Nipping it in the Bud

orange tree

(Published originally on

Ah springtime…the chirping of birds, the buzzing of insects, the budding of trees. But wait a minute. It’s not spring. It’s winter in Brooklyn…it’s 72 degrees out…the tomatoes are still growing in my garden and the poor trees are confused. I’m a little confused myself. I’ve settled in to write an article about Tu BiSh’vat the Jewish holiday, which will be celebrated on January 24-25, 2016 and foretells the coming of springtime in Israel. As an experiential environmental educator, between leading eco activities and Tu BiSh’vat Seders, it’s always been my busy season. I’m used to being greeted with mixed reactions when talking about spring in the midst of icy cold winter weather.

Tu BiSh’vat, referred to as the New Year of the Trees or the Birthday of the Trees, has also been dubbed the Jewish Arbor Day or Jewish Earth Day. It’s a time when the frozen waters start to thaw; as the soil and trees are nourished, they begin to reproduce leaves and seeds. In the Jewish community Tu BiSh’vat is a time for us to embrace our responsibility as stewards of the planet and a natural time to appreciate and be awed by trees. Speaking of embracing, I’ve hugged a few trees in my day. With all that trees do for us, they deserve to be hugged.

While it was hard not to revel in wearing spring-like clothes in winter, we’ve learned over the past few years of erratic weather including 14 of the 15 hottest years on record, which have all occurred since 2000, that there’s a price to be paid. In this case, the budding of trees in December means that the plants and trees’ natural cycles have been thrown off resulting in a shortened flowering season and in some instances, some trees may not flower at all. Fruit trees for example, need to experience a substantial amount of chilling so they will bear fruit. The holiday of Tu BiSh’vat actually began as the cut-off date for collecting taxes on the crop of fruit trees. The Jewish people gave one tenth or a tithing of their harvest to support the sacred work of the temples and to help the poor and those in need. The Jewish principle of bal tashchit is a prohibition against cutting down or destroying trees even as a tactic of war, and specifically forbids the cutting down of fruit-bearing trees. Fruit (food) is a sacred gift and the law forbids needless and wasteful destruction. In our day, the increase of climate-driven extreme weather events such as excessive heat, drought and flooding related to human activity is putting our food sources at risk. Isn’t this a form of wanton destruction?

Trees are our natural partners in so many ways and critical to the sustainability of our planet. There can’t be a serious discussion about slowing down the devastation of climate change without considering the impact of trees, particularly on the heels of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The second day of the conference focused on trees including carbon sequestration, reforestation, carbon sinks, agribusinesses, logging of old-growth forests and sustainable development of commodities that come from trees. To honor the commitments in the Paris agreement and limit the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or possibly 1.5C, the world must not only stop destroying its forests, it must invest in tree regeneration to create a balance between the emissions of greenhouse gases and their removal.

While an agreement may have been reached in Paris, as we reflect on Tu BiSh’vat, we still need to be vigilant. We must hold industry and government accountable by supporting pro-environmental legislation. We need to hold ourselves accountable as well by preserving and conserving our natural resources and taking progressive personal and communal action to nip the causes of climate change in the bud.


Making the Most…of Compost

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One of my great weekly pleasures is the Sunday ritual of dropping off my compost in the bins at the Farmers Market up the street from my home, and then shopping for fresh, local veggies and fruit. It’s a full circle, soil cycle experience.

In a final attempt to make New Yorkers and the city they live in healthier, eco-friendly mayor, Michael Bloomberg, wants to create a mandatory food-waste recycling program – that is – mandatory composting! The city is even seeking proposals to build a plant to process food waste into biogas and convert it to electricity. The program should be citywide by 2015/16 and will start out on a voluntary basis, but will eventually be mandatory. Of course Mayor Mike won’t be around to fine New Yorkers who don’t separate their food scraps, but Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio, says if elected, he will eventually make composting mandatory. It will be very interesting if that really comes to pass since during the NYC Democratic mayoral debate last month, all five of the candidates were asked if they composted and not a single one of them did.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic, though, if the uber-energized city that never sleeps could one day literally be fueled…by a Big Apple!


Our Annual Cook Off – 2012 Theme: Brooklyn

Once a year our daughters challenge themselves with their very own Cook Off in which we are the judges. They usually come up with individual themes, but this year they thought they would share a theme. They asked me for ideas and without hesitation, I suggested: Brooklyn. After much contemplation and research and then several hours of preparation on the day of the Cook Off, they presented us with a full-course meal. I never imagined the clever concepts and creative plating and flavors this would generate. Interestingly, Joie thought of old-time Breukelen and the shores of the East River and Coney Island, while Sophie thought of more modern day artisanal Brooklyn.

As usual we ate well from appetizer to dessert – a “Junior’s Inspired Chocolate Cheesecake” with orange zest and raspberry sorbet  and “A Treat Grows in Brooklyn”- a seasonal cinnamon apple pear crumble inspired by the 1943 novel by Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, complete with a homemade puff pastry tree.

We ate, we judged, we enjoyed immensely. In the end, I think the judges were the real winners!

Meatless Mondays

It’s always Meatless Mondays at our house and for that matter Meatless Tuesdays, Wednesdays… you get the point. If you’re looking to kick off 2012 in a healthier, more sustainable way, as well as inspiration to go meatless, check out Meatless Mondays, filled with recipes and resources for eating lower on the food chain. Our Meatless Monday dish tonight is:  Thai coconut curry tempeh, roasted string beans, black beans, coconut milk and Brown Rice Medley (long-grain brown rice, black barley and daikon radish seeds). Yum! For more on the subject of eating more sustainably and specifically on rethinking your meat intake, here’s an excerpt from my article, “The True Cost of Food,” published in 2009…

A discussion of food and climate change must address the need to significantly reduce our meat consumption. Fruits, vegetables, and grains require 95% percent less raw materials to produce. In a 2006 report, the United Nations said that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation combined. Agribusinesses and large factory farms (also known as CAFOs, Confined Animal Feeding Operations), in particular, are major culprits. To counter this, there is a growing movement of small farms that have found methods to avoid much of the harm caused by factory farms and feedlots. Grass-fed beef, for example, is estimated to produce 40% less greenhouse emissions and grass is easier for cattle to digest, resulting in less methane, the second most significant greenhouse gas. According to the Sierra Club’s National Sustainable Consumption Committee, factory-bred animals are fed a diet of concentrated corn and other grains. 80% or more of the grain grown in the US is fed to cows—it takes 10 to 16 pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat. The true cost of raising this grain is enormous, requiring massive amounts of land, water and fertilizer. In recent years, more and more consumers are choosing to reduce their meat intake for health and sustainability reasons. If every American had just one meat-free day a week, it would reduce carbon emissions equal to taking 8 million cars off the road.

Happy Meatless Monday!

Food Day Everyday!

Today is national Food Day.  I like to think everyday is a day to support healthy, affordable food, produced in a sustainable way! This first national Food Day is being recognized with lots of fun, educational and delicious foodie events planned all around the country.

A few weeks ago, JCC Grows, the healthy food and hunger-relief – community garden initiative that I manage was featured on the White House blog, the Let’s Move blog and the USDA blog. JCC Grows is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move effort and the USDA’s People’s Garden initiative. Click here to read about the project on the White House blog.

Getting Back to the Garden

I recently had an essay, “Getting Back to the Garden,” published in The Sacred Table. Separately, through the healthy food and hunger-relief project I oversee for JCC Association, JCC Grows, we’re partnering with the USDA’s People’s Garden initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move effort to helps kids be healthier and more fit!

Hooray for CSA!

In my adult life I have gone from urban dweller to country/burbs dweller, back to urban dweller, to my current status somewhere in between as resident of Brooklyn, NY, where not only does a tree grow, but flowers and food as well. When I lived rurally, I dabbled in growing veggies then I discovered CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). CSAs got started in the US over twenty years ago. In that time, I’ve been a member of three different CSAs. I love the communal aspect of it, the access to healthy seasonal foods, and being able to support a local farmer.

My daughter, Sophie, took an anthropology class in college this year called, “Feast or Famine.” She was given the assignment to write a paper about a food memory. She wrote about her memories of the CSA we belonged to when she was a young child in rural New Jersey. At 19, she now realizes that belonging to a CSA in the 1990s was atypical. Here’s an excerpt from her paper:

“At a young age, my mother started taking me with her on her weekly pilgrimages to the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Farm. The farm was about twenty minutes from our home. When we got there, my sister and mom and I would pick up our pre-paid share of vegetables from the farm stand and then go out into the fields to pick certain items ourselves. Once there, I loved helping mom pick out the best cherry tomatoes, snow peas, and strawberries straight from the ground. Sometimes I would snack on our pickings after my mom splashed the raw item with a little water to clean off the dirt. Continue reading “Hooray for CSA!”