Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nature Walks and Talks in December

To see this in a larger frame, do a right click and hit "open link in new window":

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Class 10: Community Gardens

Gail Harvey and fellow gardener Barbara (didn't get last name, sorry) offered a wealth of information as well as a tour of the Nokomis Community Garden. There are actually four community gardens in Sarasota County, with more on the way. Besides the one in Nokomis (234 Nippino Trail East), there are the Orange Blossom at 18th and Orange, Bayou Oaks Community Garden at Old Bradenton Rd. and 35th Street, and Laurel Community Garden in Laurel Park, 509 Collins Rd, Laurel. See this page for more about them.

The gardens ask a $30 registration, and $20 a year to be a member. Many other communities have their own gardens: churches, schools, neighborhoods. Land has been donated for a public garden near the Mall in Turtle Rock.

For more about green initiatives in the county see this page; for more about the Extension Service's support for community gardens, click here.

Typically, plots in community gardens here are 10' X 20', are fenced, and have water, mulch and some tools readily available. A certain amount of trading of produce goes on as each gardener might have an abundance of one thing and less of another.

The American Community Garden Association has a website rich in resources and info. Gail and Barbara recommended its clear explanation of how to start a community garden.

Update: A link to another local source for growers: The Sarasota Fruit & Nut Society.

Upcycling on

Those who enjoyed our session on garbage may find two interviews on the radio show "To the Best of Our Knowledge" of interest:

Annie Leonard talks about findings in her book, The Story of Stuff. She tracks products as they are manufactured by low-pay workers abroad, shipped and used in the US, and then shipped out to India, Africa, or another remote locale to be broken down (by hammers in some cases) and dumped.

Tom Szaky is the founder and CEO of a company called TerraCycle. His book is "Revolution in a Bottle: How TerraCycle Is Redefining Green Business." Szaky tells Jim Fleming how his company turns candy wrappers and juice bottles into pencil cases and backpacks sold at Walmart stores. Also, Mark Frauenfelder is co-creator of the weblog BoingBoing dot net and the author of "Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World." He talks with Anne Strainchamps about some of his DIY (do-it-yourself) projects from vegetables to cigar box guitars.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spring 2011 Civics 101 applications now being accepted

If you're interested in signing up for Civics 101, the contact person at the County is Vickie French. She does a great job coordinating a ambitious, highly varied program. This info comes from the County's site:

The spring session for 2011 starts March 10, 2011. Applications are now being accepted.
Civics 101 is a class designed to provide a toolbox of resources on Sarasota County operations and services. This class provides an in-depth and behind the scenes introduction to operations in Community Services, Emergency Services, Financial Planning, Health and Human Services, Planning and Development, Public Communications, Public Works and much more.

Civics 101 has two sessions - Spring and Fall - both of which are held on Thursday night each week for 10 weeks. You must also select one of the three tours scheduled. Twenty-five residents are accepted each session on a first-come, first-served basis.

Civics participants will graduate at a Sarasota County Commission meeting upon completion of the requirements outlined in the schedule. The new schedule for 2011 has not been finalized but the program will be very similar to the one posted for fall 2010.
Civics 101 Application 
Civics 101 Fall 2010 Schedule 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Class 10: The NEST Program

Class 10: NEST and Community Gardens
Place: Nokomis Community Center

Robert Wright of the NEST program:

NEST stands for Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship Program - it's a volunteer citizen partnering program concerned with preserving and restoring shared water resources.

Watersheds: There are large and small watersheds. Rebuilding wetlands slows down the amount of runoff and fresh water that goes to the bays - for the creatures in the bays, salinity is an important factor for survival.

Venice has virtually no stormwater treatment - older system. Stormwater goes straight into the Gulf.

For homes there are various Low Impact Design (LID) Concepts that work with nature:

  • Permeable pavers, gravel, instead of concrete.
  • Bio-swales - use concrete blocks with holes that allow grass to grow through them.
  • Rain Barrels - a new twist on the ancient practice of cisterns.

Move to Native Yards. "The largest non-edible crop in Florida is grass."

  • Lawns use fertilizers that run off into ponds, leading to excessive nitrogen.
  • Using plants at the water's edge of ponds can reduce erosion and runoff. See more here.
  • Plants can thus buffer ponds and protect them as well as the soil around them.
  • For appropriate plants, talk to the Florida Native Plant Society.

Rainwater does not reach the deep aquifer from which we get our drinking water. The water we consume comes from far deeper, and flows west from the state's Central Ridge, which is in the Orlando area. It costs 1 KW of electricity to move 1 gallon of water from the aquifer to your home. Keep this in mind when you're using it. 59% of drinking water is used to irrigate lawns.

Rob Wright
NEST Program Coordinator
1001 Sarasota Center Blvd.
Sarasota, FL 34240

Phone: (941) 861-0929

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Urfer Park: Civics in Action

Urfer Family Park at the corner of Bee Ridge Rd. and Honore embodies the spirit of Civics 101 by mingling playgrounds with nature trails, boardwalks with wetlands, and Sarasota history with current operations of the Parks department.

Urfer just celebrated its first birthday, and also opened the newly refurbished C.B. Wilson House, a historical landmark building on the park property, which will serve as offices for Parks & Rec as well as a resource for trail maps and historical information.

Did you know Urfer Park is dog friendly? Here'as a map to a large swath of the park where dogs on leashes are permitted.

Here's a slideshow of events at the opening (still going on as this is typed):

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tales of Sarasota Online

Lynda Seidl suggested a site for our sidebar - and it's a good one: Sarasota History Alive. Lots of excellent material, photos, journals, stories from the county archives, plus info on upcoming tours, and a blog entitled Tales of Sarasota by Pete and Diane Esthus.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Utilities of this blog: Sharing, Extending, Responding

I imagine at least three purposes for this blog -- there are doubtless more, but these occurred to me right off:
  • At the end of each session of Civics 101, we were asked to "review" the session and to say how we intended to share the information we received. I kept saying "I'll blog it," so that's one thing I'll do here: try to provide summaries of some of the splendid presentations, with links where possible, so that someone coming to this material fresh will, one hopes, find something useful.
  • I'm sure some folks will be taking information presented and run with it -- the fascinating information about gardens, water, libraries, health, traffic control, public works, land conservation, parks, budgets, purchasing and more -- offer many paths to follow. It will be interesting to see where they lead us.
  • A third purpose would be to respond to what we've been exposed to. The rich store of information about how things work was superb; meeting some of those who make them work was terrific; but now what? What thoughts, observations, questions, responses does all this information prompt? If we ask, what are we to do with all this transparency, perhaps one response would be to utilize social media to turn monologue into dialog. It might be your turn to speak.
These are some of the purposes that occurred to me for a Civics 101 blog. All those attending Civics 101 are welcome to post here - just email Tom at and I'll make you a co-author here. Or if you'd prefer, just send along what you write to that address, and it'll be posted here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A sampler of Civics 101 voices

Please see the first post below for a brief introduction. Over the 10 weeks in Fall 2010 our group heard from many specialists across the spectrum of Sarasota County services and facilities. Part of the fun was picking up odd facts and useful tips from those best in a position to offer them. Here are a few:

Liz Klaber, Deputy Tax Collector: An early Florida flag offered the welcoming motto: "Let Us Alone."

Karen Rushing, Clerk of the Court: The County Court handles almost 12,000 cases a year - "the largest percentage used to be divorce -- now it's foreclosures."

Bill Furst, Property Appraiser: "Look at your home's square footage - you could be overassessed."

Tezra Felix, Web services: "A Sarasota County FaceBook site is in development."

Scott Montgomery, Emergency Rescue: 206 neighborhoods have completed the Neighborhood Homeowners Disaster Plan.

911 Center: The first 911 line in the U.S. went live in 1968 - in Alabama. Sarasota's first 911 service started in 1985.

Sarah Blanchard, transportationThe per-passenger cost of a SCAT trip in 2009 was $4.76.

John McCarthy, Parks & Rec: Parks can be a  key driver of economic development.

Theresa Connor, Environmental Services: 
  • There are 106,000 acres of contiguous protected lands from the Gulf to the Peace River in Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte counties.
  • The Harvard Business Review says sustainability will drive us out of the recession.
  • Bio-mimicry: studying natural systems then imitating them. E.g., learning from butterflies how wings can be self-cleaning.
Tom Franklin, Environmental services: 
  • The first known law about garbage is traced to ancient Athens, around 500 BC - garbage could not be disposed of within one mile of the city.
  • 190,000 tons of garbage were buried in 2009 in Sarasota County -- down from the peak of the economy, which saw and buried 270,000 tons. 
  • 18% of garbage is food waste.
Jack Merriam, Environmental Manager: 38% of US fresh water is used in power plants; 39% is used in agriculture.

That's a small sampling of the range of topics, interests, and concerns raised in the first five sessions.

Repeatedly a number of the speakers offered to speak to homeowners' associations, and to work with them on projects. One exceptional form of help is the Sarasota Neighborhood Environmental Stewardship Team, or NEST. They'll work with neighborhoods who wish to remove invasive plants, mark stormwater drains, do plant surveys, monitor bodies of fresh or salt water.

To reach any department or agency in the county, call 861-5000.

(Note: These are from notes taken on the fly - if there are factual errors, they are almost certainly the inadvertent result of this blogger's error, rather than of the speakers.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Civics for the rest of us

I've just finished the highly popular and well thought of Civics 101 course in Sarasota County. The course consisted of ten weekly "classroom" sessions -- each focusing on a different function within local government -- and several field trips.

The county has a good story to tell, because for the past decade or more, it's been run intelligently -- there was a good deal of fiscal prudence, so that now, as the economy flounders, important systems like the Sheriff, Fire/Rescue, the courts and the parks continue to operate without tax increases.

The county also has the benefit of very bright, energetic and creative people who are tapping into some fascinating thinking about sustainability, community, and nature. It may be that one of the benefits of taking a course like this is, we --  the 25 lucky residents who signed on -- have begun to think more broadly about how nature and technology can be understood as elements in the fabric of a larger whole: the sustainable community. The more we learn about nature's methods of doing things, the more wisely we might be able to support, nurture and govern our human habitations.

A few images from our trips are below. In order of appearance they include the wastewater plant, public works, traffic control, emergency services (including dogs), the T. Mabry Carlton Preserve, the water treatment plant, and a visit to the Celery Fields with guides from the Sarasota Audubon Society.