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.


Sunday, January 24, 2021

Hunger: A Growing Problem During the Pandemic 

food bankFood Security. It’s a term we hear a lot these days. But defining food security can be difficult. There are literally hundreds of definitions and an even greater number of food security indicators. As defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS), food security is “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” More precise definitions include references to food preferences, dietary needs, safety, etc.

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Bobcats: Shy, nocturnal and successful 

In the weeks before Christmas, friends of a friend told me about a bobcat sighting they had, while hiking on a trail in southern Essex County. And, not long after that, a very dear friend of mine who lives in the same area sent me a couple of photographs she’d taken of a mound and scratch marks she’d discovered in her yard. She told me that she’d also found what appeared to be claw marks on a nearby tree trunk. A bit of research confirmed that both were signs of a bobcat.

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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Using Energy Conservation and Efficiency Saves Money, Resources 

When I ask people what they think are the two cheapest, cleanest, safest, most environmentally friendly, and most reliable energy technologies available today, the answer I receive is almost always wind and solar. But the correct answers; conservation and efficiency; have nothing to do with generating electricity. And the first step to utilizing these technologies is to commit, individually and collectively, to making a coherent and lasting reduction in our consumption of energy.

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

Under the mistletoe

What is Mistletoe? 

A mistletoe is a flowering plant (angiosperm) which, although capable of growing independently, is almost always parasitic or, more specifically, partially or hemi-parasitic. Mistletoes grow on the branches of host trees and shrubs, sending out roots that tap into their hosts’ vascular systems, which they then rely on for uptake of water, mineral nutrients and, to some extent, carbohydrates. It’s interesting to note that the word mistletoe translates from its Anglo-Saxon origin as dung on a twig; derived from the ancient belief that the plants grew from bird droppings. Actually, they grow from seeds found in the bird droppings.

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Monday, November 30, 2020

Shop Local and Support Small Business During the Holiday Season and Throughout the Year 

Why Shop Local? 

   For generations, small businesses were the principal employers in every North Country community. They were an economic engine; bringing in money from local, out-of-area, and international consumers. They employed local workers, who in turn spent money in the local region. And they supplied local communities with tax funds that were used to grow even more economic opportunity.

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Saturday, November 14, 2020

Dairy Cows, Milkmaids, and the First Vaccine 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented worldwide societal and economic instability. We’re facing an astonishing loss of human life and unprecedented challenges to public health, economies at every level, food systems, employment, and education. And global extreme poverty is rising for the first time in more than 20 years.

While nations everywhere struggle to prevent the further spread of the virus, developing a Covid-19 vaccine has, apparently, become the number one priority in the world right now. Several candidate vaccines are in development, including a few that are currently in phase 3 trials in the US. The first two were halted briefly after safety incidents, but the FDA has since allowed them to continue. The results are promising.

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Sunday, November 1, 2020

Invasion of the Murder Hornets 

They’ve been in the headlines since last December: Giant Murder Hornets Arrive in North America; Murder Hornet Nest Found in Washington State; A Sting that Can Kill.

They look and act like something out of a science fiction movie or taken straight out of a Steven King novel. They’re huge. They spit venom. And their stings can be lethal to humans.

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Friday, October 16, 2020

An apple a day … keeps NY’s orchards in business

prairie orchardNew York is the nation’s second-largest apple producing state. With more than 10 million trees, our roughly 600 commercial apple growers produce, on average, 29.5 million bushels of apples annually. And they grow more varieties than producers in any other state. Among them: McIntosh (the national apple of Canada), Empire, Cortland, Rome, Gala, and many others.

Our apple industry provides about 10,000 direct agricultural jobs (e.g. growing, packing), as well as roughly 7,500 indirect jobs (e.g. marketing, distribution). In 1976, New York’s policymakers designated the apple as the official state fruit. In 1987, they approved the apple muffin as a state symbol.

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Monday, October 5, 2020

Gleaning Can Help Feed our Hungry Neighbors 

Hunger in America

According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, 37,227,000 Americans, of which 11,174,000 are children, are currently grappling with hunger. In other words, more than 11% of Americans are, at this moment, food insecure (lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food). Among them are 13.1% of the people living in St. Lawrence County; 12.9% of those living in Franklin County; 11.9% of those in Clinton County; 10.3% of those in Essex County; and 10.1% of those in Hamilton County.

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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Webs in the Trees? – They’re Relatively Harmless 

It’s starting to feel very much like fall around here. Days are getting shorter, leaves are changing color, temperatures are cooler (some of us have already seen a frost or two; even a freeze), air conditioners are silent, pumpkin-spiced food and beverages are available at several coffee shops and fast food establishments, schools have reopened (sort of), and fall webworms are here en masse in places all across the North County.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

In Pursuit of Giant Puffballs, the queen of edible mushrooms: 

Puffball is the generic name for a large group of edible mushrooms with similar characteristics. They come in many sizes and are usually spherical or globular in shape.

Puffballs are distinguished from other mushroom groups by the fact that they lack many of the features or characteristics that other common mushrooms possess. A puffball has no stem. It has no cap. And no external gills. All of the spores are produced inside of the fruiting body.

The most common way in which they release their spores is through impact; the external force of rain or falling debris landing upon them or of animals stepping on or brushing against them, thereby compressing and/or breaking the peridium; the protective layer that encloses the spore mass inside the fungus. When that happens, as the name puffball implies, the spores are ejected in a large puff.

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Plants Make Me Sneeze 

I love the summer. It’s the time of year when animals are most active; when the sun is warm and plants of all kinds are thriving; and when the first harvests start to ripen.

I was talking with a friend of mine recently and asked his young grandson if he liked the flowers in my garden. His response was, “Plants make me sneeze,” to which I lightheartedly replied, “Me too.”

Unfortunately, summer is also the time of year when allergies, including my own, tend to go into overload. It begins with pollens released by trees. Then by grasses. Then by weeds and even some garden flowers.

For periods of time, I endure a continually runny nose, nasal congestion, chapped nostrils, sneezing attacks, itchy, burning eyes, and a scratchy throat. I always have tissues with me; in my pocket or in my hand. Always. And, when I pack for a weekend away, I have to stockpile tissues and meds; at least one full box of tissues and a stash of pretty much every over-the-counter allergy- and asthma-relief medication I can find at Walgreen’s, along with one or two prescription treatments. (Occasionally, when my allergies are really bad, it can trigger my asthma and wheezing.)

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Thursday, August 13, 2020

Farmers Markets: An Alternative to a Food System in Flux 

In March, when Governor Cuomo signed the ‘New York State on PAUSE’ executive order, which mandated that all non-essential businesses in New York State had to close, farmer’s markets were exempted as essential retail businesses and, as such, allowed to open or remain open.

But, as concerns about the spread of COVID-19 grew, farmers market growers, gardeners, and managers, like other small business operators, found themselves rushing to come up with innovative contingency plans to modify their operations and employ solutions that would protect their livelihoods, as well as the health and well-being of their customers, market workers, and the community at large.

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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Franklin County 4-H brings the fair to the farm 

I’ve heard it said that, ‘You can’t call yourself a local until you’ve been to the Franklin County Fair.’ It’s the area’s longest running tradition and one of the oldest County Fairs in New York State. Unfortunately, there won’t be a Franklin County Fair this year. In fact, there won’t be any county fairs at all this year, in the North Country.

For the kids, that means no midway; no Scrambler, no Tilt-A-Whirl, no Starship 3000, no Crystal Lil’s funhouse, no Ferris wheel. For us older folks, it means no sausage sandwiches, no fried dough, no maple donuts, no French fries, no cotton candy, and no bloomin’ onions. It also means no grandstand stage shows, no demolition derbies, no tractor pulls, no harness racing. And no beer tent.

And for all of the 4-H families and Future Farmers of America (FFA) members, who work especially hard and really look forward to showing their cattle, their skills, and their projects at the Fair, it means no competitions and no ribbons attached to their well-cared-for livestock or their produce, plants, and crafts projects.

Or does it?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Monitoring for European Cherry Fruit Fly – You Can Help

I love cherries! Especially sweet cherries. They’re delicious fresh, high in fiber, and loaded with vitamins, minerals, and beneficial antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which may lower your risk of developing certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and/or obesity.

Growing consumer education about the antioxidant health benefits of cherries appears to be creating increased demand for the fruit. Domestic cherry consumption in the United States is now around 2 pounds per person per year.

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