A season with Early Morning Farm’s CSA

An early season share. Bok choy, strawberries, lettuce, hakurei turnips and a bunch more.

An early season share. Bok choy, strawberries, lettuce, hakurei turnips and a bunch more.

Last night I stopped by my local drop point and picked up our final three-quarter bushel box of vegetables from Early Morning Farm (EMF). A farm share is an investment, but this definitely turned out worth it.

If you're not familiar with farm shares, here's the deal. You sign up for the season, and you pay for however long the farm thinks they'll have veggies, in this case, 23 weeks. EMF had two size options coming into the season, and there was a full-season share (June to November) or an academic season share (beginning in August).

For us, getting a larger share (I eat a lot, though this would definitely have fed a family of five with normal, and we have lots of root veggies and squash left) for the full season wound up costing about $27 a week (compare that to your weekly grocery bill if all your fruits and veggies are organic). You do, of course, take some risk. Once you've bought into the system, you've bought into the system, and if there's a flood or drought, you're not getting much in the way of veggies.

Daikon radish

Daikon radish vs. arm

We got a lot of new-to-us veggies we'd never tried before. My favorites were hakurei turnips and sunchokes. Both are crispy when eaten raw, and sunchokes get really sweet when cooked.

We got several different kinds of kale during the season, along with other greens like mizuna, dandelion and mustard greens, napa cabbage, and they managed to have tomatoes a lot longer than some other farms, since their high tunnels managed to hold off the blight that hit this year.

In addition to getting to try new-to-me foods and stretch a bit with recipes, the farm itself was exactly the right fit for someone like me. Their Facebook page was alive right from planting season – they post a photo a day during the week from planting right on through to harvest – they post recipes on their blog, and they're always in touch by email to let us know what we can expect in the box, which gives you meal planners out there the opportunity to schedule your ideas out a few days.

As for pickup, they deliver to a location about a half mile from me. There are lots of drop points, and what day you get your veggies depends on what area you live in. They also invited members to an open house (we didn't make the trip; turns out they're a hike on a night when I was working).

Definitely something I'd recommend you try.

When did DIY become a thing?

I was out in the backyard folding some tarps and looking at our (once again) overgrown lawn when I had this thought. When did DIY become a thing? Didn't it used to be that most projects were DIY?

This is the time of year for reflection for those of us ascribing to the Jewish calendar. The new year has begun and we're in the 10 days of reflection between the start of the lunar year and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, when we look back on the past year, seeking opportunities for improvement over the coming year.

Reflecting on the past couple of months alone, I'm seeing some leaps in my life I never thought I'd take, and upon further reflection, it seems ridiculous that those are big leaps.

For example: I bought a couple of door slabs and hung them myself. It took some time and a second person to help out, but would I have been better off spending $100 per door to have someone else hang them? Certainly not. (For comparison, an interior door slab costs $30-$60, depending on what, if anything, needs to be cut.)

Also: I called AAA to come help me out with a flat tire. By the time they got there, I already had the doughnut on. I'd never changed a tire before, but then, I'd never tried. Why not? I dunno. Scared, maybe? It's a 10-minute job, once you figure out how the jack works.

And: Remember when we hired a company to find our lawn? They did an amazing job. But then we just went and neglected the lawn again, so it got overgrown. Rather than write another $81 check to them, I spent $91 (including tax) and bought my own weed whacker. It took longer than Yardsmith did (apparently they don't make those batteries for hours of continuous use, so I had to stop after about 30 minutes and charge it for a few hours), and sure it's not perfect, but mission accomplished on the lawn.

But back to my original question. When did DIY become a thing? When did it start being normal for us to hire out for virtually everything? I understand some of it. I'd want someone with specialized knowledge to repair my roof and look at my electricity. And I see the benefit of buying stuff instead of making everything for your wedding (check out all the stuff Ting and Ashlea made at their wedding – it was amazing, but damn it was a lot of work). Why is my first thought always, "Who can I hire to do this for me?" instead of, "Which pliers will help me get the job done?"

We've become such a service-based economy that for a lot of us, we don't know how to do some basic work on our homes or vehicles with our own hands.

Next up: I might just learn how to change my own oil.

The future of human-susatainable design

If you've spent 35 minutes driving three-quarters of a mile along Bridge Street in Syracuse the past 18 months, you've probably found yourself just putting your car in park on a 4-lane road to save yourself the over $4-a-gallon gas. From what I understand, it really has been a bad scene over there. I say "from what I understand," because, despite its convenience to work, I just won't take that route unless I'm certain there's no traffic.

One of the things I have noticed going in as part of that larger project is sidewalks. And I just can't be mad at any project that adds sidewalks to a commercial area, especially a commercial area near residential areas, and especially a commercial area with lots of parking lots.

Sidewalks mean that if you live nearby, you can walk safely, rather than on the shoulder of a 45-mph road. They also mean that if you want to drop your car off at the tire shop and then walk to the jewelry store, you don't risk your life walking on the street or across parking lots.

But sidewalks are just one small step in the race for sustainability and human-centric design. If you hate sprawl and the headache of traffic and the inability to get good sunlight in your apartment and can't believe we're going to fit the population of the U.S. into one small city in China, watch this:

There are some really cool things in there. Foldable cars? Holy hotness. There are also some things that start to feel a little dystopic to me. Those moving-wall, re-configurable apartments? Where do the people who live in those places keep their guitar? Or the title to their car? Or a few extra rolls of toilet paper? Well at least, they have all the high-tech, eco-friendly appliances and even the best composting toilet if they wanted to, guitars are quite yesterday.

The bigger thing to me, though, is the concept of the walkable village. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know it's a big thing for me. It hit home when Joel Kidder was killed leaving a bookstore in December 2009. Seriously? We can't find a way to let people cross busy streets safely so they can have a sandwich and then go to the bookstore?

Unless gas hits $5 a gallon and it's a gorgeous day, I probably won't ever walk to work – it's only about 3.5 miles, but there are almost no sidewalks. Good morning, sir, would you like an impact with an SUV going 40 miles per hour with your coffee and morning walk?

I have a grocery store about a mile away. It's in a commercial area called Towne Center, named, I'm guessing, because it was meant to mimic a town center, where you could go and get anything you want. There's the grocery store, a department store, a variety of restaurants, a jewelry store, a coffee shop, a bank, a drug store, a liquor store, a video game store, a furniture store, a crafts store, and a YMCA, and that's just off the top of my head.

What it's missing from the town center feel is a feeling of park-and-walk safety.

First, like I said, this place is less than a mile from my house; the safest walk has me going through some woods, which surround some wetlands, which means that after times of heavy rain or most of the winter, it's not a passable route. The other walk is along the narrow shoulder of a 4-lane, 45-mph road with turn lanes. It's primarily terrifying.

Once you're there, though, the shops are clustered. So you can safely get from the grocery store to a couple of the restaurants, the department store and a few other shops, but be careful trying to get to the drug store or bank, because you're pretty much on your own running across the parking lot. Yep, been there, done that, too.

I just don't get why we don't take non-vehicle traffic into consideration. When are we going to stop designing for businesses, and start designing for the humans who might patronize them?

Get Discounted Tickets to Buy Local Bash

The Buy Local Bash is coming up on Monday of next week – that's November 21 – after work at Benjamin's on Franklin (it used to be Ohm for those of you who have been here a few years; Styleen's Rhythm Palace for those who have been here a few more).

The event kicks off this year's Shift Your Shopping campaign, which aims to get you to think about shopping local for your holiday gifts. Buy Local week begins on Black Friday and continues throughout the following week at participating locally owned retailers.

Tickets for the event are $20, and include wine and beer from vendors, as well as some food.

It's a great party.

And here's how you can pay $15 for your tickets instead of $20.

- Like Benjamin's on Franklin's Facebook page.
- Mention the Buy Local Bash on the wall.

Pretty easy, huh? It'd be pretty cool if you'd like Syracuse First, too, since they are the organization putting on the event.

See you Monday!

Why I’m working with the Future Fund

Most of us will never be philanthropists on the scale of Bill and Melinda Gates. The foundation model – one in which one huge donation gets an endowment together and the interest pays out grants (while the foundation continues to solicit donations to add to the endowment) – is changing, Katherine Fulton explains in her 2007 TED talk.

Enter the Future Fund, an affiliate fund of the Central New York Community Foundation (CNYCF).

One of the things the Community Foundation has done through the years is help people set up personal "funds" – when you see a memorials scholarship fund, or something like that, it starts with a $5,000 check and the CNYCF's 501(c)(3). But who among the young professionals out there – here, in the Syracuse area – is writing a $5,000 check to get something amazing started?

Not many people. So the CNYCF came up with this idea: Let's find 50 young people to donate $100, and that'll be good for a $5,000 grant every year to a local non-profit.

This group of young professionals first nominates a "cause category," such as nutrition or mentoring, then sends out a request for proposals (RFP). A committee narrows the field down to a dozen or so, and then everybody who donated (we call them members) gets to vet the semifinalists, narrowing the field down to three.

Site visits are set up for the three finalists; all members may attend, and then a final vote is held.

For the 2010-2011 grant season, the topic was nutrition, and we awarded Syracuse Grows $5,000 to help them with urban gardening throughout the city.

The Future Fund is an amazing group of people. I'd encourage you to come meet some of them October 13 at the kickoff event at Montage.

Here is the first email of the season, so you can get a feel for what we do.

Greetings, Future Fund Members!

Welcome to the 2011-2012 Future Fund grant-making season. We're extremely proud of what we've done over the past few years and can't wait to get moving on the new year!

Over the past few years, you – our members – have helped make Central New York an amazing place by funding programs that provide, among other things, youth mentoring, financial literacy, workforce development, and, most recently, nutrition and wellness. With that nutrition and wellness grant, we supported Syracuse Grows, which has graciously invited us to their Harvest Dinner, a potluck event, on Sept. 25 from 3:30-5:30pm at the Southwest Community Farm, 100 Bellevue Ave., Syracuse. If you plan to go, RSVP to syracusegrows@gmail.com.

Save the date! Our annual kickoff event is coming up Thursday, October 13 at 5:30pm. This is for members, families, friends, colleagues, and random strangers you think will enjoy a night of free hors d'oeuvres (and a cash bar). Keep an eye on your inbox in the coming weeks for the details.

Worth Watching: TED Fellow Katherine Fulton discusses the future of philanthropy. It's a 12-minute lecture on the changing model of philanthropy – the future will not be the Bill Gateses and George Soroses of the world, it will be people like us. If you come across other interesting stories of philanthropy, send them to us at futurefundcny@gmail.com.

Happy giving!
The Future Fund Steering Committee

The Future Fund of Central New York
c/o Central New York Community Foundation
431 East Fayette Street
Suite 100
Syracuse, NY 13202
Tel: 315-422-9538

Access to capabilities, energy use and cities

I own a drill. I've used it to mount a stereo and iPod charger below a kitchen cabinet.

I also own a circular saw, which came with the best electric chainsaw I ever had, I always though they were no good. It came with the drill. I've never used it.

I have a lot of other tools that I do use, though some of them (like my chainsaw and my ax) are going to see very limited use throughout their lives.

It's an example of waste that Alex Steffen uses in that TED talk above. Most homeowners, he says, have a drill. The average drill sees between 6 and 20 minutes of use in its lifetime. There are maybe a dozen houses on my block. Over the next 25 years or so, we'll use a little over an hour of drilling time. Why do we own 12 drills?

I live 3.4 miles from work; that's less than an hour's walk. Eyeballing it, I'd say there's a little under a half-mile of sidewalk. Do I walk to work? Nope. I could use a little safety.

I live about a mile from a grocery store. I go often, since I tend to eat fresh foods that only last a day or two in the fridge. There are no sidewalks, and just about the entire trip is on a 40-mph road. I don't walk there, either.

In the next 30-40 years, Steffen estimates, some 8 billion people will live close to cities. We need to be smarter with how we build them. We also need to be smarter about how we choose where we live, and our use of energy, and our sharing (see also, drills).

Learn something. Build something. Create something. Advance us, don't just make more of us.

American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure

Yesterday, a few of us from Civic Engagement volunteered at the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure. Diabetes isn't one of my primary causes, but my employer is a national sponsor, so I had easy access to the organizers.

This is a really great event. Rather than a "simple" run or walk or ride, it's five rides – a 100-miler, a 62.5-miler, a 40-miler, a 25-miler and a 15-miler. It requires volunteers at many stages and a whole lot of planning.

From our perspective, it went as smoothly as we could imagine. We got bad directions to the rest stop we were supposed to run, but got there and set up before the first riders came in. We were missing some supplies, but our radio operator (yes, they have someone operating short-wave radios at each stop, in trail vehicles and at the home base) managed to get in touch with home base to get us the stuff we needed in time.

I didn't look up the numbers (the amount raised or the number of people involved), but it was impressive. If you're looking for a way to get involved, I highly recommend the event.

Dey Centennial Plaza

I got a tour recently of the Dey Centennial Plaza. It's a group of buildings at the corner of Salina and Jefferson streets in downtown Syracuse.

While the residential units are nice – hardwood floors, marble counters, lots of space, and nice appliances (stainless faucets, electric stoves and refrigerators; some of the units have wine refrigerators and all of them have washer/dryers) – residents pay a little extra for the building security and good parking (the single bedroom units run between $950 and $1200, while the two-bedroom units are in the $1600 range).

The thing I'm excited about, though, is a local market coming to downtown.

It's going to be a 12,500-square foot grocery (much bigger than C.L. Evers, its downtown competition), and all the food is going to come from within 70 miles of Syracuse. There will be garage parking with the first hour free, and the store will be open until 8 p.m., so people shopping after work will have a place to go.

The plaza is a series of five formerly vacant buildings that are quite old. The developers have a great vision for it, and seem to be excited to be helping to shape downtown (the tour was given by Paramount Realty, which closed on the building near the end of 2009).

Visions of Utopia: Experiments in Sustainable Culture

This comes to me from The Alchemical Nursery.


"Ordinary people with extraordinary visions tell their stories of living and working together to build a better world"
                —Visions of Utopia

Come together at the Westcott Community Center during the Westcott Bulb Project Garden Extravaganza Saturday, October 2 at 11 a.m. to view this award winning documentary (The Communal Studies Association's Outstanding Project Award)and take part in a panel discussion with communitarians from around Syracuse (including Bread and Roses House, Common Place Land Trust, and the New Environment Association).

» Flyer (PDF)
» Press Release
» Discuss & RSVP

"Visions of Utopia" (94 min.) is a great way to experience a sampling of community life "up close." You can see and hear community members tell their stories in their own words.

Part One includes: Profiles of seven diverse communities. Exploration of the "glue" that holds communities together. Honest revelations about what is working and what is not. A brief history of 2500 years of shared living.

The communities featured in Part One are as follows: Ananda Village (Nevada City CA) Breitenbush Hot Springs (Detroit OR) Camphill Special School (Glenmoore PA) Earthaven (Black Mountain NC) Nyland Glossary Link Cohousing (Lafayette CO) Purple Rose (San Francisco CA) Twin Oaks (Louisa VA)

This event is part of the Westcott Garden Extravaganza which includes: Free flower bulbs (for Westcott residents), view our award-winning film, purchase fresh vegetables, flowers and handspun yarn from Daily Harvest Farm's Farmers marketwww.dailyharvestfarm.com, enjoy live music by Larry Hoyt and Friends; buy handwoven baskets from Ghana ideal for organizing your garden tools or harvesting the fruits of your labor, from Bluetree Studios, purchase a pumpkin for your child, hyacinth and allium bulbs, earth-sourced jewelry and note cards from Songs of Earth and support the WCC Kid's Club bake and perennial plant sale/fundraiser.

Farmshed CNY

I had a chance last week to meet with Neil Brody Miller to talk about his new project, Farmshed CNY.

Farmshed is an iPhone app (I'm hoping there's an Android app in the future) that lets you see nearby farms, farmers markets and locally-owned restaurants. The download times are getting faster (it's a fairly large database), and Neil clued me in on a few upcoming changes, including organizing everything by distance (it's currently alphabetical) and further organizing what farms do (meat? veggies? organic?).

Neil met me at Strong Hearts, and we chatted a bit about our backgrounds. He's an old (70s-era) punk with an entrepreneurial mentality, great ideas, and a love for all the stuff that's going on here. He particularly mentioned Syracuse First and the guy who introduced us, Marty Butts of Small Potatoes.

Watch for more coming on Farmshed. If you're the iPhone sort, download the app (it's free, I'm sure you have seen it because its mobile app marketing is on point.). Here's a miniaturized version of the brochure: