Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Farm Food "Fondo"

After a very soggy week the sun returned and it got much, much warmer again. Unfortunately, this means that pollen are back in the air. The strong wind that came early this week made the whole situation even worse. After my Sunday ride my eyes were more red than the Soviet flag. Now I use the trick from the last year to wear safety glasses from my lab. They provide a much better protection from wind and pollen.
After just a few miles on the Minuteman Bikeway my tires turned neon-bright green from all the pollen on the pavement. A new safety feature by mother nature - eco-friendly, high visibility coating!

Anyway, last Sunday morning I headed towards Bedford starting a nearly 45 mile ride visiting local farms. This Farm Food "Fondo" took me through the neighborhoods of Lexington, Bedford, Carlisle, Concord and Lincoln where I could resupply in locally grown produce, ice cream or other farm-to-table goodies. Well, theoretically at least. For me, this ride was more to scout out the area as (1) I was there too early in the day or season and many of those places were still closed, and (2) my road bike does not have any provisions to haul any significant number of veggies. But should you decide to ride this route in the late summer on a different bike, take big panniers with you.

The first major stop comes at the Great Brook Dairy Farm in Carlisle, where you will be welcomed by lots of livestock, including goats, pigs, sheep and cows in all sizes. The farm is a fun place for kids and while you won't be able to buy any vegetables here, you can try their delicious ice cream. Unfortunately, as I was there at 7:30AM, the ice cream stand was closed. No one eats ice cream before breakfast, I suppose.
Great Brook Dairy Farm as seen from N Road.

If you have never been to this area you should quickly fix this mistake. The farm is part of a much larger state park and even if cycling is not your thing, the hiking trails in the forest are fun as well. And if you do arrive by bicycle, the N Rd in Carlisle is one of my favorite places to ride a road bike around. There is almost no car traffic, it's quiet and it's not a straight stretch of asphalt. The road has multiple hills and tighter turns making the ride much more fun.

Bessy, #1042, was watching me curiously.

Ice cream stand at the Great Brook Dairy Farm.

Once the ice cream have been consumed we can keep going the Curve St to the next stop - the Cranberry Bog. It's not really a farm the way other places on this route are, but you should still stop and look around. This place looks very different depending on the season and you may either see it empty, full or red berry bushes or flooded during harvest. Also, if you have wider tires on your bicycle, try exploring trails through the bog area.
Moving on, we approach Carlisle center, which isn't much of a center to be honest. Carlisle is a very rural place without the typical Main St. Once you get closer to its midpoint, you will see a grocery store, a few churches, a school and Clark Farm. On Sunday morning this place was nearly dead silent but later in season you can count on some locally-grown veggies to be offered here.
Once you pass this area and keep moving Bedford Rd south, you will see a sign to the popular Kimball Farm Ice Cream stand. I've seen this place really crowded in summer but at 8:00AM on Sunday it was still closed. People must prefer eating their ice cream later in Carlisle.
Time to keep moving further south on Monument St where you will find several more farms on the way. However, most of them will be places like Water's Edge Farm that would look great to someone who prefers real horse power, instead of the mechanical one.
All horses at the Water's Edge Farm had their eyes covered. Anyone know why?

One exception to this rule is the Hutchins Farm at Monument St. I shopped there a few times and they do have a decent selection of veggies in season. The cool thing is that even if they are closed, they would offer some produce on their self-service bench. Organic asparagus was in season for about $4 a bunch. I would probably get one for dinner but somehow it didn't feel right to ride with a bunch of asparagus sticking out from rear jersey's pockets.
Hutchins Farm - the farm land.

I kept going and quickly passed Concord Center to reach Verrill Farm - my next stop at Sudbury Rd. Compared to the previous places this one looks more like a small supermarket. They offer lots of their own produce and some other locally-grown goodies.
Unlike Verrill Farm, the next place on my list was tiny. Lindentree Farm is a bit hidden, adjacent to the Old Concord Rd. The whole area offers more than just some produce. There are many hiking trails around (Mt Misery area) on the eastern bank of Sudbury River.
It was time to go back home and I moved east towards Lincoln to stop at one more place on my way to Arlington. Wilson Farm is probably well-known to people in this area. It's large, it does look like a supermarket and it offers lots of food, not only their own produce. You have to try their coffee ice cream if you shop there.

It's also one of those places that I like visiting only by bicycle. It's popular, so parking gets very crowded, especially on weekends. You can find yourself stuck in a long line of cars waiting to get a parking spot. But if you ride your bike there, expect your own private spot right at the front door.
Wilson Farms in Lexington

That was it. My "Fondo" was complete. I could get back home, wash out all the pollen from my eyes and refuel with another locally made product:

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Vision Zero or zero vision?

Vision Zero - two words that became increasingly popular here on the East Coast within the last couple of years. Everyone likes them as they promise so much. The problem is, everyone seems to understand a bit differently what they're supposed to represent:
  • For cyclists and pedestrians, Vision Zero is a hope that they won't be dying as often under the wheels of city buses, trucks and cars.
  • For drivers, it's a hope that those bloody cyclists will stay away from "their" streets and stop "slowing them down".
  • Finally, for politicians, it's a hope that popularity rankings will go up just by sending out a message: "See? We care!".
Now, what do you think? Which one of these was the original intention of Vision Zero? You would think that safety of those unprotected people, such as pedestrians and cyclists, would be taken seriously. Unfortunately, it seems that American approach to Vision Zero means simply zero vision - a total lack of any serious action that could truly reduce number of fatalities on streets of Boston or New York. Instead, we are getting more and more examples that our Vision Zero program means one thing - pretend to do anything or do it  as long as it doesn't inconvenience drivers. That's right - car is king and let's not forget about it.

These examples are plentiful.

A 29-year old Allison Warmuth was killed last weekend while traveling on a scooter with her friend. This time however, it wasn't a driver of an ordinary car who ran her over with his vehicle, but a Duck Tour operator. Duck Tours are popular in many American cities. These are amphibious vehicles adapted to move tourists on streets and rivers. While such business idea looks great on paper, Duck Tours have a less-than-perfect safety record. Many of these vehicles, Boston's included, are modified WWII-era amphibians that were designed for military use in a battlefield - not on congested city streets. Their drivers have a severely limited visibility from behind the wheel and they may be completely unaware of any foot or bicycle traffic in front of their vehicles. This was exactly the reason of the last weekend's collision.
(Photo by Jonathan Wiggs - Boston Globe)

You would think that such a massive vehicle with poor visibility should not be allowed on city streets. If Boston wanted to truly implement the original Vision Zero program, it should either ban all Duck Tours in the city or at least demand their major redesign, which would limit Duck Tours to operate smaller, street-friendly amphibians. Such solutions have been proposed but whether they are going to be taken seriously remains unknown.

Meanwhile, New York, a city that may not have Duck Tours but it does have NYPD and Woody Allen, works on its own version of Vision Zero. It seems that in NYC these two words have a very similar meaning as here in Boston. Last Thursday their Department of Transportation hosted an event where they were giving away official Vision Zero helmets! It's interesting how helmets are seen as the miracle cure to all traffic-related fatalities. NY's DoT seems to think "Just make them wear helmets and they will be safe". Unfortunately, examples of some countries (Hello, Australia!) where cycling helmets are mandatory show that nothing can be further from the truth. As the article on Brooklyn Spoke put it: "The media and police reflect the public's pro-helmet sentiment by implying that its role in any major crash is highly significant". Sad. Allison was wearing a helmet on her scooter. Did it help her from being crushed by a Duck Tour truck?

And how about Woody Allen? It turns out that he doesn't like bicycle lanes seeing them as "unacceptable" in his neighborhood. He and other citizens criticized the plan to add such infrastructure to several streets in the Upper East Side, despite presented with evidence that bike lanes calm traffic and thus make streets safer in general. This "not in my backyard" approach is often used by those who are afraid of the new. And while Allen is somewhat right that theses streets can't "accommodate a bike lane in a graceful way" (If by graceful he means keeping everything else as is - you would have to give up on something, such as car parking on one side), he's wrong at the same time that "every street has a good argument why it shouldn't have a lane". The only "street" that shouldn't have an adjacent, unprotected bike lane is an interstate highway.
Seems like Vision Zero is failing in New York not only because of some incapable governors or police but also the residents.
E 77 St in New York - one of those considered for bike lanes.

Now back to Boston. Our local radio station here, WBUR, ran a series on traffic congestion in the city. However, they seem to miss the point and fail for the obsolete metrics that answers the wrong question: "How many cars can we move on the street within one hour?", instead of using the correct one that focuses on the number of people an artery can move. 

Media can be an excellent aid of the Vision Zero campaign but when it fails to notice that city streets should be open for all people, not just drivers, it doesn't help reaching the original Vision Zero's goal - to reduce the number of fatalities in city traffic. For that, our streets will have to stop being high-speed highways and become less car-centric. We can't fit everyone's vehicle on Boston's streets but we can try to fit everyone.