THE INNOVATION ISSUE:
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Vinny is an All-Star Recycler... And he’s really good at recycling electronics. But Vinny, who has a developmental disability, struggled to ﬁnd work until he found Blue Star Recyclers. Blue Star partners with Eco-Cycle to give young adults like Vinny meaningful jobs recycling electronics at Eco-Cycle’s Center for Hard-toRecycle Materials (CHaRM). Vinny is a trained technician who once dissembled 48 computers in 4 hours, a record that still stands. “Work has opened a lot of doors for me,” Vinny said. “I get lots of social interaction on the job, and I’ve always liked ﬁguring things out.”
Help us create more jobs! Bring us your unwanted electronics. ELECTRONICS RECYCLING FOR RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES
So next time you drop oﬀ electronics at the CHaRM, say “hello” to Vinny and the gang. They love what they do, and they’re able to do it because of YOU. Recycling never felt so good!
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Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM) • 6400 Arapahoe Road • Boulder, CO 80303 • 303.444.6634
3.......... Mourning plastic
A day in the life of a normal human being
5.......... Philip Taylor:
Boulder’s Mad Agriculturist and his vision of revolution in the fields
8.......... Peanut butter and drones: The hope for endangered ferrets
10........ Staying connected to the natural world
Boulder County’s sustainability coordinator is an innovative, ‘big ideas’ person
13........ eGo CarShare:
Driving community, sustainability and creativity
16........ Slow fashion
Fashion designer Deb Henricksen creates eco-friendly fashion through her line, Equillibrium
19........ Are you in the loop?
From soil to soil — the lifecycle of compostable plastic products
20........ Reimagining rush hour
From e-bikes to the hyperloop, how transportation options are changing in Boulder County and beyond
23........ Farm to fable?
Boulder chefs walk the talk for true ‘farm-to-table’ cuisine
Sweden’s recycling revolution
28........ School gardens face growing pains, bountiful harvests
Teachers and students plant a future together
30........ The elephant in the grow house Cannabis isn’t as environmentally friendly as you’d like to think TM
is a special issue of Boulder Weekly, which is available every Thursday throughout the county. 303.494.5511 • 690 S. Lashley Lane, Boulder, CO 80305
n Boulder County, we already do a lot of good for the planet, as you’ll gather in these pages and from Susan Strife, our county’s sustainability coordinator. Looking ahead, as the environment continues to respond to our human presence, there’s work left to be done on the journey to a sustainable, eco-conscious future. This Boulderganic magazine is a celebration of the people working tirelessly to bring innovative solutions to climate change, and it’s an applause for projects disrupting the status quo. STAFF
Publisher, Stewart Sallo Associate Publisher, Fran Zankowski Special Editions Editor, Emma Murray Director of Operations/Controller, Benecia Beyer Circulation Manager, Cal Winn
Editor, Joel Dyer Associate Editors, Matt Cortina, Angela K. Evans, Caitlin Rockett
Production Manager, Dave Kirby Art Director, Susan France Graphic Designer, Mark Goodman
From the fine-tuning of technological innovations like drones and electric vehicles to the healthy relationships between schools, gardens, restaurants and farms, the content of these pages is forwardthinking. New agricultural and fashion philosophies, an examination of the reality of plastic use, and a deep dive into the carbon footprint of cannabis production leave nothing on the table. Altogether, it’s a hurrah for sustainability solutions just cresting the horizon. SALES AND MARKETING
Retail Sales Manager, Allen Carmichael Account Executive, Julian Bourke Market Development Manager, Kellie Robinson Advertising Coordinator, Olivia Rolf Mrs. Boulder Weekly, Mari Nevar
GENERAL & ADMINISTRATIVE
Assistant to the Publisher, Julia Sallo Circulation Team, Dave Hastie, Dan Hill, George LaRoe, Jeffrey Lohrius, Elizabeth Ouslie, Rick Slama 18-Year-Old, Mia Rose Sallo
by Emma Murray At 6 a.m. a soft trill cuts into my sleep. I roll over and push aside the glossy magazine on my nightstand until I find my iPhone. Pulling it free of the charging cable, I tap the alarm off and roll back onto my side.
I shuffle down the hall into the bathroom and flip the lightswitch. I pull my unruly brown curls through a hair tie and into a loose bun. I turn the faucet on, grab the tube of toothpaste and squeeze a bit onto my toothbrush.
Pouring the espresso into a mug, I follow quickly with hot water. Grabbing the handle of the fridge, I go fishing for the coconut milk, snaking my hand to the back through shelving, leftovers in tupperware, bottles of condiments, a bag of grapes and apples with the stickers still on them.
It’s 6:14. In the 14 minutes I’ve been awake, I’ve already interacted with at least 25 plastic items.
On the couch a few of my books and notebooks are stacked from the night before. These are my mornings: moseying around, savoring coconut-spiked coffee, eventually heading to a yoga class and then work.
In the living room I rest my mug on the laminate hardwood floor and take out the foot-long foam roller that sometimes feels more like an athlete’s torture device than a muscle rehabilitation tool.
Before this year, I’d never thought to seriously consider my relationship with plastic. My metal water bottle — with a plastic lid and straw — never left my side; I carry a bamboo spoon in my bag like it’s an EPI pen; it’s not rare for my bike’s waterproof saddle bags to overflow with a tetris configuration of glass tupperware.
In the mirror a woman stares back at me. Light bags drag down eyes that won’t stand still. A few piercings dot her earlobes. She could use some chapstick.
The wheels of my top dresser drawer roll along their tracks as I go to fetch a tube of lip balm and bottle of sunscreen.
I pull on polyester leggings, a synthetic bra and synthetic top and head back to the kitchen when I hear the tea kettle sing.
In the kitchen, I rustle around for coffee supplies, using a deep spoon to scoop beans from an airtight container into an electric grinder. Packing the grounds tight into the moka pot, I turn the stove knob to high. Back in my bedroom, I open the blinds and stare at a constellation of speckled morning light hitting the crumbled asphalt parking lot.
None of this is revolutionary knowledge. For what it’s worth, however, acknowledging the existence of a problem is one necessary step toward finding a solution.
I tracked my contact with plastic over the course of 24 hours — 868 items in one day, and that’s when I finally realized how pervasive plastic’s existence truly is. Plus, I’m sure there were countless more I didn’t register, save the other plastic things that helped deliver the current plastic to my life.
At 6:35 a.m. I grab my cotton over-the-shoulder bag containing my PVC-based yoga mat, synthetic towel, water bottle lid, car key and wallet. I’ve used at least 40 plastic items in barely half an hour. I head out the door to greet a blue-sky Colorado morning.
I get up off the floor and grab a pen. I write down “34” on a sticky note, then look at the pen. I scratch it out; “35.”
Maybe I was subconsciously avoiding what I suspected all along: As hard as I try, it’s near impossible to live today without plastic. Not until I listened to a public speaker detail the amount of plastic he came into contact with over the course of just 10 minutes did I think: How much does my life rely on plastic over the course of a full day? I’m an ecoaware woman living in Boulder, Colorado. How bad could it really be?
From the second we’re born, held by rubber gloves, wrapped in synthetic cloth, fed by clear-nippled bottles, plastic’s touch might be more familiar than another human’s. Obviously I can’t cast plastic as evil or negate its life-saving uses, but I can question humanity’s relationship with it. Even though I consider myself an eco-friendly person, I can continue to expand my understanding of the way things are.
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Boulder’s Mad Agriculturalist and his vision of revolution in the fields
by Will Brendza
Courtesy of Philip Taylor
he agricultural revolution made a remarkable splash in the fate of mankind. For better or worse, civilization was born and all of human history unfurled in its wake. It was arguably the most significant cultural and environmental development our species has ever made — and it could be happening all over again. In Boulder, one man with a vision is sowing the perennial seeds of what could become the next agricultural revolution. He’s championing a 21st-century overhaul of modern farming practices, the deeply rooted agricultural systems that have been upheld for thousands of years. It’s an ambitious mission, but one that has the potential to redefine our relationship with the natural world. At least, that’s the hope. “Most agriculture is extractive, destructive, it’s an act of violence at its core,” says Philip Taylor, the man with the plan to change how we grow food. He is a research associate at the University of Colorado Boulder, and the founder of the Boulder-based nonprofit Mad Agriculture. According to Taylor, it’s time for that violence to end. He asks, “How can we build agricultural systems that don’t destroy the Earth, that enrich it, and that make the place that we live in more habitable and better for our kids and ourselves?”
Mad Agriculture is Taylor’s answer to that question. He started the conservation organization in 2015, after years leading research and outreach campaigns in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. “I spent a lot of time in these primordial rainforests... but I just had this growing sense that I needed to do something in the world that was a little bit more grounded and practical,” Taylor says. “So, eventually I left that theoretical work in the jungle for more practical fields of farming. It’s been a really great process, kind of coming out of the forest and into the fields, just to ground myself in the work of humans.” The development and use of perennial grains (plants that produce for more than two years) and perennial systems of farming is a primary focus of Taylor’s work with Mad Agriculture. Currently, annual grains are used exclusively by commercial agriculturalists. These are crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, barley and rice, which have to be replanted at the beginning of each season. The land must be tilled, the seeds must be sown, cultivated, grown and harvested, and then the next year it all happens again. “That is not how ecosystems thrive on Earth,” Taylor says, a hint of scorn creeping into his voice. “That’s more like an invasive species.”
This annual model depletes the soil’s organic matter and requires massive inputs of labor, water and fertilizer. Not only that, but it’s extremely expensive, and the environmental consequences are ever-mounting. This method of farming has defined civilization for more than 10,000 years — since the Neolithic agricultural revolution — and it has never been truly updated, only expanded to produce larger and larger quantities of food for lower and lower costs. It’s a destructive tradition, and one that Taylor wants to redesign from the ground up, with the help of perennial grains, like Kernza. Kernza was the first perennial grain ever domesticated. It’s an intermediate wheatgrass, nutritionally similar to wheat, and can be ground into flour for baking or grown in a polyculture (alongside other crops) to promote carbon-rich and healthy soil without fertilizer. But, most importantly, Kernza remains active in the soil year after year after year. No tilling necessary. No massive inputs. Just plant the grain, step back and watch it grow. “I think it’s a turning point in how we grow food,” Taylor predicts. “We’ll look back two or three hundred years from now and ... we’ll find the world is flooding with perennial systems. I mean the whole idea of the moldboard plow is going to be gone. That See PHILIP TAYLOR on Page 6
PHILIP TAYLOR from Page 5
whole piece of Americana nostalgia, that mythology, has to die. And Mad Ag is at the cusp of that.” Taylor and his team at Mad Agriculture are investigating how well Kernza grows in the high prairies of Colorado. They are advocating for more widespread use of this supercrop throughout the region, hosting monthly “farm forums” in Longmont and educating local agriculturalists about the monumental potential this perennial plant possesses. But Taylor isn’t just trying to run moldboard plows out of town with Kernza grain. Mad Agriculture has also formulated the first insect-based animal feed for poultry ever developed in the Americas. Conventional chicken feed relies on soybean products and fish for its protein component. In order to meet the massive demand for commercial livestock production, vast portions of the Amazon rainforest are being laid to waste and replaced with soybean monocultures, and the seas are being trawled of more than 25 million pounds of fish to be ground up for “fishmeal.” Courtesy of Philip Taylor
This is the backbone of the commercial animal feed industry, and it’s driving environmental devastation like a freight train. But Taylor has found a way to change all that by replacing costly soybeans and fish with maggots. Maggots (and insects generally) are packed with protein. They’re cheap and can be produced in a totally sustainable system: food waste feeds the maggots who reproduce and are then used in animal feed. Whatever waste is leftover gets fed right back into the cycle... to generate more maggots.
It’s an elegant solution to a grave problem — a revolutionary step toward more sustainable agriculture. “I think that eating is by far our most important nature experience,” Taylor says. “It’s your most important connection with the Earth, it defines your dependence on what’s happening here.
Until we become fully cognizant of that, we won’t be fully cognizant of the consequences of doing agriculture.” Which really defines the essence of Mad Agriculture: a cultural revolution to increase awareness about the cost and consequences of agriculture and how we eat.
It’s no small goal, to be sure, planting the seeds of a revolution on this scale. But Taylor, who lands somewhere between a mad scientist, an innovative agriculturalist and a fervid revolutionary, seems to be just the right person for the job.
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Peanut butter and drones: TO CALL the black-footed ferret an elusive
organizations, might offer hope for the black-footed ferrets’ survival. It involves baiting prairie dogs with drone- and ATV-delivered, vaccine-laced peanut butter balls. As crazy as that may sound, the science behind this idea is solid, and the field tests have been promising so far. Black-footed ferrets rely almost exclusively on prairie dogs for food. A single ferret might eat as many as 100 of them in a year, but both-black footed ferrets and prairie dogs are extremely susceptible to sylvatic plague. When ferrets eat plagueinfected prairie dogs, they too get the disease — and a single plague-infected ferret can put an entire population at risk. So the USFWS started formulating a strategy: If they could vaccinate the prairie dogs for plague, they could vaccinate the ferrets by proxy; simultaneously increasing WWF-US / Conservation Media the amount of food available for them, while dampening the plague’s impact on their populations. But how could they possibly go about vaccinating tens of thousands of tunnel-dwelling rodents?
creature would be an understatement. Around 90 percent of the animal’s life is spent underground, hunting prairie dogs and haunting their prey’s tunnels. This is North America’s only native ferWWF-US / Conservation Media ret, one of the rarest animals on the continent, and it’s endangered. Fortunately, since its re-discovery in 1981, new technology and innovative conservation strategies have brought this species back from the edge of extinction. One initiative in particular, spearheaded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and several other
Drones dramatically increase the efficiency with which medication is dispersed to wild animals.
These peanut butter balls contain a vaccine against the sylvatic plague.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to bring the blackfooted ferrets back from extinction since the 1980s.
HOPE FOR ENDANGERED FERRETS With peanut butter balls, drones and ATVs, of course. “In the laboratory they tried a few different things: sweet potatoes, peanut butter, I think they even tried blueberries,” says Randy Matchett, of USFWS. “[The prarie dogs] didn’t like that at all, I guess.” Matchett describes the three experimental delivery methods they developed: the first dispenses the oral vaccines in peanut butter balls one at a time via drone, another does the same thing with an ATV, and a third dispenses three vaccines at once from an ATV.
by Will Brendza
“We can effectively treat [large areas] with one pass,” Matchett says, “Which is a great increase in efficiency.” That newfound efficiency might enable them to save the black-footed ferret. The initiative still needs further field testing. But, according to Matchett, the results thus far are encouraging. “We’re still very much on the front end of developing this technology,” he says. “We have made some progress and we’re hoping to make more... It’s showing promise.” USFWS
The Black-Footed Ferret — North America’s Rarest Mammal Until recently, the black-footed ferret was believed to be globally extinct. These creatures once numbered in the tens of thousands, ranging from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico, across the Great Plains and throughout the Intermountain West. But sylvatic plague, in combination with widespread habitat loss, brought this North American native to the brink of extinction by 1960. And, ecologists believed, even beyond it. Then, in 1981, a small population was discovered near Meeteetse, Wyoming. Suddenly, the blackfooted ferret was back! Though not by much. Today, every living black-footed ferret is a descendant of just seven founding animals. Less than 2 percent of their original geographic distribution endures, and without ongoing recovery efforts, there would be little hope for the species at large.
STAYING CONNECTED Boulder County’s sustainability coordinator Courtesy of Susan Strife
usan Strife is an expert in renewable energy and climate. Since 2008, she has dedicated her career to bringing climate-friendly change to Boulder County as its sustainability coordinator. She credits any success to “big ideas” and staying connected to the natural world. Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, Strife says there wasn’t much talk about sustainability or the effects of climate change in her hometown. It wasn’t until she attended college in Vermont that she dove head first into environmental science. After college, she taught natural sciences before receiving her PhD in environmental science at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she now teaches courses in environmental sociology. But sustainability coordinator, Strife says, is her dream job. Here, she answers a few questions about her position and the county’s role as a climate leader.
What makes sustainability coordinator such an important position? Because we are connectors, we connect people to sustainable solutions. That’s the fun part of my job. Different walks of life want pathways to solutions for sustainability, and we provide those pathways. I think it’s the pathway to do the right thing for our planet and we are here to help the whole community.
What does a day in the life as Boulder County’s sustainability coordinator look like for you? It’s so diverse and I love that. I split my time between managing my team and then I implement key projects specifically
Strife with her six-year-old daughter, Riley.
related to climate change. Each person on my team has a specific expertise, for example, water, waste or energy. On any given day that means I’m meeting with different stakeholders, different partners and different groups and we try to come up with innovative, big ideas. If we can get a program replicated by other cities, that is when I feel happy about what we are doing on a day-to-day basis.
diversion rates are low largely because most of our programs are voluntary. We are at 39 percent diversion from the landfill countywide, and 65 percent internal at Boulder County as an organization. There aren’t many county models, but we look at San Francisco, Seattle and Austin as cities that are passing aggressive zero waste policies and programs.
How do we compare to other counties?
What are some ways citizens can access information to become more sustainable?
There are counties doing incredible work. It’s a little tricky to figure out how we compare. I know that we have very progressive decision-makers and very progressive policies that lend us as a model to other communities. We are certainly leaned on in terms of my peer-to-peer relationships with sustainability coordinators across the nation. With regard to zero waste, our
We have a model program called Energy Smart, created back in 2011. It’s a service that provides a one-stop shop for residential and commercial energy efficiency. When you call Energy Smart, you are going to get advice from a professional on reducing your energy consumption and information on adding solar to your roof, or a solar garden, information on
zero waste, electric vehicles and more. It’s really expanded — we’re reaching almost 16,677 homes. Go to energysmartyes.com for more information.
What innovative initiatives are already in place for the county? One thing we are currently doing is running bulk-purchasing programs. Through public-private partnerships we’ve been able to lower price points for solar installations, electric vehicles, electric bikes and high efficiency toilets, and then we provide that reduced price point technology to our residents. Sustainability should be for everyone, not just for people who can afford it, so that is why this program is so worth it. We also do creative financing where we provide low-interestrate loans for renewable energy. But one of the things that I’m most proud of is that we partnered in the Colorado Communities for Climate Action (cc4ca.
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is an innovative, ‘big ideas’ person org). It’s a coalition of local governments that advocate for state and federal policy. It’s not enough to go about our daily business as individual counties anymore. We need to provide resources together to protect Colorado’s climate for current and future generations. We have 16 local governments throughout Colorado who are participating in this. It’s about asking the state to provide more protective policies, and that’s a big deal because we’ve never done that in this way for climate.
To access more information about Susie Strife and Boulder County’s current sustainability plan go to www.bouldercountysustainability.org. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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What are some innovative initiatives on the horizon? We are looking at some carbon sequestration practices. This is a powerful way for us to get carbon out of the atmosphere. Colorado is already facing quite a bit of change in terms of our heat-trapping emissions. We have a lot going on; for example, reduced snowpack and earlier snowmelt, increased high-intensity wild fires, extreme weather events, increased number of high-heat days. We are working with some amazing [Colorado State University] researchers who are looking at the feasibility of amending our soils by applying compost to forestlands, grasslands, rangelands, farmlands and even backyards. You’re not only diverting organic waste from the landfills, but you are converting it into compost that leads to decreased methane emissions that occur from food waste. The added benefits are increasing soil fertility and leading to higher carbon stocks. This project will take up carbon that has already been released into the environment.
by Tiffany Bergeron
Register online at www.BoulderCountyRecycles.org
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6-8 p.m. Monday, April 16 Boulder County Recycling Center, Education Room, 1901 63rd St.
6-8 p.m. Thursday, April 26 Superior Sports Stable Community Room 1 Superior Drive
10 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturday, April 21 Erie Community Center, Mitchell Room 450 Powers St.
6-8 p.m. Monday, April 30 Louisville Library, First Floor Meeting Room, 951 Spruce Street
6-8 p.m. Tuesday, April 24 Boulder County Parks & Open Space, Prairie Room 5201 Saint Vrain Road.
10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturday, May 5 Boulder Public Library, Arapahoe Room 1001 Arapahoe Avenue
Lafayette 6-8 p.m. Monday, May 7 Lafayette Public Library Lower Level Meeting Room 775 W Baseline Road
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: Driving community, sustainability and creativity by Pam Moore
f there was something you could do to reduce carbon emissions and traffic, create more parking and help provide affordable transportation All photos courtesy of eGo CarShare in low-income neighborhoods, would you do it? For eGo CarShare users the answer is a resounding yes. eGo is Colorado’s only nonprofit carshare, serving Boulder, Denver and Longmont. The company’s mission is “to provide and promote alternatives to individual car ownership, thereby reducing the environmental and social impacts associated with motor vehicle use.” “eGo was started by Boulder locals, for locals and the broader community, so it is implicitly unique in that regard,” says Peter Krahenbuhl, eGo’s CEO. Established in Boulder in 1997, it was originally dubbed “The Little Red Car Co-op.” eGo is still known for its red cars, however, the fleet has grown to include all kinds of vehicles, including the aqua blue Prius I spied on Baseline the other night. Members say having access to a variety of vehicles is a huge plus. Jacob Kostecki is an eGo member who, with his wife Martyna, has four kids and one car. He appreciates the option to use a pick-up truck for six dollars an hour instead of renting a U-Haul when he has to haul the occasional heavy load. Joining is simple: complete the online application form and pay a $25 fee. My husband says the process took him all of 30 minutes. Approval generally happens within one business day after which a key fob arrives by mail within 72 hours and membership is for life. eGo CarShare recently announced it will be the first nonprofit electric vehicle carshare program in the country. Members have a choice between two rate plans, depending on their needs. Both include gas and insurance. To reserve a car, users log into the online reservation system to choose a car (options include sedans, SUVs, all- wheel-drive vehicles, pick-up trucks and more), and the pick-up and drop-off location and times. eGo vehicles are parked strategically in lots located adjacent to B-Cycle stations, bike paths and public transit. While members may choose the car location based on proximity to home or work, for some it just depends where a favorite car is parked. Karamjeet Khalsa is an eGo member who always picks up his car at Boulder Junction; the 30-year-old software developer says there’s a 2015 Toyota Camry parked there that he particularly enjoys driving. Not only has eGo grown to serve Denver and Longmont, the company recently announced it will be the country’s first nonprofit electric vehicle (EV) carshare program. Krahenbuhl hopes to see EVs comprise 50 percent of eGo’s fleet by 2023. Adding EVs is just one way eGo upholds its commitment to sustainability. According to eGo’s member survey and national research, each car in its fleet replaces up to 13 personal vehicles. Additionally, members drive about half as much as they did when they owned a car and save roughly $6,500 per year in car-related expenses. Carsharing is light on the wallet and the environment; every year, each carshare vehicle prevents the use of 8,000 gallons of gasoline and precludes the emission of more than 73 tons of greenhouse gases. To promote both sustainability and community, eGo strives to serve community members in all income brackets. According to eGo’s website, most for-profit carshare providers are concentrated in select neighborhoods, which only exacerbates transportation equity concerns. To avoid Each car in the eGo fleet replaces up to 13 personal vehicles and prevents the use of 8,000 gallons of gasoline.
See eGO CARSHARE on Page 14
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these issues, eGo engages in strategic partnerships with community and transit organizations. One such partnership is the Roll Colorado campaign. Designed to facilitate an affordable car-lite lifestyle, the new program gives eGo members access to deep discounts on B-Cycle membership and free RTD bus passes. Krahenbuhl credits eGo’s nonprofit status with its ability to serve low-to-mixed income neighborhoods. Free of obligations to shareholders who are focused solely on profits, eGo can develop partnerships “that for-profit organizations can’t or won’t do,” Krahenbuhl says. A commitment to community is what set eGo in motion — and what maintains the momentum 20 years later. Julie Heins is an eGo member who lives and works in central Boulder and uses eGo roughly once a week. For her, using eGo isn’t just about reducing her carbon footprint and saving money. By driving minimally and shopping locally she says, “The money I save on car ownership goes back into my community.” Not only that, but she feels that as a local business, eGo offers something special. “The people who
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Members report they save as much as $6,500 per year in car-related expenses, making the program not only eco-friendly, but also a smart financial option.
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run eGo are local and therefore knowledgeable about our community and what makes us tick.” Jessica Thill is a content strategist who was pleasantly surprised to discover just how easy it is to live a pedestrian lifestyle in Boulder. When she relocated from Manhattan in 2014, she had every intention of using eGo until she bought a car. And she did just that — for four years. She bought a car this winter, after moving to Steamboat, an area far less conducive to a car-free lifestyle. While she acknowledges she spent extra time walking, taking the bus and planning for her eGo trips, she says, “I can’t tell you how much I hate driving and how much time I waste parking.” With eGo, parking is a non-issue; members return cars to the lot where they picked it up. And because members have to reserve trips in advance, they naturally drive less. Thill planned trips strategically to maximize her time and minimize her trips; she says she was naturally more judicious when she paid for every hour she drove. And while sometimes (usually for multi-day trips) it made sense to rent a car, Thill appreciated the transparency and consistency of the carshare’s pricing model. “You can always evaluate what your cost is going to be, independent of supply and demand.” Jacob and Martyna Kostecki use an eGo car several times a week and can walk to two eGo locations in 10 minutes or less from their home. While they typically take car trips in their personal car, sometimes the family needs to split up. In that case, one adult retrieves the car and brings it home, where the kids pile in. Jacob acknowledges there is some extra work required as a one-car family but feels Boulder’s infrastructure makes it relatively simple. At the end of the day, he says all you need is the willingness to be “a tiny bit more creative.”
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Slow Fashion by Claire Lardizabal
Fashion designer Deb Henricksen creates eco-friendly fashion through her line, Equillibrium.
ust about every sector of business is geared toward sustainability these days. Sustainable agriculture, energy and tourism are all a given, but sustainable fashion is just beginning to disrupt the traditionally wasteful mainstream fashion industry. Denverite Deb Henricksen, owner and founder of the rocker-chic brand Equillibrium, is poised to keep moving the fashion industry’s momentum forward. Her mission is to educate others about their own consumerism while bringing her sense of style to life with responsibly sourced textiles and materials. Henricksen owns a storefront, and creates and sells clothes made of sustainable textiles such as organic cotton, bamboo and hemp. The idea for Equillibrium was born in 1998, when Henricksen began to dream of having her own eco-friendly fashion boutique. In 2000, Equillibrium began as a wholesale brand that was carried in skate and snowboard shops around Denver and Breckenridge. She opened her first store in 2004 (now located on West Custer Place) and hasn’t stopped since. Henricksen originally hails from Naperville, Illinois, but she moved to Fort Collins in 1990 to study environmental health at Colorado State University. “There were a lot of cowboys back then,” Henricksen says. “Everyone had on their big cowboy buckles, and I rolled up on my skateboard.” In school her focus was on toxicology analysis, studying human illness from environmental exposures. She says it was a lot of technical text and analysis, but learning about how humans adversely affected the environment (and vice versa) has had a profound influence on her brand.
In 1995, Henricksen moved to Georgetown for an internship with the health department of Clear Creek County, then to Breckenridge to work in skate and snowboard shops. A couple of years later she came down from the mountains for a job as a registered environmental technician and health safety officer in Denver, but she found herself wanting for more. “I always had a love for fashion,” Henricksen says. She’d taught herself how to sew after learning how to make patchwork pillows in a junior high economics class, then worked in retail stores, tailoring and altering clothes that had been damaged in fitting rooms, as well as her own clothes. “The sewing machine is my power tool,” she says. For the past 18 years, Henricksen has found her calling in providing a sustainable brand (influenced by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Betsey Johnson and Vivienne Westwood) that surrounds her passions: high fashion, skateboarding and science, while educating others about the impact of their buying choices. Manufacturing clothes is a high-impact, wasteful endeavor the world over. It’s difficult — to say the least — to pin down where clothes are sourced from. After oil, the textile apparel industry is the second biggest industrial polluter on the planet, contributing to 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, along with harmful chemicals, dyes and textile waste. (Let’s not even get into the effects of synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and vinyl.) According to 350.org, a nonprofit climate justice website that’s dedicated to using renewable energy, before industrialization began in the 18th century, the Earth’s atmosphere contained 280 ppm (parts per million) of carbon dioxide. Scientists have said that the atmosphere would reach its threshold at 350 ppm. However, carbon dioxide levels crossed that limit in 2013 and are now over 400 ppm. “It’s irreversible,” Henricksen says. “We [humans] are the catalysts, and we can either speed it up or slow it down.” Consumers have the choice to change their purchasing habits to benefit the world’s overall environmental health.
“A dollar is a vote for the type of world we want to be in,” Henricksen says. She urges others to take a look at their belongings and ask themselves: What are you buying? LIM College, a New York City fashion school, published a study, “In Shopping Trends Among 18-37 Year-Olds” that says millennials are in favor of sustainability and social change, but environmental impact was low on their list when it came to buying ecofriendly clothing. Only 34 percent out of a sample of 685 students and alumni said that they would buy a product if it was sustainably produced and eco-friendly, compared to the 95 percent who would buy for ease of purchase and value, and 92 percent for uniqueness. However, 90 percent said that they would “help create more sustainably produced products by convincing businesses and government to alter existing practices” and “abandon a product or brand for eco-unfriendliness.” There are definitely some hurdles when it comes to shopping for sustainable clothes, such as the lack of options in the market and intimidating prices. However, to Henricksen, quality over quantity is a mantra to keep in mind when it comes to purchasing. Her clothes come at a higher price point, true, but she says if you divide it, the garment will be free after 10 wears
(and last longer), whereas inexpensive clothing often doesn’t last long enough to pay for itself. One thing Henricksen does encourage consumers to do is research; find out how clothes are sourced, and become aware of the disconnect between the buyer and the good. The fast fashion movement, led by retailers who sell mass-produced clothing at very inexpensive prices, has caused consumers to buy more rapidly and remain unaware of its All photos courtesy of environmental effects. Robin Fulton from Robins. To combat the fast fashion movement, Photography Henricksen buys local fabrics whenever possible. She sources materials from fabric representatives and close-out fashion fabrics, and has employed cut-and-sew professionals and bag manufacturers from the state. “It’s upcycling in a different way,” she says. The downside is that because she only uses sustainable materials, it can sometimes limit what she can create. Currently, she’s preparing for the Jackalope Indie Artisan Fair in Denver on May 19-20. Since Henricksen began Equillibrium in 2000, she’s noticed the slow fashion movement progress among celebrities and the media. In 2017, the documentary RiverBlue was released, providing an inside look at the denim industry and how textile mills in countries such as China, Bangladesh and India are polluting riverways and inadvertently affecting workers, residents and agriculture. Despite more exposure of the issue, there’s still a lot of work left to do. “We are seeing undeniably negative impacts from unconscious consumption and no value being placed on the environment,” Henricksen says. “If for no other reason than for self-preservation, consumer behavior must be observed, evaluated, and changed on a mass scale. A movement toward conscious consumption must be practiced by all of us.”
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From soil to soil — the lifecycle of compostable plastic products
by Will Brendza The way society uses disposable food packaging is unsustainable: draw petroleum from the ground, process it to create plastic products, many of which are used once to hold a single drink or plate of food before being sent to a landfill, where it’ll hang out for around 450 years. It’s a linear system of economy. A system that moves in only one direction: toward environmental desecration. Eco-Products, a Boulder-born company, noticed this. For the past three decades, it has been reshaping the consumer culture of disposables. Its compostable products are helping to make that linear economy more circular, renewable and, above all, sustainable. But how does compostable plastic work? Where does it come from, and where does it go when we’re done with it?
3 The sustainable disposables then head to any number of
locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Restaurants, coffee shops, concert venues, sporting arenas, businesses The plant-based plastic pellets are melted down and events use Eco-Products’ food containers. Locally, that and molded into cups, plates, lids, forks, knives, includes Red Rocks, the Colorado Convention Center, spoons and a host of other disposable food the Denver Performing Arts Center, eTown containers at one of Eco-Products’ Hall, Zeal Restaurant and any of CU production facilities. Boulder’s athletic events at Folsom It all starts in the soil. Corn, Field or the Coors Event Center. Consumers enjoy their sugarcane, wheat straw and snacks, meals and drinks in bamboo are grown and harvested. the containers and when ENEWABLE RESO Then, a company like NatureWorks R they’re done, they can rest easy E UR will extract dextrose from the plants US knowing their waste will soon be CE and ferment it into lactic acid. That is S composted. converted into lactide, and the lactide molecules are strung together in long chains (known as polymers) to form polyactic acid (PLA). This is the plant-based plastic that compostable products are made from. NatureWorks sells their PLA pellets to Eco-Products, which gives them form and purpose.
8 Most commercial composters will sell the soil
amendments to landscapers or garden centers, who mix it into their soil. Plants grow better with soil amendments, the soil retains more water and is even more resilient to flood erosion. A1 Organics, which receives the City of Boulder’s compost, sells some of its soil amendment materials to Colorado Department of Transportation, which then incorporates it into soil for construction projects DI around the state. VE And so the story of compostable plastics RT ends in the soil, too — it’s a cycle that OR G AN provides a sustainable system for ICS managing plastic waste from soil to soil. The waste is broken down at whichever commercial composter the compostables arrive at. The composters monitor biodegradation with high-tech composting tools throughout the process, as the PLA breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass. The end product is known as a soil amendment — a very rich, very useful product.
5 In order for these disposables to
be broken down, they must go into a compost bin. If you put an EcoProduct in the trash, it’s going to the landfill with all the other plastic waste, where it will outlive all of humanity, defeating its purpose entirely. EcoProducts suggests that operators who want to use compostables use ONLY compostable containers. That way people don’t have to sort out what items go S I LL into what bins. It all goes into the F D N same place — food scraps, plasA FR O M L tics and paper products — which can then be picked up for the next phase A compost hauler will collect the of their lifecycle. compost and take it to a commercial
composting facility. Backyard compost piles don’t get hot enough for long enough to break down PLA plastics effectively. So, the disposables have to be taken to the professionals — composters who use very technical equipment and closely monitor things like temperature, moisture and carbon-to-nitrogen ratios of the inputs. Boulder’s compost contract is with A1 Organics in Keenesberg, just 50 miles east of town. Any Eco-Products used at Red Rocks or by the City of Denver end up at the Alpine Waste & Recycling facility out near Bennett.
TRANSPORTATION contributes about 25 per-
cent to all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States every year. Thus, reevaluating how you get around town can have a major impact on your carbon footprint. Luckily, the City and County of Boulder understand the importance of offering viable alternatives to the one-person, one-car model. With rebate initiatives and strategic planning, local leaders have made it a point to make walking, biking, using public transportation and driving alternative fuel vehicles easier for the folks who live and work in Boulder County. Furthermore, entrepreneurs in the County and along the Front Range are working to develop technologies that make alternative modes of transportation easier, and cheaper, for people. Here’s a brief look at the way community officials are working to make transportation easier for people in Boulder County, and what could be in store for future commuters.
RUSHHOUR FROM E-BIKES TO THE HYPERLOOP, HOW TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS ARE CHANGING IN BOULDER COUNTY AND BEYOND BY MATT CORTINA
SUSAN FRANCE alking is the commuting method of choice for more people than you may think. About 10 percent of Boulderites use the sidewalks to get to work every day. That commitment earned Boulder a gold-level Walk Friendly Community honor, which has only been bestowed on 12 other communities in the country. So what makes walking in Boulder viable? It starts with a planning commitment — the no-car Pearl Street mall not only acts as the heart of Boulder, but as a signal that the city is committed to outdoor, pedestrianfriendly activities. The city’s extensive network of multi-use paths and hiking trails also means those in Boulder can get almost anywhere on foot — and 90 percent of bus stops are accessible from walking paths via wheelchair. And since 2005, the City of Boulder has been awarded more than $1 million in Safe Routes to School program funding, which is used to build paths and improve sidewalks in order to encourage more students to walk to school. According to Boulder’s 2014 Transportation Master Plan, 55 new underpasses, 60 enhanced pedestrian crossings and nine miles of pedestrian facilities will be added to the City’s infrastructure.
t’s often said that there are more bikes in Boulder than cars. There’s little data to prove the point, but one need only look to their nearest bike path (which is probably pretty near) and see the bevy of cyclists to be convinced. To be sure, bike riding is central to Boulder’s identity. Whether it’s road cyclists out for a time trial, mountain bikers thumping through hills on a dirt trail or commuters pedaling their way to work, bikes are literally the engine that makes this town, and county, tick. That said, there are a number of things the City has done to improve the quality of cycling in town. There are 300 miles of dedicated bikeways in Boulder. There are bike-only lanes on main streets, some of which are
cordoned off with protective posts. There are off-street bikeways, which often include alternating flows of traffic. And there are bike routes, which, when lanes and paths aren’t available, direct cyclists to roads with less traffic to maximize safety. Don’t have a bike? Or, don’t have yours with you? No worries. With Boulder’s B-cycle program, you can rent one of 300 bikes at any of the city’s 43 stations for short trips. It only costs $8 for 24 hours with major discounts for monthly and annual passes. Electric bicycles are allowed on certain paths in Boulder, and represent one of the most exciting trends in alternative transportation. Via pedal assist, e-bikes take the edge off long commutes, steep hills and headwinds, allowing the rider to press a button and lessen the load of pedaling. At the end of the day, a removable battery can be recharged for the next trip. Up until the end of September 2017, the County assisted riders with discounts on e-bike purchases, so check back for future rebate programs. In the meantime there are numerous shops to try out e-bikes throughout the county.
COURTESY OF HYPERLOOP ONE
espite not having a train or trolley, Boulder’s public transportation system gets most consumers where they need to go. RTD operates a system of buses that takes people throughout the city, into East County and Denver, and to the airport. The EcoPass program provides people in select communities the opportunity to have unlimited rides on the RTD bus system. Currently, only neighborhoods and businesses can participate in the program, and those entities are subsidized by the City to run those programs. There are riding options outside the bus, however. The organization Way To Go also provides easy carpooling solutions for Denver metro riders. Too, Uber and Lyft have made recent pushes to enhance their ride-sharing availability in Boulder County. If all else fails, hold your breath for the Hyperloop. In September 2017, the Colorado Department of Transportation partnered with tech company Hyperloop One and AECOM to begin a feasibility study for a high-speed train to the Front Range, with stops between Pueblo and Cheyenne. Given a nod of approval the Front Range proposal would feature passengers loaded into a pod and propelled via electric rail through a low-pressure tube. Sounds fun.
f course, there are times when you must drive. Luckily, there are ways to get your hands on electric and hybrid vehicles at a discount. Colorado residents are entitled to a $5,000 tax credit, in addition to a $7,500 federal tax credit, when they purchase an electric vehicle. That’s a massive incentive to go green with your vehicle, knocking up to 40 percent off the purchase price. If buying a car isn’t in the books for you, try ride-share programs like eGo Car Share (see page 13), which gives people access to an eco-friendly car without having to shoulder the cost of buying one. And if all else fails, just drive less!
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Farm to fable
hefs and farmers have been joined at the hip for eons by mutual interests. It’s only recently that the “farm-totable” tag has popped up on everything from restaurant websites to supermarket produce sections. According to Boulder chefs whose eateries are farm-focused, “farm-totable” may not mean much anymore. The alternative, “local,” isn’t much more helpful for diners. “Twenty years ago there were just some crackpots out here — me being one of them. We got fed up with mediocre, tasteless ingredients from factory farms,” says chef and farmer Eric Skokan. “Now, it’s like every McDonald’s is flexing its farm-to-table credentials.” This year, Skokan and his wife, Jill, will devote 50 or 60 acres of the 10-yearold Black Cat Farm in Longmont to raising 160 pigs, 250 sheep and six head of cattle, and dozens of crops including carrots, leeks, lettuces, green beans and sweet potatoes. Skokan says he loves growing odd specialty crops such as shishito peppers, cardoons, Belgian endive, peanuts and exotic greens from Japan. The challenge is figuring out how to sell them. The farm supplies two eateries — Boulder’s Black Cat Bistro and Bramble and Hare, and a farm booth at the Boulder County Farmers Market, where the Skokans are adding a food court stand. “Customers can have a great pork burger and salad and then pick up the same ingredients from the farm,” he says. All of this activity is designed to keep their business sustainable, especially since the certified organic farm doesn’t use any pesticides. “If the aphids come for the kale we abandon the field and set up an electric fence,” Skokan says. “Then the pigs eat the kale and the aphids and the pork is served in the restaurants.”
Boulder chefs walk the talk for true farm-to-table cuisine by John Lehndorff
Farm-to-table defines what’s on the plate. “For the diners it means, in season, that just about everything they are tasting at night was harvested that day or the day before on our farm,” Skokan says, except the usual suspects like coffee, lemons and olive oil. “For us it’s worth the effort. When you get food that’s been rushed from the farm and treated with respect it ends up being spectacular,” Skokan says. The term farm-to-table may have been co-opted, but that might not be all bad. “At least we are having the conversation. Maybe if they see farmers on the wall at McDonald’s they will go to a farmers market to check it out,” he says.
Zeal decides to grow its own
“To me, farm-to-table means fresh, tasty, simple and cheap. At least, it should mean that,” says Leslie White, executive chef at Zeal in Boulder. The four-year-old eatery will open a second location in Denver this summer. “We don’t think it should be that expensive to eat fresh food, but it’s such a battle to make money in restaurants. It can be tempting to source cheaper ingredients,” he says. Last summer Zeal debuted the Zeal mini-farm north of Boulder, overseen by “Farmer Sam” Hitchcock. “It was a great opportunity to grow some of our ingredients in an organic way and save on food cost,” White says. The change supported the restaurant’s larger mission of transparency. “It meant our servers could talk about where the food was from. We could say for 100 percent sure that this was how it was grown and when it was picked,” he says. Zeal Farm has doubled in size (to an acre) for 2018. “This season we are growing kale, beets and carrots — a lot for juicing. We’ve also got cukes, peppers, eggplant and some microgreens in a little greenhouse. We use the Napa cabbage to See FARM TO FABLE on Page 24
FARM TO FABLE from Page 23
make our own kimchi,” White says, adding that he goes through at least 150 pounds of cabbage a week. Zeal supplements with produce from Kilt Farms and other local outfits. While local diners take the abundance of farm-connected eateries for granted, visitors don’t. “I get a lot of out-of-town customers saying they wish there was something like Zeal where they live, something connected to farmers,” White says.
Redefining what ‘local’ means
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Local food is in the mission statement for the three-year-old Seeds Library Cafe set on the bridge over Boulder Creek at the Boulder Public Library. “I don’t think that farm-to-table means much. It all comes from a farm at some point. It’s more important to know who grows your food. Then you know how it is grown,” says Matt Collier, chef at Seeds. “Local” isn’t much better, he says. It can mean food grown five miles away, or 100 miles away, or in a neighboring state. “It’s really about good farming practices. We try to know the farmers personally,” Collier says. A recent Seeds menu featured the beet grilled cheese, a pressed sandwich with roasted Monroe Farm beets and caramelized Monroe onions plus Mouco Ashley Cheese from Fort Collins. “There are seven Boulder County farms that we get about 70 percent of our produce from, but there are probably 30 farms — lots of small ones — we buy from during the year,” he says. Collier understands that Boulder chefs have hard choices. “The rent is really high. Its can be hard to justify spending more to buy local ingredients,” he says. It’s especially challenging if you need exactly the same ingredient every week. “We have a flexible menu. Our idea is to cook what comes to us. I mean, is it more important to have tomatoes on the menu or what’s given to you by the season?” Collier asks. Zabdiel via Wikimedia Commons
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Which farm is on your plate?
As the executive director of the Boulder County Farmers Markets, Brian Coppom is happy when restaurants promote local agriculture. “Chefs are so celebrated that they can do a lot to give diners a positive introduction to farm-to-table food,” Coppom says. What farmers hate is restaurants bragging about using produce from a local farm that they no longer buy from, he says. “Or you’ll also see a long list of farmers on the menu, but it’s not clear how much local food is actually on the plate. Is it only 10 percent or is it the whole enchilada? The real question is: ‘Which farm is on your plate today?’” Coppom says. Having the “organic” label is less important, he says. “The vast majority of local produce is organically grown, even if it’s not certified organic. That is a very expensive process. Smaller farms are not automated and it takes a lot of hand labor to pull weeds instead of using pesticides.” The biggest complaint Coppom hears about local food is the price cost. “What they are really saying is: ‘I don’t want to pay the full cost of what it takes to get me the food.’ That means that the farmers or the workers or the environment pays part of the cost. That’s not a sustainable, healthy system,” Coppom says. Restaurants and farms are finding diverse ways to help each other. Coppom says many chefs source produce from farmers markets, farm stands and directly from farms. For instance, chef Teri Rippeto of Denver’s Potager has shopped the Boulder Farmers Market every Saturday for two decades. Natascha Hess sources some of the produce for her Ginger Pig food truck from Lafayette’s Isabelle Farm, where she also sets up shop to sell her Asian street food. Coppom optimistically looks to a time when farm-to-table is no big deal. “It will get to the point that it’s no longer hipster, just normal,” he says.
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Snapshot: Sweden’s recycling revolution by Emma Murray
y the time clocks struck 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2017, Sweden was not only celebrating a new year, but also the success of another environmental feat: they’d recycled 99 percent of the country’s household waste throughout the year, again. Since 2011, in fact, less than 1 percent of Sweden’s household waste has been sent to landfills annually. In order to keep its recycling plants active, the Nordic country imports millions of tons of waste from places like Norway, the U.K. and Ireland every year. In 2016, 2.3 million tons of the country’s waste — half the weight of the Great Pyramid — was turned into energy and used to heat approximately 40 percent of Swedish homes during the winter. The national heating network is powered by incinerating the waste, which generates steam and heat to spin turbines — a 99.9 percent non-toxic process. But this wasn’t the case a generation ago. In 1975, only 38 percent of Swedish household waste was recycled. In the past three decades, according to the Swedish Institute, the country has undertaken “a true recycling revolution.”
How they did it, and what we can learn
In 2014, the last year EPA data is available, the U.S. only recycled about 34.6 percent of household waste. Considering our population is nearly 39 times that of Sweden, we inevitably deal with more waste volume, and of course the Swedish system isn’t per-
fect. Still, many valuable lessons are embedded within its system’s example. If the U.S. started implementing some Swedish tactics today, could we be down to 1 percent waste in landfills in the next 30 years?
Embolden the public: Communication
Education goes a long way. Direct messaging from Swedish waste management companies target everyday people, explaining how to recycle everything in a home, from lightbulbs to food to wood scraps. “Swedish people are quite keen on being out in nature and they are aware of what we need to do on nature and environmental issues. We worked on communications for a long time to make people aware not to throw things outdoors so that we can recycle and reuse,” Anna-Carin Gripwall, director of communications for Avfall Sverige, the Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association, told the U.K.’s Independent last year.
Keep recycling on the national stage: Politics
Not everyone loves taxes, but, when strategically implemented, they serve as a strong motivator for behavioral change for everyone immersed in society, from businesses to individuals. In 1991, Sweden implemented a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, sulfur emmisions and the majority of non-biofuel energy production — effectively making it more expensive to hurt the environment in Sweden.
Gustaf Rydberg via Wikimedia Commons
Pudelek via Wikimedia Commons Sweden has undergone a recycling revolution in the last 30 years. Could the U.S. do the same?
Christian Holmer via Flickr
Sixteen years later in 2007, Boulder became the first U.S. municipality to implement a carbon tax, which “reduces emissions by more than 100,000 tons a year,” according to a 2015 Inside Climate News interview with then-Sustainability Manager Jonathan Kohen. It also yields $1.8 million in City revenue. “That revenue has been used to offer businesses and homeowners rebates on energy efficiency equipment, expand bike lanes and set up funding for new community-based solutions to reduce energy consumption,” Kohen said. For now, the decision to apply a carbon-related tax to U.S. communities remains at the discretion of state- and local-level governments. But if Boulder’s success is any indication, the potential emission cuts and generated tax revenue across the U.S. could be vast.
Make recycling easy: Infrastructure
Despite this, concerns about burning waste remain. Critics ask: is it true “recycling” if waste is simply eviscerated? In the U.S., burning trash is still highly contested. But, considering the fact that if materials break down in landfills they emit serious amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide — and the fact that the Swedish burning process generates substantial heating energy (in addition to saving their land from becoming landfills), the waste management method might be worth a second look.
Stay positive: Striving for perfection
Once the equipment and how-to knowledge has been put in place, setting high standards for constituents employing the knowledge and using the tools can also be a powerful motivator. “‘Zero waste’ — that is our slogan,” Weine Wiqvist, CEO of the Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association told the Swedish Institute. “We would prefer less waste being generated, and that all the waste that is generated is recycled in some way. Perfection may never happen, but it certainly is a fascinating idea.”
As a rule, recycling stations are no more than 300 meters away from any residential area in Sweden, some of which are even equipped with “pleasant music” filtering through the air to encourage good behavior. Sweden’s first waste incineration plant was actually set up in 1904. Now, 32 plants dot the country and they’re constantly improving. Since 1985, heavy metal emissions have been reduced by 99 percent, even though Sweden now incinerates three times more waste. According to the Swedish Institute, “The smoke from incineration plants consists of 99.9 percent non-toxic carbon dioxide and water, but is still filtered through dry filters and water. The dry filters are deposited. The sludge from the dirty filter water is used to refill abandoned mines.”
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•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• Andrew Moore
Lyons Elementary School students and staff discuss spring planting plans.
f ace growing pains, bountiful harvests
by John Loughran
ne day before the spring equinox, a substitute teacher and 25 sixth-graders from Longmont’s Flagstaff Academy file out to the school’s garden area for their bi-weekly class with school garden teacher Allison Cole. “Let’s form a circle around the sundial,” she says. Students jostle for positions on a concrete pad where Cole holds a globe. On the ground, students had previously marked the progression of the sun’s shadow during the winter solstice. Cole asks a student to put his finger on the top of the sundial so that others can mark where its shadow falls on this day. Students note the differences between the winter, spring and summer sun and how that relates to the globe and seasons. Cole instructs students to illustrate the three different progressions of the sun’s shadow, and students file into an adjacent 25-foot-wide geodesic greenhouse filled with seedlings, houseplants and moist, warm air to complete their drawings. Once they’ve finished, they proceed back outside to the vegetable area where they work on resetting stones that encase the raised vegetable beds. Cole was hired as the school’s full-time garden teacher five years ago. She develops her lesson plans around each grade’s curriculum. “Sixth grade is doing astronomy right now,” she says, hence the lesson about the sun. Cole points out some of the other areas of the garden. “That’s a cover crop of rye,” she says. “A group was studying soil.” Just beyond that bed, another area is filled with dry, bent-over native grasses. “The (younger) kids were like buffalo one day. They went in there and stomped it down,” explains Cole. “A few people had the vision that as a science and technology school, we needed to have some structured
garden activities,” she says. “The program is more about science than it is about gardening.” Parents fundraised for and then assembled the greenhouse; the garden area has an annual maintenance budget of about $1,000. Additionally, Cole says the school provides for some structural improvements each year. This year, they are funding a drip irrigation plan that middle schoolers developed. Northwest of Longmont, Principal Andrew Moore, former principal at Flagstaff, brings planning experience to his new role as gardener-in-chief at Lyons Elementary School. “You have to have a system and structure if you want it to last,” he says. Teachers wanted a garden. The question was “how do we imbed garden curriculum into the (academic) curriculum?” Like Flagstaff, the solution was to match the monthly garden activities with the subjects that each grade level studies. For example, each December, fifth-graders start planning budgets, writing grants and procuring seeds. In February, first-graders start seedlings. In April, another grade level begins direct sowing of seeds outdoors, while another grade begins setting out transplants in May. The Lyons garden sits in a central courtyard surrounded by the school. “You can see it from the hallways,” Moore says. “Everyone walks past it a dozen times a day.” Moore is perhaps most proud of the community service aspects of his school’s garden. “We’re calling it a production garden,” he says. “All the food goes to the local food bank.”
By focusing on a half dozen high-yield crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and winter squash, the school donated over 300 pounds of food last year, he says. The school Eco-Club weighs and delivers the weekly harvest to the food bank. The garden also depends on summer volunteers, local senior citizen master gardeners and grants from the Lyons Community Foundation to build infrastructure. “This year we’re putting in bees,” Moore says. Any Colorado gardener is familiar with how extreme variations of hot and cold weather, lack of dependable precipitation, hail storms, early or late frosts, clay soils and more can make gardening challenging. School gardeners face those issues, plus additional obstacles. Imagine gardening by committee, or having 25 to 50 kids trample and pull seedlings that a previous class has just planted. Plus, your labor force has the entire summer off. Julie Wallace, seventh-grade language arts teacher at Trail Ridge Middle School in Longmont, recounts some of the hurdles that she and her teammates encountered in trying to start the garden. “We had to go through so much red tape getting it Andrew Moore
Lyons Elementary students donated 300 pounds of fresh produce to the local LEAF food bank last year.
•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• John Loughran
Garden teacher Allison Cole helps Flagstaff Academy sixth-graders make connections with the science curriculum outdoors.
After reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, seventhgrade teachers were convinced that the garden was approved with changing the grounds and the irrigajust the prescription their students needed. Wallace tion. After that was the planning,” she recalls. “There recounts a lesson from a novel called Seed Folks are so many chefs in the kitchen. Trail Ridge has now had both a flowering pollinator that she read with her students as they were developing the garden. “They saw the value of a garden garden and a vegetable garden for three years. and how it connected people. It’s not just about Apart from teachers not always having the backgrowing green chiles. It’s about the circle of life,” ground knowledge of what to do, “You have to take she says. risks in letting the kids make decisions,” Wallace says. Kirsten Bell, who teaches a professional developDespite all of that, perhaps her biggest hurdle is conment class on starting school gardens for the Denver vincing people that students are actually learning Botanic Gardens, says that most teachers would like through the garden activities. to have a garden at their school. Some teachers takSeventh-grade teachers decided to involve stuing her class have a school garden but don’t know dents in the creation of a garden learning area after watching their students become increasingly engaged what to do with it, while others have some skills but their schools do not yet have a garden and they don’t with their iPads, cell phones and video games rather know how to get started. than with the activities at school and with each other. “The biggest obstacle, once you’ve gotten it When the school adopted a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) focus, other grade cleared with administration, is the space — finding teams began delving into technology, but Wallace and the best location for the garden,” she says. “It’s not her team wanted to get students outside to apply their like your own personal garden, where you can put it wherever you like.” Another obstacle is the school classroom learning in a garden area. calendar. “We’ve suggested planting a spring garden or a fall garden,” she says. Bell sugJohn Loughran gests schools could now begin sowing quickJohn Loughran
growing vegetables like radishes, onions and greens that students could harvest prior to the end of the school year while a fall garden could include spinach, bulbs and garlic. As part of best practices, Bell also recommends a school garden coordinator, all so that students can reap the benefits of being outdoors. “There are beneficial effects of having plants in the classroom. That’s compounded when going outside,” she says. Some of the benefits of students having access to school gardens and plants in the classroom include improved test scores, improved well-being, sense of ownership and improved health that comes along with healthy eating, she says. On the outskirts of Longmont, eighth-grade science teacher Dan Cribby describes how Westview Middle School was designed to include an outdoor learning area when it was built 25 years ago. “It was on the initial plan,” he says. “I think we have 25 acres with about 300 to 400 trees.” Cribby, who has worked at the school for nine years, and his STEM students, who have been with him since sixth grade, are developing a plan to turn the school’s unused tennis courts into an outdoor learning area. “We’re in the very early stages,” he says. “They (students) are going through the design process.” Right now, they’re proposing to dig up and mill the old asphalt from the courts so that it can be used to create new pathways throughout the space. “It doesn’t matter what content your’e teaching,” he says, when students are studying a problem, then proposing and testing potential solutions. Meanwhile, students in his after-school environmental club have become the coaches of the younger students. “That allows it to have the continuity,” Cribby says. It’s about the circle of life.
Incorporating gardening into school programs can help students learn outside the classroom.
Trail Ridge Middle School students get their hands dirty on planting day.
L E PH AN T E E H O W H OU S E R G T HE IN
Cannabis isn’t as environmentally friendly as you’d like to think
by Bruce Hoppe
f there’s an Achilles’ heel in an indoor marijuana grower’s game plan, it’s energy consumption. The cannabis plant thrives when the kilowatts pile up — the result of round-the-clock man-made microclimates that maximize the production of both the herb’s quality and quantity. To give a comparison, the average marijuana grower in Boulder County has a monthly power consumption equivalent to that of 66 local households. So, from a business angle, finding ways to lower energy costs is high on many growers’ to-do lists. If only that were the sole issue. There’s also the question of the environmental impact of growing cannabis. With coal still a major energy source, increased energy consumption translates into increased
greenhouse gas emissions, namely carbon dioxide. In 2016, Boulder County growers increased their electrical consumption by 71 percent from the previous year, the equivalent of adding 1,300 households in the county. While these numbers don’t establish a direct connection between CO2 emission and marijuana production, other data does. Evan Mills, a scientist at U.C. Berkeley, measures the cannabis carbon footprint in a number of ways, including at the consumer level. Mills calculates producing one joint worth of cannabis emits the same amount of CO2 as driving a 44-mpg car 22 miles. In a roundabout way, a joint equals half a gallon of gas, or three pounds of CO2 emissions; something to
ponder the next time you light up and order take out. And, should cannabis cultivation continue on its current upward growth curve, emission impacts could challenge local community commitments to greenhouse gas reduction. (The City of Boulder is committed to an 80 percent or better greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2050 from 2005 levels). In short, energy use in the world of marijuana production is the elephant in the grow house. Not to harsh your mellow. All is not doom and gloom. It’s true that many did not spot the scope of commercial marijuana production’s energy impacts in these legalization frontier days. But once the issue became apparent, both businesses and governments began to gear up, experimenting and implementing ways to reduce energy consumption. Some innovative solutions are now beginning to infiltrate the industry in the form of new government policies, research and technological advances. In the government policy arena, Boulder County leads the state in the creation of an incentive program to promote grower energy efficiency. In 2014, the Boulder County Commissioners created the
Energy Impact Offset Fund (EIOF), which gives all growers licensed by the County the option to either offset their electricity use with local renewable energy, or pay a 2.16 cent charge per kilowatt hour into the account. The monies can be used to promote conservation or finance energy offsets. Brad Smith, the sustainability outreach and education specialist who works with fund participants, sees participation as a demonstration of growers’ commitment to environmental values. “Lots of credit goes to the cultivators participating in the fund,” Smith says. “In Boulder County, we have cannabis businesses willing to be the positive change we need to see.” With accumulating fees, the next step is to decide how the funds are spent. To that end, a steering committee made up of growers, an environmental representative and officials from the County will meet on April 24 to decide how best to use the approximately $240,000 that has accrued since implementation. (The meeting at the Boulder County Courthouse starts at 5:30 p.m. and is open to the public.) The Boulder County program may become a model for other government policy-makers going forward. The City of Boulder has already followed suit, establishing its own EIOF in 2017. Still, there are no statewide energy efficiency regulations that are specific to growing mari-
juana. And some local ordinances can actually contribute to high energy consumption. In Denver, cannabis growers are confined to industrial areas, which means most are in converted warehouses — older buildings with high energy use. If growers were allowed to choose agricultural or commercial properties, it could result in lower energy demands. For example, it could create an option for outdoor or greenhouse cultivation, where natural sunlight becomes a part of the energy-source mix. While the fine-tuning of local policies and broader regulations will continue to influence energy usage in growing cannabis, there are others who see redemption in technological terms. Lighting systems in most grow houses use special high-intensity bulbs that gobble up kilowatts. At the end of the day, it amounts to around 25 percent of growers’ energy use. Enter the low-energy-consuming LED light. Its upfront costs are higher, but the energy savings and longer bulb life offsets the initial investment. And, Xcel Energy offers rebates of up to 40 percent for new LED installations. Early LED lights didn’t produce high-yield crops, so growers initially remained wary of converting their systems. But, with an expanding cannabis industry, LED companies have the incentive to create products to meet the market demands. Now, improved LEDs seem to be gaining wider acceptance with some growers, who use them at a minimum during the vegetative growth stage of the plant’s cycle. Another viable option is reverting back to the use of natural light in cannabis cultivation. This is where greenhouses become a hot topic.The industrial cannabis greenhouse is a labyrinth of machinery that must maintain narrow ranges of temperature, humidity, CO2 concentrations and timed light exposures. And, since the glass-enclosed structures are poor insulators, heating systems must be fired up when the Colorado winter sets in. Ron Flax, building sustainability examiner for Boulder County, has access to grower greenhouse installations. “The evidence is not clear yet that greenhouses are a better energy option,” Flax says. Mills thinks he has proof that the hyper-industrial greenhouse still falls
Courtesy of Bonnie Bahlmann
A U.C. Berkeley scientists calculates producing one joint worth of cannabis emits the same amount of CO2 as driving a 44-mpg car 22 miles. In a roundabout way, a joint equals half a gallon of gas, or three pounds of CO2 emissions.
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short and creates a false hope. In a report published in February, Mills found that mechanized greenhouses outperform indoor greenhouses with a 25 percent lower energy footprint. “Hyper-greenhouses are still highly energy intensive,” he writes in the report. “There are greener ways to do this.” Mills goes on to describe a redesigned building that marries the best features of greenhouses and indoor operations that approaches “net-zero” in energy requirements. Surna is a Boulder-based company that specializes in high-tech solutions for indoor cultivation. Its work in this field may represent the future of growing cannabis indoors. The company builds hybrid structures with transparent roofs and incorporates state-of-the-art energy and water-conservation systems in a sealed environment. Surna reports that independent testing shows energy reductions of 50 to 75 percent in its hybrid greenhouses compared to comparable indoor facilities. Brandy Keen, an executive with Surna, says, “Our approach enables cultivators to combine energy efficiency with water conservation. Not only does it reduce costs, it’s just the right thing to do.” Keen, who was a member of a task force that recently published a best-practices guide for growers, also has her eye on the big picture. She thinks further research is needed to better understand the industry’s place in the overall economy. “I have yet to see a study that compares how much money a particular industry pumps into the economy and how much energy it consumes,” she says. So Boulder, in many ways, appears to be at the forefront in tackling the energy problem in Colorado. Bonnie Bahlmann, an associate with a Boulder County cannabis-affiliated business and member of the EIOF steering committee, sums up the current picture: “Cannabis cultivation and energy responsibility don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” she says. “Boulder has a real opportunity to become a model in a collaborative way without adding undo and costly regulations to an already heavily regulated industry.” Kinney et al., 2012
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Should cannabis continue on its current growth curve, emission impacts could challenge county greenhouse gas reduction goals. New infrastructure could play a large part in emission reductions.