Thursday, April 30, 2009

Star on the Mountain Comments

My entry regarding the Star on the Mountain received a number of comments - all of them quite good. Mike Gaglio's comment was spot on and I hope everyone gets a chance to read it. Of course the bigger concerns are the waste of energy, local pollution and litter - although I wouldn't minimize the concern that mercury is being absorbed by plants, eaten by animals, and vaporized into the air (not enough really to probably be a major concern.)

Mike owns High Desert Environmental Consulting & Native Plants. He's an expert and does great work even just with excavating. He and his trusty Bobcat helped to rescue cactus last year where EPISD is building two new schools. He also "plowed" the way for the new cactus garden at the Lee and Beulah Moor Children's Home. Mike serves on the Frontera Land Alliance and did a bang up job at their recent fundraising gala at Ardovino's Desert Crossing.

Of course, I hope that you read Mike's comment as well as the others. PeiHaus offered, I think, the best recommendation. I did want to flag her proposal and repeat it here:
"I recommend that the star's functioning CFLs be given free to the poor so they can reduce their electric bills. Wire in good shape and any other materials should be re-used for the benefit of the community. Then, the star area should be cleaned up and returned as much as possible to its original state. That should be funded by El Paso Electric as they have been the entity responsible for maintenance of the site."
I do hope that elpasonaturally will be a great place for all the Mikes and Bobbys and Bills, etc. to give their input for a better environment. There is just so many in our community who care about the environment and making a difference. It would be great to give them a place where their voices can come together and be heard by a wider audience.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

UTEP Offers Updates and Information about the Swine Flu

El Paso Media Group announces that UTEP has created a site to give updates and information about the swine flu. The site gives useful information and travel advisories as well as links to the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. UTEP is also giving updates on Twitter.

For more information about the swine flu pandemic, follow entries at Conkey's Tavern.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Star on the Mountain: Mercury on the Mountainside

The star on the Franklin mountain is a city icon. Recently, the City Council voted to take over paying for the lighting of the star with some stipulations on the lease to be worked out. The cost to the City annually will be $45,000. The star (hundreds of CFLs - compact florescent lights strung on wires) is managed by the El Paso Electric Company. The Chamber of Commerce has been responsible for its upkeep. The land is owned by George M. Salom Jr. and is valued at $46,389. The popularity of the star is attested to by the recent outcry to continue its lighting night after night after night.

One big problem: the mountainside below the star is littered with broken CFLs (compact florescent lights) and CFLs contain mercury - a deadly neurotoxin that can affect the brain, liver and kidneys, and cause developmental disorders in children.

If the tubes are broken (and many are below the star), then mercury is released. Arguably a single CFL does not contain enough mercury to be hazardous if handled correctly. There are about 5 milligrams of Hg (mercury) in a CFL. If you break one in your home, there are precautions that you can take to clean it up. You don't have to call an environmental clean-up crew wearing Hazmat suits. (See Snopes for more information about the safety and clean-up of florescent lights in your home.)

Even though El Paso has no rule for the disposal of CFLs, the city does accept them at hazardous waste collection sites. Frankly, all CFLs should be taken to such sites because they easily break in the trash bins or the garbage trucks.

CFLs are more energy efficient and should be preferred over incandescents. They require on an average about one-fourth of the energy to produce an equivalent amount of the light of an incandescent bulb.

It is also true that the manufacture of incandescent bulbs actually pollutes the environment with more mercury since the electricity used in manufacturing them comes principally from burning coal which contains mercury. (Incandescent bulbs themselves do not contain Hg.)

The concern is not the minimal amount of mercury in a single CFL that is easily cleaned up at home or the office, nor the manufacturing of incandescent bulbs, nor even the question of energy efficiency. The concern is the quantity of broken CFLs over time in a small area - for example, a city dump or a mountainside below a star that is lit night after night after night.
Although minimal, 5 ml of Hg is enought to make up to 6,000 gallons of water unsafe to drink according to an MSNBC report. Obviously we are not dealing with a body of water. However, according to Bob Formisano for, the "reason mercury is so dangerous to humans, wildlife and the environment is that mercury is toxic in many forms and can easily transfer from air to soil and to water. Mercury also bioaccumulates in living organisms and increases in toxicity levels as it moves up the food chain." Water does run off the mountain. Mercury vapor can be breathed in.
The bulbs used for the CFLs of the star are exposed to high winds. Although they have bell-shaped glass covers, many of those covers also litter the ground and have not been replaced.
Too many of the mountain star CFLs dangle on electrical tape alone.

A representative of the El Paso Electric Company was asked to comment but so far has not called back.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cinco Puntos Press

Biodiversity depends on multiculturalism. Preserving diverse cultures for the sake of biodiversity (and vice versa) is what Gary Nabhan is telling us. Uprooting indigenous peoples and putting them on reservations, for example, is just bad environmental policy not to mention being egregiously immoral and unjust. Respecting the integrity and the beauty of different cultures is so very important for the survival of all of us. After all, indigenous human cultures are vital, evolutionary products and crucial components of ecosystems. We uproot them - we uproot much more.

That is why we are so fortunate in El Paso to have the publishing company, Cinco Puntos Press, a publisher of multicutural books. As a matter of fact, Cinco Puntos has published a children's book by Nabhan - EfraĆ­n of the Sonoran Desert - a story told to Nabhan by a Seri Elder. As a scientist Dr. Nabhan asked, "Why do lizards, that are endangered elsewhere, continue to thrive in the Seri homeland?" The answer comes in the form of a story - a story that reveals that the protection of a species depends on a particular native culture.
Begun in 1985 by authors, Lee and Bobby Byrd, Cinco Puntos strives to publish "great books which make a difference in the way you see the world." They excel in bilingual and multicultural books. They find the most creative story tellers and the best illustrators on the frontera. You can read more about their publishing company here. Cinco Puntos has a blog that you can follow and an email list for valuable updates. Poet, Bobby Byrd, has his own blog.

If you want to help to preserve and promote the biodiversity of our borderland, you have a friend in Cinco Puntos Press and their love for the beautiful cultural diversity that enriches and energizes all of our lives.

Cinco Puntos offers online ordering although I love to visit their friendly store and office at 701 Texas Avenue.
Above photo published with permission from Carolyn Rhea Drapes aka Chacal la Chaise.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Food with a Human Face

If there could be a title for Dr. Gary Nabhan's workshop at UTEP last Friday, it might be "Food with a Human Face" - an overarching theme of his life's work. With the background of the new alliance, Sabores Sin Fronteras (Flavors without Borders), Dr. Nabhan motivated the participants to think about food traditions of their families and their place on the frontera - to do some "cultural memory banking".

Sabores Sin Fronteras "is a new regional, bi-national and multi-cultural alliance to document, celebrate and conserve farming and food folkways that span the U.S./Mexico borderlands from Texas and Tamaulipas on the east to Ambos Californias on the west."

His work to "document, celebrate and conserve farming and food folkways" of the borderland stems from an old thesis of his: there can be no biodiversity without cultural diversity. Uproot a culture, assimilate it, destroy it, homogenize it and the genetic diversity of its food stuffs will be lost. Conversely, to preserve the great biodiversity of foods, one must preserve indigenous human cultures. This thesis is particularly apparent in his book, Enduring Seeds, among others.

You can join this new borderlands foodways alliance and receive updates or request information by emailing

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Heart of the Desert Pistachios

I usually discuss food recalls at Conkey's Tavern. However, I got so disgusted with the Peanut Corporation of America scandal that, when pistachios began to be recalled, I referred readers to blogs such as Bill Marler's.

If you want to keep up with the pistachio recalls, go to the FDA's recall page. You can even sign-up for their emailed updates. Even better is to join Twitter and then follow the tweets at foodrecalls. (While you are at it, sign-up for the tweets at elpasonaturally as well.)

I get FDA's emailed updates and tweets daily. What caught my eye recently was a voluntary recall of raw, shelled pistachios by an El Paso nut distributor: Azar's which gets its pistachios from California.

Every time there are food recalls, consumers suspect anything that has to do with the product recalled. The fact is that there are some excellent pistachios grown locally in Alamogordo, New Mexico that are not contaminated with salmonella or anything else. I'm talking about Heart of the Desert Pistachios from Eagle Ranch.

At the top of their home page you will find this reassuring statement:
"We are aware of the problem that has occurred with a California pistachio company. Contrary to national news reports, Heart of the Desert Pistachios are NOT involved in the recall of pistachio products. Our family farm is self contained, meaning that we grow, harvest, process and market from our premises in Alamogordo, NM. We have complete control over the cleanliness and processing at our facility. We do not have farm animals. Our entire acreage is devoted to crop production. We guarantee the safety of our pistachio products."

You will also find links to news stories about the safety of their products.

I've been to their facilities where they do their own processing. They have the most modern of equipment and the friendliest people who each and all make it their business to bring a quality nut to the rest of us.

I called them and asked where in El Paso I could buy their products. Their Associate, Lily J. Ayers, immediately emailed me the following list:
Charlotte’s – 5411 N. Mesa St.
Coffee Emporium – 5817 N. Mesa St.
Collectibles – 1530 Loma Land Sr.
Advant-Edge – 1576 Lomaland Dr.
Quick Silver 66 – 14421 Montana Ave.
Montana Vista Grocery – 14700 Montana Ave.
Horizon 66 – 14501 Horizon Blvd.
Freeway Exxon – 7450 Gateway Blvd. East
Food City #1 – 5400 Alameda Ave.
Food City #5 – 3200 Alameda Ave.
Food City #2 – 7444 Gateway Blvd. East
Lowes #95 – 5300 Doniphan Dr.
Cassidy Shoppette – Ft. Bliss Bldg. 1333
Lowe’s #69 (Big 8) – 9817 Dyer St.
Lowe’s Super Save #97 – 9120 Dyer St.
Lowes #71 (Big 8) – 3333 N. Yarbrough Dr.
Lowes #73 (Big 8) – 1480 George Dieter Dr.
Lowes #77 (Big 8) – 104720 N. Loop
Lowes #96 (Big 8) – 1025 N. Carolina Dr.
Lowes #75 (Big 8) – 425 N. Yarbrough Dr.
Lowes #83 (Big 8) – 6021 N. Mesa St.
Lowes #68 – 3618 Montana
El Paso Chile Company – 909 Texas Ave.
You can, of course, take your chances and buy California pistachios shipped to New Jersey for processing and then shipped to Phoenix for distribution and then shipped to the Albertson's nearest your home. Or you can enjoy quality, uncontaminated and nutritious pistachios right here on the frontera that are locally-grown. Eagle Ranch in Alamogordo is just up the road from El Paso and over the hill from Las Cruces.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Volunteers Make Progress at Children's Home in Just 5 Work Days

Volunteers from the El Paso Native Plant Society and the El Paso Cactus and Rock Club are making steady progress at the Lee and Beulah Moor Children's Home. A cactus garden is being completed; room for a garden has been created next to the greenhouse; old gravel from an earlier "zeroscaped" disaster is being moved to make room for a meditation garden to begin in the fall.

Rex Morris (above) spruces up the greenhouse while Nancy Schuler (below) moves rock from the zeroscaped area to the cactus garden.

Here you can see land cleared next to the greenhouse for a garden.

Below is a view of the cactus garden:

Project coordinator, Virginia Morris, happily reports that Dr. Wynn Anderson of UTEP He is ordering a variety of plants (sotols, hesperaloes, sages, etc) for the cactus garden.

Virginia also reports that all of the work accomplished so far has been done in just 5 work days!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gary Paul Nabhan at UTEP Thursday and Friday

Ethnobotanist, conservationist, farmer and essayist, Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan will lecture and conduct a workshop at UTEP this Thursday and Friday, April 16th and 17th. Dr. Nabhan is best known for his work to recover traditional food practices and maintain the biodiversity of our food supply. He is the Director of the Center for Sustainable Environments at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Nabhan also co-founded Native Seeds/Search, a clearinghouse of native varieties of agricultural seeds of the American Southwest and northwest Mexico, and founded RAFT (Renewing America's Food Traditions), "an alliance of food, farming, environmental and culinary advocates who have joined together to identify, restore and celebrate America’s biologically and culturally diverse food traditions through conservation, education, promotion and regional networking."

Thursday evening, April 16th at 6:30 p.m. at Quinn Hall, Rm. 212, Dr. Nabhan will talk about "Arab-American Influences on Food and Farming in the Borderlands".

On Friday from Noon until 1:30 p.m. he will conduct a workshop on "Renewing Traditional Borderland Foods". The workshop will encourage writing family oral histories, poems, and narratives about traditional foods of families in the borderlands and will outline strategies to renew these traditions. The workshop will be conducted at Alumni Lodge at the Peter and Margaret deWetter Center.
The lecture and the workshop are free and open to the public.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Conversations Reveal Values Shift

Here's what I'm hearing from an increasing number of El Pasoans: we are eating at home more and we value local food and healthy diets.

A friend of mine and her mother were looking for an open restaurant yesterday (Easter Sunday). Apparently, it wasn't that easy. It would seem that the downturn in the economy has led to more people eating at home and more restaurants not spending the money to open their doors on as many days as the once did.

With an ear to the ground I've heard an increasing number of El Pasoans say that they prefer more vegetarian meals - tofu chorizo is the rage for example. A young, politically-conservative friend sees potential in local food and another farmers market. In other words, changing food values are not just happening among a "liberal" elite - it may be more generational.

As the value for eating at home (with friends and family) grows and desiring better nutrition, we are sure to see a growing call for community gardens here in El Paso.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Is There a "Green" Candidate for Mayor of the City of El Paso?

Yesterday on Facebook, I asked a question: Is there a "green" candidate for Mayor of El Paso? Well, is there? So far I have only received one response - from Matthew Venhaus who, as always makes sense. In part, here is what he wrote:
"It is fun to fantasize about radical changes in our city overnight. Imagine an end to zeroscaping, flourishing farmer's markets, clean water and air, thriving community gardens, vibrant families picnicking on local organic food in beautifully preserved open spaces. It's fun, but we don't have a reset button and it won't happen overnight. Worse, it will take far more than a new mayor to get there.

"Fewer than 15% of registered voters will cast a ballot for any mayoral candidate. Most people don't care who the mayor is and won't change their lives regardless of who is chosen.

"Before "green" mayor: live as sustainably as you know how; raise consciousness among friends, family, and acquaintances; and fight the system of waste and reliance on cheap energy. After "green" mayor: live as sustainably as you know how; raise
consciousness among friends, family, and acquaintances; and fight the system of waste and reliance on cheap energy."
Matthew lines up the issues:
End to zeroscaping
Flourishing farmers markets
Clean water and air
Thriving community gardens
Vibrant families picnicking on local organic food
Beautifully preserved open spaces
There are more green issues to add to be sure and there are plenty of policy decisions to be made to get us there. If you listen to the videos of all of the candidates for Mayor, not one of them even uses the word "environment" not to mention "green" or "open space" or "local food" or "community gardens". Not current Mayor Cook (who sold his soul to developers when he made sure that the impact fee committee had more coyotes than fowl; not Alfrank Catucci; definitely not Gus Haddad; David Henderson - no; Alejandro Mendoza - no; Carlos Rivera - no; and, even the most articulate candidate, Lee Mendez, was silent about the environment.

So, El Paso, who is the "green" candidate for Mayor?

Venhaus is right: ". . . live as sustainably as you know how; raise consciousness among friends, family, and acquaintances; and fight the system of waste and reliance on cheap energy." Do this all of the time.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The River Is Life; The Wall Is Death

There are three videos that you should watch.

The first is from the Sierra Club: Wild versus Wall, a documentary about the environmental harm caused by the border Wall - a Wall that runs through our frontera and severs the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park from the Rio Grande.

The second is from a John Stossel ABC news series: Good Fences Don't Make Good Neighbors. It questions the policy of building a wall which has not decreased the number of illegal aliens, is easily made permeable, and doesn't even address the number of illegal entries across our border with Canada.

The final video by Steev Hise ("Showdown at the Rio Bosque") documents Judy Ackerman's arrest in December as she stopped work on the wall by the Rio Bosque. She and others now evaluate the consequences of the Wall for the Bosque's ecosystem. Judy says, "The river is life; the wall is death."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How Much of the Franklins Will Cemex Destroy? How Soon Will the City of El Paso Stop It?

It all started with a simple question from El Paso Mission Trail on Facebook: "El Paso Mission Trail is wondering how deep Cemex is going to dig into the Frankilins??!!"
Other questions are: When will the City of El Paso stop the destruction of the Franklin Mountains? When will unsustainable landscaping (zero-scaping) be prohibited?

Above are pictures of Cemex removing an entire mountainside so that the McKelligon Canyon ecosystem will one day be destroyed - perhaps for a new development that will use rock-scaping from Jobe's destruction of the Huecos.

It is time to do more than just raise questions.