Thursday, September 30, 2010

Weekend Updates 9.10

The theme Times are Strange (7/16) continues—with weather events vs. fauna this time around. As I write, the drought in Connecticut is ending, as we are being soaked (off and on) by the remnants of tropical storm Nicole combined with a secondary low tracking up the Eastern Seaboard. Nicole is the 14th named storm of the hurricane season which begins on June 1 and ends on November 30. It is considered to be an “active” year when there are 16-17 named storms. 

To the South, heavy rains had been plaguing Mexico and Central America for weeks before Hurricane Matthew arrived. On September 27, as many as 30 people were buried in a landslide in northwest ColombiaThe next day, a large mudslide engulfed a sleeping village in Oaxaca, Mexico: 11 people are missing. At least 16 perished in a second mudslide in Chiapas, Mexico. 

Weeks of rain in the northern Midwest caused the Wisconsin River to rise to an all-time high of 20.6 feet: it crested on the 27th. Some 300 people became trapped in Blackhawk Park, Wisconsin after the access roads were washed out.

Also on the 27th, LA reached its hottest recorded temperature — 113°F! Not the hottest temperature for that date, but the hottest temperature ever recorded since records began in 1877. Temperatures have only been 110 degrees or higher three other times in LA. 

Igor, the hurricane that avoided a direct hit with New England, pummeled Newfoundland on September 21, technically as a “post-tropical” storm, but with the same power as a hurricane. The last storm to strike Newfoundland with such force occurred in 1935, before storms were named. 
Two tornadoes roared through Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island on September 16. One person died when a tree fell onto the roof of the car she was driving. An estimated 10,000 trees were wiped out. 

Yesterday the spider was still catching insects in our backyard in its stunning web (albeit in a slightly different location). Alas, the web has not survived the storm. But perhaps he/she’ll be back at it when the sun comes out tomorrow or the next day.

Food News:
Jack DeCoster, owner of Wright County Egg, testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Investigations on September 22. “We were horrified to learn that our eggs may have made people sick,” DeCoster said in the statement he read to the subcommittee. “We apologize to every one who may have been sickened by eating our eggs. I pray several times each day for all of them and for their improved health.” Jack DeCoster has a history of violations at egg operations in Maine, Iowa, and elsewhere going back many years. 

Other News:
An article titled “Cleaner for the Environment, Not for Dishes” became the most emailed story of the day when it appeared in the New York Times. In brief, it documented user dissatisfaction with their favorite dishwashing detergents once the phosphate concentrations were reduced (by laws that went into effect in 17 states in July). Numerous blogs picked the story up. Over 370 readers posted comments on the NYT site. Several friends confided that they had thought their dishwashers were broken until they read the article. 

In a post dated May 17, I referenced New Haven’s goal to plant 10,000 trees over the next ten years. From a Metro North window I read a poster announcing New York City’s goal to plant one million new trees across the City’s five boroughs over the next decade. Clearly they have experienced a huge setback with 10,000 trees lost in the recent tornadoes.

Political campaigns are heating up across the country. On Sunday former President Bill Clinton stumped for Dick Blumenthal just up the street at my son’s alma mater, Wilbur Cross High School. You can read all about it in the New Haven Independent. It’s too close to call in many states: you just might hold the deciding vote. You can see which way your state is trending by going to this google blog where there is an interactive map. 

The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop has completed its move and is now open for business on the ground floor of New Haven’s newest and greenest apartment building, 360 State Street. On October 6, from 6:00 pm–8:00 pm at the Hall of Records, 200 Orange Street, there will be a public meeting to discuss the food co-op that will occupy the remainder of the space. Elm City Market is scheduled to open in February, 2011.

On a sad and ironic note, Jimi Heselden, the owner of the Segway Corporation, met his death on September 27 when he inadvertently rode a Segway off a cliff and into a river on the grounds of his North Yorkshire estate. HIs death has raised some safety concerns with the environmentally-friendly vehicle, popular with many police departments and urban tour companies.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meatless Monday: Learning to Deal with Kale

Something happened over the weekend:  the Meatless Monday site now lists me as a blogger-on-board, top right if you care to look. In appreciation, I’ve resolved to give my blog a bit of a schedule and to post on Mondays on a food-related topic on a more regular basis. So please bookmark this link (or mine), and check in every Monday for a new recipe or idea. While you’re at Meatless Monday, be sure to look on the site’s home page for the week’s featured recipes and the latest news on food issues, and to check out what some of the other bloggers have on their minds.

Today’s topic? My history with kale.

Kale is one of those good-for-you foods that I wish came with an instruction manual. It is only recently a part of my cooking repertoire, and then only after a lot of trial and error. I grew up in a Sicilian/Yankee household in a suburban Boston town. Kale was not something my dad grew in his garden. Nor was it something anyone I knew ate.

Diet for a Small Planet (20th Anniversary Edition)I have no memory of kale in the supermarket until the last decade or so. And I know (because I checked) that it was nearly absent from my first cookbooks. My 1973 Joy of Cooking (the same edition that describes how to cook woodchuck) gave kale a brief mention in a one-paragraph entry “About Greens,” which included a generic recipe that involved simmering a 2 lb. side of meat for 2 hours and then adding 2 lbs. of any of the aforementioned greens and simmering for 40 minutes more. Kale is not even listed in the index to the first Recipes for a Small Planet.

It was in the ’90s (I recall) that kale became a ubiquitous garnish on the restaurant plate where the lettuce used to be—for its beauty and durability I imagine. Not one to waste food, I usually ate mine, but unlike my experience with golden beets, I did not find myself craving more.

Sometime in the last 5 years, suddenly (or so it seemed to me), everyone from Dr. Oz to my friend Maggie, physical therapist to the aging, began extolling the benefits of eating kale. Kale has joined the short list of Super Foods! Among its many super traits is its high content of readily-absorbed calcium. I’m one to try any means possible to ward off osteoporosis, so my interest was piqued. And then I discovered that, unlike some other super foods, kale is kind to the pocketbook. A hardy crop, it is available everywhere from farmers markets to the supermarket for most of the year. And it won’t break the bank to buy it in the organic variety.

I decided to give it a try.

Experiment 1: I bought a small amount of kale at the supermarket, washed it well, chopped up the leaves, and added it to a salad. Too tough. Too much chewing. The kale got stuck in my teeth.

Experiment 2: I bought a larger bunch of supermarket kale. I washed it well and steamed it whole like swiss chard. No one told me the stems would stay that tough. I needed a knife to eat this dish.

Experiment 3: I bought some kale at the farmers market from a young woman who suggested I chop it up and sauté it in olive oil with some onion. This was better, but the stem was still too tough.

Experiment 4: I bought some kale at the farmers market. I washed it well. I removed all the tough stems. I chopped it and sautéed it with onion in some good olive oil. I added some fresh tomatoes (roughly chopped). This was pretty darn good served with some artisan bread.

This dish tastes even better than it appears.
Experiment 5:—Success, finally! Kale Stew with Tomatoes and Aromatic SpicesI bought a large bunch of organic kale—a dark, curly variety—at Whole Foods. I washed it well. I coarsely chopped a large yellow onion and minced two cloves of garlic, which I then sautéed in a large stainless steel skillet until they became soft.  I removed the stems from the kale, chopped the leaves, and added the kale to the pan, stirring until all the leaves were coated with the oil. I turned the heat down, covered the pan, and cooked gently until the kale was tender. I then added a 28 oz. of crushed tomatoes (I like Whole Foods Organic 365), and 2 teaspoons of Penzey’s Chili 9000 powder, which contains a long list of spices including ancho chili pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon. (A good curry powder would probably serve as a fine substitute, but I am really fond of the way the 9000 tasted.) I then simmered the mixture, partially covered, for 1/2 hour of so until it became thick like a stew. I checked it for taste and added just a pinch of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. I served it over my favorite organic Texmati rice with a good dollop of Greek yogurt on top for a perfectly balanced meal. This is a delicious and hearty dish that an omnivore, or even a carnivore, will love.  

For more kale recipes, check out this site. Have no fear of failure. I’ve told you the most important hint. The kale stems belong in the compost pile, not on your plate!

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

10 To-Dos in Time For THIS Weekend…

'Tis I — AGAIN! I know it's early, but my In Box is full of things that can't wait until my next weekend blog update. Summer has been replaced by Fall. The weather is lovely. And though the days are shorter, it seems there are a gazillion worthwhile things to do.

Here’s a list of ten that I hope includes something for everyone.
  1. Shop a Farmers Market. If you visit CitySeed’s Wooster Square Market in New Haven on Saturday, you can swap some old lightbulbs for some new CFLs. (Your last chance to do this is on Wednesday, September, 29 at the Downtown Market.)
  2. This Saturday, wherever you live, say “no” to your unwanted drugs. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is lending its support and expertise for drug take-back events sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The events will take place at 1,700 sites around the country on September 25 from 10 am to 2 pm. Bring your unwanted or expired SOLID prescription and over-the-counter medicines to any of these locations so they may be disposed of safely. (Liquids, such as cough syrup will not be accepted.) Removing unused medications from households can help prevent intentional misuse and unintentional poisonings of children and pets. Dumping the medication down the drain or flushing it down the toilet can become a source of water contamination. Click here to find a collection site near you.
  3. Rid your home of hazardous waste such as old oil paint, used batteries, and pesticides. But be sure to dispose of them properly. Check with your local authorities for collection rules and locations. For most residents of the New Haven area, the place to go is HazWaste Central at the Regional Water Authority on Sargent Drive, open on Saturday mornings through the end of October. Click here for hours and guidelines.
  4. Get out and pick something. If you are in CT, see the interactive Farm Map here. This map is also available in a stunning full color print version, Connecticut Farm Map: A Guide to Connecticut's Agricultural Destination, complete with a welcoming message from Gov. Rell. It may sound retro to the younger readers, but this one is a keeper. I picked mine up at Claire's Corner Copia, but I have seen it in many locations, and I know you can request one on the website. If you live elsewhere, google “Pick your Own.” It’s apples, raspberries, and pears around here.
  5. Bake a pie. If you are feeling brave, try making your own crust. I switched from shortening years ago so have linked to a recipe using butter. It’s not that hard.
  6. Eat some fair food. The Durham Fair, Connecticut’s oldest and largest agricultural fair, runs through Sunday at 7 pm. A small admission price will provide hours of fun, and Saturday promises to be a perfect fair day. Keep in mind that you will have to park some distance away and ride the bus to the fairground. The Big E, New England’s equivalent of a state fair, continues through October 3 in Springfield, MA.
  7. Attend the Migration Festival at Lighthouse Park in New Haven. Creatures are on the move this time of year, and New Haven celebrates hawks and monarch butterflies.
  8. Check out some art at Weekend One of New Haven’s 13th Annual City-Wide Open Studios. My friend Denise Saldana is one of the artists.
  9. Stay home and vote for Huffington-Post’s Game Changers in 12 categories. New Haveners will be interested to see Ben Berkowitz, founder of SeeClickFix, currently in the top 3 for Technology. Be sure to check out and vote for the Green candidates, too. You have read about one of these candidates in my blog.
  10. Ride a bike. Today is the last Friday of the month, a day on which Critical Mass bicycle rides take place around the world “to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists’ right to the road.” In New Haven, the ride starts around 5:30 from the flagpole on the New Haven Green. Keep in mind that Critical Mass likes to call itself “an unorganized coincidence.” If you arrive at the flagpole much before then you will think the group has left without you; think of 5:30 as an appriximate departure.
  11. And, on MONDAY, attend a FREE talk by by Mark Winne, author of Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin’ Mamas, 6:30 pm at the New Haven Public Library.
Finally, save the date of October 6, New Haven Hall of Records, 6- 8 pm for a public meeting on the Elm City Market, a new community-owned full service grocery store, which will be opening on the ground floor of 360 State Street in the near future. Details to follow.

So little time…So much to do…

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Out There on the Left

Mountain View, CA Farmers Market, Feb. 2008
One of the perks of spending time in Northern California is shopping the Mountain View Farmers Market, which runs every Sunday, year round, filling the entire commuter parking area at the local transportation center with its 85 vendors and 98 truckloads of produce. It was recently voted Number 1 Market in the Bay Area, is ranked among the Top 5 in the nation, and even made the New York Times’s list of things to do with 36 hours to spend in the Silicon Valley.

The timing of our road trip did not allow me to shop there on my recent visit, but I did read in the Mountain View Voice about one of the market’s newest vendors — Shumei, a Santa Cruz farm established in 2004, that cultivates crops using “Natural Agriculture,” a method that is rather unconventional for a commercial grower, particularly in my part of the world.

Shumei Santa Cruz is one of 21 locations of the international organization guided by the teachings of Japanese philosopher Mokichi Okada (1882-1955), who espoused reconnecting with nature through food, an act he called “Natural Agriculture.” In short, his philosophy advocates growing crops without pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers of any kind, including compost. The Shumei folks are hoping to establish a new certificate for Natural Agriculture, to distinguish it from Organic farming.

Rosan Kugler, the assistant development coordinator at the farm, explained the philosophy in an interview in the Voice: “We’re in harmony with the Earth. When you’re not manipulating nature, you’re connecting with it…If you’re trying to control it, you’re not being spiritual with it.” She opines that in natural agriculture the roots of the plants have to go deeper to seek out proper nutrients, making them stronger and more resistant to pests. This sounds like “survival of the fittest” to me. 

The Shumei website explains that the farmer’s work is to “optimize conditions for their [plant] ‘partners’ to use their abilities [to heal and sustain themselves], for instance by saving and replanting seed so that a plant can adapt to its environment over successive seasons and improve its resilience to the changing climate.” I assume this means harvesting and saving seeds from the hardy survivors and using them in future plantings.

The Mountain View Voice reports that the farm has quite a following, and that Shumei’s produce always sells out quickly at the market, despite the $2.00/lb. for onions that I note in the MVV photo.

The farm’s development coordinator, Masahide Koyama, promises, “We give our love to produce, so if people eat our produce they will receive our love…Love is one of the best medicines in the world.” I’ll certainly be getting to the market early so I can check out Shumei’s offerings on my next trip Left.

Those on the Right Coast with a little time and the inclination might like to visit the Catskill Mountain Foundation Farm, a Natural Agriculture farm started in 1999 in the Village of Hunter in the Hudson Valley. The Fresh Harvest Café, on the site, serves brunch, lunch and dinner. The farm offers tours, and recently received a grant to develop a curriculum on Natural Agriculture. 
Farming to Create Heaven on Earth, Shumei Natural Agriculture
You can read more about the philosophy of Natural Agriculture in Lisa Hamilton’s Farming to Create Heaven on Earth. The book blurb references a Shumei CSA that feeds 1,500 families in Tokyo.

Perhaps this philosophy is not as “out there” as it first seemed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Meatless Monday: Golden Beet Love

California golden beets (right) next to their red cousins 
When I first saw golden beets at the Mountain View Farmers Market in February 2008, I did not know what they were. But once I had the chance to try them, it was love at first bite. Now I find myself craving them, and planning meals around them. Golden beets are not as easy to find as the earthier red ones, but this time of year you can pick them up at the local farmers market, or farm stand, or even at Whole Foods.

Golden beets do not bleed when you cook them. They do not stain your sink or your fingers. Like their red relatives, they are vitamin and mineral packed. (Beets are listed as one of the 11 best foods we are not eating.) When cooked they have a beautiful blush and a milder, more subtle taste, but they are still flavorful. Properly prepared, golden beets should turn anyone into a beet lover.

Gardeners among you can find the seeds at a couple of places. At Burpee’s the description reads: "Heirloom. A color breakthrough when we introduced this savory golden beet in the 1940's, it won over gardeners who wanted a beet with a sweeter, milder flavor, and others who just loved the inviting gold color. Globes reach 2 inches across. 55 days to maturity." Since the 1940’s? How come I am just hearing about them 70 years later? Yet another case of better late than never.

On our recent trip West I so enjoyed a golden beet and goat cheese salad at the University Café in Palo Alto that I decided to try to recreate the recipe at home.

I bought a nice looking bunch of golden beets, brought them home, and cut off the greens about 2” from the top. (Normally I would have steamed the greens, which are even more rich in nutrients, but nice as the beets were, these greens were not in very good shape.) I scrubbed them and then dried them well. I took out a trusty cast iron skillet just large enough to hold them all, and placed the beets gently into it. Then I drizzled them with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and roasted them in a 400° oven, uncovered, rolling the beets around a couple of times, until they became tender. These were fairly good-sized so it took around 45 minutes. Some cooks advise steaming the beets under a cover of aluminum foil, but I find they have more flavor with this method (uncovered), and the roasting imparts such a nice smell to the kitchen.

When the beets were fork tender, I removed them from the pan and let them cool until I could gently pop them out of their skins using my fingers (about 15 minutes; I am a wimp).

While they were cooling, I mixed up a dressing. I thought it best if I lightened up the typical vinaigrette that I use on the hearty red ones. So I substituted white vinegar for the red, and also added a bit of orange juice. These proportions worked well for me — 4 tablespoons of my best California cold pressed extra virgin olive oil to 1 teaspoon of orange juice and 3 teaspoons of good white wine vinegar. I also added a bit of salt, some freshly ground black pepper, and a teaspoon of dried oregano. Start with the olive oil and orange juice and then taste away as you add the vinegar. You might like a more or less tart flavor.

I created a nice bed of mixed greens and a few red onion rings in two salad bowls, sliced the warm beets, divided them between the two salads, and then added one ounce of goat cheese to the top of each. The cheese melted into a creamy pool of deliciousness upon contact with the warm beets. I finished the salads by drizzling the dressing over each.

The dish came out remarkably close to the flavor of the salad I had so savored in Palo Alto. My husband gave it a 10! Once the beets are roasted, the recipe is a snap. Do give this a try while beets are in season.
When you are done, don’t deep six your cast iron pan. In many parts of the country it’s cool enough to bake again. You know how much I love my cast iron pans, and I will be posting more recipes for them in the next few weeks. And at least one of them involves chocolate.

PS I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Meatless Monday — Breaking News — A Day Late

Yesterday (Monday — better late than never) there was some really big news for lovers of meat without feet. Whole Foods Market announced that it is partnering with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program and Blue Ocean Institute to label all the wild-caught seafood in its North American stores according to the sustainability criteria determined by the Aquarium's science-based organizations.

Green (Best Choice), Yellow (Good Alternative) and Red (Avoid) labels will now be displayed next to EVERY item in the seafood case, and similar information (using Whole Foods' own criteria) will be posted for farmed seafood. You can watch the Whole Foods video here.

Whole Foods has also pledged to eliminate all Red label seafood by Earth Day 2013.

This is a big step forward. But I do find myself asking two questions:
  1. Why carry the Red label fish at all?
  2. What happens to the Red label fish if no one buys it? After all, if the campaign works, that is what will happen, particularly with a price tag of $23.99/lb. for Venezuelan yellow fin tuna steaks. 
Readers of this blog have been hearing about the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s handy Seafood Watch cards for some time. You can download one here (be sure to select the correct region). That way you can have one for easy reference wherever you shop or eat.

Whole Foods is not the only chain to have taken an action on how they source their fish. In late January, Target Corp. eliminated all farmed salmon from its fresh, frozen and smoked seafood sections at stores nationwide. Farmed salmon has been deemed less healthy than wild-caught salmon for a number of reasons, including the the high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in supermarket samples. You can read Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s thoughts on the subject here.

Finally, there is good news for those of you who eat eggs. The blog Food Democracy Now announced on September 2 that Trader Joe’s and Fareway Stores Inc., have agreed to pull DeCoster-affiliated brands of eggs from the shelves of their combined 442 stores nationwide. DeCoster is the the owner of both Wright County and Hillandale Farms, the two Iowa farms linked to this summer’s salmonella outbreak. Food Democracy Now had organized an online campaign requesting this action.

PS I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Not Quite the Last Weekend in August Updates

Even the most intrepid blogger needs a break now and then. I took one and have returned rested, refreshed, and full of new ideas. You will probably hear of an adventure or two in the coming days. But, for now, here are the updates for AUGUST!

Our solar fan is turning away, helping us to stay cool during the unseasonably warm late summer days whenever they come around (Cooling with the Sun: 9/1).

Shark sightings continued to plague Cape Cod swimmers (Times Are Strange: 7/16). One was tagged off the coast of Truro on August 23, and sighting of what turned out to be a harmless basking shark forced swimmers out of the waters of Nauset Beach on August 27. But hurricanes and riptides have become the more serious threat.

A manatee was spotted at the Clinton Marina. And, for the first time ever, we had to stop our car on Farnam Drive in East Rock Park to let a doe and fawn stroll across the road. Deer sightings have traditionally been much more common on the west side of town.

Shooting of woodchucks (Woodchuck Wednesday: 6/16) has returned in Beaver Hills; apparently the traps were not a complete success. But a pair of pantyhose, stuffed with rags which had been liberally doused with fox urine, and then tossed into the hole under a porch in the Berkshires, has driven at least one woodchuck to seek a new residence.

Recycling left, trash on the right
The new trash/recycling program in which a newly-delivered small (48 gallon) brown toter becomes the trash container and the old trash toter (larger and blue) becomes the recycling container, began in New Haven’s Westville and Beaver Hills neighborhoods on August 23 (Weekend Updates 8/1). So far, at least on one street, it seems to be working. You can read more about it in the Independent.

Other News:

A second oil platform caught on fire off the Louisiana coast on September 2. The fire was quickly extinguished, all the workers were safely rescued, and the initial reports of an oil leak proved unfounded. The FDA would like us to believe that Gulf seafood is safe to eat, but not everyone agrees. The safety of the dispersants used to break up the spill remains the big question for many. A commercial fisherman was quoted asking in Time: "If I put fish in a barrel of water and poured oil and Dove detergent over that and mixed it up, would you eat that fish?"

The massive egg recall is the new poster child for the risks to humans posed by factory farming. You can read more about the risks to chickens here.

New Haven’s newest and greenest apartment building, 360 State Street, opened on August 1. It has many Green features, including a 400 kilowatt fuel cell which combines hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to produce electricity, heat and pure water. The largest residential installation of this type in the world, 360 State's fuel cell will generate
most of the building's energy needs.

August Birthdays:

Blogger, the Google product that allows me to publish ontheroadtogreenness turned 11 on August 31, and my blog turned a year old on August 14. This is my 72nd post. Thank you all for reading, commenting, making suggestions, and sharing with your friends over the past year. Having a blog has changed my life.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cooling with the Sun…

It was serendipity. We almost never see the evening news, but on February 9, 2009 we happened to be flipping channels when we landed on a story on the ABC Nightly News about Bill Keith, President of SunRise Solar in Indiana. 

A former roofer, Bill got the idea of building attic fans powered by the sun on one very hot day when he was in a very hot attic installing an electric model. A tinkerer and home repair expert, he started SunRise Solar in his garage and began to manufacture solar-powered attic fans, from components manufactured locally or in nearby states whenever possible. The site proclaims, Taking Green Mainstream! Made in the USA!

What began as a dream had turned by 2009 into a $4 million dollar a year business in an area with extremely high unemployment. His fans had been cooling the Honolulu Airport for years, and at the time of the broadcast, Bill had just learned that they would soon be installed on the Indiana governor’s mansion.

We live on the top floor of a rowhouse. We know how hot an attic can get under the summer sun, and the thought of cooling without using any electricity was certainly an appealing one. But it was February. Heating bills rather than cooling bills were our big concern. By the time summer 2009 rolled around, the home project ToDo list was rather large, and the summer rather cool, so the idea of a solar fan moved to the back burner.

The summer of 2010 was another story. The heat arrived early and never left for long. June Green Drinks brought us to New Haven’s Neighborhood Housing Services with its Green Roof and all its energy-saving devices. The Green Roof idea was an intriguing one, but rather daunting. And then we remembered that story about the solar fan from the evening news.

Googling ABC News and solar-powered fans led us right to the SunRise Solar website. We learned the fan qualified for a 30% tax credit. The site described an installation that sounded easy enough to my skillful husband. He had a few questions about the type and size of fan we needed so he emailed the company. He received a quick response and was told to call and ask for Bill Keith if he needed any more info. He did. Bill came on the line and asked a few questions of his own, including the type of building and roof. He then spoke excitedly of his recent visit to Philadelphia to meet with Joe Biden. After looking down upon the vast number of rowhouses in need of cooling, Bill now had a dream of installing a solar fan on every rowhouse rooftop. Bill decided he would like our roof to become his rowhouse demo project and made us a deal we could not refuse.

A few days later we were the proud owners of a SunRise Solar 1250 curb base ceiling fan with thermostat. The installation went smoothly. But, as I said, my husband is good with tools, can follow directions, and also has access to a table saw. He first constructed a box to fit the slope of the roof and then to tip the fan 5° back to grab the late afternoon sun. Our roof is just slightly sloped, so working up there was not overly scary or dangerous for us. Let me stress however, that this is not a DIY project for everyone. (Installation qualifies for the tax credit as well.)

SunRise Solar 1250 up on the roof
We’ve had nearly a week of cloudless days. And I am very happy to say that the fan blades have been quietly spinning away from dawn to dusk. It’s been close to 100°, and the fan has made a real difference!

With the thermostat, the fan will stop running if and when the attic cools to 65°. The SunRise Solar website promises that the fan will save up to 30% on cooling bills. With CT’s rates being as high as they are, it shouldn’t take too long to recoup our investment, although I must confess I haven’t yet done the math.

The tax credit for homeowners who make energy efficient improvements to their existing homes is part of the much-maligned American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Homeowners are saving money and energy; their purchases are helping companies like SunRise Solar (and all its local vendors) grow. 

According to an article in the most recent Time, Joe Biden is the “point man” whose job it is to “exploit the crisis to make green energy, green building, and green transportation real…launch green manufacturing industries…” Companies like SunRise Solar.

I hope Bill Keith’s dream comes true, and I’m happy we could do a little bit to help him on his way. It’s going to be another day of “abundant sun” in weatherman speak. I’m so glad our SunRise Solar 1250 is working so hard up on our roof today. And all the while the fan blades are turning away, it’s not going to make our electric meter spin one bit.