Thursday, August 26, 2010

NY Times Feature on Habana Outpost Owner

Check out this feature in the New York Times on Sean Meenan, owner of Fort Greene eco-friendly restaurant Habana Outpost. Among the local hot spot's sustainable elements are "solar panels, a rainwater-collection system that feeds the toilets, a recycling and composting station, wheat-board wall paneling, corn-based plastic cups and a blender powered by a bicycle."

According to the Times, Meenan opened another location in Malibu and will soon be expanding to Las Vegas and LA.

New Interim Greenway on Flushing Avenue

New York City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has taken another interim step in the process to establish a Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway — a 14-mile, multi-use, off-road path spanning from Greenpoint all the way down to Sunset Park.

DOT has completed a new 2-way bike lane on Flushing Avenue from Williamsburg Street to Navy Street along the length of the Brooklyn Navy Yard — featuring a physically protected lane from Williamsburg Street West to Washington Avenue and a Class 2 (buffered) lane for the balance of the stretch.

Combined with previously created interim segments on Kent Avenue, Williamsburg Street West and Columbia Street, the groundwork has been laid for nearly 4 miles of the Greenway.

The final designed version of the Greenway will be between 20 and 30 feet wide in total, encompassing a 4- to 8-foot landscaped buffer between it and the street, a 10- to 12-foot bike bath, and a 6- to 10-foot pedestrian path.

The bike and pedestrian path recently opened at Brooklyn Bridge Park will also link to the Greenway route.

The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway was envisioned by Brian McCormick, Milton Puryear and Meg Fellerath, who incorporated as the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI) in 2004. They have been working with the DOT on the master plan for the entire Greenway route.

Earlier this year, DOT hosted a series of four community workshops in areas that will be affected by the Greenway — Downtown Brooklyn, Sunset Park, Red Hook and Greenpoint/Williamsburg — to hash out the details of the planned route.

For more information about the Greenway, visit

And check this out if you haven't already: when I was looking up details about bike paths, I came across this handy little online guide by Transportation Alternatives called "Bike Lanes and Paths: A Primer." Also, a quick trip around the Biking Rules web site might give you some useful info.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Adopt-A-Farmbox: Empowering Brooklyn to Grow Its Own Food

Lately, it seems as though so many people talk about fresh, local or organic food that everyone must have access to it. In fact, there are neighborhoods in New York City that can be characterized as “food deserts” — areas with little or no access to food needed to maintain a healthy diet.

This is where Adopt-A-Farmbox comes in. A new project of Bed-Stuy couple Aki and Ronald Baker through their sustainable design company Baker Design and Build, it partners with schools and community organizations to donate farm boxes: plots of soil enclosed by 100 percent recycled wood in which to grow food.

“If we can empower people about food, what they eat and how that’s going to bring change into their lives, we can encourage them to take charge of their health, their community and their environment,” said Aki, a nutritionist and yoga instructor.

The boxes are custom made, depending on the size and layout of the space they are intended for. If the boxes are built at a school, they fit into the classroom structure. “We know public school teachers have a lot to do already — what we’re trying to do is make it easy for teachers to be able to integrate it easily into the curriculum they already have,” Baker explained. “Kids need to be able to think about [healthy eating] in every aspect of their lives.”

Baker Design and Build will donate all the materials to build and sustain the farm boxes, including the wood for the box structure, organic soil, organic seeds and plan layouts. They also provide consultation on seed placement optimization, soil composition, vegetable and fruit varieties, educational program integration and a standard based curriculum.

Currently, the project is in its early stages, with boxes being built and funds being raised to build more. Adopt-A-Farmbox will soon have a presence at the Brooklyn Brownstone School, P.S. 11 Purvis J. Behan Elementary School, P.S. 307 Daniel Hale Williams Elementary School, the Green-Hill School and LaunchPad creative gathering space, all in Brooklyn. They have one school partnership in Queens and one in Manhattan.

Right now the first boxes are at Community Counseling and Meditation’s Georgia’s Place in Brooklyn, a supportive housing facility for the mentally ill. There are four boxes there, Baker said. She explained that once the boxes are built and the soil is put in, the soil has to settle. Seedlings for new boxes will be started in February and taken outside to plant in April. During the fall and winter, workshops will be held in health, nutrition, farming and composting.

In the meantime, the Bakers are fundraising to cover the cost of the boxes through Kickstarter, an all-or-nothing based fundraising web site, which awards a project money only if it is fully funded by pledges. Adopt-A-Farmbox’s goal is to reach $10,000 by Sept. 11. As of Wednesday afternoon, 48 backers had pledged a little more than $3,500.

Money will also be raised through a party on Sept. 11 in collaboration with theCOMPOUNDbrooklyn, a social experiment designed by a collective of artists, activists and local businesses, in which they throw parties in order to raise funds for good causes. “Back-to-School @ theCOMPOUNDbrooklyn with Adopt-A-Farmbox” will be at 1281 Atlantic Ave. from 3 p.m. to midnight on the 11th.

Baker said they are also talking to council members to secure more funds for the project.

“[The response] has been overwhelmingly positive [so far],” Baker said. “Our hope is to empower people … using food as a catalyst for social change. Food is something that connects us together. We all have to eat.” 

Photo courtesy of Adopt-A-Farmbox

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Blog Feature: Fabulous Fresh Finds

So last week I moved to Brooklyn. I won't tell you where I lived before — I'll just say that it took me over an hour by train to get to the Eagle office in Brooklyn Heights and that there were little to no local food options in my neighborhood.

Now, the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket is just two subway stops (or a nice walk) away from my apartment! While I'm not brave enough or dedicated enough to embark on an exclusively local diet à la Leda Meredith, I'll try to stop by every Saturday. Since this is a green blog, I thought I'd regularly post what I brought home. Being a fan of alliteration, I've dubbed this new feature "Fabulous Fresh Finds."

A little overwhelmed and under prepared at the magnitude of the market this past Saturday, all I purchased was: a bunch of carrots, some green beans, and some zucchini from Phillips Farms, which is in Hunterdon County, NJ.

In the Northeast, carrots are in season from July to November (but are available through early April), green beans are in season from July through September and zucchini is in season from July through September (the zucchini did not photograph well).

So far, I've been snacking on the carrots and green beans raw — they're delicious — and I haven't done anything with the zucchini yet. I'm thinking maybe soup.

There were some other pretty exciting finds at the market. Next week I'm thinking I might pick up some mushrooms from Madura Farms, which is in Orange County, or maple syrup from Wood Homestead, which is in Schoharie County, NY.

The Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket is held on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. year-round. The city's Greenmarkets are a program of GrowNYC, a non-profit geared toward improving the quality of life in the five boroughs through environmental programs. This particular Greenmarket, founded in 1989, is GrowNYC's flagship Brooklyn market and is its second largest market behind Union Square.

Friday, August 20, 2010

SIte-Specific Art Installation at Botanic Garden Made of Branches from Invasive Species

This morning, installation artist Patrick Dougherty (above center), who creates whimsical woven structures from saplings and twigs, completed the first site-specific sculpture to ever be commissioned by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG). 

Dougherty began construction of the large-scale sculpture on Aug. 5 in the Plant Family Collection meadow, and over the next three weeks enlisted the help of about 50 volunteers to build the piece. The finished work is comprised of several structures that resemble huts and are linked together from above by a network of arches.

“It’s a retreat for feral children and wayward adults,” Dougherty said.

Willow branches from the nonnative species salix atrocinerea — designated as an invasive species in New York State — make up the installation. This material was collected from Ocean Breeze Park on Staten Island. It’s supplemented by branches from BBG’s collection of cherry trees.

To build the structures, 30-inch holes were dug into the ground to anchor the foundational branches, and additional material was woven in from there. As the structure got larger, scaffolding was constructed around it so workers could weave up to more than 10 feet.

When thinking of the overall design, Dougherty wanted the piece to “fill the space in an adequate way,” and used a nearby tree whose branches hung above as a guide.

“You’re working as though you’re building a drawing,” he said. 

During the construction process, garden visitors could watch Dougherty and the volunteers build the sculpture. Toward the end of the process, he said, a four-year-old visiting with her mother saw it said, “It looks like natural history!” So Dougherty decided to name the piece, “Natural History.”

The sculpture will be on display in the garden for a year — commemorating the institution’s centennial — so visitors can see it throughout the seasons, said BBG spokesperson Kate Blumm.
“We want to take it down while it still looks good,” said Dougherty.
Dougherty has been constructing large-scale sculptures out of tree branches since the early 1980s, but started making a living at it around 1985, he said.

He’s done more than 200 installations around the world, and for him, the process of making art is as important as the end result. He is also publishing a book of photographs of past projects, called Stickwork.

As is evident by the fact that he involved so many volunteers in his craft, he feels that we all have “stickwork” within us. 

“Kids seem to know everything about sticks, so we all seem to know at one point,” he said.

For more information about the installation process, visit For more information about Patrick Dougherty’s work, visit

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Green Truck Convoy Rolls Through South Brooklyn

The Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation (SBIDC) launched the first ever "Green Truck Convoy" Tuesday. The convoy traveled through streets of South Brooklyn — starting at the SBIDC’s Red Hook office at 402 Van Brunt St. and ending at Sahadi Fine Foods at 43rd and First Avenue in Sunset Park — and included trucks from several Brooklyn businesses that use sustainable technologies and practices, including Quadrozzi Concrete, Greg’s Express, Metro Fuel and Movers Not Shakers.

Photo by Carlos Menchaca

Eco-Wedding Dresses by Himane Inc. of Brooklyn

Yesterday Morton's the Steakhouse, in collaboration with, held a bridal fashion show at its location in Downtown Brooklyn. The two Brooklyn-based designers who showed bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses and mother-of-the-bride dresses were Himane Inc. and Valentina Bridal. Himane's pieces, designed by Catherine Edouard Charlot, are one-of-a-kind and made from completely recycled materials. Charlot's materials are rescued from local factories, donated, and some some of the fabrics used in the pieces Charlot makes are up to 25 years old. She even uses umbrellas as fabric. Here are some of her designs from the bridal show:

The above dress is made from umbrellas. Tuxedos at the show were by Brooklyn-based Phil's Tuxedo. The event was held to benefit Brides Against Breast Cancer through the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Flatbush Block Claims Title of Brooklyn's Greenest Block

Every year, the Vanderveer Place Block Association enters its block — on Vanderveer Place between Flatbush Avenue and East 23rd Street in Flatbush — in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s (BBG) Greenest Block in Brooklyn Contest. And every year, the block comes in first, second or third.

“We are passionate about this contest,” said Olivia Avery, president of the block association. This year, Vanderveer Place took top honors in the residential category — the third time it’s done so in the contest’s 16-year history, Avery said with a smile.

The 2010 winners were announced at a press conference Wednesday at the winning block. BBG’s community environmental horticulture program, GreenBridge, holds the contest every year, with support by the Brooklyn Community Foundation.

“We had incredible participation across Brooklyn,” said BBG President Scot Medbury, who noted that 220 blocks from 20 neighborhoods participated in the contest. “It’s a reminder of the incredible growth of this borough. Brooklyn is famous for its ‘can do’ attitude and its one-of-a-kind style.”

Residents gathered among the flowers and greenery joined by Borough President Marty Markowitz, GreenBridge director Robin Simmen and Brooklyn Community Foundation President Marilyn Gelber, to recognize winners in all categories.

“Vanderveer Place has set a new standard,” Gelber said. “In a small way this block reflects everything about Brooklyn.”

Other winners were: Hoyt Street between State Street and Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, which took top honors in the commercial category; Bainbridge Street between Malcolm X Boulevard and Stuyvesant Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which won for best street tree beds; Brooklyn’s Finest Garden, on Lefferts Place between St. James and Grand Avenue in Clinton Hill, which won best community garden streetscape; Sam Hall on State Street in Boerum Hill, which won for best window box; and Burrito Bar in Prospect Heights, which won greenest storefront. 

A panel of more than 30 judges look at a number of criteria including color and total visual effect, citizen participation, variety and suitability of plants, soil condition, use of mulch, street tree and tree bed care and other good horticultural practices. The panel, made up of professional horticulturalists from the garden and other greening organizations throughout the city, visited the blocks from mid-June through July.

“Today blocks like Vanderveer carry on Brooklyn’s green tradition,” said Markowitz. “When we plant seeds all of Brooklyn blooms.”

On a block where one person’s house rivals the next, Bob Johnson’s house (above, top photo) stands apart from the rest. An archway covered with flowers and vines acts as a gate, plants line the stoop, the yard is covered with greens, and window boxes populate each window.

Johnson, a resident of Vanderveer Place for 39 years, is very involved in the block association, and says a lot of people stop by his yard to take pictures of the arch. His garden has potato plants, petunias and “quite a few perennials.”

As one of the longest residents on the block, he says, “I call myself ‘the mayor.’ Everyone knows each other. It’s a very vibrant block association.”

Avery, who has been president of the association for four years, but a resident of the block for 35, agrees: “It’s just a nice little block.”

Her own garden has potato plants, petunias, snowdrops and Black Eyed Susans. “It makes the house and the block look beautiful and that’s something you strive for wherever you live,” she said. As for Brooklyn, she adds, “It’s the garden spot of the world.”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tug of War at Sunday's Food Co-op Potluck in Bay Ridge

More than 60 people attended the Bay Ridge Food Co-op Potluck Picnic last Sunday, marking the first year of the co-op’s membership drive. Intended to raise awareness of this September's "New York State Locavore Challenge," the picnic was held at Shore Road and 79th Street. Those in attendance brought food made of all locally sourced ingredients.

Photo courtesy of the Bay Ridge Food Co-op

Bed-Stuy Duo Raises Funds to Launch Organic Market

Residents in Bed-Stuy have limited options when it comes to organic and locally produced foods; eight in 10 food stores in the neighborhood are reported to be bodegas. In response to this lack, two women, Darell Brown and Evelyn Oliver, together founded Organic Bed-Stuy, a grocery that will not only bring organic foods to the under-served neighborhood, but will also educate residents about healthy eating.

“We’ve been developing the idea for over a year now,” said Brown, who grew up in Bed-Stuy, moved to other neighborhoods in the borough and then came back. “Once I moved back I found out that this is something that is really needed.”

To help get their project off the ground, Brown and Oliver turned to Kickstarter, an all-or-nothing based fundraising web site, which awards a project money only if it is fully-funded by pledges. Organic Bed-Stuy’s goal, set in the middle of June, is $20,000, and the deadline to reach it is Monday. Click here to visit Organic Bed-Stuy's Kickstarter page.

The store will still open even if the Kickstarter goal isn’t reached, said Brown, but it might take longer to do without the fundraising. The project will be funded in part through winnings from the Brooklyn Public Library’s Power Up! business plan competition, from which they took home second place and $5,000 earlier this year.

Organic Bed-Stuy will offer one-stop-shopping organic goods, with fruits and vegetables sourced locally from a farm in New Jersey. Right now, says Brown, residents in the neighborhood have to travel to several different stores or leave the area completely in search of organics.

“People want to keep their dollars here but end up having to go outside the neighborhood,” she said
Because Bed-Stuy is a community plagued by higher than normal rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, Brown said she wants to offer nutrition and cooking classes to the community. She also hopes to start a farm exchange with their farming partner, wherein people grow produce on his unused land.

While searching for a permanent location — Brown said she has two in mind — she is operating at the Malcolm X Farmers Market to get the word out to residents.

She and Oliver have reached out to community organizations throughout the process and she says, so far “the response has been great.” From the time they developed their business plan to when they started searching for locations, the response has increased threefold.

“A lot of people really want to see this happen,” she said.

Monday, August 2, 2010

City Council Passes Expanded Recycling Legislation

Last Thursday the City Council passed a package of legislation that represents the first significant expansion of the city’s recycling program since it was created in 1989.

Currently, the city only collects numbers 1 and 2 plastics, limited mostly to bottles and jugs. The new legislation would require the Department of Sanitation (DOS) to collect all rigid plastic containers, including yogurt tubs, take-out containers, flower pots and medicine bottles. This component of the bill wouldn’t take effect, however, until a new recycling facility at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park is completed, set for mid-2012.

After the facility is open, officials say the city will analyze the cost of recycling the new types of plastics and present the finding to the council. The facility will be privately owned and operated.

Another feature of the legislation is expanded public space recycling, with 200 new recycling bins installed at public spaces around the city over the next three years, and a total of 700 bins installed within the next 10 years. Right now, there are about 300 such bins around the city.

DOS would also be required to establish a citywide textile collection. A voluntary manufacturer and retailer take-back program would be established for unwanted household paint, which currently makes up about 50 percent of household hazardous waste.

Recycling at city schools would be improved under the legislation, with recycling coordinators established in every school and recycling bins provided in every classroom. Leaf and yard waste composting and collection would also be improved citywide.

DOS would be required to create a guide to the residential recycling program and provide training for owners and employees of buildings with nine or more units that have been fined for improper recycling. The fine structure would also be different under the new legislation. Small property owners would receive different fines than those of large residential and commercial buildings.

“Our legislation will divert over 8,000 tons of plastic every year away from landfills and incinerators,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “That’s equal to the amount of trash produced by nearly 10,000 people each year. This is one step closer to making New York City cleaner and greener for our current and future residents.”

— With reporting by the Associated Press