Green City

Organic agriculture is just one way to meet the needs of our ever-increasing population while preserving the environment and keeping the size of our carbon footprints low.  I wanted to talk about Chattanooga, Tennessee, a city that has embraced environmental conservation and has gone above and beyond environmental policy requirements.

In 1969, Chattanooga was voted the dirtiest city in America because of industrial pollution combined with it’s position in a valley between mountains.  You can still hear stories from retirees at Alexian Village about going to work wearing a white tee and coming back with a black one because the air was so dirty.  But after the institution of the federal Clean Air Act passed in 1970, Chattanooga’s leaders took drastic efforts to clean up the city.  Because of their efforts, Chattanooga was recognized as an “Environmental City” in 1990.  Twenty-three years later, the city continues to work on environmental projects and has even been on the forefront of some movements in the nation.

As a Chattanooga native, I have been very lucky to witness some of the incredible changes made to improve the city environmentally, especially the incorporation of environmental consciousness into the local businesses.  I’ve listed some of my favorite green spots for anyone looking to take a weekend field trip or learn about environmental advancements being made in the city.

  • The Crash Pad is the fourth lodging institution in the U.S. and first hostel in the world to receive an LEED platinum certification (basically the highest eco-friendly honor available to any business).  It was constructed with adventurous travelers in mind-especially rock climbers, bikers, and those just looking to visit the city.  The Crash Pad is equipped with solar panels, a green roof, gray water filtration system, and beautiful woodwork counters and furniture throughout made from recycled wood scraps (some from the building that used to occupy this lot).  The owners are also working on getting permission to build a restaurant and bar across the street!
  • Right down the street is Green Spaces, a company that works with local builders to improve building efficiency and decrease waste from construction.  They also provide a library, classes, and a meeting place for community members to discuss all things environmental.
  • The Chattanooga Food Bank is also home to the Evelyn Navarre Davenport Teaching Garden, which was built to teach people in the community about growing vegetables and is home to a variety of flowers, vegetables, and herbs.  The produce also goes into food boxes at the bank!
  • Chattanooga opened a Volkswagen Plant in 2011, another LEED platinum certified business.  I was lucky enough to visit the site of the 33-acre solar panel farm last summer that was being constructed to supply at least half of the plant’s electricity demands.  The plant is also surrounded by wetlands that are home to a variety of plant and animal species including deer, rabbits, and looots of snakes (wear boots!!).  It’s a really cool area, especially because there are some old bunkers if you can get back to the woodsy part, but I’m not sure how strict security is to people just exploring and you may need to find someone with the city to take you.
  • Chattanooga was recently made a test city for the Nissan Leaf and has installed plug in stations in many major parking lots throughout the city (some are even solar powered!).  Chattanooga’s also installed a series of rentable bikes located at ports throughout downtown, which can be rented and returned for day trips touring the city at a small price.

These are just a few of the cool things Chattanooga’s done to improve the environment and the city.  The riverfront has been reconstructed to make downtown more aesthetic and pedestrian friendly, and is host to festivals such as Brewfest, Riverbend, and Riverfront Nights music series.  There’s also a variety of organic and community farms throughout the city and restaurants serving local and organic food (Sluggo’s is an amazing vegetarian restaurant! Also, check out the Yellow Deli and 212 Market).

Chattanooga’s drastic turnaround over the past 40 years is proof that even some of the worst environmental situations can be remediated if there are enough people willing to fight for it.

So the next time you’re looking for a weekend escape, take the short hour and a half drive down to Chattanooga and see some cool green businesses, local art and music, and eat some delicious food!

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Societies Become Great

This is a blog I write for those of you who need a little reminder that organic farming matters and others of you who aren’t sure if you really want to jump on the bandwagon…

The story begins Saturday January 19, 2013…

I am not sure why exactly it hit me, but somewhere around 4 pm this past Saturday afternoon, I got the urge to do something different than the normal. I did not want to spend another night going to dinner and a movie. Unsure of where to begin my search for adventure, I turned to my trusty pal, Google…

This landed me in a jam packed room in locally owned Remedy Coffee Shop in the heart of Old City in Knoxville. As I searched the room, I was amazed that only a few hours earlier I had been completely unaware of this event that so many others had filled a room to be a part of. I began to wonder, what else was going on that I did not know about?

As the wheels in my mind began to turn, I searched the room, looking at the people, then the collage of flyers on the back wall posting events from local bands releasing their albums to Farmer’s Markets all over the city of Knoxville, and lastly, my eyes led me to the beautiful photos hanging on the wall…How had I missed them? I could barely take my eyes off the photos; they were captivating, refreshing, and natural. (Literally)

You might wonder, “what were the photos displaying?”

Vibrant, fresh, juicy carrots, apples, and tomatoes accompanied by dark brown and deep green fields. As I glanced from canvas to canvas, I could feel my hunger rising up. It was beautiful. Where had these pictures been taken? That’s when I saw it..

These photos had been taken at Knoxville’s very own community farm–Beardsley Farm.

I was so encouraged that this beauty had come from the city I call home. It was in that moment that I realized, agriculture is art, and it is an art that holds much power.

You see, agriculture has the power to end starvation or to indulge only the fortunate. It has the power to enrich our Earth or leave it destitute. Agriculture has the power to nourish our bodies or to poison them. It has the power to heal or to destroy. Agriculture has the power to leave beauty in our sights or destruction in our hands.

Agriculture is a powerful form of art, and like any piece of art, we are sending out a message. But just as an artist must ponder what they desire to create, so we must ask, what kind of masterpiece are we hoping to behold. It is question that must be thoughtfully answered because the end product does not belong solely to a farmer, but rather it belongs to us all; it belongs to all who desire a home that can cultivate life and nourish our bodies. We all need food don’t we? But what happens when the art form we choose brings death to the source of life?

Yes, I am talking about organic farming. I will not claim it is not a fad and a part of the hipster movement, but I will also not claim that there is no truth in it. If we take a step back, strip away the media, and evaluate the facts, we may be surprised at what we find.

Organic farming is more than a scam to make money and a bunch of health guru’s obsessed “going green.” Organic farming is a form of art dedicated to holistic health– from the nutrition of our environment and its resources to the mouths that are sustained by it.

I know there is much speculation about the matter, so here are some facts to get people started:

What does organic farming/gardening even mean?

According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements:

  • Work as much as possible within closed system, utilize local resources
  • Maintain soil fertility
  • Avoid all pollution from agricultural production
  • Produce food of high quality and of sufficient quantity
  • Reduce use of non‐renewable resources
  • Allow producers to earn a living through their work and develop full human potential

Is it a scam to make money?

Organic farming requires strict certification if it is approved by the USDA. There are also other organizations that certify. However, with certification comes fees and certification costs and practices that require money and time; thus, prices for organic products may be more.

According to the USDA:
Actual certification costs or fees vary widely depending on the certifying agent and the size, type, and complexity of your operation. Certification costs may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Before you apply, it is important to understand your certifier’s fee structure and billing cycle. Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment
on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.

Do they actually do anything different than traditional or modern practices of agriculture?

USDA states:
Any land used to produce raw organic commodities must not have had prohibited substances applied to it for the past three years. Until the full 36-month transition period is met, you may not:
– Sell, label, or represent the product as “organic”
– Use the USDA organic or certifying agent’s seal

A few regulations (according to the USDA):

  • All inputs must be approved substances
  • Natural products can be used, unless otherwise prohibited by the national list (e.g. arsenic, nicotine sulfate)
  • Synthetic products cannot be used, unless there is an exception on the national list (e.g. copper sulfate, hydrated lime, horticultural oils used for  pest control)
  • No prohibited substances  for three years prior to 
    harvest of first certified organic crop
  • Defined boundaries and buffer zones to prevent unintended application of, or contact with prohibited substances
  • Must be managed to NOP guidelines and certified through accredited agency

 

This is only scratching the surface of the purpose, goal, and art of organic farming. I hope that this information will encourage those of you who already believe in the practice of organic production and inspire you to reach out to others with information; for those of you who aren’t quite sold on it, I hope that this sparks an interest that causes you to push past the stigmatisms that have been associated with it, and to do a little research.

I leave with a quote from the Greek Proverbs:

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

I am proud to be a part of the Knoxville community, and it’s efforts to become great.

 

 

 

Wintertime Reading

It’s cold, gloomy and rainy here, enough to dampen the spirits of any sun-loving gardener. But winter is the perfect time to read, study and plan for the upcoming season. One of the best ways to get inspired is by reading a good book. An avid reader myself, I have compiled a list of good agriculture-related books over the last couple years, some I have had the pleasure to read, and others I still wish to read. Here is my book list, and I would love to know what your favorite books are, too!

  1. Wendell Berry. 1977. The Unsettling of America. Sierra Club Books. San Francisco, CA.
  2. Wendell Berry. 1977. The Gift of Good Land. North Point Press. New York, NY
  3. Rachel Carson. 1962. Silent Spring. Houghton Mifflin. Boston, MA.
  4. Eliot Coleman. 1995. The New Organic Grower. 2nd Edition. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, VT.
  5. Masanobu Fukuoka. 1978. The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming. New York Review of Books. New York, NY.
  6. Albert Howard. 2007. The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture. The University Press of Kentucky. Lexington, KY.
  7. John Ikerd. 2008. Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture (Our Sustainable Future). University of Nebraska. Lincoln, NE
  8. Wes Jackson. 1980. New Roots for Agriculture. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
  9. Barbara Kingsolver. 2007.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. HarperCollins Publishers. New York, NY
  10. Aldo Leopold. 1949. A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
  11. Aldo Leopold. 1999. For the Health of the Land: Previously Unpublished Essays And Other Writings
  12. Barry Lopez. 1990. The Rediscovery of North America. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.
  13. Marion Nestle. 2002. Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health. University of California Press. Berkley and Los Angeles, CA.
  14. Marion Nestle. 2006. What to Eat. North Point Press. New York, NY.
  15. Carlo Petrini. 2007. Slow Food Nation. Rizzoli Ex Libris. New York, NY.
  16. Michael Pollan. 2006. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Penguin Group Inc. New York, NY.
  17. Michael Pollan. 2008.  In Defense of Food. Penguin Group Inc. New York, NY.
  18. Rodale, Maria. 2010. Organic Manifesto. How Organic Farming Can Heal the Planet, Feed the World and Keep us Safe. Rodale Inc. New York, NY.
  19. Joel Salatin. 1998. You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise. Chelsea Green Publishing. White River Jct., VT.
  20. Eric Schlosser. 2001. Fast Food Nation. Houghton Mifflin Co. New York, NY
  21. P. Thompson. 1995. The Spirit of the Soil: Agriculture and Environmental Ethics. Routledge Press, London, UK.
  22. Alice Waters. 2008. The Edible Schoolyard. Chronicle Books LLC. San Francisco, CA.

Or maybe you’d like the opportunity to meet some new people? If you want to join a discussion group, Slow Food Knoxville is hosting a book club starting in March, with the book “Menu For the Future”, developed by the NW Earth Institute. Check the website for more details: http://slowfoodknoxville.com/