Posts Tagged ‘New York’


Paul Towers: Bees can’t wait 5 more years

The following is excerpted from Paul Tower’s blog in Civil Eats. 

Inaction? Intransigence? Negligence? Whatever the right word, we’re reminded that the U.S. is behind the curve when it comes to protecting bees.  This month Europe’s restrictions on bee-harming pesticides went into effect.  In early December  in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times and six other major papers, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and over 60 other food, farm, faith, and investor groups called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take action to protect bees.

Bees pollinate much of our food, including the cranberries and pumpkin on so many Thanksgiving tables last monthHoney 1  w pollen. In fact, we rely on bees for about a third of our food.

But these noble pollinators are in trouble. Beekeepers in the U.S. have been losing, on average, over 30 percent of their bees each year since 2006—twice what is considered sustainable. And commercial beekeepers, whose bees pollinate California almonds, lost over 50 percent of their colonies last year. Some even reported historic losses of 70 percent or more.

This is unsustainable, not only for beekeepers, but also for our food system and the agricultural economy.

EPA has stated that it’s at least five years away from doing anything to protect bees from pesticides known to be harmful. First, the agency needs to complete its review of neonicotinoids, a relatively new and widely used class of systemic pesticides—which isn’t due to conclude until 2018.

Scientists point to neonicotinoids as a catalyst driving bee declines. While acutely toxic to bees (it kills them), studies have shown neonics also compromise bee immune systems and make them more susceptible to a wide range of other impacts like poor nutrition, mites, and diseases.

Until EPA completes its (very slow) review of neonic products, the agency will not take action to adequately protect bees from this known threat.

Beekeepers say they—and the bees—can’t wait for the agency’s glacial pace. Federal officials have tried to appease beekeeper concerns with aimless conferences and reports, along with changes to pesticide product labels that yield no additional protections for bees. But decisive action, not token action, is urgently needed.

As beekeeper Jim Doan of New York said: “Beekeepers are losing colonies at an unprecedented rate—the losses are too extreme to keep up with, and our entire industry is at risk of collapse unless federal action is taken.  Convening conferences and changing pesticide labels is not nearly enough.”

States in Action

Since EPA has failed to step up in a timely way, states across the country are taking up the issue of protecting bees. In New York and New Jersey, legislative leaders have already introduced bills that would ban or track neonicotinoid pesticides.

And last week, we were offered another glimmer of hope as Oregon regulators announced they are planning to restrict the use of neonicotinoids used on trees—and linked to a recent massive bee kill in that state.

While state action is helpful, bees need more comprehensive and uniform protections across the country. EPA should see states in action as a signal that the agency needs to step up. And quickly.

Take action » See a copy of the advertisement and join the Center for Food Safety, the Ceres Trust, Beyond Pesticides and PAN in sending a message to new EPA chief Gina McCarthy: It’s time to step up for bees.

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Orchards with Renewable Energy

A few stories have caught my eye recently about farmers taking advantage of new legislation and government grants in order to reduce their carbon footprint by building up their renewable energy resources. Some legislators are even exploring ways to build renewable energy in to farm bills to provide a more holistic benefit to farmers.

Carlson Orchards – Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

I’m kind of a Scientific American junkie and so the first piece that caught my eye was in there. It’s about how one of the largest orchards in Massachusetts is benefiting from that state’s cap & trade auctions. Carlson Orchards is cutting their electricity bill by 80% with the help of grants from the state of Massachusetts that helped with the installation of 1,050 solar photovoltaic panels.

Massachusetts got the money from a 10-state cap & trade program called Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Through this, the states set a carbon emissions cap and then earn revenue when companies buy additional credits. So far the combined 10 states have earned over $400 million dollars ($106 for MA) that they then re-invest in renewable energy programs.

And Carlson Orchards is taking advantage of that. In addition to growing apples and making apple cider, that orchard is reducing its footprint and electricity bill.

Clark Family Orchards – Rural Energy for America Program

Similarly, in Colorado, a fifth-generation farmer is taking advantage of a program that was in the 2008 Farm Bill called the Rural Energy for America Program to cover about 25% of his costs to install solar panels that will offset about 55,000 kilowatt hours of electricity yearly.

A bit about the REAP program from their website:

“REAP offers grants and/or loan guarantees for the purchase and installation of renewable energy generating systems and for energy efficiency improvements.  Assistance is limited to small businesses and farmers & ranchers.  Projects must be located in a rural area.  REAP grants and guarantees may be used individually or in combination.  Together they may finance up to 75% of a project’s cost.  Grants can finance up to 25% of project cost, not to exceed $500,000 for renewables, $250,000 for efficiency.  There are also REAP grants to help pay for technical assistance on energy projects.”

With the energy costs continually going up, the solar panels going on the packing shed will save him about $4,500 a year.

Dennis Clark grows cherries, apples, peaches, pears, and plums on the orchard and now with the help of solar panels he’s also saving more than 116,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the earth’s atmosphere.

The Next Farm Bill

As more and more farmers take advantage of incentives and grants to create renewable energy, legislators are looking at how the existing programs are doing and thinking about how future farm bills might be written to increasingly encourage renewable energy use on farms and in rural communities. The next farm bill is still 3 years away, but that’s not stopping folks from thinking about it now.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently visited several New York farms, to better understand their needs — including those around renewable energy. She’s on the agriculture committee and so has a vested interest in making sure the next farm bill works for New York farmers — and presumably farmers across the country.

Let’s hope more senators take the time to get out there, talk to farmers, and create the next bill that really helps farmers not only produce great fruits, vegetables, and livestock, but also empowers them to reduce their carbon footprint and leverage more renewable energy.


Urban Gardening Zoning

A good story in the Christian Science Monitor about the work some folks are doing in Detroit (and other cities) to get more urban agriculture-friendly zoning laws.

The more interesting piece was a short, high-level background as to how Los Angeles zoning rules changed away from an urban agriculture focus to a more development focus:

Just a half century ago, Los Angeles was transforming itself from the most lucrative farm county in the nation into a major metropolis. A zoning ordinance written in 1946 as developers were cutting down the San Fernando Valley’s citrus orchards to build suburbia allowed small farms to grow vegetables to truck to market, but banned growing fruit, nuts, or flowers for sale on residential plots.

Funny how things swing back and forth. Here in Seattle there’s been a big emphasis on urban gardening from both citizens & the city (2010 is the Year of Urban Agriculture). And Seattle’s also implemented an Acting Food Policy Council, which a bunch of different cities around the country also have in place. 

Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle aren’t alone. Zoning issues are popping up in cities & states all over the U.S. A few places to keep up to date with the latest:


Seattle reLeaf: Growing the Urban Forest

Written by: Jana Dilley, Urban Forestry Outreach, Office of Sustainability & Environment, City of Seattle

Trees are an essential element of any city, and Seattle – the Emerald City – is no exception. The City of Seattle’s reLeaf Program works to get people excited about planting and caring for urban trees on private property, in city parks, in forest stands, and along streets. Growing the urban forest is important because trees provide many benefits, including:

  • Better health and stronger communities – Cities with tree-lined streets are more walkable. Walking, in turn, creates opportunities to meet neighbors and practice a more active—and healthy—lifestyle.
  • Reduced stormwater runoff – Trees trap raindrops and slow stormwater runoff, reducing the risk of flooding. Seattle’s urban forest saves an estimated $20 million a year in stormwater management costs.
  • Cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gases – Trees capture pollution from the air and absorb carbon dioxide, the key greenhouse gas emitted by cars. Children living near trees may be less prone to asthma.
  • Healthier wildlife – Trees provide wildlife habitat and help protect salmon streams.

The City of Seattle’s 2007 Urban Forest Management Plan provides a long-term vision for increasing tree canopy cover—that is, the percent of the city covered by trees as seen in an aerial view. The Plan seeks to increase Seattle’s canopy cover to 30 percent. Currently, Seattle’s canopy cover is lower than cities such as New York (24 percent) and Portland (26 percent). The Plan promotes such projects as planting more trees on city-owned property and helping residents plant and care for trees on their own properties.

The Tree Fund, a component of the Neighborhood Matching Fund, provides free trees to neighborhood groups to enhance the City’s urban forest. The City provides the trees, and neighbors share the work of planting and maintaining them. .

Much of Seattle’s 3,000 acres of forested parkland is in decline from invasive plants like English ivy and blackberry. To protect these spaces, the City has partnered with the Cascade Land Conservancy and Seattle residents to create the Green Seattle Partnershipwith the goal of restoring 2,500 acres of forested parkland by 2025. Volunteers remove invasive plants and plant native trees and understory plants. Events happen every week year round; to join an event in your neighborhood check out