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Upscale housing developers used to advertise tennis courts, pools, or golf courses as desirable amenities. Today they are increasingly likely to tout farmland.

Amy Hoak writes at MarketWatch about a family in suburban Chicago, where neighbors’ lawn chemicals have killed off pollinators. She reports that the Faheys are moving to a community that offers more opportunity for growing vegetables.

“Set in Hampshire, Ill., about 50 miles from downtown Chicago, Serosun Farms is a new home-conservation development, restoring wetlands, woodlands and prairie, and preserving farmland throughout. Already, the frog population has grown exponentially from the conservation work done onsite, and monarch butterflies are also on the rebound, said Jane Stickland, who is working on the project with her brother, developer John DeWald. Their efforts also are boosting the bee population. …

“Serosun plans to incorporate about 160 acres of working farmland, making farm-to-table a way of life for residents through regular farmer’s markets. The community also offers eight miles of trails, an equestrian center and fishing ponds: 75% of the development will be reserved for farming and open space. …

“The concept isn’t new, but ‘agrihoods’ are gaining in popularity, said Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow for the Urban Land Institute, an organization that focuses on land-use issues. He tracks about 200 agrihoods, where residential development coexists with farmland. …

“ ‘We started to realize you could cluster houses on a small portion of a farm and keep the farm working,’ he said. People were often drawn to the open spaces. More recently, however, there has been a huge interest in locally grown food. ‘All of a sudden, agrihoods have become a hot commodity in residential development,’ McMahon said.” More here.

This concept is not only for upscale developments. In urban neighborhoods without access to a local grocery or healthful food, affordable housing combined with community gardens and sales outlets are moving along without much fanfare. In Providence, for example, West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation‘s new Sankofa Apartments partner with the Sankofa Initiative, an outlet for homegrown food and handmade crafts from many countries. The initiative is satisfying to residents on a personal-development level and as a way to meet neighbors and build community.

Photo: J. Ashley Photography
Serenbe farmers’ market.

Here’s a new idea. A couple of young entrepreneurs have found a way to convert sign language into audible speech with their prize-winning electronic gloves.

National Public Radio has the story.

“For years, inventors have been trying to convert some sign language words and letters into text and speech. Now a pair of University of Washington undergraduates have created gloves called SignAloud. Sensors attached to the gloves measure hand position and movement, and data is sent to a computer via Bluetooth and is then converted into spoken word and text.

“Theirs is one of seven inventions recently awarded a Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, with awards ranging from $10,000 to $15,000.

“Inventors Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor, both college sophomores, say the gloves will help create a communication bridge between deaf and hearing communities. The gloves, they say, will help deaf people better communicate with the rest of the world without changing the way they already interact with each other.

“However, the invention has been met with criticism that the bridge they want to create goes only one way — and it’s not necessarily one the deaf community has been clamoring for. …

“Azodi says he and Pryor are moving beyond their prototype and are working closer with those who use American Sign Language to develop new versions. They’re also working on better understanding ASL, which is more than just hand movements; it also uses facial expressions and body language to convey meaning.” Read more.

I don’t know much about the culture of the deaf community, but I do remember reading about resistance to cochlear implants a few years ago. It’s hard for people who can hear to understand that some people really don’t mind deafness and prefer their own ways of dealing with the world. But kudos to all inventors anyway, especially young ones open to continuous revision!

Photo: Conrado Tapado/Univ of Washington, CoMotion
SignAloud gloves translate sign language into text and speech.

Mandeans in Massachusetts

There are so many interesting cultures in the world! For example, when I was editor of a magazine about lower-income issues in New England, I heard for the first time about the Karen from Burma (Myanmar). Who? Soon after, I managed to acquire an article on Karen refugees in Waterbury, Connecticut, so I was able to learn something along with my readers.

Recently, I heard of another new-to-me minority, members of which are being resettled in Massachusetts. They are called Mandeans, and their pacifist religious beliefs had subjected them to persecution in Iraq and Iran for millennia.

Here is what Brian MacQuarrie writes about them at the Boston Globe.

“The Mandaeans have found safety and acceptance since they began arriving [in Worcester] in 2008, freely practicing a monotheistic religion that predates Christianity and Islam. But they still do not have a temple — a ‘mandi’ for baptisms, marriages, and birth and death rituals — and whether one is built could determine if they continue to call Worcester home.

” ‘Work is not the anchor, living in an apartment is not an anchor, the mandi is the anchor,’ said Wisam Breegi, a leader of the Mandaean community. …

” ‘It really is a culture that is in danger of disappearing,’ said Marianne Sarkis, an anthropology professor at Clark University. ‘If you don’t have a way of preserving the culture and traditions and even the language’ of Aramaic — what a temple helps provide — ‘it is not going to survive very long.’ …

“ ‘We really don’t have the expertise, the know-how, the connections,’ said Breegi, who also has founded a scientific firm that is developing a low-cost, disposable, neonatal incubator for use in developing countries.

“To help forge the religious connections, Breegi and Sarkis are preparing an application for a nonprofit organization to help raise money for the temple. Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty said in an interview he is willing to help the project where he can.

“ ‘They’re all doing what everyone else is trying to do — working hard and getting their kids a good education.’ …

” ‘It’ll just help make Worcester stronger in the long run,’ Petty said of his city’s embrace of Mandaeans and other immigrants. ‘You can’t build walls between people.’ ”

Worcester held a ceremony of welcome in April that “represented the first time — anywhere, at any time — that Mandaeans had been recognized as a valued, important minority group, Sarkis said.” Wow.

More here.

Photo: Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
The Kalmashy family (left to right) Lilo, and her husband Mahdi and their daughters and Sura and Sahar, shared lunch at their home in Worcester.

Among the sights I’ve wanted to photograph in the last few weeks is a sculpture outside the Umbrella Community Arts Center. It invites you to look through and focus on an aspect of the view.

Next up, the old house where Ephraim Bull developed the Concord Grape. Another sign there told me that there was a “Sale Pending.”

My friend Meredith is a featured artist at Concord Art’s new juried show. She has done several treatments of her fica plant, but the one in the show is a lovely collage of painted paper.

I recently discovered on a morning walk that the Providence Preservation Society has generously opened its multilevel garden to the public during certain hours of the day. What a peaceful place to just sit and think! Not far away is the What Cheer Garage (I like the name). Across Providence, you can discover a fine-looking hen on the wall of Olga’s Cup and Saucer, and a street art stencil recommending Speak no evil, See no evil, Hear no evil.

I also like the alley alongside the Providence Performing Arts Center and a hilly street that looks more like Europe than New England.

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Although Ginia Desmond had been writing scripts for 12 years, she had never made a movie. Now at 74, she has risen to the challenge.

Johanna Willett writes at the Arizona Daily Star, “Ginia Desmond had a decision to make. Buy a house. Make a movie. Buy a house. Make a movie. She made a movie.

“The 74-year-old has been writing scripts for a dozen years, but ‘Lucky U Ranch’ is her first feature-length film to make it to the big screen.

“That’s because she funded it.

” ‘I consider myself the writer,’ she says of the low-budget film, which so far isn’t readily available for viewing. ‘I wrote the script, and I wrote the checks.’

“Writing screenplays is not Desmond’s first career — or even her second. This act follows others that starred Desmond as a mother and wife, professional artist and businesswoman. …

“For almost 30 years, she imported goods such as furniture and baskets to sell in her Tucson store Sangin Trading Co. on Sixth Avenue. She sold the business in 2003. …

“ ‘Ginia is an interesting combination of very creative and very practical,’ says Victoria Lucas, a Tucson screenplay consultant with a 20-year career in Los Angeles.

” ‘She has that sense of the big picture and how a business is run, and with her writing skills and talent, she has the ability to understand characters. … Very few writers write visually so that when you read the script, it’s like you have seen the movie. … Ginia writes like that. She has a real gift for getting under the skin of characters and making the reader or audience understand them. … She is a treasure for Tucson.” Read more here.

Thank you, Cousin Claire for posting the story on Facebook. Like Desmond, Cousin Claire lives in Tucson, and she has at least one script stored away somewhere about an adventurous female ancestor. I read it. And I know for a fact she is under 74, so …

Photo: Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star
Ginia Desmond, 74, is reflected in her movie poster’s glass.

Farmer Olympics

Missing the excitement of the summer Olympics? As these Vermont farmers show, any determined and organized group can have their own “Olympics” and have a lot of fun.

Jessica Rinaldi writes at the Boston Globe, “With the world’s attention focused on the Olympic Games in Brazil, a decidedly different type of competition was held in a small corner of New England, as farmers took to the field for the second annual Farmer Olympics in Vershire, Vt.

“After taking part in warm-up events that included a hay bale toss, the crowd gathered for an opening ceremony where a quartet performed the Olympic theme song on kazoo. When the competition began, 60 farmers sprinted up a hill, empty bins and shovels in hand, for the manure relay. The event was sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. In the end it was a team from Cedar Circle Farm in East Stepford who took the gold. Their team’s name? Soil’d.

Click here for a terrific collection of photos from the second annual Farmer Olympics.

Photo: Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
Competing in the Farmer Olympics, Vershire, Vermont.

To me it’s tragic that languages are disappearing and, with them, unique cultures.

Small, determined efforts can bring attention to the problem, as I noted this morning when the filmmaker behind Marie’s Dictionary retweeted this from North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain Elementary School (@pilotMtnElem).

Third grade students are learning about Marie’s Dictionary and endangered languages. @goproject #scsed #pmespirates @UNESCO

Excellent. Third graders are sure to spread the word.

Recently, I came across an article on another threatened language, Hawaii Sign Language.

“In 2013, at a conference on endangered languages, a retired teacher named Linda Lambrecht announced the extraordinary discovery of a previously unknown language. Lambrecht – who is Chinese-Hawaiian, 71 years old, warm but no-nonsense – called it Hawaii Sign Language, or HSL.

“In front of a room full of linguists, she demonstrated that its core vocabulary – words such as ‘mother,’ ‘pig’ and ‘small’ – was distinct from that of other sign languages. …

“The last-minute arrival of recognition and support for HSL was a powerful, almost surreal vindication for Lambrecht, whose first language is HSL. For decades, it was stigmatised or ignored; now the language has acquired an agreed-upon name, an official ‘language code’ from the International Organization for Standardization, the attention of linguists around the world, and a three-year grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. …

“An initial estimate of up to 280 surviving HSL signers was soon revised down to 40, then down to just 10 or so old-timers still likely to be competent in HSL. ASL had made deep inroads even among these signers, but there was evidence, especially from Lambrecht’s signs, that HSL was distinct, and lay close enough to the surface to be recovered. Spoken languages such as Basque, Welsh, and Hawaiian have come back from the brink of extinction – could HSL be the first sign language to do it?”

The article is from the Guardian by way of the blog Arts Journal. Read it here.

Photo: Eugene Tanner Photography, LLC
Linda Lambrecht, left, teaches Hawaii Sign Language.