Sunday, July 2, 2017

One Earth & Home - Let's all take care of our Blue Ball and Green Mother

Earth’s 10 Commandments

1.      Thou shalt love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.

2.     Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.

3.     Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.

4.     Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.

5.     Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.

6.     Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth’s riches upon weapons of war.

7.     Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth’s expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.

8.     Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.

9.     Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.

10.  Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth’s bounty.

Friday, July 29, 2016


A Havre de Grace Green Team Blogpost
by Karl Ford - Education Initiative Chairperson

What is the definition of stormwater?  Why should we care about stormwater management? Well, stormwater is quite simply rainwater and rainwater ends up in our lakes and reservoirs…..and ultimately our homes.

When it rains, the rainwater will interact with four types of surface areas found in our environment; the air before it hits the ground, permeable ground surfaces, impermeable ground surfaces, or bodies of water. Most of us don’t think of the air around us as a surface that interacts with rainwater and thus has an effect on our water quality. However, air pollutants can be picked up by rainwater and enter the environment.  Once the rain reaches the ground it interacts with three additional surfaces. Impermeable surfaces, which includes buildings, parking lots, roadways, as well as natural rock formations, through which water cannot penetrate. Permeable surfaces, which includes natural areas like grasslands, forests, and bare soil.  Increasingly, due to efforts to protect water quality, this also includes man-made permeable surfaces. Lastly, rivers, lakes, creeks, streams, man-made reservoirs, and of course the oceans make up the final types of surface.   

The effect of rainwater’s interaction with each surface is dependent on the characteristics of that surface.  Erosion caused by rainwater run-off can be controlled by the environment’s surface features, both natural and man-made. Vegetation acts as a natural soil stabilizer, holding the soil in place, as well as controlling the velocity and volume of the water runoff. Vegetated areas, such as

grasslands and forests, also act as natural filters, retaining debris and particulates in the soil and not allowing them to enter our water bodies. Impermeable surfaces concentrate the volume and the velocity of rainwater run-off entering the environment. Unfortunately, impermeable surfaces also concentrate the contaminants in the stormwater run-off.  These contaminants are then deposited in our creeks, streams, rivers and the bay. Stormwater management programs exist to minimize soil erosion and stormwater contamination by mitigating increases in water volume and velocity. The public can and should play a vital role in helping to manage overall water quality by monitoring their local stormwater systems.

As we enjoy the warm weather and the associated activities that go along with the pleasures of summertime, we should pay special attention to what goes into our streets, gutters, and storm drains. “Only Rain in the Drain” is a good phrase to keep in mind. Make it a point to limit or eliminate any chemicals, petroleum products, trash, debris, and soil from entering the stormwater system. You can contact the Havre de Grace Green Team, city or county government, and other local environmental groups, for information on best practices to protect our precious water resources.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Havre de Grace Goes Green

By Joshua Marx,
The Havre de Grace Green Team is pushing hard to garner community support from residents in its quest for the city to gain recognition as a Sustainable Maryland Certified municipality.  Two members of the Green Team, President Kirk Smith and Secretary Samantha Groff, believe that becoming certified would not only benefit the quality-of-life for HdG residents, but would also pave the way towards a long-term sustainable future for the city as well as statewide recognition for improving Maryland livability.  

“Sustainable Maryland Certification opens up a whole different avenue of training for everyone from city leaders to everyday citizens on the values of being green, from cost saving to environmental stewardship,” says Kirk Smith, president of the Havre de Grace Green Team.  “It’s not just about living more ‘green’, says Mr. Smith, “Sustainable Maryland is about saving money.”

For the past four years, the HdG Green Team has been laying a foundation for this certification process, working with local community leaders to forge strong partnerships, and has already made great strides in preparing the city for certification.  On June 6th, 2016, Mayor William T. Martin and Director of Administration Patrick Sypolt signed Resolution 2016-07 into effect, which puts the gears of official Maryland certification in motion, further bolstering the efforts of the Green Team and, more importantly, fulfilled a key step in obtaining certification.  When Havre de Grace becomes certified, it would become only the second municipality in Harford County to achieve such recognition, helping it to stand out as a model community for the present as well as future citizens of the county.  

While current progress would have individuals believe that these pushes towards sustainability are relatively recent, the truth is that the Green Team has been working hard behind the scenes for a number of years to bring Havre de Grace to where it is today and in position to receive certification. Since its founding in 2012, the Green Team has established a thriving community garden that serves any interested HdG residents.  

The existence of a Green Team itself as well as a community garden are two key elements of any municipality gaining certification.  There are, in fact, several actions a community must take in order to be fully certified by the state of Maryland.   

With a Green Team in place and a resolution on the books, the next vital step in getting Havre de Grace recognized is to review, plan, and implement the next phase of the action plan for a Sustainable Maryland community.  The full list of action plan items, which can be viewed here, highlight eight areas of improvement for communities to achieve.

The Green Team has spearheaded efforts most recently in upgrading Natural Resources management in Havre de Grace.  Two key steps needed in strengthening this component of the action plan are helping to develop a Stormwater Management system as well as Watershed Stewardship.  

In conjunction with DPW, the Green Team is already putting necessary systems in place to not only have a program for stormwater management, but also appoint a coordinator to oversee operations once the system becomes adopted.  

The second component already being worked on with DPW is a Watershed Stewardship program. This is a vital step in any community's restoration efforts to create “sustainable local water quality and habitant improvements", according to the Sustainable Maryland website that details Watershed Stewardship.  The description goes on to explain the economic benefits for the community, stating that improving the local watershed is a surefire way to reduce upkeep costs for local municipalities, stating that investing improving watershed quality will benefit the bottom line by "reducing municipal investment in watershed protection and restoration costs."

Following these components would be the review and completion from the other five areas: Energy, Greenhouse Gas, Health and Wellness, Local Economies, and Planning and Land Use.  Getting certified in these areas, Mr. Smith suggests, “opens up a whole new stream of resources from the governor” in the form of grants the city could apply for.  “Grants,” Smith tacked on, “could bring a lot of grant revenue to the city that could help with many different operations within the city.”  

The two action steps the city has already taken highlight how far Havre de Grace has already come in being cognizant of sustainability in general, but also is a reminder of how much farther the community has to go. 

One of the biggest hurdles the community faces in working with DPW is fully incorporating all Havre de Grace residents, which would allow for hookups to city water and sewage lines.  This vital step would drastically improve the efficacy of any water treatment or stewardship plans.  Pockets of Havre de Grace remain unincorporated, according to Ms. Groff.  This leads to poor water management systems due to failing septic systems and a lack of access to city resources.
Havre de Grace becoming Sustainable Maryland certified would ensure both the protection of a vital ecosystem in the Chesapeake Bay and a thriving Harford County community.  “We’re located on the mouth of the bay, and home to one of Harford County’s largest ecosystems,” Samantha Groff, secretary of the HdG Green Team pointed out.  “After seeing city representatives do their part, people need to do what it takes to ensure our children’s future in this community.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ugly Produce Gets a Makeover

By Joshua Marx

Like the shy girl in any teenage romance movie who, after removing her glasses and unbraiding her hair, instantly becomes seen as the prom queen she always was by everyone at school, ugly fruits and vegetables are finally getting the praise they deserve.  Even more importantly, people are simply buying and eating more of them.  

Up until recently, perfectly edible fruits and vegetables have been thrown away by grocery stores, food service companies, farmers, and suppliers simply because they possess superficial flaws and imperfections that have been deemed “unfit” for sale.  A 2013 release by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) cites countless staggering statistics about the economic, environmental, and ethical costs of food waste due to “ugly” fruits and veggies.  For the sake of clarification, it is important to note that food waste refers to the intentional discard of edible food.  In short, the UNEP points out inadequacies across the supply chain, from growers all the way to consumers, that contribute to disproportionate food waste in affluent countries, specifically shedding light on the alarming fact that “quality and aesthetic standards lead retailers to reject large amounts of perfectly edible food.”  

The outlandish costs associated with such widespread food waste are a barrage on the conscience of even the most prudent and environmentally-conscious consumer.  For example, the UNEP measures the “Total food wastage for the edible part of [primary product] to 1.3 billion tonnes.”  The report goes on to highlight the carbon footprint left behind by the production of food that is just thrown away, which is estimated at “3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of GHG released into the atmosphere per year.”  If those two figures don’t shock, perhaps the most dreadful statistic is the amount of water needed to grow food that is just thrown away later.  “The total volume of water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted,” the report grimly states, “is equivalent than three times the annual flow of Russia's Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva.”

Across the world, however, sustainability advocates are fighting the food waste battle that has been going on for countless years.  One especially notable campaign has been in the French retailer Intermarche, one of the largest supermarket chains in France, whose “Inglorious Fruits & Vegetables” series has struck a chord with consumers, prompting an upsurge in the purchase and consumption of fruits and vegetables previously thought by retailers to be unfit for sale.  The main marketing push, a video of which can be seen here, was to not only introduce French grocery shoppers to these “ugly” fruits and vegetables at a reduced cost, but to showcase them, thereby altering prevailing attitudes and perceptions.  The initial release of this campaign led to a dramatic increase in store traffic and the purchase of fruits and vegetables overall.  Many retailers across the EU are following suit, with supermarkets in Portugal and the UK pushing “ugly” fruit and vegetable into consumers’ shopping bags.  Even Canada’s Safeway stores are planning a similar concept.  
Locally in Maryland, entrepreneurs and businesses have recognized the untapped market available to them and are aiming to become the middleman between consumers looking to save money and suppliers looking to decrease losses.  One such company, Hungry Harvest, has already made a tremendous impact on the region, recovering 500,000 pounds of food and donating 185,000 to families in need.

The concept, which was thought up by three University of Maryland graduates, closely follows the CSA model with which many farm-to-table enthusiasts are familiar.  Hungry Harvest buys aesthetically unpleasant fruits and vegetables from growers who would otherwise throw it away, pack up variety bags filled with those fruits and vegetables, and deliver them to consumers in the DelMarVA and Philadelphia region.  

Not only does the company work towards ending food waste by collecting food that would go unused, it also saves customers money.  According to the Hungry Harvest website, customers that sign up for the delivery service save an average of $10 over comparable delivery services, such as Peapod.  Hungry Harvest is also interested in reinvesting into the local community.  According to the company’s web page, for every box delivered to one of their customers, they donate 1-2 pounds of fresh produce through their donation partners, monthly free farmer's markets, or directly to needy families.

Ugly fruits and vegetables may not be the prom queen of the produce section yet. With companies such as Hungry Harvest and Intermarche leading the push to eliminate food waste across the world, though, more consumers are sure to follow suit and become critical of their own purchasing habits. Previously thought “ugly” fruit and vegetables may quickly become the apple of many a customer’s eye.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Gearing Up For Trouble!

On paper, the recent approval by the Maryland Transportation Authority to allow bicyclists to cross the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge starting on July 1st appears to be a great victory for Harford County cyclists and a step towards progressive policy decisions in reclaiming roadways for bike riders around the state.  In reality, however, the seemingly bike-friendly and environmentally-responsible decision may be creating more issues than it solves for vehicles and cyclists alike. 

The logic behind the decision to open the bridge to cyclists is simple.  Local cyclists have long clamored for a connection between Havre de Grace and Perryville.  The East Coast Greenway, a roughly 3,000 mile developing trail system between Maine and Florida, has also backed a connection across the Susquehanna River, as it would provide a vital link for the developing network.

Using the Hatem Bridge seems like a no-brainer, and there is no denying that cycling in Maryland has become much easier and safer in recent years.  Campaigns to raise driver awareness coupled with laws that address bicycle safety and a right-of-way regulation have vastly improved the cycling experience throughout the state and have led to a rise in ridership.  Harford County’s back roads, in particular, have become an outstanding backdrop for cyclists looking to log heavy miles while taking in some magnificent scenery. 

The Maryland General Assembly has certainly done its share to regulate vehicle and bicycle safety, most recently passing a comprehensive bill - House Bill 214 - expanding the responsibility a driver has when sharing a road with bicycles, among other vehicles.  Most notably, it clearly defines that, when passing a bicycle sharing the same road, a vehicle must exercise caution by giving three feet of distance between the car and the bicycle.  Under conditions in which three feet is not possible, as is the case with the Hatem Bridge, the driver must “slow to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions” and “may not endanger, impede, or interfere with the bicycle [...] or any other traffic using the highway.”

However, cyclists looking to extend their rides over the Hatem Bridge after July 1st may be putting themselves in unnecessary danger when crossing, while drivers caught on the bridge may find themselves being forced to a crawl when crossing the 1.3 mile expanse.

The main flaw in this plan is trying to retrofit a 20th century roadway so it adheres to 21st century road-sharing values.  The Hatem Bridge, opened in August of 1940, was designed as a narrow two lane road in each direction with no shoulder.  The claustrophobic nature of the bridge makes even the most capable drivers feel trepidation while crossing.  Adding bicycles to the mix will make the span even more tenuous. 

Experienced cyclists are well aware of the implications of sharing a traffic lane with vehicles.  The fear of trucks and cars barreling towards them coupled with the impatience of tailgaters as they wait for a break in traffic to merge can ruin any cyclists’ ride.  Cyclists can also expect to hear the requisite drive-by insults and blaring horns that are commonplace with shared-lane cycling, since many drivers fail to recognize bicycles as equal in lane usage on roads. 

Drivers, meanwhile, will not only have to come to grips with trips across the bridge taking one and a half or even twice as long, as two lanes of traffic are forced to condense to one, but will also be forced to navigate the strain of a shared roadway with bicycles on the cramped bridge.  Road sharing with bicycles is stressful enough for an unaccustomed driver, let alone being forced into it on a narrow bridge. 

It also stands to reason rates of accidents between two vehicles, and, perhaps more terrifying, between vehicles and bicycles will rise rapidly.  Just last year, the Maryland Vehicle Association released a report on bicycle safety, which stated that “over the past five years there was a six percent increase in the number of crashes” between bicycles and vehicles.  Of those crashes, according to the same report, “more than 80 percent of the crashes resulted in a death or injury” 

All of these factors combined point to a singular rationale that allowing bicycles to share lanes with vehicles across the Hatem Bridge will ultimately not benefit either group.  Drivers will be upset with cyclists, and cyclists will be upset with drives.  Unless an alternative crossing is developed that does not pit vehicle and bicycle against one another, such as the plan of retrofitting the Amtrak rail crossing with a bicycle lane, it stands to reason that cyclists will still plan to steer clear of a river crossing for quite some time.   

Blog Post by Joshua Marx
Blogger for the Havre De Grace Green Team