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Urban Café Style Gardening

Coffee Beans BagsWith more than 17,000 vacant properties in the City of Buffalo, one would hope we could transform a larger percentage of those lots into productive space, even if only for a few growing seasons. Other cities, like Detroit, are figuring out ways to turn formerly residential land into small farms or large gardens that grow food for their soup kitchens, congregations or the needy.  The problem is that dirt you put a house on isn’t the same kind of dirt you grow tomatoes in.
What are some solutions? Most urban gardeners don’t have the patience to remediate soil over several years, so we either have to dig out the dirt and replace it with truckloads of soil OR truck in lots of soil to fill raised beds.  Another way is to make your own dirt.
I’m trying a combination of strategies with The Garden of Stewardship over on East Eagle. The garden is on the property of Sheehan Health Network.  It was a big fenced-in grassy area. We cannot dig into the ground because it’s a very thin layer of dirt covering an awful lot of clay.  The grass/weeds are using what little dirt there is.  So, I decided to smother the grass and build our soil on top of it.  I am calling the strategy, the Urban Café Gardening Method to acknowledge the fact that all the materials we’ll use are found readily in cities–cities with coffee drinkers anyway!  Here’s how you can replicate it in your space.

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Energy Demand Part One

I was recently having coffee with a friend and we began talking about the role of nuclear energy, specifically whether Indian Point nuclear power facility, which you can see from my parents’ front yard, should be shut down.
My answer is: No. Now before yelling and opinion starts, let’s take a few minutes to investigate this issue a little more logically.

New Appliances
People have long enjoyed labor-saving electrical appliances


Ever-Increasing Demand for Power

We, as a society, demand ever increasing amounts of electricity. Every electronic device draws power, from your refrigerator to your cell phone, to the little green light on light switches that stays on all the time. None of this comes free of charge. Even the industries that draw huge amounts of electricity do so at our demand because ultimately industry supplies things we use from food to online banking to the server hosting this website. I realize it’s generally considered poor grammar to use demand twice in the same paragraph but it’s important to realize electricity and power are produced according to demand, the demand you and I put on the industry. Electricity producers don’t produce power willy-nilly and cause us to become addicted to it. It’s precisely the other way around, we demand more and the industry builds and produces in response.

Wind Power; photo by flickr user strollers
Green Energy - This Thing Is HUGE!

In this series of articles I’ll begin discussing how power is made and distributed. Then I’ll compare “green” options such as wind power and solar power as alternatives to coal, gas and nuclear power and conservation. As will be seen there’s a startling disconnect between what people believe and what can actually be delivered in terms of electricity. We’ll always find electricity to meet demand, the problem arises in that Americans do not tend to want to use less or build (and pay for) more capacity to produce. It reminds of children who demand candy when they’re presented with spinach or broccoli with their dinner. It simply isn’t doable and eventually will land the child in bed early for the night. In our case this obstinance will simply give us higher energy costs. Suppose we live in an overly permissive household where the child gets candy for dinner every night. The child will get fat. In our demand for more power, we’ll experience ever increasing environmental damage and damage to human health.

The Grid

Power Grid
This is part of the New York State power grid

The grid sounds a lot like The Matrix or the name of some other sci-fi movie. However it’s simply the network of power lines connecting power plants and electricity users together. On a map it looks like a big messy net of connections, and in fact it is. The electrical grid is a non-linear network of electrical transmission lines and power plants existing at points all over this grid. This system has grown in an organic fashion since the early 20th century and exploded in size after WWII.

Read moreEnergy Demand Part One