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Making a Farm Library Happen

Danielle S

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When libraries are created, the idea is to share single resources with lots of people. It helps folks avoid the hassle of having to buy the actual book or media, and instead they can borrow it for a time until done. Then, after that, someone can do the same. The same book, DVD, movie or similar can instead be used and consumed by multiple people versus just one owner who buys it from a store. A similar idea has been created for farming.

When the COVID pandemic arrived as a novel virus, it did far more than just make people directly sick. It also had a profound wake-up call effect on society as well. Food systems became disrupted in terms of supply, and then costs started to skyrocket. Most basic foods two years later have gone up in price at least 50 percent if not more. While a $4.50 gallon of milk might not seem like much, multiply that cost times 100 gallons a year, and it starts to add up for every item of food. So, instead of watching their paychecks erode for every item bought, many folks are now trying to start farming on their own, adding food stock to their kitchen from their own backyards or fields. This is where things get challenging, however. Land is at a premium.

Most farming needs a bit of space to make things happen. In fact, one potato plant needs a radius of about two feet. 10 potato plants make that 20 feet and so on. The amount of space available and the number of plants one can put in the ground becomes limited very quickly. To offset this problem in cities and urban areas, empty lots were allowed to be taken over by urban farming. Basically, collectives formed to use the empty land, with the owner’s permission, always understanding that when the owner wanted it back the farming would go away. As it turned out, urban farm plots became extremely popular.

Borrowing from a city library model, some proactive folks also started creating the ability to join an agriculture-based experiment, a library farm. Interestingly, the farm library idea wasn’t the result of the pandemic. It actually started in 2011, with a library manager realizing something more could be done with an empty lot behind the Northern Onandaga Public Library, or NOPL. Meg Backus, the manager at the time, got about 40 library members together and started utilizing the land for farming, as a library collective. The project was a lucky start; the land was originally part of an earlier farm, so the soil was workable and could grow food naturally already. And that spark started getting adults in the same community to go deeper into gardening and farming knowledge.

Of course, the amazing thing about the library farm is that it didn’t stop with the local farmers. It worked, it produced food, and then it began contributing more food to the local food pantries for the poor. The model became a societal ripple effect, both direct and indirect. Today, the Library Farm continues, and the idea has now spread to 27 additional Syracuse projects. The goal then is to help the idea spread further, ideally connected to libraries where possible. The Library Farm has redefined the concept of a grassroots revolution, but this one involves food, farming and community help. And the farm idea is still growing in 2022.

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Living

The Chick-fil-A 3-Day Workweek Experiment

Sarrah M

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Just as dramatic in terms of when everyone left the office due to the pandemic, now most workplaces are dealing the return, whether they like it or not. And many workers are making it clear they don’t like the idea of being back at an office desk, enough to even quit and work somewhere else. That said, some employers have permanently adapted to the changed environment and institute a hybrid approach, with some days in the office and some remote.

Traditionally, the workweek has been a five-day commitment, generally 8am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. However, the pandemic shattered long-standing institutions, not only showing that businesses and agencies could operate just as well with remote workers, but in many cases, the productivity increased. Thus, management is admitting the return to the office is more about culture than results. However, some businesses are trying an alternative to in-office or remote work. Instead, they are shortening the workweek altogether.

A number of British companies started experimenting with four-day workweeks. They suffered no notable loss in productivity and instead realized an improvement in employee morale. The chicken fast food chain, Chick-fil-A has jumped onto the same bandwagon, experimenting with a three-day workweek themselves.

There are some qualifications in order. Most positions at Chick-fil-A are parttime in the first place. So the big impact has been on the store management positions who work the full week and those staff employees that run a fulltime schedule. However, part time employees see their work shifts condensed to three specific days versus across the entire week. The shift is not for the faint of heart either; employees on the three-day cycle put in somewhere between 13 and 14-hour schedules each day. One of the days was already a given, since the chicken restaurant is never open on Sundays.

Yet, despite all the fuss on the news, the change is not chain-wide in Chick-fil-A, yet. It’s actually only being applied in one Miami store. The first challenge was getting everyone to adapt to an extended schedule for the days being worked. It literally meant being up and standing for at least 13 hours. However, many of the workers involved realized immediate benefits with easier childcare planning, being able to pick up additional work on the days off or school and having more time to rest from the work shift. At the same time, the affected regular workers still kept their full-time status and employee benefits.

For Chick-fil-A the entire week, aside from Sunday, was still being worked, just with alternating crews. What the company found, however, was that retention shot through the roof. In addition, the restaurant got flooded with applications from other workers wanting the same work schedule. Even better, the Miami location has skyrocketed to the top of the list for being one of the best earner franchises in the company’s network of restaurants. The results speak for themselves and make others both in Chick-fil-A and competitors rethink their approach to hiring and productivity.

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Scientist’s Impressed By Goldfish’s Good Memories

Sarrah M

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Ever heard the phrase dumb as a rock or a bird? Most of us have, and fish aren’t usually expected to be much smarter. However, as it turns out, goldfish have been proven to have memories. In fact, their memory is so good, they use it to know how to get around in the water successfully once they have an area mapped mentally.

Of course, the common question will be, exactly how was it proven goldfish even have a memory at all? Leave it to academic researchers to answer. A team at Oxford decided they wanted not just to observe but to actually train fish to navigate a particular path and length of distance as well as return the right way to get a food reward. Not only was the research successful in training the fish, it also showed conclusively that the fish could estimate the distance they had to swim once they completed the course. That’s only possible through memory.

The course the fish had to travel involved a tank with obstacles. Each unit of distance was marked every two centimeters. The fish themselves were signaled to move by visual cues. Most people who’ve had pet fish know they respond when one waves their hand at the top of the tank, expecting food. So, the researchers used the same idea to get the fish to turn around and return after they traveled the path. The challenge came when the researchers changed the direction the fish had to travel but the same distance and their starting point was moved. The surrounding patterns were also changed in other attempts, again to confuse the fish. However, despite the changes, eight out of the total, nine, stayed on track, found their food, and did it without any signals.

The research concluded that the fish are using a visual brain interpretation known as optic flow. Utilizing what they are seeing as it passes, the fish are calculating to memory how long it takes to see familiar things as they travel. Regardless of the starting point being changed, the fish still found their familiar references and then calculated how much further they had to go to reach their destination. Unlike land animals and humans, who use a reference point and angle to calculate an expected distance, fish use it more as a memory post, “If I see this familiar thing, then it will take one more minute of swimming to reach what I expect.”

Clearly, the fish has to have swum the expected round at least a few times to memorize the various landmarks and objects. However, once that has happened, then goldfish at least have put to memory the signals they need to then repeat the path successfully most of the time. Now, how that can be used on a practical level might not seem obvious, but the military, for example, have already been using dolphins for reconnaissance underwater. So just imagine the possible ramifications from there.

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NASA Ran It’s “Space Bike” Into an Asteroid on Purpose

Danielle S

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If your kid came up to you and said he ran his bike into the neighbor’s garage door and made a dent, your reaction probably wouldn’t be congratulating him or her. Aside from checking to see if your kid is okay and not bug-eyed from a concussion, you would probably be a bit upset about the damage you’re going to have to pay for. However, for the kids at NASA, everyone is having a party.

In September, NASA completed its latest project of purposefully slamming a projectile into an asteroid for the sole purpose of being destructive – for a good reason. If you remember back in the days of your high school physics class, there were lessons about speed and mass. When two objects traveling at different speeds collide, energy gets transferred. The hope of the NASA project is to release enough energy colliding into it artificially that the asteroid’s path will be altered. As if out of a movie script, the project is basically a very expensive research experiment to see if it’s possible to change the path of an asteroid so it won’t hit Earth.

Now, there’s a lot to unravel here. Asteroids don’t just come out of nowhere, even though that seems the case. They fly around what we know as the Solar System in an orbit. That orbit goes around our sun. Depending on how the asteroid was brought in by the Sun’s gravity, that orbit either comes near or far from Earth. It also depends on our planet’s own orbit and where we are at the time. Crunch all this out with a lot of math, physics and timing, and you get probabilities of what are called close orbits or near misses.

Figuring out asteroid paths these days is serious business. It’s clear from geological and archaeological records that asteroids a few feet to dozens of feet in diameter can create cataclysmic damage if they hit the Earth at the right angle. Many glance off our atmosphere, but some have hit. And they leave very big craters; one hit the Yucatan millions of years ago and carved out a crater the size of a quarter of Central America.

So, back to the NASA project, bumping into an asteroid has made enough sense to actually try and see if it works. This is a risky business. One has to not just calculate the possibilities but, when they do occur, what does it mean for ramifications? Bumping an asteroid’s path a few dozen feet might not mean much now, or for a few years, but does it have a negative ripple effect a couple hundred years in the future? Who knows? At this point, it’s now happening. We collided our space bike with the asteroid and bumped it. Scientists at NASA and other research centers will spend the next ten or twenty years studying if there was an effect at all. And maybe it might be a good thing if nothing happened at all.

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This Company Has Invented a Whirlpool System to Clean Microplastics from Water

Danielle S

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Microplastics, which are tiny pieces of plastic that are 5mm or smaller, are found in earth’s air and water. They pose physical and toxicological risks to humans and have been linked to a wide range of health problems.

Microplastics are present in nearly all bodies of water across the world. Scientists estimate there may be 14 million or more tons of microplastics on the bottom of the ocean. Unlike other types of plastic debris, microplastics are very difficult to locate and remove from the ocean due to their small size. This poses a problem because they can be easily ingested by marine life, and eventually end up in the human food chain.

Wasser 3.0, a German clean water solutions company, has developed a purification solution that removes microplastics from water using a whirlpool and a specially created hybrid silica gel. The process starts with generating a vortex in a water tank. Then the chemical Wasser 3.0 PE-X is added. This chemical clumps small plastics into popcorn-shaped lumps that float to the surface, where they are skimmed away with a sieve.

“The technology for removing microplastics is straightforward,” said Dr. Katrin Schuhen, the inventor and creator of Wasser 3.0. She added that the procedure could be used in any type of water, regardless of its quality.

The hybrid silica gel is made of silicone-containing chemicals called organosilanes, which are non-toxic. The organosilanes attach to the surface of microplastic particles and, when blended, lump together and create table tennis ball-sized clusters in only a few minutes. The result is plastic-free water that can be reused in a range of applications.

The Goal


Wasser 3.0 hopes its technology will be the new standard in sewage treatment or industrial operations. Currently, microplastics from everyday products like toothpaste and skincare are not always filtered out at sewage works and end up polluting our oceans, lakes, and rivers.

Wasser 3.0 – which was formed in 2020 following its inception as a university research project – is now operational at a wastewater treatment facility in Landau-Mörlheim, Germany, and at a paper production plant. Additional industrial clients are testing it as well. Close to 272 kilograms of microplastics were removed during the 12-month trial at the Landau site.

Other methods to remove microplastics exist, including membrane filtration and dissolved air flotation. However, these two methods can be time-consuming and costly. Scientists have proposed using magnetic fluids or sticky films made of bacteria to separate microplastics from water–but these are still in their early phases.

Schuhen asserts that Wasser 3.0 is a practical and economical solution to the issue of microplastic contamination facing our planet. In addition, she says the company reinvests its current profits back into its research, which helps to improve the product and keep costs low.

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Not Everyone is Happy About Nepal’s Tiger Boom

Danielle S

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For folks around the world who are big supporters of conservation, the news that Nepal has successfully doubled its tiger population with ongoing growth is a big victory in the face of development and constant stories of endangered species being on the edge of extinction. However, for those who live in Nepal, particularly near the sanctuaries the tigers know as home, it’s a bit of another story. What the outside world calls majestic beasts are in fact man-killers locally. As one local puts it, shock and awe face you staring down a tiger; it’s beautiful and the moment might be your last seconds alive.

The Terai region of Nepal is home to the largest number of tigers, essentially a national park that usually sees little in the way of human presence and traffic aside from anti-poaching patrols. Tiger protection units are in full force and highly sensitive to the immediate environment, protecting the animals that could easily attack one of them if they get too far off the beaten path.

For decades, tigers were hunted and poached. Local villagers wanted them eliminated to stop attacks and deaths by mankillers that developed a taste for human victims. Black market specialists and trappers went after the animals for their fur and parts in exchange for lucrative payments. Wildlife hunters wanted them for prizes and trophies. What was a commonplace presence when the British arrived in Nepal dwindled to a few hundred at best by the 20th century. Now, much of that endangerment has been eliminated with robust species growth, but the tigers themselves are becoming the newest problem.

In border areas where the tiger sanctuaries run up against populated rural areas, the local villages once again go through the night in fear of an attack. The area interface between the tigers, the food they hunt, and the presence of humans farming and hunting themselves has overlapped. Once again, tiger attacks are becoming chatter and commonplace. In the last year, 16 deaths have been attributed to tiger maulings, more than 150 percent the number compared to the previous five years.

The great majority of attacks were associated with humans going into the tigers’ known territories in the sanctuary park itself. For the villagers, it was business as usual, grazing cattle or looking for wood, fruit and fungi for food scavenging. However, some four-legged feline characters have been bold enough to push into village areas, showing up in the village proper zones and threatening animals and people. It can be sudden and without warning. One conservationist was attacked himself simply cutting down high grass near his house. The cost was a scarring of half the man’s face and an eye. Fortunately, he was able to beat off the tiger before it turned worse.

Current estimates put the 2022 tiger population worldwide at about 3,700 to 5,600 individuals alive. This is down from more than 100,000 creatures in the 1800s. Started in 1988, the current Nepalese conservation program has been part of a larger, 13-country effort to protect the animal and bring it back from the edge of extinction and just being seen in zoos. However, as mentioned above, every good deed has a cost. Now Nepal has to figure out how to keep the tiger numbers growing while also protecting the neighboring villagers as well. The matter is volatile; people have protested at government offices violently, resulting in armed suppression and the death of a protester shot by police in the chaos.

However, efforts are made to find a balance. Known man-eating tigers are hunted down, put into zoos or put down, to prevent an ongoing pattern of attacks by the same animal. It will take time, but like bears in the western U.S., people can find a way to live with nature in their backyard.

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