Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Philly's Teen Farmers

Emmanuel Aboah, Markee Mcrimmon and instructor, Debbie Harris, at their Clark Park farmstand.

The students of University City High School are helping to create a more sustainable lifestyle for themselves and other Philadelphia residents through their Urban Garden. The project got its start in 2000 as part of the Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI), a program created by a student and a U Penn public service class. UNI's mission is to make kids the agents to improve community nutrition. Today the students involved handle everything from the construction and upkeep of the garden, to growing the plants and selling them. The charming urban oasis, which gives root to asparagus, carrots, potatoes, okra and kale just to name a few, is set behind the high school on 36th and Filbert.

The students are passionate about making healthy food accessible to the urban community. Kenny, 17, a UCHS Senior, says he got started with the program to “learn how to eat better and live a healthier lifestyle.” Moreover, the students are getting firsthand experience with economics as they produce, distribute and consume what they grow (not to mention also benefiting from the market’s profits). In fact, this past spring marked their most lucrative season yet, allowing the students to yield 100% of the profits for the very first time.

“When I first joined the group four years ago I didn’t know anything about gardening,” said Natasha, 18, a recent graduate of UCHS. “Now I incorporate what I grow into what I cook at home.” Naeema, 17, UCHS Senior adds, “When I go to the grocery store now, I can tell the difference between what fresh produce should look like and what they tend to sell. Something I may have picked up in the past, I now know not to buy.” It is inspiring to see these young locals getting excited about creating a greener environment.

But the students aren’t the only ones benefiting from the fruits of their labor. UCHS’s Urban Garden is making fresh produce accessible to all of Philadelphia by selling at local farmer’s markets, including the Clark Park Farmer’s Market (on 43rd and Baltimore) where they set up shop every Saturday. But get there early – their reputable stand can sell out quickly!

Kate Arillo is a Philadelphia writer and recent graduate of University of the Arts where she studied Film & Digital Video. Her favorite vegetable is asparagus.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

DeSmogBlog, Clearing the PR Pollution

In an ever-growing world of media conglomeration, it’s reassuring to see vigilant media watchdogs like DeSmogBlog keeping the public alert and informed.

Led by Jim Hoggan, president of the Vancouver-based P.R. firm James Hoggan & Associates, DeSmogBlog boasts a world-class team of journalists, scientists and environmental writers. With a mission to “slam the climate skeptic scam,” DeSmogBlog scrutinizes the methods in which PR firms can mislead the public about the hard facts of global warming.

Earlier in the month, DeSmogBlog chastised Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens’ July 1st article “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis.” In it, Stephens likens the current scientific consensus about climate change to an epidemic and refers to believing it as “sick-souled religion.” Instead of simply scorning the article for its ill-conceived and under-researched claims, the folks at DeSmogBlog performed the homework Stephens originally should have.

With an extensive research database and media center, DeSmogBlog'll be going on our list of climate science resources.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Paper Tales

My brand new Canon MF4270 laser printer all-in-one.

Between grant proposals, budgets and scripts, we print a lot here at Future Weather Productions. My search for a "green" copy shop in Philly - one that would use 100% PCR paper - proved fruitless. Plus I was tired of paying $8 every time I needed to print my script. So I did a little research on CNET and PCMag and found the Canon ImageClass. It only prints in black & white, but for the script-and-schedule-centric production office, that's just fine. My favorite qualities:
  • It has a built-in duplexer! (that means it prints double-sided and cuts your paper use in half)
  • It has a copier, scanner, and fax.
  • It's got the energy star, so it goes to sleep when not in use.
  • It's small and light, so it can fit in my Ikea shelves. And we can take it on the road when it's time for production.
  • It's cut my costs down to $1.60 per script ($.02/pg ink cost and just about $.01/pg paper cost)
  • It has a built-in networker, so all the 'puters in the office can print wirelessly.
  • All for $250 (with rebate) from Staples.
I must note, however, that it is not completely Mac-compatible. You have to download the printer driver for Macs from the Canon website. And it will only scan to PCs. I'm also not sure yet if Macs can connect wirelessly. Our wireless router is on another level, so we've been using the USB port.

I also finally found a 100% PCR academic calendar from the mom & daughter company Mixed Role Productions in Eugene, Oregon. So now we be jammin on 100% PCR paper 24/7, baby. Up in the home office, yo.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Our Film's Green Future

Prepping our table at Mamapalooza with recycled newspaper toys.

In getting the script ready for Sundance, I haven't been able to dedicate much time to the blog in the last few weeks. Now that I'm back, it's difficult to know where to begin. Al Gore's gutsy speech notwithstanding, it's quite possible that I'm suffering from a touch of green fatigue. Our initial research period is over. Our final topic, waste & materials, was difficult and raised more questions for me than it answered (corn plastic is not our savior). We'll be lucky to scrape up enough money to make the damn film. Can we really make it green, too?

That remains to be seen as 1) we aren't fully financed, so 2) we don't have a production start date. Without those factors in place, it's difficult to plan our production logistics. There is still a slim chance that we could shoot in October, but the more likely scenario is that we'll begin Spring/Summer 2009. The upside is that timeline gives us plenty of time to figure this green production out.

The thing I have to remind myself is that this began as an experiment. We're not making any promises to be 100% green. I don't think there is such a thing. What we are planning to do is learn as much as we can and ask ourselves difficult questions along the way: is this the most sustainable choice? can we do it better? with less energy, waste, and fewer toxins? We may find that we have to prioritize, compromise, and content ourselves with doing just a few things more sustainably than films that came before us. But at least we'll be more environmentally conscious than before we started, and our experience can be a foundation for future sustainable productions.

So if we're not ready to take you behind our "green scenes" just yet, what will we be blogging about? Plenty. I'd like to show that environmentalism is not just a short-lived trend of the new millennium but something that everyday people participate in in their own personal ways, whether they label it the now ubiquitous "green" or not. So we'll be inviting people to tell us stories about nature, share hard-fought knowledge of sustainable issues, express their own feelings about global warming, and go out into their communities and report back on inspiring examples of activism.

Meanwhile, we'll assess how our sustainable efforts have been going so far, and identify areas in which we can take the next steps for forming a green production plan. We'll begin to answer questions we raised over the last few months and find more resources for other filmmakers who want to make more sustainable choices. And we'll continue to update you on our production – the highs, lows and creative challenges.

I consider Future Weather a beginning place. Not just for me, but for anyone who cares about our habitat, about film, about positive change. If you'd like to contribute, please email me,

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Online Waste Sorter!

Over the course of our research on waste management, Jenny came across this really cool site courtesy of Earth911 and The Green Office that, by searching your zip code, shows you the closest locations to deposit all of your varied waste items - everything from videotapes to anti-freeze to our favorite... Plastic bags!

This tool is ridiculously comprehensive, cataloging links to products the everyday person doesn't even think about recycling, like fire extinguishers. We weren't able to find it via Earth911 directly, so be sure to bookmark the URL above. We will be using it to come up with our film's recycling plan.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Waste, Defined

After outlining bioplastics last week, we thought it would be helpful to actually define the terms recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable - words that we know, but whose meanings started to blur amidst all the esoteric new picnic products. So, for those of you, like us, who want to better understand a product's potential lifecycle, here are some working definitions:

Recyclable - These products can be collected and reprocessed into something new. In other words, they are useful. Throwing them in the trash is a waste of resources and landfill space. It's also helpful to remember that some recyclables are biodegradable and some aren't.

Biodegradable - These products can break down into biomass, carbon dioxide, and water over a period of time in a natural environment. And, according to The Green Office website, they "pose no toxic threat when disposed of through conventional waste streams". KEY: "Products that are labeled as 'biodegradable' can be disposed of in your garbage. However it is important to remember that landfills lack the microorganisms and oxygen required for waste to biodegrade in a timely manner, so you should still try to minimize the amount of wasted material."

Compostable - These are essentially the same as biodegradable materials, with one added benefit: when they break down, they release much-needed nutrients into the soil to help fertilize the land. But here's the important part: "products that are labeled 'compostable' must enter an industrial composting facility in order for it to fully degrade into organic matter. If your city doesn't provide industrial composting, you can dispose of compostable products in your backyard or home composter, but they will take longer to biodegrade. If you do not have access to a compost facility or a home composter, dispose of the compostables in the garbage. This option should be your last resort as waste does not easily biodegrade in landfills. Remember: do not put compostables into your recycling! They are not recyclable and will contaminate the recycling process."

We also recommend checking out a helpful post on Treehugger and one on Wild Green Yonder. They were our main sources for these definitions, and go into further elaboration if you'd like more info.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Obama, Advocate of Ethanol

Not good news... Obama supports government subsidies for ethanol production and opposes the importation of sugar cane-based ethanol from Brazil. A cheaper and more efficient product, cane-based ethanol gets 8 units of energy for every 1 unit it takes to produce it, compared to corn which has a 2 to 1 ratio. Read it and weep, lefties:

NYT, "Obama Camp Closely Linked with Ethanol"

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stay Vocal: ReUse!!

A little over a month ago, a friend pointed me in the direction of a website called Stay Vocal. It's a great, progressive website with a slightly punk aesthetic that promotes reusing materials along with other positive ideas for social and environmental change. Alex Eaves, the brains behind the operation, has been kind enough to agree to do a guest blog entry for us soon, so we wanted to give you all a shout-out to his site, so everyone could see and support the good he does. Also, check out their store. They've got some really cool one-of-a-kind products!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Plastic Alternatives

With a hopeful start date for filming beginning to loom on the horizon, it's time to consider the alternatives now available for plastic cups, cutlery and trash bags. It's easy to get caught up in the swing of this product or that, so we wanted to take time to educate ourselves on some of the more popular alternatives and their lifecycles.

One of those options is (what else?) corn-based. Polyactic acid (PLA), a derivative of fermented corn starch, has become a very popular alternative in green circles because it biodegrades...eventually. At my current job, we've slowly replaced our plastic cutlery with PLA cutlery. In clear form, it's also used for disposable cups, bottles, clamshells, etc. In an ideal warm compost facility, these corn products easily breakdown in about 90 days. Unfortunately, there are only 113 of these facilities in the country, so a lot of it will probably end up in dumps where experts say it could take anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years to decompose. Not to mention the fact that it requires divesting more land to corn, which, as we've seen, is causing enough problems in the food market as the current plant of choice for biofuels.

Another biodegradable plastic alternative is something called Mater-Bi. Used for trash bags, it's made from corn, potato or wheat starch and seems to be primarily manufactured by a company in Italy called Novamont. According to Biobag, a producer of Mater-Bi bags, it also decomposes most quickly in a controlled composting environment. It will decompose in a "natural" setting, it'll just take longer than other naturally biodegradable materials. But again, the red flag: "If BioBags are placed in an anaerobic (air-locked) landfill and deprived of oxygen and the existence of the micro-organisms that 'eat' naturally biodegradable materials, their ability to decompose will be severely restricted."

Sugarcane biomass, aka Bagasse, has also thrown its hat into the ring as a substitute for styrofoam. Produced in America mainly by Metabolix, a company based out of Boston, biodegradable sugarcane products take about 60+ days to decompose. They also maintain heat better than corn-based plastic, hence their primary use for disposable plates, bowls and take-out containers. Many sites state that bagasse products can be disposed of in regular home compost bins.

So all of these products leave us with another waste management dilemma. None of these materials should be unconsciously tossed in the trash, unless we are fully aware of the conditions of the landfill they might end up in. If we use any of these products on set, what will our system of disposal be?

Looks like a job for Earth911! To be continued...

Meanwhile, for a complete rundown of compostable products, check out this list approved by the Biodegradable Products Institute.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

EnviroWoman and No Impact Man

Help! Our oceans are filled with plastic! Our landfills are overflowing with petrochemical garbage! Looks like a job for EnviroWoman and No Impact Man. No, they're not superheroes, but they're here, with help from folks like Beth Terry to teach us that a life with FAR less plastic is possible. If you thought remembering to bring your reusable bag to the grocery store, or swearing off bottled water was life-changing, check out just how much they've been able to rid their life of plastic.

For those not quite ready to give up chips, crackers and cereal (all in plastic bags), cheese (wrapped in plastic), and all frozen food (either in plastic bags or in cardboard lined with plastic) or to start making your own mouthwash (to avoid that plastic bottle), here are some easy plastic alternatives to start you on a more plastic-free path:
  • GreenLine Paper Company is an excellent local Pennsylvania resource for biodegradeable containers/plates/cutlery.
  • Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottles (sold locally in Philly at Mugshots Coffeehouse)
  • To-Go Ware "action packs" (stainless steel lunch carriers with bamboo utensils)
  • can help you ditch those plastic grocery bags, and carries many bags/utensils/bottles.
  • Greenfeet sells soy wax paper as an alternative to plastic wrap, and they even have freezer-safe glass containers to ween you off of all that Tupperware!
  • If You Care 100% recycled aluminum foil is available at Whole Foods.
  • BioBag biodegradable trash/pet waste/lawn bags at

Clean Vibes: Exemplar in Waste Management

Anybody who says that proper waste management is too difficult to maintain in their own household needs to read the rest of this blog. Consider all the simple things that go into waste management such as recycling, composting, and re-using non-recyclable materials. Now imagine doing this at an event that hosts up to hundreds of thousands of attendees. It certainly makes you appreciate the small of amount of work that goes into maintaining your own trash.

Clean Vibes is a company that works with local recycling centers and provides waste removal for outdoor events such as festivals and concerts. Their mission is simple: try to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills while educating about recycling and proper waste management.

They have been working events since 1997 and are estimated to have recycled over 610 tons of trash. Along with recycling, they offer food composts and donate to food shelters. They were even able to collect and donate 400 pairs of shoes just from working two festivals!

Along with their recycling and waste removal work, they also promote awareness. At festivals, they can be seen educating concert-goers on how to reduce waste and keep landfills low. Even their website offers some great links that will definitely benefit the needs of our team when we start production.

For example, Earth911 offers a feature that allows the viewer to enter their city and state along with what they want to recycle, and it will list recycle/re-use centers. You can imagine my delight when I decided to try this feature out and typed in “food” along with our prospective production location and thirteen centers were listed!

And by simply reading how Clean Vibes prepares for a festival we have a good waste management blueprint. Getting in touch with recycling centers in the area, researching which centers recycle certain materials, researching food shelters in the area, and keeping in close contact with the centers to arrange the transportation of the waste are all tools we'll need to execute in order to sustain an eco-conscious production.