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Gleaning Gourds

2014 January 31

By Jim Callier

Last month I shared with you about noteworthy efforts to feed the poor here in Kansas City by “gleaning.”  I wanted to follow up by sharing the conclusion to this story and the positive impact this experience had on me, the community, and the environment.

Food is Too Good To Waste!

One of the reasons for my enthusiasm about the gleaning effort is that EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, places feeding hungry people near the top in terms of preferred alternatives to wasting.  Considering higher uses of food is important because in addition to the social and economic benefits of not wasting food, alternatives to landfilling are important for the planet.

Food waste, especially when disposed of in a landfill, is a significant contributor of greenhouse gases through the production and release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and contributor to climate change.  In the US, a significant amount of food waste is disposed of in landfills every day – more than 34.5 million tons in 2011.  This is enough food waste to fill the Rose Bowl each day!  What’s more, many in the US do not have enough to eat.  Hunger is a serious problem in the US – with 1 in 5 children going to bed hungry.

The gleaning effort organized by SoSA West that took place in Kansas City this past November was one of many notable efforts to take food that otherwise would be wasted and get it to those in need. I was honored to be a part of this effort and am glad to be able to share my account.

Getting Squash to Those in Need

A couple of days following the gleaning event, squash1I met up with volunteers to make deliveries of gleaned squash to pantries and shelters.  I met Scott, a volunteer for Operation Breakthrough who would drive the truck and Jesse, another volunteer who would sack and deliver the squash.  Scott and Jesse were interested in my involvement in the project so I explained EPA’s food recovery program and the importance of food recovery to the economy and environment.  When I mentioned feeding people as a beneficial alternative to wasting and our partnership with USDA, they were enthusiastic and better understood the bigger picture of food waste in the US.

We began our journey for the day with an initial list of 6-7 stops and loaded with 4 full skid boxes — over 4000 pounds of squash, and numerous bushel-sized sacks to fill.   At every stop, we met incredible people.  Some were chefs that would prepare the squash and some were people in need.  Everyone we met was incredibly appreciative, but I felt the most privileged, having the opportunity to be part of the effort.

squash22One of the stops that had a particular impact on me was a men’s shelter.  While we were there a number of men came over to our truck to help unload a couple hundred pounds of squash.  Although the honor was ours, they were truly grateful.  As we prepared to leave the shelter, a couple of men who were in a van leaving for an errand backed up, stopped, rolled the window down, and called us over to once again express appreciation.  This totally unexpected, additional act of gratitude really hit home for me on the value of the effort made by all of the organizations and volunteers.

As I walked back to the delivery truck, I noticed a black POW MIA flag.   Subsequently, I did a little research and learned that this organization’s mission includes helping veterans and houses close to 200 veterans.  This really made a mark on me because Veterans and active duty service personnel have a special meaning for me.  One reason is that my father and eldest brother were veterans; my father served as a Navy pilot in the Pacific theater during World War II and my brother served in the Army during the Vietnam era.  Also, I have met numerous veterans and service members throughout my work at EPA.  While working in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands assessing and cleaning up WWII sites, I met current and former Navy Explosive Ordnance Detachment Officers, also known as “bomb techs.”  squash3

Meeting these appreciative vets and others on our journey that day was a fantastic experience.  In all, we made about 13 stops and delivered most of the squash that day.   I felt uplifted to meet the generous volunteers and grateful recipients.  It is encouraging to know that efforts like this are going on and that what we do at EPA through the Food Recovery Challenge is necessary and important.  As I witnessed by participating in this gleaning effort, the work of many at food waste reduction is turning what would have been left behind as waste into an opportunity to make lives a little better.

Jim Callier is Chief of the Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section at EPA in Kansas City and has thirty years of experience working at EPA, primarily in Region 7. Jim has both working and management experience in many of EPA’s programs including hazardous and solid waste, brownfields, and pollution prevention. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and is a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Missouri.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Put Down the Tablet and Listen

2014 January 27

By Shannon Bond

I sit in my share of meetings, and it has been a privilege to sit in on several public meetings at the EPA. Typically, my work involves integrating technology and social media into human workflows. What I have learned over time, however, is that there is no substitute for direct human interaction. Even if  we develop incredibly sophisticated virtual reality spaces, we will still have the need to meet face to face.

 
I admit that I was skeptical at my first large EPA listening session. What possible value could come from so many people sharing their opinions? That’s not to say that each person’s opinion doesn’t count; it does. We all have a voice and a need to be heard. But, my usual mindset is to focus on small productive teams that get things done. I shy away from committees and large working groups. I prefer deadlines and focus with specialized team members serving in meaningful roles.
The listening session had over 200 people in attendance. Each person was given several minutes to talk while a panel of EPA specialists listened. There were note takers, microphones, and sign language interpreters. Everyone in the crowd could hear; nobody was left out. The only rule was that the speakers were restrained to the same issue. The crowd was full of specialists, scientists, mothers, fathers, grandparents, kids and even a politician or two. Each person brought a strong belief or personal experience to the table.

 
When we watch the media, we are exposed to the simplification of these issues. When we do our own research and listen to the stakeholders involved, we find out that most issues are very complex. Climate change, sustainability, renewable energy and water conservation cannot be boiled down to a “for or against” mindset. There are too many affected parties, with varying if not competing interests. Solutions are complicated.

 
So how can this meeting possibly be productive, and not dissolve into a shouting match? The staff at the EPA showed me how. They put a lot of time into planning, and focused on listening instead of telling. I put aside my gadgets and focused. No Twitter reports, Facebook updates, news apps or RSS feeds. I simply watched the speakers sit down in front of the microphone, one after another. Through all of the personal stories, belief and scientific testimony given by real people, a complete picture of the issue began to take shape in front of me. I began to believe in the process.

 
At the end of the meeting, with my skepticism set aside, I had a clear idea of where I stood on the issue. I understood multiple sides, and respected them, even if I didn’t agree. More importantly, I remembered the value of direct experience through human interaction. As public servants, it’s important for us to interact with our stakeholders and the communities we strive to protect. By considering everyone’s point of view, we are better equipped to deal with both the ideological and practical challenges we are faced with. I will always be a technology advocate, but technology can never  replace the direct experience of human interaction.

 
Shannon Bond  is a multimedia production specialist with EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. He has served in a host of roles including military policeman, corrections officer, network operations specialist, photojournalist, broadcast specialist and public affairs superintendant.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Mussels in the Blue III – Water Quality and Threats

2013 December 26

By Craig Thompson

Over the past two weeks I’ve told you about  one of my favorite rivers (the Blue River) and favorite aquatic species (Mussels).  Although the Blue River currently supports nearly 17 mussel species, habitat alteration, pollution, and the introduction and spread of non-native clams (Corbicula) have led to the extinction of some species from the river.  More than half the surviving native mussel species at 159th exhibit declining populations.  Mussels as a group are considered one of the most imperiled freshwater organisms in North America.  Mussels are in serious danger and many of the declines in mussel populations at 159th and other sites on the river can be attributed to flood-control and urbanization projects.

Many of the lower reaches of the Blue River have been channelized.  In fact, when we arrived last summer (2012) to sample the Byram’s Ford site, we found the river had been altered and straightened.  Flood-control projects like the one at Byram’s Ford result in the loss of habitat for mussels and other aquatic life.  The original habitat at this site was riffles, runs, and some backwaters with a medium bend in the river.  Now, the river is deep and straightened, and it is hard to get in to sample.  Riffles aerate the river and provide essential dissolved oxygen for many aquatic organisms.  Bass, sunfish, madtoms, darters, and many minnow species use riffles for food, reproduction and shelter.  Riffles are important for mussels as well.  In 2009, this site had a productive mussel community including one SINC species, the Yellow sandshell (See the Table below).

159table

The original riffles, gravel bars, and adjacent backwaters also were important feeding areas for waterfowl and herons.  Ultimately, with the loss of riffle habitat and the increase in water depth, we may see a decline in the diversity and abundance of some mussel species at this site.  The following picture of the Blue River at Coalmine Road (not far from the Stadiums) gives you an idea of what the river looks like lower in the watershed.

blueatcoalmine

Since coming on board with EPA, I have observed a number of changes to the upper Blue River basin.  When I was enrolled in classes in the 1970s at Johnson County Community College, Antioch Road was just two lanes and the land south of the college was mostly farmland and pastureland.  Over the years, construction crews have widened many of these roads to accommodate the accelerated growth moving into south Johnson County.  On my field trips to stream monitoring sites in the county, I have observed many water quality problems associated with all this new growth.  I am usually disgusted by the way construction crews build silt fences and how these fences never do their intended job of preventing exposed dirt from running off into waterways.  These types of activities contribute to the runoff of sediments into streams which can bury mussels.  Also, mussels are very sensitive to many other types of pollution as a result of stormwater runoff from parking lots and residential lawns.  Heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides are some of the constant water quality problems mussels must face in the Blue.  In the future, the conservation of native mussels will depend upon how well we protect the land from soil erosion and stormwater runoff.  Basically, we need to take care of our watersheds.

Blueriver

Over the years I have been collecting and observing freshwater mussels from streams throughout Kansas and Missouri.  The Blue River at 159th (shown above during high water) is a gem of a site.  At this time, I believe that the physical, chemical and biological attributes are very good at this site.  Every time I have sampled this urban stream site, there is good flowing, permanent water, which most mussel species require.  It will be interesting to discover in the coming years what aquatic species are able to live and tolerate the rapid environmental changes that are occurring in the Blue River basin.  And, this is especially true for the mussels in the Blue at 159th.

Craig Thompson lives near the mussel-less (except for Asian clams) Brush Creek, a tributary of the Blue River.  He is a Life Scientist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch (EAMB).  Craig joined EPA in 2009 after spending thirteen years with Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  He assists EAMB staff with water quality and biological sampling surveys throughout the Region 7 area.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Naughty, Nice, or NORAD

2013 December 23

By Jeffery Robichaud

As a father I love both my boys, tremendously.  They have so many unique qualities which make their mother and I very proud.  Of course they also have their idiosyncrasies.  My youngest has a specific one that never ceases to amaze us…the ability to sound old beyond his years in a flippant, matter of fact, but somehow ridiculously funny way.  He said something the other day that cracked us up yet again.  At dinner he mentioned that some of the kids at school had the temerity to question the authenticity of a one Mr. Jolly Saint Nick.  My wife asked him, “Well what did you say?”  Without a second thought he quipped, “I told them of course he’s real, otherwise NORAD wouldn’t bother tracking him with satellites.”  That’s my boy.  So I know what we’ll be doing this December 24th, a time honored tradition in the Robichaud house that I mentioned in last year’s post.

If you have read any of my blog articles, you know I have two rugrats.  As both a scientist and an amateur geospatial enthusiast, I often find myself in the awkward position of having to try and describe the physics of a one Mr. Pere Noel’s  trip to my boys about this time every year.  Thankfully, all sorts of films have taken a stab at trying to explain a certain flight every December 24th.  My favorite  growing up (possibly because it starred Jacklyn Smith albeit as a parka wearing mom) was “The Night they Saved Christmas,” where elf Paul Williams explained such futuristic concepts as Santa’s Reindeer Zephyr and instant People Mover as well as some gizmo that slowed time.    Last year’s “Arthur Christmas” had a more modern take.   I think we probably will never really know how Sinterklaas does it… plain old magic I suppose.

But even though every year I am unable to break down the science for my boys, I am able to help out with the geography thanks to the fine men and women at NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

 

If you log into the NORAD Santa Tracker website on the 24th you can track Kris Kringle across the globe.  My kids have loved it, and in my experience it has a couple of extra benefits.  First it helps to pass a day full of anticipation since if they get antsy, I ask them to go check on Santa. Second it sneaks a bit of education into a mindless winter break filled with sweets and video games.  Finally, it serves as an extra incentive to go to sleep on time as we watch Old Saint Nick creeping closer and closer to Kansas City (it’s amazing how fast they move when he hits St. Louis).  This year they have switched from Google Maps to Bing Maps so I hope everything goes smoothly.  If it crashes you can always check out Google’s own Santa Tracker (and hint…it doesn’t work properly in Internet Explorer)

It looks like both trackers have received cool upgrades this year, so I’m not exactly sure what to expect, but NORAD’s uses Bing and Google’s uses, well Google (I have updated the links in the above article). We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our posts in our first full year of the Big Blue Thread.  Here is wishing all of you a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy New Year.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  More Cool gifts that Jeff can remember Santa bringing include the Space:1999 Eagle 1 Spaceship, the Adventure People Wilderness Patrol Set, and the Flying Aces Attack Carrier.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Mussels in the Blue II: Relative Abundance of Species in the Blue

2013 December 18

By Craig Thompson

Last week I posted a blog article discussing Mussels in the Blue River,  and the work performed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and by EPA Region 7 over the last several decades to conduct qualitative mussel surveys.  Last weeks blog focused mostly on rare species.  This week I will be discussing the relative abundance of species in the Blue River (collection sites are shown below in the Figure 1.).

BlueRiver

Figure 1. Mussel sample sites on the Blue River

Corbicula fluminea

Figure 2. Corbicula fluminea

To record mussel community information, KDHE and EPA used the following – waterbody, location, scientific name, common name, collection date, collectors, relative abundance, shell condition, and width/length measurements.  I mentioned last week that there are about 45 species of mussels recorded for the state of Kansas (approximately 69 for Missouri).  One of the things I enjoy while collecting mussels is to identify them by their scientific name.  With only 45 species of mussels compared to hundreds of species of aquatic insects they are much easier to remember and memorize.   One of the most abundant shells found at 159th is from the Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea, Figure 2).  Corbicula is a small, non-native clam that was introduced years ago and has since populated most waterbodies of the United States.  It has many evenly-spaced concentric ridges on its outer shell, and it has been collected at every site along the Blue.  At this time, there are no Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) in the Blue.

The most common native mussel species found at 159th are the Mapleleaf, Threeridge, Giant floater, Pondmussel, and White heelsplitter (Table 1).  These species also appear frequently at other sites along the river.  A Mapleleaf (Quadrula quadrula, Figure 3) has a thick shell that is quadrate in shape.  It has a line of pustules on the outer part of its shell.  When I am sampling any site on the Blue I usually find Mapleleafs together with Threeridge mussels.  Threeridge (Amblema plicata) has a thick shell with three horizontal ridges (sometimes more).  Giant floater (Pyganodon grandis) is another mussel with an interesting name.  If you want to have some fun with the shells, place the shells in the water with the inside part (the pearly interior) facing up and you will see them float down the river.  The shell of this mussel is very thin and can break easily in younger specimens.  Older specimens can get quite large and up to ten inches in length.  Pondmussels (Ligumia subrostrata) are common in small streams and ponds throughout the area.  The shell is elongate and smooth with growth lines.  You can easily tell the sexes of this species (called sexual dimorphism).  Males have a longer shell that is more pointed than females.  Female Pondmussels are shorter and more inflated.  White heelsplitter (Lasmigona complanata) is a large mussel associated with medium to large rivers and it’s shell is ovate and smooth and the nacre is white.  This mussel may have received its common name from people stepping on it barefoot.

abundancetable

Table 1. Relative abundance of mussel shells recorded during 21 sampling visits from the Blue River at 159th St. & Kenneth Rd. (KDHE & EPA 1991-2011). Relative abundance recorded as present < 3; common >3 but < 8; abundant >8.

One day, and on my own time, I just decided to take a look upstream from 159th.  I received permission to get on the river from a piece of property managed by the Kansas Land Trust.  In September, I found five different species of mussel shells (Table 2) on a gravel bar, and I also observed several live Mapleleaf and Threeridge mussels in a shallow run.  These two species are very common in streams in Kansas.  Their thick shells were once used to make buttons but are now used to produce pearls for the cultured pearl industry.  Monkeyface and Bleufer mussels are used for this purpose as well, but they are found only in clear flowing streams in southeast Kansas.  Another site I explored recently was about a mile downstream from 159th.   The site is called “Near a relative’s home”.  I was visiting my nieces on their birthday and saw a great opportunity to access the Blue from their backyard.  Anyhow, I was more interested in collecting mussels that day than eating cake and ice cream.  When I finished my cake, I hurriedly crawled down the banks of the Blue to check for mussels.  My young nieces enjoyed the shells I collected from the river.  As I recall, I gave them some Mapleleaf shells, which they thought were very cool.  Anyway, there was nothing rare or unusual, but it was exciting to find 10 species (Table 2) at this site.

159table

Table 2. Number of mussel species found at Blue River sample sites upstream and downstream from 159th Street site (2009-2013, EPA Region 7)

Mapleleaf (Quadrula quadrula)

Figure 3. Mapleleaf (Quadrula quadrula)

Next week stay tuned for the thrilling third and final installation of Mussels in the Blue, where I will discuss the water quality challenges that face the Blue River.

Craig Thompson lives near the mussel-less (except for Asian clams) Brush Creek, a tributary of the Blue River.  He is a Life Scientist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch (EAMB).  Craig joined EPA in 2009 after spending thirteen years with Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  He assists EAMB staff with water quality and biological sampling surveys throughout the Region 7 area.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Mussels in the Blue

2013 December 12

By Craig Thompson

For the last four years I have been sampling wadeable streams throughout the metropolitan Kansas City area.  I am part of the water monitoring team within the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch (EAMB) at EPA Region 7.  I grew up in Mission, Kansas.  I was always outdoors exploring the woods behind my parents house and wading the waters of Turkey creek and other creeks in my neighborhood.  Now, I am responsible for collecting water and biological samples from some of these same creeks.  My particular area of expertise is macroinvertebrate sampling (freshwater mussels and aquatic insects).  I am fascinated with the mussel community information that has been collected from several sample sites on the Blue River (Figure 1).

BlueRiver

Figure 1

During the 1991-2011 sampling seasons, qualitative mussel surveys were conducted on the Blue River by Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and by EPA Region 7.  The upper Blue River supports a diverse community of mussels compared to the lower Blue River.  The Blue River at 159th Street and Kenneth Road has one of the most diverse mussel communities of any urban stream site in the metropolitan area (Table 1).

table1

 

There are approximately 45 species of mussels found in Kansas.  Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) lists 6 endangered and 5 threatened species.  In addition, they have a category called “species in need of conservation”, or SINC species.  There are at least 17 species of mussels found in the Blue River. The site at 159th has one endangered and four SINC mussel species.  The Mucket is an endangered mussel found typically in the Marias des Cygnes river basin (several miles south of 159th).  This rare mussel is outside its normal range, but it may have occurred in the Blue River (Missouri River Basin) historically.  The Creeper, Fatmucket, Wabash pigtoe and Yellow sandshell have interesting names and are SINC species.  Creeper (formerly called Squawfoot) is a rare find for this river and only one shell was collected at 159th.

Fatmucket is an unusual name for a mussel.  The “fat” part of this mussel’s name probably came from describing the swollen shape of the shell of this species.  This characteristic is very common in older individuals and in females.  This mussel is doing fair at 159th with a few weathered shells found at other sample sites along the river.  Wabash pigtoe and other freshwater mussels are recognized by the shape of their shell.  They have either animal hoof or foot characteristics.  Names like Fawnsfoot, Round pigtoe, Deertoe, Elktoe and Rabbitsfoot are some of the species in this group.  Wabash pigtoe is also doing fair at 159th with some recent and weathered shells found at other sample sites.  The Yellow sandshell is a beautiful mussel.   The outer layer of the shell (called periostracum) is a distinct yellow and the nacre (the iridescent, inner layer) is silvery-white (Figure 2).  The Yellow sandshell is doing well at 159th with some recent shells (unweathered shells) found in 2011.  Also, a few recent shells have been collected at other downstream sites.

Yellow sandshell (Lampsilis teres)

The other rare mussels identified in the survey may possibly be extirpated (locally extinct) from the Blue River basin.  The Pimpleback is common in other streams in the state but is rare in the Blue.  It has numerous raised structures on the outer part of its shell called pustules.  I have not observed this species for a long time and the last time shells were collected was in 2005.  The Pistolgrip is an easy mussel to identify (general shape of a pistolgrip).  It is a thick-shelled mussel that is elongate with distinct knobby ridges and pustules. The last time it was discovered at 159th was in 1993.  The Plain pocketbook shell is oval and large.  It is usually present at 159th and other sites along the Blue but not in high numbers.  And, the shell condition is usually weathered or relict.  Finally, the Lilliput is a mussel that is hard to find because of its bean-shaped size.  Some shells measure around an inch in length and only a few have been collected at 159th.

Next week, I will discuss the relative abundance of species found in the Blue as well as some of  the main water quality problems facing mussels in the Blue.

Craig Thompson lives near the mussel-less (except for Asian clams) Brush Creek, a tributary of the Blue River.  He is a Life Scientist with the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch (EAMB).  Craig joined EPA in 2009 after spending thirteen years with Kansas Department of Health and Environment.  He assists EAMB staff with water quality and biological sampling surveys throughout the Region 7 area.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Thanksgiving Leftovers – Squash Harvest Part 2

2013 December 5

By Jim Callier

 

helping

Welcome back from Thanksgiving week.  And what better way to welcome you back then with some leftovers, perhaps more accurately a second helping.  Before the Holiday I shared with you a blog entry about efforts here in Kansas City at “gleaning.”    Here in Kansas City, the Society of St. Andrews – West, or SoSA-West, was organizing a “gleaning” event to donate all of the food to pantries, shelters and other organizations that feed people.  Gleaning, is where a farmer opens up his fields after the harvest to individuals and organizations to gather food that remains in the field for use, leftovers if you will.   We contacted SoSA  and they agreed to join forces by signing on to EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program.

bobcat

The plan was for the actual gleaning to begin on Sunday, November 3rd and continue for four days, weather permitting.  This was great timing as November 15th was America Recycles Day, our annual opportunity to raise national awareness of the importance of recycling and a great way to highlight gleaning.  After all, isn’t putting food to a better use than tossing it in a landfill or leaving it in a field an excellent way to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle?  With the date settled, I contacted the USDA to join in the effort.   This past June, EPA and USDA had also joined forces to conquer the issue of wasted food through the US Food Waste Challenge.   USDA offered to assist with publicizing this effort as an example of a community activity that promotes food recovery and reduce food waste while feeding the hungry.

In the week leading up to the 3rd, numerous local organizations donated pallets, heavy-duty packing containers, heavy equipment, equipment operators, and volunteers to fill logistical needs.  All of these organizations pulled together to ensure success of an activity that is good for the community (reduces hunger and feeds people), good for the economy (recognizes the value of the crops and investment a farmer has made) and good for the environment (reduces waste and greenhouse gas production from decaying waste).

As the weekend began, the weather forecast did not look good for gleaning and SoSA – West made the call to glean only on Sunday the 3rd.  However, on Sunday, over 1,000 volunteers arrived to help glean, filling the numerous large corrugated containers lining the roads at the farm.   The volunteers collected an estimated 250,000 lbs in only one day of gleaning!  The next day, more volunteers and organizations loaded the containers of produce and bushel sacks into trucks ready to deliver.  Good thing because the rain came Tuesday as forecasted!  Stay tuned for more, and to find out what happens next on our gleaning journey!

boxes

Jim Callier is Chief of the Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section at EPA in Kansas City and has thirty years of experience working at EPA, primarily in Region 7.  Jim has both working and management experience in many of EPA’s programs including hazardous and solid waste, brownfields, and pollution prevention.  He is a graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and is a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Missouri.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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My Look Back on Geography Week 2013

2013 November 25

By Casey J. McLaughlin

The traditional three Rs (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic) should be the foundation of education and I like to think they all have a home in the wonderful thing we call Geography.  The National Geographic Society sponsors Geography Awareness Week, which was last week!  GIS day anchors the week (every 3rd Wednesday of November since 1999) and is a time for spatial celebration!  Last year I presented EPA’s GIS work along with a bit of my own opinion about general GIS.  This year, I attended the morning session at the 12th annual GIS Day at the University of Kansas.  During the long walk back to my car (is any campus parking friendly?), I thought about how the presentations frame where GIS is today.  I am, as usual, brought back to the idea that Geography is the center of the universe and GIS has a place in modern technology.

GIS is a hub for multi-disciplinarian work.  Geography not only provides physical context (through location) but also methods for organizing, accessing, and understanding the world.  Much of the work we do at USEPA is focused on place; a place where pollution has happened, a place where pollution would be very dangerous, a place where people should be protected, a place where water should be protected.  Place is critical to protecting human health and the environment.  Geography involves understanding place and the relationships between places and people.

“Earth is the Metaphor for organizing information” Michael Goodchild (Author and Professor)

A map is a record of a place.  Like a place is more than where stuff happens, a map is more than just a record, it can facilitate our understanding of the world.  Microsoft Bing Maps Architect Blaise Aquera Y Arcas has given two really good TED talks that I highly recommend.  He helped crystallize for me the idea that a map is more than just a catalog of places but also the canvas, the library, and the laboratory for understanding our environment.

“The map as Information Ecology” Blaise Aquera Y Arcas (Microsoft Bing Maps Architect)

GIS is central to modern technology. I first started learning about GIS during college in the mid-90’s and the first definition I read (Peter Burrough and Rachel McDonnell) specified a GIS as “a powerful set of tools for collecting, storing, retrieving at will, transforming, and displaying spatial data.”  Wow, I thought, GIS is a fantastic tool.  I later found out, however, that GIS could often be found in the basement – organizations had GIS groups but they occupied whatever left over spaces facilities had. While some saw the value of GIS, others only saw that it as a co$tly sub-group of planning.  For decades, GIS has been its own thing that was associated more with co$t than with inve$tment.

Despite being relegated to the basement or other windowless backroom, GIS is now main-stream.  Maps have long held an important place in planning, personal computers brought geospatial analysis into the business world.  Mobile devices, cloud resources, and cheap processing power have helped put geospatial into everyone’s hands.  Each time we use the location features on our personal devices we’re using GIS.  Everyone is holding location in their hands and spatial thinking is part of our normal day.  Paul Ramsey illustrates this best by declaring his team doesn’t do GIS anymore, they do spatial INFORMATION technology.  Location is and should be integrally woven into the fabric of decision making.

“We don’t do GIS, we do spatial IT on the spatial web” Paul Ramsey (Founder of PostGIS)

EPA is evolving too. I’ve worked with the government for a full decade now (yeah, being on campus changes my perspective on my age experience) and change takes time; but even the government changes.  A simple example is the Facility Registry System which consolidates information from a number of internal databases into our “one-stop source for Environmental Information.”  (Read about FRS in my blog entry, Where is that Facility.)  The simple idea is that before we started looking (spatial thinking) at maps of facility location the raw location data was all over the map!  Cleaning up this data, spatially, was a first step, but has to improved quality control, data update routines, and data access procedures.  I’m very encouraged by Federal efforts to use and share spatial data (National Map, Drought Monitor, NEPAssist).  Place is a powerful idea because we all have it and we keep moving from one place to another.  GO GIS!

FRS Locations

Looking at a map of uncorrected facility locations highlights why looking at a map can illustrate why knowing place is critical to making decisions about pollution and human health.

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Fall Classic 2013 – Baseball and Squash

2013 November 18

By Jim Callier

A few Mondays ago, I fired up my computer to check email and plan my work for the week. It had been a good weekend. I watched the World Series games between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox. Each team took one game. We know how the series ended, but in my mind both teams are champions and winners on and off the field. Both teams recover food following games for donation to hunger relief organizations or composting as part of their commitment to EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. Numerous other sports teams, have also established other programs and activities that benefit the environment and focus on sustainability. Earlier in the year I got a chance to visit with the Cardinals and see firsthand how they are working to keep food waste out of landfills.

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Hosei Maruyama, St. Louis Cardinals stadium management, explains recycling effort at Busch Stadium to Jim Callier

With wasted food on my mind, I read an email from one of my staff members, Marcus, about a charity event he attended on his own time outside of work. He explained that a local not-for-profit, the Society of St. Andrews – West, or SoSA-West, was organizing a “gleaning” event for next week and plans to donate all of the food to pantries, shelters and other organizations that feed people. Gleaning, is where a farmer opens up his fields after the harvest to individuals and organizations to gather food that remains in the field for use. Gleaning can also occur at Farmer’s Markets, grocers, and other places that have surplus food.

In this case, SoSA – West received permission from a local farmer to glean his field, and recruited over 1000 volunteers to glean. The goal was to collect 1 Million pounds of food for charities, weather permitting. The product in the field is over ten different varieties of squash, including acorn, butternut, cushaw, buttercup, turban hubbard, delicate, spaghetti, banana, cheese pumpkin, kobacha and pumpkin and more.

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A variety of squash collected by SoSA – West

Hearing this , I clearly see the connection to our National Sustainable Materials Management Program and the Food Recovery Challenge (FRC). How can I use this information to raise awareness about the world-wide issue of food to good to waste, and encourage others to join EPA, USDA, and others in the FRC?
I’ll let you know what steps we took in next blog in this series. Please come back to see what’s next!

Jim Callier is Chief of the Resource Conservation and Pollution Prevention Section at EPA in Kansas City and has thirty years of experience working at EPA, primarily in Region 7. Jim has both working and management experience in many of EPA’s programs including hazardous and solid waste, brownfields, and pollution prevention. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri at Rolla with a B.S. Degree in Geological Engineering and is a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Missouri.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Mercury Rising 2: Electric Boogaloo

2013 October 31

By Amber Tucker

Last week I briefly gave an introduction about mercury in the environment, and let you know that I would follow it up with  details from the September 12th, Mercury in the Environment Symposium held at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS.   Hosted by Haskell, with support from the National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP), US EPA Region 7, and the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, the symposium served as a gathering of minds from Tribal, Federal, and undergrad Haskell students, all ready to learn and discuss the effects of mercurial deposition and monitoring in our environment.

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Haskell University, Lawrence, KS

We heard from David Gay, coordinator for the NADP, about the efforts of his agency to provide measurements of both depositional and atmospheric mercury across the country.  Their two programs, the Mercury Deposition Network (MDN), and the Atmospheric Mercury Network (AMNet), collaborate with several partners from federal and state agencies, Tribal Nations, universities and research institutions as well as private organizations and businesses, to monitor and collect data and provide high quality measurements to support an array of objectives.  This national monitoring network measures total mercury in one-week precipitation samples at 80 sites across the United States. The objective of the MDN is to develop a national database of weekly concentrations of total mercury in precipitation and the seasonal and annual flux of total mercury in wet deposition. The data will be used to develop information on spatial and seasonal trends in mercury deposited to surface waters, forested watersheds, and other sensitive receptors.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is one of NADP’s members, and currently operates monitoring stations for the MDN.  Wet deposition uses air monitoring stations to collect data using weekly samples or samples collected daily within 24 hours of the start of precipitation.  All MDN samples are sent to the Mercury Analytical Laboratory (HAL), which analyzes all forms of mercury in a single measurement and reports this as total mercury concentrations.  They also operate stations to catch and measure litterfall.  The litterfall monitoring initiative offers a way for a NADP site sponsor to get measurements to approximate a large part of the mercury dry deposition in a forest landscape. These samples are analyzed for the presence and concentration of mercury and methylmercury.

We heard from EPA R7 staff on additional monitoring methods, one of which is the Regional Ambient Fish Tissue (RAFT) Program.  Many of the Region 7 Tribes use data from fish tissue samples to determine the mercury content in their local waterways.  This is valuable information not only from an environmentally conscious standpoint, but this data also allows them to determine whether or not fish consumption advisories need to be in effect.

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Stan Holder of EPA Region 7 discussing the RAFT program

As part of the symposium, Tej Atili from the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas Environmental Department hosted a fish tissue sampling demonstration.  Literally hands-on, this demo allowed attendees to go through the process of clearing a small area in the dorsal area of scales, extracting samples using an 8 millimeter biopsy punch, and inserting the sample into a sterile scintillation vial.   While our tissue donor was of the frozen fillet variety, Tej walked us through what the “live” process entails and the importance of following proper procedures and protocol in sampling.  He also sprung a surprise math lesson on us; how to calculate the appropriate daily consumption rate of fish based on body weight.  While my calculations were all wrong (math is NOT a strong suit of mine), the equation that goes into it is actually quite interesting.  If I’m ever in a bind and need to know how much tuna I can eat though, I’m going to need some help; surely there’s an app for that!

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Tej Atili of the Kickapoo of Kansas demonstrating how to obtain a fish biopsy

Spending a day at my alma mater learning about mercury and sampling methods was a blast, and based on the turnout and positive feedback on this symposium, I hope they continue to hold it in the future, and maybe expand it.  In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about mercury monitoring and effects,  you can let your fingers do the walking and head over to EPA’s Mercury Page.  Also see NADP’s Mercury Deposition Network Page.   Until next time, I bid you adieu and wish you better fish-consumption calculation skills than I possess.  Seriously though, there’s gotta be an app for that!

Amber Tucker is an Environmental Scientist who serves as a NEPA reviewer for EPA Region 7.  She is a graduate of Haskell University and serves as Region 7′s Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native American Employment Programs.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.