Justin Cutter, Nick Runkle, Andrew Runkle and Britten Chroman all grew up in the town of Fairfield, Iowa, which a few years ago was named one of the "12 Great Places You've Never Heard Of" by Mother Earth News for its focus on ecology, sustainability and quality of life.
Imbued with those values, the four left the Midwest for college and adulthood, scattering to all points of the compass. Justin spent time as a monk in India, a schooner hand in Hawaii, a co-director of programs in Japan for the David Lynch Foundation and a founder in California of the Green Belt Team to teach sustainable agriculture and biointensive farming in developing nations. Nick found inspiration while working at an apple orchard in Vermont, moved to South America to live on organic farms, went on to set up educational programs in Argentina and Uruguay, hit the road in a sustainable-energy campaign through the U.S. and Canada in an old Mercedes he'd converted to run on vegetable oil, and ended up in New York working for the GRACE Foundation's Eat Well Guide, an online resource for finding sustainable restaurants, farms, and non-profits in North America.
Andrew landed in Brooklyn, left film and photo production to manage the eco-minded restaurants Marlow & Sons and Diner, and decided to help educate everyone about more healthfully grown, local food. Britten became a Brooklynite too, doing graphic design in web and video, launching a global initiative to help girls and women in distressing circumstances, and becoming one of the borough's most accomplished backyard gardeners and pie makers.
Clearly, a dull bunch.
Fate, food, farming and a 25-foot box truck brought the four friends back together, and this Saturday anyone who visits The Naturalist's Notebook will see the felicitous result: a traveling educational greenhouse powered by vegetable oil and by the energy of Justin, Nick, Andrew and Britten. Together they run the nonprofit Compass Green, whose mission, in Justin and Nick's words, is "to educate people around the country about the extreme need for agricultural sustainability, and to provide easy, practical steps for people to achieve it. We wish to inspire and facilitate more school gardens, backyard gardens and sustainable farms around the country."
Justin and Nick will be running a half-day workshop at the Notebook on Saturday. The topics will include "the eight elements of biointensive agriculture, soil preparation, seed propagation, double-digging, proper composting, carbon and calorie crops, companion planting, seed saving, farmers' income, whole system farming and more." The workshop will start at 10, break for lunch from 12:30 to 1, and then conclude from 1 to 2 with a digging/soil demonstration at the new Back Road Farmstand and garden just up the street from the Notebook (on Upper Dunbar Road, to be exact).
The suggested donation for the workshop is $30. We'll happily take donations for Compass Green in any amount. The money will go to fund visits to schools and other vitally important work that Compass Green is doing.
Maine is the 10th state the CG team has visited since mid-June. I was lucky enough to go inside the mobile greenhouse on Monday and see the impressive array of crops that are growing: corn, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, amaranth, kale, broccoli, chard, beets, lettuce, arugula, strawberries, lemon grass, three types of basil, parsley, lemon balm, hot peppers, echinacea and fennel. Once in a while, when lacking a place to sleep, Justin slings his hammock inside the greenhouse and snoozes above the herbs and veggies.
If you happen to stop by a gas station this week, keep the Compass Green truck in mind. Nick and Justin fill their vehicle up by pulling into restaurants and asking for a tankful of used cooking oil. Deep frying may not be good for the diet, but it keeps the mobile greenhouse rolling across America. *******
Honey Tournament Update
That rude sound you heard emanating from Breakwind Farm in Massachusetts was...a whoop of celebration. Massachusetts Breakwind honey defeated Texas Guajillo 36-28 to advance to a quarterfinal match against the defending Naturalist's Notebook Sweet 16 Honey-Tasting Tournament champion, Maine Raspberry, which had earlier edged Florida Tupelo 33-28. Yesterday New York Basswood stung an exotic newcomer, Brazilian Killer Bee, 23-16. Here are the quarterfinals, which will start this weekend:
Maine Blueberry vs. Italian Sunflower
Maryland Bamboo (Japanese knotweed) vs. California Eucalyptus
Maine Raspberry vs. Massachusetts Breakwind
New York Basswood vs. winner of Oregon Wild Huckberry/California Avocado
Answer to the Last Puzzler
The world's heaviest flying bird is the bustard (either the Kori bustard of Africa or the great bustard of Europe and Asia), which can weigh more than 44 pounds and has been described as looking like a cross between a lizard and a peacock. Below is a short clip of this odd-looking bird—walking, not flying.
1) The Compass Green team is growing amaranth in its mobile greenhouse. What is amaranth? 2) Texas Guajillo honey lost to Massachusetts Breakwind in our tasting tournament. What is guajillo?