Month: April 2017

Photography with a Social Mission – Commons Studio & Matt Reese

I am delighted to bring to you a podcast with Matt Reese, a Columbus photographer who has built up the Commons Studio photography company with a social mission.

Backstage at the Columbus Zoo

Columbus, Ohio has one of the best zoo’s in the country.  When Jack Hannah inherited the zoo as director in 1978, it was a mess.  But he built it up with his charisma, vision and fantastic fundraising, and even by staying late to help pick up the trash.  What he built extends beyond what you see: beneath the surface the zoo has an impactful and commendable conservation effort.  I was lucky enough to go on a backstage tour, led by Tom Strasburg, who gave us some unique insight to the zoo’s effort to rehabilitate manatees.

The Columbus Zoo supports over 70 conservation projects across the country, many of them right at the zoo. During our tour, we witnessed a home built system for growing specific kinds of algae and vegetation needed to breed certain sharks. Apparently it is very complicated because fish and aquatic animals go through specific life stages  —  sometimes lasting 2 weeks, sometimes lasting 2 years  —  where they look to eat very specific creatures or plants.

The manatees aren’t as specific. As adults they  pretty much eat Romain lettuce – restaurant grade – and about 50 heads of it a day. (Romain lettuce is one of the closest resembling options to their native vegetation.)

As we walked onto the feeding platform, we had to watch out for Ken. He’s their resident pelican, and well, this is his home… and he can get kind of protective over people marching through his den. He kept a watchful eye on us, but let us pass through.

The staff spear the lettuce with big sticks, and even though the manatees are quick to eat them, you’ll see leftovers floating on top of the aquarium, even though they clean it every night.

They currently have 5 manatees at the Columbus zoo, and so they go through about 11 boxes (each with about 25 heads of lettuce) each day.

The staff even serve special treats: usually a frozen bucket of sweet potatoes and turnips (yum!).  Stubby, who is one of the more dominant patriarchal manatees, likes his sweet potatoes and will guard it the best he can. As the bucket unfreezes and the treats rise up, he’ll position himself over the bucket so he can get the first dibs.

Swimming with manatees is Buddy, the sea turtle… he was rescued at a young age, and only had about 25% of his flippers left. He still jets around his pool, but will probably never be released back into the wild, unlike the manatees who are rotated out once they’re rehabilitated.  The plexi-glass is only 5% reflective, so Buddy can see through, and he will swim across scrutinizing out all the people checking him out.  He seems pretty amused by the people he sees.

The Columbus Zoo has a very specific program for the manatees, and is one of only a couple of locations outside of Florida that do this. They have an impressive pulley system for transporting the manatees, and an entire process for traveling with them on the planes.

We also got to learn the secret history about nibbles… but you’ll have to join the backstage tour if you want to learn more about that! I would definitely recommend the tour, as it is fascinating learning all that goes on behind the scenes — and gave me a much deeper appreciation of all the efforts to support wildlife, not just within the zoo, but for the rest of our planet.


Also published on Medium. Are you on Pinterest?  Pin these and let’s connect!

Discover Columbus, a Unique Destination

Columbus is a unique place. First impressions: it’s small & there isn’t much happening. But living here, I’m starting to develop a deeper appreciation for the city. It has these hidden possibilities: they’re not obvious like London or New York or San Francisco, but they exist under the surface.

1. It’s Livable

The cost of living here is phenomenal. I could never save any money for a deposit, let alone dream of buying a place when I lived in London where I could barely afford rent. In Columbus, we bought an 8-year-old house with a mortgage that’s about 1/3 of our rent in London… but about three times the size. Maybe 6 times. It was a small flat.

Plus it has central heating and air conditioning, with a washer and a dryer. You don’t appreciate what that means until you live through a cold damp winter with nothing but a space heater to warm up your bedroom and dry your clothes. Don’t even get me started on the closet space or… basement. Wow.

2. Everything Exists Here – but You Have to Find It

And if it doesn’t… you can start it. My wife wanted to go Bollywood dancing, but couldn’t find a class. So she became an instructor instead. She runs her own Bollywood dance class. Super awesome — but she never would have had the idea to start that in London.

It took me awhile to discover the photography scene in Columbus, but it exists, and is quite close knit. In London it was easy to find, but hard to become a part of it. In Columbus, you can become part of things.

3. The Traffic Jams

They don’t exist here. Not compared to London, NYC, SF, or LA. I have a 15-minute commute… and I can completely skip the highway and take a lovely back road to work. Even the morning slowness on the 5-mile stretch leading down into the highway can’t compare to “real” traffic.

4. Talented People Do Come Here

Initially, it felt like I was surrounded by the OSU grads, but later I realized that people actually move-in here from abroad. There is a huge corporate retail company here that attracts designers from around the world.

The low cost of business has brought Chase’s data center here, along with a huge IBM consulting unit. Even Amazon is developing here. Honda has a big US plant, which brought over a number of Japanese companies to support it. Cardinal Health, Nationwide… even NetJets are based here.

So, it’s got critical mass.

5. Critical Mass Brings Style

Although this is true on a more limited level. The restaurant scene is in progress, but every year there seems to be more and more awesome & stylish eateries popping up: Katalina’s, Condados, Niadas, Katzinger’s, Kittie’s Cakes, Hot Chicken Takeover, Pisticia Vera, the Fox in the Snow and Mission Café are a few highlights. The short north has got character; we even get a visit from Arnold Schwarzenegger each year, for the body building event called, well, “the Arnold”.

6. It Has an Entrepreneurial Scene

I first discovered this through our local startup weekend. They’ve launched a Give Back Hack here in Columbus. But they also have an incubator and services to support startups. It’s not the same level capital they have in the Bay Area, but they’ve got capital here. And ideas.

What’s more is that Ohio has more Social Entrepreneur’s per capita then anywhere else in the world. So you know our entrepreneurs are doing great stuff.

Plus, Columbus has something that London, SF and NYC do not — affordable living. Oh wait… I mentioned that… I must be done.


Also published on Medium.

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Permaculture Farming & Lindsay Stevenson

An insightful conversation with Lindsay Stevenson, who delightfully discussed her passion for permaculture farming… and her motivations on why she wants to leave her profession as a medical doctor to start her own farm!

Saving the world from extinction with permaculture farming

If organic farming is like going to a yoga class instead of watching football on TV, permaculture is climbing to the top of the Himalayas to meditate with an enlightened monk.

An Unexpected Chill in Brussels

I have heard wonderful things about Brussels: it’s a nice modern city, easy to get around in and beautiful in the summer.