Thursday, January 22, 2009

Keep America Beautiful Honors Keep El Paso Beautiful

Here's the press release from Katherine Gunter-Palafox, the Executive Director of Keep El Paso Beautiful:


KEEP EL PASO BEAUTIFUL - Honored by Keep America Beautiful
for High Performance Achieved in 2008

Local Organization Recognized as Among the “Best of the Best” Nationwide

El Paso, Texas – January 22, 2008 – Keep El Paso Beautiful received the Keep America Beautiful President’s Circle Award at the President’s Circle Award Luncheon, which took place during Keep America Beautiful’s 55th annual National Conference in Washington, D.C.. The President’s Circle Award recognizes exemplary performance made by certified affiliates of the national nonprofit to reduce litter, minimize waste, and beautify and improve their local communities.

In qualifying for a President’s Circle Award, Keep El Paso Beautiful has met Keep America Beautiful’s standards of excellence by conducting an annual Litter Index, calculating the affiliate’s cost/benefit ratio, and engaging volunteers to take greater responsibility for their community environment. In addition, award recipients must conduct activities in Keep America Beautiful’s three core focus areas of litter prevention, waste reduction, and beautification/community improvement.

“Keep America Beautiful is committed to making a simple premise work in communities across the nation – engaging individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their community environments,” said Keep America Beautiful President & CEO Matthew McKenna. “One of the national organization’s most effective tools is the work of our grassroots network of affiliate organizations, which has an impact on millions of Americans each year.”

“Keep El Paso Beautiful is providing real solutions to problems like litter, graffiti, illegal dumping and other community blights,” added McKenna, in announcing the 2008 award winners. “By enabling people of all ages to participate in community improvement efforts, Keep El Paso Beautiful is represented among the best in promoting the values Keep America Beautiful espouses nationally.”

Litter Index: The Keep America Beautiful Litter Index is a tool used by Keep El Paso Beautiful to measure litter from year to year, identify “hot spots,” and track our progress in remedying the problem. The tool uses a scale ranging from 1 (no litter) to 4 (extremely littered.) The Litter Index can be applied to rural or urban areas of any population size. Each year, affiliates grade their communities during a drive-by examination of the same areas at the same time of the year. This provides an indication of the success of each community’s anti-littering education and other anti-littering programs. Keep El Paso Beautiful conducted its Litter Index August 4-19, 2008; El Paso rated a 1.84 on the Litter Index scale.

Cost/Benefit Analysis: This measurement tool enables Keep El Paso Beautiful to demonstrate our ability to leverage community resources by determining the dollar value returned to the community for every government dollar invested. Cost/Benefit Analysis to the community of El Paso is $112 for every one dollar of government monies contributed to Keep El Paso Beautiful.

Katherine Gunter- Palafox
Executive Director/Keep El Paso

Keep El Paso Beautiful is a big part of keeping El Paso natural.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

West Texas Urban Forestry Council

Here is a great resource for you: the web page of the West Texas Urban Forestry Council. Check out the section on Tree Care/Water Smart Landscaping and the Tree Selection Guide. There is now a link to the official City of El Paso plant list. (Another good link to plants that are native or adaptive - thus sustainable - in our part of the Chihuahuan Desert - is the Plant List from the El Paso Water Utilities and Public Service Board.)

I serve on the West Texas Urban Forestry Council as Vice-President.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Something Else the Grandmothers Know: Prickly Pear Is Good for You

I have several neighbors who grow different varieties of prickly pear, Nopal/Opuntia. Some stay close to the ground as they spread. Others form beautiful tall shrub-like plants. I know some grow them simply for their ornament. However, some - such as my neighbor, Ismael, across the street - grow Nopal to eat. Not only does opuntia taste good especially as a salad ingredient, but it also has medicinal properties - something the Abuelas have long known.

Simply put - Nopal controls blood sugar and tests have shown that it helps control Type 2 Diabetes.

It is easy to grow, its fruit is tasty once carefully gathered and prepared. Ask a neighbor if you can cut a pad off. Let it heal for a couple of days and then stick the pad in the ground. Soon you will have more and more pads growing off this first stem.

I will keep coming back to Nopal - how to grow it, prepare it, make juice from the tunas (fruit) and more. After all, it is abundant in the frontera. It is El Paso Naturally.

Here's a good salad recipe:

Nopalito Cactus Salad with Jicama and Orange
Executive Chef Chad Luthje, Red Mountain Spa
Serves 4 (1/2 cup servings)

2 ounces nopalito cactus strips
1-1/4 cup jicama, cut into 1” batons
1/2 cup orange segments
1-1/2 tsp. cumin seed, toasted
2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. fresh cilantro, stemmed, rinsed, and chopped
1 pinch kosher salt
Rinse and drain nopalito strips. Cut into 1-inch lengths. Toast whole cumin seeds on cookie sheet at 350˚F for about 5 minutes, or until you can smell the cumin in your kitchen. Combine all remaining ingredients and serve.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Las Abuelas Saben

In these times of high prices - especially medical prices - unemployment and recession, many are turning to herbal remedies to save money. Sales of herbal meds are up. What families are discovering is something the abuelas of the Hispanic southwest and native American culture have always known - the healing power of plants.

In many small yards in and around my neighborhood are container gardens and small beds of herbs and succulents that are useful for medicine. If you go to any Mexican grocer in El Paso, you will find bags of herbs that are not used for cooking but for medicinal purposes.

Once at one such grocer, a Mexican gentleman recommended Arnica to me. I took the herb home, soaked it in some vegetable oil for a day, and applied it to a sore arm. It worked better than any of the modern analgesic rubs. It cost me about a dollar and I still have much of it left.

This is only one small example. However, growing in yards and on patios throughout El Paso are the herbs known to and used by Abuelas for centuries.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Silverleaf Nightshade and Cheese Making

If you want great Mexican Food, go to San Ysidro Cafe in the upper valley. If you want great conversation about farm life in the upper valley over the past hundred or so years, speak with Robert Roque, a farmer whose grandfather came to the El Paso area around 1910.

Today cheese is made and packaged commercially, sent to central warehouses and meted out to the big box chain grocery stores. (There are, of course, still local, handcrafted makers and you can find them in and around El Paso Once at L&H Restaurant, a farmer from Mexico came in to sell his handmade asadero. It was delicious.)

Here's a cheese story from Roque: His mother would take the milk from their cows and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the cream that had risen to the top would be gently ladled off. Then it would be turned to cheese. As they had no rennet for coagulating the cheese, they used seeds from the silverleaf nightshade - something the Indians probably taught the Spaniards. Although this is a very poisonous weed (definitely don't eat the yellow berries), a few seeds - 3, 4, 5 - slowly heated with the cream acts as a coagulating agent. They are found in the whey afterwards.
Roque's mother made cheese this way. When the family would make a long trip to what is now the Second Barrio in El Paso, they would take their cheese and barter with it for beans and flour. When they did not go, locals would wonder dolefully where they were. That is how delicious and desirable was SeƱora Roque's cheese.
I use this story to launch the first time this new blog talks about local food making done with local "things" - milk from the family cows, seeds from the silverleaf nightshade.

Roque still grows his family's own corn, melons, cantaloupe, chilis, beans and so forth. It can be done here and, if anything ever happens to the huge agri-business, it is good to know that we can be sustainable and perhaps, even now, we should begin to encourage more small farms and less mega-houses.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Last Picnic

Join others tomorrow at the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park from 11 until Noon to partake of the "Last Picnic" - an event celebrating the Bosque and opposing the Wall. Meet at the Rio Bosque Park Tornillo Trailhead.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Chertoff Retirement Party To Be Rescheduled

I don't know more right now. I'll tell you when I do. However I just got this email from Judy Ackerman:


Chertoff's Retirement Party in El Paso is postponed. Please watch for new date / time.

No Wall construction today (9 Jan 09) at the Bosque due to Tigua Indian observances. However construction continues full force just up river.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chertoff Send-Off Parties

What a popular guy! From San Diego to the Gulf of Mexico, people are giving Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff "retirement" parties.

From Tucson, we read:
"On January 10th, communities across the US-Mexico border are celebrating the departure of Secretary Chertoff, who, during his illustrious career, drove a wall through the borderlands, damaged thousands of acres of once-pristine wilderness, condemned the property of hundreds of landowners, and waived dozens of laws to carry out these ill conceived plans. Join us as we say GOOD RIDDANCE to Chertoff in true Tucson style: with a pinata, a dart board, cold beer, and good friends. See you all there!"

Phoenix, the Rio Grande Valley also have chimed in. Above is the official poster for the El Paso event this Saturday.

Narcosphere picked up the story.

So, does the wall keep out drug smugglers? Hardly, the drug cartels thanks to the American appetite for drugs can afford expensive military ramp trucks.

Speaking about drugs, the City Council by a unanimous vote added a controversial amendment to the Committee on Border Relations resolution that was presented at this past Tuesday's Council meeting. Introduced by Beto O'Rourke, the amendment merely called for a national debate on the drug war. Mayor Cook vetoed it. However, the members of the Committee on Border Relations seem to be siding with Council. Council may override the veto at its next meeting.

Newspaper Tree's Sito Negron wrote a good op-ed piece defending the call for a national debate.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

40 Year Old Cottonwood Saved by KTSM's Nick Miller

Kiewit Construction has nearly completed cutting the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park ecosystem in two - separating the park from the Rio Grande. In so doing, they were going to cut down a 40 year old cottonwood. Here's the deal about cottonwoods: germinating a seed requires about 3 flood cycles in a row. The cottonwoods at the Bosque and at Keystone Heritage Park were all planted in the last ten or so years . . . except this one. But, heck, when you are going to destroy ecosystems from San Diego to the Gulf of Mexico, what is one little cottonwood? Kiewit was ready to chop until . . .

KTSM newsman, Nick Miller, stepped in. He called and told them that, if they were going to take it down, he wanted his film crew there. Moreover, emails began buzzing around town. End result: Kiewit decided that their public image could use some good will. It's great that they won't destroy the tree now - but don't expect anyone to start loving the Chertoff Wall Construction Company.

The photo above was taken by Nat Stone.
By the way, today's post at my Newman Park blog could have been posted here. We will keep an eye on both stories - and on Kiewit.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Yard Waste in El Paso

One of the best programs that the City of El Paso Department of Environmental Services offers is chipping and mulching Christmas trees. Residents have until January 10 to take their trees (less ornaments, lights and tinsel) to one of the City's collection stations. From there the trees go to the Hondo Pass or Atlantic station where they are chipped and turned into mulch. El Pasoans are welcome to come and get the mulch for free.

I asked Ellen Smyth, the head of Environmental Services, what the City does with other yard waste that it collects at the stations. She said that El Paso doesn't have "any green waste program at this time except for the Christmas trees."

Other cities do have such programs. San Diego collects yard waste and converts it to wood chips, mulch and compost. Mulch and self-loaded compost are free. Norman, Oklahoma operates a composting facility year-round.

Denver not only gives away mulch, it teaches residences how to compost in return for these "Master Composters" volunteering to teach others about composting. The City of Denver web site also has an excellent page on the how-to of composting.