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Archives for November 27, 2015

First aquaponics greenhouse in Worcester could make sustainable food …

WORCESTER – Can city dwellers successfully grow a sustainable and healthy food source that can also turn a profit for its harvesters? Those are the ideas of behind Worcester’s new urban greenhouse. The greenhouse officially opened this week outside the non-profit agency Stone Soup, on King St.

The greenhouse uses aquaponics, a mix of aquaculture, breeding of fish in tanks, and hydroponics, which is cultivating plants in water. In aquaponics, the byproducts of raising fish are broken down into nitrates, which feed the plants in an adjoining tank.

It means you can grow food faster – a head of lettuce will grow in under a month – and in small spaces, according to Howard Lucas. Lucas, of the company Greenvitalize Urban Growers, a co-operatively run for profit business, is set to manage the greenhouse.

The greenhouse itself is a co-operative operation, an environmentally friendly, employee-owned for profit business that is of the kind being incubated through Worcester Roots, a non-profit that seeks to create economic opportunities for youth, while following a mantra of social and economic justice.

Worcester Roots founder Julius Jones said the first aquaponics greenhouse in Worcester is a model Worcester Roots seeks to replicate elsewhere.

“What’s different about this kind of work is, not only is it anti-poverty, but it is also pro-prosperity. It’s pro-ownership, pro-equity building, it’s pro-economic justice in addition to being pro-food justice and pro-community,” Jones said. “We’re trying to add layers to really end poverty. It’s what we’re stepping toward.”

District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera agreed, comparing the greenhouse to the parable about teaching people to fish, except, in this case, “you not only teach them to fish you help them get a rod and give them a piece of the pond so they can fish.”

She praised the idea not just for the idea of growing food, which in many cases will reach the poor, but also for providing business ownership and job opportunities in the city.

“This really provides all of this, not just providing the social education, but the social piece is so important,” Rivera said. “If we really are thinking that we want economic growth in our city, it’s not just about the big buildings. The big projects are great, but it’s these types of projects, that give the everyday people an opportunity for economic mobility.”

And the greenhouse is a community project. No less than seven agencies partnered to install the greenhouse on King Street. They include the host site, Stone Soup, as well as Worcester Roots and Greenvitalize.

Also contributing were Worcester’s maker-space, Technocopia, YouthBuild Worcester, the student sfrom which assembled the donated greenhouse, Diggers Landscaping, another Worcester Roots co-op whose owners helped design the functional aspects of the greenhouse, and students from WPI’s Interactive Qualifying Project, a for-credt program in which students must complete an altruistic project for a community.

That accounts for the labor and logistics, but Jones said several agencies helped with monetary donations, including: UMass Memorial Community Benefits Fund; New England Grassroots Environment Fund; the George and Sybil Fuller Foundation; The Stoddard Charitable Trust; and the Fletcher Foundation.

Ben Vilner-Shimoni said there is a lot of talk these days about green living and sustainable agriculture, but little action. Talk, he said, is cheap, whereas the aquaponics greenhouse is action, akin to using more solar and wind power.

“We really have to start bringing that stuff into reality,” Vilner-Shimoni said. “It’s all about sustainable growth. I believe we have to live on Earth with its forces, not live on Earth and against its forces.”

But the Worcester greenhouse is not only looking to grow food for its owners, it is looking to become a model that can be replicated elsewhere.

Vilner-Shimoni said the idea behind the greenhouse is to experiment with soils, different types of fish and plants, to learn what plants grow well and how to capitalize on that.

Lucas said he is currently working on a business plan that will sell the foods grown and raised in the greenhouse to local agencies, like schools and colleges, as well as restaurants.

According to information he provided, greenhouse-produced food accounts for less than 2 percent of the state’s agricultural production. Lucas said an aquaponics greenhouse, if properly run, can produce 15,000 to 20,000 plants annually. For food providers and restaurants, it also means fresh produce and herbs all year long.

“You can adjust what you are growing according to demand,” Lucas said.

Echoing what Vilner-Shimoni had said, Lucas noted the cooperative is also partnering with a company that builds so-called “stackable” technology. In that regard, the Worcester site will function as a research and development site, the successes of which could be used in other places.

“We are looking to integrate their technology,” he said. “this will be a research lab in which we can experiment with different types of crops.”

Ultimately, both Lucas and Vilner-Shimoni said the King Street greenhouse can and will be used as an educational facility. Students will be invited to learn about aquaponics, agriculture, green technology and ecology.

“We want to bring kids here and help educate them so they can find out how nature works,” Vilner-Shimoni said.

The first fish and crops are expected to begin cultivation in King Street in late winter or early spring.

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Mayor looks to the future

Ken Siver takes a seat in a large, brown leather chair in the Southfield mayor’s office.

It seems like a perfect fit.

“It’s comfortable,” he said, both literally and figuratively. “I’ve been in the city a long time and I know how our city works and this particular seat is brand new. I’ve been in this office many times with previous mayors. It’s a little different to be on this side of the desk but I will get used to it pretty quickly.”

Siver said there is plenty of work to do and already his calendar is filling up .

“I have a vision for this city that I articulated all during the campaign,” he said. “I have lived here for 48 years and have been a very active resident so I know our city very, very well.”

And voters agreed Nov. 3, giving Siver 57 percent of the vote in a sometimes nasty race against former councilwoman Sylvia Jordan. Siver, who spent 14 years as a city councilman and 45 years as a teacher and administrator at Southfield Public Schools, is the first elected mayor since Brenda Lawrence stepped down in January to take her seat in the U.S. Congress.

Donald Fracassi was acting mayor until Siver’s victory.

Siver’s term expires Nov. 20, 2017 and his vision is as diverse and unique as the city he has been elected to serve.

“I’m feeling very optimistic about our future,” he said. “I’m also very optimistic because we have some great, new Council people. Honestly, it’s time for some new views on the Council.”

Eight candidates vied for the four city council seats with the top three vote-getters earning four-year terms and the fourth-highest receiving a two-year term.

Winning were Tawnya Morris, Fracassi, Daniel Brightwell and Lloyd C. Crews .

Sydney Lantz, 95, a councilman since 1985, was among the incumbents not reelected.

“We are going to have some new voices at the table and I think that’s a good thing,” Siver said. “These are people I am looking forward to working with and I have met with all of them. They are thinking along the same lines as I am in regards to where we go next.”

Siver and city officials are already planning a visioning session to determine what’s important and what their priorities are moving forward. He said the city is not broke, but there are financial challenges to overcome in part because of a loss of the city’s tax base.

“We are creeping back and property values are starting to go back up in Southfield,” he said. “Our office towers are refilling and that’s good news. But we certainly can’t afford to go on a spending spree.”

Establishing priorities

Siver has his list of priorities and at the top is public safety.

For the eighth consecutive year crime is down in Southfield and during his 14 years on City Council, Siver was proud to support every request made by the Southfield Police Department, Southfield Fire Department, Southfield EMS and Southfield Emergency Preparedness Management.

“We have a great police, fire and EMS service here,” he said. “They do a tremendous job, are well-trained and have good, working equipment.”

Siver introduced an eight-point plan during his inaugural speech that focuses on appearances, neighborhoods and housing stock.

“Southfield has a tremendous variety of beautiful homes in the neighborhoods and it has a very rural feel even though you are minutes from stepping onto a major road,” Siver said. “Our housing stock is aging and requires maintenance and renewal.”

Siver was chair of the Council’s Neighborhood Services Committee for many years and created a 26-point plan to maintain the vibrancy of the city’s neighborhoods. As mayor, he wants to continue to push to improve the city’s residential areas.

“I want the City Council to try some new things,” he said. “And they may not work. But we should at least try them.”

One of those ideas is to create “enterprise zones” for some of Southfield’s more stressed neighborhoods to support the rehabilitation of homes. This program would provide a tax abatement for property owners who make significant investments in the home. He also wants to promote partnerships with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity to rehab distressed homes and provide affordable housing.

Another project on his to-do list is to create a neighborhood stabilization program. This is a program which would allow the city to purchase foreclosed houses, rehabilitate them and sell them to families. He said the homes would be sold to families who have to live in the house and not rent them out. The city would in turn recoup all of the expenses paid to buy the home and refurbish it including the administration fees to run the program.

“We have more rental homes in the city today than we have ever had,” Siver said. “People buy the homes at auction, can’t sell them or just decide to keep them for rentals.”

And that brings Siver to another point on his hit list — landlords.

“Some of these landlords are not doing the right thing,” he said. “They are not investing that much into the homes.”

With the rise in out-of-state owners of multi-family/apartment complexes, Siver said he will go after owners who are not keeping up their properties.

“Because of cutbacks in staff and revenue those programs have kind of fallen off and I would like to see them reinvigorated,” he said. “I would charge landlords for inspections of the property including landscaping and the inspection would have to be done before a new tenant moves in.”

Siver initiated a registration and inspection program for vacant homes (to complement the existing rental home inspection program) to protect the value of surrounding homes. He wants to see stronger enforcement of vacant home and rental property inspections.

Along those same lines, Siver wants a total review of all existing appearance codes and wants to see increased enforcement of such codes.

“This one is going to be a little costly because I believe we need to hire more code enforcers so that we can reduce their territory and be more effective in enforcing these codes,” he said. “I walk these neighborhoods and you can see a lot by just walking. We have to get after people to maintain what I call the ‘Southfield standard.’ ”

Aging community

Siver also sees a community getting older. But he doesn’t want to see older residents who have lived in the city for decades forced out of their homes because they struggle to maintain their property.

As a council member, he fought for the reinstatement of the Southfield Housing Assistance (SHIP) Program and for additional funding for the CHORE program.

“I want to see the expansion of the CHORE program,” he said. “There are thousands of people in their 70s, 80s and even 90s still living in their family homes. They enjoy their homes and don’t want to leave. They just need a little help.”

Siver successfully led the City Council in the creation of the new Southfield Public Arts Commission and believes art is an economic driver. His vision is to see public art placed, not just in the City Centre, but throughout Southfield in various manifestations.

He envisions art in many forms, including wayfinding signage, lighting, landscaping, street amenities (benches, waste containers, planters, etc.) and sculptures, murals and architectural decoration. He has already created a public art fund with private donations that is held by the city.

“There are 20 to 25 things that this Council and the mayor are going to have to address,” Siver said. “It starts with Northland and finishing the vision at City Centre and it goes down to continuing to encourage green practices and programs to attract and retain millennials, attract and retain businesses and marketing the city.”

Another term?

Siver’s victory at the polls wasn’t without controversy.

His campaign signs kept coming up missing or damaged and fake election fliers that painted him as a racist made the rounds several times. Police got involved and an arrest was made regarding the signs. Siver said dealing with the dirty campaign tactics was exhausting at times but he didn’t hesitate when asked what will happen at the end of his term.

“I certainly plan to run again,” he said.

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Service gift ideas

thomas james for the boston globe

In lieu of making a coupon book for free hugs for your hard-to-buy-for in-laws, here is a list of home services they would actually appreciate:

A gift of housecleaning services does not imply your loved one’s home is dirty. It just means you think he or she deserves a week (or two) off. Pricing depends on the size of the home, but in the Greater Boston area, you can expect to pay about $200 to $300 for a one-time cleaning.


Your home doesn’t have to look like an episode of “Hoarders” for you to need tips and tricks on making it more organized. Custom home organization services from a local company such as An Organized Life
or Organizing Boston
start at roughly $300. They will walk through your home and create an action plan based on your needs.

Everyone has a room that needs a designer’s touch. With and, it’s easier than ever to give someone the gift of interior design services based on their style. The cost varies: offers a basic $79 package that pairs a client with a designer, and has a $50 to $80 consultation fee and is $100 to $130 per hour after that. For a more personal approach with a local, experienced designer, look for fees starting at about $750.

It seems too soon to be thinking about shoveling again. You can arrange for regular snow removal or give a gift certificate to a local plow operation in a finite amount. Cost varies depending on the length of the driveway
and/or walkways.

Yards don’t require much work during the holiday season, but spring will arrive (quickly, I hope). Lawn care or landscaping services — anything from designing a garden to installing a walkway to regular mowing — can be arranged so your loved one can kick back and relax.

Heather Ciras is a features producer for E-mail her at Follow her on Twitter @heatherciras.

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Plant now and see flowers in the spring

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Mayor Adler, Austin leaders will attend Paris’ Climate Change Conference

Austin City Council

PARIS, France (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler, City Council Member Leslie Pool and Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea are getting ready to head to Paris to attend a Climate Change Conference.

Mike Kanin with the Austin monitor joined us in the KXAN studio with more information on the conference.

The United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, begins Monday, Nov. 30. The mayor said he will be in Paris Dec. 3 through the 7. Pool noted that she is going to the conference Dec. 1 through the 8 in her role as chair of the Council Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee.

According to Kanin, Adler said he was asked by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to go to the conference, also known as COP21. This is the 21st U.N. conference on climate change, and Austin officials will be attending as part of what is known as C40.

According to information about the organization found online, “Acting both locally and collaboratively, C40 cities are having a meaningful global impact in reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks. C40 brings together a unique set of assets and creates a shared sense of purpose.”

Shea, who has a long environmental record, said she is attending as a member of the board of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability.

This conference, Adler said, is anticipated to produce a big breakthrough on the international treaty on climate change. He noted that he is paying his own way to the conference. His wife, Diane Land, plans to accompany him on the trip.

Adler said, “Part of what I want to do there is to network with other mayors … to share what we are doing and to try to open doors for our growing clean energy industry and companies in Austin.”

“I think this is probably a pivotal time in the history of the planet. Scientists are increasingly warning that we are reaching a point of no return. … I think cities and regions are in a profound position to do real good and move more quickly than nations. I think it’s a really important time to be there,” Shea said

Kanin said Austin has gained an international reputation as one of the most forward-thinking cities in the United States in terms of response to climate change. In 2013, the city commissioned a study that indicated that Austin’s summertime average high temperature would increase up to six degrees hotter than today’s average of 97 degrees.

Council has also adopted Green Building and energy efficiency programs as well as an aggressive plan to lower Austin Energy’s use of fossil fuels and increase use of renewable resources, including solar and wind power. Additionally, the city has adopted aggressive goals for limiting waste going into landfills and has encouraged citizens to use landscaping that uses less water than traditional lawns and gardens.

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Communal Thanksgiving meal at community garden – Sarasota Herald


SARASOTA — There was a moment Thursday — after she finally got a chance to sit still and eat — when Barbara Powell took her Thanksgiving dinner party in. Her longtime gardening buddy, Richard Hu, sat next to her. Across the way, Ringling College of Art and Design students chatted as they ate at a picnic table. Kids from all over the neighborhood played on a tall pile of mulch.

“All different places. All ages. All faces,” she said. “All walks of life.”

For the second year in a row, Powell, the master gardener for the Orange Blossom Community Garden, hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at the 60,000-square-foot garden off 18th Street and North Orange Avenue. Last year about 30 people came to the dinner. She didn’t question holding the event again.

It’s not enough to say that the dinner is for people whose family and loved ones are elsewhere on Thanksgiving, she said. It’s a way for people to come together, she said, especially those who feel a special connection to the space.

Look around.

There’s Derek Worley, a 12-year-old neighborhood kid who visits most days to escape the sun, watch the wind blow through the trees and help “Miss Barbara” with whatever she needs.

There’s Aaron Moffatt, 27, a native of Sarasota with a passion for botany who is launching an “edible landscaping” company — a business that would help cultivate gardens and forests that produce fruits, vegetables and roots they can eat and use.

There’s Larry Heiny, 58, who planned to return Friday to help prepare a space for local veterans to work and develop.

Powell has been running community gardens in Sarasota for 20 years, first at a Rosemary District site that operated for 13 years, before the Orange Blossom Community Garden started in 2007. At Orange Blossom, the public can operate plots of lands for a small fee. The neighborhood kids have their own boxes. Powell explains to them the difference between the buttercrunch lettuce and the “walking” onion that came from her childhood home in northern Mississippi. The Ringling students have a plot toward the back. Moffatt and other garden patrons are building a perennial garden, with plants that bloom year after year. He brings a pie — the crust is made with breadfruit grown locally. The filling is egg fruit.

“I get to surround myself with some of the most creative, talented people,” Powell said.

Hu and Robert Kelly, a 27-year-old New College of Florida graduate who discovered gardening through a passion for identifying and learning about mushrooms, ate dinner together for a few minutes before both realized they were both originally from Rockville, Maryland.

Hu, 58, has worked in Sarasota community gardens for 15 years. Kelly has been visiting the Orange Avenue space for about three. Worley took in the pair reminiscing about Maryland, and giggled.

“I love this place,” he said.

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Garden tips for December 2015 – Visalia Times

December is a really busy month. If you don’t get out into your garden, don’t panic as it will wait for you.

On the other hand, if you really need a break from all the stress of the festivities, maybe a walk outside pulling a weed or two is just what you need.

Is there a gardener on your holiday gift-giving list? Gardeners love to receive garden books, gloves, plants, tools, seeds of unusual plants or unique garden art for their garden.

GARDEN CHORES: Watch for frost warnings and protect sensitive plants. Move potted plants under eaves. Plants will survive better if kept moist but not over watered.

Rake fallen leaves and add to compost or mulch pile unless there was a problem with disease or pests on the plant or tree that might survive over winter. Throw away any fruit mummies left on fruit trees. I use my leaves to mulch around my herbaceous perennial and shrub beds.

Cole crops, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower, grow well during the winter and can be harvested as long as they are producing. When harvesting broccoli, leave a portion of the stem because a smaller head will form just below the point where the first one was cut off.

Cool season annual bedding plants and vegetables are actively growing and need to be fertilized.

After frost, cut back asparagus to the ground, and also cut back any perennials with blackened leaves or stems. I usually leave an inch or two above ground so I remember where they are.

Pull up any summer annuals that have died to neaten up the garden. I shred my perennial cuttings and use them as mulch.

If your camellia blossoms turn brown and rot, then you may have camellia petal blight. To control, pick infected flowers and throw away. Also throw away any fallen flowers or leaves on the ground to prevent water splashing on them which can spread fungal spores onto healthy leaves.

Remove any pesky winter weeds that are popping up while they are young — preventing them from developing seeds will save you time next year and many years to come.

Prune roses and deciduous shrubs and trees after they lose their leaves. Do not prune early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, which should be pruned after they bloom. Consult pruning books or Sunset Western Garden Book if you are uncertain how to proceed.

CRITTER CONTROL: After leaf fall spray fruit trees and roses with a dormant oil spray to kill any overwintering aphids, mites, scale etc.

Hand-pick slugs and snails or set out bait. Control by eliminating their hidings areas under debris such as wood or pots.

See any little white butterflies around your winter veggies? That cute little butterfly is laying eggs on your veggies that will hatch into the cabbage looper and eat holes in leaves.

Larger plants can sustain some damage, however seedlings could be devoured. Luckily they can be easily controlled with BT (Bacillus thuringiesis). Be sure to spray plant leaves thoroughly.

WHAT TO PLANT: It’s nearing the end of the bulb planting season, so nurseries may have them on sale. The selection may be limited but should be priced to sell.

Choose healthy firm bulbs, nothing mushy or moldy. Tulips and hyacinth bulbs should be pre-cooled in the refrigerator (away from fruit) for six to eight weeks before planting; all other bulbs should be planted right away.

Finally, cut greens for holiday decorations. Holly, firs, junipers, redwoods, magnolia, pines and podocarpus foliage are all excellent choices. Add nuts, pomegranates, pinecones and seed pods. It’s time to enjoy the holidays.

This column runs every week in @Home.

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Stepping into the pleasures of a well-designed garden path

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in – what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”

– Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables”

A front walkway is all business. It’s the primary path, leading visitors from the curb or driveway to the front door. But a path that meanders through the garden is an invitation to explore.

“From a design perspective, at the start of a path, we want to create a focal point, like a personalized piece of art, whether it’s a gnome or sculpture,” says Steve Kooyenga, senior landscape architect at Chalet in Wilmette, Illinois. “I want to go down the path and get a close look at that object or plant.”

Designing a path begins with determining whether the garden is formal or informal. A formal-style path typically includes straight lines. Informal paths tend to have soft curving lines.

“I take cues from the architecture and the material used on the house or found on the property,” says landscape designer Kristin Pategas of Hortus Oasis in Winter Park, Florida. “If there’s brick on the house or natural stone in the landscape, I may repeat those materials in the path.”

If there’s brick on the house or natural stone in the landscape, I may repeat those materials in the path Kristin Pategas, landscape designer

Secondary paths — those found in side yards and backyards — can be made from many materials, including mulch, brick pavers, clay pavers, crushed stone, flagstone, bluestone or a mixture of any of them.

“Here, in Central Florida, I like using pine needles in a pathway because it’s a byproduct of the paper industry, and it’s sustainable,” Pategas says. “If I use steppingstones in the shade, I leave cracks and crevices between them for dwarf mondo grass, which is beautiful.”

A common mistake is using small, smooth stones, Kooyenga says. “Rock, river gravel or pea gravel are the worst things you can use. They’re all little round stones and when you step onto them you sink in, and it’s uncomfortable. We’ll use gravel for pathways, but it needs to be crushed and broken into pieces.”

A better choice is crushed or “decomposed” granite, he says. “You can walk on it, ride a bike or move a wheelchair, and there’s no runoff of water — it soaks right down to the ground.” To keep weeds from emerging, Kooyenga recommends using landscape fabric to separate the stone from the soil.

Stephanie Cohen, co-author of Fallscaping: Extending Your Garden Season Into Autumn (Storey Publishing), gardens in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where she tends expansive beds and borders of perennials.

“Since I have a stone patio, I use crushed stone in the back for the path,” Cohen says. “In the front garden, I use flagstone, which is more formal.”

Rock, river gravel or pea gravel are the worst things you can use. They’re all little round stones and when you step onto them you sink in, and it’s uncomfortable. Steve Kooyenga, landscape architect

When using steppingstones, Kooyenga recommends placing them 27 inches apart from the center of each one, whether they are made from concrete or natural stone.

“It doesn’t matter how big the stone is, if you place them 27 inches apart from the centers of one to another, that’s the normal cadence or step or stride people will take and not have to look down,” he says. “If you make them too close or too far apart, it’s uncomfortable.”

When setting stones or other materials in the lawn to serve as a path, Kooyenga recommends placing everything at ground level. “You don’t want a tripping hazard, and you don’t want gravel, soil or other things to spill onto the path,” he says.

A path that meanders through the garden is an invitation to explore

Don’t overlook lawn as a path.

“In small, narrow urban yards, homeowners sometimes want grass and garden space, so the lawn becomes the path,” Kooyenga says. He often varies the size of an informal path so it widens from 2 feet to 4 feet to make the journey more intriguing.

“Whenever possible, I like to use a curving path because it creates movement and interest,” Pategas says.


▪ Getting from point a to point b. “Think about how you’ll use the path,” Pategas says. “You may need just a narrow footpath, or perhaps it’s something wider to get to an entertainment space that’s away from the house. A wider path allows two people to walk alongside one another.”

▪ Mixing materials. “Using more than one material can be dynamic and exciting,” Kooyenga says. “It can indicate a transition in the garden, but it can also be tricky. It can look like you ran out of one material. It has to look designed, but there’s no hard and fast rule.”

▪ Create a destination. “You can create a little hidden garden element at the end or around the corner of a path,” Kooyenga says. “I like fun things that reveal themselves — for example, a little fountain tucked away behind shrubs or a bench.”

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