Archive for the ‘My Portfolio’ Category

Jan 2016 Resolution thoughts

January 6, 2016

Using the analytic categories from last year about reducing my carbon footprint, here are things I’ve explored and directions for 2016.

Substitution. In December 2014 we bought a 2010 Prius to replace Krista’s 1994 Subaru Legacy. The change in mpg was from mid-20s to high-30s (most of her driving is in Moscow, it does better on longer runs on the highway using cruise control so it can do more of the thinking).

Our milage data shows her car drove about 7300 miles in each 2014 and 2015, the latter with a 50% improvement in fuel efficiency.

Replacement. On the other hand, my work has me driving around Moscow. I find that I need to get between places faster, or take things larger, than bicycling facilitates. That is, I can’t achieve the driving reduction behavior I want, so I’m thinking about replacing my ’89 Toyota wagon with a used Nissan Leaf and moving to a carbon free automobile. I drive almost exclusively in Moscow and occasionally to Pullman and rarely to Lewiston. It seems the Leaf will meet my needs.

 Year 2012 2013 2014 2015
Krista’s car (red) 7927 6313 7370
My car (white) 5241 2336 4472 4107
My pickup (blue) 1059 2078 1576  966
Krista’s Prius (silver) 7318
totals  14227  10727  13418 12391

In 2014 I gave away our 15 year old riding lawnmower/snowblower. For two years now I’ve contemplated replacing the remaining gas lawn mower (self-propelled walk behind) with a reel mower and/or an electric (corded or cordless) mower. I think a purchase needs to happen in 2016, even if I keep the gas mower as backup.  Key issue is storage, I need a way to put either of those devices away out of the weather.

More Substitution. Karina and I used a Kill-A-Watt to measure the energy used by our refrigerator (part of a campaign to get a new fridge). Over a 3-day period (73.75 hrs) it used 9.06 KWH for an annual rate of 1076 KWH/yr. Karina has found replacement refrigerators with Energy Star ratings and energy usage ratings as low as 466KWH/yr and multiple options below 650KWH/yr. Now, realizing that the rating is like an EPA milage number (your milage may vary), it’s still hard to imagine we can’t get a better performing fridge.

We pulled out the fridge, it was made in Aug 1998 (17+ years ago). Googling how long a fridge lasts we found 3 sources: 80% last between 9-15 years; 10-15 years; and average 13 years.

SO, owning a refrigerator for its lifetime has 2 energy costs: operational cost and construction cost. One is paid daily, one is paid every 10-15 years.

As an aside, I wondered if there were a fridge that would pay for itself in energy savings (compared to keeping our current fridge (if it would last another 15 years)). I looked up the Avista power rate and multiplied by the KWH savings/year of our current vs potential new fridge = $45/year.

Karina was reluctant to search for a refrigerator that was 18+ cubic feet, 450KWH/year and priced under $700, but she found one (I think). Her reluctance stems from a desire to buy the features in the more expensive fridges she has found– which maybe should be a new category for this analysis: Too much vs Enough.

However, the analysis raised another question. When talking about payback period, are we talking the best sale price we can find, or the suggested retail price? That is, what does price measure: cost of inputs or other intangibles in the merchandising process?

Generation. I regularly observe that the solar air heater is in operation in the Cookhouse. I have resolved to get its water heater running. I intend that project to be the pilot one, with the home water heating to follow. The Barn is partly ready for solar hot water and solar air heating conversions, but it will be the third project to tackle. The house uses gas for hot water, the Barn uses gas for both water and space heating, so I have several opportunities to reduce direct carbon use through generation.

2015 Resolution – Reflect on Conservation

January 3, 2015

Progress on reducing my direct carbon footprint

Following on my conceptualization for the solution to reducing my direct carbon footprint (this analysis), here is the year in review:

Reduction. I think my theme for 2015 needs to be reflection on conservation, and its nuances.

In previous New Years posts I have tracked our car milage and was pleased to see our progress reducing miles driven. Alas, the reduction was lost in 2014. The lesson: bike/walking to reduce miles in town is easily overwhelmed by driving out of town, which should be obvious, it takes quite a few avoided short trips in town to equal the milage of one trip out of town.

2012 miles 2013 miles 2014 miles
Krista’s car (red) 7927 6313 7370
My car (white) 5241 2336 4472
My pickup (blue) 1059 2078 1576
Prius (silver) new 12/4/14
totals  14227  10727  13418

My friend Stephen has a longer dataset and can demonstrate real progress reducing his driving, so it is possible.

spaeth carbon wedge car

In our cars, reduced use requires constant vigilance. In contrast, the area of lawn I mow is being reduced steadily by orchards, gardens and landscaping at the Cookhouse. I haven’t used the 15-year old riding lawn mower/snowblower in 12 months. Since, I’ve proven its possible to manage what is left without the rider, it needs to go away this spring.

Another notable experiment in reduction was to put a timer on our hot water heater. Now we make hot water for morning showers and again for evening dishes. While the savings from not maintaining hot water is small, we have proven in the past 6 months that we don’t lack for hot water when we want it. This experiment needs more study. For example, can we time the water heater so we use up much of the hot water and only store tepid water (rather than having the water heater reheat the water we just used and then storing that hot water)?

Substitution. Another of the strategies to reduce my direct carbon footprint is to substitute technologies.

The Cookhouse was built with all LED lighting and I thought I was done converting the Barn, but the other day I found one more CFL — a small one in a reading lamp. The house is partly converted, the Kitchen, family room and bathrooms are done.

My efforts at substituting LED lighting for CFLs are producing limited results; my home electric bill is not going down much (if at all), because the refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher and electric dryer are such a large fraction of the use that they overwhelm the savings in the lighting.

The used Prius that Krista will drive in place of the “red” car appears to give her 40+mpg vs the previous 25+mpg in “red car,” so if we can hold the miles driven steady, it should be a decrease in fuel used.

Replacement. The oven in our gas stove died last spring and (sigh) there are no parts to repair a 10 year old stove. The process of deciding has been slow, but we are headed toward an induction stove, all electric. The decision process was explored in this column. Replacing this appliance will produce a permanent decrease in our direct use of carbon, but a small one compared to the gas water heater. I’m having the electrician get me ready to do the water heater, but can’t afford that change yet.

While the 15 year old gas lawn mower is still running, I’m considering replacing it with an electric one. Since I’m not sure how that will work in when the grass grows fast in the spring, I’ll keep the gas one around for another season.

Generation. I have some more data on the impact of the solar air heater in the Cookhouse. My previous report was from a short duration observation. Now I have a year’s worth of data which appears to show April, May & June readings with less consumption than heating degree days would predict. Since the structure is still unoccupied the only energy use is for heating. Goals for 2015 are getting hot water preheating going in the Cookhouse and in our house. This data are also encouraging me to develop solar air heating to supplement in the barn.

849 electric usage

Electric heating in the Cookhouse for 2014

Passion for trees

February 14, 2014

Appearing in Moscow Pullman Daily News, editorial page, Feb 14, 2014

HIS VIEW: Pitching in as a volunteer urban forester

byline: Nils Peterson is a member of the Moscow Tree Commission, who celebrates his passion for trees by building timber frames such as the Berman Creekside Park picnic shelter.

I am passionate about trees. When I was in 4th or 5th grade my parents took us to see the wooden naval ships in Baltimore Harbor. That is my first memory of being impressed by big wood. Since then I’ve been awestruck by both individual redwoods and old growth forests.

My passion for trees increased when I discovered the Timber Framers Guild and their efforts at recovering a lost building art. I find that working with hand tools allows me to attend to idiosyncrasies of timbers, which helps me appreciate trees as individuals.

Working with wood gives me a deep appreciation for Eric Sloane’s great little book “Reverence for Wood,” and inspired a talk I gave a few years ago at the Unitarian Universalist church in Moscow. The beginning of the presentation invited the audience to engage in one of my favorite activities in the church — staring at the floor. The floor is red fir, installed 100 years ago. Its knot free straight grain suggest to me that it grew in an old growth forest and was maybe 100 years old when it was harvested — saplings at the time of Lewis and Clark. That wood connects me to ecosystems and to time.

The birch tree that stood in former Moscow resident Lynn Unger’s front yard now spans the center of my barn.  It unwittingly turned me into an urban hardwood lumberjack. I discovered the diverse beauty of the trees growing in our city. Ash, box elder, chestnut, cherry, elm, linden, locust, maple, Russian olive and walnut all found places in the barn before I finished. I made friends with some of the area arborists and became something of an ambulance chaser after local hardwood.

Harvesting urban hardwoods also connected me to some of the area’s wood turners. They often took pieces too small or knotty for me and turned them into art. You can often see examples of their art at Farmer’s Market.

Now I have a small orchard, mostly plum and apple. Pruning the young trees each spring is a meditation, a chance to see how each tree responded to last year’s cuts and to choose my next step training the tree. And then in the fall I learn if my efforts are bearing fruit. The orchard is teaching me patience in a collaboration with the life of the trees.

But perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned from my passion for trees is about community. Barn raising requires community. For me, almost two decades after raising my first timber frame, the whole activity is less about building and more about engaging, sharing, connecting. The process, and the trees, have become my teachers, helping me to be more in tune, more connected, more reverent.

Cultivating Moscow’s urban forest is also a community activity. Inevitably, I suppose, my passion for trees and they lessons they taught, brought me to the Moscow Tree Commission. Recently the DNews reported on a new project of the Commission, “Adopt-a-Tree.” (Feb. 1&2)

The idea of Adopt-a-Tree is like Adopt-a-Highway, to provide a mechanism for individuals and community service organizations to volunteer assistance to Moscow’s urban forest by providing specific services to select trees that are on City property and Rights-of-Way. The goal of the program is to extend the resources of the Parks Department staff, promote civic pride, and enhance the urban forest.

I hope this program creates a channel for community members to direct some of their own passion into enhancing our community trees.  Learn more on the City website, or come see the Commission when we have a booth at Farmers Market. And follow your passion for trees.

More data on solar air heater

December 12, 2013

The recent cold snap let me collect some interesting new data. Previously I had reported on temperatures in the building with the solar heat on and off, but that didn’t tell how much energy was being captured by the collector. At the end of that post I speculated on a way to approximate measuring the energy.

Each day during the cold snap I read the power meter at 10:30pm. The Weather Depot website gave me the Heating Degree Days for each day. (Heating Degree Day is the indoor temperature minus average outdoor temperature; a measure of how much heating is needed. Colder days have more HDDs.)

This gave me a table, and I could calculate a ratio HDD/KWH which should be a constant

HDD (55F indoor) KWH/day Ratio
52 62.44 0.839
42 51.32 0.824
33 39.75 0.825

The ratio lets me predict, knowing the HDDs, how much energy the building would use.

I turned the solar on Wed, and collected data. It was a fairly clear day, high haze but strong shadows. If the solar is effective it should save me energy, ie, reduce the KWH that would be expected to be used for a given number of HDD

It Worked!  The Solar heater came on for 4-5 hours. While I never saw the temperature inside rise above the 55F thermostat setting, I used 6 KWH fewer than the HDD on Wednesday would predict.

6 KWH is 22% savings – about 1/4 of the energy, which roughly agrees with the collector operating for 1/4 of the day. The building has no thermal storage, its like a greenhouse that warms up in the sun and cools again when the sun sets.

The water heater portion of the system is the way I will store energy. I hope to do a final system leak test on that system this Saturday.

First data from solar air heater

November 30, 2013

I have been making (slow) steady progress on the “Cookhouse” project. The utilities got installed over the summer by some great contractors: Nolan Heating, Jeff’s Electric, Don’s Plumbing, Jamin at Energylock for the spray foam insulation and Tom at Avista for the new transformer. I spent Sept-Nov working outside on the siding which caused me to need to get the solar air and water heaters finished up enough to put the glazing on.

collectors on the south wall. Air heater is the set of tubes at the top, water heater is below

collectors on the south wall. Air heater is the set of tubes at the top (above the scaffold deck), water heater is below (click to enlarge)

I built two things into one collector. The lower 12 feet is hot water (pre-)heating. But having watched the sun angles I realized that there were 5 feet above that which get winter but not summer sun. I made an air heater in that area. I suspect the air heating gets some heat rising from the water heater — I didn’t seal them off from one another.

The hot water system is inspired by this design and will be the subject of another post.

For the air heating, I did a variation on the “solar can heater”  I used pre-made ducts rather than messing with a bunch of cans. I have a fan that draws air from the upstairs ceiling, thru the collector, and blows near the floor downstairs (opposite flow from the illustration).

To control the hot air system, I installed two conventional thermostats. One is typical house heating thermostat (on when cold) and the other is an attic fan controller (on when hot). The combination (hot in the collector, cold in the house) turns the fan on.

When the electric and heating was turned on I hooked up the solar air heater. In late October I measured 172F in the collector, 60F air going in upstairs and 122F air coming out downstairs.

indoor and outdoor temps for experimental and control days

indoor and outdoor temps for experimental and control days (click to enlarge)

Last week I was able to do some more systematic data collection on two sunny days with similar outdoor conditions. Nov 21 was the experimental day, Nov 22 the control. What I found was that the heater can warm the downstairs by 10+ degrees F over the warming I get without the heater (just the sun in the windows and warming the south wall).

I need to get some better instrumentation to take more data, but that will have to wait for another post.


Footnote. I have been mulling over how to get a better measure than these temperature data, what I want is units of energy. Since the only energy use in the building now is heating, I can read the meter for KWH in a 24 hour period. I just found this site where you can get heating degree days (1 degree-day = 1 degree difference in temperature for 24 hours). Even better, you can control the indoor reference temperature.

SO, if I turn the solar off and pick a cloudy day, I have a measure of KWH/day and a measure of delta-T/day which will let me estimate the building overall R-value/day. I think I can use that estimate of R-value along with the KWH & degree-day for a sunny day to estimate the energy gathered by the solar system.

UPDATE 12/29

I made 2 of these manifolds to fit 9 3" duct. Duct material is 5 foot. Backing is 1.5" of TuffR rigid insulation painted black. Once installed the pipes were sealed in with spray foam.

I made 2 of these manifolds to fit 9 3″ duct. Duct material is 5 foot. Backing is 1.5″ of TuffR rigid insulation painted black. Once installed the pipes were sealed in with spray foam.


Inside view upstairs. Hole at top is air going out to collector. Light comes in because collector not installed. 4" duct below goes downstairs where fan draws air down.

Inside view upstairs. Hole at top is air going out to collector. Light comes in because collector not installed. 4″ duct below goes downstairs where fan draws air down.

This is a conventional attic fan thermostat (on when hot) set at 90F. This (plus indoor temp) decide when fan comes on to draw air thru heater.

This is a conventional attic fan thermostat (on when hot) set at 90F. This (plus indoor temp) decide when fan comes on to draw air thru heater.

Year Round Food

September 2, 2012

Shortly after we bought our place in Moscow I read an article about world agriculture that reported the average amount of arable land per person. It turned out that our 1.3 acres for 2 people was average.

Thinking about that fact made me begin to feel a responsibility to try to raise a portion of my food (since, on average, I had all the land needed). I’d gardened as far back as high school, raising a few veggies for summer eating. I decided I needed a goal to push my gardening — eat something from the garden in each of 12 months.

As I recall, Krista met that goal first with raspberry freezer jam. The people before us had quite a big row of raspberries started and freezer jam was a great way to preserve the harvest for 12 months. At that same time we also tried making several canned jellies, the best was red currant but we’ve never really gotten into canning.

Life has intervened, but I have inched my way toward the goal, learning to use the cold cellar to keep garlic and potatoes till March. We added a food dryer which allows us to manage more of our fruit and makes a favorite mid-winter Swedish Fruit Soup more affordable.

The “something from the garden each month” goal pushed a much more thoughtful approach to my gardening. But now we’re long past it.

Last fall/winter I experimented with winter gardening to have some greens and this weekend I will start a small fall  garden. This year we will have a big crop of pie pumpkin and butternut squash for the cellar. Those are the two squash the family will eat. Krista has been making/freezing apple sauce with fruit from the new orchard.

Last winter I started a recipe blog to track foods I’m cooking that could be made with local ingredients. It was an attempt to explore how rich and varied my diet could be — IF the ingredients were actually produced in our local food shed.

One thing the blog was intended to do was help identify missing local ingredients. One of them is cooking oil, so I was excited today at Farmer’s Market I saw a new booth selling oil. I couldn’t stop today but I will go back.

I’m musing about a new goal of one meal a month that could be local, or perhaps all three meals in one day per month. Or perhaps the meal needs one ingredient I grew, several that are local, and the rest that could be local. Of course, overlaid on picking this new goal is remembering what my family will actually eat so I need to tinker my way a goal where we can all succeed.

Vision Statement for Co-op GM Job App

August 31, 2012

I’m applying for the Co-op GM position again. They ask for a vision statement.

UPDATE 9/1: I realized that my letter of application contained the section on experience that has interested several people. I have added the application letter  with that information below the vision statement.

My vision is that, working together, our Co-op will meet its mission during a period of unprecedented change by helping members meet their food security needs and by helping local producers thrive.

To explain my vision, I must digress. It is unusual to have an opportunity to apply for the same job twice and to have a year to think about unfolding changes to the world and how I can better to articulate what is important about them. I’m convinced that climate change poses, by far, the greatest risk to humanity. And the failure of essential US leadership in the international community is already having devastating consequences, including impacts on our local food security.

I believe climate change is real and caused by human activity. I think a lot of people share the belief, but they don’t understand what to do next or why we are stuck on the Business-as-Usual trajectory.

We have all heard about Peak Oil and seen the graphs of world oil production peaking about 2005 and drifting slowly downward for the next century. We have not been talking about Peak Oil per Capita — the amount of oil available per person. That graph is declining much faster because the number of people in the developing world using oil is growing. If several billion Chinese and Indians each wish to use only 5% as much oil as Americans use, our per capita supply must become less. If oil-exporting nations decide to meet their internal needs rather than sell to the US, our supplies could decline more precipitously. I’m going to focus on oil because it’s such a wonderful, potent, easily handled and transported fuel. The rest of the fuels could be woven into a longer version of this story.

Time is important in this story because with lots of time there is opportunity to adapt and innovate. Climate scientists call for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 — 8 years away. To get there we need both innovation and lots of capital investment to replace existing infrastructure.

But we all seem to be stuck in Business-as-Usual. The challenge is, presently we are in a recession, and there is less money available for investment in energy conversions. And, more challenging, as energy availability declines then money (a measure of everything produced with energy) goes away. Wealth is disappearing by many mechanisms such as lost work or lost value of investments (think underwater home mortgages). Climate catastrophes (hurricane, tornado, wildfire and flood) are destroying wealth as well. Less energy per capita means there are fewer resources available to rebuild wealth so we struggle along trapped in our high carbon lifestyles. (More about these ideas in Kunstler’s books The Long Emergency and Too Much Magic.)

The Moscow Food Co-op cannot significantly impact any of these global processes. The Co-op is important, however, and I believe that its greatest asset is that it exists as an organization who’s raison d’être to serve the owners’ mutual benefit. The Co-op is our resource, as owners, to make intelligent choices that help us (and our community) manage through the impending energy/economic decline.

My vision is that, working together, our Co-op will meet its mission during a period of unprecedented change by helping members meet their food security needs and by helping local producers thrive.

Price is an important consideration. Over the last year as I have sought the role of GM, people have come to me sharing concerns about prices. Some of those members have lost their jobs in the past year which has made food costs a more acutely felt issue. For a variety of reasons, the real costs of food are likely to rise and the Co-op must pass those costs along. Even while saying so, I recognize that high prices, even the perception of them, makes the Co-op vulnerable to loss of business and to our local competitors. The GM is charged with increasing sales and must navigate these retail challenges as part of a long-term strategy. I will collaborate with the department managers to contain costs and margins while offering the best products and prices to customers.

I’ve spent time over the last year looking at our other local grocery stores, trying to pinpoint what makes the Co-op special. It’s not the friendly staff (though they are) or the natural and organic foods. I think what distinguishes the Co-op, in ways you sense when you walk in the door, is that “we” are doing “this” together.

Daniel Pink influences my management style. I’ve used his collaborative and empowering ideas in the past and I know they will make the Co-op both a best workplace and create a welcoming environment for new shoppers and returning members.

Pink focuses on a view of management that is contrary to popular beliefs and typical practice. He says, “For simple straightforward tasks monetary rewards improve performance, but once you get above rudimentary cognitive skill and mechanical tasks, rewards don’t work as incentives.” For a summary of Pink’s book Drive see this video

Pink is clear about pay, he says “pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table,” but beyond that point three other factors lead to better work performance and personal satisfaction: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.

Autonomy – employees need autonomy in aspects of their job. Management often runs afoul of this goal. Management is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement with the job and attention to solving novel emerging challenges, self-direction is better.

Mastery – the urge we all have to get better at stuff. Its why people play musical instruments or undertake other personal challenges during their free time.

Purpose – the chance to make a meaningful contribution. The reward is intrinsic, it stems from making a personally important contribution and having the opportunity to make that the best contribution possible. In his TED talk, Pink gives an extended example of these ideas using Wikipedia vs. Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia project.

I see evidence of Pink’s ideas already in place at the Co-op (among employees, volunteers and members) and intend to lead in ways that continues and extends this successful culture. Much as the Tuesday Growers Market (invite your competitors to sell in your parking lot) functions in wonderful and counter-intuitive ways, I believe that with some autonomy and opportunity to strive toward mastery, our Co-op community can invent more ways to leverage our collective resources to meet each of the Co-op’s strategic goals:  Strengthen Co-op community; Create and maintain the best working environment in Moscow; Develop and support the local, organic and sustainable goods economy; Incorporate values of environmental sustainability into facility; and Increase community engagement, outreach, and education.

I will find ways to help the Co-op meet its mission by supporting sound retail practices and by creating and supporting the flowering of more community food resources. I’ll continue the various ways the Co-op organizes and cooperates with the web of resources in our community to — local growers, home gardeners, and food professionals. I believe it will contribute to creating the best workplace and the intelligent response that will be needed as the Co-op and its members adapt to the changing energy and climate times ahead.

It is this idea of “we together” that is the other important consideration in my vision. The Co-op is more than a grocery store. What other grocery runs a newspaper, invites competitors to sell from its parking lot, or organizes social awareness events? We (the members) want to do this and we do it with money that other grocery stores call “profit.” The GM is the agent of the Board, the “face” of and for the Co-op. Attending to the “Triple Bottom Line” (people, planet, profit) is essential to weathering coming changes and I will collaborate with the Board, members and staff as together we prioritize our Co-op’s activities and look out for our wider collective economic benefit.

Addition 9/1

841 Travois Way
Moscow, ID 83843

August 31, 2012

GM Search Committee

%Colette DePhelps, Chair, GM Search Committee

Moscow Food Co-op

PO Box 9485

Moscow, ID 83843

I’m excited to be applying for the position of General Manager of the Moscow Food Co-op. It’s an unusual event to apply for the same position twice and to have a year to reflect and further prepare. Last year I spoke about being invited to apply by members of the search committee and how that prompted me to reflect on the role of the Co-op in our community and why I found the job of GM an important thing for me to do. In the application process last year I became aware of a community need that was outside the scope of the Co-op, but contributes to our developing local food systems: Moscow lacks sufficient commercial kitchen space to serve food entrepreneurs and the value-added processing needs of growers. Over the course of the past year I have located financing and designed and am now building a shared use commercial kitchen, an expansion of our very successful Peterson Barn Guesthouse. More on my reflections this past year appear later in this letter and in my vision statement.

As you will see in my resume, I’ve done a diverse range of things in the last 35 years, from running companies that design physiology software and timber frame buildings to managing teams of IT and instructional professionals and building community around shared purposes. The most complex business I’ve started is Palouse Prairie School.

I appreciate that the Co-op must be a business first, that it needs to keep costs low, maintain reasonable margins on the goods its sells, maintain a cash reserve and strive to retain some earnings each year for capital developments. It is these sound business practices that have allowed the organization to flourish. Retained earnings are the resource that can support the Co-op’s strategic outreach and sustainability initiatives. I have four years experience with the Palouse Prairie School budget, creating the first ones to gain the school’s charter and then overseeing three years of operations as Board Chair. The budget at the school is nearly $1 million for the coming school year. My reference BJ Swanson consulted with me several times in the process creating the budget for the launch of Palouse Prairie School and more recently the financing for the commercial kitchen. She can speak to you more about my understandings of successful operation of a complex business. The School’s architect Jerry Brotnov can speak to my can-do abilities during the critical steps of remodeling the building and opening the school.

Further bottom-line accountability experience comes from my other business experiences. My second largest business experience was From the Heart Software from 1989-93. The company developed software funded by a series of Federal grants. This gave me an introduction to balance sheets, accounting practices and labor management. The software sold to a very limited market in medical education. That venture closed shortly after we moved to Moscow. The experience taught me about the revenue needed to sustain a business operation (as opposed to capital to launch it). Peterson Barn Guesthouse that I run with my wife Krista, is my longest running venture. We built the Barn over several years, paying cash to capitalize it. That allowed us to manage with low revenues during the first several years of operation. The Barn rented over 180 days in 2011, and its success is allowing us to expand.

I am interested in your position because I see that the goals, strategic plans and policies of the Moscow Food Co-op are working on issues that I find increasingly urgent. What is important to me is focusing on local sustainability. I care about wider environmental issues, but I can’t do much to solve them. I believe I can contribute to Moscow’s successful transition through these changing economic/energy/climate times.

Central to my concerns for our community’s sustainability are issues of food security. There are two aspects to this concern. As fuel prices rise, people in our community will be faced with hard choices and knowing how to use bulk and local fresh foods could be important to achieving good nutrition. Local food production may also help buffer our community from prices and shocks inherent in global markets and our long supply lines.

One of the things that I admire about the Co-op, more as organization than store, is the way it leverages its resources for the community. Dime-in-Time and Impulse Giving are examples — by identifying worthy activities in the community and creating a donation mechanism, the Co-op has allowed micro fund raising to help new small initiatives, leveraging its members and shoppers without significant costs to itself. The Co-op’s charitable giving, aligned with its policy goals is also an important contribution to the community. This philanthropy is even more important now with the City of Moscow’s elimination of its small community grants program. My reference Tom Lamar can share his understandings of the ways in which I have helped organize in the community for local projects and to foster civil dialog and community engagement.

The General Manager of the Co-op needs to work within a complex ecology, responding to a Board and serving as a representative of the organization to multiple communities, among them, active members and shoppers. My reference Nathan Alford can speak to these ideas. We have discussed his paper’s front-page coverage of the Co-op GM search, and how that is very different from the way they treat managerial changes at other grocery stores. This difference is further evidence that the Co-op is more than a grocery store, and of the important role the GM has within the larger Moscow community.

In the creation of Palouse Prairie School, I have served in the role of Board chair both on the founding board, and in the transition to a governing board. It was a context in which I needed to navigate a various of Moscow’s communities seeking allies, resources and support. The Board’s transition from Founders to governing was also a very important lesson in roles, which leads me to have a deep appreciation of the importance of the Co-op’s policy governance model. Palouse Prairie is striving to implement a similar model.

While your job description does not state retail experience is a minimum requirement, in the GM search last year, some expressed concern that I lack retail experience.

First, I am open to admitting what I don’t know and have a management style that anticipates trusting and learning from the current (clearly successful) staff. Previously the Co-op hired an interim store manager and it may be that the store has reached the size where such a position should be permanent. I will seek the advice of the staff regarding such a move, or additional training that would allow them and me to be more effective.

Second, the job is much wider in scope than managing the daily retail decisions. I have subscribed to the CGIN email list to see what Co-op managers discuss. The issues have ranged from choosing Point-of-Sale software, to unplanned capital expenses, to navigating a change from senior citizen discounts to SNAP benefits, to disposal of property left at the store by a bankrupt supplier. The “How to start a Food Co-op” tutorial on the CGIN site has given me insights into rules of thumb for the balance sheet and the role of member capital in the mix of Co-op assets.

Finally, I expect to get more training both from the current staff and from the Co-op’s network of consultants and resources.

I have a range of other managerial experiences spanning two decades. During the 90’s in the College of Education, I implemented the transition of an organization that did not use much technology for productivity to one that explored the Internet for extended teaching and learning opportunities. That job required me to direct a staff of graduate students in daily tasks and to translate the Dean’s goals into practical implementations.

Those managerial experiences continued when I moved to the Center for Teaching Learning and Technology, but with a university-wide scope and with professional staff under my direction. My role of Assistant Director was to facilitate our unit collaborating with staff in other units. It also involved me more directly in HR activities, hiring, termination and performance evaluation.  My reference Doug Baker can speak to my imagination, critical and creative thinking and skills working in these managerial roles. Doug can give you a broad overview of my leadership and management. You are also welcome to speak with my former Director in CTLT, Gary Brown for a closer look.

The work with Expeditionary Learning and its emphasis on collaboration as a strategy for learning and working had introduced me to a language about decision-making. They call it the ABCD model:

  • A-type decisions. Only the leader makes the decision.
  • B-type decisions. The leader makes the decision after gathering input and perspectives, especially from key stakeholders.
  • C-type decisions. The decision is collaboratively made; the leader frames the context and decision-making process.
  • D-type decisions. The leader delegates the decision to another group, while remaining accountable for the outcome.

What I find important about this language is that it helps everyone talk (at a meta-level) about how decisions are made and gives clarity about the way the leader will be treating advice and input. In my approach as GM of the Co-op I will seek mostly to use the other forms of decisions whenever possible, but I recognize there will necessarily be some A-type decisions.


Obviously, since I have been a member of the community for 20+ years there are many people who can share perspectives on my abilities. The people below represent a cross-section of perspectives and have agreed to speak with the committee

  • Doug Baker, UI Provost (208) 885-6448
  • Nathan Alford, Publisher, Daily News (208) 882-5561
  • Tom Lamar, PCEI Executive Director, (208) 882-1444
  • BJ Swanson, Director LEDC (208) 301-1221
  • Gary Brown, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Excellence, Portland State Univ. (503) 725-9149
  • Jerry Brotnov, Brotnov Architecture and Planning  (509) 758-2512

Salary Requirements

My salary at WSU was $65,763 for the 12 months ending December 2010. If the committee is interested in my application, I would not want that salary to be a barrier to opening a conversation.

Thank you for your consideration,

Nils Peterson


Vision Statement

Curriculum Vita

Recycle Less

February 7, 2012

Latah Recycling does not actually recycle glass, they take our offerings to the landfill, crush them with a dozer, and use them as fill over the demolition wastes. This has the dual cost-savings for them of keeping the glass out of the waste stream they truck to Oregon and reducing their need for gravel. This practice may keep people in the habit of recycling glass so Latah Recycling could return to selling it if market conditions improve.

BUT, this dumping has been their practice for a decade and it is leading me to rethink recycling glass.

Last spring, I decided to stop drinking Diet Pepsi. It was a cost saving move. Then I noticed that my choice reduced my recycling stream. From the perspective of my carbon footprint, reduced Pepsi and reduced recycling represent only a small improvement. More interesting, the observation got me exploring the landscape of “refuse” in the hierarchy “refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle.” Now I’m noticing that my glass waste stream contains a number of beer bottles. Hmm….

Winter Salad 2012

February 6, 2012

Back at the New Year I posted about several Fall/Winter gardening experiments, including a Greenhouse Crop that I was re-seeding much more densely and a Cold Greenhouse Crop that I had planted.

The new planting in the greenhouse, under lights only, no soil heat, is doing very well. After a month I was able to harvest enough greens (leaf and romaine lettuce, beet greens and spinach) for salad for 4 people. Parts of the planting are not dense (a result of the November initial seeding). Had it been more intensive it would have been better. I cut individual leaves from each of the plants with the hope that they would grow back. It a couple cases I pulled the plant because things are very (over)-crowded and harvesting is difficult.

The Cold Greenhouse suffered a structural failure in late January after a very heavy snowfall and rains. I examined the inner cloche and row cover and can find a couple seeds just starting to break ground. Can’t identify the plant yet.

The salad from the greenhouse was tasty with Huckleberry Vinaigrette dressing.


Experiments in Winter Gardening

January 3, 2012

This is an update on my three winter gardening explorations:

Digging fall carrots Nov 13

Fall crop. This experiment was to plant carrots, beets and chard in late July for fall harvest. I had old seed, so I over-seeded and became challenged to thin and weed effectively. Nonetheless I got all three crops to produce. I gambled with the weather leaving the crop in the ground (unmulched) into November. Animals ate the beet leaves in October and the chard leaves after that. The ground froze before I got all the beets and carrots pulled, I assume the chard is lost, the beets and carrots are an open question.

Digging fall beets Nov 13

LESSONS: The usual challenge of other activities keeping me from weeding and thinning; mulching with leaves or straw and a light row cover would probably have extended the harvest and kept away animals; the harvest needs to be finished before the freeze (or better protection is needed).

Greenhouse crop. November 1, inspired by Square Foot Gardening, I planted a 2×4 foot bed to carrots, leaf and romaine lettuce, beets, chard and spinach.  Individual seeds were planted at recommended their spacing.

The bed is on a bench in my (poorly insulated) greenhouse, a 2×6 frame filled with amended soil sitting on a heating pad set for 70F.  Four full spectrum fluorescent lights were 6 inches above the soil on a timer from 5AM to 7PM. Carrots and leaf lettuce came up fine. The romaine and chard did not germinate, and the spinach only poorly. I replanted spinach mid-November (no more chard seed). One spinach from the first planting seemed to be doing OK and then about Thanksgiving got wilty.

December 1 I raised the lights to 18 inches, and wrapped a plastic curtain around the lights making a terrarium of the bed and lights. The spinach recovered, perhaps due to the increased air temp and humidity.  Three leaf lettuce plants were coming along slowly.  The carrots continued slowly.

Mid-December, after reading Coleman’s 4-season gardening, I replanted spinach, romaine and leaf lettuce at Coleman’s 1” row spacing. One of the original leaf lettuce failed after Christmas due to lack of water (its hard to water in the confines of the terrarium).

January 3 I harvested 3-4 spinach and 3-4 leaf lettuce leaves to start an experiment in regeneration. Lights and heating pad draw (on average) 0.110 KW, lights only draw 0.062 KW (measured by WattMeter). So, my energy cost Nov 1 – Jan 1 was   0.11KW * 24hrs/day * 61day * $0.07689/kwhr = $12.38 (An interesting experiment but spendy for a handful of lettuce leaves.)

I’ve now turned off the heater to see how things grow with the light (and its heat) only.

Dec 2 (31 days since planting)

Dec 14 (looking west)

Dec 31 (looking east)

LESSONS: Heated growing space is costly and plants need to be planted densely and then thinned for eating as they grow. Carrots at 3” spacings need to be interplanted with something faster growing. The goal is to cover every square inch of soil with edible leaves as quickly and completely as possible, then retreat the number of plants as the plant size increases.

Cold Greenhouse crop. Based on more Coleman reading, on January 1 I planted in my hoop house under a cloche and a wire frame covered with row covering. Spinach, leaf and romaine lettuce, and beets and carrots. The first question will be can I get germination.