Baltimore farmers interested in sustainability have been growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs for a while. Maryland’s even got green-minded grain farms, and organic wines. But Johns Hopkins’ new aquaponics project, which features 400 tilapia in 210-gallon tanks at Cylburn Arboretum, is the first we’ve heard of a sustainable fish-farming effort.
Many people are choosing to renovate their old homes rather than sell and build new. The reasons are different for everyone. Some want to save money and a renovation is less expensive than a rebuild. Others want to preserve some historic element in their existing home. Still others love their home, their yard and their neighborhood but find the home’s interior design no longer suits their lifestyle.
Yesterday we brought you news of Baltimore neighborhoods are reducing energy consumption through a few simple steps. But it’s not just the homeowners who are committed to reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions 15 percent by 2015. Johns Hopkins, the largest employer in the city, is taking steps to save money by reducing its own energy consumption. And it’s not the only one.
In an Earth Day press release, the school announced the installation of 2,908 solar panels on seven buildings. Panels on the school’s gym, the Mattin Center, and the Bloomberg School of Public health’s main building (among others) are projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.2 million pounds each year, and produce 34 households-worth of electricity. As of this morning, the panels have already saved 15,744 gallons of gas, according to this cool live-streaming control panel.
If you happened to spend Earth Day inside watching TV, you might have seen Baltimore showcased in the new episode of PBS’s Earth: The Operator’s Manual. The episode, “Energy Quest USA,” shone a spotlight on innovative ways that various communities are reducing energy consumption — and it was a very welcome spot of encouraging news amid the general gloominess that’s out there.
The program focused on BNEC, the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge, a grassroots effort that tried to bring energy-saving tips directly to city residents, using a neighbor-to-neighbor communication network. In other words, BNEC neighborhood captains not only set up booths at block parties, they also went door-to-door, handing out energy-efficient light bulbs and even inviting themselves inside homes to give hands-on demonstrations of energy-saving tips. The program capitalizes on the idea that “knowledge about energy savings is contagious,” in the words of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Taking a cue from other cities, BNEC also made saving energy into a competition between neighborhoods — and were surprised to see who ended up winning.
Los Angeles residents follow Fallen Fruit’s maps to find fruit trees on public property. Over on the other coast, the Boston Tree Party is celebrating the spirit of “civic fruit” by planting heirloom apple trees in public spaces. And now we’ve got our very own orchard activists launching all sorts of fruit-centric projects around town this spring: the Baltimore Orchard Project.
Founded by a group of movers and shakers from the local sustainability and food scenes, BOP has two main projects: to glean fruit from public places and distribute it to those in need; and to partner with individuals and organizations to plant trees, orchards, berry bushes, and grapevines to make sure Baltimore only gets fruitier.
Roll up your sleeves and grab your wooden mallets — April marks the official beginning of crab season. And supply and demand of the Maryland blue crab is expected to rise if Maryland fisheries earn Marine Stewardship Council certification.
The Council awards its stamp of approval when fisheries’ total catches are at “levels that ensure fish populations and the ecosystems on which they depend remain healthy and productive for today’s and future generations’ needs.”
Maryland started serious sustainability reforms in 2008 when the crab population was dangerously declining. Among those reforms were limiting the number of crabs harvested, limiting the harvest season, and freezing certain Limited Crab Harvester (LCC) commercial licenses.
People find Maryland crabs especially tasty and people find restaurants that serve sustainable food especially savory. Certification could be a win-win.
“America’s cities are the economic engines of the country and a driving source of optimism,” proclaims the Future Metropolis Index, a recent study that looked at American cities’ potential for future growth thanks to smart urban planning and sustainable development. But, of course, not all cities are created equally when it comes to optimism.
The study’s researchers looked at five characteristics — innovation, sustainability, vibrancy/creativity, efficiency, and livability/optimism. Unsurprisingly, San Francisco came out on top. (Clearly they didn’t adjust for affordability…) Tied for second were Seattle and DC. Baltimore ranked 20th out of the 36 cities, just a little bit less futuristic than Chicago but more than Dallas. (Last place, as always, goes to poor Detroit.)
The sad news is, Baltimore isn’t much better than Detroit, at least when it comes to what the study calls “livability and optimism.” Out of a possible 100 points, Detroit got 0. El Paso, Texas got 85. And Baltimore got 12. That’s the second-lowest in the entire country. This is mostly because of the metrics the study used — rates of unemployment, violent crime, and property crime — aren’t our city’s strong point. Still, it’s hard not to look at the other numbers and wonder if there’s a way we could do things better. After all, despite the good news around town, certain neighborhoods in Baltimore are scary places to grow up in. Our scores in the innovation and efficiency categories were quite high; if all our other numbers had measured up to these levels, we would be a top-ten city. But we don’t get to pick and choose which neighborhoods are “count” — for better or worse, we’re all in this together.
This jibes with the study’s findings that Americans are more likely to be optimistic about job prospects and economic growth than a decline in violent crime. Basically, things will get better for some of us… and more violent for everyone else. But as the numbers indicate, Baltimore can’t just focus on bolstering our higher-ed sectors and adding more free wifi spots if we hope to truly be a city of the future. Doing so will mean taking a hard look at where our city stands today — even the hard-to-look-at parts. And making plans to bring all of Baltimore into the future — not just the shiny, happy neighborhoods.
Get ready Top Chef fans and Food Network fanatics. On March 16th Baltimore Green Works will be hosting its fourth annual EcoBall, a culinary competition between the Stratford University Culinary students (formerly Baltimore International College). As we speak — or read — students are perfecting their cuisine to present at the Frederick Douglas-Isaac Meyers Maritime Park & Museum. At $75 for admission, you are pretty much guaranteed delicious and highly creative plates of food, plus a chance to vote for your favorite team of cooks. It’s all very Top Chef-esque. If you haven’t seen the television show, I highly recommend it. EcoBall sounds like the next best thing for us “regular” folks.
Each team usually consists of an upperclassman paired with a freshman. Each team is then assigned a category: soups and appetizers, salads, entrees, or desserts. The competing students will use locally grown ingredients and seasonal spices to construct their unique dishes. It’s Green Works’ way of trying to get more people interested in sustainability and supporting our local farms.
Does the rule of waiting 30 minutes after eating before swimming apply to waiting before dancing, too? Because there will be live music at the event. Donations go to the “Sustainability Speaker Series,” which helps Baltimore Green Works fund more eco-friendly events. I hope to finagle a ticket to EcoBall from a family member, with the excuse that “It’s my birthday,” as my post-college finances are not at all “sustainable.”
Last year’s EcoBall judges included Hugh Sisson from the Clipper City Brewing Company, Michael Fiore of Fiore Winery, Sascha Wolhandler of Sascha’s Restaurant, former BIC student Kevin Miller, and Mix 106.5’s Reagan. No word yet on this year’s judges. According to a CityPaper reporter last year, the sample dish presented to him in practice before the actual event was negatively critiqued by an attending professor for using powdered rather than fresh ginger and having too-plump phyllo dough. The taste was amazing, though. Another bonus — reserve tickets before Valentine’s Day, it’s two for the price of one.
Baltimore is seeing an influx of aquaponic operations large and small, and that means more tilapia, more prawns, and more locally grown produce. Aquaponics is a sustainable farming practice that uses fish waste to fertilize produce, and it’s one that the Baltimore Free Farm, Farmer Tom’s, the Cylburn Arboretum, and individual Meir Lazar are giving a whirl.
Some farmers are turning to aquaponics as a way to keep their operations profitable. Others, like Lazar, are primarily interested in the role it might play in sustainable urban subsistence farming. The Cylburn Arboretum plans to sell its aquaponic yields in neighborhoods where fresh, local foods are otherwise unavailable.
California usually gets to claim innovator status for all things foodie — which makes it doubly satisfying that the West Coasters were taking notes when Baltimore representatives spoke at the recent Community Food Security Coalition in Oakland. “[City programs] show how an active, involved city government and willingness to try new ideas can change the urban food landscape for the better,” writes Vanessa Barrington in Grist, the popular environmental news site.
The programs in question are part of the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, a collaboration between several city departments. One program rents 20 publicly owned vacant lots to farmers for $100, and also provides start-up capital. Another program — Virtual Supermarket — targets “food deserts,” or neighborhoods with no access to fresh food. (According to Johns Hopkins’s Center for a Livable Future, as much as 18 percent of the city qualifies.) The Virtual Supermarket allows users to place orders on library computers, then get food delivered to the library as well.
Baltimore is even one of the first cities in the country to employ a full-time Food Policy Director. Here’s hoping she keeps the innovative ideas coming!