Saturday, June 25, 2022

Egg Yolk Color Can be Synthetic, Shell Color is Genetic

Egg shell color is genetic by breed. If you want brown shells, own Rhode Island Reds. Interestingly (and mysteriously), brown is the preferred shell color in New England, whereas the rest of the U.S. prefers white. The color decision is not absolute – in New England roughly 50% of consumer-bought eggs have brown shells, dropping to 11% in the mid-Atlantic states, and lower in the rest of the country. In general, white eggs are preferred in South America and the Middle East, whereas brown is preferred in Africa, Europe, China and Japan.

The process of assembling an egg is interesting. Yolks, surrounded by a membrane, increase in size in the ovary, and are then released into the oviduct. Egg white, contained inside a membrane, surrounds the yolk. That process takes about four hours. Next, the egg enters the shell gland. Adding a shell – layering hour after hour – takes about 20 hours.

Range of eggshell colors
Shell pigment is added last. The amount, translating to darkness of brown color, appears to be constant per egg. Given that as laying hens get older, they lay larger eggs, those shells will be less brown than when the same hen was younger. Shell thickness averages 0.30 millimeters, and decreases with age. Shells are made almost entirely of calcium carbonate crystals. A laying hen in good health needs 4-5 grams of calcium per day, typically provided as crushed oyster shells. (By way of comparison, the Estimated Average Requirement for adult humans is about one gram.) Hens tend to start laying eggs at 18 weeks of age. Productivity peaks at about one year, on the order of 250 eggs per year. By year three, approximately 70% of peak, by year four, 60% of peak. Hens will live 8-10 years, but egg production is not expected after year six.

“Pigment last” is not really last. As each egg leaves the oviduct, it is covered in a protein and lipid layer referred to as bloom or cuticle. Before this has time to dry, the egg will be sticky to the touch. The purpose of bloom is to prevent bacterial access to the eggshell contents. In the U.S. commercially sold eggs are washed, removing the bloom. For this reason, eggs must be refrigerated. In the European Union, eggs are not washed, and can be packaged, displayed and sold at room temperatures. In the U.S., people who raise their own chickens for eggs can do either, depending on state regulations. Unrefrigerated eggs last only about 21 days, whereas refrigerated eggs last about 50 days.

Egg yolk color depends on what the laying hens eat. Caged, and fed a diet of predominately corn will result in a pale yellow yolk. Hens with access to an area that has wild plants and insects will lay eggs with a yellow-orange yolk. This comes from carotenoids compounds being passed to the yolk. The orange hue does not mean healthier chicks if eggs are allowed to hatch, nor healthier for humans who consume those eggs. However, eggs from “free range” chickens are perceived as healthier, and priced higher, accordingly.

Egg yolk color choices offered by DSM, a Dutch-based
multinational corporation that acquired the vitamin
division of Roche in 2003
“Money is the necessity of invention.” The classic version of this belief is “Necessity is the mother of invention.” But as egg farmers consider money a necessity, the first version holds true, too. Pasture-raised hens are eating seeds and insects that contribute natural color compounds – carotenoids – will lay eggs with an orange tint to the yolks. Chrysanthemum or rose flower petals, also red bell peppers or chili pepper, can donate a darker hue. However, as an alternative to these natural methods or affected yolk color, chicken feed companies publish a yolk color chart which allows egg production companies to pick a yolk color derived from amounts of synthetic carotenoids added to the feed. The only downside to using synthetic carotenoids is that the eggs cannot be labeled organic.

While talking chicken, lets dip into “Free Range.” FR usually defined as the laying hens being outside at least six hours per day, but only requiring two square feet of outdoor space per bird. A typical set-up for the outside space is concrete, covered in sand, shredded bark and straw. The covering material is removed on a regular basis so the concrete can be hosed clean. While still a higher density habitat than most people image FR means, it is still a huge improvement over the factory farm conditions still dominant in the U.S. “Battery cages” are a few feet square. Between four and ten birds are held in each cage. Industry guidelines recommend each bird having floor space roughly the size of a piece of printer paper. This is where they live for years. Several states, including Massachusetts, have banned caged hen practices.

Trivia: Ostrich eggs are about 2.0 mm thick. Shells from the extinct elephant birds of Madagascar were about 4.0 mm thick. These flightless birds could approach ten feet in height and exceed 1,000 pounds in weight.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Changing the Massachusetts State Seal

New content on this website/blog, as of May 10, 2022, no longer represents columns published in the Beacon-Villager, because May 5th was the last issue printed on paper, B-V continuing as an e-paper. 

The content below is copied verbatim from an email sent by David Detmold, who has been active in seeking a change to the Massachusetts State Seal, which appears, among other places, on every town name sign one sees when entering the towns. David's contact info is 

On Tuesday, May 17th, the Special Commission on the Official Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth voted unanimously to seek a complete redesign of the flag, seal and motto of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The six Indigenous members of the special commission (co-chair Brian Weeden, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, Melissa Harding-Ferretti, chairwoman of the Herring Pond Wampanoag, Elizabeth Solomon, treasurer of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, and Brittney Walley, member of the Hassanamisco Band of the Nipmuc nation) met in caucus prior to the May 17th meeting to discuss the path forward. The commission had been beset with delays in the appointment process, internal obstacles and procedural problems since it was established by the passage of enabling legislation on January 6th, 2021.

On Tuesday, the Indigenous leaders on the commission pressed their colleagues to decide whether the full commission intends to seek minor revisions to the current flag, seal and motto, or to reject the current imagery entirely and start anew. After polling all the 17 members present, (Senator Marc Pacheco and the senate minority leader’s appointee, Michael Amato, were absent) the commission voted unanimously in favor of a total redesign.

The commission was originally charged with reporting back its recommendations for a new design for the seal and motto of the Commonwealth to the state legislature by October of last year. But not all members had even been appointed by that time. Since January, the commission has been meeting regularly, on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 11 a.m., and working toward a new reporting deadline of December of 2022. The commission, anticipating the breadth of its work, now hopes the legislature will extend that reporting deadline once more, until March 31st of 2023.

As of Tuesday, the commission appears to have overcome internal hurdles to arrive at a clear consensus. On Tuesday, the united call of the Indigenous leaders for a total redesign received a ringing endorsement from the director of Mass Humanities, commission co-chair Brian Boyles, who delivered the following statement before the unanimous vote of his colleagues:

Statement from Brian Boyles, director, Mass Humanities:

I believe a full redesign of the seal and motto are necessary, given the charges of the special commission. There’s no way that I can examine the seal, or the context in which it was created,  without concluding that it is harmful, both to each of us as residents, and of the reputation of Massachusetts. There’s no interpretation that leads me back to the qualities of peace, justice, liberty, equality and education that are stated in the legislation that created this commission, and at this very historic moment, I think we have a unique opportunity as residents of Massachusetts to do the hard work to create a seal and motto that do justice to the best that this Commonwealth has to offer, and to reckon with history, both visually and in the origins of the current seal and motto. I base these feelings in the wisdom received from my colleagues on this commission, who were named to this commission because of their expertise and their leadership in their communities, and the words of our Native colleagues as expressed in the History and Usages subcommittee only drove that home to me on May 10th.

I hope we can continue to foster this historic moment with collaboration and respect as we envision the path for a new seal and motto. I serve as a leader of an organization where every day we see the will of the people of the Commonwealth to reckon with our history, to not settle for stereotypes, to respond to a changing population, to dig into the archives and records to elevate the voice of people, and in particular Native people, who were marginalized and erased from the stories we tell about Massachusetts.

I think people in Massachusetts are wicked smart, and they are bold, and they should not settle for a seal that sells all of us short.  We have discussed the context in the historical record, and I base my feelings today on a full redesign of the seal and motto in part on the historical record left by Edmund Garrett, the designer of the 1898 seal, who in 1900 wrote an artist’s statement for New England Magazine, Vol. 23, which can be located with a Google search.

I note in particular, first the charge, or the figure of the Native man, the face of that figure was taken from a photograph plucked by the Secretary of State at that time William Olin from the Bureau of Ethnography in Washington DC of Thomas Little Shell, a Chippewa leader who never resided in Massachusetts. The figure is based on a skeleton held at the Peabody Museum in Harvard University. No Native residents were consulted in its selection, a reflection of centuries of exclusion on the part of the Commonwealth from land, laws, and historical records of Indigenous residents.

The figure in the shield, secondly, holds a bow that according to Garrett was taken from an unnamed Native man shot by a settler, William Goodnough, in Sudbury, in 1665. That bow serves as a reminder that should any person know the full context and record, they would understand what emerges from the violence brought on by a people in their own land.

Finally the sword and the hand in the crest is modelled on that of Myles Standish. We know from the record that Myles Standish killed Native people. He was even reprimanded by his own Pilgrim colleagues for doing this.

These are the elements of the seal. The intentions were quite clear, and the construction was done in harmful ways. When we consider the motto: “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty,” given the origins, and what we know of the history, those words do not ring true to me. I believe they too must go. I don’t see any way to tweak, or edit them, that can do justice to the long history of erasure and oppression of Native peoples since the arrival of the Pilgrims. I see no way to redeem those symbols. To do so would be to give priority to people whose violence should not be a source of pride but of apology and reconciliation.

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Future of Maynard

“As the mill goes, so goes Maynard.” That was a truism for over one hundred years, until the woolen mill cratered in 1950. Then true again 1953 to 1993 when the complex – more than one million square feet of space – was renting to office and industry needs of myriad businesses, in time all gradually displaced by Digital Equipment Company. DEC bought the complex in 1974, then emptied it in 1993 as part of a massive downsizing before selling itself to Compaq. Then true once more after Wellesley Management took over in 1998, and with a generous tax break from the Town of Maynard, managed to fill the complex again. The recession that began in 2008, coinciding as it did with the winding down of the tax break, crushed Wellesley Management, leading to a sale to Mill & Main at fire sale prices in 2015. Repopulation was stalled by COVID-19, so we find ourselves well into 2022 with a partially filled complex of buildings that date to being 103 to 163 years old.   

Two generations ago, Maynard was a live, work, shop, play and pray community, but no more. Most working people commute, shop on line, play video games ditto, and if they pray, do so at a house of worship that has its own parking lot. The twenty-first century has seen the closing of the Episcopal, Methodist, Congregational and Evangelical churches. Candlepin bowling lanes and pool halls are no more.

“As the mill goes, so goes Maynard” is no longer true. Despite the partially rented status of the mill complex, the population of Maynard is at an all-time high, having increased by ten percent between the 2010 census and the present. New housing – owned and rented – is being squeezed in everywhere, the construction at 129 Parker Street added huge amounts of commercial space, and the cost of housing is at an all-time high. New houses on Wisteria Lane, with two-car garages, are selling for more than $800,000. If ever the mill complex fill again – be it some combination of office, industry, retail, housing (?), community college (??) or mid-sized hotel (?!?) – Maynard has moved on from being wholly dependent. According to the 2020 federal census, residents report an average work commute time of 30 minutes. Maynard, to some degree, has become JABS (just another bedroom suburb).

Can Maynard remain ‘special’ against a gentrification trend? The existing infrastructure of the downtown triangle lends itself to Maynard staying host to non-chain shops, restaurants, bars and live entertainment venues. This envisions downtown Maynard being a destination for residents and people from neighboring towns. Think a smaller Waltham or a lower rent Concord. Doing so will require the Town of Maynard to continue to be friendly to commercial development. Being designated by the state as having a “Cultural District” helps, as would a rescue of ArtSpace, but there has to be fostering of live cultural events. Diversity contributes to urban vitality, but Maynard is lagging on affordable housing.

David Mark in ONLY IN MAYNARD shirt
One unforeseen consequence of the COVID pandemic is that there appears to be a trend away from needing to be physically at a place of work five days a week. This plays in Maynard’s favor, as commuting from Maynard – at significant distance from I-95, I-495, Route 2 and the train station – made commuting a bit of a struggle. The other side of the coin is easy access to attractive recreational opportunities such as offered by the Assabet River Rail Trail, the Assabet River National Wildlife Reserve, town-managed woodland trails and parks, plus small boat recreational opportunities on the Assabet River.

It will all take work, but who knows? Perhaps some day Maynard will be such a vibrant cultural nexus that people will say “As Maynard goes, so goes the mill.”

With the end of Beacon-Villager as a printed newspaper, this is Mark’s last column. He thanks the paper and Maynard for given him a forum for twelve years, 425 columns and three books.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Maynard's Poor Farm

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, distinctions were made in the definitions for hobos, tramps and bums. “Hobo”, may derive its roots from homeward bound, in reference to a time after the Civil War, when discharged soldiers hopped on trains in order to get home. Two generations later, the term was popular again during the Great Depression, to describe men again hopping trains, traveling from place to place looking for work, either steady or seasonal. A “tramp”, on the other hand, was someone who traveled from place to place but did not seek regular work. Tramps depended on the kindness of strangers or other means of support besides gainful employment. The term probably comes from the idea of tramping from place to place. Lastly, a “bum” does not travel and does not seek work, although earlier in life may have held a steady job. A bum is often an alcoholic. The term was probably taken from the German slang word ‘bummler’, meaning loafer.

The song, “Big Rock Candy Mountains,” dates to the hobo era. It describes a lush outdoor life for the unemployed, with perfect weather, empty boxcars, food aplenty, cigarette trees and streams of whiskey. Furthermore, “There ain't no short-handled shovels, No axes, saws nor picks, I'm goin' to stay, Where you sleep all day, Where they hung the jerk, That invented work, In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.” Versions later recorded for children substituted candy canes and lemonade for the cigarettes and whiskey.

Long before there were state or federal programs to support the poor and infirm, responsibilities fell on families and towns. A person or family appearing in town would be “warned off,” i.e., made to leave if they had no proof of financial support, such as a job or relatives to take them in. If an existing resident came into hard times, the town would arrange to pay for that person to be taken into someone’s household via auction at town meeting – lowest bid winning.

The "William Smith" house was built circa 1780, added to over the 
years. In 1892 it was purchased by the Town of Maynard to serve 
as housing for resident and transient poor. Closed 1920. Image
courtesy of Maynard Historical Society.
In time, towns established a workhouse, poorhouse or poor farm, with a paid resident manager. In 1891, the Town of Maynard rented a building owned by Lorenzo Maynard to function as a poorhouse. Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo Knapp were hired for $325 for the year to manage the house and farmland, and to put up transient hobos and tramps. The next year the town purchased the “William Smith” house at 206-208 Great Road as a poor farm. The Smith family were extensive land-owners in what later became Maynard, including land sold to Amory Maynard for the construction of the mill and mill pond. Poor Farm residents and transients (the aforementioned hobos and tramps) were expected to work according to their ability, which included working the farm fields on the other side of Great Road, that in 1928, was transferred to the school department “for athletic and playground purpose,” in time becoming Alumni Field.

Transients were expected to report to the police station before evening. They were taken to the Poor Farm where they got a meal of herring and crackers, and a bed for the night. Those caught ‘sleeping rough’ were arrested and spent the night in a jail cell without a meal. This system was needed to reduce the numbers of non-resident men wandering about town evenings and nights, scaring homeowners by knocking on doors and asking for food and permission to sleep in a barn or shed. The number of transients spending nights in Maynard rose and fell with the national economy, suggesting that men were roaming in search of work after having lost their regular jobs. In good years the counts for the year were in range of 100-200 men, but in bad times, often exceeded 1,000. In return for a meager meal, access to a washroom and an outhouse, plus a roof over their heads for the night, the men were expected to cut firewood for the schools.   

By 1910, Maynard’s Poor Farm had steam heat, electric lights and a telephone. Mr. and Mrs. Dunham, the managers, received a salary of $500 a year. The Poor Farm was closed in 1920. The few remaining residents were transferred to the Hudson Poor Farm. The building became a rental property, finally sold off in 1947.

In time, state and federal agencies and programs took on care of the institutionalized, the indigent, the mentally ill, the homeless, with varying degrees of successes and failures. One Stow-related anecdote: March 1911, Phineas Feather, former superintendent of the Gleasondale Mills, attempted to murder Alfred Gleason, mill owner. Feather and Robert Bevis were injured in the struggle for Feather’s two guns; Gleason was unharmed. Feather was remanded to the Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane, an institution under supervision of the wonderfully named Massachusetts State Board of Health, Charity and Lunacy. He was released in 1915.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Maynard Rod & Gun Club

Trout fising derby (1960) (courtesy of Maynard Historical Society) 

After several short-lived starts,  April 15, 1915, saw the beginnings of what became, in time, the Maynard Rod and Gun Club. Growth was rapid. The first annual banquet, held at the Masonic Hall on January 21, 1921, drew a crowd of 90 members and guests. During the early years, the Club purchased and used land near White Pond, in Hudson. This era ended after the U.S. Army has seized adjacent land in 1942 for the creation of a munitions complex, and then forbade shooting events on the too-near Club grounds.

As World War II drew to a close, the Maynard Gun Club leased its clubhouse to the Army, and then turned its eye to acquiring land in Maynard. Over years, several purchases were made, cumulating in 93 acres of club-owned property, about half in Maynard and half in Sudbury. For a while, the Club made do with renting space for meetings, but in late 1948, committed to constructing a clubhouse on the grounds. Plans were drawn in 1949, construction followed, and on May 21, 1950, the Maynard Rod & Gun Club held a Grand Opening of the clubhouse and grounds, soon followed by building a dam on the Second Division Brook, so as to create a fish pond.

(courtesy of the Maynard Historical Society) 
Weekend mornings, if it is quiet enough (no lawnmowers or leaf blowers), one can hear the dulled bang of shotguns from club members and guests shooting at clay targets flung into the air be spring-powered devices. The sound can be disconcerting to new residents.

Clay targets are also referred to as clay pigeons. Their use began to replace live pigeon shooting around 1875. In the United Kingdom, live-bird shooting competitions were made illegal in 1921, but a target may still be called a "bird", a hit, a "kill", a missed target, a "bird away", and the machine which powers the targets is still known as a "trap". In “trap shooting”, the targets are launched singly in a direction generally away from the shooter. In “skeet shooting”, targets are launched across the shooter’s field of view from either side, either singly or two at once.

Present-day, the Club offers a complete set of pistol, rifle, trap and skeet ranges for members to hone their skills, an archery range, and a trout-stocked pond. Access is via Old Mill Road, off of Waltham Street. The main lodge houses the member’s lounge, a function hall and an indoor pistol range. The Club is in the process of renovating the indoor range. There is also an open pavilion first built in 1984, refurbished in 1996. Indoor and outdoor spaces often hosts weddings. An annual fishing derby – suspended in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic – is expected to take place this May, and be open to the public. In past years, children have much-enjoyed this opportunity.  

Some of the club’s land on the east side is leased to Boston Paintball, which has several fields for paintball events and competitions. Fields include building-to-building, an outdoor field with terrain and structures, and competition fields that comply with National Xball League specifications. Equipment can be rented or bring-your-own. Access to this is via Sudbury’s Powder Mill Road.

For a not directly related piece of history, years ago the Maynard Rod and Gun Club was host to an annual event that brought hundreds of motorcycle riders. Memories are of more than an hour of rumbling roar as bikes were guided west on Summer Street, down Nason Street, then east on Main Street, to finally finish at RGC for an afternoon of family picnic and entertainment. Given such a visually striking event, it’s a glaring omission that the Maynard Historical Society has no photographs. Finding a written history was also difficult. The only documents found so far are a 2011 write-up in the Somerville newspaper, describing the “7th Annual Massachusetts Motorcycle Ride for Recovery” as an all-day event, with a police-escorted, road-closed ride to Maynard, also a copy of a 2013 flyer for the “9th Annual Bob Herne Motorcycle Ride for Recovery” culminating in Maynard as a family picnic, with musical entertainment provided by James Montgomery Band, with guitarist Jon Butcher. This was put on by the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery.