Pioneer Valley Farmers Feel the Effects of the Unseasonably Warm Winter

16 Mar

New England is infamous for sporadic weather. Unlike the heavy snowfall of 2011, the winter of 2012 has been relatively dry. We may find warm temperatures and dry roads pleasant, but for area farmers, an unpredictable season can be a serious liability. Pioneer Valley farmers spent the first few months of this year re-adjusting their businesses.

Leslie Cox, is the manager of the Farm Center at Hampshire College. Cox cares for the farm’s diverse livestock, the hay fields, and the maple sugar crop. He discussed with us the negative impact of recent weather patterns on the sugaring process. Cox expressed concern over the economic implications of diminished crops this past winter.

He told us he earns between $1,500 and $2,000 annually from the maple sugar crop. This year he chose to skip the harvest completely. His decision was based on the unpredictability of the late winter temperatures and the worn-out condition of the trees.

“Sometimes you just have to let things rest,” Cox told us. “When I walked through the sugar woods I felt really guilty for letting it get this bad…so I chose to sit the season out.” He told us that the Cornell University Agriculture Department, who specialize in sugar maple harvests, sent out a bulletin suggesting farmers tap their trees earlier than usual. The people that followed this instruction and tapped early had a near-normal season.

Jarrett Man, co-owner of The Kitchen Garden Farm, spends the winter growing leafy greens like kale, lettuce and spinach. Most winter vegetable farmers grow in un-heated greenhouses. Man told us his season hasn’t hit hard by the weather.  He told us that despite warm temperatures, the ground has been colder than usual this year. Without the insulating layer of snow, soil has stayed frozen throughout the past few months.

Man has been taking precautions to ensure a healthy crop season in the spring and summer. He does so by tracking ‘growing degree days’, which essentially means he’s been monitoring temperature fluctuations closely. He does so to make sure his plants don’t jump the gun and start growing before it’s time. Plants are physiologically programmed to move faster when it’s warm out, but Man worries if they follow their instincts they’ll die in an unexpected freeze.

Cox told us that unlike his sugar crop, this weather has been great for his animals. They’ve been able to stay outside in the pasture for much of the season, instead of in a heated barn. If they were inside, he would have to pay to heat and feed them corn. In the field they can graze on grass and keep warm in the sun’s light, saving Cox tremendous energy costs.

Nancy Hansen manages the vegetable growth for the Hampshire College Farm Community Supported Agriculture Program, or CSA. She also grows her winter crops in greenhouses, but she says the unpredictability has caused some financial losses this season. Their inability to accurately predict temperatures has thrown off their harvests. Hansen’s vegetables are coming in too fast or too slow, but generally not on time.

Post and Video by Melissa Gately, Tyler Manoukian, and Remy Schwartz

Eric Athas: NPR Digital News Specialist

13 Mar

Time in Amherst

As Eric Athas sat down with our class last Thursday, he joked that he was a new student. Athas graduated from the University of Massachusetts Journalism Department in 2008. In the four years since his graduation, he has worked for two very reputable news outlets. His mainstream success can be attributed to an informal ‘mantra’ he delivered at the beginning of his presentation, “Never turn down a conversation or interview, and don’t be discouraged if you get let down.”

Athas spent his time at UMass “living” at the Daily Collegian office, the University’s daily newspaper. He started there as a freshman and rose to Editor in Chief by his junior year. During his final year in Amherst, he decided to leave the paper to pursue a new project, AmherstWire.com. Athas founded that online news magazine, as well as the UMass 101 Blog for MassLive.com.

 

Memorable Stories

During his senior year he reported on the death of UMass student Katherine Sherman who was studying abroad in India. Athas spoke for a long time about this story which he covered on and off for two years. He described this story as “following him” into his post-graduate career. He explained the saga of reporting on such a tenuous issue in such depth. When he first broke the story he was met with an outcry of negative criticism from friends of Sherman who felt he was invading her privacy. He told our class that by the end of the two years reporting on Katie Sherman, he knew everything about the case. He had spoken to her parents, friends, University officials, even to the FBI who were reporting on her mysterious death. Even in the end, the circumstances of the story seemed foggy.

Athas spoke in depth about a number of memorable stories he has covered throughout his career, aside from the Katherine Sherman story.

  • He told us about accidentally stumbling upon a gruesome murder scene at a upscale Maryland yoga store. That story developed with a dramatic and unlikely twist.
  • He explained that he was very proud of a piece he wrote about the “Baghdad Boil“, a story he spent six months on.
  • He gave an anecdote about lamenting on “the lack of news” the evening before Senator Gabrielle Gifford was shot in Tuscon.
  • He told us the details of working in the Washington Post newsroom the night that President Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden.

 

Multimedia and the New World of Journalism

In Athas’s time at the Washington Post he was able to experience what he called a “journalism buffet”. He worked in all different kinds of social and web media as a reporter and the homepage editor. When asked about career opportunities, he emphasized that most important skill to build is the ability to multi-task. He explained that the industry is “redefining the way news works, people are hiring more than ever.”

Athas talked about the ‘old story’ vs. the ‘new story’. In the old story, a journalist must go through the right of Passage. A new reporter gets a job at a small town newspaper, then a slightly larger one, then a slightly larger one, and so on and so forth. In the new story, he said, we “all have the chance to do whatever we want wherever we want.”

He described the naysayers calling journalism dead as “a negative cloud over the industry”. According the Eric Athas, this is a very exciting time.

Overreactions From a Warm Winter

5 Mar
  1. Share
    Praying to the snow gods to cancel my exam. #umasssnow
  2. Share
  3. Share
    I love watching the facial expressions of my classmates when they walk through the door covered in snow. #miserable #umasssnow
  4. Share
  5. Share
  6. Share
    Snow has stopped, but roads remain icy. Where’s the salt? @UMassAmherst #umasssnow
  7. Share
    Fell a total of 4 times today UMASS might want to look into some rock salt #umasssnow
  8. Share
    “Snow just makes me want to drink” things you hear at UMass #umasssnow
  9. Share
    It’s the funniest thing seeing girls make their own Amherst series of #Wipeout on the sidewalk after the bars close. #Hotmess #umasssnow
  10. Share
    No snow in December, January, February…snow in March. Only in New England. #umasssnow

UMass Talks Pedestrian Safety

2 Mar
Early in the morning on Sunday, February 19, 20 year-old University of Massachusetts student Brandan Wall was struck by a moving vehicle. The accident took place on North Pleasant Street in the crosswalk next the Fine Arts Center. The Umass Daily Collegian broke the story in their February 22 edition of the newspaper. The accident has raised student awareness of pedestrian safety on campus.

Almost two weeks after accident, Wall is slowly recovering. When we caught up with him in his dorm room Tuesday night, he was moving slowly. A pair of crutches leaned against the wall and a spirometer sat on his desk. We asked him how he felt about pedestrian protection on campus. As he shooed us out he said in a tired voice,
“I think it needs to be a more prominent concern, the fact that there are so many crosswalks around campus, cars don’t give enough diligence to pedestrian safety.”

According to Massachusetts’s law, pedestrians do not always have the right of way. The law states that a ticket may be given to a driver who does not stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. This is true unless the car has a green light, or the pedestrian is crossing the other side of the road. Despite the confusing legal details, the University abides by the state law.

While students are beginning to take note of crosswalk safety, the UMass Police Department policy remains unchanged. The department encourages the people on campus to stay on the sidewalk and out of the street. They also suggest that pedestrians wear clothing that allows them to be seen by oncoming traffic. Soon after the accident the UMPD issued a safety bulletin to help ensure student safety. The bulletin underlined the same basic points:

  • Always walk on the sidewalk –  If there is no sidewalk and you must walk in the road, always walk FACING traffic, so you can see any dangerous-driving cars heading towards you. This is also a good precaution to take if the driver does not see you.
  • Dress to be seen. Brightly colored clothing makes it easier for drivers to see you during the daytime. At night, wear special reflective material on your shoes, cap, or jacket to reflect the headlights of cars coming towards you.
  • Tips for crossing the street:
    • Cross only at corners or marked crosswalks.
    • Stop at the curb, or the edge of the road.
    • Stop and look left, then right, then left again, before you step into the street.
    • If you see a car, wait until it goes by or stops. Then look left, right and left again until no cars are coming.

The majority of students we spoke to agreed that crosswalk safety has been an ongoing issue campus since before the accident. The UMPD has been sponsoring a pedestrian safety campaign this year. Driver safety posters have up around campus and on PVTA buses since the fall. The ads show the point of view of a driver on their cell phone about to strike a student in the crosswalk with the words “R u ready 2 stop?” They also put together this great video.

Post by Melissa Gately, Tyler Manoukian, and Remy Schwartz

Interview with Multimedia Visionary: Melissa Gately

21 Feb

This is the first video package I produced for the Multimedia Journalism class. The subject of our interview was “Multimedia and You.” Enjoy!

Peak Oil: Navigating Fact and Fallacy

20 Feb

The internet is packed with useful information. It is common for a Google search on a simple subject to return millions of results. As educated members of the web community, it is important that surfers of the digital waves know how to differentiate between a good source and a and an outdated Star Trek Fan Fiction Angelfire page.

John Henderson’s guide to critical analysis of websites is an online tutorial from the Library at Ithaca College. His tutorial offers simple instructions on how to weave through the information black hole called the internet.

As a child of the web, I grew up primarily using online research throughout my academic career. To a seasoned internet navigator, most of Henderson’s advice is second-nature. Below is an analysis exercise decoding several websites about Peak Oil.

1. Stephen Lendman for countercurrents.org

  NOT AUTHORITATIVE

The first thing I notice when I visit this site is the aesthetic. 2012 is an age of tight web design and easy navigation. Most legitimate news sources and sites keep a well-maintained and easily accesible user interface.

This website looks outdated. The layout is busy and the graphics are cheesy. The information is laid out with a handful of un-cited statistics and facts. The only background on the author reads “Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached atlendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.” There are no listed sources or a works cited page.

2. Euan Mearns for theoildrum.com

  AUTHORITATIVE

I was not sure about this article upon first glance. The website is navigate-able and updated, but seems outdated in design. I found the lack of author information slightly discrediting. I saw that the homepage was regularly updated, so I looked into the article with more depth.

The author, Euan Mearns, does a good job linking to his sources throughout the article. His graphs are emblemed with the insignia of known government agencies and his links guide readers to mostly respectable sources. The article is decently organized and highly commented on.

3. Number 6 for dont-tread-on.me

  SEMI-AUTHORITATIVE

This article loses immediate credit because Henderson’s page provided a dead link. When I searched though the main site’s archives I found the article. The website looks a little unprofessional but it is updated regularly and has a heavily visited comments section.

This article teeters on the line between suspicious and legitimate. The nameless author is an immediate red-flag. Many of the links lead to questionable and outdated blogs and web pages. Some of the links lead to respectable sites and reports. I would suggest using this article to find links to a useful articles.

4. Raymond J. Learsy for the Huffington Post

  NOT AUTHORITATIVE

The Huffington Post has name recognition and Learsy’s bio is offered at the top of the article. It is noted that he is an established writer who has produced respectable and authoritative content in the past.

This article, however, is more editorial than factual. It contains one link to another Huffington Post article, written by him. He makes an argument against peak oil but does not accurately back it up with cited facts or reports.

5. Michael T. Klare for informationclearinghouse.info

  AUTHORITATIVE

This article is misleading at first. It is posted on a lone web page. It looks outdated and illegitimate. The layout is sloppy. However, in the first line, it cites the article’s original publication to tomdispatch.com. The article is full of factual evidence cited with legitimate government agency links and other credible sources.

The author is a published professor at Hampshire College, an ELITE New England University, one that I currently attend as an undergraduate. The article is reposted on the questionable web page, but it is well cited and organized.

When Congress Dropped the SOPA

13 Feb

On January 18th, the standard colorful Google emblem was covered by a black bar. The bar, that most would recognize as a form of censorship, linked to a Google page explaining the content and consequences of SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act.

SOPA was a piece of legislation proposed to the House of the Representative by Lamar S. Smith of Texas. The goal of the bill was to expand the reach of the Justice Department to better protect against online piracy and copyright infringement. A corresponding bill, the Protect IP Act, or PIPA, was introduced in the Senate.

THE BLACKOUT

Google was one of the more than 150,000 websites that took part in the January 18 strike. Other notable sites…

  • The English language Wikipedia
  • Reedit
  • Firefox
  • Tumblr
  • WordPress.

Word of the controversial bill spread like wild fire on the day of the strike. There were over 2,200,000 tweets with the trending topic #sopa. There was a great deal of attention paid to the companies and websites opposing the legislation through the online strike.

THE SUPPORTERS

A lesser discussed subject were the companies that maintained their support of SOPA. A few weeks before the strike, Neowin.net posted a three page Judiciary Committee document listing supporters of the bills. Included on this list:

  • ABC
  • CBS
  • Comcast/NBC Universal
  • The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA, the people that rate movies)
  • Random House Publishing
  • Time Warner.

Many websites that opposed SOPA are nonetheless dedicated to eradicating their role in online piracy. YouTube.com, who’s parent company is Google, has a strict copyright infringement policy. Anytime the site is alerted of copyrighted material that has been posted, they investigate within a short window and remove illegal content.

Users who break the rule could have their account and face the possibility of being sued by the content’s rightful owner. Under SOPA, it is possible that every time one of these cases appears YouTube.com will be shut down temporarily and unable to police themselves.

.TORRENT

On January 19, the day after the online strike, the Justice Department shut down the Chinese-based file sharing website Megaupload.com, leaving an ominous warning to it’s visitors. SOPA is limited to domestic policing of copyright law, whereas the corresponding PIPA will target primarily off-shore websites like the infamous Swedish .torrent website Thepiratebay.org.

Thepiratebay.org provides links and direct downloads of .torrent files that include thousands of copyright protected video, audio, and program files that can be downloaded through a bittorrent application. This process draws from multiple sources and locations making the download nearly impossible to track.

THE FATHER OF THE WEB

The goal of SOPA is to stop online piracy of copyrighted content. The fear of many online users and internet businesses is that this legislation will open a door into a new era of internet policing. In December of 2011, legendary computer programmer Vint Cerf wrote a letter to Representative Smith debating the legislation.

Cerf is currently a vice president at Google and calls himself one of the “founding fathers” of the internet due to his original role in its infrastructural design. Cerf argues that the initiative will jumpstart an international “arms war” of web censorship.

THE BACK-DOWN

On January 20, representative Smith responded to the public outcry against SOPA and the drafting of the bill was suspended indefinitely. Smith made a statement on his website recognizing the concerns of the internet community and welcoming further input on the matter.