Saturday, April 27, 2013

Starting the Seedlings

A handful of people from our Sunflower+ Project Team headed out to The Farm at Kraut Run this afternoon to start preparing seedlings for our Land Lab Project,

We mixed up a combination of sifted compost, lime, soil, vermiculite then added water and mixed again. This thick, muddy conglomeration is then stamped into 1-1/2" square blocks with a small depression for the seeds.

Once the seeds are planted some of the dry soil mix is sprinkled over the seeds. The growth will emerge from the soil in about a week and we'll have 1500 sunflower seedlings ready to plant by the 17th of May.

This method of starting seedlings does not require plastic cups. It is a good experience for a city guy, like myself, to get his hands dirty and come closer to understanding some of the best practices for low impact farming.

More pix later.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Do the Math

Do the Math: The Movie
Bill McKibben spoke at Washington University last fall. For those of you that may have missed it here is a new film from his organization: . It is not the sunny side of going green; it is about CO2 levels and more.

Cycling in St. Louis

I took the old road bike out today and rode 30 miles around the city this afternoon. Here is an image of the route:

Here is a link to the Bike St. Louis Interactive Map as well as a screen shot:

Also, check out the trailnet website for up to date info on cycling and planning for the region

Finally, here are some bike safety tips to get you going:

  1. Obey traffic signs and signals - Bicycles must follow the rules of the road like other vehicles.
  2. Never ride against traffic - Motorists aren't looking for bicyclists riding on the wrong side of the road. State law and common sense require that bicyclists drive like other vehicles.
  3. Follow lane markings - Don't turn left from the right lane. Don't go straight in a lane marked “right-turn only.”
  4. Don’t pass on the right - Motorists may not look for or see a bicycle passing on the right.
  5. Scan the road behind you - Learn to look back over your shoulder without losing your balance or swerving. Some riders use rear-view mirrors.
  6. Keep both hands ready to brake - You may not stop in time if you brake one-handed. Allow extra distance for stopping in the rain, since brakes are less efficient when wet.
  7. Wear a helmet and never ride with headphones - Always wear a helmet. Never wear a headphone while riding a bike.
  8. Dress for the weather - In rain wear a poncho or waterproof suit. Dress in layers so you can adjust to temperature changes. Wear bright colored clothing.
  9. Use hand signals - Hand signals tell motorists and pedestrians what you intend to do. Signal as a matter of law, of courtesy, and of self-protection.
  10. Ride in the middle of the lane in slower traffic - Get in the middle of the lane at busy intersections and whenever you are moving at the same speed as traffic.
  11. Choose the best way to turn left – There are two choices: (1) Like an auto: signal to move into the left turn lane and then turn left. (2) Like a pedestrian: ride straight to the far side crosswalk. Walk your bike across.
  12. Make eye contact with drivers - Assume that other drivers don't see you until you are sure that they do. Eye contact is important with any driver which might pose a threat to your safety.
  13. Look out for road hazards - Watch out for parallel-slat sewer grates, gravel, ice, sand or debris. Cross railroad tracks at right angles.
  14. Use lights at night - The law requires a white headlight (visible from at least 500 feet ahead) and a rear reflector or taillight (visible up to 300 feet from behind).
  15. Keep your bike in good repair - Adjust your bike to fit you and keep it working properly. Check brakes and tires regularly. Routine maintenance is simple and you can learn to do it yourself.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Earth Day in Music

A couple of favorites from my eclectic collection:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Anton Chekhov on Constructing a Life

Here is a letter from Chekhov to his brother, Nickolay from 1886.

Letter from Anton Chekhov 

To His Brother Nikolay.

Translated by Constance Garnett:
MOSCOW, 1886.

… You have often complained to me that people “don’t understand you”! Goethe and Newton did not complain of that…. Only Christ complained of it, but He was speaking of His doctrine and not of Himself…. People understand you perfectly well. And if you do not understand yourself, it is not their fault.
I assure you as a brother and as a friend I understand you and feel for you with all my heart. I know your good qualities as I know my five fingers; I value and deeply respect them. If you like, to prove that I understand you, I can enumerate those qualities. I think you are kind to the point of softness, magnanimous, unselfish, ready to share your last farthing; you have no envy nor hatred; you are simple-hearted, you pity men and beasts; you are trustful, without spite or guile, and do not remember evil…. You have a gift from above such as other people have not: you have talent. This talent places you above millions of men, for on earth only one out of two millions is an artist. Your talent sets you apart: if you were a toad or a tarantula, even then, people would respect you, for to talent all things are forgiven.
You have only one failing, and the falseness of your position, and your unhappiness and your catarrh of the bowels are all due to it. That is your utter lack of culture. Forgive me, please, but veritas magis amicitiae….You see, life has its conditions. In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent. Talent has brought you into such a circle, you belong to it, but … you are drawn away from it, and you vacillate between cultured people and the lodgers vis-a-vis.
Cultured people must, in my opinion, satisfy the following conditions:
1. They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.” They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.
2. They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for what the eye does not see…. They sit up at night in order to help P…., to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.
3. They respect the property of others, and therefor pay their debts.
4. They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.
5. They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false….
6. They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P., [Translator’s Note: Probably Palmin, a minor poet.] listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns…. If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted…. The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement…. Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.
7. If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women, wine, vanity…. They are proud of their talent…. Besides, they are fastidious.
8. They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct…. What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow … They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood…. They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion…. For they wantmens sana in corpore sano.
And so on. This is what cultured people are like. In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read “The Pickwick Papers” and learnt a monologue from “Faust.” …
What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study, will…. Every hour is precious for it…. Come to us, smash the vodka bottle, lie down and read…. Turgenev, if you like, whom you have not read.
You must drop your vanity, you are not a child … you will soon be thirty. It is time!
I expect you…. We all expect you.

Here is a link to the source.

One of my favorite short stories of all time is Chekhov's Peasants. It is as relevant today as ever. Here is a link to it online.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cubism, Then & Now

I've always loved cubist painting. It has been thought of as a revolutionary response to the development of photography, as a revolt from the academic salons then ruling the art world, and as an incredibly original and novel creation which set the art world on its 20th century path.

The still life work of Braques, Picasso and Gris is something I've always experienced as a profound elevation of the accouterments of everyday people. The flattening of the canvas imparts a new kind of realism by insisting on the actuality of the painting one is viewing.

Cubism is the  pictorial and sculptural construction of an alternate reality. One that, to me, is very zen-like in its integration of space and object.

It did not take long for these works to become sought after collectors items, but that is not how they started out. Check out this piece in the NY Times about a well-to-do collectors promised donation to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some of these works define the genre, and so they can be viewed, on a regular basis, by the rest of us.

Here are a few images from the collection soon to be at The Met:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sustainable Land Lab Winners Announced

Here is the press release announcing the winners of  the Sustainable Land Lab Competition, put out by Washington U.  The team I co-lead with Don Koster (The Sunflower+ Project StL) is among the winners! Two other teams also supported by Missouri Botanical Garden Staff are also among the winners.

We look forward to executing our project in May and June and working the land for a few years. We have a great team - more about them later and when we get our project web site up and running. In the meantime check out the many cool ideas that will move the sustainability discussion forward.

Land Lab winners advancing sustainability in St. Louis
April 11, 2013

By Neil Schoenherr

The City of St. Louis is poised to lead the way in innovative solutions to the national urban issue of vacant land, thanks to a unique partnership between the city and Washington University.

Four of the City’s vacant lots will be the new home for five demonstration projects that test new ways to think of vacant space. From a franchise-model urban farm co-existing next to an intimate bistro built out of re-used shipping containers, to a sunflower lab piloting efficiency of plant-based soil remediation, Old North St. Louis will be the first home to what will truly be a Sustainable Land Lab.

Winners of the inaugural Sustainable Land Lab Competition are:

•Bistro Box and Our Farm: The Bistro Box concept is a small business incubator that transforms surplus cargo containers into a compact restaurant and culinary destination. Our Farm is a scalable urban agriculture network that proposes to transform blighted lots into cost efficient models of sustainability. **This is a hybrid of two finalist teams sharing a single lot due to the synergy between the two projects**

•Chess Pocket Park: An outdoor community chess venue for residents with a permanent location supporting our primary community asset – people.

•Mighty Mississippians: A modern agricultural and sustainable living model, the premises for this approach are rooted in regional history, the Mississippians and their ancestors, as well as modern permaculture practices. Using concepts of permaculture, the site will demonstrate the interdependent relationships that work efficiently and sustainably in nature and that worked for previous civilizations, from the soil to the birds, to humans.

•Sunflower+ Project: Proposes turning previously developed urban lots into a community asset through the planting of sunflowers. With a goal of eventually spurring redevelopment of these vacant parcels, the project will serve as an appropriate, scalable and productive transitional solution.The sunflowers will improve soil quality, remove soil contaminants, and eventually produce a marketable set of products from flowers to seeds to biodiesel.

Each winning project will receive a two-year land lease and $5,000 seed money to start their project. 

In the inaugural year of this city-wide competition, the pilot sites will be hosted in Old North St. Louis.

“The Sustainable Land Lab Competition is exploring innovative ideas for a national issue,” says Phil Valko, director of sustainability at the university.
“From urban to suburban to rural communities, vacant land is an American epidemic. This competition is adding to the dialogue and the body of problem solving,” he says. “The aspect that makes it especially unique is that the winners will actually win land and money to build their idea. The partnership between the city and Washington University in St. Louis is of great benefit to both. It leverages the university’s role as a thought-leader and research institution to channel creative thinking to a major challenge the city faces.”

The competition timing aligns well with the release of the first City of St. Louis Sustainability Plan.

“Advancing tangible and measurable sustainability has been an important goal of this project,” says Catherine Werner, sustainability director for the City of St. Louis. “Part of the challenge was for the teams to specifically address how their projects will help achieve the city’s sustainability goals. It’s very exciting to now have the opportunity to watch as creative sustainability ideas become reality.”

“I am thrilled that we have been able to partner with Washington University on this project,” St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says. “There was an overwhelming amount of interest and support from the community and the result was a high level of energy and an impressive array of final project ideas. It was difficult to select just a few winning projects. I look forward to celebrating the winning projects and using ideas from all the projects involved to address vacant land use in the city.”

The winning teams will present their ideas during a public forum at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Bridge, 1004 Locust St. in St. Louis.

Forty-eight teams applied in the first of a three-round competition. The final round consisted of eight ideas representing 10 of the original teams.

All of the submissions can be found online at
The competition brief, which outlines the goals and context for this initiative, can be found online at

The Sustainable Land Lab is a partnership between Washington University and the City of St. Louis, with support from Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, Equifax and the Regional Housing and Community Development Alliance.

It is the ongoing legacy of Washington University’s three-day Sustainable Cities Conference, held Nov. 1-3, 2012.The Sustainable Land Lab is designed to be a living laboratory of two-year demonstration projects, which will showcase innovative ideas and integrated strategies for transforming one of the region’s greatest challenges — vacant land — into an asset that can advance sustainability.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Upcoming Opportunities with Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis

Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis is seeking volunteers for this weekend! If you have not volunteered before all you need is one orientation class and then hit the build site and help!

From their web site:

Individual volunteer construction opportunities are available on weekdays and Saturdays throughout the build season. Individuals may register online by using the directions listed here for Saturdays and Blitz Days. We schedule on a first respond, first schedule basis. All volunteers must be at least 16 years of age and are required to fill out a waiver of liability for each calendar year they volunteer.
If you decide you would like to become involved with HFHSL by volunteering on our build site, we ask that you attend Volunteer Orientation. You only need to attend orientation one time, no matter how many years you volunteer. Group leaders are invited to attend and gather information to share with group members prior to their build day.
All orientations are held at our Administrative Office, 3763 Forest Park Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108. Please park along the street at the meters and NOT in the ReStore parking lot adjacent to the building. Bring change with you in order to feed the meters (when possible, HFHSL will try to pay for the meters).

Here is the announcement about this weekend:

April 10, 2013
We need your help! Our construction crews are in need of more volunteers to help build this Saturday, April 13th and next Saturday, April 20th. If you've attended orientation and haven't gotten out for that first build day yet or if you are an old pro, please check your calendars and consider coming out to volunteer! Each and every volunteer day you are helping to make a difference in the lives of the partner families. Sounds like a good thing to do on a Saturday, don't you think? Help change the life of a St. Louis family!
Volunteers can sign up online at
Haven't attended orientation but still want to help? Consider joining us for volunteer orientation this weekend and then volunteer on site next weekend! Volunteer orientation is this Saturday from 9am - 11am. Visit the volunteer orientation page on our website to learn more and for the link to sign up.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Back to Kraut Run - Field & Barn

Today I went back to the Farm at Kraut Run to take a few pix of the barn and some rows of spring crops emerging. Here is a link to their Facebook page - I hear they have a few more subscription spots available.

seedling block cutter
spring onions
fresh compost
farmer chris
no luck required

above and below - great barn geometry

there is a lot going on here - field of greens

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Missouri's Environmental Statistics

Check out for a blog dedicated to providing information on Missouri's Environmental Statistics. Add this too your blog roll. Make a note to check this out every week and keep current with information you can learn from, use, share and understand.

I've worked on related projects with the blog author and know him to be a hard working man with integrity, intellectual clarity and patience.

Here is an excerpt from his about this blog page:

Mogreenstats focuses on environmental statistics and reports for the State of Missouri. I don’t focus on environmental news, advocacy, or projects. Other websites already do that, and they do it well. Rather, I find what I believe are authoritative studies and reports. I summarize the main conclusions, provide a couple of graphs that describe some of the more important findings, and link to the primary sources. I also provide a little “back of the envelope” analysis to provide context.
There are lots of ways to read the blog. You can read the last 10 posts on the blog’s home page, most recent at the top. You can search for specific content using the search function. You can read posts by category by clicking on the category name at the top of the page. You can see a list of all posts by clicking on “List of all posts” on the left side of the home page. And finally, you can browse previous posts by month by clicking on the Archive menu, which is on the left side of the home page.
The thumbnails of the graphs are a little small when viewed embedded in a post. To see the full sized image, click on the graph. When you’re done looking at the graph, use your browsers “back” function to return to the post.
My name is John May. I’m a retired psychologist. For four years I had the privilege of leading the City of Creve Coeur’s efforts to conduct a GHG inventory and develop a climate action plan, and I’ve also been involved with a number of other municipal GHG inventories/climate action plans in one way or another.
Several years ago, I prepared a series of white papers on the environment in Missouri for a political candidate. The greatest challenge I faced was finding authoritative data and putting it in a context that made it meaningful; the data is widely dispersed, I didn’t know if it existed, and I spent hours looking for it, digging through confusing websites. Mogreenstats is an attempt to make finding that sort of data a little bit easier.
I focus on reports posted by government bodies (could be federal, state, or local). For the most part, these reports are public domain, which reduces copyright issues. I will also include information from some studies that are published in peer reviewed journals. I will consider reports from nonprofit think tanks on a case-by-case basis, but only if they are also published in a peer reviewed journal. There is no such thing as completely objective or authoritative information, but this seems to me about as close as one can come.

Sustainable Land Lab Public Event