May, 2014 Archives

Detroit just got a little bit GREENer

May 31st, 2014

A hidden Detroit farm promises hope, sustainability and really good fruits & vegetables.

Joey Simonetta carries tomatoes down one of the long rows.

Joey Simonetta carries tomatoes down one of the long rows.

The secret email arrived late at night with the Porky Pig insignia. SUBJECT LINE: “What can one person do to make a difference?”

Entire families, friends and neighbors helped put plants in the fertile Detroit soil.

Entire families, friends and neighbors helped put plants in the fertile Detroit soil.

Like those old-school raves of the 1990s, we were informed where to go, but the note ended. “Psssst … now you know the location, so guard the secret.”

The party was on, only this time we were planting. “All you’ll need are gloves, water bottle, a smile & enthusiasm.” I knew I’d found the secret location as I drove up to the sounds of a mariachi band.

Welcome to guerrilla urban farming, Detroit style.

I’ve known the _________ Family for years. They’ve slowly been buying up abandoned houses and plots of land around their Motor City business. Several years back, their eldest son suggested that instead of mowing the land, maybe they should plant some stuff.

That “stuff” burgeoned into acre after acre of urban farmland that flies under the radar. Along with the crops are pigs, cows, chickens, bunnies, sheep, goats, bees, a miniature horse and even a few emus. I joked that they should wear Eastern Michigan University jerseys, but Mrs. ________ shrugged it off, being a rabid MSU supporter.

Jewel, the American Kestrel falcon, flaps its wings under the care of Tom Grant.

Jewel, the American Kestrel falcon, flaps its wings under the care of Tom Grant.

Out in the fields, I put plants in the ground with an emergency room nurse, financial planner, a boxing promoter and a falconer. I began with gateway plants basil and cinnamon basil, the easy stuff.

Next up came the squash plants. By the time we got to tomatoes — I don’t want to brag — but I was sort of, kind of the designated row foreman. “Plant one, skip two holes, plant the next one, skip two holes,” were my commands.

Then I went far afield and began snapping photos and talking to people. I think I may have disappointed Mr. ________ by shirking my duties. But he gave me a grape Faygo, so everything’s fine.

One of the missions of this non-profit urban farm is to grow community development by using under-used urban lands. Once the fruits and vegetables mature, nearby neighbors are invited to pick and partake of whatever they like. Food is donated; eggs from the chickens are given away to their visitors and customers. They also distribute their produce through churches and senior groups among other organizations.

Another main goal of the place — named after 1890s Detroit Mayor, Hazen Pingree, who opened empty lots to garden farming — is to give hands-on agricultural and animal husbandry experience to folks in the neighborhood. Community is developed and understanding is fostered.

But I would argue that another secret goal of this secret farm is to help make all of us feel a bit better about ourselves. By cultivating the soil of a disused urban area, we are physically and metaphorically planting seeds of change.

We can yap all we want about how we’re helping the community. But in reality, the community is helping us.

Pingree Farms crops

Row after row, acre after acre, abandoned lots are being transformed as Detroit awakens from its long, exhausting winter.

Green With Envy

May 16th, 2014

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”
— John F. Kennedy

Green With Envy

 

Anyone have a good line on a yard pump? I’m looking for something that surely doesn’t exist, sort of like a reverse sprinkler. I want a device that sucks the water back off my lawn, into some pipes, then sends it along its merry way wherever water goes when it’s not welcome — the Southwest maybe.

I know it’s sacrilegious to moan about excess water during these days of extreme global climate change. But that’s sort of my point; any excess of any kind points to what scientists have proven long ago, we’re screwing around too much with Mother Earth.

A few years back, we had one of the warmest winters on record and our Redbud tree bloomed early. This year we had one of the coldest/snowiest and the tree is just now starting to pop. Incidentally, for a color blind person like me, it’s simply not fair to name a purple tree “Redbud.”

But this isn’t a climate change rant. Either you believe actual, factual, peer-reviewed science that basically 100% of all Nobel laureates adhere to, or you watch Fox “News.” The latest talking point, by the way, seems to be that scientists are now “bullying” the rest of us into believing their conspiratorial climate change hoax.

What I’m getting at is I’m sick and tired of Germany.

What? Germany?

Yeah, you read that right. A couple weeks ago — on a Sunday afternoon — Germany produced about 75 freaking percent of their country’s electricity needs with renewable energy, mainly solar and wind.

They don’t do it all the time, but during that one stretch I guess the sun and wind were at their peaks and electricity prices were negative instead of positive for the afternoon. By 2050 their country wants most all of their electricity generated this way. They must have so much sun in Germany.

Nope.

Most of the US is far sunnier than Deutschland. As a matter of fact, Germany gets about as much sunshine as Alaska. I wrote about this at great length in a conservative business magazine and people enjoyed it.

Here’s the problem: Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Nuclear and Big Natural Gas companies — along with their cronies like The Koch Brothers — are doing their best to finance politicians and keep fossil and nuclear fuels burning bright. I know, shocking right? But here’s something you might not have known. There are states out there, like Arizona for instance, that have passed legislation saying that if you produce solar power, YOU HAVE TO PAY to sell it back to the coal/oil/nuclear companies.

The best way to increase the use of renewable energy is not to tax it, but to incentivize it. If you were penalized for being a better steward of the planet, you’d be less likely to do it. Imagine somebody charging you every time you used a public trash bin on the streets. Absurd.

Right now, so many people are getting in on the renewable energy credits in Germany that the government is looking at scaling back the programs. Can you imagine having that wealth, too much energy being generated?

For years I’ve wanted to put solar shingles on our roof. They last for decades and passively produce electricity even in gloomy Michigan winters. So far, the prices — even with governmental incentives — have been too prohibitive. That needs to change. That HAS to change. Who can afford to drop 20-30 thousand bucks on their roofs?

As wildfires rage in California and severe storms wreak havoc on the plains and the South, I feel a bit more grateful for this past winter of mere ice and snow. I’ll take a swampy lawn and a reluctant Spring any day.

Look, I have nothing against Germans. I just think we can do what they did, a lot better. I have nothing against Arizonans or Conservatives either. Renewable energy means renewable jobs too. That’s something we can all get behind. Like I wrote in that business magazine, if high schools and brew pubs are already doing it, so can the rest of us. America is a great country with amazing initiative and drive.

It wasn’t easy for Kermit to be green; hopefully it’ll soon be a lot easier for the rest of us.

The Mysteries

May 7th, 2014

A radical retelling of The Bible

 

Colin Waitt as Jesus in the Flea Theater performance of The Mysteries -- Photo by Jonathan Hollingsworth

Colin Waitt as Jesus, in the Flea Theater performance of The Mysteries — Photo by Jonathan Hollingsworth

 

Mary Magdalene tweeted the disciple’s secret location, tipping off the Romans. It’s okay, Jesus made her do it.

Pontius Pilate was a John Wayne impersonator.

The shepherds in their field at night were gang members.

But the most shocking thing maybe — apart from all the male and female body parts — was the Angel Gabriel being a lesbian who explained to Mary about virgin birth, “Honey, sometimes you just don’t need a man.”

I take that back; the most shocking thing was I sat through an almost six-hour long play about The Bible and loved it. But hey, they fed us dinner (vegan, gluten-free) and dessert (baklava and cupcakes).

At one of the intermissions, audience members were invited to snap photos with the cast. Eric Miller, bottom right, posed with his angelic sister Andy, holding the star, and others. -- photo by Cheryl Webster Miller

Audience members were invited to snap photos with the cast. Eric Miller, bottom right, posed with his angelic sister Andy, holding the star, and others. — photo by Cheryl Webster Miller

Welcome to the off-Broadway production of The Mysteries at The Flea Theater in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. The show was made up of 50 short plays which their website explains, told “the entire History of Man’s Salvation from The Fall of Lucifer through and including Judgment Day.”

I have never experienced any theater like it. Sure, I’ve gotten to sit on stage during Spring Awakening and have been encouraged to argue with characters in a play underneath London Bridge. Puppets having sex in Avenue Q was nothing like this either.

Written by 48 playwrights, The Mysteries unfolds in front of, behind, next to and in some cases right along with the audience. There’s no fourth wall and at one point, God (the second God of the evening) calls Jesus “Colin.” Just so you know, Colin Waitt was the actor portraying Jesus and he is sat down by his father who talks about his audition for this show.

Jesus’s real mother was in the audience too and at one point got a little friendly with a New Testament character, though I can’t quite remember which one, maybe Lazarus?

Speaking of that, the cast list is pretty funny. One guy played both “Mathias” and “Kenny.” There was also Lucifer, a Marxist, Cain, a Bad Person, an Angel Midwife, Abraham and a Certified Nursing Assistant to name just a few of the characters played by the 54 member troupe.

One of the angels pointed me out to another angel at intermission and said, “He writes the Spiritual Wanderer blog.” But she knows me. She’s Andy Miller who’s making her off-Broadway debut. We tagged along with her incredibly generous family, several of whom we’ve seen on stage countless times before.

Covering both the Old and New Testament, it’s no wonder the play took almost six hours. The breaks in between were necessary, not only for food and the potty, but to get up, stretch and chat with all the actors who milled about with the audience after serving us our dinner and dessert.

I was offered an apple during one of the intermissions by a performer who was now doubling as a waiter, but I knew enough about the Bible now that maybe it wouldn’t have been such a wise choice to accept it. I took another baklava instead.

At half-past midnight after six hours of warm, welcoming, moving moments we had to leave. Walking out of the show into the dark, deserted streets of lower Manhattan, it almost felt like we, ourselves were being cast out from the Garden (Eden, not Madison Square).

It was a fantastic experience and it makes plays like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar look so old-fashioned, so 1970s. And no, it wasn’t trying to offend people or knock down their belief structures. Far from it. I actually came away feeling a little more in touch with the holy spirit.

In fact, I hugged him as I left the theater.

Sarah Keyes offers up an apple to Eve in The Mysteries. -- photo by Hunter Canning

Sarah Keyes offers up an apple to Eve in The Mysteries. — photo by Hunter Canning