Tag Archives: environment

Great Lakes Biomimicry

7 May

Here is an article I wrote for The Observer at Case Western Reserve University.

BIOMIMICRY: Ancient Lessons for the Future
by Kayla Wiinitam’ikwe-DeVault

            With talk of global warming and Earth’s nearing carrying capacity lingering behind every political issue, it’s no wonder that scientific and industrial leaders are focusing ever harder on sustainable practices.  But cleaning up our act isn’t always the solution; in fact, as author Janine M. Benyus argues in her book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, the real problem lies within not what we’re doing but how we’re doing it.

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Wes Jackson, a biomimic interviewed by Benyus who works on developing sustainable farming at the Land Institute in Kansas.  Photo from Richard Harris (http://www.npr.org).

          “The real survivors are the Earth inhabitants that have lived millions of years without consuming their ecological capital,” argues Benyus in the first chapter of her book.  “We come not to learn about nature so that we might circumvent or control her, but to learn from nature, so that we might fit in.”  Benyus’s excellent piece develops a strong argument for how humanity is aggressively destroying the natural balance of the planet, ignoring the sustainable lessons Earth showcases daily.  One of Benyus’s many examples is green energy development.  While we’ve been expending considerable time and money researching how to produce expensive photovoltaic cells, our complex photovoltaics are merely a less efficient reinvention of what nature has already perfected.  Benyus argues that our expenditures would be better spent if we dismissed our 20%-efficient reinvention of the wheel and instead studied the biochemical processes of chloroplast cells in plants, which operate at a 95% efficiency rate within a smooth niche in the global ecosystem.

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Janine Benyus delivering a speech on biomimicry.  Photo by Mychelle Daniau (AFP).

           Modeling after nature’s intricacy is the study that has been dubbed “biomimicry” and its horizons are rapidly expanding.  Biomimicry delves far beyond studying photosynthesis; even farmers are beginning to turn to biomimicry to solve erosion and crop resistance problems while industries are seeking nature’s “patents” to mimic spider silk or abalone shell, materials strong enough to develop bulletproof vests and nearly invincible tanks for the armed forces.  In this “Green Revolution”, researchers long to steer clear of petrochemicals and are turning to biomimicry to develop more sustainable materials.  For example, understanding how mollusks build the bysuss that glue them inseparably yet flexibly to rocks may provide us with biodegradable solutions to sealants and adhesives of various applications.

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The spinning process spiders use to generate high-strength silk fascinates researchers who are working to replicate it.  Photo by Glen Peters (www.asknature.org).

          “Nature has been solving problems and innovating solutions for over 3.8 billion years,” says Don Knechtges, the Managing Director of Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise and leader of various other entrepreneurial organizations.   “By emulating nature, companies can tap into a tremendous pool of knowledge that they can use to enhance their bottom line with sustainable profits.”  It’s now job of Knechtges and other biomimic converts to spread the word about how this new scientific approach might redefine our region and our planet.

How You Can Get Involved
          Northeast Ohio is currently a hotbed for biomimicry thanks to Holly Harlan of Entrepreneurs for Sustainability.  Harlan recognized the potential biomimicry has as a sustainable tool for growing the economy in Northeast Ohio.  With Benyus’s assistance and additional assets from local universities, museums, parks, etc., biomimicry has begun to boom in the region over the last decade.  Great Lakes Biomimicry, a startup organization located downtown, is actively advocating biomimicry in industry and university research.  Thanks to the dedication of these local entrepreneurs, the University of Akron, in partnership with the Cleveland Institute of Art, currently holds the first and only PhD program in Biomimicry.  In addition, the program is accompanied by a fellowship program to push students straight into industrial applications.
Getting industrial companies in Cleveland involved in biomimcry is a key first step to cleaning the city up sustainably.  But it’s more than just nature that is benefiting.  As Knechtges points out, by being an industry sponsor of a Fellow in the PhD program, companies are making history and bringing “passionate young talent from around the world” to Northeast Ohio to develop unique and sustainable solutions in their fields.  These solutions not only allow companies to move away from petrochemicals and inefficient practices, but they garner the respect of environment-conscious consumers.
Research in biomimicry has been slowly infiltrating the interests of the faculty at Case Western, as evidenced by recent advances led by Dr. Shihao Hu in adhesives modeled from the sticky feet of geckos.  “Biomimicry is in its infancy at CWRU; while many faculty perform nature-inspired research with an eye toward sustainability, it has not yet taken on the mantel of a formal discipline or program of study on campus,” explains Lisa Camp, Assistant Dean for Strategic Initiatives at Case.  Camp works closely with GLBio and other regional initiatives, observing the interests of researchers on campus and monitoring research funds.  “There will be a moment when faculty interest in biomimicry and regional needs collide,” she explains.  “When that collision occurs, it will be incredibly powerful; CWRU researchers always bring a value-added component to community efforts.”  Her admiration for GLBio comes from its passionate dedication to the field.  She adds, “It was built for ethical reasons, not for profit.”  When asked why biomimicry is so important to the startup, Carol Thaler, the outreach direction at GLBio, had an immediate response.  “For me, learning from nature just makes so much sense,” says Thaler, her passion for biomimicry radiating.  “I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say solving problems learning from nature will change the world.”

For more information, e-mail Carol Thaler at cthaler@glbiomimicry.org.

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Cleveland Restaurant Week

9 Mar

Cleveland Independs is a group of locally-owned and locally-sourced restaurants around Cleveland and northeastern Ohio.  (See my previous post for more about Cleveland Independents.)  One of the big promotion events Cleveland Independents holds is the idea of a “menu fixé”.  Each resturant has a meal line-up of several courses for a fixed price.  The price varies slightly, but line-ups seem to run from $15 to $40, depending on the place and if it is a lunch or dinner line-up.

To be perfectly honest, researching how exactly to define the “Restaurant Week” concept was no easy chore.  I had to search each even individually to make an appropriate summary of the event.  This past “Week” has lasted for nearly 2 weeks and is the 6th annaul event.  After investigating past events, it appears as if this “Week” is often more than 7 days and occurs once in February/March and often again in November.  Its popularity has caused it to increase from a small amount of restaurants downtown with one meal line-up to over 50 restaurants with dinner and lunch specials.  To encourage customers, parking has been reduced to $2 downtown in past events.

The idea of Cleveland Restaurant Week is to encourage people to dine at local places to help stimulate Cleveland’s economy.  After reading some comments online, I can conclude that many, many Clevelanders look forward to this event and a large portion of them spend hundreds each time by taking their families out.  It’s a great way to bring the community together while simultaneously improving the Rust Belt city’s economic situation, one stride at a time.

The event current at the time of this article’s publishing is the 6th annual week, held March 4th through March 16th, 2013.  Restaurants are subject to change with each event, but all current event information and menus can be found at www.clevelandindependents.com under the Events tab and listing.

North Union Farmers’ Market at Shaker Square

3 Sep

I get the impression that this market is extremely busy on a regular basis, but it was packed this Saturday (holiday weekend).  The market at Shaker Square is open Saturdays from 8am to 12pm, the outdoor vendors running from April to December before moving indoors according to the website.

Shaker Square is an attractive place to hold this event, and there is sure a surplus of vendors.  I witnessed everything from crafts to cheese to the typical produce.  Recommendations on Foursquare included tips like coming right at opening to get certain produce before it sells out, or to come and eat at particular vendors who actually cook breakfast right there to be had.  This market had the greatest selection out of any market I’ve seen so far in Cleveland, but it was certainly crowded.  Once again, the market held a somewhat festive air that I do not encounter at home in the Pennsylvania countryside but which seems to be a theme in the city markets of Cleveland.  Check out my gallery of the market as well as pictures of the melon I bought (I bought a cantaloupe and 6 ears of corn for $7, from two different vendors):

You can get more information at: http://www.northunionfarmersmarket.org/markets/shaker.html

Johnny Mango World Café & Bar

24 Aug

While I was out visiting some farmers’ markets in downtown Cleveland, I had a little time to kill and decided to search for places with margaritas near Ohio City.  Momocho, a nice Mexican restaurant with flights of margaritas, came up at the top of a quick Google search – but it was closed so early on a weekday!  I found a page of reviews for margaritas in Cleveland, and the next recommendation behind Momocho was a place called Johnny Mango’s.  I decided to check it out.

Little did I realize, Johnny Mango’s is actually right beside Momocho.  It can be found at 3120 Bridge Avenue Cleveland, Ohio 44113.  I had a lot of faith in finding good food at this place just because Ohio City is known for its great bars and restaurants.  It’s a quaint and rather classy part of town, if you can ignore some of the shady bits that come with most any section of Cleveland.  Sure enough, I walked into Johnny Mango’s and felt instantly its unique, classy flair.  (I used some pictures from Google reviews.)

You might be wondering why I’m writing in a green Cleveland blog about a random restaurant that I went to for margaritas.  Well, here’s why: Although I randomly stumbled upon this place, I walked in and found out that this restaurant is in fact a very “earthy” place!  Not only is the menu healthy and lists both vegan and gluten-free options (of which there are many), but they cook and blend drinks with fresh food from the West Side Market!  Woo for locavores!

The decor is very ecclectic; a mini world figurine hangs from the ceiling with a moon across the room, under an old metal tile ceiling painted like a dark, cloudy sky.  The opposing wall when you walk in is covered with bright wooden cutouts of lizards and flowers.  You seat yourself when you walk in, either at one of the many tables in the big room, at the long bar between those tables and the plasma screen TV, or on the sidewalk outside.  From inside, the kitchen is fairly visible.  This and the cramped sensation of the room unfortunately contributes to negative reviews on the noise levels and acoustics, but the outdoor seating has only positive comments.

One of the first things I noticed was that the sugar bowls were filled with packets of Sugar in the Raw and Truvia – no refined sugars or artificial sweeteners.  Even within 30 minutes of opening on a Thursday morning, the place had a regular flow of customers.  A giant white board behind the bar flaunts the specials, including the vegetable of the day straight from the West Side Market.  Unfortunately, eggplant isn’t exactly appealing to me, so I avoided that on my visit.  Instead, I settled for a lime-mango margarita (which I think might be made from West Side fruit!) and the Caribbean “fries” appetizer, which is really just plantains.  My meal:

For those who don’t know, plantains are basically bananas that have a less sweet, tangier taste and a consistency a little closer to a mushy potato than a banana.  They were pretty good (although a little greasy for my taste – I had to dab them), and the pico de gallo that accompanied it was the perfect, unexpected combination!  The margarita was good, but it was on the rocks and not very cold at all.  It tasted more to me like warm, watery juice with a strong presence of tequila.  But I am no margarita aficionado!  If only I’d have had a bigger appetite, I would have tried for some pad thai or fried tofu dish.  So many good options, and not terribly expensive!  And besides the alcohol bar, there is also a juice bar with lots of different healthy options!

Interested in checking out Johnny Mango’s yourself?  They have a website: http://www.jmango.com/index.html.  The various menu pages are listed along with other information on specials, etc.!  FYI, I hear their mojitos are amazing.  Enjoy.

 

North Union Farmer’s Market: Cleveland State University

23 Aug

This morning, I decided to swing downtown to check out what Cleveland State University has been trying to set up in the city.  Here is a picture of the set up next to CSU: I found the vendors at 1930 Euclid Avenue at the Marshall Law school (between E 18th and E 19th Streets).  It was certainly a surprise to see produce in tents right next to a busy street!

I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be as a student to have that at your fingertips.  Unforunately for students, though, the market only lasts June through September.  It is held Thursdays from 11am to 2pm.  You can find out more at http://northunionfarmersmarket.org/markets/csu.html.

As with pretty much every farmers’ market I’ve encountered thus far in the city, CSU’s set up was also very small.  A brisk walk down the sidewalk and I had already passed it.

As with Tremont, CSU’s market had a slight carnival flair: there was live music (set up by Chipotle!) and even kettle corn at one vendor!

Within 15 minutes of set-up, there was already more produce here than at the First Baptist Church.  There was also grass-fed dairy products and baked goods.

If I were a student or someone working or living just down the street, I would definitely stop by here on a regular basis!

P.S. (You can see this in a separate post, but:) I left this market to check out the one at North Harbor at the E 9th pier but was disappointed that, not only was there no parking anywhere convenient that I could find, but there were hardly any vendors whatsoever!  Let-down!

First Baptist Church’s Farmers’ Market

23 Aug

For my second Cleveland farmers’ market visit, I decided to check out the market on Fairmount Boulevard in Shaker Heights.  Here is a picture of the back lot of the church: The market is held every Wednesday June through October from 4pm to 7pm.  The tents are set up in the back parking lot of the First Baptist church at 3630 Fairmount Boulevard, Shaker Heights, OH 44118.  The typical vendors include farmers selling produce and dairy, bakers, vegan chocolatiers, and butchers.  $5 dinners are also sold using food from each of these farmers.  The market claims to also have activities for children.  The market has a cool site with the vendors and other information: http://sall02.wix.com/fbc-farmers-market#!classes.  The tents that were set up:

I got to the market yesterday, about 30 minutes after it started.  I saw a woman walking away with a jug of milk.  There were some bakers, farmers, and other crafty vendors, but the pickings were slim.  Nothing like I experience in the country of Pennsylvania.

The pickings were especially interesting, considering the advertised crops.  According to www.localharvest.org, this location should have the following available by season: Summer – artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, Chinese greens, collards, sweet corn, cucumbers, Daikon radishes, eggplants, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peas, pumpkins, radishes, salad greens, spinach, summer squash, tomatillos, tomatoes, turnips zucchini, avocados, blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, beef, chicken, baked goods, bee pollen, bread, and honey; Fall – the same as summer except no pumpkins and, in addition, potatoes, cantaloupes, and maple syrup.

I didn’t see most of these things.  I did however see a cooler at one stand which I believe was selling eggs.  They probably had the milk as well.

True, this market is very tiny, especially the day I went it was.  However, if you live in Shaker Heights, why the heck not check it out?  If you’re ever looking for some fresh produce and know you could use some fruit or vegetables to stock your fridge, definitely swing by a place like this!  No matter how small, you’re guaranteed to find something that will satisfy your needs.  Generally, the prices are pretty low.  Even if they’re not as cheap as Wal-Mart, you’re directly supporting a farmer, promoting carbon footprint reduction, and celebrating a sense of community with others!  Farmers’ markets rock!

Tremont Farmers’ Market

22 Aug

Yesterday, I decided to visit my first Cleveland farmers’ market! I decided to check out what Tremont had to offer… and, let me tell you, it’s not what I’m used to! But it was still quite the experience!

The Tremont Farmers’ Market, which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/tremontfarmersmarket or http://tremontfarmersmarket.com/, is located at Lincoln Park, just south of downtown Tremont in the Cleveland area. It’s generally open May through October each year. The hours of operation are Tuesdays, between 4pm and 7pm. (Last year, they apparently added a winter location at the Holy Ghost Greek (Byzantine) Catholic Church and Cultural Center, 2420 West 14th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44113 on Tuesdays, November 1 through December 20, 2011 between 4-7PM, and I expect they’ll do that again.)

The farmers’ markets I’m accustomed to are a bartering and/or selling business of mostly produce, but then some eggs and other small crafts on the side as well. Here at Tremont, I arrived at about 30 minutes after set-up to find there were only a few produce stands. Most of the stands were offering obscure products, like ones for coffee, flowers, pierogies, and even massages!

Plus, there was live music! I described this to my mom, who is familiar with the markets at home and those ones only, and she replied with, “Sounds more like a festival than a farmers’ market!” And that’s how it felt.

The streets on all sides of the market were lined with cars. There was a constant flow of people down the sidewalk. I slipped around, eschewing much attention, and attempted to discretely take some photos of what I saw. I noted only one stand had an Amish family selling, many of them seemed to be company-ran rather than small farms, and that not all stands were set up yet.

I’m sure this week is different from many others. Nonetheless, one stand had cantaloupe already for $2.50 a melon… and it smelled so ripe and wonderful! I wanted to buy one, but I had to drive to work without the means of cutting it… so sad…

I checked into the market on Foursquare and realized the mayor was in the house… so you can bet this is the place for regulars!  I’d definitely go there all the time if I lived close.  I hope to check out a market at Shaker in the next hour. I hope you enjoyed my scoping out this market!

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