Category Archives: Blog

The Rock ‘n Renew Social Innovation Lab

Complex social problems are solved by creative problem solvers, with access to the best technology available. When creative problem solvers are given the best tools, and have access to each other, to work collaboratively with industry leaders, their communities, and local governments, and innovative businesses, this leads to truly innovative solutions to our biggest problems.

Rock ‘n Renew is preparing for a big announcement this summer, as co-founder Jonny Dubowsky has been working at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) developing a new project:
The Rock ‘n Renew Social Innovation Lab.
kite mapping

As technology rapidly advances, a growing number of new tools and systems have appeared, offering affordable and accessible new solutions to many social and natural capital problems our communities face.  Rock ‘n Renew is working with some of the world’s leading experts in a variety of interdisciplinary fields, to create sustainability solutions that harness the most advanced technology available.

New technologies are quickly creating a number of new jobs as well, and the Rock ‘n Renew Social Innovation Lab will provide educational training and guidance to the k-12 and college students we work with.

Stay tuned for a more detailed announcement as we prepare for a Fall launch of this exciting program.

In the meantime, check out some of the resources we will use in cultivating social innovation in your community.



MIT Mobile Experience Lab Project Locust: Rapid Prototyping and Quick Deployment of Location-Based Media Platforms.

To Enable The Rapid Prototyping and Quick Deployment of Location-Based Media Platforms.

Rio Youth Mapping by the Mobile Experience Lab, in partnership with UNICEF

Locast was born out of a desire to better understand how evolving media technologies could be used to improve connections between people and their social, cultural, and physical spaces. The Open Locast Project itself is a collection of software packages and applications created by the MIT Mobile Experience Lab that were developed towards this broad goal.

Open Locast is designed to enable the rapid prototyping and quick deployment of location-based media platforms. It is an open-source project composed of two primary components, a Web application and an Android application which act in unison to provide a platform that can be tailored to fit various user experiences.

What Locast can be used to create:

Community Mapping Platforms

Platforms that enable communities to document their surrounding spaces, promoting civic engagement while drawing attention to important issues.


Interactive Narratives

Interactive narratives that are crafted by linking together videos and photos thematically, geographically, and chronologically. These stories can be explored by viewers in a non-linear fashion.

Memory Traces by the Mobile Experience Lab, in partnership with the Consulate General of Italy in Boston

Media-based Guides

Location-aware mobile guides that allow people to discover new information about places through layers of curated and user-generated media.

RAI Local Abruzzo by the Mobile Experience Lab, in partnership with RAI New media.


Hans Rosling:Making Climate Statistics Exciting (so we will pay attention)

Distributing the burden and shouldering the solutions together to solve the population growth issues we are facing.
Distributing the burden and shouldering the solutions together to solve the population growth issues we are facing.

When handled with care – global statistics can help challenge common myths and misconceptions about the world, Rosling hopes. Chief among the myths still to be debunked, he says, is the idea that the world is split in two – with a developed world on one side and a developing world on the other. “We don’t have two types of countries any longer, we have four or five types … [and] the idea that the western world will be ahead of the rest for ever is wrong.”
This plays a particular role in the following video which shows how quickly things can shift.

Compost Tea

Ever wondered how to make compost tea?

“Compost tea is an effective, low-strength, natural fertilizer for seedlings and garden plants, and it can suppress fungal plant diseases. The tea-brewing process extracts, and in some cases grows and multiplies, nutrients and beneficial bacteria and fungi from compost and suspends them in water in a form that makes them quickly available to plants.”-Organic Gardening

Compost tea is great for your garden, and it is easy to make to! You can purchase bags of compost tea at the store, or you can just make your own.

compost tea

How to Make Compost Tea

There are two ways that you can do this.

1. You can place compost and water in a barrel or container with a 1 pound compost to 1 gallon water ratio. Stir your mixture with a stick for about 5 days. Strain the liquid from your mixture with cheesecloth or burlap.

2. You can also place your compost into a porous bag or nylons, using it as a tea bag. Place the bagged compost into a bucket of water and let it steep for several days.

Use the compost tea all over the garden. Your plants will love it!

Compost Tea Tips

1. When you brew compost tea, be sure to use mature, sweet, earthy-smelling compost. If your compost smells unpleasant, it could be anaerobic, and few beneficial microbes survive in this environment.

2. Don’t apply compost tea to any vegetable within 3 weeks of its planned harvest date.

3. You can add extra nutrients to your compost tea like molasses, seaweed, or fish emulsion.


Peas photo Copyright:NY Times April 30/2014

Peas, Emerging From The Deep Freeze

Peas photo Copyright:NY Times April 30/2014
Peas photo Copyright:NY Times April 30/2014

Peas, Emerging From The Deep Freeze

By  published in The New York Times: April 30, 2014

Which cuisine do you think of when you think about peas? French, with petits pois aux laitues? Italian, which offers piselli con prosciutto? Indian, and its mutter paneer? British, with buttered peas with mint?

And when you reach for peas, are they frozen or fresh?

Worldwide, most peas are consumed straight from the deep freeze. Many would argue that frozen peas are the better choice, for quality. They certainly can’t be beat in terms of convenience, and they do taste good. I am not immune to their charms when pea season is still a ways off.

Continue reading Peas, Emerging From The Deep Freeze

An Edible Education

Here at Rock ‘n Renew, we love engaging students in gardening and an edible education. Our students get to spend lessons outside in the fresh air getting their hands dirty. They are able to get in touch with the environment and our agricultural roots in cities where it is hard to find much green space, let alone vegetable gardens.

School gardening projects are sweeping across the nation. Those of us who spend time with children in the garden have seen firsthand anecdotal evidence of how much gardening positively influences the lives of our students. It provides them with hands on education in science, environment, and local food systems. Students need direct contact with nature and our planet to appreciate and value its conservation. Unfortunately, urban spaces tend to be riddled with litter, graffiti, pollution, and tend to lack green spaces and fresh produce. Gardening helps our students reconnect to the earth and become inspired to think about their daily choices and how it affects the environment and their health.

Plant-based activities, gardening, and environmental studies provide great opportunities for implementing National and State Science Education Standards. Such opportunities go far beyond the basic study of plants themselves to include life cycles, ecosystems, soil, weather, organisms, and many science process skills such as measuring, charting, collecting data, and reporting.

One of the key premises of contemporary school gardening advocates is that garden-based lessons…

  • Help students meet performance standards across disciplines
  • Appeal to different learning styles
  • Apply concepts through the contexts of real-world experiences
  • Provide rich activities and experiences for students of all learning abilities
  • Are student-centered

We just finished composing a Rock ‘n Renew School Garden Guide. It is a comprehensive detailed guide on how you can start a school garden! We have several versions based on the scope and scale of your vision. We also have a special Garden Guide that was created by our students, for other students. Email us to receive a free copy.

The Perfect Tomato


Anyone who has tried a tomato fresh from the garden knows it tastes nothing like the generic grocery store tomato. There are so many varieties including beefsteak, plum, cherry, grape, campari, roma, brandywine, black krim, and green zebra. They come in many shapes and sizes and each has unique qualities and taste. Different varieties can be easier or harder to grow and care for, but if you follow these tips, you should have some perfect tomatoes growing in your garden.

Tomato Growing Tips

1. Make sure to leave enough room for each tomato plant. They need room to allow for air circulation.

2. When transplanting into the garden, bury the stem up until the first true leaves. New roots will quickly sprout under ground from the stems, and more roots mean more fruits!

3. Tomatoes like a strong support system. Stake or trellis them so the branches don’t break from the weight of the fruit.

4. Tomatoes have many friends in the garden. Be sure to companion plant basil and marigolds to keep those pests away.

5. When watering your plant: water deeply, but not too often. Make sure to directly water the soil and not onto the leaves.

6. Pruning your tomato plant is very important. When you prune off the non fruiting branches, more plant energy is diverted into growing bigger and better fruit on the other branches.

7. Once your tomatoes are coming in, be sure to add compost around the stem of the plant to encourage new growth and continued fruit.

6. Don’t forget to pick your tomatoes once they are ripe: full sized and full color. Don’t let them over-ripen on the vine.

Growing Tomatoes

Why Don’t My Squash Plants Grow Squash?


squash varieties

Squash comes in many varieties. There are zucchinnis, pumpkins, yellow squash, acorn, butternut, spaghetti. They come in different shapes and sizes and growing seasons, but they generally have similar planting and care guidelines. They grow on a vine and can spread out quite far. Make sure to have plenty of space for them. Each plant also produces a prolific amount of squash. Don’t be surprised if you end up with too much  and end up having to give most of it away. They have both male and female flowers. The female flowers are easy to identify by looking for a tiny squash below the blossoms. Male flowers are borne atop a bare stem.


Why Don’t I Have any Squash Growing?

Do you have many flowers growing on your plant, but not squash seem to be forming? Don’t be alarmed if your plants aren’t growing any squash. This is a very easy problem to fix. As stated, squash have both male and female flowers on the plant. The female flowers need to be pollinated by the male flowers in order to form the squash. If no squash is forming, this means that the female flower was not pollinated by a bee or insect. Luckily, it is very easy to hand pollinate. There are several ways that you can go about doing this. One way is to remove the male flower and rub it on the female flowers. You can also take a q tip and get the pollen off of the male flower and into the female flower. You can also just give the plant several good shakes and get the pollen moving that way.


Hand Pollination

How to Make Bokashi


Bokashi is a ramped up, high speed composting method that was first developed on Japan. Conventional composting relies on oxygen-fed organisms to break down organic material.  Bokashi is a method that uses a mix of microorganisms to cover food waste to decrease smell. It derives from the practice of Japanese farmers centuries ago of covering food waste with rich, local soil that contained the microorganisms that would ferment the waste. After a few weeks, they would bury the waste and it would become a rich soil. It’s basic fermentation, the same process that gives us wine and pickles.

Advantages of Bokashi

Most composting methods require months of waiting for the food scraps to break down into compost. However, bokashi composting works very fast, taking only a few days rather than months. Many people complain of their home composting methods having a strong order. Bokashi, on the other hand, is virtually odorless. It  has the potential to be speedier, more space-efficient way to recycle large volumes of kitchen waste into valuable compost.

How to Make Bokashi

You will need containers or buckets with tight fitting lids to keep air out, kitchen scraps, and bokashi mix.

1. Begin by put a layer of bokashi at the bottom of the bucket

2. Add food scarps on top of the layer

3. Each time a layer of scraps is added, add 1-2 tablespoons of the microorganisms

4. Make sure to close the lid securely

5. Once the bucket is full allow it to sit for 10 days for fermentation

6. You will be left with juices and fermented food scraps

7. The juices make a great compost tea for crops, and the fermented scraps can be buried in the ground to enrich the soil.

Bokashi How to Video

The Buzz About Bees

Honey bees are extremely valuable to our agricultural industry, doing almost 80% of all crop pollination. The annual monetary value of these insects as commercial pollinators in the US is approximately $15 billion! Without bees, both farmers and consumers would be at a great loss. They are the “unsung heroes” behind most of the world’s food supply, and are an integral part in sustaining 1/3 of the world’s crop production.

Most of our crop species (about 75%) require pollinators such as bees. Care for a fun fact? One out of every three mouthfuls of food and drink we consume depends upon pollinators. After hearing that, can you even imagine your world without pollinators? Almonds are almost completely dependent upon pollinators (especially honey bees), so without these species, almonds will be gone. Fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, apples, avocados, carrots, citrus fruits, broccoli, kale, onions, and more would either be extremely expensive to grow without thriving bee colonies, or would simply be gone.

So why are the bees declining? This phenomenon is due to Colony Collapse Disorder, in which worker bees abruptly disappear. Little is known about CCD, but scientists believe it is due to a combination of unfortunate factors such as pathogens, malnutrition, and pesticides. According to Dr. Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination…no more men”. Bees’ eradication affects us more than we may think.

Your produce choices WITHOUT bees

Your produce choices WITH bees