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Archive for December, 2012

Cultivating a Better Food System in 2013

by Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson, Food Tank: The Food Think Tank (

Ellen Gustafson

Ellen Gustafson

As we start 2013, many people will be thinking about plans and promises to improve their diet and health. But we think a broader collection of farmers, policy-makers, and eaters need new, bigger resolutions for fixing the food system – real changes with long-term impacts in fields, boardrooms, and on plates all over the world. These are resolutions that the world can’t afford to break with nearly one billion still hungry and more than one billion suffering from the effects of being overweight and obese. We have the tools—let’s use them in 2013!

Growing in Cities:  Food production doesn’t only happen in fields or factories. Nearly one billion people worldwide produce food in cities. In Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, farmers are growing seeds of indigenous vegetables and selling them to rural farmers. At Bell Book & Candle restaurant in New York, customers are served rosemary, cherry tomatoes, romaine, and other produce grown from the restaurant’s aeroponic rooftop garden.

Creating Better Access:  People’s Grocery in Oakland and Fresh Moves in Chicago bring mobile grocery stores to food deserts giving low-income consumers opportunities to make healthy food choices. Instead of chips and soda, they provide customers with affordable organic produce, not typically available in their communities.

Eaters Demanding Healthier Food: Food writer Michael Pollan advises not to eat anything that your grandparents wouldn’t recognize. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods without preservatives and other additives.

Cooking More: Home economics classes have declined in schools in the United Kingdom and the U.S. and young people lack basic cooking skills.  Top Chefs Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, and Bill Telepan are working with schools to teach kids how to cook healthy, nutritious foods.

Creating Conviviality: According to the Hartman Group, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. eat meals alone. Sharing a meal with family and friends can foster community and conversation. Recent studies suggest that children who eat meals with their families are typically happier and more stable than those who do not.

Focus on Vegetables: Nearly two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, leading to poor development. The World Vegetable Center, however, is helping farmers grow high-value, nutrient rich vegetables in Africa and Asia, improving health and increasing incomes.

Danielle Nierenberg

Danielle Nierenberg

Preventing Waste:  Roughly one-third of all food is wasted—in fields, during transport, in storage, and in homes. But there are easy, inexpensive ways to prevent waste. Initiatives like Love Food, Hate Waste offer consumers tips about portion control and recipes for leftovers, while farmers in Bolivia are using solar-powered driers to preserve foods.

Engaging Youth: Making farming both intellectually and economically stimulating will help make the food system an attractive career option for youth. Across sub-Saharan Africa, cell phones and the internet are connecting farmers to information about weather and markets; in the U.S., Food Corps is teaching students how to grow and cook food, preparing them for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Protecting Workers: Farm and food workers across the world are fighting for better pay and working conditions. In Zimbabwe, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), protects laborers from abuse. In the U.S., the Coalition of Immokalee Workers successfully persuaded Trader Joe’s and Chipotle to pay the premium of a penny-per-pound to Florida tomato pickers.

Acknowledging the Importance of Farmers: Farmers aren’t just farmers, they’re business-women and men, stewards of the land, and educators, sharing knowledge in their communities. Slow Food International works with farmers all over the world, helping recognize their importance to preserve biodiversity and culture.

Recognizing the Role of Governments:  Nations must implement policies that give everyone access to safe, affordable, healthy food. In Ghana and Brazil, government action, including national school feeding programs and increased support for sustainable agricultural production, greatly reduced the number of hungry people.

Changing the Metrics: Governments, NGOs, and funders have focused on increasing production and improving yields, rather than improving nutrition and protecting the environment. Changing the metrics, and focusing more on quality, will improve public and environmental health, and livelihoods.

Fixing the Broken Food System: Agriculture can be the solution to some of the world’s most pressing challenges—including unemployment, obesity, and climate change. These innovations simply need more research, more investment, and ultimately more funding.

Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson are the co-founders of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank ( Danielle is based in Chicago, IL and Ellen is based in San Diego, CA.


Ecological consultancy from Arbtech

With the growing industrial development and exponentially growing populace, the need of conserving and protecting the endangered species including both plants and animals has come to the front. When a single building is established, many species of plants are cut down while animals are left homeless. Therefore to lessen this to a certain level, many ecological consultancy companies have been established. These consultancy services make certain that no building or house plan becomes a threat to dying out species illegitimately and that the protected wildlife is well thought-out before the designing of the housing plan.

Ecological consultancy from Arbtech is beneficial in several ways. The company has the obligation to check whether or not all the government policies stated on the environmental act are followed without any failure before constructing a building. It also helps in providing a comprehensive ecological survey on the actual site where people need to start work.

Arbtech ecological consultancy is one of the most successful green consultancy firms in UK. People hire its services in so as to reduce the hidden business or home costs to a great extent. Arbtech helps in making sure that the building or the business is established under the category of environmental friendly strategies. This reduces energy consumption considerably. It’s experienced and competent environmentalists advises clients on the right area of land to buy where the energy will not be wasted and also alternate sources of energy that can be adopted. In addition, different types of losses that can be incurred due to environmental catastrophes such wind and floods can also be avoided. Such risks and the losses are formerly estimated and steps are taken to minimize or avoid them as much as possible. Furthermore, ecological consultancy from Arbtech can help in avoiding the extra water and electricity bills by suggesting ways to reduce their consumption.

As species of Fauna and flora are getting extinct due to human activities, the government has issued a rule that no planning project will be approved without conducting an environmental survey to show the effect of the project on other living organisms. This course of action is intended to protect the extinct species like otters, great crested newts, dormice and bats. Thus a BAT survey must be conducted to make sure that the planned will not harm any bit of bats which may reside in the area. Only after several surveys have been conducted and submitted to the government, then the planned project proposal can be accepted.

The bat surveys are very important and should be reported along with the project proposal so that there will be no delays to the project due to the tough and slow process granting of planning permission by the government. To ensure the wildlife survey is accurate, you need ecological consultancy from Arbtech. They certainly have what it takes to do the best wildlife survey and make sure there will be nothing missed in the survey. This is to avoid any further problems on the project planning permission especially if the survey does not provide adequate information about the project.


Green Home Building and Remodeling

When it comes to home building and remodeling, much has changed in the last few years, with a clear shift in technologies, building materials and practices to more green homes. Savvy homeowners are quickly catching on to this new trend, looking to not only be environmentally conscious consumers, but to also take advantage of the numerous benefits that green homes afford, such as exceptional durability, energy savings, and improved quality of life. With a quickly growing number of informational resources, a slew of new products, service and construction companies, etc, you can keep yourself grounded and on track by focusing on the essentials of any green home.

What makes a new or remodeled home eco-friendly are the following components: a tight building envelope/insulation, roofing, siding, windows and heating system, all built utilizing green materials. These earth – friendly building materials are manufactured with a minimal amount of hazardous materials, are proven to last for decades without requiring maintenance and repairs, do not waste energy and can be recycled at the end of their service lives.

Tight Building Envelope/Insulation

A tight building envelope and high quality insulation are necessary to achieve superior durability and energy efficiency. If you already have a house and it does not have insulation, consider adding blown-in cellulose product. Not only is it eco-friendly (derived from 85 percent recycled paper products), but it is also three times more dense than fiberglass, thereby greatly reducing your home’s energy waste. For new construction, consider fiberglass or spray-foam insulation. While more expensive than fiberglass, spray-foam insulation offers tighter, more dense and more energy-efficient insulation for your walls and ceilings. On the other hand, one of the major benefits of fiberglass is that it is removable, and does not require any special equipment to install.

Roofing That Lasts

The roof is one of the most important components of making your home safe, durable and long lasting, and yet it is often the most overlooked. Installing a green roof on your home will prove to be one of the most financially sound home improvements you make. You will not know the pain of roof damage and leaks and will not have to deal with costly, maintenace, repairs and replacements for years to come.

When it comes to green roofing materials, you have a few choices depending on your home type, taste and budget. If you have a sloped roof home, one of the best investments you can make is to install a metal roof. Metal is considered to be the only truly green roofing material, when you factor in the manufacturing process, lifecycle costs, longevity, high energy efficiency and recyclability and the end of the roof’s service life. Metal roofs are considered cool roofs, which means that they reflect solar heat, thereby reducing energy waste produced by the home’s HVAC system throughout the year. A metal roof can save you up to 15% on your annual cooling costs. Additionally, during winter time, metal roofs eliminate ice dams, which can cause thousands of dollars of damage to your house. Keep in mind that metal roofing installation is a highly intricate process that requires specialized knowldege, equipment and training, and therefore should only be left to metal roofing professionals. One such company that operates in the Northeast is New England Metal Roof (

If you have a low slope/flat roof, a green material to go with is PVC single ply roofing membrane. A PVC roofing system is designed as a green roofing material. PVC is a fully recyclable roofing material that does not use any petrolium products in its manufacturing process. It also offers superior energy efficiency by reflecting upto 95% of solar heat. PVC is designed to last over 40 years and can be easily repaired if needed, which elimates costly replacements and landfill waste. Moreover, PVC roofs can withstand ponding water, ice build-ups and can be easily be applied around most complicated roof penetrations.

Green Siding

Amongst the wide range of choices available for siding, fiber-cement siding stands out as the green choice. It is composed of 50% recycled content and wood fiber pulp that is sourced from sustainably managed forests. While fiber cement siding may be a more costly option, it is more durable than wood and vinyl siding. It also requires very little maintenance, does not create hazardous waste when removed, and can be further recycled.

Another green choice to consider is steel or aluminum wall panel systems. With a variety of available integrated insulation, ventilation and heat absorption metal wall panel systems, you can reduce your heating and cooling energy consumption, by as much as 40%. Additionally, these systems are fully recyclable and are manufactured from up to 95% recycled metal.

Energy Efficient Windows

Windows are one of the most vulnerable parts of the home, through which both hot and cold air can escape, wasting tons of energy and driving up your heating and cooling costs throughout the year. To avoid these issues, its crucial to invest in energy efficient windows. Consider installing fiber glass frame windows with triple glazing and argon/krypton gas, which can offer up to 7R insulating value (a typical double pane window is only 3R). There are also specialty window products filled with heat absorbing liquid that absorb solar heat in the winter. These windows can supply up to 75% of your heating for the entire house, even on a very cold night.

Green Heating Systems

If your goal is to have a truly eco-friendly home, then a geothermal heating system is the way to go. Geothermal heating uses thermal energy stored inside the ground and extracts it by using a heat exchange process. This system only requires 25% of the energy to operate, when compared to traditional gas or oil systems of the same size. A geothermal system can also be used for air conditioning in the summer.

Geothermal heating systems are a costly investment, so if you are not ready to make the switch, consider going with gas heating. Gas heating is cleaner, more efficient and currently costs half the price of oil.

In case you have a south-facing roof, you can install solar thermal panels, which will heat your water throughout the year, and will also supplement your radiant heating system.


Monitoring the Environment

Building on their successful guide, “Environmental Monitoring with Arduino: Building Simple Devices to Collect Data About the World Around Us” (, Patrick & Emily are back again with “Atmospheric Monitoring With Arduino: Building Simple Devices to Collect Data About the Environment” (

I’ve read both booklets, and there are some interesting projects. I learned to improve some of my existing projects as well as expand my weather station projects I have already built. If you have any interest in weather monitoring or air quality, I recommend these inexpensive booklets.

Atmospheric Monitoring With Arduino: “Detect harmful gases, dust particles such as smoke and smog, and upper atmospheric haze—substances and conditions that are often invisible to your senses. You’ll also discover how to use the scientific method to help you learn even more from your atmospheric tests.”

“Environmental Monitoring with Arduino” explains how to use the Arduino to detect or monitor various physical conditions in the environment around you. It is an inexpensive, short, focused, project-oriented book that has a variety of interesting projects, some of which you may find useful as a permanent device.”

Learn more about how you can use micro-controllers to monitor energy consumption, track the weather, and more at


Inverters, Bonded Neutral / Grounds, and Propane Water Heaters

So here’s the scenario. A client calls, and says he purchased a Samlex 1500 Watt SW Inverter ($314) for his propane water heater (electronic ignition, powered exhaust).

The water heater will not fire up, but neither does it trip any overload indications. Battery voltage at the inverter terminals is 12.6v during “ignition” attempt. The unit does work on grid.

With some research, it’s found that some of these water heaters require a bonded neutral / ground on the AC. This is a no-no with cheap MSW inverters (lets the magic smoke out), but usually ok with a quality unit like the Samlex. However (don’t you hate that word?), this Samlex came with a GFCI outlet. Other versions of this inverter are designed for hard wiring. GFCI is designed to prevent a leakage of current to ground by tripping of the circuit.

There are two solutions. The first is a warranty voider. Replace the outlet with a non-GFCI, or hardwire to the GFCI input (some GFCI outlets you can just move the line wires to the load pins, bypassing the GFCI functionality).

The second, more reasonable approach (though more costly), is to add a 1:1 isolation transformer to the output of the inverter (plug it into the GFCI), and feed the secondary to the water heater, bonding the ground and neutral wires. This trick will work with the cheap inverters as well.

There you go, a simple solution to a perplexing problem.