More Recycling, Please.

downloadMany of us are old enough to remember the days before recycling bins, when bottles, cans, and plastic all went into the trash, no questions asked. As a nation, we’ve come a long way since then—over 87 percent of us currently have access to curbside recycling programs—but much work remains to be done. In fact, while 75% of American waste is recyclable, only about 30% actually is.

As a practice, recycling is an incredibly important action, one that saves not only raw material, but energy as well. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full album on your iPod; recycling 100 cans could light your bedroom for two whole weeks! Recycling also keeps material out of landfills, and in general encourages an awareness of ones’ waste. And yet, America lags behind most of the developed world when it comes to total volume recycled.

In Belgium and Sweden, 1 percent of total trash ends up in landfills, compared with 69 percent here in the United States. And in the Netherlands and Germany, 62 percent of trash is recycled or composted, and the other 38 percent is turned into energy from waste (EfW). Stricter European laws around recycling and waste are the main reason for this. Here in the States, only 7 percent of trash ends up recycled.

A recent HUNblog article sums it up nicely:

“In most European countries, glass and paper are just some of the things the average European refuses to throw away. At most supermarkets, beaches, and other public places there are bottle banks with separate slots for clear, green, and brown glass. Europeans also recycle hard and soft plastics, as well as newspaper and cardboard. Most towns in countries throughout Europe have a free paper collection once a month and most people recycle everything made of cardboard or paper, from cereal boxes to old telephone bills. In addition, there are recycling plants or recycling centers all throughout Europe which totally facilitates and promotes their recycling effort. Green waste, such as garden trimmings, is up out on the street in a neat bundle and they are collected every two weeks. If that’s not enough, aluminum and tin cans be taken to local depots, old batteries taken to the local supermarket, and old oil or other chemicals taken to special sites.”

imagesAmerica’s program could be just as ambitious, but change must be centralized. Writes Matt Kasper of the Center for American Progress, “In order for the United States to begin reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills, increasing recycling rates, and generating renewable energy, a municipal-solid-waste portfolio standard must be enacted by Congress and applied nationwide in order to decrease greenhouse-gas emissions from landfills, and individual states should include EfW in current renewable-energy portfolio standards.”

A very good start, to say the least.

By |January 8th, 2016|News|Comments Off on More Recycling, Please.

A Little Bit About Christmas Tree Farming

Xmas Tree FarmEverybody loves a freshly-cut Christmas tree. The smell, the look, the feel of all that winter greenery, right there in your home. But just what all goes into creating that tree? Christmas tree farming seems like it would be easy, but it’s actually quite time-intensive and laborious.

Each Christmas season, between 35 and 40 million trees are sold in the United States alone. An average tree farmer plants around 2,000 trees, of which only 750 to 1500 survive to harvest. It takes an average of 6 to 10 years for a tree to reach maturity. Each tree costs around $5 to $10 from the time it’s planted until the time it’s harvested. Being a Christmas tree farmer can be profitable, but is not without risk.

Planning for the Christmas season begins in earnest in July, but farmers spend 11 months of each year tending to their crop, only really resting, ironically, in December, when all that’s left to do is sell. Spring and summer are particularly busy: farmers spend long hours controlling competition from other plants. Insects and disease can also cause serious damage; farmers often have to quarantine individual trees to save the crop.

Pests can also be problematic: if the fields are left unmowed and unweeded, rodent populations swell, and entire strands of trees can be destroyed.

In non-organic tree farms, trees sometimes need to be treated with herbicides or pesticides, to help control diseases and predation. In organic farms, however, chemicals are not used, requiring more mowing and pruning.

So next time you meet a Christmas tree farmer: give him/her a hug and thank them. It’s hard work!

Xmas Tree Farmer



By |December 24th, 2015|News|Comments Off on A Little Bit About Christmas Tree Farming

Pumpkin Power!

pumpkins1Halloween just wouldn’t be Halloween without pumpkins. Carved or uncarved, they make great decorations, and even better pies, stews, and soups. Pumpkins also have an interesting and unique history.

Pumpkins arrived on the scene between 7,000 and 5,550 BC in Mexico. These early varieties bore more resemblance to gourds or squash than the creased orange Jack-o-lanterns we’ve come to know and love. Their hard skin made them ideal for storing, a fact that was not lost on Native Americans. They were grown along river banks with sunflowers and beans; and, when corn cultivation began years later, in concert with squash and corn using the ‘Three Sisters’ method.

Whether roasted over campfires, baked, parched, boiled, or dried, pumpkins were prepared in a variety of ways. Their seeds were eaten and used as medicine. Dried pumpkin was sometimes used as a flour, and their shells used as bowls to store grain, beans, and seeds. Strips of dried pumpkin were sometimes even woven into mats!

Pilgrims are responsible for the first pumpkin pie, but not the flat-crusted variety we’re used to. After cutting off the top and scooping out the seeds, they would fill the cavity with cream, honey, eggs, and spices, and then, with top reattached, bury the entire pumpkin in the hot ashes of a fire.

pumpkin2No one really knows just how pumpkin carving began, but there are theories. Early Jack-o-lanterns made from turnips and potatoes were used in Celtic celebrations; these contained pieces of lit coal. Europeans who arrived in America noticed that the pumpkin made a good Jack-o-lantern, and the tradition was born.

By |October 30th, 2015|News|Comments Off on Pumpkin Power!

Why Do Leaves Change Color?

maple leafAutumn is a magical time of year. The cooler weather, the smell of campfire, and the changing leaves. If you have the good fortune to live in the Northeast, the changing foliage can be quite dramatic indeed. But just why do leaves change color? What natural forces are at play here?

There are three main factors that determine leaf color change: pigmentation, length of night, and weather. Of these, changes in length of night are the most consequential. As daylight wanes, biochemical processes within the leaves are initiated, resulting in a shift from green pigmentation, to browns, yellows, oranges, and reds. Once the nighttime-length threshold is crossed for any particular given species of tree, the autumnal display begins.

Chlorophyll, the biomolecule that allows plants to absorb energy from sunlight, lends leaves their green color. Throughout the summer, when sunlight is plentiful, chlorophyll is the dominant pigment. As autumn approaches and chlorophyll production slows, however, other pigments—carotenoids and anthocyanins—begin to appear. Carotenoids are responsible for the yellow, orange, and brown colors in carrots, corn, and daffodils; and anthocyanins give color to things like cranberries, red apples, blueberries, cherries, and plums. But while carotenoids are present all through the growing season, anthocyanins are only produced in autumn, in response to excess sugar build-up within leaves. This sugar accrual is due to the gradual sealing off of the veins leading into the leaf; once the veins are fully sealed, the leaf breaks away and falls to the ground.

fall foliageThough peak fall foliage varies from year to year, it generally begins in late September in New England, and moves southward, reaching the Smoky Mountains by early November.

By |October 16th, 2015|News|Comments Off on Why Do Leaves Change Color?

Kale: So Much More than Just a Trend

kaleLove it or hate it, kale is huge. Though recent articles tote the end of the kale craze, the reality is that the beloved green remains extremely popular. From its Greek and Roman origins to its modern proliferation, kale is one of the most enduring, healthy, easy-to-grow, and delicious vegetables of all times. And, not surprisingly, it has a fascinating history.

Fourth Century Greeks cultivated curly and flat-leaved varieties, later referred to by the Romans as ‘Sabellian kale’, the ancestor of modern strains. Throughout the Middle Ages, kale was one of Europe’s most popular vegetables. Later, during World War II, kale cultivation was encouraged in the UK as part of the war effort.

Along with cabbage, kale was assumed by the Irish to possess fortune-telling power. Young people used the green to judge the nature of their future spouses: a bitter stalk meant a bitter mate, a lot of dirt clinging to the root meant a wealthy husband or wife. “Kale-Pulling” rituals were especially popular on Halloween, when it was believed the plant’s prophetic powers were more potent.

kale 2The year 2000 saw the birth of the current kale craze. It started when Vermont-based artist, Bo Muller-Moore created the now-famous “Eat More Kale” t-shirt in an effort to help a friend move a bumper harvest of the crop. The rise of CSAs also helped, as did celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Salma Hayek, and Demi Moore, who used kale in juice cleanses. Most recently, McDonald’s Canada incorporated a kale salad with their traditional menu of hamburgers and French fries.

Part of kale’s appeal is its nutritional payload: one cup of boiled kale is packed with vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potentially cancer-fighting isothiocynates and anti-inflammatory flavonoids. Kale is also an excellent source of manganese, copper, Vitamin B6, calcium, and fiber.


By |October 2nd, 2015|News|Comments Off on Kale: So Much More than Just a Trend