Archive for October, 2008

Great White House Garden Makeover Contest!

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Calling all plant lovers this election week! Now that a desire for fundamental change seems to be sweeping the country, we should be pushing for a radical makeover of the White House landscape. Coddled with water, fertilizers, and pesticides and designed according to fussy, outdated, and ecologically destructive notions of beauty, this garden is a national disgrace. Enter the Great White House Garden Makeover Contest and make horticultural history!

Brooklyn Botanic Garden traces the history of the site: “When George Washington and Pierre Charles L’Enfant mapped out the ‘President’s Park,’ in 1791, Washington sketched reflecting pools and terraced gardens buttressing an executive residence to rival Versailles.” This hoity-toity approach to horticulture has continued to this day, with a brief interlude when Andrew Jackson actually got his hands dirty weeding the garden after naked morning dips in the Potomac.

So, what should be done with these 18.2 acres of hallowed ground today? The Rodale Institute exhorted the Clinton administration to ban synthetic pesticides in the Rose Garden and build a compost bin. Restaurateur Alice Waters offered to create an organic garden for the White House chefs. The White House Organic Farm Project has an online petition calling on the 44th President to oversee the planting of an organic farm on the grounds of the nation’s First Home.

What would you do if you had your druthers? Send me your ideas by December 1, 2008. I’ll post the best ones online. Here’s how to reach me.

Dunkin’ Donuts Goes Green

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

The first LEED-certified Dunkin’ Donuts store is now open for business in St. Petersburg, Florida. Of course it has the usual green technologies for energy and water conservation. It also has an on-site earthworm compost facility. The solar-powered tank houses 80 pounds of earthworms that eat coffee grounds, paper products, and other ”waste” produced by the store. And leftover baked goods are donated to America’s Second Harvest, a local food bank.

Flower Power

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

This photo of a lily of the valley petal magnified 1,300 times won the 2008 Small World photomicrography competition. The other winners are pretty spectacular, too.

The Purchasing Power of Coffee Hounds

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

Java lovers take note: For better or worse, our passion for espresso, latte, or plain old cups of morning joe has had a dramatic effect on landscapes around the world — today, coffee is grown in at least 16 of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots — not to mention the people whose livelihoods depend on the stuff. In an effort to boost production, growers have increased their use of pesticides and are relying less on shade trees, which offer habitat for birds and other environmental benefits. Given increasing evidence of the health benefits of coffee consumption, this trend is likely to intensify, despite the fact that these practices make the crop more vulnerable to erratic weather.

No, this isn’t a plea for coffee hounds to switch to tea or hot chocolate (the same trends have been detected among producers of these crops). But it is a reminder that we can help protect the land and its people in coffee-growing regions by buying shade-grown products. According to the latest evidence, in an article published in the October issue of BioScience, sustainable farming that employs shade trees may improve coffee crops’ resistance to the temperature and precipitation extremes that climate change is expected to trigger. You can find a pdf to the full article here

The Color Diet

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

For years, we’ve been told to plan our daily diet by thinking food groups and calories. Now we’re told to choose by color. ”Orange and green, definitely, we should have something from these groups every day,” Lilan Cheung, director of health promotion and communication with the Harvard School of Public Health, told an AP reporter. “Purple or blue, dark green and orange. Reds don’t need to be part of the daily diet mix but they should be eaten frequently.” Turns out the disease-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants we hear so much about are often natural plant pigments — the carotenoids that make carrots orange, for example, or the anthocyanins that give beets their lipstick hues.

Rainwater HOG

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

If you’re looking for an alternative to obtrusive rain barrels and expensive cisterns, check out Rainwater HOG, a system of 47-gallon plastic tanks with a sleek, 71″ x 19.5″ x 8.5″ profile that can fit along narrow passages, under decks, or in other underused spaces. The modular design enables you to add on capacity and even put the tanks in multiple locations. Only drawback, as far as I can tell — they’re made of virgin plastic, with no recycled content.