MaLode Urges Eco-Approach to Health

Toward an Ecological Approach to Health
Scott Underwood, M.D.

In the United States human health has traditionally been viewed in isolation from its ecological context. During my medical training and subsequent career in Emergency Medicine, issues such as climate change, habitat destruction, species extinction, pollution and the depletion of fresh water supplies were treated as primarily environmental issues lying outside the realm of the medical industry. Equity has been seen as a primarily political, economic and social issue. Sustainability was rarely considered.

I believe this view must be changed and that not only physicians, but all Americans, have a responsibility to effect this change. Achieving health requires that we address all these elements in an integrated, ecological approach. Our goal should to be “healthy people, living in equitable and sustainable societies, in balance with the natural world”. Ignoring any of these elements has profound and unacceptable consequences.

Few people have anticipated these consequences better than my biology professor at Stanford University, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, considered by many to be the father of American ecology. Winner of the Crafoord Prize, the equivalent to the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in the field of ecology, Dr. Ehrlich delivered an extraordinary speech that was, in effect, an urgent call for an ecological approach to health. I encourage you to click here to listen to this speech delivered in 1970. I think you will be amazed at how contemporary and compelling it is today, nearly forty years later.

I would argue, however, that one of the best examples of the implementation of some of the elements of an ecological approach to health actually anticipated Dr. Ehrlich’s speech by several decades. As a U.S. Army dependent, I traveled to Japan in 1946 with my family to spend three years as my father participated in the effort led by General Douglass MacArthur to implement the Marshall Plan in Japan after World War II. Although most Americans have understood the Marshall Plan as a program of financial assistance, it is less well known that its approach was systems based, comprehensive and consisted of three distinct components: Democratization, Decentralization and Demilitarization. In order to implement the “three Ds”, MacArthur took sweeping actions that affected every aspect of Japanese society. For example, his approach to Decentralization reflected an understanding that the concentration of wealth and power in the giant family run industrial monopolies, the Zaibatsu, had played a crucial role in the genesis of Japanese fascism. These monopolies controlled the Japanese economy and had, among other things, eliminated labor unions. MacArthur dissolved these monopolies and addressed their extreme concentration of wealth by imposing a minimum wage, a maximum wage and by redistributing the Zaibatsu’s wealth. He also brought about universal access to health care. The eventual result of these measures was the transformation of Japan from a nation with one of the largest gaps between rich and poor and the worst health indices (longevity, infant mortality, etc.) in the world, into the Japan of today. Japan is now the nation with the best health indices, and the smallest gap between rich and poor in the industrialized world.

Given the present challenges we face as Americans, let us consider what has happened in the United States during this same period. While our nation was 5th in the world in 1950 in terms of health indices, and had a relatively small gap between rich and poor and a growing middle class, these trends have since been reversed. Today our comparative health indices are no better than 21st, below all other developed nations, Costa Rica and Cuba. The gap between rich and poor in our country is now the largest in any industrialized nation. During the same period our expenditures on health care have exploded. The United States now spends over half of all the money spent on health care in the world, the highest per capita of any nation, while representing only 4% of the world’s population. By contrast, Japan spends the lowest amount per capita on health care among the industrialized nations of the world, while achieving the best health indices.

Another very different society that employs important aspects of an ecologically sound approach to health is the nation of Bhutan, located in the Himalayan Mountains near Nepal. Although Bhutan admits very few visitors in an effort to preserve its cultural traditions, over the past two winters Mary and Phil of DeRiemer Adventure Kayaking were granted permission to lead groups of kayakers to explore the rivers of Bhutan. I encourage you to visit their website for details of their travels.

The importance of their experience from the perspective of an ecological approach to health is that the Bhutanese people, who are materially poor by American standards, are comparatively physically and spiritually healthy. To paraphrase Mary and Phil, “the definition of happiness in Bhutan is not ‘having and getting,’ rather in their culture wealth has little to do with being happy. On the contrary, they believe that desiring and wanting often cause suffering. This principle is an underlying motivator of behavior with the result that their culture is open, loving, curious and accepting. Their government pursues the ‘gross national happiness’ and to promote happiness the government engages in implementing model educational, social and environmental programs that take into account the desire to protect the country’s environment and cultural traditions.”

The far off Kingdom of Bhutan and the concept of the “Gross National Happiness” may seem esoteric to many Americans. Nevertheless, over 400 respected U.S. economists including Nobel Laureate Professor Herbert Simon contend that it would actually be more realistic and useful to substitute for our use of the Gross Domestic Product (the total of all goods and services produced) the measurement of the Genuine Progress Index, which attempts to measure the quality of our lives. Comparing these measures during the period since the 1970s is revealing. While the conventional GDProduct more than doubled, the Genuine Progress Index declined 45% during this period. Measuring the GPI would have warned us that, contrary to the many assurances to the contrary, the U.S. economy was actually undermining our health during this period. Not only was our prosperity unevenly distributed and unsustainable, it was not performing its most important function. That function is to support improvements in the health of our population.

Clearly, an ecological, scientific approach to health demands that we define what health is, how best to measure it, and then promote the conditions that achieve it. If we do not do these things, it stands to reason we will be unsuccessful in attaining health. We must recognize that health is more than just the absence of disease. On the contrary, it requires doing things that actively promote it. It is not enough to attempt to correct the effects of doing things that destroy it.

At Mother Lode it is our continuing commitment to contribute toward this effort, one river based experience, one letter, one environmentally and socially responsible act at a time.  We hope you will bring your ideas and suggestions, and help explore the possibilities. Remember, recreation is just that: “re-creation”, a process by which meaningful, constructive change occurs and a vital part of an integrated and ecological approach to health.

See you on the river!
Scott the RiverDoc, Charlie the RiverDog and the MaLode Ecowarrior Clan

Solar Gardening on the American River

One of several new projects you’ll see when you come whitewater rafting at Malode this year is our solar heated planting bed. By heating the root zones of the plants we hope to significantly enhance our production and, with the help of our greenhouse, lengthen our growing season.

The mechanics of it are pretty simple: the sun heats water passively in our black reservoir storage tank. The hot water is circulated by a small solar powered pumped through the grid of pvc pipe that is buried below the growing bed and sandwiched between 6 inches of loose granite and pea gravel. The rock bed radiates the heat into the soil above, heating the roots of the plants.

Using the rock is important because it distributes the heat evenly from the pvc; without it the soil is such a heat sink that we’d have cold spots. Also, it’s important to use rocks that conduct heat well. Dense rock like the quartz in the pea gravel, along with the granite stones we used from digging out the area for the storage tank, are both good conductors.

By using a battery to store power generated during the day, we’ll also be able to heat the bed at night when the soil potentially cools down to temperatures that inhibit plant growth.

Greatly of interest to us is the quantifiable increase of production that this project will attain. The non-heated beds in the garden will serve as a control for our experiment. One thing is for sure though: our planting place is nearly doubled with the addition of this 200 square foot bed, which means we’ll have lots more vegetable to savor in our meals this season on our rafting trips, ropes courses and outdoor education programs.

Lowering Our Carbon Emissions!

Jan 2009 Greenhouse Action Plan Progress Report.
In 2008, the GAP helped bring about many changes around camp here on the American River, and we are happy to report a significant reduction in total carbon emissions per guest (people who stayed but did not participate in our whitewater rafting, ropes course or other outdoor education programs were not counted). In 2007, we measured the three major causes of our carbon emissions–gas and diesel, electricity, and propane consumption–at 44.8 tons for 5713 people, or 15.68 lbs per person. In 2008, we reduced that total to 32.1 tons for 5869 people, or 10.94 lbs per person, which is over 30% less emissions, surpassing our first stated goal of a 20% reduction by 2012.

How we did it: The overall reduction in emissions was accomplished in a variety of ways. In our first article introducing the GAP, we presented a mitigation strategy addressing specific ways we could reduce our carbon impact. Here, we’ll look at that list again and check out which of those strategies we adopted, and those we did not.

Electrical Use:
*Adjusted electrical thermostats in office (2007.)
*Turned off lights and appliances more conscientiously when not in use (2007).
*Changed procedures to reduce use (2008–work in small room in the office in winter, so it’s easier to heat.)
*Replaced as many lights as possible with compact fluorescent bulbs (2008)
*Replaced appliances with energy efficient ones. (2008—bought new Energy Star rated refrigerator for house, high efficiency space heater in office)
*Install solar panels. (2008—Solar Energy Exploratorium had off-the-grid photovoltaic/battery system installed. Plans to install more PV power in 2009 and beyond with goal of being a net generator of electricity.)

Place timers on shower lights (not yet implemented)
Install solar/ gravity battery system based around climbing wall (not yet implemented)

1= 2006, 15.53 tons CO2 emissions
2= 2007, 12.68 tons CO2 emissions
3= 2008, 9.31 tons CO2 emissions

Propane Use:
*Turned down hot water heaters (2007)
*Augmented water heater with solar heating (2008—built and installed 28,500 BTU in-line solar thermal hot water heater for main kitchen.)
*Adjusted thermostat in house (2007)
*Used cooking devices more conscientiously (2007)

Place timers on showers (not yet implemented)
Install even lower flow shower heads (not yet implemented)
Transition to flash heaters and have no heated water storage (rejected in favor of solar thermal systems)
Restrict shower use to overnight guests (rejected as a less than customer friendly policy)
Eliminate mobile home (rejected for now)
Convert mobile home to new form of heat (not yet implemented)

1= 2006, 6.05 tons CO2 emissions
2= 2007, 8.64 tons CO2 emissions
3= 2008, 3.5 tons CO2 emissions

Gasoline Consumed By Us:
*Bought more fuel efficient vehicle for errands (purchased post season in 2008— 100% Waste Vegetable Oil powered 1996 VW Passat tdi station wagon. Minimal impact on diesel use so far, however, the mileage is 40-50 mpg versus 16-20 mpg for Toyota truck and minivan. Use of WVO will reduce carbon emissions to 70% less than using a Prius!)
*Replaced gasoline vehicles with waste vegetable oil vehicles (2008— 100% WVO powered Ecobus purchased and brought on line; 2005 Dodge truck converted to 100% WVO system). Note: The amount of WVO use in 2008 was limited by technical issues with the Dodge’s WVO system as well as WVO supply limitations. Expect dramatic improvements next year. We were unable to find an appropriate “people mover” minibus.

Reduce the number of small rafting trips by consolidating (customers not cooperating so far)
Reduce shopping trips by using vendors who deliver (this is more difficult to implement if we want organic, locally grown food which vendors don’t handle)

1= Gas Bus 2= Dodge Truck 3=Toyota Truck 4= Vans 5= Flatbed Truck
Total Gas/Diesel Used: 2228.5 gallons
Total Gas/Diesel CO2 Emissons: 23.5 tons

1= Ecobus 2= Dodge Truck 3=Toyota Truck 4= Vans
Total Gas/Diesel Used: 2042.5 gallons
Total Gas/Diesel CO2 Emissions: 19.3 tons

Gasoline Consumed By Customers:
Encourage carpooling and hybrid vehicles by incentive parking (not yet implemented)
Sell or give away T-shirts to encourage carpooling (not yet implemented)
Reward hybrid owners by letting them eat first (rejected as a poor idea)
Provide electrical hookups for plug-in hybrids (not yet implemented)
Facilitate bus and or ECO- Bus transportation for groups (not yet implemented)
Shuttle groups from public transportation terminals with ECO-Bus (not yet implemented)

Food Program:

*Served more vegetables, less meat (2008)
*Produced fruit and vegetables organically on site (2008)
*Wasted less food (2008)
*Conscientiously bought food with less paper and plastic packaging (2008)
*Enlarged garden (2008)

Property Maintenance:
Replace gasoline water pump with solar electric pump (more practical to use grid connected solar to produce electricity for existing well pump- pending)

Recycling/Waste Control Program:

*Created system to increase compliance and decrease labor/risks of recycling employees (completed post season 2008 and will see more impact in 2009)

Create System and/or conscientiously use less paper (not yet imp
Go paperless on reservations and in every way possible (progress has occurred but not yet fully implemented)

Political Action:
Another less measurable, but perhaps the most important way in which we are combating human induced climate change is by raising the awareness of our guests and encouraging those who are interested to actively participate in the political process with us. Part of this strategy is letter writing, a long standing and extremely effective Malode tradition. This year we sent off around 500 letters written our guests in support of the solar investment tax credit bill, which was successfully passed later in the year! Another strategy we use is to educate our guests about this issue in a fun and stimulating way. Our new sustainable practices programs include hands on activities that explore solar power, alternative fuels, organic gardening, recycling, and other means of conservation.

Beyond the GAP:
As stated at the outset of the GAP, we realize that it is not enough to address human induced climate change alone. There are other urgent environmental challenges that also need our attention. The most dramatic of these is rainforest destruction. Sustainable Practices Program will begin to address these in 2009.

MaLode Letter Writers Support Successful Federal and State Legislation

For those of us prone to nail-biting, it has been a rough few months, what with the impending election and the economic crisis. However, at Mother Lode, we’re feeling pretty optimistic and excited about the future. The River Center, as always, inspires us to stay positive and look for practical solutions, and we know that there is more exciting, important work to do than ever before! Let’s take a minute to enjoy the things that Mother Lode customers and staff achieved this summer.

First and foremost, we had a LOT of fun on the American River this summer—in an eco-friendly way unparalleled by any other company. Hundreds of people rode our waste-veggie oil bus and used our WVO truck for our whitewater rafting trips on the South Fork, Middle Fork and North Fork of the American River. We used hot water and energy powered by solar panels at camp, and we ate great organic veggies from the garden.

After reading the nationwide bestseller Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, with its premise that children today grow up suffering “nature-deficit disorder,” we at Mother Lode felt even more adamant about our mission of bringing children (and adults) into the outdoors. We just tallied it up and it turns out that 2056 children participated in our Outdoor Education Programs this year! We were thrilled when the No Child Left Inside Act was approved by the House Committee in June. We hope it reflects our nation’s growing awareness of the importance of outdoor education and will result in more opportunities for children to go outside to play and learn.

This summer, we also advocated for making California and the U.S.A. more earth-friendly and sustainable. At the Federal level, Mother Lode customers and staff wrote letters to President Bush, both candidates for President and our U.S. Senators and Representatives about the Federal Solar Energy Tax Credit. This tax credit was intended to provide the financial support and market forces to help foster the emergence and use of solar energy. It had worked in the last two years, creating almost 20,000 high quality new jobs, and if renewed, it was projected to create 20,000 more, and produce up to 3881 Megawatts of energy (one megawatt of electricity can power between 400 and 900 homes in a year).

The legislation to extend this tax incentive for eight years was in limbo for months, with the solar industry holding its breath to see whether it would get the financial support needed to proceed in future solar projects and investments with confidence. But finally, on October 3rd, the most significant federal policy ever enacted for the solar industry was passed along with the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. The legislation ensures a 30% federal investment tax credit for both residential and commercial solar installations for 8 years. No matter how we feel about the bailout, this is a silver lining to celebrate in hard times, and Mother Lode customers had a part in supporting it.

We also wrote to the California Senate Education Committee regarding California State Senator Loni Hancock’s Bill 2855, which will make funds available for training high school students and other young people in emerging green technologies such as wind and solar power. This was recently signed into law by the Governor.

So, all in all, a satisfying summer! And as the famous physician and biologist Jonas Salk said, “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.”

Solar Trifecta Comes to Mother Lode

What is a Solar Trifecta? This is it!

Picturesque is not what you necessarily think of when you mention solar power, yet this view of Highway One just south of Monterey is about as close as it gets. How is it a “Solar Trifecta”? Check this out:

First, the Dodge truck you see here pulling the trailer is soon to become the main gear shuttle vehicle for our American River rafting expeditions this season. It is currently completing its conversion to 100% waste vegetable oil (WVO) at GreaseKings in Sacramento and will join the EcoBus as the first 100% WVO powered whitewater river rafting transportation system in use on the American River. Similar to EcoBus, this truck requires the installation of a second fuel tank to contain the WVO, an electrically controlled fuel management valve to switch from the Diesel#2 fuel tank to the WVO tank, a countercurrent exchange system to heat the WVO, and a special filter system to both heat and purify the WVO before it enters the sensitive fuel management system of the Cummins turbodiesel engine of this 2005 Dodge Ram 4×4 pickup. Also similar to EcoBus, using 100% WVO will achieve an 80% reduction is greenhouse gas emissions. However, this improvement will occur not only for our rafting shuttles but for food shopping and errands, all while achieving approximately 17 miles per gallon of WVO. Amazingly, this is better mileage than we get with our current Toyota T-100 with a V6 gasoline engine. Not only will we be saving carbon, our mean fuel cost for WVO is 50 cents per gallon or approximately one tenth the current cost of petro products!

Second element in the Trifecta: six solar hot water heating panels hidden in the bed of the truck. Our solar guru and benefactor, Allen Carrozza, is generously loaning them to the River Center to expand our solar hot water heating and educational opportunities. These panels will reduce the propane required to heat hot water for showers, etc., all by a whopping 73%.

Third in the Trifecta is the object under the cover on the trailer behind the truck. Yes, its “PLUGRIN”, the electric car we are transporting from Santa Barbara that is being lent to us by Dorothy Pearce. It will be recharged from the photovoltaic panels attached to the front of the Solar Energy Exploratorium. This four passenger car has a range of 35 miles, a top speed of 25 mph and will be used to draw attention to the SEE as well as to run errands to Coloma. Such cars are of increasing interest and a similar car, the “ZEN” or Zero Emissions Neighborhood car, was recently featured on the front page of the Sacramento Bee. With gas prices rising above $4 per gallon, interest in electric cars is no longer academic.

We now will be able to collect vegetable oil from local restaurants in Coloma with an electric car, recharge the car with our PV panels, then power our larger vehicles with the WVO. Solar power makes the electricity to power the electric car, solar energy creates the vegetable oil through photosynthesis, solar energy from the panels will heat the water that warms the WVO while we refine it. A solar scenario that’s renewable, cheap and near zero carbon emissons. The Solar Trifecta, and you saw it first here at Mother Lode!

American River Rafters Support Solar Power

Archer School Students Write Letters to their Legislators

What better way to conclude your freshman year in high school than by rafting, hiking and camping on the historic and beautiful South Fork of the American River in Coloma, California? For five days this week, the Mother Lode River Center and Santa Barbara Adventure Company played host to seventy members of the freshman class of the Archer School for Girls. These intrepid adventurers tent camped on our beach, rafted two days, hiked another day and generally had the time of their lives! Spending an extended period outdoors helped them encounter the natural world while learning about themselves, bonding with their classmates, and expanding their ability to accomplish team challenges such as navigating a raft through Class III whitewater rapids.

Seamlessly integrated into these activities were challenge course group games that heightened their awareness of their surroundings and also promoted connection to each other and the natural world. Campfires, facilitated sing-alongs, quiet time by the ever changing river- all these elements combined to make the experience something the students will remember fondly and benefit from for the rest of their lives.

This season the students also had the advantage of encountering the new Sustainable Practices Program at the River Center. For instance, each time they left the river center in Mother Lode’s new EcoBus, the fuel powering their journey was ecologically responsible 100% waste vegetable oil which reduced their carbon footprint by 80% when compared to the use of petrochemicals. The hot water they used in the kitchen was heated by our new solar panels. The Solar Energy Exploratorium was open for those interested and during their visit “PLUGRIN” the electric car made its debut demonstrating the potential for a true zero emissions vehicle.

On the their next to last day, blushing with the success of running “Troublemaker”, the largest rapid on the exciting Chili Bar Run, they had the opportunity to exercise their environmental muscle as well. One of their guides explained the importance of supporting the investment tax credit for solar power by writing a letter to their legislator. They enthusiastically wrote eloquent and well informed letters that Mother Lode will forward to Governor Schwarzenneger, President Bush, Senators Reid, Boxer and Feinstein and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as well as the three candidates for President. By requesting a reply, these letters will allow each of them to discover where their political leaders stand and make each of them aware of their power to change the world in positive ways.

Experience, Connection, Observation, Stewardship- this is “ECOS” and for over thirty years this has been the Mother Lode Way. These Archer School students had a great opportunity to encounter and complete the full circle. We are pleased to have been a part of their world and we look forward to collaborating with the Santa Barbara Adventure Company to bring similar experiences to other students from the Los Angeles area in the future.

Photovoltaic Solar Green Energy to Power the SEE

Solar Energy Exploratorium Heats Up

Today we added PV (photovoltaics) to the Solar Energy Exploratorium! Notice the two new PV panels located just above the solar hot water heater that Greg and Charlie are standing next to. As we mentioned last week in this blog, the thermal hot water heater pictured here is capable of pumping out 28,750 BTUs of solar energy and we are pleased to report it is now successfully heating the water for both our kitchens and guide shower.

The addition of the photovoltaic (PV) panels is to provide electricity for the SEE. This PV system is linked to a highly efficient electrolyte “gel” based battery. The set-up has the advantage of being fully portable and truly being “off the grid” from the moment it is plugged in. Unlike a “grid linked system” that depends on external power, this system has no need to be connected to PG&E; to provide electricity,

We will use the PV/battery system to power the SEE’s computer that will allow our students to do such things as: Estimate the carbon footprint of their home, school or community; Explore educational websites such as the National Alternative Energy Lab; Fire off emails supporting their favorite solar power legislative initiatives; etc!

Needless to say, the excitement has been building around here as the UPS driver delivers new solar toys for the SEE almost every day. Our “hybrid” solar oven is a particularly interesting addition because it combines direct thermal solar heat concentrated by reflective surfaces with electrically generated heat. We can now run the electrical portion of it with our PV / battery system and be entirely solared powered even on cloudy days.

Our solar race cars have also arrived and are quite a hit with the guides who are, after all, just kids at heart. The photovoltaic cell powered image projectors are quite mesmerizing and remind some of us of the Avalon Ballroom during its glory days. We have also been busy using our new planetarium to demonstrate the effects of the seasons, the longitude of ones location, and the degree to which your solar panel faces south to estimate solar energy yields. So far our calculations reveal that based upon our latitude and weather, Californians can replace an average of 73% of their hot water heating energy with thermal solar water heaters. We can also demonstrate that a seemingly very small area of concentrating solar arrays or PV panels located in Nevada would provide enough energy for all the electrical needs of the USA. This is fun stuff!

Today we had confirmation of another exciting development. Soon we will be using our new PV panels to recharge a full size, for real, solar car! This four passenger car is entirely electrically driven, has highway capability, and has the very appropriate California license plate “PLUGRIN”. We anticipate using the car to give our students rides on the property to demonstrate that powering a car with the sun really does work. I will make a special trip to Santa Barbara to pick up the car, which is generously being loaned by the famous solar energy enthusiast Dorothy Pierce. Thanks Nana!

Speaking of solar enthusiasts and heros, none of our solar projects would be possible without the expertise and generosity of Allen Carrozza, our solar guru who has loaned us all of the solar panels for educational purposes. Allen loves to share his vast knowledge of solar technology with others and is looking forward helping the River Center spread the word about solar power as part of the Sustainable Practices Institute. We also thank Daneille Fisher and the folks at Grange on Green for their support.

By the way, if you are a schoolteacher, keep in mind that students aren’t the only ones that will benefit from our programs. We plan to “teach the teachers” about solar power too. If you would like to “bring on home” the solar energy buzz to your own classroom, what better place to attend a seminar than here on the American River where you can combine your learning with whitewater rafting, camping and other forms of recreation such as petting Charlie the River Dog.

Warm Solar Greetings from the American River,

Scott, Allen, Greg, Daneille and Charlie the River Dog

Permaculture: Sustainable Food for American River Eco Rafting

Growing Organic Food for Whitewater Eco Rafters on the South Fork of the American River

When we established our original garden twenty years ago it was small and located next to the main kitchen. Occasionally the garden thrived, mostly it died, but the herbs, basically a form of weed after all, took over.

In 2007, as part of our Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GAP), we decided to reinvent the garden. Eating organic, locally grown food makes more “green” sense now than ever and Scotty, who is a gardening enthusiast and majored in Botany at San Francisco State, took the lead. Last season the new eco garden was planted in hay bales (you can see the remnants of these behind Sarah and Scotty in the picture). Given the poor quality of the soil, this turned out to be a brilliant innovation! It worked exceptionally well because it provided a raised surface that gophers did not penetrate, made for excellent drainage, and almost entirely eliminated the need for soil preparation. Sarah contributed her knowledge of green argiculture practices acquired at Humboldt State University where she was involved in their eco composting program. Tomatoes and squash did well, but the bell peppers got too much sun and went down hard.

Building on last year’s effort, this season we have set the long term objective of achieving a “permaculture”. This increasingly popular concept combines organic farming techniques, such as composting and integrated crop selection, with green landscape architecture and eco farming techniques to achieve sustainability. Permaculture is more of a process than a destination and it will take several seasons and a big team effort to achieve substantial results.

Scotty is the leader of our eco permaculture team which now includes allies from the Garden Valley “Grange on Green” (see our blog article on this group for details). Two particularly knowledgeable Grange participants are the owners of Redbud Farms, Martha Cox (Master Gardener) and Dr. Dave Cox(retired UC Davis Ag Professor) who are hosts of a gardening show on KFOK 95.1 FM on Saturdays and are local experts with decades of experience. They did a site visit/consultation and suggested the size of the garden be many times greater than last season and be located in a more favorable location on an area of “Auburn sandy loam soil” with a ph of 6.1 (who knew?). Pass the lime please. Martha donated some seeds as well- Thanks!

Another helpful suggestion was made by Allen Carrozza, our ever energetic solar expert from Grange on Green. He donated solar panels that will heat water and circulate it under the garden to warm the root zones of the plants. This can increase the rate of growth by 140%. If you look carefully at the “American River Gothic” picture of Scotty and Sarah above, you will notice a large, black, rectangular object behind Scotty and Sarah- this is a plastic solar panel of the type commonly used to heat swimming pools. The round black object behind the panel is the 600 gallon tank that will not only serve as our rainwater recapture reservoir next winter, it will store the water heated by the solar panels and help keep it warm both because of its mass and also due to its passive “black body” solar energy collecting properties.

To help us get an earlier start next Spring, Danielle Fisher, the sparkplug of Grange on Green, has helped us locate a used 8′ x16′ solar greenhouse that we are planning to install on an old plywood living platform we had laying around. We plan to adapt this unit to use the recirculating solar hot water technique to extend the growing season this Fall.

For this season, Scotty has already begun raising seedlings from the seed Martha donated in egg-crates at his house. Colleen (who spent the Winter in Antarctica and is definitely ready to warm up) and Sarah are both enthusiastic to help Scotty get started and I’ve used the Kybota tractor to begin breaking ground for the expanded garden. We expect that soon our outdoor education students will benefit from seeing a working garden on campus and our rafters will enjoy its bounty as well. We will keep you posted as the project progresses. Feel free to visit the garden when you visit the River Center this season. It’s going to be fun to watch the garden grow!

See you in the River Center Permaculture Garden,

Scott, Scotty, Sarah, Martha, Dr. Dave, Danielle, Allen, Greg and the MaLode Green Team

Alternative Energy Education on the American River

28,750 BTU Solar Hot Water Heater at MaLode

Solar Energy Exploratorium: Alternative Energy Education on the American River

The purpose of the Solar Energy Exploratorium (SEE) is to provide our students hands-on opportunities to encounter the many ways solar energy impacts our daily lives and the phenomenal potential solar power has to transform our society in positive ways. Our food, the weather, the hydrologic cycle that provides and purifies the water we drink, even the fossil fuels we burn in our cars, all ultimately derive their energy source from the sun.

Today, the United States currently employs among the lowest percentages of solar power use in the industrialized world, less than 1%. Yet solar is one of the fastest growing and potentially the most promising type of energy that provides an environmentally sensible alternative to the fossils fuels that are creating so many problems for our society. In fact, if properly developed, solar energy could provide 65% of our total energy needs by the year 2050 (Scientific American January 2008 issue). Unfortunately, the type of solar power that has the greatest potential to achieve this, concentrating solar, is largely unknown to the American public and benefits from virtually no public policy support. At the Exploratorium you will have an opportunity to understand how this can and should be changed.

Another solar option we are all familiar with, photovoltaic cells, have quadrupled in energy efficiency from 3% to 12% in the past decade and will undoubtedly also contribute significantly to the coming solar transformation. While concentrating solar is installed as “solar farms”, PV cells are easily installed in a decentralized or “distributed” fashion that allows individuals and even whole communities to go “off the grid”. Our students learn that the belief that PV cells aren’t effective in cloudy weather or in Northern locations such as Seattle is simply incorrect. In fact, the American Institute of Architects estimates that by devoting one south facing wall to PV, the average building in Seattle has 6 times the sun exposure necessary to provide for all its electrical needs. This is using current efficiencies of 12%. Imagine how the 28% efficient panels currently being constructed in research labs will increase the ability of individuals to become energy self-sufficient!

Another realization our students will share is that the most efficient type of solar technology of all is not concentrating solar or photovoltaics, rather it is the thermal solar hot water heater. All too frequently neglected because it lacks technological sex appeal and is less profitable to install, solar hot water heating can replace the approximately 33% of one’s domestic energy which is used to heat water with a cheap, reliable, simple solar solution that you can construct from salvaged materials and install yourself. Doing the math gives some surprising results.

You may know that the performance of thermal solar systems is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs) while photovoltaic solar electric systems are measured in kilowatt hours (kW/hrs). One of the four solar thermal systems we have installed at the River Center uses a progressive tube 50-gallon water filled heat exchanger that produces 28,750 BTUs. Converting this to Kilowatt-hours, we multiply by .0002931 resulting in 8.43 Kilowatts. An 8.4 Kw photovoltaic system would cost approximately $10,000 per kW or $84,000. This compares with the $3,500 to $4,000 retail value of our solar thermal system. Clearly, for heating water the solar thermal system is approximately 20 times more cost efficient. From an energy standpoint it is also six times more efficient than PV and three times more efficient than concentrating solar!

If you or your students would benefit from learning such information about solar energy, plan a visit to the SEE. You can take home some plans to build your own thermal “box” hot water heater that can be constructed for less that $300. Remember, it always helps to conserve energy (go lean) first, choose an alternative energy source (go clean) second, and finally, save some green by choosing the most cost efficient as well as the most environmentally responsible solutions to your energy needs. More often than not, solar is a great choice!

Eco-Rafting on the South Fork of the American River

For the 2008 season we are pleased to announce dramatic progress toward meeting the goals of our Greenhouse Action Plan. Our “Eco-Bus” is the first 100% waste vegetable oil (WVO) powered bus on the South Fork of the American River, will reduce carbon emissions profoundly each and every time it carries passengers down the highway. On the Chili Bar Run we will achieve up to an 80% reduction from our baseline carbon emissions.

Over a year ago we announced a first for the rafting industry, Mother Lode’s Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GAP). In that plan we committed to reduce our overall carbon emissions 20% by 2012, 40% by 2040 and 80% by 2050 with 2006 serving as our baseline. It was then, and remains now, a tall order, our new Eco-Bus is a giant step towards reaching our goal.

How We Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Vegetable oil represents one example of renewable solar energy converted by plants through photosynthesis into liquid form. Although there is little or no carbon savings using virgin vegetable oil due to the petrochemicals used to till, harvest, manufacture and transport it to the point of use, “waste” vegetable oil (WVO) is a different matter. By reclaiming WVO from restaurant garbage we are recycling and reusing a resource. Additionally, its usual manner of disposal produces more carbon emissions than our using it as fuel. An added bonus is the fact that vegetable oil produces fewer air pollutants than either petroleum diesel or gasoline. Remarkably, using WVO reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions simultaneously!

Step 1: Collecting Vegetable Oil
To maximize the environmental benefit we get our waste vegetable oil locally to reduce the cost in carbon and our time.

Step 2: Returning to the Farm: Making Bio-Diesel
Dr. Diesel’s purpose in inventing the diesel engine in 1897 was to allow farmers to use 100% vegetable oil to run their farm machinery. Although we initially successfully made blended bio-diesel, we realized that to use vegetable oil to full advantage one needs to commit to using it 100% pure. Anything less dilutes its beneficial effects. Dr. Diesel, the “full veggie” please!

Step 3: Refining 100% WVO: Accept No Substitutes.
Our 100% WVO system includes two electrical heaters to thin the oil, three electrical pumps to move it, two steel barrels to contain it, an aluminum canister housing a bag style filter, and a centrifuge to extract the last bit of water. The system is permanently installed it in a retired bus, which also serves as our storage facility. We control the system through a breaker panel and 3 timers all connected to a RV style electrical hookup. This set-up is fully mobile and ready to visit the next World’s Fair.

Step 4: The Right Bus.
An unmodified diesel bus will not run on 100% WVO. A conversion must be performed, the expense of which can easily exceed the cost of the bus. The right bus is therefore mandatory. We shopped for over eight months to find ours, a supercharged and turbocharged 1987 Gillig Phantom with only 106,000 miles, a perfect body, and a silky smooth “air ride” suspension. Jim Stepp, our head driver, and I went to Los Angeles and outbid several disappointed fellows whose vision was to turn our bus into a mobile condo in Mexico. We christened her “Eco-Bus” and drove 400 miles north to Coloma. Thanks Ron and Jim! This fall the bus got a paint makeover in MaLode earth-tone tan and forest green and she looks great.

Step #5 A 100% WVO Conversion – Not for Amateurs.
Unlike a Mercedes or Volkswagen, “big rigs” are not easy to convert yourself. Each system is customized to the vehicle that uses it. As it turned out the two major U.S. vendors are both located east of the Rocky Mountains.

Fortunately we found a kind of “alternative energy mad scientist” quietly inventing sophisticated counter-current exchange, continuously heated, precision welded aluminum, 100% WVO systems that are efficient, reliable and operate well at all temperatures. Based upon what I knew about other systems, I was amazed to learn our bus would transition to WVO within two minutes or less of engine start-up, thus keeping our use of “Dino-diesel” to an absolute minimum.

Step #6 Fast Forward to the Year 2050
With the Eco-Bus up and running, it was time to find the way to use it most efficiently to reduce carbon emissions for the introduction of “Eco-Rafting”. The Chili Bar Run was the most energy efficient choice by far with an estimated carbon savings of 80% from our 2006 baseline! This means we can meet the 2050 goals of our GAP on the Chili Bar Run in 2008, approximately 42 years ahead of schedule!

Rest assured, the Eco-Bus project is only one aspect of Mother Lode’s overall effort to complete our GAP. Nevertheless, it is a very encouraging start and if you take a shower at our camp this season the hot water will come from a solar “box” heater, photovoltaic power is on its way, and many other changes are anticipated as elements of our evolving Sustainable Practices Institute- but that’s another story. To learn more about our Eco-Bus.

We cordially invite you to “Eco-Raft” this season and take this opportunity to reconnect with Nature, have fun, and enjoy an exciting whitewater adventure with your friends and family, all for $99! Click to find out more about these specially priced Eco-Rafting Trips on the South Fork American River.

We look forward to seeing you on the river.
Scott Underwood and the MaLode Extreme Green Team
Aaron, Allen, Ron, Jim, Richard, Greg, Rich, the Mystery Painters, and Charlie the River Dog

PCL Honors South Fork of the American Heroes

PCL Honors South Fork of the American River Heroes
P.S. That probably includes you!

The annual meeting of the Planning and Conservation League (PCL) held on January 10, 2008 in Sacramento was a gala event involving 330 activists, planners and attorneys with the theme ”A State of Change: How Californians Can Change the World”. Featured speakers included California’s Lt. Governor John Garamendi; Attorney General Jerry Brown; and State Senator Darrell Steinberg. Founded in 1972, this organization is one of the most prestigious and respected organizations dealing with environmental issues in our State. I recommend membership!

I imagine most whitewater boaters are like myself, they wouldn’t recognize the movers and shakers of Sacramento politics if they bumped into them head-on. It was a shock to me, as I paid the steep admission fee for my daughter, Adriane, and myself, that I recognized a host of familiar faces. It was like a “Who’s Who” of river conservation in California.

First I noticed the lanky and silver bearded Jerry Meral, a legendary boater and one of the founders of (FOR) Friends of the River and (TRPT) the Tuolumne River Preservation Trust. Jerry played a key role in saving the “T” from being dammed, hence the name of the put-in: “Meral’s Pool”. Jerry later became President of PCL and played a vital role in crafting the series of California bond initiatives that have provided funding to preserve our riparian watershed and other environmental treasures. It is possible you’ve seen Jerry on the South Fork yourself without knowing it.

Next to Jerry was my neighbor on River Road in Coloma, Jonas Minton, another frequent floater of the South Fork, who successfully mediated the California State Water Plan and has since mediated water issues in China. Then I bumped into another Coloma native, Traci Sheehan, current Executive Director of PCL, who cleans up very nicely I must say. I usually see her wearing a kayak skirt. The list went on including Doug Lindsey, now a well-respected Environmental Consultant, who recalled how he met his wife while guiding at Mother Lode years ago. It was truly old home week.

It only got better though, because the prestigious “California Environmentalist of the Year” award was presented to another Coloma native Bill Center, owner of Camp Lotus, who was accompanied by his charming wife Robin and increasingly famous kayaker son Charlie. Bill, in the words of the award’s presenter, was “the person most responsible for helping bring SMUD’s Upper American River Project re-licensing on the South Fork of the American to a conclusion that favored wildlife, fisheries and recreational boating.” Many of you may recall this is the agreement that mandates recreational flows for whitewater boating for the next 50 years. Historic!

Those of you who wrote letters during 2006 on Mother Lode trips should feel honored too. In fact, you were honored! Bill mentioned you that night and has thanked you for your efforts multiple times since the agreement. He even has a code for you, “the Chinese water torture”. That’s probably how it felt to the SMUD Board of Directors as the MaLode guides and I appeared at meeting after meeting presenting the seemingly endless stream of letters you wrote (over 1300) supporting the “Alternative Proposal” that had initially been rejected by SMUD. That proposal ultimately greatly influenced the re-licensing agreement. It was the right thing to do, and the resulting compromise agreement was a true “win-win” for both SMUD and the river community. Yet it took your voices, Federal and State Agencies, and the voices of many others passionate about this river, to turn the tide.

That evening I reflected over the thirty plus years and the more than twenty thousand letters Mother Lode participants have written, the over one dozen California rivers that are still rivers instead of lakes, over the thousands of rafters that have been enchanted by the magic of these special places, and I couldn’t help but smile. We thank you, our participants and friends, for your vital role in this struggle. You are members of a very special family.

As the meeting closed, Bill Center was installed as the new President of PCL and as Bill, Robin, Jonas, Traci and I followed each other home to the little town of Lotus/Coloma, I reflected on what a great place this is and what a treasure the South Fork truly represents. I am honored and humbled to be in the company of such a great collection of friends and colleagues and to be able to share this special place with you all. Remember, the Stanislaus River still lives in our hearts.

Hoping to see you “Eco-Rafting” on the river this season,

Scott Underwood
The River Doc

Creme Brule French Toast

As promised, here is the Creme Brulee French Toast Recipe!!


1 Stick (1/2 Cup) Unsalted Butter
1 Cup Brown Sugar (packed)
2 Tablespoons Corn Syrup
6 Slices Texas Toast (Crust Trimmed Off)
1 1/2 Cup Half & Half
1 Tsp. Vanilla
1 Tsp. Grand Marnier (or double Vanilla to 2 tsp)


In small sauce pan, melt butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup over meduim heat, stirring until smooth and por into a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.
Arrange toast in baking dish over the previous ingredients.
In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, half & half, vanilla and Grand Marnier until well combined. Then pour over the bread in the baking dish evenly.
Chill bread mixture in the baking dish covered at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bring baking dish out to room temperature.
Bake bread mixture uncovered in middle of oven until puffed and edges are pale golden (35-40 minutes)
Serve hot and enjoy!

MaLode Shoots the Gap

It is difficult to watch the news without hearing about human induced climate change and global warming. Although I’ve been aware of this problem since college, I’m not any different than most folks, I could be doing a lot more about dealing with it! (See the entire GAP in Scott’s blog.)

The Mother Lode Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GAP) is our effort to get up to speed on this issue and we urge you to join us. The plan makes it clear that we don’t intend to neglect the other environmental priorities that confront humankind, nevertheless, we intend to meaningfully address the crisis of global warming. Our goal is to reduce our own carbon emissions by 20% by 2012; by 40% by 2020; and by 80% by 2050. Here are some high points: First, Conservation will be our centerpiece and we will reduce our carbon imprint by using less and operating more efficiently; Second, Technology: We will use energy efficient appliances, light bulbs, etc.; We will install enough solar panels to drive our meter backward and be a net producer of clean electricity; We will reuse cooking oil in bio-diesel driven vehicles and “move down the stalk” to cellulose-based ethanol as it becomes available; We will use a hybrid vehicle whenever possible and go to a plug-in hybrid as soon as they are available; Third, Education and Advocacy — We will be doing a variety of things you can check out on our website. We look forward to your suggestions as well and hearing about how you are addressing the GAP at home and at work.

Jump in the Pool!

There is one especially good way you can help us close the GAP: Carpool your group!

It helps to do the math: 4 people in a vehicle that gets 15 miles per gallon equals 60 person-miles per gallon. This is the same carbon efficiency as one person driving a Prius getting 60 miles per gallon! This season we will have VIP parking for car-poolers and be using the proceeds from the sale our new eco-t-shirts to add to our global warming effort. For example, one T-shirt reads: “Carpoolers never fall out of the boat! Hybrid carpoolers walk on water!” Check it out at the Camp Store and wear a shirt proudly.

Quiche, Anyone?

“Quiche a la MaLode” Saturday Morning Breakfast

New this season for Saturday morning is the “Quiche a la MaLode” breakfast, which features a special quiche recipe. Borrowed from one of California’s finest hotels, this recipe has long been a closely held secret. This delightful combination of cheeses, eggs and spinach is certain to leave you well fortified for your day on the river.

To further enhance the Quiche a la MaLode experience, we highly recommend you camp the Friday night before your trip. If you are scheduled for an early start on the Chili Bar Run on the South Fork or any Middle Fork trip, it’s a great way to be in the right place, in the right mood, at the right time.

Equine Experiential Learning

Well, the humans out here at Mother Lode have made a decision.

They have decided to collaborate with The Red Road Equine Experiential Center!
The Red Road works with people helping them make positive changes in the way they work, communicate and live.

Using horses as their main tool, you’ll see an amazing amount of learning… don’t take my word for it though – check them out!

If you want to find out more, check out their website at