November 29, 2010

A Federal Block Grant for Energy Efficiency in Pinellas County

James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project, Pinellas County Extension

In 2009 Pinellas County Government received a block grant from the US Department of Energy. A block grant is a “gift” of money that follows an allocation formula, and is made available to local governments based on the population of the area. This grant, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant or EECBG has been distributed nationally, with the largest amount of funding going directly to US cities and counties.

Pinellas County received about $3.5 million in 2009. Other municipalities in the county received their own funds, including Clearwater ($1 million), Dunedin ($150,000), Largo ($700,000), Pinellas Park ($200,000), and St. Petersburg ($2.5 million).

This money was given to local governments to get major energy-saving projects off the ground. But the clock is ticking, and the money must be spent on these projects before the end of 2012. Pinellas County Government departments have seven projects in the works thanks to these funds. These projects include:

• A comprehensive energy audit for government buildings and practices,

• More efficient air-cooling systems for government buildings,

• Solar-powered flashing lights at county schools,

• Synchronization of traffic signals to reduce idling time on the roads

• Modification of the County’s Land Development Code to include energy efficiency measures

• Energy conservation retrofits for single-family homes, some of which were purchased through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds

• A community energy program delivered to citizens via Pinellas County Extension outreach; the Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project.
Our project includes several facets; all of which work together to provide the latest research-based information on energy efficiency to the public. Earlier this year the grant funds were received by the County and worked into this year’s budget. Then we “went-out-to-bid” for a supplier who could provide us with energy-saving products that we would then give to the public. By September we were ready to have our first official Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project class here at Extension. As of this writing, we have had 14 classes with an additional 30 classes scheduled before the end of June, 2011.

Classes are an hour long and each participant receives a comprehensive energy efficiency kit, valued at $200. During the class, we examine how energy is used in the home, how it is wasted, and how to reduce energy consumption while still enjoying the same quality of life. Participants receive the kit if they agree to share some information on energy conserving habits and home improvements they may have made after attending the class.

By collecting this data, we can make some assumptions on overall, county-wide residential energy conservation. We will then provide this data to the University and the Federal Government. By giving away CFL light bulbs and energy conservation kits, we can measure the amount of kilowatts that have been conserved. To date we have distributed over 8000 CFLs alone. This translates to a savings of 40,000 kWh each year the bulbs are in use and over 4 MILLION kWh over the lifetime of these long-lasting bulbs. In addition, this savings reflects a reduction of the greenhouse gas, C02, by 3000 tons!

Our goal is to distribute 60,000 CFLs in addition to information on overall energy efficiency. Extension believes that by providing people with the facts, and a little incentive we can realize a significant county-wide energy conservation strategy. Everybody wins!

US Department of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program

EnergyStar® CFL Savings Calculator

Pinellas County Extension’s Energy Efficiency Project

UF’s Easy Steps to Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

November 22, 2010

Eat Your Antioxidants

By Sara Holmberg, Dietetic Intern, Bay Pines VA Health Care System, Pinellas County Extension
Your mother always told you to eat your vegetables, and she knew what she was talking about. One of the best ways to get antioxidants is by eating vegetables. But what are antioxidants and what can they do for you? Many people do not know the answer to this question, or that the way vegetables are cooked can significantly affect the amount of antioxidant that makes it into your mouth.

Why Should I Eat Antioxidants? First, let’s discuss why antioxidants are so important. Antioxidants are a group of important nutrients that include phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring substances in fruits and vegetables that have been shown to have protective properties against diseases. Examples of phytochemicals include allyl sulfides in onion and garlic, and beta-carotene, which can be found in sweet potatoes, carrots, green peppers, and spinach, among others. Antioxidants can prevent disease-causing damage to your cells, as well as repair damage that has been done. An antioxidant works by binding to a cell in your body, preventing an oxygen molecule from binding to that same cell. When oxygen binds to a cell, it allows free radicals to enter. Free radicals enter your body through exposure to cigarette smoke, UV rays (from sunlight and tanning beds), and environmental pollutants like smog. These free radicals damage cells, weakening your immune system and putting you at greater risk for premature aging, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and cataracts. Antioxidants, which kill these free radicals, are found naturally in fruits and vegetables. They can also be found in herbs and whole grains.

Cooking vegetables can kill the antioxidants. As most Americans do not consume the recommended 2-3 cups of vegetables per day, it’s important to maximize the nutrients from the vegetables that are eaten. Let’s discuss different ways to cook vegetables with respect to maintaining their antioxidant content.

The Worst: Boiling. Boiling is the most common way to cook vegetables. However, it is considered the worst antioxidant killer: most vegetables lose between 30-50% of antioxidants from boiling. This is because many antioxidants are “water-soluble;” they leach out into the boiling water and are lost when that water is drained. The longer vegetables are exposed to water, the more nutrients they lose. If boiling is your preferred method of cooking, it’s recommended that only a minimal amount of water be used (do not “drown” the vegetables), and make sure to use the shortest cooking time necessary for tenderness. Exposure to heat causes antioxidant losses. Baking is also considered a poor way to cook vegetables as the long cook time kills many nutrients.

The Best: Microwaving and Steaming. It is a common myth that microwaves kill nutrients. In fact, the opposite is true. Shortened cooking times make microwaves the best way to retain antioxidants and nutrients. Again, the trick is using as little water as possible. Frozen vegetables need no added water, and fresh vegetables only require 1-2 tablespoons. Steaming is considered almost as good as microwaving. Cooking vegetables over the water instead of in the water allows the nutrients to remain intact.

The Maybe: Sautéing. Sautéing on the stove is considered a good method as well. Using olive oil is a great choice because it actually increases the antioxidant content of the vegetables. This is because olive oil by nature is full of antioxidants. Other oils, such as canola, do provide some nutritional benefits but not the antioxidant effects of olive oil.

One More Thing. As a general rule: the darker the vegetable, the greater the antioxidant content. For example, choose red onions over white or yellow, orange sweet potatoes over white or russet potatoes, and red leaf or romaine over iceberg lettuce. By purchasing dark colored fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, and by changing your cooking method to microwaving or steaming, you will help your body fight disease and feel younger and healthier.

Florida has an abundance of fresh produce year round. Check out the seasonal availability chart from the Florida department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to see what is in season.

For additional information, please refer to the website below.

November 11, 2010

4-H Grows the Next Generation of Scientists

Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Youth Development Agent, Pinellas County Extension

Today ‘s 4-H Youth Development Program has grown from its agricultural roots to include learning opportunities in subjects like robotics, bio-fuels, alternative energy, climate change, computer science and rocketry. Today, one of the three national initiatives in the 4-H program is 4-H Science, formerly known as 4-H SET. One goal of the initiative is to prepare youth to become the next generation of scientists.

The United States is facing global technological challenges with a shortage of scientists. A recent study showed that only eighteen percent of U.S. high school seniors are proficient in science and only five percent of current U.S. college graduates earn a degree in science, engineering, or technology. These percentages are even more startling when compared to 66 percent of college graduates in Japan and 59 percent in China.

To meet the need for an increase in science and technology professionals, 4-H set the goal of engaging one million new youth in science programs by 2013. Nationally, 4-H Science programs reach more than 5 million youth with hands-on learning experiences in the sciences.

4-H Science is an initiative and not a set program. While more and more 4-H members and groups are using the newer curricula in robotics, computer science, or Project Butterfly WINGS, the older project materials are being used as well. Much of 4-H project work is based in science, but science has not always been stressed. For example, 4-H entomology projects have taught 4-H members to identify, collect, or control insects, but Project Butterfly Wings, teaches youth to become citizen scientists by observing and collecting butterfly data and then sending the data to partnering scientists through group web pages.

A favorite project for the past several years is “Rockets Away” developed by the Ohio State University Extension. This project explores the science behind rocketry through activities that illustrate Newton’s Laws of Motion. The materials used are common, inexpensive supplies, such as straws, balloons, and basketballs; or recyclables such as soda cans or bottles. In fact, the body of the rocket is a 2-liter soda bottle. As the group goes through the activities, they are asked to think as scientists and collect, analyze, and compare data. Then they are asked to think of ways they observe these laws in every day life.

In case you were wondering, here are Newton’s Laws of Motion:

• Newton’s First Law – Objects at rest will stay at rest, or objects in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Think of a punter kicking a football.

• Newton’s Second Law – The acceleration of an object is directly related to the force exerted on that object and oppositely related to the mass of that object. This is why rocket engines are in stages and separate from the rocket after they are spent.

• Newton’s Third Law – For every action there is always an opposite and equal reaction. This is why a lawn sprinkler spins.
To see the Rockets Away project in action, come to the 4-H Open House November 6 at Pinellas County Extension. The Open House is from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. While there will be rocketry activities throughout the day, the rocketry workshop will start at 1:30.

4-H Science information from

For more information on the Rockets Away project book:

November 8, 2010

Alien Plant Invasion!

Theresa Badurek, Urban Horticulture Agent, Pinellas County Extension

It’s October and the Florida Holly is in full bloom. Wait a minute, Florida Holly? Even though that sounds like a beautiful plant, don’t be fooled! What some people call the “Florida Holly” is really an insidious invasive exotic. The real name of this plant is Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolius. You probably see this plant in so many places that you don’t even notice it anymore. Or maybe you’ve always wondered what that lovely big shrub with all the pretty red berries on it was. Here it is:

This plant was introduced to Florida in the mid 1800s as an ornamental plant. It has since taken over and continues to spread and destroy natural habitats all over Florida. If that wasn’t enough to prove to you what a nasty plant this is, it’s also a member of the same plant family as poison ivy. Yes, that means that contact with the plant may cause a rash or irritation. Some people experience respiratory irritation while it’s in bloom, from late summer through November. Many are in full bloom right now.

Now that you know this alien invasion is taking place, you can help stop it! If you have a Brazilian pepper- remove it! (Note: this is easier said than done…) Talk to a neighbor and let them know if they have an invasive plant that should be removed. While we’re on the subject, there are many other invasive exotics to look out for. Helping control the spread of the plants is one of the many ways you can help protect Florida’s unique ecosystems.

Brazilian pepper links that include control methods:

Here are some other beautifully deceptive non-native invasive exotics you should know:

Camphor tree, Cinnamomum camphora

Camphor tree can grow into a very large tree- up to 65’ tall. It has lovely glossy green leaves that smell like camphor when crushed. Mature trees produce many, many, many round black seeds. This tree also grows into a great dense canopy that provides plenty of shade- so much shade that it shades the native species right out. It invades many ecosystems, but is often found in dry disturbed sites.

Carrotwood tree, Cupaniopsis anacardioides 

This is a small tree that grows up to about 30-35’ tall. It flowers in late winter/early spring with clusters of white to yellow-green flowers. It produces fruit that are capsules that split open to reveal its orange seeds. This is a lovely little tree that primarily invades beautiful coastal habitats. Here it shades out the native species and is especially destructive in mangrove ecosystems.

Mexican petunia, Ruellia brittoniana

This is a pretty little perennial herb with pink, white, or purple flowers. It typically grows up to about 3’ tall and flowers throughout the year. Now this is a particularly tough one since you can still buy this in garden centers and it will grow just about anywhere. But that’s the problem. It invades creek beds, pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks and other ecosystems and crowds out the native groundcovers along the way.

There are many other invasive exotics plants and here some links where you can learn much more about them and about controlling them:

UF Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants:

Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council:

IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas:

“Living Green” video on invasive exotics:

November 1, 2010

Get Classy Before the Holidays!

Attend Pinellas County Extension’s November Classes

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions. Be sure to check out our lunch break online classes in November, “Solutions in 30.”

Solutions in 30:
November 10, 2010 - My Favorite Green Practices: Session 1
November 17, 2010 - Introduction to Green Star

Commercial (Pesticide/FNGLA/ISA) CEUs:
November 3, 2010 - Last Call Fall CEU Update
November 3, 2010 - Fumigation
November 3, 2010 - Core
November 3, 2010 - General Household Pest
November 3, 2010 - Termites

Extension Programs:
November 2, 2010 - Master Money Mentor
November 2, 2010 - Focus on Finances
November 3, 2010, 11:30 am - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
November 3, 2010, 1:30 pm - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
November 3, 2010 - Landscaping for Wetland Wildlife
November 7, 2010 - Morning Nature Hike
November 8, 2010 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
November 11, 2010, 2:00pm - Native Plants
November 11, 2010, 6:15pm - Native Plants
November 13, 2010 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
November 16, 2010, - The 5 Biggest Myths of Climate Change
November 16, 2010 - Overview of Florida-Friendly Landscaping
November 17, 2010 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
November 18, 2010 - GreenStar ADVANCED
November 20, 2010 - Pinellas Energy Efficiency Project
November 23, 2010 - Early Evening Nature Hike

You can register for classes online at
Please look for and click on the “Online Class Registration” tab on the right hand side near the top of the page.