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Green Is Good

Green Is Good (40)

by Meg White

Walking into the production facility in a small warehouse on the north side of Chicago, cold words like "factory" and "mill" are the last things that come to mind. What would you call this place? I wonder. A studio? A workshop?
As the perfect flood of pear, citrus and lavender hits my senses, so does the appropriateness of the name. Yes, this is truly an enterprising kitchen.

The Enterprising Kitchen, or TEK as its participants call it, is a workforce development social enterprise serving Chicago women with barriers to employment. They specialize in the arts of both turning around the lives of women and soapmaking. Participants are referred to the six-month program by caseworkers from social service agencies all over Chicago.

"We get referrals from a lot of different agencies," TEK Executive Director Carolyn Nopar told me in a recent interview in her small office. "We don't aspire to be the first social service agency, but we do want to be the last."

Women accepted to the program learn all aspects of the small business, from production to shipping to sales to running the front office. They also have access to problem solving tools such as GED classes and financial counseling. Going beyond the ubiquitous resume writing session, TEK helps women set themselves up for self-sufficiency in the modern work world, with elevator speeches and LinkedIn profiles. Working at TEK is something of a last step on a long, hard road; a step you don't realize you took on your own until you look back at it from another place.

by Meg White

Economic indicators may be up, but the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago is not one of those places where you can see the recession receding.

"You know, we have a crack house right here," said Brenda Palms Barber, pointing to a house with a brown door across the alley. "People go back in there and get high all the time. It's crazy what I see in this alley."

Barber, the founder of the social enterprise Sweet Beginnings, is giving me a sort of tour through the single window of her small office.

"This gas station is the highest crime area in North Lawndale, one of the highest, because of the drug traffic that goes on on the highway," she continues. Her finger moves to the barrier between Sweet Beginnings' back yard and the gas station. "You see the different colors of fences? That's how many times it's been knocked down, driven through, rammed through..."

You wouldn't guess that such a troubled area is also home to a 28-beehive apiary. The honeybees don't seem to mind the crime or the drone of highway 290. Then again, they draw their inspiration from what grows in North Lawndale, as opposed to what is merely waiting to be torn down.

by Meg White

Over the past couple of decades, Americans have finally begun to seek out good coffee. As Folgers receded, Starbucks transcended. Yet while our coffee was once notoriously bad-tasting, today an American cuppa Joe has gotten a second bad reputation: It leaves a bad taste in the mouth of those who care about social justice and the environment.

Most coffee on the market today is unsustainable in that it is grown in stripped, pesticide-soaked rainforest and picked by often mistreated workers in exchange for slave wages. The thing is, some beans produced this way can still say "fair trade" on the label.

Knowing that those who care about such things happen to make up the bulk of our readership, BuzzFlash decided explore what we drink in the morning. Sure, it tastes good. It even sounds good. But does it do good?

While coffee wasn't the first item we sold in the BuzzFlash Progressive Marketplace, it was a natural jump from progressive books touting fair trade, environmentally-friendly principles to a beverage that is actually made with said principles in production.

Nowadays, BuzzFlash sells coffee from a number of different fair trade-certified producers. I spoke with representatives of two of them -- Just Coffee out of Madison, WI and Equal Exchange from Massachusetts -- to get a better idea of fair trade behind all the fancy stamps and stickers on bean bags these days.

They're both quite different companies, but they each have ties to some pretty radical roots.

by Meg White

For a whole generation of Americans, recycling was the first thing we were taught as children to do for the environment. Whether you learned about it from the Three Rs or Captain Planet, the idea of repurposing used material has been a part of our environmental consciousness for many years.

Apparently, the largest coffee retailer on the planet is too cool for school. At this year's annual meeting, only 11 percent of Starbucks shareholders voted to initiate a comprehensive recycling plan. For a company that asserts it shares "our customers' commitment to the environment," the negligence in one of the simplest areas of environmental stewardship came as a shock to all who imagine Starbucks to be as green as their logo.

by Meg White

It's snowing, but my stomach doesn't know it. It's not even March yet and all I can think of is fresh, locally-grown tomatoes. I've ordered my vegetable garden seeds, bought my peat pots and lugged home a stack of gardening books from the library. Last night, I had a pretty vivid dream about my compost bin.

Clearly, I need help. Or spring; whichever comes first.

Thankfully, I'm not alone. With the popularity of Michael Pollan's works, Food Inc., and numerous other exposés on the terrible toll of factory farming, there is a growing movement to vote with one's fork. But with locavores, proponents of organic certification and sustainable agriculture supporters all insisting it is their practice which is most critical in breaking the unhealthy cycle of factory farming, there is a great deal of confusion out there.

And the problem remains of what those of us who don't live in California should do with the frozen tundra under our feet. This time of year, the indoor farmers markets (if you're lucky enough to have access to any) contain slim, expensive pickins. The boxes offered by the few year-round CSAs (community-supported agriculture collectives) are well-stocked with winter squash and root vegetables, but little else. How do we northerners stay true to food virtues without getting scurvy?

Irv and Shelly to the rescue!

by Margaret Smith

New York's most notable feature may be the city that never sleeps, but a new trend that's been sweeping the nation over the past couple of years has finally made ground. And when we say "made ground" we're talking literally here, because it plans on drilling its way thousands of feet underground in New York state.

Yes, New York has become the new epicenter for the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," debate. A popular technique used by natural gas and oil companies, fracking is a way to easily extract natural gas from rock fissures. A chemical mixture of sand and fluid is injected under high pressure deep within rock formations to break open pores and easily release natural gas. From there, the natural gas is directed toward a production well where it can then be brought to the surface.

For New York, plans have been set aside to drill out of the Marcellus Shale. Part of the Devonian Black Shale Succession, the Marcellus Shale is a 575-mile long shale formation that extends through Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia. A profitable move? Definitely. Natural gas as energy has been commonly used in New York for over two centuries. Recently it found that the Marcellus formation contained a mind-blowing amount of natural gas, and now New York stands to make more than a trillion dollars from its production.

But at what cost? That's what many New Yorkers have been asking themselves lately as plans to drill keep moving forward and problems such as wastewater treatment, local impact, and mining remain to be solved.

by Margaret SmithJaguars

The UN recently declared 2010 the Year of Biodiversity, and it looks like the United States just made the first step to promote that cause. After more than a decade of resistance, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday that it will finally start protecting the habitats of jaguars in the U.S.

Jaguars have been listed as an endangered species since 1997. For various reasons, however, the government never designated a habitat for them or developed a formal recovery plan, as is part of the normal protocol for most endangered species.

Are Polar Bears, Tigers and the Beluga Whale Headed for Extinction as We Enter a New Decade?

by Margaret Smith

Another year, another resolution. Some of us vowed to be nicer, others want to spend less money and many just went with the old standby of losing weight. The United Nations may have topped us all, though, when they declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. And as thrilling as the 2009 International Year of Natural Fibers was -- following the all-important International Year of the Potato in 2008 -- this one may be worth watching out for.

The purpose is simple: to raise public awareness on the importance of biodiversity and the consequences of its loss to human well-being. The International Year's official launch will take place next Monday, Jan. 11, in Berlin, followed by a meeting at the Paris headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization later that month, the first high-profile event of the International Year. It couldn't have come at a better time, though, and not only because some experts say the world's plant and animal species are disappearing at 1,000 times the rate of natural progression.

by Margaret Smith

USDA LabelYou're on another weekly trip to the local supermarket, shopping around for the freshest, healthiest goods to stock up on for the next couple of days. Well, "fresh" and "healthy" might not be the best words for it, actually. Walking up and down the aisles there are so many different options it's easy to get confused. Pesticides? High Fructose Corn Syrup? MSG? rBHT? How does the average consumer know how to buy what's really healthy for you?

Well never fear, because there's always that little label on certain products that lets you know what's "healthy" to buy. It's just a small circular sticker, divided in half and colored in green on the bottom and white on the top. The words printed on it say a lot, though: USDA ORGANIC.

In the past couple of years America has seen an unprecedented increase in corporate greenwashing. As people have become increasingly environmentally conscious, more and more companies have been apt to label their products with false green claims in order to attract customers. According to the Greenwashing Report 2009, last year alone 98 percent of green-labeled goods were found guilty of greenwashing. And all along the word organic, whether printed on the box or stamped on with the federal, USDA regulated organic label, has been a sort of lifeboat pointing people in the right direction to healthy living. But could the word organic be the biggest greenwashing dupe of them all?

by Margaret Smith

Ah, Santa's reindeer. Each Christmas Eve little boys and girls everywhere stay up late in hopes of hearing the clomp clomp clomp of their hoofs landing on the roof so Santa can squeeze down the chimney to drop off presents. But what's the real deal with Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen? Here are some truths about Santa's reindeer.

1.    A dying breed
Looks like Santa's reindeer may be in trouble.

At least that's what biologist Mark Boyce, a professor from the University of Alberta in Canada, found out this past June when he completed the first global review on the species status with Ph.D student Liv Vors. Together, the pair found that in the past three decades reindeer and caribou have plunged nearly 60 percent.

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