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More than 80 types of crops are currently being grown at Bowery's New Jersey farm. Photo credit: Bowery

'World's First Post-Organic Produce' Grows at This Vertical Farm

A New Jersey farm is growing leafy greens such as baby kale, arugula, butterhead lettuce and basil all year round without pesticides, soil or even sunshine.

Bowery, a high-tech vertical farm in the town of Kearny, claims to grow "the world's first post-organic produce." The company officially launched Feb. 23 after two years of planning and development.

Like many other vertical farms, Bowery's crops grow indoors in stacked rows under LED lights that mimic the sun's rays and get nourished by nutrient-filled, recirculating water.

But what makes Bowery's operation unique is its proprietary FarmOS technology that can detect peak times for harvest and learns what the crops need to thrive, thus eliminating a lot of guesswork that's usually involved with planting food.

Co-founder and CEO Irving Fain explained in a blog post how the fully integrated software system works:

"FarmOS uses data from multiple sources, including vision systems, along with machine learning to monitor plants and all the variables that drive their growth, quality, and flavor, from germination to harvest. This yields insight into what each crop needs, rather than relying on instinct. By monitoring the growing process 24/7 and capturing large amounts of data along the way, we can constantly iterate on each varietal, tweak flavor profiles, provide each crop exactly what it needs to thrive, and harvest at the exact right time. This means better produce all year round."

Fain listed several other advantages to the Bowery system:

0 pesticides - Our controlled indoor environment allows us to grow the purest produce imaginable, with absolutely no pesticides or chemicals. Bowery produce is so clean, you don't even have to wash it.

95% less water - We give our crops exactly what they need and nothing more. Nutrients get precisely delivered via purified water—not a single drop is wasted along the way.

100x+ more productive - By planting in vertical rows and growing twice as fast as traditional agriculture, our farms can be more more productive on the same footprint of land compared with traditional farms.

365 days a year - Growing indoors with LED lights that mimic the full spectrum of the sun means we can grow independent of seasonality or weather conditions. In the future, this will mean perfect, local produce available in New York and other cities in the dead of winter.

Same day harvest to store - Because our farms are located close to the communities they serve, Bowery produce reaches stores and restaurants within one day—unlike traditional produce, which can take weeks or even months.

According to FoodTank, more than 80 types of crops are currently being grown at the company's farm.

The Bowery team believes its model can help address the food needs of the planet's rapidly growing population, which is estimated to balloon to 9-10 billion people by 2050. By then we will need up to 70 percent more food to feed all those mouths.

Fain also pointed out that today's agricultural system has wreaked havoc on the environment and drained precious resources.

"Today our nation depends on cheap, mass-produced food, sacrificing quality for quantity at the expense of our health and the environment," he wrote. "Agriculture now consumes 70 percent of the world's accessible water and 700 million pounds of pesticides are used in the U.S. alone each year."

Another reason that operations like Bowery are important is that the world's population is increasingly urban. Today, 54 percent of the world's population lives in urban areas and will grow to 66 percent by 2050. With its location in Kearny, Bowery is less than 10 miles away from New York City, meaning produce can be plucked and packaged and on its way to the Big Apple in a day.

"We have to re-think what agriculture looks like in a world where water is scarce, people live in cities, and we're waking up to the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals in our food," Fain wrote. "If we can marry the honesty, quality, and precision of the best small providers with the scale of modern agricultural operations, we can change our food system for the better."

Its products can already be found in New York City establishments such as Tom Colicchio's restaurants Craft and Fowler & Wells and select Foragers stores. This month, it will expand to select tristate Whole Foods Markets.

Bowery's packaged greens start at $3.49, a price that's "equal to or lower than equivalent produce grown in the field," Fain wrote, adding that as the company continues to grow, "economies of scale will only drive this price down, making better food more accessible to more people."

Bowery, which recently raised $7.5 million in venture funding, says its scalable model can be replicated in other urban areas and the company is already working at planning their next farm.

Fracking

Is the Pilgrim Pipeline Protest the Next #NoDAPL?

Is this the next #NoDAPL? The Ramapough Lunaape tribe in the township of Mahwah, New Jersey are protesting the interstate Pilgrim Pipeline, a proposed 178-mile dual pipeline that would carry fracked Bakken shale oil from Albany, New York to the Bayway Refinery in Linden, New Jersey.

The proposed Pilgrim Pipeline route.Fractracker

While it is not yet finalized, the preliminary route crosses five counties and 30 municipalities in New Jersey and five counties and 25 municipalities in New York, as well as the Highlands region, where the groundwater and surface water are the direct source of water for more than 4.5 million people in both states, according to the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline.

The pipeline would also run through a portion of the Ramapo Valley Reservation. Similar to the Standing Rock Sioux, the Lunaape worry that a potential pipeline leak would pollute drinking water and sacred sites.

"The Pilgrim Pipeline is another of the many needless pipelines running through the Lunaape homeland which is endangering the water of millions, while it appears to be criminally circumventing federal law," Ramapough Lunaape Chief Dwaine Perry told MintPress earlier this month.

The $1 billion project, operated by Connecticut-based Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings, consists of two parallel pipelines so crude and refined products can be sent in both directions. The pipeline is capable of carrying 400,000 barrels of oil per day. The company claims that the pipeline is "far safer" and "more environmentally sound" than transferring crude by rail or barge.

The company, which announced the project three years ago, has not yet applied for the permit that would define their exact pipeline route.

CBS New York reported in 2014 that Pilgrim representatives used "scare tactics" to intimidate homeowners living along the possible pipeline route to gain access to their property for surveys and studies.

Members of the Lunaape want others in New Jersey to join their fight against the project. NBC New York reports that the Lunaape have displayed anti-Pilgrim pipeline signs alongside teepees that were initially erected to recognize the efforts of the Standing Rock Sioux, who are protesting the heavily contested Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

The tribe has been hosting teach-ins about the pipeline at their encampment. Dozens of people have already attended.

"The community needs to stop looking at the Ramapoughs as the canary in the mine and get their helmets on and stand with us, because if that goes it doesn't matter what your home costs, you can't drink oil," Perry told NBC.

The protest, however, has hit a legal snag as the tribe has not yet obtained the necessary permits to camp out on land near the pipeline's proposed route. Mahwah has issued a summons for their occupation, even though the town is officially against the pipeline and agrees that its route through Ramapo Valley Reservation is unacceptable.

"One leak will determine the fate of our community and the millions of people between here and the Newark basin," Mahwah Mayor William Laforet said.

New Jersey's Sierra Club asserts that pipeline construction would have "deleterious effects" on communities, wildlife and the surrounding environment.

"In the Highlands and other sensitive areas, we would see wetlands destroyed, drinking water and critical habitats threatened, endangered species leveled to the ground, and impacts to waterways from more erosion due to construction," the environmental group argues. "The pipeline would pass through environmental justice communities that have already seen too much air and water pollution as a result of the fossil fuel industry."

The Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline, which consists of 40 different groups, adds that "the source of the oil and its consequences for our climate, along with the environmental impacts of the project's construction and operation, will have long-term, negative effects on both states."

Wenonah Hauter, executive director or Food & Water Watch, called the pipeline "dangerous and unnecessary."

"The town of Mahwah should stop harassing the tribal camp and focus their efforts on stopping the pipeline," she said.

The coalition is calling on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to oppose the project.

Cuomo's position on the Pilgrim Pipeline is unclear, but New York state is ramping up its clean energy efforts under the governor's goal of sourcing 50 percent of the state's power from renewables. Cuomo and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also denied a key permit to the Constitution Pipeline Project in April.

Christie, however, is more of a wildcard. Although the Garden State is a solar power all-star, Christie is a fan of pipelines and a vocal supporter of the controversial Keystone XL. Although he has not commented directly about the Pilgrim Pipeline, during an appearance with New Jersey's 101.5 in 2014, the governor said, "If we want to have more clean and affordable energy, we have to build pipelines to move it ... There's 2.2 million miles of pipeline in the United States already. Things seem to be going in the main fairly well and with the energy revolution that we have going on we need to do more."

"In general, I'm a fan of pipelines," he added.

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Outrage Grows After Hunter 'Brags' About Killing Popular New Jersey Bear

A bow hunter in New Jersey has apparently killed a popular local black bear, Pedals. Wildlife lovers are outraged as the hunter has been reportedly bragging about the kill.

Pedals, the upright-walking bear, which once had 22,000 fans on a now-defunct Facebook page, was just one of 549 bears killed by hunters during a controversial expanded hunting season. Reaction was so negative on both sides of the issue that a Facebook page dedicated to the bear was shut down Saturday night. A new Facebook page, RIP Pedals The Walking Bear, posted a plea to "please be respectful of others."

Anger may have been provoked by the defunct site's post, which read, "The hunter who has wanted him dead for nearly three years had the satisfaction of putting an arrow through him, bragging at the station."

The New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife confirmed that it had pictures of an injured black bear brought into the Green Pond check station in Rockaway last week, but said it could not determine the identity of the bear. A statement posted by the division read:

"Upon arrival to check stations, bears are weighed and measured around the head. DNA samples are taken and a tooth is extracted to determine the bear's age. But without any prior scientific data taken from a bear, it is not possible to verify the identity of a bear that has been harvested."

It is believed that Pedals walked upright due to injuries to both front paws. Black bears are not endangered, and are found throughout the state of New Jersey. Native to the state, they were hunted indiscriminately following European colonization. The state says there are about 3,600 today, a sharp increase since the 1970s. Only one fatal attack by a bear has ever occurred in New Jersey's history. The victim was a 22-year old Rutgers University student who was hiking with a group of friends in Passaic County in 2014 when he was attacked.

State officials maintain that hunting is necessary to regulate the population of black bears in New Jersey, and has spent $9 million since 2000 on black bear management. However, state senator Raymond J. Lesniak has introduced a bill that would ban bear baiting and establish trash disposal rules that would reduce access to human food waste, as has been implemented in other areas with high bear populations. The bill would also eliminate the October and December bear hunting seasons.

In the State Assembly, four legislators are seeking to end hunting of black bears in New Jersey. They are Tim Eustace of Bergen County along with Grace Spencer, Raj Mukherji and Thomas Giblin, all of Passaic County.

Aspen, Colorado residents have gotten used to living with black bears in this tiny, high-altitude resort town. Trash receptacles must be bear-proof, doors are kept locked and food has to be kept away from decks and unattended vehicles. Bear sightings, even downtown, are not uncommon. The city has taken a progressive approach to bear management, avoiding the unnecessary death of bears and protecting its citizens and visitors. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Wildlife Services killed 3.2 million animals, including black bears, mountain lions, wolves and bobcats.

Meanwhile, fans of Pedals mourn the bear's loss. Posting on the Facebook page, Kelly Champan Cherhan wrote, "This is heartbreaking!!!!" Angela Lindsay Paulson added, "I lose sleep over this too." Michael Kenneth Watson commented, "So very upset, who shoots a handicapped bear? Why?"

At this time, the identity of the hunter has not been confirmed.

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Renewable Energy

Top 10 States Leading the U.S. in Solar Energy Growth

While Ohio has disappointingly become the first state to roll back renewable energy mandates and ALEC continues to attack renewable energy policies to keep America addicted to fossil fuels, there remains plenty of encouraging news on renewable energy growth. Consider this: U.S. solar electric power tripled between 2011 and 2013, and solar photovoltaic capacity has increased more than 120-fold in the last 10 years.

Cumulative U.S. Grid-Connected Solar Photovoltaic Capacity

In fact, the U.S. solar industry had a record-shattering year in 2013. A report released today by Environment America, Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013, takes a look at the 10 states responsible for 87 percent of that growth. They are:

1. Arizona

2. California

3. Colorado

4. Delaware

5. Hawaii

6. Massachusetts

7. Nevada

8. New Jersey

9. New Mexico

10. North Carolina

Solar Energy in the Top 10 Solar States versus the Rest of the U.S.

“Solar energy is emerging as a go-to energy option,” said Rob Sargent, energy program director with Environment America. “Thanks to the commitment of state and federal leaders, this pollution-free energy option is poised to play a major role in helping us meet our energy needs while achieving our emission reduction goals; including the targets in EPA’s recently proposed Clean Power Plan.”

The report reaffirms that it is not sunlight availability that makes states solar leaders, rather the degree to which local and state governments utilize effective public policy for the development of the solar industry. States with more homeowners and businesses going solar had these strong policies in common:        

  • Nine have strong net metering policies. In nearly all of the leading states, consumers are compensated at the full retail rate for the excess electricity they supply to the grid.

  • Nine have strong statewide interconnection policies. Good interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.

  • All have renewable electricity standards that set minimum requirements for the share of a utility’s electricity that must come from renewable sources, and eight of them have solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean, distributed electricity.

  • Nine allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements, and eight allow Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing.

  • States in the top 10 are far more likely to have each of these key solar policies in place than other states, reinforcing the conclusion of U.S. Department of Energy research linking the presence of key solar policies to increases in solar energy deployment.

Prevalence of Market Preparation Policies, Top 10 States versus Others

“Environment America’s new report rightly points out that smart public policies have been key to the development of clean, renewable solar energy–and the accompanying 143,000 America jobs and nearly $15 billion in annual investment,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “The 14,800 megawatts (MW) of solar currently installed in the United States can generate enough pollution-free electricity to displace 18 billion pounds of coal–that’s a win for state economies, Americans’ health and our environment. We applaud the 10 states detailed in this report and urge policymakers across the nation to look at net metering and renewable energy standards in helping their states catch the solar wave as well.”

By following the example of these 10 states, the report concludes, the U.S. can work toward getting 10 percent or more of our energy from solar power by 2030.

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Gov. Christie Tries Again to Pull New Jersey Out of Greenhouse Gas Initiative

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is doing whatever he can to prevent his state from supporting clean energy jobs and climate action. On Monday, Gov. Christie again took the path of big polluters by pulling New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—an innovative and proven program in which northeastern states are working together to reduce carbon pollution while boosting the clean energy economy. And it’s not the first time Gov. Christie’s tried to turn back the clock. In March, an earlier RGGI rollback was slapped down when a court found Gov. Christie’s Administration violated the law in attempting to pull the state out of the regional agreement.

With his eyes set on a 2016 presidential nomination, Gov. Christie is aligning himself with big polluters who lobby the Republican party to protect their interests. Photo credit: Bob Jagendorf via Sierra Club

RGGI has already helped create thousands of jobs in New Jersey while curbing carbon pollution from power plants—and it’d be a key way in which the state could meet the new carbon standards established by President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

"People of New Jersey demand action on climate change and want our state to reduce air pollution, for our state to be more resilient, and to support growing our economy through new technology and clean energy jobs,” New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. “Especially after Hurricane Sandy, the public supports action on climate change. New Jersey needs to reduce greenhouse gases—and RGGI is one of the ways to do it."

During New Jersey’s participation in the initiative, the state achieved its greenhouse gas reduction goal of 10 percent within the first three years, boosted the economy by $151 million, and created 1,772 jobs throughout the state. So that begs the question—why would the state pull out in light of its substantial success?

“We believe that the Governor pulled out of RGGI because he cares more about his national political ambition than the environment and people of New Jersey," Tittel said.

As Gov. Christie keeps his eyes on a potential Presidential run in 2016, the big polluters and special interests that back Republican candidates are attacking any and all efforts to create clean energy jobs and act on the climate crisis. Front organizations backed by the oil-rich Koch Brothers have pushed legislators to sign a pledge to refuse climate action while polluter front groups are dumping millions into efforts to smear the Clean Power Plan and its supporters. So, Republicans with national ambitions like Christie are positioning themselves now to be on the side of polluters.

This isn’t the first time Gov. Christie has put New Jersey’s communities and economy in jeopardy for the sake of his political standing. Since taking office, the Christie Administration has gutted about $1 billion from clean energy funding initiatives. With Christie’s support, a New Jersey Clean Energy Fund could have created 5,000 local jobs, billions of dollars in economic activity and cut air pollution by 100 million tons.

“With RGGI we can protect our environment, reduce carbon pollution and move our state forward economically. RGGI is a win-win for New Jersey, and Gov. Christie is a lose-lose when it comes to protecting our environment and reducing the impacts of climate change,” said Tittel. “The Governor would rather side with the fossil fuel lobby in Washington than clean energy jobs in New Jersey."

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