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News and views for urban farmers.

This exercise machine also generates electricityPedal to the Mettle
A 30-minute workout on an elliptical exercise machine can burn up to 310 calories and—if you’re using a machine retrofitted to generate electricity—can power a laptop for one hour or a compact fluorescent light bulb for two-and-a-half hours. University of Oregon, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and James Madison University are among the most recent institutions to work with Renewable Revolution, a company that retrofits Precor elliptical machines to produce electricity. These universities join other places of higher education as well as fitness facilities that are creating energy as fitness buffs burn calories.

According to Renewable Revolution, its ReCardio system reroutes the energy that is being emitted as a heat byproduct. Simply put, instead of this heat raising temperatures inside the facility and causing air-conditioning units to work harder, the heat energy is converted from DC power to AC power. Each machine’s controller box allows the free electricity created to provide energy to the building’s electrical system. Click here for more information »

urbanchickens.org talks everything chickenClickin’ & Cluckin’
Urban coop-keepers, unite! If you haven’t yet visited www.urbanchickens.org, do it. Join the forum to contribute to discussions about chicken coops, chicken ordinances and chicken care. Then click on “Urban Chickens Google Map” to find like-minded city chicken farmers around the world. Put your place on the map and let everyone know what’s happening on your block.

One user, Michael, comments, “We live in the city limits of Kalispell, Mont. We have seven chickens, nine bunnies, a raised-bed garden and lots of curious neighbors.”

UrbanChickens.org began as a local effort to educate people about urban chicken-keeping in 2007 and has become a way to connect and educate urban chicken-keepers worldwide. Founders K.T. LaBadie and Mark Scully live in Albuquerque, N.M., with four chickens—Gloria, Switters, Omelet and Buffy. Click here for more information »

Use DirectMail.com to take your name of the junk mailing listsStop the Insanity!
If you dread opening your mailbox not for the bills that await but for the junk mail that could bury you on the spot, it's time to stop it. The key, we're told, to halting the direct-marketing mail you receive is to get your name off of the mailing lists. That seems easy enough—until you consider there are thousands of companies that use direct-mail promotions.

According to DirectMail.com, these companies aren't out to make your recycling bin heavier—they actually want to put their product in front of the people who are most interested in it. If you happen to be one of those people who aren’t interested, visit www.directmail.com, and ask them to help get your name off of these myriad lists. By filling out your contact information and answering a series of questions about what—if any—mailing lists you'd like to be on, they'll keep unwanted mail out of your mail box. This way, you have less junk mail to sort, the companies get better-targeted mailing lists, your postal carrier saves his back, and the landfills win, too.

Now if only someone would develop a do-not-e-mail list! Click here for more information »

Build and use a rain barrelEmploying Mother Nature, One Drop at a Time
Sure, everyone knows it’s a good idea to conserve water and to collect rainwater for reuse. Not everyone has the inclination to build or knows where to purchase a rain barrel, though. Recognizing that sustainability needs to be a community effort, Sustain Dane in Dane County, Wis., began installing rain barrels at residences. By the end of 2008, community members had purchased more than 3,000 rain barrels and volunteered countless hours for rain-barrel installation and construction through the RainReserve Community Rain Barrel Program.

Connecting this many community households to rainwater collection and reuse is no small effort. The RainReserve Community Rain Barrel Program can be replicated in any community with interest from nonprofits, local government or other organizations. Since instituting the program, Dane County has reduced storm-water runoff and preserved the aquifer, built community awareness of water conservation and water-quality issues, and created revenue to support environmental efforts.

Sustain Dane supporters will work with other groups to bring the Rain Barrel Program to communities across the country. Interested? Contact Sustain Dane at 608-316-6844 or rainbarrel@sustaindane.org. Click here for more information »

Discuss growing food with your neighbors
Photo courtesy American Community Gardening Association

Growing Together
One major challenge to self-sustainability in the city is finding the space to grow your food. Living in a high-rise building often limits your green-space access, and while container gardening is an excellent option, there are only so many veggie varieties you can grow on an apartment balcony.

When your desire for homegrown foods has outgrown your container garden, take advantage of a yard-sharing opportunity. Get to know your neighbors, work toward a more sustainable community food system and get your hands dirty, all at the same time. Yard-sharing is becoming a popular option for city-dwellers and suburbanites alike, evidenced by the number of organizations now committed to the cause. Whether you have a yard to share or are looking for some room to grow your garden, the groups listed below can help you get started in your town.

Sharing Backyards
American Community Gardening Association
Portland Yard Sharing Project (Portland, Ore.)
GreenNet (Chicago, Ill.)
Denver Urban Gardens (Denver, Colo.)

SFGreasecycle turns waste oil into biodieselGrease Is the Word
Ever wonder what happens to the food waste that gets washed down your sink? San Francisco’s SFGreasecycle is answering this question in an unusual way. It’s turning waste oil into biodiesel. This “brown grease”—food wastes separated from waste water—will be used to produce three forms of alternative energy: biodiesel for vehicles, boiler fuel for running sewage-treatment-plant equipment and methane to power the treatment plant.

SFGreasecycle was developed in response to the damage that used cooking oil was doing to the city’s sewers. It costs San Francisco more than $3.5 million each year to unclog its sewer pipes, and in 2006, approximately seven sewer-service calls per day were attributed to grease-related blockages. Now, instead of being poured down the drain, this vegetable-oil waste is being collected from city restaurants at no charge to the restaurant operators, resulting in economic and environmental savings for everyone. Restaurants can sign-up at www.sfgreasecycle.org, and SFGreasecycle will pick up or collect the waste oil for free.

Residential used-oil disposal is an issue for the city’s sewer system, as well. The organization is reminding residents to collect their used cooking oil in a container, rather than pouring it down the drain. Throw the container in the trash or take it to an SFGreasecycle drop-off event to add to the city’s oil power.

The Coffee Creek Correctional Facility
Photo courtesy Coffee Creek Correctional Facility

Sowing Seeds of Change
Early spring 2009 brought growth in an unusual way to inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Ore. What started out as one seed of an idea sprouted from Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has become an organic garden that supplements the prison’s food supply, provides job training and education opportunities, and offers the resident women a positive, social activity.

The Oregon Department of Corrections, community partners, farmers and volunteers came together with seeds, soil testing, gardening supplies, and banks of time and knowledge to cultivate the Lettuce Grow Garden Foundation. It started as a project behind bars and is now involving a whole community, from a grade school growing tomato starts for the garden to A & L Laboratories, which provides soil testing.

With budget cuts across the board in state governments, the garden harvest is supplementing diets as well as reducing costs in the kitchen. In a system where residents, in general, face mounting health concerns, the nutritional benefits start with fresh fruits and vegetables at meals but branch out into an increased knowledge of the role these foods play in optimum health.

Excited about the impact their program has had within the walls of their prison, the Coffee Creek gardeners have a Lettuce Grow Garden Foundation website so others can learn from them and perhaps even start their own program. At www.lettucegrow.org, you can read about their progress, challenges and milestones as the gardening program grows. Click here for more information »

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