Posts Tagged ‘urban environmentalist’

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By: Jane Marsh

Living in urban regions presents various challenges to the eco-conscious citizen. When renting an apartment in a ten-story building, it is nearly impossible to influence the consumption patterns of every resident. Though managing utilities and choosing appliances is a distant dream, you can alter your lifestyle to shrink your carbon footprint.

1. Skip the Straw

Our local baristas may stick a straw in our iced coffees without a second thought. The thin plastic tubes allow us to drink with ease and cause environmental degradation. These single-use items are non recyclable, spending hundreds of years in landfills.

Most straws are non-biodegradable and break up into microplastics over time. Storm surges and heavy rain carry microplastics into rivers and the ocean. They disrupt the natural composition of the ocean floor, poisoning aquatic life and the marine ecosystem. Urban residents can limit plastic pollution by asking the barista to hold the straw.

2. Take the Bus

In the city, taking public transportation is ten times safer than driving a car. Taking the bus both limits your likelihood of getting in an accident and shrinks your carbon footprint, as the transportation sector generates 30% of American greenhouse gas emissions.

Nearly 82% of all transportation emissions derive from personal cars and trucks. Buses only account for 6% of the carbon released, making it the greener transportation option. Eco-friendly individuals can leave their car keys at home and hop on the public bus.

3. Practice Sustainable Pet Care

Dogs are lovely city companions, making apartment living feel more like home. Many owners bathe their furry friends too frequently, wasting water and harming their coats. Overbathing can cause hot spots, sores, flaking and itchy welts.

You can decrease your water use and improve your pet’s health by bathing them less often. Biodegradable dog bags also offer a sustainable solution to plastic pollution. Individuals can locate compost bins in their neighborhood to dispose of their used baggies, providing nourishment for the earth.

4. Shop at Thrift Stores

Fast fashion companies generate synthetic textiles out of plastic. When we throw away old clothes composed of this material, they pollute the ocean with microplastics. Rather than placing these articles in the trash or financially supporting their production, you can buy secondhand clothing.

5. Adopt a Flexitarian Diet

Beef production emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The air pollutant contributes to adverse human health effects and climate change. Adopting a flexitarian diet can significantly shrink one’s carbon footprint.

A flexitarian diet consists of fruit, vegetable and grain consumption, with the occasional mean containing meal. Urban residents can limit their meat intake to increase the sustainability of their lifestyle.

6. Bring Your Own To-Go Container

To-go containers made of recyclable materials may end up in the blue bin without food remnants. For example, if an individual can thoroughly cleanse a pizza box of grease, cheese and crumble, they can place it in the recycling bin.

You can limit this challenge by bringing your own to-go container. Individuals can reuse glass and hard plastic containers for many years, decreasing their production of waste.   

7. Get a Reusable Cup

Single-use plastic coffee cups end up in landfills, contaminating soil, water and harming wildlife. The toxins that leak from plastic containers also cause adverse human health effects, like cancer. City residents can reduce environmental and human harm by investing in a reusable cup.

8. Grow Indoor Plants

Indoor plants may increase the aesthetic appeal of an apartment while filtering air pollution. Plants absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and release clean oxygen. They improve your indoor air quality, helping you breathe easily, and offset your carbon emissions.

9. Transport by Bike

If you live far from a train or bus stop, you can invest in a bike to travel sustainably. You can reduce your carbon emissions by 0.5 tons annually by completing one trip a day by bike. When you travel solely by cycling, your footprint shrinks even further.

You can generate an eco-friendlier transportation method when using a thrifted bike. Rubber production has adverse effects on the environment and patching up tires can reduce negative impacts. Riding a vintage bike can also enhance your style, making you the trendiest cyclist on the road.

10. Make Green Cleaning Products

Conventional, store-bought cleaning products contain harsh chemicals that pollute the air and contaminate the soil. You can make your own eco-friendly cleaning products to reduce your environmental impact.

An all-purpose cleaner that is environmentally safe contains vinegar, water, soap and essential oils. Individuals may fill a reusable spray bottle with a ¼ cup of vinegar, two cups of water and a drop of soap and oil. Shake up the solution, spray and wipe down all surfaces and watch your apartment shine like the top of the Chrysler building.

Small Changes, Big Impacts

Though the eco-friendly methods presented above may seem small, their environmental impacts add up over time. If you are looking to enhance the sustainability of your lifestyle, you can start by adopting a small change, like skipping the straw. When you are ready to make a larger impact, you can hop on a vintage bike for your workday commute. 

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Jane Marsh is an environmental writer. You can keep up with her work on her site Environment.co.

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By: Lindsay Hollingsworth

We’ve all seen them. The mosses creeping up foundations, the tiny leaves poking out from in between bricks, the young trees swaying merrily from their perches within gutters. And if you’re like me, you’ve probably taken secret joy in these tiny spots of green scattered throughout the city, even as those around you talk of untidiness and power washing.

While pursuing my master’s degree in Ireland, I had the opportunity to study these plants, hidden in plain sight in centuries-old stone walls. As I pursued my research, I learned that the scientific community has often overlooked wall plants as a point of potential ecological interest. Even as our understanding of cities as unique ecosystems has grown, wall plants and other urban botanicals remain a relatively underexplored topic. But there’s been just enough research done to give us tantalizing hints at a secret world of plants unfolding, like the frond of a fern, right under our noses – in the cracks and margins of our megastructures, and in the places that have become too ordinary to notice.

Wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) growing on an ancient stone wall (Photo by Lindsay Hollingsworth)

Some research has suggested that, like forests, wall vegetation has successional stages. As city dirt accumulates and concrete and mortar weathered, walls are first colonized by lichens, then by mosses, and then by vascular plants. And as these tiny microhabitats form, wall plants provide shelter for insects and small animals, who in turn may carry seeds to new crannies and crevices. And in some cases, the unique environmental conditions of walls may provide a sanctuary for important local plant species, especially those that might normally make their homes in cliffs and rocky terrain.

It is unfortunate that we know so little about these plants, especially when we could learn so much from them. With so many of us living in cities, and more predicted to migrate to them in the near future, the question of how to make our cities more verdant and sustainable becomes increasingly crucial. 

And this question is perhaps especially pertinent to sprawling cities like Washington, D.C., where urban development covers so much of the surrounding landscape, and where there is an increasing push to incorporate green walls and roofs into our city infrastructure. Understanding the circumstances which allow plants to grow on walls without human aid may help us to more efficiently cultivate vegetation on our buildings. Currently, one of the biggest drawbacks to green walls is the expense and labor required to maintain them. However, better knowledge of what plants are naturally suited to wall colonization in a particular climate, and under what conditions they will do so, could help us better select plants that require little intervention to thrive. 

Green walls on an urban apartment building (WikiMedia Commons)

Moreover, an understanding of wall plants as not just a nuisance or a curiosity, but as an important part of urban ecosystems, may allow us to see and develop our green walls and roofs to support plants and animals beyond our cities. Green walls and roofs have already been deservedly celebrated for their ability to reduce air pollution, but the way in which animals seem to use naturally occurring wall plants for shelter raises some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps if we can explore the potential of green walls and roofs as refuges and habitat corridors, we could create fundamental changes to the types of animals that can use urban spaces. Perhaps instead of being obstacles for migrating songbirds and butterflies, they could be waystations. 

 The next time you see a cranesbill or hart’s tongue poking out from in between the stones of a garden wall or the bricks of the building, I encourage you to stop and take notice. Admire its fortitude, to grow in a place where so few can. Try and see what circumstances, what characteristics of this particular wall have made its small life possible. And remember that even in a city with no forests or fields, we live, always, side-by-side with nature.

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Lindsay Hollingsworth holds a master’s degree in Biodiversity and Conservation from Trinity College, Dublin, where she researched novel ecosystems, agroecology, and wall flora. She completed her undergraduate studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She currently works at an environmental consulting company, and volunteers with the local Potomac Conservancy.

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By: Julia John

Nine-and-a-half years ago, lifelong gardener Kathy Jentz pushed to convert a brownfield site by her Silver Spring home into a community garden to expand sunny growing space for nearby urban residents. Today, with the removal of several inches of gravel, the addition of several tons of topsoil, and the dedication of dozens of local gardeners, the Fenton Community Garden is a productive Climate Victory Garden mere steps past the Washington, D.C. border. It’s one of hundreds in the D.C. metro area that not only offers fresh produce but also offsets greenhouse gas emissions.

““The more we can do it [offset carbon], the better,”

—Kathy Jentz
Photo Credit: Kathy Jentz

“The more we can do it [offset carbon], the better,” said Washington Gardener Magazine editor Jentz. She plants lettuce, radish, asparagus, strawberry, and thornless blackberry for publication research alongside her interns on one of the garden’s 44 plots.

Launched in D.C. in 2018, Green America’s Climate Victory Gardens campaign encourages gardeners of all levels worldwide to mitigate climate impacts by planting gardens, restoring soil health, and sequestering atmospheric carbon. The nonprofit modeled the effort on the world-wars-era victory gardening movement, when 20 million gardeners, united by the urgent cause of supporting the troops, grew two-fifths of the United States’ fruits and vegetables.

Now, across the D.C. region, households, community gardens, urban farms, schools, businesses, and other organizations tend to over 400 Climate Victory Gardens.

“Together, they span nearly 14 acres and draw down approximately 35 tons of carbon per year—equivalent to offsetting roughly 284,000 miles driven.”

—Julia john

“Garden activism is real and powerful,” said Carissa Tirado-Marks, school garden and sustainability coordinator at Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School in D.C.

A Climate Victory Garden can be just a couple square feet or even a few indoor pots. With the right methods, any garden can enhance soil, capture carbon, and produce healthy food.

Climate Victory Gardening follows ten practices that protect the soil, store carbon in it, and cut emissions from garden inputs. Basic steps involve covering soils with organic matter, composting, avoiding chemicals, and promoting biodiversity. Additional tips include incorporating perennial and native plants.

Photo Credit: Kathy Jentz

“Gardens have a special place in urban settings,” said Jes Walton, Food Campaigns Director at Green America. “They’re a way for folks to connect to the land. They provide an opportunity for community building. In D.C., gardens have played an important role in human and ecological health and increasing food security, from World-War-I Victory Gardens to today’s Climate Victory Gardens.”

The 2.7-acre Glover Park Community Garden is the District’s largest Climate Victory Garden. Situated within Rock Creek Park, it actually began as a Victory Garden that tackled World-War-II food shortages. Today, its 150 plots supply organic vegetables and herbs for household, charitable, and instructional use. 

Many smaller D.C. gardens joined the Climate Victory Gardens campaign through Love & Carrots, a woman-owned company that has installed organic vegetable and flower gardens around the city since 2011. The landscapers also help clients care for gardens via coaching and maintenance programs.

Photo Credit: Carissa Tirado-Marks

Schools are popular locations for Climate Victory Gardens. In 2014, Mundo Verde’s Truxton Circle campus transformed 700 square feet of asphalt into a bounty of greens, peas, turnips, sunchokes, squashes, cabbages, celery, peppers, tomatoes, berries, figs, watermelons, herbs, and native species.

“A lot of people walk by during the day…ask about what is growing in the garden and leave with their arms full of greens and herbs,” Tirado-Marks said.

The space commemorates the land’s indigenous roots and grows food for students, their families, and the afterschool garden market by harnessing soil-building techniques, she said. These include rotating crops, leaving soils undisturbed, using cover crops in the cold season, and applying compost from the garden’s compost system and from its hens and worm bins.

Through engaging with this outdoor classroom and urban wildlife habitat, Tirado-Marks said, “students learn that natural, social, and economic systems are linked and interdependent. They build a foundation for understanding and treasuring ecological systems and begin to understand intergenerational responsibility and act with this mindset.” 

Photo Credit: Carissa Tirado-Marks

“They build a foundation for understanding and treasuring ecological systems and begin to understand intergenerational responsibility and act with this mindset.”

—Carissa Tirado-Marks

As an educator, she believes that “growing hyper-locally and keeping healthy food in communities should not be revolutionary.” And she hopes that “society will recognize the value of gardens—for learning, for healing, and for survival—and that eventually, gardens will be supported and evenly distributed throughout D.C. and beyond.”

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Julia John is a former Green America food campaigns intern. She received a Masters in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Johns Hopkins University in 2020 and currently writes about sustainable agriculture for Food Tank.

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By: Margaret Morgan-Hubbard

I am the daughter of a Russian Jewish refugee who escaped the holocaust and landed in NYC in the mid 1930’s. Farming may not be in my blood, but fighting for justice certainly is part of my inheritance.  I aim to expand equity and justice, while protecting and restoring the environment. 

While working at the University of Maryland, I formed the Engaged University (EU) to make the University more accountable and responsive to our local community. I began to focus particularly on community health, food and the environment, because I discovered the systemic neglect and abuse inflicted by industrial food production on local people and the land. I wanted to explore ways I could act locally and impact globally.  

In 2007, I started the Masterpeace Community Farm. The goal of the project was to create a communal space that enabled the growth of middle school youth, college students, and local community residents, primarily of African and Latinx heritage. My staff and I found the young people’s positive response to growing, preparing, and eating healthy food especially intriguing.

When the University of Maryland defunded the project, a few of us decided to continue our food justice work through the non-profit we formed called Engaged Community Offshoots, or ECO. Ultimately, our work evolved into ECO City Farms. 

When we began ECO, we secured an agreement with the chief dietitian of the Prince George’s Public School System to supply seasonal organic vegetables for a salad bar at William Wirt Middle School. Although this agreement was never honored, we were able to leverage the commitment to secure land from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission as well as funding from a number of area foundations for the farm. 

Losing Masterpeace Community Farm solidified our determination to own the land for ECO. We located a perfect site— a residential house in a low food access/low income neighborhood with a large back yard where food had been grown for decades. 

When I met with the Planning Office and local Council members, I was informed that I could never build hoop houses nor create a commercial urban farm in a residential neighborhood, and that urban farming was  not a legal land use in the County. Nevertheless, I persisted.   I continued to insist on meetings with planning supervisors, and then their bosses, going higher and higher up the chain of command. After a series of such meetings, I finally reached a director who publicly declared: “This woman is never going to go away, so let’s just give her some parkland on which to farm!” I was escorted to the Parks Division and spent many hours looking over maps to find a suitable site. 

The land I ultimately secured for ECO was just two blocks away from the land I tried to purchase, and it was free. However, the use agreement was only good for one year and the land had a tennis court in front of it that the town hoped to redevelop. Nevertheless, we built our farm and immediately began growing and selling food. 

Local politicians were so impressed with our achievements that by the end of the year, we were able to achieve a number of things, including: negotiating a 15-year renewable use agreement, expanding onto the obsolete tennis court, building a processing kitchen out of a shipping container, and renting the first floor of a Parks & Recreation Division house for our offices, less than a mile from the farm. After months of persistent advocacy and the struggle, the County code was changed to allow urban farming, along with its accompanying infrastructure, in almost every zone of Prince George’s County.

With land secured, funds raised and basic infrastructure built, we imagined that all we had left to do was grow good food for our healthy-food-deprived neighbors and they would come. But nothing is that simple. 

While there is certainly a need for healthy locally grown food in every community everywhere, there is often a disconnect between the food we grew and the eating habits, purchasing practices, cooking skills and desires of the community where that food is grown. Our clientele was rarely the predominantly working class Latinx residents who neighbored the farm.

Over ten long years, with many advances and setbacks, ECO has become the première urban farm in the metropolitan DC region, employing 7 people—mainly women– full time and exposing hundreds of people yearly to the art and science of urban growing. We have taught many hundreds of DC area residents, aspiring farmers and their families through community-based experiential learning courses at our farm– incorporating cultivating and harvesting vegetables, cooking, nutrition, composting, herbalism, business skills and responsible environmental stewardship. 

We’ve exposed many hundreds of area school children to environmental education and conduct 6-week-long youth summer employment programs every year, including this one. We’ve engaged hundreds of area college students in programs about healthy eating and active living. We’ve held dozens of community events, poetry readings, festivals and celebrations. 

Together with Prince George’s Community College, we’ve issued a Certificate of Completion in Commercial Urban Agriculture to the hundreds of trainees who attend our courses and we are just now completing the fourth of a six-year USDA grant to train urban farmers to fulfill ECO’s mission to “grow great food, farms and farmers.”  

We’ve managed to keep our farms open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing practices that maintain social distancing amongst staff, customers and apprentices.  Simultaneously, we’ve provided affordable weekly farm shares to 70 local families and supply free weekly shares to 25-40 area senior households.

We helped to found the Prince George’s Food Equity Council to advocate for the policy change that is needed to make food production, distribution and consumption more equitable.  Our goal is to undo the damage wrought by the plantation economy, persistent racism, the  devastation of the environment and the industrialization of the food system.

Despite all of our collaborative work to date, urban farms have not proliferated as rapidly as we initially imagined; few children get to eat healthy, fresh, locally grown foods at school; most families do not know where their food comes from or how it is produced; small scale farming is only marginally economically viable; and few public resources are devoted to ensuring that toxic-free food is a human right.

I am proud that after 10 years of hard work and persistence, ECO City Farms still exists as a model of what is possible. And I am excited that when we advertise  our training to students now, the majority of our responders are women of color of all ages who want to ensure their food is toxic-free and grown by people they trust, and who earn a living wage. But there are still very few new urban farms, and many financial and other impediments to becoming a full-time urban farmer. 

I know that I and my partners in this struggle cannot rest until truly sustainable urban farms pepper the landscape of Maryland and beyond, and that everyone who wants to grow food, for themselves and/or others, has the opportunity, means, resources and know-how to do so. 

Please join me in this effort. Let me know what steps you are taking to make your local food system more just, equitable and healthy for all.  [email protected]

Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, founder of ECO City Farms in 2010, is a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and friend of the earth, who has lived in the DC area since 1982. ECO is the premier nonprofit urban teaching and learning farm in Prince George’s County that grows great food, farms and farmers in ways that protect, restore and sustain the natural environment. Working with area children, youth and adults, ECO educates and trains the area’s next generation of area urban farmers and eaters.

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By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

As an urban environmentalist, I often find myself engaged in a hyper-conscious balancing act where I strive to prioritize meta issues of ecological import with the growing demands of the built environment. It requires a melding of world views and a mindful way of seeing, which mirrors the topography of any major city, layers upon layers of organic matter organized into neat and surreal spaces by use and design.  It’s a constant deconstruction of norms and assumptions in the service of holistic life.  Today, I’m curious about bees and what their survival means for the concrete nooks I call home.

Why should you care about pollinator protection?

The news is flush with information on the decline of bee colonies. Bees are dying off at an alarming rate thanks in no small part to insecticides and fungicides used on plants to prevent crop losses.  In particular, there is evidence that chemicals applied to signature US crops of modern American diet are linked to bee colony collapse.

What’s the big deal with bees?

bee-in-sweetpeaBees aren’t just the scourge of allergy allegory or the worry of weekend trips to sandy and grassy spaces. Bees are a landmark species. They are a marker of ecological health and an essential link in the food chain. Bees support hundreds of thousands of flowering plants through pollination and increase the yields of over ninety crops including but not limited to apples, blueberries, and cucumbers. Bee pollination forms the basis of growth for plants that quite literally provide us with lifesaving medicines. They cross-fertilize to give us a third of everything we eat.  Bees are the invisible engine of our agricultural system, which makes them kind of a big deal.

Predictions

The threat of a world without bees isn’t an abstract danger. A loss of wild and domestic bee colonies would affect the diversity and availability of foods available to the world population of roughly seven billion humans, which would feature approximately fifty percent of the fruit, vegetable, and agricultural food stores it now possesses. In short, what happens to them happens to us. Bees die off due to mass infections, susceptibility to poor nutrition, and illness from chemical exposure, and we do the same.

Responses and Solutions

Despite the bleak and dire forecast there are some plans in the works to address this issue and develop strategies to promote health of honeybees and other pollinators.  Our government is looking at the effects of large scale agricultural operations and related federal activities through the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. In collaboration with public and private partners EPA has developed a proposal to protect bees, bats, and monarch butterflies which aims to reduce colony losses over the next ten years and restore or enhance lands for pollination.

albina-34431284019348nlf4In particular, the EPA Plan looks to mitigate losses by focusing on commercial pollination through label restrictions which warn of effects, and pesticide application engagement programs which are administered through managed pollination protection plans aimed at farmers and food growers.  These plans focus on the operational relationships between beekeepers and landowners who work together when bees are brought onto big farms to pollinate commercially (raise your hand if you knew they did that!) where pesticides have been applied.

EPA’s plans for mitigation are designed to better assess risk to pollinators, reduce potential risk from toxics, engage state and tribal partners, and expedite review of the managed plans.

What can you do to help the bees?

This effort will take more than federal interagency input and cooperation. The EPA is looking for public comments on its plan.  In fact, the public comment period was recently extended to July 29, 2015, from the original closing date of May 29, 2015. So, Ecowomen take a look at the plan and submit comments on the overall proposal, make your voice heard on landowner and beekeeper local agreements, and ways to evaluate plans effectiveness to reduce risks to bees. Additionally, the EPA needs more information on systemic pesticides, microbial pesticides before it advises on label changes on the affected chemicals by 2016.

Additionally, if you too are an urban environmentalist you can do a few things in your local community to support pollination. On your next trip to the farmer’s market support and purchase honey from your local bee man or woman.  At home, you can make your green space, yard or terrace and pots friendlier to bees by planting rosemary, and flowering plants such as the Black Eyed Susan, and avoid using pesticides to grow them during the warmer months. And if you are really feeling the call to action call upon your local government, council or representative to push for wholesale bans of toxic chemical applications in your local, municipal gardens and greenspaces.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on social and environmental justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and Vermont Law School.  Tamara has been a DC EcoWomen Board Member on the Professional Development Team since August 2014. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads,  travel, and yoga.