Tag Archives: science

urban composting

9 Jan

photo-1What image comes to mind when you think of composting?

For many of you, composting goes hand in hand with open spaces, farms, and backyards.

So what about those folks living in urban settings, where backyards are virtually non-existant and open spaces are confined to city parks and stretches of concrete? Are they compost-exempt?

A recent article in the New York Times graciously lists some city friendly composting devices that will help connect urban dwellers with newfound composting routines, as they make strides in reducing their food waste.

A quick summary:

  • Blanco, a sleek bin embedded into your kitchen counter
  • NatureMill, “compost made easy”
  • Worm Factory 360, if you are comfortable with worms in your apartment, this ones for you!
  • Envirocycle Mini, if you do have access to outdoor space, this could be a great option
  • Vokashi, a compost pick up and drop off service

Inspired?

Check out our food & garden summer camp where we collaborate with master-composters to teach our campers the fundamentals of composting.

Rooftop gardens growing throughout NYC public schools

3 Dec

4127236249_d2d5b01d43All over New York City, farms and gardens are sprouting up on public school roofs, backyard lots and even in their front yards!

Educators and lawmakers alike are beginning to put into practice what many supporters of an edible education have been advocating for years: giving kids an opportunity to plant, grow and harvest during the school day.

In a city where most blocks are lined with a few trees or the occasional flowerbed, schoolyard gardens provide urban students firsthand contact with nature, teaching them how food grows. By getting their hands dirty, they cultivate a more evolved knowledge of what constitutes healthy, natural eating, stressing the importance of fresh produce and the lifecycle of food. The importance of garden-based learning can also be viewed as a potential interactive solution to the ongoing obesity challenge that our country faces.

According to GreenThumb, the number of school-based gardens increased exponentially in the span of two years, from 40 to over 230! GreenThumb has been an excellent source for these initiatives, providing community gardens throughout the city with programming and technical support.

On Avenue B and 5th Street in the East Village, a brand new 2,400-square-foot garden opened at the beginning of the school year. Sitting atop a red-brick building that is home to three separate public schools, the Earth School, Public School 64 and Tompkins Square Middle School, this giant rooftop educational farm was designed by Michael Arad. Arad, also the architect behind the National September 11 Memorial further downtown, was inspired to create the Fifth Street Farm after learning that his own children (former students of the school) were in awe that their crisp and juicy apples once were plucked from trees.

The Horticultural Society of New York has been working with over two dozen schools since 1980, helping them with the design, construction, and education curriculum. The Hort’s mission “is to sustain the vital connection between people and plants” as they help out with the Earth School as well as more recently with four public schools in Queens.

At P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village, the school’s newly opened 15,000-square foot garden is more than a source of fresh produce for lunch, but has really become an outdoor classroom. By teaching kids about art, science, and math through the lens of gardening, their school-day routine becomes more of a hands-on experience.

This summer, for our third year, Butter Beans will be holding our Food & Garden Camp. With a similar mindset as these schools, our goal is to give your children a unique farm-to-table experience. From July to August, we will be covering the gamut of the food cycle from sprouting seeds and harvesting fresh food from rooftop gardens, to writing our very own cookbooks. Visit our website for more information.

For another great examples of greening schools, check out this edible schoolyard in East London, where lots of growing is taking place each day (check out their “lessons in loaf” pictures, they are wonderful!), and get to know Leave It Better, an organization that is accomplishing great feats in greening our local school communities as well.

Photos courtesy of kthread and growtolearn.org

Kroger’s footprint

14 Nov

The Kroger Co., one of the country’s largest retailers, has made great strides to reduce their environmental impact, becoming a benchmark for other large corporations to follow. Since 2000, they have managed to reduce their overall in-store energy consumption by 31 percent. They have saved more than 1.47 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions–that’s the same as taking more than 290,000 cars off the road for one year!

Kroger has set this precedent by taking advantage of the latest technology available, remodeling their stores to maintain maximum green efficiency. Their building model is not only beneficial for the environment, but it also helps to reduce their managing costs. Kroger achieves their eco-friendly status by using LED lighting, skylights, motion sensors, special computer control systems to monitor energy usage, and vast improvements in their transportation methods.

Their exemplar business model is also marked by their partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program since its 2004 launch. The SmartWay program encourages cleaner, more fuel-efficient transportation to cut back on the total sum of greenhouse gas emissions.

Since 1970, the United States has increased annual food waste by a shocking 50 percent. That means that today, Americans throw away nearly 40 percent of their food, totaling $165 billion annually. Learn more about the country’s food waste here.

Companies like the Coalition for Resource Recovery (CoRR) work to decrease this alarming amount of waste, helping businesses add to their profits by turning waste into assets. CoRR conducts pilots to be able to identify and ultimately assist in creating profitable waste diversion tactics, including a pilot that is currently happening here in New York City.

With NYC’s current waste system, almost 2.5 tons per day of paper, metal, plastic, glass, and food waste from both food and retail sectors are sent off to sit for years, undisturbed, in far away landfills. CoRR is working to locally recover the energy in waste food, using more green energy to power the city, and of course to reduce overall waste from NYC municipalities.

Other companies like Action Environmental Services and Waste Management are also working to eliminate waste throughout the country. By looking to waste-conscious brands like Dell and Hewlett-Packard as well as NYC restaurants like Northern Spy Food Co. and Franny’s, we can all work together to help reduce our annual waste and create a healthier environment for us all.

Photo courtesy of markramseymedia.com and thecorr.org

Children and fast food marketing

9 Oct

6319155216_0463fda84aA recent study from the researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Kansas Medical Center suggests that children’s brains may be imprinted with the logos of popular fast food brands.

Using MRI technology, they monitored the brain activity of kids aged 10-14 as images of recognizable logos (some food-related, some not) appeared before them. The study found that the reward processing area and the appetite control area of the brain lit up only when the kids saw fast food logos.

Yet this reaction may not seem all that alarming. After all, whenever food is mentioned, our body’s natural response is to feel hungry. But these researchers found that children were likely to choose foods branded with a well-known logo. They were even asked to taste a hamburger from a label-less box compared to a hamburger with a box labeled from McDonald’s, and overwhelmingly, they favored the recognized McDonald’s labeled burger.

Dr. Amanda Bruce, the study leader, explained, “Research has shown children are more likely to choose those foods with familiar logos. That is concerning because the majority of foods marketed to children are unhealthy, calorifically-dense foods high in sugars, fat, and sodium.” Dr. Bruce and her associates believe that these companies are exploiting this knowledge to trigger the reward portions of children’s brains way before they have even developed self-control.

Click here to learn more about the study. Visit the Fast Food F.A.C.T.S website to get a better understanding of how marketing can affect children and check out this short news video about the report.

And if you’re hankering for a burger or some french fries, here are some recipes to kick that craving in a healthier way.

Photo courtesy of stefou!

Conventional or Organic?

19 Sep

8099419727_c31c7bbe2cTwo weeks ago, Stanford University published their controversial study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluding that organic produce has no added nutritional health benefits over their conventionally grown counterparts.

However, one of the few distinguishable advantages of organic fruits and vegetables is that there is a lower risk of pesticide exposure. Despite this, the conventionally grown produce that was reviewed contained pesticide levels within the safety limits set by the EPA.

It was noted in the study that children are especially vulnerable when it comes to pesticide exposure, since they are maturing and their immune systems are more sensitive. Because childhood is a critical period in human development, exposure to pesticides during that time may cause adverse effects.

According to the FDA, foods labeled “organic” must be certified under the National Organic Program. They must also be grown and processed using organic farming methods that promote biodiversity and recycling. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, bioengineered genes, antibiotics, hormones, and radiation cannot be used. For more information on organic food labels, click here. To read about the challenges small farmers face should they chose to become certified organic, click here.

In the study it was found that organic produce has a 30 percent lower risk of containing detectable pesticide levels. The Environmental Working Group has compiled a list of the twelve foods containing the highest levels of pesticides, calling them the Dirty Dozen (with apples, celery, and bell peppers at the head of list). The Clean 15 on the other hand are the foods lowest in pesticides, with onions, sweet corn, and pineapple as the top three least contaminated. Here is their methodology.

What this study did not focus on, was the nutritional, environmental and community value of locally grown produce. Eating local produce offers various health benefits for our bodies, and our planet. According to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, the top five reasons to eat locally are:

  1. taste
  2. environmental concern
  3. community
  4. variety
  5. health

Our food now travels an average of 1,500 miles before ending up on our plates.

At Butter Beans, we have created close relationships with local food purveyors, purchasing as much of our produce as possible from nearby farmers to provide the freshest and most nutritious food to our students. A list of our suppliers can be found here.

Despite the emphatic reactions to this food study, it’s a step in the right direction for the quality and safety of the food we eat daily. This sort of dialogue shows that our communities are taking more interest in different methods of food production, which trickles down to how we feed our families. It is of utmost importance that we nourish ourselves everyday with fresh fruits and vegetables.

First Lady, Michelle Obama sums it up pretty well: “We can make a commitment to promote vegetables and fruits and whole grains on every part of every menu. We can make portion sizes smaller and emphasize quality over quantity. And we can help create a culture — imagine this — where our kids ask for healthy options instead of resisting them.”

Photo courtesy of ePsos.de