Archive for January 2012 | Monthly archive page

Bicycle enthusiasts have long known the environmental, economic and physiological benefits of cycling.  Now, by buying a handcrafted bamboo frame from Zambikes International, bikers can help support Zambian workers and their families.  In Zambia — where literacy is low, there is no free public education, and over half of the population is unemployed — the California-based startup has made strides to offer decent living wages and technical training to communities struggling with poverty.

In a country where public transportation can be unreliable, a bicycle can mean a dependable way of getting to what little work is available.  Since 2007, Zambikes has been using bamboo as a strong, sustainable base for their bicycles, taking advantage of a durable, light, surprisingly shock-absorbent material that is a cheap and abundant alternative to metal.  Bamboo grows well in the Zambian climate, and once the grass is mature and treated, the frame can last up to ten years.

Under the direction of two Zambians and two Americans, Zambikes International employs a large team of builders that produce quality cycles in a variety of styles including a cruiser, road bicycle and mountain bike.  Crafted with rural living in mind, they also offer brilliant cart and trailer attachments such as the Zambulance, which has been fashioned to meet the needs of remote medical clinics, and the Zamcart, a hitch created for farmers that has the capacity to carry a load of up to 250 kg.

By offering bamboo cycles both locally and internationally, Zambikes helps provide environmentally and socially conscious transportation that benefits not only those buying their products, but also those who produce them.  While for many Americans a bicycle is a tool for recreation, in Africa it can be the only form of reliable transportation to and from work, the fastest way to get to a hospital, an efficient means of carrying a heavy load of equipment, or a swift method of removing arrested criminals.

For more information on the mission of Zambikes and the people behind this amazing company, visit Gershom Sikaala’s website and read about his motivations for establishing programs benefiting his fellow Zambians.

According to the Chinese zodiac, it is now officially the Year of the Dragon.  What can we expect in the future as we transition from the Rabbit?  Astrologers predict that the next year will hold good luck, as the dragon is the most auspicious and powerful of the signs, and an increase in the fertility rate.  Those born in this year are said to be intelligent, energetic, extroverted, often conceited, and quick to lose their temper when provoked.

Although considered to bring good fortune, some believe that 2012 will hold more international conflict, citing the relationships between earth and water elements.  The powerful yang of water might auger a natural disaster or the human struggles toward political equality.  The water sign also represents charity and generosity, which hopefully could signal for a positive transformation of economic and societal institutions.

While there will be fighting and strife in the days ahead, the elements are not as much in opposition as in the past several years.  From nature, we can forecast possible viral epidemics, and powerful disasters such as earthquakes and floods.  Sadly, experts say that there are fewer angels of mercy to aid in what could be higher death tolls than normal.  Fortunately, there should be an improvement in environmental protections and recovery from past human-made catastrophes like oil spills and and nuclear meltdowns.

Want to celebrate the Year of the Dragon here on the coast?

-Head to San Francisco, where 6,000 participants, 22 floats, marching bands, lion dancers, and an arsenal of firecrackers will dazzle your senses and help usher in good fortune and scare away the negative spirits of the past.  The parade is held on February 11, and is one of the largest celebrations held outside of Asia.  There is also a city-wide treasure hunt that takes seekers on a romp through San Francisco’s neighborhoods and rewards them with fun, prizes, and a healthy workout.

-San Luis Obispo locals can watch the Cal Poly Lion Dance Team perform around the county this month.  Witness a cultural tradition and see the amazing strength and acrobatic skill required to bring these creatures to life! (Visit their website for a performance schedule.)  If cavorting  lions are not enough to impress you, on January 25 the Peking Acrobats challenge gravity at the Clark Performing Arts Center in Arroyo Grande. Tickets range from $45-55.

-Cal Poly will be hosting a dinner on January 28, where Wushu Taichi masters Liu Yu and Norm Petredean accompanied by students will give a demonstration. This graceful martial art will inspire serenity, strength, and promote a healthy flow of qi that will help balance and prepare you for the upcoming year.

Break out the red envelopes, make some mooncakes, and have a great Year of the Dragon!

 

In elementary school, I lived for recess, summer vacations, and weekends.  When else could I have the chance to go hiking, camping, and fool around in nature?  Free time presented opportunities to explore and have adventures in the forests and creeks around my home and allowed for family vacations to national parks and recreation areas.  However, as a former environmental educator, I am aware that there are plenty of today’s youth that are cut off from open spaces and wilderness.

In an age where computers and televisions are our primary source of entertainment, schools sequester children indoors during class time, and working adults are confined to cubicles and households, the natural world has become an auxiliary part of our lives.  Organizations such as the Children and Nature Network have identified that kids living in suburban and urban areas may suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder”, which some researchers believe can lead to or exacerbate cases of ADHD, hyperactivity, creates higher levels stress, decreases creativity, and diminishes the formation of community.

Luckily, with the understanding that knowledge of our ecosystems and direct experience with the landscape makes for happy and healthy humans, many schools have been established within the last couple of decades that seek to educate children and their families about nature.  One of the longest running and most influential outdoor education organizations is NatureBridge, a non-profit founded by the Yosemite Institute in 1971.  With campuses in the Marin Headlands, Olympic National Park, Yosemite, and the Santa Monica Mountains, the school possesses over 40 years of experience with connecting youth to the greater outdoors by facilitating direct and powerful experiences that last for lifetimes.  The programs are student-centered, allowing the flow of the courses to be powered by the questions and curiosity of its pupils.  Flexible lesson plans focus on the ideas of interconnectedness, sense of place, and stewardship.  In addition to becoming familiar with the complex interplay between habitats and ecosystems, children learn the importance of diversity, how they depend upon nature for survival, and ways to take concrete action to care for the world in which they live.  Programs and events are specific to each campus, and are open to both schools and individuals.

For those interested in outdoor education close to home, take a look at San Luis Obispo County’s school programs through Camp KEEP and Rancho El Chorro.  The CREEC Network has a huge database for Californians seeking local organizations and schools.  Get your kids away from the video games and out into the wilderness!  Become acquainted with the beauty and magic of nature!

For some of us, clutter counts as decoration.  Surveying my living room at home, it seems that the main culprits of congestion are the stacks of books piled on top of tables, wedged in between couch cushions, and stuffed into shelves.  Normally, this kind of disarray would not be much of a bother, but seeing as a number of the members of my disorganized library have been pored over several times and have been occupying the same space for a couple years, it might be time to sell them back to my local used bookstore.  While I would like to think that getting rid of this heap of paper would clear up some room to move freely along hallways and allow me to actually see the surface of my furniture again, I know that I will just end up replacing one set of reads for another.  Lucky for me that San Luis Obispo has a number of places to fuel my addiction.

Phoenix Books (990 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo)- Walking distance from Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Phoneix Books looks and smells like the way a used bookstore should.  Handmade signs alert you to each topic, and while a majority of the books are organized alphabetically, there are still a number that are piled on the floor without much rhyme or reason next to the ceiling-high shelves.  Lovers of pulp fiction with enjoy their selection of dime novels, fantasy and science fiction. The turnover can be pretty high, so each trip reveals new treasures.

Kreuzberg, CA (685 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo)- Both cafe and used bookstore, Kreuzberg CA is the perfect place to grab a novel and relax with a coffee, beer, or glass of wine.  With a great menu, funky decor, and friendly staff, the place is a comfortable place to study, meet friends, or simply enjoy people watching.  The books are placed randomly amidst the couches stacked in the shelves without too much regard to subject or author.  When hunting for something to flip through, you may find yourself awkwardly leaning over other patrons or digging next to diners trying to enjoy their lunch.  If you are serious in your quest for a book, it might be best to arrive when the cafe is quiet during the mid-morning or early afternoon.

Nan’s Pre-Owned Books (1328 Grand Ave, Grover Beach)- With over 55,000 books Nan’s Pre-Owned Books is bound to have something to strike a bookworm’s fancy.  Specializing in “hard-to-find” paperbacks, Nan’s takes a special interest in collecting classics, war history, philosophy, and self-help literature.  Located off the main drag in Grover Beach, the store is easy to find along the wide streets and strip malls.  Beware of trying to read the frequently updated witty quotes on the store’s display board while driving or trying to park.

With these great stores, you can find a gently loved book to take with you to the beach, gym, or cafe without fear of damaging a new glossy edition.  You can save a tree and a little cash at the same time, and support valuable local businesses.  Go ahead, browse around!  But be careful,  whole afternoons have been known to fly by amidst the stacks of a used bookstore.

Long after the formal conflicts have ended, physical reminders of war remain embedded in our landscapes.  From old missile silos to spent artillery and and mothball fleets, much of the nation’s military past lies in disuse, strewn across the country without a proper place or function.  Once used as tools of aggression and destruction, some instruments of war have been given a second life in the hands of some very creative, progressive people and businesses.

The Headlands Institute: Just north of San Francisco, the Headlands Institute has turned an old army fort into an outdoor education campus.  Formerly Fort Cronkhite, the school has repurposed the now defunct WWII mobilization point’s mess hall, supply buildings, and auxiliary structures to create conference halls, classrooms, dining facilities, and overnight accommodations. Positioned amidst the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this NatureBridge campus takes full advantage of its scenic beauty to encourage lasting, emotional connections between students and nature.  From residential school programs to corporate getaways, the old military base now inspires feelings of wonder and revitalization instead of fear.

From War to Peace:  Local San Luis Obispo jewelry company From War to Peace uses the salvaged metal from nuclear weapons systems to fashion symbols of peace. Each piece of jewelry, bottle opener, and plaque, incorporates copper from the giant underground cables that once connected missile silos across the Midwest.  Drawing upon inspiration from many different societies, their designs employ religious and cultural notions of tranquility, balance and compassion.  By physically reclaiming and changing the composition of the material, the alloy both literally and figuratively becomes a new object complete with a new and more positive purpose.  Bambu Batu is honored to carry the From War to Peace line in our store.

The Alameda Point Collaborative Urban Farm: Founded in 1927, the Alameda Naval Air Station was built after the wetlands were filled to establish runways for military planes.  Most active in WWII and the Cold War, the station was officially closed in 1997 for development.  The Alameda Point Collaborative Urban Farm is now a one acre plot that grows an array of fruits and vegetables and supports the production of honey, eggs, and fish.  Originally started to combat the problems of urban food deserts, the farm also educates residents about nutrition, agriculture, and offers a weekly CSA.  Surrounded by olive and stone fruit orchards, the Farm has become a unique spot that nourishes and sustains life.

While we are constantly confronted with the destructive aspects of our nature as human beings, it is reassuring to know that there are those using their talent and ambition to call upon our higher qualities.  Though it is important to speak of peace, it is also vital that we create the conditions for social justice and fairness to exist.  This can be accomplished only by ending the cycle of violence that perpetuates conflict, and by transforming the destructive into the constructive.

 

Food stamps, or EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer), can be a lifesaving form of assistance to the 45 million people (15 percent of the US population) who cannot afford to buy groceries each year.  Many programs allow recipients to use their benefits in restaurants and supermarkets, and — not as well-known — to purchase seeds and plants.  SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) offered by the Federal Government, allows EBT points to be turned into thriving subsistence backyard gardens.

To help get the word out about the lesser known side of food stamp benefits, garden advocate Daniel Bowman Simon formed the nonprofit SNAP Gardens.  The organization offers informational posters in several languages for farmers markets, housing centers, and community centers across the country, letting the locally administered EBT programs promote the proliferation of home small-scale farms. With a boost from an Awesome Food microgrant, SNAP Gardens will soon be working with the Dinner Garden to establish a telephone hotline that provides horticultural advice.

For those who could use a little extra know-how to start raising food from seed, the SNAP Ed-Connection , intended as instructional aids for regional EBT providers, is a great resource for education and training materials. San Luis Obispo residents can attend free enrichment classes all year round by master gardeners every 3rd Saturday of the month.   Cuesta College occasionally holds community workshops for a small fee that focus on designing, establishing, and maintaining a new garden.  The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden leads tours of its demonstration plots, and gives first time green thumbs a chance to practice and get dirty every Tuesday from 9-11am.

Even if you do not take advantage of EBT, you can let gardens provide for you and your family! What a great way to save money, reconnect with the earth, and eat healthy this season!

 

Someone you know may be a member of a secret society.  Shortly after a rain, clad in heavy slacks, long sleeves and sturdy shoes, they leave the comfort of their living rooms and televisions to hunt for gold in the oak forests of California.  What they seek cannot be melted into a ring or fashioned into a trophy, but certainly can be heated in a skillet and transformed into a miracle of culinary science.

Going alone or with clandestine companions, the locations of their wanderings are kept secret so as not to give away the position of their hauls.  They dodge poison oak, slog through mud, and scramble up steep slopes.  What these adventurers are tromping around the wilderness for is the enchanting, delectable chanterelle mushroom. Underneath the cap, pseudo-gills run all the way down the stipe, or stalk.  The emit a fruity, peppery fragrance that fills the air when cooked.  Extremely high in vitamin C, vitamin D and potassium, these delicacies formerly reserved for the tables of nobility are as healthy as they are flavorful.

Cantharellus cibarius, or the golden chanterelle, is a funnel shaped fungus that appears in veins or clusters across Europe, North America and Mexico.  They have also been found as far afield as Asia and Africa.  Popping up along amidst leaf litter and detritus of the forest floor, chanterelles have been discovered near birches, conifers, beeches, oaks and, occasionally among chaparral.  Here in San Luis Obispo, the positions of large crops of these little beauties are kept under wraps, as they can be sold at market for nearly ten dollars a pound.

However, with a little luck and the knowledge of an experienced mushroom hunter, you can capture some chanterelles of your own.  Take care to only pick mushrooms of which you are certain, and when in doubt, leave them in the ground.  It should be mentioned that there is a species known as the “false chanterelle”, and for beginner and amateur mycologists confusion is not worth the risk of slight gastric distress and embarrassment.

For help identifying and cooking the golden chanterelle amongst many other mushies, pick up a copy of All the Rain Promises and More by David Arora.  This guide is filled with excellent descriptions, photos, and stories from fungus fanatics.  Easily stored in a pocket or backpack, the little volume will inspire you to tromp about the backcountry in search of nature’s most fascinating organisms.  After sauteing nearly fifteen pounds of a recent haul this season, you will definitely spot this hunter in the hills of San Luis Obispo scanning the logs and dirt for tasty morsels and objects of scientific curiosity.  See you on the trail!

San Luis Obispo is fortunate to be a county where successful agriculture means a bounty of fruits and vegetables.  After commercial harvests have finished, there still may be hundreds of pounds of produce just waiting in the fields, ready to be picked by kind volunteers. Since March 2011, GleanSLO has collected over 30,000 pounds of apples, oranges, carrots, artichokes, squash, lemons and plums for the San Luis Obispo Food Bank Coalition.  GleanSLO has been awarded a $5,000 United Way Innovation Award for its excellence and commitment to the community.

“GleanSLO is not just a program; it’s a movement to purposefully re-engage SLO County residents in farming, healthy eating, and providing nutritious food for those in need,” says Caroline Ginsberg, the program’s founder.  Collaborating with other local activist organizations such as Cal Poly STRIDE, SUSTAIN-SLO, Transition Towns, the Central Coast Ag Network, SLO Grown Kids, and One Cool Earth, Glean SLO has become a member of the Central Coast’s philanthropic network.

Like to get involved?  Harvests last for about two hours and take place primarily on weekends.  There is often little notice for when the events occur, so make sure to be ready with a completed volunteer application, sign up for the newsletter by contacting cginsberg@slofoodbank.org, and have some good, comfortable work clothes and a water bottle on hand.  Many times, volunteers return home with bags full of produce once gleaning is over.  If you have a backyard garden or orchard bounty that you would like to contribute, tools, or cash donations, contact GleanSLO online for more details.

Do something to help end hunger in your community, enjoy the San Luis Obispo landscape, and have some fun!

X