BriarPatch donates food to those in need, explores options in face of power outage

On October 10, the BriarPatch community came together in a positive way during a PG&E Power Outage that put hundreds of thousands of people in the dark for days across Northern California.

 “Our goal is to not waste food. Food is precious,” said General Manager Chris Maher.

BriarPatch teamed up with the Food Bank of Nevada County to offer fresh, delicious, healthy and ready-to eat-foods to people facing food insecurity. The Co-op donated several thousand pounds of food at the Nevada County Emergency Food Distribution Center that consisted of hundreds of pre-made meals like sandwiches, dinners and salads; fresh produce like organic avocados, bags of gourmet specialty cheeses, pro-biotic and fermented foods, baked goods and fresh juices.

“One woman broke down in tears and told me that she lost all of her food for the week and wouldn’t be able to buy groceries again until her next payday. The food that she left with would need to sustain her until then,” said Nicole McNeely, Executive Director of Food Bank of Nevada County.

Food Bank and Food Link brought four` trucks full of 3,300 pounds of fresh produce and milk, 900 pounds of meat and eggs and 10,000 pounds of dry food. Nutritional support was given to 225 families and over 650 individuals. Many of those were seniors and children.

“Clients expressed immense gratitude,” said Sustainability Coordinator Lauren Scott.

Several hundred pounds of food that had reached unsafe temperatures for human consumption was donated to local farmers to feed their pigs.

Thanks to some advanced planning and lots of hard work, BriarPatch managed to save a lot of products by using 1800 pounds of dry ice, a refrigeration truck and a freezer truck until the outage was over.

“It was a huge team effort. I give the whole store huge kudos for working together,” said Grocery Manager Shawn Bailey.

Despite all the efforts to save perishables, goods valued at tens of thousands of dollars were lost with food like dairy and meat hit the hardest.

A New Normal

In the week after the PG&E power outage, BriarPatch staff and board are giving considerable thought to public concern that arose from the Black Out and the idea that electric grid shutdowns could become the new normal in the face of changing climate and increased risks from wildfire.

“We heard the community loud and clear and we’re exploring every idea that’s on the table,” said General Manager Chris Maher.

BriarPatch has 680 high performance solar panels that also serve as an impressive shade structure in the store’s parking lot. Members of the community have asked the question – Why did BriarPatch shut its doors during the power outage if it uses solar power?

While the panels reduce dependency on the public electrical grid by $3 million over 25 years and offset upwards of 51 percent of the store’s electrical needs, they do not provide an off-grid power source to the store during a black out.

“Like 95 percent of the solar systems in our area, the BriarPatch solar carport was designed solely as a power supply, focusing on delivering green energy at a cheaper price, and was not designed as a back-up power source, which would require large and very expensive batteries” or generator, said Martin Webb, Commercial Sales Manager for California Solar Electric Company, the Grass Valley business that installed the system in 2016.

The Solar Array on the Briar Patch is a “grid-tied” solar system – or a system that uses the PG&E power grid as a battery – storing power all summer for use in the Winter.

Solar systems without a battery bank that are connected to the utility grid must fully shut down in the event of a utility blackout, as a safety feature required by the National Electrical Code. Otherwise, the solar power could shoot up the dead electrical lines and create dangerous conditions that can shock linemen or create a fire.

“Though batteries have come a long way, BriarPatch would need to do an extensive cost benefit analysis to justify such a system for situations like this, as these systems would cost a multiplier of the existing solar array and would require room for the equipment in an already crowded store,” said Lars Ortegren General Manager of Cal Solar.

When the system was designed two to three years ago, the concept of a multi-day intentional regionwide blackout was not even a remote possibility. The original goal of installing a solar electric system was to reduce the store’s environmental impacts while saving co-op owners money over the lifetime of the panels. It is part of BriarPatch’s long-term sustainability vision that also includes: a LEED certified green building, an Electric Vehicle Charging Station, supporting a local food system, and reducing food waste.

BriarPatch is exploring all options of grid-free electricity as PG&E power outages become more common place. Another black out could hit later this week.

“It’s an enormous undertaking to get the store to be working independently of the grid,” said Chris Maher. “The community has made BriarPatch a primary gathering hub and resource. We’re working toward the best vision of preserving that reality that we can.” Learn more:


Impeach this!

Editor’s note: I somehow managed to miss this gathering when I was in Las Vegas, but I read about it in the newspaper. It drew 100 people in the nation’s 28-largest metropolis — about what you’d expect around here.

“On October 17, 2019, fellow Republicans and supporters of President Trump will join forces with conservatives from all over the Country to protest the attempt to impeach President Trump.

“We want our President to know that he is not alone and that we stand with him! We invite you to join us at Trump International Hotel, 2000 Fashion Show Dr. Las Vegas, NV. 89109 at 10am to March for President Trump!

“Bring your rally signs, wear your red shirts and comfortable shoes so that we can show President Trump that we support him and REJECT the constant attempts to impeach him!

“Don’t forget to show your support and get you [sic] exclusive “Impeach THIS” T-shirt. The proceeds of the sales are split equally between the NVGOP and the Trump Campaign. Order yours today!

SoHo comes to Vegas (and India too)

LAS VEGAS – I’m living it up at the Bellagio and starting tonight, headed to the Waldorf Astoria, during this “excellent adventure” to Sin City. I checked out the casinos but have preferred to read a book (“Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover) at the pool instead.

The public spaces at the Bellagio are remarkable – and the highlight of the hotel, at least for me.

This fall the Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Garden features a colorful fall display celebrating India: complete with elephants, tigers, fountains and flowers. A live webcam to the fall display is HERE. (Note: The webcam title is mislabeled).

Alongside the exhibit, the Bellagio has imported the popular vintage-style New York SoHo restaurant, Sadelle’s, to Las Vegas.

Sadelle’s is recreated in exquisite detail, ranging from “colorful pastels and bespoke touches transporting diners to a grand café along an old European boulevard” to the restaurant’s legendary menu.

The menu includes bagels and fresh smoked-fish platters, triple-decker sandwiches, salads and all-day caviar offerings.

I enjoyed the smoked-fish platter one morning for breakfast. It was a glorious presentation (plated in a tower, no less), complete with a bagel, thinly sliced tomato, cucumber and capers.

“Overlooking the Bellagio Conservatory, Sadelle’s brings an elevated perspective to all-day dining in Las Vegas,” as the Bellagio puts it. “The restaurant’s stunning locale, Ken Fulk design, fun vibe and legendary menu make it a destination experience for tourists and locals.” A video is here:

Viva Las Vegas!

LAS VEGAS – I love the notion of an endless summer, and I had a break at work, so I came here for a few days to soak up the 80-plus degree weather and read a book next to a swimming pool.

I’m reading “Educated,” a coming-of-age memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge. It is a New York Times bestseller.

To clear the decks for this trip, I put the “fall-like” weather back home on hold. In the Sierra foothills I like this season best. The recent power outage forced us to crank up the big red Vermont Castings stove in the kitchen, a fall ritual for us.

“Fall Colors” is the theme of our magazine’s upcoming issue, now at the printer (leading to this short break). Our cover art is a painting of Fall Colors on Nevada St. in Nevada City by local artist Kathy Wronski. Like Kathy’s “dog art,” it is energizing. We love Kathy’s work; she exemplifies our local artistic talent.

I flew to Las Vegas on Spirit Airlines for less than $100 roundtrip, thanks to some fare wars out of Sacramento, and I’m using frequent traveler miles to stay at the Bellagio and Waldorf Astoria. It’s another “excellent adventure.”

Las Vegas is booming. I passed the new Oakland Raiders stadium – still under construction – on the Uber ride from the airport to the hotel. It is a gleaming, reflective structure. I like the Raiders team but am not a big fan of its “fairweather” management. Oakland got hosed.

Besides its new stadium, Las Vegas is benefiting from the vision of billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson. Sir Richard’s plan is to build an all-electric train that will go from Vegas to Victorville and later, if all goes well, to Los Angeles.

We rode a Virgin train from London to the English countryside a few summers ago and loved the journey. Like Branson’s airline, the train offers great service at a reasonable price.

Vegas is coming of age, now generating a mix of ample entertainment besides gambling. I like playing card games and betting on sports (including horse racing), but this trip is more about reading a good book and relaxing by the pool.

My wife and son are holding down the fort, and I appreciate that. The “60-something” lifestyle isn’t that bad after all.

Shepard Smith’s abrupt departure from Fox is not fake news!

“To critics who accuse Fox News of being uniformly pro-Trump, the network often points to the blunt-truth reporting of Shepard Smith, its veteran chief news anchor, whose coverage of the Trump White House stood out on a channel known best for conservative opinion,” as the New York Times is reporting.

“Starting now, Fox News will need to point to somebody else.

“In an announcement that stunned colleagues, Mr. Smith concluded his Friday newscast by signing off from Fox News — for good. ‘Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave,’ Mr. Smith said calmly. ‘After requesting that I stay, they obliged.’

“A member of the network’s founding staff in 1996, Mr. Smith became increasingly conspicuous at Fox News for his skepticism on President Trump. ‘Why is it lie after lie after lie?’ Mr. Smith asked during a 2017 newscast; this summer, he deemed the president’s attacks on minority female lawmakers as ‘misleading and xenophobic.’

“His pointed comments, closer in tone to that of CNN anchors like Anderson Cooper than of Fox News mainstays like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, irked Mr. Trump, who had taken to taunting Mr. Smith on Twitter as the network’s ‘lowest-rated anchor.’ Other Fox News personalities were also unimpressed: Last month, Mr. Carlson openly mocked Mr. Smith on-air, a rare moment of intramural discord bursting into public view.”

The rest of the article is here.

A room with a view of Beijing’s tallest skyscraper

Completed just in time for the 70th Anniversary of China’s National Day, October 1: the ritual vessel-inspired CITIC Tower. Photo: HG Esch, courtesy of KPF.

BEIJING — The 1731-foot-tall CITIC Tower — the capital city’s new tallest building and the world’s eighth tallest — opened just in time for China’s national celebrations this week. It is in the same neighborhood as the Rosewood Beijing, the hotel where I’m staying. I can see it from my room.

The super-tall skyscraper stands in start contract to the historic Beijing hutongs I visited earlier this week. “Not only is Beijing HUGE – and I’m talking enormous – but the city itself has a great mix of preserved ancient culture and super modern and contemporary architecture from some of the world’s most famous architects,” as one online travel magazine put it.

CITIC Tower’s design draws inspiration from the “zun,” a ritual vessel originating in Bronze Age China, according to the the architects behind the structure’s design, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

“In profile, the tower abstracts and refines the zun’s vase-like form, balancing composition and articulation with structural requirements and leasing depth needs,” the architectural firm added. “Broader at its base than its crown, the tower combines its iconography with infrastructure that supports the building’s integrity in China’s greatest seismic zone.”

A video of the skyscraper is here: CITIC (China Zun) Tower from Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF).