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Urban Chickens: Food & Fun!

Three new additions to our family arrived this spring – hens named Emma, Trunchable, and Getaway.  No, we don’t live in the country, but right inside the city limits of Traverse City.

We are not the first city-dwellers to get chickens.  Since the city ordinance passed in 2009 allowing it, dozens of Traverse City families have built chicken coops in their backyards and now enjoy fresh eggs daily and rich fertilizer for their gardens.  Backyard chickens are allowed in many other cities across the state including Lansing, Ann Arbor and Kalamazoo. It is a growing national trend with plenty of helpful resources.  You can even rent a chicken for the summer!

The Traverse City ordinance allows for four hens per yard, and they must be kept at least 25 feet from a neighbor’s home.  Roosters are not allowed (too loud) and you cannot slaughter chickens on your property.  Within those rules, there’s really nothing bothersome about having chickens.  Yet, some cities continue to ban it.

To help demystify backyard chickens, some chicken-having friends of ours started the “Coop Loop,” an annual tour of coops around downtown Traverse City.  We joined in on our bikes last summer and saw everything from fancy coops to chicken shacks in yards of all shapes and sizes around the city.  Having chickens not only looked manageable, it kind of looked like fun.

So when those friends offered to give us their chickens while they traveled for the year, we jumped at the chance.  They dropped off the hens, their coop, and some food on a Monday, and by that afternoon we had our first eggs! Read more

Worms eat my garbage

A year ago, Becky Jo Farrington from Michigan Energy Options came to the Michigan Environmental Council office peddling worms.

She was selling earthworms a standard plastic bin. They will eat garbage, proliferate like earthworms and create compost she promised.

I bought a kit for about $30 that included the booklet “Worms Eat My Garbage”, the bin, a starter kit of worms, and bedding.

The little creatures were hard to spot in the bin filled with wet newspaper, food scraps, and an occasional black pindot of a worm casting. And during several months of diligent feeding they made little progress. By fall, blackened, months-old banana peels remained intact, there were precious few dots of worm castings, and the worms were still hard to find when sifting through the bin.

Winter came, and I left the shiftless worms in the garage alone, untended, unfed. Forgotten. Read more

Traverse recognizes energy as key to future

I was fortunate enough to find myself in Traverse City earlier this month. Unlike the happy tourists who were enjoying the shops, restaurants and beaches in that wonderful place, my purpose was to attend the Energy Efficiency Leadership Summit hosted by Michigan Land Use Institute (MLUI). This event was conceived as part of the ongoing regional dialogue known as The Grand Vision. It reflects awareness in this corner of Michigan that decision-making about energy will be a determining factor in the region’s long-term economic performance.

It is encouraging when communities grasp the vital energy-economy link, especially the multiple benefits of saving energy through better efficiency. Based on my previous experience with similar gatherings, a head count of 30 would have been reasonable. To my delight, the Hagerty Center  at Northwestern Michigan College was filled with nearly 200 people! These included regional leaders from all sectors – private, public and nonprofit–as well as interested and engaged residents. I even heard that 6 of 7 voting board members of Traverse City Power & Light were there. This level of involvement by a local utility company is commendable and sets the example for other municipal utilities in Michigan. Read more

A night to remember!

MEC President Chris Kolb presenting Rosina Bierbaum with the Milliken Distinguished Service Award

If you weren’t with us last night at the Michigan Environmental Council’s 14th Annual Environmental Awards Celebration, you missed a lot! Incredible silent auction deals, good food and friends, and inspiring words from MEC President Chris Kolb and awardees Rosina Bierbaum and Blair Miller. You can learn more about them here. The honorees will be profiled in a newsletter that should hit our website and your mailboxes soon!

Thank you to all who attended, including our tremendous sponsors, auction donors, member organizations, interns and allies standing together to protect Michigan’s natural resources and quality of life!


Déjà vu

We’re a nation of champion procrastinators. That’s my conclusion after reading National Geographic’s special report, Energy: Facing up to the problem, getting down to solutions.

The piece is straightforward with hardly any breaking news. For instance, who (at least among those based in reality) doesn’t already know that the U.S. economy has been heavily dependent on cheap energy? Or that our insatiable thirst for petroleum sends countless dollars overseas and leaves us vulnerably dependant on unstable parts of world? Or that burning coal releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide, destabilizing our protective climate?

But why the unkind charge of procrastination?

Because the National Geographic special report was published way back in February 1981! (Special thanks to Chris Kolb who found it while helping his mom recycle her old magazines.) Read more

Don’t Fence Me In

Limiting Public Land Jeopardizes Michigan’s Character

Nobody’s going to confuse it with Chicago or Denver, but Lansing is an honest-to-God city, albeit mid-sized.  We’ve got a decent food scene, a solid bus system, skyscrapers—even our own professional ball club.

It’s a great place to work.  But like Melville’s Ishmael when he was away from the sea awhile, if I’m too long in town without at least a brief escape to the woods, “it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off.”

Luckily, a couple of years ago I discovered a secret spot on a little trout creek about an hour southwest of my home in East Lansing.  (I’m not divulging details.  Unless you buy me a Two Hearted Ale—then I’ll tell you exactly where it is.) Read more

Honeybee swarm!

This honeybee swarm in a residential neighborhood is terrifying, unless you know a bit about honeybees. I learned from the wise old hands from the Southeastern Michigan Beekeepers Association who taught me and several dozen other newbie classmates the ancient art and science of this fascinating trade/hobby last year.

But nothing could fully prepare me for the chaotic Sunday evening of trying to “capture” this swarm after the property owner breathlessly called me to her back yard. For a veteran beekeeper it would be a routine event. For me – and my brave wife Karen who accompanied me – it was a thrill, a first, and a learning experience filled with mistakes, stings, and the surreal moment when I realized bees were inside my protective face veil! Read more

One if By Land

The Legislative Ground Assault on Pure Michigan

So much of what makes Pure Michigan so pure starts with our land—the miles of forests, the majestic dunes, the undeveloped trout streams and backcountry trails.  Without the incredible Great Lakes landscapes that define us, we’d just be another Indiana, Ohio or Missouri.

Unfortunately, the Michigan legislature is mounting an all-out blitz to undermine those land resources by gutting and dismantling the very programs that protect and improve them. And because land use issues are generally pretty complicated affairs, it’s a stealth assault that doesn’t garner headlines.

So, here’s a quick rundown on a few of the most alarming new attacks: Read more

Today’s impromptu effort to change a little bitty corner of the world

Dear Dean Transportation:

Today (May 8th) there are about one-dozen Dean charter buses parked on Pere Marquette Street in Lansing (possibly related to Mitt Romney’s Lansing speech?) These buses have been idling for more than an hour with no occupants. It seems a tremendous waste of fuel, an unnecessary release of pollutants, and increases in carbon monoxide and other unhealthy byproducts that drift into the businesses, offices (mine included) and pedestrians along the street.

If Dean has no idling policy, it might be a worthwhile endeavor — both from a business/cost perspective and a good neighbor perspective.

Thank you for your time

Hugh McDiarmid Jr.

(We’ll share any response from Dean in a future update. As an aside, many other states have idling laws. Michigan does not.)

A Sensational Moon Rising Over Michigan: How to Make the Most of This Weekend

Super Moon

Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars

-Frank Sinatra

In other words, it’s almost the weekend and it’s springtime. So you need a fantastic Saturday plan. Well, what could be better than a Pure Michigan enviro-chic date night watching the ‘super moon’ rise?

This nature-rich date idea will score high points for originality, romantic quality, cost effectiveness and sustainability levels (which is important, because women are more attracted to green behavior).

The moon Saturday is not just a full moon; it’s a ‘super moon’.  It will be slightly closer to earth than normal from our perspective, so it will appear 14% bigger and 30% brighter than usual. And this ‘super moon’ is going to be the best in the last 18 years. Read more