When German-born Erika Biddle first set foot in Key West in 1994, she looked around and thought, "This is the only city I've ever visited where I'm not the most eccentric person around. Here, I'm the normal one!"
Biddle had been an active Green Party member in Germany; she was an avid environmentalist, and she loved the idea of living on an island surrounded by water. Fifteen years later Biddle, now 63, is broadcasting her own eco-radio show on KONK-AM. And in honor of the 40th birthday of Earth Day, she's produced a nudie calendar of Key West hotties, "Women Sustaining the Earth" -- all over them over age 40.
The first printing of 500 calendars, featuring women aged 44 to 78 in varying states of deshabille, sold out. Seventy-four-year-old Alicia Metzler appears topless on the cover.
Just yesterday, Biddle decided to do a second printing, available December 22. At $25 each, the calendars have already raised $8,000, to go to building community gardens -- the first of which may be at the city jail.
"Gardening is a concept the inmates may never have been exposed to," Biddle says. "You can start with nothing and make something: Put a seed in the ground, and there will be a tomato. You produce something edible and learn something that can change your life."
Biddle says the first inspiration for the calendar came via California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I remember Schwarzenegger saying that if the environmental movement wanted to get momentum, it had to be sexier," Biddle says. "People have this idea that we all wear sensible shoes and scratchy clothes." A few days later, she watched the film Calendar Girls. The British movie followed a group of genteel elderly English ladies who, to raise money for a cause, published a nude calendar. "It all kind of came together," Biddle says.
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Biddle solicited 15 local women from Keys nonprofit organizations to pose, including a former mayor of Monroe County, 74- year-old Shirley Freeman. Each model poses in a well-known local natural setting, accompanied by a quote "to fit the lady," Biddle says. In Freeman's case, it's a fitting quote about the relationship between nature and politics and our relative human insignificance, from poet Wendell Berry:
"Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do."