Chicago’s new Urban Farmer program

Grist.org published a segment last week on Chicago’s new urban farmer program, aiming to train up to 100 farmers each year on how to establish an urban neighborhood farm, both from the agricultural as well as the business side.

Many contracting or otherwise struggling urban cities in the US are looking to agriculture as a solution for vacant lots and unhealthy diets, from Pittsburgh to Detroit to Los Angeles. (You know it’s a trend when the New York Times has an entire online section dedicated to it.) Farming (or even gardening) on a vacant lot can be challenging, from polluted soil to poor drainage to pest infestations, not to mention ordinance violations. But as experience with these transformations grow, lessons learned from converting many thousands of acres of brownfields into greenfields could help localize our food system and provide much needed urban employment. It’s also a great way to immerse children in the food system, allowing easier access to gardens (to participate in growing their own food) and a natural way to get to know others in their community.

Personally, I’m glad to see the change of heart in my native city; let’s see if the suburbs follow suit and relax their landscaping ordinances that prohibit gardens in front yards.

Bad news delivered well

This semester I am teaching a class on sustainability (Sustainability Science, Policy and Assessment), and I am struggling to decide whether I should show probably the most dispiriting and disconcerting documentary currently available on the topic of societal collapse, a very common topic in our class discussions.

Titled simply “Collapse“, the documentary is an interview with Michael Ruppert, one of the tallest lightning rods in the peak oil and sustainability circles. Ruppert’s methodology and conclusions are controversial, but that is not what makes his work so difficult to teach. There is a fatalistic quality to his work; that connecting fact A to B to C inevitably leads us all to D (collapse of civilization), when there are significant unknowns that may make those events truly unconnected and therefore D just one of many possible outcomes.

Indeed, it is the work of groups like The Resilience Alliance that try to understand these different pathways through destruction and renewal, and The Transition Network that tries to prevent D from becoming an inevitable outcome by guiding communities down different pathways.

I suppose I can understand how Ruppert’s history and career could lead him to see the worst in humanity…. his years in the Los Angeles police force surely required him to be open to the worst possibilities…. but hopefully I can teach my students the reality of the challenges we face without losing hope for kinder, gentler pathways through them.

Isle Royale NPS Presentation tonight (Tuesday 5 March)

From the email:

Hello all!

Just a reminder about tonight’s Global City presentation Tuesday, March 5th, 6:00-7:00 pm in the U. J. Noblet Forestry Building G002, Michigan Tech (please note the room change for our regular members!). We welcome Isle Royale National Park employees Seth DePasqual (Cultural Resource Manager), Mark Romanski (Biological Science Technician) and Lucas Westcott, (West District Interpreter) to give the following presentation:


Of Marten and Men:
Implications of Spatial Analysis in Cultural and Natural Resource Research at Isle Royale National Park


Over its history, the isolation of Isle Royale has made it a premiere location for research on cultural and natural history.  A variety of spatial analysis technologies are helping current National Park Service researchers examine diverse park resources in new ways.  Come join NPS staff for a discussion about how spatial analysis is playing a role in research on Isle Royale’s genetically distinct pine marten population, as well helping identifying potential historic and prehistoric archeological sites. (For more detailed abstracts please see below.)


Pizza and pop provided, please bring your own mug to minimize waste!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

The Global City crew

Michigan Tech Campus map:
http://www.mtu.edu/maps/


Seth DePasqual, Cultural Resource Manager
This presentation will discuss recent examinations into Isle Royale’s early prehistory and more recent mining histories with attention given to site discovery, geomorphology and the merits of survey work aided by LiDAR. In addition to conventional archaeological survey methods including background research and field-based inventories, ISRO CRM incorporated a LiDAR-based DEM when developing strategies for site discovery.

These efforts resulted in the location of many previously undiscovered site features including historic roads, prospect trenches, and diamond-drill coring stations.  With regard to prehistoric features, archaeologists targeted the island’s relict shorelines as a means to site discovery. These features (including those not yet discovered) improve our understanding of significant island prehistories/histories and lend themselves to informed decisions regarding future management actions, public interpretation and the relevance of cultural resources in Wilderness.

Although traditional survey methods are sometimes adequate for discovery of these types of features, the time and personnel necessary are typically in short supply. LiDAR allows researchers to ballpark, if not pinpoint certain anomalies that are compatible with certain island cultural themes. Related methods streamline federal survey efforts allowing more time for actual site examination and documentation. Without LiDAR, a great deal of time and expense would be committed to searching for such features as opposed to documenting them.

Mark Romanski , Biological Science Technician
Isle Royale National Park contains the only insular population of American marten in the contiguous United States. Marten at the park likely experienced a population and genetic bottleneck during the early 20th century and after a 60-year apparent absence, their presence has been reconfirmed.  Investigations of genetic isolation and relative distribution suggest abundance of marten at the park is very low, approximate 30 individuals, and that this population is genetically distinct from its likely source population. There is considerable concern that the park could lose this rare population of forest mesocarnivores without further information to assess this population’s status. This situation is exacerbated as natural colonization from the mainland is virtually impossible. Given ISRO martens are likely their own genetically distinct subspecies, equivalent to the only other known subspecies of marten  found on the island of Newfoundland, no known genetically similar source population exists if augmenting the population was warranted. As such, park researchers and their collaborators are  conducting research designed to address the most salient aspects of this population’s natural history to help preserve this unique, insular population of marten.

A narrative of the Upper Peninsula forest through time

I just finished reading John Knott’s Imagining the Forest: Narratives of Michigan and the Upper Midwest (2012, University of Michigan Press), and thoroughly enjoyed his flowing narration of the path our forests have taken over the past 400 years. He uses a series of novels, books, and periodicals (both fiction and nonfiction) written during different periods to provide images of not just what our forests were like ecologically, but how they were perceived by those who lived in them.

His book begins not with the northwards retreat of the glaciers (when our forests truly began to be forests), but with the Ojibwa who utilized forest resources in seasonal movements and traditions. These traditions served them well when the first fur-trappers established themselves in the area, and the Ojibwa and traders formed integrated communities and relied on intact forests to support their trade in resources.

However, as the timber boom spread from Lower to Upper Michigan, the forests were stripped and sold to support urban expansion in Chicago, Detroit and beyond. His descriptions of the fires that raged out of control in the 1870’s, destroying top soil and villages, are difficult to imagine. The forest residues that remained after the logs were transported away from the area, combined with an intense series of summer droughts, seared the Upper Peninsula so completely in some areas that the forest has yet to return. These same drought conditions also fueled the Great Chicago Fire in the same year.

After the timber boom, government efforts to encourage agriculture on the near-barren soil failed, and reforestation began. The UP began to be marketed as a vacation destination, in the hopes of developing a new tourism-based economy.

Knott concludes his book with a discussion of the opportunities that our National Forests, Wilderness Areas, and State Parks provide us: hints of what our forests were like before the timber boom in the late 1800’s.

This book is a great read for both natives and newcomers; I recommend bringing it along on your next camping trip in the Porkies!!

The Value of Local Food presentation, Feb 14 6:30-8pm

From Prof. Susan Martin:

“Ken Meter will present a program on Thurs Feb 14 from 6:30-8 in MEEM 112  “The Value of Local Food: How Local Food Systems are Revitalizing Economies and Communities.”   Mr. Meter is an economist and national expert on the economic impact of local food production, and he is the president of the Crossroads Resource Center. His presentation is free and open to the public.

If you are interested in the linked topics of environmental impacts of global food systems, the impoverishment of local producers, and wider issues of healthy diets and enhancing local food security, there’ll be something for you in this presentation.”

The new Pointillism

Brandon Martin-Anderson would have made Seurat proud; using US Census Bureau data (and a very large server), he recreated US and Canadian population patterns by representing each person as one dot.

What really struck me on this map is how the gridded road network in the Midwestern US dictates population settlement pattern, while natural features (such as the interior valleys in California) drive population settlement elsewhere. Of course major cities are obvious, but obvious too are the millions of people on the Florida coast who are at great risk of sea level rise from climate change (as well as more intense hurricanes).

What do you see?

Green Film Series 2013

Here is the schedule (copied and pasted here) for the 2013 Green Film Series at Michigan Tech. All movies are shown in G002 Hesterberg Hall, Michigan Tech Forestry Building, and start at 7pm. Coffee, dessert, and a facilitated discussion occur in the Atrium (just outside the room) after the event. The cost is free and open to the public, although a $3 donation is suggested. Teachers may earn 0.6 SB-CEU’s for attending four of the five films.

January 17th: River Planet – explores the very different environmental, cultural and social issues around how humans and wildlife interact with six major rivers on our planet. Run time: 29 minutes. Discussion Facilitator: Evan McDonald, Keweenaw Land Trust, will discuss local efforts to protect and steward the Pilgrim River Watershed – a local area highly vulnerable to unchecked future urban development.

February 21st: Last Call at the Oasis – Be it through consumption or contamination, water is becoming more scarce globally, including in the United States. Run time: 108 minutes. Discussion Facilitator: Dr. Alex Mayer, MTU Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

March 14th: The Strange Disappearance of the Bees – Across the globe, the disturbing mass death of bees has more than just beekeepers worried – at least 1/3rd of the world’s food relies on bee pollination. Run time: 58 minutes. Discussion Facilitator: Melissa Hronkin, Apiarist and Proprietor of Algomah Acres Honey Farm.

April 18th: Switch – Join energy visionary Dr. Scott Tinker as he explores the world’s leading energy sites, from coal to solar, oil to biofuels, many highly restricted and never before seen on film. Run time: 98 minutes. Discussion Facilitator: Dr. Wayne Pennington, MTU Dept. of Geological  Mining Sciences  Engineering.

May 9th: Chasing Ice – Acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog ventures to the Arctic to document the melting of ice mountains using state-of-the-are time lapse photography. Chasing Ice depicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet. Run time: 76 minutes. Discussion Facilitator: Dr. Sarah Green, MTU Dept. of Chemistry.

The film series is co-sponsored by the Lake Superior Stewardship Initiative, Michigan Tech Center for Water & Society, Keweenaw Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and Keweenaw Land Trust.

Pilgrim River restoration project presentation TONIGHT!

Hosted by Michigan Tech’s Global City student organization:

Global City’s first presentation this semester will be TODAY, Jan. 15, 2013, at 6PM in Fisher 138. The presentation will cover the on-going restoration of a portion of the Pilgrim River just outside of Houghton, MI. The project is being implemented with a unique approach, with a goal of preserving both landowner rights and the environment. See the following link for much more information: www.pilgrimriverwatershed.org.
As always, pizza and pop will be provided. Please go green and bring your own cups and dishes!

Cozy living

First, apologies for the long hiatus…. the last month or so of the semester is always crazy.

I was going to write a reflective post on all of the sustainability-related events in 2012…. most notably, the lack of any sort of societal collapse as predicted by the Mayans and others (although as Jon Stewart remarked, perhaps the Mayans were not the best ones to be predicting collapses). However, as I sit here in my drafty post-mining poorly-insulated Yooper home, trying to warm my toes in front of a space heater, the only thing I can think about is how much nicer a tiny cottage with a pot-bellied wood stove might feel just about now.

Coincidentally, as I looked through my inbox, the latest edition of Grist has an entire article devoted to Living Large in Small Houses. While the thought of no mortgage and a forced reduction in junk (timely after the post-Christmas gift binge) does sound nice, what I found really engaging was the farm cottage in Vermont that stayed cozy all winter using less than a cord of wood.

I used to rent a log cabin even smaller than that when I was a grad student in Knoxville TN. It had a tiny kitchen, tiny bathroom, one small family room (where the wood stove was) and one other room that I used as a bedroom/den. Off the back was a giant porch with a view of the forested “holler” below, full of huge magnolia trees and tulip poplars hiding a Civil War-era fort within it. Due to the complete lack of insulation in the walls, I typically went through a cord of wood each winter, which wasn’t a big problem due to a microburst storm my first summer there that brought down 5 or 6 massive trees in my backyard. It look less than five minutes to find a forestry student with a chainsaw, and then I had years of wood to split and use. I look back on those years very fondly…. the house was small, easy to keep clean, and the heating system was very effective and simple to operate (open door, put wood in, throw in lit match, close door).

Maybe someday I’ll get back to that sort of living….. with the emergence of a huge diversity of tiny house blueprints, perhaps I’ll build it myself.

Happy New Year!

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without

This old quote (linked to both the Great Depression in the United States, and the Shakers) can be difficult to abide by in our high tech world. However, I think these iFixit folks are really on to something here….. free online manuals for repairing anything from smart phones to  automobiles to toasters. Check the site out first before you haul that appliance to the curb…..