Friday, June 25, 2010

Research: Reusable Grocery Bags can carry E. coli and other bacteria

This is kind of a "duh" headline but something we need to consider if we are going to help people transition from plastic grocery bags to reusable ones.  Here is the full article.

The research, done as a joint project between Arizona University and Linda Loma University, showed that random samplings of reusable bags used in the Los Angeles area showed coliform bacteria, such as E. coli,  found in half the bags. 

Here is a further pullout from the piece:

The study also found that awareness of potential risks was very low. A full 97 percent of those interviewed have never washed or bleached their reusable bags, said Gerba, who added that thorough washing kills nearly all bacteria that accumulate in reusable bags.
The report comes at a time when some members of the California State Legislature, through Assembly Bill 1998 (Brownley), are seeking to promote increased consumer use of reusable bags by banning plastic bags from California stores.
“If this is the direction California wants to go, our policymakers should be prepared to address the ramifications for public health,” said co-author Ryan Sinclair, Ph.D., a professor at Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health.
The report noted that “a sudden or significant increase in use of reusable bags without a major public education campaign on how to reduce cross contamination would create the risk of significant adverse public health impact.”

I just want to make it clear to people that the Need-a-Bag? Project ALWAYS washes the bags we bring to the market, make no mistake!

Got the article via mistermix at Balloon Juice.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Okabashis returned: I still ♥ Okabashis!

Okay, I finally washed the Okabashis and have filled out the return form. I'm going to get a pair of the same style I have for DJ. Here's what I said on the return form, under "Return/exchange reason:"

I purchased the Merinos at Walgreen's and they lasted about 3 weeks before they started getting cracks and tears in the upper.  I've already replaced them with a pair of black Eurosports and wanted to get a pair of navy Eurosports for my son.  Thank you!  I love Okabashis!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mega-long post: Gainesville Community Ministry and Need-a-Bag? Project

I went the Gainesville Community Ministry Thrift Shop on 34th St. today to find some tote bags for the market this weekend; found a ton of them very cheaply, but while I was there I had to endure a really loud and uncomfortable argument going on between the store workers (I'm assuming they're all volunteers with the ministry).  It seemed to revolve around the store closing and apparently the gentleman who was an official from GCM was being very argumentative about the reasons behind it, like people getting to the store late and what-not.  I don't know what the real reasons for closing this store are, but the people who work there are fabulous, caring folks and I would hate to see the store close.  Anyway, that prompted me to write this letter -- half-complaining about the kerfuffle, half-singing the store's praises -- and I'm reprinting it here because it counts as a blog post about the Need-a-Bag? Project:

Michael Wright

June 15, 2010

Dear Mr. Wright,

I am a longtime costumer/supporter of the GCM thrift shop on 34th Street, and I wanted to make you aware of an incident that occurred while I was there today.

At about 10:00 am, I had entered into the shop to do my usual tote bag scavenging (I’ll get to the reason in a bit) and there seemed to be a rather loud conversation going on at the coffee bar. A large, older gentleman with glasses and wearing the dark green GCM polo shirt, was presiding over this conversation and he was the loudest voice of those at the bar. After shopping a little bit I realized that it was some kind of meeting of the store workers and the gentleman seemed to be talking about something that the others didn’t agree with. The woman who was working behind the cashier’s counter was very upset and in tears. One of the other customers went up to the coffee bar at some point and asked them to keep their voices down as the conversation (now, seemingly, an argument) was being “broadcast throughout the store.” This did not seem to deter the gentleman, who continued to be very loud.

The workers were trying to be respectful, but it seemed like the argument was very contentious and had something to do with the store closing. I really hope this doesn’t happen. As long as I have been shopping at the GCM thrift store on 34th St. (as well as the now-defunct Main St. store), I have always had a great shopping experience and have found many items for my family. I also shop there to find tote bags for the Need-a-Bag? Project, started two years ago by myself and a friend. The Need-a-Bag? Project provides reusable shopping bags to shoppers at the Hwy 441 farmers market each Saturday morning. Thrift stores like GCM with reasonably-priced items are the heart and soul of our project, and closing this store would be a regretful decision. We provide over 200 shopping bags each year to people, many of whom who have low incomes and shop at the market with vouchers for the WIC and ElderCare programs; your store provides us with many of the bags that we use to provide sustainable bagging and reduce the use of plastic grocery bags going into the waste stream.

In closing, I would like to say that the men and women who work at the 34th St. GCM Thrift Store have always been lovely, wonderful people who are always eager to help customers; I feel that this is part of your ministry and I believe they feel that way, as well. I don’t understand fully what occurred while I was at the store this morning, but I hope that if there is a decision to close the store that you will reconsider.

Thank you for reading my letter and I wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors with Gainesville Community Ministry.



Saturday, June 12, 2010

Crist signs HB 971

Ugh!  Where was I?  I never even heard about this -- serves me right for not keeping up with this story.

The Florida Bicycling Association put up this post about Crist signing HB 971 into law; it also links to the Florida Government website news release about all the bills he just signed.


Need-a-Bag Project Update 06.12.10 -- Hope and Change

Note: The Need-a-Bag? project was created to promote sustainable bagging at the Hwy 441 Alachua County Farmer's Market each Saturday morning. We supply reusable tote bags reclaimed from thrift stores and garage sales. The Need-a-Bag? project also utilizes old tank tops as tote bags by sewing up the bottoms (these are called t-totes). We invite you to read the other posts on the project by clicking the "Need-a-Bag? Project" label at the bottom of this post.

DG is out of town this week so I went to the market with my supply of polyprop bags; some kind soul (probably Jean) dropped off three bags on the fence and I took this photo of the nicest one -- it wasn't the biggest or the most colorful, but it was definitely the most cheerful and positive.  Look at all the positive sayings it has hand-written all over it!  I call it the Hopey-Changey bag; it was quickly snatched up by someone who shared my belief in the powerful messages this bag holds.

As I was putting bags on the fence, a woman came up and asked if these were for free, and I replied that they were indeed for free and she could help herself.  She showed me her own reusable bag and said she was fine but was interested in learning more about the project.  I told her that me and my friend started doing this project two years ago and we bring out reusable bags for people to use.  The woman, who was with her daughter, asked if people bring the bags back when they're done.  I said "well, that's the theory, but we generally just end up putting out more bags."  The daughter was looking at me like I was some kind of hippie communist, and the woman was polite but ready to move on with her day.  Oh well, some people will get it and some people won't, I think. 

The market was hopping again, as usual, but the bag numbers are staying consistent; I put out 11 bags and by the time I left about half were still remaining.

New Need-a-Bag? Project Strategy

Before I go into a dispatch from the 441 Farmers Market this week, I wanted to share an idea for promoting the project.   You know how at check-outs the cashier may ask if you want to donate 1-dollar to this or that cause?  I usually say "yes" at least once a week to those queries, but I usually eschew putting my name on the paper tag that gets taped to the wall with the other names.

Well, I was at CVS and realized that all this time I could have been putting "The Need-a-Bag? Project" on all of these tags!  Curious folks would eventually google the phrase and find out about the project!

Why did it take me so long to realize this bit of free promotion for the project?!

Friday, June 11, 2010

How to Not Get Hit by Cars

I was listening to the Bill McKibben talk, "Earth to Humans: Enough Already," and at one point he talked about his 5-day walk across Vermont to call for 80% reductions in CO2 emissions by 2050.  With the oil spill in the gulf going full-bore, why don't we have a walk across Florida -- say, from Tallahassee to Pensacola, to call for extreme energy reform.  Eighty percent reduction by 2050 isn't going to cut it anymore, I think. 

Anyway, I was thinking, how long would it take to walk/bike/Segway across Florida, from Tallahassee to Pensacola?  Before I get to the answer for that, as I was searching on Google, I came across an oldie but a goodie of bicycle safety, Michael Bluejay's seminal "How to Not Get Hit by Cars," on his Bicycle Austin website.  I mentioned this site in a post from 2007, and looking over it again I realized I should post it here because it is very relevant to situation right now with HB 971 and the wording in the bill that would require cyclists by law to ride on the right-hand shoulder or in bike lanes.  After reading the bicycle safety guide again, I decided to post this screen shot because it makes a very good case about why the wording in the bill is not a good idea:

Even if you are riding on the right-hand side of the road, you are still at risk of colliding into a car.  I encourage folks to read the rest of the guide -- it's fairly short and succinct in its advice. 

Last night I was thinking about another reason why this would be a bad idea.  Since DJ got a new bike for his birthday, he has been wanting to go on evening bike rides when he gets home from school.  I've been incredibly nervous on these rides because DJ is still a little inexperienced with a bigger bike, and he has been looking down at the pavement in front of him instead of looking for cars.  On our way to the new bike trail (one of his favorite trips), I have to start yelling at him when we get closer to Main Street and go past the Kangaroo's really busy driveway.  On the sidewalks he rides in front of me, but  on the side streets I like to ride to the left of him, so that I can see cars coming from behind or in front, and generally play defense with the traffic.  If this new law went into place, I wouldn't be able to ride to his left, since the law was worded to stop 2-or-more-abreast team cycling.

UPDATE:  I just realized that I never did say how long it would take to walk/ride/run to Pensacola from Tallahassee.  Well, I decided not to do anything with this idea, anyways, so my apologies if you were expecting an actual answer :(

Got the screen shot from

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mad Max Meme and Peak Oil

It's been a long while since I've done a good rant; among other things, the cataclysmic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has reduced me to feeling utterly helpless about our addiction to oil in the states.  But the thing that really, really bugs me about this crisis is the way Americans are being portrayed in their reactions to it; politicians think deregulating the oil industry further is the way to make sure we never have another spill (!) and/or think that drilling in protected, land-locked regions is the only option away from deep-sea drilling.  The one thing that both terrifies and amuses me is the whole "survival seed bank" meme, and its tie-in with the Peak Oil Movement.  I don't know what to think of these clowns, but my first thought is that we have finally maximized the attitude of "I Got Mine" in this particular narrative.

For those unfamiliar with the idea, companies have been around for a while, hawking "survival seed banks" that you can purchase and hide in your bomb shelter for the coming economic apocalypse.  Now, this idea has spread to the people who believe that, when we run out of oil, the economic infrastructure will completely collapse and we will be reduced to a Mad Max world of survival of the fittest.

You can tell I'm a little skeptical about this, and it angers me when usually calm people start getting obsessed with this doomsday scenario of an America when there is no more oil to power our cars, computers, and pool filters, such as this New York Times article reports.  It makes me think that people really want us to fall into a chaotic abyss; in fact, this article on the Earth First (not the organization) site discusses this exact point.  The shorter of this article is the philosophy that many radical environmentalists hold, which is that any cataclysmic disaster (such as a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico) will ultimately be good for the earth; once we kill off a few billion humans to plague and pestilence,  the earth will have a fighting chance to recover. 

Part of this, I think, comes from the nagging realization that we have reached our zenith of growth as a society; growth in this context meaning growing larger and more bloated on stuff.  I look at the small pool I bought for my son and his friends to enjoy over the summer months, and think, "this might be the last summer we can have a pool like this; water might become more scarce or so polluted we'll have to forgo daily showers and stick to drinking filtered water."  This is my own doomsday scenario-type thinking, but I'm not stocking up on seeds or bottling water for the coming water apocalypse (other than the usual hurricane season supplies, that is).  I feel the same way about oil; this might be the last few summers that we're able to enjoy an air-conditioned house and years with non-stop computer-surfing, not to mention going on long car trips.

The old man and DJ had this discussion about peak oil, because DJ asked me just yesterday about the prospect of running out of oil.  He was pretty upset about the whole thing (even though he liked the idea of the Mad Max society), but I tried my best to assure him that civilization is not going to collapse; it's just going to shrink.  I also explained that humans have been on the earth for thousands of years and we did just fine before the Industrial Revolution; we will do just fine beyond it. 

To that end, I heard Bill McKibben speak rather eloquently on on this issue the other day when I was listening to Alternative Radio, in a show entitled "Earth to Humans: Enough Already."  I bought the program to listen to as I drive to pick up DJ, but McKibben's basic point is that we won't collapse into a chaotic world of survival, we will adapt to a post-oil future.  I encourage folks to listen to this program or get the transcript; it is a bit of sanity in an unsane community we're living in right now.  I can only hope the folks come to their senses and soon; the sooner we work together to get real energy reform, the better it will be for all of us and our descendants. 

Got the photo from Stephanie Rogers' article on Earth First

Last Summer's Gardens on My Street

I meant to post this during the winter, when everything's brown and gray; last summer I went around to  my neighbors' yards and took pictures of various gardens and landscapes.   My original post was "Yards of Distinction," where I pointed out a couple of yards on my street where they had done some unique xeriscaping from the traditional grass yard.  I was going to follow up with another post on front yard gardens, since they have multiplied on our street; of course, like most well-intentioned posts, this one never got off the ground.

Now that my time grows short as a footloose and fancy-free blogger, I decided to post those pictures from last May:
Some of my neighbors weren't home so I wasn't able to get permission right away for taking pictures of their yards; the yard after this first one (the one with the closeups) was more successful because the gardener/neighbor was home and was happy to show me some of the finer points of her garden.  The second picture is of a nice looking green pepper, and I think the next picture where she is pointing out something in the foliage was of an heirloom variety of something (the vegetable escapes my memory of over a year ago).  I'm sorry I forgot your name, helpful gardener/neighbor, and will rectify this when I appear at your door with the url for this blog.

The fourth and fifth photos are of Mark and Mike's yards, respectively.  Mark has a great garden system that involves a rubbermaid-type container that he crowds with tomatoes and lettuce.  It all looks simply delicious and seems relatively painless to grow.  I'll have to get a more in-depth story on his before the end of the season.  Now that I have a microphone for my iTouch I can start doing better interviews and (hopefully) some short videos of various things going on in the world of sustainability

End of Summer A Blues: Okabashis to be returned

It's not even the middle of June and already the summer's almost over for me; soon I will be hunkered down in graduate student-mode, reading my butt off like I have the past fall and spring.  I can't complain, though -- I got to blog whenever I wanted, got to have a really fun birthday/sleep-over for my son, had a barbecue, and got to read and watch manga and anime non-stop for almost two months.  I cannot complain.

Now onto some late-breaking updates; remember how I was all happy about my Okabashis and how sustainable they are?  Well, they may be sustainable, but they aren't sturdy, and almost a month into getting them they developed cracks and tears in the uppers. 

Here's a picture of my poor Okabashis with the tear on the right one.  It has since grown a little larger since the taking of this photo, because I had no other slip-ons for taking that walk down the driveway to get the mail (I got another pair soon after, however). 

On the left one is a crack near the ball of the foot (there's also one on the right, not shown).  Maybe it's because I got a larger size so I could wear socks, and the shifting of my foot caused the tear, or maybe it's just the general design of the sandal.

In any case,  now I've got to run them through the washing machine and then send them back to Okabashi.  I downloaded the return form, but sending things back to the manufacturer is not one of my fortes,  so we'll see if I actually get around to it. 

So now I have a new pair and they seem to wearing quite well -- it's a different style and (I think) one for women, so maybe it'll hold up since it's closer to my shoe size. 

Saturday, June 05, 2010

New Cargo Carrier!

The old child carrier that I got when DJ was small, and then became a bike trunk after he outgrew it, was stolen out of our carport a couple of months ago.  I hadn't used it in a while;  the universal adapter didn't fit well on the Gary Fisher and would keep falling off during trips.  It was also getting old and weather beaten and my idea was to remove the canvas part and fit it with a piece of plywood and make it into an honest-to-goodness cargo trailer; unfortunately, someone else had the same idea.  Because I have panniers on the Gary Fisher I have been able to stuff at least two reusable grocery sacks-worth of groceries on the bike, but for larger hauls I was going to have to come up with something else.

First, I looked around for DIY cargo carriers, and saw this great site and I encourage everyone reading this to check it out.  It's a called Community Bike Cart Design, and if I was a welder I would totally try to make one of these things.  I almost DID take a welding class with Santa Fe's Community Ed program just so I would have the skillz to make one; then I realized it would just be like the glass bead making class I took where I bought all the equipment and then never did anything with it because I am afraid of combustibles.  So, unless making the thing requires wood and maybe a power drill, I was not going to be doing no welding.

Community Bike Cart Design has different-needs type carriers, like an ambulance carrier and a "Bicycle Empowerment Trailer."  I donated 10-bucks to them because they are a super cool group like The Kickstand

I finally broke down and got this Aosom cargo trailer on Amazon for 100-bucks.  An okay deal, actually, considering I got the bike carrier for DJ, used, for 50-bucks.

Today I took it on a first trip to the grocery, taking the new bike path behind Buddha Belly which lets me off right at the side entrance of Publix.  The path is still officially closed, but try telling that to pushy cyclists like myself. This photo (I think) is actually of the stretch behind Publix -- the entire path goes all the way to 8th Avenue which is going to be super great for commuting to campus in the fall. 

Here are a couple of photos of the results of the shopping trip.  I was able to fit three bags, a six-pack of beer, and a small bag of charcoal and still had plenty of room left.  The cover fits over it really neatly; I would have been happy with just an open trailer, so I consider the cover a bonus.  Scotch-garded it before I left so it'd repel some water if it gets sloppy rainy, as it has been the past week (thank goodness!  We really needed the rain -- hey, it's raining right now, in fact!).

There are two problems, one with the trailer and one with the bike.  I was not able to inflate one of the tires; I think the stem is crooked but I don't know how to fix it and will have to consult with my bike mechanic.  Oh yes, you didn't know?  I now have my own bike mechanic -- okay, it's DG's brother, but he is so nice and decent it makes me take back everything I've ever said against bike mechanics.  Even with one under-inflated tire, however, the trailer performed magnificently!

The bike, on the other hand, is going to have to get traded back in at Spin Cycle.  Maybe I'm just so used to the Gary Fisher, but I think it's more that the frame is too small.  I'll try raising the seat but I think I just have to get another bike -- I'm using the Schwinn I got originally for the Burley ride-along because it doesn't have quick-release wheels, which won't take the rear-hub adapter for the trailer. 

Very, very happy with the new cargo trailer; it will become especially useful during the parts of the fall and spring semesters when I am constantly lugging books and teaching materials back and forth between campus.  And, of course, it will be super-handy for hauling lawn chairs and a cooler to the Homecoming Parade!  Yay!

Need-a-Bag? Project now at High Springs Market!

Ugh, I have to get back to housecleaning but I wanted to quickly post on the Need-a-Bag? project's newest franchise and franchisee.  Jackie is the mom of two adorable children and writes the Accidentally a Mommy blogspot blog, and now she is the project's newest member!  She emailed us about a month or so ago and wanted to start up the project out at the High Springs Market.  Here is a photo from their maiden voyage at the HSM.  I also have a post from when DJ and I went out there and bought some yummy gulf shrimp before they all died, but I will post on that later.  Perhaps I can convince Jackie to send the AE periodic dispatches from the HSM (hint, hint).

Let's all give Jackie a wild round of applause (CLAPCLAPCLAP!) for being brave enough to venture on her own into the uncharted frontiers of High Springs, Florida, and for getting herself mixed up in a really nutty sustainability project!

Photo from Jackie, featuring her absolutely adorable little girl GS (for "Good Scout"), holding some local honey, no doubt.

Need-a-Bag Project Update 06.5.10 -- Tote Bag Roundup!

Note: The Need-a-Bag? project was created to promote sustainable bagging at the Hwy 441 Alachua County Farmer's Market each Saturday morning. We supply reusable tote bags reclaimed from thrift stores and garage sales. The Need-a-Bag? project also utilizes old tank tops as tote bags by sewing up the bottoms (these are called t-totes). We invite you to read the other posts on the project by clicking the "Need-a-Bag? Project" label at the bottom of this post.

DG had to work overtime to round up some new totes; this is the time of year when EVERYTHING is in season and people are snatching bags off the fence faster than we can hang them.  It's a good feeling!  Anyway, to keep it short and sweet today I've assembled a few of the faves from the new collection.

This is probably the favorite -- it was probably slavishly produced by someone out of a beloved pair of jeans and is totally in step with the Need-a-Bag? philosophy:  Take pants, cut off bottom, sew up bottom, use left over material to make handles, then tie with cute fabric/scarf belt -- voila!  And it even has pockets to put the Need-a-Bag? label!

Moo-cow bag is perfect for the little shopper on the go; DG thought the right eye rubbing off in the washing makes it look demonic but I think it is adorable!  The photo definitely makes it look more friendly/less demonic.

And, finally, here's another farm-themed bag for the really little shopper on the go.  Look how cute it is, the label is almost as big as the bag!  You could fit maybe a strawberry in this bag or possibly five blueberries.

There was an awesome Swiss Army tote bag that was practically brand new that DG procured and I wanted to steal it but she stayed my hand; she has already given me her fabulous Strand Bookstore tote bag that I have coveted so I cannot complain!  She got a ridiculous number this week, and all for less than a dollar each; we have finally begun to follow Jean's philosophy of tote purchasing.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Florida Legislature Pushing Cyclists Into Bike Lanes

The Gulf oil spill has a been an incredibly disturbing event and it's been hard for me to blog about the usual stupid stuff I like to yammer about, but the way cyclists are treated in Florida is a really important issue to me, as well.  

Currently, cyclists in Florida have equal rights on the roadways.  That may change if a 16-word addition to highway safety bill, HB 971, moving through the legislature is not vetoed by Governor Crist.  It seems cyclists will be marginalized and restricted to either using bike lanes or using only the right-hand side of the road if the bill goes through with the current language pertaining to cyclists.  Here's part of the Orlando Sentinel piece:

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, who said Wednesday that he often rides a bike and cannot understand why his fellow cyclists would be against his proposal. 

"If they don't want to ride in the bike lanes, why are we spending all this money on them in the first place?" Aubuchon said.

Obviously, Rep. Aubuchon has never had to make a left turn at a busy intersection while on a bicycle.  A lot of this is simple belly-aching on the part of motorists who feel like bike clubs hog the roads when they are pedaling in formation.  Having been both outside a car on a bike and inside a car trailing a cyclist or cyclists, I know each side of this debate by heart.  But as I've said before on this blog, I'd rather ride very slowly behind a cyclist when I'm in a multiple-ton vehicle than side-swipe a cyclist because I couldn't see them on the right side before turning.