April 2009 Archives

Musketaquid Earth Day -- May 2, 2009

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The annual spring Earth Day celebration, Musketaquid's primary event, includes a morning River Ceremony, the Earth Day Parade through Concord Center, and an Arts and Environment Festival involving many local collaborating organizations. In the months leading up to Earth Day, Musketaquid sponsors many different workshops in which participants can create Earth Floats, puppets, costumes, musical instruments, and more, for the event.

  • River Ceremony-10AM at Lowell Road Boat Launch in Concord
  • Earth Day Parade-10:45AM from Lowell Rd. bridge thru Concord Center to the Emerson Umbrella
  • Arts and Environment Festival-11:30AM-2PM at the Emerson Umbrella at 40 Stow St., Concord
For more info about each of these events and about Musketaquid in general, go to http://www.emersonumbrella.org/content_current/musketaquid/earthday.html

Here is a Concord Health Department statement on recent news reports concerning Influenza type A/H1N1 (Swine Flu).  A webpage has been set up at www.concordma.gov/Pages/ConcordMA_HealthNews/0149756F-000F8513 with additional links and information.
Anyone seeking additional information should contact the Concord Health Department at (978) 318-3275.
Please share the information with your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Editorial: Where Are the Checks and Balances?

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Oh, waiter, can we have our check, please? What -- no check? You mean, it's a free ride?

Well, it will be if some of our Town boards get their way at Town Meeting: a free ride to unprecedented, unchecked, consolidated power to allow new kinds of real estate development as they wield broad, undefined powers of discretion. And no one to whom to complain about it, because we voters will have given them these powers.

That's one of the most fundamental problems with the zoning -- and quasi-zoning -- bylaws that we're being asked to vote for at this Annual Town Meeting. If we pass them, there will be no checks, and no balances.

The existence of checks and balances is primary to the health of any democracy.  The judicial legislative, and executive branches balance one another -- power is not concentrated in only one set of hands in our government.  But an unhealthy concentration of power will be exactly what will happen if we pass Article 36 (Nonconforming Uses & Structures), Article 39 (Site Plan Review), and Article 43 (Wetlands Bylaw). 

Articles 36 and 39 give the the Planning Board wide, undefined powers of discretion with equally undefined bounds.  It will be even moreso for the Natural Resources Commission if we pass Article 43: they would take on the power of Town Meeting to change this bylaw at their whim without legislative input.  This is something that no other bylaw permits. And they don't even need the super-majority of a 2/3rds vote to take on such super-powers!  We need to vote NO on 36, 39 and 43. These three Articles need to RESOUNDINGLY fail. 

Articles 36, 39, 43: A Heyday for Developers
These articles aren't just friendly to continued development in Concord: they encourage and facilitate it.  While certain development can be good for our community, these potential bylaw amendments allow growth that is currently forbidden -- and they would do so at the unregulated indulgence of these appointed, unelected boards... boards whose members have not been vetted through the public election process, and who are not accountable to an electorate like they are in most other towns. The potential for conflicts of interest is apparent.

Put this all together with the possibility of an additional sewage treatment facility (Article 41), and we have a sure-fire recipe for difficult-to-control growth in both the residential and commercial arenas. (To see an excellent analysis of why Article 43 should be voted against, see this OpEd in the Concord Journal.) 

Just how big do we think Concord should be, anyway? How many souls should it house? How many businesses? And just who gets to decide this?  Is it the residents in the body of Town Meeting? We don't recall Town Meeting deciding we wanted a lot more growth in Concord. So if not the residents, then just who is driving the desire for all this further development, anyway?

A Breath of Fresh Air: Article 38, the West Concord IPOD
The West Concord Interim Planning Overlay District (WC-IPOD) makes the sensible step of asking Town Meeting to allow real, concrete planning to take place in the open.  It limits the type of development that can go on for a short period of time to allow a masterplan for West Concord to be created.  Articles 36, 39 and 43 would permit levels of development in West Concord that is not currently allowed.  Doesn't it make more sense to first do some hands-on planning before we pass all kinds of zoning bylaw amendments that could develop West Concord in ways that would ruin its special character and functionality?  Let's not put the cart (36, 39, 43) before the horse (38). (See a Concord Journal OpEd about why to vote for Article 38 here.) Please vote for Article 38.

Information Please... Not!
It was nearly impossible to get information about the language of the motions for the above articles. It wasn't until our editor complained to the Town Moderator and he prodded the applicable departments to provide the information -- which they promised would be online by 4:30 PM this past Friday, which is just three days before the opening of Town Meeting. (Find these much asked-for motions here.) 

How is this informing the public with adequate notice? The language of these Articles is about as dense as a brick, or moreso.  Professional planners we've shown the Warrant Articles to had a hard enough time understanding them. What hope do the rest of us have with so little advance reading time?  What kind of transparency is this? 

Was keeping the public in the dark about the language of the motions intentional? Is it just a coincidence that this year some of the Selectmen didn't want to publish four articles in their entirety in the Warrant, which would have been unprecedented? Or was this all just a result of everyone being too busy before Town Meeting to notice this lapse, which was quickly fixed once staff was reminded? Or does this show the ongoing disregard for openness and public information this current administration has repeatedly shown?  We will leave the answer up to your judgment.

Garden Harvest Year 'Round in Concord

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A Mediterranean climate: that's what the Pilgrims thought they would find here when they landed in what was to become Massachusetts at 42 degrees of latitude north of the equator

After all: Corsica and the Tyrrhenian Sea of the Mediterranean between Sicily and Sardinia (map at right) are also at the 42nd parallel... why wouldn't it be far more sunny and warm here than in the distinctly chilly English climate from which they were escaping?

Imagine their surprise to find how hard their first winter was at Plymouth Colony... they struggled mightily to merely survive without adequate shelter, food and medicine. So many succumbed: 45 of the 102 original souls were lost in just that season alone.

So of what madness do we speak when we say that fresh vegetables can be harvested year 'round in Concord? Why, everyone knows we plant our gardens between May 15 and Memorial Day, and the season ends with the first frost somewhere in late September/early October, right? 

Thank goodness, NO: we can grow and/or harvest fresh vegetables 12 months a year in Concord -- and without providing artificial heat. Here's the four-pronged secret in a nutshell: provide a small amount of cover for the plants, choose the right plants to grow, have them at full maturity by November, and don't water them over the winter.

The small amount of cover can be a greenhouse, hoop house or cold frame plus floating row cover fabric.  The right plants are the many winter hardy vegetables found among the mustard, cole, onion, lettuce and beet families.  For full maturity, starting them in late summer and growing them unprotected through the pre-frost part of the fall will give you the mature plants you want. And not providing them with extra water in the coldest months means they will not turn into piles of mush once they freeze.

The reason for maturity is that during the coldest months, the plants will not grow. They enter into a kind of suspended animation, and re-start their growth again as conditions become warm enough. 

Protecting them from experiencing freezing temperatures is not the point, believe it or not. Well-chosen varieties will be able to experience being frozen for a period of time. It is due to the protection you give them that they will thaw out at some point during the day, and can be ready to harvest when you want them.

They will over time get a little worn out from the repeated freezing and thawing, but you will be withholding water from them to prevent their cell walls from exploding when they freeze, which is what turns plants into piles of brown, smelly goo after that first killing frost melts. Give them enough water during their growing time, and most will make it through to provide you with a fresh harvest during the coldest weeks.

No, you won't be growing tomatoes and peppers in the dead of winter an unheated greenhouse, hoop house or cold frame (though you can beat the season; our editor planted her tomatoes the day before the spring equinox). But there are scores of other plants that are perfect for this winter-growing technique.

With the protection afforded by a cold frame, greenhouse or hoop house -- all plus floating row cover -- you can also get a jump on spring planting and extend the summer and fall growing seasons. 

The bible for year-round gardening in the US has been Eliot Coleman's Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long (1999). And now 10 years on, he has just a few days ago come out with 

The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses.

As we go along in our sustainability/greenhouse experiment, you will read here about this blog's editor growing and planting what seem to be out-of-season crops right here in Concord. Know that she is using the techniques from this method as practiced in a large, free-standing, solar greenhouse. This will differ somewhat from a coldframe, for example, because the mass of earth under a 21'x48' greenhouse provides a huge amount of solar heat storage and geothermal heat on a scale not afforded to a cold frame.  (Though do keep in mind that cold frames are capable of great service in this regard.)
Our solar greenhouse is equivalent to Concord in perhaps mid- or late June at the moment.  While the night-time air temperatures aren't as high as they would normally be at that time of year, the ground temperature is holding somewhere between 68 and 73 degrees. We have to fight to keep the daytime temperatures down below 90 F on a sunny day, using both the greenhouse's openings, three household fans, plus a high-powered blower exhausting hot air outdoors.

Recently, a new growth appeared: slime mold.  We didn't recognize what it was until it started looking more familiar by the end of the first day. At first it was as if someone had sprinkled little piles of bright gold cornmeal in an area of one of the garden beds (like the photo at top right where one specimen is getting cozy with one of our eggplant plants). In hours, it had started to transform to that familiar "dog vomit" appearance -- one we see often standing and darkening for weeks and months following the original outbreak of the "mold" (like the photo at bottom right).

But it's not a mold, really. We generally think of slime molds as a type of fungi, and they were classified as such until fairly recently. For a variety of reasons, though, they have become classified as Protista, which also includes Protozoans and Algae. One of the rationales is that Fungi don't move, and slime molds do -- not a thought I find particularly enjoyable.

This webpage from Utah State University offers more fascinating information, "[The slime mold] Physarum polycephalum is a plasmodial slime mold. The yellow blob we notice is a huge single cell. Unlike most cells, which have only one nucleus, this cell contains millions of nuclei. Physarum plasmodia are usually 3 or 4 cm ( ½ - 1" ) in diameter, but can get to be 30 cm (about 1 foot) or more in diameter, and 3 to 5 cm thick. This giant cell moves, but only pictures taken over several days can show its progress. Its top speed is 1 mm per hour."

Now, doesn't that sound like fun? Watching slime mold move... 

Slime molds don't harm plants, except that they might create unwanted shade, and their spores can stain masonry or sidewalks. They will eventually break down and disappear, but if you don't like that canine vomitus look in the garden all summer, they can be scraped up or turned under with a shovel. But if the right conditions exist in the future, it will return.

Slime molds: coming to anywhere in Concord in just a few weeks.

Don't miss this wonderful video below of time-released slime mold and mushroom growth -- the slime mold is the first species shown.

Photos: Top -- ©2009 Deborah Bier; Bottom -- Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

New Community Garden at Ammendolia Field Coming Soon

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The Town of Concord is planning a third community garden on a portion of the Ammendolia land, which lies between Bedford and Old Bedford Roads. Residents are invited to learn more about community gardens, find out how to participate, and how to sign up for a community garden plot.

When: May 7, 2009 at 7pm
Where: Hearing Room, Town House, 22 Monument Square
Please contact the Division of Natural Resources at 978.318.3285 for more information.

Photo: Courtesy Concord's Natural Resources Department

I steamed these lightly and dressed them with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil.  Aren't they absolutely beautiful?! And all from our greenhouse, though several are also growing outside right now (none ready to pick at the moment).  They are:

  • Red Choy Sum
  • DaTaglio Chard
  • Ruby Chard
  • Red Russian Kale (photo bottom right)
  • Arugala (including the flowers in the photo)
  • Broccoli Raab
  • 3 types of Beet Greens
  • Red Mustard
And we're growing a half-dozen more besides several lettuces: Collards, Tatsoi, Bok Choy (center of photo right, surrounded by Red Mustard and Collards), Spinach, and two types of heading Cabbage. Oh, come to think of it: also Tuscan Black Kale, a rotating variety of Turnips (one crop in the greenhouse, already finished), and Mibuna, too

There really wasn't enough at the moment of any one of these to pick, what with our harvesting so much of late (it's the second time this week I harvested the Red Mustard... a simply wonderful plant). They made a beautiful melange. The amount in the photo cooked up three servings.

Up here in the northeastern US, most of us don't eat a lot of cooked greens, nor do we eat a wide variety of them either cooked or raw. But there are so many luscious types, and they don't even include the myriad gorgeous and tasty lettuces available today.

Many greens grow beautifully in our climate, some better in the cooler months, others enjoying the heat.  Some can grow from April through October (and beyond -- several even taste better after a frost) outside, and year 'round in an unheated greenhouse, hoop house or coldframe (check back on this blog soon for more about year 'round growing in our climate).  A couple of types can stand through several killing frosts, and come back again for you in the spring as soon as it's warm enough to start growing again. How can we turn our backs on this glorious bounty?

It's important that gardeners each find the ones that they not only like to eat and grow, but that do well in their garden's microclimate. The only ones of the above I wouldn't grow again  is the Ruby Chard. Pretty as heck, but sloooow growing and fussy as a  seedling. Who needs someone taking up space and not producing? I will not grow Mibuna outside again -- it's too hard to clean; every stray leaf and pine needle gets tangled up in it, but it's fine in the greenhouse. But most types of greens we grew produced so quickly and tasted so wonderful both raw and cooked, that I don't know how we'd get by without growing them each regularly!

It's a real eye-opener to many of us to see that the vegetable gardening season doesn't just start at the last frost in May, and end with the first one in September or October. With good planning, even outdoors there are about 4-6 weeks more on either end of the season that we can be growing fresh food outdoors -- right at our own doorsteps. And the harvest can be 12 months a year -- even in Concord's central New England climate -- if we give the plants just a little protection and we choose our crops wisely.  More on this topic here very soon.

Photos: ©2009 Deborah Bier  

After the Patriots' Day Parade

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Today's Patriots' Day Parade was a beautifully executed event. If there was a hitch, it was kept quiet and the crowd enjoyed the day. 

While we have all seen lots of wonderful photos of the parade, this year we thought we'd offer some of the after-parade business... views that not everybody gets to see. 

At right: Shirley Rohan, Concord's Honored Citizen, 2009, being recognized at the Concord Independent Battery's annual post-parade lunch.  Below, from left: the Battery on Heywood Meadow, backing a caissons into the gunhouse. (Note the discoloration around the cannon's touchhole caused by firing.) Center: inside the gunhouse.  Right: crew from the USNS Concord sent to participate in the parade. At center, the ship's Assistant Officer in Charge flanked left and right respectively by the Concord's Junior and Senior Sailors of the Year. (Sorry, but we don't have their names.)  Click on any image here for a larger view.

Photos: ©2009 Rich Stevenson, Local Color Images

Dawn Salute Incident -- But It Turned Out OK!

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At this morning's Dawn Salute, there was a brief, surprising incident involving the horse and that the Dr. Prescott re-enactor was riding.  As the horse rode over the crest of the bridge and was on its downward slope, she slipped on sand on the bridge's surface and fell, landing on her rear end!  Front legs still bearing weight, it was as if she just sat down on her hind quarters.  The rider (Kurt Wells of Harvard) was not unseated.  He encouraged the horse to get back up, which she did, and they finished the ride without further incident.  Good work, both of you!

Our photographer who was present was so surprised that he didn't get a photo of this! So instead we offer the below image of the Concord Minutemen firing a salute. (Photo: ©2009 Rich Stevenson of Local Color Images.)

First Tomatoes Set Fruit!

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These must have set with in the past week; we only noticed them first yesterday, though. Below first is a Roma and below that a Purple Cherokee.  Whaoooo!

(Click on either image for a larger view.) (Photos: ©2009 Deborah Bier)

Growing Ribes in Concord - Surprisingly Complicated

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We spent some time this winter trying to figure out if Ribes -- the family name of the plants that include gooseberries, currants and jostaberries -- can be grown in Concord. But plant catalogs say things like: "we cannot ship currant plants to DE, MA, ME, NC, NH, NJ, RI, WV or to MA without a permit." Or even:

When ordering Gooseberries and Currants and Jostaberry: Currants, Gooseberries and Jostaberries are not shipped to NC, NH, RI. No Black Currants and partial restrictions on Currants and Jostaberries in NJ, ME, MI. Partial restrictions on Currants, Gooseberries and Jostaberries in MA, WV.

Wow! A permit? Partial restrictions? What does it all mean? Our Natural Resources Department didn't know anything about a permit. This was a surprisingly difficult thing to unravel... here is what we learned.

There had been a federal ban on growing these Ribes because they serve as an intermediate host for the White Pine Blister Rust, introduced to the US around 1900.  Over the years, resistant varieties of these berry plants were developed. In 1966, the ban was lifted, but different states adopted different laws regarding the import of the plants across or within their borders.

Some states outright ban their growth, while others have no restrictions whatsoever. In Massachusetts, there is a ban on a partial basis per State statute (330 CMR: DEPARTMENT OF FOOD & AGRICULTURE). No one may grow black currants in MA. Otherwise, other currants and all gooseberries and jostaberries are allowed. This ban includes 137 cities and towns listed within this statue. If your municipality is not listed, you may receive a shipment of any Ribe save the black currant.

Concord is not on the state's list, which means we can grow the permitted Ribes here.  However, Acton and Carlisle are on the list, and therefore are forbidden to. How this list was generated is anyone's guess, considering both of these towns are contiguous with Concord.

When a person orders red or white currant, or jostaberry or gooseberry plants of any color from a plant nursery/grower that offers them, the business contacts a particular State employee in the Division of Agriculture. She looks up the town the plants are being shipped to, and if it's not on the banned list, she faxes the nursery a "control area permit" for the purchase.

From what we gathered, this seems to need to happen for EACH and EVERY purchase to EVERY town that allows them. It would make more sense to us that a control area permit be issued once a season for each town to cover every place within that town. But no -- this is the State, and the art of bureaucracy is obviously not dead!

Therefore, you'd probably never see these plants at our local drive-up nurseries because the control area permit would have to be issued before the customer could take them away. That just doesn't seem practical when everything on hand is available for immediate sale.

Mail order nurseries, such as Nourse Farms in Deerfield, MA seem like the best opportunity to secure some of these plants.

By the way: you might note that their website says that they grow black currants, but they cannot ship them within MA.  When called, they said they do it by special permit, which just shows they may be the very exception that proves the rule.  

By Deborah Bier, Publisher and Editor of ConcordMA.com and this blog

Regularly, I am contacted privately by proponents of projects I've spoken about questioningly or negatively on the Concord Discussion List, the Concord Magazine or this blog.  They want to meet with me in person or over the phone. They are often committee members or other Town officials. I am usually not acquainted with these people, so we can guess they are courting my vote.

I want to clearly state my policy here. I will not meet privately with strangers over town issues on which they feel I hold an opposing view to theirs.  The very best way to bring me on board any project is to be open, accessible, and responsive publicly to any concerns that exist, and to provide maximum information to the public. It's not me you need to convince of anything, but the voting public in general.

Therefore, I will not return your calls or emails. And no, it's not particularly gracious or friendly of me.  But the point isn't about being gracious and friendly; it's that I insist that we have the greatest amount of public dialog and information possible.  

I trust that those who similarly believe in the importance of public exchange will bring their information forward in a fully open manner so many can participate.

There are several avenues available to each of us. If you are a citizen or Town official (employee, elected or appointed person), you can go to the relevant committees and ask to be put on their agenda for a public meeting.  You may send a press release or letter to the editor to the Concord Journal, or ask them to do a news story about your information.  You may join the Concord Discussion List -- it is widely circulated through membership and forwarded messages.  Best yet: take ALL of these avenues -- yes, it takes time, but public information and education about the issues is just that important.

Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House -- A Finalist!

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By Jan Turnquist, Executive Director of Orchard House

We need your daily votes to win!!!       
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express have just named Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House - Home of Little Women a finalist for the 2009 "Partners in Preservation" Award -- a wonderful opportunity to continue our vital preservation efforts! Click here for details.  Help us win $100,000 by voting daily on-line -- it's free and fast!

First-Time Voter?  Click here, then click "Register" in the upper right corner and follow the prompts.  Repeat Voter?  Click here to Log In.  First-time voting requires a brief registration, but repeat voting can be done in less than 30 seconds!  (Be sure to Log Out when you're through.)

Please forward this info to your friends, family, co-workers, Little Women lovers -- the more the better!  And please remember to vote daily!  Here are some easy reminder techniques:

  • Put a sticky note in a prominent spot in your home, office, or school
  • Set an alarm, or ask a friend to phone/e-mail you every day
  • Sign up for a free on-line reminder service, such as MemotoMe or RemembertheMilk
  • Make www.PartnersinPreservation.com your Home Page through May 17th
  • Create a recurring event in Microsoft Outlook or other scheduling software

Thanks for your support.  With your help, we're saving an American treasure, one vote at a time!  Questions?  Call me at 978.369.4118 x102 or e-mail me at jturnquist@louisamayalcott.org.

Affordable Housing Proposal on the Prison Land

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Like a bombshell, this proposed project recently burst onto the public scene.  Though it had been in the works for upward of 18 months, the public was not informed. People are understandably upset with both the secrecy and the lost opportunity for public input.

In other words: pretty much "business as usual" for development and planning projects in Concord. Shameful, but this is how things have gone of late.

A neighborhood group has formed called the "WinComm [Winthrop Street/Commonwealth Avenue] Neighborhood Association" and they put together a very smart list of questions -- questions that show they deeply understand the issues at hand.  Bless them for informing themselves! 

They sent these questions to the Concord Housing Development Corporation, the private organization that is empowered by the Selectmen to oversee affordable housing issues and development on the Town's behalf. We are glad the CHDC took the time to answer. While each answer may beget another question, this is so far more information than the public had been given before.

Both the informative questions and helpful answers can be seen here in this post to the Concord Discussion List, dated April 12, 2009 (message #37,886, if you can believe it!).

Photo: It's possible this photo is on or near the land where this development is proposed to take place... we're still a bit vague on exactly where this is because it has not yet been made into it own parcel, thus it cannot be looked up on any map we've seen. ©2009 Rich Stevenson, Local Color Images

Emerson Turns in His Grave

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Received recently from a friend of this blog and the Concord Discussion List, Concord born and bred from an venerable local family:

Last night I was reading Leslie Wilson's book [In History's Embrace] where she quotes Emerson (page 38):
"...In this open democracy, every opinion had utterance; every objection, every fact, every acre of land, every bushel of rye, its entire weight... Not a complaint occurs in all the volumes of our Records, of any inhabitant being hindered from speaking, or suffering from any violence or usurpation of any class."

And then from the April 9th Concord Journal:

"Concord - Selectmen are looking at Monday, May 4, as a potential date for their first meeting devoted to hearing comments from the public."

How did Concord go from honoring public comment to (sigh.....) "allowing" it?

I'm suffering from whiplash from observing how much things have changed when I wasn't looking.
We are in the same pain, too... how far the noble have fallen.

Town Meeting Starts April 27

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Would you like to be a legislator? Well, if you live in one of the many towns in Massachusetts with open Town Meeting, then you can.  That's because Town Meeting is the Town's legislative body; any registered voter therefore can be a legislator just by showing up during Town Meeting. Now, how cool is that??!

We think it's VERY cool. And even more cool is that each legislator here is part of Concord's 374-year unbroken tradition of governance through Town Meeting.

Like any legislative body, Town Meeting makes decisions vital to the Town's operation. We approve or reduce the budget, we make or amend bylaws. Town Meeting forms or dissolves committees and boards, start or kill projects through funding decisions, and informs elected and appointed officials of the Meeting's wishes on a variety of subjects.

This page on the Town's website has all kinds of helpful links to help you learn about and get ready for our upcoming Annual Town Meeting. The Town Meeting warrant, presentation templates, handout guidelines and more.

We have a lot of very important zoning bylaw articles coming before Town Meeting to either enact anew or amend already existing bylaws. While they are far from simple (which is the very nature of most zoning articles), they are absolutely CRITICAL to get right.  This is because each of them will have impacts into the future that may be very large indeed.  And many of these effects cannot be undone, even if we were to repeal a new bylaw or change. Some things once changed, cannot ever be restored.

We need your educated vote. Start with the overview in this press release from Concord's Planning Department. But do use your critical thinking powers in reading it -- there may be many, many important "unintended consequences" present in each article which are not mentioned. Judge for yourself if that document seems accurate to what you read in the warrant articles themselves. 

As a Meeting, it will be our job to find the PUBLIC GOOD for making each change, weighing that against the PUBLIC HARM each makes possible, and seeing what most benefits the community. 

For it is only in the calculation of the greatest good for the overall community that the success of each legislator's work can be judged. We have 374 years of history hanging on just how well we do our job.  

The Mystery of the Miniature Minuteman Statues

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Back in 2002, the Concord Magazine published an article about the history of the US Navy ships named "Concord." In it, author D. Michael Ryan talks about the miniature Daniel Chester French (in the photo at right) Minuteman Statue that is currently aboard the USNS Concord (and shortly to be relocated before the ship is scuttled). It was a gift funded by French himself, but the statue had to be approved by the Concord Town Meeting, which it was in 1889. 

We know according to crew aboard the USNS Concord -- including through photos they have sent us shipboard -- that the ship's stateroom contains the statute.  But... but... the Concord Museum has one, too.  Ryan could not find documentation that would account for there being two statues, now how one found its way to the Concord Museum. The information stopped dead there.

In recent correspondence with Naval Sealift Command, we found occasion to ask about this.  Susan Melow, a civilian working for them in Virginia, sent the question to Frank V. Thompson Curator, Naval History & Heritage Command.  Curator Thompson answered thusly:

There are two minutemen statues in our collection. The one you mention in your article was aboard the two previous ships (gun boat & light cruiser) came into our collection in 1947 when the cruiser decommissioned. It was presented to the gun boat by the people of Concord, MA. It did go to the AFS-5 at one point, but was pulled from the ship in the mid-1970's to support Bicentennial exhibitions. For whatever reason, it was never returned the ship. In 1992, we loaned it to the Concord Museum, where it remains today.

The second statue's origin is somewhat vague. It was created as a presentation gift from the Brazilian battleship MINAS GERAES to the USS ARKANSAS (BB-33) in 1913. There should be an inscription in front of the statue's right leg with that info. It became part of our collection in 1946 as the ARKANSAS was prepared for disposal through Operation  Crossroads. It has been aboard the AFS-5 for years. I have not yet been able to determine
the date it went to the AFS-5. It was aboard the ship at the same time the one from the cruiser CONCORD was aboard. According to our records, it remains aboard today.

So while this greatly advances the story, it doesn't exactly solve the mystery. Even the Navy finds the story to be uncertain, particularly of  the second statue. How did it come to be that a Brazilian battleship make a gift of it to the USS Arkansas? When was it made? Why wasn't the first one ever returned to the ship?

Given how much property the Navy owns, two historic statures probably aren't really much of a hill of beans. But it remains an oddity we'd like to someday see sorted out.

Barrett Farm in Photos & Drawings

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Barrett Farm played an important role in the events of April 19, 1775 ("The Concord Fight).  Owned by only two families over the years (the Barretts and McGraths), it was purchased by Save Our Heritage a few years ago with a mind to saving, restoring and preserving the structure, which is already well underway.

Below are photos and drawings of the Barrett Farmhouse over the years. The years of the images are (starting top left moving right): 1880's, 1848, 1875; (bottom row left, moving right) 2005, 1880's; 1894. (Click on any below to see a larger version -- all photos courtesy Save Our Heritage.)

Tomato (et al) Update

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After having forgotten one night in March to protect the tomato plants I had planted in the solar (unheated) greenhouse (very sad story on that here), it has been clear sailing! I've added some cucumber plants, and some potted marigolds and nasturtiums are doing just fine. And we've been using fresh mint for tea all week now.

This last week, despite the cold nights we've had, I've not been using the Reflictix cloches on the tomatoes that we used earlier. I've instead used two layers of floating row cover and every plant is happy!  Could be because the soil temp 4" down is 70 degrees by the time the greenhouse starts cooling off at the end of the day.  

The volunteer squash/cukes/pumpkins/whatevers that are coming up in the beds that came in with the compost are getting scary in both numbers and size -- I'm using them kind of as a soil thermometer at the moment and won't pull them out.  I hope to move some to the outdoor compost areas to grow and and see what we come up with -- the curcubit family being famous for cross-pollinating willy-nilly and not breeding "true".  

Sunday (April 5th), the first tomato blossom opened!  More on a 2nd plant Monday.  The blossoms on the Purple Cherokee are simply HUGE compared to others I've grown, and a cluster of those was on the 2nd plant to flower. These plants are 8 weeks from seeding and about 18-22 inches tall now... which seems bizarre, but true.

I have researched a couple of different techniques to hand pollinate the flowers, given that we don't have natural pollinators in this greenhouse. Here is one that I hope amuses you as much as it amuses me (10 second video), though I probably won't be using the technique: 

We are doing our very best to water using only rainwater because we hate the idea of intentionally building up the soil mycorrhizal fungi and beneficial bacteria, only to use chlorinated water from the tap, which we think would set back the good little buggies. The rain this week allowed us to top out our 550 gal outdoor rainwater storage capacity, plus about 100 more gallons in the greenhouse.  

If we usually plant little tiny tomato plants outside no earlier than May 15 and get our first fruit 2 months later about July 15, then if we planted these HUGE plants on March 24, and they bloom in early April, then the fruit... hmmmm....

No -- it's not a good idea to count our tomatoes before they set, much less ripen! Especially given the goof we made earlier that killed all the plants. (Actually, I potted up the frosted plants hoping that their excellent root systems would send out new foliage, which has already occurred in a third of these pathetic victims of our forgetfulness.) Still, the experiment has been fascinating and fun. 

Shitake Mushroom Update

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By Debbie Bier

My husband, a Concord friend, and I are growing shitake mushrooms in oak logs in our yard. We've seen such interest and received so many questions about these (including the now frequent greeting: "Hi, how are you? How are your mushrooms?), I thought I would give an update here.

We inoculated them with the mushroom spawn late this fall and they've been living in our greenhouse ever since. This has been an utterly fascinating -- yet simple -- process; it's just amazing how the ancient industry of mushroom growing has developed methods of such intelligence and ingenuity. Depending upon the species of fungi you want, you can grow mushrooms on sawdust or straw bags, in a garden bed covered with wood chip mulch and soil, you can insert little wooden dowels colonized by spawn into logs... you can even use chainsaw oil that is pre-impregnated with mushroom spawn so you can thin your forest and inoculate while you cut! And these are just the methods available in the non-industrial setting -- mushroom culture is a big business that's been practiced for a very long time.

Why shitake? Well, I was looking for the most nutritionally dense, delicious and medicinally proven mushroom for food -- and it had to be an easy-to-grow variety. Shitake is amazingly nutritious -- do you know that it's one of the major sources of protein in the Japanese diet? And it full of untold numbers of other nourishing compounds, too. And Shitake have been prized as a choice food for thousands of years. Plus studies have show it to positively effect a dozen systems in the body.  So shitake fit the bill perfectly. (I'll let you know about the easy-to-grow part later if it turns out to be so...)

We chose to use the wooden dowel method to grow shitake mushrooms. One-inch long wooden dowels -- exactly like you use for furniture building -- arrive already inoculated with the mushroom spawn. We drilled holes of EXACTLY the right diameter for the dowels, hammer them in, cover with melted cheese wax, stack them in a "rick" and then... wait. Wait for the mycelium to colonize the entire log. It's only then that it would be possible for it to fruit, which is what we call a "mushroom."

We stored the logs in the greenhouse over the winter only because we inoculated them close to and during constantly freezing weather. It's fine if they are exposed to freezing temperatures after inoculation, but not if they freeze all the time within two months of inoculation. We kept them under a cloth tarp to provide shade and airflow. 

Now it's time to build a garden bed in the spot they've been occupying. Yesterday, we moved the logs out (thank you, stalwart and strong husband -- oak logs are &*#^ heavy!) and rebuilt the rick in the shade of our spruce trees. Just in time for a good soaking rain! We will again provide a cloth for again. There they will spend the rest of their lives, hopefully fruiting many times over the next several years. Stay tuned...

Photo credit: bottom right, courtesy of the author. 

"Outlawing" Small & Organic Farming?

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There is a email going around that says that two bills before Congress (HR875 and S425) will "outlaw organic farming" and make it so burdensome to be a small farmer they'd just have to go out of business. We saw a letter to the editor of the Concord Journal this week saying the same thing, too.

Given how unreliable viral emails can be, we wondered if this was what these bills were actually all about.  So we did some research, which we share below.

We think this is could be important because we do have to be concerned about protecting and supporting small farms of which we have quite a few in Concord, which are cherished by the community. It's also important because we all can ask our federal elected officials to vote for/against any particular bill -- and they need to hear from us to know what we think.

Online, we could find lots of repetitions of this same information, but there were also several contrary views.  None of the opinions we found actually linked to the bills themselves, which is a pity, because there's nothing like the verisimilitude of demonstrating that the opiners might have actually READ the bills to back up their views. So here they are: HR875 and S425.  (The stated intent of these bills is to make our food supply more safe.)

Opinions varied from "I'm an organic farmer and this bill doesn't make me do or stop doing anything I already am," to "This hysteria is disinformation by the big global agribusinesses designed to protect THEM from this bill, not small farmers," to "The food supply is in danger and we gotta have these bills pass!"  And then here is "Myths and Facts about H875" from the office of Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro who sponsored this bill.

Phew! Lots of sparks and smoke, but what's a person to actually think, much less do?!

We find that the Organic Consumers Association had a most balanced and sane view on this topic. Yes, there is very rightful concern about the safety of our food supply, and we do indeed need to take legislative action to protect it. However, these bills are not the right legislative tools for several reasons (take a look at their brief but informative action alert).

First, it does not distinguish between foreign and/or world-wide agri-businesses and small, local farms. "The bill should be amended to protect local and organic producers from burdensome one-size-fits-all legislation". Until exceptions for small and/or organic farms is a part of the bill, OCA will not support it.

Second, some of the problems that cause the tainting of our food are simply not addressed in the legislation. Of top concern are the dangers of factory farming of animals for food in particular, and of industrial food farming in general. Any legislation that does not address these issues well is not worth supporting.

Third, the legislation does not provide large-scale support for what they feel is an important way to address the dangers to our food supply: large-scale promotion of a transition to organic farming practices.

We do like both the comprehensive view and the lack of hysteria with which they treat this important subject.  Do note that they made is no mention of "outlawing" of small or organic farms; such "outlawing" is also hard to find in the proposed bills.

If you like this middle-of-the-road approach, fill in your zip code and click on the link at the bottom of the OCA's action alert to have a letter sent to our Congressional representative, Niki Tsongas (the text of which you can modify to your heart's content). We certainly do want to both protect our food as well as protect our local farms. 


Local Foraging: Pine Needle Tea

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On this blog from time to time we will be talking about local plants, including some with uses as human food, herbs, and in other uses within daily life. Concord has an enormous diversity of plant species, many of them common and plentiful, and others less so -- even rare. (We will never talk about picking or using any rare plants, or even identify where any are located in order to protect them.)

Plentiful indeed in Concord are different types of pine trees. Today, we are making pine needle tea, which can be made from any type of pine or hemlock -- that's the hemlock tree, not the poison hemlock plant; only the yew is poisonous. We are using white pine (drawing at right), since it is plentiful here.

Why on earth would anyone want to make pine needle tea? One reason locals did so was to save themselves from dying of scurvy. Pine needles are high in Vitamin C, and the bark is recognized in the US Pharmacopia for its effectiveness as a cough remedy. Some find it helpful for heartburn.

The native people here taught the European settlers to make the tea, some of whom were dying or dead from scurvy even though they were surrounded by the very answer to their illness. It was documented that it only took six days of drinking the pine needle "soup" to effect a cure. Drinking it today connects us to our heritage, and gives us a soothing and health-giving drink. (We found in one place a contraindication against drinking this tea if pregnant.)

Do you know how to tell the red from the white pines? Red pines have clusters of three needles, and "red" has three letters in it.  White pines have clusters of five needles, and "white" has -- yes, you guessed it -- five letters in it. Pretty nice way to remember! 

One cup of boiling water is poured over "a handful" of chopped pine needles and small twigs and cover; you can make multiple cups at a time. Use a jar or teapot, something with a lid or cover (we made the tea in a cup and covered it with a small plate as seen in image 3 below). Steep 15-30 minutes. Strain and sweeten to taste.

Our taste test here yielded a delightful experience. The scent of the pine on the cutting board was relaxing and focusing.  The finished tea after 30 minutes of steeping was mild yet delicious even unsweetened. It had a refreshing but not too strong pine after-taste. It all felt a bit like taking a vacation in the piney woods or mountains.





Barrett Farm News

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On March 30th, "Barrett Farm" Federal Legislation was signed (2009 Omnibus Public Lands bill) to extend the Minute Man National Historical Park boundary to include Barrett Farm and surrounding properties. The passage of this bill now allows the National Park to acquire Barrett Farm. (Save Our Heritage still owns the property).

Minute Man Park, Save Our Heritage, Congresswoman Tsongas, and other dignitaries who have supported the Barrett Farm restoration project will gather at Barrett Farm on Friday, April 17 from 10:30-11:30 am (and beyond) to formally announce and celebrate the incorporation of Barrett Farm into the Park. The public is invited. The event will include speeches, music, refreshments, and re-enactors. 

Barrett Farm will also host an open house on Sunday,  April 19 and Monday, April 20 (10am - 3pm both days). Come see the new roof and other restoration progress. Their historic architect, local blacksmith, and timber framers will also be on hand.

There is a Barrett Farm Exhibit at the Concord Public Library  during the month of April. It is located in the glass cabinet by the Children's Room & check-out counter. See Barrett Farm history in photographs.

Volunteer help is needed at the Farm the weekends of April 4-5, 11-12, and April 15-17 to prepare the house and grounds for the on-site events. To volunteer, contact Jim Cunningham, Barrett Farm Project Manager at jim@saveourheritage.com, or phone Save Our Heritage at (978) 369-6662.

Old House Soul

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The expression "old house soul" means that historic preservation isn't just about restoring an old house, but about understanding the life and history of it as an artifact. Old houses are alive: with stories, ghosts of the past, and the passion of those who loved them.

We've been corresponding with Don Manley of Old House Soul for some time now. He initially found the Concord Magazine through the article we published about moving houses some years ago, an article we get steady readership and email from.

Don has been working in the area of historic preservation for years -- first as a passionate amateur and owner of an antique farmhouse in Rhode Island he moved and restored, and then in apprenticeship and as an artist and film-maker.

Do visit his website, www.OldHouseSoul.com -- make sure you click on "view movie" and see the two video clips there. They are wonderful, evocative expressions of what we here in Concord still have in strong measure: old house soul. 

In fact, we may have so much of it here that we may take it for granted.  Watch the videos and love our town even more deeply for the historic treasures we are fortunate enough to still have.  They're here because our visionary predecessors knew they needed to preserve them. 

May the current generations have the wisdom to maintain that vision and preserve not only our old house soul, but the very soul of the local, regional, and national cultural legacy to which Concord lends so much.

The movie Old House Soul, a work-in-progress, will be screened on Thursday, May 7th (6pm - 7:30pm) at the Providence Public Library in the Barnard Room, 3rd fl, 150 Empire St. Providence, Rhode Island.
We want to congratulate Board of Selectman candidate David Karr for his run for office.  A relative unknown just a month before we went to the polls, he garnered a good showing in the election.  Though he didn't win a seat, his run made some vital impacts on our local landscape.

First, Karr made this a contested race. If he hadn't become a candidate at virtually the last minute, we would have had a BOS for the next year that was "elected" 100% in uncontested races.  Surely a road to complacency and sub-optimal performance.

Second, Karr helped push a lack of government openness into the spotlight -- a topic dear to this blog. Following the League of Women Voters' Forum before the vote occurred, the BOS suddenly decided they DID want to address this "surprising" topic and maybe take a look at hearing more from citizens.  Widespread cases of whiplash broke out in those standing nearby, such an abrupt turn-around it was from their previous position of very limited input from citizens during their meetings. While their current position of Saturday-only input (as opposed to during their regular meetings) is itself a very meager choice, it is at least a start at recognizing there is a real problem.

Third, Karr received just a hair short of 1000 votes from 2644 voters --  nearly 40% of voters gave him a vote (do recall that this was a vote-for-two election). And he was in a near-three-way-tie in Precinct 2, West Concord.  This was a powerful showing of support -- particularly in West Concord where it may have particularly demonstrated that a good portion of the voters are not happy with the status quo.

While Karr's start was slow, and his campaigning presence was raw at the beginning, his level of engagement and learning over a very short period of time was nothing short of astonishing.  He showed that he is truly a fast study of epic proportions. As his supporters maintained, his talents were a replacement for experience on a Town committee; his very campaign was proof positive of that assertion.

Afterwards, Karr stated, "This is not the same town it was before this election began, and I'm not the same man." We would have to agree on both counts.

(Link to the Karr campaign website; link to election results)

Years ago, a longtime friend of the Concord Magazine observed, "How is it that so many candidates for the Board of Selectmen seem to be just wonderful people with great values and ideas while they're campaigning.  But once they're elected, they all seem to get some kind of a brain transplant. They become virtually unrecognizable, and start doing things we couldn't have imagined."

We believe this is Group Think in all its sad glory, the disease this current Board of Selectmen are infected with at the level of 80% morbidity.

Since he mentioned this, we can't help but think about it every time a new selectman is elected.  Will the brain transplant take again this time? Or will this individual reject it and remain outside of Group Think?  

According to the AllPsych Online's Psychology Dictionary,  "Group Think [is t]he tendency for members of a cohesive group to reach decisions without weighing all the facts, especially those contradicting the majority opinion." BusinessDictionary.com states that "Group Think is said to be the reason why intelligent and knowledgeable people make disastrous decisions."

We suspect that Elise Woodward might be difficult to infect with the Group Think brain transplant.  She clearly has her own way of doing things, shown for example by the very discrete and quiet campaign she ran -- she was not going to do what the other candidates did simply to match them; she had her own way and followed it.  And it worked: Woodward garnered the most votes of all three candidates.

A principal in a prominent Boston architecture firm, we suspect she can be decisive and clear, knowing her own mind, strengths and capacities. Seeing her in public during the campaign, she exhibited real poise and calm with an underlying sense strength that she didn't need to flex... and altogether quite natural.

Those who do not buy into Group Think are first courted, then argued with, and eventually rejected and punished by the group. We see this strongly in how the uninfected, independent-thinking 20% of the current BOS has been abominably treated by her peers for going on six years now. 

Will Woodward eventually come to accept the brain transplant? Only time will tell, but we will give her all the best wishes she needs to keep her own (undoubtedly fine) brain intact and functioning for her as an individual. This is the perfect time for her to be listening to citizens who have alternate, varied views -- before the full press of Group Think is on. Congratulations go to her for run, and for her win as well.

(Link to the Woodward campaign website; link to election results)

Editorial: Greg Howes Wins Second Term on the BOS

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Hometown man, Greg Howes, will spend another three years on the Board of Selectmen.  Being chair of the board as he currently is now and running for office at the same time is not an easy combination. Congratulations are in order.

Howes came in with the second highest number of votes of the three candidates, showing well in all precincts, but winning only in one precinct, and then by a mere three votes.

Having grown up in West Concord, and having the family business there, we had anticipated he'd have garnered more of the Precinct 2 vote than he did.  But Precinct 2 was nearly a three-way-tie.  How this reflects on Howes' current leadership in the West Concord Task Force which is looking at the redevelopment of West Concord is worth pondering.

However, we note that Precinct 2 with the largest number of registered voters of all the precincts in Concord, had the largest turnout.  We suspect this sends a clear message that local sentiment is highly divided about how the Town has been running of late, and that may be great uncertainty about the plans being expressed for West Concord village. 

Howes still has a substantial amount of room to grow as an elected official, particularly in translating his business experience into how to work within a democracy. There has been great unhappiness expressed by many in the not-subtle ways he shifted "government by the people" away from the people in the interest of "efficiency." The practices of the BOS and Town Management under Howes' chairmanship of BOS appear to have soured some voters on his leadership. This includes new rules for citizen comments at BOS meetings, the BOS allowing the Town Manager to stonewall information requests and pay for lawyers to help him do so using taxpayer funding, and a continuing pattern of blindsiding citizens with controversial projects.

Howes has certainly worked hard in the last three years as a member of the BOS.  We hope his new-gained experience will spur him on to new understandings about his proper role as a Selectman, and to far more open-mindedly inhabit a leadership position as a public servant in our democracy.

(Link to the Howes campaign website; link to election results)

Congratulations to All Who Ran for Office!

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For election results, go to the Town Clerk's website:


Below are all three Board of Selectmen candidates, captured just as the polls closed last night. From right: Elise Woodward, David Karr, Greg Howes.

Photo Credit: © 2009 Bill Gluck

Redcoat Holdouts Still Fighting in Carlisle

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Who says there's nothing new to discover about the American Revolution? The Onion, "America's  Finest News Source", has uncovered this story and it's a doozy. And it's happening right over the Concord border in Carlisle's Great Brook Farm State Park!

Bet the ice cream there has kept them going all these centuries.


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