Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Lifelong Lover of Nature, Park Slope Resident Challenges Herself to Eat Locally

Leda Meredith is a culinary adventurer. From foraging for greens as a child; to cooking meals with a kitchen made only of a heating coil, a cutting board, a pot and a mug; to spending a year eating only food produced within a 250-mile radius of her Park Slope home, it seems as though she’s done it all.

Her memoir, Botany, Ballet and Dinner from Scratch, was published late last year and chronicles her career as a dancer and her passion for nature. It is an inspiring story, peppered with recipes from her life. If you don’t already belong to a CSA and eat as locally as possible, you’ll want to after reading her book.

“I wanted to share the connection that food has always given me with community and natur
e, and hopefully to inspire people to find their own similar connections,” she said.

Meredith begins her narrative with fond memories from her childhood, spending time with her great-grandmother and her grandmother, whom she lived with in San Francisco. Every spring, the three would gather wild greens from the park across the street from their home. “We stuffed our plastic shopping bags with dandelion greens, wild mustard and Claytonia,” Meredith wrote.

Her Greek grandmothers would prepare the fresh greens with garlic and olive oil and feast on them together. These experiences every spring were a basis for the passion Meredith has as an adult, to eat locally.

“When I began to get involved in the local food movement, I realized that I already knew what it meant to eat locally and seasonally because in many ways that was what I had done with my grandmother and great-grandmother as a child,” she said.

This tradition with her grandmothers also inspired Meredith to try and do the same, with a childhood friend. The two girls collected dandelion buds, which didn’t amount to much because they were out of season, then sautéed them in butter and had them with Meredith’s parents. She also fondly recalled an overgrown garden she used to spend time in which she called “Blackberry Hill.”

At 16, Meredith moved from California to New York, on a full scholarship to American Ballet Theater’s school, and began her career as a dancer. She traveled the world and became very resourceful when cooking meals on tour.

During five weeks spent in Paris, Meredith had a hotel room to herself. “I bought a heating coil, a plastic cutting board, a small aluminum pot and a mug,” she wrote about the experience. “With my Swiss army knife, plus a fork and a spoon pilfered from the hotel restaurant, I had a kitchen.”

She even cooked a Thanksgiving meal for herself and some friends in Switzerland. Because ingredients traditional to this meal cannot be easily found in Switzerland (things like a turkey to feed 12, cranberries and pumpkin), Meredith had to work hard to track them down, eventually ordering a turkey from Zurich.

“Some of my best memories are of those kitchens on the road,” she wrote.

Over the years Meredith has taken food-related ventures others wouldn’t even dream of. She drank mint tea — steaming water and mint leaves — in Slovenia and gathered cronewort plants to make wreathes that are said to protect the homes they are hung in.

‘The 250’

In late summer 2007, Meredith began a mission to eat food from only a 250-mile radius of her Park Slope home. She called it “The 250” and started a blog to chronicle her experience. She canned and jarred food, made sauerkraut, tracked down dry beans and flour produced in New York, and even harvested a wild mushroom from the ground on Long Island.

Today, even though her year of eating locally is over, Meredith continues the challenge. “My diet is still mostly local, but not as exclusively as during The 250,” she said. “What I discovered during The 250 was that not only is eating local better for the environment and small local farms, it is also fabulous food. By definition the ingredients are fresher and perfectly in season. Why would I want to eat any other way?”

And hasn’t only impacted the way she eats. The 250 has permeated other aspects of Meredith’s life. “It has made me much more aware of how my daily choices impact the world around me, not just food but things like whether or not to buy new things,” she explained.

Meredith’s own personal quest has also led others to eat locally. “My dad has started going to his local farmers’ market, and several friends have joined CSAs and say I inspired them to do so,” she noted. “I’ve gotten wonderful responses from readers who were inspired by the book, including some who’d never cooked before but went ahead and made some of the recipes in the book.”

For any readers who want to start their own local eating diet, Meredith has the following advice: “Go to the Greenmarkets, join a CSA — you can find one near you by going to — if you can, grow some food in a garden or even on a window sill. Visit and check out the Locavore's Guide to New York City.”

As she wrote in her final chapter, “I wanted to find out what this region tasted like. I didn’t count on falling in love with it.” You might just fall in love with it too.

Botany, Ballet and Dinner from Scratch was published by Heliotrope Books. Meredith’s second book, What Here Tastes Like, will be available later this year.

Photos courtesy of Leda Meredith

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Giving New Life to Old Clothes

Do you have a sweater sitting in the back of your closet that you can’t bear to get rid of, but it’s out of style or doesn't fit? Kat O’Sullivan has a solution for you: cut it up and make a new sweater.

She visits thrift stores — she has a route of about eight, all on Long Island — and buys old sweaters. After washing them, O’Sullivan sews pieces from several recycled sweaters together to make new clothes. She crafts patchwork sweaters, sweater dresses and hand warmers.

O’Sullivan said she likes to experimen
t with her sweaters,, and calls them “easy, fun and pleasing.” Her designs are bright, colorful, whimsical and one-of-a-kind. Most of the sweaters have hoods and some have zippers. “They have so much more character because you get pieces that have stories ... it’s like saving orphan clothes.”

It’s also “environmentally friendly to re-use clothes,” she said. “It’s a nice little way to recycle.”

In her own life as well, O’Sullivan is conscious of the environment. “I try to consume a lot less, and bring bags to the grocery store,” she said. “I don’t buy anything new — furniture or clothes.”

She also hitchhikes when she travels, which she does frequently. O’Sullivan has been to Ireland, Ecuador, India, the Philippines and many other places. She toured with the Grateful Dead, accompanying them on 200 shows. In a couple of weeks she will go to Mongolia, where she will hitchhike around the country.

“I kind of throw myself in and let the waves tumble me,” she says of her travels.

But it was touring with the Dead where O’Sullivan started selling her clothes, making patchwork dresses. Over the years since then she has continued sewing clothes but started making her patchwork sweaters only three years ago.

She calls her line of recycled sweaters “upcycled” clothes, which is a term for the process of taking waste items and turning them into items of greater value.

These days, when she’s not traveling, O’Sullivan sews out of her Greenpoint home. She has lived in many places before — even in her school bus, which is completely furnished — but will now be in Brooklyn for the long haul. “I was living in Manhattan,” she said. “Coming to Brooklyn was such an exhale.”

She sells her sweaters exclusively online now; on handmade online marketplace Etsy and through her own web site, But O’Sullivan used to sell her sweaters out of “a crazy school bus” on a street in Manhattan’s East Village, which calls “awesome,” until the police shut her down.

“It’s really fun to bring things back to life and then send them out to the world,” she said. “I’m triumphant that I’ve given something new life.”

Photos courtesy of Kat O’Sullivan

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Solar Event at Southpaw

This coming Tuesady, February 24 from 7:30 – 11 p.m., Solar One will host “I Heart PV: Party for a Solar Powered New York” at Southpaw in Park Slope. This is a new monthly event where New Yorkers can come to have all their solar power questions answered and get involved in local solar activism.

There will be opportunities to ask local solar installers questions one-on-one about purchasing, installing and owning a solar system in New York, and a solar powered toy car building contest.

For more info, go to

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PACC’s Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant Buildings Go Green

The Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) in its effort to create affordable homeownership opportunities in the Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods, is going green.

The organization’s two current green projects are the renovation of an historic brownstone on Classon Avenue in Clinton Hill known as The Hawthorne into 12 affordable condo units; and the construction of a brand new co-op building on Gates Avenue in Bed-Stuy, called The Gates Cooperative, with 34 apartments.

“The Hawthorne is not a certified green building per se, but it has green elements, energy saver appliances and such,” said Deb Howard, PACC’s executive director.

The Gates Cooperative, on the other hand, is a completely green building that ... read more

Story by Linda Collins

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Speeding Cars: ‘Brooklyn’s Got the Worst of It’

Have you ever been walking or bicycling and seen a car hurtling past you, nearly hitting you? Did you know that a 10 mph difference in the speed of that car could mean the difference between life and death for you?

Pedestrian and bicyclist advocacy group Transportation Alternatives (T.A.) is all too aware of these issues. Last year, the organization conducted a survey of more than 15,000 cars in 13 New York City locations. The results of this survey were released last week. T.A. found that 39 percent of drivers regularly speed.

The locations were chosen based on two criteria: complaints about speeding and reckless driving from the community, and the number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed or injured in the area based on data from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Of the 13 locations T.A. surveyed, eight were in Brooklyn.

Using radar guns (pictured above) and automated speed cameras—the same equipment used by the NYPD—T.A. employees and researchers visited the locations between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Each person recorded speeds for a minimum of 30 minutes or until a sample size of 100 cars was reached.

Surveyors were careful to place themselves in positions that wouldn’t be dangerous while being inconspicuous to drivers so as not to influence their behaviors.

To obtain the most accurate account possible, other factors were included in the surveys, such as weather conditions, traffic congestion, a crash, or illegal double parking. In some cases, there were too many motorists to record them all, so surveyors recorded in detail how they chose which cars to study, such as every car in one lane or every third car in one lane.

The speed limit in each of these locations is 30 mph. With 39 percent of city drivers going over that speed, T.A. spokesman Wiley Norvell noted, “What we found was pretty shocking.

“From a driver’s point of view, the difference between 30 and 40 miles per hour isn’t that much,” he explained. But for pedestrians or bicyclists, he said, “it could be the difference between life and death.”

While this is a citywide problem, “Brooklyn’s got the worst of it,” Norvell said.

Locations surveyed in this borough were: Flushing at Tompkins avenues, Franklin Avenue at Monroe Street, Bedford at Myrtle avenues, Bedford at Flushing avenues, Bedford at DeKalb avenues, Flatbush at Washington avenues, Flatbush Avenue at Empire Boulevard, and Rogers Avenue at Maple Street.

Compared to the citywide average of cars driving above the speed limit, the majority of the Brooklyn locations surveyed were around or below 39 percent. The number of cars driving above 30 mph at Flushing Avenue and Tompkins Avenue was the city’s lowest recorded percentage at 6.29 percent.

However, three Brooklyn locations had alarmingly high percentages of speeders. At Flatbush Avenue at Washington Avenue, half of all motorists drove above the speed limit.

Seventy-eight percent of cars driving through Flatbush Avenue at Empire Boulevard drove over the 30 mph speed limit, while 88 percent driving through Rogers Avenue at Maple Street exceeded the limit. Even scarier is that one in four cars surveyed here drove over 40 mph.

In the entire city, these two Brooklyn locations had the highest percentage of speeding cars.

According to T.A., this speeding study is the city’s largest ever. And it only addressed 13 locations.

Norvell explained that T.A.’s goals in doing this study are three-fold. First, the organization wants the state Legislature to pass a law allowing New York City to implement speed-enforcement cameras, something it has turned down four times, he said.

T.A. would also like the NYPD to continue gathering as much data as possible. As of right now, the only way to gauge how many cars speed in the city is by the amount of summonses given out.

The third goal for T.A. would be redesigning city streets to make pedestrian and cyclist safety a top priority. This would include slowing down traffic. According to T.A., when a car drives at a speed of 30 mph, 40 percent of pedestrians who are struck will be killed, while at 40 mph, the likelihood of a fatal crash jumps to 70 percent.

Photo courtesy of Transportation Alternatives

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Spin the Wheel, Go Fish and Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Do you drink New York City tap water? Do you turn off the water when you brush your teeth? How often do you eat meat? How much of your own food do you grow?

These are questions seventh -and eighth-grade students at the Urban Assembly School for the Urban Environment in Bedford-Stuyvesant will soon be asking themselves. They will be taking part in Renewable NYC, a program given by the Center for the Urban Environment (CUE) and funded by National Grid.

Last Thursday, National Grid employees met at CUE to experience first-hand the program they’re gifting to the Brooklyn school.

Renewable NYC was designed by staff at CUE and is taught by Program Manager of
Urban Education Chiara DiPalma (pictured above), who gave the National Grid employees their own session of the program, which is divided into four sections: water, food, energy and waste.

DiPalma began by explaining that the earth has “360 million trillion gallons of water — that’s 360 with six sets of zeroes after it.” She showed the group a tall beaker filled with blue liquid, representing all the water on the planet. As she poured most of the blue liquid into another beaker, DiPalma explained that 97.2 percent of water on our planet is in the oceans.

She then divided the remaining water into four other sections, showing how little usable water we have — less than one percent of the earth’s total water. “It’s pretty important that we
conserve it and use it the best that we can,” DiPalma said.

The group was given a water footprint worksheet, where they answered questions like: “How long do you let the water heat up before you get in the shower?” and “If you see that there is a leaky sink in your house, what do you do?” After calculations, most members of the group discovered that they use about 60 to 200 gallons of water a day.

Just as the students in DiPalma’s classes would, the National Grid employees played the “drain or sustain game.” Using a bag of beans to represent a reservoir, those beans are added to or subtracted from a plastic cup, or “communal well,” depending on how good or bad their character’s water-use habits were, chosen by spinning an arrow on a spin board.

“The idea is to get the kids really thinking about personal habits and how they might affect water usage,” explained DiPalma, adding that she highlights the difference between use and waste of water.

Using an apple to represent the earth, DiPalma demonstrated how little land we have that is suitable for growing food, holding up a tiny sliver of the apple. “It’s depleting at kind of an alarming rate,” she noted.

“Brooklyn is a good example: one of the best areas in the United States for food production, but we covered it all up,” DiPalma said.

Next the group calculated their food footprint. Some of the questions they answered were: “Do you try to eat food that is in season?” and “Do you buy fruit and vegetables that were grown locally in New York state?”

A couple members of the group scored very high, which means they use an average of 24-40 acres of land to support their eating habits. To sustain this lifestyle, we would need 3-4 more planets.

The group enjoyed a food-related game of “Go Fish,” where suits were replaced with meals and all the cards had food items on them. The object of the game wasn’t to collect as many cards as you could, but to collect cards with the lowest travel distance, such as carrots from a community garden or a hamburger from New Jersey.

DiPalma described additional games her students play along the other two themes of the course: energy and waste. For energy, they “talk about the carbon cycle and greenhouse gases and students calculate their carbon footprint,” she said. She then conducts a game similar to ‘The Price is Right,’ where students try to guess which item emits the most carbon in a given time period. Answers to this are surprising.

For example, using a toaster for 10 minutes every day of the week would emit eight pounds of carbon, but using an oven for the same amount of time would emit only one and a half pounds of carbon.

When talking about waste, DiPalma emphasizes recycling, playing a game where “each student imagines they are a plastic bottle.” They visit different stations around the classroom — such as person, street, recycle bin, ocean and landfill — where they play out the life of a plastic water bottle.

“The idea is you want to prolong your life as long as possible as a plastic bottle,” she explained.
When taking their own version of Renewable NYC the National Grid employees learned things that even they didn’t know, especially about their food footprint. DiPalma’s “students” for the day had nothing but praise for the workshop saying, “this is very well done.”

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Incentives for Green Roofs

The Eagle received this press release:

Together with environmental advocates, Council Member David Yassky and Council Member James Gennaro yesterday announced they were introducing the Sustainable Roof Act of 2009 at today’s stated meeting of the City Council. The bill will provide property tax abatements to building owners who install green and white roofs through the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) J-51 Program.

“This bill will not only encourage the creation of environmentally-sustainable buildings and reduce our consumption of carbon-based energy sources, but will create the green economy jobs this city needs to compete,” said Council Member Yassky. “As we fight through an economic downturn and threats to our environment, we must take bold steps toward a cleaner, more prosperous City.”

Councilman James F. Gennaro, Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee and author of the City's Stormwater Management Plan, which mandates the use of green roofs and blue roofs to help prevent street flooding, said: “Rooftops used to be for TV antennas and drying laundry — no longer. We finally have the know-how and the will to put the countless acreage of our rooftops to work in cooling our city, shrinking its carbon footprint and reducing stormwater runoff. This is common-sense legislation that should be adopted immediately.”

“This bill identifies a major source of untapped potential for the City to green itself, and creates a powerful economic incentive to make use of it,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “Where we can encourage environmental sustainability alongside economic investment, the City stands to benefit twice over.”

“This bill would help New York City residents save millions in energy costs while spurring a new sector of green jobs,” said Larry Levine, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Green rooftops, planted with vegetation, reduce cooling costs and keep rainwater from overwhelming our sewers, while rooftop solar panels provide reliable, home-grown, clean energy solutions. These are shovel-ready, smart-energy investments for today and tomorrow that not only improve the environment but also provide new economic opportunities the City desperately needs.”

“New York City’s thousands of square miles of empty roofscape amount to what is perhaps our single most underutilized resource,” said Christopher Neidl, Coordinator of Solar One. “Distributed clean, applications like photovoltaics, green roofs and white roofs deliver many services, solutions and amenities that our city needs, and promise to generate scores of quality jobs that are inherently local. This well considered and well timed legislation aims to tap the enormous potential of our roof resource by mitigating the financial barriers that currently suppress local investment. If it passes and becomes policy, it will make a big difference.”

The J-51 Program is administered by the NYC HPD to encourage the renovation of residential properties by granting partial tax exemption and abatement benefits. Benefits vary, depending on the location of the property and the extent and nature of the improvements.

Under the program’s rules, alterations designed to conserve energy are eligible for the abatement. However, the current requirements fail to include alterations for green and white roofs. These improvements serve to reduce the electricity consumption of the building, and in turn, the building’s burden on the city’s electricity grid and carbon footprint.

On average, the J-51 property tax abatement reduces the cost of the rehabilitation by 90 percent of the cost of the work for up to 20 years. While the average building unit must be valued at under $40,000 to qualify for the abatement, condominiums and cooperatives qualify under the program.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Don't Slash Our Funding, Say Aquarium, Botanic Gardens Execs

Leaders of several Brooklyn environmental institutions gathered today at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden to denounce the elimination of the state’s Zoos, Botanical Gardens and Aquariums Grant Program (ZGBA).

As of April 1, 2010, the $9 million state program that supports 76 institutions statewide is set to have its funding eliminated entirely. This would result in a $725,000 loss for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a $722,000 loss for the New York Aquarium in Coney Island and a $62,000 loss for the Center for the Urban Environment (CUE). (The Prospect Park Zoo will not be affected, as it does not receive ZGBA funds).

Speakers Thursday were understanding of the challenging economic situation, but felt they were being asked to withstand an unfair percentage of funding cuts. All three institutions already face, or expect to face, cuts in city funding as well.

“These institutions represent the best of Brooklyn and it would be foolish to consider anything close to what we’ve heard suggested,” said Borough President Marty Markowitz... read more

Pictured above are Scot Medbury, president of Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Story and photo by Phoebe Neidl

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Comment Response: Is Green Really Green?

Fellow blogger tapsearcher responded to yesterday's post about green jobs, and I thought it was an important comment so I'd like to expand on it. It's true that products thought to be environmentally friendly or green that are sourced from outside the United States really aren't what you think. Sure, if you use a water bottle every day instead of buying plastic water bottles, keeping them out of landfills, that's good. But where did the bottle come from? In its trip to the U.S., how much carbon was emitted in the process? This is why it's so important to purchase food and goods locally, because you're not only boosting the local economy, but reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Green Jobs Aren't Immune to Economic Crisis

In this economic climate and climate crisis, one would hope that a green job would be the perfect solution. Because creating jobs while helping the environment is win-win. But it turns out, as The New York Times reported yesterday, that jobs in the green energy industry have recently been experiencing lay-offs. Read the full report here. Here's hoping President Obama's stimulus package helps.

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Hearing Considers Proposal for Bike Storage in New Buildings

Brooklyn’s Two Trees Is a Major Supporter of Amendment

The City Planning Commission (CPC) held a public hearing at the New York City Department of City Planning’s (DCP) Spector Hall yesterday morning to discuss a text amendment to the Zoning Resolution requiring indoor, secure, long-term bicycle parking in new multi-family residential, community facilities and commercial buildings.

The proposed text amendment would provide for bicycle parking and storage both at home and in the workplace, with standards that serve the needs of cyclists while providing flexibility to accommodate the needs of development citywide.

Amanda M. Burden, chair, listened intently and responsively along with the other delegates ... read more

Story by Matthew Goldberg

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