Transportation demand management…what?

Project: Design a transportation demand management study to help determine future transportation needs and policies at IU.

Huh?

Transportation demand management is quite a mouthful, both to say and to tackle as a conceptual matter. Six weeks ago – before I started my internship with the Indiana University Office of Sustainability – I couldn’t have told you more about it than it probably had something to do with managing the demand for various forms of transportation.

Which isn’t actually far from the truth. Transportation demand management, as a discipline, is really the second generation (or, some would argue, third or fourth generation) of transportation management mechanisms, and, unlike earlier generations, approaches management from the demand-side. Transportation demand management, or TDM for short, centers on the question, What can we do as planners and managers of transportation systems to influence the demand for certain (generally, more socially beneficial) modes of transportation? TDM is the so-called second-generation approach because it succeeds a planning approach called transportation system management, which was largely supply-side focused, asking and answering questions such as How can we (transportation system managers) best increase highway capacity so as to alleviate congestion?; or, How can we supply more roads more quickly to keep up with the increasing number of automobiles on these roads? In contrast, TDM asks how we can better manage demand – namely, the manifestation of people’s transportation preferences in the form of their travel behavior – for these roads and highways (and buses, rail, and sidewalks, too).

As I have been researching TDM these past few weeks, I have been learning both about the basic principles of TDM itself, such as parking pricing, toll roads, marketing and advertising, and incentives (more on these later, perhaps in another blog post), but also about systems of thought that might inform how we think about a so-called “transportation demand management problem” and, thus, influence how a study in TDM might be conceptualized.

Pause. All this sounds confusing, right? Generations of transportation planning? Conceptualizing a study? Managing a transportation system? Manifestation of preferences in behavior? Let me explain what I mean.

How transportation works: Transportation essentially consists of four decisions to be made by a “consumer” of transportation. First, the decision must be made of where to go. Second, when to go there. Third, how to get there or what mode of transportation to use. And finally, what route to take. In aggregate, this amounts to a society of people that are in one place, need to get to a different place, need to get there at a certain time, and via a specific mode of transportation. This clearly presents quite the complicated problem for the researcher of transportation dynamics. Variation in the results of these four decisions made by the consumer vary in both time and space, with age and other demographic and economic traits of the individual, and the decisions made are specific to a given location and context, i.e. the transportation network of the place within which travel is to occur. More often than not these days, with over 50% of the world’s population living in urban areas for the first time in history, that place is a city.

Managing transportation: In order to manage the transportation occurring as a result of the aforementioned decisions of consumers, there are several actions a manager or planner can take. One can provide incentives that make one form of transportation relatively more desirable than another, such as providing free bus passes to employees of the municipal government, or providing a cash payout to students on a university campus who choose not to purchase a parking pass, both mechanisms aimed at decreasing demand for single-occupancy vehicles and thus reduce congestion. A public transit agency could also increase marketing and advertising for its services as a means of increasing demand for public transit. Of course, the very notion of managing and influencing the decisions individuals make with regards to their transportation behavior carries a heavy demand-side bias. Alternatively, altering the transportation system itself – through widening of roads in an attempt to decrease congestion, expanding public transit service to increase capacity and handle an increasing number of riders, or building additional parking structures to house the increasing number of cars driven to a central business district – is a supply-side approach to transportation management. Many transportation experts call this supply-side approach to dealing with congestion or parking problems an attempt to “build a way out” of the problem.

Fortunately – for proponents of pleasant city streetscapes, sustainability buffs, and sprawl-haters alike – this supply-side based transportation system management is being replaced, at least in research circles if not yet always in practice, with transportation demand management. As I’ve mentioned before, TDM is the focus of the study I will be designing this summer for the Indiana University Office of Sustainability, in an effort to begin gathering data to better understand what I’m calling ‘the transportation problem’ at IU.

Which brings me to the issue of conceptualizing a problem: As mentioned above, the four decisions made by individuals as well as the results of these decisions present a challenge for conceptualizing and formulating the problem for a city transportation management organization or planning agency. What types of issues are to be included in any analysis of the problem? Do we include the land use patterns of a city? Asking this question yields a less obvious answer than one might think. Land use defines the type of activities occurring within a particular plot of land, and thus, the particular types of people who might want to visit that area. However, while land use is clearly linked to transportation needs, researchers often have a difficult time modeling the affect of one on the other. This is largely because historically our land use evolved around our transportation system – namely, the US highway system – rather than the latter being designed to serve the former, as one would think perhaps makes more sense. Thus, this creates a problem when deciding whether or not to include land use as a variable in any sort of characterization of a transportation system. Land use is just one of several issues that pose challenges in transportation analysis. Activity patterns of individuals; the influence of preferences on behaviors (which in turn influence demand); the differences between preferences, behavior, and demand; the economic paradigm within which transportation supply and demand are viewed; the role chance, uncertainty, and risk are given in the problem; the boundaries drawn around the problem and any unintended consequences that may be overlooked as a result of those boundaries; the degree of flexibility and adaptability of the administrative system associated with and governing the transportation system, not to mention that of the infrastructure itself (which is generally, little); whether the problem is viewed as static or dynamic, and if dynamic, whether it is tending towards a single equilibrium or multiple possible equilibrium, and whether lock in to a particular equilibrium will impose additional constraints on the analysis – all these and more color the lens of the transportation researcher or manager.

There are many, many more issues I could list associated with creating a transportation demand management study. My job this summer is to investigate as many as possible and attempt to determine the best way to characterize, that is, to frame, our problem in transportation at IU and in the immediate Bloomington community; and, then, to design a study to gather the data needed to properly manage, if not rectify, this problem.

Or multiple problems. I’ll keep you posted.

One of my favorite websites: Project for Public Spaces

The Project for Public Spaces website is one of my new favorite places to go on the web for information about placemaking. If you’re interested in creating community or great spaces for people to live and spend time in, it’s very worth a browse.

Project for Public Spaces is a nonprofit organization dedicated to design of and education for creative and inviting public spaces that foster community and sustainability. The website has all sorts of resources to this end, including white papers, blog posts, and – my favorite part – pictures. They have pictures of both good examples and bad examples of public spaces. While the “bad” examples are most often filled with cars and blank-walled buildings and devoid of people, the good examples are filled with happy smiling people, enjoying the outdoors in all seasons, farmer’s markets, boulevards closed to all vehicles excepting public transit, colorfully-painted intersections closed off to traffic, and many more wonderful examples of people enjoying public spaces.

It’s inspiring, for me, to browse through their photographs, or just stare at the homepage for a few minutes as the pictures flip through automatically. Looking at these great spaces and people enjoying themselves makes me want to make all cities this way – makes me wonder why all our cities aren’t already this way. Wouldn’t we be a happier society if we had public spaces in which to be with one another – strangers and friends alike? Imagine streets in which we actually wanted to spend time in as pedestrians and travelers, instead of wall to wall traffic, dust, noise and pollution? Here is just one of the many examples of great public spaces (that happens to be one of my personal favorite public spaces): State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.

Check out the PPS website!

The Byron Fellowship, part 2: An Aspirational Dialogue

As these few days following my experiences at the Byron Fellowship have passed, I have found myself noticing more and more facets of the experience – little things, the full significance of which are only hitting me now. One of these things was initially brought to my attention by a fellow participant who mentioned in reflection that not once during the week did we hear a negative, sarcastic, or intentionally hurtful comment out of our fellow participants. How many times in our lives, he said, do we go a day – much less a week – without hearing such negativity out of those around us, be they strangers, coworkers, friends, or even ourselves?

Upon my own reflection over these past few days, I have come to realize that this lack of negativity during the week of the Byron Fellowship extended far beyond just our comments to and about each other. The framing of the issues we discussed the entire week was what we called “aspirational” language – an aspirational dialogue of possibility, hope, creativity, and optimism. Of what we can create and inspire in this world, rather than what we need to eliminate or avoid. This simple use of positive framing and phrasing of issues was key to creating the mood for the week – the inspiring environment that all those who participated in the Byron Fellowship will carry with us throughout our lives.

Aspirational language, we learned at the Fellowship, is in opposition to the language of desperation. In the environmental movement in general, so often we resort to desperation, fear, pessimism, and anger in our plea for action and change. If we don’t stop using fossil fuels right now, the world will experience a drastic increase in catastrophic weather events related to global warming, sea levels will rise and Florida and Bangladesh and island nations will be under water! We have to stop the Big Oil companies from letting this happen! Or, If you don’t stop overfishing, soon there will be no ocean life left! Or, Can’t you see that our American consumerist lifestyle is creating waste, overwhelming the landfills, and putting too much pressure on the world’s resource supplies? You can’t buy that new flat screen TV! So often, those involved in the environmental movement phrase things in a desperate, negative way. We must stop polluting, stop emitting carbon dioxide, stop driving our gas-guzzling cars, stop buying so many useless consumer goods, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop!

But just telling people they can’t do this, or to stop doing that is not an effective way to inspire change. In fact, for most people, the words I have written above are not inspiring at all. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, founders of the BreakThrough Institute, present a critique of the 1970s, 80s and 90s negative environmentalism in their book by the same name. This type of environmentalism, they argue, includes so much negativity that people genearally turn off when they hear it, rejecting even scientific claims because of they way they are presented, as things we have to avoid and get rid of. We have to ban these pesticides, these polluters should pay to remove these contaminants from this river, we have to stop littering, etc. This type of language does not spur people to action, because what action is implied by these statements is not really action but inaction: something to stop or avoid doing. Thus (and this is me expanding on Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s ideas, now), people never really think they are the problem, that there is any action required of them because they are not polluters. The problem is thereby externalized, while at the same time no alternative positive action is suggested.

Aspirational language, on the other hand, the type we were encouraged to use at the Byron Fellowship, phrases things in the language of possibility – this is the “Politics of Possibility,” according to the subtitle of Nordhaus and Shellenberger’s book. To me, aspirational language is associated directly with the principles of sustainability, while the language of desperation is associated with the old environmentalism described above. While environmentalism is about what we need to remove, to avoid, to stop, sustainability is about what we can create, encourage, and build. Sustainability involves a positive vision of what we want the future to look like. Where environmentalism involves stopping urban sprawl, removing contaminants, and limiting the effect of human activities on the environment, sustainability involves creating community, encouraging urban gardens and permaculture, designing walkable communities and livable public spaces, developing alternative energy sources, and creating products that benefit the environment, rather than just minimizing harm. Sustainability, then, is framed in a positive light, rather than a negative.

This week’s dialogues at the Byron Fellowship were all framed in aspirational language. We talked about creating communities among people deeply connected to a place so as to inspire care of that place and of one another. We talked of developing a measure of trust and faith in each other (and in God, if you wish), so that we desire to make the world a better place for all of our grandchildren. We talked about learning to understand, listen to, and have compassion for others, and, rather than trying to force them into a sustainable way of life, to be open to different ways of thinking and encourage them to do the same. I truly believe that this type of compassion and listening to others can really have an impact on the way we as humans treat the natural world and how we go about transitioning to sustainable communities.

The most transformative week of my life: The Byron Fellowship

It’s hard to convey in words what I have just experienced and how I feel. I am still me, but I am in a completely different mental, emotional and physical space than I was a week ago. This past week at the Byron Fellowship at Turkey Run State Park has been the most inspiring, transformative, freeing experience of my life up to this point.

The word ‘cathartic’ comes to mind. I went to the Fellowship with the hope that the week could be a relaxing experience that would help me transition from a semester in academia to summer internships with the City of Bloomington and the Indiana University Office of Sustainability. The week was far more than just a transition – though it was an incredibly relaxing week that did allow me to decompress from the academic semester. However, I learned so much about myself and those around me, and about creating sustainable community and place that I find it limiting to attempt to put the experience into words. I consider myself a verbose individual, but there was something about the Byron Fellowship that has made me feel I lack the language to describe it. I feel almost as if the words don’t exist to describe the feeling I have right now – at least not in English. But nonetheless, I will continue to try.

I have never felt such a deep sense of peace, calm and connection to the natural world and all the living and none-living things in it. I feel as if all my cares have not gone away, but been intensified by the hope that knowing the people at the Byron Fellowship has given me. Never have I felt so open, so completely free to bear my heart, mind and soul to a group of people, and so confident that they will trust in me as I will trust in them, that they will not judge me in any way, that they will listen and care with the most amazing grace and compassion people could possibly have. I have been blessed with being shared such wisdom this week – the wisdom of those possessing many more years than I, the wisdom of those younger than me, the wisdom of those with different interests and skills, the wisdom of those with incredible experiences and knowledge – I have been humbled by all that they have been willing to share.

Each of those I have known at the Byron Fellowship this week has inspired me in a different way. We have shared the things that inspire us, that give us hope, that make us strong, that we believe in, and that we love. The connections with the places at Turkey Run State Park – the past and present, the old and new – and with one another – I know I will carry these with me for a lifetime.

I hope that throughout my life I can continue to be as inspired and feel as trusting in the future that we all will create as I feel today. The Byron Fellowship has given me hope that we will create a sustainable world. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but maybe in our children’s lifetimes or our children’s children’s children’s lifetimes – we will be able to find those things which matter most, those things that sustain us as a people, and that sustain our natural world. We can make a real difference in individual and collective lives. The stories we tell, the way we listen and trust and hope, the compassion and love we show for one another, and the faith we have in what we believe will lead us to a better place – a more sustainable world for all.

The most wonderful and beautiful definition of sustainable community development

I have been reading a book called How Green is the City? for a term project and I just came across the most wonderful definition of “sustainable community development” I have ever read. It’s apparently paraphrased from a book by Maser (1997) called Sustainable Community Development: Principles and Concepts, which is a very text-book-like title, but the following definition is just so wonderful and beautiful that I had to share it:

Community sustainable development is

a community-directed process of development based on: (a) transcendent human values of love, trust, respect, wonder, humility, and compassion; (b) active learning, which is a balance between the intellect and intuition, between the abstract and the concrete, between action and reflection; (c) sharing that is generated through communication, cooperation, and coordination; (d) a capacity to understand and work with and within the flow of life as a fluid system, recognizing, understanding, and accepting the significance of relationships; (e) patience in seeking an understanding of a fundamental issue rather than applying band-aid-like quick fixes to problematic symptoms; (f) consciously integrating the learning space into the working space into a continual cycle of theory, experimentation, action, and reflection; and (g) a shared societal vision that is grounded in long-term sustainability, both culturally and environmentally.

(From p22 in: Devuyst, D., ed. 2001. How Green is the City? Sustainability Assessment and the Management of Urban Environments. New York: Columbia UP.)

I’ve printed it out and put a copy on the wall above my desk, I like it so much.

What children’s books say about the human-nature relationship

My mother loves children’s books. She collects them, really. Ever since I was little – and even now that I am not so little – she often will come home from the bookstore with a new Caldecott winner, a collection of children’s Christmas stories, or a treasury of children’s classics for a friend who’s having a baby. From beautifully illustrated read-to-me storybooks to beautifully written chapter books, there is no end to her love of children’s literature. In her retirement, she says, she wants to write children’s books.

So it’s only natural that I should inherit from her the same love of children’s books. However, for the longest time, I laughed at her every time she brought home a new book, saying that we, her children, had grown too old for this. We were too old for her to read us stories, too old to look at the pictures, too old to listen to the rhymes of children’s poetry. And yet, a year ago, I fell in love with children’s books all over again.

It started in a college course I took from the education department. In this course, the professor read to us several familiar children’s books that spoke of nature and the environment. He read Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, of course, but he also read Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumpius, and showed an animated interpretation of the French children’s story, The Man Who Planted Trees, by Jean Giono. It was these titles that got me thinking about the books I remembered and loved from my childhood. I thought of Bill Peet’s The Wump World and Cristina Bjork’s Linnea in Monet’s Garden. This summer, while working at a local bookstore, I also discovered a wonderful new children’s book by Peter Brown, called The Curious Garden, and it is now one of my favorites. And I re-discovered Frances Hamerstrom’s touching Walk When the Moon is Full while visiting my parents’ cabin in northern Wisconsin.

These were my favorites as a child – or have since become my new favorites – but also, or perhaps because of this, they influenced the way I think about the world. These books, as do all good books, say something about the way we as humans interpret and interact with the world. The more obvious messages to be found in The Lorax and The Wump World speak to our human pattern of overconsumption and destruction of nature – but also about nature’s resilience and ability to come back after humans have gone. Nature will always be there, and will always able to rebound, these books say. The Man Who Planted Trees, Miss Rumpius and The Curious Garden illustrate the power of one person to shape and change the world, to find and create beauty, and the ability of nature to influence people. Linnea in Monet’s Garden and Walk When the Moon is Full laud the redemptive and educative power of curiosity, particularly of the natural world.

The messages in these books are not lost on even their youngest readers. Inspired by The Curious Garden, the children to whom I gifted that book last spring started a garden in their mother’s backyard. And I can recall discussions about the need to “save the rainforest” motivated by readings of The Lorax in elementary school.

These on-the-surface meanings are not at all difficult to integrate into discussions both in the classroom and in the living room, because the fit nicely within the tenets of our modern worldview. The value of creativity to progress, the primacy of human influence on nature, the emphasis on the individual to affect change – these are all principals of our society in which progress is always good; bigger and more are always applauded; and individual effort is always better than group work.

But there are deeper messages between the pages of these books that are much harder to cultivate in either children or adult readers because they go against the grain of the modern paradigm. The Man Who Planted Trees presents an intriguing statement about the effect the condition of the natural world has on the human psyche and on human society. In the story,* there is a man who plants and cares for trees on a barren, human-created desert, ultimately resulting in the repopulation of the area with a community of people who live gently and in harmony with the land. Clearly, this is a much deeper sort of message than the superficial “power of one person to change the world.” This book cultivates ideas of stewardship of the land and repair of the human and natural environment, similar to Aldo Leopold’s idea of a “land ethic.” The true story behind The Man Who Planted Trees, I believe, is one that promotes an ideal relationship between humans and the land we live on that is healthy for both society and the environment.

The Man Who Planted Trees has a second message in its pages. The people who had lived in the desert prior to the growth of the man’s forest had been poor, miserly unhappy. But when people come to live in the valley where the man has planted trees, they are a happier people. They work, live and laugh together. This sentiment of happiness nearer to nature and greenness has been well-documented in the literature of preventative medicine, and much echoed by popular writers, such as Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods, on the benefits of nature to personal health and well-being. The Man Who Planted Trees conveys this deeply rooted relationship beautifully and simply in story form.

The idea of living sustainably with the land is not a new concept, but it is far from becoming an ideal valued by mainstream society. It used to be, however. The Jeffersonian ideal of the agrarian man was part of the creation of our nation. Thomas Jefferson envisioned a nation of small farmers, where everyone cultivated the land sustainably. This agrarian ideal included principles of crop rotation, community collaboration, and living in balance with the land around you.

Somewhere in our society’s history, however, we lost our communitarian, agrarian ideal, and farming became the backward rustic’s job or the task of machine-wielding industrial farmers. People moved city-wards. We began working in factories and cubicles instead of fields. We lost our connection with the land and much of our knowledge of the workings of nature. We stopped being stewards of the land, and instead began to exploit it for profit, like the characters in The Lorax and The Wump World. We stopped being people who planted trees, and instead became makers of concrete and buildings, and consumers of “thneeds.”

Our modern worldview dictates that this was a change for the better. That no longer being directly dependent on the earth was a good thing. That going to the supermarket alone instead of the fields with each other for our food was progress. But there were always those who resisted. There have been counterculture movements since the beginning of industrialization that attempted to move society back towards nature. There were Utopian communities interwoven with the Populist movement of the 1890s. Intentional communities and co-ops sprung up in the 1960s and later, dedicated to self-sufficiency and a connection to nature and community. These movements questioned whether society’s movement away from nature was necessarily progress.

Children’s books and stories have always aimed to convey what society values in a simple, easily understood, often allegorical fashion for young readers. What our children’s books say about the way we as humans treat the natural world has an important affect on the way children grow up thinking about the world.
Nature, by instinct, I think, is intriguing to children. It is the world around us: the sky, the birds, the trees, the grass, the soil. The Lorax, The Curious Garden, The Man Who Planted Trees – these books have powerful messages, and can, perhaps, help endow our children with Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic,” or perhaps with Rachel Carson’s “sense of wonder” about the natural world. If we can use these books as a spring board for a discussion in living rooms and classrooms – to teach our children to be curious about the natural world, to teach them that a healthy environment means healthier and happier people, to teach them, ultimately, to be stewards of the land and the earth – then perhaps we can begin to shift in how society affects the environment. Perhaps we can stop wanting “thneeds” and instead be those who plant trees.

No one is too old for children’s books. As adults, we often have just as much to learn from them as children do. I reread The Wump World the other night. I had forgotten the ending of the story: after the “Pollutions” have finished turning the whole world to concrete and buildings, after they have used up all the green space, after they have dirtied the air and water, they leave. And through their cracked concrete streets, a small seedling emerges. Nature is still there, if we are willing to see it. Maybe we can plant a seed in our children, in hopes that someday, through a crack in the modern worldview, a land ethic will emerge.

*English translation, from Peter Doyle, available here. (This version lies in the public domain.)

A sure sign of a food system that needs help

This weekend, as I was reading up on gardening in Indiana while my boyfriend watched a football game, I caught a commercial on television for Pepsi Throwback edition, advertising that the product was “made with real sugar.” The first thing that came to mind at this commercial was not shock at the fact that regular Pepsi isn’t already made with real sugar; I am well aware of all the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that goes into our soft drinks. Instead, I was floored by the fact that the company was marketing something made with real sugar as a novelty item.

When foods made with real sugar, a natural product, are advertised as innovative, is this not a sure sign of a food system in trouble? A backwards system where foods made with the chemical, the man-made are normal, and those foods made with “the real thing” are out of the ordinary? Has our world really come to a place where foods that are “natural” or “real” are mere novelties? If so, we have all but finally reached the world of Sci Fi, where food has been reduced to a tiny, man-made, chemical-based pill, and real foods, like vegetables, roast beef, seafood, or, gasp, sugar are considered quaint and outdated.

When did we start eating a diet composed largely of man-made, highly processed and refined “food products” instead of real, live food? I cannot help but read the Pepsi commercial as Exhibit A in the case for food system reform.

Maybe the commercial struck such a cord with me because I had just finished reading Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry‘s Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, which eloquently makes the case for a return to real, sustainable foods: to fresh, organic, locally-sourced produce, meats, and dairy products. Lappe and Terry outline the problems with our current food production system, and, although their complaints are not new – in fact, the organic, sustainable, local, hippie (whatever) community has been making the case for food reform for at least two decades – their book is a succinct and accurate assessment of the problems with modern industrial agriculture and of potential actions we can all make to take back control of our food.

In circles of environmentalists and sustainabilists (of which I count myself a member), it has nearly become common knowledge that modern means of food production – industrial-scale vegetable and grain farming using a plethora of chemical pesticides and fertilizers and other fossil-fuel based inputs, factory farming of animals for mass consumption of (too much) meat, high processing and use of additives and preservatives in conventional “food products,” and the transport of all of these food items thousands of miles to their destination on our supermarket shelves – are unhealthy for both humans and the environment. Writers such as Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, Jonathan Safran Foer, Marion Nestle, Eric Schlosser, and others have popularized the problems with the way we produce and consume food in this country. Even the new Obama White House has begun an attempt to spread a message about the importance of eating locally and sustainably through the creation of a new organic garden on the Lawn.

So, if the ailments of our food system have become such a widespread topic of conversation, why is nothing substantive being done to change things? Part of the problem is clearly the downturn of the economy and insurance and real estate market busts that have distracted our national attention from the real problems with our government and economy, such as the issues facing a society reliant on cheap fossil fuels, and lack of access to affordable health care, meaningful education, and healthy, sustainable food. Grub authors Lappe and Bryant argue that in order to spur change in our food system at the national level, we need to start “voting with our pocketbook,” or so the phrase goes. We can start changing what our food system looks like (and what our waistlines look like, too) by buying only sustainable food options – less fast food and processed junk food, and more organic produce and whole grains. Though most people immediately assume organic food is more expensive than conventionally farmed and produced options, Lappe and Bryant show that if you buy whole organic, local, sustainable ingredients and cook more from scratch instead of buying processed, quick-fix foods, a sustainable diet can actually save you money. You can also grow your own food, no matter where you live, from just a few seeds and soil, for not only huge savings but also the assurance that you know where your food comes from and where it’s been.

This last point is the reason I was looking at gardening books this weekend. While my boyfriend, Paul, and I live in a city apartment, we have a small, west-facing balcony on which I plan to grow as many of our own vegetables as possible this summer. I am in the process of planning a substantial container garden to grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, salad greens, peas, beans and kale this spring, summer and fall. Living in south-central Indiana, our growing season consists of more than 175 days of frost-free weather, which I can extend even further by planting frost-tolerant kale in the early spring and late fall. Though I am a novice gardener and this first season may not produce as much as I would like, I am hoping to produce at least some produce for Paul and I to enjoy through the summer and fall, to help us live healthier and more sustainably.

There are many things we can do individually to change the way we think about food; growing your own is only one of many things to do. You can purchase food directly from farmers at your local farmers market, ask your grocery store to carry more local, sustainable, organic or fair-trade products, eat less (factory-farmed) meat, start tracking the “food miles” traveled of certain items in your diet and try to cut back on fossil-fuel intensive products, and more. If more people adopt a sustainable diet, the entire food system will begin to be more sustainable. Maybe then we’ll stop seeing commercials advertising products made with the real thing – “real sugar” – as a novelty, and eating “real food” will once again become the norm.