Thursday, December 26, 2013

Take a Hit of the Catskill Mountains: Must-See Doc Film, "To be Forever Wild", Gets You High on Nature

"To be Forever Wild" -- A Captivating, Poetic Film about the Castskill Mountains Takes You on a Trip You Will Want to Go on For Real 

by Paul E McGinniss

It's easy to give heartfelt kudos to a documentary film that loves its subject so much, especially when the film causes the entire audience to get a contact high while also falling in love with the subject. Such is the case with the intoxicating, cinematic love story about the Castkill Mountains of New York, "To be Forever Wild",  which celebrates the astounding natural geography and the area's passionate, diverse populace.  It may come as a surprise that the region retains a rugged and remote edge despite being only 2.5 hours in an EV plug-in hybrid from NYC.

A magical shot of one of the many natural gems found within the Catskill Park Preserve.

The director of "To be Forever Wild" is charismatic David Becker, a young filmmaker who is a modern day John Burroughs meets Jack Kerouac.  He is a creative adventurer who seems to have tapped into the beat - the pulse of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley of New York.  At the 2013 Woodstock Film Festival, where the film-in-progress was first screened publicly, its cheery director and film crew received rousing applause.  The celebratory energy of the room was palpable.

Judging by the audience reaction, David is clearly well liked in Woodstock. It is no surprise as his film revels in the very region where it was shot.  His raw energy is as infectious as the landscape that has long inspired its inhabitants.

David Becker beams  following a screening of "To be Forever Wild" at the 2013 "Woodstock Film Festival." 

It makes perfect sense that this locally-grown film premiered at the Woodstock Film festival. Known as the "Colony of the Arts", Woodstock, NY is located at the heart of the Catskill Region and David Becker teaches media arts at The Woodstock Day School.  The surrounding Catskill Park is also one of the nation's first nature conservation areas. Much of the native wildness of this area still exists once you get off road and into the approximate 300,000 acres of preserved land.  (And, this is exclusive of the hundreds of thousands of acres which are in private hands and undeveloped.)

Parts of the Catskill Park still seem like a movie from a lost world.

"To be Forever Wild" was shot guerrilla style utilizing a dozen plus crew of thoughtful, creative souls of all stripes (including filmmakers, musicians, artists, writers) who assembled at a storybook locale called Platte Cove in a remote cabin once occupied by Jack London.  From this base they explored and captured the wild Catskills terrain and the people living in the region on film.    
 David Becker (front left) sitting with the crew for "To be Forever Wild" at Platte Cove in the Catskill Mountains.

The doc captures an astounding array of images of the Catskills which seamlessly weaves the natural landscape together with the colorful characters who live in the region. One of those characters featured prominently in the film is Ellen Kalish who works at a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center known as Ravensbeard.  The film sequences of her interacting with rescued birds were beautifully surreal.  One of the more memorable, poignant moments is a shot of Ellen releasing a bird which brings on bittersweet tears as the bird flies away, into the wild.

Ellen Kalish with an owl at Ravensbead Wildlife Center in Woodstock, NY.

Before seeing the film, I met long time Woodstock Film Festival attendee, two time Academy Award Winning filmmaker, Barbara Kopple, at the local Colony Cafe.  I discovered that Ms. Kopple brought David to the Catskills for the first time six years ago.  David was fortunate to have the chance to work and learn from veteran Barbara Kopple.  He recently coordinated the restoration and DVD release of Barbara Kopple’s landmark documentary, "Harlan County USA."  He also collaborated with Ms. Kopple on several nonfiction projects including "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing."

After seeing the film, I asked Barbara what she thought about David's work and she said:

" 'To be Forever Wild' is a film that explores how nature rejuvenates and inspires, telling the story of hikers, fly-fishers, artists --- all discovering the power of nature in their own way. These experiences put our modern life in perspective, eliciting that those who interact with nature become its biggest defenders."

A Young Boy living in the Catskill Region who literally has "climbed every mountain" in the region and inspires us as we watch him hike one of the 34 High Peaks of the Catskill Mountain range. 

By the end of inhaling this beautifully shot film, if you have not been to the Catskills, you will want to zip line there and experience the astounding natural landscape and connect with some of the interesting personalities captured in the film.

I suppose it is somewhat ironic that this film is called "To be Forever Wild" as surely watching it increases desire to go to the Catskills and visit. The more people who see this film, the more people will want to go to these mountains, just a short drive from New York. And, indeed, the more people that come, the less (naturally) wild it could become.

Trailer for
 One of many swimming holes enjoyed by the crew of "To be Forever Wild."

But, with pro-active communities and eco-conscious, engaged citizens, teachers and filmmakers like David Becker and his crew, there is much reason to hope that the rugged lands just north and west of the great metropolis of New York City will stay wild and remain forever in conservation. 

“Our research suggests to rely less on end-of-world scenarios and to emphasize instead the various ways in which our country – and our planet – has a rich and long history that deserves to be preserved,” says Hershfield. “By highlighting the shadow of the past, we may actually help illuminate the path to an environmentally sustainable future.”
What's great about "To be Forever Wild" is that the film embodies this point of protecting the environment, but does not hammer you over the head with a save-the-environment message a la Occupy or style.  But I dare say, unassuming documentary films like this one will inspire as many people to become environmentalists as more hard hitting films like "The Big Fix", about the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or the disturbing film, "Chasing Ice", about melting ice caps.  

Don't get me wrong.  These environmental films are terribly important.  "The Big Fix" is a must see film.  "Chasing Ice" is one of my all time favorite documentary films.  It blew me away when I saw it at the 2012 Woodstock Film Festival.  But, small films like "To be Forever Wild" which capture the joy of engaging with nature can inspire and motivate environmental action in a more visceral way.

As I was finishing this post, I read an article on Science Blog entitled "To Boost Concern for the Environment, Emphasize a Long Future, Not Impending Doom."  New York University researcher, Hal Hershfield, was quoted: "Our research suggests to rely less on end of world scenarios and to emphasize instead the various ways in which our country and our planet has a rich and long history that deserves to be preserved."

Our research suggests to rely less on end-of-world scenarios and to emphasize instead the various ways in which our country – and our planet – has a rich and long history that deserves to be preserved,” says Hershfield. “By highlighting the shadow of the past, we may actually help illuminate the path to an environmentally sustainable future.”
Barbara Kopple speaks of the importance of truly connecting with nature while maintaining a positive balance as we do it: "The most wonderful part of the film for me was seeing Director David Becker and his crew connecting with nature, comically braving the zipline, lugging equipment mountainside, and boldly treading new territory. This personal thread harmonizes everyone to the great outdoors and challenges us to brave the wild with a renewed respect."


Check out the trailer for "To be Forever Wild" below.  If watching it doesn't make you want to turn off the computer or device you are reading this on and go out and find some nature, you should clearly consider some digital rehab.

Hey, Vimeo is great!  But a real life vista of uninterrupted wild, nature, a simple sunset or some water rushing down a hill, or better yet, a swimming hole carved into a prehistoric rock ledge helps relieve the stress and frantic energy caused by manic modernity while lightening and uplifting the soul.

To Be Forever Wild - Trailer from David Becker on Vimeo.

Copyright 2013 Paul E McGinniss

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Read Beyond Oil NYC's: Rob Hopkins Introduces New Yorkers to the Transition Movement

Hello there.  I have been so busy working on new green building and renovation projects north of NYC in the Hudson Valley that I have scaled back posting.  I will be reporting on some of our projects at some point in the near future, including the renovation of a house in Woodstock, NY that we are project managing.  It will have an 8 kw Sun Power solar PV array and a solar thermal heating system installed under a stone patio that will heat a spectacular pool to, well, live (not die) for. (The solar thermal heating system will offset a propane fueled pool heater.)

But, in lieu of eco-musings or news on my end, my good friend Dan Miner from Beyond Oil NYC just sent me a must-read blog post explaining how  "The Transition movement blends climate change response and local economic development". He wrote this excellent article after meeting Transition Town Man Rob Hopkins in NYC.

                 Dan Miner, Rob Hopkins and John Bell, NYC

I previously wrote a well-received piece about Transition Towns called Grow Your Own Community  in Chronogram magazine.  I also SKYPED with Rob Hopkins a few years back for an interview, but unfortunately I could not  make it to meet him face-to-face in NYC during his recent visit.  So, thank you Dan Miner for being my tele-presence and summing up so eloquently and thoughtfully all that Transition is.

As an aside, I wanted to mention that I first met Dan five or so years ago at the North East Sustainable Energy Association event that takes place every year in Boston.  We both attended a fantastic talk on resiliency by Alex Wilson.  Among other things, Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc and the Resilient Design Institute.   I had the pleasure of hosting a SPARK event in Manhattan entitled “Resilient Design: The New Imperative” with Alex last year just after Super Storm Sandy with my wondeful collaborators, the inspirational Green Drinks NYC and The Moderns.  Shout out to Alex, Green Drinks NYC, The Moderns and Dan Miner.

Check out Beyond Oil NYC's : Rob Hopkins Introduces New Yorkers to the Transition Movement

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

SPARK in NYC with Legendary Filmmaker, Writer, Adventurer, Storyteller Jon Bowermaster

Join Green Drinks NYC, The Moderns and Paul E McGinniss on the evening of Tuesday, October 22nd for the next installment of the SPARK speaker series.  This upcoming SPARK is entitled "Exploration 2.0: Adventure for Adventure Sake R.I.P." and features National Geographic Explorer and environmental advocate Jon Bowermaster.

Jon Bowermaster on one of his many adventures 

Jon Bowermaster's longtime relationship with National Geographic has afforded him the opportunity to organize expeditions around the world, literally, on a kayak. He has witnessed firsthand the impact of climate change, over-fishing and plastic pollution. A big part of Jon's motivation for these treks is to use adventure as a trigger to enlighten audiences and share his stories to inspire people to make positive change. 
Come hear Jon share his stories of adventure and learn how he utilizes positivity, passion, inspiration and multi-media storytelling to relate his exciting journeys to not only entertain and uplift, but also to shine light on important environmental issues facing our world. 

Wine and snacks for SPARK are provided by Green Square Tavern.

Click here for details and to reserve a ticket

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sustainability Starts in the Heart: A Conversation with Life Coach Nancy Jack

by Paul E McGinniss
Life Coach Nancy Jack, sailing through New York Harbor, July, 2013

In July, I had the pleasure of traveling into NYC with my friend and neighbor, Life Coach Nancy Jack, to host a SPARK with Integrative medicine pioneer, Michael Finkelstein, M.D. Michael is the author of "77 Questions for Skillful Living: A New Path to Extraordinary Health."  I highly recommend this book which teaches the skills to enable us to lead a more mindful, happy and healthy life.   

As Nancy and I drove into NYC, we discussed Dr Finkelstein's book, and, in particular, how there is a connection between our inner health and well being and the health and well being of the world at large. Inspired by Michael Finkelstein and his book of insightful questions, we began our journey by me asking Nancy a question: "Do you think we have been cut off from nature?" 

Dr. Michael Finkelstein (left) with Margaret Lydecker, Founder of Green Drinks NYC, at a recent SPARK event in NYC.

Nancy's immediate and enthusiastic response was: "Yes!  Of course I do!   Even if you go out into the country or woods or parks, do you ever see children learning about and experiencing nature?  Learning about the trees...the wildlife...the dirt...the insects?  No!  You rarely see any interaction of young people with nature unless they live on a farm or live with a family that pays a special interest to experiencing nature.  Most children are on cell phones or watching TV or doing something on their iphones or androids."

I concurred: "We do all seem distracted so much now and not really paying attention to what surrounds us."

Nancy continued her thought: "We are so distracted. And there are so many distractions that are not healthy for us.  It's not that all distractions are bad.  But many are not true to our nature.  Having a cell phone and being online all day is easy and can be productive as far as a technology is concerned, but it is not who we are.  Technology is not our spirit."

So, besides being distracted - what  is our obsession with technology doing to our spirit?, I asked. 

Are we communing with nature or just commenting and capturing it? 

To bring insight into our discussion about being disconnected from the nature that surrounds us, Nancy urged that I read "Healing Spaces - The Science and Place of Well Being" by Dr Esther Sternberg MD. She said the book reveals the importance of how we need to be connected to nature and how this connection can help heal us. 

Nancy elaborated: "Dr Sternberg's ideas and background of research show spaces can provide healing.   For example, when people are in hospital rooms there is evidence they heal faster when they have a view of nature, like trees.  So views of trees, water, mountains and natural wonder connect our spirit to nature which is very healing.  This idea goes back thousands of years to native cultures which have always known the healing power of nature, including native plants and substances found naturally in the environment.  Native cultures like the American Indians and the Aborigines in Australia knew the healing power of nature and took what they learned and incorporated it into their lives. Nature was part of their inner and outer landscapes, something they were born with. Nature was as native to their cell tissues as the heart is to the human body and was an integral part of their lives, not just something they observed occasionally from the outside."

The Earth is a Pharmacy of Healing as the Native American Indians knew from their intimate connection with the nature that surrounded them.

After I thought about how much our modern culture has disassociated ourselves from the natural rhythms of the environment, I brought the conversation back to technology, which I firmly believe has brought us many benefits: "So, the bottom line is, technology can be enormously helpful and it serves a real purpose. But you are saying technology is not who we are and has come to dominate nature?"

Nancy continued her thoughts: "I do not think technology dominates nature. I think technology dominates humanity to the point humanity does not appreciate or commune with nature like we did before technology. We are living, breathing creatures like trees, animals, the earth.  We are not cell phones. We are not computers.Technology isn't breathing. We invented technology and now technology has taken power. Instead of us ruling technology, technology rules us."


As we drove down the West Side Highway into New York, Manhattan loomed before us in all its hectic, techno-modern splendor. We spoke about the importance of technology in solving pressing needs like cleaning up pollution and creating more renewable energy.  In this context I asked Nancy: "How do we solve the worlds most pressing environmental problems?  How do we truly make the world more sustainable?"

Nancy: "Sustainability Starts in the Heart: It comes from your heart out of respect for where you live. We don't just live in a house. We don't just live on a piece of ground. We live on a beautiful planet. It breathes. If we continue to treat it as we have done in the past we will suffocate it. I think we forget the earth is alive. And just as nature nurtures us, we have to nurture nature."

Nancy Jack, Paul E McGinniss, Barbara Kurz and Clayton Dewar (left to right) on the roof deck of Element Times Square West in NYC after the SPARK with Dr Michael Finkelstein. Photo by Margaret Lydecker.
After the amazing SPARK with Dr Finkelstein, Nancy and I and a group of friends headed to Element Times Square West where we were staying the night.  We enjoyed a wonderful time on the 40th floor roof top deck.  

The next morning I read an article on Big Think by Tara Rockefeller called "In a World of Ideas, Place Matters." The poetic article was about Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the Maine Coast, about 100 square miles, where the first U.S. National Park east of the Mississippi was created.  The park is now called Acadia National Park and was the first National Park created with the donation of private land. 

View from Above Bubble Pond in Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine.

Tara's words reminded me of the conversations I had the day before with Nancy.  These thoughts about the importance of place and connecting to our surroundings, they echoed in my ears as I drove back upstate to the bucolic Hudson Valley where I live.  I was feeling an even greater appreciation and understanding for those with the vision in this region to conserve many hundreds of thousands of natural acreage for future generations to connect to and benefit from.

Tara Rockefeller could be speaking for all of us:

"Even in this time of advancing technology and expanding cyberspace, where we are makes a difference. We don’t think or exist in empty space; we need nourishment from the earth, literally, to live and create. Breaking away from day-to-day routines and interacting in places that bring people together and that feed our minds helps us understand our relationship with our environment, our “human ecology”, and leads us on a more sustainable path. And somehow, when we’re connected to a place, the ideas we generate have more sticking power."

Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2013

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Powerful Anti-Fracking Film, "Dear Governor Cuomo", Now Available to Download on Internet

Jon Bowermaster's Uplifting Concert Protest Film is a Rousing Rallying Call to Protect our Health and Environment From the Devastating Negative Impact Of Fracking.    

By Paul E McGinniss

A scene of the musicians and environmental advocates in Albany, NY from the concert protest film "Dear Governor Cuomo."

I love the Hudson Valley.  The beautiful vistas, the rolling farmland, the high peaks of the Catskills, the rushing creeks and streams and reservoirs that supply New York City with drinking water.  Not to mention, the amazing rainbow of creative people who live here, some who have been here for generations and some newly planting themselves in the fertile soils along the mighty Hudson River.

One of my favorite new friends in the Hudson Valley is writer, filmmaker, National Geographic explorer, and all around good guy, Jon Bowermaster. I was originally connected to Jon when I helped organize a screening of the powerful film about global warming and the world's melting glaciers, Chasing Ice, at the Rosendale Theater in Rosendale, NY.  

I admire Jon for his work and decades-long passion to protect the environment and also for his unwavering commitment to staying positive and inspiring despite the sometimes depressing state of the world environment.  Jon not only wants to create beauty, but also use his art and talent to make a difference.  For him, like the Russian avant garde productivists who thought art should serve a purpose, Jon uses his talent to not only celebrate nature, but also help shed light on important issues like global warming and fracking, issues which we all must face together as a unified and healing force for change.

Jon Bowermaster in front of the Prius I drove as part of my participation in the recent Toyota Prius Plug-In MPG Challenge for Charity.

"Dear Governor Coumo" premiered at the 2012 Woodstock Film Festival.  The idea for the film was born when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he might might lift the four-year moratorium against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York state. The result is an inspiring concert/protest which was organized on his doorstep in Albany, the state capital. This musical protest event brought together scientists, musicians, activists and actors in a scripted night onstage which encouraged the Governor to join the anti-fracking majority in his home state.

Photo by Les Stone of a family whose drinking water was poisoned from a natural gas well using the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

"Dear Governor Cuomo" was written and directed by Jon Bowermaster, with musical direction by Natalie Merchant.  It stars, among others, Mark Ruffalo, Melissa Leo, Joan Osborne, Citizen Cope & Medeski Martin and Wood.  It is described as a cross between “The Last Waltz” and “An Inconvenient Truth", equal parts message and music.  

What's truly great about this grassroots art advocacy is that it has spawned similar anti-fracking movements across the country with campaigns such as "Dear Governor Brown" in California.  When I met with Jon in Stone Ridge last week, he told me that a "Dear President Obama" concert protest film is in the works which will document the grassroots musical protest against fracking across the United States in a feature length film.  Thank you Jon for being a good neighbor and rallying us all to take action.

Check out the trailer for "Dear Governor Cuomo" below.  (Double click to watch full screen)

And, order the film on iTunes or Amazon.

Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

No Farms...No Food! No Farmers...No Farms! Help The Farmer of Stone Ridge Orchard Buy the Farm

My  latest stop as part of my journey in the month-long 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-In MPG Challenge was to the Stone Ridge Orchard in the historic hamlet of Stone Ridge, Ulster County, New York.  

By Paul E McGinniss

The Stunning Views at Stone Ridge Orchard from a high point on the property

At the Stone Ridge Orchard rows and rows of fruit trees stretch as far as the eye can see, with the dramatic blue peaks of the Catskill Mountains as backdrop.  The produce grown here by farm operator Elizabeth Ryan, and at the two other Hudson Valley farms that Elizabeth Ryan helms, includes over one hundred varieties of apples, peaches, plums, cherries, strawberries, raspberries and pears including heirloom, old fashioned and traditional varieties. These farms produce endangered fruit such as French and German plums.  Also produced are Esopus or Spitzenburg apples, which originated in the Hudson Valley which some claim was George Washington's favorite apple.

Trailblazer Elizabeth Ryan, a famed Hudson Valley farmer and food artisan has owned and operated the Breezy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill across the Hudson River from Stone Ridge in Dutchess County for over 20 years.  In addition to these ventures, for the past six years, Elizabeth has been nurturing The Stone Ridge Orchard, a stunningly beautiful 117 acre parcel of land into a productive orchard.  In attempt to protect this pristine land from development she has begun in earnest a campaign to raise funds and consciousness to preserve the farm.

Over several decades of passionate advocacy, Elizabeth has garnered many accomplishments in her role as proprietor, farmer and advocate. Among the many to her credit she can claim: Elizabeth is a founding farm member of the Union Square Green Market in Manhattan, the first Green Market in NYC which helped create and launch the whole Green Market Movement. She is also a partner in the Hudson Valley's Knoll Krest Farm which raises all natural (organic and cage free) poultry and eggs.
The entrance to Stone Ridge Orchard is just a stone's throw from the "downtown" of Stone Ridge off of Route 213, and just a hop skip and a jump from nearby High Falls        
My Prius is taking a rest in front of the majestic 300 year old oak tree while I wandered around the orchard taking pictures. I was tempted to pick some apples, but alas, I refrained as there is a lovely store at the entrance to the orchard where I could buy some freshly picked fruit.

Stone Ridge Orchard is certified in the Eco Apple Program which is part of The Northeast Eco Apple Project, funded by the EPA. Eco Apple certification is managed by The Integrated Pest Management Institute of America, based in Wisconsin. The Institute reviews farms to ensure, among other things, spraying of any kind is done only when necessary and with minimal environmental impact.

Eco Apple orchards never use Organophosphates, a toxic insecticide. The Pesticide Action Network states that "Organophosphates are similar to the chemical warfare agents produced during World War II, and are some of the most common, and most toxic insecticides used today, adversely affecting the human nervous system even at low levels of exposure."

During my visit to Stone Ridge Orchard I had the pleasure to meet Bilinda M. Phillips who works with Elizabeth Ryan.  While speaking with Belinda our conversation was interrupted by a phone call, and I overheard her on the phone speaking to a family member about her father.  It was clear from the phone conversation that he was not well.  After the call I inquired as to his well-being, only to discover that her father suffers from the devastating effects of Agent Orange poisoning.  Agent Orange was used extensively as a defoliant during the Vietnam War.

Bilinda M Phillips at Stone Ridge Orchard standing near a banner at the entrance.

While standing in front of the Eco Apple banner and the American flag, we spoke passionately about the injustice done to our soldiers who were poisoned by  Agent Orange. Neither company, Dow Chemical nor Monsanto, the manufacturers of Agent Orange, nor our own U.S. Government which contracted their services, has ever admitted legal responsibility for poisoning our soldiers no less the the citizens of the countries where Agent Orange was deployed.

This conversation about Agent Orange might seem to be a far stretch from The New York Green Advocate blog post about saving a local farm which practices sustainable and eco-friendly farming practices, but it is not.  In fact, talking with Belinda about Agent Orange demonstrated the raison d'ĂȘtre for advocacy in support of local farms and the dedicated agrarians who consciously and responsibly sacrifice and toil to keep the food production of our country in the hands of good stewards of our environment.   

Massive amounts of herbicides and pesticides, known causes of cancer and other diseases such as Parkinson's disease, are still sprayed on the produce grown on our farms. It is with great shock and horror that I can report that in efforts to reintroduce the use of the herbicide 2,4-D as part of a "weed management program", Dow Chemical and Monsanto have formed a most unholy alliance to join forces to "poison" America's Heartland.  This herbicide is one half of the infamous Agent Orange. If successful, this is predicted to double the use of this harmful herbicide use in America's Corn Belt during the next decade.  This toxic chemical is to be sold along with the GMO crop critics have dubbed "Agent Orange Corn", which is genetically engineered to be immune to 2,4-D.

On a positive note, agricultural pioneers are not taking the situation lying down and should be supported in their efforts. In a recent media release about her exciting plans to buy the Stone Ridge Orchard, the Hudson Valley's pioneer Elizabeth Ryan reported:

We will build out an European style cidery, plant an organic cider orchard and develop an organic bee-yard with acres of bee forage. This is an ambitious multiphase project. We are looking for trailblazers, co-conspirators, friends, investors and partners. We will be hosting two major fundraisers, one in NYC and one in Stone Ridge and we are looking for qualified investors/partners for the cider company."

In addition to the scrumptious produce from the orchard, the Shop at the Stone Ridge Orchard temps the visitors with other special artisan locavore products such as Catskill Comfort (pictured above) a regionally produced maple syrup.  (Sorry Vermont! W e love you but you ain't the only artisinal foodies making the amber elixir)

 A jug of locally made at the Stone Ridge Orchard store, below a map of the property.

In a recent interview with Farm Aid, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to keep family farmers on their land, Elizabeth Ryan was asked why farmers are important.  Her eloquent response:

"Being a farmer is like being a doctor or an artist - we give back to the community. Health starts in healthy soil and healthy food. Everything starts with food and we feed people! We also maintain open space and natural habitat. Farmers preserve a non-industrial way of life, in rhythm with the land and seasons, which is important to our culture."

Help Elizabeth Ryan buy the farm!   

No farms.... no food!  

No farmers.... no farms!

Elizabeth Ryan reports a detailed fundraising campaign will be announced shortly, but in the meantime, you can donate at You can also contact Elizabeth directly at for more information on how you can help.

NOTE: This post was written during my participation in The 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge.
From July 12th to Aug 12th, I will be driving a Prius Plug-In Hybrid as part of the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge.  

Toyota has partnered with seven prolific environmental influencers (myself included) from the tri-state area for Wave Two of the 2013 Prius Plug-In MPG Challenge – a fun competition to help educate local communities on the benefits of electric vehicles. The winner of the challenge will receive a $2,500 donation to the charity of their choice.    

(Check out #Pluginforcharity on Facebook and Twitter.)

The charity I am competing for is New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.

I would like to thank Earth Day NY for facilitating my participation in the Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge in NYC.
Check out Earth Day NY on Facebook.

And, a big shout out to  Element, Times Square Westfor providing hotel accommodations while I am in NYC for the challenge.

 Copyright 2013 Paul E McGinniss

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My Road Trip to a Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research Fundraiser in Central Park, NYC

by Paul E McGinniss

As part of my month long participation in the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-In MPG Challenge I had the pleasure to attend the 6th Annual War on Parkinson's Softball Game in NYC, a fundraiser to support the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.  (The MJFF)

Photo of the 6th Annual War on Parkinson's Softball Game, Central Park, NYC 2013

This annual event is organized by TeamFox member Mike Costa, who is one of the most prolific fundraisers for the foundation.  It was a super hot and humid summer day, but cool to be sitting in the bleachers at Heckscher Ballfields in South Central Park with a group of dedicated New Yorkers who were all "going to bat" for Parkinson's. (The spectacular view of the NYC skyline wasn't too shabby either!)

According to the MJFF, as many as one million Americans live with Parkinson's disease, with approximately 60,000 Americans diagnosed each year.  The disease was first characterized extensively in 1817 by English doctor James Parkinson.  Parkinson's, a disorder of the central nervous system, results from the loss of cells in various parts of the brain leaving patients less able to direct or control their movement.

6th Annual War on Parkinson's Softball Game Heads to Central Park
On Saturday, July 13th, TeamFox member Mike Costa (laying on ground in front of players) took the mound in Central Park for his 6th Annual War on Parkinson's Softball Game.  As usual, Mike recruited a stellar lineup of teammates—including many ex-major and minor league players.

Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991. While he maintains a strong commitment to his acting and writing careers, Fox has shifted his primary focus and energies toward The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which he launched in 2000; and its efforts to raise much-needed research funding and awareness for Parkinson's disease.

The MJFF Foundation explains on its web site:

"The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, although research points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Pesticide exposure has been associated with higher risk of Parkinson's disease"

Recent scientific studies also  link pesticides to cancer, ADD, and a host of other diseases.

Michael J. Fox in Congress
Michael J. Fox has put a compassionate face on Parkinson's disease, while raising consciousness and millions of dollars to find a cure.

To gain insight into the environmental risk factors of Parkinson's, I contacted The Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, California and spoke with Samuel M. Goldman, MD, MPH.   Dr Goldman explained:

"Evidence continues to mount that chemicals in the environment contribute to the risk of Parkinson's disease.  (PD) These relationships can be very difficult to study, because important exposures may have occurred many years prior to disease onset.  Nonetheless, there is substantial evidence that exposure to some types of pesticides may increase risk." 

I asked Dr Goldman how pervasive these potentially harmful chemicals were in the environment and he expounded:

"Some of these compounds are extremely pervasive.  Organochlorine pesticides persist for decades, especially in fatty tissues, so they bioconcentrate in the food chain. Chlorinated solvents such as TCE or the similar compound tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene, PERC) rapidly degrade in the atmosphere, however, they can persist for decades in groundwater.  Thus, although it doesn’t technically bioconcentrate, TCE is detectable in food, human breast milk, and is the most common organic groundwater contaminant.  Paraquat (a herbicide)) and rotenone (a pesticide) do not persist very long after application, but persistence isn’t necessarily a requirement for toxicity.  A single exposure may be sufficient to initiate a degenerative cascade that presents as PD years later."

The health consequences of chemical exposure over our lifespan are complicated as Dr. Goldman elaborates:

"Furthermore, exposure to one toxicant can increase the sensitivity to subsequent toxicant exposures—this is known as the “2-hit” hypothesis, and it can be clearly demonstrated in a variety of animal models.  Paraquat is still regularly used as a pre-emergent herbicide and defoliant.  Rotenone is still used as an insecticide, but much less so than previously (previously, it was commonly used to treat pets).  It is also used as a pesticide, to kill invasive fish species in lakes.  TCE and PERC are still commonly used in industry as degreasers and in dry cleaning (PERC). Previously, TCE was used to decaffeinate coffee and as an anesthetic."

Mike Costa of TeamFox (left) with me wearing my cherished Waterkepeeper Alliance hat!

In an attempt to further understand if the herbicide and pesticide industries are taking sufficient actions to safeguard public health from the chemicals they sell, I asked Dr Goldman to give me his perspective:

"I don’t know much about the actions taken by industry, though some have gone out of their way to subpoena our research data—sapping our time and resources.   As I mentioned, the relationships between environmental chemicals and PD are very difficult to delineate.  We need to use a variety of study designs in a variety of human settings, rodent and cellular models. I hope that the manufacturers of compounds that have been identified as possibly increasing the risk of PD recognize that we are 'in this together'. They should do everything they can to advance toxicologic research into these compounds, openly, transparently.  They should freely share any 'proprietary' toxicologic research they have on these compounds."

(From left to right), Camille Costa, wife of Mike Costa; Jason Rice, Director Team Fox and Annual Giving for the MJFF; and Nancy Armstrong, who is organizing a 2014 benefit for the MJFF

After my dialog with Dr Samuel M Goldman and reading so many credible scientific studies which show links between common chemicals and diseases like Parkinson's, I have become more motivated to help raise consciousness about the need for effective oversight on what chemicals should be sold, not only in the USA but around the world.

With evidence mounting, it should not be difficult for anyone to recognize the dangers of herbicides and pesticides, of which millions and millions of pounds are sprayed across the country on lawns and fields of crops. The danger to humans should be especially evident with recent findings that the ominous, global bee die-off is directly related to herbicides and pesticides.

Colony Collapse Disorder

As reported in EcoWatch, researchers at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the University of Maryland confirm pesticide exposure is a major contributor to the declining honey bee population.  EcoWatch reported: " Since 2006, honey bees nationwide have suffered ongoing and rapid population declines, from hive abandonment and bee die-off in a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). The causes are numerous, however, recent scientific evidence points to the role of a systemic class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, which contaminate pollen, nectar and the wider environment, causing lethal exposure to honey bees and threatening our food systems. "

And it is not just bees that are giving us a buzzing alarm signal that we need to be significantly more vigilant by monitoring the environmental impact of chemicals we release into the environment. In 2011, hundreds and hundreds of birds died en masse in Louisiana, and some suspected the toxic dispersant Corexit used to "clean" up the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill was to blame. 

One of Michael J Fox's  best selling books , Always Looking Up, which inspires us all to tackle our problems head on, with our chins up and take action to make positive change!

Despite the complex challenges facing us, it is important not to end this post on a sour note.  All the problems facing us are solvable. Many talented and brave people like Michael J. Fox and Dr Samuel  M. Goldman and the Costa family on Long Island are using their lives, talents and passion to make the world a healthy, vibrant place for future generations.  

Let us all be thankful and give a big shout out to Michael J. Fox, who has taken the tragedy of disease and turned it in into an uplifting journey of survival and hope.  

Michael's heartfelt words jump off the page in his book "Lucky Man: A Memoir":

"These last ten years of coming to terms with my disease would turn out to be the best ten years of my life - not in spite of my illness, but because of it."

Learn more and get involved with the MJFF at

Check out the music video below of a jam session featuring Michael J. Fox and Elvis Costello performing "Pump It Up." at the 2012 The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research annual gala "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's" in New York City

NOTE: This post was written during my participation in The 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge.
From July 12th to Aug 12th, I will be driving a Prius Plug-In Hybrid as part of the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge.  

Toyota has partnered with seven prolific environmental influencers (myself included) from the tri-state area for Wave Two of the 2013 Prius Plug-In MPG Challenge – a fun competition to help educate local communities on the benefits of electric vehicles. The winner of the challenge will receive a $2,500 donation to the charity of their choice.    

(Check out #Pluginforcharity on Facebook and Twitter.)

The charity I am competing for is New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.

I would like to thank Earth Day NY for facilitating my participation in the Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge in NYC.
Check out Earth Day NY on Facebook.

And, a big shout out to  Element, Times Square West for providing hotel accommodations 
while I was in NYC for the Challenge

 Copyright 2013 Paul E McGinniss