Spotlight On: Tesla's New Home Battery System

Spotlight On: Tesla's New Home Battery System

The world currently consumes 20 trillion kWh of energy annually—enough to power a single family home for 1.8 billion years or supply energy to a nuclear power plant for 2,300 years (or launch the Falcon 9 rocket seventeen million times). 

To begin the march away from these staggering numbers, Tesla has reinvented itself in order to change the way we look at consumption—and shepherd in a new era of renewable energy at home and businesses.

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Spotlight On: Innonatives

A new innovation platform seeks to foster collaborative innovation and design for sustainability projects.

Innonatives, launched by the Sustainability Maker Project, combines open innovation and design, crowd-sourcing, crowd voting, crowd funding, an online shop, and an international expert system. It's free to join and functions by carrying out sustainability-related design and innovation projects covering everything from products to services and communication.
The platform can be used as an educational tool; for instance to ask students to work on the sustainability challenges that are posted on the platform. Or, you can post your own sustainability projects to be carried out by students and other innovators. The platform also acts as an expert system and evaluation tool for sustainability relevance.

Innonatives is currently in its test beta phase, so you can hop over to the website and take a look at all the exciting stuff to come. The first three open innovation for sustainability challenges are:
  •       Communication/ Animation Challenge: to create a video clip that explains in an inspiring way how Sustainability and open innovation are connected and how innonatives works. There is prize money of 3000, 1500 and 750 Euros for this project (click here).
  •       Product/Brand Design Challenge: Sustainable Design with Coconut Soil! Design a sustainable product system for European gardening and horticultural markets using waste material from the coconut industry. Click here.   
  •  Product-Service Design Challenge for low-income communities: Sustainable Kitchen Challenge is spearheading a project for low-income housing in Brazil. Click here.
Innonatives Crowd Funding and the Online Shop will be available for use by the end of 2014.

The Sustainability Maker project is carried out by:
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Working Toward Zero Waste

Two years' worth of waste at Sandwich Me In in Chicago.
The Huffington Post last month reported on a restaurant that hasn't produced more than a bag of trash in more than two years because of its commitment to reusing, composting, and buying fresh with little to no packaging. The story is one we should all pay attention to; one that can inspire each of us to figure out ways to produce less garbage.

Justin Vrany, owner of Chicago-based restaurant Sandwich Me In, had the goal of being a "zero waste" restaurant in mind from Day One. His efforts to achieve that goal are showcased in a new short film produced by NationSwell.

Sandwich Me In runs on sustainable energy and sources its food from local farms, which means there's no packaging on the food. Food scraps to spent frying oil are all repurposed. Vrany even went extra lengths to ensure junk mail doesn't get sent to the restaurant.

So how'd he pull it off?

He plans menu items to intersect so no food is wasted. Every part of the chicken is used (bones into broth, breast into sandwich meat, smoked skins onto Cobb salad, etc.), and leftover vegetables are turned into veggie burgers the following day. He even gives his food scraps to farmers who in turn feed them to the chickens who in turn produce eggs for Sandwich Me In.

To keep costs down while he bought fresh, local foods, Vrany spent the first six months of restaurant ownership running the entire business, top-to-bottom, by himself. Making everything—even his own broth from the bones of chickens he buys—saved him even more money. That, paired with composting, produced practically no garbage. And now that the restaurant is starting to turn a profit, he's able to bring in people to help the business run even more smoothly.

So what's he doing with the trash he did produce? An artist who makes sculptures out of refuse recently came in to take the trash, which will soon become a new piece of art.

While at Better Farm we've certainly produced more than two bags of garbage in the last several years, we take a lot of steps to work toward zero (or at least, less) waste. The tricks we use are strategies any household could employ easily. Here's a short list:
  • Buy bulk. The bulk section of markets, where you scoop how much granola or rice you want into a bag, uses a cajillion times less packaging than when you buy a box of cereal or bag of rice. You can bring your own bags to the store, and buy exactly how much you need.
  • Clean with homemade rags. Old T-shirts, jeans, blankets, and even socks make perfect rags to clean with. You can wash them when you're done—and compost them when they wear out.
  • Clean with vinegar, baking soda, and other household items. You'll save a ton, have very little waste, and be utilizing eco-friendly products that won't poison any pets or people.
  • Cook from scratch. Buying fresh ingredients means we're not buying a whole bunch of packaging. It also means we're able to pronounce all the ingredients, and know what we're putting into those temples of bodies we have.
  • Compost. If it's a food scrap, paper scrap, cardboard scrap, or something swept or vacuumed, it's going to the compost pile.
  • Ditch the Styrofoam. You can bring your own doggy bag to a restaurant. And encourage your local businesses to ditch Styrofoam in favor of eco-friendly, compostable takeout boxes and bags.
  • No paper towels, paper napkins, paper plates, or paper sticky notes needed! We wash windows with newspaper. If something gets deep-fried (squash blossoms, anyone?!), we let it sit on newspaper or junk mail to let some of the grease escape. When we host dinner parties, we use real plates and wash them together after meals. At gallery openings, we drink out of real glasses. For napkins, we sew our own or use store-bought cloth ones. For scribbling notes or making to-do lists, we use the backs of used paper. Then we compost it.
  • Recycle. This one seems like a no-brainer, but it's amazing how much can actually be recycled that isn't.
  • Reuse. Freezer bags, bread bags, sandwich bags, egg cartons, and even the errant supermarket bag can all be cleaned and reused.
  •  Switch to Frozen juice. Every grocery store sells 100-percent (sometimes organic) juice in the frozen foods section. The concentrate comes in a little, recycleable plastic container that is infinitely smaller than a huge juice jug.  
  • Upcycle. Upgrade your lamps by changing the shade. Transform cabinets with a coat of paint. There's not always a need to toss something and buy new—learning to repair things, upgrade them, or give them a new use extends the life of an item, saves you money, and turns the tide on our culture's planned obsolescence for stuff. Also, it's a skillset that will come in handy throughout your whole life.
  • Use reusable shopping bags. There isn't any reason to use plastic or paper shopping bags. Ever. If you're forgetful, keep reusable bags in varying sizes in your car.
Got a great, green tip? Email us at info@betterfarm.org.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Tea-Party Tree Trunk

What's a girl to do when National Grid swoops through the yard and takes down a dead tree blocking the power line?

Stack that wood for next winter, turn that trunk into a table, and start planning an epic tea party.

Not every trunk has to be removed from its place in your yard—a simple plywood circle attached to the trunk with galvanized decking screws and a coat of exterior paint is enough to equip you with the most perfect table for an outdoor checkers match, picnic, or Mad Hatter tea party complete with log seats.

Do you not LOVE this?! Stay tuned for pics from the obviously impending matches of bocce ball and croquet with sides of tea and cucumber sandwiches in all the seersucker, linen, and party-dress fare we can get our hands on.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Our Favorite Things List: Spring 2014

Cocoon Double-Hang Nest Chair.
We see all the articles buzzing about on the Internet about the 10 coolest things to build for your home or how to have a lavish backyard this summer. Between all those lists, and other articles we've run into, there's no shortage of "To-Dos" at Better Farm this (or any!) year. Here are our top picks for cool new ideas we'd like to employ—as soon as the there are more hours in a day.

Outdoor stage:

Half-table over trash pail and toilet paper roll in bathroom:

Stitching together gorgeous, unusual quilts:

Breakfast nooks:

Cement stepping stones rife with jewels and made in a cereal box:

A bunk bed turned into a "floating" outdoor deck:
 Hydroponics in the greenhouse:

Outdoor pizza ovens. All the time.
 Pallet benches:
Okay, pallet everything:


Hula hoop hideouts:

Using unusual items to make coat racks:

Sunflower houses:

Converted, old schoolbuses:

Turning anything at all into planters:

Outdoor kitchens:

Trellises for all climbing fruits and veggies:


Practical, easy irrigation techniques:

Shabby chic:


Inexpensive, simple, at-home transformations like white coats of paint and new hardware for kitchen cabinets:

Before
After
Upcycling windows to make cold frames:


Upcycling tarps to make games:


 And upcycling bed frames to make benches:


 Outdoor tents and hangout areas:


Huge flowers:
 
Tiny houses:

Also tiny and great: library shares for villages, neighbors, or cities:
 Genius mudroom ideas:
Before

After (pretty please?)
Geodesic chicken pens (particularly during late winter/early spring when predators are the scariest):

 Using skirt/slacks hangers to hang art:

Clever outdoor lighting solutions:

 Smart night-time entertaining ideas for kids (or adults...):

Got some to-die-for design or garden ideas to share? Email info@betterfarm.org.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Eat Your Enemies: Spotlight on Invasivore

Sir-fried carrot and invasive burdock root. Image from Food 52.
In a world of international shipping, plane travel, criss-crossing railroad tracks, and roads, invasive species have become par for the course. In any ecosystem, you're likely to find a number of species that have immigrated from elsewhere; often with detrimental effects to the native population.

Invasivore, a group of people taking advantage of this invasion, promotes the consumption of invasive species as a means of controlling those populations and essentially turning proverbial lemons into delicious lemonade.


From prehistoric times, humans have had an amazing track-record of severely reducing the populations of species we eat.  Indeed, it seems that much of the time we can’t stop ourselves.  The folks at Invasivore believe we can tap that hunger to reduce the impacts of harmful invasive species.

The mission at Invasivore is to be a one-stop guide for devouring Invasive Species, those organisms which have been moved around the world, damaging their new surroundings.  Think of it as reasonable revenge for the harm these species cause.  The word “invasivore” comes from combining “Invasive Species” with the latin for “devour” as in “carnivore”.  Thus invasivore = one who eats invasive species.

Over at the group's website, you can peruse recipes for preparing invasive species (ahem, burdock), as well as exposition and commentary on related topics such as species’ profiles, histories and cultural significance, harvesting tips, interviews with Invasivores-at-large, and summaries of relevant scientific research.

Material for the Invasivore project is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant # NSF-DGE-0504495 to the GLOBES interdisciplinary training program at the University of Notre Dame.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Inspiration Station: Modern Art by Preschoolers

In the spirit of Picasso—by Riley Caldwell, Age 3.
While visiting family in New Jersey over the weekend, I received an invitation from my nieces' nursery school to a modern art show the girls, ages 2 and 3, would be participating in:
The inspiring lesson plan and subsequent art show was too genius not to share. This would make a great class project at any nursery school, summer camp, or workshop.

The "gallery" was set up in the school's classroom. Artwork by famous creators was displayed alongside brief biographies and explanations of the assignments and classwork given to the students. With Pablo Picasso, kids were told about his life, then shown work by the artist. Children were then encouraged to think about their profiles. "When the older children looked at their profiles, we talked about the curve of the nose and that they could see only one eye. They then drew the line of their profile in the middle of the paper and chose two colors to paint each side of the face." Students were encouraged to glue eyes and mouths anywhere they would like on the paper.



Shameless niece promotion: Riley rocks Picasso.
Here are their interpretations of Frida Kahlo's work:

...Cy Twombly:
Niece Ella shows off her Cy Twombly-esque piece.
...and just a couple other really awesome pieces of work by pre-schoolers; circus sculptures, and spin art:

Got a great, creative lesson plan you'd like to share? Email us at info@betterfarm.org.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Spotlight On: Grassroots Seed Network

Whether you're looking to get seeds or share seeds you saved from your garden last year, a new start-up called the Grassroots Seed Network is a great resource for the radicals among you with a vested interest in spreading the open-pollinated love.


Many fruits and vegetables sold today in supermarkets are hybrid varieties that will either not reproduce from seed, or will revert back to an earlier variety of that plant. Open pollination refers to plants that are pollinated by insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms—in other words, the opposite of controlled hybrids, self-pollinators, or chemically treated plants that can not reproduce at all. Open pollination is great because it increases biodiversity and produces new generations of plants—however, open pollination may produce offspring that varies greatly in size, quality, and coloration breeding is uncontrolled.

As you can probably already guess, the crew at Better Farm is in serious favor of open pollination. Who needs generic peppers or tomatoes that all look the same? We'd rather have an eclectic assortment that promotes diversity among plants. That diversity is what allows you to not lose all your plants to one pest or disease; and what allows for a greater variety of plants in the future. Good all-around for the environment, animals, and plants. For information on how to save your own seeds, be sure to visit the Vegetable Seed-Saving Handbook.

The mission of the Grassroots Seed Network is to provide a participatory, member-governed, democratic network through which those who preserve and maintain the treasured heritage of open-pollinated vegetable seeds can share those seeds with each other and can encourage and help educate the next generation of seed savers.

Here's the skinny on how the Grassroots Seed Network functions:

Grassroots Seed Network is a member-governed organization, and its vitality will grow from the participation of all those dedicated to the preservation of open-pollinated seeds. Here are several ways you can become involved: 

Lister: Listers offer seeds and may request seeds from other Listers through our Source List. Listers have voting rights in all Board of Directors elections if they have offered seed in two of the preceding three years. Listers are also eligible to run for a seat on the Board of Directors. Annual dues for Listers are $15. 

Sustainer: Many of you will not yet have seed to offer, but will want to support the organization by making a contribution toward our daily operating expenses. As a Sustainer you will have access to and be able to request seed from the Source List, but you will not have voting rights. Annual dues for Sustainers are $25. 

Donations: Like any new organization, we have start-up costs, therefore we welcome and are very grateful for donations in any amount that will help us with a
smooth launch and with meeting our financial obligations right from the beginning. 

Hardship Exemption: We want to encourage participation in the Grassroots Seed Network, especially among young gardeners or anyone dedicated to
seed saving, but who may be on a fixed or limited income and for whom the membership dues present a challenge. To those we are offering a hardship exemption. You are, of course, welcome to make any small contribution commensurate with your ability. 

To join, please send a check, made out to Grassroots Seed Network, to 

Yaicha Cowell-Sarofeen 
 2470 Industry Road 
 Starks, ME 04911 
 207-491-4259 

Be sure to indicate your level of membership, and include your full address, phone number, and email address if you have one. Please let us know if you have no internet access at home. As soon as it is feasible, we plan to generate a printed version of the Source List. In future years a printed version of the Source List will be published annually. If you are joining as a Lister or Sustainer you will be given a member number and be assigned/choose a password for access to Lister contact information and guidelines for requesting seed. If you are joining as a Lister, you will find guidelines for submitting seed listings on the How to List and Request Seed page. 
Grassroots Seed Network will be applying for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status as soon as they have an elected Board of Directors. The group's preliminary draft by-laws can be read here. These will be voted on for approval by the Board and the Membership. In order for donations to be tax-deductible, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has agreed to act as financial umbrella organization.

Visit the Source List page to view the seed listings. The Source List is available to the general public for reading. If you are a Lister or a Sustainer you will need your password to access the Lister Profile page or to see guidelines for offering or requesting seed.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Thinking Differently About Demolition

Salvaging windows.
By outsourcing a lot of renovation and demolition work, a person will often miss the opportunity to salvage perfectly good materials that can be saved for other projects, donated, recycled, or even cashed in at redemption centers for money.

In New York City alone, 19,000 tons of demolition and construction materials are discarded daily. That's a huge amount of garbage being added to landfills that doesn't have to be. Organizations like Build it Green! NYC salvage materials such as furniture, wood, and windows from construction sites for resale at a shop in Brooklyn.



Each of us at some point or another will come across a renovation project that provides a wonderful opportunity for salvage if you're willing to take the time to be a little green. My chance came with the recent purchase of a small cottage around the corner from Better Farm that is being totally renovated and rebuilt for year-round use.

Instead of having a crew demolish the structure for rebuild, an unbelievably wonderful group of friends joined me in a salvage project that kept almost all of the original structure from a landfill.
Here's the salvage list from a 24x27 seasonal cottage structure, gleaned from 3 full days of demolition work:
  • 600 square feet of tongue-and-groove pine
  • 200 square feet of facing stones (to be used for raising the chimney)
  • three bed frames
  • three double-hung, insulated windows
  • 1,000 feet of electrical wiring less than 1 year old
  • two antique exterior lanterns
  • four interior lighting fixtures
  • 1,000 pounds of scrap metal for redemption
  • lamps, ceiling fans (2), and kitchen supplies for donation
  • six sound-system speakers
  • six 4x4 posts
  • metal corrugated roofing (80 square feet)
  • wood stove
  • 15 feet of double-wall, insulated metal chimney pipe
  • exterior walls
In addition to salvage materials, there are inevitable treasures to be found in each renovation project. At the cottage, we discovered an American flag painted across the entire ceiling:
Treasure!
New construction for this house starts in mid-April—but demo in winter allows us to get materials off the island while we still have tons of ice. For your own renovation/demolition projects, check with your local thrift shop, Habitat for Humanity, and other organizations to see how the materials from your project can benefit people in your community—and keep some waste out of landfills.

You can check out the full island-renovation album here.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Progress on Frame Ceiling


We blogged recently about a ceiling design for Better Farm's Art Barn that will utilize donated, discarded frames. We "broke ground" on the project a couple of weeks ago, and have already used up the frames given to us by Fort Drum and Focal Point Frames. Here's how we went about the work:

Firstly, it's important to always keep your end-goal in sight:
This photo from the New York Times is of a ceiling created out of discarded picture frames by Dan Phillips of Phoenix Commotion.
1. Line up all matched frames in a row.
 2. Using a power nailer, connect corner pieces.
3. Use a chop saw to shorten sides to fit between ceiling beams.

4. Begin the laborious task of power-nailing the frames to the ceiling...





Got some frames you can donate to the cause? Email info@betterarts.org to help out!
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Finding Inspiration on the Open Road

Bunk-house inspiration in Gettysburg, Penn.

Travel gives you new eyes; allows you to see more, gain some powerful time for reflection, and acquire some new inspiration. This past weekend was no exception, as I hit the road (and sky) for treks through Gettysburg, Penn., Miami, Fla., Key Biscayne, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C.

Here's a picture tour of some inspiration I gleaned from the trip and hope to apply some incarnation of to Better Farm:


GETTYSBURG, PA
Drummer Boy Camping Resort 
Inspiration for future bunk house at Better Farm




COCONUT GROVE, MIAMI, FL
Garden Inspiration 
Outdoor eating in a secret garden.
Claw tub planter growing fresh herbs and flowers.
Flowers growing out of the trunks of trees. (Miami, FL)
AT A HOUSE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT BUILT
MIAMI, FL
Garden and grounds (and future attached greenhouse) inspiration


Koi pond.

Gravel footpaths through foresty landscaping.


Chandelier by Dale Chihuly

Stepping stones through a fish and turtle pond.
Outdoor aviary.
Outdoor shower/patio area.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Whet Your Pallet

This pallet adirondack chair was featured on Green Upgrader.

Building with pallets is a great starter upcycling venture. They're made of solid hard wood, they're readily available (just track down some friends who work construction), and they're oft-abandoned after they serve their purpose. Here are just a few wonderful ideas we tracked down online over the last few months.

For compost bins:

...For tables...

...For shelving...

...For storage...
 ...For seating (or sleeping!)...

...For outside bars:

...For work-room stairs...

...For bringing in-house forts to a whole new level...
 ...for plants...


...for storage...

Got a great upcycling idea you'd like to share? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.