Friday, February 26, 2010

The Bruce and Betty show on 1061 w/ Paige Mattson: Gardening

This spring is going to be in full bloom before you know it! (Thank the heavens, right?!) I know I am feeling like one of those tightly closed buds just waiting for enough warm days and sunshine to bloom brighter than ever. So it's time to PLAN, then PLANT, then GROW your garden.

1- Preparing the soil:

I love to use the compost from my bin (though this year I moved into a smaller place with no room for an outside bin. Therefore, I'm not going to have as much need of compost because my gardening needs will be confined to pots and containers this year. I may just do smaller batches using a bin that can fit on the countertop or under the sink nicely). Composting can be done in a bin or if you have a big enough yard can be as simple as a pile covered with kitchen wire. The other essential ingredient is Panorama Pay Dirt from Steve Murray's booming business out in the county. Last year I found it at Southern States.

2- Seed selection:

Paige tells us it's time to start NOW if you plan on using seedlings. I need to confess that I may be better world Betty, but my thumb could stand getting greener for sure!! Two years running I've tried to start my seeds indoors with an embarassingly dismal success rate of about one plant out of every 30 seeds I plant. YIKES. I have had more success with starting herbs from seeds indoors - so I'll try that this year. I love Southern Seed Exchange - available at I.Y. (Integral Yoga) and I've even seen those at Whole Foods from time to time, who is carrying more and more local produce and other items.

3- Planting and Growing:

I recommend a LASAGNA GARDEN (pictured above). This is an ultra-cool way to garden and it's SO easy. First layer is newspaper (or thin cardboard, though I've never tried it so can't vouch for it) laid directly on top of the grass (or even weeds), then wet it down a bit. This is a 'brown' layer and now you want a 'green' layer: compost, coffee grounds, tea leaves/bags, fruit and veggie scraps, grass clippings, pay dirt. And then add another layer of newspaper or junk mail clippings or dry leaves and then another layer of 'green.' Top it off with pay dirt, plant your seedlings (after the threat of frost is over - around Mother's Day) and surround with some mulch.

The great advantage to lasagna garden is that you have:

- fewer weeds
- better water retention ( so it really cuts down on the water use)
- no back-wrenching digging (especially is this famous red clay of Virginia)

Now even if you don't have room for a big garden, you can opt for a patio garden using pots and large containers for herbs and tomatoes - consider a salsa garden. A pot of tomato, a pot of your favorite spicy hot pepper, and green pepper, and cilantro (I have to again confess that my cilantro has always gone to seed before I get a decent crop).

A word about deer and other varmints: the trick we have used is saving my boys' hair cut clippings and we hung it in bags around the garden (as well as urging them to pee around it -- Hey! I have two boys under the age of 10, what do you expect?)

Need more help? The barefoot gardener is part of a fundraising event at the Haven on Sunday, Feb 28th at 4pm (first and market) - he'll help you get started. Seeds, t-shirts, good people will abound.

Side note on mulch: the Ivy Muc facility has MULCH, aka organic vegetative material that is decent and economical (and not treated with nasty dyes and chemicals like some of the commercial brands) and for a fee you can have it delivered. I say decent because it's not thick - not the perty, fine chopped, dark kind. It's good for large areas.

Happy Gardening, from Betty and Bruce and Paige!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It goes without saying...

It goes without saying that a Better World, in my vision, includes the 55 million school-age young people in America. I've spoken about the numerous environmental steps that the city and county have implemented in recent years here in Charlottesville. From large-scale recycling and energy-savings to integrated pest management programs, they have been taking steps toward a healthier planet, beginning with the inside and outside of our schools. As important as these programs are, I believe they are at risk and to be perfectly honest are probably considered ancillary compared to what the schools are facing right now.

So tonight I am going to take a broader, big-picture approach to green: the sustainability of our future as a nation by urging you to take action and raise your voice to support properly funding our schools.

One of the most important collective endeavors we do as Americans is provide for an equal, dare I say excellent, education for all young people.

As a mother of two school-age boys, I am very concerned about the future quality of our schools here given the budget cuts (I read tier one, two and three last night here) that are looming large right now in Albemarle County. I won't go into excruciating detail, but as a middle school teacher I was stunned to see one of the proposed cuts was the elimination of a middle school vice-principal position (You all remember middle school, don't you?? Enough said)

I urge those of you with TEN extra minutes to sit down RIGHT NOW and write the board of supervisors and then write/email Delegate Rob Bell who is on the appropriations committee at the state level. My friend Brian Wheeler takes an in-depth look at the cuts, the ramifications, etc on his blog: School Matters (Brian, how do you do it all? You are amazing!)

As an involved mother with a background as an educator, I've seen the system from both sides and I don't envy the board and the state this difficult task of trying to make the budget work in these tough times, but we as a people, as a region, as a society need to remember the value of our future citizens and leaders of our nation: the young people.

I quote Hubert Humphrey when I say,"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children."

Please don't let our children down, our future, our hope.

Below is a list of ideas and talking points from a concerned PTO member:

The Board of Supervisors will meet on Wednesday, March 3, for a public hearing on the county budget, including the budget presented by the School Board. The SB voted to present a needs-based, rather than a balanced budget; the gap between what is needed (after significant cuts effect every building and program in the system). If we want the BOS to fund our schools, they need to hear from us, starting now. Many, many groups have already begun making their appeals to the BOS. As we saw from the redistricting issue, the people talking get heard, if enough of them speak to the same point.

You do not need to write anything long--a short and to the point message can be plenty persuasive, especially when a lot of them are received. "I am a taxpayer and voter in (fill in name of District here) and I believe our public schools are our community's most valuable asset. Do what it takes to fully fund the School Board's budget request."

Below is information gleaned from several web sites (which are noted below). The info can be used when you write, or when you talk to friends. If each of us encourages three or four people to write, we can make a difference. I suggest that you write a message to your supervisor, then send the same message to the rest of the BOS, so that all members have a sense of the strong feelings in the community for this.

the basic situation:

1) state revenue pays for almost half the cost of local education BUT:
state revenues, which are mostly income and sales taxes, have sharply fallen because so many people are out of work (thus less income to tax) and the rest are being cautious and cutting back on spending (thus lower sales tax revenue).

2) local revenues pay for almost half of the cost of local education BUT:
local revenues, which are mostly property taxes and sales taxes are also falling. sales taxes are falling as noted above.

3) property tax revenues MAY fall:
but property tax revenue does not have to fall: property tax revenue is a tax on the assessed value of the house. so as housing prices fall, the same tax RATE yields lower revenue. falling prices will shave $4million off county revenue if the rate is unchanged.

1) The only thing the county controls in this situation is the local property tax RATE.

2) what's the math on property taxes:

the current rate is 0.742% (less than 1 % of assessed value, and well below the rate of 0.96% prevailing inthe 1990s)

if the county does nothing, and leaves the rate alone, revenue will keep falling and the school system will be implementing what they call "tier 2 and 3 reductions," which means eliminating entire programs.

if the county simply raises the rate to about 0.766%, property taxes stay the same for any given homeowner. this would close half the LOCAL $4 million budget gap, by retaining $2million in revenue for the county.
=> this is called an "equalized tax rate"

the county could also raise rates to roughly 0.786% and close the entire LOCAL gap.

3) what about the drop in STATE revenue, though?

In the best case state funding scenario, a property tax rate of 0.819% would balance the budget and increase ANNUAL tax payments by $146.19 for the median priced home (about $276,000) as compared to 2009. (you can multiply 0.053 * your NEW assessment to see what this means for you)

With the worst case state funding scenario (new reductions of $9 million), a property tax rate of 86.5 cents would fund the budget with only Tier 1 cuts implemented. That rate would increase ANNUAL tax payments by $272.08 for the median priced home as compared to 2009. (you can multiply 0.0985 * your NEW assessment to see what this means for you)

Can we afford to pay for our own schools? YES
Albemarle county is one of the richest counties in VA, but also one of the least taxed.
** Albemarle County in 2006-07 ranked 16th out of 134 localities in "revenue capacity" - how large is the property tax base - with 134th being lowest capacity
** Albemarle County in 2006-07 ranked 96th out of 134 localities in "revenue effort" - how much is that property tax base actually used - with 134th being lowest effort
** which is why Albemarle County in 2006-07 ranked 123rd out of 134 localities in level of "fiscal stress" - with 134th being lowest stress. this is not a high tax location relative to its amenities, quality schools, etc. and the fact is that good schools help keep property values high by making albemarle an atttractive place to live. most places with low property values have low property values because no one wants to live there.

Who to write to:
All of them in one easy address:
Ann Mallek, White Hall :
Dennis Rooker, Jack Jouett:
Rodney Thomas, Rio:
Ken Boyd, Rivanna:
Duane Snow, Samuel Miller:
Lindsay Dorrier, Scottsville:

Where the information in this email comes from:

Brian Wheeler’s post on what it would take to fund schools, with spreadsheet so you can run your own assessment through:

Jim Duncan’s post on the correlation of property values and quality of schools:

Report on the Comparative Revenue Capacity, Revenue Effort, and Fiscal Stress of Virginia's Counties and Cities 2006/2007 (most recent year available)

Write a letter to to reach all of the county board of supervisors.

Then forward it to Delegate Rob Bell:
General Assembly Building P.O. Box 406
Room 812
Richmond, Virginia 23218
Phone: (804) 698-1058
Fax: (804) 698-6758
Constituent Viewpoint: (800)-889-0229

Albemarle Square
Mailing Address: 2309 Finch Court
Charlottesville, VA 22911
Phone: (434) 245-8900
Fax: (434)245-8903

Here's to a better-funded budget!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Home and Eco-Hearth

Home fires burning

February's Abode Column - read it here or there

Warning: Betty is about to put a serious damper on your cozy fireplace scene (pun intended).

Most fireplaces and woodstoves are energy losers, sending heated air (and money) right out the chimney—not to mention air-polluting carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), PMs (particulate matter), and other toxic emissions.

You can, however, reduce wood smoke pollution and get more heat for your fuel dollar. Consider using fire heat by installing a heat air exchange system and tempered fireplace glass doors. A gas or electric fireplace or fireplace insert can save money on heating. Check out EPA-certified ultra-efficient wood appliances. Not using your fireplace? Seal the damper permanently or purchase a fireplace draft stopper (95-98 percent sealed).

Can’t break the habit?

Keep the damper tightly closed when not in use. Caulk around the hearth and anywhere air could escape. Creosote buildup reduces efficiency and increases the threat of chimney fire, so hire a local chimney sweep for yearly cleaning. Darker smoke means more pollutants, so check your smoke plume from the outside regularly.
Always use seasoned firewood (dried for 6-12 months) from sustainably harvested forests (FSC label) or locally felled wood (check Munson’s at Whole Foods). Tree-free options are Dura-flame or Enviro-logs made from recycled cardboard. The absolute cleanest burning fuel alternative (virtually no particulate emissions) is pellet fuel made from sawmill waste. It’s easy to store and lightweight for transport. Check manufacturer’s instructions for compatibility.