Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lilacs and Reminder of Spring Photo Contest

Lilacs in bloom in Muncie Indiana.  Photo by Bob
When I was visiting Muncie, Indiana last week, I found the Lilacs in bloom.  According to those I spoke with, Spring came early and the lilacs are blooming a few weeks ahead of schedule.  What is spring like in your area?

A while back, I announced the On The Brink Spring Photo Contest.  Please see here for details.  I look forward to seeing what's going on in your area this spring.  For those of you in the southern hemisphere, send us your version of what's happening in your fall season.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ball State University Hot for Geothermal

An area where Ball State's geothermal closed
loop system is expanding.
Ball State University University recently opened the nation's largest ground-source closed loop geothermal operation in the nation!  This allows them to close one coal burning power plant and provide heating and cooling from the earth.  You can read about this system here.

Ball State closed its coal
burning power plant.
I had the opportunity to tour the facility with some of the faculty from Ball State.  The project is fascinating because not only is it providing energy for the campus, but it is providing research opportunities for students and faculty.  During my visit to the Ball State campus earlier this week, I was lucky enough to attend their annual student research poster presentations that took place in the student center.  A number of students from across campus presented their research in a symposium and one of the students presented a project on temperature monitoring of the underground system using monitoring wells. 

There are so many innovative things happening on campuses all over the country, but it is clear that Ball State raised the bar on campus energy production through their innovative approach to on campus energy production.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

King Corn

Click for photo credit.
If you haven't had a chance to see the documentary, King Corn, you really need to do it soon.  The film makers do an excellent job documenting the current state of corn production in the U.S. and its overall significance to society as a whole.  I know that this doesn't exactly sound like the most exciting topic to some of you, but trust me, you want to watch the documentary.  The film is entertaining and enlightening.  I don't want to give away the story, but the filmmakers take a unique approach to understanding how corn production has changed in the last 50 years and how it has influenced farms, farmers, rural American, and the global food stream.  The film is not preachy or judgmental at all, and instead provides a very Midwestern approach to understanding the issues.

I heard through some friends that the filmmakers are now growing crops in the back of pick up trucks!  I wonder how that's going!!

You can watch the movie on Hulu free by clicking here.  I'd like to know what you think about it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ball State Sustainability

Click for photo credit.
I am heading out the door to head to Muncie to give a colloquium at Ball State University.  Take a look at this website showing all that they are doing on the sustainability front on their campus.  It's pretty impressive.  It should be an interesting trip!

Universities are doing amazing things all over the country.  Each university is doing different things and adding to the national conversation in different ways.

What is your local campus or school doing?  How is it nationally, regionally, or locally significant?  Are the outcomes measurable?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Time to Plant the Arugula in the North

On the Long Island home front, I planted arugula last weekend and it is already up.  Arugula is perhaps one of the easiest garden plants to grown.  In the north, it should be planted in early spring and fall and in the deep south, one can plant one crop in mid fall and another one in mid winter.  It only takes about 4 weeks to mature, so there's a big quick reward for not so much work.  Here's a video to show you how easy it is:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Long Island as a Regional Cul de Sac?

A cul de sac in Bowling Green, Kentucky.  Click for
photo credit.
I attended the awards breakfast of the Long Island division of the American Planning Association this morning.  The event was quite pleasant and included a panel discussion about the role of planning in economic development.  One of the speakers (I hope they forgive me for not remembering which one in case they read this) discussed Long Island, in part, as a regional cul de sac.

The tone of the speaker was a bit pejorative in that he implied that a cul de sac is somehow unwanted in present day urban planning, which is often focused on increasing density, advocating for transit oriented development, and promoting mass transit.  These are attibutes that I think all of us would agree are beneficial and appropriate in some instances.

Yet, what is particularly wrong with a cul de sac?  I know that there are issues of car culture, density, and overall land use planning.  But, fundamentally, a cul de sac exists because it is a desirable way for some people to live.  It provides a sense of security, a bit of privacy, and can be a place where families come together to form a sense of community.  Houses on cul de sacs tend to cost more and hold their value more than homes on through streets.

Is Long Island symbolically a geographic cul de sac?
Click for photo credit.
So, why is it so bad for Long Island to be a symbolic cul de sac?  I suppose the biggest problem is that Long Island is a dead end destination with a choke point in New York City.  There are only a handful of bridges and ferries that connect Long Island with the mainland, most of which are in New York City.  I suppose this could create a sense of isolation and a general sense that Long Island is the end of the world.  But, Long Island also has the benefits that other regions do not have in that it is a clearly identifiable region with distinct borders.  There is a Long Island culture distinct from the rest of the New York region.  Property values remain very high (although they have dropped a bit in the recesssion), and many individuals and families prefer Long Island to the nearby throughways of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.  I also suppose there are arguments to be made that Long Island is the dead end of roadways leading out of New York City.  Because it is heavily urbanized, particularly close to New York City, it makes sense to call it a cul de sac instead of a dead end region.  But, I don't really think of cul de sac as a pejorative appellation. 

In reflecting about urban and suburban regions as cul de sacs, I had a hard time thinking of other places that are in the same position as Long Island.  I suppose there are other areas on the planet with similar geographies as Long Island, but I cannot conjur such a place in my mind.  Can any of you think of geographically symbolic cul de sacs that exist in your region?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Robert Bullard Father of Environmental Justice

I started a series a while back noting some leading environmental thinkers that influenced the modern sustainability movement.  I featured Francis Hole and Aldo Leopold to date.  Today, I want to feature the father of the environmental justice movement, Robert Bullard.  He was named by Newsweek as one of the 13 Environmental Leaders of the Century.

Bullard was the first academic to document the disproportionate risks posed to African Americans as a result of toxic waste dumping in the United States.  He demonstrated that African Americans were more likely to be exposed to the risks caused by broader societal activities and that the risks were not shared equally across all sectors of society.  His book Dumping in Dixie:  Race, Class, and Environmental Quality, published in 1990, became a classic touchstone of environmental writing.  Bullard makes a case that the environmental issues associated with minority communities are part of a broader struggle for equality that emerged in the civil rights movement of the 1960's.

His work shed light on the fact that the traditional environmental movement, which largely focused on preservation and pollution redcuction, needed to be reframed to look at the impact of societal actions on communities.

Since then, Bullard has been active in pursuing environmental equity in a variety of different ways.  He has influenced the EPA, corporations, and non-profit organizations in how to view issues of the environment in order for our actions to be just and sound.

In my own work, I have been struck by issues of environment and race in Florida.  An historic African American community I worked with in west-central Florida was long an illegal dumping ground for individuals and companies seeking to get rid of a wide variety of waste.  Trucks full of debris would dump their loads on vacant properties--some of them near schools, homes, daycares, and businesses.  Complaints were made, but little was done until recently.  Thankfully, due to the growing concerns over environmental equity, the area is getting cleaned up and the community is seeing action taken to improve the environment and fine illegal dumpers.

This small example demonstrates what has happened in a wide variety of communities all over this country and all over the world.  It is often the poor, the powerless, or the people of color who are disproportionately exposed to the pollution and waste that we all create.

Think about your own communities.  Can you think of any environmental justice issues that have come to light in your areas?  It is important to remember that the start of this conversation began with Robert Bullard.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chicken Cam!

Click for photo credit.
For some reason, my most popular blog posts of late have been the webcams of the eagles and of the rotting corpse flower at Cornell University. 

Today, I give you chicken cam!  Off the main site, you can also find other cams.  I am quite fond of the goat cam.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Monofilament Fishing Line Recycling in New York City

I ran into an interesting organization that recycles monofilament fishing line in New York City.  You can read about the program here

Monofilament line recycling station in South Carolina.
Click for photo credit.
Monofilament line takes 600 years to decompose and can do harm to many generations of marine organisms.  There has been a great increase in the number of monofilament collections stations all over the world in popular fishing areas, but it is estimated that only a small percentage of the waste is actually collected.  

 Fishing line is a waste we don't often think about in our day to day lives, but it can do tremendous damage to animals.  Take a look at this article for a review of the significance of plastics pollution (including fishing line) on marine organisms.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tiffany Paintings and a Corpse Flower Opens

Me outside of the Nassau Art Museum.
Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the Nassau County Art Museum which housed an exhibit of the painting of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  The land on which the museum is located was owned by William Cullen Bryant and has a long and interesting history.  Unfortunately, the exhibit closed yesterday.

The grounds of the museum are a sculpture garden and are among the most interesting museum grounds I have visited.

Mario interacting with a
sculpture on the grounds.
The exhibit of Tiffany's paintings was fascinating.  I had no idea he was a trained painter.  He was schooled as a painter in the Hudson Valley School of art which is known for depicting dramatic landscapes as romantic icons of the American continent.  However, that style was fading from popularity during Tiffany's life and he moved on to a unique form of expression called American Orientalism.  You can see some examples of this style here.  The main elements of his work are the landscapes, buildings, and patterns in exotic locales.  I was struck by the use of the famous Tiffany Blue in many of his works.  He was not a good painter of people, and was notebly bad at painting faces and hands.  Instead, his work is much more about color and form.

Overall, it is evident that his American Orientalism style represents his highest quality of painting.  His earlier works are not as good as those of his contemporaries and his later works (mainly of scenes around his Long Island mansion) seem almost amateurish or indulgent.

Of course he is best know for his work on glass and the art nouveau and none of his paintings surpass these contributions.

In other news, the corpse flower opened yesterday.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Irish Hunger Memorial

The Irish Hunger Memorial in Lower Manhattan.  Click for photo credit.
I thought I would honor St. Patrick's Day and my sister's birthday (happy birthday Sharon!) with a post about the Irish Hunger Memorial in the Battery Park neighborhood of Manhattan.  The museum is a memorial to the 1 million Irish who died in the mid 19th century famine in Ireland as a result of land policy and crop failure.  The famine significantly influenced immigration to the United States.

I briefly met one of the the designers of the park, Brian Tolle, when I was on a committee to select a designer for a building at the University of South Florida.  You can see some of his work here on his Website.  If you click around, you'll find lots of interesting images of his work.  To me, it is very landscape and place oriented.  He has a real sense of location and the meaning of local geography. I am particularly fond of his representation of place in his Levittown series.

Another view of the memorial.
Click for photo credit.
He might be best known for his work on the Irish Hunger Memorial.  I couldn't find a good open access photo that gives you a sense of the uniqueness of the Memorial, but you can see one here.  The memorial is striking because it is essentially a transplanted Irish landscape on top of a modernist building space.  The roof of the building starts at ground level on one side of the memorial and ends up being the roof of an entry way on the other side so that it feels like open park space on one side and a roof on the other.  The first image in this post is from the roof of the building. I think you will agree that the design brings a new meaning to the meaning of green roofs.  It is not only a green roof, but an historic roof in that the building remnants are an actual stone house from the 19th century that was occupied up until the 1960s.

The roof garden contains stones, soil, and plants from all over Ireland.  From some angles, one feels like one is in a rural Irish landscape--but one surrounded by the immense buildings of Manhattan.

Of course the memorial provides a tremendous amount of information about the Irish famine.  In addition, the lighted lines on the exterior and interior of the building show names of individuals who died in the famine along with statistics about the event.

The memorial and the roof garden are free and open to the public.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Students Farming in the Bronx and Hello to Students at Blair-Taylor Elementary School

Stephen Ritz, one of the teachers involved in the Green Bronx Machine, is featured in the video below that focuses on the green transformation of the Bronx, one of the boroughs of New York City.  The video is worth watching to see how the urban landscape is changing for the better in New York.  Students and teachers are transforming destroyed landscapes in the South Bronx, one of the poorest areas in the country, into urban farms.

Mr. Ritz will be featured at the Long Island Farm Summit coming up April 14th.  Registration is free by mail for students.

There are teachers all over the country changing the way kids think about their environment.  Mr. Ritz is focused on an urban landscape, but Mr. Mike Lawrence at Blair-Taylor Elementary School, in a more rural landscape, is doing his part by bringing the life of eagles to his students and the world in his Eagles4kids Project in Wisconsin.  

No matter where you are in this country, kids are leading the way in making the world a better place.  These students and their teachers are truly inspiring and provide hope for the future.

A big hello to Mr. Lawrence's students who are visiting my blog today.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rotting Corpse Flower Webcam at Cornell

Corpse Flower at UC Berkeley.
Click for photo credit.
In recent weeks, my most popular posts have been the ones that linked to the Eagle webcam in Wisconsin.  Thus, when I ran into a webcam of a rotting corpse flower at Cornell University, I had to share it knowing you would love it.

So, please enjoy!  At least you don't have to smell it!!  It's about to open, so it should be fun to watch.

The plant is native to the rain forests of Indonesia and was first cultivated in a greenhouse in England in the late 1800's.  In the United States, it was first grown in the 1930's in New York.  Given our late 20th century and early 21st century interest in the macabre, there has been a proliferation in corpse flower plants in conservatories all over the United States.  When they bloom, they draw huge crowds to see and smell the unusual plant.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Interesting Green Sports Venue Blog

I ran into this interesting blog as part of some broad research I am doing with my colleague Elizabeth Strom of the University of South Florida on green initiatives in baseball.  It focuses on green sporting venues and provides some information and commentary that some of you may find useful or otherwise interesting.

Miller Park, home of the Brewers.  Clic for photo credit.
There are green initiatives all around us that we don't know about and it is helpful to understand how organizations such as stadium operations and professional sports are moving our culture in a more sustainable direction.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chef Ann Cooper the Renegade Lunch Lady and an Eagle Fight

Chef Ann Cooper, also known as The Renegage Lunch Lady, will be at the Long Island Farm Summit on April 14th.  You can read about Ann's work here.  I know that there will be a number of school administrators and students in attendance who will be interested in her work.  You can register for the summit here.  Here's a TED talk of hers that I thought you may enjoy.

In other news, Larry, one of the eagles in the pair in the eagle webcam I've been blogging about, got in a fight while protecting the eggs from a juvenile eagle.  You can watch the cached video here

Monday, March 12, 2012

Which Baseball Stadium Is LEED Silver

The US Green Building Council provides a building rating system based on a number of factors related to environment and design called the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.  The highest rating a building can obtain is platinum, but it is impressive to get rated bronze or higher.  One baseball stadium in the American League has been rated LEED Silver.  Can you guess the stadium?

Is it Rangers Ballpark, home of the Texas Rangers?
Click for photo credit.

Is it Tropican Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays?
Click for photo credit.

Or is it Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins?
Click for photo credit.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Spring is about ready to burst open here on Long Island.  The daffodils are just starting to bloom and there are reports of forsythia blooming already.  The tulips won't be too far behind.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Darwin Day 2012

We celebrated Darwin Day at Hofstra by holding a series of lectures in the IDEAS Seminar.  J. Bret Bennington from Geology spoke about the fossil record and debunked some of the themes put forward by creationists regarding the Cambrian explosion.  Russell Burke from Biology spoke on the role of genetic triggers in developing changes in organisms.  Patrick Gannon from Science Education spoke about the evolutionary development of the brain.

The Darwin Day birthday cake at Hofstra University.
If you are not familiar with the annual celebration of Darwin's birth, please take a look at the Darwin Day website.  It is important that those of us concerned with science do what we can to ensure that accurate information is shared.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Will Allen to be at the Long Island Small Farm Summit

I am really getting excited about the Long Island Small Farm Summit that will be held on April 14 on Hofstra's campus.  One of the keynote speakers will be Will Allen, a 2008 MacArthur Fellow.  He is an urban agriculturalist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  For more information about the summit or to register, click here.  See the video below about the work of Will Allen.  Also, you might want to do a broader search about his efforts to see how he is turning waste material into food in inner city Milwaukee.  Amazing and inspirational.  He turned an abandoned parking lot into a farm.  He creates soil from waste from breweries and other places and uses the waste water from the farm to raise fish.  He uses a total circle approach to grow healthy food in places that had limited access to healthy food choices.

The summit will have another important keynote who I will feature in a future post.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New York Water Projects, Circle of Blue, and Long Island Sound Grant Opportunities

The New York area from the International Space Station.
Click for photo credit.
I am posting some information I received from some friends about water issues in New York. 

First, Jason Polk from Western Kentucky University sent me a link to a summary of major water projects in New York.  It details a number of improvements to water supply and treatment that are quite impressive.  Take a look at the link here.  The accounting of projects is in an article by Circle of Blue, a water reporting organization.  If you are interested in water issues, they are a good source for up to date information.

Also, my friend Sandy Justice from the University of South Florida sent along a link to grant opportunities for Long Island Sound restoration projects.  Some of my local New York friends may be interested in applying for the funding.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lucy Lays Second Egg and Some US Poultry Statistics

Broiler production in the US. Source:  USDA.

If you've been following the saga of the eagles featured in a school's webcam in Wisconsin, you will be glad to know that Lucy laid another egg!  There may be a third.  You can see the webcam here.  My sister tells me that on occasion the older chick will kill the younger one. 

We'll see if the kids have something gruesome in store for us.

Egg production in the US.  Source:  USDA.
Given all this egg related activity, I thought I would share some national poultry statistics from the USDA. 

The US is the number one producer and consumer of turkeys.  This makes sense given that the turkey was almost our national bird.  Franklin thought for some reason that the turkey somehow represented America better than the eagle.

Surpringsly, the biggest turkey producing state is Minnesota with three southern states and Missouri (always a difficult state to classify) following.

Turkey production in the US.  Source:  USDA.
The biggest egg producer is neighboring Iowa.  In fact four of the top 5 producers are in the north.  Texas is the exception.  As far as broiler (meat) chicken production goes, the top states are all in the south with Arkasas the leader.  It is fascinating that the egg production is largely in the north and the meat production is largely in the south.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tennessee Coneflower Returns from the Brink

Tennessee Coneflower.  Click for photo credit.
I ran into some good news from last summer today.  The Tennessee Coneflower has come back strong.

Threatened with extinction, the plant was one of the first plants on the endangered species list.  It was noted as early as the 1960's that the flower was threatened due to its existence in the patchy cedar glades ecosystems of Appalachia.

For decades, ecologists, concerned citizens, activists and all levels of government have worked to bring the plant back.  Today the coneflower serves as a wonderful example of how sound management can alter the fate of threatened species.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Plastic Ocean

Today on Sunday Morning, CBS had a great segment on Charles Moore, the author of Plastic Ocean.  Moore's book is likely to become one of the most important environmental books of the decade.  It highlights the issues associated with plastic pollution and suggests that the issue of plastic in the ocean is more serious than previously thought.  Here's another segment on his work from Voice of America.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lucy Lays an Egg, Photo Contest, and Polar Bear Plunge

Eagle eggs.  Click for photo credit.
If you have been following the blog for a while, you know that my sister sent me a link to a very cool live webcam that shows an active eagles' nest.  Well, I got an email from my sister letting me know that Lucy laid an egg!  You can see Lucy and the nest here.  The webcam is run by a bunch of students in Wisconsin.  They have lots of great short videos of key events in the lives of the eagles.  In addition, the students provide a diary of day to day life in an eagle's nest.  Great stuff!

It is obvious that spring is underway throughout the U.S.  We have had terrible tornadoes, the early bulbs are blooming on Long Island, and eagles are laying eggs!

This is a good time to remind you that the "Images of Spring" photo contest is underway.  Please send me your images of spring and I'll post them on the blog.  The winner will get a Hofstra University t-shirt.

Just send your photos to my email address at:  If you send more than 1, I'll pick my favorite three to post on the blog and I'll pick one for the contest.  Note:  the images must be from spring 2012.  I can't wait to see what you send!

Polar Bear Plunge in Port Washington, NY.  Photo by
Bob Brinkmann
Today I caught the image on the right of some folks in Port Washington, New York jumping into Hempstead Harbor (part of Long Island Sound) as part of the annual Polar Bear Plunge.  They were raising funds for the Special Olympics.  It's an event that happens in Port Washington each early March.  While it isn't exactly spring, it is a local pre-spring ritual that brings the town together.  What kinds of events do you have in your area to welcome spring?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Long Island Seed Project and the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin

Long Island Cheese Pumpkin.  Click for photo credit.
I ran into the Long Island Seed Project while poking around for some information on Long Island farm data.  This organization's focus is to collect seeds suitable for production on Long Island.  They feature a number of varieties that are bred specifically for the Long Island environment and heirlooms that have proven highly productive over the years.

There are a number of seed saving organizations around the world that formed over the last few decades.  When living in the south, I was familiar with the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange that sold a number of heirloom and traditional seeds suited for the south. If you look around, you'll probably find an organization that saves seeds from plants that do well near where you live.

I am intrigued by the Long Island Cheese variety of pumpkin.  It reminds me a bit of the Seminole Pumpkin which is a native to Florida and which is grown in some gardens in the deep south.  If you look in old recipe books, you'll see that pumpkin was featured much more than in our present day.  The fruit lasts a long time and there are a number of varieties that do well in a variety of climates.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

$100 and Some Elbow Grease

What does $100 mean to you? 

Some folks in Kentucky have been working on a project called the $100 solution.  It is the brainchild of Dr. Bernard Strenecky, a Professor at the University of Western Kentucky.  The mission of the organization is to "teach studdents how to turn $100 into a world of change by meeting community-determined needs."

They have worked on dozens of projects from food and water infrastructure improvements to improving classrooms and orphanages.  They have worked in our nation and in countries all over the world.  The concept is simple, and the results impressive.  Poke around their website here to learn more about the $100 solution and how you can get your students involved in this innovative service learning approach to community development.