We have a long way to go, but we're making progress. Here are some signs that we are moving towards sustainability.
March 3, 2014
Tompkins Weekly 3-3-14
By Bob Rossi
I arrived at SewGreen with two SEEN member cards in my pocket, a smile on my face and a broken zipper on my coat. “Well, let’s get you fixed up first,” offered Wendy Skinner, founder and director of Ithaca’s non-profit sustainable sewing center.
As she mended my zipper, we talked about her upcoming event. SewGreen is the site of the first in a series of “cash mobs” organized by the Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneur Network (SEEN). The Ithaca community is invited to converge on SewGreen at 112 N. Cayuga St. in downtown Ithaca between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 22. Refreshments, classroom tours, free activities and special deals will be offered all day.
“We’re thrilled to be the first organization to be cash mobbed by the SEEN,” Skinner said. “The post-holiday doldrums have put a dent in our revenue and our good spirits. We could use an infusion of both.”
SewGreen operates a reuse/resale store that diverts about 20 tons of materials from the landfill annually. Most of the store’s stock is donated by community members looking for an environmentally sound way to dispose of unwanted fabric, yarn, needlecraft supplies and sewing machines. SewGreen resells the best-quality donations in its retail store, or uses the materials in sewing classes. Resale proceeds support a youth apprenticeship and teen jobs program.
Cash mobs boost revenue and show support for essential businesses in our local economy. They are among the many new developments at the SEEN, whose membership is united on a common commitment to long-term, balanced growth. Rather than striving solely for financial enrichment, SEEN members also measure success by their impact on employees, the community and the natural environment.
“Times have changed since this journey began five years ago,” said Gladys Brangman, board president of the Green Resource Hub, which is the SEEN’s parent organization. “Every year our community becomes more knowledgeable and more empowered. Where there were once dozens of sustainable business leaders in this region, there are now hundreds, and we are providing a place for them to convene.”
SEEN members gather for quarterly meetings organized by Hub board member and SEEN volunteer David Gower. At these meetings, participants discuss collective goals, set intentions for the net- work, decide on cash mobs and organize educational networking events.
These informal meetings also serve as a place for SEEN members to reconnect. Skinner reports on a serendipitous connection at a recent SEEN meeting: “I was chatting with people when I heard from Christine Barksdale that she was closing Diaspora Gallery on the Commons. We practically made a deal on the spot to move her African fabrics to SewGreen. The SEEN helped us both to be in the right place at the right time.”
The next SEEN quarterly event is Currency & Community, an exploration of the role that money plays in our lives, how new technologies like Bitcoin and currencies like Ithaca Hours can transform that relationship, and how to engage in commerce that builds personal and community well-being.
This event will include a movie screening and panel discussion at Cinemapolis from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18, followed by a reception. Other SEEN events for 2014 are Food not Fracking, the Power of Networks and the annual holiday banquet.
At the heart of these activities is the network itself. We believe mission-minded business is a driver of positive change, and we all play a critical role in this movement.
That is why I was smiling so broadly when I entered SewGreen—well, that and the comic timing of breaking my jacket zipper on the way there. I was delivering SewGreen’s member cards, and we quickly set up SewGreen’s member-to-member discount (M2M). Every SEEN business or organization can offer a discount to the network through our M2M program. SewGreen is now offering 10 percent off all classes and merchandise to anyone with a SEEN member card. All M2Ms are marketed through the SEEN website and social media, and provide a way for SEEN members to support each other.
The cash mobs, SEEN member meetings, quarterly-event structure and M2M program have all been inspired by SEEN members. They are signs of the evolving sustainable business culture in our community. For more information, visit TheSEEN.org.
Bob Rossi is the director of the SEEN and owner of CommonSpot, a social enterprise incubator on the Ithaca Commons.
February 24, 2014
Tompkins Weekly 2-24-14
By Steve Gabriel
Living in the Finger Lakes, the change from winter to spring is often quite dramatic and enthusiastically welcomed by residents who are sometimes a bit weary after months of bundling up, scraping car windows, and shoveling sidewalks. While the signs of the seasonal change can come in many forms, perhaps there is no better pulse than the process of maple sugaring, which quite literally ebbs and flows based on the changing of temperate. Warm days above freezing coupled with colder nights below 32 degrees F mean the sap is flowing – and spring is coming.
Tapping trees is a project that is relatively easy and inexpensive to get into. All one needs is a few sugar maple trees, a drill, a spout, and some sort of collection vessel. On a good year, it can be expected that a tree 12″ in diameter or more will produce somewhere in the range of 8 – 10 gallons of sap. At a ratio of 40 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup, this means that 5 or 6 trees could theoretically yield about a gallon of syrup, per season. But in many cases the amount of time required to boil sap into syrup makes this process impractical for the homeowner, on a small scale. Thus many people do not tap trees, choosing instead to support a local sugarmaker for syrup.
One thing that anyone with a few healthy sugar maples should consider is tapping for the sap alone, offers a chance to connect to the seasonal change of nature as well as enjoy some potential health benefits. In fact, tapping trees and just drinking the sap may be one of the easiest and most nutritious things to do locally this time of year – especially in your own backyard.
Maple sap, along with other tree saps, has long been viewed as a spring tonic by many cultures around the globe. It is usually about 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar, but little known is that it is also loaded with minerals, nutrients, enzymes, antioxidants, phenolic compounds, and more. In Korea specifically, there is a long history of sap consumption and most comes from the Acer mono, a maple which is called gorosoe, meaning “the tree that is good for the bones” in Korean. This is likely due to the high mineral content in sap, most notably calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
There are even places in Korea where people can take weekend retreats, visiting the mountains and consuming as much as 5 gallons of sap per day while sitting on heated floors with conditions similar to a sauna. The idea is to detox the bad stuff and unclog the body from a long winter. In Korean markets, Maple Sap usually sells for $5 – 10/gallon.
Most analysis for health benefits of sap has been done on the basic content, which has over 50 vitamins and minerals, and also a number of probiotics similar to those found in yogurts and other dairy products. More research would be useful, but it’s hard to argue against the idea of drinking sap as a healthy and good option for the springtime; after all, it is water filtered in a tree and loaded with a bunch of nutritional compounds. It may well be the cleanest water some people will ever drink.
If you are interested in collecting and enjoying sap, its important to note that while sap is essentially sterile when inside the tree, it can quickly become contaminated. The choice of container for collection is thus very important. Maple buckets and jugs (a milk jug can make a great collection vessel) should be thoroughly cleaned before use. The best sap runs during the beginning and middle of the season, but as the temperature warms toward the end of March and into April it’s best to stop drinking it straight. Sap can be stored in the fridge (or outside if below freezing) for several days and should generally be treated like milk; best consumed within one week of it coming from the tree. And while some of the good bacteria may be killed, to be extra safe some choose to boil the sap to effectively pasteurize it and render it completely safe.
Sap can be drank straight from the tree of course, but can also be used to make a wonderful carbonated beverage with a home soda-maker. Simply replace the water with sap, adding as much or as little carbonation as you’d like. It can also be utilized for cooking in soup, stews, and other recipes that call for water. It also makes a wonderful base for brewing beers.
The straight consumption of sap is an excellent option for people who want to tap some trees but aren’t interested in the time, labor, and fuel to boil it into syrup. It offers an opportunity to harvest the fruits of a long winter and connect to the cycles of the season. While the entire process of making syrup takes considerable energy, sap is just the opposite – it is really simple and takes very little time to tap, collect, and consume sap in a variety of ways.
Steve Gabriel is a local educator, author, and farmer living in Mecklenburg, where he taps about 80 trees each year. More info is available at www.WellspringForestFarm.com.
February 17, 2014
Tompkins Weekly 2-17-14
By Becky Sims
If you’ve ever needed your water tested, you might have come to the Community Science Institute (CSI). Tucked away on the second floor of Langmuir Lab by the Ithaca airport, CSI does much more than residential water testing. Founded in 2002, the Community Science Institute is a nonprofit organization that operates a certified water testing lab and partners with groups of volunteers to monitor and protect local water quality. Certified labs are regulated by the New York State Department of Health and test results can be used for legal purposes, like selling a home, or maintaining a kitchen for food production. CSI volunteers collect water samples from hundreds of locations in the Cayuga Lake watershed and New York’s Southern Tier to collect data about important issues like urban development, wastewater treatment, and fracking.
CSI has three types of volunteer programs, each with a slightly different focus, to help provide an understanding of the water resources that our region is fortunate to have. All of the data produced from these volunteer programs is publicly available online for free at: www.communityscience.org/database. While some people might assume that the DEC, EPA, or other government entity takes care of this important task of gathering water quality data, the scope and frequency of water monitoring events conducted by CSI volunteers is unparalleled. Water monitoring studies by government agencies often have a wide focus, are done every 5-6 years, or occur in response to an already existing problem.
The Synoptic Sampling program, CSI’s longest-running volunteer partnership, involves teams of volunteers going to a set of locations in a watershed, like Six Mile Creek, on the same day at roughly the same time. Volunteers record visual observations, measure water temperature, collect water samples and transport them to the CSI lab. All the samples have chain-of-custody documentation to ensure sample integrity. Once the samples arrive at the lab they are tested for a set of locally relevant parameters: phosphorus, nitrates, turbidity, hardness, chloride, E. coli bacteria, and more. In recent years, CSI has added a few parameters related to fracking like barium, strontium, and radioactivity, just to be sure the baseline data exists. Watersheds are typically sampled 4-6 times per year when funding is adequate. CSI aims to collect samples under both normal flow and storm water conditions. By monitoring on a regular basis over the years, CSI’s data can be used to look for trends and identify problems.
One of the problems identified as a result of the Synoptic Sampling program is high levels of E. coli bacteria in Trumansburg Creek, downstream of the aging wastewater treatment plant in Trumansburg. Repeated samples from upstream and downstream of the wastewater treatment plant indicated that bacteria levels exceeded the plant’s permit levels and made for unsafe swimming further downstream at the Camp Barton Boy Scout Camp. The plant is now required to test their effluent, as well as water from Trumansburg Creek, once a week and is working with the DEC to assess and repair the plant. Without the regular sampling by CSI volunteers, this problem may have gone unnoticed for much longer.
While the Synoptic Sampling program gives us a snapshot of water quality on a given day, CSI’s Biological Monitoring program allows us to look at water quality over the long-term. Biological Monitoring involves collecting samples of benthic macroinvertebrates (BMI), which are aquatic organisms that are visible to the naked eye. Volunteers follow a sampling protocol used by the DEC to collect these stream-dwellers in a net and preserve them for later identification. Volunteers use microscopes to identify and count organisms. Since pollution tolerance varies among these aquatic organisms that live in the stream year-round, the makeup of the community can tell us a lot about water quality over the course of a season. Recent BMI samples taken downstream of the Trumansburg sewage treatment plant showed the stream to be slightly impacted, while most other local streams show no impact.
CSI’s third volunteer program, Red Flag monitoring, has its focus outside Tompkins County, and aims to collect baseline data related to hydrofracking. By following a strict quality control protocol, volunteers are able to produce data in the field that is comparable to certified lab data. Results from all of CSI’s volunteer programs can be found online.
Whether you need your well tested, are curious about the streams in your neighborhood, or want to explore years of local data, CSI is your local resource for everything water-related. If you’re interested in finding out more or getting involved as a volunteer, visit the CSI website www.communityscience.org and mark your calendar for April 3, CSI’s 10th Annual Volunteer Symposium at 6:30 PM at the Tompkins County Public Library BorgWarner Room.
Becky Sims is the Director of Outreach at CSI. Write to her at email@example.com.