J500 Media and the Environment

Reconnect With The Land

Reconnect with the Land…

Supplementing you diet with homegrown produce can make a difference.

My grandparents were in their 20s when FDR asked them and the rest of the nation to pick up the food slack through Victory Gardens. WWII had started, and while our troops received the fruits of our commercial farms, my grandparents and their peers were at home, learning the ways of self-sustainability and conservation as they went. Ordinary citizens reconnected with the land and filled every city green space with gardens. They were the first generation of urban farmers in this country and the project was a major success.

Today, half of the world lives in urban areas. We are relying more than ever on the rural half to produce the majority of food for not just those in the cities but for themselves also. We have some of our food shipped thousands of miles to reach our plates, when a wide variety of that food can be grown only feet from our back porch. As our society continues to grow, we will have to find new ways of feeding the planet. Overpopulation is inevitable and this will lead to food shortages unless we, as individuals, change how we interact with the land that grows our food.

Urban farms are once again starting to sprout up across the country. Citizens like Sherri Harvel, are reclaiming vacant lots and turning them into lush farms.  Aye Aye Nu is reconnecting with her Burmese heritage by farming the land with Catholic Charities, in Kansas City, Kansas.  Pov Huns is continuing his personal relationship with the earth, by giving back what he takes from it. They are all waging this new war.  It is a battle for food security, where victory is a thriving environment for all of us and a better relationship with the land.  These farmers have taken positions on the front line and now it’s our turn to join the fight.

Eating food comes naturally, so should growing it. By reconnecting with the land, we will have a greater understanding of what it takes to produce what we eat. It is a culture change, away from fast foods and frozen dinners, to give us a fresh start, where we respect our food and the land it is grown on.  In return, the food will nourish us.

-Matt Bristow / Group 2

Photo by Matt Bristow / Video by Group 2 courtesy of youtube

Farming Isn’t That Easy

I have gained a profound respect for the small-scale farmers who dedicate their time and energy to grow healthy food for urban-farmerthemselves and their neighbors.  It is a daunting task to compete with commercial operations while still turning a profit.  Locating a market that appreciates your produce for its nutritional value and the positive impact it has on the local economy is half the battle.

There are so many factors that influence a farmer’s livelihood.  I have realized that weather is probably the most important aspect that determines if it will be a productive year for farmers.  Water is one of the most crucial elements needed for plants to grow.  A drought is the one of the worst natural disasters that a farmer can face.  It can destroy crops and has the potential to make a farmer give up working the land all together.  The other side of this weather phenomenon is excessive rain and flooding.   They can be beneficial in replenishing soil with nutrient-rich silt but in an urban setting this could also bring about a slew of toxins and trash as well.  Farmers put their faith in the hope of receiving decent weather. They are at the mercy of Mother Nature and have little control over it.

Timing is everything.  The weather in Kansas ranges from sweltering summers to frigid winters and everything in between.  Knowing when to plant can come down to a guessing game rather than a scientific prediction.  Farmers have long relied upon The Farmers Almanac to guide their farming decisions. It informs them when the best time to plant is and when to harvest.  Only in recent years has meteorological science advanced to the point where it can offer valuable information about impending frosts, or like this year, April snow.  It still isn’t perfect, by any means, but can make the difference between the life and death of the crops.


Farming is unlike the typical 21st century job.  It has been a part of our civilization since we transitioned from hunter-gatherers, thousands of years ago.  We have thrived as a civilization because of farming and we owe it to ourselves to continue the tradition and keep growing.

By: Matt Bristow

Photo Credit : Farmer / Flood

Chopped Down for Chopsticks

chopsticksI never thought the wooden chopsticks I use when eating sushi had such a large impact on the environment.  These disposable utensils snap apart for eating and then are simply discarded following the meal.  Since they are made of wood, the chopsticks will decompose easily compared to plastic.  Unfortunately the manufacturing of wooden products, like chopsticks, is destroying the forests of China.

Disposable chopsticks are popular for the convenience factor but also for hygienic reasons.  It makes better business sense to throw away the utensils than to wash and reuse them.  Although you can readily find these disposable chopsticks in this county, places like South Korea and China are banning their use all together.  These governments are urging their populations to use metal chopsticks that can be reused.

Bamboo, a fast growing ‘green’ material, is popular for making chopsticks, but the disposable ones are made from birch and poplar trees.  Despite the Chinese ceasing their use of disposable chopsticks, countries like ours continue to use and dispose of chopsticks without much regard for the impact this has on forests.  The challenge is getting those who regularly eat with chopsticks to change to reusable and sustainable bamboo or metal.  Restaurants should switch from offering the convenience of disposable chopsticks to the sophistication of ornately decorated (reusable) chopsticks.

So if you like your wasabi as much as I do, consider investing in a personal set to carry along with you.  Otherwise eat with a fork.  (preferably not a plastic one)

By: Matt Bristow

Photo Credit

Video Credit

Keeping Kansas Clean

An old man walks through the grass on the side of the highway.  He stabs trash with a sharp pole and places it into a bag.  This stretch of road runs along his property and he was just trying to keep it clean.  When passing motorists throw trash from their vehicles they are littering on people’s property.  Someone has to pick it up.  In this circumstance it was the guy who lived closest to the trash.  

Throughout the state of Kansas there are organizations dedicating their time to help collect roadside trash. The Kansas Adopt a Highway program has been operating since 1990, relying on volunteers to pick up the trash of their fellow Kansans.  Highways are adopted for two years and the organization’s name is posted along the side of the road.pickuppieceoftrash1

There are many miles of roadway that are not currently adopted.  In the windy state of Kansas the trash can blow far from the roadway where no one will come across it for years.  When it rains the water will carry this trash into our streams and rivers.  This poses a threat to wildlife and pollutes our agricultural land.

It’s bad enough that we are filling up landfills with trash.  However, people will continue to throw trash from their vehicles, despite looming littering citations.  As long as there are organizations to donation their time, these roadways will appear cleaner.  Only if people learn to Give a Hoot, don’t Pollute, will we curb this litter problem

-Matt Bristow

photo credit: johnnygeo-blog.blogspot.com

video credit: youtube.com

Winds of Change

It is said that “everything is bigger in Texas.”  Being the second largest state in the nation, it is a small country unto itself.  The state has been renowned for it’s oil production and refinement, but that maybe about to change.  Texas is helping to lead the country with green energy solutions in a big way.  By 2020 the state hopes to supply 20% of it’s energy needs with renewable resources.  


The people who are leading the way for these renewables are former oil tycoons, like T. Boone Pickens.  He has been promoting plans to rebuild the countries energy infrastructure, using energy from solar, wind, and natural gas.  Oil companies are also looking at ways to stay afloat in today’s ‘sea of green’.  They are adapting their business strategies to fit better with the times, investing in these renewables and turning a profit.  Soon enough Texas will be a global leader in using renewable energies.  Plans are even in the making to install the first off-coast wind turbines in the country, near Galveston.

Peak oil in this country was reached in the seventies.  Global peak oil is right around the bend.  Even though the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, these renewable energies hold the key to our future.  I am excited about the development of cleaner, renewable energies.  However,  I am not excited to think that our state of Kansas is still sitting on it’s head over the coal issue, when we too could be reaping the wind.

-Matt Bristow

Thanks to siemens.com for the photo.

Thanks to youtube.com for the video.

Are Biofuels Bad?

“On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again,” sang Willie Nelson in one of his most iconic songs.

As Americans, automotive transportation is vital to our way of life. But our dependency on oil can produce detrimental consequences on the environment.

In September 2008 my brother Nik Bristow and Brian Pierce drove non-stop from Manhattan to Santa Monica, establishing the record for the first and fastest coast-to-coast run by a biodiesel-powered car. The cross-country drive took 38 hours and 37 minutes, fast enough for the duo to have placed fifth in the 1971 Cannonball Run. The record setting event was dubbed “Willie Run ‘08” in honor of the patron saint of biodiesel, Willie Nelson.


Willie Run '08

Willie Run '08


Are biofuels the way of the future?

Ethanol production has increased massively in the past decade, thanks to government subsidies. But the corn used to produce this fuel, in turn, has had a tremendous effect on global food prices.

Biodiesel, like ethanol, can be derived from food crops, it can also be made from used oils (like those found in a deep-fat-fryer at almost any restaurant.) Many restaurants are more than content on having their grease-traps cleaned out for free, but our nation’s automobiles obviously can’t run on grease alone.

The next generation of biofuels may come from algae. Large, green ponds are used to grow algae that can then be converted into fuel. Algae, which grow rapidly, are rich with natural oils and thrive on CO2. It can be housed adjacent to carbon dioxide emitting industrial sites, like coal-fired power plants and be used to minimize those sites’ carbon footprint.


The future of our energy consumption will rely primarily on renewable resources. It is our conversion over from fossil fuels that will be one the most daunting challenges we, as a planet, will have to face.

-Matt Bristow

Photo credit: willierun.com

Video credit: youtube.com

Not a Drop to Drink

Access to fresh water is one of the most vital needs we have as humans. More than 70% of the world’s surface is covered by water. Given that 98% of this is oceanic salt water, we have little remaining for our consumption.

Since the industrial revolution, water has been used for everything from powering machinery to carrying away the waste byproducts of manufacturing. It wasn’t until the mid 20th century that groups, like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), set more stringent regulations for industrial runoff.


In the past thirty years, raising livestock has become a huge industry. As our fresh water sources become polluted from animal waste, policies are being created to combat the dilemma. The EPA established the Clean Water Act, in 1972, as a way to help regulate the rise of chemicals found in out water systems.

Kansas has a large beef industry in the southwest part of the state. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) require these farms to use proper waste management. The department says, “Any facility with an animal unit capacity of 1,000 or more must obtain a Livestock Waste Management Permit.” Any smaller facility in question is also subject to register with the KDHE.

These livestock facilities, also referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), must abide by the regulations, to stay in business. But the regulations don’t always take into account what happens in the event of a waste lagoon’s structural failure, or excessive flooding that causes waste runoff.

The pollution doesn’t stop with animal production. The herbicides and pesticides being used on crops are also contaminating our fresh water supply. According to A Tale of Two Tomatoes by Section Z, “Most Americans have traces of half a dozen pesticides in their urine.” As plants and insects become resistant to these chemicals, farmers have to dump ever larger amounts to fight them off.

We have a finite source of drinkable water on this planet. The fresh glacier water is melting and the underground aquifers are drying up. The only water that will remain is the acid rain from the sky and the chemicals in the rivers and lakes. Hopefully our better judgment will prevent us from ever reaching this point.

-Matt Bristow

photo courtesy of: worldmapper.org

Down on the Factory Farm
February 20, 2009, 1:25 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Society + Media

chicks1My grandfather retired from Tyson in the late 1980s. He worked in a chicken hatchery for many years before developing respiratory complications.  This occurred by inhaling the down feathers, the chickens would molt. 

Today he spends his time tending to his small herd of cattle, that graze his conjoining pastures.  The cows are his hobby and he enjoys taking care of them.  Over the years the cows may come and go, but he isn’t in it for the money.  When he returns inside after a day with the herd, his agitated lungs cause him to cough excessively.

When we think of factory farms, like those owned by Tyson, an overcrowded building full of animals may come to mind.  One aspect about factory farms, sometimes overlooked, is the poor conditions the workers are exposed to.

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, said that Tyson foods is now the largest meat packing business in the world.  Since my grandfathers retirement, the Tyson hatchery has replaced its workforce with immigrant labor.  These hispanic workers are susceptible to being exploited by companies like Tyson.  They are not earning the same salary or retirement benefits that my grandfather made.  Furthermore they are being exposed to the same health and safety issues that can cause permanent health problems.

Food quality and health concerns from these factory farms do not end with the food they sell.  The livelihood and well being of their workers are also in jeopardy.

-Matt Bristow

Image from www.deovolentefarm.com 

Monsanto: Senseless; The World: Seedless
February 13, 2009, 10:43 am
Filed under: Food + Health, Science + Tech

monsanto3Those who control the world’s distribution of seeds, control the world’s food supply and Monsanto is dominating the global seed market. It is currently the world’s largest seed company, after only a decade of entering the industry.

Although boasting to be “a relatively new company,” Monsanto isn’t a new company per se. In the late 1990’s the company split off from their chemical manufacturing division. It created a new company called Solutia to handle the chemicals and any lawsuits that the old Monsanto had acquired over the past century.

Back in 1901,  the original Monsanto created its first product Saccharin, an artificial sweetener that The Coca-Cola Company used in its soft-drinks.  Since its seemly harmless beginnings, Monsanto has produced plastics, fertilizers, pesticides and hazardous chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s).  This was followed by the development of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and recombinant bovine growth hormones (rBGH’s).  Monsanto created the herbicide known as Agent Orange, used in the Vietnam War to destroy the dense foliage of the jungle. But that was the old Monsanto.

The company today has ambitious goals to increase the world’s food production through genetically modified crops. By the year 2050 the global population is predicted to reach more than 9 million. Monsanto believes that it is addressing this issue by creating seeds that produce higher yields with the same amount of land and resources.

The hybrid seeds, that Monsanto is currently marketing in India, have the potential for higher yields and pest resistance.  However, the YouTube clip that we watched mentioned that the lower-income Indian cotton farmer couldn’t afford the genetically modified seeds, not to mention the pesticide, fertilizer and improved irrigation needed for a successful crop.

The Indian farmers have little say in what seeds they purchase because Monsanto has bought-out many of the local seed companies. Retaining the local company’s name, Monsanto is using these well known labels to sell its seeds.

The future is uncertain about the effects of the genetically modified organisms that companies like Monsanto create. With pesticides and herbicides, comes insects that develop a resistance to these chemicals. Are we breeding chemical-resistant super bugs in the process? What health concerns may arise because of these modified foods? In the near future will we have fewer options when it comes to buying purely organic foods?

– Matt Bristow

I recommend watching this clip on YouTube about Monsanto and rBGH’s.

Image from: http://bloggermom.wordpress.com/2008/06/03/what-you-need-to-know-about-monsanto-and-our-food/

Green Acres but No Takers
February 6, 2009, 4:48 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , ,

We can all picture a farmer parked at the roadside with a truck-bed full of produce and no one is stopping to buy any.truck-farmer21

There are a few difficulties to overcome when reviving a locally grown food system.  Farmers markets are excellent for buying local produce and so are co-ops like the Merc.  Cities like Lawrence lack open markets, where farmers and vendors can convene on a larger scale.  Farmers setting up shop in a parking lot once a week will not suffice. A permanent, central market that’s open daily is needed.  The Merc is an available outlet for local growers, but the interaction between the consumer and the producer is lost.

When Simran spoke with James MacKinnon during a treehugger radio interview, he said that North America has a history of not fully developing local food cultures.  We have always been shipping our food.  Our food traveled first by covered wagon and now my tractor-trailer.  There wasn’t a need to set up local food networks with advances in food preservation.  So I think it will take much more than just farmers markets and co-ops to successfully get the locavore trend off the ground.

It is hard to believe that the average food at a grocery store travels 1,500 miles.  We have grown accustomed to eating exotic foods from around the world.  Since landlocked Kansas couldn’t be any further from the ocean, seafood must be shipped hundreds of miles inland. Are we to drop these items off our menu if we go local?  It is hard to imagine a diet consisting of only local fish caught in rivers and lakes.

By: Matt Bristow

Thanks to kenbateman.com for the picture.