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Posts Tagged ‘preservation’


Photo: Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times.
Ali Shehadeh, a plant conservationist from Syria who fled the war in his country, at work in Terbol, Lebanon.

The harm that wars do seems endless. Every aspect of life is affected. And yet, against all odds, good people rise up to save or try to reconstruct what might be lost. In this post, everyday heroes protect a seed bank from the war in Syria.

Somini Sengupta has the story at the New York Times. “Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat.

“He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.

“Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their ‘wild relatives’ from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here.

“But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather, and war.

“The center, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. …

“By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya.

“Trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were stolen and killed for food. … And the center’s most vital project — a seed bank containing 155,000 varieties of the region’s main crops, a sort of agricultural archive of the Fertile Crescent — faced extinction.

“But researchers there had a backup copy. Beginning in 2008, long before the war, the center had begun to send seed samples — ‘accessions’ as they are called — to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the ‘doomsday vault,’ burrowed into the side of a mountain on a Norwegian island above the Arctic Circle. It was standard procedure, in case anything happened.

“War happened. In 2015, as Aleppo disintegrated, center scientists borrowed some of the seeds they had stored in Svalbard and began building anew. This time, they spread out, setting up one seed bank in Morocco and another just across Syria’s border with Lebanon in this vast valley of cypress and grapes known as the Bekaa. …

“Mr. Shehadeh … is obsessed with the wild relatives of the seeds that most farmers plant today. He eschews genetically modified seeds. He wants instead to tap the riches of those wild ancestors, which are often hardy and better adapted to harsh climates. ‘They’re the good stock,’ he said.

“He hunts for the genetic traits that he says will be most useful in the future: resistance to pests or blistering winds, or the ability to endure in intensely hot summers. He tries to select for those traits and breeds them into the next generation of seeds — in the very soil and air where they have always been grown.”

The experts believe that the seeds from plants that thrive in this arid part of the world will be needed for feeding the planet as it warms.

Read the whole article here.

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Photo: Luke Spencer
Inside the main concourse of the abandoned art deco Buffalo, New York, train station. 

It seems everyone loves old art deco buildings, but no one knows how to preserve them. At least that is the feeling I get listening to the endless discussions of the future of Providence’s Superman Building, so-called because it looks like the Daily Planet building from the 1950s television series.

Meanwhile, as Luke Spencer writes at Atlas Obscura, preservationists in Buffalo, New York, are holding out hope for an art deco “train station, lying forlorn and mostly forgotten … the old Buffalo Central Terminal.

“Opened in 1929 for the New York Central Railroad, the Buffalo Central Terminal was every bit as grand and opulent as Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, Philadelphia’s 30th Street station and Washington DC’s Union Station.

“These were the days when Buffalo was known as the Queen City, built on the strength of automobiles, livestock, steel, and other heavy industries prospering along the seam of the Erie Canal, connecting New York to the Great Lakes. Buffalo thrived to such an extent it was chosen to host the prestigious 1901 Pan American World’s Fair. At this point, Buffalo was the eighth-largest city in the United States. … In its heyday, Buffalo Central Terminal was servicing 200 trains a day.

“But the decline in Buffalo’s economic fortunes, and the rise of domestic airlines and automobiles, spelled the end of the grand Terminal. In the early hours of the morning of October 28, 1979, the last Lake Shore Limited train service heading west left Buffalo. The grand old Terminal was never used again.

“For decades, the building was left abandoned, silently falling apart, while the surrounding neighborhood similarly declined. But the spirit of the Nickel City is strong. No more so than in the recent efforts of the non-profit, Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC), which has been fighting to not only preserve the Terminal, but restore it to its original magnificence. …

“The building itself would need extensive repairs. Forty years of neglect have seen much of the original fixtures either stolen or stripped, particularly in the mid 1980s, when the Terminal was sold off in a foreclosure sale. …

“Perhaps the best chance for the Terminal’s rejuvenation lies with Canadian property developer Harry Stinson, who was named as the designated developer of the site by the City of Buffalo and the CTRC in 2016.” More at Atlas Obscura, here.

It’s a treat to see historic buildings saved and turned to new and profitable uses. Let’s keep tabs on this one.

Photo: Luke Spencer
Is this the prison staircase in the opening scene of Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens? Oh, guess not.

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Art: Albrecht Dürer
“Virgin and Child With Pear,” at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  Heritage fruit archaeologist Isabella Dalla Ragione says it’s not a pear.

I loved reading about this side effect of an Italian woman’s work to preserve heritage fruits: she discovered that a fruit in a famous painting was mislabeled.

Elisabetta Povoledo writes at the NY Times, “On her farm, Isabella Dalla Ragione pursues a personal mission — saving ancient fruit trees from extinction — with a strong sense of urgency. Rescuing vanishing varieties is a race, she says, ‘and lots of times we arrived late.’ …

“To find and collect their forgotten varieties, for decades she and her father chatted up farmers and motley locals in the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside. They gathered branches, and with them the traditions and chronicles tied to the fruits. …

“But because fruit was not always described in detail in written records, she also began to examine the works of Renaissance and Baroque painters working in Umbria and Tuscany at a time when ‘artists had close relations to agriculture’ and were sensitive to the seasons and local varieties, she said. …

“A closer look at Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Virgin and Child With Pear,’ at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, for example, reveals a clear misnomer, Ms. Dalla Ragione said.

“ ‘If it were a pear, it would show a stalk on top,’ she said. ‘Mary is clearly holding a muso di bue apple.’ …

“Ms. Dalla Ragione created a nonprofit foundation, the Arboreal Archaeology Foundation, in 2014 ‘because it made it easier to give a future to all this,’ she said.”

Read more about her quixotic but intriguing work here.

Photo: Francesco Lastrucci for The New York Times
Isabella Dalla Ragione picking apples on her farmstead in San Lorenzo di Lerchi, Italy.

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Photo: Lancaster Farming

Wish I could remember where I first saw that this Ephrata-based magazine had a story on a farm that I have been driving past for 30-plus years without knowing much about it.

Sarah L. Hamby writes at Lancaster Farming, “Since 1999, the Farrell family has lived and worked at Sunset Farm, transforming nearly 150 acres into a well-known destination for freshly baked pies, heirloom tomatoes, and quality, all-natural meats not just for sale to the public, but also served at dozens of beach-front restaurants.

“Located on a four-lane highway in the south end of Narragansett, a small beach town in Rhode Island with a population that doubles during the summer months, Sunset Farm is one of a kind.

“In 1986, the Narragansett Land Trust was established to preserve open land in the largely developed Rhode Island town. …

“In 1991, historic Sunset Farm, established in 1864, along with Kinney Bungalow, a turn-of-the-century landmark and picturesque spot for weddings, was acquired by the town. … Since 2013, both the farm and bungalow have been on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The farm has been so successful that in 2014 the family signed a 25-year lease with the town of Narragansett. In return for taking care of the farm, the Farrells live rent free, though they do pay utilities. Maintenance and restoration work is part of the job, too, and must be up to historical standards.

“If you ask farmer and landscaper Jeff Farrell why he and his family applied to be caretakers of Sunset Farm, the last working farm in Narragansett, he will answer you with the candor and humor of most who work the land for a living.

“ ‘I lost my mind.’

“Ethan Farrell, who is now 25, has put a marketing degree from Johnson and Wales University to work at Sunset Farm. His phone constantly rings with calls from local restaurants and delivery trucks. … Last July, he started a food truck designed for local festivals and events, bringing his own flare to the farm-to-table movement. …

“The family donates to the local food pantry, supports area events for veterans and charities, and recently introduced gift certificates to increase activity from the local community.”

Read about the challenges of being the only farm in a tourist town at Lancaster Farming, here. And do check out Sunset Farm on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SunsetFarm505 — or  at http://www.sunsetfarm1864.com.

Photo: Seth Jacobson
Kinney Bungalow is available for events.

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A while back, I showed a photo of a very skinny building near my workplace. Now I have some professional photos from the Providence Revolving Fund, and I think they convey the uniqueness of this building better than my photograph.

I love how Providence works so hard to repurpose old and interesting buildings. This one is only a piece of an old building. Once condemned, it is now lovely and functional.

Here’s what the Providence Revolving Fund had to say before the dedication in May. “The partnership of David Stem, Lori Quinn and the Providence Revolving Fund announce the completion of the formerly-condemned George C. Arnold Building (built 1923).  The Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA) also played a pivotal role in the revitalization of this unique building.

“The mixed-use building houses two commercial units (Momo and a soon-to-be-opened [Asian] market) and three residential units.  Two of the units are rented at affordable prices.  The historic building rehabilitation was self-financed by the partnership and utilized Federal and State Historic Tax Credits and City of Providence Home Funds.”

I’ve noticed that most Providence buildings have names and people use the names, as if the buildings were pets. When you call something by its name, it strengthens your bond to it.

I’ve had the teriyaki chicken crêpe at Momo a couple times. Messy but delicious. I’m eager for the Asian market to open.

skinniest-building-ever

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Jeremy Hance has an article at the Guardian on the quest to save from human encroachment a huge — and largely unknown — raptor: Blakiston’s fish owl.

“It’s not easy studying an endangered species few people have ever heard of,” says Hance. “It’s difficult to raise money, build awareness, or quite simply get people to care. But still, Jonathan Slaght – one of the world’s only experts on the massive, salmon-eating, frog-devouring Blakiston’s fish owl – insisted there are upsides. …

“Blakiston’s fish owl is the world’s largest [owl], and in the Russian forests, where Slaght conducts his research, it cohabits with a lot of big names: the Ussuri brown bear, the Amur leopard, the Asiatic black bear and, of course, the grand-daddy of them all, the ever-popular Amur Tiger. …

“Slaght is a project manager with the Wildlife Conservation Society and a co-founder of the Blakiston’s Fish Owl Project along with Russian ornithologist, Sergei Surmach. But his first run-in with a Blakiston’s came in 2001 when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Russia. At the time, all he knew about the species was from a tattered bird book more than 40 years old, including an ‘inaccurate, terrible illustration of Blakiston’s fish owl. …

“Although an avid birder, Slaght never expected to actually see one of these things. He was told the owl was so rare that even seasoned ornithologists rarely saw it. Yet one day, hiking in the forest with a friend, he had an encounter that changed the course of his life.

“ ‘Something enormous flies away from us and lands close by and it’s just this big owl.’

“He assumed it was a Eurasian eagle owl – which can be found across the entirety of Eurasia, from the coast of Spain to that of Primorye – but took a few photos just in case.

“ ‘My brain wouldn’t believe it was this mythical thing.’ …

“A few weeks later, though, Slaght gets his pictures developed and takes them to a local ornithologist.

“ ‘He says: “don’t show anyone this picture; this is a Blakiston’s fish owl.” ‘

“Slaght … has become one of the foremost experts on the great owls and continues to find them where people thought them vanished.”

Read about other places this rare bird is found (including Hokkaido, where it was once considered a god), here.

Photo: Jonathan C. Slaght/WCS Russia  
Jonathan Slaght holds a Blakiston’s fish owl in his arms. He is one of a handful of researchers studying this massive raptor, which is threatened by human activity.

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Three cheers for quirky causes that, at a minimum, don’t do any harm and, at best, make a contribution to the world.

Simon Romero recently covered one such cause in the New York Times: “Shigeru Nakayama, the guardian of this ghost city in the Amazon rain forest, gazes at the Rio Negro, a vast blackwater tributary. From some angles, it looks less like a river than a sea, spurring him to remember Japan.

“ ‘Fukuoka got kind of cold during winter,’ said Mr. Nakayama, 66, who left the island of Kyushu in southern Japan with his parents and three brothers in the mid-1960s for a new life in Brazil. ‘We were farming people, trying to get ahead. Japan was reduced to ashes after the war. Life was still tough.’

“ ‘But Brazil was the land of our dreams,’ said Mr. Nakayama, squinting under the punishing midday sun as he leaned his wiry frame against one of the crumbling stone buildings of Airão Velho — a town so overgrown and forlorn it is now held in a labyrinthine embrace of tree roots and vines.”

He has made it his life’s work to “to care for the abandoned outpost. …

“ ‘I’m glad there’s someone taking care of Airão Velho,’ said Victor Leonardi, a historian of Amazonia at the University of Brasília who explored the ruins here in the 1990s. “It smelled of jaguar urine back then, but it was obviously a place of riches at one point, where people dined on porcelain from England and consumed Cognac from France.’ …

“ ‘Japan has turned into a new kind of prosperous country, and I guess that’s good for the people there,’ Mr. Nakayama said. ‘But that kind of life was never in the cards for me.’

“Mr. Nakayama acknowledged that shielding Airão Velho from the encroachment of the jungle was an uphill struggle. A glance around suggests that the strangler figs have the scales tipped in their favor. Amid the ruins, wasps hover; fire ants march; cicadas sing. …

“Nakayama feels the need to clean the graveyard, hacking away at the growth that threatens to devour the site once and for all. ‘For centuries, people lived and died in Airão Velho,’ he said. ‘They were the true pioneers, and I have to honor their memory by preserving this place. It is a matter of respect.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Shigeru Nakayama has made it his life’s work to care for an abandoned outpost in the Amazon jungle.

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