What makes our city sustainable?

Place is such an important factor in identity. When you meet someone, your first question is most likely ‘Where are you from?’ The pride that may (or may not) come from the answer given is what I work to foster in St Albans. As #SustFest19 will tell you, sustainability is not just about reduce/reuse/recycle. While important, elements around community cohesion, mental wellbeing and business viability all contribute to a city’s sustainability.


Gin & Jazz 2018 Stephanie Belton (3)

Credit: Stephanie Belton 2018

Today’s blog is written by Helen Burridge, Business Manager of St Albans Bid – which is sponsoring the #SustFest19 St Albans Market Takeover on Sunday 19th May.


St Albans businesses care deeply about the viability of this city. The economic confidence of the community, the visitors, the employees and the residents will translate into economic prosperity for its businesses. Three years ago, the businesses in St Albans voted to become a Business Improvement District, paying a small contribution into a pot that collectively makes a significant contributor to events, public realm, safety and marketing of the City. The BID can also help to represent those businesses in various discussions with the public and private sectors on a local, regional and national level.

As the BID Manager of St Albans BID it’s my job to make sure that the investment made by the BID Members makes the city a great place to live, work and do business, both now and in the future, and of course a large part of that work then becomes looking at ways to make the city more sustainable, in the many and various ways that that covers.

clown

While I will acknowledge the ongoing wailing and gnashing of teeth about the ‘death of the high street’ in fact, there is an argument to say that this change in retail is actually the death throes of consumerism itself. A change from ‘want/have’ economics to ‘need/consider’ economics: the desperate and hysterical consumption of the 80s and 90s now looks decidedly distasteful and is being replaced by a borrow/reuse/packaging free/fewer-better kind of purchasing.

TimeTurn 2018 Credit Stephanie Belton (42)

Credit: Stephanie Belton

St Albans as a City is well placed to survive this change in consumer behaviour. The self-selecting curation of our retail businesses (you will find an audience if your product is good) is continuing to be demonstrated by reliable, quality local (and national) brands weathering the current climate and providing confident, good-news stories about customer experience, quality product and curated taste-making. On the internet, endless choice is overwhelming. In St Albans you will find a quality offer, selected by informed businesses, helping you to make reasoned decisions about where you shop, where you eat and where you socialise.

small bid logo picture - 19.12.2017In the wider community there are many and various entrepreneurial and disruptive businesses considering these changes in consumer behaviour and working to appeal to a considered and engaged local population. Can you eat vegan or vegetarian? Can you buy locally grown or locally made products? Can you go plastic-free, or packaging-free? Can you travel in a way that is more kind to the environment while still being relevant to what you need to get through your day? There are so many options and it can be overwhelming to know where to start to live a more sustainable life.

With this in mind, St Albans BID is delighted to sponsor the St Albans Market Takeover on Sunday 19 May. Bringing together like-minded businesses to prevent the many and various ways that small interventions by individuals can make a collective difference will help to show that actually these changes are not that insurmountable.

St Albans BID supports the Market Takeover because it’s the right thing to do, but also because the day will be fun, engaging, illuminating and most importantly, it will encourage and support enough individuals to make small changes that will, collectively make a large impact. Just like BID. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Market

Follow the Blue Dot trail

From May 11th ’til June 1st join in with Plastic Free St Albans Blue Dot Art Trail #SustFest19 event. Spot the dots and discover a variety of creative perspectives on the topic of single-use plastic through the lens of local artists.

• Over 30 incredible pieces of art created by local artists
• Covering a multitude of media from oil painting, photography to mixed media
• Being exhibited in many venues in and around St Albans incl Courtyard Cafe, Inn On the Park, St Albans Museum, Raft, The Refill Pantry, Headcase barbers, Fade to Black and many more…
• Can be experienced as a full trail or in separate visits, let’s see how many dots you can spot to protect our precious planet, the earth, our blue dot.
• Find the digital map @ https://plasticfreestalbans.org.uk/sustfest19-art-trail/

Don’t forget to share your thoughts and ideas about the trail and what we can do to reduce single-use plastic on our plastic free St Albans FB page, Instagram or twitter! Include #bluedotarttrail

I dare you to care: a Climate Emergency in St Albans

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you the Earth is getting warmer. The news has already told you that. You don’t need me to tell you that fossil fuels are bad, and renewables are good. You know that.  And you definitely don’t need me to tell you that, without change, we’re heading directly for extinction. But maybe what you don’t know is why should you care.


Today’s blog is written by Anna  Hardisty  age 20 years – university student at Warwick , and St Albans resident.


A Critical Junction

The Earth is at a critical junction. Imagine you booked yourself in for a driving test, nine months in advance. Now imagine that it’s almost two weeks before the test and you haven’t even stepped foot in a car. You’ve got your theory test tomorrow but that’s as far as you’ve got. I think it’s fair to say the appropriate response involves a fair amount of panic. And probably frantic searching for an intensive two-week course. This is the Earth’s current dilemma. The generations before us have spent the last 70 years ignoring the problem they were creating.  The consequence is a ticking time bomb with an expected explosion date of eleven years from now. Unlike a driving test, this can’t be rescheduled, and the ramifications are unbelievably more severe.


Ed note: The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. UN Report on Climate Change

The UK is currently failing to reach its target of reducing its carbon emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The Committee on Climate Change has just recommended the UK aims to be carbon neutral by 2050


Climate Refugees

By 2050 the World Bank predicts that 140 million people are likely to be climate refugees. That’s 140 million mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, babies, grandmas, grandpas, friends, neighbours, husbands, wives, doctors, soldiers, bankers, bakers, engineers, teachers, classmates, lawyers, and scientists displaced directly by global warming. They are unable to live in their homes and are forced to seek shelter and help; this would be an unprecedented refugee crisis. To give you some perspective, that’s equivalent to the whole of Russia becoming homeless. Or three UKs. Or half of the USA. The UN estimates 13.5 million were displaced by the crisis in Syria. Cast your minds back to a few years ago to the panic created by the refugee crisis then and multiply it by ten. 2050 is catastrophically too late

Let’s create a sustainable future for our world

The  Climate Emergency Petition calls for carbon neutrality for St Albans District Council by 2030.*  Eleven years sounds like a long time but in the grand scheme of things, it’s equivalent to that two-week intensive driving course you were panickily googling for earlier. Ambitious but not out of reach. We’re calling on the St Albans Council to act and use their power to make decisions that will benefit us and all those that follow. It’s time to do what the generations before us failed to do- create a sustainable future for our world.

And the truth is, it is change or have our lives changed for us. I’m twenty years old and, by current UK statistics, have another sixty years or so left on this planet. I want to have the freedoms my parents did. I want to pick a house not based solely on its likelihood of flooding. I want my children to grow up not in constant fear of famine, wildfire or war over resources. I want to be able to watch ‘Bananas in Pyjamas and ‘Happy Feet’ with the kids I babysit, without them thinking the casts are mythical creatures.

“Are we being good ancestors?”

This is a question posed to us by Jonas Salk, pioneer of the first polio vaccination. It’s not a question that crosses your mind often, if at all, as we’re understandably preoccupied with the demands of the here and now. But our future depends on keeping that question in mind constantly- when we’re choosing how to travel, what we buy at the supermarket, and who we vote for.

Sign the Climate Emergency Petition

So, sign the petition. Tell your friends. Tell your parents. Get them to sign it. Sustainable St Albans has a great list of events where you can learn about the difference you can make.

And the next time you hear about the greenhouse effect, the next time you see yet another hurricane on the news, the next time you see MPs shy away from the subject, I dare you to care. 

Anna Hardisty


*Editor note: Net zero by 2030 should be achievable for a district council with no airport or shipping in its patch, and no major imports to tackle

Do you eat food? Then you can change the world.

“We take our groceries for granted, but they’re a big part of every day for us all and it’s easy to forget that what we eat impacts the world in countless ways.”



We are delighted to introduce this fascinating guest blog this week from Naomi Distill, the inspiration behind Incredible Edible St Albans, a project of Food Smiles St Albans – and the winners of  Environmental Champions in the St Albans Mayor’s Pride Awards 2019.


In our modern, global world our food systems play into almost every big issue on earth;

air and water pollution, soil depletion and loss, hunger and poverty, climate change, economy, habitat loss and species extinction, animal cruelty and human slavery, rubbish and landfill, public health and antibiotic resistance.

But as author and activist Michael Pollan famously says:

“The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.”

The food with the smallest environmental impact is that which grows easily on the land where you live. That way your food has grown in harmony with its environment without the need for extra inputs, it supports local people and economy, and it doesn’t need to travel, nor be wrapped, gassed and refrigerated for travel. And there’s no better way to reduce those food miles and to know that your food is naturally grown than to grow some of it yourself.

2017 working together2

FoodSmiles St Albans growing site

Healthy food without chemicals and food for the soul

Growing even a little of your own food has countless benefits. Not only do you get healthy food grown without chemicals, without a big carbon footprint and without a plastic wrapper. It is more nutritious and often more delicious, because it’s perfectly fresh and because the soils in biodiverse home gardens and allotments tend to be much more nutrient-rich than tired farm soils bearing monocultures. It’s cheap, easy to do and extemely rewarding.

You get to reconnect with natural cycles and processes that are all but forgotten in modern life..

beetroot

..and you get to spend time outdoors, in contact with the earth, hearing the sounds and witnessing the intricacies of nature and breathing fresh air.

You get a little exercise too, and it’s a perfect way to connect with other like-minded people if you decide to take on an allotment or join a community growing scheme.

But I don’t know how

A lot of people seem afraid to try growing food because they feel they don’t know how, but there really is nothing simpler than putting a few seeds in some compost, keeping it moist and seeing what happens, and you have little to lose!

seedlings

Plants WANT to grow – they WANT to succeed and fruit and prosper –

..so many will take care of themselves if you just provide for their basic needs, and the back of the seed pack usually has a few useful tips too (ALWAYS to be taken as guidelines, not gospel!) and there are many books and websites available to guide you along the way. As with learning to cook, you won’t get everything right all the time, but you’ll learn as you go along and improve each and every time you try!

flower peas

Where to begin

Identify where you’re going to grow..

..choosing an area with as much direct sunshine and natural light as possible.

Next, choose your veg. A great way to do this is to first think of the vegetables you already eat most at home – though if you subsist on aubergines, sweet potatoes and chickpeas some compromise might be a good idea; some crops are easy while others have trickier needs, so it’s a good idea to start with the simplest or else grow a mix!

The absolute easiest crops to grow in our climate are potatoes, French beans, broad beans, Swiss chard, courgettes, tomatoes, beetroots, lettuces and salad leaves.

leaves

Swiss Chard is easy to grow

Short on space

red radishThough you’d get more from a garden patch, many useful crops can be grown in pots on your patio, front drive or even a balcony, and many people grow significant amounts of food this way. Focus on crops that give a continuous harvest for a period, such as tomatoes, beans, and salad greens, and be sure to water (and feed) well as pots often dry out faster than the earth.

Short on time?

Perennial crops save loads of time and last year-round or come back each spring, with no need for digging the soil, sowing, transplanting and so on each year. Fruit bushes, strawberries, rhubarb and woody herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano etc.) are all reliable low-maintenance perennials..

..but also consider searching out perennial greens such as Caucasian vining spinach, perennial kale, sea beet, wild rocket, sorrel and more, as well as reliable self-seeders such as purslane, winter purslane and land cress.

Once planted, your food plot will need little care other than occasional weeding and thinning, and annual pruning of fruit bushes.

Short on sunshine

Leafy crops are a good choice for shady plots; try lettuces, rocket, cabbage, kale, spring onions, spinach and chard.

If your plot gets sunlight for half the day, most root crops will be okay too; potatoes, carrots and beetroots are all well worth a try, and so are peas and broad beans.

beansand carrots

What are you waiting for?

Now is the perfect time to start planning, whether you’d like to rent an allotment, revamp the garden or just start a single pot on your patio. Grow a little something this year and see how rewarding, healthy and delicious it can be!

Or if you’re still not ready to go it alone, consider joining a community growing group such as FoodSmiles St Albans, where members work together to grow food and learn growing skills –

or join us at one of our Incredible Edible gardens where you can see how we do it and grill us with your gardening questions!

Tips for low-carbon growing:

  • Buy only peat-free compost (or make your own, but clean and sterile commercial compost will give you a higher success rate when seed-sowing).
  • Grow from organic seeds or seeds that you (or a friend) have saved. Organic seeds come from strains of plants that haven’t had to rely on chemical fertilisers or pesticides, so their offspring shouldn’t have to rely on them either.
  • Sow at the correct time, when light levels and temperatures are adequate for what you’re trying to grow – this avoids the need for growlights or heated propagators. Often a seed packet will tell you the very earliest time you could possibly get away with sowing a seed, but aim a bit later to give it the best chance. On a similar note, do you best to grow plants which are suitable for your location; plants with less-than-desirable growing conditions often need more input to keep them healthy. Consider growing more of the things you grow well, and swapping some with a friend who succeeds with different crops.
  • Avoid chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which have a high carbon footprint and harm the soil, the insect life and possibly you! Most pest problems on a small scale can be controlled by hand (removal or squishing!), with a mild home-made soap spray, or by using insect-proof mesh to keep insects off.
  • Install a water butt to harvest rainwater for your garden.
  • Don’t be tempted by all the fancy equipment that’s available! Buy only what you need, or share tools with a friend, and buy quality that will last. And try not to buy plastic pots – many gardeners will have a surplus they’re happy to share with you, or you can easily find inspiration online for repurposing other containers for food-growing.

Naomi Distill, FoodSmiles St Albans 2019 (All photos from Naomi Distill).

 

If you are intrigued and want to find out more – FoodSmiles St Albans are taking part in SustFest19 with at least three events during the festival.

Sat 11 May: FoodSmiles Open Day, and site tour – with cake!  Hammonds End Farm site

Sun 12 May: Incredible Edible, Civic Centre St Albans

Sat 25th May: Incredible Edible Russell AVe, St Albans

Also see Open Food Gardens 2019 programme

onions leeks

Don’t Let Go!

Plastic Free St Albans‘ new Don’t Let Go! campaign and petition is inspired by the Marine Conservation Society, and seeks to prevent local balloon releases, and to discourage the use of balloons by businesses as promotional materials.

rubber jellyfishpicUpdate! Film screening of Rubber Jellyfish Thurs 28th March at The Inn on the Park, St Albans. Brand new Australian documentary about the environmental damage caused by balloons. Tickets £6/2 conc are limited. You have the option to dine as well.. Book early see more information and booking here.


Thanks to Emma Tyers from Plastic Free St Albans for our guest blog this week – all about balloons…


Why do we want to stop this?

When you let a balloon go, you’re littering upwards. Why is this acceptable, when most of us wouldn’t dream of dropping litter on the ground?

Latex balloons are often marketed as biodegradable, but in practice take many years to break down. They also often have plastic ribbons attached to them, which do not biodegrade.

balloongoldvervalley

Thanks to Ver Valley Society for photograph.

Balloons and their ribbons are very frequently found as river and beach litter, where they kill wildlife. Sea creatures and birds mistake them for jellyfish, blocking their intestines, and animals get entangled in the ribbons.

It’s also a waste of helium, a finite resource needed for medical purposes.


Are we just out to spoil your fun?

No! By all means use balloons for parties, but please make sure you hold onto them, and dispose of them correctly. This campaign is focussed on preventing mass littering events, not spoiling 6 year olds’ birthdays.

If you do however want to stop using balloons completely, there are lots of lovely, creative alternatives available. Check out the Balloons Blow website for ideas.

We need your help!

Sign the petition here to Herts County Council, to ban balloon releases on their land.

In line with the MCS Don’t Let Go! campaign, we have included sky lanterns too, because they also pose a threat to animals through ingestion and entanglement, and the additional hazard of fire.

Businesses, Schools, organisations: Sign up to the Don’t Let Go Campaign

  • If you run a local business, school or other organisation, please email Plastic Free St Albans to sign up to the Don’t Let Go campaign, and include the following in the Comment field (amend as appropriate):

“We pledge to permanently stop balloon and sky lantern releases at events under our control, and to not use balloons as promotional materials for our business”

balloonprincess ver valley

Photo taken by Ver Valley Society while clearing the River Ver.