credit: flickr user kristine paulus

People always seem to come together through agriculture.  This makes a lot of sense – the advent of agriculture many thousands of years ago gave rise to sedentary communities that were once nomadic and centered around hunting and gathering.  People congregate where there is a project – like farming – to be undertaken together, as a group.

Growing up on a farm, our small town was a tiny slice of rural culture where folks would assemble at the weekend farmers’ market, at the feed store or the agricultural co-op, or at the annual county agricultural fair.

That little slice of agricultural community is something that I’ve sorely missed in New York.  But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t congregating, on a smaller scale, all around the city!

A few months ago, I came across a charming, and moving, story in the New York Times: Chicken Vanishes, Heartbreak Ensues.”  You might have already read it, but it’s a really lovely story of how a community can form around agricultural practice – even if the people in that community didn’t know how much they were coming together while they were doing so!

In the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, a family was keeping a family of chickens in the front yard of their home, facing the sidewalk.  Having chickens in the front yard caught the attention of the community’s residents, and the author talks to the ability of the chickens to bring folks together: “The admirers came in droves… In a neighborhood fraught with the tensions of gentrification, making people talk to one another, and talk about something other than themselves, is not an insignificant accomplishment. What I’m saying is that these chickens are important in ways that chickens aren’t usually important.  They are Bed-Stuy’s very own peace doves.”

The story goes on to talk about how their prize hen, Getrude, was stolen one night and the tremendous uproar this caused in the community – folks talked about where the chicken might have gone, offered help in finding the thief to the owners, left signs and banners of support on the fence of their property.  Eventually the chicken was returned by a very guilty young man who admitted to stealing the chicken in a drunken dare.  And, wonderfully, the return of the chicken caused a great positive reaction throughout the neighborhood.

Chickens, bringing people together like that, and in a place like New York City – who would have thought?

Chicken keeping in the city is a growing hobby.  The Huffington Post noted a growing trend of chicken keeping in NYC as far back as 2009.  Indeed, for the aspiring chicken-keeper, Just Food, our own local urban agriculture advocacy organization, runs the City Chicken Project.

courtesy justfood.org and the city chicken project

Funded entirely by member donations, the City Chicken Project offers several resources for city gardeners and farmers who raise chickens.  They publish the City Chicken Guide, run chicken workshops, and have a Just Food City Chicken Meetup in NYC which brings together chicken hobbyists from disparate backgrounds.

And what’s again remarkable about urban chickens are the organizations it brought together – Just Food, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Added Value, and Heifer International.

Urban chickens get people excited!  It’s a strange animal to cause such allure, but it certainly adds a lot of vibrancy to city life.  And, considering the impacts that the industrial chicken and egg industries have on the environment, urban chickens certainly help improve our sustainability here in the city, as well.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

 

Shipping container architecture has got to be one of the most fascinating uses of upcycling that I know of.  Taking something that might otherwise be discarded to become a space that functions in new and inventive ways just opens up such a realm of possibility for creative and compelling sustainable design.  The Dekalb Market is a really great example of some innovative container architecture – let’s take a look at a few others.

1. Keetwonen is the largest container city in the world, designed for students in the Netherlands.  Constructed from hundreds upon hundreds of containers.  As their website states, there was skepticism that the project would be successful – folks were worried that they might be too small, too noisy, too cold, or too hot.  But the project has become a great success, and become a permanent neighborhood in Amsterdam: the site was first constructed in 2006 and was due to be disassembled by 2011, but this relocation will be postponed until 2016.

2. The Box Office, in Providence, Rhode Island is a fully functional office complex constructed from 32 shipping containers.  Not only is this space built from upcycled shipping containers, they are energy efficient – it’s expected that these offices use 33% less energy than a conventional office.  Moreover, the office was designed with low to no-VOC products and no petroleum-based insulation.  The Box Office was engineered with efficient windows and is climate-controlled with no fossil fuels, using air-to-air heat pumps, and utilizes dual-source lighting, which automatically adjusts interior artificial lighting according to the level of passive natural light entering the space.

3. The Nomadic Museum is perhaps one of the more famous examples of shipping container architecture.  Designed by architect Shigeru Ban, the Nomadic Museum is constructed from 148 shipping containers specifically to house and exhibit artist Gregory Colbert’s photography.  The portable building is constructed from a combination of shipping containers, cables, suspension rods, and cardboard tubes that form columns in the interior of the structure.  Because of the portable design of the museum, it has had a home in multiple global cities – from New York City, to Santa Monica, California; and from Tokyo to Mexico City.

To see more examples of shipping container architecture, try visiting the topic’s wikipedia page, or the unofficial online website for shipping container architecture.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

Bamboo flooring as a green product is increasingly growing in popularity for many reasons, many of which go deeper than the pure aesthetic beauty of bamboo.  Bamboo is a kind of flooring wonder materials – it is more often rapidly and sustainably produced than traditional hardwoods, and holds up significantly better in the home in more adverse conditions than other conventional materials.

Bamboo flooring has several unique environmental benefits – the greatest being its rapid renewability.  Bamboo isn’t a hardwood tree, like most conventional flooring options.  Instead, it’s a grass which comes to full maturity in about five years.  Many hardwood trees can take decades to mature to harvestability.

But the benefits in the home are equally substantial.  Bamboo is actually a stronger building material than many common hardwoods, including maple and red oak.  Because it is so hard and resilient, it can withstand greater impacts than most hardwoods without denting.

Bamboo is also an optimal material for rooms traditionally considered unfriendly to hardwoods, like bathrooms and kitchens.  Bamboo flooring is usually laminated, making it resistant to warping in moisture-rich environments.  It is also a tropical plant – making it naturally resistant to moisture, spills, and stains.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

We have a sale on bamboo flooring until May 31st.  Green Depot can offer 10% off any of our bamboo flooring options – Prefinished, floating, unfinished, and stained & finished Foundations brand bamboo flooring.  Additionally, Green Depot is offering 10% off Plybam Bamboo Plywood.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

I have a few other hats, in addition to my role as the blogger for Green Depot.  One of those hats I wear is the Director of Outreach and Advocacy for the Human Impacts Institute, a fledgling NGO I started with a former colleague of mine.

For the next two weeks, on behalf of the Human Impacts Institute, I’m attending the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development’s 19th conference (CSD-19), as a delegate to the Youth and Children Major Group.

This seems like a lot of diplomatic jargon, I’m sure!  And to a large extent, it is.  So, I’ll break it down just a little bit:

At most UN conferences, and at the CSD-19 in particular, every government has a delegation. (Sometimes, groups of governments are represented by a single nation – like the G77, a group of 77 developing nations represented at the CSD-19 by Indonesia).

But not only governments have delegations.  There are nine “major groups” that also have a seat on the negotiation floor: Youth and Children, Indigenous Peoples, Women, Farmers, Business and Industry, Local Authorities, NGOs, Scientific and Technological Community, and Workers and Trade Unions.  I’m a part of the Youth and Children Major Group.

In addition, the conference has several focal areas, and for 2011 they are: Transportation, Mining, Chemicals, Waste Management, and Sustainable Consumption and Production.  Each delegation, from national governments and from the major groups, sends representatives to each negotiation session for each topic listed above (all of which are held in different rooms).

When these groups get together in the room, they hash out the text for policy documents, which are originally submitted by the chair of that focal group.  This is where politics come into play, and things can get heated, especially as lingering tensions between the developed and developing nations comes to the fore.  Major groups are given limited opportunities to offer revisions to the document (known as interventions) and are largely there to observe (know as tracking).  However, in the last two days of negotiation, all major groups are permitted to offer their own amendments and revisions.

And that, in a nutshell, is how the process works at the CSD-19!

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

flickr user maggie hoffman

Two years ago, I was living in a loft conversion in the New York City neighborhood of Bushwick.  One of the big perks of living here was our roof access – which we turned into a rather extensive rooftop garden.  We had heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, chard, and any number of other vegetables (and perhaps a few fruits).

But one of the major issues we faced was watering our garden, especially on hot, dry days.  Up on a tar-covered urban roof, raised planters (especially wood planters) dried out quickly.  At the time, our only recourse to prevent our plants from dying was to carry gallon jugs of water up four flights of stairs several times a week.

It occurred to us a few weeks later that we should have collected dew and rainwater in barrels and use those for irrigation!

Even though our plans for rooftop rain barrels never panned out, capturing and reusing rainwater for a garden – or a lawn – is a really great idea.  It cuts down on municipal or well water consumption, reducing your impact on the environment, and on your wallet.  And if you’re watering a rooftop garden, it saves you the torture of carrying dozens of gallons of water up the stairs!

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

RAIN BARRELS ARE ON SALE THROUGH MAY 1! Here are three options for storing rainwater around the home:

The Bosmere Pop-up Rain Barrel holds 50 gallons of rainwater from the rain or a downspout.  A screen keeps out leaves and other debris.  This collapsible rain barrel can be stored flat in a work shed or garage and pulled out when you need it.  A handy on/off spigot at the bottom can be attached to a hose or the collected water can be accessed through the wide-mouth top which opens with a zipper for easy pail-filling.

The Garden Watersaver rainwater diverter makes it easy to redirect the rainwater flowing down your downspout to a rain barrel. It Installs right onto your downspout in minutes and is easy to activate and de-activate as needed by removing the hose & adding the plug in winter.

The Slim-Line Water barrel holds 26 gallons of water and is made from molded UV-stable plastic. It comes with its own stand so that you can fill your watering can easily from the tap provided. The barrel has snap on-off lid for easy filling and keeping insects & debris out. This tool is designed to be unobtrusive and compact for small gardens, patios and decks.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

greenburgersWe’re always really excited when a new business uses recycled and sustainably-sourced materials to build their space.

Greenburger’s is a new restaurant in the Lower Haight, San Francisco, that has used principles of sustainable design in setting up their business.  Neighborhood blog Haighteration has an extensive article with numerous photographs discussing the space, but one thing we’re particularly interested in are the materials Ecohaus (now part of the Green Depot family) provided to Greenburgers to help them build themselves sustainably.

Greenburgers was opened in March by married couple Matthew and Stephanie Nudelman.  The menu features regional dishes unique to particular locales – including Matthew’s hometown of Buffalo, NY – and nearly all the ingredients are from local and eco-friendly vendors.  As their website states, “environmental sustainability … perfectly complement[s] Greenberger’s mouth-watering menu.”

One of the features of Greenburger’s space is its use of recycled and sustainable materials.  Haighteration goes into detail on this, but the Nudelman’s used a pre-existing structure in the building to construct a bench that spans the length of the restaurant.  The countertops are made from recycled glass and porcelain.

And Ecohaus provided part of the floor – Marmoleum planks in a semi-checkerboard design.  We also provided the countertops, Eco by Cosentino, and American Pride low-VOC paints for the interior.

Definitely an innovative space – and menu – with a number of recycled and new green products, upping Greenburger’s sustainability cred.  If you find yourself on the West coast, they absolutely deserve a visit.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.