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Laura Onstot's Posts


Meals with wheels: A fresh food movement rolls into Boston

Cassandria Campbell and Jackson Renshaw.
Fresh Food Generation
Cassandria Campbell and Jackson Renshaw.

Wander through Portland, Ore.’s Pearl District, SoCo in Austin, or Manhattan’s financial district and you won’t be able to spit without hitting a food truck selling poutine, Korean tacos, or barbecue in some form. The trend has hit Boston as well, unless you happen to live in the neighborhood of Roxbury.

Most Roxbury residents are black or Hispanic, according to the Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey. Thirty percent of the people living there have incomes below the poverty line. A Tufts project found the obesity rate of Roxbury about 8 percent higher than the overall average in the city.

And it isn’t just food trucks missing, says Cassandria Campbell, who calls Roxbury home. Grocery stores and restaurants serving healthier options aren’t in high supply. “I found myself going to other neighborhoods to get good food,” she says. “These food trucks [appearing in other parts of the city] weren’t serving my neighborhood or other neighborhoods in Boston that are similar in demographic to mine."

So she called up her friend Jackson Renshaw with an idea for solving both the dearth of trucks and lack of access to healthy, local food in one swoop.

Read more: Cities, Food


Evil genius takes liberty with maps, floods your city


Andrew David Thaler has always loved the ocean. “I'm that obnoxious kid that wanted to be a marine biologist since I was 3,” he says. “I've wanted to work in the deep sea since before I can remember.”

Thaler now holds a PhD in marine science and conservation from Duke. He lives in the Bay Area working to preserve the species living in and around deep sea vents, particularly as these underwater fissure are explored for possible mineral drilling.

But when not saving deep sea invertebrates, Thaler turns into an evil genius who will help you put Tokyo under 80 meters of water.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


These women deliver food from farm to table by bike, in minutes

tenspeed womenThis is one tomato that's just not gonna make the trip. (Mitchell, L, and Krasniqi)

In Tallahassee, Fla., two women are upping the urban-farming ante. Claire Mitchell and Danielle Krasniqi started Ten-Speed Greens last November. They not only grow lettuce, tomatoes, and other produce on a formerly vacant lot in the city, they literally pedal their wares to local restaurants and cafes on a pair of bicycles.

If that wasn’t eco-friendly enough, Mitchell and Krasniqi make their deliveries with a pair of bikes made by a Tallahassee-based cycle-maker who uses their city-grown veggies to supply his other business -- a vegan restaurant.

How about them locally grown, organic apples?

Read more: Cities, Food, Living


17-year-old sets out to save the planet, makes the rest of us feel really lame

That's him, in the cape. No no, he's the one on the right -- but he should be in a cape.
Captain Planet Foundation
That's him, in the cape. No no, he's the one on the right -- but he should be in a cape.

Think of your life when you were 12. Most of us were busy with first crushes, middle school basketball tryouts, and battling the first wave of acne blossoming on our cheeks.

Not Charles Orgbon. Showing all our preteen selves up, he was busy starting a recycling program to clean up litter on his school campus in Charleston, S.C. By the time his family moved to Georgia, the summer before eighth grade, Orgbon’s recycling program had the backing of a national environmental nonprofit. In 2010, it became known as Greening Forward.

Now at the ripe old age of 17, Orgbon serves as CEO, hosting environmental summits, building educational programs, and organizing clubs for 1,500 other green-minded kids. Somewhere in there he’s also finding time to finish his junior year of high school and chat with Grist about what’s next.

Read more: Cities


An urban farming oasis is saved from the bulldozer blade

Permaganic Eco Garden

There is one thing no gardener wants to hear: “Don’t plant this spring.” But that’s the word Angela Stanbery-Ebner received in February while plotting out the year’s crops at her garden in urban Cincinnati. No tomatoes this year, no chard, no selling at the farmers market, no community-supported agriculture operation run by neighborhood youth for low-income families.

Stanbery-Ebner’s garden, known as the Eco Garden, isn’t your standard backyard fare. It’s an agricultural oasis in a Cincinnati neighborhood better known for its crime than its heirloom carrots. Unfortunately for the Eco Garden, it doesn’t own the land on which it sits, the city does. This year, as part of its initiative to encourage urban development -- known as CitiRama -- the city started eyeing it for housing.

When the gardeners got the news, “we were basically devastated,” Stanbery-Ebner says. Out went the emails, an online petition, and calls to the city council in an effort to save one of the most vibrant corners of a rough-around-the-edges neighborhood.

The Eco Garden had been operating since 1998 in a neighborhood called Over the Rhine -- the Rhine being a nickname for the canal separating the neighborhood from downtown Cincinnati. The area is home to historic buildings, a farmers market, breweries, and in 2006 boasted the highest crime rate in the city, according to city council documents. In the garden, local kids learned to grow food, manage a community-supported agriculture operation, and handle customer accounts.

Angela Stanbery-Ebner and her husband Luke got involved the educational programs in 2004, fresh out of art school at the University of Cincinnati. Six years later, when the nonprofit managing the garden folded, the couple took over, rolling it into their own nonprofit called Permaganic in a nearly seamless transition. “We were basically able to shut down operations for the month of August, then some of the kids came right back to the program again,” Stanbery-Ebner says triumphantly.

Read more: Cities, Food


Sanders Moore hopes sunny New Mexico gets enchanted with solar

Sanders Moore.

Imagine looking out over your city and instead of seeing a sea of brown and grey rooftops, you’re looking at reflective black, all the way to the horizon.

That’s the view Sanders Moore is trying to bring to Albuquerque. Moore is the 31-year-old state director at Environment New Mexico, an advocacy group (and part of the Environment America network) that works to get citizens to demand better environmental policy from their elected leaders. “Our goal is to get 100,000 roofs covered in solar panels by 2020,” she explains.

Here’s how a woman from Atlanta landed in the high, Southwestern desert with dreams of getting an entire state off oil and powered by the sun.


This Mardi Gras, don’t bead off in public

Mardi Gras beads hanging in a tree
Chelsea Hicks

Guess how many beads a “super krewe” throws out in a single city block? (“Krewes” are the groups that put on New Orleans Mardi Gras parades -- the super krewes first appeared in the '70s, upping the ante with more floats, celebrities, and presumably a big jump in bead volume.)

10 pounds?

100 pounds?

Try 15 tons. That’s some $56,000 in little plastic balls, hitting sky, then streets, then gutters, then the Louisiana coastline, for every single block of the parades. That’s what New Orleans residents Holly and Kirk Groh estimate, based on parade attendance figures and a Tulane study [PDF].

Neil Cooler

Sitting on the sidewalk for the parades in 2011, the Grohs watched the cascading plastic beads and all Holly could think about was all the waste.

Most of those strands of beads tossed out to paradegoers (extra if you show some skin) are made of petroleum products. For a city that is still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon explosion that leaked oil all over the Louisiana coastline, that struck her as especially tragic. “I think this is in other people’s hearts that it doesn’t quite feel right,” Holly Groh says. “But I think, as a group, we haven’t quite known what to do.”

The way Groh figured it, you can’t fight Mardi Gras -- you have to change it.

Read more: Cities, Living


Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic: Still rocking the vote

Who are those other guys? Krist Novoselic, left, in Nirvana's heyday.

If you were an angsty adolescent during the late 90s, you probably had an intimate relationship with Krist Novoselic in your black-décored bedroom. The name might not ring a bell at first, but the man on bass below Kurt Cobain’s guitar and vocals on the Nirvana records you listened into the ground? That’s Novoselic.

Unlike other rock stars past, Novoselic isn’t spending his post-headlining days lying around a mansion with an army of un-housebroken dogs (nice goin’, Ozzie) or out trying to recapture glory during the current grunge revival (howdy, Chris Cornell!). Instead, he’s trying to change the way we do democracy in the United States by convincing people to adopt an obscure (by U.S. standards) election system known as ranked choice voting (RCV).

It's a long shot. But success could mean a huge leap forward in broadening campaign dialogue, civilizing partisan warfare, and giving oft-marginalized environmental issues serious political clout.

Read more: Politics