J500 Media and the Environment

No Hippie Daydream
February 21, 2008, 11:40 am
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , ,

I grew up eating real, juice-down-your-chin produce from my parents’ garden. On warm spring afternoons my mom could find me in a jungle of green vines devouring sugar-snap peas or sun-ripened cherry tomatoes.

My partner, Jessica, has similar stories about childhood on her grandfather’s Douglas County farm. It’s something that unites us in taste bud horror every time we bite into a restaurant sandwich and discover it includes a mushy, plasticine pale tomato shipped from hundreds of miles away.

Jess wants to bring the flavors of our childhoods to people who don’t have land or the time to grow their own food. That’s partly what prompted her to apply to the local farming program Growing Growers. Growing Growers strives to meet the increasing nationwide and local interest in locally raised and produced foods. The creators of the program hope it helps meet the needs of nearby restaurants, consumer groups and markets such as the Lawrence Farmers’ Market.

Growing growers helps aspiring newbies like Jess connect with small farms and growers already in business in the I-70 corridor. This leads to apprenticeships, some of them paid and some of them volunteer (read: unpaid). The program also includes monthly workshops and the chance to visit urban and rural farm operations.

Last year Jess spent her first day as an apprentice shoveling fermented soy goop onto the chilly March soil. Spreading that steaming okara compost at Moon on the Meadow farm in eastern Lawrence zapped any lingering romanticism for farm life and showed her what the real work of farming would be.

Lessons like that reinforce that if we want to start our own sustainable farm on her grandfather’s land, we can’t be all back-to-the-land 1960s wistful about it. We’ll have to be realistic about what it will take to feed other people, and ourselves. I’ll be honest and say that I find that intimidating.

So in the meantime, especially after I’ve trudged home in the snow or slush from my office, I’m staving off my farming insecurities with daydreams. I think about the crunch of fresh spinach, the sugary rush of a honeydew melon and the way a heavy, ripened tomato feels in my hand, and when I do, I know that the work ahead will be worth the result. — Jen Humphrey

Only a few months between the snows of February and the joys of the farmer’s market. (Credit: DLFM)


A Compact Compendium: Jen Humphrey
February 17, 2008, 9:08 am
Filed under: Society + Media

As one who is often verbose,

I offer a six-word biography… (or two)

Realistic idealist Kansan wearing many hats

Sometimes a leader and secret keeper

Partner, writer, friend, defender, taste seeker

-Jen Humphrey

My Little (Dog’s) Sexy Poo
February 11, 2008, 8:11 pm
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , ,

Don’t LaughYou want sexy? Well, here’s a topic that’s way overdue for a sexy makeover: pet poo. This is an environmental issue – no, really. Here’s what brought it to mind. There I was, bundled up like a six-year-old sent out to go sledding, head down into the gale North wind, a leash pulling my arm outward. At the end of the leash, my geriatric canine Millie took her dainty sweet time puttering along the sidewalk, exchanging “messages” with every other dog whose owner took leisurely strolls in 10 degree February weather. In winter, these messages manifest as yellow snow. We arrived at a fateful yard, where last summer my neighbor posted a sign that said in the polite but firm tones Kansans are known for, “Clean up after your dog. It’s a city ordinance (and it’s neighborly!)” The day he put up the sign, he nodded to me and said, “Present company excluded, of course.” Yes, I clean up after my dog. It’s my good neighborly duty to whip out a plastic bag, one of the billions we throw our groceries in every day. The problem is, being neighborly isn’t exactly environmental. I go all Woody Allen Annie-Hall-neurotic about it: I should clean it up, because it’s gross to leave excrement on someone’s lawn, what if they have kids that go running barefoot on the lawn even though it’s February and what parent would do that anyway, won’t my neighbors talk about me and whisper there goes the girl who doesn’t clean up after her dog…. But then I’m thinking about all those plastic bags, twice a day, into my trash bin and off to the landfill, how they pile up….etc.
But that kind of guilt for cleaning up dog poo is that same enviro guilt that Arnold Schwarzenegger is talking about when he says we need to sex up environmentalism. So, how do I come up with a way of dealing with poo that is sexy? Clean it up with a scooper and dispose of it at home? Impractical, and besides, the celebs would never buy into it (and who else but celebrities with pets can tell us what is or isn’t sexy?). Use biodegradable bags by DKNY and Prada? Unlikely they decompose.
And so, I give you: the poo butler service. Think of the glamour: someone comes to your home, disposes of the waste, puts it in worm bins to turn into some kind of compost – what could be more sexy than that. No mess, no fuss. If only all environmental problems were so easy to dispose of!

One further note on comedy (with apologies to the far superior Ranjit): see Science is Hard, a parody by The Onion, and a great collection/overview of climate change cartoons. –Jen Humphrey

Finding a Niche
February 5, 2008, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Society + Media

Water BuffaloI thought I had a hangover by the time I finished the Death of Environmentalism. Or that I was drowning in dramatic detail. Thirty years of environmental progress whittled to an argument that we must start over, that the current methods, as described by the authors, aren’t working. It sucked all the joy from highlights and progress over lo these many years.

I had an urge to quench my thirst by dismissing what the authors had to say. And I had a whole list of what I disagreed with, but then I realized it made me sound like a whiney environmentalist. Instead, I took a more sober view: what points had they raised that I agreed with? For one, I think that anyone who wants to change any aspect of the world – even someone else’s opinion – has to recognize the role that values play. Much has been written, in this article and elsewhere, about how much more effective policy change and even holistic social change can be when you tie it to individual value systems. I know from too many late-night conversations at a favorite brewery that if you cannot at least appeal to someone’s frame of reference, the values they already hold, you won’t change their mind. You have to make an argument personally appeal to their worldview.

I also agree that to some extent, environmentalists have defined themselves by what they are not. This is true of almost any movement I can think of. It’s part and parcel of our divisive culture. We are pro-this and anti-that, two camps for every issue. Then there was the claim that evironmentalists don’t know how to build effective coalitions or bridges across multiple groups (or that change would occur if X group would just join in).

But, they are straining in their overall arguments, such as environmentalism is overly tied to policy without politics, that it suffers from literal sclerosis, or that it is isolated from other movements and issues. Nothing crystallized this more for me than the rebuttal from Carl Pope. In Pope’s essay, I see the beginning of what happened between 2005, when “Death” was written, and 2008 – the monumental shift in public opinion to think about the impact humans have on the planet. As global warming or weirding has become more recognizable, it’s showing up as a component in news, the performing arts, economic news, global justice movements, insurance (think hurricanes), etc.

Pope mentioned that the only people the authors talked to were policy “wonks,” when many other people have an influence on environmental awareness and change – especially artists. This will be somewhat of a self-serving remark, but if you want to see how artists are approaching environmental change, go see the art installation “Niche” in Spooner Hall at KU next week. It’s art that can make people confront their assumptions about their environment and the consequences of their choices. It makes environmental choices such as housing and water bottles personal, a matter of (gasp) values. Perhaps that is something the authors of “Death” would agree with. -Jen Humphrey

A Fifty-Pound Bag of Rice
January 20, 2008, 7:04 am
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , ,

The eco footprint quiz is great for raising awareness, and there’s an extended section on taking action based on your results. It also oversimplifies and doesn’t allow you to give nuanced answers. For example, I eat meat once or twice a week, but strive to eat non-CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) meat and eggs, which are often from local, pasture-raised animals. In our house, we compost, we seek out thrift store deals and Dumpster-diving finds, we walk to work (uphill, both ways, in the snow, of course!). We live on local food to the extent that we can in Kansas. Alas, it would take 16 acres to support this lifestyle, which tells me that for all the actions I think make a difference, I still live in a single-family home, drive a fuel-inefficient light pickup, and take the occasional plane trip. And there’s that omnivore’s dilemma.

The added benefit of taking the quiz was it prompted dinner-table talk about the future goals for our household. We are easing into a test year now to determine how much food it takes for us to live on — and how much we want to “live” — as we look toward starting an organic, sustainable farm operation in the Kaw Valley. We hope to come as close as we can to living on what we raise and preserve ourselves, with exceptions for what we cannot for cost or climate reasons. But there are trade-offs for everything. The 50 lb. bag of organic rice we recently purchased traveled from halfway around the globe, gobbling up energy and resources all the way. If it lasts all year, does that ecologically balance out? I don’t know.
- posted by Jen Humphrey


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