By Genevieve Rajewski | Smithsonian, June 3, 2007
Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope were the two most prominent dinosaur specialists of the 1800s—and bitter enemies. They burned through money, funding expeditions to Western badlands, hiring bone collectors away from each other and bidding against one another for fossils in a battle of one-upmanship. They spied on each other's digs, had their minions smash fossils so the other couldn't collect them, and attacked each other in academic journals and across the pages of the New York Herald—making accusations of theft and plagiarism that tarnished them both. Yet between them they named more than 1,500 new species of fossil animals. They made Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus and Triceratops household names and sparked a dinomania that thrives today.
One of Marsh and Cope's skirmishes involved fossil beds in Morrison, Colorado, discovered in 1877 by Arthur Lakes, a teacher and geologist-for-hire. Lakes wrote in his journal that he had discovered bones “so monstrous...so utterly beyond anything I had ever read or conceived possible.” He wrote to Marsh, at Yale, to offer his finds and services, but his letters met with vague replies and then silence. Lakes then sent some sample bones to Cope, the editor of American Naturalist. When Marsh got word that his rival was interested, he promptly hired Lakes. Under Marsh's control, the Morrison quarries yielded the world's first fossils of Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus, the long-necked plant eater more popularly known as Brontosaurus.
Lakes spent four field seasons chiseling the most easily reached bones out of the fossil beds. Before he left the area, he allegedly blew up one of the most productive sites—“Quarry 10”—to prevent Cope from digging there.
For 123 years, the site was lost, but in 2002 researchers from the Morrison Natural History Museum used Lakes' field notes, paintings and sketches to find the quarry, expose its original floor and support beams and begin digging once more. “The first things that we found were charcoal fragments: we were digging right below the campfire that Arthur Lakes had built,” says Matthew Mossbrucker, director of the museum.
They quickly discovered that at least one misdeed attributed to the feud between Marsh and Cope was probably exaggerated. “It looks like [Lakes] just shoveled some dirt in there,” says Mossbrucker. “I think he told people that he had dynamited it closed because he didn't want the competition up at the quarry—playing mind games with Cope's gang.”
The reopened quarry is awash in overlooked fossils as well as relics that earlier paleontologists failed to recognize: dinosaur footprints that provide startling new clues about how the creatures lived.
The dig site is perched halfway up the west side of a narrow ridge called the Dakota hogback. The only way up is to walk—over loose rock, past prickly brush and rattlesnakes—with frequent pauses to catch one's breath. On this July morning, Mossbrucker leads six volunteers as they open the quarry for its fourth full modern-day field season. The crew erects a canopy over the pit before forming a bucket brigade to remove backfill that has washed into the hole since last season.
Down in a test pit, the crew digs into the side of the ridge, carefully undercutting the layer of cracked sandstone that served as the original quarry's ceiling. The ledge collapsed several times in the 1870s. More than 100 tons of rock crashed into the pit one night, and had the crew been working instead of sleeping nearby, Lakes wrote, the “entire party would have been crushed to atoms and buried beneath tons of rocks which afterwards took us over a week to remove by blasting and sledge hammers.”
Robert Bakker, curator of paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science, helps out at the dig. “If you want to understand the late Jurassic, you need to understand the common animals, which means Apatosaurus,” he says. “This is the original Apatosaurus quarry, and it's a ‘triple-decker'—the only one in the world with three dead Apatosaurus buried one on top of each other.”
Most people know Apatosaurus as Brontosaurus because of a mistake made by Marsh. In 1879, two years after he named the first Apatosaurus, one of his workers discovered a more complete specimen in Wyoming. Marsh mistook it to be a new animal and named it Brontosaurus. Though the error was soon discovered, scientific nomenclature required keeping the first name. But in the meantime the “Brontosaurus” misnomer had made its way into popular culture.
For almost 100 years, Apatosaurus was portrayed as a swamp-bound animal whose immense body was buoyed by water. In the 1960s, Bakker joined a handful of paleontologists who argued that the massive beasts were really more like elephants: all-terrain animals that could roam over the flood plain, through river channels and anywhere else they wanted to go.
Bakker, then an undergraduate at Yale, went to Morrison to see if Apatosaurus' habitat supported his idea that the beasts were mobile. But he and two students spent two years unsuccessfully hunting for Quarry 10, which aside from being partially filled in, as Bakker finally discovered, was also obscured by bullet cartridges, beer cans and other remnants of teenage outings.
Today, Bakker is sifting through Lakes' spoil pile—lumps of clay stone that the 1870s crew tossed aside—when someone in the pit excitedly calls for him. He scrambles down into the hole, where his bearded face lights up under his straw cowboy hat. The museum crew has uncovered what appear to be Jurassic-era castings of a small tree's root system. “This is a big deal,” says Bakker, using a finely bristled brush to baste the knobby fossils with glue. “In ‘CSI' terms, that's the crime scene floor. Victim number one”—the Apatosaurus found in 1877—“lay buried just above.”
The clue adds to evidence that Apatosaurus did not live in water. The team has found layers of sediment consistent with a small pond, but none of the crocodile or tortoise fossils typically found in swamps from the Jurassic Period more than 200 million years ago. This spot may have attracted generations of Apatosaurus, Bakker says, because it provided a watering hole on a dry wooded plain. “If there was a forest, there would be a lot more wood—and there isn't—and a lot more fossilized leaves—and there ain't. So it was a woodland but probably a lot like Uganda—hot tropical woodland that was dry for most of the year.”
The most significant recent discoveries at the Morrison quarries have been dinosaur tracks. Early dinosaur hunters overlooked them. In Quarry 10 and another Lakes quarry less than a mile away, museum staff have recovered 16 Stegosaurus tracks. They include ten hatchling tracks—the first ever discovered. One rock appears to show four or five baby Stegosauri all heading in the same direction. Another boulder includes a partial juvenile Stegosaurus hind paw track that was stepped on by an adult Stegosaurus. “It suggests that Stegosaurus moved in multiple-age herds,” says Mossbrucker, and adults may have cared for hatchlings.
The researchers have also found the world's first baby Apatosaurus tracks. They could change paleontologists' view yet again: the tracks are from the rear legs only, and they are spaced far apart. “What's really cool about these tracks is that the baby animal is functionally running—but it's doing this just on its back legs. We had no idea a Bronto could run, let alone scoot along on its hind legs like a basilisk,” Mossbrucker says, referring to the “Jesus lizard” that appears to walk on water.
He and others speculate that adult Apatosauri, some of the largest animals ever to walk the earth, could prop themselves up on two legs with the help of their long tails. But others argue that it would have been physiologically impossible to pump blood up the animals' long necks or to raise their heavy front limbs off the ground.
Bakker and Mossbrucker say their goal is to look at Quarry 10 holistically—considering the local geography, climate, flora and fauna—to create a picture of where and how Jurassic dinosaurs lived. “I want to know as completely as I can what kind of forgotten world these dinosaurs knew,” says Mossbrucker. “I want to see what they saw, touch their earth with my own feet and be in the Jurassic.”Bakker gestures toward the pit, where Libby Prueher, the museum's curator of geology, sifts soil alongside volunteer Logan Thomas, a high-school student with a passion for snakes. “It's weird that [Marsh and Cope] thought that dinosaurs were a zero-sum game, that Marsh thought, ‘If Cope got a bone, I lost a bone,'” says Bakker. The goal isn't to vanquish one's rivals, he says: “the guiding inspiration for studying the dead dinosaurs is to get back to how they lived.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | Washington Post Magazine, May 6, 2007
TWO TEENAGE BOYS, REED BEVERSTOCK AND RICK VANGEE, AND JENNIE DYNESIUS, who is in her 50s, set up their music stands and lift their accordions onto their laps. In unison, they lean forward and struggle into the shoulder straps, their legs braced wide to support their instruments. The fingers on their left hands hover clawlike over the bass buttons, while the fingers on their other hands splay awkwardly across the keys.
And then they begin making music.
Almost immediately, Dale Wise hears something he doesn't like.
“Reed,” Wise starts, and his students stop abruptly. “Reed, do you have a new baby at home that I don't know about?”
“Nooo,” answers Beverstock with a quizzical look.
“Because it sounds like you're afraid you're going to wake the baby,” Wise says. “Put some muscle on that.”
Beverstock nods, and the three turn back to their method books, which were developed by two acclaimed accordionists in the 1950s and 1960s and have changed little since—still offering tunes such as “Camptown Races” and “Vegetables on Parade” and featuring bobby-soxers on their covers. The students play with more emphasis on the bass notes this time—for an audience consisting of only Wise, a wall of accordions and “Carlos Santucci and his super international accordion.” The large, framed poster of the maestro hovers appropriately large in the room, as Santucci was Wise's first teacher. In the picture, Santucci smiles approvingly and wears glasses, a dark suit and an enormous black accordion bejeweled with silver rhinestones—the same accordion glittering atop the filing cabinet beneath the poster.
During the biweekly lesson, in the basement of his Burr Hill, Va., home, Wise runs the two home-schooled teens and Dynesius through numerous drills, all designed to help them master dynamics: the control of air through the bellows and the secret to expressive accordion playing. “We replicate different instruments while playing the accordion. We're the whole band,” he tells them. “So when you play the bass notes, you're like a tuba or a bassoon. The chord is played by a much smaller instrument, like a string bass, so you underplay the chord note after the bass. It's a lot more than just pushing a bunch of plastic.”
As graduates of Wise's Accordions for Kids program, the students are trying to apply this lesson. Beverstock, Wise's first student in the three-year-old program, recently played accordion with a Christian grunge band he describes as “like Metallica, but more laid-back.”
“I have no idea what that means,” says Wise, 65, shaking his head.
Despite the name of the program, Jennie Dynesius is not that much younger than Wise herself.
“I saw an article in the paper about Dale wanting to get together a group of eight to 11 to teach accordion,” she says, “so I called him up, and he said, 'No, I meant 8- to 11-year-olds.' I went, 'Ohhh.' But he said, 'Come on up, and I'll teach you anyway.'” Wise is loath to turn away any interested student. Sessions such as these—as well as the various accordion programs and initiatives he has set into motion over the years—reflect Wise's determination to squeeze new life into the instrument.
“Time is waning,” Wise says. “The accordion is hanging by a thread.” The instrument's downward spiral in the American music scene over several decades is especially painful for someone who remembers its once vaunted status.
“If something is good, it'll come back again,” Wise says. “If we could just live long enough, we'd see the cyclical nature of so many things. The seasons, we count on them every year. But with something like music or trends, it may be a 35-year cycle.”
After a moment, Wise says, “Most of us don't get to see too many 35-year cycles.”
In a “Far Side” cartoon, departed souls stand in line at two gates. In the upper panel, an angel says, “Welcome to Heaven . . . here's your harp.” The lower panel's devil: “Welcome to Hell . . . here's your accordion.”
Wise happens to play both instruments, though the harp is a much more recent pursuit. When Wise sits at his harp, he narrows his eyes, plucks a few heavenly notes from the red C strings and breaks into a boyish grin. “It's a daily discipline,” he says. “Every morning, I practice while DeAnn's still in bed. The dog comes in, lies down and just takes it all in.”
“Even when he hits a wrong note, it sounds beautiful,” says DeAnn Wise, his wife.
Unlike the accordion?
“Well, Dale never hits a wrong note on the accordion,” she says.
Wise's fervor toward the accordion is in direct contrast with the level of ridicule it generally receives, but the instrument has not always been seen as a punch line. Although originally conceived in the early 1800s as a device to tune pipe organs, the accordion was quickly embraced as an instrument throughout Europe for its versatility, rich sound and portability. It traveled to the United States with the wave of emigration at the turn of the 20th century and became big business in the 1930s, when immigrant vaudeville performers stole the spotlight with their ornate accordions and fast-flying finger work. It was accordionist Dick Contino who spawned legions of imitators after he made numerous appearances on, and ultimately won, Horace Heidt's “Original Youth Opportunity Program” in the late 1940s.
The program “was like 'American Idol,' only it was on the radio, and you didn't have to be a singer,” explains Cheri Thurston, president of the Closet Accordion Players of America. “Dick Contino was this really handsome, hot accordion player who kept winning. He had teenage girls swooning and following him.”
The instrument's mainstream popularity soon began its slide, although it remained an enormous influence in zydeco, Cajun and polka music. Thurston attributes the plummet to two factors. “One was 'The Lawrence Welk Show,' which was nerdy, and the accordion was strongly associated with it,” she says. “And, two, the advent of rock-and-roll.”
“That's what happened to me,” says Thurston, who played accordion into high school. “The Beatles came into fashion, and, suddenly, I wasn't cool playing an accordion. I put it in the closet. A lot of people did.”
But not Dale Wise. When he was 11 years old and living in Ottawa, Ill., Wise's parents signed him up to learn guitar. He studied it for a few weeks until he wandered across the hall from the classroom and met his future mentor: Santucci, an Italian immigrant who was both Ottawa's mayor and an accordion teacher.
Wise was immediately hooked.
“All the musical elements—including melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre—are all wrapped up in one beautiful package,” Wise says of the instrument's appeal.
Wise started working accordion jobs as a young teenager and went on to teach band and orchestral instruments in public schools in Illinois and Arizona. In 1971, he moved to Northern Virginia and began teaching in Maryland.
In 1980, after 17 years of teaching in public schools, Wise quit to devote himself solely to the accordion and its survival—by performing, teaching and selling and repairing instruments. He named his business Accordion Plus. He moved to Burr Hill, near Culpeper, about three years ago.
ELISE MALOUF TRAVELS 135 MILES ROUND-TRIP from Springfield for lessons with Wise. Her mother, Anne Van Heyste Malouf, says the 10-year-old was drawn to the instrument precisely because no other kids played it and that Elise has never been teased by her classmates—only by one “inappropriate” scoffing adult. “Kids today didn't grow up with a sense of the accordion being an old-fashioned or unhip instrument,” she says.
In Wise's basement, Elise's gleaming black Hohner accordion dwarfs her tiny frame, but when Wise asks her to play “You Are My Sunshine,” she delivers a jaunty rendition, playing chords on the right-hand keys and wielding the bellows with ease.
“Not bad, kiddo,” Wise says. “But what do I know about music?”
“Nothing,” Elise replies. “You're old as dirt.”
Elise next plays “Church in the Wildwood,” which shows off her prowess on the left-hand bass buttons.
“That's ready to perform, isn't it?” Wise says.
He presses her to play at two public concerts the following month: one organized by the Washington Metropolitan Accordion Society and his own Accordion Plus concert. But Elise, like most kids today, is overscheduled. She rattles off a list of July dates she's unavailable.
Wise reminds her that the concerts are in June.
“I might not be able to make it, because I'll be doing a play,” Elise says. “It's about electricity,” she explains. “Ben Franklin has to rap.”
But a month later, on the night of the Washington Metropolitan Accordion Society's June concert, Elise shows up with her father, her body almost bent in half under the weight of her accordion backpack. More than 50 people—accordionists and their family and friends—fill the basement of Sleepy Hollow United Methodist Church in Falls Church. Nearly all the night's attendees have white or gray hair, and many of the men are wearing ties. Some are strapped into accordions and wander in and out of the room, warming up, as people begin to take their seats.
WMAS organizes semiannual concerts, workshops and visits by celebrity guest artists, such as Frank Marocco, a jazz accordionist who has written music for films. Wise is not playing tonight but will serve as emcee. He talks about the progress he's made in recruiting young accordionists, then scans the room until he spies a familiar curly brown head and invites Elise up to perform. She lugs her case to the front of the room, unzips it and hauls out her 48-bass instrument.
Before giving the floor to Elise, Wise tells the crowd proudly that the girl recently performed for a large audience at a Baltimore library. A murmur of surprise and smattering of applause greets this news.
“This is called 'Church in the Wildwood,'” Elise says, and plunges into the number. Although she nailed the song in her lesson with Wise, tonight it does not go well. About four phrases in, she stumbles over a note. She mutters “eck” in frustration but continues. She fumbles again and, with a professional's poise, corrects herself by stopping and starting over. But the same mistakes haunt the performance to the end. The 40-second number stretches to over a minute, as some of the audience members shift in their seats, crossing and uncrossing their legs in impatience.
When Elise finishes, Wise returns to the front of the room.
“That was very nice. Thank you, Elise,” he says, giving her a pat on the back. He claps until the room joins him in a round of applause.
AT WASHINGTON'S GANGPLANK MARINA, the Wises turn down a narrow plank and see friends from WMAS waving from a 46-foot-long houseboat. Paul Aebersold, the boat's owner, sits on the top deck, playing a haunting German song on his accordion. From inside the boat's tiny kitchen wafts the aroma of Viennese goulash, spaetzle and red cabbage—takeout from a German restaurant where Aebersold plays accordion on the weekends.
As the sun sets over the Potomac, a paddle-boat glowing with lights plows quietly by. The day's oppressive heat and humidity have dissipated, and everyone agrees it's a far more beautiful night than the last houseboat party, when someone had to hold an umbrella over Wise as he played.
Later in the evening, Wise climbs to the houseboat's upper deck with his accordion, pulls up a chair and begins to play “La Vie en Rose.” Although Wise finds it difficult to articulate exactly why he loves the accordion, he always returns to the principle of tension and release in music. He says that how he chooses to express himself reflects his struggles throughout the day and that, “as the music comes to rest so, too, does the player.”
“La Vie en Rose” can be an accordion cliche, but Wise's orchestration elevates it to a personal anthem. He slouches into his accordion, arms hugging it tight, eyes closed, chin tucked against the instrument's top, coaxing a symphony out of the cumber-some box. The bittersweet melody reveals itself slowly as Wise's right hand strolls down the keys, evoking strings, his fingers on the bass buttons summoning a piano's gentle percussion. While Wise rocks in his seat, the bellows gradually begin to voice a lone coronet that lifts the notes higher and higher until, at last, they break and retreat to quiet.
Across the inky water comes a ripple of faint applause from another houseboat, the clappers unseen.
IN 2004, WISE PERSUADED A REPORTER for the local newspaper to write about his idea for Accordions for Kids. The Associated Press picked up the story, helping spread word of his 10-week program in which children receive free lessons and a loaner accordion. Wise has since taught more than 30 children and recruited still more to pair with program teachers in other states.
Last August, 10-year-old Katelyn Peters and her brother, Aaron, 8, attend the recital that is the traditional last lesson of the program. Their mother, Karen Peters, and the Wises make up the audience.
Katelyn starts with “Hot Cross Buns,” as does Aaron. She next heads where her little brother can't follow, playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” from memory and adding new notes along the way to liven it up. When the children finish, Wise says: “Take a bow. Both of you,” and waits for them to stand before presenting two certificates of achievement.
“He who climbs a ladder must begin at the first step,” Wise says. “May you take the next step and continue a lifetime of joy with your music.”
Now, the Peters family has to decide if either of the kids, who enjoy playing, will continue with accordion.
“So, what do you think?” Wise asks.
“I don't know. Katelyn is pretty busy with violin,” says Karen Peters, referring to the rigorous lessons the girl takes through a public school. “Maybe Aaron . . .”
“Well, you don't have to decide right now,” Wise says. “Why don't you keep one of the accordions for now and think about it?”
“Are you sure?” she asks.
“Yes, yes, keep it, and get back to me later.”
After the Peterses leave with Aaron's 16-bass loaner, Wise sits alone in the lesson room. “There's some selling that has to be done,” he says. “But this accordion thing is going to happen, one way or the other. How big it becomes is just a matter of how much energy we got.”Wise gazes down at the blue pearl accordion abandoned by Katelyn. He lifts it by its tiny shoulder straps and, for a moment, considers shutting it away in its case. Then he carries the child-size accordion across the room and gently places it on a shelf next to his own well-traveled instrument, where it awaits a taker.
By Genevieve Rajewski | Wired.com, April 20, 2007
It's not easy being a lab rat. What's worse still is being a lab rat used for practice—undergoing endless manhandling, injections and intubations, just so lab techs can get hands-on training. Is there no god?
To help ease the hard life of the lab rat, Craig Jones plans to release a furry, fully jointed rat mannequin, code-named “Squeekums,” later this year as the newest training model in his Rescue Critters line. While Squeekums will never replace the live rats used in lab testing, it will allow technicians to learn how to handle rodents—including safely inserting IVs and placing endotracheal tubes—before they ever touch a real one.
Being able to help reduce the use of live animals in education and training drives Rescue Critters' president, Jones, to create the most lifelike animal training models on the market.
It's the plastic innards that make the mannequins viable stand-ins for living animals or cadavers. Disposable lungs expand the chest like a real patient's as they fill with air. An IV bag runs artificial blood into models' replica veins, allowing users to insert a needle and either inject or draw fluids.
Rescue Critters even offers an installable breath-and-heart sound simulator, which features samples digitally recorded at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine. “We installed speakers so, in a simulation scenario, students place a stethoscope directly onto a mannequin, hear a breath sound or heart sound, and have to interpret what they are listening to,” says Jones.
Jones, a former emergency-response instructor, started Rescue Critters in 1998 when he realized there was only one unrealistic dummy dog available to teach a pet first-aid course. From his home near Los Angeles, Jones tapped contacts in the local special effects industry to develop “Jerry,” a life-size, furry dog mannequin with a convincing airway, working lungs and artificial pulse. Jerry was designed to allow users to practice compressions and mouth-to-snout resuscitation.
The Red Cross adopted Jerry as their pet first-aid training model, and veterinary colleges followed closely behind. Requests for other models started pouring in, and soon Rescue Critters was creating animal mannequins to help veterinary technician programs, fire departments and other groups train people in veterinary procedures and life-saving techniques.
Today, Rescue Critters offers 20 mannequins—dogs, cats and one horse—as well as replacement veins and lungs and “customizations” such as bullet entrance wounds and impaled knives. The Van Nuys, California, company sells 300 to 350 mannequins a year, priced from $300 to $7,000 apiece.
Rescue Critters' fake cats and dogs may sport goofy Muppet-like facial expressions, but they serve as very serious substitutes for practicing intubations, thoracentesis, catheterization, finding pulses and other emergency care. Meanwhile, the company's “Fetch” dog mannequin helps train Army Rangers and Marines to parachute with search-and-rescue dogs, and “Lucky,” a 400-pound jointed horse mannequin, can be tossed off ledges to simulate rescue scenarios.
To ensure anatomical accuracy, Jones regularly interrogates the veterinary education community and observes procedures and surgeries. Rescue Critters' staff of five full-time employees sculpts all the anatomical pieces from commercial-grade modeling clay. They then use fiberglass molds lined with silicon to produce the durable mannequins, most of which are covered in artificial fur.
Elizabeth White, RVT, director of Los Angeles Pierce College's Veterinary Technology Program, says she has taught students using Rescue Critters for several years now.
“They are especially good at helping novice students gain confidence,” says White. “They are also great for duplicating emergency situations, such as cardiac arrest, that we could not otherwise teach in the classroom.”
The greatest challenge in creating the models is weighing realism against durability, says Jones.
“We could make tissue that feels and acts exactly like real skin when you cut into it, but it would be too fragile,” he says. “We could make a horse exactly like a real horse, but it wouldn't last through one exercise.”
Instead, Lucky is made of a rugged elastomer composite, enabling the horse mannequin to survive 100-foot ravine drops, helicopter lifts, trailer rollovers and water rescues.
“What I like about Lucky is that he has some weight to him. He's only about half the weight of a full-size horse, but he gives people a good sense of just how big horses are,” says Roger Lauzé, equine rescue and training coordinator for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
In January, a Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association review of comparison studies found that using alternatives like Rescue Critters' mannequins, instead of live animals, produced results that were just as good as those in more conventional instruction. That applied to all areas of biomedical education, from high school to college to veterinary training.“Nobody is suggesting that you can learn to do surgery using only models,” says Gary Patronek, VMD, one of the journal article's authors. “But in many instances it is vastly better to use an alternative that allows you to practice a technique as many times as needed to get it right. Then, when you have to do a procedure on a live animal, you can do it much quicker and more effectively—and the animal need not suffer because of it.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | Edible Boston, Winter 2011
At Fairway Beef, the last standing original meat house in Worcester, customers turn up their coat collars and shove their hands in their pockets when they enter. The store is completely refrigerated. Milk sits right next to cereal boxes on the shelves, and salad dressings and olive oils temporarily congeal from the cold.
Although the butcher shop—which sees 2,000 to 3,000 customers pass through its doors each week—seems decidedly old-school, it has changed dramatically over the last several decades, as have all local butcher shops.
“Years ago, the meat used to come in by rail cars from the Midwest,” recalls owner George Sigel, 75, who mans the counter six days a week at the shop his father opened in 1945. “It was exposed to the elements—dirt, rain and snow—and had to be rinsed clean when it came into the shop.”
When Sigel first starting working at Fairway Beef as a teenager, meat arrived at as whole carcasses, sides (carcasses halved lengthwise) and 150-pound quarters for processing. A rail suspended from the ceiling ran the length of a room in the back of the sprawling red-and-white metal building. As the meat hung from this rail, the shop’s butchers would saw through bone, fat and sinew to divide the pieces into “primal cuts”—smaller sections such as the brisket, chuck, rib, plate, short loin, flank, sirloin and round for beef and the leg, belly, loin, Boston butt and picnic shoulder for pork. Sawdust sopped up the fat and blood that dripped to the floor, which was pitched to a sewer drain and hosed down nightly.
About 20 years ago, Sigel says, things started to change.
“The government came in one day and said, ‘No more sawdust on the floor,’” says Sigel. “We fought it at first, because we feared men would slip and cut themselves on the buzz saw.”
Then, “little by little, the meat started coming by box,” Sigel recalls. Today, the rail and sawdust are gone from the back room at Fairway Beef. Now, every morning, trucks back up to the room, where staff unload pallets from some of the nation’s largest meatpacking companies.
“Everything is in separate boxes, and each box is full of the same cut,” says Sigel, pointing to a stack of boxes full of shrink wrapped beef short loin. “One box will be all ribs. Another box will be all tenderloins. All the meat comes wrapped in Cryovac bags, and you only open it up when you’re ready to use it.”
“Boxed beef ” (and similarly distributed pork and lamb) is the norm at nearly every retail shop selling meat these days—from the deepest-discount supermarkets to the highest-end specialty food shops. Most meatpacking companies will break an animal into any cut, including case-ready products, explains Michael Dulock, managing partner of Concord Prime & Fish. This means a butcher, if so inclined, can buy a steak from a packing house, open the package and just put it out for sale as is.
Butcher shops’ reliance on the modern meatpacking system has made it difficult for consumers to find grass-fed, local or humanely raised meat for purchase at a retail store.
At Concord Prime & Fish, the meat on sale is prime (arriving via box from the Midwest), local or grass-fed (which may be local or boxed). “I understand that it’s better for cows to eat grass and [for consumers] to support local farmers,” says Dulock. “But if I don’t sell those really sexy prime steaks, I would lose my soapbox to promote those products.”
“I work pretty closely with Rick Adams of Adams Family Farm in Athol. I have him source animals from western Massachusetts and then finish them on his property. I butcher the animal whole here,” continues Dulock. “I don’t know of any other local shops that cut whole animals, other than a few halal shops and ethnic food markets. It’s not as lucrative a business as one would think.”
Dulock breaks down two to three local cows a month and at least one lamb a week in the back of his elegantly minimalist shop. He has difficulty getting local pork, which he says is usually just too lean to be a quality product.
But finding all types of local meat can be challenging.
“I can’t establish one-and-done relationships. I need farmers who can produce an animal a month, and most can’t,” says Dulock. “I’ve actually looked into maintaining my own herd and trying to find people who would let me rotate my cows through their land in return for haying their fields.”
Jahangir Kabir—who owns the halal food market Well Foods Plus in Somerville’s Union Square with his wife, Rokeya—also works with Adams Family Farm to bring in whole animals and beef quarters for butchering on-site. Animals raised throughout the Northeast are purchased at auction and then slaughtered in Athol.
Although from the street the international shop hardly seems a place you’d expect to find a thriving locavore economy, Well Foods’ customers continually wind their way past canned goods and sacks of basmati rice to a meat counter hidden in the back.
“We sell more than 25 whole goats a week,” says Kabir, and the shop also goes through about six cows a month.
Savenor’s sources some of its meat from Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and elsewhere in New England, according to General Manager Juliana Kolson Lyman.
But it’s tough.
“The hardest thing is sourcing prime meat,” she says. “With prime, an animal has to age longer to develop more of what I like to call ‘lusciousness’—or fat within the muscle. It’s hard for a farmer to do that, as it’s the antithesis of making money. Raising an animal to prime means more feeding, more caring and more waiting. We try to bring in humanely raised prime; sometimes we get it, and sometimes we don’t.”
As for the actual consumer demand for local meat?
“I think people inquire more about local meat than walk out with it,” says Lyman. “People want to know that we carry it, but there can be sticker shock.”
To cover the costs associated with raising and slaughtering an animal, Dulock notes that local farmers often need to charge a price for hanging weight (the total weight of a carcass right off the slaughter line) that’s higher than what most meat shops could sell the finished cuts for.
“I can’t pay a farmer $4 to $4.50 a pound for hanging weight,” says Dulock. “A brick-and-mortar business carries enormous expenses, and I cannot count on getting the $8 a pound for ground beef seen at a farmers’ market. In retail, if you can get $6 a pound for ground beef, you are lucky.”
“So the prices on my USDA prime and local cuts end up being pretty comparable,” he says.
For customers seeking a better price proposition, Concord Prime & Fish sells whole and animal sections.
“If you buy a beef hindquarter, for example, you get top round, bottom round, top sirloin, sirloin tip, strip steak, tenderloin, cross-cut beef shank, plus some ground beef, tri-tip and stew meat,” says Dulock. “So if you pay $4 a pound for hanging weight, [after butchering] that works out to $6.67 a pound for your meat—that’s for ground beef but for tenderloin, too.”
“The only other places I know offering this service are the slaughterhouses themselves,” he says, or if you buy directly from the farms.
A journeyman butcher who studied at the Culinary Institute of America before cutting meat at Market Basket in Somerville and going on to become the head butcher at Savenor’s, Vadim Akimenko hopes to soon also help bridge that gap between city dwellers and local farmers. Akimenko is trying to secure enough funding to open Akimenko Meats, a new butcher shop in Cambridge’s Inman Square. His plan is to bring in whole animals, including some heritage breeds, sourced from within 250 miles of Boston to break down in full view of his customers.
When butcher shops like Concord Prime & Fish,Well Foods Plus and Akimenko Meats butcher whole animals, the advantage to consumers is a far wider selection of cuts, particularly hard-to-find offal, shanks, heads and neck meat. At Well Foods, for example, a recent Saturday scouting trip turned up cow feet and stomachs; goat heads, feet and livers; and a full array of bone-in and boneless cuts from both animals.
The downside is that there are far fewer of the most popular cuts.
“There’s only one hanger steak on an animal that is split in two, so when it is sold, we won’t have more until we get a new cow in,” says Akimenko.
Just as how an animal was bred, raised and slaughtered plays a huge part in how it tastes, so too do does the skill a meat cutter brings to the table. If he or she can’t cut straight, the meat won’t cook evenly, notes Akimenko. Meanwhile, if a whole muscle cut, such as a shoulder or chuck, gets hacked up, it won’t hold together during braising and some parts will overcook. (You want a braised meat to fall apart only when you put a knife to it, he says.)
“I can’t stand it when someone cuts the fat out of a rib eye,” Akimenko laments. “When it cooks, it steams in the cut part.” Lyman says she often sees poorly cut lamb for sale. “If a cutter leaves the fell on, that gives lamb a very off-putting, pungent taste.”
Even ground burger tastes better when produced by a skillful butcher. Large industrial grinders have the capability to process larger portions of meat, sinew and cartilage, says Dulock. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that these parts go into all commercially ground beef, every once in a while you may find some in a burger. But that’s due to more to the integrity of the company grinding the meat than the size of the grinder, says Dulock. “Small batches, closer attention to detail and a better raw material will produce a better end result,” he says.
To stay in business, local butcher shops have pursued divergent paths to profitability—to the point where they often no longer resemble the shops of the past, nor each other.
Some have chosen to offer convenience foods and value-added products. Savenor’s, for example, does a steady trade in marinated meats, including a grill-ready pepper steak.
Although Fairway Beef sees strong demand for its gray corned beef, which is brined year-round in large vats on-site, its strongest product comes from selling “the sizzle.” By creating a story for his “honeymoon steaks”—a tip steak cut in no particular shape or size—Sigel has come to move more of these than any other piece of meat.
“When people come to your house, you want to serve them all the same size steak in a uniform cut,” says Sigel sly. “But when two people are in love, it doesn’t matter what the steak looks like. This is the most juicy, tender piece of meat you’d ever want…but it’s not for company.”
Like many butcher shops, Fairway Beef also has survived in part by carrying produce and pantry items in addition to meat.
“We even have 99-cent deal items,” he says, gesturing to an end cap display of lipstick and lip liner combo packs. “If you can buy a ham in the drugstore now, why can’t I carry drugstore items?”
For both financial sustainability and a respectful use of each animal, Akimenko is striving to have no more than 7 percent waste with any carcass. It’s an astoundingly small amount, but Akimenko plans to sell house-made charcuteries and stocks to creatively make use of the whole animal.
The primary quality the diverse butcher shops seem to share is a personal connection with their customers.
“We’ve made it our business to make friends with our customers, to know many mouths they have to feed at home,” says Dulock. “If they say they want steak tips, I want to be able to ask, ‘Is it just the three of you tonight?” A local store should know each customer’s preferences and a little bit about their history.”
Lost in translation
Making sense of how a retail meat label relates to the animal it came from can be tricky—particularly without the help of a butcher. Here’s a quick guide for navigating some of the more common terms.
All-natural or natural
This is misleading: All fresh meat qualifies as “natural,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (“I can buy factory-farmed commodity pork with an all-natural label,” notes Michael Dulock, managing partner of Concord Prime & Fish, “and there is pretty much nothing natural about that product.”) For this label, meat need only be free of artificial ingredients and added colors and be minimally processed. It may be still contain antibiotics or growth hormones; if you are concerned about those additives, look for a label that reads, “no hormones added” on beef and lamb (hormones aren’t allowed in pork or poultry) and “no antibiotics added” on meat and poultry.
Meat sold under the USDA’s National Organic Program must be from animals that were raised free of antibiotics and growth hormones and never fed animal byproducts. (However, veteran butcher Vadim Akimenko notes that some local farms meet or exceed the organic standards but cannot afford to pay for the certification.)
Meat labeled as “grass-fed” under the USDA’s National Organic Program means that, once weaned, ruminant animals (cows, sheep and goats) only ate grass and forage during their lifetime. Animals cannot have been fed grain or grain byproducts and must have had continuous access to pasture during the growing season.
This term sounds closest to what many consumers may want for their meat animals, but there is currently no formal standard for meat labeled as pasture-raised. Talk to your butcher if you want to know if the meat you are buying came from animals that grazed freely outdoors on grass—which is likely only the case if he or she has made a considerable effort to source such products.
While USDA inspection is mandatory for all meat, grading is voluntary. A processing plant may choose to pay to have its meat graded; the two USDA slaughterhouses in Massachusetts and the one in New Hampshire do not have their meat graded.
Prime meat has more marbling (white flecks of fat within the meat muscle), so it is the most tender, flavorful and juicy grade; only about 2 percent of graded beef qualifies as prime. Other USDA-graded meat sold at the retail level includes choice, select and good (for lamb). Retail stores may use other terms, but these must be different from the USDA grades.
A local animal could possibly grade as prime, notes Dulock, but it is unlikely unless the animal was consuming copious amounts of grain. He says that since most of the local animals he sources are pasture-raised and grass-fed, they likely wouldn’t even grade as select if they were subject to voluntary inspection.
This meat and poultry is from rare and endangered breeds that typically went out of favor for not being as prolific breeders or not as quick to gain weight as other animals that ultimately became widely raised in commercial agriculture. There are no government standards for this label. Heritage meats help preserve biodiversity, and its proponents argue that it tastes better (think heirloom tomatoes).
By Genevieve Rajewski | Tufts Veterinary Medicine, Winter 2010
Twenty-five people clutching notebooks eagerly crowd into the deep shade of a farm shed, where Scott Brundage is demonstrating a judo-like maneuver that will set a sheep on its rump. The technique, known as sheep tipping, is a basic of herd management, allowing farmers to trim the animals’ hooves and check them for disease.
“Tipping sheep is not about muscle or strength. It’s all about balance,” notes Brundage, the herdsman at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. On this sunny fall afternoon, his students are participating in Sheep School, one in a series of Livestock Field Schools.
“First, you grab them here and here,” Brundage instructs, gently taking a ewe’s chin in his left hand, while wrapping his other arm around her side to grip her belly.
“Now position your right knee against her side. Turn her head away from you until she is really leaning into your right leg. Now take that leg away!”
The sheep topples onto her side, where she remains, quite calmly. Brundage bends over, grabs the ewe’s front legs and pulls her back until she is resting on her haunches between his knees. “From this position, you can trim the hooves,” says Brundage, showing the students how to wield their clippers.
After a few attempts that result in the sheep circling around him, Patrick McQuade, a registered nurse from Rutland, Mass., gets tipping down pat.
McQuade discovered Sheep School while surfing for information on how to care for some Wensleydale lambs he had purchased.
“You can only read so much on the Internet,” he says. “Nothing beats hands-on instruction from actual professionals.”
McQuade decided to raise lamb after seeing Food Inc., a documentary about corporate farming. “I figured, at least this way, I’d know that the animals I eat were well cared for,” he says. “I only work three days a week, so I have time to try farming on the side. So far, I love it.”
As the eat-local movement inspires people to think long and hard about where their food comes from, more folks are turning to raising their own meat and eggs. These backyard farmers usually start off knowing next to nothing about animal husbandry—which is why, for the last two years, the Cummings School has offered the field schools through the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, a nonprofit training program for newbie farmers run by the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts and Community Teamwork, a nonprofit in Lowell, Mass., that helps low-income people become self-sufficient.
Sheep tipping works because the animals possess natural defense mechanisms against predators.
“She is feeling pretty good right now,” says George Saperstein, professor and chair of environmental and population health, of the tipped sheep. “When sheep are taken down by a prey animal like a wolf, their brains release endorphins so they will have a pain-free death.”
However, those same instincts often make it difficult for novice farmers to judge a sheep’s well being. Standing out from the herd, say by looking lethargic or thin, attracts the unwanted attention of predators. So sheep evolved to blend in by not betraying any signs of discomfort or disease.
Consider, for example, the barber pole worm. This microscopic stomach parasite can drain a sheep of a deadly amount of blood before causing any overt symptoms, even as the animal suffers from severe anemia. At this session of Sheep School, Rosario Delgado-Lecaroz, V97, a farm veterinarian in Upton, Mass., demonstrates a new technique, known as the FAMACHA anemia guide, for sussing out the presence of this potentially fatal parasite. Each attendee receives a plastic card featuring high-resolution photographs of sheep’s inner eyelids in five possible shades of red. Delgado-Lecaroz then leads the students in comparing sheep eyelids against the take-home color charts to look for the paler reds that indicate anemia.
“The goal is not to rid a flock entirely of parasites,” says Delgado-Lecaroz, noting that over-zealous de-worming of sheep has led to parasites that are now resistant to some of the drugs that control them. “The goal is a productive flock that can tolerate a reasonable level of parasites.”
The Backyard Farm Boom
Anecdotal evidence points to an increase in backyard farming in Massachusetts—particularly the number of families keeping laying hens.
“In the last two years, we have received significantly more phone calls seeking information about how to keep chickens,” says Michael Cahill, director of the Division of Animal Health within the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.
“We are getting lots of calls from towns that haven’t traditionally allowed poultry but are looking into it because they are getting so many requests from interested residents.”
From 2005 to 2008, the state saw the number of properties with 12 or fewer chickens grow by 300 households and the total number of chickens statewide jump from 7,000 to 9,000 birds.
The state has yet to notice an increase in the number of people raising other livestock, including pigs, cattle and sheep. But, Cahill says, “We recognize poultry as being a gateway species. The people who were ahead of the curve and keeping poultry years ago may now be moving into sheep, goats and other production animals. We certainly have heard from more people who are interested in learning how to butcher four-legged animals for personal consumption, and they may already be raising meat animals.”
Although Americans eat just a quarter of the lamb they consumed in the 1950s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sheep might be the livestock animal best-suited for a revival in Massachusetts. “Back in the 1800s, [sure-footed] sheep were the most predominant animal in New England because of the rocky terrain,” says Saperstein. “Just look at all the towns that sprung up around textile mills here.”
More obstacles stand in the way of backyard swine farming, as many towns have specific rules banning that species, notes Cahill.
Off on the Right Hoof
The New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (nesfp.nutrition.tufts.edu) initially focused on vegetable production, but “over the years, more and more people told us they were interested in raising livestock,” says Jennifer Hashley, G05, the program’s director.
After searching for other organizations offering startup training in livestock production, Hashley discovered that such educational opportunities did not exist in Massachusetts and were rare elsewhere in New England. She decided to add a meat-production component to the New Entry program and soon identified the Cummings School as the ideal partner.
“The veterinary school obviously lends itself very well to hands-on learning, as it already has livestock on the property, as well as knowledgeable faculty and staff,” Hashley says. “We also wanted to help beginner farmers make connections to veterinary care services and understand when it’s appropriate to bring in a vet,” says Hashley, who raises chickens, pigs, sheep and rabbits in Concord, Mass., with her husband, Peter Lowy.
Saperstein says that getting farmers started off on the right foot with animal care is the veterinary school’s primary motivation for offering the livestock schools. “For the last 30 years or so, there hasn’t been enough basic information about raising livestock available for new farmers,” he says. “So when I was a practicing farm veterinarian, it was not uncommon to see animals with serious man-made health problems because their owners had little idea what to feed them to meet their nutritional needs or how to properly vaccinate or de-worm them.”
The secondary focus of the field schools is on helping farmers achieve financial sustainability. For starters, local farmers need to learn how “to go back to using the grass that we have” to feed their livestock, says Saperstein. “The biggest cost to a meat producer is feed, and New England has the highest grain costs in the country because it has to travel so far to us,” he explains. “Using grass more efficiently is the first step toward economic viability for our farmers.”
Ten classes have been offered so far through the Livestock Field School series, which has received funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer the workshops. Classes have covered preventive care, handling, nutrition, feeding, breed selection and reproduction for chickens, cows, pigs and sheep. Other workshops have tackled pasture management, rotational grazing, fencing, direct-market opportunities and meat processing. In addition to faculty and staff from Tufts, workshops have tapped industry experts, including breeders, chefs, representatives from the USDA and its Natural Resources Conservation Service, and extension service staff from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Penn State University and the University of Connecticut.
To date, 372 would-be farmers from all over the Northeast have attended a Livestock Field School.
Jana Dengler, the director of facilities and security at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, and Maryanne Reynolds, an assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth, have gone to field schools on poultry, swine, cattle, pasture management and direct marketing since purchasing their home with 110 acres in Petersham, Mass., last May. The married couple has 12 cashmere goats and two dogs to protect their livestock. They hope to add yaks to the mix this winter and plan to someday venture into raising poultry for eggs, meat and breeding stock.
The livestock schools “are great foundation classes,” says Dengler, who ran a farm for four years in her 20s. “You come away with a good understanding of what the animals are like and their care and feeding requirements, as well as how to find a market for your product before you go ahead and invest money in buying 200 chickens. Not too many people have been raised on farms anymore, and the classes are especially good at getting people who have never handled an animal before comfortable with it.”
“Because we both work full-time off-farm, time is a precious resource,” says Reynolds, who appreciates networking with other attendees, who often have valuable experiences and information to share.
While New Entry stands ready to help those who choose to move forward with raising livestock after participating in a field school, sometimes success means preventing people from jumping in over their heads.
Peter Kracke, E05, E08, a chemical engineering research scientist, attended Sheep School on a fact-finding mission. His family is exploring options for inexpensively mowing pasture they own in northern New Hampshire, and at first, sheep seemed a sound strategy, especially given the potential income stream from raising lamb. However, because of what he learned in Sheep School, Kracke has revised that game plan: “Sheep School, though a lot of fun, helped me figure out that it’s not feasible for us to raise meat animals [ourselves].”
However, the experience did not dampen his desire to use the land for agriculture. Kracke says he is working on convincing his family to apply to the New Entry Farmland Matching Service as landowners seeking farmers.
5 Things To Consider
More than ever, consumers want to know where their food comes from. “As a result, more people want to raise food animals for themselves, which is great—as long as they do their homework first,” says Garth Miller, the livestock production manager at the Cummings School. If you’re thinking about keeping livestock, our experts offer a few pointers:
Know your local laws. Regulations around raising livestock in Massachusetts vary by town. Check with your city or town hall to make sure your property is in the right zoning district and you have enough land to keep animals. Some towns also require you to purchase a permit. Every municipality has a health inspector who conducts an annual census of all livestock in that community; those records are submitted as “barn books” to the state department of agricultural resources. The barn books are used to contact owners if there is a disease outbreak that could threaten livestock.
Think about your neighbors. While keeping livestock may appeal to you, your neighbors may have other ideas. Consideration and common sense are key to avoiding conflicts. “If you want to raise chickens in a populated area, stick to hens since they’re a lot quieter than roosters,” says Samuel Anderson, G09, the livestock and outreach coordinator for the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, a program run by the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts. “Fencing is also key,” he says. “I grew up in a very rural area, and when a neighbor neglected their fences, we would find a herd of cattle in our front yard. I can only imagine how that would go over in the suburbs!”
Invest in good stock. “The most important step in keeping livestock is buying an animal from a reputable breeder,” says James Phillips, the Cummings School’s farm supervisor. Although auctions offer an enticingly inexpensive way to get started, the experts agree that finding a quality animal at auction is rare—and difficult for a novice to spot. Remember: once you bring an animal into your herd or flock, you’re stuck with whatever genetics, disease, disposition or other issues that come with it.
Plan for predators. Five laying hens produce enough eggs to feed a family, and you may love the idea of letting the birds roam in your backyard. But chickens need secure fencing and coops to protect them from a host of predators that prowl the suburbs (and even cities), including fisher cats, raccoons, skunks, hawks and owls. For those who keep sheep, fencing alone won’t always keep out dogs and coyotes, so consider adding a guard dog, a llama or a donkey to your herd, all of which can drive off canine intruders.
Add it up. Raising animals for meat, dairy or eggs entails a financial commitment. You have to purchase healthy stock and pay for feed, veterinary care, fencing and housing. Then there are the fees for processing food animals: $40 or $50 for an 80-pound lamb and $500 for a 1,200-pound steer, says Cummings farm worker Katlyn Tice. And don’t forget about your own time. “Livestock is not much fun to have around on a Sunday morning when it’s zero degrees outside and you have to go break ice in water buckets,” says Scott Brundage, a herdsman at the Cummings School. “Livestock require attention every day.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | Tufts Veterinary Medicine, Winter 2010
Yet another superbug has arrived. Once an uncomfortable intestinal malady confined mostly to the elderly, the bacterium known as Clostridium difficile now stalks the nation’s hospitals—causing gastrointestinal distress, and even death, in younger, otherwise-healthy individuals.
Most of us have the typically harmless bacterium known as “C. diff” in our bodies at one time or another. However, things can go awry when an overuse of antibiotics kills off the “good bacteria” in the intestine, causing the C diff. bug to go into overdrive and unleash two toxins that attack the colon. Symptoms start with diarrhea and can develop into life-threatening inflammation or enlargement of the colon.
Nearly 30,000 people in the U.S. die annually from C. diff, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the frequency of infections and deaths from C. diff are on the rise. The elderly, who generally have weaker immune systems, continue to be most at risk. But the CDC recently warned that C. diff infections are increasing in traditionally “low-risk” populations, including women who have just given birth and other seemingly healthy people.
“The disease has become much more severe and much more difficult to treat,” says Hanping Feng, a biomedical researcher at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
Feng and his research team are on the frontlines of fighting the superbug with a three-pronged attack. They’re developing a vaccine to prevent infection, a drug to treat it and a rapid test to diagnose it. Researchers suspect that C. diff has emerged as a superbug because the over-use of antibiotics has bred an epidemic strain of the bacterium. First reported by the CDC in 2004, this strain appears to be far more virulent—producing a far greater number of toxins than other strains of the bacterium—and more resistant to existing treatments.
Shed in feces, C. diff is spread by contact and produces spores that can linger for months on surfaces, remaining stubbornly resistant to the disinfectants and alcohol-based sanitizing hand foams used in hospitals. Once ingested, the spores re-activate and start spawning toxins.
The best defense, Feng says, would be to prevent the infection altogether. Supported by a five-year, $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Feng and his research team have developed a vaccine that is showing promise in animal studies.
Like viral infections, bacterial infections activate our body’s immune system. When exposed to a small amount of bacteria, our bodies produce antibodies—proteins in the blood—that help white blood cells seek out infectious invaders and destroy them. Our bodies then retain the memory of this battle, allowing antibody-producing cells to respond faster and more aggressively the next time the same bacterium attacks. However, Feng says, it can be tricky to develop a vaccine to prevent such an infection when a bacterium does not normally cause disease, as is the case with C. diff. in most of us.
Fortunately, antibodies also can protect us from threats by being trained to recognize and respond to just the part of a pathogen that causes an infection. “Because the two toxins produced by the C. diff bacterium are the primary reason for the disease, we have focused our efforts on generating a host antibody response that neutralizes them,” says Feng.
To create their vaccine, Feng’s team engineered the world’s first “recombinant” and “chimeric” C. diff toxins, genetically modifying them so they could be reproduced easily for study. The researchers then used this work to create a single, harmless protein that essentially acts as a decoy: the protein used in the vaccine looks like the toxins to the body, which gets tricked into producing antibodies capable of neutralizing the real toxins—without ever being subjected to their harmful effects.
Ironically, to treat even the most virulent strain of C. diff, physicians are prescribing the very thing that has caused a spike in infection rates: antibiotics. Most patients are treated with the less-expensive metronidazole, while those with more severe cases receive the antibiotic vancomycin, which is quite costly, says Feng.
But more than 20 percent of patients are not getting better on antibiotics, according to a study in the Cleveland Journal of Medicine. Moreover, 12 to 24 percent of patients treated successfully with antibiotics will get sick again, the study found. And if a patient has two or more episodes of C. diff, the risk of additional recurrences jumps to more than 50 percent, which significantly increases a patient’s risk of dying, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
The vaccine developed by Feng and his colleagues has shown promise in conferring rapid protection against initial and recurrent C. diff infections in mice. Someday, Feng says, the vaccine may be administered routinely to high-risk individuals, including hospital patients on antibiotics.
In search of a more effective treatment for C. diff, Feng and his team are working with colleagues from the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Cummings School on a new drug that could be a lifesaver for the growing number of patients who do not respond to antibiotics.
Like the vaccine, the drug again uses the mutant toxins as immunogens, which are proteins with potent abilities to generate antibodies. Using genetic engineering and selection technologies, developed by Charles Shoemaker’s group in the infectious diseases division, Feng’s team generated tiny neutralizing antibodies that they hope to deliver, Trojan Horse-style, into the gut, where the real toxins do harm. Once inside the intestine, Feng says, these tiny antibodies should seek out and bind to the C diff. toxins, thwarting infection by preventing them from entering the cells.
Feng and his colleagues in infectious diseases also developed a rapid, ultra-sensitive test to detect C. diff infection. In less than three hours, the diagnostic tool can determine if a patient is infected with the virulent strain of C. diff—giving physicians a head start on treatment. The work is being funded by a research development grant from Merck.
Feng credits his team’s multi-front strategy to combat C. diff to the holistic research approach he has been able to pursue at Tufts. “The first thing we did here was to build a solid foundation [of the basic research tools needed] for making substantial, fast progress,” he says. The goal was to understand how the bacterium produces toxins and how the body reacts to the intruders, and then to use that knowledge to design counter-measures against the infection.
By Genevieve Rajewski | Tufts Veterinary Medicine, Winter 2010
For 27 years, Jamie Pendleton’s blue and gold macaw, Lady Cromwell, enjoyed perfect health—until the day Pendleton heard her pet screeching in distress. She found the bird flapping her wings erratically, her talons clenched and eyelids fluttering.
It marked the start of near-weekly seizures.
“It was just horrible,” says Pendleton. “I’d hold her until she stopped seizing. A couple of times I caught her starting to fall off her perch.”
After months of unsuccessful treatment near her home in New York, Pendleton drove her beloved companion three and a half hours to the Cummings School’s Foster Hospital for Small Animals. What transpired next was a medical mystery worthy of the television show House.
The parrot’s previous blood tests showed a toxic level of zinc. Joerg Mayer, Tufts’ exotic animal specialist, hospitalized the macaw for intensive hydration and chelation therapy, injecting agents that bind with the metal in the body’s tissues so it can be released into the bloodstream and flushed out through urination.
Mayer asked Pendleton to have the bird’s cage tested for heavy metals since some have been known to have toxic finishes. The cage indeed tested positive for both zinc and lead, and Pendleton replaced it with a toxin-free one. However, Lady Cromwell continued to have seizures, and her blood tests still showed high levels of zinc.
“I told Jamie, ‘You still have zinc somewhere in your house. We have to play detective,’” says Mayer. He introduced her to Eric Koslowski, of Environmental Testing and Research Laboratories in Leominster, Mass., a client of Mayer’s with whom the vet has worked on cases and scientific studies.
“We looked at the toys. The food. The room,” recalls Koslowski. “The well water was supposed to be OK, but we double checked.”
It was clean, but the water coming out of the kitchen faucet was loaded with zinc. The culprit: several corroded galvanized tanks used to store the water. The family switched to bottled water until the tanks were replaced by fiberglass ones—an urgent fix, given that zinc toxicity can be fatal in humans.
“I always compare exotics’ high metabolism to grand prix racing engines,” says Mayer. “You wouldn’t take a Ferrari to Joe’s Gas ’n Gulp because regular gas is too dirty for them; they need very pure fuel. Well, the same goes for birds, which is why coal miners and submariners used to take along canaries [as sentinels of air quality]. When a bird fell off its perch, they knew it was time to surface for fresh air because the carbon monoxide level was dangerously high.”
Today, Lady Cromwell’s blood levels have returned to normal. Although the macaw still experiences seizures, she has gone more than a month between incidents. “She is doing well on anti-seizure medication,” says Mayer. “Hopefully we can wean her off it eventually.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | Boston Globe, November 17, 2010
SOMERVILLE — Fresh chicken and beef are both on sale at Well Foods Plus in Union Square, but you’d never know it. On this Saturday, customers weave their way through the shop’s narrow aisles, past canned goods and sacks of rice, to the meat counter in the back, where they seem to ask for only one thing: goat meat and more goat meat.
It’s no anomaly. “We sell more than 25 whole goats a week,” says Jahangir Kabir, who owns the halal market with his wife, Rokeya. “This week is a Nepalese holiday, so I upped my order to 30 goats.” Although goat meat may be a stranger to most Massachusetts residents, the protein is the most-consumed meat in the world. The meat draws a diverse crowd, including customers from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Indonesia, Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, Somalia, Pakistan, Greece.
“Everybody cooks with goat meat except for white Americans,” says Amy Cook, who raises goats in Bradford, Vt., and this year started selling the meat at the Copley Square and Brookline farmers’ markets under the name Chevron. “The Mexican population eats it, as do South Americans, Africans, and Australians.” The demand for goat often “is linked to time of year and religious holidays,” says Cook. “For Greek Easter, people want a 30-pound kid at a specific time. Farmers who try to hit the holiday needs of specific ethnic markets get the best money for their meat.”
Nadine Nelson, owner of the local culinary-event company Epicurean Salon, says her family, who is of Jamaican heritage, butchers a goat in Connecticut every Christmas to make goat stew. They also make “Mannish water,” a soup of goat’s head, belly, and feet.
In less diverse neighborhoods, butchers say goat is a tough sell. At Concord Prime & Fish, only a few Indian and French customers request goat meat, says managing partner Michael Dulock. "When I put goat in the case, I probably only sell as much as I would venison. It’s just not a staple item here.”
There is much to recommend goat meat, which has ample protein, but fewer calories and less saturated fat than beef, pork, or chicken. From an environmental and financial sustainability standpoint, “it is so much more economical to raise a couple of goats for meat than a cow,” says Cook. “Goats will range and browse areas that other animals can’t get to, and they convert all kinds of shrubs and weeds into meat.”
Locavores will be happy to find that much of the goat meat on sale in this area comes from slaughterhouses in western Massachusetts or Vermont. The lack of demand in this country means there isn’t the same sort of factory farming seen in the other meat and poultry industries. Meanwhile, the number of goats around has risen with the growth of locally produced goat cheese.
“As with the dairy-cow industry, only a small percent of dairy goats’ offspring will be kept as replacement milkers, and the extra goats have to go somewhere,” explains Cook.
Then, of course, there’s the taste. “If people were more willing to try goat, they’d like it,” says Dulock. “It has a more delicate flavor than lamb.”
Although goats may frequent the same landscapes as sheep, they are altogether different animals, and it’s a mistake to try to cook them similarly. “Goat is a tougher meat, because there’s not as much fat as there is on lamb,” says Mark Romano, chef and owner of Highland Kitchen in Somerville. “That’s why we choose to braise goat. You also can smoke it. Just don’t try to grill a cut over high heat or you’ll end up with a meal that’s awful chewy. Use moisture and low heat to slowly cook goat meat until it falls apart.”
Some of Highland's patrons have followed Romano from one restaurant to another in pursuit of his spicy goat stew. He first started making it in 2002, when he took over Green Street Grill in Central Square from John Levins, who was known for his Caribbean cuisine.
“When I bought this place, I didn’t have goat on the original menu, but I ran the stew as a special a few times. Customers here loved it, and then we had people from Green Street coming in and asking for it,” says Romano.
“Ultimately, we ended up having to put it on the menu full-time,” says Romano, “and a goat became our unofficial mascot.”
Spicy goat stew
Adapted from Highland Kitchen
With kick from a Scotch bonnet pepper, this hearty, fragrant stew also contains Calabaza pumpkin (similar in texture and flavor to butternut squash), chayote squash (like summer squash), and malanga (which resembles a sweet potato). Substitute their more-familiar American cousins, if you like.
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 pounds bone-in goat meat
1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
2 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 Scotch bonnet or other hot chili pepper, seeded and chopped
1 piece (1 inch) fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon ground allspice
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups canned whole tomatoes, crushed in a bowl
1 1/2 cups white wine
4 cups chicken stock
8 ounces calabaza pumpkin, cut into 2-inch pieces
8 ounces chayote squash, cut into 2-inch pieces
8 ounces malanga, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cans (12 ounces each) coconut milk
1. Set the oven at 400 degrees.
2. In a large flameproof casserole over high heat, heat the oil. Add half the meat. Let it brown, without moving, for 3 minutes. Turn and brown the other side. Brown the remaining meat in the same way. Remove all the meat from the pan.
3. Add the onion and carrot to the pan, Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
4. Add the garlic, chili pepper, ginger, thyme, curry powder, allspice, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until the spices are aromatic.
5. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, and stock. Return the goat to the pan. Bring to a boil and cover the pan. Cook for 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone.
6. With a slotted spoon remove the meat from the pan; set aside. Add the pumpkin, squash, malanga and coconut milk to the pan. Simmer for 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender.
7. Remove the meat from the bones in large chunks and return the boneless pieces to the stew. Bring to a boil, taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper, if you like.
By Genevieve Rajewski | Boston Globe, July 28 2010
From a moving car, the William E. Russell school’s yard looks as ordinary as that at any other Boston elementary school.
But a pedestrian, traveling more slowly through a summer evening’s oppressive air, is startled to see, among the school’s trees, tall aluminum ladders topped by legs in shorts and cuffed jeans busy in the low leafy canopy. Heads and arms are buried high in the branches, as a group of adults and children fills 5-gallon plastic pails with handfuls upon handfuls of sour cherries.
Across Columbia Road from the school is another unlikely picking spot, Richardson Park. Surrounded by Dorchester’s triple-deckers and vehicular traffic, it’s certainly not what most people envision when they think of an orchard. However, both park and schoolyard are among Boston’s dozen highly producing urban orchards actively managed by EarthWorks, a Roxbury-based nonprofit working to create a healthier and more sustainable urban environment.
Since 1990, EarthWorks has planted and maintained orchards throughout Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, and other Boston neighborhoods.
Although impromptu harvests by neighborhood residents (encouraged) and poaching by birds and squirrels (tolerated) make it hard to get a firm grasp on the orchards’ yield, EarthWorks estimates that they produce some 20,000 pounds of fruit and berries a year. EarthWorks also creates recreational activities for children and adults, encourages healthy eating in ways Michelle Obama would applaud, builds neighborhood bonds, and cultivates living symbols that residents care about their community.
EarthWorks chooses plantings in collaboration with stakeholders in each property, be it public land, schoolyard, community center, or historic site. “Generally, we choose perennial fruiting plants that are going to succeed at the location,” says Ruby Geballe, EarthWorks’ urban orchards program assistant. “We don’t plant anything that takes a lot of babying either. We’re picking plants that are designed to make it through New England summers and winters.”
In the case of the 1700s Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury, EarthWorks worked with the historical society overseeing the property to plant several heritage fruit varieties. Now, just adjacent to Dudley Triangle, visitors will find a thrillingly pastoral scene: several levels of stone-walled orchards featuring Roxbury Russet and Newtown Pippin apples, Seckel and Bartlett pears, and a few historic varieties of peaches and apricots.
“Bartlett pears are a variety that was created in the Greater Roxbury area,” says Geballe. “Roxbury Russet is a hardy variety of apple also developed in the neighborhood—and named after the potato—that stores well. They are not the brightest-flavor apple and are more commonly cooked than eaten raw.”
EarthWorks takes an all-organic approach to pest management and seeks to keep the fruit harvested from the orchards as local as possible. “We certainly want people within our neighborhoods picking the fruit that is available,” says Geballe.
To ensure that little spoils on a branch or vine, however, EarthWorks organizes volunteer harvest events throughout the summer and fall. Anyone can volunteer to join a harvest, and EarthWorks rewards volunteers with fruit to take home after splitting the harvest’s yield 50-50 with one of several city food-relief agencies. (Altogether, there are some 60 locations citywide where Bostonians can pick fruit and berries for free.)
On this June night at the Shirley-Eustis House, a small team of volunteers has already finished picking sour cherries. They move on to stripping shrubs of gooseberries—which look like dragons’ eyes and allegedly taste like a combination of strawberry and rhubarb when baked in pies - and red and white currants that dangle from vines like miniature grapes. Ultimately, 20 to 25 pounds of berries will be harvested. Tonight’s crop is divvied up between the pickers and Haley House, which has both a soup kitchen and a cafe/training facility that teaches people who’ve faced barriers to employment real, transferable skills.
Although many people are familiar with the idea of community gardens, Geballe holds that urban orchards often are a better option.
“Orchards are a lot more sustainable for a community, especially ones in which people may be working two or three jobs or odd hours and can’t commit to taking care of a garden space or even access one,” says Geballe. She notes that community gardens have become so desirable that they have fees and often a multiple-year wait list.
Compared with community gardens, “there also isn’t anywhere near the cost in time to maintain an orchard. And, with a minimal amount of care, it can produce a high volume of food for anywhere from 10 to 50 years,” says Geballe. “You don’t weed an orchard. You prune it in the winter, mulch it in the fall, and harvest in the summer. In general that’s a lot less labor and much more forgiving. And you don’t have to buy seeds and start over from scratch. Instead, you have trees you can rely on and come back to, year after year.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | Edible Boston, Winter 2010
Praying for cold weather seems out of character for any New Englander, particularly a farmer.
But down in Drumlin Farm’s stone-walled root cellar in Lincoln, crop manager Matt Celona is wishing for near-freezing temperatures. Crates of potatoes, beets and carrots are stacked 5 feet high around him. The towers will climb higher still over the coming weeks, as Drumlin staff and volunteers add more late-fall bounty to a stash that will last all winter long.
Above ground, unseasonably warm weather makes this an exceptional day for harvesting. The volunteers working today have removed their woolen hats. They savor the sun on their backs as they pull parsnips and radishes out of the ground and remove the vegetables’ leaves with deft flicks of a blade.
However, enjoying the fruits of this labor come March will require a different climate altogether. In the root cellar, Celona continues to frown at the thermometer.
Eating locally year ’round is an age-old idea that many now scoff at as unpractical. However, in Massachusetts, a small number of farmers and chefs are turning to root cellars to sustain locavores through all four seasons.
Whether located in an actual basement, a hole in the ground or an above-ground structure covered with dirt, root cellars use the earth’s naturally cool, stable temperature to keep vegetables fresh for months at a stretch.
Crowded with produce ranging from the expected turnips to surprising magenta-centered radishes, Drumlin Farm’s root cellar has operated from beneath an outbuilding for more than 10 years. The partially finished basement extends the normal growing season’s reach, bolstering the farm economically.
“Instead of growing more crops out in field all winter under plastic tunnels, we grow more crops over the summer and store them for distribution throughout the winter,” explains Celona.
After building a small concrete-block structure into the side of a hill, Stearns Farm in Framingham is offering its second winter CSA program this year.
“We did it for our summer shareholders who, after 20 weeks of eating carrots straight out of the earth with us, were disappointed to go back to the grocery store,” says Stearns farm manager Kathy Huckins. “So even though it’s challenging to eat with the seasons in New England, we decided it would be worth the effort.”
“Really, we are just relearning what was once a way of life,” continues Huckins. For example, she notes that 100 years ago, many people slept with winter squash under their bed—because, somewhere along the line, someone figured out that this extra space offered ideal conditions for keeping squash fresh.
Whether it’s a radish, an onion or a pumpkin, a vegetable continues to breathe after it’s picked. Controlling the effects of this respiration lies at the heart of the mad science of root cellars. Vegetables “inhale” oxygen and “exhale” carbon dioxide, water vapor and heat. With every “breath,” veggies (like people) are aging: ripening and eventually deteriorating. As water—which accounts for 80 to 90 percent of vegetables’ weight—is released from their tissues into the air, the produce also shrivels.
This moisture loss explains why a root cellar trumps a refrigerator every time when it comes to ensuring that, come February, fall-harvested carrots crunch as satisfactorily as the snow underfoot. “I’ve kept carrots wrapped in plastic in my fridge for a long time, but they never end up looking as good as they do coming out of the root cellar,” says Celona. “That’s because refrigerators remove humidity as they cool the air.”
The natural and assisted humidity in a root cellar, on the other hand, keeps vegetables’ moisture from dissipating into the air, helping them retain their texture.
And unlike a refrigerator or walk-in cooler, a root cellar is also low cost and extremely energy-efficient. Maintaining the right temperature and humidity in a root cellar only requires working with the weather—usually with the help of some light engineering.
Both Drumlin Farm and Stearns Farm rely on thermostat-controlled fans to bring in outside air to cool the root-cellar rooms, as well as to push out the warm air inside. One thermostat reads the temperature outdoors, and another monitors the temperature inside the root cellar, explains Celona. When the outside temperature falls below a pre-set value, the fans turn on and blow cold air into the root cellar. When the root cellar reaches a pre-set temp, the fan turns off.
At Drumlin Farm, staff lug 5-gallon pails of water down crooked wooden steps to throw on the dirt floor to keep the room as humid as possible. In Stearns Farm’s dirt-floored root cellar, the moist earth alone has provided ample humidity.
Dirt on the vegetables themselves also helps shield them from water loss. Both farms store vegetables unwashed to prolong their shelf life in the root cellar, as well as in CSA members’ homes. The dirt also helps protect vegetables against scrapes and cuts that lead to spoiling.
Of course, not all root cellars are even this high-tech. Chef Tim Wiechmann, owner of T.W. Food Restaurant in Cambridge, runs a root cellar out of a friend’s basement in Marblehead.
It all started three years ago, when Wiechmann, a local-food devotee, found himself wondering what he was going to feed his diners over the winter. “Eventually I realized I could do a root cellar and just buy all the crops,” he says.
Using the excellent guide Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel, Wiechmann has taught himself how to store more than 2,000 pounds of crops purchased from local farms each year. He serves the vegetables all winter long at his restaurant and holds a special dinner (usually in January) to highlight the fruits of his labor.
To keep out sunlight—which causes some vegetables to deteriorate and potatoes to sprout—Wiechmann puts a double layer of black trash bags over the basement windows.
However, Wiechmann says the labor-intensive part is storing some 100 rutabagas, 100 purple-top turnips, 200 black and watermelon radishes, 400 white and orange carrots and 200 Macomber turnips. To help retain moisture in these vegetables, Wiechmann hauls wheelbarrows of wet sand, soil and leaves from his friend’s garden down into the basement, where he buries the produce in layers inside large aluminum bins.
“The hardest part is digging them back up before work,” he says with a rueful laugh. “I go up to Marblehead every other week in the winter to grab a couple hundred pounds of produce to bring back to the restaurant. It takes three or fours hours each visit.”
“Vegetables, like people, have their own needs and idiosyncrasies. To get the most out of them, you have to be mindful of their likes and dislikes,” explains Huckins.
Accordingly, those with root cellars employ a variety of storage strategies and preparation techniques.
Carrots, beets, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, celeriac, salsify, winter radishes and kohlrabi want to be very cold and extremely moist—think temperatures between 32 and 40 degrees with 90 to 95 percent humidity. The same is true for broccoli and Brussels sprouts, which can be stored short-term in a root cellar.
Potatoes, cabbage and cauliflower (which can be stored short-term) prefer to be just as cold but not as moist (liking their climate closer to 80 to 90 percent humidity). To best store this produce, both farms have created smaller, less-humid rooms within their root cellars.
Onions, shallots and garlic like conditions drier (closer to 65 to 70 percent humidity) but still cold—and are not stored by either farm in the root cellar. Drumlin stores this produce in a barn attic, and Stearns Farm stores its in an unheated greenhouse.
Winter squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes want conditions warmer (around 50 degrees) and drier than most root-cellar vegetables. Wiechmann leaves his out unburied in his cellar, and both farms store their squash in unheated greenhouses.
Apples, a staple in traditional root cellars as well as in Wiechmann’s, emit ethylene gas after they’re picked. The gas hastens rotting in many vegetables and also causes potatoes to sprout, so Wiechmann stores his fruit in a separate room in the cellar.
While most vegetables prefer to go straight from the ground into the root cellar, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, onions, shallots and garlic want to dry out a little (or “cure”), which hardens their skin and protects them from injuries that could let in rot during storage. And sweet potatoes aren’t actually sweet until they’ve cured for a week at 80 degrees, which converts some of their bitter starch to sugar.
For even the most agriculturally savvy, learning the nuances of individual root cellars and the myriad vegetables that can be stored within requires trial and error.
“I take a financial risk with the root cellar, as I lose some crops. Out of a couple thousand pounds of produce each year, I’ve lost 100 to 200 pounds of expensive stuff,” admits Wiechmann. “But I am getting better at it.”
Drumlin Farm still struggles with where best to store its winter squash. “We have it in our unheated greenhouse, but the squash would prefer a stable temperature instead of swinging between 34 and 65 degrees. We tried it in the root cellar but mold grows more quickly there, and the squash is susceptible to chipmunks and mice if we keep them in our barn. The unheated greenhouse is our best option, but we still lose a fair amount of squash to rotting.”
Fortunately, given that most root-cellar owners grow their own crops, spoiled food usually ends up on the compost pile, where it will contribute to next year’s vegetables. And the spoil rates are nothing compared with the frightening amount of commercially grown vegetables that spoils before purchase in the United States.
A winter CSA requires a different approach to eating than most New Englanders are used to. For example, “daikon radishes and rutabagas are foods that most people are not familiar with cooking,” says Celona.
“The default is to fall back on roasting root vegetables,” he continues. “That’s great but also why we’ve introduced more radishes, which [along with carrots, cabbages and onions] can be eaten fresh. It’s important to pursue a diversity of both cooking and noncooking options in a winter share.”
“I made a parsnip and potato gratin early on,” recalls Kate Stavisky, who joined the Drumlin Farm winter CSA in 2003. “I ate it and thought to myself, ‘This is fine but I’m glad that I don’t have to eat only this all winter or I’d starve to death.’”
The labor and learning involved in starting to eat locally in winter quickly becomes worth it, say those blazing the trail inMassachusetts.
While her winter share “definitely had an adjustment period,” Stavisky says it ultimately encouraged her to experiment with new recipes. She even started a blog to share her experiences (tallkateskitchen.blogspot.com). “Now, parsnips have completely grown on me,” says Stavisky. “I’ve gotten to the point where I love them and genuinely look forward to them being in season.”
“You can’t eat only food from a root cellar every day, but you can sustain a large part of your diet all winter long,” saysWiechmann. “I am proud that, even though it’s February in New England, my Valentine’s Day menu features a host of local foods. And the flavors are great.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | Edible Boston, Fall 2010
It’s before 8 on a Friday morning when M. Joseph Manning backs his blue Thatcher Farm milk truck into the driveway of a Milton Cape. But it’s not as early as his usual 7:20am arrival, and Liz DiPesa, owner of the home and daycare within, has already called the farm’s office out of concern.
“I was scared that he was dead on the side of the road. Joe is that punctual,” says DiPesa with a laugh, after Manning explains that he was just delayed by waiting to meet up with this Edible Boston correspondent. Manning apologizes again to DiPesa—who happily waves off the apology—fills a milk crate with empty glass bottles and then jogs outside to the truck, where this week’s order awaits. DiPesa has known Manning, or “Joe the Milkman” as the kids she watches call him, for 40 years. He delivered milk to her family when she was just a kid and has been serving her in-home daycare since she opened it 26 years ago.
“Joe saves me time and money. I don’t have to shop, because he carries good-quality stuff,” she says.
When Manning returns inside with a crate full of milk bottles, DiPesa makes some last-minute additions. “Two lemonades, one butter, one pack of bagels, two fruit punch…” she reads from her list. “I’ll stop by on my way home from Quincy with it,” replies Manning. “I’ll let myself in, give the dog a biscuit and put the stuff in the fridge.”
“Joe probably has the keys to everyone’s house in Milton,” jokes DiPesa. “People depend on him.”
Manning heads off to the rest of his Milton route, then on to Quincy. Although the service may seem like an impossibly rural throwback, Thatcher Farm has five trucks that deliver to 1,400 homes in and around Boston, including Brookline, South Boston, the South End, Jamaica Plain, Newton and surrounding communities.
Manning personally heads out at 5:30am five days a week, finishing around 2pm.
“That’s been my life for over 50 years now,” says Manning, whose grandfather started the farm in 1891 and who now manages the business along with several family members, including his two sons. “I’ve worked the combine, shoveled the cow barns out, run the dairy. There’s not one aspect of the business I haven’t done, but my favorite part is what I’m doing now: door-to-door home delivery. You get to know people really well, which is the best part of the business.”
At $2.99 a half-gallon and with a four-item delivery minimum, “we get a little more money for home delivery and the glass bottle, but we feel it’s the best product available,” says Manning. Thatcher Farm’s milk is vat-pasteurized, which is sure to please dairy aficionados. The extremely low- temperature, slow pasteurization process retains the milk’s creamy texture and natural flavor—unlike the ubiquitous contemporary ultra-pasteurization process, which aims to kill bacteria as quickly as possible through very high heat. “If you look at some of the [ultra-pasteurization] products, some of them have a six- or seven-week shelf life now. I don’t want a six- or seven-week-old glass of milk,” says Manning.
By comparison, Thatcher Farm products carry a 14-day expiration date and are in customers’ hands typically within two days of the cow being milked.
As with most area home-delivery services, available products include whole, light and skim milk; cream and half-and-half; and flavored offerings such as chocolate and strawberry milk and eggnog come the holiday season. The Rhode Island favorite, coffee milk, may soon also be available.
Aside from online ordering, Thatcher Farm may seem to have changed little since the Manning family first started delivering milk in 1891.
However, an innovative partnership helped Thatcher Farm weather the economic pressures that have hurt the local dairy industry for decades.
From the 1920s until 1963, Thatcher Farm had 250 cows and managed the milking, processing and delivery all from its Thatcher Street location in Milton. Fields on private estates were used for growing corn and hay used for feed.
“But by the ’60s, the town was changing. Milton had been pretty rural in the ’40s and ’50s, but it was becoming a bedroom community of Boston. Land was getting harder to find, and the barns were in need of a lot of work. We used to farm a lot of space that is now subdivisions,” says Manning, who delivers to homes built on land where he once baled hay. “We decided to discontinue the farming part and kept the dairy open for another six or seven years, getting the milk from a farm in Vermont. Then we closed the dairy in ’67 or ’68.” Today, Thatcher Farm is a farm in name only. It relies on Hatchland Farm in North Haverhill, New Hampshire, to supply all its milk. “They have 400 cows on the New Hampshire/Vermont border near the Connecticut River,” saysManning. “The farm is run by two brothers:
One runs the farm and the other runs the dairy. In my opinion, there is no better milk. It goes right from the cows into a holding tank, then straight into the dairy where it gets processed. The milk is down here the next day.”
The approach is a familiar one for many of the milk-delivery services In Massachusetts. Two of the area’s largest home-delivery services receive their milk from elsewhere. Hornstra Dairy Farm in Hingham, which delivers milk in communities south of Boston, also gets its milk from Hatchland Farm in New Hampshire. Crescent Ridge Dairy in
Sharon, which delivers milk to 70 communities around the 495 belt, gets its milk from the Howrigan Family Farm in Vermont. Even A. B. Munroe Dairy, the Northeast’s largest milk-delivery company, imports milk from Connecticut to serve its customers in Rhode Island.
“If you look at the leaders in milk delivery—Hornstra, Crescent Ridge and A. B. Munroe—you’ll realize they all succeeded by becoming exceptional at distribution. All do an excellent job, and I look to all three for leadership. Maybe if they had to run a farm, they’d lose some of that focus, but fortunately they haven’t,” says Warren Shaw, whose great-grandfather and grandfather started delivering milk from Dracut’s Shaw Farm in 1908.
Shaw Farm still maintains a milking herd of 80 Holsteins—16 of which are certified organic-mill cows—and delivers milk to about 200 homes in Dracut, Chelmsford, Lowell, Tyngsborough, Westford and the west side of Methuen.
It hasn’t always been easy. According to Shaw family history, the milk delivery became a very competitive business in the 1930s. HP Hood Company salesmen began to track milkmen from independent dairies and poach their customers by luring them away with a signing bonus of a month’s worth of free milk. “Luckily, they never bothered our customers because of a personal friendship between my grandfather and the Hood rep,” says Shaw.
Of course, Massachusetts’s farms have faced more-recent challenges to keeping a home-delivery business line. Founded in 1931, Pearson’s Elmhurst Dairy in West Millbury manages a herd of 100 Holsteins and milking short-horn cows, but has had to stop delivering into the city of Worcester and concentrate its efforts on smaller towns such as Millbury, Grafton and Sutton.
“Convenience stores changed whole picture for home delivery 25 years ago,” says Bob Pearson. “People wanted to pick up cheaper milk and carry it home rather than pay someone to put it on their doorstop.”
The impact of low milk prices continues to hurt dairy farmers. “The last couple of years have
been very difficult for the dairy industry,” says Scott Soares, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. “For every gallon dairy farmers produce, they are losing 10 to 20 cents. Multiply that out and it becomes a pretty significant debt that our dairy farmers are running.” So What Constitutes Local?
Keep Local Farms reports that dairy farmers’ share of the retail dollar has declined from about 50% in the 1950s to about 30% today. “In Massachusetts, as is true in any New England state, it’s so expensive to farm that the closer milk producers can get to the consumer, the more opportunity they have to see as much as possible of that retail dollar,” says Soares. “Home delivery is a great way for our producers to get close to the consumer.”
For those wondering if buying home-delivered milk trucked down from New Hampshire or Vermont constitutes “buying local,” consider the state’s eye-opening perspective: “More and more we recognize Massachusetts as part of the New England foodshed,” says Soares, “and the same is true for our dairy operations being part of a the New England milkshed.”
This is necessary, given the geographic distribution of the region’s population and the size of the corresponding dairy herds. In Massachusetts, where rural land is especially scarce, dairy herds average only 70 cows or so. Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut have herds of comparable size, and Maine’s dairy herds are slightly larger: about 100 cows on average.
“Even in Vermont, which is by far the biggest New England state in terms of dairy production, the farms are very small when compared with those in the Midwest and West,” says Soares. “Vermont has an average herd size of 200 to 300 cows. In parts of the western U.S., herd sizes climb well into the thousands for an individual farm, and I’ve heard of some farms with 30,000 head out in the Midwest.” “In Massachusetts, we have many more dairy consumers than we have capacity to feed,” says Soares. “So we encourage people to look for local Massachusetts producers. But we want people to know that regional production is equally important.”
Although home-delivered dairy has undoubtedly faced enormous challenges, it may be making a comeback.
“Consumers really get a chance to know their farmer and where their food comes from,” says Soares. “They know they can trust that product in a time when there’s a growing concern over food safety and security. Buying milk that has traveled really long distances also has other implications, and these days more and more people are worried about their carbon footprint and what a purchase means for the local economy.”
Thatcher Farm’s five-truck operation seems to be growing stronger, and the business may add another delivery truck next year. “People want good stuff, and they want it in glass bottles. A lot of dairies gave up on glass years ago. But people tell me straight out if we don’t have the glass, they don’t want the milk,” says Manning of the rising demand for recyclable packaging.
Thatcher Farm also has boosted its profitability, as many delivery operations have, by offering other products beyond milk.
“We have more products in truck now—freezers full of stuff we never had when we started [from ice cream to Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins baked by Montillio’s Bakery in Quincy to freshly squeezed juices],” says Manning. “Some people now order 10 to 15 items a week, making a $10 stop a $25 stop. If we can do that 20 to 30 times a day, it really increases sales. You aren’t driving the truck any further than you were before to make the route profitable. It keeps us in business. But, of course, the stuff has to be good.”
While home delivery makes up only 5% of Shaw Farm’s business—the farm has an on-site store and wholesales to Whole Foods, Wilson Farm and others—Shaw says he is looking at expanding the service come fall.
“We look at home delivery as one of the keys to our future,” says Shaw. “So we’ll try and build it some more and start delivering everything for sale in our farm store, from freshly baked goods to local produce. It is such a unique service and a real opportunity to connect with the growing number of customers interested in buying local.”
Crescent Ridge Dairy
Gets milk from Howrigan Family Farm in Vermont; delivers to more than 70 communities from Carlisle to Middleboro to Hopkinton to Hingham.
Hornstra Farm Dairy
Gets milk from Hatchland Farm in New Hampshire but reportedly plans to have its own herd in Norwell; delivers to Braintree, Cohasset, Duxbury, Halifax, Hanover, Hanson, Hingham, Hull, Marshfield, Norwell, Pembroke, Plympton, Scituate andWeymouth.
Maple Farm Dairy
Gets milk from A.B. Munroe Dairy in Rhode Island (which gets its milk from Connecticut), Oakhurst Dairy in Maine and High Lawn Farm in Lee, Massachusetts; delivers to communities in a 15-mile radius of Mendon, including Upton, Milford, Holliston, Franklin, Medway and Westborough.
Has farm with Jersey cows in Hadley; delivers to homes in a 15-mile radius of Hadley, including Amherst and Northhampton.
Pearson’s Elmhurst Dairy
Has farm with Holstein and milking short-horn cows in West Millbury; delivers to Millbury, Grafton and Sutton.
Shaw’s Farm Dairy
Has farm with Holstein cows in Dracut, including a certified organic herd; delivers to Dracut, Lowell, Chelmsford, Tyngsboro, Acton, Westford, Dunstable, West Methuen, Tewksbury and Boxborough.
Gets milk from Hatchland Farm in New Hampshire; delivers to Braintree, Brookline, Canton, Dedham, Dover, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Medfield, Milton, Needham, Newton, Norwood, Quincy, Roslindale, South Boston, South End, Wellesley, West Roxbury, Westwood and Weymouth.
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Boston Globe, September 22, 2010
With its 21 stories and cold blue glass exterior, the InterContinental Boston hotel hardly appears primed for agriculture. But the fifth-floor roof deck is buzzing with thousands of workers toiling at food production. There, masked by potted palms and mums, stands Boston’s first hotel rooftop apiary: a cabinet that’s home to a colony of honeybees.
The hotel worked with Zainal Khan, a bee specialist, to install the apiary in early summer. The endeavor is fitting given the hotel’s restaurant, Miel, which means honey in French.
Up on the roof deck, there is a dark swirl at its edge that looks like a dust cloud. Closer inspection reveals it to be hundreds, probably thousands, of honeybees returning from foraging through downtown Boston for pollen.
Cyrille Couet, Miel’s sous chef, volunteered to manage the apiary. “Chefs don’t have much free time to learn something completely new, so I was happy to get involved,’’ says Couet, his arm draped over the apiary. “What I’ve learned is just how amazing bees are. They have a great work ethic and take care of themselves.’’
To start the colony, Couet fed the bees sugar water to give them the energy needed to fend for themselves. He also had to locate and monitor the slightly larger queen bee, crossing his fingers that her reign would flourish. “It’s the end of the hive if the queen isn’t accepted,’’ he explains. “Thankfully, the other bees took to her right away.’’
The bees enjoy a panoramic view of Fort Point Channel, including the Boston Children’s Museum’s iconic Hood milk bottle, and the seaport beyond. More important from the bees’ perspective, below lies the hotel’s floral and herb gardens and the 21-acre Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. On the Greenway, just in front of the hotel, downtown workers relax over lunches and books, while honeybees dart from blossom to blossom among the organically maintained roses and phlox.
“Bees aren’t carrying pollen in little Ziploc bags,’’ says Thomas Smarr, superintendent of horticulture for the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. “It is on their bodies, and they lose some all along the way. Just one grain on a pistil is all it takes to keep a plant flowering and fruiting, so bees are performing an amazing service to the Greenway.’’
Bees regularly travel up to five miles for pollen, and they return to the roof deck with their rear legs coated. Depending on the type of flower visited, this bounty sometimes resembles Cheeto-colored leg warmers. A roof-deck camera provides a live feed to Miel’s dining room, where patrons can watch the activity on a large flat-screen monitor.
The colony has grown from 10,000 to more than 40,000 honeybees of a fairly docile, Italian variety. Soon Khan will show Couet how to harvest the results of the bees’ labor, expected to be about 40 pounds of honey.
The motivation behind the hotel’s foray into urban beekeeping is the mysterious phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, in which a hive or colony’s worker bees abruptly disappear. The United States has lost more than 50 percent of its managed honeybee colonies over the past 10 years.
Although honey production remains a secondary focus, the hotel’s honey eventually will be sold alongside other artisanal honeys available in Miel and included in honey tastings.
Couet will don proper beekeeping gear when he harvests the honey. But today he’s in a chef’s jacket with the sleeves rolled up as he pulls out and inspects each honey tray coated with bees. “I have the gear downstairs and wore it a few times,’’ says Couet. “But then you get more brave. When [Khan] first brought the bees, they were in a little box, and he had to smash it against the ground to get them out. It was nerve-racking. They were everywhere. I was stung on my ear.’’
The chef shrugs this off as a rite of passage.
By Genevieve Rajewski | Edible Boston, Summer, 2010
This summer's hip new local thirst quencher may well be one of New England's oldest. The third generation of the Cusolito family has rediscovered their original recipe for Tower Root Beer-and is reintroducing the storied drink after a 30-year hiatus.
Tower Root Beer traces its origins back to Domenick Cusolito, who settled in the Boston area after emigrating to the United States from Salina, Italy.
Domenick-along with his brother Felice and cousin Giuseppe-founded Prospect Hill Bottling and Soda Water Company in 1914. The company originally produced ginger ale (then a popular mixer with whisky) in the basement of a small shop on Cross Street in Somerville, near the bottom of Prospect Hill and its famous tower.
When Domenick went to register the new company, the clerk at the Secretary of State's office suggested a shorter name than Prospect Hill Bottling Ginger Ale. His offhand remark ("Isn't that where the tower is?") inspired the Cusolito family to name its brand "Tower." As tonics soared in popularity, Domenick noted that many producers' success seemed tied to specializing in one product. He put his money on root beer.
"My grandfather developed our root beer based on a recipe he received in the early 1900s," says Carolyn Cusolito-Tavares, who is working with her brother, Larry Cusolito, to resurrect and market theTower brand. "He tinkered with it and took out the vanilla and gave it more of an Italian spin."
"He added anisette, which gives it a slight licorice aftertaste," notes Larry.
In 1920, Tower Root Beer added another signature element. A tip from a friend led Domenick to an abandoned South End warehouse full of amber beer bottles, a casualty of Prohibition. Run-of-the-mill clear bottles became history.
Displaced by the McGrath & O'Brien Highway project, bottling operations moved to an abandoned church on Tufts Street in Somerville. However, by 1938 the company had outgrown that space. The former location of beer-bottling company Jake E. Wirth, at 52 Roland Street in Charlestown, became available, and this served as the home of the business until 1969.
"The building next door was Hood Ice Cream and the workers used to trade ice-cream sandwiches for cases of root beer over the wall, all summer long," recalls Carolyn with a laugh.
After World War II, Domenick's three sons-Richard, Jack and Paul-took over the management and operation of the family business. By the 1950s, Tower Root Beer had a strong presence in all six New England states and, around 1960, saw its production peak at 160,000 cases a year.
By 1969, this success had attracted the attention of a soft-drink conglomerate, which purchased the company and dissolved the family business.
"The merger really turned out to be a bad deal. My dad and uncle left just six months before the company went bankrupt," says Larry. "But my father just didn't have heart to see Tower Root Beer fade like that," adds Carolyn.
"I had been working on the possibility of franchising the product when the opportunity to sell the business arose and the family made the decision to sell," recounts her father, Richard Cusolito. "When that company failed, I reacquired the formula, name and brand from the receivers in order to start a franchise company with it."
"For a while, the franchises worked out pretty well," says Larry.
"There were still a lot of independent bottlers, and they knew Tower Root Beer had a large following. But Pepsi and Coke came on strong in the '70s and swallowed them up."
In 1978, Richard dissolved his franchises and removed Tower Root Beer from the market.
Larry, now 55 years old, began exploring the idea of bringing Tower Root Beer back in the early 1990s. "I have been in the restaurant business for 30 years and thought it might be time for change," he says. However, his lack of the original recipe tabled his dream for more than a decade.
"My father and his two brothers worked the business. None of us kids ever worked at the plant," says Carolyn, 56. "But about two years ago, Larry called me up asking if I had read the Boston Globe. There was a story about how they're bringing Moxie back. He said, ‘If there's a market for Moxie, there must be a market for Tower Root Beer. What do you think?'"
"Well, it was just the weirdest thing," she continues. "Just a few months before, my dad had piled a bunch of family history stuff on me. I had casually gone through it but hadn't organized the pile. Well, I went looking and found an envelope with our grandmother's birth certificate-and along with it was a folded note with a recipe for root beer in my grandfather's handwriting."
Excited by this unexpected turn, the siblings began to dig deeper. They asked a chemical engineer to review the recipe, which was deemed viable, and also began to investigate the fate of the root beer's concentrate manufacturer. It had been bought and sold several times but still existed.
Larry wrote the company asking if they still had the formula. "They got back to me a few months later," he says. "They wrote, ‘Yes, we still have the formula, but it has proprietary rights and we need to know who you are and your ties to company before we provide any samples. It hasn't been produced for more than 30 years.'"
A phone call settled the matter, and the siblings next turned to the New England Independent Soft Drink Association (to which their father had once belonged) to find a small bottling operation to explore co-packing.
Larry wrote a handful of companies suggested by the association. Several months later, on Christmas Eve, he finally heard back from one: Ed Borges, whose company Empire BottlingWorks has operated as a family business out of Bristol, Rhode Island, since the 1930s.
"Ed told me, ‘You come down to the plant and, with a handshake, you'll have product,'" says Larry.
Last February, Empire BottlingWorks ran off 25 test cases before a family audience.
"I was in my early teens when they sold the bottling plant and in my early 20s when my dad took the product off the market," recalls Carolyn of this test run. "So Larry and I didn't know if we'd really remember how it should taste."
"My dad pulled the first bottle off the line and cracked it open," she continues. "It was one of those sensory-memory moments: As soon as Larry and I got our first whiff of it, we knew it was going to taste right. It came right back to us. The root beer was exactly the same."
The Cusolito family took the samples and passed them around to friends, family and acquaintances. Encouraged by the product's positive reception, they went on to produce 1,500 cases, including a new sugar-free diet version, in the first quarter of 2010. Close friends (the owners of Better Life Photography) scanned an original Tower Root Beer bottle, which had a painted-on label, and manipulated the image to create the new label.
Harold Tavares, Carolyn's husband, has given up a career in marketing for defense contracts in favor of getting Tower Root Beer sold and served in specialty stores, corner grocery stores and restaurants. He models his approach on that which launched the Samuel Adams brewing company.
"I'll go tromping into North End mom-and-pop shops with my data sheet and a cold bottle, selling owners on our product one sip at a time," says Harold.
A cousin in New Hampshire has acquired eight vendors around Waterville Valley, and other members of the family have been pressed into making deliveries from the trunks of their vehicles-with SUVs doing double-duty in place of the eight delivery trucks that once bore the brand.
The 83-year-old Richard's buttons are near bursting to see the family business reborn. And, for the grown children, the effort has been well worth it.
"The best thing about Tower Root Beer is that everyone who remembers it has a great memory of
it. It's a really positive thing," says Larry. "Someone will tell you, ‘My dad used to go to the store Saturday night and get a bag of cheese curls and a bottle of Tower Root Beer and sit with me and my sisters and watch a movie.' Those kinds of stories make you feel good."
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Boston Globe, June 13, 2010
Move over Lycra-bottomed bikers, racing past in a flash of blinding neon, and couriers, weaving through traffic in edgy-looking gear. A growing number of cyclists are taking to the streets for transportation without changing into special apparel.
“Whatever I feel like wearing that day is what I wear,’’ says Natalie Eringros, who bikes from Arlington to her job in Somerville’s Union Square. “Spandex makes biking seem less accessible, when in reality anyone can pick up a bike and hop on as is.’’
“I like the simplicity of it,’’ seconds Marc Richardson, who rides in work clothes from his Arlington home to his job near South Station in Boston. “You get ready and go, just like you’re jumping on the train.’’
In European cities such as Paris, cyclists riding in regular clothing represent the norm. But in recent years they have gained the status of fashion icons, celebrated by the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog and numerous international imitators, including Vélo Vogue and Boston’s own Chic Cyclists.
“Charlotte,’’ the nom de plume for the Chic Cyclists author, writes that she started the blog to “help women feel like biking was something they can do every day in a comfortable, casual way.
“I think a lot of people can’t see themselves in Spandex, and if that’s the only kind of cyclist they see, they don’t see themselves as a possible cyclist,’’ Charlotte contends. And so to counter that stereotype, she posts photographs documenting people cycling while wearing street clothes.
Chic Cyclists hasn’t suffered for a lack of material, with local bike fashions changing.
“Just three to four years ago, the majority of people I saw biking in commuting hours were wearing Spandex or other performance clothing,’’ says Arlington resident David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Boston.
“Now, that has completely turned around.’’
According to Watson, clothing is both a perceived and real barrier to biking for transportation — but in either case, people are learning it’s not hard to overcome.
“When riding to get a workout, wear athletic gear,’’ says Watson. “But for biking every day,
ride in whatever you are comfortable in normally, or you won’t ride.’’
Gerry Bingham, who commutes by bike from Arlington to his job near Boston’s City Hall Plaza, confesses that he doesn’t change at work for two reasons, despite the availability of lockers and a shower in his building: “One, I’m lazy; and two, the one time I tried it, a cleaning woman greeted me as I came out of the shower in a towel.’’
But biking to work in office clothes can present challenges, particularly for women.
“I wore a pencil skirt and thought it would be OK,’’ says Katie Blais, who commutes by bike from Arlington to Somerville. “But it kept riding up, so I basically flashed all of Davis Square.’’
Riding in a long skirt risks catching the hem in the rear wheel, although special-ordered skirt guards are available.
“I prefer skirts that are A-line or wider. I can technically pedal in more-constraining skirts, but I don’t like worrying about getting tangled up in them,’’ says “Velouria,’’ author of the local Lovely Bicycle blog.
The good news for women is that bicycling may actually expand your shoe options.
“I don’t bike in special shoes, and it’s actually easier to bike in high heels than to walk in them,’’ says Eringros.
With an ever-increasing variety of helmets and covers providing fashion-conscious alternatives to the standard vented- egghead version, the only style pitfall left is flattened hair.
“I confess I’m not completely free of vanity,’’ says Bingham. “Short hair and minimal amounts of hair gel can be great combatants for helmet head.’’
However, there’s one particularly crucial factor for stylishly cycling in regular clothes: Don’t sweat the ride.
“We see bicyclists doing the same thing as every other kind of commuter: going as fast as they possibly can to get where they are going,’’ says Watson. “But if you look to Europe, where many people bike in business or regular casual wear, they are not racing around like they are in the Tour de France. If you are riding the way you should be — stopping at lights and driving defensively — going faster gives you no advantage in terms of shortening your commute. You’re just getting yourself hot.’’
On muggy mornings, embrace prints, writes Velouria.
The riders agreed that cycling in streetwear requires no more effort than any other commute in New England’s temperamental weather — and provides much more of a payoff.
“I can drive, but I don’t like to anymore,’’ says Eringros. “It feels like you are traveling in a metal can and life is passing you by. When you are out on a bike, you’re still moving fast, but you are part of the life around you.’’
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Boston Globe, May 19, 2010
GROTON — It’s cold, but the Black Angus cattle don’t seem to mind; they lazily pull mouthfuls of hay from their feeding rack. As Jodee Coke wanders among them, the cattle seem to be a synchronized herd of contented chewers.
Jodee, 11, serves as “right-hand man’’ to her stepfather, Bob Robinson, in this fourth- generation farm’s beef operations. The young assistant appears all-business as she checks the cattle’s water supply. She is trailed, puppy-like, by one mismatched cow named Princess.
This grass-fed herd will be sold as cuts under the label Springdell, and the meat is in demand now. More consumers want to know where their meat was raised and under what conditions. Springdell beef, which is available at its farmstand and will be sold this summer at several farmers’ markets, has always grazed on this land, raised by a family who have been farming for generations.
Princess is not being raised specifically for meat. Unlike her all-black brethren, Princess, a nonworking dairy cow, has white spots and a white star on her forehead. She was two days old when Coke bought her last year to save her from being sold for veal.
“Jodee has her own personal herd of misfits,’’ explains her sister, Jamie Cruz, 22, as she watches Princess follow Jodee. “The auction is right down the street from our home farm [in Littleton]. It’s bad when Jodee goes there. She will have just got paid for working, and she calls and says, ‘I need the stock trailer. I just bought a cow.’ ’’
“I also have a brown steer on the other side of this hill,’’ says Jodee.
“Yes, Tony is the herd mascot,’’ explains Paula Robinson, the girls’ mother, who is surprisingly tolerant, encouraging even, of these rescues. “We would never eat veal because of how the calves live,’’ says Robinson. “They are kept in really confined spaces.’’
Concern for animals’ welfare is the hallmark of Springdell’s beef operations. Springdell is the name of Paula Robinson’s family farm in Littleton. For 80 years, it was a fruit and vegetable farm. In 2003, the family started raising a small herd of Black Angus cattle on land in Groton. That operation grew last September, when the Robinsons were approached by the Webber family, longtime farmstand customers and the new owners of Gibbet Hill, about buying the cattle that grazed there and leasing the land.
The Gibbet Hill herd dates to 1947, when Marion Campbell purchased the farm and hired a manager to breed Black Angus cattle. By the 1980s, the herd was known internationally for producing superior meat. In 2004, the Webbers opened a steakhouse on the property,
Gibbet Hill Grill. “We had our cows just over the hillside from Gibbet Hill,’’ says Cruz. The Webbers, she says, “wanted to keep the cows because that was what their property was known for, but have someone take over those operations.’’ The Robinson family decided to buy the herd, which has become known as Springdell.
Springdell’s expansion reflects a changing tide for local agriculture. Commercial feed-lot cattle typically live in crowded pens, eating a corn-intensive diet. Springdell’s cattle roam and graze freely over 150 acres. In the winter, the cattle eat hay baled from the farm’s grass or organic fields down the road.
Raising animals this way adds at least 10 months to the cycle. The cattle are between 24 and 30 months old when they go to the slaughterhouse. “Commercial feed-lot cattle usually go at 14 months old,’’ says Paula Robinson. “I feel bad when I take them to slaughter,’’ she says. “We all do. But I take comfort in knowing they were treated well and had a good life.’’
Cruz, who takes part in the day-to-day operations, agrees. “That’s what’s important to us,’’ she says. “We are there with our animals from start to finish. And our customers appreciate how our animals are raised.’’
The increased demand for humanely raised and pasture-fed meat led Springdell to create a small community-supported agriculture meat program in January. In addition to being able to purchase beef at the farmstand or farmers’ markets, customers can sign up to receive a monthly 10- or 25-pound selection of cuts.
“I’ve seen the farm change so much in the years since I graduated from high school, and I’m only 22,’’ says Cruz. “My grandmother is floored to see the farmstand parking lot always full of customers’ cars and people walking out with bags of food, instead of just a few ears of corn. It’s great to see people supporting farms.’’
By the time Cruz is her grandmother’s age, there’s no telling how many calves her little sister will have rescued.
Springdell Farm beef is sold at Springdell farmstand, 571 Great Road, Littleton, and this summer at farmers’ markets in Dracut, Groton, Wayland, and Westford. Customers can sign up for the meat CSA at www.springdellfarms.com or call 978-486-3865.
By Genevieve Rajewski | Wired.com, May 15, 2007
For SharkDefense partners Eric Stroud and Michael Herrmann, the latest eureka moment in their efforts to repel sharks came not from their extensive research but their utter geekiness.
Since 2001, SharkDefense has been working on a chemical shark repellent. According to Herrmann, he and Stroud were playing around with powerful rare-earth magnets in 2005, when he dropped one next to their shark research tank in Oak Ridge, New Jersey. The lemon and nurse sharks inside instantly darted to the opposite wall.
Bewildered, the two scientists began to investigate. The results, chronicled by Ocean Magnetics (their spinoff company), bode well for the much-maligned and often needlessly killed fish.
In testing at the Bimini Biological Research Station shark lab in the Bahamas, Stroud and Herrmann have found that sharks dramatically avoid magnets made from neodymium, iron and boron. The magnets even rouse sharks from tonic immobility, a coma-like state induced by turning them upside down.
Herrmann says he and Stroud think the magnets overload a shark's ampullae of Lorenzini, small vesicles and pores around the head that form part of a subcutaneous sensory network. What's more, he says a metal with similar electropositive qualities also appears to affect sharks the same way. Hermann preferred to keep the identity of that metal secret for now.
Divers and swimmers may thrill to the idea of shark safeguards. However, before you rush out to buy neodymium magnets to create your own shark-repelling gear, Herrmann cautions that the magnets appear to have an effective range of only 10 inches. Also, you'd need to align the magnetic poles outward and keep the magnets from clicking together, and once you had the necessary 10 to 20 pounds of magnets all over your body, you'd sink. So, at a cost of about $5 a magnet, you could theoretically turn yourself into a $400 shark-safe anchor at the bottom of the sea.
Rather than being a solution to shark attacks on humans, Stroud and Herrmann hope the magnets or metals can help protect sharks from us.
Last year, the World Conservation Union announced that 20 percent of shark and ray species are close to extinction, and SharkDefense believes magnets or metals can create more-humane underwater fences than the often lethal nets currently keeping sharks out of swimming areas.
SharkDefense won $25,000 from the World Wildlife Fund's annual International Smart Gear Competition to develop magnets or metals to keep sharks from dying on commercial fishing lines intended for other fish, such as swordfish—which they do in great numbers daily.
Rare-earth magnets and electropositive metals would be expensive and cumbersome to add to longline fishing hooks, says Herrmann. “But if you think about it, when a fisherman catches a shark by mistake, that's one swordfish worth at least several thousands of dollars he doesn't catch,” he says.
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Boston Globe, April 6, 2003
The accident occurred near the end of a weeklong trip to Oaxaca City, Mexico. My husband and I were traveling by taxi to the nearby Zapotec ruins. We had grown comfortable enough with our limited Spanish to chat with our driver about the mountainous terrain.
Farther up the road, I saw a dog paused tremulously between two lanes of traffic, unsure of which way to move. I cried, “Oh, don't hit him!” a split second before an approaching car rammed the dog's hindquarters.
There was a loud thud and a yelp. Our cab sped on, with my husband and me struck dumb and teary inside. Our driver continued to converse cheerfully.
There was no malice involved. It was as if the other car had hit a pebble. Neither driver even slowed down.
Coming from a nation where pets are often regarded as family members, Americans may be upset by the tenuous existence of the animals they encounter abroad.
Mexico is hardly the only country where travelers will find strays haunting tourist routes. Fueling the problem in many areas is a lack of widespread pet sterilization, which is often hampered by cultural beliefs, no affordable veterinary care, or no such care at all. In some
countries, veterinarians are not required to learn how to perform pet sterilization.
According to Susan Sherwin, campaigns manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the quality of care received by dogs and cats also depends on financial resources and the status animals hold in a particular society: whether they're loved as pets, viewed as vermin, or seen as capable of fending for themselves.
In the US territory of Puerto Rico, stray dogs, locally referred to as “satos” (slang for mixed-breed street dog), roam the streets.
“From the San Juan airport, in any direction, you'll see carcasses along the highways,” says Kathy Ward, who manages donations and a website for Save a Sato, an organization that rescues and rehabilitates satos before bringing them stateside to be adopted. “The dogs chew on rocks because they're so hungry. Their teeth are often worn down to the gum line.”
In fact, much of the Caribbean is teeming with strays, says Kelly O'Meara, a program manager for Humane Society International, the international arm of the Humane Society of the United States. “In the Bahamas, it is particularly bad,” she says. “Nassau, the capital island, is overrun with dogs.”
Dogs and cats meet with harsh conditions in tourist destinations worldwide, including Spain, Eastern Europe, Nepal, and South Africa.
“Tourists are often appalled by the insensitivity toward animals in Greece,” says Dianne Aldan of Greek Animal Rescue, which supports several shelters in Greece. “They return with memories that are emotionally disturbing.”
The number of stray dogs and cats in Greece is staggering - an estimated 30,000 to 90,000 in the Athens area alone. As Athens prepares to host the 2004 Olympics, the debate on how to address the overpopulation problem is generating controversy.
But no single nation has a lock on pet problems. The United States' severe animal overpopulation is more hidden from view than in countries like Greece because of the shelter system, which euthanizes more than 12 million animals every year.
How can animal-loving travelers respond? “When we're working with a government that turns a blind eye, that's where tourists can make a big difference - especially Americans with their love of dogs and cats,” O'Meara says. “If a tourism board receives a couple of letters from
people who say they can't believe what they saw, that animals were really in horrible condition, it can prompt them to do something.”
O'Meara suggests that tourists also tell hotel managers, local shop owners, travel agents, and tour operators how the situation has affected them. “Let them know it's something you don't want to see and that it would prevent you from coming back.”
Before traveling, do some research to find local animal-welfare groups that may be able to help should you witness an accident or abuse. Donating money to such groups, she said, can make a profound difference. “Most local groups have next to no budget,” says O'Meara. “Any modest contribution could go very far.”
The WSPA encourages tourists to report incidents of cruelty - including the date, time, and location - to the local police, tourist office, and animal-welfare society as well as to the WSPA upon return. If it's safe to do so, taking photographs or videotape will provide valuable
Animal-advocacy groups discourage feeding strays because it often nourishes them just enough to allow them to procreate and perpetuate the cycle. However, most groups understand why it can be hard to resist a pleading look from a starving animal.
If you do feed a stray, be careful. Local laws often forbid it (as in Puerto Rico). And the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discourages petting or feeding animals to guard against bites and the transmission of rabies and other diseases.
“If someone wants to offer some food or fresh water, they can put it down and then back up to give the dog space,” says Ward, who has worked with satos in Puerto Rico. “Many satos are now in loving homes with tourists who bonded with them on the island.”
Bringing a dog or cat into the United States is not as complicated as a traveler might expect. For information on regulations, US Customs Service Pets and Wildlife Licensing and Health Requirements, visit www.customs.gov. Some airlines require health certificates for pets traveling with them, so travelers should ask about this and other requirements, such as approved kennels and fees.
Simrit Dhesi and her husband met Sandy—a skinny, limping sato—in Puerto Rico when they stopped at a beach on their way to the airport after a family vacation. “He drank saltwater, and that didn't seem very healthy,” recalls Dhesi. “We gave him bottled water. He threw it back up.”
Back home in Chicago, she e-mailed Save a Sato to ask if they could locate Sandy. “They found him with five other dogs,” says Dhesi. “About a month and a half later, up he came.”
Here is a sampling of humane organizations that operate shelters, offer low-cost pet- sterilizations, or arrange adoptions abroad. You can find other groups online at the World Animal Net directory, www.worldanimalnet.org, and through the listing of member Societies of the world society for the protection of animals, www.wspa-international.org.
The International Fund For Animal Welfare
Humane Society International
Abaco Animals Require Friends
PO Box AB-20856
Marsh Harbour Abaco, The Bahamas
242-367-3262, ext. 201
asociacion humanitaria para la Proteccion animal de costa rica
apartado 73-3000, heredia, costa rica
Greek Animal Rescue
c/o Mrs. Dianne Aldan
1617 - 25 the esplanade
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Lega Pro Animale
Via m. Tommaso, I-81030
Castel Volturno (ce), Italy
torre argentina roman cat Sanctuary
c/o Susan Rondon, Managing Director
10 Winchester Road
Kingston 10, Jamaica
Sociedad Humanitaria de Cozumel
PO Box 649, Cozumel 77600
Quintana Roo, Mexico
Amigos de los Animales
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Save a Sato Foundation
Villas de Caparra #D-2
Calle c Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
By Genevieve Rajewski | Imbibe
At Belmont Farm, a long dirt road winds through a sea of towering cornstalks to a small, rough-hewn building tucked behind a barn. Inside, a tall, sinewy man wearing a straw cowboy hat and knee-high rubber boots loads a round-bottomed still to make another batch of “corn licker.
Although he looks the part, Chuck Miller is not your grandfather’s moonshiner—or even his own grandfather’s. Miller’s grandfather once craftily evaded authorities to sell his homemade corn whiskey, but the younger Miller instead used his wits to build a thriving, legal moonshine operation.
On an August morning, Miller tells a group of five distillery visitors, “This building has a lot of spirit in it—in more ways than one.” He built the distillery using the remains of a church that burnt down in the 1960s and never reopened. “I figure the preacher must have given one hell-raising sermon that day,” he says.
Miller, 61, did not start out wanting to make corn whiskey. In the 1970s, when he and his wife, Jeanette, bought 140 acres in Culpeper, Va., they raised thoroughbreds and beef cattle and harvested hay and corn as a side business to his work as a commercial pilot.
Then, after a couple of years, the Millers decided to try winemaking, but that proved short-lived. “Man, those grapes, they were a lot of work,” recalls Miller, whose voice has a Southern twang, but whose words clip along as quickly as a New Yorker’s. “For four years, I hoed, I pruned, I tied. Then I got to thinking, ‘My grandfather used to make whiskey out of corn.’”
Moonshine is fresh whiskey bottled straight from the still, without any aging, usually hastily because it is being produced illegally. The name derives from the fact that moonshiners often would work at night—or by moonlight—to avoid detection. Miller’s grandfather made the “white lightning” in Virginia and sold it in Washington, D.C., during Prohibition, and relatives regaled the young Miller with tales of his illicit adventures. “One day they were going to get him for sure,” Miller recounts. “But he just ran through the dang-gone roadblock and shot out the back window.”
Miller procured his grandfather’s whiskey recipe from one of his former drivers, Great-Uncle Johnny, and set about securing licenses from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. “I thought he was crazy,” his wife Jeanette remembers. “But he applied for the licenses, and when he got them, I was shocked.”
Once that two-year, paperwork-intensive process was over, Miller needed a still. He got wind of a copper-pot still recently discovered on a mountain outside nearby Charlottesville, Va., and bought it from the property owner for the cost of the scrap copper. The still was made in New York City in 1933—the year Prohibition ended—and Miller says the registration number shows “it was in use until about 1960, then disappeared.”
Moonshine may evoke romantic images of bootleggers delivering hooch to parched flappers during the Roaring ’20s, but the illegal activity persists today. Modern-day moonshiners sell their product to after-hours clubs along the East Coast, and the authorities—locally referred to as “revenuers”—hunt down the tax evaders and routinely bust up stills in Virginia and other states. “I figured if they’re just going to ax another one, why not let me get it?” Miller says of the antique still he saved from destruction.
Moonshine, like other whiskies, is made from grains—usually some combination of corn, barley, rye or wheat—that are ground up and mixed with water, then cooked, mixed with yeast and malt and left to ferment, creating a mash. When boiled in a still, the mash vaporizes and rises into a condenser, where it cools and becomes liquid.
Today, most whiskey distilleries use towering, highly efficient column stills that allow for a continuous flow of mash over steam-generating plates and never need to be stopped and emptied. In contrast, Miller still loads one ton of mash into his 2,000-gallon still for a process that takes five days from distillation to bottling. Between each batch, he empties the slightly alcoholic spent mash (which he says his cattle happily consume). “It’s the antique way of making whiskey, so it’s not efficient,” Miller says. “But what the old pot still does is allow you to keep a lot of the flavors and aromas that would escape otherwise.”
He then cuts the whiskey from 150- to 100-proof—which initially presented a challenge. According to Miller, the farm’s limestone well water makes a flavorful mash, “but if you were to try to cut the whiskey with that water, the minerals would cloud the whiskey and possibly ruin the taste.” Although Miller knew nothing about water purification, he picked up a system, once used to purify water for hemodialysis, at a University of Virginia Hospital auction. “I got it for a song and a dance and now have the cleanest water around,” he says.
Miller’s Virginia Lightning moonshine looks like vodka, smells like a nose-hair-singeing sake, but goes down smooth—smoother than some whiskies and bourbons. It tastes slightly sour, with a hint of earth or corn, and has no aftertaste or burn. The Millers like to describe it as something between grappa and tequila.
In 1989, the Millers began selling Virginia Lightning in state-run liquor stores. “Our first order was for 300 cases,” recalls Jeanette, who manages the distillery’s marketing and bookkeeping. “A newspaper article came out right before it hit the stores, and everybody had to have a bottle.” Every liquor store in the state promptly sold out.
Soon, Belmont Farm Distillery branched out into neighboring states under names more palatable to the locals, including Carolina Lightning, Kentucky Lightning and Tennessee Lightning. Maine, for some reason, embraced Carolina Lightning, which Miller jokes “must be cheaper than fuel.” And a liquor buyer began importing bottles into Japan under a special label that says “Virginia Bootlegger” in Japanese.
In 2002, the Millers launched Copper Fox whiskey—corn whiskey flavored with chips of apple wood and oak and barrel-aged for two years. They sell about 25,000 bottles of their moonshine ($12.55) and whiskey ($17.90) a year to people of all backgrounds and professions. Some have enjoyed moonshine in the past and are thrilled to have found a quality source, while many more have long been curious about moonshine but either afraid to sample the illegal variety or unlikely to ever encounter it in the first place. Both of the Millers’ products are produced on-site, with the help of a small part-time staff, and sold to locals and tourists at the farm and through liquor stores.
The whiskies weren’t always sold on-site. After the History Channel broadcast a program on their operation in 2005, the Millers opened an information center and began offering distillery tours from April through December, the months the farm is in operation. The distillery draws about 10,000 visitors a year, including day trippers from Virginia, as well as tourists from numerous other U.S. states and countries such as Australia, England, Germany, Holland, Japan and Scotland.
But the gift shop—which did a steady trade in Virginia Lightning T-shirts, shot glasses, caps and postcards—conspicuously lacked bottles of moonshine. Selling the whiskey onsite was illegal, and again, rather than following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Miller set out to change the system.
“Chuck came to me and said, ‘My business is growing, but I’d like to take the next step,’” says Ed Scott, who represents the 30th district in the Virginia House of Delegates. “One of the ways Virginia’s wine industry has grown is by offering a form of agritourism, where folks can visit the winery, sample the wines and, through that process, become customers.’”
Scott, who has known Miller and admired his persistence for years, collaborated with the Virginia alcohol-control board to draft legislation that would allow distilleries to sell their wares onsite. The Virginia General Assembly approved the bill—which applies only to distilleries that produce their own grain and does not allow for onsite tastings—and the governor signed it into law last April.
“This is the first time anyone has been able to sell whiskey off the farm since George Washington sold his rye whiskey at Mount Vernon,” Miller beams. His pride is evident as he cradles souvenir bottles in his lap and carefully signs them with “Best of Luck—Moonshine Chuck” at guests’ requests.
Still, Chuck respects backwoods distillers, many of whom he says have passed on their craft for generations. “It’s a forgotten art,” he says. “So I figure if I do this legally, I’m kind of preserving a piece of America.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 2004
The advertisements first appeared Dec. 15. Pictured on movie screens, posters, and newspaper pages was a two-foot-tall garden gnome with a ruddy complexion and pointy red cap. He stared yearningly at the horizon.
“Wanted: My Garden Gnome. Have you seen him?” the ads read. The desperate owner, “Bill,” provided a URL and toll-free hot line. Over the following weeks, more than 308,000 people visited the website (www.whereismygnome.com), which featured postcards of the gnome in exotic locations. Another 140,000 or so called the hot line.
As it turns out, the ads were a precursor to an $80 million Travelocity advertising campaign. In the latest television ads, the gnome, speaking with a slight British accent, narrates snapshots of his adventures: bobsledding, duct-taped to skis, and submerged in a hot tub.
The publicity stunt reminded many of the 2001 French film “Amélie.” In the film, Amélie conspires with a flight attendant to send her father's gnome on a world tour—complete with photographs of the gnome at foreign landmarks—to inspire him to travel. However, David Emery, who covers urban legends for About.com, says that gnome-napping is an international phenomenon with at least a 20-year history.
“I don't know if it's possible to pinpoint the earliest instance of gnome-napping, but the first reported case of a 'roaming gnome' took place in the mid-1980s,” says Mr. Emery. “It was documented by an Australian folklorist named Bill Scott, who wrote of a gnome disappearing from the front lawn of a Sydney family.” Shortly thereafter, the family received a postcard from the gnome saying he was vacationing in Queensland. The gnome returned two weeks later, coated with brown shoe polish—a souvenir suntan.
“As the '80s wore on, the prank grew popular not only in Australia but in England and, to a lesser extent, America as well,” says Emery. And years before “Amelie,” the long-running British soap opera “Coronation Street” featured a similar plot in which a man stole his neighbor's gnome and taunted him with ransom letters and photographs.
Barbara Austin of Greensboro, N.C., had never thought about gnome-nappers until one of her three gnomes disappeared in August 2002. When she came home to find his spot empty, she saw a note inside a plastic bag. It read: “Gone travelin'. Back later.”
The gnome would return, but not before Ms. Austin received several packets of photographs from “Gnome.” Nearly 50 days later, she woke up and spotted balloons in her front yard. Outside stood the gnome with a photo album and a map detailing his trek. He had had traveled 11,016 miles, to 28 states, Canada, and Mexico with four men and one woman. The snapshots showed him at national landmarks and baseball parks, in cars and airports, with pets he befriended, and next to yard art he encountered.
Sometimes, though, the gnomish pranks can get out of hand. In 2002, three men, ages 18 to 21, were arrested in Lockport, N.Y., for possessing 14 stolen gnomes. Such arrests are becoming more common as some gnome-nappers try to fulfill grander ambitions such as those of the Front de Libération des Nains de Jardin (Garden Gnome Liberation Front). The French group has reportedly “liberated” more than 6,000 gnomes since 1997. Instead of sending photos, such gnomes typically turn up en masse: returning to forest life, congregating on church steps, and, once, hanging by their necks from a bridge.
Perhaps because they fear being apprehended or simply unmasked, many gnome-nappers seek anonymity. One such thief posts photographs on his website (www.nigelthegnome.com) but refuses to reveal his identity. However, via e-mail, “Nigel the Gnome” reports that he was taken in 2001 from Destin, Fla., by a student on spring break and that he sends updates to his “mom.”
“My friend still has not met my mom. I will make it back home one day, but I'm not ready yet,” writes Nigel. “I still have more traveling to do.” While the widely traveled gnome says a cruise is under consideration, he professes a longing to hike the Appalachian Trail.
A couple dozen news stories about stolen—though not always postcard-sending—gnomes surface worldwide each year, notes Emery, and have become staples of popular culture. “There's a definite homespun charm to the roaming-gnome prank that probably stems from their tacky cuteness and how they're anthropomorphized by clever pranksters,” he says. “Plus, each case is a minimystery of a sort that rarely gets solved.”
Austin still derives much delight from the mysterious nature of her gnome's travels. Perhaps that's why she finds a rear-view photo of the gnome and his secret companion so appealing. “They're both just looking out over the city, wherever this city is, kind of... daydreaming. For some reason, it really strikes me.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Boston Globe, June 3, 2007
The doggie workplace, as it is portrayed in movies and television shows, sings a siren song to those seeking an antidote to the poisons of office politics. On-screen it's one tail-wagging, ball-throwing, sun-kissed, dizzyingly meeting-free good time.
Back when I held sometimes tedious but comfortable office jobs, the idea of working with dogs was only a daydream I entertained on particularly bad work days. Then I accepted a new job in what turned out to be a severely dysfunctional marketing department. The manager fired good workers at will, screamed at employees until they were in tears, and otherwise snapped and snarled at her reports.
I quit without another job. It was the first time I had ever been without a financial safety net, and I couldn't believe my luck when I quickly landed a doggie day care position.
Unlike at my office jobs, I was immediately welcomed into the pack—no months of bonding over bad projects or water cooler gossip required. There also was no awkward period of trying to figure out the unwritten rules of the office dress code. I threw out my nylons, stashed my heels, and came to work in T-shirts and jeans, and not even Pia, a Lhasa apso and the most fashionably coiffed dog there, gave me a second look because of it.
Best of all, my work stories were suddenly populated by characters named Bisco, Gabby, Vegas, and Chewey. And instead of clarifying anecdotes with something like, “you know, that EVP in charge of finance,” I'd say “you know, that humpy Boston terrier.”
Although I loved all my charges, Gretyl, an athletic German short-haired pointer, led the bunch. Whenever I arrived, she rushed past the other employees to greet me, ball in mouth and ready to play. Each workday ended with Gretyl curled in my lap.
Even when cleaning pee off the floor, I found myself thinking, “This is still better than office work.” A puddle of urine is straightforward, requiring nothing more than a mop and disinfectant to check off the to-do list. Most white-collar projects, on the other hand, seem to drag on indefinitely, with their endless paper trails, shifting deadlines, and empty corporate speak.
It was enough to make me swear I'd never work in an office again. So when harried owners—arriving straight from the office to pick up their pooches—said I must have the best job ever, I answered confidently, “Yes, I do.”
This response remained automatic and unstrained until I agreed to cover a hectic morning shift instead of the serene closing hours, during which nine or 10 worn-out pooches would doze until their owners arrived.
As I approached the yard, I heard a dull roar. The screened chain-link fence shook and quivered under the assault of 25 straining, hairy, panting, barking bodies.
“Tuck all straps in your pockets! Don't make eye contact! Move quickly through the gate!” the employee on duty shouted as I braced myself to enter.
“This must be what visiting prison is like,” I thought, as I pushed my way through the jumping throng into the yard. “Only a prison where the inmates are allowed to paw and slobber on the visitors.”
Obviously, such behavior would never be tolerated, at least publicly, in any respectable office.
Within the corporate hierarchy, people tend to look out for their own interests. Not so dogs—and not in a good way. That day, each and every dog seemed hell-bent on self-destruction. The 10-pound Boston terrier relentlessly tried to hump a disgruntled 90-pound Rhodesian ridgeback. A beagle slipped his leash and led a merry three-hour chase through a nearby swamp. An anxious Marmaduke-sized Great Pyrenees whined incessantly and got trapped trying to slither through a one-foot hole under the fence.
Only Gretyl had my back. More loyal than any co-worker you could ever wish for, she obediently followed me everywhere, looking (to my eyes) sympathetic and bemused.
For six months, I came home from work each night covered in fur and reeking of dog, my blood pressure, by turns, dramatically raised or lowered. For every workday that ended with a blissful group snuggle, there was another that featured a heart-pounding escape attempt or a homesick dog that no amount of petting could placate.
Eventually, my mortgage meant I had to leave the day care for a better-paying office job.
On my last day at doggie day care, there was no card, cake, or goodbye party. I certainly hadn't expected anything like that; they were dogs, after all. Anyway, I've always hated office farewells, with co-workers awkwardly holding plates of cake and making well-meaning, but meaningless, promises to keep in touch.
Also unlike at any previous office job, I spent my last day training my replacement. She was sweet, and I cheerfully introduced her as the “new me” to owners. But an unexpected blow was watching my pack of regulars play fetch with her as if I was already gone. The surge of jealousy both surprised and embarrassed me. I fought it back as best I could, reminding myself they were only dogs.
Gretyl hung back from the crowd, waiting for me to throw the ball. When I did, she bounded gazelle-like to the far end of the yard, caught the ball on a bounce, skidded—and barreled straight past me to my replacement.
The girl cooed when Gretyl dropped the ball at her feet and, without hesitation, threw the ball for Gretyl again . . . and again . . . and again.
I always wondered if I was quickly forgotten upon leaving a job, if I am indeed all too replaceable. Each time Gretyl breezed by me, a bright orange ball wedged in her dog-honest grin, she seemed to drive this point home.
By Genevieve Rajewski | Edible Boston, Fall 2008
The vibe is hectic at Island Creek Oysters’ headquarters this September morning, as a crew of college students nears the finish line of the morning rush. They fluidly haul in and stack 20-pound yellow, mesh bags of oysters–today alone about 32,000 mollusks will be delivered fresh to Boston restaurants and around the country.
Adding to the sense of urgency is the approach of Tropical Storm Hanna—and possibly on its heels, the remnants of Hurricane Ike. Boats and floating workhouses must be moved and moored this afternoon, well in advance of the expected 60-mile-an-hour winds.
Still, Island Creek Oysters owner Skip Bennett cheerfully finds the time to give this Edible Boston emissary a sneak peak at his lesser-known product: bay scallops.
Bleary-eyed after a late night at a Jimmy Buffet concert, Bennett fires up a small motorboat and heads out with scallop farmer John Brawley for a look at this year’s crop. As low tide turns, the men race the boat toward the scallops’ field a few minutes from shore. Duxbury Bay’s water is shockingly clear, and oysters litter its sandy bottom.
“Here we are,” says Brawley, upon spotting his buoys. The boat sputters to a stop, and Brawley hastens to hike chest-high rubber waders over his torn jeans. He swings himself over the deck and tentatively feels for the bottom; the water is just low enough not to spill inside the waders.
He digs around in the lapping waves, returning to the boat with a metal cage chockfull of glistening white, gray and dark-brown ruffled-edged shells. The two men pry open the cage to what sounds like applause: on dry ground, the scallops clap and clatter like wind-up teeth. According to Bennett, scallops have “about 30 beautiful blue eyes along the mantle edge inside their shell,” and peacock-blue dots truly do stare back from inside the shells.
“They grow very quickly,” says Brawley, who beams, noting the mollusks are ready for market. Brawley left a senior scientist position at Battelle to try his hand at raising oysters, scallops and more, but he quickly plays down his Ph.D. with self-deprecating jokes about his occasional use of scientific jargon.
In April, Brawley arranged to purchase “seed”—juvenile scallops about the size of a grain of salt—from the research hatchery at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. After growing over the summer, the scallops are big enough to harvest and sell in September and October.
Bennett first experimented with raising scallops in 2006.
“I bought seed from a friend who was running a hatchery on the Vineyard,” he says. “At first we tried raising them very similarly to how we grow oysters. But we learned scallops are very different. We have tanks where we keep the oysters and blow a lot of water by them. The water has a lot of nutrients, which the oysters siphon out,” Bennett explains. “But the bay scallops don’t like that. They like being still and don’t eat as well when water is rushing by. They are very finicky and eat only certain types of plankton and prefer to see, reach out and select their food. So we’ve come up with a wooden box that has a screen on both sides; they sit on the screen and the water flows gently through the box.”
Although fishermen harvest wild scallops at about two years of age when the shells are three or four inches, Island Creek Oysters harvests them as early as three or four months old when the shells are about an inch and a half. It’s not the only difference in the product.
“Normally, with scallops, the shell is shucked and people only eat the abductor muscle; the rest of the animal is discarded,” says Bennett. “We sell the whole animal to the chefs, which they basically use as a pasta clam. It makes for a beautiful presentation. And this time of year, scallops have a little bit of roe, so you have the sweetness of the abductor muscle with a bit of a caviar flavor.”
Keep an eye out for them at last year’s takers: Boston restaurants Toro, East Coast Grill, Neptune Oyster, Great Bay, No. 9 Park and Kingfish Hall.
At this point, the men raise scallops more as a hobby than as a money-making venture.
“The hardest part is finding a hatchery to spawn them out for us. The one on the Vineyard that I used to get seed from isn’t doing it anymore,” says Bennett. The lack of available seed limits how many scallops Island Creek Oysters can produce. Bennett says only half-jokingly of his business–which has expanded from just Bennett himself in 1992 to include 12 farmers and a four-person wholesale arm–“maybe we’ll have to add a hatchery next.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Boston Globe, May 23, 2007
The morning's desolate parking lot and ominous clouds around Lake Quannapowitt don't seem to perturb Fred Rex. “You have to be part weatherman to do this job,” he says, tucking a hot dog into the sole customer's waiting bun. The man scurries away, using one hand to shield his lunch from spitting raindrops. He dines in a parked car with the wipers going.
When Rex, who owns Fred's Franks, began preparing for today's cookout at 7 a.m., he felt confident that he made the right call. Sure enough, as if on cue, both sunshine and customers appear at noon.
On a nice day, spotting Rex on the lake is an annual rite of spring. Walkers, runners, stroller-pushers, and other fresh-air junkies might be circling Quannapowitt year round. But when Rex and his tow-along Big Green Egg grill reappear, locals from Wakefield and the surrounding towns come out in droves.
From the back of a homemade red wooden trailer, Rex grills hot dogs, kielbasa, chorizo, and linguiça to order over hardwood lump charcoal with a touch of apple wood. He has been working this spot near the Route 128 rotary five days a week—spring through fall—ever since he was laid off from his job four years ago. He had been at the electronics company Trilogic Systems for 17 years until Suntron bought it.
For his new venture, Rex decided to grill franks over wood because “there was no place around here to get a great dog.” Over the years, the lakeside operation has undergone several iterations. Rex started by cooking on a Weber Smokey Joe but it was inefficient, fuel-wise, “keeping a fire going seven or eight hours a day.” The Big Green Egg (see related story below) maintains a high temperature consistently and holds moisture.
The entrepreneur also used to lug everything to his site in a wooden boat he had made, then put out tables and chairs—these, of course, had to be taken down and set up daily—but that managed to both annoy a local official and physically wear Rex out. The efficient design of his current operation owes much to lessons learned “through trial by fire,” he says.
Places to sit are now limited to the public benches facing the lake. Customers step up to the trailer to place orders with Rex's helper (today it's Hannah Gregorio), who grabs buns from the built-in trunk and snatches chips from clips on the underside of the cedar-shingled roof. At the other end of the trailer, Fred grills under the shelter of the roof. The Big Green Egg is housed in a cart with an easy-to-clean stainless steel top.
If you examine the trailer's counters closely, you'll spy a crown branded into the pine. This is Rex's own “maker mark,” the crown a nod to his last name, which means king in Latin.
While awaiting their orders, customers fill fresh buns and bulkie rolls with chopped onion, sauerkraut, hot cherry peppers, and other toppings from built-in condiment holders. If a customer is willing, Rex will fill the bun with his own special “yin-yang” mixture: a combination of mayonnaise, Rosoff sweet sauerkraut, and Cholula hot sauce, topped with chopped sweet onion.
The sun is now blazing so Rex sheds his colorful knit cap and dons sunglasses. Using a bungee-cord pulley, he raises the porcelain cooker's ponderous lid to retrieve some meat. A gust of wind snatches a puff of smoke and perfumes the group of waiting lunchers. Natural-casing all-beef franks are nicely crisp and snap when bitten. “The standard dog at Fred's is crispy,” he says. “So if you don't want it crispy, just tell me. I want it the way you want it.”
“Done just right,” announces Somerville resident Ron Boudreau about his deeply browned dog with crosshatch grill marks. “I haven't had a hot dog since he folded up the stand last year. And I cook a lot at home,” he says. “Once, I picked up my wife, who works in Woburn, to take her to lunch here. She was expecting a steam cart with hot dogs. I told her, 'I wouldn't take you for just any hot dog.' “
Rex, 51, stocks only locally made Pearl brand hot dogs, which he's been eating since he was 14. To outfit his trailer, he has a system down pat. The night before, he slits all the dogs. Mornings at 5:30 a.m., he orders bread, which he picks up later at the Atlantic Food Mart en route from his Reading home. Icing the coolers, stocking the sodas, and loading the trailer begins at 7 a.m. In iffy weather, he decides if he should go to the lake, and posts a notice on his website by 9 a.m.
When he arrives lakeside at 10 a.m., he sees which direction the wind is blowing, because direct gusts make the grill burn hotter. Then he parks the trailer to block the wind and begins setting up. His customers, mostly men, with an equal balance of suits and work boots, often arrive before he's open.
Rex now takes winters off. “From the beginning, the plan was to work for six months a year,” he says. He lives very simply, but enjoys a more fulfilling life, taking care of his 83-year-old mother and visiting a sister and her children in Colorado to cook, fly, and ski.
In Wakefield, customers who want to grab a bite at Fred's Franks need a bit of luck—and some planning. Rex isn't there in inclement weather and will only grill dogs and sausages until he runs out. Also, he's open only for lunch. Though Fred's Franks has been a weekday business, this year Rex dropped Mondays and began setting up on Saturdays instead.
“I have a lot of customers who say they'd like to bring their wife, kids, or husband, but can't do that during the week,” says Rex. And he doesn't seem to tire of doing the same packing and unpacking routine every day. “What can I say? I really still get a buzz out of putting a hot dog on a bun and watching someone's eyes light up when they take a bite.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | St. Petersburg Times, September 5, 2004
Coney Island's nearly footnote status in our New York guidebook had hinted that it no longer claims its early 20th-century title, “Playground of the World.” So my husband and I had not expected a trip there to transport us back in time.
Still, this expectation extended to the eerily barren landscape of the 1970s cult-classic film, The Warriors. So when we arrived on the W subway, the utter emptiness of the station's platform left us edgy and debating whether we should bolt for the next train and the 45-minute trip to midtown Manhattan.
Fortunately, the neon lights of Nathan's Famous Frankfurters beckoned from across the desolate street, and we agreed to at least grab dinner before leaving.
Nathan Handwerker, a Polish immigrant, didn't invent hot dogs (though he once worked at Feltman's, the Coney Island restaurant cited by some as the one that did). But when he opened his stand in 1916, he was the first to sell hot dogs for a nickel, half the cost of those sold elsewhere.
Despite the overcast sky and lack of pedestrian traffic, Nathan's buzzed with activity. We ordered two original hot dogs topped with sauerkraut and onions, fresh-cut fries and lemonade. We savored our meal outside, surrounded by diverse young families and Russian-speaking teenagers.
Sitting at Nathan's, it was hard to imagine deserted Surf Avenue as ever having teemed with lights and life. But we had seen photographs of Coney Island's heyday, when people packed shoulder to shoulder across the beach, an elephant-shaped hotel rose above Surf Avenue and flappers posed coyly next to the world's largest swimming pool.
In the early 20th century, Coney Island saw three major amusement parks flourish. Each was more fantastical than the one before, full of animal acts, ballrooms and dangerously wild rides that would now likely reap lawsuits.
At Steeplechase Park, men and women flouted the conservative mores of the day by hugging each other on the park's signature Steeplechase Ride, a sort of mechanical horse race.
Folks also lined up for bizarre rides such as the Grinder, a machine in which people were squeezed through soft rollers, and the Human Roulette Wheel, which started with riders on a spinning wheel and revolved until all were thrown clear.
Luna Park featured the revolutionary Trip to the Moon ride. The park's Epcot-besting skyline was full of minarets, pagodas and other exotic structures that took on an ethereal quality when lit at night. An unfathomable million lights lit Dreamland, which had a Spanish-style tower and featured attractions with moralistic tones.
Nearly everything from this period has been lost over decades to spectacular fires in the earlier years and later to demolitions spurred by financial failures.
Yet some vestiges of Coney's glory remain, and these we hunted. From Surf Avenue, we headed for the boardwalk, drawn by the towering red silhouette of the Parachute Jump.
Nicknamed “Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower,” the Parachute Jump was originally developed as a training device for U.S. soldiers. It debuted as an amusement ride at the 1939 New York World's Fair and was reconstructed at Steeplechase Park in 1941. Until 1964, you could be strapped into canvas seats that whisked you 250 feet into the air before letting you drift back to earth under a parachute.
The wide boardwalk led us past the now parachuteless tower to a more isolated area, where we were rewarded with another echo from Coney's past: the former Childs Restaurant, an ornate building dating to 1924.
Brightly glazed terra-cotta friezes on the building's archways depicted frolicking fish and King Neptune; above, chipped stucco revealed the brick beneath.
We retraced our steps to Steeplechase Pier, which jutted into the roiling Atlantic. As we strolled the pier, we paused to watch families and old men cast fishing lines and lower traps full of raw chicken into the water.
Nearby, a flock of black-headed gulls dipped and jerked in the air like marionettes. Below them, a group of children, laughing and feinting, tossed minnows into the air.
In the early 1900s, Coney Island had a host of sideshows featuring “human curiosities.” Dreamland created Lilliputia, an experimental community of 300 little people living in a half-scale city. So-called 10-in-1 sideshows featured people with medical conditions, such as conjoined twins and alligator boys, plus sword swallowers and tattooed ladies, and “exotic” peoples.
The 10-in-1 tradition lives on today at Sideshows by the Seashore, which nonprofit Coney Island USA runs in a more enlightened though still campy vein.
Unfortunately, the theater was closed during our visit. However, Shoot the Freak, a sideshow of another sort all together, was open and doing a thriving business.
We first noticed Shoot the Freak when we saw “Live human targets! Real paint ball guns!” spray-painted on a wall behind a pit near the amusements area. Then we heard the barker, a teenage boy, droning, “Come on: Shoot the freak.”
Morbidly curious, we ventured closer. A teenager paid $3 for five shots and assumed a shooting stance, his girlfriend looking bored. In the pit was a teenager wearing what looked like a baseball catcher's gear. With a resigned sigh, he lifted up a paint-splattered sheet of plywood to shield himself.
Before the shooting could begin, we hurried off.
A ride on the Cyclone, the world's most imitated roller coaster, seemed likely to be less ethically comprising.
Opened in 1927, the Cyclone was built on the site of what some call the world's first roller coaster: the Switchback Railway. Built in 1884, the Switchback Railway hit a top speed of 6 mph as it coasted down a rolling wooden track between two towers.
Its gravity-driven design required passengers to get out halfway through the ride, so the cars could be manually towed to the second hill's top for the return trip.
The Cyclone promised a more thrilling experience. Thanks to its minuscule lot size of 75 by 500 feet, the coaster seemed to tower out of a parking lot. I felt an uneasy shift in my stomach when we settled into a cramped seat. But I figured that once we made it past the initial rickety ascent and plunge, the rest of the ride would be fairly tame.
However, after dropping 85 feet at a 60-degree angle, the Cyclone blazed through eight more drops. Traveling 60 mph over the wooden tracks, we spun and climbed and dropped again and again, crossing under tracks so low my husband feared his hands might get lopped off if he held them up for too long.
When the coaster rattled back into the station, the attendant offered to let us both ride again for the price of one. I could only mutter, “I feel sick.”
Something less stomach-churning was definitely in order, so we made for the Wonder Wheel, a 150-foot Ferris wheel built in 1920.
The brilliant red and green Wonder Wheel is known for its 16 swinging passenger cars, which rock and slide down S-shaped tracks within the wheel's circumference. You can choose this adventurous route or opt for one of the eight stationary cars by lining up under the appropriate sign before boarding.
Or you can simply do as we did: The attendant asked, “Chicken?” as he took our tickets, and we nodded yes.
No hokey audio commentary was piped into our car. There were only the groans and shudders of the swinging cars above and beneath us. Far below, tots circled on a miniature roller coaster, the Break-Dancer spun teenagers madly around to hip-hop music and the Spook-a-rama gave couples an excuse to bind to each other in the dark.
As our car swayed gently at the top, we looked at the seemingly infinite Atlantic coastline, the tiny-looking Empire State Building and the soon-to-be-twinkling New York City skyline. Dreamland's lights may have dimmed forever, but magic remained.
Nonprofit Coney Island USA (www.coneyislandusa.com) organizes many events, such as the annual Mermaid Parade on the first Saturday of summer, and preservation efforts. It is an excellent source of information and ideas for visitors. Its online shop sells a walking tour map for $6.
Nathan's Famous Frankfurters, 1310 Surf Ave. at Stillwell Avenue, Brooklyn. For more information, call 718 946-2202; www.nathansfamous.com
Coney Island has two main amusement parks off the boardwalk, as well as batting cages, go-kart tracks and arcades:
Astroland Amusement Park, 1000 Surf Ave. corner of W 10th Street, Brooklyn. For more information, call (718) 372-0275; www.astroland.com While Astroland is known for the Cyclone roller coaster, you'll also find bumper cars, a water flume and several rides for children. “Pay One Prize” wristbands cost $21.99 per person and are available on weekdays. Otherwise, adult rides cost $2 to $5 each; kiddie rides cost $2 each or 10 rides for $18; and the Cyclone costs $5 (ride again for $4). The park is open daily from June 18 to Sept. 6 and weekends only from Sept. 6 to mid October. Hours are noon to midnight, weather permitting.
Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, 3059 Denos Vourderis Place formerly W 12th Street, Brooklyn. For more information, call (718) 372-2592; www.wonderwheel.com This park features five adult rides, including the landmark Wonder Wheel, and 17 kiddie rides. Tickets for the adult rides are $4 to $5; you can buy a pack of five for $18. Tickets for kiddie rides cost $2 each or $18 for 10 rides. The park is open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day with a fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. every Friday night. It is open weekends in April, May, September and October. Hours are noon to 9, weather permitting.
Sideshows by the Seashore, Surf Avenue at West 12th Street, Brooklyn. For more information, call 718 372-5159; www.coneyisland.com
The 10-in-1 tradition lives on in the historic 1917 former Child's Restaurant building, which also once housed Dave Rosen's Wonderland Circus Sideshow. There is a Freak Bar (serving beer) and gift shop, and both the inside and outside are decorated in canvas sideshow banners. From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, the full cast performs from 2 to 8 p.m. Fridays and from 1 to 11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Additionally, the show is open with a reduced cast on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 8 p.m., depending on the weather. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children 11 and younger.
Capt. Bob's Historic Coney Island Tour, departs from Nathan's Famous Frankfurters, Stillwell Avenue at Surf Avenue, Brooklyn. For more information, call 718 372-8091; www.captainbob.8k.com
Every Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine, historian and “former Belize jungle guide” Capt. Bob leads a tour of the Coney Island boardwalk, the old bathhouses and noteworthy restaurants while sharing the history of the Cyclone, the Steeplechase ride, the Parachute Jump and the hot dog. Tours take place at noon and 2 p.m. and cost $12 per person.
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Boston Globe, March 10, 2002
Don’t go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Go to glimpse lush gardens through wrought-iron gates. Go for the strains of ragtime music wafting out of Preservation Hall.Or, by all means, go to rub shoulders with locals as men in muscle shirts yell “Stella!”
The moment my husband and I heard of the Stella Shouting Contest, we were determined to witness the spectacle for ourselves. Held every March as part of the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, the “Stell-off” pits 20 men and women against each other for the best interpretation of the infamous scene from the play A Streetcar Named Desire.
Fortunately, the contest coincided with our planned long weekend in New Orleans. We wanted a good view, so we arrived at Jackson Square early. However, instead of securing great seats, we found ourselves wondering whether there was a contest at all.
Twice, my husband and I checked in at the literary festival’s headquarters at Le Petit Theatre de Vieux Carré. The first time, we received what sounded like legitimate instructions: “The contest starts around 4. People start lining up around 3:30 or so, about three-quarters of the way down the square.”
Only there was no sign of a line at 3:30 or even at 4. There were jugglers, fortunetellers, families playing in the park, and mule-drawn carriages awaiting passengers at the square’s edge. But there wasn’t one Stanley Kowalski wannabe in sight.
After waiting, and more inquiries, and more waiting, we saw a man leave festival headquarters, carrying a chalkboard on which was written “Stella!” As he set down the chalkboard, a crowd materialized. A line began to form. People with cameras lowered themselves to the curb. Cries of “Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” rang out from passersby.
Before traveling to New Orleans, we rented the 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. In it, Marlon Brando’s Stanley—remorseful after hitting Kim Hunter’s pregnant Stella in a drunken rage—hollers for her to return from the neighbor’s apartment in which she has sought refuge. After this viewing, my husband mentioned that he might try Stella-shouting.
I nudged him toward the growing line. It was already eight people deep.
Once registered for the contest, my husband sat by my side, smiling sheepishly and holding his place card (#9). Shortly thereafter, the emcee welcomed the crowd and explained how the contest works.
Each contestant gets three “yells” to direct to their “spouse,” who stands on a balcony overlooking the square. Men yell for Stella’s attention, women for Stanley’s. The judges – a random group that included author Dakin Williams (Tennessee’s brother), movie critic Rex Reed, and actress Stephanie Zimbalist (from the ’80s television show Remington Steele) – then select five finalists to compete on the venerable stage of Le Petit Theatre.
Stella and Stanley waved from the balcony. With his slicked back hair and tight, white T-shirt, Stanley looked authentic, like the young Brando. With her parasol and pinned-up bouffant, however, Stella resembled Scarlett O’Hara more than the scrappy woman created by Tennessee Williams.
The first contestant sported tight jeans and a scowl and had a cigarette pack tucked into the sleeve of his T-shirt. There was an expectant hush as he entered the clearing in the crowd’s center.
“Stell. Laaaaaa,” he yelled. “Stell. Laaaaaaa!”
“It’s one name, sugar,” Stella called back.
An appreciative roar greeted this interruption. Stella’s heckling, apparently, is a large part of the contest’s appeal.Undeterred, Stanley #1 finished with his two-word approach. (Despite Stella’s drawling reprimand, this proved successful: Stanley #1 went on to the finals.) He was followed in quick succession by, among others:
• A Stanley who stripped down to a tank top, doused himself with a bottle of water, and shook his fists at the sky.
• A business-casual Stanley who seemed to be losing Stella due to a poor cell phone connection. (“Hey, Stella, are you still there? Stella?”)
• An older Stella who shouted for Stanley as if he was going deaf after 45 years of marriage.
Despite the obvious limitations of word choice, each contestant was like no other.
My husband looked somewhat nervous about jumping into a mix largely made up of Louisiana and Texas natives, but the small cheer after his introduction visibly steeled him.
He may not have found glory and reached the finals, but once back in the audience, he received back slaps and congratulations from all sides.
And we both certainly found more than we went looking for – including the knowledge that we could rely on the kindness of strangers.
The Stella Shouting Contest preliminaries will be held in Jackson Square on Sunday, March 24 at 4:30 p.m., with the finals on the Le Petit Theatre Main Stage at 5:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public.
This year’s Tennessee Williams Literary Festival takes place from March 20 through March 24. Programs include panel discussions, theatrical performances, walking tours, musical performances, and a book fair.
For a schedule or more information, call 504-581-1144 or visit www.tennesseewilliams.net. You can purchase tickets for the following events through TicketWeb, at 1-800-965-4827, or www.tennesseewilliams.net. Advance ticket purchase is recommended for all events.
The Bed and Breakfast Reservation Service (1-800-729-4640, www.historiclodging.com) represents a variety of guesthouses in every section of the city. Rates range from $75 to $200. The service can often find rooms on short notice.
The Omni Royal Orleans (621 St. Louis St., 1-800-843-6664, www.omnihotels.com) is the host hotel of the festival. Rooms start at $249.
Tennessee completed A Streetcar Named Desire at the Hotel Maison de Ville (727 Toulouse St., 1-800-634-1600, www.maisondeville.com), where he was a regular guest in room number nine. Rooms start at $235.
You can enjoy samples from leading New Orleans chefs, cookbook signings, and swing music at the festival’s New Orleans Cooks & Books event. It takes place Sunday at 11:30 a.m. in the Royal Orleans Grand Ballroom (621 St. Louis St.). Tickets cost $25.
Tennessee’s favorite restaurant, Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon St., 504-525-2021) serves French cuisine in a formal setting. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Stella took Blanche here while Stanley played poker.
The following restaurants will celebrate the festival with special prix fixe menus or menu items inspired by food and drink references in Tennessee’s works. Reservations fill quickly, so call early.
Arnaud’s Restaurant (813 Bienville St., 504-523-5433)
The Bistro, Hotel Maison de Ville (727 Toulouse St., 504-528-9206)
Brennan’s Restaurant (417 Royal St., 504-525-9711)
The Clock Bar, Chateau Sonesta Hotel (800 Iberville St., 504-586-0800)
Cobalt (333 St. Charles Avenue, 504-565-5595)
Crescent City Brewhouse (527 Decatur St., 504-522-0571)
Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse (716 Iberville St., 504-522-2467)
Dominique’s, Maison Dupuy Hotel (1001 Toulouse St., 504-522-8800)
The French Quarter Bar, The Ritz-Carlton (921 Canal St., 504-524-1331)
Grill Room, Windsor Court Hotel (300 Gravier St., 504-522-1992)
Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter St., 504-525-1486)
Herbsaint (701 St. Charles Ave., 504-524-4114)
Maison Bleu (228 Camp St., 504-571-7500)
Marisol (437 Esplanade Ave., 504-943-1912)
Muriel’s Jackson Square (801 Chartres St., 504-568-1885)
Palace Café (605 Canal St., 504-523-1661)
Peristyle (1041 Dumaine St., 504-593-9535)
Quarter Scene Restaurant (900 Dumaine St., 504-522-6533)
Red Fish Grill (115 Bourbon St., 504-598-1200)
Restaurant August (301 Tchoupitoulas St., 504-299-9777)
Stella! (1032 Chartres St., 504-587-0091)
Upperline (1413 Upperline St., 504-891-9822)
On Saturday at 5 p.m., Brennan’s Restaurant (417 Royal St.) will host Tennessee Sips: A Wine and Word Pairing. Created by Gourmet magazine wine consultant Michael Green, the event will feature wines that evoke the characters and atmosphere of Tennessee’s works. Tickets cost $25.
Offered Friday and Saturday at 4 p.m., the festival’s one-hour Cocktail Tour will visit the fabled drinking establishments of New Orleans. Tickets cost $20; beverages are sold separately.
Tennessee patronized Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop (941 Bourbon St.), the oldest building in the French Quarter and the rumored former front for a group of pirates. Dimly lit by candles at night, the cozy, cave-like bar seems a world apart from the rest of raucous Bourbon Street.
The festival’s eight walking tours—which include an African American heritage, a gay heritage, and a cradle of jazz tour—provide a great opportunity to soak up some sun. Tickets cost $20 per person.
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Bark, May/June 2006
Staring at the x-ray screen at Boston’s Logan International Airport, Tara Kennedy did not know what to think.
After circling and sniffing the suitcase in question, her dog, Lily, a six-year veteran of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Beagle Brigade, had confidently sat down—the signal that agricultural products are hidden within.
However, the x-ray machine revealed nothing more than clothing, the usual personal effects and several boxes of legal cigars.
Open it up, Kennedy told the x-ray technician.
An initial search of the bag indeed yielded only the items seen on-screen. But the cigar boxes turned out to have a secret. Each contained a row of cigar-shaped German sausages, complete with decorative paper bands—tacky and probably tasty souvenirs that, unfortunately for their owner, would never leave the customs area.
It was a typical day for the beagle and her handler at Logan’s international terminal, where two things are for certain. When you go sniffing around someone’s suitcases you never know what you’ll find inside—a butchered hog, crocodile meat, land snails, live pigeons. And if there is meat, produce or plants to be found, a beagle’s nose trumps x-rays every time.
Although “detector dog” often evokes the image of tough-looking shepherds searching for narcotics or bombs, sunny-tempered beagles are equally important members of the CBP’s canine team. Nationwide, Beagle Brigade teams patrol international airports, land border ports of entry and major international mail facilities, where they help inspectors seize about 75,000 prohibited agricultural products a year.
Contraband beef, mangos and tulip bulbs certainly aren’t scary on the surface. However, they and other agricultural imports can harbor devastating threats to the U.S. food supply and economy.
Together, CBP agriculture inspectors and their U.S. Department of Agriculture counterparts intercept about 2 million agricultural products each year. The seized goods include more than 295,000 lots of unauthorized meat and animal byproducts that could carry diseases to poultry and livestock.
Kennedy says the Beagle Brigade always refers to its watch list and only seizes meat “from areas that are known to carry disease in the particular type of meat we are seizing.”
As an example, Jim Silviero, who works at Miami International Airport, describes a llama fetus his female beagle, Q-T, found on a passenger from Peru. “It was some kind of religious article. But llamas can carry cattle diseases, and Peru does have foot and mouth disease, so it was confiscated.”
Anyone who recalls the news footage of U.K. travelers scrubbing their shoes with bleach can understand this measure to stop such an import from leaving the airport. All confiscated meat is incinerated on site.
In addition, CBP agriculture inspectors and their USDA counterparts found nearly 55,000 exotic plant pests last fiscal year, including diseases and noxious weeds. Intercepted fruits and vegetables are checked for foreign pests and destroyed. Preserved insects and plant material are sent for further inspection and identification to USDA specialists.
“If you made a list of the 100 worst insect pests in the country right now, probably 99 of them have come from overseas,” says Robert Tracy, entomologist for the USDA’s inspection station in Linden, N.J. Al Falco, the officer in charge, agrees: “Japanese beetles, gypsy moths—all the common pests we are trying to control now—were originally exotic.”
Tiny Mediterranean and Oriental fruit flies—found in fruit seized by the Beagle Brigade—can multiply quickly and decimate a crop should they hitch a direct or connecting flight to Florida or California.
Also costing the nation hundreds of millions of dollars to control are diseases imported into the country on plants, according to Martin Feinstein, a USDA plant pathologist at the Linden, N.J., facility.
These include citrus canker, which has damaged citrus crops and residential plantings in many Florida counties after arriving from endemic areas of Asia, and sudden oak death, an exotic disease of oak and other woody species that has killed tens of thousands of oak and tanoak trees in California and threatens the U.S. ecosystem wherever susceptible flora flourish.
Of course, an awkward aspect of patrolling for potential threats is that—unlike those smuggling explosives or illegal drugs—passengers with agricultural goods often don’t realize they are doing anything wrong.
“[Passengers usually] aren’t bringing in stuff maliciously,” says Kennedy. “They are doing it so they can go out in their backyard and pick fresh lemons. Or it’s a special kind of meat their grandmother likes. It’s hard to explain why we are taking away their products. It’s only a possibility that the meat contains a virus. It’s only a possibility that the mango has insects.”
Working with beagles not only allows inspectors to clear passengers faster and with more accuracy, but it also keeps the process objective and free from profiling.
“Let’s face it, I put everything on Lily,” says Kennedy. When people get angry about being searched, she explains, “I’m sorry, m’am or sir, I’m only doing what my dog is telling me to do.”
In fact, the beagles’ secondary role as goodwill ambassadors was one reason they were chosen to work among travelers. In addition to the high food drive that makes them so trainable and a hound’s predilection to follow their noses, beagles are far from intimidating.
“They’re small, cute. People want to touch them,” says Kennedy. “Most people think I’m walking my dog. They don’t notice my badge or uniform. They don’t even notice [Lily’s] uniform, which she wears to emphasize that she is a working dog.”
Kennedy appreciates being able to work without adding stress to the terminal, which is hectic enough when 200 people are getting their bags among jostling baggage carts and whirring carousels.
When Lily subtly sits by a traveler, Kennedy asks if they are carrying any fruit, meat, vegetables or plants—or if they have eaten anything during the flight that may have left a residual odor.
Even if they deny having anything on them, Kennedy has learned to trust Lily.
“Show me,” Kennedy instructs Lilly, and show her Lily does: quickly, but gently, striking the exact location of the smell with her paw.
When a prohibited item is uncovered, Lily receives a food reward, while the passenger usually gets a warning and the item taken away.
“I choose carefully who I fine,” Kennedy says, citing the time her former canine partner Casey found six plants sewn into the lining of a passenger’s jacket. “I [had] no hesitation fining someone who obviously knew that bringing in plants and soil was not allowed.”
Sometimes the scope of the intentional smuggling surprises even veteran CBP inspectors.
On June 28, 2004, Silviero stopped to question a passenger from Cuba, when Q-T sat at the base of the woman’s motorized wheelchair.
“So I got down on the floor and looked, and I saw some things strapped underneath it,” recalls Silverio. “I questioned the woman, and she acted like she had no idea. I reached under and pulled out a black cloth bag. Inside, there were four plastic tubes, and I peeked in them and saw live birds.”
“There ended up being five of those cloth bags with a total of 39 birds,” he continues. “I’d say half were already dead, and more died shortly after that from the stress of the travel.”
Under U.S. federal law, imported birds must be placed in quarantine upon arrival as a safeguard against the numerous diseases they can carry. “Of course, right now, there is a lot of talk about the bird flu,” says Silverio. “There is also a lot of concern about diseases that would be harmful to the poultry industry, like Newcastle disease.”
Interestingly enough, the Beagle Brigade is not trained to ferret out wildlife.
However, animal scents most likely cause the dogs’ natural hunting instincts to kick in, says Kennedy, and the dogs respond by alerting officers to the unusual contraband. The officers reward their beagles—even though they are acting outside their training—because live animals can host so many diseases.
“We also have the [gratitude] of Fish and Wildlife inspectors [for] the endangered live species that have been saved by our beagles’ curious noses,” says Kennedy, whose beagle partners have discovered live pigeons, parrots and even endangered Egyptian turtles that were eventually returned safely to their native country
Instinct may lead dogs to detect animals, but the beagles’ agricultural finds require extensive and ongoing training on how to—and how not to—use their powerful noses.
Beagles undergo 10 to 13 weeks of training at the National Detector Dog Training Center in Orlando, Fl., depending on whether they will clear international travelers or vehicles, ships, containers and palletized materials. For the 40 to 46 teams the center trains each year, the center’s staff “may look at anywhere from five to 15 dogs to find one good candidate,” says Director Mike Smith.
Likely candidates—who must be between one and three years old and are not necessarily purebred—are often found in animal shelters but also come from private owners and breeders. The right dog is outgoing with a serious interest in food.
Dogs begin by learning to distinguish six key scents: mango, apple, citrus, pork, meat and plants with soil. The dogs receive food rewards for passively sitting when they locate target items hidden in loose cardboard boxes. As beagles’ skills improve, targets are placed in first soft, then hard suitcases and typical tourist items are added to the bags to simulate real airport situations.
“They start adding other foods commonly carried by passengers to make sure [the beagles] are bypassing chocolate, candy, crackers, peanut butter,” says Kennedy. “Products like apricot shampoo and coconut hand creams are added, too, to make sure that the dog is being very specific about whether he smells a fresh mango or mango shampoo.”
Not every candidate will make the grade. “Some dogs are just not as intelligent as we had thought; their food drive may be really high, but they just can’t grasp what is requested of them,” says Smith. Other dogs cannot concentrate amidst the commotion of the typical work environment or may turn out to have a preexisting medical condition, such as hip dysplasia, that will keep them from comfortably working.
All dogs, whether retired or flunked, are found homes through the center’s popular adoption program.
Once on the job, beagles spend four hours a week training “to keep them sharp” and work on any problem areas, according to Silviero. After six months, beagles sniff out prohibited material correctly 80 percent of the time. Their success rate rises to about 90 percent with two years’ experience, and some beagles have been known to recognize nearly 50 odors during their five- to seven-year career.
And while spectacular beagle busts—such as pounds and pounds of fresh fruit—make for great photo opportunities, Kennedy says Lily’s most impressive find was a single chestnut.
“It’s one thing for Lily to find a bag of fresh chestnuts, but it’s another to find one chestnut in a pocket when someone has a winter coat on over it,” says Kennedy. “I think that’s much more significant to find one tiny smell when there are so many other smells floating around.”
This ability is what makes dogs much more effective than machines for odor detection, says Dr. Larry Myers, a professor of veterinary medicine at Alabama's Auburn University and researcher at the school’s Institute for Biological Systems Detection.
“There are instruments that are certainly more sensitive than a dog is,” says Myers. “But dogs sample the air better, and they do it in what amounts to real-time. In a matter of a second or less, they can say, ‘yep, it’s there.’”
“I don’t want to make it out like dogs are magic: they’re not,” continues Myers. “But they are really pretty impressive. If there is a single chemical, or a ratio of chemicals, unique or pretty close to unique to a target, dogs can be trained to detect it. So take your drugs, your bombs, your off-flavor catfish, your termites—dogs can detect all of them.”
By Genevieve Rajewski | The Boston Phoenix, April 30–May 6, 2004
There’s something undeniably captivating about movies that chart their action using the device of a plane moving across a map of the world. Whether it’s Casablanca or Raiders of the Lost Ark, such a stylized international adventure always seems to brew romance, camaraderie, and foreign intrigue.
Of course, those three ingredients would just as easily make for a memorable evening on the town. So next time you head out for drinks, imagine the Hub and its environs as a map of the world and choose your drinks—or foreign destination—accordingly.
For example, should you wish to travel to Mexico, visit Olé Mexican Grill, which evokes Oaxaca with its hand-painted tiles and terra-cotta pottery. Here, you can wash down guacamole prepared tableside with an orange margarita, made with Hornitos, Cointreau, sour mix, orange juice, and lime juice. If you prefer your agave juice straight up, you can order the Monte Alban mezcal ($5) for a true Oaxacan touch. Six tequila flights ($6.50–$8) allow you to sample several aged tequilas and come with sangrita—spicy tomato juice traditionally used as a chaser in Mexico. The bar also stocks bottled Mexican beers ($3.75) including Carta Blanca, Sol, Pacifico, Tecate, Bohemia, Modelo Especial, and Negra Modelo.
If you’d rather hop the pond than head south of the border, try the Elephant & Castle. Although part of a chain, the downtown bar and restaurant has ample British spirit, thanks to its red British phone booth and convincing pub menu. If you like your drinks from the tap, order up a pint of Bass Ale ($4.75) or Boddingtons ($4.75). If you prefer your brew from a bottle, you can sample more from the UK, including Fuller’s London Pride ($4.50), Fuller’s ESB ($4.75), Old Speckled Hen ($5.75), Old Peculiar ($5.75), and Samuel Smith Pale Ale ($5.75) and Taddy Porter ($5.75). The bar also stocks several Scottish imports, including Belhaven Scottish Ale ($5.75), Belhaven St. Andrews ($5.75), and McEwans Scotch Ale ($4.50).
While in England, you may well want to cross the Channel, so to speak, using the MBTA’s Red Line. The reproduction Art Nouveau métro entrance at Sandrine’s Bistro isn’t the only Parisian touch that will transport you from Harvard Square to the City of Light. The bar makes a wonderful kir royale ($14)—a sweet, effervescent drink made with Champagne and crème de cassis, a black-currant cordial. You can also enjoy kir ($10) made with white wine and crème de cassis or an Alsatian Picon ($7), which features Kronenberg beer mixed with Picon, an orange bitter cordial.
From France, head due south and cross the metaphorical Pyrenees to savor Dalí Restaurant and Tapas Bar’s exceptional sangria ($5.50/glass; $18/liter; $30/two liters). Should you seek a Spanish drink that has yet to be co-opted by Tex-Mex chain restaurants, try one of several licores imported from Spain: sloe-berry pacharán ($6); orange-flavored Gran Torres ($6); vanilla-flavored Licor 43 ($6); anise-flavored Las Cadenas ($6); or Orujo de Galicia ($8)—a Spanish grappa. And should you be making merry with a group, order the porrón ($25), a communal drinking vessel filled with cava, a Spanish sparkling wine.
Imagine again a map of Europe; now move onward and upward to Jacob Wirth Restaurant, where beer lovers can enjoy a perpetual Oktoberfest. Boston’s second-oldest restaurant boasts an extensive menu of draft German beers ($4.25–$6.50/pint; $17–$28/pitcher): Spaten Lite, Spaten Optimator, Warsteiner Pilsner, Frankenheim Alt, Warsteiner Dunkel, Radeberger Pilsner, Paulaner Hefeweizen, Franziskaner Doppelbock Weissbier, Hoffbrau München, Ayinger Celebrator, or Clausthaler.
A taste of Poland is located, strangely enough, in Southie. At Café Polonia, you’ll find grzace (“warmers”), a traditional winter drink from Poland’s mountain regions. The beer warmer ($5.95), which comes in a glass stein, is steaming beer flavored with raspberry syrup and carnation. The wine warmer ($4.95), served in a hefty mug, features red wine mulled with carnation, ginger, and cinnamon. There are also several bottled beers ($4). Okocim, EB Pils, Zywiec, and Lorza are from Poland; Obolan is from the Ukraine; and Kalnapilis hails from Lithuania.
You can sample another of Poland’s favorite beverages in the country it is most synonymous with: Russia. In Brookline’s small and elegant Café St. Petersburg, diners wash down their meals with a number of homemade vodkas—including ones infused with lemon, horseradish, garlic and pepper, and cranberry.
While still in the East (or, er, Brookline), voyage to Fugakyu, where you’ll encounter a river of artful sushi boats and private booths. The Choya martini ($6.75) features Choya plum wine, vodka, and dry vermouth, while the sake martini ($5.75) contains sake, vodka, vermouth, and an olive. The Roy Yamaguchi sake ($29.95/375 milliliters) is homemade, and the house sake ($4.75/small; $7.78/large) is served warm. For a refreshingly sweet drink, try the Kinsen plum wine ($5.25). Meanwhile, several Japanese beers—including Kirin Ichiban ($4.75), Sapporo draft ($4.75), and Yebisu ($7.75)—appease those with less adventurous tastes.
From Japan, head southwest to India—or, rather, to the Bombay Club, in Harvard Square. In addition to Indian beers such as Flying Horse ($7.95) and Kingfisher ($4.95), the Indian restaurant and bar serves up two deceptively sweet cocktails. The Kama Sutra ($7.50) is a blend of Hpnotiq (which is itself a blend of cognac, vodka, and tropical-fruit juices), pineapple rum, triple sec, and a squeeze of lime. The potent Indian Flame ($7.50) features citrus vodka, Licor 43, mango juice, grenadine, and a splash of soda water.
Next, set your drinking sails for a passage across Boston’s version of the Arabian Sea. Tucked away in the South End is Addis Red Sea, an outpost of Ethiopian cuisine that serves several African beers and wines. Tusker ($4.95) is a lager from Kenya; Harar ($4.25) is an Ethiopian Pilsner. More unique still are two honey wines imported from Ethiopia: Axum ($5.25/glass; $21/bottle) and Royal Mead ($5/glass; $21/bottle).
A trip to Cuchi Cuchi, in Central Square, takes you south of the Equator. Its clericó ($20/liter) is a sangria-like concoction from South America made with white wine, sparkling cider, and fresh fruit. The Pisco sour ($9) originated in either Chile or Peru (both claim responsibility). Cuchi Cuchi’s version features Pisco Capel (a Chilean brandy distilled from grapes), simple syrup, pasteurized egg whites, and a dash of bitters. The caipirinha ($10) hails from Brazil and here is made from lime slices muddled with sugar, Cachaça (Brazilian sugarcane liquor), and lime juice.
Grabbing one of the few bar tables at Chez Henri, in Cambridge, is the barhopping equivalent of outwitting US Customs by getting into Cuba itself. But it’s worth arriving early to be able to relish a Cuban sandwich along with the bar’s renowned mojito ($6.95). Other Cuban-style cocktails include the original daiquiri ($6) and a Havana special ($5) made with pineapple juice and rum. The flamingo ($5.25) features pineapple juice, rum, and grenadine over crushed ice, while the periodista (that’s Spanish for “journalist”) combines triple sec, apricot brandy, rum, sugar, and lime juice. The brisa ($7.25) is a potent mixture of Ketel One vodka, agua dulce, freshly squeezed grapefruit, and cranberry juice, served straight up.