Smack in between “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” “Small Business Saturday,” on Nov. 26, promotes the locavore’s alternative to America’s holiday shopping spree. American Express created the national event in hopes of shifting consumer spending toward small businesses—you know, the ones President Obama called “the backbone of our nation’s economy” in 2008. There’s plenty of reason for Obama to have made this claim, and thus reason to support small local businesses.According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which was created as part of the Small Business Act in 1953 to “aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small businesses,” small businesses (officially classified as firms with less than 500 employees) have generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years, employ half of all private sector employees and account for 50 percent of the country’s gross national product, excluding that which comes from farming.
Still, despite their economic importance, small businesses don’t have it easy. The economic crisis is hitting small business owners hard: the fraction of total national retail revenue contributed by locally owned businesses fell from 59 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 2009.
While it’s not nearly as well known as the other American shopping events, Small Business Saturday is in its second year running, and American Express’s heavy promotion of this year’s event will help make it a success. They have mobilized supporters using social media such as Facebook and Twitter (Facebook is one of the event’s few corporate sponsors). American Express offers media packages for small businesses that want to more actively take part in the event.
Santa Cruz certainly has plenty of compelling shops that should make it easy for locals who want to participate. It’s a chance to get around the neighborhood, buy holiday gifts and maybe even help turn the economy around.
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
I smelled it first, the stench of rotting meat mixed with stale ocean air. Turning the corner into the courtyard I found my housemate Liam standing in his underwear happily draping pieces of white rubber-like strands over the fence. I posed the obvious question. “Hey Sam! I’m just drying out the sinew I collected from the whale that washed up at Half Moon Bay.”
“Oh,” I paused. “What are you going to do with it?”
“I think I’m going to use it to make a hunting bow,” he said, flashing his broad, winning smile. “It’s just the perfect thing for it.”
It can be easy to get sucked into American materialism, especially during this time of year. But last year, some of my housemates’ obsession with self-sufficiency and independence from our capitalist regime introduced me to the world of Do It Yourself projects. Having previously only understood DIY to mean kitschy arts and crafts kits, I first approached this DIY thing with caution, unsure that it was anything more than a hobby akin to knitting. But by demonstrating a range of projects from laundry detergent to the perfect loaf of bread, time and time again my housemates proved my skepticism unfounded.
Hunting bows made from real whale sinew may be a bit out of the fledgling DIYer’s league, but this crew gave me some other ideas for unique DIY projects that could make for idiosyncratic holiday gifts.
These days, barefoot running seems to be all the rage—the once-eccentric Vibram Five Fingers are popping up on joggers’ feet left and right. Does the brand’s relatively recent success mean that this seemingly minimalist movement is really just another marketing ploy?
After attempting to get to the true essence of barefoot running by going out for jogs sans any protective soles whatsoever, and coming back with impressively gruesome blood blisters on the bottom of his feet, my housemate Nick experimented with DIY huaraches, running sandals inspired by the Tarahumara tribe of Northern Mexico famous for their ability to run really long distances (like up to 120 miles in one session). They would make a great gift for any runner interested in going back to his or her evolutionary running roots.
What you need: a piece of paper, a marker, a pencil, a piece of leather big enough to cover the sole of the foot, leather lace, strong scissors and a leather punch
How to do it:
1) Step on the piece of paper, putting pressure on the front of the foot.
2) Cut around the tracing.
3) Place the cutout on the leather piece and trace around it with the pencil.
4) Cut out the leather sole.
5) Step on the leather sole and use the marker to make a dot between the first and second toes, slightly closer to the second toe than the first. Make a second dot by placing the pen vertically just in front of the inside anklebone. Make a third dot on the outside edge of the sole at the place where the foot makes less contact with the ground.
6) Use the leather punch to make holes through the marked dots.
7) Push the leather lace from the top to the bottom through the toe hole. Make a knot in the lace on the bottom side.
8) Pass the lace from top to bottom through the outside ankle hole, then from top to bottom through the inside ankle hole.
9) Tie them up and take them out for a spin!
On one occasion I walked through the front door into a nearly completely dark room where several of my housemates were lounging on floor cushions, fixated on a spot of light on the wall coming through a carefully sized aperture in the opposite window.
“Look, there’s Andi coming up the steps!” Gab, our French-Canadian couchsurfing traveler extraordinaire, was barely able to contain her excitement. She had turned the whole room into a camera obscura that projected the goings-on of our front steps onto our living room wall and had brought in everyone else to ooh and ahh at her marvelous work. While a camera obscura taking up a whole room is not exactly something you can package up and put under a tree, she later recreated this magic in a smaller, more portable form: the matchbox pinhole camera. (For photos to go along with these instructions, visit http://matchboxpinhole.com/index.html)
What you need: a matchbox, a new roll of 35mm film, an empty roll of 35mm film with a 1cm stub of film sticking out (should be available from the leftovers of a film lab), a soda can, black PVC tape, a piece of curved thin plastic (such as from spiral paper binding), a pin, scissors, X-Acto knife and a black marker
How to do it:
1) Mark and cut out a 24mm square in the center of the inner part of the matchbox (the matchbox tray).
2) Color in the inside of the matchbox tray and sleeve with the marker.
3) Carefully cut out a 6mm square in the center of the matchbox sleeve.
4) Cut out about a 15mm square from the can. Placing it on a piece of thick cardboard, drill a hole through it with the pin and color the back of the pinhole black.
5) Place the aluminum onto the box so that the pinhole is in the center of the square hole on top of the box. Tape the aluminum on, securing all four sides.
6) Place a piece of tape over the pinhole to act as a shutter.
7) Making the clicker: cut off a loop from the spiral binder. Place the pointed end so that it enters one of the sprocket holes of the new film canister. Tape to secure. The clicker should ride on the back of the film smoothly and make a click as it drops into the next sprocket hole.
8) Loading the camera: squarely trim off the leader and stub of film from both the new and empty film canisters.
9) Pull out a little film from the new canister and thread it through the matchbox, with the non-shiny side facing the pinhole.
10) Tape the ends of the film from the new and old canisters together with scotch tape.
11) Slide the match tray back into the box.
12) Turn the spindle of the empty film canister so that the slack film is wound into it. Push the edges of each film canister tightly into the matchbox so no film can be seen.
13) Place pieces of the PVC tape down the sides between the canisters and the box, making it light tight. Check to make sure all joints are tightly sealed.
14) The camera should be ready to go! To wind the film, turn the winder on the empty canister counterclockwise.
15) Post video of the making of this contraption on YouTube.
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
One warm summer night last August, I found myself in Greenwich Village in a group crowded around an old upright piano while dozens of glistening Broadway enthusiasts sang “Maybe this Time,” the flamboyant tune from the musical Cabaret. Moving my lips just enough to feign that I actually knew the words, I looked around and realized that few of these people fit into any sort of stereotype I might have had about who would enjoy such things; sure, there was the token bald gay guy with his plastic square-rimmed glasses, but there was also the big black lady in the corner managing a reasonable harmony and the burly man with a leather jacket keeping down the bass line. And so I realized the beauty of show tunes: with just a little opening up to them, they have the power to make anyone want to burst into song.
Composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, creators of the music from Cabaret as well as many other big hits, were perhaps the most successful pair at achieving this glorious phenomenon. Santa Cruz’s local Jewel Theatre Company has tapped into this genius, presenting The World Goes ‘Round, featuring hit after hit from Kander and Ebb’s best musicals.
“You can sing along, but please don’t come up and dance with them—I know some of you will want to,” Jewel Theatre’s artistic director Julie James announced before the start of the show.
When the curtains opened, the audience was transported to the Santa Cruz boardwalk with view of five colorful characters: the glamorous movie star, the ticket man, the teenage attendant, the tourist and the local soccer mom out for her power walk. They wove songs from Cabaret, Chicago, The Kiss of the Spiderwoman and more into a skeletal plot of love interests between the characters. They even sometimes broke out into dance—from the sexy Foss-esque moves accompanying Michelle Cabinian’s rendition of “All That Jazz” (from Chicago) to Lee Ann Payne’s outburst of impressive tap during “Arthur in the Afternoon” (from The Act).
But I could feel the anticipation within the audience as we approached the grand finale, the ensemble performance of “New York, New York” (from New York, New York). Even I found that I had finally figured out the words to be able to sing along.
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
With its bright blue back and rust-colored chest, it’s easy to see why the western bluebird is a frequent birder’s favorite. Soon viticulturists may number among its fans as well.
According to the research Dr. Julie Jedlicka conducted as part of her doctoral thesis at UC–Santa Cruz, the western bluebird may serve as a natural alternative to insecticides to manage some of the pests that invade California’s vineyards. Jedlicka found that placing nesting boxes on vineyard plots lures in populations of the entirely insectivorous bird, which in turn can fend off insect-borne blights such as the deadly Pierce’s disease.
After placing pieces of what she calls “highly energetic yummy pieces of bluebird food” on plots both with and without nesting boxes, Jedlicka found that 2.4 times more insects vanished (presumably because they were eaten) from the plots containing nesting boxes, probably due to the fact that sites containing nesting boxes saw a tenfold increase in bluebirds sightings.
Ron Rosenbrand, vineyard manager of Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain Vineyard, has put this research into practice. He says he discovered the agricultural value of the western bluebird while trying to figure out a way to manage his infestation of blue-green sharpshooters, an insect that spreads the dreaded Pierce’s disease. When told he could attract bluebirds by providing homes for them, he took at building bluebird-sized nesting boxes with a vengeance. Five years and 800 boxes later, Rosenbrand says he now rarely finds blue-green sharpshooters in his fields and has “almost zero cases of Pierce’s disease.”
Of the bluebird, Rosenbrand says, “Not only are they beautiful to look at, they’re tremendously effective. It’s great having Mother Nature actually work with you rather than against you as a farmer.”
Although her research is just out, Jedlicka explains that the thought of using birds for pest control is not necessarily novel. “They used to do studies on whether birds were effective natural predators on pest populations back in the 1950s, before pesticides were on the market,” she says.
Since the 1950s, much of the bluebird’s preferred habitats—oak woodlands and savannas—have been converted into agricultural and urban land. The fact that the bluebird’s propensity to eat squirmy grub has earned it a new home in some California vineyards offers a hopeful solution to the species decline it has experienced over the 20th century. Jedlicka says that, ultimately, she is “looking at how we can bring birds back into the system in a way that can lower pest populations and create win-win scenarios.”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
_The turbines planted in 2008 off the coast of Lincolnshire, on England’s eastern edge, brought the United Kingdom’s total of electricity generated from offshore wind turbines to 590 megawatts, enough to power 300,000 homes. Plans to double the growth of the U.K.’s offshore wind farms by 2016 will secure the country as the world’s largest producer of electricity generated from ocean winds.
On this side of the Atlantic it’s a very different story. The first proposal for an offshore wind farm in the U.S., near Cape Cod, is still stalled after 10 years in the works. Even California, famously a domestic leader in the pursuit of alternative energy, hasn’t managed to tap into the vast energetic reserves of the sea. While several possibilities exist to harvest our ocean’s power—including ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), tides, currents, waves and offshore wind—none of the renewable energy produced in California last year came from off our coasts.
It’s not that the technology isn’t there. All of the options listed above are currently being developed to some degree. OTEC, which uses the temperature difference between cold deep water and warmer surface water to run a heat engine to produce electricity, is thought to have the greatest potential where the temperature difference between surface and deeper waters is the greatest, such as the tropics. The Swedish company Minesto is investigating harvesting tidal energy using turbines—a technology that could be deployed to some of the world’s stronger currents, like the Gulf Stream. And the U.K., Denmark and Sweden are already benefiting from energy derived from offshore winds.
The obstacles, rather, are regulatory and policy-related. In a discussion hosted by the Seymour Center at Long Marine Laboratory Nov. 10, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, marine biologist Peter Nelson of Collaborative Fisheries Research West, Joby Energy founder JoeBen Bevirt and moderator Gary Griggs, director of UC–Santa Cruz’s Institute of Marine Sciences, explored the prospects and setbacks of deriving renewable energy from our oceans.
Bevirt said the biggest impediment to using any form of renewable energy on a large scale is the lack of a carbon emissions policy that would provide an incentive for businesses to push harder for renewables.. “To me, economics drives a lot of the decisions that we make, individually and globally,” Bevirt said. “There was a global opportunity a couple of years ago in Copenhagen at the climate conference—it was an opportunity missed.”
The panelists agreed that the complications of logistics and permitting are the biggest other setbacks. Laird said he thinks this issue has been made more difficult because of the concerns some environmentalists have about the impact the technological structures would have on marine life. In that vein, Griggs joked, “There are some advantages to having a totalitarian regime. I have often said, ‘Just give me the Chinese government for a day.’ While they’re out there actually using renewable energy, we’re still analyzing the environmental impacts.”
Bevirt offered the view that renewable energy is “difficult to regulate because everyone is coming from a different viewpoint. Some people don’t even believe in global warming—they’re not going to think about how many seabirds are going to die from offshore wind-turbines versus from global temperature increases.”
Nelson, who has done research on the impacts of man-made oceanic intrusions on marine life, continued, “I think one of the things that’s really missing is leadership. The forum that’s going to get us to recognize that everything we do has a cost and that we’re going to have to be honest as we evaluate those costs and benefits.” He laughingly added, “If I were king for a day I would look for some wise man who is capable of pulling people together and just says, ‘OK, we need to formulate a plan. No one is going to be 100 percent happy with it, but we still need to find a way to do it that’s wise and responsible.’”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
Frances Moore Lappé became a leading environmental figure in 1971 with the publication of her bestselling book Diet for a Small Planet. Four decades and seventeen books later, the message of her newest release, EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want, is still relevant.
Between travel and prepping for EcoMind’s promotional events (including the discussion she will be a part of at Cabrillo College’s Crocker Theater on Nov. 11), Lappé took a moment to tell the Santa Cruz Weekly that while a lot of the issues environmentalists debate today weren’t even on the radar when she first began (such as climate change) the root of our problems is exactly the same.
“Everything is still framed in terms of creating self-defeating schemas,” she says. She thinks we actually have “so much evidence for the solutions that are right at hand.” In EcoMind, Lappé challenges seven of the “thought traps” environmentalists commonly pitch as what prevents us from resolving Earths’ woes. One such idea is that “we’ve hit the limits of a finite earth,” meaning that we’ve been living beyond our means and must now “power down.” Lappé says this framing implies that it’s necessary to lead less fulfilling lives if we care about the future of the planet; she then explains why this notion is wrong. She writes, “Because most people know they weren’t invited to the Too Good party, the message falls flat. An effective and ecologically attuned goal is not about more or less. Moving from fixation on quantities, our focus shifts to what brings health, ease, joy, creativity—more life.”
“The first step is getting people to realize that the current metaphors aren’t working,” Lappé says. “I’m not saying that I have the final answer, but I do know that we have to think about these issues differently.” She continues, “There’s nothing inexorable” about the environmental problems at hand. “It’s a matter of how we perceive them, and that’s why the book is so full of solutions.”
Lappé was initially worried about challenging the common environmentalist mindset for fear of offending advocates who are some of her biggest heroes. “I was nervous about publishing it because I knew it was heretical in some ways.” But, she says, referring to her nervousness, “Fear has potential to produce really good things.” Her hesitation led her to send an email out to The Small Planet Institute (her organization) subscribers, saying that she would send the manuscript to and solicit advice from the first six people to respond. “I got an overwhelmingly positive response,” she says. She calls EcoMind a “crowd-sourced book”; after posting a draft book on the website, she received “80 single-spaced pages of comments from people all over the world.”
Local author John Robbins, Transition Santa Cruz founder Michael Levy and scientist/ author Dr. Wallace J. Nichols will join Lappé for the discussion.
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly:
_“I’ve been worried about this problem for 10 years . . . long before this crisis. Long, long before Occupy Wall Street. I’ve been very aware of the fact that the economic system doesn’t work the way that I learned it works in school. Once you’ve taken a couple of classes in economics, it’s obvious that [the theory] is very different from what goes on in the real world . . . classical economics is just not valid—the idea of a self-regulating market is invalid. If you look at the mathematics of it, it’s just impossible. I think one of the worse sins we’re committing is continuing to teach the subject as if it were some kind of a valid pattern for the way things work, and that we should therefore make public policy on the basis of what the subject would tell us. When we do, we see how screwed up things get, and right now we’re seeing that it doesn’t work in an incredibly graphic way. We’re not in a good position to reform yet, because we don’t know what the truth is. I think we need to do a heck of a lot more soul-searching so that we can come up with something better.”
_“I didn’t know about the movement until my caregiver told me about it, and then I saw it on the news. I told my friend, ‘I’m down to support that, I’ll definitely march with you guys.’ We’re the ones suffering—people like myself. They’re trying to cut [funding to] a lot of people like myself—paraplegics—and they’re trying to cut our caregivers so they can put our asses in homes. That’s something that got me riled up. Yeah, pretty much.”
_“I’m trying to get more people involved because a lot of people don’t know what’s going on and what this actually supports—making Wall Street and the upper classes take more responsibility for the state of the economy, and exercising our rights to demand them to take that responsibility. I think the most important thing is that people can feel empowered that we do have choices we can exercise—that’s one of the best parts of America. Instead of getting frustrated and complaining that we should do something, we should come together and realize that when we unite we do have a lot of power, that those days aren’t over. The more empowered people feel, the more they will come together and that’s when ideals can manifest. It’s a way to feel heard, to feel supported—that you’re not alone—and that maybe we can do something about it as a group.”
_“I’m a grandmother, so I would like for children to have a home on our planet, and if we don’t stop killing each other [that won’t happen]. I stand with the Women in Black regularly on Friday nights—we stand for peace. I think [Occupy Santa Cruz] is part of what the Women in Black stand for. There is a lot of stuff besides the Occupy rallies going on, but at least this is in 800 cities in the U.S. and Europe and Japan, as far as I understand. If we don’t stop the military involvement we will never make it as a planet. That’s the level on which I stand. . . we are one world and we need to start loving each other.”
_“I want to support change in the election system and change how the whole system is tilted toward the rich. The Supreme Court made a decision to allow corporations to give as much money as they want, so anyone can just buy off votes. Votes should not be bought . . . that’s not democracy. We don’t have democracy here—money runs things. We all had hope that when we voted for Obama we were going to get change. We didn’t get change at all. Now we want real change. I’m sure there are a lot of different ideas about how it can be done, but that’s wonderful . . . [the Occupy movement] is an amazing thing that’s happening all over the world. The people are rising up, and they’re not going to just get tired and go home, it’s gonna get bigger and bigger.”
_When I originally came down to Santa Cruz, about three weeks ago, I was sleeping in my car because my friends and I didn’t really have very much money and there was nowhere to camp. It’s pretty much illegal to sleep anywhere here—you get arrested or ticketed and things like that. And parking’s ridiculous, too—you’ve got to get up every couple of hours just to feed the meter so you don’t get ticketed for that, too. Anyway, I met a guy named Dreamcatcher—we were talking about camping and he said there was a protest going on over here. I wanted to come see what it was about because I kind of enjoy protesting things—as long as it’s something worth protesting. So I came down here, found out what it’s about, and I’ve been here ever since, 24/7. We’ve got a really nice system going on here.
_I was already homeless and sleeping here before the protestors came, so it was kind of a natural thing to do for me to get involved. I was here with a lot of my friends, who were homeless too. We’ve had a very interesting integration time with the Occupy people. I helped get things organized a bit—I’ve been here for five years, so I kind of know what’s going on. I have all kinds of outlets for resources, because I’ve used them all. Whenever anybody asks how to get something I know where to tell them to go. There’s really nothing that you can’t get, appropriately. I came here with nothing but the clothes on my back. Now I have a nice tent that was given to me, a brand new sleeping bag that was given to me, an air mattress that was given to me, a guitar—just by making contact with people. I’ve been doing the right things for the right people, just genuinely, and boy do they come back with nice surprises. And the police and legislatures in this town are just really bending over backwards for us—I know the difference. We’ve got the resources of the world here—we’ve got bathroom facilities . . . oh my gosh, I don’t even want to say what we did before.
Steve Jackel moseys about the premises of Jackel Enterprises, occasionally interrupting his monologue to point out an irregular slab of Monterey cypress—wood with umber lines that swirl into a speckling of eyes—or a bisected redwood log with burnt bark, evidence of the fire it didn’t survive. Jackel acquired these pieces of lumber because his business involves “urban, suburban and rural forestry.”
He salvages trees that would probably otherwise be taken to the landfill after falling on a road during a storm or being cut down to make room for new landscaping. Jackel explains that salvaging these trees is good for both the landowner and the environment because it halts some carbon emissions. If
Jackel doesn’t buy the tree, the owner has to “take it to the landfill. And he has to pay the landfill. So it’s a double negative—it’s money out of his pocket and the carbon gets released.” Jackel has been involved in processing salvaged woods since 1974, when he met a park ranger at Henry Cowell State Park trying to get rid of a walnut tree.
Even though at the time he was working at a lumberyard, Jackel marvels that he was “24 years old and hadn’t made the connection between lumber and a tree.” He says he got it the moment they cracked the walnut tree open and he saw the beauty of what was inside. Jackel is teaming up with the Museum of Art and History to help more people internalize the connection between trees and wood this Saturday with a guided tour through his Watsonville mill, woodshop and lumberyard.
“None of these woods are what I would call popular in the scheme of markets,” Jackel says, but some of the local woodworking artists currently featured at MAH in an exhibit called “Studio Made: Santa Cruz Woodworkers” still covet them. It’s the “defects and character” within salvaged woods, as Jackel calls it, that appeal to these artisans. Matthew Werner, who makes handcrafted furniture using marquetry (a technique of creating a decorative veneer), says, “I’m always looking for unique woods—anything a little different from what’s on the racks at the lumber store.”
Patrick Stafford, another local woodworking artist and teacher at Cabrillo College, says he uses salvaged woods whenever possible for environmental reasons.
“There’s less and less wood available. I feel like people are wasting wood in huge amounts,” he says. Stafford also says the quality of traditionally harvested lumber has diminished over the last 30 years due to efforts to keep up with the increasing demand for it.
“The quality of the wood is not as good as it once was because they are growing the trees too fast,” he explains.
In addition to showing off the lumber itself, Jackel will explain different parts of the “low-tech science” involved in preparing salvaged woods for use, such as the kiln that balances the wood’s moisture content with the ambient air.
He will also discuss the differences between types of woods and certification processes on the upcoming tour.
Originally Published in the Santa Cruz Weekly: