Saturday, October 25, 2008

Last Day at St. George's School

Today is the last day of the show at St. George's School.

The Newport Mercury carried a nice review of the show. A bit of which I will excerpt here:

In a media-consumed culture where one alarmist sound bite is generally followed by one or two more, “Partly Sunny — Designs to Change the Forecast,” a showcase of innovative ideas, projects and policies by the Rhode Island School of Design, is an exercise in glass half-full optimism that sheds light on what is being done [now].

photo: Jacqueline Marque

FOOD: Community Gardens: Growing Gardens

In Britain, local governments and independent groups provide allotment gardens to individuals who wish to produce their own food. Many community gardening associations in the United States provide resources and space to those who wish to grow their own food. This provides fresh food to families and spares the expense of materials and fuel used in processing and transporting products grown elsewhere.


In Boulder, Colorado the non-profit Growing Gardens manages 1,128 community gardeners yearly on over 400 individual plots covering nine acres of land. The Community Garden Program supplies gardeners with water, mulch, tools, compost and training. In exchange, gardeners pay a modest fee, maintain their sites and agree to plant organically.

Participants in the Community Garden Program use a variety of gardening techniques including permaculture, biodynamics and traditional growing methods from Laos, Cambodia and Mexico. Plants used in the Community Garden Program include a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers.


Growing Gardens defines itself as a human services and youth development organization that uses sustainable gardening practices to assist immigrants, seniors, at-risk youth, people with disabilities and families.

+ Educates new gardeners
+ Provides garden space
+ Engages youth

FOOD: Large-scale Farming: Martens Farm

Organic farming is frequently associated with small-scale production. But growing food on a large-scale need not call for environmentally damaging practices. With careful management growers can expand their operations without compromising sustainable ethics.


Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens have been sustainably farming 1,300 acres of organic fresh vegetables and grain in Pen Yann, NY since 1991. To control weeds and improve the fertility of their land they employ practices such as diverse long-term crop rotation, under-seeding and actively increasing soil organic matter. By using these practices they have substantially reduced their reliance on oil-dependant fertilizers common on conventional factory farms.

The Martenses produce much of their grain for Lakeview Organic Grain, a company they founded, which distributes feed to organic dairy and chicken farms throughout the Northeast. Various local and national distributors buy their fresh vegetables and they also sell seed stock for Certified Organic oats and wheat.

In 2008 the Martens won the Patrick Madden Award for innovation, leadership and good stewardship from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


The Martenses prove that organic practices can be done at a large scale. Their careful management establishes the long-term productivity and sustainability of their farm while protecting the local environment and bolstering the local economy.
+ increases soil health and quality
+ eliminates chemical run-off
+ produces high-quality food

FOOD: Production Facilities: Farmer's Diner

For regional food economies to grow and mature, local food must become more affordable. Some of the costs associated with local food are a product of the regulations that govern the processing of meats, dairy products and other farm goods.


Founded in 1999, the Farmers Diner spends 65 percent of its food budget within 70 miles of the restaurant. It is not a high-end restaurant, but a reasonably priced establishment committed to making locally sourced meals affordable by combining time-tested restaurant-chain basics with environmentally responsible operations. Having proven the model the Farmers Diner is in the process of adding two more restaurants in Vermont.

The next step will be to establish a regional, government-inspected commissary that serves a group of local restaurants. The commissary will spare restaurants from the demand of selecting fresh, local vegetables and meats from a network of regional farms. Centralizing processes eases the regulatory burdens that would otherwise be assumed by the farm.


The Farmers Diner business model pays small farmers more than they would normally receive for their goods. By sourcing food locally it creates a real demand for more local organic farming operations while reducing the overall carbon footprint of the meals it produces.

+ Simplifies local food purchasing
+ Centralizes local food processing
+ Invests money in the regional community

FOOD: Urban Agriculture: City Farm

Urban Agriculture, or growing food in cities, reconnects city residents with where their food is grown. It also shortens the distance food has to travel, reduces transportation costs and increases the amount of green space in urban areas.


Many urban food projects are small-scale neighborhood programs that convert vacant lots into private gardens. City Farm operates on a much larger scale. The sustainable, organic farm uses large, vacant properties to grow vegetables and make compost. The farm produces 20 varieties of tomatoes as well as other fruits and vegetables that are sold to local restaurants and the public.

In addition to growing fresh food, The Resource Center operates City Farm to create jobs. Ken Dunn, founder of the Center, notes, “We found that by planning and planting carefully, you can create a job for an individual on about 10,000 square feet, or about four lots.” In Chicago, that could mean 20,000 jobs to revitalize and farm 80,000 vacant lots across the city.


City Farm is a community-sustained operation that provides highly nutritious food to people living in underserved neighborhoods. It turns empty lots into vibrant and productive green spaces.

+ Reclaims derelict land
+ Creates green collar jobs
+ Revitalizes neighborhoods

FOOD: Distribution Systems: Beeline

In the United States our food travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to plate. Local food offers many benefits: cost, freshness, security and the preservation of open land. But merely localizing food production does not guarantee efficient delivery or the profitability of small farms. Many farmers often make less than ten cents on every dollar spent on their produce.


Beeline is a virtual marketplace and distribution system for fresh produce in the Pacific Northwest that was designed to support local farms by reducing the cost of transporting produce to retailers.

An online system connects retailers and restaurateurs to growers. As orders are placed, Beeline automatically plans transportation routes with a robust Global Positioning System and radio-frequency identification tags to “pool” pickups and deliveries. The system saves individual farmers from having to deliver their own product.

A version of Beeline is currently being tested in Portland, Oregon by Ecotrust’s Food Hub initiative.


Not only does Beeline’s system save time and reduce driving miles, it also provides small farmers with greater access to the marketplaces that keep them in business. By aggregating products from a number of farms, Beeline helps small farms stay competitive without having to resort to single-crop monoculture.

+ Maximizes transportation efficiency
+ Reduces costs to individual farmers
+ Helps local farmers compete

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

RISD Solar House installed at Portsmouth Abbey

Today was the grand opening of the RISD Solar House's permanent installation at Portsmouth Abbey, a private shool in Newport Rhode Island. The house, one of the featured buildings in Partly Sunny, wil serve as facutly housing.

For more information about the new installation and how Portsmouth Abbey is at the forefront of a number f green intiatives see the article in today's RI East Bay.

Next week we'll add our profile of the soalr house as the first of the building projects that we will highlight here on the blog through December.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Creativity Helps Rochester's Transit System Turn a Profit

Although its been more than a month since this article first appeard in the New York Tmes but my thoughts keep returning to it.

It describes an aggressive effort on the part of Rochester to make its bus system pay for itself. Like many transit systems around the United States, the collection of bus fares doesn't cover operational costs. What makes Rochester different, according to the article, is that they have found other ways to subsidize service.

"It has, for instance, reached agreements with the local public school district, colleges and private businesses to help subsidize its operations, warning in some cases that certain routes might be cut if ridership did not increase or a local business did not help cover the cost. In recent years, income from these agreements has equaled or exceeded the income from regular passenger fares.

All the while, ridership has increased by 7.4 percent over the last two years in an area where the population has remained stable. And while only about 1 out of 6 customers pays the single-ride fare (the majority use daily, weekly or monthly passes), the transit service expects further ridership gains now with the fare cut in place."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Manifest Hope, Or How Shepard Fairey Became Cool Again

Almost two months have passed since we first presented our work at Dialog:City, and there are oddly two reoccurring conversations that I keep having with random people. One of them, the predictable topic of discussion, deals with the incessant candidate bickering; the other, more unusual and pleasant, deals with the work of Shepard Fairey. I attribute this to a) the election, and b) the fact that a particular faculty whose class I am taking also taught Fairey when he was a student at RISD. I was amazed to see so much of his work in Denver, especially coming from Providence, where the novelty of finding hidden stickers wears of after a couple of years.  

During the Convention, the Andenken Gallery housed Manifest Hope Gallery, which showcased the efforts of artists nationwide that carried the identity created by the grassroots movement of the Obama campaign. There was really great work being displayed at a location removed from the convoluted downtown. For once, it was refreshing to walk among hipsters and 'scenesters' , as opposed to conventioneers and journalists. The art was contemporary, the theme was political and the mood was uplifting, which is probably why the majority of us made the long walk there, if only to check it out. That, or maybe Fairey's Obama-Hope posters they were giving out for free. 

I am not quite sure who the guy being interviewed is. I am almost certain that the guy depicted in the artwork is Obama, but I could be wrong. 

Go to Manifest Hope for more information.  


Friday, October 17, 2008

FOOD: Farmer in Chief

In his Open Letter to the next President this past Sunday, Michael Pollan offers a cogent policy position for the next President to enact that would change the way food is grown, processed and delivered in this country. Pollan positions this shift in policy as a way of addressing three pressing national challenges: health care, rising fuel prices and global warming. As he notes in the article:

"...most of the problems our food system faces today are the because of its reliance on fossil fuels, and to the extent that our policies wring oil out of the system and replace it with the energy of the sun, those policies will simultaneously improve the state of our health, our environment, and our security."

Pollan, the author of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, makes clear and broad reaching recomendations for how to "solarize" and "regionalize" the national food system. It is an important article, one that offers much to the debate that we should be having this election cycle.

Of the recommendations that he makes in the article, a number have are visually represented in food projects collected in the Partly Sunny exhibition. They include: 1. Four season farmer's markets, 2. Local abbattoirs, 3. Regionalizing food procurement, 4. Victory gardens, 5. Regional distribution systems, 6. Increasing urban and suburban farming.

Over the next weeks we will be posting more information about these projects as possible design solutions to the policy initiatives outlined in the letter.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Spinnaker Turbine - Bret Barker

Bret Barker’s Spinnaker Turbine uses a sail to catch and funnel wind through a small turbine to create electricity. Although small enough to pack into a haul bag for easy transport, the sail increases the velocity of the wind moving through the turbine.

The Spinnaker Turbine is one of the RISD student projects featured in Partly Sunny@St. George's.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Postcards travel by post

To my surprise, I received a postcard in the mail. How the senders got my new address is a mystery. Why it arrived two months after the first exhibit in Denver; I'm puzzled.

Has it really been two months?

Yes this is the postcard, but its odd to have just one, when, yes two months ago, I was on the streets of Denver handing hundreds, maybe even hundred and hundred, of these colorful cards. A couple of us would sit in the hot sun, sometimes behind protests and down the stair from our exhibit with these cards at one of the tables mentioned in the previous post. But it worked! The best part was that they don't stop here.

Inside the exhibit there was a wall full of these postcards with individual pledges toward reducing the effects of climate change. These included taking shorter showers to save water, carpooling to cut down on pollution and fixing windows to reduce a heating bill. All small and doable but significant steps when looking at it from a community point of view. The best part was that they don't stop here.

When I got the card in the mail it reminded me about my pledge to carpool to work. This was before I knew where I was going to live post-risd and how it was all going to work out with this 9-5 deal. And you know, I did not keep that pledge. Yes NOT. Gasp- but Emily you were apart of the exhibition, how could you? Hey crowd, you know, what I did do was chose to live close to work to reduce my driving and its adverse effects.

Its about flexibility and the ability to adapt to keep up with these positive intentions. Because as we know, the best part is that they don't stop here.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Aurora's Chair-Mark Nicholson

Mark Nicholson’s loveseat, entitled Aurora’s Chair is made entirely of recycled or recyclable materials: felt, steel for the interior structure, locally sourced walnut for the legs, plant-based finish and buckwheat hulls for stuffing. Local construction and small-scale production contribute to the sustainability of the work.

Aurora's Chair is one of the RISD student projects featured in Partly Sunny@St. George's.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Around the Table

It's been really exciting to see what we all have been working on for the past year finally doing what it was all meant to do:  Encourage people to think and talk about what they can do in their own lives, to promote action for a broader good.  For me the most exciting thing has been to see people coming together around the table- asking questions, reading books, filling out postcards, engaging in conversation.  The Green Constitutional Congress has been the apex of all this so far in Denver and it has been really inspiring and stimulating to see all of these people who have all created innovative solutions to problems within their areas of expertise sit down and have a conversation together at a table and in a context that we have been working to create for so long.

It is also exciting to begin to imagine where this could all lead in the future.  A series of lectures or events or dinners, bringing the conversation back to Providence, or other communities. Hosting the events at this table or perhaps creating new "tables" or venues for these ideas,  specifically related to the context they are in.
What ever comes next it is exciting to be able to see the extent of the possibilities that are out there.  This experience has been one that more than anything else has demonstrated to me what I am capable of as an individual and when working as a team.  It has encouraged and motivated me to think of myself and my actions in a global context and to imagine with no limitations.  And that has been what I have found most exhilarating about this process.