Conservation Steward Program

The federal government has announced a program called the Conservation Stewardship Program. To illustrate why this is interesting let me share a story:

I was on a plane seared next to a man reading Log Cabin magazine. He began telling about his retirement plan dreams to get that log cabin. He was buying land to build that future and told me about a particular piece which the government pays him to own. Rather, he said, pays him to do nothing with.

Kerez, Afghanistan - Irrigation and Crop Rotation
Kerez, Afghanistan - Irrigation and Crop Rotation

I instantly began grilling him on this since he was beaming like a schoolgirl who knew a secret and wanted to share. I ended up learning all about it.

It’s a government program to be environmental by saving the tracts of land that are most important to the local ecosystem. The payments aren’t much but they required him to do nothing to the land.

Obviously, he loved this plan, do nothing, get paid.

Also, I suspected he was an Air Marshall since he kept looking around and said he had like three more flights.

That pretty much summarizes the old program with the same acronym. The name is slightly different though as it changes from security to stewardship.

Old CSP – Conservation Security Program
New CSP – Conservation Stewardship Program

It’s barely a name change but apparently signifies a major overhaul of the program by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill.

The new bill seems to ask for a more active role in saving our land. Reports are saying over 70 conservation programs are available. Things like carbon sequestering, limiting GHG’s, helping well water, improving crop rotations, preventing soil erosion, and more.

It also states that it opens the program up to more land types. And, it’s being spearheaded by Kathleen Merrigan, a high ranking deputy at USDA who is a strong advocate of organic, local, and sustainable.

This is all confidence inspiring but I’m skeptical. Giving out money to do nothing was the old program. Now they seem to be asking for more active environmentalism. Im not expecting much change.

I hope they have a staff to inspect and ensure new practices are being adopted. I would also like to see a website that lists all locations recieving tax dollars and what active conservation program they are employing.

Transparency and Enforcement.

The program is open for applications from Aug 10 to Sep 30. The average payment is expected to be $18/acre with a max of $40,000 per farm.

For more info:

Being Obese Cost Individuals 37% More A Year

Just how fat are we as a country?

Well a recent report on obesity rates in America gave us an F. In fact, they even titled their report F as in Fat 2009, by the Trust for America’s Health. The reason being that they found that 2/3 of all adult Americans are overweight or obese. Where the “adult obesity rates now exceed 25 percent in 31 states and exceed 20 percent in 49 states and Washington, D.C.”

Only Colorado is exempt, but they have an obesity rate of 18.9 percent, not something to brag about. Especially considering that in “1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. In 1980, the national average for adult obesity was 15 percent.” We are now at more than 33 percent nationwide, it goes on to state.

1 out of 3 of us are obese.

2 out of 3 of us are overweight/obese.

I’m a little scared to pass along the facts about our children…

Utah and Minnesota had the lowest rate of obesity for their children at 23.1 percent. Our children are fatter than we are.  In some states the obesity rate is at rates of 35-45 percent.

Scary stuff.

If we look at this report (pdf) from the Center for Disease Control. It shows individual charts from 1985 to 2008. Each one lists all the states and their average level of obesity, based on BMI levels (body mass index; 30 or higher equals obese). I just flipped through the pages and watch the obesity trend like a comic flip book. In the beginning all of the states show no data or very low BMI’s. Then as the years progress all the states are in the fat quadrant.

They even had to add extra columns on the right to describe the higher levels of BMI.

What does this all cost us?

Cost is an interesting word. These obesity trends are having drastic impacts on the environment, our economy, and our family lives. But, here I just want to focus on dollars in health care since I have another report to share.

Many thanks to Ryan Huber for the tip on this article.

This report from a journal, Health Affairs, discusses the changes in health care spending from 1987 to 2001.

The Impact of Obesity on Rising Medical Spending, by Kenneth E. Thorpe, Curtis S. Florence, David H. Howard, and Peter Jorski. (pdf of full report)

The results show two things. Obese folks end up spending more on health care each year. It also hints that they cost the rest of us more money as well.

“Health care spending among the obese was 37 percent higher.”

The rate of obesity in America is increasing to and so are the costs. Being in this category means that we spend more on health care, that spending is increasing (compared to those not obese), and more of us are becoming obese.

This is normally due to the increased health risks that come along with this epidemic. They include risks of developing “diabetes, gallstones, hypertension, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, stroke, and some forms of cancer.”

Don’t think we’re safe though if we are just overweight since “the risk of death is higher among moderately and severely overweight men and women, regardless of age.” (bold added by me).

Finally, the report hints that 27% of all increases in healthcare spending are due to obesity. Since obesity is linked to so many diseases, each of which are on the rise, it is possible that we are all facing higher costs. This may just get worse too if our government move towards a more collective (socialist) form of healthcare.

Don’t Get Mad

I am not here to offend anyone. I am not here to place blame. But I cannot step around our obesity problem. In order to address it we have to face the issue.

In writing this piece I made sure to use we instead of you. This is not an individual problem or issue. It is a community issue. Together we must face it and together we can solve it.

I also understand how hard this is for us. I was once 60 pounds heavier than I am now. I understand how deep this feels.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments.


A Clean Life Interviews – Dave Cacner

I love being a part of a community with A Clean Life. There are so many people living the way we all can/should. Here is one, Dave Cacner, an avid composter. Read on as Dave shares some of his clean lifestyle with us:

What is the favorite environmental thing you do?
It’s a toss-up between making compost and recycling/reusing what I can.  I’ll take whatever vegetable matter we don’t use in the house and compost it.  I’ve even been known to empty the vacuum cleaner bag or take out the dryer lint and add them to the compost pile.  In terms of recycling, I recycle whatever paper we have down to the paper price tags that come on clothing or even toilet paper rolls.

How close to zero waste are you?
Pretty close.  We don’t subscribe to the twice-weekly garbage service.  First of all it’s way overpriced, and since I live less than 3 miles from the Fairfax County transfer station, it’s really easy to justify not paying $30 a month for garbage/recycling pickup.  I estimate that our family of 3 puts out less than 1 large garbage bag a week, or about 3-4 plastic grocery bags worth of garbage.  The rest is composted or recycled!  Or reused.

How do the other people in your life take to this?
My wife and daughter tolerate my cause and of course recycle the standard fare; i.e. newspapers, junk mail, bottles, cans, etc.  And they also diligently fill up our composter under the sink.  Of course, I have to take it outside whenever it’s overflowing.  As far as my friends and neighbors, I think they are somewhat envious, especially when I tell them my garbage bill is around $6.00 a month.  I haven’t seen anyone give up the “convenience” of having the garbage trucks drive through the neighborhood at 7 AM during the week.

What are the benefits you have found in doing all this?
I feel good about how our family is making a difference by reducing the garbage we produce and even in suburbia I feel connected to the land through my composting.

What are you trying to do next?
Your questions have made me think about starting a garden next year.  Every year I think about it and then it’s too late to plant anything.  I’d also like to start buying more local foods and visit farmers markets as part of our normal grocery-gathering.

Do you compost? Describe your process, bins do you use (inside/out), any problems, has it become habitual?
Yes!  I’ve been composting since we moved into our home back in 1995.  I had been just putting the grass clippings in the woods when my wife came across The Rodale Book of Composting on sale at Borders one weekend.  I highly recommend this for beginners and those who want to understand the history and science behind composting.  It really energized me into composting more than just grass clippings.  I went out and purchased two plastic bins, one green and one black (similar to this photo) through a Montgomery County Maryland subsidization program several years ago.  The county was offering them for only $5 each while Home Depot had them for around $30 each, and I haven’t found anything so reasonable since.  If I could, I’d buy a couple more to put out in the woods.  As you research this, you don’t need fancy bins…and don’t waste your money on those rotating cement mixer-like contraptions offering to turn your garbage into dirt in mere days.  Just make a pile in the corner of your yard and toss your clippings and table scraps in there turning periodically.  You’ll be surprised how easy (and fun) it is.

As it is, if I fill up both bins and seem to have more to compost than can fit neatly into the containers.  I throw grass, hedge trimmings, coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, dryer lint, dog hair, fireplace ashes, etc. into the green bin to work awhile.  Then after a few months (with no action on my part) or a few weeks (with periodic turning) I move the semi-composted muck into the black bin to work a little more until it’s ready for screening.  If I did nothing to the piles, in about a year I would have “black gold” or very rich dirt.  If I were to turn the piles more often, adding water and mixing everything up while exposing the bacteria to air, I’d have that rich dirt in a couple of weeks.

When I’m ready to make soil, all I do is take a homemade screen from 2X4’s and galvanized hardware cloth and sift out the twigs, rocks, and other materials that don’t break down so rapidly.  I place the screen over my wheelbarrow, mix in some peat moss, and shovel the resulting soil into used mulch bags.  Earlier this summer I made about 5 cubic yards of soil in about an hour.  The flowers love it!

Really I don’t have any problems with the compost.  Fortunately our HOA allows compost bins and the neighbors don’t mind.  Of course I offer them some of the dirt for their plantings.  We never have to buy dirt or potting soil and whenever we plant any bushes or flowers, I always add a shovelful of my compost to help enrich the clay soil we have in Northern Virginia.

What has been the hardest part about your composting?
Not having time to get out and work the piles.  It really helps to turn the piles as the more air you introduce the faster it turns into soil.

What are you growing in your garden?
Sadly nothing.  One of my projects this summer will be to build some boxes that I can attach to my deck…something along the lines of this.

Where do you get your food from? Farmers Markets? Hardcore locavore?
Mostly Wegmans.  I’m working on the Farmers Markets 🙂

What kind of trash bins does your city provide to you?
N/A.  We have some recycling bins and a wheeled garbage can that the previous owners left us.  I have two bins for recycling newspapers and other paper products including the paperboard boxes such as cereal comes in as well as the traditional junk mail.  I also have 3 bins for aluminum, plastic (1 & 2), and glass.  I really wish the county would start taking some of the other types of plastic…I really feel guilty throwing out the butter dishes and non-1&2 type PET.

Rant About Lazy Americans

So I posted this comment on twitter as robotchampion:

@gavinNewsom in San Francsico, signs first ever compost mandate, requires food scraps be gathered for composting. –

And got this response in Facebook:

“Nothing like building global harmony through state coercion!”

Now this gets me going. In my journeys through A Clean Life one thing keeps hitting me smack in the head. Our environmental problems come from us, the people.

You can’t blame the big companies anymore. You can’t blame the government anymore. There is nothing left to blame and that means we are the last to change. We are passively resisting a better world…why?

lazycatIf you look at Zero Waste initiatives around the country they do so much for every community. Starting with saving money for people, in the form of lower taxes or reduced trash costs. Then go onto time savings, producing so much trash takes effort. You have to open, trash it, and then carry out to the street. We take so many trips to empty our cans each week. Then we have to drag out a bin to the curb. Place bags in the trash cans.

Just think about it, break the habit and the routine. Save money, spend less time throwing things away, and yes make our communities a better place to live. In fact, the environmental benefits are enormous, effecting nearly every place you can go.

Then look at the Local Food movement. This is one of those insane topics. Overweight people who diet, workout, and spend money on diet foods and gyms, actually complain about the cost of local food. The number one most important thing you can do for your body is to have a solid diet. Local food is the diet you need and local fresh food is the perfect diet.

Yet we passively resist. Partly, I think, due to a mistaken belief in mass marketing. You know those commercials and brand labels that offer you the perfect chocolate snack with enriched vitamins and fortified minerals. Ya, believing in that marketing is like satisfying a thirst with one drop of water. You don’t think those companies plan on not filling you up. Why would they ever want you to get full?

The real value of that chocolate bar is minimal to your body, like one drop of water when you need a glass of water.

Cost. It’s a myth. Good food is cheap. Go to any store that sells local food and you will find cheap prices. The problem here is twofold. First, please don’t go to those places and try to buy macaroni and cheese. You will not find any 20 cent Ramen noodles here. Buy the food that they specialize in and you will find great prices. Don’t get angry at these kind of stores because apples are cheap and cheetos are 6$ a bag.

Second, you don’t understand food. Everything we eat is grown/raised somewhere. Then there is a harvest time when that food type is abundant. This seasonal food is cheap due to abundance, better for you because its so ripe, and completely fulfilling. They are glasses of water.

Americans don’t follow this pattern though. We eat whatever we want whenever we want. Most think this is ideal, but its not. The ideal is a fit healthy body that avoids the doctor’s office and occasionally partakes in non-seasonal food.

Wow, this rant is angry. It does show you why I’m all for a little state coercion. How else do you get people to change??

But hey now don’t take my word for it. Dig into the issues and you will find these words to be truth. Or, watch this video of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom:

“if they dont care about themselves, or their family, then its like second hand smoke it effects all of us”

Pure Drinking Water From Your Toilet

Would you do it?

The Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) has found a way to turn the county’s sewage into drinking water that “is of a higher quality than required by all state and federal drinking water standards and is similar to distilled water”.

They are using an “advanced purification process” with the latest in “water treatment technologies”. This is absolutely fascinating. You may not know this but Southern California is a very dry place. So dry that we import most of our water. It is extremely expensive to do that too.

water_cubesWe are not talking about expansive Roman aqueducts to bring the stuff into one city. We are talking about a sprawling metropolis of over 10 million people. Getting in the water means ginormous pipes, rivers, reservoirs, a whole webwork of water carriers. We buy water from other states, steal it from rivers, and even attempt to desalinate the ocean.

Now, we are on the road to a sustainable water system. Where the water we use and flush is sent back to us. My imagination quickly runs to the end of the line with this. Take this process, productize it, and put it in every house/building. Now houses need significantly less water, with some houses maybe needing no water. Get those houses completely off the water grid.

Ok, before I digress into Tatooine and Star Wars water capture technology let me get back to reality. This groundwater reclamation system (GWR) is still very new, opening in January of 2008. Tests can show it to of equal quality to drinking water, but what if we don’t test everything?

There are enormous potential issues here and so the brilliant folks at OCSD instead let nature do its thing. They send “half of the treated water…13 miles up along the Santa Ana River into ponds where it slowly percolates into the ground. The other half is injected into wells in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley to build up a fresh water barrier and keep salty ocean water from seeping inland.”

Concerns aside this is radical but logical. These folks are showing solid leadership and management with something very serious.

It’s serious for me too since this water normally gets tossed in the Ocean. I can’t surf without swimming in it. The more they recycle this water the better. Now, I promise you there is so much more in this story. Cost savings, environmental impacts (in a good way), compost from poo, etc.

I highly recommend reading these three very short information pieces:

Creative Reuse

Picture 1Creative Reuse: the process of taking used or recycled materials and turning them into artwork.

I stumbled across the Long Beach Creative Reuse Depot through a recommendation from a friend. What a place! I have to go and visit.

A quick check on the website shows that they have tons of items, multiple local artists, and accept a crazy amount of items, here is just a few from the list (of over 50 items):

textiles, paper, wood, metal, glass, plastics and any other item that seems “too good to throw away”

Watch the video and get your art on!

A Visit to Farmers Markets in Long Beach and Huntington Beach

2539937014_f55ecebf38Long Beach

A visit to Long Beach is always exciting for me. I love its small city charm mixed in with the grit of its bigger city (LA) next door. The downtown farmers market was no different.

Some details on the market is that its open from 9-4 on Fridays and is at Long Beach Blvd and 5th Street next to the Walmart in a big shopping center. They shut down two full roads of traffic for the vendors which means their are a lot of them. The vendors range from east asian farmers to regular farmers, jamaican art dealers to watch and jewelry repair. It’s safe to say that you have many options at this market.

Some quick items that struck my fancy…there are numerous vendors selling cooked food. These restaurants on the go were nearly everywhere and not something you usually see at a farmers markets…If you want to buy a vegetable, wait on it, there are so many options you are bound to get a better deal as you walk…and brush up or practice your spanish, this is a good place to talk to friendly bilingual farmers.

Definitely visit this market if you get a chance!


a farmers market in san francisco by Swami Stream on Flickr
A farmers market in San Francisco by Swami Stream on Flickr

Huntington Beach

I did not have high expectations for the Huntington Beach farmers market. I assumed their would be more art vendors than food ones. I was pleasantly suprised, though, we found more food vendors and even caught an acrobatic show on the pier right afterwards.

The market is open on Fridays from 1-5 and is open all year round. You can find it next to the pier, northside. It is a small market but just right for me. Some prefer larger ones with more selection and the ability to shop around. Not me, I like just the right amount of vendors where its small enough to have a friendly chat with each one.

As Spence and I shopped around we noticed that many of the vendors here were the same ones at the downtown LB market. Strange but I guess they are getting big-time in the markets. Anyway, there were a variety of food options including honey, mediterranean, fish, mexican, bread, and nuts in addition to the multiple produce vendors.

As always there were art vendors and goods for sale. Many of them quite beautiful. We were on limited time and so had to skip that this time.

The best benefit of this market for me is that its close to where I live and there’s nothing like shopping for food on the beach. This may become my go-to market.

Written on my iPhone

This Week in Links – Greenerize

Since I began down this path to become the ultimate Trashman I am getting so many links from friends and family. They are amazing and perfect discussion starters, so thanks everyone! Keep em coming.

Valley Farm, West Wratting
Valley Farm, West Wratting

Rather than read them and realize all this ultimate knowledge myself I decided to share them with the world. Here they are, enjoy.

And, finally an amazing slideshow about bottled water from Scott McKimmey:

Launch Party at Tattoo in Washington DC

A Clean Life Launch Party

Party Flier

The charity event turned out to be a real party!

Thanks for everyone for coming including our over 100 guests, Kate Michael (kstreetkate), Robyn Mincher (washington post express), Sarah Cannon (videographer), and all of our fantastic sponsors.



The charity event was held on May 21, 2009 at Tattoo Bar in Washington DC in a partnership with Amy Senger of 1X57. Doors opened at 7pm with free drinks from our sponsors, Absolut and Fuze, for the first hour. Stay later and the bar was open again at 10pm for free Absolut Fuze drinks.

At the door we had have raffle prizes and champagne. You can find Tattoo Bar in downtown DC:

  • 1413 K St NW, Washington DC, 20005 (google maps)
  • Metro: one block away from McPherson Sq (serves blue, orange lines)
  • Parking: street parking is available but limited


Our sponsors were fantastic! We had donations of excellent raffle prizes. Our top sponsors, listed below, contributed at our  “Green” ($100) and “Super Green” ($250) levels.


There are so many talented artists out there! Thanks to Mark Routt, Christiane Routt, Jenna McAlister, & Tom Hedrick. Your donations and new friendships mean a lot.

Guest List & Sponsors

  1. Amy Senger
  2. Steven Mandzik
  3. John-Michael Scott
  4. Kirby Plessas
  5. Matthew Paige
  6. Michelle Giluso
  7. Katie Tobin
  8. Andrea Baker
  9. Garrett Strzok
  10. Matt Nahlik
  11. Lauren Lee
  12. Michelle Hilaire
  13. Amanda Sena
  14. Chris Rasmussen
  15. Spencer Mandzik
  16. Susan Mandzik
  17. Kelly Ann Collins
  18. Cathryn Sitterding
  19. Jenson Daniel
  20. Daniel Cramer
  21. Andrea Van Dell
  22. Jamie Hess
  23. Joanna Baden-Mayer
  24. Harold Bennett
  25. Matt Rogers
  26. Joanna Alexis
  27. Sean Wohltman
  28. Catherine Barker
  29. Shana Glickfield
  30. Maxine Teller
  31. Georgie English
  32. Marni Cohen
  33. Reese Gardner
  34. Anna Tant
  35. Moe Alrob
  36. Michael Romeo
  37. Fletcher Gill
  38. Michael Mossoba
  39. Erin Uyttewaal
  40. Kendall Richardson
  41. Mark Jacobson
  42. Jennifer Eyrich
  43. Lena Lee
  44. Dan Flatla
  45. Nydia Clayton
  46. Ron Mecredy
  47. Javan Sher
  48. Stevens C. Berry
  49. Jay Faires
  50. John Lauttamus
  51. Mark Klupt
  52. Raymond Embry
  53. Kate Michael
  54. Eric Burka
  55. Kristin Burka
  56. Mandeep Mehram
  57. Justin Franks
  58. Makeda Saggau-Sackey
  59. Lewis Shepherd
  60. Loren Herrington Teague
  61. Adam Korobow
  62. Mark Drapeau
  63. Teka Thomas
  64. Blair Milligan
  65. Melissa Vallejo
  66. Christiane Routt
  67. Mark Routt
  68. Jenna McAlister
  69. Sean Dennehy
  70. Tom Hedrick
  71. Joshua Marcuse
  72. Becca Thompson
  73. Margot Miller
  74. Alexandra Pryor
  75. Pia Carla
  76. Sana Pervaiz
  77. Andrea Leigh
  78. Julie Eaton
  79. Joanna Lee
  80. Mathew L. Hebert
  81. John Burns
  82. Jason Moore
  83. Ellen Grantham
  84. Yudha Permana
  85. Viq Hussain
  86. Britta Lindgren
  87. Matias Bernstein
  88. Benjamin Maiorino
  89. Samira Kristina Azzam
  90. Trena Elise Woods
  91. David Fraley
  92. Alexandra Robinson
  93. Andrew Reese
  94. Joanna Hatzis
  95. Jelena Eaj
  96. Tara Lewis
  97. Caitlin Rundle
  98. Lauren Massad
  99. Christina Holden
  100. Lisa Rambo
  101. Abeer Abdallah
  102. Erika Miller

And more, but my wrist is tired! 🙂

Share Your Trash Habits

Every couple of Sundays I put out a question for my friends on twitter. I ask them to update me on their trash habits and what they do for the environment. Below is my query from June 7 and here is one from May 10

The Query


The Answers

bindr we always use our made-from-recycled-material bags for grocery shopping so we don’t use disposable packaging #acleanlife

kttobin @robotchampion I refilled my water bottle at the baseball game, rather than use a new plastic one. #acleanlife

cheeky_geeky @robotchampion I kept myself isolated from the world so as no to do it harm. #acleanlife #opentointerpretation

lizdanzer @robotchampion #acleanlife I stopped buying cds and now instead use itunes to buy all my music! All that unnecessary plastic is saved.

cacner Srsly @robotchampion I make my own potting soil from compost & peat moss. Made ~5 cu yd and still have more compost #acleanlife

robotchampion #acleanlife – i spent hours this week removing the tape from my mailed home packages so i could recycle the paper

blairDC skipping out on rooftop parties @beaconskybar & donovan house. #lazybones but making enviro contribution by not driving #acleanlife :-p

robotchampion #acleanlife – strange but true, for the environment im asking everyone in my household to call it the landfill bin, not trash bin…

krazykriz Brought my own bags to the grocery store. #acleanlife (@robotchampion)

mcpaige @robotchampion Ive not bought water bottles still. #plastic

kstreetkate@robotchampion 1 thing I do for the environment? I handle green collar jobs for DC Dept of Employment Services… that’s a ton!!

j3@robotchampion weird one for you: I only write on unlined paper. Fit more, use less, more creative & flexible.

mrmerlot@acleanlife @robotchampion found a new way to conserve, a vitamix blender: throw in full fruits, veggies, blends to perfection! yum!

how to build community