The Geography of a Suburban Farm

Jillian Levine lives in Maryland, where she works as an assistant market manager for Butler’s Orchard. For more information about Butler’s Orchard, visit or email Jillian at If you’ve ever traveled through the suburbs of upper Montgomery County, Maryland, you might be surprised to come across Butler’s Orchard, a family-owned and operated market and 300-acre Pick-Your-Own orchard. Nestled in between sprawling suburbs and new housing … Continue reading The Geography of a Suburban Farm

Go Local: Gardening Your Way to Global Sustainability

vegetable-garden-GEXPERT-de.jpgThe “geography” of our food has changed. Traditionally, our food came from local outlets that required little energy for packaging or transportation. However, with the rise of cheap oil and with technological advances, the number of “food miles”–the distance that food travels from producer to consumer–has grown immensely. Shipments across vast distances, particularly by air and by large freight truck, are very energy intensive, and have created a U.S. food economy that uses as much energy as the entire economy of the United Kingdom! (Lester Brown’s Plan B 3.0)

 The aforementioned is a major concern of “locavores.” Locavores try to eat foods grown within a strict radius of where they live (e.g. 50, 100, or 150 miles) because they believe eating locally boosts local economies and protects the environment.

Buying fruits and veggies locally at a farmers market or the super market is a great start…but what’s more local than your own backyard? Growing your own vegetables organically is making good environmental and economic sense these days. Cultivating a  garden ensures healthful produce that’s both delicious and can save you from the sometimes high prices of organically grown food at the grocery store–food that has often traveled thousands of miles to get to the aisle.

The Obamas: Locavores!

The First Family has joined in the eat local trend! In early March, First Lady Michelle Obama began cultivating a “White House Kitchen Garden.” Obama rolled up her sleeves and planted alongside Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and several elementary school children on the White House Lawn. Mrs. Obama’s gardening efforts were the first since Eleanor Roosevelt installed a victory garden during World War II. Images of Michelle wielding a large shovel and working gloves splashed across several news articles and really got a gal wondering: Is that her secret to those flawless arms? Gardening: good for the environment, and your figure!


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Guest Blogger Natalie Wojinski: On Olives and Strawberries

Natalie Wojinski teaches cultural geography and advises the journalism programs at Hercules High School in Hercules, CA. She has been an MWW Public Engagement Coordinator for two years, and coordinates the newsletter for the California Geographic Alliance. Prior to teaching, she worked as a broadcast journalist. This is the first in a series of three posts in which Natalie describes how a trip to France inspired a personal and professional interest in local economic geography.

strawberries.JPGThe olives and strawberries made me do it. The sheer beauty of the vast arrangement of different types and flavors of cured olives in the market, and the baskets of strawberries garnished with delicate yellow blooms, took my breath away. Something clicked and I realized that I needed to have my own market close to home.

It was February 2007 when my husband and I took a group of 12 students to France. Until about a month before the trip, we were planning to travel to northern France. With economies the way they are, our travel company informed us in early January that we would have to change our trip to Paris and the South of France. A trip to a French market was not on the itinerary, but the chaperone from the school we traveled with suggested it. As she had been to France before, I agreed. By the time we reached Saint-Rémy-de-Provence on a cool and overcast morning, we were all ready to explore.

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Five for Friday: Five Ways Sarah Jane is Going Green

During Earth Week, I described steps National Geographic is taking to green its facilities, corporate practices, and all-round image. It’s one thing for a mammoth organization (pun on May mag cover story intended) with man and purchasing power, and the benefits of things like “strategic subcommittees” to tackle such an endeavor, but it can be downright overwhelming for an individual. At nearly every go-green event I attend, participants ask for advice on HOW to sort through the seemingly limitless abundance of information and demands on their time and attention–much of it conflicting–to identify green action steps that make sense for THEM.

Start small! Just like training for a marathon, going green is a lifestyle change that requires both physical and mental commitment, and it is most easily accomplished gradually. Once you start making minor adjustments, I bet you’ll be surprised by how far you can go, and the impact you can have over a time frame as modest as a year.

Of course “small” is a relative term, so I thought I’d share five steps I’ve taken to green my own life by way of example:

1. Shop local. I visit my local farmer’s market once weekly, where I buy the majority of my produce. When shopping at the grocery store, I try to buy local when it’s offered. I also make an effort to patronize locally-owned restaurants, clothing stores, and other retail outlets. This significantly reduces my share of the fuel used to transports goods, and I value developing a rapport with people who have a vested interest in the community they serve.

2. Minimize meat consumption. I like to think of myself as not
so much of a vegetarian as a “meat minimalist.” I eat meat sparingly, a
couple times a week, and try to get the majority of my protein from
plant sources and dairy. When I do eat meat, I opt for organic,
ethically produced varieties. We can all reduce our meat consumption,
saving food, water, and oil resources (Did you know that it takes 2.5 –
pounds of grain and 435 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef?
Check out the new film Food, Inc to learn more about food choices and
the food industry).

3. Travel sustainably. When traveling home from D.C. to Boston,
I take the train instead of flying. It takes a bit longer, but it’s a
significant carbon savings and a pleasant, scenic ride through coastal New England. I walk and bike around D.C. and take Metro as a last resort.

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