J500 Media and the Environment

Green is the new Blackle by jmuselmann

Last week wasn’t particularly different from any other week. I was on the internet, somewhere in between doing work and wasting time, when I realized how much time I spend on a screen framed in a Web browser. I prefer not to dwell on that. But I did pause to acknowledge just how invariably ugly they’ve all become (Safari, Firefox, Explorer, et al. ). Light gray is apparently the industry standard, with big playschool-like back, refresh and home buttons. It’s insultingly novice, and how dare anyone question my extensive experience online. I was ready for something stylish, something chic, and something, perhaps, that was  dark.

So I tweeted my newfound desire, knowing that if anyone knew about some obscure solution, it would be fellow online junkies, the tweeters. And lo and behold, someone delivered. It was blackle.com, and it was bewildering at first. That’s because it’s using less mega wattage by skipping out on the blaring white screen part. So for all of you who have Google as your homepage, try “Blackling” something instead. It could just catch on, and if the juggernaut Google took note, it could really add up, both in reducing energy and money. No, it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it is a nifty way to save energy (and perhaps your tired eyes). And who knows? Maybe it will catch on, maybe my dream browser is out there, and maybe we could one day choose to invert any website we come upon into a more seductive and eco-friendly format. Anything could happen—it’s the Internet.

This may seem small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but then again, so does everything else you try to do for the planet. And let’s face it, there are a lot of really bad ideas for going green that are put forth every day. It’s hard to imagine harmful and unintended consequences in changing our homepage.

So when you’re frustrated and wanting something different from what you already have, try looking to see if it’s offered in a shade of green. Or a really, really dark green.

—Jacob Muselmann

Family Farming to Industrial Agriculture by bpirotte

My grandfather, or “Granddad,” as we call him, grew up on a farm in western Kansas.

My Granddad outside his one-room school house, near the farm he grew up on in western Kansas. Photo by Ben Pirotte

Like most of his generation, he grew up healthy, happy, and with strict values. One of those values: frugality. But why is frugality such an important value of a person who grew up in the Depression? Because they had little to nothing. So, surviving on just a few dollars a week, and only buying the materials necessary to clothe, feed and house your family became what was important.

Just a few years ago, my family and I were able to go visit the land my great-grandfather used to till. Strangely enough, there’s a plaque installed on the property marking the geodetic center of the lower 48 states! Today, it is an “active cornfield,” which goes to show just how important farming is in the makeup of the United States, being right at its heart.

However, much has changed from the days of Granddad’s childhood. What used to be a country of many small farmers that made up 21% of the US workforce, all insistent on making a new life for themselves and their family, has now turned into just a few “desperate” farmers trying to make ends meet, and a few giant business conglomerates.

So, has the nostalgic, pastoral idea of farming died? With the mechanization of farming as an industry, and with yields from farming being more productive than ever, large, mono-crop facilities produce the vast majority of our food at a cheaper price to the consumer. But what about the cost to the environment? Industrial agriculture requires more use of pesticides, and with mono-cropping, soils are depleted through time and eventually need more and more fertilizers to create the same output. There seem to be alternatives to this model–such as buying organic and local. But are these ideas realistic?

While it is clear that we most likely won’t be returning to the days of small farmers in places like western Kansas, there is a need to reform our food system. Industrial agriculture is imposing a problem not only to the quality of our food, but is also a major problem to the health of our environment. Small steps can be made to reforming the system, but until our world as a whole is able to factor in all the costs associated with industrial farming, and not just the cost to grow, produce, harvest and ship a product, we won’t be able to see the necessary change.

–Ben P.

Sustainability = Constant Change by Dave Dunn

My personal definition of sustainability is: Constantly lessening environmental impacts to the point where needs are, and will always be, met.


Leapfrogging, or Leapsheeping here

As I sit here in our office/basement for yet another afternoon of environmental videos and readings, I’m often distracted by our “new” bookshelf, and thinking about what the hell I’m going to do with the coffee table that’s way too big for our living room. But one thing that really stuck with me from the videos & readings was Steffan’s discussion about leapfrogging…and that’s the basis of my definition of sustainability.

Why not bypass older ways of doing things if they are less efficient, more expensive, and polluting, and go directly on to more advanced and/or environmentally friendly ones? It’s sad to think we’re sitting around with solutions to environmental problems going unused, like technology to halt global warming.

Can change happen overnight and the planet be eternally sustainable? Doubt it. The “constantly lessening” part of my definition portrays a realistic approach. It means utilizing all available technology and methods to reduce impact. Maybe we should no longer tolerate the excuse of ignorance .

On a individual level, my definition means lessening your impact every year, if not every month or every day. What really was struck me from Leonard’s discussion was that 99% of consumer goods are thrown out in 6 months. That seems to be one way to measure sustainability progress. And I believe in many ways being more thrifty is also just being smarter.

Our semi-recycled bookshelf

Our recycled bookshelf

In our case, our “new” bookshelf is actually our old desk (with the exception of a few pieces of hardware needed to attach it to the wall).

Scrapile storage shelf

Scrapile storage shelf

I used the other remaining hardware from the old desk and scrap wood from a friend to make a new shelf in our storage room. Now I’m thinking about what to with that darn coffee table.

Our recycling of household/building materials is no where near the level or ambitions of Scrapile of Brooklyn as discussed by Seireeni. And I don’t think we’re anywhere near the point of sustainable living to ensure needs will always be met. I don’t know what that point is, but if everyone constantly makes progress maybe we’ll never know…and that’s the point of sustainability, right?

-Dave D.

Sustainability and Spacely Sprockets by TreyW

As I watch Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff, I can’t help but yawn. Everything she says fails to captivate me. I’m not trying to be rude. The information Annie presents is very relevant and emotional in today’s society where we struggle to find ways to exist in a way that can be maintained in the long run. My problem is that I learned all of this from Jetsons: The Movie.

In 1990, Hannah-Barbara brought the Jetsons to the big screen. Kids like myself, were spellbound watching George Jetson take over a new, highly efficient Spacely Sprocket factory located on a distant asteroid. These same kids also learned a valuable lesson about sustainability as it was discovered that the factory was drilling into the home of the Grungees, the alien race inhabiting the asteroid. To make an 82 minute story short, the factory is turned over to the Grungees who can produce new sprockets by recycling old ones (I guess space traveling humans weren’t smart enough to figure that one out) and everyone lived happily ever after.Jetsons

I know I reference children’s media a lot, but I do it to further dialogue and hopefully find a resolution to the wasteful habits of industry. If we can explain sustainability in such elementary terms, why can’t we make it happen? Watching Alex Steffan’s presentation on sustainable design and production, I’m struck by his statement that each generation wants its own version of prosperity. It’s true that we want to do just a little bit better than our parents. Maybe that’s why the same generation that learned a lesson by watching the Jetsons avoid the destruction of an entire race, is becoming the next generation of destroyers.

Having seen this movie, I guess I get a different definition of sustainability. To me, sustainability is a business term used to describe operating at an efficieny level that creates the greatest good for all. By “all” I’m referring to the business and its shareholders as well as the community it serves. In my mind, sustainability is a way of getting greater Return on Investment than our predescessors in a way that leaves room for the next generation to increase it even more. It doesn’t have to mean a stagnate economy.

I do find a little comfort as Mr. Steffan talks about what Mrs. Leonard refers to as the “Third World.” It seems that sustainability is possible through the “leapfrogging” and “collaboration” that Mr. Steffan describes. Simple efforts anchored in design have allowed areas with little resources to operate at levels beyond the efficiency of industrialized nations in my opinion.

So perhaps the answer to achieving sustainability is as simple as they make it seem in children’s movies. Or am a just a dreamer?

*Trey Williams*

About Me: Jason Merckling by jasonmer
Colorado Family

Rocky Mountain National Park

Childhood experiences, surroundings, and family values help shape our perspectives on life.  Thankfully, I had a second chance.

This is not a complaint or regret towards the past.  It is simply a show of gratitude for the significance that came after I left home at the age of seventeen.  My family is built on generations of farming, small business, and Midwestern values.  Unfortunately, intolerance and selfishness had a place at home as well.   A vivid image exists in my mind as I left home to become the first in my family to attend college.  Breaking the family circle meant exposure to new ideas and the consequences of personal choice. 

Now, seventeen years later my experiences create new beliefs to replace childhood assumptions.  Central to these experiences are interactions with both benevolent and injurious people that exert influence as their currency.  Negative interactions generally taught the most.  Lessons on integrity, personal accountability, and hard work frequently came at a high cost.  Without that cost I wouldn’t be where I am today.  The price was worth it.

My immediate family, a wife and three children, is my focus today.  I see a world that needs leadership on the environment to preserve it for our families, our children, and our future generations.  We need new perspectives on environmental topics such as waste management, recycling, and childhood education–a concerted effort to rewire the country’s philosophy.  Instill a sense of personal accountability in young and old for the future of our environment at both a local and national level. 

Or more simply stated…a second chance.

leanpharmaBannerMy twelve years since college have placed my feet firmly in the pharmaceutical industry.  I began as a research chemist and later transitioned into sales.  Currently I manage a team of ten sales representatives in Kansas and Missouri.  I am interested in exploring greener options for the pharmaceutical industry and ideas where innovative scientific research merges with eco-friendly solutions.  I envision an industry dedicated to preserving the environment while saving lives.

Jason Merckling

J-14 Agricultural Enterprises: Joe Jennings by marybethw

jjennings2 Every place he’s lived, there has always been one constant in Joe Jennings’ life: farming. Today that farming takes place on 8.5 acres in Kansas City, Kansas; only about fifteen minutes from downtown, J-14 Agricultural Enterprises seems a world apart. The acreage produces everything from beans to broccoli, garlic to onions, strawberries, apples, pears, plums, and peaches. There are often animals, such as rabbits and pigs – although Joe plans on getting rid of the latter, clearing out the pigpen space, and planting more greens. 

Joe, 81, is no stranger to farm life. The second of fifteen children, he grew up on a farm near Houston, Texas during the Great Depression. That time left an impression: as a small child, he remembers being in town and asking his mom about the line of people outside a nearby building; she told him it was a soup line and, not understanding the significance, Joe asked how he could get in the line for soup. In 1946, the family got its first tractor and Joe often missed school that year helping to plow. After earning a certificate in carpentry from Prairie View A. & M., Joe was drafted into the Army and then spent over thirty-seven years in the Air Force Reserves. He moved to Kansas City in 1970 to take a job with the school system and worked there until his 1999 “retirement.” He’s still busy, though, but he doesn’t consider his farm a job – in fact he says that he doesn’t have a “job, I have a joy, j-o-y.” 

Within a week of moving to Kansas, Joe’s had a one acre farm. When he originally bought his current location in 1997, he planned on using the land to build houses but, because of problems with the city, he instead decided to turn it into a farm. You might think that 8.5 acres would be plenty to take care of; but, since 1994 Joe also has owned a 211 acre farm in Texas where he has 75 head of cattle. 


Since 2000, Joe has run J-14 as a you pick CSA operation, which means after paying the subscription fee ($300 for 2009) and getting a key to his gate, you can go in whenever you want and pick as much as you want – up to 500 pounds! As Joe’s quick to point out, that’s a much better deal than you’d find in any grocery store. And he’s right; recent comparisons point to CSAs as better choices financially (and for other reasons, too). At peak production, Joe can feed 150 families, but he always ends up with a lot extra. That extra gets turned into “love packages” that he takes to elderly members of the community. He tells of going into area nursing homes, finding the oldest residents, and presenting them with his homegrown produce.

During the summer, Joe helps teens – or rather they help each other. Groups of Youth Volunteer Corps members can be found working the fields and, while this helps J-14, it also helps the volunteers. Studies have shown that youth who volunteer are more likely to also volunteer as adults, as well as to donate. Youth volunteers also are less likely to choose unhealthy lifestyles, tend to have greater self-esteem, and tend to have a more positive attitude than non-volunteers. 

Whether he’s working with teenagers or giving out “love packages,” Joe follows the same philosophy. “Who did you help today?” he asks, “If you didn’t help anyone, you didn’t help yourself.” 

~Mary Beth

Building a Community, Educating the Future by marybethw

We constantly hear that youth are our future, but what will that future look like with the ever-increasing disconnect between our food and ourselves? A number of local, urban farmers are fighting that future, by providing youth an opportunity to relearn our food. During the summer you’ll find youth working the fields, rows, and greenhouse at J-14 Agricultural Enterprises, Troostwood Youth Garden, and Kurlbaum’s Heirloom Tomatoes.

At all three establishments, the education does not just happen while digging the soil. Joe Jennings, at J-14, has a rainy day “classroom” where youth can learn widely about biology, ecology, and botany. At Troostwood, Ericka Wright’s workers receive stipends for school materials and some have continued the lessons learned in the garden while in college. The Kurlbaum’s have used their tomato profits to put one of their children through school and they have plans to start scholarship gardens, the profits from which would go towards college tuition.


By working, whether as volunteers or as a summer job, both the youth and the community benefit from these operations. Studies show that youth reap many positive benefits from volunteering. The communities also reap benefits from urban farms. In providing fresh produce the farms provide health benefits and the local economy receives a boost when food dollars stay in the community.

With these and other urban farms, perhaps our food future is not as bleak. The youth who work these farms know where their food comes from, what’s in it, and how tasty it is. Perhaps they can then spread their knowledge; as Troostwood’s Wright says, “Out of the mouths of babes….”

~ Mary Beth Woodson, Group 4 blog post

Youth volunteers photo credit.

Laissez les bons temps rouler… at the dinner table, that is by marybethw


3363851089_2424d292e8Warm, puffy, flakey, and covered in powdered sugar. Beignets were one of the very few traditional southern Louisiana foods I’d eat as a vegetarian. Luckily, it’s placement in the French Quarter kept the original Cafe Du Monde (home of the best beignets in NOLA) site relatively safe when Katrina blew through in 2005. Beyond the Quarter was another story. Those without homes were also without food, even with aid coming in from around the globe. FEMA also kept those people in the local food industry (and, indeed, food is one thing New Orleans knows well) willing to use those skills to feed the hungry from doing so in the months that followed. 

Not only did the storm ruin the coastal population’s food supply, but it also hurt the food suppliers. Seafood has always been a major industry in southern Louisiana, with the state being America’s biggest shrimp producer. However, Katrina severely damaged an industry that was already beginning to hurt from foreign shrimp imports. So that, while NOLAs restaurants are making a slow comeback, other food industries in the area are having a harder time. Individuals are struggling as well, with the current economy hurting already overtaxed food banks.

2008_10_06splande1As the storm came and went I watched on TV; in the time since, I’ve watched in anger as the government left southern Louisiana on it’s own. I visited New Orleans for the first time, post-Katrina, in July 2008; we went through the Upper and Lower 9th Wards and into St. Bernard Parish. Many houses still had water lines on them and spray paint, where they were checked for bodies. Many businesses and government offices are still closed. Many people are still awaiting government assistance. Although it’s been years since I lived in southern Louisiana, my parents still do and, even if I’d never lived there I’d be hard pressed to not be struck by how much still needs doing, over three years later. While tourism has helped the restaurants, many individuals still await their own housing and a table for family meals. 

~ Mary Beth

Photo credits: Beignets, Marked house

Do you love your mother? by marybethw


How much do you love your mother? Enough to set aside a day to celebrate her? Enough to turn out the lights for her? Enough to rethink your food choices for a day? Well, starting in 1970 people across the country have held celebrations for her and, more recently, have started going dark, and looking more closely at their plates. 3393791445_e48e507470_o

Beginning in 1970, when the first Earth Day drew millions, groups and cities have started their own celebrations. When I was in high school, our Earth Club participated in Baton Rouge’s Earth Day activities. Although I have since attended activities, this year I am reprising that participation. As part of Animal Outreach of Kansas (AOK), I am going to participate in Lawrence’s celebration in South Park.

Recently, however, I’ll admit, I forgot to turn my lights off. In 2007, Sydney, Australia went dark; in 2008 others joined in across the globe. The 2009 Earth Hour goal was 1 billion people going dark on 28 March. The point? To both reduce greenhouse emissions by turning out the lights for an hour and to raise awareness of global warming.


Similarly, annually, FARM sponsors Meat Out, which asks people to go meatless for a day. While this event focuses on animal issues, doing as your mother always taught you, eating your veggies, can help the planet. Although this Saturday will be the city’s Earth Day celebration, AOK is also hoping to raise awareness of animal issues and the relation to other earth issues, such as global warming.

I’m looking forward to Saturday (fingers crossed it doesn’t rain!) and getting more vocal. I encourage you all to come out for some good food and good times. Come on, show your mother you care.

~ Mary Beth

Photo from: Flickr via Earth hour site

Methane Madness by meganr21

Every day some news story contains information on global warming and greenhouse gases – what they are, where they come from, and what their impact is. Despite all the coverage, people are still in the dark about many of the culprits of global warming. Let’s explore my favorite greenhouse gas and an offender responsible for it’s production. 

CH4 is a greenhouse gas most commonly called methane. When we hear the word methane, most people either think of natural gas, cows, global warming or it stinks. Termites aren’t even on the radar, yet some scientists believe that between 7-20% of the worlds methane emissions come from some species of these tiny insects.

 Just like in cows, methane in termites is a natural byproduct that is part of the normal digestion process. Plant matter like grasses and wood are hard to digest, so many animals have special bacteria in their guts to help break down food, the result – Methane.

While 60% of global methane emissions are thought to be a result of human activities, there are many natural sources that contribute to global warming as well. Besides termites, wetlands, oceans, the rain forest and soils are all natural sources of soils. 

So next time you’re listening to the news and someone is talking about global warming and greenhouse gases, ask yourself, ‘are they only talking about the most common human impacts or are they considering the natural contributions too?’ 

Megan Richards

Photo Credit: cartoonstock.com