Author Archives: Betsey Brairton

Green Bridge gets green light

452987795_9a2b7fc719_m2.jpg From Effingham County one morning this week, Michael Maddox wrote in his blog, “After many long months, or more correctly years, I finally have approval from the Effingham County Commission to proceed with my project.”

The project, Green Bridge Farm, is one I have mentioned here before, and it’s been covered in local news.

Initial resistance from the county stemmed from Maddox’s request for a variance to have the community road paved with recycled concrete rather than asphalt. The variance was hard won and took many months to secure as an act of conservation. But it was worth, it, Maddox says: “This will pave the way for the future … for subdivisions [that are environmentally concerned].”

As a resident of a Wilmington Island neighborhood that was, 10 years ago, a big beautiful chunk of woods, I appreciate Maddox’s commitment to respect his property by limiting tree clearance and creating other eco-friendly covenants for home builders. The other new homes are nice, but they are haunted by the trees.

Another highlight of the project is that Maddox’s own organic garden and orchard will anchor the community of nine residential lots. Residents will be encouraged to participate in a community garden maintained by the association, offering a unique opportunity for people to grow their own food.

This is a little green gem worth checking out. Located not far from the rapidly developing areas of Pooler, Bloomingdale and Guyton, it seems a safe haven. Hopefully, it will get noticed and become a good example for communities to come.

Photo courtesy Conlawprof via

Savannah Food Co-op Active, Almost

Some of us in Savannah have been poking around for a local/regional produce box program (that delivers) and/or a CSA ready to sprout. In the meantime, we are following the tenets of Square Foot Gardening, reading classics like One Acre and Security: How to Live Off the Earth Without Ruining It or The New Self-Sufficient Gardener, and doing what we can at home. Some of us have taken over a plot at a county park West of the city, and others are harvesting produce in exchange for free labor at friends’ places.

Clearly what we’ve needed is a community organizer. Michelle Solomon-Ceo, a fairly new resident of Savannah, has recently formed the Savannah Food Co-op, a group of parents/students/people young and old who are interested in having regular access to local (or at least regional), sustainable, healthy, organic produce at affordable prices—for starters.

The co-op is also organizing a monthly buying group to purchase natural pharmacy items and is continuing research of opportunities to offer meats, eggs and dairy products from our region.

To participate, you can sign up for the Yahoo Users Group called “Savannah Co-op (but with no hyphen).” In order to receive its first shipment, the group must have 25 orders. At this time, there are plenty of orders ready to go but there a couple of major elements still missing.

The co-op needs a location for truck delivery and member pickup of the produce. Can anyone suggest a community organization facility, church, a workplace, that could offer space a couple of times a month for this purpose? The co-op also needs volunteers.
Download a .pdf of group’s information sheet here.

Something Fishy

661479269_45dd1ef125_o.jpgA special dinner seems appropriate for Easter weekend, or at least to mark the beginning of spring (first day of spring was March 20). I don’t eat ham but I am thinking of other pink foods … there sure is a lot of salmon out there. But is it OK to eat?

In a recent issue of Eating Well, David Dobbs addresses this question, explaining how and why the answer has shifted dramatically over the past decade or so. The long and short of it seems to be that many commercial fisheries (such as catfish farms) are beneficial for the species in nature, and have little impact on the environment. But Atlantic salmon fisheries are another story, and the choices consumers make now will have long-range impact on the fish.

This is not like deciding whether you want free-range versus conventional chicken for tonight’s dinner; that’s a decision with limited echo. To decide that you may as well eat farmed Atlantic tonight, however, is to decide, in a very real sense, that you may as well eat farmed salmon, and farmed salmon only, forever.

Dobbs’ article offers a detailed and fascinating walk through the lives of typical wild salmon and typical en masse farmed salmon. It points out that the expansion of the salmon farming industry over the past two decades has placed hundreds of farms on cold water coasts, raising hundreds of millions of “fake” fish. At the start of the industry expansion they didn’t know much about how this would affect fish populations, but now they do.

Millions [of farmed salmon] escape, they disrupt feeding and spawning behavior of wild salmon in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, they enter and even colonize streams, and they directly compete with both native Atlantic and Pacific salmon. … Confirmed too are suspicions that farms spread disease and parasites to wild salmon stocks.

There is a hardly a comparison in taste between farmed salmon (color enhanced with feed and often bland tasting) and Pacific wild salmon (more orange, really, than pink, and incredibly tasty). But the farmed stuff is available all the time and is much cheaper. I think I’ll go with Dobbs, though, hold out for the wild salmon—May through October—at $15+ a pound.

The debate over sustainable seafood is confusing. At present, the USDA has no organic certification program for seafood. For sound environmental information, Eating Well suggests we visit Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. And, at the seafood counter, look for the following labels:

Photo credit Don Harrison via flickr.

From little seeds …

430716741_ba4c7afa52_m.jpgJust got off the phone with the local parks service and tomorrow I go to check out the garden plots available for planting—free of charge—by Chatham County residents. The director of recreation told me these plots just west of the city used to fill up every year but that over time the number of active planters (from the “older generation”) has declined.

He hopes some new ones will crop up.

Perhaps my desire to grow my own food, and to do so organically, is just a romantic pipe dream. But I am sure it’s best to find out ASAP with the assistance of county experts who are willing to teach me. I don’t have my own acreage yet, anyway.

Georgia’s “first organic farmer,” Shirley Daughtry, got started on 20 acres in Effingham County after a career in teaching. Since 1990, Heritage Organic Farm in Guyton has been growing and marketing certified organic produce. They offer a box program, and also service area co-ops and health food stores.

Even the most established grower had to start somewhere. According to an online article at, Shirley attended conferences in North Carolina and California to learn about sustainable growing practices. These days one may not have to travel so far. The site hosts an extensive listing of growing events and workshops taking place around the state. From small-scale poultry training to composting and herbs-from-seed, a lot of it may be in Decatur, but Georgia’s got it going on.

I am inspired by Shirley and others who continue to learn and draw from the complexity/simplicity of nature. Even as an amateur gardener I have discovered that if I mix up the right “batter” and “tea” for my plantings, they will thrive—way moreso than if I shower them with fertilizers. This much, at least, I have already figured out on my own.

Maybe I have started somewhere.

Photo credit: pictoscribe via

Why drip when you can gurgle?

961032277_ff7e84a6c7.jpgOn his blog “Notes from the Food World,” writer/journalist Michael Ruhlman espouses the virtues of the humble coffee percolator, declaring “Percolator Love.” He wants to “rid the world of the ridiculous automatic drip coffee maker, a sham perpetrated on an unthinking, convenience-minded public.” I’d like to help him.

I currently own electric and stovetop percolators, and a French press. Never again will I willingly subject myself to the thin and toxic tinkle from an automatic drip coffee maker. But I do acknowledge why I once went there.

At the home of an out-of-town friend years ago, I found it charming to wake in the morning to the aroma of “fresh” coffee. Though I’d never found it particularly taxing to put together my coffee pot, setting the timer to have that first cup ready right away in the morning felt like a form of nurturing and was, well, convenient. So I got my own.

One morning too long later, I spit that coffee into the sink and headed to the attic for my camping gear. I discovered the enamelware Coleman coffee percolator works just as well atop the stove as it does on a campfire so I used it until Christmas, when I got a sleek electric Cuisinart as a gift. (Note to Ruhlman: Not ALL percolators are “awkward vessels with stubby spouts.”)

All percolators do make a strong, rich coffee that gets piping hot and stays that way. The process creates an aromatic rush of gurgling sound that quits only when the coffee is ready by electricity or when you pull it off the stove.

Taste, texture and experience of the coffee beverage aside, what about the filters? According to Coleman,

in 1908 a German woman named Melitta Bentz made the first paper coffee filter out of blotting paper borrowed from her son’s school supplies. Paper filters created an efficient disposal method for coffee and eliminated the need for cloth filters, which required frequent cleaning.

But did Melitta know that coffee grounds are good for plants? Did she know it would come to this?

The dioxin in today’s bleached coffee filter is known to leech into the coffee brewed through it—as much as 40-70 percent of the dioxin, according to studies. Not only are dioxins some of the most toxic chemicals ever, but they also are slow to break down in the environment.

If, for some reason, you still prefer the lukewarm product of a drip machine, permanent filters are called for. Metal and gold coffee filters are available at housewares stores. Unbleached cotton filters ( and those made from unbleached pulp (grocery stores or are out there too.

I am not sure how common automatic drip + paper filter is these days. Maybe not very. But I remain suspicious since in the past month alone I have been faced with this setup at 1. a rented beach condo 2. a nicely appointed Hampton Inn and 3. at my workplace in a community kitchen for young and forward-thinking marketing personnel.

And, furthermore, if this method of java delivery were phasing out, why would they sell those icky filters in packages of 250?

(Photo by 1vintage1 via