in 12 years… reports of his despondency devastated dog lovers across Brooklyn.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of several detectives, Edith was found and the happy (if scruffy) couple was reunited—never again to be torn asunder, it would seem: tonight the elderly pair celebrate their nuptials at Nita Nita from 7 to 9 pm. In lieu of gifts, the bride and groom will be asking for contributions to help purchase new beds for their fellow shelter occupants. And we’ve been told the newlyweds will be decked out in full formal regalia. So yeah, dog in a tuxedo.

From the event announcement:

Archie and Edith have been together for 12 years. They have had many ups and downs in their lives but are living peacefully at BARC while they wait for their forever home. Even though they have been in love for so long, it took until Edith was stolen from their kennel that Archie realized he never wanted to be apart from her again, and so he proposed!

In lieu of gift, Archie and Edith would like your support in purchasing new beds for their canine family at BARC. Their goal is to purchase 25 beds which are $40 each. Donations of any amount will be gratefully accepted.

Also, the participants excepted, this event is humans only.

07/07/10 3:30am

Entering the Williamsburg outpost of bike activist organization Time’s Up—through a narrow alley of cracked plaster and rudely exposed brick—feels a bit like entering the inner sanctum of a Shanghai black marketeer. The imposing figure of Gaylen Hamilton—the man with the shaved head and six-inch Fu Manchu—doesn’t exactly help either.

Mr. Hamilton is the head mechanic at this improvised, half-outdoor bike workshop on South 6th Street, the man in charge of a rotating staff of volunteer bike-fixers whose sole purpose is to take old bikes and rehabilitate them for sale (or rental). As Mr. Hamilton (who’s not such a scary guy once you start talking to him) tells me with vehemence, “This is not a bike repair shop.” Indeed, it’s not—but it is many other things.

Time’s Up has been advocating for a full-scale bike revolution since 1987 (with some guerilla gardening along the way), and over the last decade has been at the forefront of bike activism in New York. Along with organizing high-profile events like Critical Mass, Time’s Up provides free workshops for New Yorkers interested in learning how to take care of their bikes, a personal investment in transportation autonomy that Mr. Hamilton sees as integral to real urban bicycle culture.

For all the chaos normally associated with volunteer projects, Mr. Hamilton—who worked in finance for ten years before losing his job last year—seems to run a tight ship, relying on beer and pizza bribery and a no-nonsense disposition to get the most from unpaid labor. “I can be an asshole,” he explains. “[Time’s Up founder] Bill [DiPaola] has the whole organization to worry about—I have the luxury of direct communication.” Aside from his managerial asperity, Mr. Hamilton brings a Zen-like pragmatism to the undertaking, a fierce calm that came in handy recently when Time’s Up received a shipping container from Japan containing over 500 bikes, piled together in a thick bramble of metal and rubber. “There’s a Zen art to untangling bicycles,” he explained, “It takes time, but once you start to see it, it happens…”

So how does a cash-strapped grassroots bike activist group set up shop on a high-rent Williamsburg block? An orthodox Jew named Baruch Hertzfeld. For those keeping track of the Hipsters vs. Chasids bike lane wars of the last year, the idea of a bike-loving religious Jew letting activists use his backyard seems absurd, but Hertzfeld might just be the man to bring peace to South Williamsburg. As Hamilton tells me, Hertzfeld has been encouraging Chasids to borrow bikes so they can at least have the experience themselves. “And I never have a problem with those loaners,” continues Hamilton. “The Chasids are the best about bringing them back. Though I think a lot of them drive elsewhere to use the bikes.”

While a doublewide bike lane through the heart of Chasidic Williamsburg isn’t exactly on the horizon, this latest olive branch—in the form of a pair of bicycle handles—is a start.

06/09/10 4:00am


In summertime an environmentalist’s thoughts turn to… water conservation. It’s been a long time since a summer passe
d without word of water shortages somewhere in the northeast. Here in the city, without lawns to turn brown and remind us of falling water tables, it can be easy to forget: the water just keeps coming out of our taps and showerheads, and we just keep using it.

Short showers are an oft-bragged-about green lifestyle modification, but the number one consumer of water in the home is—dunh dunh!—the toilet. The average person flushes 18.5 gallons of water a day (but only uses 11.56 in the shower). And it’s all drinking quality.

So, there are a couple of easy ways to cut your water consumption by thousands of gallons a year, and the first is to follow the 60s maxim, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.” I recently joined the Department of Water/Natural Conservation (DWNC) on Facebook: it’s a group that’s produced some pretty slick stickers bearing that motto, soon to be seen all over town, encouraging more selective flushing.

But no one’s going to come and sticker your bathroom (I don’t think…), so you’ll have to retrain yourself not to hit the handle. If you live alone, you certainly don’t have any excuses, but even partners, spouses and roommates can be trained to accept, and even embrace, this rustic practice.

Of course, the brown/down part of the equation requires some water, but why use the perfect NYC drinking water that’s piped into the crapper? Toss a bucket or two into the tub, and use â�‚��œem to catch the water you waste waiting for your shower to warm up, or the overspray from the shower itself. You’ll be amazed at how much you can recuperate, even if you shower short. Each bucket-full will provide one flush: in our house we have three buckets in rotation, and end up flushing with tank water no more than once a month.

If two people normally flush 37 gallons a day, over a month we save 1,110 gallons of water, or 13,320 gallons a year. If two million New Yorkers could wean themselves off “fresh” flushes, it would save 13.3 billion gallons of water a year. Chez moi we even harvest enough extra greywater (that’s what they call used wash water) from our showers to water the houseplants, and a bunch of outside plants too.
But heed the advice of one who’s been doing this for a while. There will be “mellow” smells, so put a box of baking soda in the bathroom and give a sprinkle every now and then, post bucket flush. That’ll help.

Don’t forget to be mellow when you’re out in public too: just imagine the thousands of gallons a day that get flushed at a full bar or busy restaurant, as patrons line up, hour upon hour, to use the facilities. Resist the urge… and ladies, toss your paper in the bin, to keep the flushlessness on the down low. The drinking water you save may be your own…

05/26/10 2:30am

It’s been up and down the last little while, but New York summer’s definitely around the corner. And with the heat and the long days, the traveling and the hanging out, summertime can either be a massively un-eco energy suck, or your big chance to live a simpler, greener way.

And with the neverending oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we all need to try a little bit harder to save energy and help move us as quickly as possible to an oil-free future. We aren’t gonna survive too many more super-accidents (it remains to be seen if we’ll survive this one).

Making greener choices in your day-to-day routine can be a lot easier in the summer: get into good habits now, and when the shorter days set in you’ll have a season’s worth of practice.

One low-tech, energy saving, summer option is line- or rack-drying your clothes. With any outside space at all, laundry dries in a flash in the summer sun. Even inside, hot days make short work of damp clothes.

If you have access in your building, install a line on the roof: all you need are a couple of wheels, a length of clothesline, and a bag of clothespins (there are also more creative options like tub-top racks or wall-mounted arrays). Team up with eco-minded (or just cheap) neighbors, and you can share the costs of the setup. You’ll save a fortune in electricity, and prevent a lot of wear and tear on your clothes. And if you ask me, hanging damp laundry is one of the few domestic chores that is a real pleasure…

Air-conditioning is a terrible waste: it takes a lot of energy, generates heat and leaves you less able to adjust when you go outside. Start by paying attention—open your windows when it’s cool outside (at night) and close them before it starts heating up. Draw the curtains on any windows that admit direct sunlight: consider buying a couple of darkening shades or heavier curtains if you get a lot of sun. Adopt a cooling routine to help you cope without the box: like Mr. Rogers, change your clothes when you get home, donning only light woven, loose, natural fiber garments and flip-flops. A one-minute cold shower can lower your core temperature, and a single fan can keep it down, and will give you the same sleep-enhancing white noise that the AC does.

Another way to stay cool and save some energy is to eat more uncooked food—no gas or electricity needed, no heating up your apartment, and a healthier meal to boot. Hit the local greenmarket for the freshest lettuce and vegetables, add some bread and a local wine, and you’ve got dinner—no sweat. If salad says ‘diet’ to you, remember all the hearty things you can add to make a real meal: beans, sauteed tofu, nuts and cheese. When you do cook, cook in bulk to keep the heat down: an entire package of noodles can be cooked and stored in the fridge for use in several meals (salads!); a dozen eggs hard-boiled at once can go in salads, be eaten as stand-alone snacks, or make egg-salad sandwiches over the course of a week.

Think cool for breakfast too. Smoothies are simple and healthy, and even coffee can be cold brewed: all you need is a pitcher, a smallish cloth bag (look for a drawstring bag at a kitchen supply store) and some finely ground coffee. Fill the cloth bag loosely with coffee, tie tightly, and soak overnight in cold water. In the morning you’ll have the best coffee you’ve ever tasted. No power needed. If you’re a tea person, you, too, can cold-brew—just toss tea bags into cool water and wait.

Got any stay-cool tips to share? Send them in… And happy (almost) summer!

05/12/10 3:00am

For a couple of days, I just tried to ignore the Gulf oil spill, hoping that it would miraculously sort itself out, before it got “too” bad. People were on top of things, right? Someone had invented an oil-metabolizing bacteria, and that would put things right… Right?

Of course, I was living in a fantasy, the same fantasy we all live in, every day, as we take our plane trips, drive our cars, eat our burgers and schlep our cheap consumer goods home after a day’s shopping. Our benevolent capitalist overlords are not, it turns out, paying attention to the needs of ordinary people, or the planet. They are, in this case, asleep at the switch—or, rather, asleep at the switch that would have been there, had they not fought against having it, a $500,000 remote-controlled automatic shutoff mechanism, installed. Half a mil. For a company (BP) that made $5.65 billion in profit in the first quarter of this year, that’s hard 
to take.

So what’s a thinking person to do? The only good thing to have come from this mess is the reexamination of Obama’s offshore drilling policy. But the idiots and greed monkeys are still, amazingly, chanting “Drill baby, drill.” There are millions, I guess, who really think cheap gas to get to the mall is more important than life on Earth.

And even some of the green-minded among us are shaking their heads in resignation, saying that it would be better to drill here, in the U.S., where we have a modicum of regulation and oversight, than to shift production to countries that let bad things happen (ummmm?).

The only way out that I can see is lessening our consumption. There are alternatives. MANY alternatives. And there are things we can do, everyday, to lessen our dependence on the goo.

If you have money, you can take the big steps—hybrid cars, bio-mass-fueled heating systems, solar panels, and energy-efficient appliances. But the biggest and best thing you can do will actually SAVE you money: Consume less.

It’s really easy. Start with the things that are made of oil: plastics. Stop taking plastic bags, for anything. Carry a reusable bag. Use those paper sacks from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods for your trash. Use a “green” laundry detergent, made from plant oils, instead of Tide, which is made from petroleum. Ditto shampoo, conditioner, lotion, dish soap, and more. Seek out products NOT packaged in plastic: bar soap, powdered laundry detergent (it works fine, really) and bar shampoo. Use tin foil instead of plastic wrap.

Buy used stuff, when you need stuff: it’s already in the area, lessening transport costs, and it’s already made, lessening production costs. Whether it’s clothes or appliances, making stuff and then moving it takes oil, lots of it.

Travel less: instead of two or three short trips, take one long trip. Take the train, which is fantastically efficient, or a bus, instead of flying or driving. Walk or bike as much as you can. When you must use a car, be deliberate and plan your trips. Share your ride, over long distances or short. Take a vacation at home, or close to.

But above all, consume less. As my friend Reverend Billy wrote recently, “We must cut our consumption in half, and learn to live that way, and then halve it again.” We cannot live much longer in a world where, as happened to me this week, we find garbage bags (two!) filled with perfectly good clothes—which took barrels of oil, and as a result, countless lives, to produce—in the trash; where half our food is wasted, and as a result half the oil used to produce it.

The only way out of this mess is to sidestep the BPs and Exxons. Put the billions they’ve been “earning” to better use. Get our own houses in order, and let “them” know what we want. A clean-energy, oil- and coal-free future, for which we’re willing to change.