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0121-pmad-mschafer-leadpotential

Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
Men in need of a suit for a funeral, say, or a job interview can get one fitted to perfection at the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man in Baltimore and Los Angeles.

When my daughter-in-law’s parents were doing spring cleaning one year, they donated boxes of clothes in excellent condition to one of the Providence agencies where I’m an ESL volunteer. Dorcas International has many services besides English classes, and one of them is a secondhand shop that provides household goods and clothes for refugees (if you are used to Africa, you definitely need a warm coat for Rhode Island winters) and for needy residents referred by other agencies.

I was glad to learn that there are similar services in other cities.

David Karas writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “On a frigid December afternoon, Tyler Freburger is standing in front of a set of mirrors wearing a suit picked out for him by a tailor. He sorely needs the attire for a funeral later in the week.

“A homeless veteran living in Baltimore, Mr. Freburger would usually have difficulty securing such an outfit, especially one selected for him personally. But in this instance, he was referred to the nonprofit Sharp Dressed Man.

“Since 2011, the organization has been helping men improve their lives by equipping them for job interviews and other occasions with well-fitting suits and accessories. …

“ ‘It’s a blessing that they are here,’ says Freburger, who notes that the organization has treated him well and has been working to supply what he needs – something he is not accustomed to in his daily life. …

The nonprofit was founded by clothing designer Christopher Schafer, who sought to give those in need an experience more like a visit to his custom clothing shop than stopping at a warehouse. …

“[Some years ago,] When Schafer was delivering some custom suits to a client, he was handed two bags of gently worn suits in return.

“ ‘He said I spoiled him with how I made his custom suits fit, and he couldn’t wear his old suits anymore,’ Schafer says. ‘They were still very nice, and he didn’t know where to take them.’

“Schafer found a nonprofit that would accept the suits and put them to good use, but as time went on, more of his clients did the same thing. At the suggestion of a friend, he decided to launch his own nonprofit, Sharp Dressed Man. …

” ‘Since those two bags of clothes, I believe we have dressed about 7,000 people,’ Schafer says. .. ‘If you treat a guy with dignity, he has a better chance of treating himself with dignity. … It is really powerful when you see guys when they are suited up and they are kind of glowing,’ he says. …

” ‘I had a battle with drugs and alcohol for 20 years, and if I wouldn’t have changed my life, I either would have been dead or I would have been in line asking for free soup,’ he says. … ‘That’s why I do it.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Teenage sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen of Bali have received many honors for their efforts to ban plastic bags. Here they’re seen accepting the 2017 “Award for Our Earth” from Germany’s Bambi Awards.

An impressive phenomenon that’s emerging as climate change threatens communities and plastic waste clogs waterways is the emergence of children and teens as leaders — in particular, young people from developing nations.

Consider this story from National Public Radio [NPR].

“Five years ago, two young women decided they were going to do something about the plastic problem on their island of Bali. And Bye Bye Plastic Bags was born.

“How young?” asks NPR reporter Michael Sullivan. “So young one of them couldn’t make it to our midweek interview. ‘She’s at school,’ explained 18-year-old Melati Wijsen, talking about her 16-year-old sister Isabel. ‘She’s just halfway through grade 11 and she’s putting her focus more into graduating high school.’

“Bali is part of the island nation of Indonesia, which is the world’s second biggest polluter when it comes to marine plastic, trailing only China. And when ocean currents carry that plastic to the tourist island of Bali, it’s a public relations nightmare. This video taken by British diver Rich Horner last year pretty much sums up the scale of the problem as he tries to navigate through a sea of plastic just below the water’s surface.

“The two sisters got the idea for Bye Bye Plastic Bags in 2013 after a lesson at school about influential world leaders — change-makers — including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

” ‘My sister and I went home that day thinking, “Well, what can we do as kids living on the island of Bali?” ‘ Melati Wijsen says. … The answer was right in front of them. Literally. On the beach in front of their home. …

” ‘It got to the point where on weekends when we would go to our childhood beach, if we went swimming there, a plastic bag would wrap around your arm,’ Wijsen says. …

“They went online and discovered that over 40 countries had already banned or taxed plastic bags.

” ‘We thought, “Well, if they can do it, c’mon, Bali! C’mon, Indonesia! We can do it, too!” ‘ Wijsen says. …

“They got some friends together, went online to start a petition and got 6,000 signatures in less than a day, Wijsen says. They spread awareness through school and community workshops. They organized massive beach cleanup campaigns, all the while drawing international attention and that of local politicians too. Especially when they decided to up the ante optics-wise.

” ‘I think one of the biggest tools that pushed us forward was our decision to go on a food strike,’ Wijsen says, inspired, she says, by one of the tools used by Gandhi. ‘He also had peaceful ways of reaching his goals, of getting attention, So that was a huge inspiration for us.’

“[The governor did] what any savvy politician would do when faced with two teenage girls threatening a hunger strike. He invited them to come see him. ‘Within 24 hours, we had a phone call and then the next day we were picked up from school and escorted to the office of the governor,’ Wijsen says.

“[Governor] Pastika signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the sisters to work toward eliminating plastic on the island. … Melati Wijsen says she learned a lot about dealing with politicians. …

” ‘Being 14 and skipping school on a Tuesday because I had to learn about draft regulations and suggestions really was an interesting learning curve for me,’ she says. Dancing with politicians, she says, is like three steps forward, two steps back and again, and again. ‘It’s almost like the cha-cha.’ …

“Just last month, the new governor of Bali announced a law banning single-use plastic in 2019, thanks in part to the sisters’ efforts and those of like-minded NGOs. …

” ‘We literally prove that kids can do things, and Bye Bye Plastic Bags has become this platform where kids can feel like their voices are being heard. … This is my No. 1 focus right now,’ she says. ‘It consumes almost every thought in my body. I mean, it’s like a full-time job.’

“Is she obsessed or just focused? ‘A healthy chunk of both,’ she says, laughing, adding that her mother helps keep her balanced. ‘Some days, she’ll just be like, “Melati, take a day off, like go to the beach with your friends and just don’t pick up the plastic, just sit there.” ‘ ” More at NPR, here.

I have to give a shout-out to teachers like the ones who motivated these teens. Can anyone doubt that teachers are important?

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Photo: Delaware Agriculture
Mark VanGessel, Professor of Weed/Crop Management at the University of Delaware, with an invasive palmer amaranth plant.

Agribusiness presents all sorts of challenges these days. For one, weeds are becoming resistant to Roundup, the herbicide that has received so much attention for causing cancer. And having a huge number of acres makes it hard to find a paying crop to plant on alternative years, which can help improve the soil.

A report at Civil Eats, rebroadcast by Public Radio International, got me interested in Australia’s superweed problem. In it, Virginia Gewin explained how near-desperation was causing to farmers to get creative.

“In December, C. Douglas ‘Bubba’ Simmons III left his corn and soybean farm in northwest Mississippi to visit the dryland wheat fields in Western Australia, a region considered to be the herbicide resistance capital of the world. Plagued with unwelcome intruders such as annual ryegrass and wild radish that have evolved resistance to several herbicides, Australian farmers have been forced to develop new approaches to manage weeds — and their seeds. It hasn’t been easy. Farmers there are paying roughly 27 percent more per acre due to increased management and yield loss, according to Bayer.

“Simmons visited several farms in the southern half of the state of Western Australia with three other U.S. farmers and a weed scientist. … Simmons, eager to learn from growers who have faced similar weed concerns, was inspired by Aussie ingenuity. It remains to be seen whether their mechanical and cultural solutions will work in the U.S., given Australia’s much drier landscape. …

” ‘I think Mississippi might even be considered ground zero for the number of herbicide-resistant weeds we have,’ he says. ‘It’s a constant battle from mid-March to mid-November.’

“The long growing season and warmer climates in some parts of the South allow noxious weeds to thrive. But ‘superweeds’ that refuse to die when sprayed with herbicides have been taking over crop land across the U.S. farm belt and beyond. Globally, 255 different weeds have developed resistance to 163 different herbicides, but the most concerning are the 43 that have developed resistance to glyphosate (the main chemical in the widely used weed killer Roundup). These weeds compete with crops for space, water, and nutrients in the soil — and they’re beginning to impact many farmers’ yields. …

“Palmer amaranth, an aggressive pigweed that has devastated crops in the South and Midwest, is one of the worst. Each plant can produce at least 100,000 seeds, and, when left unchecked, they can grow to be taller than some people. …

“ ‘We really need to think about other methods,’ says [Christy Sprague, a Michigan State University professor and weed extension specialist who also traveled to Australia]. It won’t be easy. Farms have gotten larger and larger, so it’s unclear what physical approaches can be incorporated into current farming systems. Cover crops also show promise in suppressing weeds, for example, University of Arkansas weed scientist Jason Norsworthy found that a cereal rye cover crop suppressed roughly 83 percent of palmer amaranth. But their use among farmers is only growing slowly. …

“ ‘Our mantra—keep the weed seed bank as low as possible,’ says Lisa Mayer, manager of the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative and WeedSmart at the University of Western Australia. In other words, control these seeds, and keep them from turning into new weeds. To that end, farmers have developed a number of approaches to catch and destroy the seeds. Some pile the wheat chaff into lines behind the combine, which can be collected or burned. They also use the Harrington Weed Seed Destructor, a device that pulverizes weed seeds as the grain is harvested.

“These methods have proven to kill 95-99 percent of the annual weed seed produced. In combination with some herbicides, weed populations have been reduced to around 1 plant per square meter, which lowers the potential for resistance. …

“Simmons says the big takeaway he learned from his Australian counterparts was the need for farmers to help develop new tools for the fight against weeds. Despite the often-intense pressure to continue buying herbicides, Simmons says growers can’t continue as if there’s only a single tool in the toolbox.” More here.

I can’t help thinking smaller farms are the answer, but can they feed a planet that already has too much hunger?

Photo: University of Delaware Carvel REC
The root structure of the invasive palmer amaranth weed makes it almost impossible to eradicate. And it produces a huge number of seeds.

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30,000 Runners

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I confess that the picture above was taken last August when there were no crowds. It was the cherished goal of 30,000 runners today, including Erik.

After the Boston Marathon downpour last year, when Stuga40 was properly dressed and I wasn’t, I ordered a gigantic blue poncho and a pair of baggy rain pants from LL Bean. Today was the first day I wore the outfit. It wasn’t needed: the rain let up for the whole time I was outdoors.

Results from Boston Marathon 2019, reported by Hayden Bird at the Boston Globe:

“Men’s wheelchair: Daniel Romanchuk of the United States wins, becoming the first American man to win the wheelchair division in Boston since 1993. He’s also the youngest winner in that category ever.

“Women’s wheelchair: Switzerland’s Manuela Schär won her second Boston Marathon.

“Women’s race: Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia won in her first attempt in Boston with an unofficial time of 2:23:31.

“Men’s race: Lawrence Cherono of Kenya won the men’s race.”

Erik, a frequent Marathon runner, had the very respectable time of 3 hours, 8 minutes, and 2 seconds.

Here I am honoring Erik’s birthplace with my Swedish regalia, standing in sunshine and expecting rain. My husband took the picture where we usually watch — in Newton, near the Marathon statues.

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Photo: Rose Franklin’s Perennials
A Monarch alights on Butterfly Weed. It also loves milkweed.

Sometimes I find the background for a post in a roundabout way. I heard about Mexico’s Monarch butterfly hero, Jose Luis Alvarez, recently on Public Radio International, which had borrowed his story from the BBC. But because I like to have text to work with, not just audio, I searched online for additional information.

I’m glad I did because practically in my own backyard there’s an organization that’s partnering with Alvarez and helping folks far from Mexico to plant the Butterfly Weed that Monarchs love. Here’s what I learned at Vermont Woods Studio.

According to Peggy Farabaugh, “Jose Luis Alvarez  … is a silviculturist in Mexico who has devoted his life to restoring the forested winter habitat of the Monarch.  [In March 2016] I traveled to Michoacan, Mexico, to meet Jose Luis & see his work. I love Monarchs & we’ve been conserving their summer habit here in Vermont for many years, so I thought maybe we should collaborate and get some Vermont-Mexico synergy going!

“In 1997, Jose Luis created a non-profit called ‘Forests For Monarchs,’ which came to be known as the La Cruz Habitat Protection Program (in the USA) and the Michoacan Restoration Fund (in Mexico).  With donations from people all across the USA, Canada and Mexico, ‘Forests for Monarchs’ has been able to plant nearly 6 million trees.  …

“During the winter Michoacan, Mexico, is home to the entire species of the Eastern Monarch Butterfly (which summers in Vermont). [Illegal] deforestation has devastated the area. … [Jose Luis has] made great progress, but much re-planting still needs to be done.

“Here in rural Vernon, Vermont, a number of friends, neighbors, customers, gardeners and Vernon Elementary School children have been planting milkweed. … We’ve been growing milkweed from seed and giving the seedlings away to fellow Monarch lovers.

“Monarchs summering in Vermont are programmed to migrate to Michoacan, Mexico, in the fall.  There they join the entire population of their species, huddled together in the shelter of the last few remaining acres of their wooded winter habitat.  Mind-boggling, right?  How can an insect (that only weighs as much as a raisin) fly 3,000 miles, to the exact same location its ancestor came from –- when it’s never even been there before? I had to see it to believe it.  So …

“I traveled to Mexico (with my now grown up sons) to meet Jose Luis and we took his Spirit of Butterflies Tour last month. It was amazing.  But we were alarmed to see the extent of deforestation in the area.  Without help reforesting their habitat, the Monarch will soon go the way of the passenger pigeon & that would be just too sad.  So we brainstormed about developing a Vermont-Mexico partnership to help save the butterfly.

“Besides being a forester, Jose Luis is an internationally renowned speaker. He’s been featured in numerous documentary films by the BBC, National Geographic, the Canadian Broadcasting Channel and others. He’s been an advisor and guide to researchers, scientists, photographers & videographers from all over the world as they seek to save the Monarch. His work has been written about in newspapers including the Wall Street Journal & The New York Times.

“So we thought we should bring Jose Luis up to Vermont and New England for a speaking tour to raise awareness about the Monarch’s plight. I guess I got a little carried away and volunteered to help Jose Luis Alvarez plant a million trees in the Monarch’s over-wintering area of Mexico.” More here.

The Vermont Studios post was written originally in 2016 and updated last August.

Photo: Fernando Laposse/BBC
Jose Luis Alvarez is protecting Monarch butterflies by planting deforested areas with the trees they need when they winter-over in Mexico.

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https://butterflywebsite.com/foundats/lacruz/project.cfm

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Today I wrapped up my latest visit to New York, where I spent time with my sister and her husband. The city was great in both rain and sunshine. I loved every minute spent in Central Park — amazing at all times of year, but especially in spring. I also enjoyed an exhibit of JRR Tolkien’s art and letters at the Morgan Library (available only until May 12) and my visits with a number of my sister’s friends.

The first picture is of dawn on the Upper West Side. Next are flowering trees near the West Side Community Garden, followed by photos of the garden itself. How terrific to see that much prime real estate being used in this way!

I photographed the Tolkien poster, but no picture-taking was allowed inside the actual exhibit, alas. Tolkien was a fascinating artist as well as a writer of fantasies like The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Among the works shown at the Morgan were the illustrated letters from Father Christmas to Tolkien’s children, which I showed you in 2018, here.

The concluding pictures are from Central Park. I can’t get over what an artist the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead was to create so many diverse vistas showcasing nature, never disrupting it. There are wonderful rock formations, hills and valleys, grottoes, woodland paths, waterfalls, streams …

It’s also impressive to observe how residents and city government alike use and cherish the park these days. I remember a time when I wasn’t supposed to go near it when walking my aunt’s corgi in the morning. Nowadays, the mornings are filled with bikers, walkers, runners, dogs — and the lucky people whose work commute is on foot through all that beauty.

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Photo: Margarita Talep/Dezeen.com
Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae. Natural vegetable dyes such as cabbage, beetroot, and carrot produce different shades.

As scary as the photos of plastic-filled oceans, rivers — and whales — may be, I remind myself that many people are working to cut out plastic in their lives and others are inventing biodegradable plastic substitutes.

Consider this story by Natashah Hitti at Dezeen.com, “Chile-based designer Margarita Talep has created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to single-use packaging, using raw material extracted from algae.

“Disappointed by the abundance of non-recyclable materials currently used to contain food products, Talep decided to develop her own eco-friendly packaging that would stand in for plastic. …

“According to the designer, the material only includes natural matter, including the dyes used to colour it, which are extracted from the skins of fruits and vegetable such as blueberries, purple cabbage, beetroot and carrot.

“The basic mixture is made up of a polymer, a plasticiser and an additive, with the amounts of each ingredient varying depending on the desired consistency of the final product. …

“To make a material that bears a close resemblance to thin plastic, Talep boils the agar mixture to around 80 degrees celsius, before transferring the molten liquid onto a mould.

“When the liquid drops to a temperature below 20 degrees celsius, it takes on a gel-like consistency. This is then left to dry in a well-ventilated environment with a constant temperature, until it becomes similar to paper or thin plastic.

“The bioplastic packaging is especially suited to containing dry food products. It is best sealed with heat rather than glue in a bid make the end result as natural as possible. …

“The material takes around two months to decompose in summer temperatures, depending on the thickness, and about three to four months to decompose completely in winter.

” ‘I believe that bio-fabrication will be an important part of future industries,’ said Talep. ‘As long as all the processes of extracting these raw materials and their manufacture are done with environmental awareness. But it is not enough just to create new materials. These different solutions to the huge environmental problem must work in parallel with other action.

” ‘Different nations should implement action plans for reducing the amount of plastic waste produced by introducing more circular economy projects, keeping plastic in a cyclical system to prevent it from ending up at landfill or in the sea,’ Talep suggests.”

Read more at Dezeen.com, here. The zine has lots of other great ideas for making a more sustainable world.

Also, to read about young people who are taking action, check out Kids Against Plastic, here.

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