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Broccoli City: Where hip-hop meets green living

Alexia Smith

Broccoli City isn't your typical eco-festival. Sure, there are the organic food vendors and eco-friendly pop-up shops, carbon-free lifestyle information booths, and yoga and fitness classes. But there's also hip-hop and R&B headliners like Cam'ron and JoJo performing on a solar-powered stage. The event's goal is to empower young, hip, multiculti urbanites to make healthy food and lifestyle choices, environmentally conscious decisions, and then go out and spread the green gospel.

Festival founder Brandon McEachern says bringing sustainability to urban communities is all about delivering a green message with a fresh twist. Launched just last year, the Broccoli City Festival represents on both the East and West Coast: the Washington, D.C., festival was April 19 and the Los Angeles festival is tomorrow, May 3. He talked to Grist about how the Broccoli City Festival got started, why "green" and "eco" aren't just for rich white people, and how to keep the message of healthy food and fitness strong in communities year-round. Here’s an edited and condensed version of what he had to say:

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics


Stalks & bonds

How farm to market-based solutions can take organic to the next level


There may be a lot of info out there to sell you on the benefits of buying organic, but that still doesn't protect you against experiencing some sticker shock as you walk down that eco-friendlier aisle. It may leave you wondering: Why do organic foods cost what they do?

Kellee James.
Kellee James.

The data to answer that question has always been out there but, until Kellee James founded Mercaris, it was spread all over the place and hard to understand. Mercaris collects up-to-date information on organic crop prices, and then makes that information available by selling subscription services, which range from $80 to 500 a month, to all those that it affects; from the farmers who plant the seeds to the grocery stores that ultimately put the products in your hands.

The prices, of course, all come down to economics -- pretty sexy, I know. But while most of us may not get up and raring at the thought of figuring out supply and demand, we can be thankful that there are people like James out there who are -- because it could enable more people to get into the organics biz, which could mean more tasty, good-for-the-earth chow in your basket.

Grist interviewed James on how she became a commodities nerd, what's going on with the prices over at Walmart, and how she bounced back after a somewhat disappointing year at the White House. Here's an edited and condensed version of what she had to say:


Science of filmmaking

These biologists created a gorgeous film about African glaciers

Day's Edge Productions

Chasing Ice launched a new sub-genre of horror films: Watch big beautiful glaciers melt. OK, that might not sound as date-night friendly as a slasher flick, but, hey, if a kid talking to a wagging finger named Tony can be scary, watching the Arctic melt away is downright terrifying. Filmmakers Neil Losin and Nathan Dappen recently joined the field with Snows of the Nile, a visually stunning documentary about the disappearing glaciers in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains (you can watch the trailer here). Losin and Dappen brought a twist to their ice-gazing short by focusing on glaciers where you might not expect them: the tropics. The emerging …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


NFL player tackles sustainable beef off the field

Deanna Hurley

From September to December, Will Witherspoon spends his time chasing down quarterbacks and grappling with 300-pound linemen. During the off-season, the St. Louis Rams linebacker spends his free time in the company of heavyweights of a different breed: sustainably raised cattle. Witherspoon owns and operates Shire Gate Farm in Owensville, Mo., and has a passion for meat that’s produced in environmentally conscious and humane ways.

So how did Witherspoon end up on a different kind of field? He's a bonafide foodie, and got into the agriculture game to produce his own line of antibiotic-free, organically raised beef. We chatted with Witherspoon about his love for animals, holistic land management, and how he’s spreading the message of sustainable meat to athletes and congressmembers alike.

Read more: Food, Living


Peak Solar

Rockstar climber Alex Honnold scales up solar in Navajo Territory

Update: Honnold and Wright completed their trip in April. Here's a video about it. Sunny, high 50s, and just a light breeze: It's a perfect California December morning for rock climbing at the Owens River Gorge and Alex Honnold has just offered to give me a belay -- meaning, he’s offered to attend to the safety rope for me on a climb. The official reason I'm here is to get the scoop on Honnold’s environmental foundation. But, for a climber, getting belayed by Honnold is probably the closest thing we have to getting thrown a ball by Peyton Manning or LeBron James. Jimmy …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Meet the smart farm you can control with a smartphone

Freight Farms founders Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara
Shane Ernest

Repurposed shipping containers have long enjoyed a place in the spotlight of sustainable development and eco-dream-home Pinterest porn. They’ve even started to appear as heralds for the local food economy -- as grocery stores for food deserts and trendy pop-up restaurants. So it only makes sense that next up on the docket for urban agriculture and food independence are Freight Farms: hydroponic farms in shipping containers.

A Freight Farm is more than just a garden in a box. Each 325 square-foot unit comes equipped with high-efficiency red and blue LEDs to simulate night and day, a climate-controlled temperature system for optimal growth conditions, and vertical growing troughs. Translation: Farmers can enjoy a year-round growing season regardless of weather. Freight Farms are also sealable (no need for pesticides and herbicides), stackable, and (because of their closed loop hydroponic system) use 90 percent less water than conventional farming. And the fun part: Growth settings can even be controlled by a smartphone app.

Founder Jon Friedman calls his inventions "vessels for the next generation of food production." And the irony isn’t lost on him that these vessels may have once been clocking food miles for the global shipping industry. "It's one of those things, like, the weapon turns into the thing that saves everybody."


The full Monte: Beloved Montana artist makes bold statement on climate and coal

If you grew up in Montana, the backdrop to your childhood was likely a Monte Dolack print. The Treasure State artist has been painting, drawing, and printing posters for the last 40 years. And Montanans love the stuff. You couldn’t skip a stone on Flathead Lake without hitting a cabin containing a Dolack print or three.

In one of Dolack’s best-known series, wild animals take over domestic scenes. Grizzly bears recline on couches. Trout jump out of bathtubs while feathery ducks paddle next to the rubber sort. The kitschy, kaleidoscopic prints mix iconic Montana wildlife with a healthy dose of humor, winning his work a place on the walls, and in the hearts, of multigenerational ranch families and fly-through fishermen alike. The $35 price tag helps, too.

Return Of Lake Missoula.
Monte Dolack
Return Of Lake Missoula.

Dolack has long worked with conservation and wilderness groups (an alliance that helped cement his place in so many Montana living rooms). In his new show, Altered State, Dolack takes a look at less picturesque and more controversial topics like climate change, coal, Superfund sites, and the effects of extractive companies moving into Montana’s wild spaces.

Monte Dolack, trout fan.
Monte Dolack, trout fan.

I recently dropped by the show at the Holter Museum in Helena, Mont. As I’m from Big Sky Country, I was curious as to how art, environmentalism, and mining mix in a red(dish) state with a strong industry presence. As much as I love Montana, “environmentalist” tends to elicit a negative reaction here. And don’t get started on “artist.”

So how does Dolack navigate this potential cultural minefield? He tries to avoid a “shame on you” mentality, he told me* over the phone. “I wasn’t trying to wag the finger at anyone in particular. This is just the way it is,” he said.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Up the creek by pedal power: An Englishman bikes the Hudson Valley

Andrew Paynter

Nick Hand began to fully appreciate the songs and environmental work of Pete Seeger from the seat of a touring bicycle. It was in the spring, 2012, and Hand, a graphic designer from Bristol, England, had launched a 500-mile bicycle tour through New York’s Hudson Valley.

What incites an Englishman to pedal from Manhattan to Hudson Falls? For Hand, it was the love of pedaling, curiosity, and inquisitiveness.

A typographer and graphic designer, Hand is the founder of The Department of Small Works, a small business that collects stories of traditional and contemporary craftsmen and women. He’s made it his job to look between the folds, the moss and waterfalls, rooting out conversation to learn a bit about how people live.

Read more: Living


The brightest bulb: Rising energy star scores seat with FLOTUS at State of the Union


While you're watching the State of the Union tonight, when the camera spotlights First Lady Michelle Obama, you’ll see among her entourage one of the nation’s future leaders on climate change. That would be 30-year-old Tyrone Davis of Winston-Salem, N.C., a third-year law student at Elon University.

In the summer of 2010, working as a Climate Corps fellow for the Environmental Defense Fund, Davis completed an energy efficiency plan for four large buildings at the historically black Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. He suggested improvements that would deliver more than $30,000 in savings each year -- and spare the climate from 190 tons of CO2 emissions annually. The school liked the proposal so much it hired him to write a campus-wide sustainability plan.

I caught up with Davis by phone and learned that, while he’s legally blind, he has no problem spotting places where we can up our game to better address the climate threat.


Man of the cloth: Zace the Great grows organic, heirloom veggies — and blue jeans

Zachary Myers

Zachary Myers leads the way into his horse-barn-turned-workshop in Centerburg, Ohio, a little less than an hour’s drive northeast of Columbus. Inside, along with two vintage Allis-Chalmers Model G tractors, there are rows and shelves of antique black Singer and Union Special sewing machines, their colored spools unleashing trails of red, green, and navy thread. On the wall, hung neatly in rows among farm tools, are white paper patterns of pant legs. Bolts of sturdy striped and solid indigo fabric unfurl across worktables.

Myers, his arms painted with tattoos, sits at a sewing machine with a pair of overalls, puts a work boot to the pedal, and stitches on a label bearing a drawing of a sewing machine converted into a tractor, melding together his two passions. Emblazoned with his nickname, Zace, pronounced "Zackie," it reads:

Zace The Great Overall Company
The Finest Most Durable American Indigo Goods

Myers, 36, is an organic farmer by day and an indie blue jean maker by night. He is a bold example of diversification, sustainability, and DIY innovation: Understanding the need for duds that can withstand hard agricultural labor, he created a line of durable work clothes for farmers. Working into the night, often by kerosene lamps, Myers, fueled by thick coffee and Ryan Adams, says his heroes are denim slingers such as Levi Strauss. He shows a sneak photo of himself bolting from the entrance of Ralph Lauren's Rocky Mountain ranch.

“My generation is so fed up with the way our predecessors handled things in this country that we’re learning to craft things with our own hands,” he says. “And there’s nothing more American than denim."