a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Archive for April, 2008

Vermont Is Not Flat

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Brattleboro, VT

Brattleboro has a dominant number of thriving local businesses, many of which thoroughly but subtly display their green creds. Thrift and vintage places – my personal eye candy – were especially irresistible, and practical, as it turned out. I suddenly needed a nail clipper/file and I found both, hidden amongst hundreds of antique collectibles of every category at a store called “Twice Upon A Time”. Proving, once again, that they don’t make things like they used to. These stores can be full of surprises – I have managed to stay out of mainstream drugstores for years by using thrift/vintage for basics like this – low cost and no packaging is a bonus.

I went back several times to Boomerang – a vintage and vintage-inspired clothing and accessories shop owned and operated by Loretta, who replanted her creative roots from LA. Here I found some fun and stylish used clothing – some are cleverly marked by era – Jerry was drawn to the 50’s while I found out I’m a 60’s – 70’s kind of girl. Boomerang also supports Rise Up International, a group of artists, ideallists and social entrepreneurs using the fashion industry to empower children out of poverty. Rise Up International doesn’t mess around when it comes to giving – they donate all profits to support free education centers, drug rehabilitation and art vocational schools in India, Central America and China.

As happened in a few different cases, I was readily engaged in conversation by the locals and felt welcomed, even as I accepted my designated title as a “flatlander”.
A haven for art, music, alternative health and recreation, “Brat” – as I brazenly use the local term – has not seen the last of me!

Culinary Adventures – deliciously local

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Brattleboro, VT

Our first meal in Brattleboro was at the local Co-op down the street from our historically amazing hotel (see below). Now that I think about it – while we enjoyed coffee, tea and homemade goodies from many other local establishments – our first, last and most meals in between were at the co-op down the street. This is not a coincidence. A food co-op is high on my list of priorities when I’m choosing a travel destination. It allows me to eat in a healthy, simple, affordable and local way, and on my own schedule. I can also stock up on wholesome snacks to stow away for other activities like hiking.

If you’re thinking this is some kind of sacrifice – think again. In addition to organic produce and bulk items like nuts and energy snacks, co-ops usually have “salad, etc.” bars and delicious-looking hot foods (which change daily), in addition to local specialties like baked goods and farm products. In this case, we tried various local cheeses and yogurt and even an outstanding chocolate bar by Taza, made in Somerville, MA. In fact, my first meal was entirely local and organic: baby swiss cheese, cultured daikon and cabbage, fresh-baked bread with local butter and even tapioca pudding – compliments of a cow named Stella. From the hot bar, we experienced excellent scrambled eggs, breakfast burritos, vegetarian lasagna and polenta.

I like meeting co-op employees and other patrons, too – friendly, interesting and interested folks who don’t look at you funny when you pull out your canvas shopping bag or your cloth napkin. We even stumbled in on a wine-tasting event one day – no plastic cups! They gave each person their own real wine glass to use for the event. We did buy a bottle at the local wine store and when we mentioned we were at the hotel, we were offered two glasses to take with us and return later.

I save sit-down dining for selected occasions, so I’m not sure how much less I spent eating this way, but I imagine it is significant in terms of the average traveler. As you’ve read, though, I’m in it for the experience, curiosity and to satisfy my green greediness. I’ve been munching my way through many miles this way and I always end up feeling healthy, energized and happy to be part of the local economy of each new place.

Happy and deliciously greener travels.

Loving The Latchis and greening up my stay

Monday, April 28th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Brattleboro, VT

We stayed at the historic Latchis Hotel, circa 1938, now a preserved memorial building on Main Street in Brattleboro. The original lead-paned windows still open – something now rare in most hotels – there is no A/C and the heat still comes from radiators. The stairwells are welcoming, with natural light and I noticed most guests used the stairs to the 3 floors of rooms. There is no parking garage or large, new lot, or luxuriously furnished lobby, just a straightforward comfort and friendliness.

If you do want to be impressed by style, however, visit the original Latchis “theatre” next store – now a movie house. Detmetrius Latchis had the walls painted with the images and scenes of the Greek gods, like Jupiter welcoming Psyche, the temple of Zeus and Colona with her children, Apollo and Diana. There are also statues – one of Thalia, the Muse of Comedy and Cleo, the muse of History. The ceiling is sky blue with stars and the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Staying in the heart of a city allows you to sightsee car-free and I chose this place because it’s one way to support local business (and history!) while traveling. The rooms are simple – just a few pieces of maple furniture, including a wooden bed frame. The rooms also feature consigned art by local artists.

The Latchis is participating in the Project Green, which asks guests to save resources by reusing linens. This is not so impressive, however, when you consider all the other ways we can consume less during hotel stays. Here’s my list – feel free to add on.

1. Bring your own toiletries, rather than using the small bottles and tubes provided, which will be thrown away and replaced after each use. I travel with a small shampoo/body bar, which is wrapped only in paper and can be carried with you while flying.
2. Use one towel for everything, rather than using bath mats/handtowels.
3. Skip room service during your stay, eliminating more water, energy, detergent use.
4. Use your own drinking mug and water bottle.
5. Use the stairs instead of elevator.
6. Use one trash can – rather than the two usually provided – and you will keep more plastic out of landfill.
7. Open windows instead of A/C. Turn heat off when you leave your room.

8. Ask your host where you can recycle items. If it’s not available, bring home any paper, newspaper to recycle at home.

Dirt Farming and Politics

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Amherst, MA

We woke early the next morning, anxious to see the farm in daylight and meet our host and self-proclaimed, “dirt farmer”, Jim Pitts. We headed down the long dirt road that led to the fields where Jim was working — a lone, tall, straight-backed figure pushing a tiller across a field.

He strode over to us and within a few moments, challenged me to name the big leafy plants I was looking at. Being the city kid I am, I hesitated – but then surprised him by guessing it — rhubarb! He broke off a thick red stalk and handed it to me. In my excitement, I munched it straight down. As he led us on to the strawberry field, this time he asked me to describe the difference between hay and straw. I flunked that one, although I knew horses ate hay but not straw. I now know why – straw is the inedible dried grain stalks after the grain has been shorn and hay is the still nutritious, dried grass. We also learned that strawberries were named because they grow on top of straw, placed alongside the fruit to keep it from getting dirty before going to market. As Jim told us more farmlore, I asked him if he went to school to learn all of this. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sometimes schooling can get in the way of your education.”

Yet, it turns out, “dirt farmer” was only the most recent of Jim’s accomplishments. Growing up in the Deep South and an African American, he wasn’t allowed admission to Georgia Tech University. Yet, he still managed to shoot up the ranks of corporate America and become a top tech-industry executive. He also became enmeshed in politics, serving as a delegate and addressing the Democratic National Convention on the death penalty while negotiating with George Wallace on other platform issues, and working as MA manager for Shirley Chisolm’s historic presidential campaign. As we listened with growing interest, Jim began tossing out one memorable chunk of wisdom, information or history after another. When Jerry mentioned that a key flaw in the Constitution was its absence of land protection, he explained to us that one purpose of the constitution was to ensure people’s right to own land, which, as the Native Americans have always known, is an “absurd” idea.

This former editorialist recently wrote a piece for the Amherst newspaper in support of Barack Obama. Jim explained that the entrenched culture wars that have dominated post-Vietnam politics are keeping us stuck and divided. He feels Obama represents the way to finally transcend these divisions, whereas Hillary seems both trapped and defined by them.

As we reluctantly allowed Jim to get back to his plowing, he told us that he was going to be moving to Cambridge soon. Aghast, Jerry said “you’re leaving your farm!?” Jim, who was bending down to make an adjustment on the tractor, turned around and said with a wry and wise smile, “Every thing’s got to end sometime.”

Back at the house, we heard his 5-month old baby crying and were subtly reminded that with every ending comes a new beginning.

Boston Blues and more

Friday, April 25th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Boston, MA

Arriving at Boston Airport, renting car from a sea of SUV’s and Hummers, then trying to get onto the correct exit to Amherst was crazy/frustrating, especially at rush hour. The one problem of driving less in daily life is that ending up in traffic seems even more exhausting and awkward. But, we had heard of a rare macrobiotic restaurant outside the city and were determined to get there on our way out of this gridlock. We finally parked on another busy street and continued on foot to the front door, which was locked.

Just as I was about to declare Boston the least hospitable place I knew, a man approached us to share our disappointment about the closed restaurant. He explained that it was indeed a popular place but some establishments shut down during Spring Break (which made me look again at the busy streets and wonder what it was like when school was in session?). Our friendly stranger suggested another place serving vegetarian food about a mile away. He even offered to drive us there. We turned down the ride, but not until we showed our gratitude and had an enjoyable conversation about good food, home towns and kilts (Jerry was wearing his).

It was after dark when we arrived at Delta Organic Farm in Amherst. The quiet house was especially comforting. Our host greeted us briefly but warmly, said he would be working in the fields the next morning and invited us to come find him when we were awake.

I felt a little like a kid coming home, tucked in the little bedroom with a breeze blowing through the open window…and fell fast asleep.

Earth Day – is there any other?

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto and Jerry Stifelman

I didn’t really forget about “Earth Day” on Tuesday. My confession is that I’ve been kind of a Scrooge when it comes to the idea because, well, every day should be Earth Day, right? I look to Jerry on this one and here’s what he had to say:

Earth Day, hmmmm, what about the other 364 days that we spend ON THE EARTH. There ain’t no living, loving, no rock and roll, no sports cars, no frisbees, no barbeques, no manola blahnik shoes ——– without the access to the resources of this most excellent and forgiving planet.

So I’m not big using Earth Day as an extra special reason for companies to sponsor events, put their logos on plastic water bottles, for people to drive to festivals and concerts.

Let’s get serious about doing good by the Earth every dang day of the week. Now that WOULD BE FUN.

Where There’s A Will, you’ll find a way – downsize travel

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

Last year, I spent more time vacationing at home and, as you heard previously, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I discovered a lot of fun spots right in my area that I would have missed otherwise and I enjoyed the relaxation of just staying put. (The only flight I’ve taken in one year has been a visit home to Minneapolis when my mom was very sick.) Now, I’m splurging on a trip to Vermont, where we are going to visit another co-housing community.

As I started planning, I found out that there are no direct flights from here to Vermont. I did look into the train, but did not have enough days to make that work. Instead of giving up too fast, I decided to think a little harder and came up with an idea that would at least significantly downsize my travel footprint of multiple flights. After looking closely at an atlas, I realized that I could reasonably fly into Boston on one flight, rent a car and drive the 3 hours to my destination in Brattleboro, VT. (Of course, I’ll be offsetting that flight with one of my favorite offset companies, Terra Pass.)

I then searched every car rental company for a hybrid to use, but, unfortunately, nothing yet available in that area (what’s up, Hertz??). Ok, well, I opted for the smallest car I could get. We’ll stop halfway and stay at Delta Organic Farm Bed and Breakfast and enjoy some rural scenery and hiking – no extra driving since it’s on the way. Then, we’ll land in downtown so that we can enjoy those activities car-free. No sacrifice, a lot of benefits, with a little less carbon output.

The rest of the year? I’m planning to avoid air travel when possible again. I’ll let you know what I come up with for vacation fun as we move into Summer. Because, where there is a will……….

(I’ll try to post while away, but will miss tomorrow. More soon! Tao)

The Olympic Green Dream

Monday, April 21st, 2008

by Tao Oliveto

Sometimes it’s just a matter of how much you want it.

It looks like China wants to reap the economic benefits of hosting the Olympic Games just badly enough to actually take steps to clean up the air. It seems rising seas, droughts and other environmental disasters, nor risks to the health of their population was not enough to get off the couch for, but the Olympic $$?? Well, that’s another story and China has quickly announced a clean-air plan in preparation for the Games. Read from Grist below:

“Many Beijing-area factories and cement plants will close for two months beginning in late July as a key part of the effort to clean the city’s famously polluted air for the Olympic Games, Chinese officials said. Other clean-air measures include banning the use of half the city’s 3.5 million vehicles, disallowing spray paint and other harsh chemicals to be used outdoors, closing about one-tenth of the city’s gas stations, and halting construction in the Beijing area, which now has about 40 square miles of construction sites. Many heavily polluting industries, including coal-burning power plants, have been asked to cut their pollution by about 30 percent by July or risk getting shut down. If Beijing’s air is still too polluted by the time the games are scheduled to begin, the government said it would take “stringent steps” of one kind or another to shut down major sources of pollution.”

We can make change happen NOW. Readily, enthusiastically, economically on personal and political levels. Let the Games Begin.

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