Carbon-Neutral Shipping on the Hudson

These days the Hudson River can feel like a car barrier — something to cross on a bridge or drive alongside. But originally this curving waterway was the region’s superhighway.

A pilot project is nudging the Hudson Valley to return to river transport — in a carbon-neutral way — with sail freight. The captain behind the project, Sam Merrett, is an avid young sailor who has been carefully restoring a 68,000-pound steel schooner called the Apollonia for the last four years. 

Apollonia sailing alongside Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. (Photo courtesy of Sam Merrett)

The Apollonia was scheduled to begin its first cargo runs from upriver to New York City in summer 2020. Although the launch was pushed back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Merrett teamed up with the Hudson River Maritime Museum in the meantime for the North River Sail. The joint educational sail went up and down the Hudson in June 2020 with the museum’s sun-powered Solaris boat. 

Together, the vessels raised awareness of the river’s transportation history — and future potential. Both are pioneering. The Solaris is the first 100 percent solar-powered tour boat to earn U.S. Coast Guard certification, according to the museum.

Apollonia docked at the George Trakas environmental sculpture at Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park in Beacon. (Photo: Jeff Mertz)

The 64-foot Apollonia is the Hudson’s largest zero-carbon freight vessel, running on sail power and a backup diesel engine that Merrett converted to run on vegetable oil. 

Sail, of course, is the age-old method of transporting goods worldwide. Fuel-powered barges and then trucks now do the lion’s share of global shipping. But in the age of climate change, emissions-free sail power is getting a fresh look. 

Modern-day sail freight projects similar to the Apollonia have been happening in Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts over the past few years. More sail-freight ships are now popping up in places like Costa Rica, and the International Windship Association has been tracking technology that helps even container barges run partially on wind power, saving fuel.

Crew members unloading freight from Apollonia at Scenic Hudson’s Long Dock Park. (Photo: Jeff Mertz)

Merrett took inspiration from all those vessels, as well as from the short-haul river shipping that remains common in Europe and elsewhere. Especially for products that aren’t rushed, he argues, sail freight makes sense. “This is the original alternative fuel,” Merrett says. “It’s not just an idea of the past.” 

When it began carrying goods, the Apollonia’s hold smelled rugged and woodsy, with a sweet tang. Merrett carries a number of traditional New York products like hard cider, IPA, maple syrup, Christmas trees, firewood, and bluestone from upstate into NYC. Its first cargo sail was scheduled to be with Nine Pin Cider.

Why would a producer choose sail freight? Some products (like a nontraditional one, fermenting kimchi) improve with age and waves. In other cases, the producer may value the zero-emissions transport. Many artisanal makers are proud of their organic or fair trade production, after all, but don’t realize carbon-neutral shipping could be possible. The Apollonia even has its own delivery tricycle that can take products from dock to city.

Apollonia docked. (Photo courtesy of Sam Merrett)

Being able to market a product for its carbon-neutral shipping will add marketing value for customers, too, Merrett argues. “The standard shipping world is about delivering the same thing that left,” he says. “We’re saying let’s improve this product along the way. We will provide conscientious producers and consumers with a transportation model that reflects their values.”

The Apollonia and projects like it may seem niche and bespoken, Merrett acknowledges. But as global emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic show, having alternatives is always helpful. And pilots like this may be able work out some of the kinks, enabling more low-emissions vessels to get sailing more quickly if the need is ever upon us.

HV’s Own Local Currency

by Laura Covello

What if there were one easy way to put more food on the table for less money, grow your business while reducing expenditures, experience more of the natural and cultural riches of the Hudson Valley, and support local nonprofits? Shopping with the Hudson Valley Current, our very own local currency, can do all this.

There are upwards of 100 local currencies in the United States, and our is a project of a nonprofit by the same name, the Hudson Valley Current  (HVC). Hundreds of area businesses already accept Currents, and according to HVC records, in the last three years Current transactions have grown exponentially.

Started exclusively as a digital currency, a beautiful paper version celebrating the natural beauty of the valley was introduced in 2019. (Photo: Chris Hewitt)

In addition to issuing Currents, the organization functions as a barter facilitation platform. Members offer their services or products — or items they don’t need — in exchange for Currents. They then spend their Currents on the goods and services offered by other members, who in turn spend the Currents at other local businesses, and so on. This creates new reciprocal networks and new unsolicited business.

Reinvesting the Currents in local businesses strengthens the local economy is strengthened through what economists call the “multiplier effect.” An increase in spending produces an increase in both income and consumption greater than the initial amount spent.

Membership is free and comes with 300 Currents to get you started. (One Current is equivalent to one dollar.)

Money Without a Bank

While using a local currency has elements of micro-lending, “We’re not a bank; we don’t charge interest,” says Chris Hewitt, the organization’s executive director. “We’re a nonprofit; anything we make has to go back into the system.”

This sometimes takes the form of donations to other local nonprofits with complementary missions, such as the African Roots Center, Community Action, Kingston Midtown Rising, Seed Song Center, and Wild Earth. HVC also partners with some of these organizations on ambitious revitalization projects — such as a food security initiative in Kingston’s Ponckhockie district that is set to launch in 2020.

Hewitt also explains, “We don’t offer lines of credit. What we  offer are lines of trust. This is a mutual credit system, based on reciprocity, which is not how a bank operates.”

To create a stable system without the backing of a bank, the organization has created several stabilizing mechanisms to prevent this micro-economy from collapsing, including creative use of advertising in their publication, Livelihood Magazine. A non-member restaurant, for example, can pay for ads with gift cards that are then sold to members for Currents. This has a ripple effect: the member benefits from access to a new venue they can pay (indirectly) in Currents. The restaurant benefits from any new business generated by the advertisement — and may also get additional new customers if the member dines with clients or friends.

Moving Beyond Ulster County

The HVC began in Ulster County in 2013, and while most of its membership is still there, that is changing. The organization is continually negotiating with established businesses in other counties to become what Hewitt calls “satellites,” businesses that partner with HVC to become anchors in their communities. Hawthorne Valley Farm in Columbia is a recent example. They accept Currents in their store, they pay willing employees partially in Currents, and they now host “Current events” on-site.

These events, such as a pizza party (with safe distancing), give locals a chance to learn about both the farm’s store and Currents—and to have some much-needed fun and community connection.

Community connection is both the reason for and the driver of the HVC. In a region as rich in talent and natural resources as ours, there is no real limit to what can be acquired with Currents.

That’s not hyperbole. The organization frequently acts as a matchmaker.

If a member needs a product or service — say, toner cartridges or lawnmower repair — David Cagan, Director of Member Engagement, will make it his mission to recruit new members who can meet that need.

Since COVID-19, the two primary needs in the Currents community have been food and housing. In response, HVC launched an online Resilience Marketplace offering food from farms, restaurants, caterers, and stores. They have also negotiated with landlords in Beacon, Kingston, and Poughkeepsie about taking rent payments in Currents.

In addition, they are launching a Currents Community Protection Plan (CCPP), a locally focused response to the CARES act and the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) that will offer Current lines of trust up to $100,000 with no interest or fees and free training in establishing exchange circles for key organizations and agencies

For more information on the CCPP, Currents, or other Hudson Valley Current programs, visit

Life, Liberty & the Hudson Valley

The fireworks and cookouts we enjoy on the Fourth of July celebrate the Declaration of Independence. This year, also light a sparkler to honor the courageous signers of the “Coxsackie Declaration of Independence,” drafted 246 years ago, in May of 1775.

A full year before the Continental Congress approved its stirring (and treasonous) manifesto of freedom in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, 275 landowners in Coxsackie (then part of Albany County, now in Greene) signed their own document asserting opposition to the “arbitrary and oppressive acts of the British Parliament.” Their words may lack the patriotic fervor of Thomas Jefferson’s, but they equal it in boldness.

While the Declaration of Independence has been venerated from the get-go, the Coxsackie Declaration languished in obscurity for nearly 150 years, until the faded parchment was discovered in an attic and donated to the Albany Institute of History & Art in 1923.

What Does It Say?

Persuaded that the Salvation of the Rights and Liberties of America, depends, under God, on the firm union of its Inhabitants, in a vigorous prosecution of the Measures necessary for its Safety, and convinced of the Necessity of preventing the Anarchy and confusion which attend the Dissolution of the Powers of Government:

THAT the Freeholders and Inhabitants of Coxsackie District, in the County of Albany, being greatly alarmed at the avowed Design of the Ministry to raise a Revenue in America, are shocked by the bloody Scene acting in the Massachusetts Bay; Do in the most solemn manner, resolve never to become Slaves; and do also associate under the Ties of Religion, Honor and Love of our Country to adopt and endeavor to carry into Execution whatever Measures may be rendered by our Continental Congress, or resolved upon by our Provincial Convention for the purpose of preserving our Constitution and apposing [sic] the Execution of several arbitrary and oppressive Acts of the British Parliament, until a reconciliation between Great Britain and America or constitutional principles (which we most ardently desire) can be obtained; and that we will, in all Things, follow the advice of our general Committee, respecting the purpose aforesaid, the preservation of Peace and good Order, and the Safety of Individuals and private property.

Dated at Coxsackie the Seventeenth of May in the Year of our Lord, One Thousand seven hundred and seventy five. 

The Stirrings of Discontent

American protests against Parliamentary taxation started when the Stamp Act passed in 1765, more than a decade before the landowners of Coxsackie made their statement.

Following the Boston Tea Party of 1773, the “Intolerable Acts” were passed to punish Boston, but had the opposite of their intended effect, bringing the colonies together. The first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774, and published lists of grievances and pleas to resolve differences peacefully. But the colonies also began to coordinate a united defense against the tyranny of the British government. 

On April 18, 1775, the Redcoats marched out of Boston to capture the patriot arms and ammunition depot in Concord. (Paul Revere and other riders warned that the British were coming.) A skirmish on Lexington Green between local minutemen and 700 British troops left eight Americans dead. Continuing to Concord, the British were met with more and more patriot minutemen and militiamen. Forced to retreat to Boston, the Redcoats faced deadly American sniper fire on the way.

A Stepping Stone to Independence

Just one month later, on May 17, 1775, the residents of Coxsackie signed their document, which was more of a protest of discontent than a declaration of independence, says Seth Kaller, a historic document dealer and a leading expert on the Declaration of Independence.

“The signers of the Coxsackie Declaration were still not ready for independence. Until the publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense in early 1776, only about a third of Americans wanted to break free from England. What these Hudson Valley residents were ready for was firm resistance, and Congress listened,” explains Kaller

On July 31, 1775, the Continental Congress approved a message drafted by Thomas Jefferson rejecting Lord North’s offer: “A proposition to give our money, accompanied with large fleets and armies, seems addressed to our fears, rather than to our freedom…. can the world be deceived into an opinion that we are unreasonable, or can it hesitate to believe with us, that nothing but our own exertions may defeat the ministerial sentence of death or abject submission.”

“The Coxsackie Declaration is one of the very rare surviving documents that shows the colonies’ inexorable movement towards independence,” Kaller says.

So why not light an extra sparkler for the landowners of Coxsackie this Fourth of July, in honor of their courage to speak up to power?

Coxsackie Declaration (Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Library)