Almanack Contributor Richard Gast

Richard Gast

Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Get the dirt on composting

Composting Reduces Trash and Provides Healthy Organic Matter for Your Garden

America’s Municipal Solid Waste – By the Numbers

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in this country in 2017 (the most recent information available) was 267.8-million tons. That’s the equivalent of just over 4.5-pounds of waste per person per day. Paper and paperboard products made up the largest percentage of total MSW-generated materials; 25-percent or 67-million tons. Food waste made up the second-largest percentage; 15.2-percent or 40.7-million tons. At 35.2-million tons, or 13.1-percent of total generation, yard waste (grass, leaves, tree and brush trimmings) was the fourth largest material category (just behind plastic at 13.2-percent). Wood accounted for 6.7-percent or 17.94-million tons.

About 139.6-million tons (roughly 52-percent) of America’s MSW ended up in landfills. The largest component of landfilled waste; just under 22-percent or approximately 30.7-million tons; was food. Paper and paperboard made up just over 13-percent, while wood accounted for 8.7-percent and yard waste; 6.2-percent.

» Continue Reading.


Monday, June 1, 2020

Making the case for local meat

The Food Supply Chain System is Vulnerable

America’s meatpacking plants endure some of the highest rates of workplace injury of any U.S. job sector. COVID 19 has introduced yet another occupational hazard. These crowded facilities have become frighteningly successful vectors for COVID-19 contagion.

On Sunday April 26, a news release entitled, ‘A Delicate Balance: Feeding the Nation and Keeping Our Employees Healthy’ appeared as a full-page ad in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It was also widely posted on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

» Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Dandelions: The incredible, edible weed

Dandelions: Landscape Weed or Beneficial Backyard Herb?

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are probably the most recognized of all broadleaf ‘weeds’. Many people consider them a curse; a plant that can establish quickly, by seed, in a well-kept lawn and become extremely difficult to eradicate. Homeowners and groundskeepers spend tremendous amounts of time and enormous amounts of money annually, persistently trying to exterminate the tenacious, opportunistic, perennial wildflowers, which will re-grow vegetatively, if the taproot is not entirely removed, often even after being treated with herbicides.

Others value dandelions as one of the least-recognized of all multi-purpose herbs. They view them as nutritious, free food that can be easily added to most-anyone’s diet. They delight in collecting dandelion greens to add to soups or salads, and/or take pleasure in picking the flower heads (and digging roots) for a pot of tea or a crock of dandelion wine. I have a friend who remembers when, as a boy, he was paid a penny apiece for dandelion heads (blossoms), by an enthusiastic wine-making neighbor.

» Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Victory Gardens – An Old Idea Becomes New Again

Grow-it-yourself food. During this time of pandemic it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Especially if you’re, like me, extremely apprehensive about the possibility of becoming exposed to Covid-19 while grocery shopping. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to avoid going out in public, while securing nutritious food, than growing your own.

The majority of Americans have become accustomed to having abundant supplies of relatively inexpensive food readily available at neighborhood grocery stores and supermarkets. And we’ve become so, even as a greater and greater number of our neighbors have grown increasingly more reliant on food banks and pantries for some, if not all, of their food. That number now includes many of the nearly 17-million Americans who applied for unemployment insurance in April, and numerous others who have (or had) jobs without unemployment insurance (e.g. freelancers, contractors, gig workers). Poverty, which has already been a reality for many in our communities, could become so for many more.

And, concerns about food supply chains are growing as well, as the pandemic impacts food storage, processing, and transportation. Are farm workers going to be able to work? And if so, how will those crops get to retail markets? Food security has never been more of an issue.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

Earth Day: 50 Years On

I came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a turbulent time in American history; marked by the rise of the antiwar movement (Vietnam, nuclear weapons) and the expansion of movements promoting equality for groups of marginalized people including woman, African Americans, Native Americans, and the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning) community.

Many also consider the 60s and 70s to be the beginning of the modern American environmental movement; which is often portrayed as having started with the publication of Rachel Carson’s best-selling book, Silent Spring (thirty-one weeks on the New York Times best-seller list), in 1962. The book described how the adverse environmental effects caused by the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides threatened both animals and human beings. “These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes,” she wrote. “They should not be called insecticides, but “biocides… It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.”

I don’t personally believe that the sixties birthed the modern environmental movement in this country. I believe the modern environmental movement really began with Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, and the conservationist / preservationist activism of the early 20th century. The 60s, however, kicked off a resurgence of interest in these issues, starting with passage of the Clean Water Act of 1960; followed by the Clean Air Acts of 1963 and 1967, the Wilderness Act of 1964, and the Water Quality Act of 1965. In fact, between 1963 and 1968, President Lyndon Johnson signed nearly 300 conservation and beautification measures into law.

 

» Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Coronavirus and this year’s maple season

The sugar-making season and the weeks thereafter are an extremely important selling period for local producers. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has seriously impacted, and may continue to impact, sales into and perhaps beyond the spring and summer seasons.

Many local maple syrup-producing farm-families take part in Maple Weekend, an annual event championed by the New York State Maple Producers Association (NYSMPA) and supported by Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Cornell Maple Program. Maple Weekend provides opportunities for interested individuals and families across the state to visit one or more of the state’s family-run maple sugaring operations to see, first-hand, how sugar maple trees are tapped and sap is collected and boiled into pure, delicious maple syrup.

» Continue Reading.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

An Introduction to Viruses

coronavirus influenzaI’ve heard it said that there are ten million times more viruses on Earth than there are stars in the universe; maybe more. And that scientists estimate that, at any given moment, there are more than a billion viruses present on earth. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

Caring for Valentine’s Day Cut Flowers

Cornell University Hortus Forum club members learn about the Flower Bulb Research ProgramFebruary is generally the coldest month of the year; the heart of winter; a time that finds many of us patiently waiting, if not longing, for spring. Perhaps that’s why the preferred gift for a cold, wintry Valentine’s Day is a fresh bouquet of colorful, fragrant, cut flowers.

Valentine’s Day is when, more than at any other time of the year, people declare their undying love; often with cut flowers. What could possibly be more heartwarming? » Continue Reading.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

An Unusual Encounter With A Ruffed Grouse

ruffed grouse by richard gastClose encounters with wildlife have always fascinated me. But the behavior of wild animals can be, at best, difficult to understand and, at times, totally unpredictable. I once grappled with a robin who returned year after year, only to spend the entire summer flying into my office window in a seemingly endless war with its reflection.

Just last month, I was outside beside the woodpile, getting ready to bring in some firewood, when a male ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) stepped out from under a small spruce tree, fearlessly strutted right up to me, and steadfastly stood there on the ground, literally underfoot. I was actually afraid that I’d accidentally step on him. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Get Into Winter On Snowshoes

Snowshoeing at 4H Camp Overlook in Mountain ViewWinter’s here. It’s the season of snowmen, snowballs, snow forts, snow sculptures, sledding, tobogganing, tubing, ice skating, ice fishing, ice climbing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.

I’ve heard it said, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.” It’s fun, easy to learn, inexpensive when compared to most other winter sports, and poses little risk of injury. It’s a great group-activity, too; one that can open up a whole new world of winter recreation for your entire family. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 14, 2019

Origins and History of Christmas Trees

by Viggo Johansen 1891As far as I’m concerned, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a beautifully decorated, real Christmas tree. Real trees have a stately presence and rich, fragrant aroma that awakens the senses, bringing the forest into the home and warmly welcoming everyone that enters.

The Christmas tree tradition can be traced back to the Roman celebration of the winter solstice; the festival of Saturnalia, the pagan feast of Saturn, god of the harvest; when evergreens were used to decorate homes and temples. Saturnalia was also a time for decorating trees, exchanging presents and going door to door singing (caroling) in exchange for food, drink, and gifts. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 7, 2019

Tisquantum And Plymouth Colony’s Survival

Depiction of the Thanksgiving storyPawtuxet Wampanoag Tisquantum‘s story begins during the summer of 1605, when British sailors, under the command of Captain George Weymouth, commissioned by a colonial entrepreneur Sir Ferdinando Gorges, kidnapped him, along with four other Native American boys, and brought them to England.

In his diary, Capt. Weymouth wrote, “we used little delay, but suddenly laid hands upon them … For they were strong and so naked as our best hold was by their long hair on their heads.” » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Tisquantum: The Native Man Who Rescued the Pilgrims

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir“We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.” These are the words of H.A. (Henry Allen) Ironside; a Canadian-American Bible teacher, preacher, theologian, pastor, member of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, and one of the most inspired Christian writers of the 20th Century.

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is exactly that; a time of giving thanks. But it’s also a time when we commemorate the success of the Pilgrims; the Separatists who came here from England to establish the Plymouth colony. And, next year, Americans will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower, and the Pilgrims, to the shores of Massachusetts. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Growing Berries in the North Country

a new strawberry variety created by Cornell courtesy Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life SciencesThere are several types of cultivated berries grown in Northern New York. Among the most popular are strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, although several other minor fruits (e.g. currants, gooseberries) are grown, as well.

Starter plants are relatively inexpensive and, once established, the plantings are reasonably easy to maintain. They last for years and the fruit is incredibly flavorful when picked fresh. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Seriously Supersized Prize-Winning Pumpkins

Leonardo Urenas prize winning pumpkinGrowing giant pumpkins may be a lot like baseball. After all, both are traditional, competitive sports that require hard work, determination, discipline, attentiveness, patience, and the ability to anticipate. Both continue to grow in appreciation; not just in this country, but internationally. The season starts in the spring. And fall is the time of final defeat for most; victory for a lucky few.

During the final weeks of September and throughout the month of October, millions of people around the world take in fall festivals featuring giant pumpkin weigh-offs. Many also showcase pumpkin parades, pumpkin carving contests, pumpkin sculpture, pumpkin pie-eating contests, and pumpkin beer, as well. » Continue Reading.



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