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NEPA Rollback & Environmental Justice — July 17, 2020

NEPA Rollback & Environmental Justice

When people say ‘let’s not dwell in the past,’ or ‘let’s not get too political,” I often cringe. I certainly see the value in not getting too caught up on some issue to the point where you become stuck, but I also see the harm it causes to not give voice to past injustices. By denying or refusing to acknowledge a people’s history, those in power (those who historically have been white people) create an alternative narrative that erases history and increase their own sense of worth, while at the same time further marginalizing people with less status and wealth (those who historically have been Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)).

We can only begin to uncover the oppressive structures and systems in place that perpetuate inequality and segregation in housing and education among black/white and rich/poor if we tell the stories of the past with honesty and clarity. Stories are a crucial way we reflect on and chronicle our lives, and they give meaning to our sense of place and place in time. Stories have been used to oppress, but they can also be used to liberate and heal.

Additionally, what policies and history contributes to the disparities we see across black and white communities in NYC and the USA in general? More specifically, why are our communities so unequal in terms of environmental burdens and other social determinants of health? I intent to explore these questions through my next series of posts more in detail. I believe part of it is because systematic racism exists at all levels of society (government agencies included), and the many cumulative effects of the policies enacted by these structures over time has lead to severe social inequities between white and BIPOC communities.

Recent news of President Trump’s plan to continue to roll back environmental regulation, specifically to make changed to NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). I will briefly outline what NEPA is here, and what the proposed changes mean for social and environmental justice.

NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) was signed into law under President Nixon in 1970, and it established a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) under the Office of the President, and required that all federal agencies’ projects to undergo an environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impact statements (EIS), to weigh the costs and benefits of a proposed project to society, the economy, and the environment. NEPA also more broadly asserts that each person has a responsibility to enhance and preserve the environment for future generations, laying a framework for a more sustainable national environmental policy.

While I was an undergraduate student at SUNY Binghamton, I had the chance to take an Environmental Impact Statements class, where we learned how to prepare impact statements and all the components that are supposed to be considered before a federal project can proceed.

One of the main components of any EIS/EA is to consider the cumulative effects of the proposed actions. Rather than just considering the direct effects of the proposed project, it is equally or more important to consider the “combination of individually minor effects of multiple actions over time, or cumulative effects” (Source 1, see below).

From Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) regulations for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a cumulative impact is:

“the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (Federal or non-federal) or person undertakes such other actions (40 CFR ~ 1508.7). (Source 1, see below)”

This part of NEPA, when applied appropriately, has been used to assess the cumulative impact of carbon emissions and its effect on climate change, and to address environmental justice issues that arise from the disproportionate implementation of harmful environmental projects in BIPOC communities, like highways and toxic waste facilities construction. (In a future post, I plan to dive more deeply into the history of this in NYC, specifically under NYC’s Parks Commissioner Robert Moses and the construction of the Henry Hudson Parkway and Mosholu Parkway during the 1930’s, which divided Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, home predominantly to BIPOC, creating 6 segmented parts of this once continuous greenspace) (Source 2, see below).

Development projects across the US have historically left out the input from BIPOC community members, leading to disparities that are cumulatively added to over time. We must protect NEPA, and even strengthen it in this unprecedented time of social inequity and ecological destruction. Rather than dilute consideration of environmental justice issues, these cumulative impacts should be top of mind and priority for those entrusted to run our federal agencies here in the USA.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you follow along as I discover the histories of NYC’s development that led to the segregation we experience in health, housing and education today.

@Hydroponics.NYC
@Matthew_Gerard_

Source 1:

President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). (n.d.). INTRODUCTION TO CUMULATIVE EFFECTS ANALYSIS. Retrieved from NEPA.gov: https://ceq.doe.gov/docs/ceq-publications/ccenepa/sec1.pdf

Source 2:
SEIWELL, E. (2019, February 19). Van Cortlandt Park Erases History . Retrieved from FordhamObserver.com: https://fordhamobserver.com/38076/features/van-cortlandt-park-erases-history/

Reframe: Sustain Everyone Blog — July 12, 2020

Reframe: Sustain Everyone Blog

As I reflect humbly on the current social landscape, it seems necessary to reframe this blog as a platform where I write about sustainability in terms of social and environmental justice, beginning to expose white supremacy in the past and in today’s systems and structures, in particular, to address the following questions:

1. What policies and history contributes to the disparities we see across black and white communities in NYC and the USA in general?
2. How do/did people in power contribute to segregation in housing and education through overt and covert racist behavior today and in the past?
3. Why do communities of color face higher levels of environmental burdens than white communities?
4. How can we address racial segregation in housing and education on a local and national level?

I hope you follow along on this personal journey of growth and evolution, to look critically at oppressive structures and systems, and consider a path forward that acknowledges our painful history and our own implicit biases, so that we continue to learn and to build better systems with an aware compassion.

@Matthew_Gerard_
@Hydroponics.NYC

Climate Science Navigator: Why? — January 26, 2020

Climate Science Navigator: Why?

Illustration by Matthew Laznicka (http://inthesetimes.com/)

Climate skepticism is the denial of the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is causing a rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that is driving the global climate crisis. With so much misinformation intentionally spread by multinational corporations and politicians whose interests lie in the continued destruction of the planet, people must be able to navigate the up-to-date data on climate science to make informed decisions. This climate science navigator will be a series of posts that can be used to learn and share the data that global, national, and local agencies gathered and reported to the public over the past 10 years on the unfolding climate crisis.

Look out for upcoming posts titled:

Climate Science Navigator: Global Reports on Climate Change

Climate Science Navigator: National Reports on Climate Change

Climate Science Navigator: Local Reports on Climate Change

Instagram: @Hydroponics.NYC
& @Matthew_Gerard_

Turn Any Bottle into a Hydroponic Wick System — August 18, 2019

Turn Any Bottle into a Hydroponic Wick System

Materials:

Plastic bottle
Wick Roll
Coco coir (in loose form)
Leafy Green Dry Nutrients Part A and B
1/8 teaspoon measuring spoon
Herb seeds
Scissors
Plastic wrap
Rubber band

Process:

Create a bottom and top chamber out of your bottle.
Cut top of bottle off about 3 inches below where the curve starts.

Make a hole in the cap.
Use the tip of a pen or hole puncher (or drill if using a soda bottle or other thick plastic cap) to make a hole in the bottle cap. You can punch a hole in the plastic near the mouth of the bottle if this is easier.

Thread a wick through the hole in the bottle cap and tie a knot.

Be sure to hold upper end of wick upright and fill coco coir around the wick to ensure moisture at top of coco coir. Use a pen to assist threading the wick through bottle cap, cut wick long enough on both sides of cap to reach bottom of bottom chamber and near the top of coco coir in the top chamber.

Attach the bottom and top chambers.
Turn the top chamber upside down to allow wick to sit in the bottom chamber and staple the top part to the bottom part in one spot. Be sure not to staple all sides to allow you to add nutrient solution when necessary.

Fill the bottom chamber with nutrient solution.
A simple method for making nutrient solution is to to take a quart-sized container (like an old Chinese food container) and fill it nearly to the top with tap water (you can use the water that is already in your tote.) Then, add 1/8 of a teaspoon (0.63 mLs) of part A and 1/8 of a teaspoon (0.63 mLs) of part B of the dry nutrients using your measuring spoons. Mix nutrients thoroughly. You want the EC to measure 900-1300 ppm to grow most herbs and lettuce, and you can test the nutrient level by using a digital meter. When your water level drops significantly, add nutrient solution to keep the wick underwater in the bottom chamber.

Fill the top chamber with coco coir and plant your seeds.
Coco coir is made from the outside of a coconut husk and provides the seed with a moist home and later provides support for the plant’s roots. Flatten the coco coir by gently patting down on the surface. If you use the plug version of coco coir (see link below), tear the plug on one side and sandwich the top end of the wick between the coir to ensure moisture is drawn up to your plant.

Cover with plastic wrap and a rubber band and place near light source until sprouting.
This will increase the humidity in the top chamber and increase the rate of seed germination (sprouting).

Remove the plastic when you see any sign of a sprout.
Once you see any green sprouting out of the coco coir (or purple if you planted purple basil), be sure to remove the plastic to allow the plant to grow tall and reach full potential.

Afinished Hydroponic Wick Bottle Systems made by middle schoolers in Brownsville, Brooklyn. @Hydroponics.NYC

*Be sure to add nutrient solution initially to the bottom chamber and refill with tap water as needed, since it will evaporate out and get used up by your plant.

Link to roll of wick:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0174U8WS0/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Link to loose coco coir:
8 Quarts of Loose Coconut Coir
https://www.amazon.com/Quarts-Organic-Loose-Coconut-Coir/dp/B0054ZL6LI/ref=sr_1_24?keywords=coco+coir+loose&qid=1580867850&sr=8-24

Link to coco coir plugs:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002IU8K2/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

adone.png Purple Basil.

IG accounts:
@Hydroponics.NYC
@Matthew_Gerard_

Build A DWC Hydroponic Garden in Less than an Hour — August 9, 2019

Build A DWC Hydroponic Garden in Less than an Hour

Ever have the urge to grow something green? Since most of us live in cities, access to space to grow plants is practically non-existent, and soils are often contaminated with heavy metals and other industrial pollutants. Despite these conditions, people are using creative hydroponic growing techniques that do not rely on traditional methods of growing food.

Hydroponic systems are unique in that they do not use soil to grow plants, but rather delivers nutrients to plants using nutrient-rich water, also called nutrient solution.

Recently, I created a container deep water culture hydroponic system by re-purposing an old plastic storage tote. In deep water culture (DWC) systems, plants sit directly in nutrient-rich water, and an air pump & air stone keeps the water from getting stagnant by blowing bubbles into the water.

It was super easy, and I’ve outlined the steps here so you can construct your own DWC hydroponic herb garden for your home today!

Step 1: Gather your materials (see links at end of post):

-Storage tote,
-Drill,
-2″-3″ hole saw drill attachment,
-Net pots (2″, 3″),
-Coco coir plugs,
-Dry nutrients part A and B for lettuce (also good for herbs),
-Digital EC meter & pH meter,
-Measuring spoons,
-Air pump,
-Air stone,
-Herb & lettuce seeds

Step 2: Drill holes into the lid of your storage tote.

You can drill as many holes as you think will fit the size of your tote’s lid. I went with 13 holes after spacing out each plant site about 3″ apart from one another. When complete, remove all plastic scraps and debris by rinsing the tote out.

last1.jpg @Hydroponics.NYC

Step 3: Fill the container nearly to the top with tap water & add dry nutrients.

A simple method for making nutrient solution is to to take a quart-sized container (like an old Chinese food container) and fill it nearly to the top with tap water (you can use the water that is already in your tote.) Then, add a teaspoon of part A and a teaspoon of part B of the dry nutrients. Add nutrient solution to your reservoir where your plants live, and measure the electrical conductivity (EC). You want the EC to measure 900-1300 ppm to grow most herbs and lettuce, and you can add another teaspoon of each part A & B as necessary to reach the desired EC level. After each harvest, check your EC and add nutrients & water when necessary to maintain 900-1300 ppm range.

Step 4: Installing the air pump and air stone

The air pump attaches to the air stone via a small plastic tube (usually provided). Place the air stone in the nutrient solution and the air pump at a higher elevation than the level of the water in your deep water culture system (to prevent a siphoning of water out of your system).

DWC3 @Hydroponics.NYC

Step 5: Insert the net pots into the holes you cut for each plant site.

You want the bottom of the net pots to be submerged in nutrient solution, so push the net pots in and then add a coco coir plug to each plant site.

Step 6: Plant your herb and lettuce seeds & place under light source.
Now you are ready to plant your seeds in each plug (1-2 herb/lettuce seeds per plant site).

*Be sure to place your system under sunlight or an artificial light source to ensure your plants can photosynthesize!

Recommendations:
-If it’s summer, consider placing your DWC hydroponic garden outside under the direct sunlight, or if one of your windows gets a ton of sun, place it there.

-If you have space under a coffee table, consider installing these lights on the bottom of the table and placing your DWC hydroponic garden under there: https://www.amazon.com/Integrated-Fixture-Extendable-Greenhouse-Installation/dp/B07FZTKYXV

-If none of your windows get enough sunlight, you can purchase an LED lamp to provide your plants with the lights it needs.

DWC.JPG @Hydroponics.NYC

Links to Materials I used:

-Storage tote: https://www.amazon.com/Rubbermaid-FG2214TPDIM-Roughneck-Storage-Metallic/dp/B075WXMPBF/ref=sr_1_4?crid=1CPO0ONHQAR5J&keywords=10+gallon+rubbermaid+tote&qid=1565441533&s=gateway&sprefix=10+gallon+rubber%2Caps%2C132&sr=8-4

-Drill: https://www.amazon.com/BLACK-DECKER-LDX120C-Lithium-Driver/dp/B005NNF0YU/ref=sxin_5_osp48-6ac4fb34_cov?ascsubtag=6ac4fb34-e401-481a-a17e-9630f5769850&creativeASIN=B005NNF0YU&cv_ct_id=amzn1.osp.6ac4fb34-e401-481a-a17e-9630f5769850&cv_ct_pg=search&cv_ct_wn=osp-search&keywords=drill&linkCode=oas&pd_rd_i=B005NNF0YU&pd_rd_r=0939e467-0503-4191-b33d-b9d55ccdc15e&pd_rd_w=9gylW&pd_rd_wg=oV85b&pf_rd_p=c501273b-119a-4fc9-ad78-eda5006b0be9&pf_rd_r=CTRQQHPXZNJH81RGY6PT&qid=1565440579&s=gateway&tag=spyonsite-20

-2″-3″ hole saw drill attachment: https://www.amazon.com/10-Piece-Hole-Saw-Kit-Wood/dp/B07DNT1D4V/ref=sr_1_9?crid=HK4MQH3R07Y2&keywords=hole+saw+attachment&qid=1565440732&s=gateway&sprefix=hole+saw+atta%2Caps%2C128&sr=8-9

-Net pots (3″): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B073WJ78MM/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Net pots (2″)
https://www.amazon.com/Zicome-Garden-Plastic-Cups-Pots/dp/B06XJ2G6FS/ref=sr_1_2_sspa?keywords=net+pots&qid=1553617516&s=gateway&sr=8-2-spons&psc=1

-Coco coir plugs: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002IU8K2/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

-Dry nutrients part A and B for lettuce (works for herbs too): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MSW5LQQ/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

-Digital EC meter & pH meter:
https://www.amazon.com/VIVOSUN-0-05ph-Accuracy-Readout-Temperature/dp/B06XKMH86J/ref=sr_1_6?keywords=ec+meter&qid=1565442108&s=industrial&sr=1-6

-Measuring spoons:
https://www.amazon.com/1Easylife-Stainless-Measuring-Spoons-Ingredients/dp/B00IE2J0SO/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?keywords=measuring+spoons&qid=1565441240&s=industrial&sr=1-1-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUFKQUc3OEI2SDdKV1omZW5jcnlwdGVkSWQ9QTEwNDM2MjcxUkZTV0tRRk1NTUZXJmVuY3J5cHRlZEFkSWQ9QTA0NjIyOTM1U0NRQzBHVVNNOVcmd2lkZ2V0TmFtZT1zcF9hdGYmYWN0aW9uPWNsaWNrUmVkaXJlY3QmZG9Ob3RMb2dDbGljaz10cnVl

-Air pump:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0009YJ4N6/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

-Air stone: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07FZY71K6/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

-Herb & lettuce seeds: https://edenworks.com/

IG accounts:
@Hydroponics.NYC
@Matthew_Gerard_

NY Harbor, Jamaica Bay, and the Rockaways’ Fight Against Williams Natural Gas Pipeline — March 23, 2019

NY Harbor, Jamaica Bay, and the Rockaways’ Fight Against Williams Natural Gas Pipeline

A couple of weeks ago, I felt the need to stand up publicly and testify at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s (NYCDEP) public comment session on the proposed Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE), also called Williams Pipeline for short, which would transport fracked natural gas via the construction of a 23 mile pipeline that “would run along the Staten Island coast and extend out to four miles off Rockaway” (Santino, 2019).

map.jpg *Note the existing pipeline was pushed through and built after Hurricane Sandy, when local residents were preoccupied with the rebuilding of their homes and communities (Source: NYC Surfrider Foundation).

The NYCDEC has to approve a crucial water quality permit before construction can begin. There is a federal law that requires an environmental impact statement (EIS), to look at the impacts to wildlife and human health before moving forward with projects like this. The first hearing was held on 02/26/2019, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, during rush hour, on a weekday, and in a hardly accessible area if you travel by public transportation from the areas that would primarily be impacted by the pipeline’s construction, such as the Rockaways. Not many from my area were able to attend.

FT.jpg Fort Tilden, NYC. @hydroponics.mh

After public pressure on the NYCDEC to have it in an area where potentially affected residents live, there was a second public comment session held just one mile from my home on the Rockaway Peninsula in the auditorium of Rockaway High School for Environmental Sustainability. I felt the irony of sitting in a school devoted to environmental sustainability, and at the same time protesting the approval of such an unconscionably unsustainable project.

I can trace my interest in environmental justice and sustainability back to my first interactions with the ocean and its wildlife as a young kid. My parents took us fishing on the beaches of the Breezy Point Tip, and I was always fascinated by the diversity of creatures I discovered near the sea. I feel blessed and grateful to have been raised so close to this amazing natural area, having found a place among the seagulls, horseshoe crabs, piping plovers, and other enchanting forms of wildlife early in my life. These places are a home to several endangered animals and plants, and are some of the last wild sanctuaries still found in NYC.

oc An oystercatcher in Rockaway Beach, NYC. @hydroponics.mh

Apart from my personal connection to the land and its people, I do, as a graduate from a master’s program in environmental management and sustainable development, understand the scientific review of the potential risks laid out in the draft environmental impact statement conducted by the NYCDEP. With this educational experience, and growing up in the local community, I felt uniquely obligated to testify at the public comment session on March, 6th, 2019. I will not go into the many risks associated with the project here, but will include some helpful resources at the end of this post if you are interested.

Riis Jacob Riis Park @hydroponics.mh

To be honest, there were challenging mental barriers that almost prevented me from testifying. I remember thinking many times, I could be at relaxing at home in my apartment and warm, not walking in the cold to the bus to attend this public comment session. When walking into that building after a long day of work and tired, I remember the thoughts of inadequacy and doubt flooding my thinking when I walked to into the auditorium. Am I really as qualified as I think I am to speak on this?

Yet, I continued to walk to that high school auditorium, to stand in front of a panel of NYCDEC representatives and over 100 of the residents of the Rockaways and other surrounding local communities. Did I mention how much I hate public speaking? I made it short and to the point, as it took over an hour and a half for them to call my name.

My comment addressed the concerns for human health and wildlife when the pipeline is constructed. There would be dredging of sands and sediments off the coast of the Rockaways and Staten Island that are holding and storing safely the industrial toxins of the last century. This action would release toxins like PBCs, heavy medals, and other industrial pollutants into the water column where organisms live and where people swim. The result would be poisoning of people and wildlife that interact with the waters off the Rockaways/Jamaica Bay.

nana “Exploring with my Nana at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, NYC, on 12/30/13.” @hydroponics.mh

I tell this story not to show off how great of a citizen and environmental advocate I am trying to be, but to point out that we need to persist over the many barriers (mentally and physically) that keep us from speaking out when we know we are qualified and worthy of doing so effectively.

geese.jpg Jacob Riis Park. @hydroponics.mh

Although the comment period has ended, you can still act to oppose the NESE project (see below:)

“Those interested in helping this cause can visit stopthewilliamspipeline.org, call Cuomo at 877- 235-6537 or text ‘RENEWABLES’ to 69866” (Santino, 2019).

Watch this short clip to learn more about the proposed pipeline:
The Fight Against The Williams Pipeline:

Local News Article:
The Push To Stop The Williams Pipeline:
https://www.rockawave.com/articles/the-push-to-stop-the-williams-pipeline-2/

Here is a link to an amazing (and my favorite) documentary about how NY Harbor and Jamaica Bay is experiencing positive ecological renewal as a result of the past 20 years of cleaning up the bay and environmental awareness generated through local advocacy, as well as explores the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on a local NYC community, Broad Channel (This natural and inhabited area would all be affected by the proposed pipeline):

Saving Jamaica Bay:
https://www.amazon.com/Saving-Jamaica-Bay-Susan-Sarandon/dp/B073X9MRL8

“Life is a garden, not a road. We enter and exit through the same gate. Wandering, where we go matters less than what we notice.” — Kurt Vonnegut

IG accounts:
@Hydroponics.NYC
@Matthew_Gerard_

Empowering Youth to Grow Food: Teens for Food Justice — April 15, 2018

Empowering Youth to Grow Food: Teens for Food Justice

I’m humbled to be volunteering as a mentor to teens at Clinton DeWitt High School in the Bronx with a non-profit organization called Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ). The mission of TFFJ is to create a realistic solution to food insecurity, or lack of access to healthy and nutritious food, by empowering youth to build and maintain sustainable food systems in their community.

IMG_0680 Lettuce growing at Dewitt Clinton High School in Bronx, NYC. @matt_horgan

TFFJ leads a team to train students in Title I schools in the unique craft of urban farming through the “building and maintaining of indoor farms that yield more than 22, 000 lbs. of fresh produce annually at each location” in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx (http://www.teensforfoodjustice.org/).

IMG_0681 Cucumbers and a variety of leafy greens and herbs growing hydroponically by students at Dewitt Clinton High School in Bronx, NYC. @matt_horgan

Additionally, these youth-run urban farms are feeding students nutritious and fresh meals in their cafeteria, as well as increasing the food security of the area by distributing fresh produce people in the surrounding local community. There is also a focus on teaching students about advocating for policy on the local, state, and federal levels of government to ensure that funding and other resources are given to increase people’s access to healthy food options.

IMG_0685 @matt_horgan

Moreover, the mentorship program I am participating in has been really rewarding. I help facilitate a wide range of activities aimed at teaching the students about creating and sustaining hydroponic systems, advocating for food justice in the policy setting, cooking healthy and nutritious meals.

IMG_0683 Students participate in a cooking challenge to create a veggie burger, chocolate avocado pudding, and pasta salad. (Secret ingredient: parsley grown in the schools hydroponic farm) @matt_horgan

Finally, the students put on a Leadership Conference at Agritecture Consulting where students presented data they collected from surveys they designed and conducted in the community around their school to see what fresh, healthy food was available to stores and restaurants.

See more about becoming a mentor here: http://www.teensforfoodjustice.org/be-a-mentor-2/

If you would like to support Teens for Food Justice, see the links below!

http://www.teensforfoodjustice.org/donate

Instagram: @TeensforFoodJustice

Written by:

Matthew Horgan
MHorgan279@gmail.com
@matt_horgan @sustaineveryone
@hydroponics_nyc
SustainEveryone.com

Making Connections: Repost from @TresPiedrasEcolodge — March 18, 2018

Making Connections: Repost from @TresPiedrasEcolodge

Original Post by me on TPEcolodge.wordpress.com

Often I am renewed with a sense of tranquility and serenity when spending extended periods of time in nature. Recently, I was lucky to return to my friends Maricel, Marconey, and Gretel’s property in the rural community of Tres Piedras in remote southwestern Costa Rica, currently known as Tres Piedras Ecolodge. I lived here 2 years earlier, with two of my friends Tessa and Victor, for 5 months while doing field research on carbon storage, and I was returning to visit friends and enjoy the solitude of being so close to the natural world.

IMG_0570

I was also excited to introduce Marcel and Marconey to Jack Ewing, owner and founder of Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge and Lodge and author of Monkeys are Made of Chocolate. I had the opportunity to meet Jack during a class trip in 2012 with SUNY Binghamton University Professor Dick Andrus. On the class trip, Jack explained to students how he started his ecotourism business and, in the process, how he preserved a substantial swath of land containing ecologically sensitive mangrove forests and other tropical ecosystems.

IMG_0575.jpg

During this most recent trip to Costa Rica, Maricel, Marconey, and I took a drive about 40 minutes outside of Tres Piedras to meet Jack at Hacienda Baru, located on the West coast of Costa Rica, just north of Dominical Beach.

IMG_0574

I had reconnected with Jack online when Tessa, Victor and I lived in Tres Piedras in 2016 and were brainstorming ways for Maricel and her family to build their ecotourism business when we lived in Tres Piedras for 5 months. It wasn’t until recently that we were able to all come together and meet on March 9th, 2018. Hacienda Baru has been in operation for over 30 years, so we were extremely grateful to be making connections someone as experienced as Jack.

17504986_10212792750360598_2184570556147189092_o.jpg

Moreover, Jack was extremely warm and welcoming when we visited a couple of weeks ago. He sat down with us and talked about the challenges of running an ecotourism business, and he also had some helpful suggestions as to how to differentiate the business of Maricel and her family from the already existing ecotourism businesses flourishing in Costa Rica. Being so rural, Tres Piedras Ecolodge offers a unique experience to appreciate an authentic Costa Rican rural community, where traditions are still celebrated by the people who call Tres Piedras home.

IMG_0572

Additionally, Jack also introduced us to Juan Carlos who works for Hacienda Baru as a tour guide. He and another tour guide (who showed us the medical plant garden! see below) were interested in hearing Maricel and Marconey describe their ecotourism ideas, and in doing so gave more clarity and direction as to what type of operation could be possible at Tres Piedras Ecolodge in the future for Maricel, Gretel, Marconey and their family.

IMG_0573

The next steps are more clear, as funds are needed for repairs to the cabins to make them more appealing to visitors, and one way of accomplishing this is to use government subsidies for conservation to fund the business’ upfront costs. Although the woman in charge of this paperwork was ill while I was visiting Hacienda Baru, Maricel and Marconey intend to visit her when she is recovered and well.

DSC_0335

Finally, I am humbled to have had this experience to go to Hacienda Baru with my friends Maricel and Marconey. Check out a picture below of our walk on the trails together after meeting with Jack and his employees! 🙂

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A Shirf Towards Ecological Agriculture — February 20, 2018

A Shirf Towards Ecological Agriculture

The way we view the world is often a reflection of the paradigm of the day, that is the deepest set of beliefs and assumptions a culture has about any given topic at any moment in time. Needless to say, paradigms do shift over time to create the unique circumstance we see on a daily basis, and sometimes this happens rather quickly.

IMG_2960
The new shift in thinking seems to be towards sustainable urban food production. Photo taken at AgTechX @matt_horgan

Paradigm shifts: Thinking in cycles not lines

One paradigm of today seems to be the perception of our lives as a series of linear processes. We seem to idolize cause and effect relationships whenever possible in daily life and tend to view most of our experiences through this narrow lens without analyzing the entire picture.

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However, thinking of systems in terms of lines tends to be characteristically more predictable and simpler, while systems as cycles are naturally more complex.

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Nature’s Cycle by Virginia Lee 2001  

Shift towards interconnectedness

A personal shift in assumptions I experienced was while I was taking an ecological agriculture class during my time at SUNY Binghamton. My perception of self shifted from the individual, separate self to a more interconnected sense of identity.

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Ecological Agriculture: Nature as model

Ecological agriculture is a term used to describe a type of farming that raised food without any chemical or synthetic fertilizers, to create an agricultural system that mimicked ecological systems that sustain in nature.

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By: permacultureprinciples.com

The general trend in agriculture since 1950 has been towards large-scale industrial farms that use synthetic fertilizers and chemical fertilizers, but a recent surge in interest in local, organic produce by consumers is causing a paradigm shift in the way we consume and produce food.

Ecological agriculture can be seen in the increased interest in urban farming in recent years. By incorporating sustainable food systems into the built environment, we can improve food security in urban environments.

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Sky Vegetables February 2018 By @matt_horgan

We can also use underutilized spaces, like basements, to produce food on land to support the health and to educate our local communities
An example of a hydroponic food system, and what my neighbor calls a “permaponic system”, is seen below (Top: after 6 weeks/Bottom: the before picture).

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By @matt_horgan

The potential for ecological agriculture to foster a more harmonious coexistence between human beings and the earth, as well as the practical implications for food security and positive impact on local economies leads me to think that this will become ever more present in our city in the near future.

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By @matt_horgan While walking to class at CUNY Brooklyn College, I saw this incredible urban food garden someone created on their front lawn 🙂

I look forward exploring ecological agriculture more on this blog in the future 🙂

A Collaborative Space for Urban Farming — February 4, 2018

A Collaborative Space for Urban Farming

The key to success is collaboration: an idea so simple that it is often dismissed by introverts, like myself. It is easier to stay in my comfort zone than to venture out into new environments.

Recently, I couldn’t help but wonder, who else is asking similar questions as me in NYC?

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Specifically, which organizations, if any, were already established in the realm of urban farming here. I searched the internet ambitiously looking for any NYC-based organizations related to this topic. To put it simply, urban farming is the growing of food within cities, usually incorporated into the built environment. (See below image of my neighbor’s hydroponic system in a basement in Queens, NYC).

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Eventually, I came across a class titled ‘Building an Urban Farm Business Plan’ that is run by AgTechX. The founders of AgTechX, Ricky Stephens and Henry Gordon-Smith, are about connecting individuals looking for opportunities “at the intersection of urban agriculture, technology, and sustainability” (https://agtech-x.com/). The Co-lab they run in Brooklyn provides a space for those of us interested in getting involved in urban farming in NYC and holds classes in hydroponics and aquaponics. Members work to build a more sustainable food system right here in the dense urban jungle of NYC.

Finally, I imagine myself working somewhere at the intersection of sustainable food and education in the near future, and the team at AgTechX is a great place for me to meet people who could, at the very least, point me in the right direction.

See below a picture of hydroponic systems over at AgTecX’s Co-lab in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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After my trip over to Brooklyn this week, I’m inspired to see a group of dedicated and passionate young people interested in urban farming. In the coming weeks, I am going to explore the classes given by the team at AgTechX with the intention to learn more about the logistics of hydroponic and aquaponics systems in NYC. This will also be an ideal way to connect with like-minded individuals in this emerging field.

To learn more about the collaboration among the urban farming community in NYC visit:
Website: https://agtech-x.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/agtech-x
Instagram: @agtechx
MeetUp: https://www.meetup.com/AgTech-X-NYC-Meetups/

Follow my Instagram accounts for more urban farming/nature photos:
@matt_horgan @SustainEveryone @Hydroponics_NYC