Flower of the Week

Tiny, lovely, little shiny Marigolds. Where would our gardens be without them? These little plumes of firey-colored flowers sit low in the soil and attract all sorts of beneficial insects to your garden- the kind that will keep other bugs from nibbling on your crops. They are but one approach to maintaining an organic garden free of pesticides, and they make the whole lot look a bit prettier too. How wonderful!


Protecting NYC's Gardens

Since 2002, most community gardens in New York City have been covered by a memorandum established between the State Attorney General and the Bloomberg Administration which established certain ground rules and protections for the gardens under the jurisdiction of several city agencies. Namely, the GreenThumb program, a subset of the Department of Parks and Recreation, has been principally responsible for the oversight and management of city gardens, and those gardens have been provided with a certain amount of security and protection from the government. However, that memorandum is expiring this coming September, and the document which has been drafted to replace it seems to provide much less protection than its counterpart, while at the same time increasing regulation on community gardens, threatening the future of urban gardening in NYC.

While not fully designated as city park land under the original regulations of 2002, community gardens were at least protected as "open space", and were placed under the jurisdiction of the Parks department for their preservation as community gardens. The use of their land for purposes other than gardening was subject to environmental review as well as a land use and disposition review. This meant that if any development were to be planned upon the site of an existing community garden, there would be a protocol in place to ensure the responsible use of that land, in order to fully understand the environmental and community impact of removing a garden in lieu of a new development of any kind. Among other enforcements, these rules sought to ensure that neighborhood gardeners could operate with security, knowing that their gardens would be protected by the city.

The new proposed regulations, however, contain none of the language from the original document which set gardeners' minds at ease. To the contrary, the future of community gardens is being threatened by these new rules which do not provide any sort of preservation guarantee, nor do they ensure the protection of garden land in the face of urban development. The key language excluded from the draft, which contained in the 2002 memorandum and was a major point of satisfaction for gardeners, states that lots designated as community gardens will be "offered to the Parks Department for preservation as community gardens or open space." This statement is integral to the protection of urban gardens, and its exclusion is the cause of much grief in NYC community gardening circles.

The city is currently accepting public comments on the drafted material, and it is highly recommended that those with an interest in NYC's urban gardens read the draft and make their voices heard. A local garden blogger has included on their website instructions for how to do so. In addition, a public hearing is to be held on August 10th at the Chelsea Recreation Center in Manhattan, to which any and all with an interest in community gardens should be present. The New York City Community Garden Coalition has listed great resources for those who are interested and want to get involved, including a letter which summarizes the situation and calls on community members to take action.

The community of gardeners in New York City are not allowing these new regulations to pass quietly. In fact, the buzz circulating throughout city organizations, parks, and neighborhoods is such that the potential response of individuals -whether it be at the hearing, over the phone with 311, in writing to the Parks Department, or on the web in public commentary- is enormous. These regulations have not been passed yet. There is still time for NYC communities to rally around the gardens that keep them healthy and safe, to make absolutely sure that these spaces of growth and harvest, of teaching and learning, of sharing, laughing, and loving, will remain in their neighborhoods for generations.


No Farms, No Food

The farmland protection organization American Farmland have launched a fun new contest across the states to find the best farmer's markets in the U.S.A. The initiative is bringing more attention to farmers and farmer's markets by providing individual consumers with the power to recognize the good work that their local farmers are doing, the good people who support them, and the good food they provide us with every day.

On the American Farmland website, you can vote for your favorite farmers market, see what the current top 5 markets are in your state, as well as learn startling facts about the loss of farmland in your area. For example, according to their site, the state of Texas loses about 360 acres of farmland per day, while overall in America we lose about an acre of farmland every minute. These are quite disheartening statistics for those of us who enjoy eating food.

The friendly farmers we meet at our local markets work so hard to bring us the fresh foods that we enjoy so much, yet their livelihoods are being threatened by land misuse, development, and the oppressive presence of large-scale agro-businesses and GMOs. Up to 91% of agricultural products in America are harvested in areas of urban influence, emphasizing the incessant threat of urban sprawl, while large agricultural corporations such as Monsanto continually bully our farmers and monopolize our food market, making it increasingly difficult for them to be successful. That is why, if we want to continue having access to fresh, healthy food at an affordable rate, and to ensure the future of small farms in America, it is absolutely imperative to invest in our local economies and support our local farmers.

Farmer's markets are a great way to preserve our traditional American agriculture by keeping our small farmers in business, and therefore ensuring the preservation of rural land and keeping urban sprawl at bay. We have the power as consumers, and with the abundance of farmer's markets all over the country, exercising that power is easy and convenient. There are even many markets which stay open all year round, providing you with fresh produce, meat, an dairy through the winter months.

This contest is an exciting way to recognize not only the farmers, but also the people who organize these markets and work so hard to ensure that we consumers have access to the bounty of healthy food being grown and raised all around us.

What's your favorite farmers market, and why? Vote Here, and then share your thoughts on Pea's Peace!


Flower of the Week

There is nothing that better captures the color and energy of summertime than a sunflower. Standing almost awkwardly tall over home gardens, or dancing neatly in rows of hundreds of his peers, the sunflower's bright faces always seem to be smiling with the joy and warmth of celebrating the summer.


That's Alotta Compost!

GROWNYC, a recycling and waste prevention organization that operates in New York City, put together a great visualization this week about what exactly is in the city's residential waste.

The site is meant to showcase the high number of recyclable items that New Yorkers, inadvertently or otherwise, discarded into landfills over the course of a year. And it provides excellent resources on how and where to recycle certain hard to sort items, or items that are ambiguously recyclable. It also offers some information about composting, and tips on composting yard waste and food waste, which together account for almost 750,000 tons of trash each year!

One thing that this awesome website failed to mention, however, is that recyclable paper, which according to the table accounts for nearly a quarter of New York City's landfill waste, is also often compostable! Things like shredded paper, of which copious amounts may be found in any NYC office buildings or home offices, and newspaper are excellent contributions to building compost.

This means that, recyclable papers included, New York city residents are throwing away over a million tons of compostable materials a year, all of which could be used to make rich, hearty soil for growing food, flowers, and other garden treats. Now that's a lot of compost!


Flower of the Week

The Evening Primrose is a true a vespertine delight. The bright, vibrant colored petals sit wound up in a succession of spikes throughout the day, and only as the sun is setting do the top few flowers on each tall stem start to open up. As bees dance around them in eager anticipation of their late-night pollen snack, these timid blossoms reveal themselves in truly magical movement, all at once. The event lasts just a few moments, but it is a truly magical show to witness. By the next morning they will have wilted, and the next round of evening flowers will be ready to bloom in a never-ending assembly line of flowers that come alive.


Water for Life

According to statistics collected by the U.N., there are approximately 880 million people worldwide who live without access to a safe drinking water source. EVERY DAY about 5,000 children die from water-borne illnesses related to poor sanitation and a lack of access to clean drinking water, and every year 2.2 million people die from the same cause. By 2030, the number of people living in areas of severe water stress could rise to 4 billion. This enormously detrimental predicament is being addressed by human rights advocates, development and aid agencies, and local initiatives which fight to have water declared as a human right, implement reliable water system infrastructures, and to promote sustainable water use, so as to stifle and prevent further suffering related to this dire human need. The problem is also being addressed by private companies, who seek to earn large profits from the growing global scarcity of fresh water drinking supplies. It has already been estimated that the global water market is worth nearly 250 billion dollars, and that figure is set to rise to a staggering 660 billion by 2020.

Since 2008, Maude Barlow, outspoken activist and author of the bestselling book Blue Covenent: The Global Water Crisis, has been serving as the Senior Advisor on Water to the United Nations, taking enormous strides towards guaranteeing the right to access safe drinking water for all people. These efforts include the draft of a universal resolution to recognize water as a global human right, expected to be presented to the general assembly later this month by Bolivia, a country which has experienced its own social uprisings in the face of poor sanitation, unclean water, and private water companies. If this resolution is passed, says Barlow, "It would be one of the most important things the United Nations has done since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Still, this historic resolution is facing strong opposition, mostly from Western powers with vested interests in the privatization of water. According to Barlow, countries like Canada, the United States, and Great Britain have shown considerable resistance to the resolution being passed. Developing countries around the world, on the other hand, have a dire interest in seeing this motion adopted by the U.N., as these states suffer most from the effects of climate change, draught, and water commoditization. And as the European Union recognized water as a basic human right in March of this year, it becomes clear that support for this issue is growing rapidly around the world.

Water is the basic ingredient to life everywhere, and for a state or private entity to deny humans their right to access clean and safe drinking water is clearly a violation of international human rights. In order for this moral precedent to become a regulation, it is necessary to have the explicit language put down in an official capacity by the United Nations, By the end of July, this draft should be submitted, and in upcoming months the decision will be made whether to adopt the resolution, and provide people around the world with safe water, and a secure standard of living that includes this most fundamental part to the whole of living a safe and healthy life.


This is Funny...


If It Were My Home

For many of us, the lack of a direct or personal connection to an issue or event can too often lead to feelings of apathy and disregard. As long as it's happening over there, not here, we seem not to mind too much the travesties of the world that we read on the front page with our morning coffee, never to address again during the course of our days. Of course, this is not because people are inherently bad. On the contrary, as long as our media sources are sustaining interest in an issue, we might donate money, canned goods, people power, and picket signs in order to combat the evils that we see on T.V. But then again, once the problem is not longer in the news, too often it is no longer on our minds.

But for the people who are affected by these "stories" we hear and read, the struggle does not end when the camera crews up and leave. Especially in developing countries, natural disasters, wars, and famine, are issues that often bear consequences for a lifetime or more.

For the people who are living along the gulf coast, the life that they knew before the BP oil spill will be forever changed now in the wake of our biggest environmental catastrophe. While the damaged well will eventually be repaired, and over the upcoming months and years we will find new sensational news to divert our attention, these people, these ecosystems, will be living with the aftermath of the BP disaster for decades to come.

And unlike the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti, and the people of the ninth ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the people of the gulf must not be forgotten. For a frightening and somewhat jarring dose of reality, the website IfItWereMyHome.com allows its visitors to visualize the size of the oil spill by superimposing its image over their home town. This gives us a perspective on the disaster that we might not have previously had, and perhaps a glimpse of the severity of the problem, by showing us how this disaster might impact our own familiar grounds.

It is worth noting that even this shocking image is based only on surface oil, and does not take into consideration the unknown mass of oil underwater. It is also based on a rough estimate of the size of the spill, which could be larger or smaller depending on the source. Still, having a visualization of the spill's physical size might help imprint this disaster in our minds, and help us to call for sustained accountability and clean up throughout the entirety of this disaster- at least until life in the gulf is restored to normalcy. Because although it might seem as if we who do not live near the gulf are unaffected by this problem, it is something for which everyone in our country will face ramifications for years to come.


NYC Going Solar?

The city that never sleeps burns a lot of energy to stay up, keeping those dazzling skyscraper lights shining all night long. Energy use in New York City is enormous, not because of the irresponsibility of its residents, but due to the sheer size of its population, and its consequent demand for energy. The intense hydropower energy provided by NYC's extensive upstream river system allows for a slight ease on the consumption of non-renewable resources such as coal and oil, but a further investment into more sustainable energies is undoubtedly necessary to keep this blazin' city burning at full speed.

That is why the creation of what are being dubbed "solar empowerment zones" within city limits has such exciting implications for the future of New York City's energy use. In conjunction with the Office of the Mayor, the Power Authority, and several other entities, New York's Infrastructure Task Force has identified three distinct zones in New York City which offer optimal potential for the use of solar power. Those three zones are in Downtown Brooklyn, along the border of Brooklyn and Queens by Greenpoint-Gateway, and part of my own island hometown- Eastern Staten Island.

These three zones currently benefit from what is known as "day-peaking" potential for solar reception, a significant amount of rooftop space, and a moderate need for capacity upgrades. Because of these desirable traits, they offer a viable space for solar power to be implemented in order to offset the growing energy demand facing NYC.

A focused program intended to offer support, guidance, and initial policies to these areas will be implemented in order to prepare for the process of scaling up solar power in the city. The Smart Solar City project will provide technical assistance to operators and property owners in these areas, incentive assistance to increase solar investment and to cut costs, streamlined permitting to simplify navigation of government processes for those who are interested in solar energy, educational programs to promote the use of solar systems, and more.

In the face of a growing energy crisis, and with the consequences of climate change within a generation of foresight, the New York City government is taking great strides to improve energy use and to concentrate more heavily on renewable energies. As non-renewable energy sources dwindle and become more expensive in the upcoming decades, the burden falls on NYC to identify and capitalize avenues to keep the vibrant city and its 8 million residents running 24/7. This is not only an economic investment on behalf of the city, which will find itself increasingly energy independent, but an investment in the survival of its unique vivacity.


Capitol Rates

Living in the United States in 2010, it is hard to believe that we face any real threat from the effects of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. After all, we have modern medicine. We have treatment. We have countless prevention campaigns that tell us safe sex is great sex, to know our status, and if you ask any one person on the street, chances are they'll be able to reiterate those same catch phrases to you as if by script. But yet, with all of these supposed advancements in understanding of HIV in the U.S., we don't seem able to practice what we preach. With all of the gimmicky rhymes, regurgitated catch phrases, and memorized fact sheets, HIV transmission is still at an enormous rate in the U.S., and is a problem faced by too many of our citizens.

This problem is starkly geographically disproportionate. Out of 50 states, 55% of AIDS cases come from just 5. And the nation's capitol, where the HIV prevalence rate is over 3%, is now said to have surpassed many developing nations in West Africa in the severity and number of new AIDS cases. As of 2007, D.C.'s reported cases of AIDS are higher than any state in the U.S., at 148 cases per 100,000 residents. This is especially high when compared with other high-prevalence states: Maryland and New York, which each have about 24 cases per 100,00, and Florida, which has 21.7. This means that D.C.'s AIDS rate as of 2007 was higher than the top three states combined.

But Washington, D.C. got some good news this week, with a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control which shows that the spread of the disease is slowing in the district. Compared with 167 cases per 100,000 in 2004, the AIDS rate dropped to 148 cases in 2007, and has now dropped again to 107 cases per 100,000 residents as of 2008. Over a four year period, this change in AIDS prevalence represents a 22% decline, which is a major step forward for D.C. public health. The same report also indicated a 4% increase in the percentage of residents who went for HIV testing in D.C., up from 15% in 2005 to 19% in 2008.

Still, with a reported 81% of the D.C. population not being tested, and with the AIDS rate being 10 times higher than in most U.S. states, HIV continues to serve as a major threat to our nation's capitol, and this problem is not to be taken lightly. Prevention efforts which have become gimmicky and tired must be re-evaluated, and the perception of susceptibility must be emphasized to the public. Hopes are that if these efforts continue in Washington, D.C., then the number of AIDS cases will begin to drop. And with new studies being done to link the efficacy of treatment with the efforts of prevention, the horizon for halting the spread of HIV in D.C., and in the world, looks brighter and more focused every day.