An Important Piece on Egg-Laying Hens

We live in a world where people have become increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. Productivity is not the only thing that matters, as social factors, such as values, attitudes, and norms have a profound impact on peoples’ expectations of how food is and should be produced. Animal agriculture is a particularly hot topic because it raises numerous concerns regarding sustainability and our obligations to sentient beings that are entirely dependent on us.

In this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine, Deb Olin Unferth has penned a beautifully written and powerful piece about the debate over how to best house egg-laying hens and some of the problems plaguing this industry in general. She concludes:

Any way we look at it, it seems impossible for the egg industry to meet all our demands: happy hens, cheap eggs, an unlimited supply. The question of the cages turns back on us: How much are we willing to pay? How much are we willing to make the hens pay? If we continue to eat eggs at the current rate—a historically unprecedented high number—the hens who produce them will be treated horribly (Deb Olin Unferth 2014:50).

Although to view Harper’s online, you need a subscription, the non-profit United Poultry Concerns has posted a copy. Click here to read the article and be sure to share it with others!

Also on the topic of proper animal housing, I have been thinking a lot about the fight for fire safety in animal agriculture. Animal agricultural facilities are not held to the safety standards required in many of the buildings we live and work in (i.e. smoke detectors, sprinkler infrastructure). This, however, is problematic as the high stocking densities and confinement found in large operations are extremely dangerous to these animals when fire or other natural disasters strike. For example, just this past month, approximately 13,000 pigs were burned to death in Minnesota and 20,000 chickens died in Pennsylvania due to barn fires. The installation of basic fire safety equipment could have prevented the death of thousands. Click here to learn more about this issue.

I encourage you to think of the impact you have on egg laying hens and all animals in agriculture. Small changes and taking responsibility for our footprints can make a HUGE difference!

Until next time,

Urban Hermits

Illustration: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits November 2014


Mark and Lauren Go Places: A Northern Michigan Adventure!


A scene at Sleeping Bear Dunes, in the Northwest of Michigan’s Lower Pennisula.

Hi all,

While summer weather is here, it can still be difficult to get outside and enjoy it. Work and other obligations can be overbearing, but it can do a lot to take some time for yourself and your loved ones and go on an adventure. Even if you are limited in funds, there are pockets of greatness everywhere! Personally, I love hiking and camping. Its a great way to see beautiful places and experience the world on a budget. This summer has started off with a bang, as Lauren and I made our annual trip to one of our favorite locales: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We also made a brief excursion to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While we have been to Sleeping Bear Dunes several times, we continue to go and be awed by the scenery and great wildlife sightings. Here are some of our favorite photographs!


-Mark and Lauren


Gulls in the sunset over Platte Point


A firewood vending machine!


Lauren looks into what seems to be infinity


On the Good Harbor Bay trail



A Sandhill Crane, Michigan’s largest bird!


Can you spot our friend?


A deer along the Platte River



View from our campsite in Hiawatha National Forest



An old ferry in the port of St. Ignace


Nuclear Waste and the Future of the Great Lakes

Fermi II

To continue our recent saga covering the Great Lakes, I wanted to bring attention to a controversy taking place regarding storing nuclear waste off the shores of Lake Huron. There is currently a proposal to create a nuclear waste repository just north of Kincardine, Ontario,  the home of a nuclear plant operated by Ontario Power Generation. This site lies right on the banks of Lake Huron. Despite previous claims from the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization that the proposed facility was safe, it is now believe that the organization’s original radioactivity predictions were, “underestimated by more than a factor of 100” (Detroit Free Press). Furthermore, the director of the organization’s safety and licensing division has agreed to this claim.

As the Detroit Free Press articles states: “The new findings heighten the concerns many have over the nuclear waste facility’s proximity to the Great Lakes, from which 24 million U.S. residents get drinking water and that makes possible Michigan’s $2-billion fishing, $4-billion boating and $18-billion tourism industries”.

Nuclear energy production has been a controversial practice that has split those concerned about the environment. Some applaud the low emissions and potential to curb our reliance on dirty fossil fuels. Others have warned about the dangers of the resulting waste and social and environmental issues related to uranium mining. While nuclear power presents some potential to usher in an age of cleaner energy, it has been plagued by disasters, none more shocking than that of Fukushima in Japan.

The reason I am particularly concerned about this proposed site in Kincardine is because it makes me think of the current situation, which has not received much media coverage, in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Carlsbad has been the home of a nuclear waste repository for some 15 years now. While the facility has brought some economic stability to the community, it has now been closed since February 14th of this year. The closure was due to low levels of radiation detected on some 17 employees. While these levels of radiation are not said to be harmful, experts have still not been able to detect the source of the leak and the plant is closed indefinitely. To read more about Carlsbad, which I recommend you do, check out this New York Times article. It has also been brought to my attention that the Carlsbad facility is the only site that was capable of accepting the most hazardous radioactive waste. The proposed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada was designed for this purpose but was never opened due to various political and local initiatives, as well as its significance in the local native American culture. Interestingly, the US Department of Energy has collected $37 billion dollars off utility fees for the purpose of developing a waste repository. It has now been announced that his fee will no longer being collected, implying that there are no immediate plans for such a facility and brining into question what the current sum of money will be used for.

Although the debate regarding the future of nuclear power rages on, we still have to deal with the challenges of how to manage the already significant stockpiles of waste, much of which is in crude temporary disposal sites. In addition, there appears to be a lack of specialized locations for the waste of utmost radioactivity.

In the meantime, stay a hermit, and read Urban Hermits!


Image: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits

Concerns Mount Over Enbridge Pipeline Underneath Straits of Mackinaw

The Mackinaw Bridge seen over the straits. Underneath the water are two Enbridge pipelines

The Mackinaw Bridge seen over the straits. Underneath the water are two Enbridge pipelines

Hey folks,

Recently on Urban Hermits, we have been covering some of our concerns regarding the fossil fuel industry. In one of my posts, I discussed how with the track record of the industry, there is no way I would want significant fossil fuel infrastructure in my community. A few days later, Lauren shared news of a small, but concerning oil spill in Lake Michigan off the coast of Indiana. Ben further reported on some of the expected consequences of such a spill. Well, industry keeps making the news, this time with concerns over the safety of pipelines underwater at the Straits of Mackinaw, which is where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet amidst the world’s largest freshwater system. The two pipelines are over 60 years old and operated by Enbridge, a Canadian company that has been accused of negligence regarding their responsibility for a 2010 oil spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo river, which was the largest inland oil spill in US history.

As reported by, Michigan officials have put pressure on Enbridge to ensure the safety of the pipelines and share their contingency plans in the event of a spill, which could be catastrophic and extremely difficult to contain.

This is one of the last companies I would want to maintain such a fragile system in this crucial location. I can only hope for the best. Read the shocking article from Mlive right HERE.



Disaster after Disaster: Why I Can’t Trust the Fossil Fuel Industry


Fire rages at a well in Bobtown, PA

The topic of fossil fuel extraction is a difficult one. On one hand, we want to be as far from the site of extraction as possible. We want to avoid the smells, noise, sights, and potential toxicity of a industry that seems to roll out disaster after disaster. At the same time, we demand consistent access to these sources of fuel and are sometimes forced to rely on them despite any ethical objections. Furthermore, while most communities do not enjoy being near areas of fossil fuel development, it is hard for them to say no due to some of the short-term economic benefits for many residents. For example, in my current research in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s most active unconventional gas developments, residents have found new employment and income opportunities, especially those who have leased their mineral rights. People have used these funds to upgrade their farms, send children to college, and save for their future. While they might not be thrilled about some of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, it is hard to criticize them, especially if they previously were not affluent.

The term NIMBY, or “Not-in-my back yard”, was supposedly coined in the 1980s by British politician Nicholas Ridley ( Since then, natural resource researchers have begun using the term and developing theories, such as NIMBY syndrome, which refers to the, “[P]rotectionist attitudes of and oppositional tactics adopted by community groups facing an unwanted development in their neighborhood” (Dear 2007, p. 288). Even renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, bring up NIMBY concerns. Citizens have complained about the noise and obstructive view of wind turbines, as well as bat and bird mortality. While there definitely is a need to continue developing better renewable energy sources, we currently live in a world dominated by fossil fuels and will for at least the next couple of decades. Despite some benefits we experience from such development, it seems like the fossil fuel industry has evoked disaster after disaster, which is why I as well, wouldn’t want them in my backyard. Although some technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing, can theoretically have little impact, at least on the surface, mistakes and malfunctions inevitably occur. Now I will share a few recent examples of why fossil fuels have me sweating and hoping that they will stay as far away from my community as possible:

Earlier this year, a natural gas well exploded in the sleepy community of Bobtown, PA. It burned for 5 days released thick fumes and smoke into the air. The well operator Chevron’s response? Free pizza and pop!

In that same month (February) of this year, a large dike failure in North Carolina led to a massive coal ash spill, resulting in many concerning environmental impacts. Just this past week, reports have come out that the company, Duke Energy, was caught on camera intentionally spilling coal ash into nearby streams.

And of course, who could forget this year’s coal-related chemical spill in West Virginia, leaving nine counties without tap water.

Finally, the battle over the aftermath of the 2010 Kalamazoo river spill in my home state of Michigan, the largest inland oil spill in US history, continues. All in the light of proposed construction of more pipelines in both Michigan and across the United States, as well as shipping tar sands across Lake Superior, which I discussed in a post last year.

Obviously, there is a serious ethical issue here. That being how could I expect not to be impacted by fossil fuel development when I use them, thus impacting others. This is an important question to ask on both an individual and societal level, but is a complex question for another time. That being said, don’t forget to think about it, especially when you are reminded of tragedies similar to those above or just the everyday burdens of those experiencing, willingly or unwillingly, fossil fuel development in their communities.

Related Posts:


Dear, M. (1992). Understanding and Overcoming the NIMBY Syndrome. Journal of the American Planning Association, 58(3), 288–300. doi:10.1080/01944369208975808,0,7688341.story?page=1#axzz2wfM3UEdo


Some Animal Welfare Hits

Hi all,

Happy humpday, I hope you are all surviving! A few articles came my way today that I felt spark interesting debate and bring perspective. The first being from the Detroit Free Press, which discusses the approval of two animal abuse bills in the Michigan Senate, which will increase the penalties for animal abusers, including a five year adoption ban for convicted individuals. I have always pushed, along with many other Michigan-based animal protection agencies, the implementation of a public registry of animal abusers. This could thus be used to protect animals and citizens who are seeking to adopt animals or seeking adopters for their current pets, as well as for those who are looking to hire caretakers. Although these bills do not appease me entirely, I believe they are a step in the right direction and am happy that these protections are being discussed.

Secondly, here is a sad, but important, piece on animals who have drowned in natural disasters, due to being locked up in the basements of medical and/or university laboratories. The authors offer some possible solutions to the problem. 

Finally, here is an interesting piece on the impact of global warming on big game in Michigan, which is relevant for many other states.

There is a lot of news flooding in and I felt the need to share some, but it is great to see all the wonderful and compassionate work people and organizations are doing! Cheers!


My amiga at Farm Sanctuary!

Image: Mark Suchyta, Urban Hermits


Your Farmers Market!

As fall turns to Winter and farmers harvest the rest of their produce before fields turn fallow, it is a great time to stock up on some produce at your local farmers market! If you haven’t been to one yet, consider this a wonderful opportunity to support local growers and learn about what sort of agriculture is taking place near you. Whether you live in a large city or a small town, farmers markets are becoming increasingly present and popular. Growing up near Detroit, Michigan, I loved spending a Saturday at Eastern Market, the city’s legendary market district where farmers from all over Michigan and Ohio would arrive early in the morning to deliver city-dwellers fresh produce, small operation meats and dairy, and other craft items. During college in Ann Arbor, MI, I enjoyed the Ann Arbor Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. From fresh berries in the late spring, to christmas gifts and hot chocolate in the December, it was a great place to celebrate my community.

This past week, I had the pleasure of exploring the State College Downtown Farmers Market. This provides students and residents an opportunity to enjoy locally grown foods, largely from the nearby Amish farms. Above are two photos of some of the great purchases I made. I tried Tiger-Eye Beans for the first time, which I highly recommend, as well as a variety of hot peppers. Django was able to enjoy the haul (see below).

Django enjoying some salad!

If you haven’t enjoyed a farmers market, yet, or you are not sure where the nearest one is, check out this handy website that locates them for you! In the meantime, I have some cooking to do, cheers!

NIMBY: Canadian Pet Coke in Detroit

Imagine suddenly finding a mysterious black dust coating the furniture in your apartment. Thats what happened to many Detroiters in the Southwest region of the city this summer. After samples were submitted to the Ann Arbor based Ecology Center for testing, it was confirmed that this black dust was in fact petroleum coke, a waste product from the nearby Marathon Refinery. Last week, the Detroit Free Press reported on large piles of petroleum coke rising near the Detroit river. They were being trucked there by Koch Carbon. The coke was a result of processing dirty bitumen sands from the Alberta Tar Sands operations. The article states that: “The Marathon Detroit Refinery off South Fort Street last year completed a more than $2-billion expansion to allow for increased refining of heavy Canadian crude oil. Pet coke is a byproduct of tar sands oil refining that is used as a relatively inexpensive, though dirty-burning, fuel” (Mathenly 2013).


After much public outcry, the coke is being removed, reducing the threat to the nearby river and neighborhood residents. However, this may be very temporary, as Koch Carbon is applying for permits through the Michigan DEQ for storm-water and dust runoff. Clearly, this will be an reoccurring issue and it also begs the question, where will this waste go in the meantime? Environmentalist refer to this as NIMBY, or not in my back yard. In other words, consumers are demanding more oil products at more affordable prices, but do not want to deal with the byproducts, and who can blame them? In my mind, situations like this are the best argument for investment in alternative energy.

Sources: Mathenly, Keith. “Black pet coke dust blowing onto Detroit homes, state confirms”. Detroit Free Press. 14 July 2013.

“Controversial piles of pet coke heading out of Michigan for now.” Detroit Free Press. 23 July 2013.

Images: Fox 2 Detroit

Mark and Lauren Go Places – North Manitou Island

Hi all! Two weeks ago, Lauren and I headed off to escape the crowds of Memorial Day weekend by hiking and camping on the remote North Manitou Island in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It is a beautiful place that we both highly recommend. Even if you decide that the island is not for you, the Lakeshore offers tons of great hiking, camping, and other recreational opportunities. Below are some pictures from our trip! Enjoy. -Mark


On the trail.

The ferocious chipmunks of North Manitou

The ferocious chipmunks of Manitou Island.


Lauren suited up.

Jack in the Pulpit


1800's cemetery

Old cemetery on the South end of the island.

1800's cemetery


Mark reading :)


Searching for a place to set up camp.

Filtering Lake Michigan water

We’re filtering water from Lake Michigan with a system designed on gravity instead of pumping. Saves some energy.

Backcountry campsite, wet pants

I had to go in the COLD waters to fill those bags. So, here are my pants drying. – Lauren

Backcountry campsite

Beautiful backcountry campsite near Fredrickson’s place.

Evasive Canada Warbler!

Evasive Canadian Warblers near our tent.

Old Baldy

Old Baldy dune.


The seagull who thought it was one of the Merganser ducks. South Manitou island seen in the background.

Sunset on Lake Michigan

Sunset on the west side of the island.

Green Trillium

Green Trillium flowers in the woods.


Walking through an old orchard

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow in the Ranger’s station. He built a nest there and was very upset that people came in and out of the building.

Old dock off of the Village

Beautiful old dock on the shore of the village.

The Village

The village.

Boat heading to South Manitou

The boat heading to South Manitou island from Leland, MI.

View from Empire Bluff

View from Empire bluff on the mainland.


Had to make a stop on the mainland to Gwen Frostic’s studio, as Lauren does woodblock printing!


Michigan’s Oil Future and the XL Pipeline

There has been a lot of focus in the last couple years about the proposed, in some places completed, XL Pipeline project. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the project, it is a plan to pump bitumen sands from the Alberta Tar Sands, amongst other extraction operations, across the U.S. to the Gulf Coast. This is a controversial project that has alarmed environmentalists and served as the poster child for dirty oil and how a stronger push for alternative energy is of greater need than ever before. While the fight over the XL Pipeline is still a huge battleground for environmentalists and landowners across the continent, many other noteworthy projects have been slipping through the cracks. On April 14, Keith Matheny of the Detroit Free Press released an informative article about a “new venture [that] would nearly double the amount of crude oil shipped on a major pipeline from Canada to Lake Superior — transporting more oil than the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that has caused an environmental outcry and fierce debate in Congress” (Matheny 2013). A second project also calls for a refinery to be built on the shores of Lake Superior, allowing the shipment of 13 million barrels of crude oil a year (ibid).

This is an article that should be particularly concerning to people in my home state of Michigan, who remember the 2010 Enbridge oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. The spill caused an estimated $1 billion dollars worth of damage and counting (ibid). To go forth with this project would be to accept the reality of inevitable contamination in the Great Lakes Basin. The only real question is how severe.

Source: Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press, April 14, 2013