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The nation is well acquainted with the movement to “Eat Local," but the push for sustainable agriculture stems from more than just a healthy lifestyle trend.
The Food and Water Watch alludes to the suffocation of sustainable farms in the chokehold of industrial competition, and warns against the threat of factory farming practices on the ecological, economic, and biological cycles of life, as Americans know it.
The USDA defines a farm as any operation that produces one thousand dollars of agricultural products annually.
University of Texas Austin students practice sustainable farming techniques at the UT Microfarm where they can learn to grow their own food in an environmentally friendly way.
Steve McNulty is the farm’s pesticide and fertilizer intern and is responsible for treating and documenting crop growth and infestations. The Microfarm uses organic products and avoids over spraying its plants to prevent the risk of runoff pollution, said McNulty.
“The really bad pesticides you hear about contaminating drinking water… those are chemicals manufactured in factories. We use organic soap and neme oil, which is also organic. So, if it does run off, it’s not nearly as harmful (if harmful at all) to the environment,” said McNulty.
The USDA’s quinquennial Census of Agriculture report recorded a decrease in the number of farms on which fertilizer, manure, or chemicals were used from 2007 to 2012. However, the second and third most costly increases in farm production expenses were from fertilizers and chemicals respectively. The number of farms that used chemicals to control crop growth and treat for pests and diseases, also increased.
Amy Marsh, the UT Microfarm compost intern, oversees the compost process at the farm. Each pile contains six to nine layers of material that alternate between coffee grounds, greenery, and leaves, said Marsh.
When she finishes an apple or has a bouquet of dead flowers, she can simply toss them into the pile, “It’s cool that while I’m gaining sustenance, I can provide sustenance for the future,” said Marsh.
In Factory Farm Nation 2015 Edition, the Food and Water Watch said if industrial agriculture practices continue, they will result in an economic and environmental backlash as the product value per agricultural unit plummets and the resulting waste accumulates.
The scale of manure produced by industrial livestock is so large that it must be applied to the soil in quantities that exceed the land’s natural ability to incorporate the waste, resulting in run-off pollution and potentially toxic saturation.
In 2012, factory farm livestock produced 369 million tons of manure, thirteen times the amount of the U.S. population’s sewage production and enough to fill the Dallas Cowboys stadium 133 times.
If the total amount of manure produced in 2012 were dispersed among the USDA’s recorded number of farms said to treat their soils with organic waste, approximately 1,300 tons of manure fertilizer would have to be applied to the land of each farm to utilize all of the byproduct.
Of course, not all waste can be recycled, and large amounts fill manure lagoons that risk leaking into the environment. The rest is either transported to an off-site location, or spread among the soil of the surrounding area.
The use of antibiotics in livestock factories increases production and allows larger farms to hold a monopoly over the market by artificially altering the growth process and reducing the space needed for each livestock unit.*
Seventy-five percent of these antibiotics are undigested by livestock and pass via the urine and feces of the livestock to the neighboring water supply and soil.
Sustainable farmers avoid using such treatments and as a result, are at an automatic disadvantage when competing with factory farms.
More than half of U.S. farmers lost money in their operations in 2012, while the number of livestock units* on factory farms increased by 4.8 million to a total of 28.5 million units.
The UT Microfarm faces a similar challenge as university expansion plans threaten to overtake their plot of land for the construction of tennis courts, forcing the farm to move locations. While the new plans are not official, members engage in the common struggle of small farms to justify their importance in the shadow of urban development.
“It’s really important that we get our food from sources that are sustainable, that we can renew, and that are not depleting our resources,” said McNulty, because sustainable agriculture is “not taking away from anything; It’s always going to be there.”
The USDA recorded a plateau in the number of local farm direct-to-consumer sales since 2007. The administration said this might have resulted from the condensed competition of urban niches where sustainable farmers have already established a community presence and have access to more market hubs and lower transportation costs than rural farmers outside of the metropolitan sphere.
“Farming affects everyone, but only two percent of the population in America farms,” said Marsh, which is troubling because “everyone has to eat,” and the modern methods for meeting this need have become dangerous for everyone and everything involved.
* “Livestock units” allow for measurement of different kinds of animals on the same scale based on their weight. For example, one beef cattle is equal to two-thirds of a dairy cow, eight hogs, or four hundred chickens.
by Alexa Harrington, Karen Martinez, Taylor Wiseman, and Katherine Recatto
Austin is dotted with murals, mosaics, and colorful art installations. Art is displayed as panels at a library and along the rail of a pedestrian bridge. These pieces are installed through the Art in Public Places program. Art in Public Places just celebrated its 30th anniversary of collaborating with artists to showcase art throughout the city.
“It’s the art that belongs to the people of Austin,” said Jennifer Chenoweth, local artist of “The Public Sentiment Campaign,” a colorful piece that represents people’s’ experiences in places such as a park or a street intersection.
Art in Public Places hosted an art crawl in East Austin in conjunction with the EAST Studio Tour.
By ordinance, 2% of every capital improvement project budget is allotted for art. Artists are chosen by a panel and the work is usually installed during construction of the project.
“The Public Sentiment Campaign” is one of ten TEMPO 2015 pieces and one of about 200 public art pieces.
“I think the artists in Austin need the respect that Art in Public Places provides them,” said Ester Mathews, participant at the 30th anniversary celebration. “When you integrate the art [into construction], you have a better relationship [between artist and community].”
Chenoweth says that the Austin community influences her art.
“I have to create things that are interesting visually but also give people an experience to interact with because I’m making art for people in Austin,” she said. Austin public wants art that is about “life, challenges, or impactful rather than passive pieces of art.”
Chenoweth started with her project, the “XYZ Atlas” in 2003 and asked people about their experiences in Austin and their location. She expected only locations, but also received stories.
“The stories were all anonymous so people felt free to tell their personal and intimate stories and that was very exciting and inspiring to read,” she said. Dorothy Johnson, writer and content editor, reached out to her to collaborate a piece to “engage people about place.” “The Public Sentiment Campaign” is now located in Boggy Creek Greenbelt.
Chenoweth said that technology and society is always changing, therefore Austin continues to influence her work.
“I feel like I’m already behind if I’m not ten steps ahead,” she said.
For more information on Art in Public Places, visit www.austincreates.com.
This map shows all the TEMPO 2015 and a few permanent AIPP pieces. Full a full map click here
Alex (left) and Glenn (right) playing at the Continental Club
Most millennials would say Jazz is a dying genre in the music industry, but it’s expected. When kids of the 90’s don’t recall the dewey decimal system, it’s hard to reach further back and remember great blues artists like Buddy Guy and Marcia Ball. But two brothers, Glenn and Alex Peterson, are keeping the music alive. Born and raised deep in the “Lost Pines” of Bastrop, Texas, the talented duo are breaking barriers and making memories in the Austin music scene, sharing stages with artists such as Los Lonely Boys, Lisa Marie Presley, and B.B. King.
What’s even more impressive; the two have only been in the business for 7 years.
The Peterson Brothers Play every Monday night at the Continental Club in Austin.
Brothers Glenn Jr., 18, and Alex, 16, have tried every sport a kid could try. With the support of their parents in basketball, to soccer, to football, each hobby didn’t last long. It was only their joy in music however, that made the cut.
Glenn is the vocalist for the band and plays guitar delivering the funk and rhythm mixed with traditional jazz leads. Alex brings the boom, literally. Working on bass guitar, he keeps the beat low and the vibes high, with a smoother, “swing”-like style. With a little mojo and a lot of hard work, the two formed The Peterson Brothers Band, accompanied by drummer, Chris Mead.
Alex Peterson, 19 playing the guitar.
Many would agree there aren’t many young groups renovating blues. There aren’t many younger people inclined to blues either; the sub-genre itself is not a top ten amongst millennials. However the chemistry between the Peterson brothers is obvious from the stage, and the two are rising in the Austin music scene.
“Having my brother up there with me, connecting… They can feel how much fun we’re having, they can feel the vibes. The nervousness is never there anymore,” Glenn says.
The Peterson Brothers Band make a note to never play the same song the same way twice, and make every performance their best performance. With the support of their parents and a solid fan base, they’ve hooked residency at the Continental Club, Half-Step, occasional weddings, and more just this year.
Meanwhile mom and manager, Deanna Peterson, handles the business side, and the boys stick to making good grades and good music. Somehow, the two never quarrel finding time to balance academics, music, and family.
Glenn recently graduated from Bastrop High School, and Alex is completing driver’s Ed. In fact, the brothers just released their first recording this past summer, debuting 11 tracks of smooth jazz with originality and respect to blues.
“I think our dream is just to be able to do this for the rest of our lives and keep the fun in it’,” the boys say.
Simply put, they are two brothers, one sound. And the music doesn’t stop. The Peterson Brothers Band will be taking their talents out of state soon, touring Florida with a grand finale performance in the Key West Songwriters Festival in May 2016
Story by Brianna Tucker
Photos and Video by Jonathan Vail and Kylie Hopkins.
By: Vanessa Pulido, Alex Wilts, Michael Baez, and Jessica Stovall
Lisa Villanyi, 46, may need to go out for Thanksgiving dinner next year. The small dining space in the 399 square-foot home she’s thinking about buying may not be enough room to cook a full feast – and fit her entire family.
Villanyi is soon to be part of the one percent of homebuyers that have chosen to purchase a house of less than 1,000 square feet. As apartment rent costs rise and consumers become more environmentally conscious, the tiny house movement has grown in certain U.S. cities, including Austin.
“I think everyone still wants a piece of the American dream, and small houses are sustainable and affordable,” said Shay Reynolds, owner of Buy A Small House in Austin.
On Nov. 19, the Austin City Council even voted to ease the rules restricting the construction of backyard cottages, or additional add-on properties to larger homes, which often serve as housing for aging relatives.
“When someone comes in and they’ve decided they want to buy a small house, they choose between 15 to 18 different floor plans,” Reynolds said. He said customers are then able to also select the type of flooring and roof, as well as paint colors.
“Once it’s finished being built, we deliver it, lock it, level it, tie it down and hook it up to the utilities and it’s a fully functional house,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said people tend to either purchase or lease land, or find an RV park to place their new $45,000 tiny home. He also said the 399 square-foot houses are not subject to sales or property taxes.
Villanyi, who currently resides in Denver, Colorado, said she is currently struggling to find property in Austin to put her house, as the area has recently become flooded with new housing and construction developments. She said she currently pays $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.
“You’re constantly paying rent every month and never getting ahead,” Villanyi said. “I figured if I could pay for this in cash, then I’d have it for my own.”
Reynolds said “business is booming,” but it is difficult to determine the actual impact the tiny house movement is having on Austin since other forms of housing remain popular.
Residential Strategies Inc., a Dallas-based market research company, reported in January 2015 the new home inventory – including model homes, homes under construction and finished vacant homes – was 7,279 at the end of 2014. This was a 46-unit increase from 2013. Several new apartment complexes are also under construction to keep up with the housing demand of the city’s booming population.
But Villanyi has other things to think about, especially if she will be able to host her family that lives in Colorado for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“I haven’t even thought about holidays,” Villanyi said. “It’s small, but it’s plenty big for me.”
By Danielle Lopez, Danielle Vabner, Erika Sauceda, Alexandra Cannon
AUSTIN, Tex.— In a small, bright blue room, Wendy Mitchell sits on the floor, prepared to perform her next surgery. She takes her sewing needle and thread and begins to stitch up her latest patient, a stuffed animal whose tail had been torn off by a dog just days before.
Mitchell is the founder of The Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation, a free Austin-based adoption agency for stuffed animals. The foundation also offers stuffed animal repair services and hosts petting zoos around Austin.
The animals, which range from a snowman in a tie to a psychedelic dinosaur, were either found, donated or, on occasion, they simply show up at Mitchell’s front steps.
“Sometimes, they just knock on the door,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell runs The S.A.R.F., which began a little more than seven years ago, out of her small marketing office in Northeast Austin. She started the project as a creative outlet for her to write. With every new animal, she said she sits down and helps them write their own bios to post on the adoption website.
“It’s like a creative writing project for me,” Mitchell said. “I’m very much a writer and a Pixar fan. You can put as many adult concepts in their bios and the kids are going to still see a cute stuffed animal.”
By creating backstories to each animal, Mitchell said the animals become more appealing.
“You’re just creating a value to something without having to manufacture something new,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a matter of making something valuable again.”
To apply, potential adopters can fill out an online application that outlines what their profession is, what their home life is like and why they think they are a good candidate. Mitchell said it’s very much like a real adoption agency application.
Last year, 11-year-old Melanie Sylvana was in search of a stuffed companion. She and her mother came across the The S.A.R.F website and adopted Allen, a stuffed pig who is an accountant. She said he now has his own office in her bedroom and often helps her with his math homework.
“Buying an animal from a store is boring,” Sylvana said. “They don’t have a story or a name and I always forget about them. But I really love pigs and Allen was exactly what I wanted.”
Mitchell said the people who adopt The S.A.R.F. animals are not just children — adults adopt too. Collette Girourard, who works as the Commissary Manager at the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, used to be a correctional facilities officer. She attended one of Mitchell’s petting zoos and adopted Horace, a stuffed animal who used to be a prisoner and had been released from stuffed-animal Alcatraz.
“I just felt really qualified to care for this stuffed criminal,” Girourard said. “Horace and I just got back from a wonderful two-week camping vacation in September and another week vacation spent at Universal Studios.”
Although it’s time consuming, Mitchell hopes to continue expanding The S.A.R.F. She often thinks of her 19-year-old stuffed platypus and wants to help people find their own friend.
“When people come and pick up their adopted animal, there’s something really magical about it,” Mitchell said.
By: Estefania de Leon, Estephanie Gomez, Karla Pulido and Raylee Elder
By Estephanie Gomez
An overcast November sky washes out the already fading colors of a mural in the middle of Chicano Park. Children run past it, ignoring it. The vibrant blues of the swing sets call to them more than the dull greens and browns of the painting.
It’s the painting’s deteriorating condition that draws in a group of twenty people on a chilly afternoon.
This group is a part of the East Austin History Tour, a walking tour of historic Mexican American sites led by University of Texas graduate students Rocio Villalobos and Allison Reimer. The tour is inspired by Jane’s Walk USA, a series of free neighborhood walking tours inspired by urban activist Jane Jacobs, who fought for local residents and for the preservation of their community’s history.
According to Community and Regional Planning graduate student Allison Reimer, this tour aimed to do the same during a time in the area’s gentrification. The tour covered a three-and-a-half mile walk through both well-known and hidden historical sites, starting in Comal Park and ending with the restored La Loteria mural.
Although it is Riemer’s second year in Austin, she has already noticed significant changes in the East Austin community.
“It’s something that’s on-going, and it’s happening everywhere. It’s important to hear from people from those communities,” Riemer said.
Each site featured a different mural artists or members of the community who have seen the area change as early at the 1970s. Each speaker touched on gentrification, including the arrival of the Launderette, the location of a treasured Virgin of Guadalupe mural and a restaurant where “you can’t find anything under $15,” according to Felipe Garza.
This is just one example where East Austin residents have been economically pushed out of their own community.
Felipe Garza, a former East Austin resident and the artist behind La Loteria, as well as mural artists Mando Martinez and Robert Herrera Jr., claimed that members of the community have been “taxed out.” The arrival of upscale hotels and restaurants in the East Austin area increased the value of properties. Their friends and neighbors were unable to afford the new rent and were forced out of the area.
For Garza and other mural artists, the paintings were one way they could culturally and creatively express themselves so that they didn’t feel like “strangers in [their] own community” as new businesses took over.
According to Bertha Delgado, East Austin Community Organizer and the Director of Arte Texas, East Austin’s value escalated once the Holly Power Plant was shut down in September 2007.
“A lot of people neglected this area because of the plant. We didn’t have a whole lot of resources, and there were a lot of drugs, gangs and violence,” Delgado said.
Many of the community’s “troubled” youth turned to graffiti, including mural artist Robert Hernandez Jr.
Hernandez later turned to murals and projects like Arte Texas when La Loteria, a cherished community mural, was painted over earlier this year. For Hernandez, the murals reflect cultural messages of the time that deserve to be preserved to honor past generations as well as those of the future.
“I have children, and if they’re not self-assured and don’t feel strong enough about their culture, how can they be of any use to the world?” Hernandez asked.
It is this sense of preservation that inspired the creation of Arte Texas.
“It took a lot of community outcry. We felt like ‘how could these people do this to our businesses and our community?’ I think [La Loteria] showed the world that we were being gentrified and economically exploited and we need people to help us,” Delgado said.
The support from the community as well as the city council let Delgado know that their work was important. According to Delgado, Arte Texas is currently working on restoring other beloved murals.
“We know Austin is ready to see more art, and we’re ready, “ Delgado said.