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