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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

August 21, 1998

Air Date: August 21, 1998

SEGMENTS

Pasture Raised Chickens / Kim Motylewski

In the United States, the average American consumes an average 90 pounds of chicken each year. Millions of chickens are raised and slaughtered every few weeks. Most of them are caged for all of their short lives in giant hen houses and then killed on assembly lines. But a small but growing number of farmers are finding that raising modest-sized flocks outdoors can be more profitable and easier on the environment than the giant operations. The secret is a bit of high tech fencing and a keen sense of timing, and to keep the hens moving every day to a fresh spot of pasture. Joel Salatin is a leading promoter of this method. Living on Earth’s Kim Motylewski met him on his farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. (10:30)

Modern Day Homesteading

Host Steve Curwood interviews Linda Tatelbaum, who teaches English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. She has just written and self-published a book of essays about the struggles and blessings of living the simple life. Her book is called Carrying Water As a Way of Life, from About Time Press, Appleton, Maine. (08:05)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about...the Krakatau volcanic eruption. (01:30)

Eco-Tents / Steve Curwood

Host Steve Curwood visited an eco-tourism resort in the Caribbean where visitors stay in tents, use solar power, composting toilets, and have unique ways of dealing with garbage--like feeding it to crabs. From St. Johns in the U.S. Virgin Islands, at Concordia Eco Tents, Steve brought us this report. (07:40)

Gloucester at the Crossroads / Sandy Tolan

In this second installment of his Gloucester series, Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan spends time with the town mothers and fathers as the fishing community prepares for its annual celebration, the St. Peter's Fiesta. (16:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Kim Motylewski, Steve Curwood, Sandy Tolan
GUESTS: Linda Tatelbaum

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
You think of pastures for cows and horses perhaps, but not usually chickens. Well, think again, says one Virginia chicken farmer, pasture is changing his life.

SALATIN: We're going to actually build a relationship with our food supply. We're going to eat fresh, local, raw, unpackaged, we're going to find our kitchen again and make food fun. And these are wonderful things.

CURWOOD: Also, the not-so-simple problems of seeking the simple life: Homesteading in the '90s.

TATELBAUM: people who think the simple life means you sit around and admire trees all day don't have it right. It's very, very busy and it's complicated. But I guess to me it's a rat race of my own making.

CURWOOD: Those stories, this week, on Living on Earth, coming up after a round-up of this hour's news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Pasture Raised Chickens

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood with an encore edition of Living on Earth.
Folks here in the United States consume a lot of chicken. About 75 pounds a year for the average American, by some estimates. The big appetite has made meat birds a big business. Millions of chickens are raised and slaughtered every few weeks, and most of them are caged for all of their lives in giant henhouses and then killed on assembly lines. The old fashioned hen scratching in the yard is almost gone from America, except for a small but growing number of farmers who are finding that raising modest-sized flocks outdoors can be more profitable and easier on the environment than the giant operations. The secret: keep the hens moving every day to a fresh spot of pasture. Joel Salatin is a leading promoter of this method. Living on Earth's Kim Motylewski met him on his farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.

(Sound of driving on gravel)

MOTYLEWSKI: At the end of the gravel driveway at Polyface Farm stand an old clapboard house and a newish mobile home. Here in the teeny hamlet of Swope, Virginia, Joel Salatin wrote and self-published Pastured Poultry Profits in 1993. The book sold thousands, and now farmers, economists, and entrepreneurs flock here, eager, curious, or incredulous, to observe the self-described lunatic farmer plying his trade on 100 open acres behind the houses.

(Footfalls on gravel)

SALATIN: What we're looking at here is a 20-acre field with 31 of these 10-foot by 12-foot by 2-foot high floorless pens. So these are almost like, you could call them little portable huts, if you will.

(Bird chirps)

MOTYLEWSKI: About 90 birds live in each pen. They nibble on pasture grasses, clover, and legumes for vitamins and minerals. Bugs provide protein, and the ground is a good place to scratch. But chickens can't live on grass alone, so Mr. Salatin doles out rations, too: corn, grain, beans, and seaweed. The idea is to mimic a bird's natural diet, save on feed costs, and avoid what he calls the drugs, disease, and filth of commercial coops.

(Metal clanking)

SALATIN: If you live with your nose in a bleach bottle all the time, you'd be sick, too.

(Chickens clucking)

SALATIN: And that's the way most confinement animals live.

(Clucking continues)

MOTYLEWSKI: The Salatins raise about 3,000 chickens at a time. An industry grower might raise 50,000 at a clip, in cramped indoor coops. Here the field smells sweet. There are no coops to clean and no manure-filled lagoons that could spill into the river. Just the gradual fertilization of the fields as broilers, layers, and turkeys march across them.

SALATIN: Go to the pen with the dolly here and just slip it under, and it acts as a kind of a portable axle and a prybar. And then just grab the handle on the other end. And so now the pen is just rolling on those lawn mower wheels on that dolly, and the chickens are just walking right on the pasture. They get a completely fresh salad bar, and all the clover and crickets and grasshoppers to go with it. They move away from their manure and all that, get a fresh place to lounge. And we do this every day. It takes about 30 seconds and there it is.

(Birds chirping; metal clanking, clucking)

MOTYLEWSKI: Good thing it's quick, because the Salatins have a lot to do. Joel, his wife Theresa, and their 2 kids gather 90 dozen eggs a day, herd cattle to new fields (they're grass-fed, too) slop pigs, milk Polly the cow, and repair everything that breaks.

(Sloshing water)

MOTYLEWSKI: So Mr. Salatin has arranged for the animals to help with the work. One example: grazing cattle are susceptible to parasites and flies that breed in piles of manure. But instead of injecting every cow with de-wormer, Mr. Salatin sends out the eggmobile, a trailer full of laying hens, to the fields.

SALATIN: Chickens free-range out from it, scratch through the cow patties, eat out the fly larvae, and generate eggs, about $4,000 to $5,000 worth of eggs. It basically hasn't cost us a dime. We haven't had to stir up the cows. We haven't had to cuss at the kids. Everybody's happy, the cows are happy, we're happy. And that's just a byproduct of the pasture sanitation program.

MOTYLEWSKI: If you ask conventional growers about pasturing, they say any savings on medicine or feed would be lost in the extra time and effort it takes to grow this way. Factory farm chickens are ready for market in about 6 weeks. Pastured birds take 7 or 8 weeks to mature. But Joel Salatin says he's coming out ahead. And not just in dollars and cents. He loves this land, the work, and sharing it all with his family from fuzzy chick to featherless carcass.

(A protesting chicken)

MOTYLEWSKI: Every few weeks in the summer, Joel's mother, wife, and kids and sometimes his brother's family, too, everybody pulls together to dress chickens in the back yard.

(Clanking metal)

D. SALATIN: They're killed in cones, upside down, and as soon as they're dead they go on to the scalder, and then they go on to the picker for about 15 seconds. They come out completely clean, no feathers, and then on to the eviscerating table and on to the chill tanks.

MOTYLEWSKI: Sixteen-year-old Daniel is the first link in a simple 7-person disassembly line. The family will process about 300 birds in 3 hours this morning.

(Water sloshing, metal clanking)

J. SALATIN: Yeah, we don't mess around when it comes to this. This is a sprint. But this gets us the freshest, the freshest bird possible to actually do it in the morning that the customer picks em up. They're literally only a couple hours away from having been in the field. And that's just as fresh as you can get.

MOTYLEWSKI: There are no broken intestines in this process. No chlorine baths. And according to the Salatins, less opportunity for disease. These birds do look delicious, plump, firm, and shiny clean.

(Water splashing; voices in the background)

MOTYLEWSKI: Studies commissioned by the family suggest their carcasses are cleaner, their birds leaner, and their eggs healthier than most store brands. Poultry scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are testing these health claims.

L. SALATIN: Of course, people who come, who get our chickens and they say ah, just like grandma used to grow! (Laughs)

MOTYLEWSKI: According to Joel's mother Lucille, demand for Polyface products outstrips supply.

MAN: Howdy, howdy!

WOMAN: How are you?

MAN: Doin' well, how about you guys?

WOMAN: Real good.

MOTYLEWSKI: Four hundred families shop at the farm. Most customers are local, but some travel up to 200 miles to buy the chicken, turkey, beef, and eggs.

MAN: Twelve of them, with extra livers.

MOTYLEWSKI: Without middlemen, profits are healthy. Many customers say they'll never go back to store-bought chicken, even though at $1.45 a pound, these birds are about twice as expensive as commercial ones.

WOMAN: Oh, I think it's worth it. It's part of the cost of taking care of our environment. I really do believe that it's pay now or pay later, and I'd much rather support a local business and also take care of our environment, you know, in this area.

(Ambient voices; fade to clanking)

JOY: My name is Lisa Joy. I'm a pastry chef here at the Joshua Wilton House. I'm also the catering director.

MOTYLEWSKI: Chef Lisa Joy started cooking with the Salatins' chickens and eggs several years ago. Now she markets Polyface products to 2 dozen other restaurants in Virginia and the Capitol.

JOY: This is a white chocolate cake with lemon curd and blueberries. Oops, and that's my timer I'll go get some tarts.

MOTYLEWSKI: Between dessert and breakfast service, this kitchen uses 60 dozen eggs a week, and chef Joy says she can see and taste the difference.

JOY: At times when I haven't been able to get their eggs or I've, like, helped out at another restaurant that doesn't serve their eggs, I make a cake, and I was looking and going what's wrong? And then I realize it's the eggs, because the cake is just not as golden, it's not as moist, not as rich.

MOTYLEWSKI: How about the chickens and working with the chickens? What do you notice as a chef?

JOY: A lot of times with catering or bigger parties, you'll have to, like, cut up 1 or 2 cases of chickens at a time. When I cut commercial chickens my hand are swollen after I cut them. They, you know, there's something in the chicken that gets into your hands, and if you have any cuts or anything, it swells it. Joel's chickens I can cut, you know, the equivalent, and my hands are normal. And there's no smell, no, you know, anything. Nice and fresh.

MOTYLEWSKI: The Salatins welcome restaurant customers, but the family is wary of 2 things: growth, and regulation. Lucille Salatin.

L. SALATIN: We're not looking to supply the world. We're looking to supply our neighbors and people around who want this kind of food. And there's a lot of people who, you know, could care less; they just go and get the cheapest thing they can get. And if they want to be regulated and have all that and get it that way, that's their business. But we like to have the people who are really interested in being healthy and having this sort of thing to be free to do it if they want to.

MOTYLEWSKI: But not everyone lives within reach of a farm, and this method is geared for small-scale production. So skeptics dismiss pasture poultry as impractical for feeding large urban populations. Joel Salatin doesn't expect his model to replace the industrial one, but he does see producers like himself springing up all over, and recreating local food networks that can feed more and more people this way. Mr. Salatin says his customers are beginning to get the bigger picture, and that gives him chill bumps.

SALATIN: Yeah, they've really decided, hey, we're going to take our reins of our destiny and we're going to do something about it. We're not going to march on the Washington, we're not going to ask for government programs, and we're not going to ask Ralph Nader to come and protect us. We're going to actually build a relationship with our food supply. We're going to eat fresh, local, raw, unpackaged, we're going to find our kitchen again, and make food fun, and these are wonderful things.

(Ambient voices and clucks)

MOTYLEWSKI: For Living on Earth, I'm Kim Motylewski in Swope, Virginia.

SALATIN: This is doing something for yourself. It's the old independent American spirit that says okay, you can go eat Big Macs if you want to, but we're going to eat something that's really wholesome and nutritious. And something that we actually handled, touched, smelled...

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Please help this program by joining the Living on Earth Survey. The number to call, anytime, is 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-99-88. Or just dail up our web page at www dot livingonearth dot org, and cick on the survey form, and thanks for taking the time to give us a hand. Coming up: How to cope with the simple life when the simple life ain't so simple. A conversation with a modern-day homesteader is just ahead. Stay tuned to Living On Earth.

(Music up and under)

Modern Day Homesteading

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Ahhh, the simple life. Ever since Americans haven't had to live close to the land, some folks have been urging us back to it. From Henry David Thoreau to Helen and Scott Nearing, eloquent and convincing voices have extolled the virtues of living simply and frugally. But many people who have tried the simple life have found it, well, too complex. Linda Tatelbaum is one of the few who stuck it out. In 1977, she and her husband Kal bought 75 acres in Maine and built a house with no electricity and no running water. Today, with a few small adjustments, they're still homesteading. Linda Tatelbaum, who teaches English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, has just written and self-published a book of essays about the struggles and blessings of living the simple life, about which she says there's one prerequisite.

TATELBAUM: I think you have to have a good sense of humor. I think you have to realize that what you're doing is totally ridiculous (laughs) and therefore worthwhile. Because you're doing something only because it pleases you, not because you have to.

CURWOOD: This is a wonderfully written book and this little passage I'd like you to read for us if you could.

TATELBAUM: Okay.

CURWOOD: It's the last 2 paragraphs of the title chapter of your book, Carrying Water.

TATELBAUM: Yes. It's inconvenient in practical terms. How much easier it is not to think about the water you use. To open the faucet and let her run: this is a glory of another life. And yes, I could wish that the spring were up the hill from home, so that like Jack and Jill I could come running down when the jugs were full. But the spring is where it is, down in the vale, a stone-cool grove spiced with the scent of fern and rock and water. I walk uphill to the house, steady, my arms hanging straight from my shoulders as they are made to do, weighted by 40 pounds of water.

CURWOOD: The title of your book is Carrying Water as a Way of Life, and I have to say as a little boy I remember us always carrying water to this place in New Hampshire that had no running water. Or the standing joke was yeah, you run for the water.

TATELBAUM: Right.

CURWOOD: It's a heck of a lot of work. Water is heavy!

TATELBAUM: Right. It's heavy. But it's clean, at least, if you spill it on yourself.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) But I mean, the physical labor involved with homesteading this way is tremendous. Why do that much work?

TATELBAUM: Well, you do a lot of work if you don't do that, too. You might not think about it that way, but for instance, if you have all the conveniences and you live more of a standard American life your chances are you're working at least 40 hours a week and commuting, and having to put up with a lot of stress, and not really being very connected to your food, for instance, which is really important to me. And so there's a lot of tradeoffs, is that I do a lot of physical labor but I get some really substantial benefits from that. I'm strong, I'm healthy, I know what I'm eating. You know, those to me are very large benefits. And we eat in season from, I'd say, from April until November. And then after that we're eating stuff that we've put by.

CURWOOD: Put things by for the winter. That sounds like an awful lot of work.

TATELBAUM: Oh, it is. And I'm just at the beginning of it right now, right when teaching starts. So that's always an interesting trip is, you know, you start back to teaching just at the time when you're starting to bring all the tomatoes into the house, and you know what your weekends are going to be involved with, is jars. You've read the essay in there, there's a chapter in the book called Jars.

CURWOOD: Yes.

TATELBAUM: In which I say my life is involved with jars. Which it is.

CURWOOD: Well, how is this different from the rat race that most of us live, say, with a lot more electricity and a lot less canning? I mean, we're busy running from one thing to the next. You sound pretty busy, too.

TATELBAUM: Oh, I'm very busy. I mean, people who think the simple life means you sit around and admire trees all day don't have it right. It's very, very busy and it's complicated. But I guess to me it's a rat race of my own making, and that makes it different. You know, it's like I chose this. I got into this myself. But there are times, especially the end of September, I guess, when I'm in the midst of all the tomatoes and I'm thinking: why am I doing this? But then all I have to do is go to the supermarket and price what it would take me to replace my labor. One year I said that's it, I'm not doing this any more, and I went to the supermarket with a little list. And I got as far as the fruit juice, and I could see already that it would mean teaching full-time, being away from home all the time, in order just to replace fruit juice.

CURWOOD: Two years after you built this house, you had a baby.

TATELBAUM: Yep.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering, you know, what was it like?

TATELBAUM: Well, we were very methodical about it. Before we even decided to have a baby, we went scouting around to look for a doctor that would understand us. And we actually wanted to have a home birth. And we found a doctor that did home births, and we went to see him, and he said no, sorry, I don't do them when there's no running water and electricity. So he drew the line at that. So we said well okay, we'll have a hospital birth, then. The nurse was a little concerned; she said we had to get a refrigerator right away. As soon as she told me I was pregnant she said, "Well, you're going to have to get a refrigerator." You know, as if that was sort of the prerequisite for raising a baby. She didn't understand the concept of a pregnant woman going up and down cellar stairs several times a day but, you know, I stayed pretty healthy all through the pregnancy, and I think that the work had a lot to do with that.

CURWOOD: And yet now, today, you do have electricity from photovoltaics.

TATELBAUM: uh-huh.

CURWOOD: What made you change your mind that, well, maybe it was time to get solar power?

TATELBAUM: You get tired of kerosene lamps after a while. They are dirty, you know, it
doesn't smell too good. You're dealing with kerosene. You're trimming wicks all the time. You're cleaning chimneys. It's not that much fun. And we decided lights would really be great. I mean this is something most people take completely for granted, so we were, like, this is what we want in our lives. One of the things about living this life is, and for a long time, is you have to make choices. If you feel like you're starting to wear out, chances are you're going to have to quit the whole life unless you make some changes, and to me some of the easiest changes to make were to, say, buy my flour and not grind my own flour. And then even now, you know, I don't even usually bake bread any more. So that was one thing that went. I try to make it really, really clear that we don't do everything pure. That we do have modern, some modern pleasures and conveniences, because I think people are very threatened by the idea of, at least the concept that they have that you live this pure life. Because then they feel bad, you know, they feel insecure. Like, oh well, uh, I eat prepared foods so I must be bad because you're so pure. So one of the reasons for writing the book was to let people know that whatever little piece of a simple way of life that you can do and that you like to do, that's going to help you feel a little bit more connected to making some choices about your life.

CURWOOD: So compromise is a way to keep your ideals?

TATELBAUM: Yeah. I think so. Somebody that came to one of my readings said something very interesting to me, and I hadn't thought about this. He said, you know, you haven't changed. You've just, you just had all these youthful ideals that were in the way of what was your core values, and you kept your core values. But you were able to drop some of that youthful, you know, insistence on doing everything pure. And I thought that was a really interesting way of looking at it and I was very pleased to hear that. I like to imagine that I'm sort of picking up on somebody's wasted labor, you know, somebody whose place went to seed and, you know, the well tumbled in and the house burned down and all that. And I like to think of myself as kind of fixing that up and bringing it back to being a productive place where a family can live and eat and have health.

CURWOOD: Linda Tatelbaum's new book is called Carrying Water as a Way of Life. Published by About Time Press in Appleton, Maine. Thank you for joining us.

TATELBAUM: Thanks a lot, Steve.

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CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; The Bullitt Foundation; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: A tropical vacation made in the shade of an eco-tent. Keep listening to Living On Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm Yogurt: profits for the planet, supporting initiatives that protect the Earth.

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: One hundred and fifteen Augusts ago the earth was sent the mother of all wake up calls. On the island of Krakatau (crack-a-TAUH), located between Java and Sumatra, a volcano exploded with the force of ten-thousand Hiroshima atomic bombs. The explosion was heard as far as 1500 miles away. It's shock waves travelled four times around the globe, and created a Tsunami (su-NAH-mi), 6 times larger than the one that struck New Guinea last month. 40,000 people died in its wake. On the other hand, Krakatau offered a unique opportunity for biologists: the complete obliteration of flora and fauna there allowed them to study the rebirth of an ecosystem. Beginning with a single spider, blown on to the island nine months after the blast -- wildlife soon reestablished itself. After 25 years, coastal trees reached 115 feet, and the island was supporting a host of insects and birds, even a large reticulated python. The recovery of Krakatau, now a forested national park, continues to intrigue scientists, and provides an encouraging sign that there is indeed life after death. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Surf sounds)

Eco-Tents

CURWOOD: This is Living On Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. A while ago I took a trip to visit some family in the US Virgin Islands, and dropped by a resort on St. Johns that is surprisingly inexpensive even though it has a prime location.

SELENGUT: Off to our right is Salt Pond Bay Beach, which is a lovely protected bay with some of the best snorkeling on the island...

CURWOOD: We're getting the lay of the land from Stanley Selengut, the owner and developer. And he can keep his prices low because his resort keeps people literally close to nature, in tents.

SELENGUT: Living within the Earth's resources is something that we, you know, we have to do to survive as a race. And the resort industry can be a very interesting place to start from, because we deal with some of the most fragile properties. In fact, we're probably one of the most popular resorts in the Caribbean, because there are a growing number of people interested in this issue and these problems.

CURWOOD: Mr. Selengut started his concept with the now-popular Maho Bay Campground. Now he's taken it further with a smaller facility at Concordia State that uses what he calls Eco-Tents. Like the dwellings at Maho Bay, the Eco-Tent is built on a wooden platform with cloth walls and wood frames, with wooden walkways in between to protect the hillside ecology. But as their developer explains, the Eco-Tents go beyond simplicity to include the latest in high-tech sustainability.

SELENGUT: They function sort of like a spaceship. They catch their own water into a cistern and heat the water by solar. They create their own energy with photovoltaics and wind. And this cell electricity runs a small refrigerator.

CURWOOD: Let's go take a look.

SELENGUT: All right.

(Footfalls)

CURWOOD: This is the way here?

SELENGUT: Yep, right down here.

(Footfalls on wood)

SELENGUT: We're fortunate here because we, there's a couple staying in it, so you can get their experiences.

CURWOOD: Here we are. My name's Steve Curwood. I'm with the National Public Radio show Living on Earth. Hi.

CARLAIN: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Can I ask your name, sir?

CARLENE: Yes, I'm Lance Carlain, and my wife Debbie's down in the lower deck here.

CURWOOD: This is quite a little set-up here.

CARLAIN: This is. I was impressed. I heard we were staying in a tent, and - - is this your idea of a tent? (Laughs) This is more like a canvas cottage.

CURWOOD: Uh huh.

CARLAIN: With 3 stories.

CURWOOD: Okay. Where is your wife? Where's she hiding out.

D. CARLAIN: I'm here, in the living room.

CURWOOD: Hi, my name's Steve Curwood.

D. CARLAIN: Hi, Steve. Glad to meet you.

CURWOOD: And your name is?

D. CARLAIN: Debbie Carlain.

CURWOOD: And what's your impression so far?

D. CARLAIN: Oh, it's just simply beautiful. The harbor is breathtaking. We love our little hermit crabs down on the ground there, they're cool, we feed them our leftovers and they take care of that, so we don't have a garbage problem.

CURWOOD: Wait a second. You throw your garbage over the rail?

D. CARLAIN: Yeah. And the animals take care of it all. We have hermit crabs, we have a few lizards down there, and once in a while the cats stop by.

CURWOOD: And you don't have a problem? Mr. Manager, this works for your hotel?

SELENGUT: The hermit crabs are probably one of the best garbage disposal things you can imagine. At Maho Bay, where we have 114 units, that's not practical, but here with only 5 Eco-Tent units the hermit crabs do a good job.

CURWOOD: When you heard that this was an Eco-Tent, you know, ecologically friendly, what did you think?

L. CARLAIN: My wife is more concerned with that than I am. I, I think it's cool, but I usually wouldn't make an effort to be all that ecologically sound. But even someone that doesn't pay attention to this like myself, it's pretty impressive. Our power's all generated by a solar cell right behind you, and they catch all the runoff from their roof and reuse the water. It's neat living in a place that's its own power generator, and that's kind of fun to anyone, I think.

CURWOOD: All right. Do you want to show me around the eco-features of your little cottage here?

L. CARLAIN: Sure. First one we're close to is this solar panel in the back of our tent, which you have to lean over to see. We don't pay much attention to it, but I guess it provides all our power.

CURWOOD: Okay. So I'm walking into -- looks like you have 2 good-sized twin beds in here.

(Birds singing in the background)

L. CARLAIN: Our tap here has two faucets. One's for filtered water.

CURWOOD: Can I have a taste?

L. CARLAIN: Sure. Oh, when you run the water, the lights will dim a slight bit.

CURWOOD: Let me try this. Ooh, very pure, very sweet water. Not like city water at all. Mmm. Thank you.

L. CARLAIN: I think our favorite part is the deck out here with the breeze that never ends. Bug-free. And we've enjoyed it a lot.

CURWOOD: How do we get out here?

L. CARLAIN: Right here.

CURWOOD: Okay. Whoooo, look at this! You're out here overlooking the whole south corner of this island. You can look into two different bays. And we're up, how many feet would you say we're up here?

SELENGUT: I would say probably about 110 feet maybe.

(Footfalls on wood)

L. CARLAIN: And this is our shower and outhouse.

D. CARLAIN: We have a composting toilet. You flush it for no more than one second, and it's usually a very good flush and it uses a minimal amount of water. And your own water helps. And then we have the shower overhead. It's like a shower bag basically, but it's a 55-gallon drum instead that's painted black. And it heats up the water.

CURWOOD: Well, do you run out of hot water?

D. CARLAIN: I haven't run out.

CURWOOD: With how many of you here?

D. CARLAIN: There were 4 of us here and I was the last one to take my shower, so -- (laughs)

CURWOOD: Guilt-free shower, use it as long as you want.

D. CARLAIN: That was my idea. They already had theirs, and I'd waited a long time (laughs).

CURWOOD: All right, well thank you very much.

L. CARLAIN: Our pleasure.

(Footfalls on wood)

SELENGUT: There's a secondary purpose to these dwellings. It's not just to have them work well, it's also to have them function as a teaching machine. I mean, like the couple we interviewed, they hardly even knew they were being interpreted. The young man said in the beginning that he wasn't an environmentalist, yet he was lecturing you about how his unit worked. I mean, I guarantee you he'll go home having his perception changed a little bit about sustainable issues.

CURWOOD: How does that work for people who are on holiday? Somebody might come here and say, "Look, I don't want to worry about whether I'm going to have enough hot water or enough electricity, I just want to have a good time."

SELENGUT: Well, I think a resort really can try to be all things to all people, but eco-tourism appeals to a little bit of a different kind of person. A person who's a little more experimental, a little more adventurous, willing to put up with some hardships in exchange for a new experience.

CURWOOD: Have you ever had people come and say, "Oh, I just can't handle this," and they've got to go?

SELENGUT: Not so much here. We only have 5 of these and they're very, very hard to get into. We, you know, they're very popular. And the people who come here so far mostly are people vitally interested, but at Maho sometimes we get somebody that comes in and starts screaming, "My goodness, there is a lizard in our tent," or something like that, and you know you really have to get them another place to stay. (Laughs)

CURWOOD: Mahoe Bay and Concordia State Eco-Tents owner and developer Stanley Selengut. He says his next projects, in conjunction with the National Park Services, are to bring the Eco-Tents to national park areas in California and Hawaii.

SELENGUT: It's almost like painting Tom Sawyer's fence. You almost seduce people into enjoying climbing stairs and (laughs) doing their own thing and pumping water and conserving. You know, it becomes a pleasure rather than a chore, if you can get them over the first couple of days.

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CURWOOD: For a transcipt or tape of this program, please call 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-99-88 for tapes and transcipts. Coming up: With commercial fishing restricted, and tourism in the cards as a revenue alternative, the hard-pressed seaport of Gloucester, Massachusetts wrestles with its future. Stay tuned to Living On Earth.

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Gloucester at the Crossroads

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Once it seemed there were plenty of fish in the sea. That was before high-tech fish-finders and tax breaks for new boat captains, sent hundreds of vessels out to drag George's Bank in the North Atlantic. A combination of over-fishing and poor government management led to a collapse of these stocks, and now strict federal regulations designed to help the cod and haddock recover are in place. But when a resource crashes like that, communities which base their livelihood on the sea are hard hit. Producer Sandy Tolan takes another look at his adopted home of Gloucester, Massachusetts, as the town mothers and fathers prepare for their annual ritual, the St. Peter's Fiesta.

(Women's voices, singing in Italian)

TOLAN: For 9 nights, each summer, the Italian women of Gloucester gather upstairs at the St. Peter's Club. They sit in folding chairs, and sing from old music sheets, praise for the patron saint of the fishermen. This novina is a ritual their grandmothers and great-grandmothers began in the 1920s, when Italian fisher families were new to America. Lured from Sicily by the bounty off the Gloucester shore, they sailed wooden boats into rough Atlantic waters to harvest haddock and cod. Now, the major fishing grounds are closed, fished out. Many fishermen are down to a legal limit of 88 days at sea a year, and the federal government wants to buy back their boats and retire them.

ROMEO: I asked my husband and his friends, "When you were younger, didn't you ever dream, you know how--"

TOLAN: Sefatia Romeo, vice-president of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, came to her first novina at age 5.

ROMEO: This is rot. I got up, my father had a fishing family boat. At 7:00 in the morning, I was 7 years old, we'd get up, we'd do, we'd go out fishing, then go to school, come back, do that--He says, "This was in all our dreams." I say, "well, don't you have a dream now?" He says, "I'm so confused now, I don't know what it is to have a dream." That's sad. Everyone has a dream. When you ask these fishermen, they look at you, and say, "Dream? The dream is to be fishing. The dream is gone."

(Sound of singing fades. Marching beat of drum starts)

TOLAN: On Friday, at dusk, gentle hands remove St. Peter from his window looking out at Main Street. Young men hoist the 5- foot statue onto a platform, and lead a slow procession. Everyone lights candles and follows solemnly, one hand shielding the flame.

(Drum beats and trumpet blares a marching tune)

TOLAN: St. Peter wobbles ever so slightly, a basket of fish at his feet, his halo gold in the fading light.

(Trumpet and shouts, fading)

TOLAN: Most of the year, St. Peter's Square is a parking lot. Tonight it's an altar on the waterfront. Red walls, lined with white lights, make a replica of the basilica in Rome. As St. Peter is set in place, Tom Brancleone, chair of the fiesta committee, takes the podium.

(Whistles and clapping)

BRANCLIONI: Viva San Pedro!

TOLAN: Tom is captain of the "Paul and Dominic" The government has offered to buy back his boat. At first, Tom thought he would cash in, pay off his debts, and retire. Now he's having second thoughts.

BRANCLEONE: You see now, the tradition here, in Gloucester. And this, it's a tradition we all, I owe to you people forever. The longer we have Peter here, and we have it--Italian people are people with hearts. What people look forward to all this tradition.

(Clapping, then "One, two, three," and crowd sings in unison, "It's the most wonderful time of the year! We give thanks to St. Peter and sing the novina, a time we hold dear! It's the hap, happiest time, of the year!)

TOLAN: For all of Gloucester's fishing community, the fiesta is a respite, a time to put aside the hard choices ahead. With the fish stocks depleted and strict, new conservation laws in place, the industry is shrinking. The Gloucester fleet is an estimated 10% of what it was in the high-rolling days of the '80s. When the government buy-back is over, the Gloucester off-shore fleet of big boats will be reduced to about 12. Many fishermen are out of work, some speak little English and have no other skills. If they're young enough, they may try to scrape by, a little herring, a little yellowtail, some tuna, until the lucrative cod and haddock stocks recover, perhaps in 10 years. But city officials already are turning to new options.

(Amphibious captain:"--to be on board the Moby Duck. My name is Frank. If you have any questions, feel free--")

TOLAN: Every summer, the Moby Duck, an amphibious vehicle converted from duty in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, cuts through Gloucester's streets.

(Amphibious captain: "And this is St. Peter's Park, back here. This is where they have the Festival every year, the big St. Peter's festival for fishermen--")

TOLAN: And then plows into the harbor, smiley duck face bobbing above the water.

(Amphibious captain: "If you don't quack for the duck, it sometimes gets a little down. Come on! Quack!" at which the captive audience of passengers gleefully quacks in rhythm and shouts as the boat/car zooms head.

FITTING: If there's going to be tourism, what kind of tourism is it going to be. There's a lot of concern that our kind of tourism not turn into sort of plastic, trinkets, trivializing, sort of cutesy stuff.

TOLAN: The Reverend Wendy Fitting, upstairs at the Independent Christian Church, a block from St. Peter's Square. Reverend Fitting is part of Gloucester Initiatives, a grass-roots group grappling with the town's shifting identity.

GIAMBANCO: Much of it boils down to, how do people make their living? Can you make enough money to live here in a way that's honorable, and puts money back into the community. Can you live here, or is it owners living in some other state or country, draining the money out and giving you a crummy job. 'Cause if that's the case, then the traditions will go. Then the St. Peter's Fiesta will be another sort of relic trinket-show that people say, "I wonder what this was, once. I wonder if it really meant something to people at one time." When you can't find that anymore, then the soul of the place is lost. That's our real choice here. Are we going to have marine industry that's based on fish products, or are we going to create a quaint walk-through fishing village, you know, turn it into the nostalgia industry.

GIAMBANCO: What we're trying to do is not become a Disney World or a T-shirt shop. I don't think that Gloucester will benefit from just a facade.

TOLAN: Grace Giambanco is in charge of tourism for the city of Gloucester. She grew up here in a fishing family. Her sister is Sefatia, the Fishermen's Wives vice president. Grace says the city has no intention of replacing fishing with tourism. For example, there are rules against hotels or condos on the main waterfront. Most tourism in Gloucester, Grace says, will be based not on smiling amphibians, but on Gloucester's living history.

GIAMBANCO: People come here because there are real fishermen. It is not a picture-perfect town. It is a working blue-collar town. You really do see the catch of the day being taken out. When I was younger we used to drive down towards the beach, and you could smell the fish processing plants. And it was awful, and I remember saying, "Oh, that's terrible!" and my mother would look at me and say, "No, that's money." I mean, the entire waterfront was full of businesses, and now they're slowly, slowly becoming these big, empty spaces that now will never be filled again the way it was. We need to market Gloucester as a destination. We already have the tourists. They come anyway. We might as well maximize the benefit from them.

(Tour guide on whale watch: "...one of these whales is actually drifting in closer and closer to us. Watch her dive, a very high arc to the back from one of these whales, and just lifting her tail fins out of the water. That's the typical way a humpback whale goes down for a dive..." Oohs and aahs from the audience.)

TOLAN: The whale watch 10 miles out of Gloucester harbor. On deck, the naturalist guides visitors in shorts and sunblock. In the wheel house, Captain Sebastian LoBosco, Jr., stares out at a flat slate gray sea. He sits in the captain's chair, his arms folded, steering with his feet.

LO BOSCO: This is my tenth year as captain of the Privateer. I've lived in Gloucester all my life. Before that I was captain of our family's fishing boat. The name of that boat was the St. Jude. It was in my family for 22 years, co-owned by my father and my uncle. I started fulltime fishing about a year after I got out of high school. We pulled in all kinds of fish depending on what time of the year it was. Codfish, whiting, shrimp, crawber.

TOLAN: Are there any regrets that you're not out there making a living off the sea as you were?

LO BOSCO: Yes, there are some regrets. We had a lot of good times when we had our boat. My father and I all became very close. That's the part of the fishing that I miss the most.

(Oohs and aahs from the audience)

LO BOSCO: Gloucester fishing will never be what it was. It used to be hundreds of boats. Now no one wants to build a boat. No one wants to do that kind of work any more.

(A clergyman sings, backdropped by an organ: "Forever and ever." Congregation: "A-men. A-aaaaa-men.")

TOLAN: Fiesta, Sunday morning. High mass at St. Peter's Square.

(Brass instruments play)

TOLAN: Communion. Cardinal Bernard Law stands in red vestments in brilliant sunshine, placing small wafers in cupped hands and on tongues. St. Peter stands on the altar behind him.

(Brass instruments continue)

ROMEO: You know when the sadness? Is when the Cardinal goes to bless the fleet.

TOLAN: Sefatia Romeo, one of the fishermen's wives.

ROMEO: When he needed 3 hours just to get from one end of the wharf to the other just to bless all those boats, and when it now just takes a short period of time, that's the devastation. I say in a half an hour he'd be done, where it would take a 3-hour procession, you know? And all the fishing boats would be all painted brand new, and they'd have all their different colored flags all over the place. It was a wonderful wall full of beautiful. And each year saw it decline, decline, decline, where some people can't even afford to paint their boats. You know, some of them don't even have the spirit to put the flags. You see, we don't blame St. Peter. See, the Italian culture, the Italian fishermen don't blame God, they don't blame the saints. We're just thankful for what we have left.

(A choir sings)

TOLAN: If there is blame to be laid, many biologists say, the fishermen must have their share. For they took too much. In some cases more than the legal limit. Some say the stocks crashed in part because of greed. But this weekend is not the time for blame, or at the moment, for a whole lot of self- reflection.

(A man shouts [in Italian?], answered by a shouting crowd of men)

TOLAN: At least not for Sefatia's brother, piling out of a stretch limousine in front of his mom's house with 10 friends dressed in drag.

(The men continue shouting and cheering)

TOLAN: Compared to his friends Anthony Giambanco is dressed modestly: no falsies, no wig, no stockings, not even a dress. Just head to toe in gold sequins. He is the enforcer, the sheriff of the main Fiesta event, the greasy pole. The idea is to walk out there on a 42-foot long grease-coated log above the harbor and be the first one to grab the flag and the greasy pole championship.

A. GIAMBANCO: You have to walk up there. There's no shimmying. You can't win, you've got to be out on your feet or diving at it to win.

TOLAN: Anthony stands, glittering, picking roses from a bush at his mother's front lawn: good luck for the pole walkers. Inside his sisters Grace and Sefatia keep the pasta coming.

WOMAN: Where did the meatballs go?

MAN: The limo driver wants a piece of lobster.

G. GIAMBANCO: They start like a ritual at my mother's house on middle street to get all excited and all ramped. And I have the biggest mouth so I (shouts in Italian) Viva St. Pedro! You know screamin', it's like oh, big mouth again, you know, and screamin' and hollerin'. It's fantastic, and it's like you can be a kid again.

(Horns blare; people shout and cheer)

MAN 1: Guys all set?

MAN 2: Do it, do it, do it.

MAN 1: Shawn Pauper's first. Just listen to who's before you, okay? Listen to who goes before you. Shawn Pauper, Rich Hopkins, John Paresi...

TOLAN: On the beach, a thousand people stand and watch the 35 men poised and ready atop the pier.

MAN 1: ... Peter Tartiero, Niko Fraglioni! (Horns blare) Cusumano! Johnny Karolo!

TOLAN: Anthony Giambanco looks out at the long pole covered with 6 inches of blue axle grease glinting in the afternoon light. Summer boats surround the pole, bobbing in the water. It is the moment of coexistence: the locals and the tourists fused in ceremony and tradition, all focused on a flag at the end of a grease-coated pole. Some locals grumble that the whole thing has become a crazy spectacle. Anthony says he's got a feeling he can't quite express.

A. GIAMBANCO: It's just it's just hard, you know what I mean? It's hard to explain. If you wasn't born an Italian or a Portuguese. It comes from the heart. That's what it is.

(A man speaks into a bullhorn in the background, amidst cheering and whooping)

A. GIAMBANCO: What this is all about is, though, it's, it's the fishermen. That's where it all comes from. And it's a prayer of St. Peter because he is the fisherman's saint. And that's what it's all about. That's what it was first based on. Everything else is secondary.

TOLAN: And then it's Anthony's turn.

A. GIAMBANCO: What a rush. What a rush! Watch my jacket, guy.

MAN 1: Anthony Massa Giambanco!

(The crowd cheers)

TOLAN: He walks swiftly under the pole, hits a patch of grease, slips, regains his balance, slips again, and it's into the water.

(A big splash; a horn blats)

TOLAN: The other men follow, grease dripping off the pole, their drag costumes floating in the water. Until finally enough grease has come off, and one competitor darts his way out, grabs the flag, and splashes into the water.

(Tumultuous cheers and shouting from the crowd)

TOLAN: And then all the men jump into the water and swim to shore, their bodies glinting in that yellow light of a perfect late afternoon.

(Shouting and cheering, horns blaring; fade to a woman singing an Italian song)

TOLAN: That evening, as St. Peter watches, the victor stands waiting to take his trophy as an old Italian song sets the stage.

MAN: A big inspiration today was my uncle Frank, and he come out and he walk the pole today, and when I see him climbing up the ladder I was like I just couldn't believe it. And I'd just like to thank my family. I love my family...

TOLAN: This song was popular many years ago when Sicilian fishermen first left their shores to come to Gloucester. Look at the sea, the song goes, how beautiful. It inspires so many feelings.

(Singing continues)

G. GIAMBANCO: Four days of happiness and thankfulness and friendship and everything else stops at Sunday night at midnight. They return St. Peter in the St. Peter's Club. And then at 12:01 everyone goes home, and they start taking down the altar and taking everything out, and by the time you get up in the morning it's gone. It's like it never existed. People are waking up Monday morning, face the music, going back to work, and it's reality, and it's just so hard. Because then you see these boats are gone. You can see these men, and it's in their faces and it's like, where do I go now?

(Singing continues)

TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan reporting.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Our report on Gloucester's St. Peter's fiesta was produced with help from Elizabeth Gammons and special thanks to Kathleen Adams. Our production team is: George Homsy, Jesse Wegman, Terry Fitzpatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman and Miriam Landman -- along with Roberta deAvaila (day-AH-vee-la) Peter Shaw and Julia Madeson. We had help from Jim Frey, Elsa Heidorn and David Winickoff. Our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky. Peter Thomson heads our western bureau. Joyce Hackel is our senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Michael Aharon composed the theme.
Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm executive producer, Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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