Archive for : Environment

Tractors over Touchdowns: How One Football Player Became a Food Justice Hero

Football players, like most professional athletes, live glamorous lives. With contracts regularly topping 10 million dollars, they can afford to. But what if one of them decided to give up the cars, the glory, and the worship of thousands of fans to become a…farmer.

Meet Jason Brown. At the age of 29, after spending seven years as a professional football player, Brown decided to trade in his helmet for a bundle of hay. As self-taught farmer (he watched You Tube videos for instructions on the basics and consulted with other nearby farmers), he launched First Fruits Farm – a faith-based agricultural operation that grows food to be donated to food pantries. He has already given away tens of thousands of pounds of food and he has no plans for stopping soon. (If the notion of giving first fruits sounds familiar, it should – it is a concept found in the Torah.)

Brown and his family took an incredible leap of faith to make such a radical life change. Asked on CBS why, he said two beautiful things. The first: “When I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service.” And then, “Love is the most wonderful currency you can give anyone.” We kind of love this guy.

In other news, Brown also recently delivered his own baby when his wife went into surprisingly fast labor and the midwife couldn’t arrive in time. So, yeah he’s mensch.

Check out the video for more of his remarkable story.

Repair Inspiration: Just Say No to Food Waste

When it comes to food in America, two things are clear: we love it and we love to waste it. Each year, American families waste an average of 25% of the food that they buy. That includes the carrot tops, bread ends, and other scraps not used while cooking, and the leftovers that go bad in the fridge before they get eaten. And this number does not even account for the tens of thousands of pounds of food thrown away each year by restaurants and other food service companies.

Now, two very different entities – a chef and a city government – are trying to change that. In Seattle, a new composting law slaps households that do not adequately compost their leftover food with a fine and red tag on their garbage cans. Meanwhile, in New York City, the innovative chef, Dan Barber, (of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns), is working on a high profile, temporary pop up restaurant where every dish will be made from leftovers – stems, peels, bones, and the like. The clever name for the pop up? WastED.

The New York Times reported about both of these compelling stories. Check out the excerpts below and read the whole articles at their website.

Starve a Landfill
By: Kim Severson

“SEATTLE — The nation’s first citywide composting program based largely on shame began here in January. City sanitation workers who find garbage cans filled with aging lettuce, leftover pizza or even the box it came in are slapping on bright red tags to inform the offending household (and, presumably, the whole neighborhood) that the city’s new composting law has been violated.

San Francisco may have been the first city to make its citizens compost food, but Seattle is the first to punish people with a fine if they don’t. In a country that loses about 31 percent of its food to waste, policies like Seattle’s are driven by environmental, social and economic pressure.

But mandated composting reflects a deeper shift in the mood of the nation’s cooks, one in which wasting food is unfashionable. Running an efficient kitchen — where bruised fruit is blended into smoothies, carrot tops are pulsed into pesto, and a juicy pork shoulder can move seamlessly from Sunday supper to Monday’s carnitas to a rich pot of broth for the freezer — is becoming as satisfying as the food itself.” Read more.

Chef Lineup Announced for Dan Barber’s Food Waste Pop-Up, Wasted
By: Florence Fabricant

“A high-profile experiment in wasting nothing will start on March 13 at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant in Greenwich Village. That’s when the restaurant will turn into a pop-up called wastED, to run through the end of the month, with a menu of dishes devised from leftovers like stems, peelings, rinds and bones, by a roster of guest chefs who will change each evening.” Read more.

Spotlight On: Divine Chocolate’s Sustainable Gelt

Chocolate gelt is a fun part of any Hanukkah celebration. Who doesn’t love unwrapping a glinting gold or silver foil wrapper to find a piece of chocolate inside? In recent years, a handful of chocolatiers have started turning out artisanal versions of gelt – “gelt for grownups,” as they call it, which focus on using high quality ingredients.

But we are particularly enamored with the coins made by Divine Chocolate. Available in both milk and dark chocolate, they are creamy and sweet – just about as tasty as gelt can get. But even more excitingly, they are made from fair trade sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. That means, the farmers who grow the ingredients get paid fairly for their labor. (It is also kosher certified by the OU.)

Recently, Divine started partnering with Fair Trade Judaica and T’ruah to make their gelt available to a wider audience. 10% of all sales will go directly to these organizations’ work to end child slavery in the cocoa fields.

Delicious gelt without the guilt that also does serious good for the world? Sounds like the formula for a happy Hanukkah to us.

Find out more about Divine Chocolate’s Hanukkah gelt on their website.

Spotlight On: The Shmita Project

Imagine a world where every 7 years, everything changed – like really, radically changed. For one whole year, business as usual would cease. No one would plant or harvest anything from the land. It would like fallow and rest. All debts between people, meanwhile, would be forgiven and the slates would be wiped clean.

Jewish tradition contains within it this exact scenario: shmita. Literally meaning “release,” shmita arrives in Israel every seven years to ensure that society remains fair and just. Of course, there’s often a big difference between biblical ideals and what happens in real, practical life, so Hazon and the Jewish Farm School came together to create The Shmita Project – an initiative working to “expand awareness about the biblical Sabbatical tradition, and to bring the values of this practice to life today to support healthier, more sustainable Jewish communities.” They are not suggesting that everyone practice shmita down to the letter of the law, but to simply ask – what might being more mindful about the practice do to change my life, and my community, for the better?

The shmita year began on Rosh Hashanah and extends for one full year until next Rosh Hashanah. How might you incorporate some of it’s teachings of sustainability and justice into your daily life? How might letting go – and hitting the metaphorical “reset button – in certain areas help transform things in positive ways?

To learn more, check out Hazon’s shmita educational resources. They have all the info you need to get inspired,, learn about shmita’s relevance to contemporary life, organize a shmita-inspired event in your community, and join a network of people around the country doing the same.

Now’s the time to dig in – find out more on Hazon’s website.

Repair Inspiration: Al Gore’s Optimistic Outlook on Climate Change

There’s no question that conversations about climate change can get a little depressing. Ok, a LOT depressing. There is plenty of news out there these days about climate change’s effect on the planet, and very little of it is positive.

That is why we were happy to read about Al Gore’s refreshing outlook in a recent Co.Exist article. As the man behind the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Gore knows a thing or two about climate change. And so while he does not paint an overly rosy picture, his words of confidence about the growing movement to stem it’s impacts are heartening.

Check out an excerpt below, and find the whole article over at Co.Exist’s site:

Al Gore’s Climate Change Optimism Will Make You Feel A Little Better About The Future
By: Ariel Schwartz

These days, Gore is hopeful that the world will avoid the worst consequences of climate change, even as reports warn that the world hasn’t made any meaningful progress in slashing carbon emissions.

“I think the momentum is generally shifting,” says Gore. He has great hope that the recent People’s Climate March in New York City, an event held in the run-up to last week’s Climate Summit, will contribute to what he calls “a growing social movement.” He’s also encouraged by the 800-plus investors, including heirs to the Rockefeller family’s oil fortune, who recently engaged in a $50 billion divestment campaign from fossil fuels. The U.N. summit, he notes, “has been a trigger for the largest surge of attention by the media to this topic in several years.”

Aside from being a catalyst for other events, the summit itself ended with some significant pledges in play. China, for example, pledged to make significant emissions cuts by 2020–the country’s first big commitment to reducing CO2 emissions.

When I ask if this is a turning point for China, Gore responds he believes “some turning points are kind of rounded. I think China has been rounding the top of this turning point for a couple years now. Next March, we’ll see the definitive commitments China is prepared to make, but we’ve already seen the introduction of a cap and trade system in five cities and two provinces and a declaration that it will be the beginning of a nationwide cap and trade system.”

For more on Co.Exist, check out Repair the World’s interview with editor Ariel Schwartz.

And check out Repair the World’s photo album from The People’s Climate March!

Jumpstart Shelter Related Projects in Honor of Sukkot

The spirit of Sukkot is in the air. And for those of us who have sat in a sukkah in the last week (a temporary outdoor shelter built during the holiday of Sukkot), the scent of Sukkot – pine boughs or bamboo, gourds and pumpkins, apples and citrusy etrogim – is in the air too.

That’s why in this month’s installment of Repair the World’s ongoing crowdsource funding series, we scouted some shelter-related projects that are currently campaigning for support. They’re all totally different from one another, and all really inspiring. We don’t know the people involved in these projects personally, but we think the work they are doing is worthy of some serious attention. We hope you do too!

Families of Color Seattle This awesome organization is building an intergenerational gathering space for families that perpetuates a culture of inclusivity, community building and play-centered learning. Help them build their Cornerstone Cafe!

Clarity Hamlet Help build an eco-friendly, straw-bale home for Buddhist nuns in California. The project is hoping to fund the creation of three dormitories for the sisters called Clarity Hamlet. Their sustainable cred includes passive solar design, recycled steel roofs, grey water recycling, and straw bale walls made from agricultural waste of from local growers.

Wood and Stone Retreat Help save and refurbish a historic property in Maryland, and reenergize the economy of a town. Two good deeds for the price of one!

Awesome Sukkot Events, 2014

This year, Sukkot begins on Wednesday, October 8, at sundown. It brings with it a focus on harvest, hospitality, the gift of shelter, and an abundance of good food. Meanwhile, when it comes to connecting to social issues like hunger, sustainability, and housing rights, Sukkot is ripe (pun intended!) with possibility.

Each year, congregations and communities around the country find ways to make those connections explicit. Join in the fun by checking out one of these creative and inspiring Sukkot events:

Sharing the Faith – Sukkot
October 10 and 15, Chicago
Join the Niagara Foundation in exploring Sukkot, while offering interfaith educational opportunities. From a Shabbat service, to a conversation about homelessness on Sukkot, it promises to be a worthwhile event.

Eat, Pray, Lulav: A Sukkot Harvest Festival
October 12, Berkeley, CA
Join Urban Adamah for their fourth annual harvest festival complete with opportunities to harvest fall crops, build a cob oven, take a farm tour, and enjoy live music. Bring a canned food item to donate.

Aztec-Jewish Harvest Festival at Proyecto Jardin
October 12, Los Angeles, CA
The congregation IKAR and their urban sustainable garden partner, Proyecto Jardin, are teaming up for a unique, cross-cultural Sukkot event.

Hazon Jewish Food Festival
October 12, Encitas, CA
Spend Sukkot on an honest-to-goodness Jewish ranch, and join nutritionists, chefs, farmers, rabbis, educators, and food enthusiasts in celebration of the values of the Jewish Food Movement.

Sukkot Harvest Celebration
October 14, Boston, MA
Celebrate Sukkot with the Jewish garden, Ganei Beantown, The Riverway Project and the Moishe Kavod House in Temple Israel’s organic vegetable garden and sukkah. Prepare a meal together, learn Torah, and join in an open mic.

Repair Inspiration: Turning Swimming Pools Into Backyard Farms

With Labor Day come and gone, summer might be past it’s peak, but our minds are still on swimming – or swimming pools, rather! We’re particularly intrigued by this story on Co.Exist about how some folks are transforming their backyard swimming pools into super-productive gardens filled with vegetables, a chicken coop, and even a tilapia fish farm!

Check out the excerpt below, then get the full scoop – and check out the truly awe-inspiring video – over at Co.Exist’s website:

“In the hot summer months, it might be a shame to use a swimming pool for anything other than splashing around in. But then turning your pool into a highly productive growing system is more practical. It’s also cheaper, overall.
Dennis and Danielle McClung pioneered the Growing Pool–a solar-powered aquaponic greenhouse–back in 2009, shortly after buying a foreclosed home in Mesa, Arizona. They didn’t want to spend time and money doing up the eyesore in the backlot. And, besides, they’d always wanted to be more self-sufficient.

Since then, a host of imitators have come up with their own Garden Pools, based onhow-to instructions the McClungs have posted online. Actually, it doesn’t seem that difficult. First, you surround the perimeter with a metal frame and add poles to support a plastic covering. Then, you mount some solar panels to run the water pumps. Then, you put in a chicken coop, tilapia fish (in the deep end) and some plants.

The idea is that chicken waste falls into the tank, which feeds the fish. The fish provide nutrient-rich water, which is pumped to the plants, which grow and feed the McClungs. The whole system uses a fraction of the water employed for soil-based growing–one of the main attractions of aquaponics.”

Read the full story…