Archive for May, 2010

Closure for the Excursionist on Craigslist

By now, you have probably used, or heard of craigslist.org, the king of the classifieds. Craigslist was started in 1995 by Craig Newmark as a hobby in his San Francisco apartment. CEO and ‘anarchist’ Jim Buckmaster took over in 2000, and runs Craigslist with a mission of non-commercial, non-corporate public service. It is wildly popular, used by 25 million people every month in 70 different countries. It is a haven for finding new life for used or unwanted items. Carpenters, plumbers, and tilers can find building materials. College students can find couches, and families can rescue pets that would otherwise be put down. Another beauty that Craigslist blesses us with is a rideshare board.
It is too often that we drive ourselves, and only ourselves places where many people are looking to go. On Craigslist rideshare, people offer or ask for rides to be shared. Gas is usually split, company is had, and everyone gets where they need to go, not to mention the carbon footprint of the ride goes down with each passenger! As my trip came to a close, I had my first experience with sharing rides.
In Eugene, OR, I shipped my bike home. With no wheels, I boarded a train to San Francisco to catch my cousin’s wedding where I was able to see my friends and family. While everyone flew back East, I could not justify it. I had just biked 4,500 miles, and flying home would be like someone who was a vegan for five years gorging themselves on a Philly cheese steak. I knew there were people looking to drive back to NYC, I just had to find someone who was leaving when I needed to. Through Craigslist I found many folks driving to the East coast, but only one leaving in the small time frame I had. The only problem was I was in San Fran, and they were in LA. What did I do? Looked for a ride to LA, of course. I found a guy leaving the next day from Berkley. He was a prodigy auto mechanic from LA who was visiting his girlfriend in San Fran. We arranged a meeting place, he picked me up, he dropped me off in LA, and I gave him $20 bucks. We did not have much in common, but it was a pleasant drive. During our conversations I tried to spew any facts or stories I had about cars but came up short.
My ride back home was epic. It took two and a half days to drive from LA to NYC. In the car was orchestrator Ehud, an Israeli jazz musician studying the drums at the New School for Jazz, and a Russian TV repairman who was living and working in Las Vegas. We had the best time, sleeping, driving, and laughing at each others stories. We all rotated driving, and when someone felt like they were endangering the others lives, they said something and we switched. It was a blast, and I fully support anyone wondering if sharing a ride is right for them. If you are unsure of their character, you can e-mail back and forth, chat on the phone, and nowadays most people are on a social networking website so you can thoroughly check out who you are going to ride with.

Advertisements

FinnPo and the Maitreya EcoVillage

I had a friend in Eugene told me about an EcoVillage in downtown Eugene, OR, where I would surely find someone to write about for the blog. After finding the village, I wandered in and was greeted like an old friend who had not been seen for a while by a short, chipper man, with buzzed gray hair and twinkling eyes. He was FinnPo.

FinnPo in front of an Icosa Hut


After he finished some wood he was cutting for windows (where he lives, they make their windows), FinnPo and I sat down and talked about sustainability while we enjoyed some frozen plums. I discovered that FinnPo is a vision of sustainability through his interconnectedness with other people and living things. He is in tune with what brings a happy, pleasurable, and a spiritually fulfilling lifestyle. FinnPo gathers inspiration in part from The Ringing Cedars by Vladimir Megré, a true book series about the life lessons from Anastasia. Born in 1969, Anastasia grew up in the forests of Siberia where she gained infinite knowledge of humans relationship with nature, and the importance of interacting with the earth as a community. After Megré stumbled upon her, he realized that everything she taught him should be published. Subsequently, there are nine books that have sold over 10 million copies and translated in to twenty different languages with no advertisement. Her teachings include lessons on nutrition, ecology, sexual relations, the universe, and God. The books began a movement in Russia and beyond, inspiring self reliant communities that provide physical subsistence and spiritual fulfillment.
It is not a consequence that FinnPo lives in the EcoVillage, Maitreya. EcoVillages are rural and urban communities with a goal to become socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable. To live sustainably, Maitreya has five rules:
1. Renewable resources shall not be used faster that they can regenerate.
2. Nonrenewable resources shall not be used faster that renewable substitutes (to be used sustainably) can be found & developed.
3. Pollution and waste shall not be put into the environment faster than the environment can absorb and render it harmless.
4. The human population shall be kept low enough that the above three conditions can be met.
5. The above four conditions shall be met under conditions that are democratic and equitable enough that the people of the world will stand for it.

Inside the Cob house

Currently, FinnPo is one of 33 people who live on Maitreya, which takes up less than one acre of land. FinnPo builds Icosa Huts, small living huts that provide sleeping quarters and privacy. He helped start ‘Resurrected Refuse,’ a small business that reduces Eugene’s waste stream by putting materials that were to be thrown out to work. Minus the hardware, all the huts on Maitreya are made from salvaged materials. They share living, cooking, and bathroom facilities, and some have office space in the houses. Maitreya also has a straw bale community center, a house that is open for the public to reserve. A tactic of green building, straw is an agricultural waste product, and has a very high insulation value. As a guest, I slept in the cob house, a structure made from soil, clay, sand, and straw – imagine a house that when it reaches the end of its life can dissolve back in to the earth. Almost all of the space that is not taken up by a man made structure produces food, so whenever I walked in and out of the village I found myself ducking under grape vines or avoiding tomatoes. Also, a rainwater swale collects water to be fed back underground instead of running off into the sewers.
It was a joy to be a guest at Maitreya. Finn Po encourages us all to start the Ringing Cedars series, and after seeing such devotion and care for one another, I think I have to pick it up.

Dan uses Veggie Oil

Ever dream of buying a van, putting a mattress in it, and driving down to Costa Rica to explore Central America, surf all day, and sleep on the beach every night?
Nick, of Portland Oregon, lived that dream, and throughout the 30,000 miles he did not pay for fuel once, and he only filled up his tank three times. Nick is carpenter and musician. He splits his time between labor and playing in a Latin rock -with reggae undertones- band. A couple of years ago he wanted to take a trip. A long trip, to Central America. He wanted to drive, but something about driving all that way disturbed him. Fuel would not only be costly to him, but he would be responsible for all of those carbon emissions. The answer seemed obvious- vegetable oil.Dan in back of his van. (Tank is below wooden platform)
Veg-oil, which can be burned in most diesel engines, has zero emissions when burned, and is free; an almost too perfect answer to Nick’s need of guilt-free transportation. He bought a six cylinder Ford work van, and with his friend converted it to run on veggie oil. Technically, all you need is a vehicle with a diesel engine, but simply pouring it in to the tank is not the safest of ways to go about it. The proper way is to install a two tank system, that due to the higher viscosity of veggie oil, starts and shuts down the engine on diesel fuel to give the veg-oil time to heat up. Nick and his friend welded a 300 gallon tank that sits in the back of the van. His fuel source was not hard to find either. Nick found some people with stock piles of veg-oil that he took off their hands. Veggie oil is a waste product that most restaurants pay to get picked up and disposed of. If you want some, ask the restaurant owner if it is OK to scoop some out. Usually they are more than willing.
Using veg-oil is not biking, but it is still radically alternative to other fuel sources. The time and money devoted to converting it was more than worth it to Nick, who encourages more people to make the switch. I am waiting for the day when my bike breaks down, and first car that came by was powered by veg-oil. Tomorrow, maybe?

Stephane drinks TRU Organic Spirits

Going in to college I wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I got there, environmental studies classes took over my education, and taught me about the ill effects of carbon emissions, using pesticides on our food, and other ways human activity negatively impacts our planet. These facts do not change the reality that people are still going to need things, or want things for that matter. That is where businesses comes in. However, goods and services can be provided in socially responsible ways.
That is what Stephane and the makers of TRU Organic Spirits had in mind when they set out to make Vodka. I met Pierre in Yellowstone National Park after I retrieved a ball from a tree for his daughter. Laura and I were looking for a campsite, so Stephane and his family graciously offered to share theirs. Sitting around a fire we discussed his business that he helped start. Before they went in to business, Stephane knew that providing a good takes certain resources, but it is possible to provide those resources in a way that has the least impact on the environment. TRU’s slogan is ‘a better vodka for a better planet.’ But how green is TRU?
TRU makes vodka and gin using organic lemons, wheat, vanilla beans, and juniper berries. Their bottles are lightweight (but strong), lightening the load when in transport, and their packaging is made of all recyclable materials that folds in on itself to eliminate packaging tape. Also, the boxes that they are shipped in are dual-use, meaning they convert into shelf displays for the product.
The major action that impressed me and makes the most difference, was that that for every bottle they sell they plant a tree. TRU works with Sustainable Harvest International, a nonprofit ecological restoration group that works with farmers in Central America to help them protect their forests through restoration training workshops, and plants trees. To date, TRU has planted 65,012 carbon trees that sequesters carbon dioxide, holds soil in place, and provides food and habitat for hundreds of organisms.
They are also a member of Slow Food USA, a network of food producers committed to sustainable agriculture. But how is TRU an agricultural product? A lot of land is used to grow grains to make liquor. In fact, it takes 23 square feet to grow the wheat for a 750ml bottle. Multiply that by 2.2 billion, the number of distilled spirits sold in 2008 in the US, and that is 1.1. million acres. An image from TRU’s website helps explain that to grow that much wheat conventionally takes 1.65 million lbs of pesticides, and 110 million lbs of fertilizers, and 179 million gallons of fresh water.
Our economic system, which is based on the trade of scarce resources and unlimited growth, is quite the joke. However, there are steps in the right direction, and responsible businesses like TRU are taking those steps. While they do their part, do yours by supporting businesses like this one, and others who work toward a sustainable future.

Sharing the road with the buffalo

John Egan

John and Laura in the Bighorns

John is an educator, cyclist, naturalist, pianist, and a big fan of creamy peanut butter. He calls Buffalo, WY home, but has traveled around the world, mostly on a bike. He has logged over 100,000 miles on a bike, and the most beautiful place he has ever been is Glacier National Park, in Montana. That does not say a lot, however, because John respects the beauty of his natural surroundings everywhere he goes, from the trees in his front yard to the Big Horn mountains, which are actually in his backyard.
Seeing landscapes outside the mechanized city skylines and suburban developments is the only way to instill a caring for the health of the non-human. How can we care that our cars, plastic bottles, and conventional food degrade our world if all we see is roads, buildings, and grocery stores? How can we change to live in harmony with nature if we see nature as another entity altogether? The answer is to gather a perspective that puts us on the same level with other life forms. To walk amongst the trees, explore a cave, climb mountains, pick berries, and swim in rivers is to experience our world as other, non-human animals do.
In his spare time, John studies ice crystals in the winter and wild flowers in the summer. He knows the mountains well, and took us up for some relaxation off of the bike. We basked in the lupine and climbed a spire of rocks that overlooks a valley. It was so nice to venture off of the pavement and spend some time surrounded by moose, wildflowers, and ancient trees.
When it comes to environmentalism, seeing is believing, and changing; not in society but in the individuals thoughts on how we should treat the environment. Change in society will come when those same individuals choose to take action and make different choices with a regard for the perspective on the environment they found when they were outside.

A Ladybug found some Lupine

Everyone should be exposed to the beauty and fun that is offered by the outdoors. John is one of many who take time to respect what was here before us. But ‘nature’ is more than that. It is what gives us oxygen, collects and filters our water, and grows our food. Why we destroy it in the first place is a whole ‘nother blog, but experiencing it will help you find reason not to.

Karin, Jaime & the Trash Talkers

One outlet to act on your devotion to environmentalism is to get involved in a community group that aims to create change. Sioux Falls, SD harbors a prime opportunity to do so. I found Karin and Jaime at a Sioux Falls Green Project (SFGP) meeting. SFGP is a local movement educating and inspiring Sioux Falls to build a greener future, and focuses on recycling, water conservation, energy, and design.

Jaime, Karin

Both students at Augustana College, Karin and Jaime decided to intern for the SFGP because they believed in its mission and wanted to educate Sioux Falls residents about what they can do live more sustainably. To do this, they keep their own blog and run certain community events. The SFGP The meeting I attended was to orchestrate a Trash Talkers effort. Trash Talkers are a group of Sioux Falls residents who help out at large events to help others throw their trash and recycling in the right bin. The event that they are planning for, is a large festival centered around motorcycles that usually attracts a huge crowd and generates a lot of trash. So who are the Trash Talkers? I found the crew to be a range of residents from bank tellers to restaurant workers, and accountants to Cub Scout leaders.

Trash Talkers meeting

A couple cub scout troops are always involved, says one troop leader at the meeting. After the event, the kids sort through it to root out any recycling that might have gotten thrown out. The testimonial is that the kids have a blast and become very passionate about not letting bottles and cans go to the landfill. Perhaps it is in their blood- in 1997 South Dakota was #1 in waste management per capita in the Nation. Now they have fallen below the national average, and the SFGP wants to get back to where they were. They recognize that collectively the city can make significant strides to reach their goals, and Trash Talkers is an example of that. My own career in waste sorting got off to a late start, so I was happy to hear about kids getting involved in waste sorting early, and learning to talk some trash.

http://www.siouxfallsgreenproject.org/

Julia. Peace. Coffee.

In Minneapolis I mentioned to my host the purpose of my trip, and he recommended I check out a couple of spots that he thought would peak my interest. One of them was the non profit, Peace Coffee, and boy was he right!

Julia, trailer, coffee!

Peace Coffee is a coffee distributor and roastery in downtown Minneapolis. They roast 100% organic, fair trade beans five days a week, and are committed to buying coffee from cooperatives to make sure their operation is non-exploitative. But that is not the best part…the coffee is delivered by bike! Peace Pedalers, as they are called, bike over 5,000 miles every year delivering their beans to coffee shops and retailers all around Minneapolis. Their motto is ‘Roast beans, not fossil fuels,’ and boy do they live up to it. Every morning two cyclists make the rounds to drop coffee off around the city. I caught up with Julia, a Peace Pedaler, as she began her ride.
Julia is an avid cyclist (like most people in St. Paul-Minneapolis), and this job caught her eye when she was looking for work. We talked as we followed the most efficient route to each of the customers. The coffee is loaded in a long, box trailer that is capable of carrying hundreds of pounds of coffee. To maneuver the trailer fully loaded is quite the task, and it helps if you know the cracks, ditches, and alleys by heart. To her it was just another day on the job, but I was so excited to simply follow her around until I felt like I was annoying her.
Peace coffee tackles the two most valuable commodities on the planet, coffee and oil. By creating a fair trade market they ensuring better lives of farmers and their communities. By biking, they are autonomous in their reluctance to drive a delivery truck that runs on regular diesel fuel.
Growth did eventually exceed the range that was possible with bicycle delivery and a van was purchased. The van runs on biodiesel, a blend of vegetable oil, methane, and small amounts of lye, and is purchased from a local source, the Twin Cities Biodiesel Coop. Biodiesel is an alternative to petroleum that has the ability to dramatically reduce sulfate and hydrocarbon emissions, as well as reduce particulate matter in the air we breath. It is important to assess how we transport goods, as transportation (personal cars and trucks, freight hauling, airlines, shipping, and railroads) is responsible for the largest portion of U.S. oil consumption, and it is the fastest growing sector in terms of oil consumption.
Leave it to the Twin Cities to have Peace Coffee. It is 5pm, and the streets are littered in cyclists. Bike gangs of middle aged men with colorful cycling shirts are only a part of the massive bike culture that is obvious here. Though I am sad to leave, I am happy that Peace Coffee is in business!

Visit Peace Coffee’s homepage!