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Cellar's market

A growing appetite for local food sends us back to our root cellars

root cellar st philips

Tucked in a grassy ridge cutting across the Small Family CSA Farm in La Farge, Wis., is a refrigerator so efficient it requires not a single watt of electricity, yet it can keep some crops chilly for months. It’s not some high-tech, Swedish-designed, solar-powered cooling unit. Just a good old-fashioned root cellar, kept cool through the summer months, and above freezing in the winter, by the soil surrounding it.

Shunning hulking and energy wasting refrigerated cold storage, Jillian and Adam Varney four years ago chose to build this two-room cellar for $10,000. Over time, like solar panels, it will pay for itself in savings – and in revenue for their small, organic farm. The hand-built produce closet, which includes a room kept extra cool with a small air-conditioner, allows them to extend their 220-member community-supported agriculture operation (CSA) into the winter months.

Root cellars are basically any storage area that operates on the earth's natural cooling, humidifying, and insulating properties. To work properly, a root cellar must stay between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and at 85 to 95 percent humidity. The cool temps slow the release of ethylene gas, halting decomposition. High humidity levels prevent evaporation loss, stopping your veggies from shriveling and withering.

Outmoded with the birth of the refrigerator and the 1950s kitchen, root cellars all but went underground, resurfacing briefly in the ’60s and with survivalists. Now, this tiny house movement for foodstuffs is experiencing a slow but certain renaissance as the local food movement gains momentum.

Read more: Food

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What kind of environmentalist are you? This time, you decide

What is the IPCC saying?
Shutterstock

A couple weeks ago, I put together a highly scientific questionnaire in order to dig into the depths of our readers’ environmental motivations and psyches.

Ha, no I didn’t. But I did ask a few silly questions and then mercilessly stereotype you all!

Putting the “What kind of environmentalist are you” quiz together felt like a fun experiment in the ways of the internet, because quizzes are internet crack -- and not just for BuzzFeed. The New York Times' most popular article of last year was a quiz (by a long shot). But I recognize that, to many people, I kind of missed the mark.

Part of the fun of taking a quiz is recognizing yourself in the results and poking fun at that. The way I saw it, half of the joke was mocking the fact that I even made a quiz -- and so most of the answers I provided weren't actually serious (raise your hand if you actually get around in self-driving cars or communicate with Occupy hand signals). So, probably no one fully recognized themselves in his or her result. But a lot of what I felt I was making fun of were the glimmers of myself I saw in each of the included parodies, and I hoped others could do the same.

Read more: Living

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for whom the label tolls

Can we have our sustainable seafood and eat it too?

fish
Tyler Parker

You know the feeling: You're standing in front of the seafood counter, running down the list of evils you might be supporting when you buy one of those gleaming filets. There’s overfishing, but also pollution from fish farming, not to mention bycatch, marine habitat destruction, illegal fishing … and that's before getting to the problem of seafood fraud, and the fact that 1 in 3 seafood samples in a massive study by Oceana was served under pseudonym.

Programs like Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch and the Safina Center’s Seafood Guide are helpful when it comes to sorting seafood’s angels from its demons, but only if you can be sure the red snapper you’re looking at is actually red snapper (hint: It probably isn't).

Meanwhile, third-party certification outfits -- the ones that slap their seal of approval on seafood that’s harvested responsibly -- are not without their flaws. In fact, the current demand for certified “sustainable” seafood is so high that it’s driving, you guessed it, overfishing. Someone get Poseidon in here because that, my friends, is what the Greeks called a "tragic flaw."

Still, these third-party groups may offer the best hope for ocean-loving fish eaters like myself, so it’s worth paying attention to how they operate. And while these certification programs are very much a work in progress, they’re getting better.

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Like father, like daughter

Liz Cheney scorns climate action just as much as her dad

Liz and Dick Cheney
Reuters/Ruffin Prevost | spirit of america

Darth Vader and his Sith apprentice -- a.k.a. Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz -- are totally in synch about climate change. Here's how they responded to a question on the topic during a conversation with Politico's Mike Allen on Monday:

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Guess which two words can make your nonpartisan education reforms a hot potato?

globe in hands
Podoc

Depending on who you're talking to, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)-- the first major national recommendations for teaching science to be made since 1996 -- either painfully water down the presentation of climate-change information or attempt to brainwash our nation's youth into believing climate change is real.

The backlash to the NGSS began last year, but now, we also have the backlash to the backlash -- an effort by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others, to frame science education as a civil rights issue and mobilize a grassroots movement around the idea of a Climate Students Bill of Rights. The idea is to ensure that the new standards actually wind up getting taught.

If you're the kind of person who likes geeking out over curricula, you'll find the NGSS's website fascinating. How do we teach climate change? It's such an awkward thing to explain to children, who have not caused the problem and have yet to have a chance to help make it better. Or worse, for that matter.

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dude, where's my water?

America’s largest reservoir is hitting new record lows every day

A low Lake Mead
rjcox

The drought that's afflicting much of the American West has hoovered out a record-breaking amount of water from the reservoir that's held in place by the Hoover Dam.

Water levels in Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, have fallen to a point not seen since the reservoir was created during the 1930s to store water from the Colorado River. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the surface of the reservoir dipped below 1,082 feet above sea level last week:

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Thanks to the fracking boom, we’re wasting more money than ever on fossil fuel subsidies

burningmoney
Mike Poresky

You probably know that the U.S. government subsidizes fossil fuel production. But here’s something you probably don’t know: Those subsidies have recently increased dramatically. According to a report released last week by Oil Change International, “Federal fossil fuel production and exploration subsidies in the United States have risen by 45 percent since President Obama took office in 2009, from $12.7 billion to a current total of $18.5 billion.” We are, as the report observes, “essentially rewarding companies for accelerating climate change.”

At first glance, this seems strange. Why would there be such a big increase under a Democratic president who has committed his administration to combatting climate change, and who has even repeatedly called for eliminating exactly these kinds of dirty energy subsidies?

The short answer: fracking. The fracking boom has led to a surge in oil and natural gas production in recent years: Oil production is up by 35 percent since 2009, and natural gas production is up by 18 percent. With more revenues, expenditures, and profits in the oil and gas industries, the value of the various tax deductions for the oil industry has soared. So, for example, the deduction for “intangible drilling costs” cost taxpayers $1.6 billion in 2009, and $3.5 billion in 2013.

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Food fight

Eden Foods hit by backlash for fighting Obamacare’s contraception mandate

empty Eden cans

We told you recently that Eden Foods, a widely distributed organic brand, has sued the Obama administration over the requirement that companies cover contraception as part of employee health-care plans. As word has spread, outrage has spread.

More than 112,000 people have a signed a petition organized by progressive group CREDO Action:

Tell CEO of Eden Foods, Michael Potter:

"I won’t buy Eden products until you stop playing politics with women’s health and drop your attacks on birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act."

Some are tweeting out Eden-shaming selfies:

Read more: Food, Living, Politics

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Hackers hack monster burritos down to sensible size

BurritoGodzilla2
Tyler Parker | Justin Brown

“Burrito creep” is the sort of jargon you’re unlikely to hear unless you descend deep into a highly specialized world. In this case, that world is the food company Chipotle, and "burrito creep" is the term of art employees have come up with to describe a seemingly unstoppable phenomenon: No matter what they try, the burritos keep getting bigger. And the bigger they get, the larger the proportion that ends up in the trash.

Thanks to some creative thinking at the Food+Tech Connect Hack//Dining event in New York, there may be a solution to burrito creep -- one that gives eaters an incentive to control portions and cut back on the most carbon-intensive ingredients (like meat).

The point of these hackathons is to bring clever people together and set them loose on bite-sized food and sustainability problems. “The problems in the food industry are complex, and they aren’t going to be solved in a weekend,” said Danielle Gould, founder of Food+Tech Connect. “The point is to get new ideas into circulation, new people working on this, and to do rapid prototyping -- to actually make a real product in a weekend.”

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With Dov Charney gone, these are the only clothes made by dangerous animals

lion_jeans
Zoo Jeans

When supporters of the Kamine Zoo in Hitachi, Japan, needed to raise money for renovations, they passed on the usual fundraising routes and instead took a leap into the world of high fashion. Rather than recruiting the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, they decided to go in-house with their design process. Specifically: the lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) department. Tires and rubber balls were wrapped in sheets of denim before being tossed them to the predators. The resulting Zoo Jeans are "the only jeans on earth designed by dangerous animals," the volunteer group claims. Zoo Jeans It sure looks like these animals don't mind adding their creative flair and masticatory …

Read more: Living