the ‘Ville gets green(er)

Louisville city skyline
2′ x 4′ oil on canvas
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By guest writer, Mark Appleberry, of Sustain (a business dedicated to providing the resources necessary for families and individuals to live more sustainably).

“Green living can mean so many different things. It can start with buying the first re-usable shopping bag, switching to toxic free cleaning, buying from local farmers, or even giving second life to an object instead of buying new.   It starts with small decisions that can have significant impacts on the future.   Everyone we meet that is making steps towards sustainability is an inspiration.   We would like to acknowledge a few our friends, right here in Louisville, who are making great strides forward and inspiring hope along the way.

Ben and Julie Evans – The aspiring filmmaking team, along with another friend, Mark Dixon, are the creative genius behind “Your Environmental Road Trip [YERT],”   These three took a year to visit all 50 states, putting themselves through extreme eco-challenges, interviewing over 800 environmental leaders, experts, and regular citizens from all walks of life, and documenting sustainability across America – as they like to say, “the good, the bad…and the weird.”   The documentary is pregnant with hope, laughter, and over 500 hours of “green” footage.   It is slated for release in full at the end of this year.   For now, satiate your curiosity with over 50 short fun films on their webpage.   For anyone interested in helping with the feature film, contact Ben at

Paul Schellenberger – An 18 year veteran of vermicomposting (worm farming), Paul is a passionate environmentalist excited about educating people about worm farming and composting in general.   Paul consulted from the outset with Breaking New Grounds, a local Louisville vermiculture operation.   You can find BNG’s compost at local Heine Brother’s Coffee shops.

John W. Moody – John is enabling sustainable living by connecting people with local farmers.   His involvement with the Whole Life Co-op., as well as his educational seminars, convey the message of “simple living”.   John regularly speaks on composting and encouraging people to think before carelessly buying, consuming, and discarding.   He and his wife also speak to young parents about raising happy, healthy children.   You can learn more about what John is doing by exploring

Green Convene – The Green Convene is non-partisan coalition to promote sustainable policies in local government.   Led by an informal steering committee of local volunteers, the Green Convene is working to coordinate and bring together the many local Louisville movements addressing a variety of sustainability issues in the Louisville Metro area.   They are always in the market for volunteers and participants and you can join here.

These are just a few of the great people and organizations in and around Louisville dedicated to helping Louisville become a greener, environmentally friendly community and we’re proud of their efforts!”

Thank you Mark!   I’ll add to that list the Green Building, Ohio Valley Creative Energy, and BrightSide (supported in part by Gallopalooza), all of which are highly worthy of your clicks.

‘Climate Change on Canvas’ at UN conference

As excited as I was to be a part of the Oxfam “Climate Change on Canvas” project, I was disappointed to hear outcomes from UN the conference left something to be desired.   Theo Ratcliff of Oxfam International reported, “The conference in Poznan was meant to be a key milestone between the start of negotiations in Bali last year and their conclusion at Copenhagen next year. But it has exposed a shameful lack of progress. By now, developed nations were meant to have outlined their plans for emissions reductions, finance and technology; they have failed to do so.”

I heard a similar report on NPR, which described failure between wealthy and developing countries to agree on collaborative efforts to fund and otherwise positively affect climate change (such as the Adaption Fund).   A reporter for the San Fransisco Chronicle summed up the conference with, “…they came, they talked and they departed. And that’s about it.”

For a glimpse of the conference in review on a lighter note, check out pictures of the “Climate Change on Canvas Project on the Oxfam flickr page.   I was truly impressed with the Oxfam initiative to engage artists, students and community groups in this public awareness campaign.   They get a spot in my top 5 nonprofit groups.

‘Climate Change on Canvas’

48″ x 72″ oil on canvas

I am so incredibly honored to publish this post. This enormous painting was commissioned by my favorite kind of client, a nonprofit organization. I was selected by Oxfam America to create an image that represents the connection between climate change and poverty. The work will also represent Oxfam America’s Climate Change on Canvas project at the next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Poznan, Poland in December, 2008.

Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice. The goal of the Climate Change on Canvas project is to use artwork and visual imagery to challenge the UN delegates to recognize the effects of climate change on the world’s poorest communities. Lacking sufficient resources, poor communities are least prepared to adapt to the most severe impacts of climate change. To learn more about Oxfam’s climate change campaign, visit

Oxfam America is just one of many Oxfam International affiliates who will be creating canvases for this project. Similar works of art will travel from all over the world created by professional artists, unknown artists and members of developing communities to be exhibited at the UN conference, representing a unified global movement around climate change and poverty. This piece will go to Poland and come back to the US where Oxfam plans to use art as a mobilization tool around climate change in 2009.

You should know that Oxfam is also looking for similar works from art students from around the country. If you are interested in learning more about this component of the project, email Oxfam’s Lead Student Organizer, Gabriel Barreras, at gbarreras[at]oxfamamerica[dot]org.

Thanks to Oxfam staff for contributing content for this post.

“Black Gold”

5″ x 7″ watercolor in a 12″ x 15″ frame, $220
Click here to view a picture of the framed painting.
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This week I saw a screening of the documentary film Black Gold. Heine Brothers Coffee, an independent, fair trade chain in Louisville promoted the film screening to shed some light on the economics of coffee (second only to oil as the world’s most heavily traded commodity).

Black Gold is another documentary calling for thoughtful action in our everyday activities verses being blissfully ignorant of the harm we help create through our behavior as consumers. Americans alone drink 400 million cups of coffee per day. Of that $3 for a cup of coffee, approximately $.03 goes to the farmer. Of course that $3 includes the a lot of overhead, nonetheless, coffee retailers benefit disproportionately from the farmers’ crop and labor. One saddening effect of this is the desperate decision of some farmers to replace their coffee plants (which take several years to grow to maturity) with chat, sold as a narcotic drug in their own communities.

Don’t fret! We can still enjoy our beloved drink with a clear conscience. Buying fair trade coffee ensures that farmers are paid a minimum of $1.50/lb of whole beans. This stands in stark contrast to fluctuating prices (sometimes dropping well below $1/lb) set by large multinational corporations for coffee traded in the free market.

After the film, during the Q&A session, I asked who absorbs the cost of paying the price difference for fair trade coffee. A long time Heine Brothers barrista informed me their company paid the difference and, although it has hurt their profit, their customer base has grown because of the attraction of such higher moral business practices.

The Starbucks website claims they are North America’s largest purchaser of certified Fair Trade coffee, although I know they certainly do not exclusively serve it. I read on a blog somewhere that Starbucks had promised to brew a cup of fair trade coffee for you if it was not the coffee of the day. I tried this at a Starbucks inside a Target store and the woman at the counter asked me what fair trade meant. I didn’t have the patience for that explanation. When I went to the sugar counter for milk, I ironically saw a fair trade pamphlet. Clearly fair trade is not a bullet point in the employee training manual.

Click here for a direct link to the Black Gold trailer.

Click here to see a schedule of Black Gold screenings.

A backyard garden, 10 tomatoes and a happy house guest

5″ x 5″ watercolor in a 12″ x 12″ frame.
Click here to see picture of painting framed.
See all artwork available for sale.

Last night I drove deep into rural southern Indiana to celebrate the holiday weekend with friends who recently bought a home with more than enough land to accommodate for a vegetable garden, chickens and goats. Our dinner spread was largely comprised of ingredients fresh from their yard. As anyone who has ever tried to eat locally and seasonally, my friends found themselves with a large over-abundance of a few vegetables, so much so that all guests were given parting gifts of tomatoes.

Eating local produce is an excellent way to support local farmers, revisit the notion that food comes from the ground (not a box), cut down on carbon emissions from carting produce from thousands of miles away, and feed your stomach something it will actually like and use. But committing to such a diet does require some culinary creativity. I love tomatoes, but what am I going to do with 6 of them in one week? Solution: here’s a very simple recipe for 10 Tomato Pasta from the kitchen of Nora Pouillon, owner of Restaurant Nora and Asia Nora in Washington DC (the first certified organic restaurant in the US). So go ahead and buy more tomatoes and pass on the can of SpaghettiO’s.

Taking nutrition disclosure to a new level

Here on Bainbridge Island (off the coast of Seattle where I’m staying for a few more days), it’s actually a challenge not to eat organic foods (much of which is also locally grown). One particular small store and cafe, Island Health Foods, makes a special effort to inform customers of how many miles their produce has traveled on handwritten note cards disclosing that distance beneath the price of each item. I’ve never seen this done before and thought it was very clever.

I continue to be wowed by Island Health Foods as I just went to their website to additionally discover:

“Our café is far along on the way to becoming a zero waste operation. All our to-go containers—yes, even the straws—are 100% recycled, bio-compostable from NatureWorks. We compost all our kitchen waste and to-go containers and are working on a local education program on composting and sustainable waste management.”

There is certainly more chatter these days about such topics, including the cost to the environment, in CO2 emissions, to transport our food from the farm to your local grocery store. Ironically, the day after I noticed Island Health Food’s signs, there was an article in the Seattle Post about 80 Seattle residents eating on the “100 mile diet” for the month of August.

Hang in there Al Gore; momentum is building!

Just Creations making an appearance at the farmers market

I’ve been toying with this design for a 3′ x 5′ outdoor sign which will hang from a vendor’s table at the Deer Park farmers market in Louisville. If you’re a local, and have frequented this farmers market, I’m positive you’re familiar with the famous omelet stand. The produce to the right of that stand is sold by the glorious organic omelet chefs and comes from Oxmoor Farm, home of the Food Literacy Project (featured here on this site in the past).

As the board member from the marketing committee designated to be the graphic designer for Just Creations, I created this sign to encourage socially conscious farmers market patrons to shop at Just Creations (we are a fair trade, nonprofit retailer selling home furnishings, decor, clothing and coffee produced by artisans from around the world in developing countries. I’ve also blogged about the store here and here). Another board member is donating a several of our artisan baskets to kick start some enticement.

I need to send the design off to the printer this week and would love some feedback. Any suggestions?

Earth worms and garlic ice cream, mmm good!

8″ x 10″ oil on canvas
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I’ve always said I love garlic, in abundance, on anything. I may stand corrected, although I’ll have to get back to you on that after I harvest garlic tomorrow and make my own garlic ice cream at The Food Literacy Project‘s Family Farm Day. I may also bake bread in a solar oven (weather permitting) and pass the brush onto someone else to have my face painted. From 10-2 tomorrow (Saturday) you can partake in all of this and more at Oxmoor Farm. Proceeds from tickets sales and the silent auction will go towards The Food Literacy Project’s efforts to reconnect consumers (especially kids) with the processes and products of organic farming via hands on learning.

Personally, I believe we are easy targets for junk food manufacturers because it’s been decades since anyone of us understood from experience what food really consists of and how it makes it to our plates (or wrappers). So ignorance is bliss as we eat our cheesy puffs, and “made with real…” in front of any ingredient on a box is luxurious instead of expected. The Food Literacy Project is out to bridge this great divide by meeting urban Louisville residents on their turf since the farm is juxtaposed next to the city’s largest mall and I-64. School groups, adults, or whomever can taste foods from the farm, plant seeds, learn about composting and more (or they’ll come to your school).

Maybe I’ll see you out there tomorrow. You get to try my garlic ice cream first. Ha!

$20/family pre-registered
$6 at the door
children under 2 free
To pre-register: Call (502) 413-5989 or email

100 mile diet

6″ x 6″ watercolor
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No, don’t worry, I’m not going to preach about the health benefits of running 100 miles to lose weight (I’m still working on finishing a 5k myself). This diet, unlike Atkins or South Beach, is most likely not on your radar. But first, let me preface the description with a little oration.

The commercial food industry has placed a vast distance between the origin of the food we eat and our plates. The greater that distance and disconnect, the less likely we are to be inquisitive about how corn is turned into Doritos. Since we trust food manufacturers’ production methods, as evidenced by an enormous majority of real estate in a grocery stores being occupied by processed foods, we end up naively believing “enriched ____” is a good thing.

Truth be told, food manufacturers want things this way so money-saving-corners can be cut and physically addictive “tastes” can be engineered in laboratories to make that “home-style” flavor prominent in your boxed dinner via a slew of ingredient you can’t pronounce.

Proactively becoming aware and engaged in reacting to this realization certainly takes time and effort. Although the imperative demand of our attention is inevitable if we hope for optimal health and an ablution of our insides from high-fructose corn syrup and synthetic hormones.

Eating foods separated from you by one minuscule degree, a farmer, is a foreign concept to many. I found a website,, that takes this concept to the max: exclusively eating foods grown within a 100 mile radius of your home. The website states that,

“When the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient has typically traveled at least 1,500 miles—call it ‘the SUV diet.'”

Clearly, this also has tremendous environmental implications as well. That’s a high CO2 price tag (not to mention a high $ price tag) to bring your out-of-season berries from down south.

Farmers markets are an excellent way to reestablish what “food” truly means, support local growers, and encourage environmentally sustainable agriculture and business practices. Your kids will also likely develop an interest in what they eat and prefer playing in the dirt from their own mini vegetable garden to digging wash-off tattoos out of frosty-o’s cereal boxes.

Here are some resources to get started:

Locally for Louisvillans:

A brighter future for elephants also benefits people of Zambia

I love problem solvers; people who approach a stale dilemma from a fresh perspective. Hammerskjoeld Simwinga, a 2007 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, is one such person. He has brought new opportunities to fellow Zambian residents once dependent on poaching elephants as a desperate source of income.

In the 1980’s, elephant numbers were dwindling as poachers relied on their meat and tucks for survival. With the help of the US funded, North Luangwa Conservation Project, Simwinga convinced many poachers that micro-lending, agricultural education, and health care training would provide them with legal and viable options for self-sustaining communities.

I watched a wonderful video this morning that illustrated how Simwinga has carried out his vision. Former poachers used simple machines to extract oil from harvested sunflower seeds used for cooking, as a cash crop, and feed for farm animals. An initial round of seeds were donated and the machines were purchased with micro-loans.

Now communities, once struggling in a black-market, are thriving legally. And lets not forget that the elephant population in the neighboring wildlife park are greatly improving. Simwinga accurately sums the reasoning behind his work by stating “Conservation of wildlife communities is not possible in the long term without simultaneously meeting the basic needs of the local human communities.” Hats off to an innovative thinker willing to grow ideas into reality!

Venezuela, part 3

One of the highlights of my 10 days in Venezuela was my stay with a family in the small rural town of La Magdalena, in the mountains overlooking Charallave. There is certainly something to be said for experiencing, with your own eyes, what living in poverty is truly like. Poverty is relative, but juxtaposed to my own standard of living, staying with a farming couple who have 4 children and a live-in grandparent all in a patchwork house of metal and scrap wood was humbling, to say the least. We bathed with a bucket of water and a bar of soap, and ate eggs conveniently laid for us by their chickens one thin wall away from the kitchen.

What I found most surprising was this family’s pride and happiness. Initially, when I approached their home, thoughts of pity crossed my mind. By the time I left 2 days later, I realized they didn’t feel they were lacking anything. They gladly opened their home to us with no shame whatsoever. I ended up feeling ashamed of myself because I assumed they would be ashamed. They smiled and laughed nonstop, which is more than I can say for many people who have an abundance of material wealth.

The father worked in construction when he wasn’t harvesting crops. He told us about the loan he received from the government for farm equipment that has made a positive change, and then about some of the hard times he has struggled through (related to changes in the government, as well as poor crop yields). The family now seems to be on their feet; they have means to grow more crops, their children go to good schools, they have access to a nearby health clinic, and many people in their extended family have taken advantage of literacy and GED programs for adults.

The father also told us alarming stories of violence in the nearby city that they choose to leave for their current country town. They now boast a spectacular view of the city from up and afar. They were glad to leave the urban setting that required the father carry a firearm with him on his commute to work. He said crime is still a major problem the government has not resolved. He did have multiple complaints about the Chavez government (although he was in favor of the president), but as I heard from many Venezuelans, you can’t expect everything to happen overnight.

Some argue that promises made by the Chavez, which have not come to pass, never will, and the president’s campaign selling points were empty rhetoric. I suppose validation of that perspective is yet to be determined, and may prove to be true. In the meantime, my host family is experiencing a new lease on life.

Urban Harvest brings colorful gardens to unexpected places in Houston

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to Urban Harvest)
See all paintings available for sale.
This post was supported by Serenata Flowers. Have flowers delivered to your loved ones for any occasion.

You might have imagined this citrus tree on a farm surrounded by a lush green landscape, when actually in its backdrop were towering Houston skyscrapers just a mile away. Thanks to Urban Harvest, this tree gets to inhale an abundance of air pollution in an much needed area.

The organization is “dedicated to strengthening communities through gardening…launched as an effort to ease urban hunger, but now also addresses,

  • neighborhood revitalization
  • environmental education for the young and old
  • supplemental income for low-income residents
  • farmers’ markets
  • horticulture therapy and
  • organic horticulture business partnerships”

You can find Urban Harvest gardens in schools, parks, housing projects, religious institutions, vacant lots, and therapy centers. Believe me, in a city that seems to have enough asphalt and concrete to blanket the earth, colorful and nutritious gardens freckling the landscape are welcomed by all.

To accommodate a variety of needs to ensure that as many gardens are erected as possible, Urban Harvest delves into grade school education, adult gardening classes, nutrition and exercise, growing food for donations, selling produce for income, gardening as therapy, and community development. I never realized what a diverse tool gardening could be in an urban setting. It’s also very fitting in a time when illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, run rampant due to poor eating habits, and our environment is in such desperate need of nature’s touch.