J500 Media and the Environment

a green way to go

I’ve never found extravagant and energy-consuming funerals necessary. I thought that if being eco-friendly when alive was so important, why wouldn’t it be just as important after death?

But now, funerals don’t need to be as harmful to the environment. Environmentalists are choosing to go an eco-friendly route after they die, and Lawrence is said to have acquired the first Kansas cemetary to conduct “green” burials.

“Green” burial sites and biodegradable caskets are part of the new wave of environmentally friendly ways to leave behind your corpse. What makes a “green” burial site? According to the Green Burial Council, it includes, at the least, cemetaries that offer burials without vaults or embalming, and the use of eco-friendly burial containers.

Embalming fluids, which are used to keep bodies in tip-top shape for funerals, contain formaldehyde, methanol and ethanol, which are known to be harmful to human health and may cause cancer. About 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid are buried in the United States each year.

Eco-friendly caskets include those made of bamboo, local lumber or cardboard.

There’s also another alternative — cremation. Slate believes cremation can be more eco-friendly than even the “greenest” of burials, despite a cremation’s four-times-as-much disposal of CO2, because cremation is a single-time operation and burial plots require ongoing care.

Either way you go, take solace in knowing that the grass can be greener on the other side.

— Jessica Sain-Baird

Thanks to seto_supraenergy for the image.

podcast: drumm farm
May 10, 2009, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Nature + Travel | Tags: , , , ,

Listen to Bruce and Maureen Branstetter from Drumm Farm discuss what visitors to their farm should expect during the KC Urban Farms and Garden Tour on June 28, 2009.

Drumm Farm in Independence, Mo., is home to foster children and a 2- to 3-acre farm. The farm sells its produce for 29 weeks, from mid-April to mid-October, at its own market and at the Farmers Community Market at Brookside on Saturdays, and at the 39th Street Community Market on Wednesdays.

Go here to stream the podcast from the Web.

Jessica Sain-Baird, Mackenzie Steffen and Megan Richards contributed to the making of this podcast.

starting young on the farm
May 4, 2009, 8:12 am
Filed under: Food + Health, Local Events + Action, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

Victory gardens are going back in style, and it’s children who are gaining from their revival.

“I show the kids — here’s a beet, here’s how you pick it, here’s what it tastes like,” says Maureen Branstetter, farmer at Drumm Farm.

Drumm Farm, in Independence, Mo., now has baby chickens, much to the children's delight.

Drumm Farm in Independence, Mo., now has baby chickens, much to the children's delight.

Being from Kansas, I always took for granted how farms were the default backdrop to the tiny towns I grew up in or around. But through the time I’ve spent at Drumm Farm over the past few weeks, I’ve seen and met with kids who regularly work in the garden, declare their love for okra and talk about how the farmers give them fresh produce for dinner.

The farmers at Drumm Farm work directly with kids, such as Sam, who is 17 and lives on the farm. “More often than not,” Sam says, “Bruce brings us the fresh food and the fresh fruit.” He says working on a farm has taught him a lot of responsibility he doesn’t think he could get from other common jobs his peers have. And although Sam says working in agriculture isn’t his No. 1 career choice in the future, he “wouldn’t mind working on a farm.”

Stories like Sam’s are similar to stories of kids growing up during the time of the WWII-era victory gardens. “I have very fond memories of working with my mother on our victory garden as a young child,” E. McFann of Delaware says. “Our backyard was loaded [with produce] and then she also had a plot on a farm down the street. Our basement was loaded with canned vegetables and fruits.”

Maureen Branstetter recalls what seniors have been telling her about having grown their own garden in the past: “‘There’s nothing like it.'”

Raising kids on farms just seems to spur responsibility, interesting stories and a good diet. NPR has done a story on four kids growing up on an Iowa farm, and how their family waits until 10 p.m. to eat dinner so they can take advantage of every sun-filled hour. And even if a family can’t afford a farm or doesn’t have the time to maintain one, there are other resources to getting their children on a farm.

Even by growing up in Kansas, kids can be removed from the origin of their food and the taste of fresh produce. However, kids raised on or near farms can learn to appreciate food earlier than if they weren’t.

“They love picking radishes,” Maureen says about some kids who visit the farm. “They’re like, ‘Can we pick radishes? Can we pick radishes?’ And one kid would tell me, ‘Radishes are my favorite vegetable now.'”

— Jessica Sain-Baird
Group 1 blog post

drumm farm, where ‘if it grows together, it goes together’
May 3, 2009, 11:01 am
Filed under: Farmer Stories, Food + Health, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

Listen to a podcast about Drumm Farm here. View a slideshow of kids working at Drumm Farm here.

Hundreds of acres, covered in bright green grass and neighboring a busy, pearl-colored street, seem to extend to the horizon here in Independence, Mo. All of this land used to be a farm, but now just under three acres are dedicated to agriculture. The remainder of the land is used for a golf course and homes for foster parents and their adopted and birth children. This is Drumm Farm.

Matthew, one of the children who lives here, comes to say hello. He is wearing a T-shirt that almost goes to knees, and squints through his glasses as he looks up to speak to much taller visitors with the sun behind their heads. “I love okra,” he says when asked about his favorite foods from the farm.

“The kids are great,” says Bruce Branstetter, one of the farmers. He and his wife, Maureen, and fellow farmer, Tim Walters, are the faces behind Drumm Farm. But then again, so are the kids.

The entire organization — consisting of the farm, the golf course and the foster homes — is named the Andrew Drumm Institute, and it opened in 1929. 

“It used to be conventionally farmed,” Tim says about the land. “They couldn’t make enough income off the conventional farming because it’s not big enough. They’ve only got a couple hundred acres here. So the golf course took the majority of it and then we got our little 2-3-acre piece here.” Maureen chimes in: “With the goal being to keep the home for the children.”

Over the years, hundreds of kids have lived here — all boys, until 2006, when girls first started living here, too. Kelly Vandeventer, who has lived on Drumm Farm for seven and a half years, is one of the house moms. She says each home — there are three — have one set of parents and up to 10 kids, with a few being birth children, the rest being foster children. The kids and parents living on Drumm Farm are free to eat whatever fresh produce from the farm they’d like.

Sam, who is 17 and lives at the Drumm Institute, says because of his part-time job at Drumm Farm, he can identify different plants and knows how to plant and drive farming machinery. “It’s a lot of responsibility,” he says.

The farm is certified organic. “We try to get the whole range,” Bruce says about their fruits and vegetables. “Our goal is to try to produce as much diversity as possible.” 

Bruce and Maureen moved from the Ozarks in 1996 to Independence. It was soon after when they started to work for Drumm Farm. Both are former chefs and say their culinary backgrounds make them especially eager to share any cooking tips with visitors to the farm. “That’s how primarily I got interested in food,” Bruce says of his culinary days. Some local chefs even buy their produce at Drumm Farm, and some advertise the produce’s origins at their restaurants. 

Maureen manages to make cooking a tasty meal with produce sound incredibly easy and foolproof. She says she’s known for suggesting preparing “peas, green beans, tomatoes” in no more than garlic and olive oil. “My new saying now is, ‘If it grows together, it goes together,’” she says.

Drumm Farms sells its produce for 29 weeks, from mid-April to mid-October, at its own market and at the Farmers Community Market at Brookside on Saturdays, and at the 39th Street Community Market on Wednesdays.

— Jessica Sain-Baird

food: bringing us together
May 1, 2009, 11:23 am
Filed under: Food + Health, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

Growing up in Kansas, farmland was always just down the road from my house and a regular sight driving on I-70. I always took for granted how much of the food I ate was grown on these farms and I never really understood what agriculture could teach me.

Drumm Farm is located in Independence, Mo.

Meeting with the farmers behind Drumm Farm, I realized that food is not just a personal way of life; it’s a communal way of life. Food is all about connecting with people. You go to a farmers’ market, pick up some fresh vegetables, get some flowers — but you also undoubtedly meet a farmer or two. And our work with KCCUA went one step further than visiting a farmers’ market. I heard their stories, saw the farmland they are so proud of, and understood their job just a little more — which including incorporating children in the process of growing and eating local food as much as possible. They taught me that children tasting a fresh carrot while they’re young helps them appreciate local food.

But finally, writing about a farm with such character showed to be a new lesson in writing for me. Oftentimes, writers can get straight to a point with a few facts and quotes. But when I reached my farm for my first visit, I knew immediately that the inverted pyramid format wasn’t going to work for this one. I would have to describe every sight with great detail and include every energetic quote in the podcast to give this farm justice.

Now, when I think about what’s for dinner, I’ll be able to envision the farms that grew my food, the faces behind that work… and how I need to make up for some lost time of local, fresh eating.

— Jessica Sain-Baird

can serving coffee in polystyrene cups be the ‘greener’ choice?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how two of my favorite coffee shops use polystyrene cups, one of those making the switch very recently. It was this latter coffee shop where I talked with a barista about their use of polystyrene cups.
polystyrene cups
A few months ago, this coffee shop was serving drinks in paper cups with java jackets. The owner of the shop stopped buying java jackets, and as any avid coffee drinker would know, the feeling of holding a hot cup of morning joe in a paper cup with no java jacket is definitely uncomfortable. “People were taking two cups,” the barista said. For the sake of saving money, and preventing people from taking two cups for every drink, they switched to the polystyrene cups.

“I was getting cussed at by customers” after the switch, she said. So she typed up a polystyrene fact sheet that’s posted on the shop’s register. It says polystyrene is 95% air and is recyclable, among other points. But is the fact sheet misleading, considering polystyrene is not biodegradable and hardly any students who frequent the shop would actually recycle their cup?

“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make working here,” the barista said about making the switch. But she said after looking into polystyrene, it wasn’t “any worse” than doubling up on two paper cups or using a paper cup and a java jacket.

The barista seemed open to discuss other environmental options, and really sympathized with customers’ defiance of their new cups. She said the coffee shop would have a new owner soon, and would possibly switch back to paper cups and java jackets then.

In the meantime, serving in polystyrene cups has shown a more environmentally friendly trend emerging from this shop’s customers.

“If we used paper cups, no one would bring their own cup,” the barista said. “No one wants to use foam, so everyone is bringing their own cup now.”

— Jessica Sain-Baird

This post is a follow-up to my post, “How much responsibility should your coffee shop have?” Thanks to Fillmore Photography for the image.

how much responsibility should your coffee shop have?

Every time I walk into my favorite coffee shop downtown, I am greeted with a tiny sign explaining why it uses polystyrene cups.

Expanded polystyrene is mostly just air, it says, and is recyclable. A few months ago, another favorite coffee shop of mine made the switch from paper cups to polystyrene cups. This shop has even adopted the same friendly sign that reminds customers that no, polystyrene is nothing to be afraid of.

But polystyrene — a.k.a. styrofoam — is more harmful than that. It isn’t biodegradable at all and it’s tough to find polystyrene recyclers

It’s easy to understand why polystyrene is a popular material for businesses — it’s cheap (no additional cup sleeves) and does the trick (keeps hot drinks hot, cold drinks cold).

Santa Cruz County in California banned polystyrene products last year because of waste problems. Should every city — or green-minded coffee shop — be as proactive against this material?

I’ve tried to offset the use of polystyrene by my favorite coffee shops by bringing my own mug (I’ve never been to a cafe that didn’t give a discount for this!), or keeping any polystyrene cup I get coffee in and reusing it once or twice.

It isn’t just that my favorite coffee shops use polystyrene, though — it’s the fact that they try to defend it by making it seem harmless.

Does your favorite coffee shop use polystyrene cups? Or would you refuse to buy drinks there, at least when you’re on the go, if they did? And why do some businesses even try to still defend polystyrene?

— Jessica Sain-Baird

Thanks to kwanie for the picture.