Water Bottles

By: Shaan Fye, Executive Director

The importance of avoiding plastic water bottles cannot be understated; current consumption is completely avoidable and thus should be curtailed. In almost every aspect, buying water is wasteful.

Economics

The Beverage Marketing Association reports that in 2008 bottled water comprised over 28 percent of the U.S. liquid refreshment beverage market. The irony is that this product, outselling almost every carbonated soda, is something that almost everyone can get from a tap. Perhaps the easiest reason to avoid buying disposable water bottles is simply the cost: bottled water costs up to 10,000 times the amount of tap water. And of that incredibly high cost, 90% is packaging, transportation, and marketing. Only 10% of the cost is related to the water itself.

Health

More importantly, the costs to one’s health are something to take into account. The chemicals found in the bottles are potential carcinogens as well as endocrine disruptors. Phthalates are the problem. Depending on the method of storage, high amounts of these chemicals can be found in the water inside the bottle. While the levels may fall within government limits, it is still unnecessary exposure to chemicals that have been proven to harm humans. Corroborating this, in a National Resources Defense Council study, 22% of bottle water tested contained chemical contaminants above state-mandated levels. Numerous studies help to disprove the myth that bottled water is healthier than tap water, especially in a country with robust water infrastructure like the United States.

Environment

The most pressing negative impact of bottled water is the environmental cost. Every year, consumers in the United States on average drink 21 gallons of bottled water per person, according to the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York. Accordingly, U.S. landfills contain 2 million tons of water bottles, considering only 1 in 5 ever make it to a recycle bin. Not only does it take 3 liters of water to make every liter of bottled water, but the United States uses 1.5 million barrels of oil every year for this industry, not including transportation costs.

Take Action

Everyone has heard this before, but one of the simplest ways to stop using water bottles is to buy a reusable one. The personal issue many have with this is the taste of tap water. Whether it is placebo effect or a tangible difference is up for grabs; many make this excuse when choosing to buy disposable bottles.

My solution was to have a filtered water bottle station installed at school. After raising the money, I, along with the environmental club, had an Elkay EZH2O fountain installed. The logic behind this was simple: giving people a filtered water option for reusable bottles could tangibly reduce bottle water consumption intra-school. Additionally, I thought that the bottle water reduction counter on the machine would help highlight the positive effect an individual’s choice could have. Within 2 days, the water bottle reduction counter read 150. When people have an aesthetically-pleasing, filtered, free alternative, they will choose that option! I am excited to see the longer-term outcome of this project, in addition to helping other students at other schools push for this green alternative. I believe that providing tap water is not the complete solution to reducing bottle water consumption. The complete solution is convincing people that the tap water alternative is not the inferior, but superior option. The evidence sure points to that conclusion.

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Water Bottles

Farm Africa Success

By: Shaan Fye, Executive Director

I am proud to say that our fundraising efforts for Farm Africa have been a complete success. The entire Invigorating Gardens team’s ingenuity and creativity allowed us to raise over a thousand dollars for this wonderful non-profit organization. Without the generous support of the Pittsburgh community, we don’t know how this could have been possible. Over the past 6 weeks, Jack Fako and I have worked to secure money for an organization that Invigorating Gardens shares principles with; an organization that values the positive effects that enhanced agricultural output can bring to communities. This partnership helped to bridge the gap between gardens in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and larger-scale agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This isn’t the end of this wonderful, dynamic partnership. Rather, this is only the beginning. We will be releasing our next project idea soon for a second round of Farm Africa fundraising. Once again, thank you to the entire Pittsburgh community for your generous support.

$1170 Raised!

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Farm Africa Success

Farm Africa in Fox Chapel

By: Shaan Fye, Executive Director

We, at Invigorating Gardens, wanted to do something different this fall.  As the growing year successfully concludes, we wanted to continue helping farmers improve output and productivity, but in an entirely new way.  We wanted to connect our social capital from the Fox Chapel area with a meaning that transcends borders and nationalities.  That ambitious idea came to fruition in a recent meeting, and we are proud to introduce it to everyone.

This fall, Invigorating Gardens is teaming up with Farm Africa to raise money in efforts to empower African farmers to grow their peoples out of poverty.  This concept, perfected by the team at Farm Africa, is contrasted with the archetypal aid organization that sends those in need temporary solutions, like food.  This may alleviate short-term starvation, but fails to sow the seeds of change within those afflicted areas.  Farm Africa changes this, helping educate and upgrade farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, literally teaching them out of poverty and malnourishment.

We, as a team, will be working with high school volunteers from around Pittsburgh to provide end-of-year garden and yard cleanup at a name-your-price policy.  Beginning October 4th, lasting 3 weeks after that, our team will be available to help clear yards and gardens, with all proceeds going directly towards Farm Africa.

To schedule a time, please call 412 980 1649 or submit a form here.  Looking forward to working together!

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Farm Africa in Fox Chapel

Concluding Remarks: Shaan Fye in Argentina

(Part 3 of my experience in Argentina.)

By: Shaan Fye, Executive Director

Argentina has been real, in more ways than one.  In addition to transforming a barren yard into the beginnings of an organic garden, I have forged meaningful relationships, both with the locals, and other volunteers.  Being able to interact with others sharing concordant goals has strengthened my desire to continue working to benefit others around me and renewed my will to do so.  At the same time, I have taken this amalgam of new experiences and relationships and reflected it back towards my growth as a human being.  I find within myself more empathy, enthusiasm, and willingness to immerse myself in foreign situations than ever before.  In essence, Argentina has given much more to me than I have given to her.

All of this personal growth shouldn’t shadow the real reason I came here!  In these 3 weeks, I was entrusted with the responsibility of turning the backyard of a youth care center into a functional garden.  The project had its fair share of ups and downs, but overall I feel that it will both improve the nutrition of the people while beautifying the area. Basically, all within my time here, we tore up the weed-laden ground, formed raised beds, planted cold crops (it’s winter here), and surrounded the area with flowers.  This will allow the youth center to utilize free, fresh vegetables like spinach in a month or two.  I have interacted both with the caretakers at this program and the youth, helping to break up the one-way conversations with the seeds I was planting.  I found both groups to be wonderful, kind, and insightful, patiently explaining mundane concepts to me in extremely basic Spanish.  The everlasting magnanimity I have received in these three weeks at the care center will stay with me forever, encouraging me to make others feel the same way I currently feel.

I also have to thank my hosts, the Nis family, for providing me with a safe, loving, and comfortable home.  They were overwhelmingly accommodative of my nutty food habits, and helped to educate me about the Argentine culture so I wouldn’t embarrass myself inadvertently.  When my phone’s alarm didn’t wake me up last week, delaying the rest of my day, they made sure I was up on time from there on out.  I am not going to lie, I was a bit hesitant about the homestay experience, as I thought I would be too imposing on the family, but I was proved wrong.  To anyone on the fence about a homestay, I would strongly suggest just going for it.  It is one of those things where as soon as you experience it, all the fear melts away.

This trip has helped define me in so many ways.  It is amazing to think about the growth I have witnessed in only 3 weeks.  Now, with this under my belt, I can attack larger goals.  I don’t view the conclusion of this trip as the finale of my new experiences, but instead, only the beginning.  I can confidently say that because I took the first step head-on, and didn’t look back.  Thanks for reading.

 

Concluding Remarks: Shaan Fye in Argentina

The Project Begins: Shaan Fye in Argentina

(Part 2 of my Argentina story.  If you haven’t read my first post yet, be sure to before reading this!)

By: Shaan Fye, Executive Director

So Argentina has been great to me so far.  I have used public transportation (who needs Uber?), ordered food at restaurants even though I have no idea what the waiter said for the most part, and have gone to the city with some of the other volunteers.  I have begun the volunteer project, developing an organic garden at a care facility for young children.  The work has been laborious, but rewarding.  All I have done for two days so far is dig up and rake up a grass lot, much easier said than done.  When all you have is a shovel and you have to turn over a grassy lot, your back quickly begins to ache.  Luckily the planting begins tomorrow.

Even though I have I just begun, something huge has already dawned upon me.  What I have realized is that regardless of your actual ability to be a farmer (or gardener, depending on your definition.  I’m looking at you Jack Fako.), your effort is what matters.  When you put your heart and body into a project benefitting others, it fills you up with more strength.  Experiencing the children at the facility running up and hugging me, even though they have no clue what I am actually doing, has been an emotional experience.  This experience transcends my ability to farm and goes past my adroitness in comprehending Español.  This is about one thing: connecting with other humans.  When you show an effort in helping improve the human condition, it connects you to others in ways not achievable any way else.  Simply put, energy put towards benefiting others ends up benefiting yourself more than anyone else.

While my work is meaningful in so many ways, both to myself and others, another great aspect of this experience is the independence.  I walk from my host-family’s home to the bus stop and ride the bus for a few kilometers.  After that, I walk, alone, for another kilometer, by myself.  It has been exhilarating!  Never before have I had to rely upon myself so much.  Being in this situation has helped me become more aware of how society functions from the ground up, as well as begin to trust myself regarding good decisions.

Even though I have already planted roots in the wonderful city of Cordoba, we won’t actually plant seeds in the garden until tomorrow.

 

The Project Begins: Shaan Fye in Argentina

Argentina: Shaan Fye’s First Thoughts

(This will be part of a series as I help develop Organic Agriculture in Cordoba, Argentina)

By: Shaan Fye

Travelling from Pittsburgh to Cordoba was a pain, to say the least.  I had a 5 hour layover in Atlanta (shoutout to the Club at ATL), followed by an 11 hour overnight flight to Buenos Aires.  After going through customs and immigration, I had to pick up my bag, leave the airport, and reenter in a different location.  I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, forgetting that it was winter in the Southern Hemisphere.  As I walked outside in 45 degree weather, it dawned on me that after I stepped off the plane, I had only heard Spanish being spoken, save the immigration officer.  This was going to be more difficult than I originally expected.

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I walked up to the check-in stand, mumbling broken Spanish to the lady while I handed her my overweight bag.  I received my ticket and soon after boarded the plane to Cordoba.  It was a short 1 hour flight, and I even requested “agua” when the flight attendant asked for my drink request.  After I stepped off the plane, I was greeted by signs that only had Spanish on them; if Buenos Aires had a bilingual airport, Cordoba was full-immersion.  I got my bags and headed towards the exit, where my guide that would take me to my residence was waiting.  After conversing with him in “Spanglish”, I rode to the house that I would be staying at for the next 3 weeks.

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I am happy to say that the fear of living in a stranger’s house is overblown, at least in my case.  The host-parents, an elderly couple, are wonderful people.  They helped, without speaking English, show me where my room was, where my shower was, and how to warm up at night if I couldn’t bear the 50 degree temperature in my room.  I unpacked all of my possessions, including my Hemp Hearts and Pro Bars from Whole Foods, and changed into something more appropriate for the weather.  My dinner consisted of beets, an egg, and some iceberg lettuce.  I realized that this would be a good opportunity to lose some weight, as the food was reasonably nutritious but nothing like the quantity I usually ate.  I took some pictures quickly before the sun went down (it is winter), and managed to fall asleep with the excitement of travelling halfway around the world still buzzing within me.

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Monday is the beginning of the project to farm, so I will update everyone once this project gets off the ground.  I am excited for the upcoming adventure, even though these past 3 days have already felt like a huge one.

 

Argentina: Shaan Fye’s First Thoughts

A Primer on Heirloom Tomatoes

By: Shaan Fye, Executive Director

Heirloom Tomatoes have had a meteoric rise in the past few years.  From cooking shows to Whole Foods, the oddly-shaped colorful fruits have become the next trend in gardening.  A lot of people may recognize what a heirloom tomato is based on appearance, but most have no clue what the actual difference is, and whether the higher price is justified.  Let’s begin with the definition.

Heirloom Tomatoes are generally considered to be tomatoes that have not been crossbred for 5o years, meaning that hybrids such as the “Big Boy” are not included.  These purebred tomatoes are either considered to be commercial, family, created, or mystery, but basically all are defined by their lack of cross-pollination with other species.  So what makes a purebred tomato different?

Heirloom plants generally are lower-yield than their hybrid counterparts, with some gardeners claiming only two fruits per plant is normal for a heirloom variety plant.  Additionally, the fruit is prone to cracking and splitting, a product of the weaker anti-fungal genes and odd shapes.  This is why commercial growers phased out these plants in the 1940s in favor of a variety similar to today’s supermarket tomatoes, characterized by their uniformly red and tougher skin. Unfortunately, in the process, the genes responsible for great flavor were minimized, reducing a tomato’s complex taste.

This is what led to the recent resurgence of heirloom tomatoes.  Heirlooms, lacking the genetic unity of commercial hybrids, are much more likely to contain the genes necessary for great taste.  Although the genes argument has come under dispute by Scientific American, the less productive heirloom tomato plant combined with better care still leads to a better tasting tomato.  Additionally, it is hard to deny the “coolness” factor of heirlooms, considering the colors and flavors are incredibly unique and make for great food art, especially in Caprese salads.  Heirlooms bring fun back into tomato cultivation, ending the monotony of the red ball-shaped fruit.

So are heirlooms it worth it?  It honestly depends.  If you are in the position to go to a specialty market or high end grocery store to spend about triple the price of normal tomatoes, then the taste and shape may be enough to justify the price.  If you are on a tight budget, don’t worry.  Heirloom tomatoes are all the rage right now, but they aren’t necessary to be healthy.  Normal tomatoes do the job, and last longer as well.

 

A Primer on Heirloom Tomatoes