Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Most significant moment in Paru Paru, Peru

The second week of my time in Peru was spent in the Cusco region, where the Inca wonders such as the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu are located. Just an hour outside Cusco is an entirely underappreciated region called "Potato Park." This video shares my impression that they are doing service work for the world. Yes, the entire world.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My most significant moment while in Arequipa

Yes - The Urbane Farmer has been away, far, far away. Like, Peru.

I spent three weeks in Peru as part of a three credit international engagement elective class for my Masters program. I don't have a lot of time right now so I'm simply going to share a link to a video that talks about the most significant moment I had while in our Arequipa, Peru, the first stop on our two week adventure.

Video one of three - visiting gardens in an unlikely place and the conflict the gardeners have with sharing their water supply.

YouTube video

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Article on Unintended Consequences of Changes to the Automotive Industry

I read this article and want to share it with you and also hold onto it "for the record."

Cars and second order consequences

The article covers many of the (unintended) consequences of both electric vehicles and autonomous cars. Part of his argument is in line with questions I've asked about the impact on gas tax, and how road construction is actually paid for (TIP: it's not all about gas tax).

I hope you enjoy  reading the article.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

My February Family Reunion

Brian - of the Permaculture Guild. He lives in my neighborhood and last
summer, my nieces and nephew were walking through the neighborhood
we stopped by Brin's house to say hi. He gave us a tour of his back yard - 
bees, cats, raised beds, a green house and some berry samples. Thank's Brian
you helped my evil plan to make five new gardeners!
Rodney, friend from our bi-weekly "Friday Night Dinner" group and
amazing flower gardener. My favorite story from Rodney is when his back
yard flooded and his fish took advantage of the opportunity and "ran away."
I attended the Wisconsin Garden Expo for the first time in 2014. At that time I admonished all of my gardening friends for not having told me about this amazing annual event in my backyard. I mean, it's warm, green, full of people and a respite from February! It's an extrovert gardener's dream next to a trip to Mexico!

The Wisconsin garden Expo is a fundraiser for Wisconsin Public Television. That's the official explanation for this convergence of home and professional gardeners, landscapers, tchotchke sellers, non-profit organizations of all flavors (The Wisconsin Day Lilly Society! and many others) implement dealers, equipment sellers, and even the Mini dealership and a bathroom remodeler. Not quite sure how that last one fits...

Jenny is my two-doors-down neighbor and super good friend. She encouraged
us to get chickens, is generous with time when I have questions and one night
came to the rescue when I was up-potting seedlings and ran out of pots.
In addition to aisles and aisles of amazing garden goodness,  there is an amazing education component to the Expo as well. On the other side of the cinderblock wall, where it is (just a little) less crowded, there are a dozen or more rooms with a huge variety of classes taught by professionals and amateurs alike. In 2015 I taught two sessions of the same class titled "Using permaculture principles to design an urban orchard, store water, reduce work and build community."

I have now attended the Expo for four years, and while I am by no means a seasoned veteran (I am sure there are people who have been attending for decades) I am now familiar enough with the rhythm that I have found my favorite way to attend.

Mark is Rodney's partner and also a very talented gardener. He's done what
I've always wanted to do; asked and took over his neighbor's yard.
The unofficial explanation for this amazing event is that it's become my annual February family reunion. The Expo opens at 2 PM on Friday and I take the afternoon off from work to get there when it opens. While there are classes throughout the day weekend, it's worth missing the Friday ones because the exhibition floor is far less crowded on the first day, and it's the best time to walk around and visit my friends and favorite vendors. Over the years I have made new acquaintances at the Expo, and by hanging around with cool garden people throughout the year I invariably run into them as well. This year I decided to make a photo album of all of my gardening buddies that I ran into at the Expo.

Think of the rest of this blog post as my Valentine to the following amazing people, and my gratitude to the Wisconsin Garden Expo for bringing us together during a February weekend when we are all in the midst of cabin fever.

I met Jane through Jay's best friend Dale, but now we're gardening buddies
on our own. She's an amazing gardening educator and volunteer extraordinaire.
I lost count of all the booths she was helping at this year.
There are a few people I didn't get photos of including my permaculture mentor Kate, one of my best friends, Drew, and all those I spotted across the Expo floor but couldn't through the walkers, stroller or other masses of people to say "hi." This is your Valentine too!

Petrovnia is new(ish) to gardening but oh my enthusiastic. Her quest for
knowledge is infectious, we had a lot of fun bumping into one another several
times this weekend.

I met Pablo and Maria at a Madison Area Permaculture Guild meeting last
summer and immediately decided we needed to be friends. They are from
Uruguay; Pablo is doing his PhD at UW and Maria is improving her
English and working with Pablo on his projects. We meet regularly to exchange
time speaking English and Spanish, and are having fun planning garden
projects together.

I met Patrick years ago at Friday Night Dinner. He and his partner Keith are
two of the handiest guys I know and are always digging into or building something.

Dave and Paul are long-time friends and I was lucky enough to run into them
to add them to my Garden Expo album.

I met Emily through the Permaculture Guild and we instantly knew we had to
do some orchard things together. Emily loves trees and now that she has no
more room at home to plant them, adopts them out. We have one of her Mount
Royal Plumb trees - and we're all hoping this will be the year from some fruit!

I met Karina through the Guild too, and she's in my neighborhood. But there's just
something incredibly infectious about her personality that I have a total crush on.
Maybe it's her smile, maybe it's her design sense, maybe it's that when I'm talking
with her, I'm the only person in her world. Regardless, I'm grateful to know her.

I know Jill and her husband through my community garden leader's "support group."
OK, it's not really a support group, but it is. During the growing season, leaders from
community gardens throughout the city gather to share ideas, solve problems and, well,
shake our heads and have a therapy session about our members. Jill is the outgoing
leader of the Troy Gardens community garden, and I have the deepest respect for her
as she has kept our support group going for many years. 

I met Rob at my workplace when he approached me asking for some land near
our employee garden to build a monarch butterfly garden. Last year he planted and
tended an amazing collection of monarch-friendly plants. But he doesn't just
provide habitat and food, he collects the egg sacks, feeds the caterpillars,
guards the chrysalises and releases the butterflies after they emerge. His method has
a 90% survival rate, where in the wild they have a 10% survival rate. 

I know Brad and Dani through the community garden "support group" (see Jill above).
Thanks to the wonders of Facebook I got to congratulate them on their engagement,
to which Brad told me they are getting married in two weeks (and they're at the expo?!)
Lovely couple who manage a community garden in downtown Madison.

My last stop of the day to see Kathy at the Wisconsin Historical Society Press booth.
Each year we say "we have to get together" and then we don't. OK KATHY, this is the
year that we actually get together BETWEEN Expos. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


We finally received our vanity license plate today! I've always eschewed vanity plates, but guess I couldn't resist the confluence of new car + electric car + solar panels on the house.

We charge our car overnight at our house which (obviously) doesn't use electrons we make, but it does debit the "banked" electricity we made during the day. And when I drive the Volt to work, a few times a week I charge up at the Alliant Energy Madison headquarters where they have five free charging stations, and they are solar powered too!

So here's to a happy, sun-powered new year for us and many others.

I recently wrote two series about our electric car that you might enjoy reading.

One is about gas tax and electric vehicles, and the second is about our decision to buy an electric car and install solar panels on our house. 

Part 1 - How Volkswagen is Helping us Repay the Planet for Its Sins
Part 2 - Our Search for a Cleaner Car
Part 3 - Buying a Used 2016 Chevrolet Volt
Part 4 - A Lesson on Creating Clean Energy at Home
Part 5 - Making the Decision to Add Solar to our Urban Roof

Saturday, December 31, 2016

BONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points

This is the bonus in my series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.
  1. The gas tax does not fully fund road building and maintenance.Since the interstate highway system was implemented in 1947, U.S. spending on highways has exceeded the amount collected from fuel and vehicle fees by more than $600 billion.
  2. Most of the deficit is made up with local, state or regional bonds or municipal property taxes. So even if a person doesn’t drive, if they pay state or federal taxes, they’re paying for road construction and maintenance, a type of infrastructure that only cars, trucks and buses can use.
  3. Roads within cities are generally financed through local, property, and sales taxes. They do not get any of the gas tax collected at the pump.
  4. Electric cars not paying the small amount that purchasing gas contributes to road maintenance is a bit of a non-issue. Society is subsidizing roads big time.
  5. When Congress enacted Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, they mandated auto manufacturers to improve the fuel economy across their vehicle fleet. Most people agree this is a good thing. As vehicles become more efficient, they put more miles on roads per gallon of fuel, reducing their per mile contribution to the road tax. This is what's really killing the Federal Highway Fund and state fuel taxes collected at the pump.
  6. Hybrids vehicle sales account for 2.2 percent of overall vehicle sales, and have yet to hit four percent in a given year. This indicates that the problem of gas tax revenue lost through these vehicles is negligible compared to the decrease in tax collection that has resulted from the nation’s drastic drop in overall fuel consumption. 
  7. As of August 2015, the lost gas tax revenue from electric vehicle sales of 365,000 vehicles is shown to be $71.9 million or a loss of 0.23 percent. That's two tenths of one cent of every dollar collected. Cut a penny into 10 parts, remove two of them. Not much.
  8. Current assessment is that in 15 to 25 years EVs could make an impact on revenue. This means that now is the time to come up with a new way to tax vehicles for road construction and maintenance.The Highway Trust Fund has experienced a continuing shortfall that is attributed to three major factors:
    1. more fuel efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles,
    2. the fact that federal gas rates has not risen since 1993 and
    3. the increased cost in highway construction and repairs.
...and not to the advent of electric vehicles.

Part 8 - Conclusion

This is the eighth in a eight-part series on gas tax, roadbuilding and electric vehicles. You can find links to the other parts at the bottom of this post.

Innovation (and a few of these blog posts) has laid bare the fact that making drivers compensate the public for their use of the roads through taxes on gasoline purchases alone may not work in the 21st century. In fact, it makes much more logical—and economic—sense to tax people based on the number of miles they drive, and perhaps on the size and weight of their vehicle. Furthermore, I don't believe that electric vehicles are not part of the road funding deficit, they merely point out the problem that funding road construction and maintenance from a gasoline "use tax" is an archaic method that needs to be replaced with something far more elegant, progressive and fair to ALL vehicles that put two, three, four, 10 or 18 wheels on the road.

There is one final perspective I think is worth adding to the road funding discussion. Somewhere along my life, I read that the Roman Empire was as good as it's roads. A quick online search for "roman road network importance" found the following fascinating article, 8 Ways Roads Helped Rome Rule the Ancient World. Of the eight, the following begin the formation of my final perspective:
  • Roads were the key to Rome’s military might.
  • They were incredibly efficient.
  • They were easy to navigate.
  • They were well-protected and patrolled.
The start of this idea is that far more than individual drivers benefit from roads. People who don't drive benefit from mass transit that does use roads. Police, ambulance and fire service use roads to quickly get to where they are needed. Of course they pay the gas tax when they fill up, but roads allow these services to add so much more value to society by allowing them to move quickly throughout the built environment.

On the other hand, while vehicles like buses, large trucks and even construction equipment driving on and building roads do pay the same gas tax, I question whether they are paying enough for the weight, wear and damage they apply to the infrastructure and the physical footprint they occupy on the actual road. For once, I'll give the military a break. When I was a kid my brothers and I would watch enormous convoys of military trucks driving up U.S. Highway 61, taking lots of space, adding their collective damage to the surface. However, since I have now learned that the federal government is adding a lot to the Highway Trust Fund, I'm giving the military a pass on their use of the roads. The federal government has covered their "use."

Well-placed, well-designed roads make life better for everyone. I am confident that as fuel efficient vehicles of all sizes continue to occupy roads and as electric vehicle sales increase, states and or the federal government will develop a road funding system that charges passenger and transport vehicles for the miles they are driven, plus state and federal funding that adds to highway and road needs because they are good for civil society for everyone.
Just for the fun of it, I created a bonus set of talking points for every electric vehicle driver to have on hand should someone start a conversation with “You’re not paying your fair share of the gas tax.” You can read and print them from my next blog entry.
  • Part 1- Introducing the Tricky Question of Electric Vehicles Paying Their Fair Share 
  • Part 2 - Changing Trends Include Far More Than Electric Vehicles 
  • Part 3 - Gas Tax 101  
  • Part 4 - Are Electric Vehicles Making a Dent in Gas Tax revenues NOW?
  • Part 5 - Actual Impact of Electric Vehicles
  • Part 6 - Some States Experiment With New Ways to Fund Roads
  • Part 7 - The Truth is, Gas Taxes Don't Actually Paying for Road Construction and Repairs
  • Part 8 - Conclusion
  • BONUS - The Electric Vehicle Owner’s Talking Points