July 24, 2012

A Month at the Farmers Market(s)

Farmers markets have been around for a long time, but are greatly increasing in number and popularity in the last decade as Americans become more informed about food and look to purchase healthier food while supporting local farmers and businesses.  As of mid-2011 there were 7,175 farmers markets operating in the United States, a 17 per cent increase from 2010 per the USDA.  Since 2002 the number of farmers markets has increased by 128%.

In San Diego we are fortunate to have a great climate for growing many items both seasonally and year-round.  There are also many farmers markets available to residents.  My favorite market in San Diego is the Little Italy Mercato and we have started many a weekend with a Saturday morning visit.  Another market we often visit is the Horton Plaza Farmers Market, which takes place on Thursday afternoons in downtown San Diego.  It's convenient for us because it's close to home and a nice place to meet for a family lunch during the week.

I like to purchase food at farmers markets for a few main reasons:

  • Fresh, healthy produce with a lot of variety
  • Supporting local farmers and the local economy
  • Many options that are certified organic and/or pesticide free
I often hear criticisms of farmers markets, primarily that they are too expensive.  It's true that there are many items at farmers markets that cost more than at a grocery store, but there are deals to be found and farmers markets can also provide great quality food at a very good prices.

For four weeks this August (8/4 - 9/1) our family will be solely shopping at and eating food from the two farmers markets noted above.  The one exception to this is for milk, which our doctor recommends for Eva, and is not currently available at the markets.  Our budget will be the average amount spent by Americans on food each month.  Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for a household of two persons the average monthly food expenditure is $496.50 and for a household of three persons the amount is $608.08.  These amounts are from the BLS 2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey, the most recent report available.  For additional information see the BLS website.

We have three people in our household, but since Eva is a baby I decided to use an amount between the figures for 2 and 3 person households.  Our budget for the 4 week period will be $550, $137.50 per week.

I'll be recording our purchases and the per unit cost, as well as other data on this online spreadsheet.  Hopefully this data will be handy if you're interested in comparing the costs at the markets to those in your local grocery store.

If you have a farmers market in your area check it out this weekend.  You might be happily surprised by the prices you'll find there, and it's a great opportunity to support your neighbors and local economy.  

Thanks to the Little Italy Mercato and Horton Plaza Farmers Markets and if you live in San Diego I highly recommend both of these markets as resources for fresh, healthy food and friendly, informative producers.


July 21, 2012

We are all good, we are all evil

The mass shooting Saturday morning in Aurora, CO has led to much commentary about the events, the perpetrator, and general commentary on the state of our nation.  Many of these writings are about the perpetrator, how someone with potential mental issues was able to purchase so many guns, and derision towards the deranged person(s) responsible.

I disagree with the idea that the perpetrator is an evil person, or different in most ways from the majority of our populace. Trying to separate people into groups of 'the good' and 'the bad' is a flawed premise and one that discards the truth of the complexity of all humans. Such groupings are simply convenient and make it easy to see tragedies like this as a rouge bad egg acting out. It is comforting to view such actions as aberrations that we can avoid by avoiding such persons or separating them from the rest of us in a jail or mental institution. This viewpoint ignores the ability that we all possess to do great good or great evil, and how close to the surface the desires to act in either way lie to the surface.

It is important to remember this dichotomy and a reminder of the need to consider ethics in our daily lives. Too often these topics are confined to the realm of spirituality and religion which is especially unfortunate given the decline of organized religion in Western societies over recent decades. I don't see the decline of adherence to traditional, organized religion as a problem in itself, but it is a problem if the moral principles and ethics lessons that are a part of many religions are not supplemented or replaced with teachings in ethics and morality on a rational basis that are missing nearly universally from our educational and cultural structures.

Indeed, even for those adhering to a religious tradition, ethics are often less a rational approach to thinking and living morally and more an idiosyncratic set of rules regarding particular areas of life.  To paraphrase Peter Singer:

Too often the word ethics conjures up an image of an older man in a cassock holding forth on the right or wrong of particular sexual preferences and acts.

Reading this description of much of Western traditional religious values (I'm Catholic and was raised Catholic) was so spot-on when I read it I was surprised I had never thought of it this way before.  Not to say that Catholicism, and other religions, don't have merits and redeeming qualities, but when I think of what areas of 'ethics' I most strongly identify Catholicism with the area of sex and sexual acts are easily at the top of the list.

My father-in-law has a saying; "People have the attention span of a gnat".  I have to agree with him, but don't see it as a necessarily bad thing.  As a consequence of our short memories and attention spans, we rely on societal norms and conventional wisdom to guide many of our actions and premises.  It is the rare soul among us that is able to change the broader conversations or the actions of many people with a speech or command. However, as a population our norms and mores are in constant flux - most of the changes taking place as do changes to our own bodies.  We don't notice them from day to day, but a snapshot taken a few years apart can show shocking changes that we scarcely noticed as they happened.

I typically write about the environment and direct my efforts to helping make the world a healthier place.  I don't see large changes in the world or even my small part of it as a result of my writing and truly believe that the majority of my efforts are for naught.  I write, and act, to change the world as part of a group working to push the societal needle towards a more sustainable future.

Like many Americans, I'm tired of bickering, pettiness, and triviality - whether in politics, our consumer culture, or TV programming.  We need to move the needle in our society towards a more rational, ethical culture.  Changes to gun laws, building more prisons, and having more security may avoid another movie theater or college campus mass shooting but humans are incredibly creative, clever creatures and we will always find new ways to destroy each other.  The only effective way to address actions like those that took place in Aurora is to help build a better, kinder, more rational place to live.  It won't be 100 per cent effective - nothing is ever guaranteed.  But we can all do our part to create a more ethical, happier, better place to live.

We don't need more apologies and sympathy for victims, we need more efforts to create a more intelligent, rational, ethical world.

Flying at the San Diego Airport? Check out Car2Go to Get There

I flew to Kansas to visit my parents a couple of days ago and got to use the Car2Go car sharing program in San Diego for the first time to get to the airport.  Car2Go is also in Austin, Miami, Portland, Washington DC, and Miami in the U.S.  If you're a member you can use your card to access vehicles in any of these cities.

Bonus: You can currently sign up on the Miami Car2Go site regardless of where you live and get a membership card for free, avoiding the $35 one-time registration fee. Use the promo code HEAT on the site to waive the fee.

There are a number of options for our family to get to the San Diego Airport.  I love this airport, primarily because it is situated right in the middle of the city, near downtown, beaches, and the bay.  Since we live near downtown it's a short trip to get to and from the airport, with a number of different modes of transit we can use to get there.  Below is a summary of the cost, time, and distance of these options, in order of my preference for getting to/from the airport from our house.
  1. Driving - Car2Go
    1. Time:  41 minutes (17 minutes driving and loading / unloading, 24 minutes walking to / from car)
    2. Cost:  $6.41 ($5.95 plus $.46 tax)
    3. Distance: 6 miles (5 miles driving, 1 mile walking)
      1. Note: The walking distance and time is currently increased because of construction going on at the airport.
  2. Taxi
    1. Time: 15 minutes
    2. Cost: $20, including tip
    3. Distance: 5 miles
  3. Public Transit - Bus
    1. Time: 1 hour
    2. Cost: 4.50 (2.25 per segment, no transfers allowed)
    3. Distance: 6 miles
      1. Note: The San Diego transit authority, MTS, does not currently have an electronic pay-per use option for traveling and exact change is required for bus and trolley rides which are $2.25 and $2.50 per trip, respectively.
  4. Walking
    1. Time:  90 minutes
    2. Cost: Free
    3. Distance: 4.6 miles
  5. Driving - Personal Vehicle
    1. Time: 15 minutes
    2. Cost: $2.76 for fuel plus estimated vehicle wear.  $10 per day for parking at airport.
    3. Distance:  5 miles
We have typically taken the bus, or a cab, to get to and from the airport.  Depending on the time of day the bus isn't always an option and a cab has often been our choice when returning from a trip and wanting to get home quickly.  After using Car2Go for an airport trip, it seems to be the most convenient, quickest, greenest option for getting to, from, and around the airport and central area of San Diego.

One drawback about Car2Go is that the cars only accommodate two people since the current fleet is comprised of two door, two seat Smart cars.  Also, Terminal 2 at the San Diego airport is under construction which makes the walk a bit longer than it will be in the future.  Once construction is complete in 2013, the total walk from the parking at Spanish Landing park to Terminal 2 will be a .2 mile walk away, just across Harbor Drive.  Car2Go vehicles can be parked at any metered parking space in San Diego without having to pay the meter.

For parents out there: I originally thought that Car2Go would not be an option for a baby / carseat but it is permitted under California state law. In 2 seat cars, a carseat can be used in the passenger seat, as long as it is properly secured and the passenger airbag is turned off. Props to Car2Go for also sharing this information, and utilizing a sensor to automatically turn off the air bag.
From car to plane in a hop, skip, and a jump.

Although flying itself produces a lot of carbon emissions, and reducing flights was part of my 'Top 10' ways to be greener when traveling list, it's a part of modern life that few of us can or will give up entirely.  Finding a greener way to get to and from the airport with Car2Go is a small step to help green my total travel plans that hopefully you will find enjoyable as well.

Happy travels!

July 18, 2012

DIY Vertical Garden Planter - Finished Product (Post 2 of 2)

About a month ago I posted about a vertical planter I made.  I wanted to share the finished product so you can see how it turned out, and share the final materials list and cost, in case you'd like to make one yourself.  I adjusted the design a bit because the upper shelves needed more soil than I originally provided for.

If you don't have much space in your yard, or just have a balcony or other outdoor space this design is great for getting a lot of planting space out of a small amount of surface area.  For a spice or herb garden this would work awesome.  For larger fruits and vegetables I would opt for a deeper planter or for optimum production in the ground.


  1. Saw
  2. Drill (with Phillips head bit)
  3. Tape measure
  4. Level (I didn't use this, but if you want everything perfect would come in handy to check yourself)


  1. 6 - 1" x 6" x 8 foot lumber
  2. 2 - 5/8 " x 1/2 " x 6 foot cedar fence boards
  3. 2" wood screws (box)


  1. Cut 8 foot lumber in half, resulting in 12 pieces, each 4 feet long
  2. Separate pieces into 4 groups, with 3 pieces each.  Screw together lengthwise at right angles to create shelves
  3. Attach first shelf at bottom of cedar fence boards to create base, putting screws through the side of the cedar fence boards, which are the vertical pieces
  4. Measure up 15 inches from top of base and attach next shelf, repeating to the top of the fence boards.
  5. Vertical garden planter is now complete. Add organic soil and plants as desired.
  6. If water is not draining down from the upper shelves, you can drill a few holes in the underside of the shelf, in the middle of the board to help.

I used Fox Farm Ocean Forest soil for my planter, my first time using the product, and it has been awesome.  I'm not always the best at growing potted plants and have been really impressed with the results.  I highly recommend this product.

My total cost for making this planter was 49.89 and the cost for each material is posted here.  I've been really happy with the turnout so far, and have my first ever banana peppers, serrano peppers, and paprika peppers ready for picking.  Here's a photo of the finished product.

Front profile

 The plants I'm trying out are (from upper left):

  • Banana pepper
  • Serrano pepper
  • Malabar spinach
  • Purple basil
  • Hungarian paprika
  • English thyme
  • Okra
  • Burpless cucumber
  • Dinosaur kale
  • New Zealand spinach (my favorite of the items in the planter - really awesome)

Thanks to the Horton Plaza Farmers Market, City Farmers Nursery, and the Little Italy Farmers Market for the plants. :)

Side profile
Happy planting (and eating)!

July 17, 2012

10 Steps to Greener Flying

Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They're single-serving friends.
- Fight Club

Today's post: how to be more environmentally friendly when flying. Suggestions are in a 10 top list format, although not necessarily in order of impact.
  1. Don't fly or fly less often 
    1. For most of us, flying is the biggest single contributor to our annual greenhouse gas emissions. One flight equals about 15% of our annual personal emissions. especially if flying multiple times a year. Cutting out one flight a year goes a long way towards being more 'green'. Plus, you might discover something really awesome closer to home.
  2. But sometimes flying is better than driving
    1. Driving solo in a car can produce more emissions than taking a flight, especially if over a long distance. Here's a calculator to help you determine which method of travel may be the best choice for you.
  3. Opt for direct flights over connecting flights
    1. In addition to saving time and being more convenient, taking a direct flight also produces fewer emissions than having a connection.  Takeoff and landing produce about 50% of the emissions of a flight so avoiding an additional stop makes a big difference on the emissions of a trip.  Also, a direct flight means fewer air miles because of the more direct flight path.
  4. Just say no to free food and drink
    1. As tempting as it can be to take full advantage of all the freebies on a flight in hopes of getting back part of the hundreds of dollars you paid for the flight and baggage fees, fight the urge to consume as many 8 ounces servings of soda and peanuts as possible on the flight.  It's tempting to fall into the trap of "it's free, I'm taking all I can" - the same mentality that can put placid adults into a frenzy over a free XXXL t-shirt at a sporting event.
    2. Most of the freebies on a flight are highly processed food and beverage items, in single serving containers that are often made of plastic and will likely not be recycled.  It's estimated that about 20 percent of the recyclable items in the flight industry are actually recycled.
  5. Take a water bottle
    1. To help stay hydrated, save some money, and reduce your footprint take a water bottle with you and fill up in the airport.  Remember it has to be empty to go through security but you can easily refill at a water fountain on the other side of the TSA vanguard.
  6. Take snacks and food with you
    1. Pack food to take with you. This will help to avoid the single-serving snack temptation, be more healthy, and save you some money if you can skip the terminal eateries.
    2. Some favorites of my favorite items to take, all of which are OK to take through security, are:
      1. Oranges
      2. Raisins
      3. Almonds
      4. Loaf of bread (freshly baked the morning of the flight)
      5. Apples
      6. Bananas
  7. Take public transport to / from the airport
    1. Public transit instead of a car or cab is a more eco-friendly way to travel, and helping to support public transit increases the likelihood of expanded routes and dollars for public transit in the future.
    2. Some cities also have options like Car2Go here in San Diego, which is an electric fleet of vehicles shared among customers.  Other cities, like perennial bicycle power Portland, have bicycle resources so you can cruise to and from the airport on two wheels.
  8. Pack lighter
    1. Everything put on a flight increases the amount of fuel needed to haul it.  If you can cut out 5 pounds, or take one bag instead of two, you can help to reduce the amount of fuel needed for a flight.  Having fewer, or smaller, bags will also make it easier to navigate the airport.
  9. Take a coffee mug
    1. This mostly applies if you drink coffee or other warm beverages. As with a water bottle suggestion, reusing and avoiding waste makes sense.  You can even double up a mug for both coffee and water to cut down on packing needs.  Highly recommend a stainless steel (double walled) option, with a really good lid.
  10. Give feedback to businesses and airports
    1. Let the businesses you interact with know your thoughts.  Whether it's a positive - thanks for recycling! - or a negative - can you please recycle? - companies are more likely to respond when they hear from their customers.  You can give feedback in person, via social media like Twitter and Facebook, send a letter to the corporate offices, or in any other way you can think of.  It's not complaining, it's giving businesses a chance to keep or increase your business with them.  That's something that businesses will nearly universally embrace.
Happy travels!

- John

Sweet home San Diego.

July 13, 2012

Simple Syrup - Cocktail Must - Recipe

Amelia and I are relative novices to the world of cocktail making, and generally prefer beer to cocktails anyway.  However, in our limited experience with making cocktails one clutch ingredient we have become big fans of is simple syrup.  Many drinks call for sugar and using simple syrup in place of stirring in sugar will help your cocktails to turn out more consistent, and ensure that you don't have undissolved sugar resting at the bottom of your glass.

To improve the legibility and ease of sharing recipes I decided to create an AllRecipes.com profile.  I really like the site and it makes it easy to convert recipes for different serving amounts.  Plus, there is a huge searchable database that we regularly use when we are cooking.

Simple syrup is very easy to make and our recipe can be found here.  We make extra and then keep it in a mason jar in the refrigerator so that we don't have to wait for it to cool every time we want to use some.  You can buy simple syrup in almost any grocery or liquor store, but as with most items if you make your own you'll save some money and also be more aware of the ingredients you are consuming.  Additionally, you can  probably avoid some preservatives or fillers in your drinks that you don't need.

Happy Friday and happy cocktailing!

- John