Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.


Supporting Biodiversity and Health with a Flexitarian, Sustainable Diet

Industrial meat production is unsustainable 

Image by skeeze.

Animal agriculture is the single largest driver of biodiversity loss, and in the last few decades we have significantly increased our land use for livestock purposes. Converting unique ecosystems to pastures and fields for feed crops, we are not growing food directly for ourselves but for the animals we eat. Livestock graze on 26 percent of the planet’s habitable (ice-free) land, and 33 percent of our croplands are used to produce livestock feed.

Meat production accounts for 18% of anthropogenic emissions. For the sake of the argument, a recent study showed that if the whole world went vegetarian or vegan, food-related emissions would decrease by 60% and 70% respectively. Of course it is unrealistic that even the majority of the global population would at any point stop eating meat, and in certain places, the climate and environment can only support animal agriculture, and attempts to convert pastures to crop lands have failed.

In the developed world, young and well-educated people are turning to plant-based diets, but with incomes rising in developing countries, demand for animal products is only expected to increase. This is bad news from a global health perspective, as higher meat consumption is linked to poor health and premature deaths. It can also make it more challenging to argue that people in developed countries should try to reduce their meat intake. However, a new study shows that we don’t need the whole world going vegan to start reversing climate change. Simply reducing our meat consumption to 10% (around 90 grams) of our daily caloric intake would have a significant positive effect on the planet’s ecosystems and global biodiversity. If we also pay attention to where that meat is coming from and supporting small, sustainable farms instead of industrial meat production, we can help generate even more positive effects on biodiversity: in fact, small-scale, sustainable livestock grazing helps many native species that thrive only in open landscapes.

Support small-scale farms 

Photo by Free-Photos.

We underestimate the effect of our dietary choices on the climate and environment, and when we discuss the climate crisis, we talk about cars, not steaks. The average American family of four, however, emits significantly more greenhouse gases from meat consumption than from driving two cars.

Here are just four simple tips to reducing meat intake and eating more sustainably:

Eat more plants

This is an obvious one, and while some meat lovers out there still think vegetarians and vegans only eat salads, a plant-based diet can be incredibly diverse and includes vegetables, grains, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, a combination of which can make for flavorful, delicious meals.

Take inspiration from other cultures

Some food cultures, especially in Asia, include little meat and no dairy. Try mixing up your meal routine with inspiration from China or Thailand, and look to Mediterranean dishes for a vast variety of meat-free flavor.

Reduce your food waste

This is a big one and it benefits not only the planet, but also your wallet. The average American household wastes at least 40% of food. This includes a lot of meat and dairy. A few tips to reduce food waste at home: see meat and dairy for what they are - precious resources. Don’t buy too much, don’t over serve, save leftovers (and actually eat them), store food in the right place and trust your senses (smell, sight and taste) over the expiration date on the package.

Choose small-scale, sustainable and ethical meat producers

Finally, if you’re going to eat meat, make sure you know where it comes from. This includes doing a little bit of research and shopping at farm stores, farmers markets and independent butchers.

Mia Rishel is a conservation biologist whose work has taken her many exciting places: rehabilitating wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, helping endangered iguanas in Mexico, exploring predator coexistence in Namibia, and promoting farm animal welfare in Zanzibar. She is Chair of Grant Writing and Volunteer Committees for The Orangutan Project USA, grant writer for Conservation South Luangwa and copywriter for Faunalytics. Read all of Mia’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

People are Taking Theri Money Out of Fossil Fuels in the Divestment Movement

 

In societies around the world, people band together to stand up for what they believe in. They know there's power in numbers.

Even better, the broad reach of social media enables activists to quickly and effectively distribute messages. The fossil fuels divestment movement is gaining momentum. Let's take a look at what it involves.

What Is Divestment?

Divestment happens when people get rid of stocks, bonds or investments connected with companies that individuals think are ethical or morally questionable. You can think of it as the opposite of investment. Divestment and disinvestment are often interchangeable terms that mean the same thing. 

How Do Activists Want to Impact Fossil Fuel Use?

The people taking part in the divestment of fossil fuels cease investment activities with associated companies. They hope this action creates a stigma around the fossil fuel industry, disintegrating its original appeal.

Some who support the fossil fuel divestment movement only stop investing as a show of symbolism. If working towards reduced dependence on fossil fuels is essential, it doesn't make sense to hold investments that directly link to companies that rely on them.

People believe divestment could make companies realize that promoting fossil fuel use is no longer financially viable. If that happens, entities may put higher investments into renewables instead.

During a 2015 interview, Bill Gates claimed divestment alone is not a solution, because not enough people have stocks associated with fossil fuels. Gates suggested movement broaden its message to support researching and developing new energy options. It seems most people on board with the cause have done just that.

How Do Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns Work?

People can take part in fossil fuel divestment campaigns in a variety of ways. One of the most common options is for divestment-focused groups to target the offensive oil and gas companies. They pick businesses based on the carbon emissions embedded in their reserves.

Another tactic is to urge institutions to divest from fossil-fuel related companies. For example, many universities rely on support from fossil fuel companies to keep operating, but that's starting to change. In mid-September 2019, the University of California educational system announced it would divest $83 billion from fossil fuel company-based endowment and pension funds, both worth billions.

A representative from the University of California said the organization decided to continue its fossil fuel investments posed a financial risk, and more appealing opportunities exist in renewables. Many other institutions are following California's lead, getting on board with the idea.

What Are the Effects of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement So Far?

It's difficult to calculate the total number of people taking part in this growing divestment of fossil fuels. However, 180 institutional investors committed to cutting fossil fuels from their portfolios in 2014. Now, the number exceeds 1,100.

Organizations often keep a tally of the total amounts divested so far. According to a September 2019 report, people have committed to divest $11 trillion from fossil fuels. The movement is quickly picking up momentum.

It confirmed that, although it took two years for the first $2 trillion of divestment to happen, the most recent $2 trillion occurred in only six months. People no longer see this kind of divestment as a niche idea.

Another positive effect of this movement is that there's seemingly no limit to getting involved. For example, New York City made history by pledging it would divest from fossil fuel owners by 2022 (read the ICLEI case study to see how the City is doing it). This decision is particularly significant considering the city has the nation's largest municipal pension system, controlling $194 billion in investments.

In 2018, Ireland made a historic move by voting to become the first country to divest public funds from fossil fuels.

The advocacy for this issue is active down to the local level. Divestment supporters in San Francisco recently staged a traffic-blocking protest in a financial district to urge banks to divest from fossil fuels.

An Exciting Way to Take a Stand

People often talk about "voting with their wallets." They purposefully decide not to buy from companies involved in practices they're against. The support of fossil fuel divestment is another way to show support.

Even if individuals don't have fossil fuel investments, they can collaborate to put pressure on the companies or organizations that do. This kind of conscious action could make affected parties realize renewable energy is the way of the future.

Photo source.

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on ProductivityTheory.com. Read all of Kayla's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Cats in the Garden: Helpers or Hazards?

garden helping cats 

My cats have always been more people than cats. I know this because I’ve met plenty of cat cats. I’ve even lived with several that belonged to my sister. She kept pets, I had feline friends. I was reminded of this just yesterday when a visiting friend commented on how friendly my cats were compared to her mother’s who are constantly biting or scratching the hand that feeds them.

I’m not sure how common that catlike behavior is in the general public but I’m guessing that it’s common enough to warrant the age-old argument of cat vs dog. But I believe there are enough folks out there like me to fuel the cat-supportive side of that discussion. Don’t get me wrong, I like dogs too. It’s simply that cats have almost always been and always will be a part of my daily life.

My first feline friend entered during my early youth. The unfortunate demise of this first cat friend at the hands of a budding psychopath (who also took out our basset hound and her 10 puppies) didn’t serve to deter my love of cats though it did delay them coming back into our home for a few years.

Flash forward to my adulthood where I continued to live with assorted cat friends along with come-and-go hummings until I met my husband of three decades. During our initial dating, I learned that he was allergic to cats and he learned that I would always share my home with cats. I’d spent 18 months without them once and would never repeat that again. He’s still allergic and we have far too many feline housemates but at least the numbers are in natural decline.

During the early years of sharing space, my cats were the indoor/outdoor variety. They were free to roam during the day but always came in at night. That changed one horrible night when three loose dogs killed one of my closest cats in our backyard before I could stop them.

Most of my cats have been indoors ever since—the exceptions being various strays who cross my path and the pair who currently share my garden space on a daily basis (seen in these photos). TobiCatz (the gray sweetie depicted) wandered out of my forsythia and right into my lap as I was digging potatoes a few years ago. He was a stray kitten that I hadn’t previously seen or heard but whom had undoubtedly been watching me for some time. I have no other explanation for an otherwise feral cat doing such a thing.

We already had a houseful of felines at the time and certainly didn’t need another. I tried to get my best friend to adopt him but she wasn’t ready for another—having recently lost one and with other life upheaval going on. Long story short, he joined our crew indoors but upon reaching tomcat status began spraying throughout the house—especially my husband’s favorite chairs. He first transitioned back outdoors staying in the garage at night. I was sad that he had to be alone but then Byrneesse (the tuxedo kitten in these photos) joined us after having been abandoned across the street.

cat jungle gym

When the deep cold of the winter set in, I moved them into our basement at night and set them each up in their own kitty condos (aka dog carriers). They also stayed in during rough weather—be it snow, cold or thunderstorms. The current iteration has them outdoors for varying amounts during the day, indoors in one of the bedrooms for part of the day and evening, then back in their condos for sleeping.

Many people insist that cats be kept indoors due to a declining bird population. I can’t argue that there are many cats who make their mark depleting that population. However, I would argue that it’s more likely stray colonies and cats that belong to people like my sister or friend’s mom—those people who accept that cats will be cats—than cats like mine who honestly believe themselves to be people. I see my cats more like humming toddlers, and treat them as such.

I have seen Byrneesse with one dead bird in 4 years and I rescued another from her jaws to have it fly to freedom. She knows exactly how I feel about this behavior. I feed my cats very well and always work to redirect their unacceptable hobbies—killing birds definitely falls in this category. Frankly, the insects in my garden are far more at risk than my feathered friends—at least from my cats.

I also work to keep the birds in our garden happy by supplying plenty of nesting opportunities along with supplies as well as making sure they have an abundance of food and water sources. Our Carolina Wrens often help me by letting me know exactly where Byrnie is in the garden.

Whether or not my cats actually help with my gardening is another matter completely. They may slow me down at times but they also keep me company and often have me smiling—truly, who could ask for more?

communing with cats

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Farm Aid Performances Help Preserve Family Farms

John Mellencamp Performing at Farm Aid 2019

Many of America’s family farms are in crisis. Since 1985, Farm Aid has been there with resources, services and other support to keep smaller, more ecologically-minded farming operations growing. Co-founded by country-music legend Willie Nelson, along with rockers Neil Young and John Mellencamp, with Dave Matthews also now on the Farm Aid Board, the benefit concert Farm Aid is as much a musical extravaganza as it is a testament to the perseverance, hard work and hard-scrabble determination of family farmers across the US and a celebration of what they do: Feed America. Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America.

Who could turn down the chance, in Wisconsin, to listen to John Mellencamp retell the story about Jack and Diane, “two American kids growin’ up in the heartland”? He brought the sold-out crowd of 37,000 riotously to their feet to sing along.

And he wasn’t the only performer to do so. Over the course of the nearly 12-hour benefit concert, some of the best performers and music legends brought standing ovations and cheers. Besides Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Matthews, the 2019 Farm Aid line-up included such artists as Bonnie Raitt, Margo Price, Jamey Johnson, Tanya Tucker, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, Yola, and Jamestown Revival, among many others.

The location of the Farm Aid concert in Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin, couldn’t be more fitting. It’s estimated that dairy farms in America’s dairyland are going under at an alarming rate due to depressed milk prices and a host of other factors including destructive weather and farm or trade policies. In 2018, Wisconsin lost 700 dairy farms at a rate of almost 2 per day, according to the USDA. 

As a result, Mellencamp’s “Rain on the Scarecrow,” a signature tune at the annual Farm Aid concert, touched a particular chord for many in Wisconsin. According to Farm Aid, since 2013, America’s farmers and ranchers have weathered a nearly 50 percent drop in net farm income, the largest four-year drop since the start of the Great Depression.

 Willie Nelson at Farm Aid Press Conference

At the press conference that kicked off the event, farmers joined the founders and performers on stage to bring focus to the issues and celebrate some of the resilience of some family farmers who prioritized community, sustainability, and the soil that provides the essential foundation for farming. “Nature calls for diversity, diversity, diversity,” chimed in Mellencamp. One group of farmers featured on stage were the “soil sisters,” represented by Kriss Marion, Lisa Kivirist and Dela Ends, who shared how a group of women-owned farms were banding together to build a stronger local and organic food system in Wisconsin, with their Soil Sisters event.

Jamey Johnson Performing at Farm Aid 2019

A Farm Aid Regular, Jamey Johnson

A Farm Aid regular, singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson’s commanding performance of “In Color” and his own version of Wood Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” captivated the audience. For more than 30 years, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists like Johnson who contribute their performances each year, has raised $57 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.

Margo Price Performing at Farm Aid 2019 

Amazing Performances by Margo Price

The amazing performance by Margo Price brought the issues home when she shared her personal story. “My folks lost their family farm in 1985, the year Farm Aid was started,” she explained. “So, it means a lot to be here.” From Janis Joplin’s “Move Over” to “Long Live the King,” Nashville-based, country singer-songwriter Price tore at emotions and enthralled the capacity crowd.

 Homegrown Concessions at Farm Aid

Homegrown Concessions at Farm Aid

Consistent with Farm Aid’s commitment to the farmers, the Homegrown Concessions at the venue featured sustainably produced food by family farmers for festival attendees. For the past five years, Sonya Dagovitz, Farm Aid’s Culinary Director, has been working with Legends Hospitality to source all food from local and sustainable farms.

“Farm Aid and Legends Hospitality together will present the biggest family farm restaurant in the country for one day at Farm Aid 2019, serving 30,000 festival-goers extraordinary food,” said Farm Aid Associate Director Glenda Yoder in a release. The tasty menu included Milwaukee Pretzel, made from locally grown wheat flower milled by Lonesome Stone Milling, fish and chips featuring Lake Superior walleye, and pickled eggs made with Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs. Besides burgers made with organic beef, numerous vegetarian options were available that included a marinated roasted beet sandwich. Only compostable serviceware was used, a first for the event.

Also at the venue, the HOMEGROWN Village was packed with farmers and organizations based in the region, celebrating the culture of agriculture with hands-on activities that engaged attendees in the ways family farmers enrich the soil, protect the water and grow the economy. 

“Helping the farms, that’s the bottom line,” summed up Matthews at the press conference, capturing all of the performers’ dedication to the cause and the plight of American farmers. Farm Aid is about “how much we need them,” echoed Willie Nelson.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Strategies for Inviting Pollinators Back Into Your Landscape

 

For years we have been hearing about the diminishing pollinator habitats across the United States. So I am left wondering... What strategies can we use to invite pollinators into our back into our modern landscapes?

As a landscaper, I often incorporate pollinator-friendly plants in my landscape designs. And today, I would like to talk about some of the strategies you can use, to help our plant loving friends re-establish their much needed habitats. These strategies can be used by nearly anyone, anywhere. Even in suburban places where space may be limited. Each of these strategies may be small, but collectively they can really make a difference!

Let’s take a look.

Strategy #1: Using Hanging Window Planters

This is a great strategy which nearly anyone with an open window in their home can use. No matter how small your lawn is, window planters are a super easy method for providing a quick snack for your local pollinators. Sure window planters are limited in space, but every bit helps!

Get this, if you are limited on window space, a window planter can make a great gift for your neighbors. Best of all, you can go one step further by adding pollinator friendly plants to the hanger for them!

Strategy #2: Use Pots and Planters

This one is fairly obvious, but It is definitely worth mentioning. Simple pots and planters are a great way to quickly add pollinator-friendly plants to your landscape. Most importantly, they take up little space, and can be used in even the smallest yards.  It is also an affordable option that anyone can utilize to feed their local pollinators. 

Strategy #3: Use a Hanging or Wall Garden

Hanging walls are a fascinating thing. Also known as vertical gardens, this unique method of planting really helps you get the most out of a limited growing space. If you have a sun facing wall, and can hang one of these gardens in your yard, you can really go all out with pollinator friendly plants! This is one really unique strategy for inviting pollinators and helping them get through their long journeys. 

Photo credit: Patrick Brinksma from Upsplash

Strategy #4: Host a Beehive

This may surprise you, bee hives don’t have to be large and complicated. In fact, they can be quite small, about the size of a birdhouse. Even better, mason bee houses are available cheaply online as well for around $20. You will also have to purchase the bees too, but they are also available online. You could also try Adopt-a-hive!

Strategy #5: Turn Part of Your Lawn into a Pollinator-Friendly Space

Simply put, this is my favorite strategy. Not only is it effective, it will fit literally anyone's budget! In fact, if you implement this strategy well enough, it may even save you money. Simply designate a part of your lawn and let the plants grow wild. Instead of growing a traditional lawn with only grass, let the local flowers come in. This is one strategy that is an incredibly convenient method to create a large pollinator-friendly space. Best of all, replacing a part of your lawn with low-maintenance perennials makes your property easier to maintain. What is not to love?!

No matter where you are, you can simply let a small part of your lawn grow wild. Go ahead, let some of those “weeds” and local flowers come in. If you want to plant some flowering seeds go ahead!

Whether you live on a ¼ acre property where you can utilize this technique around your favorite tree, or in a 1 acre lot where you can let a large part of your lawn run wild. Literally anyone with any land can implement this one.   

Photo credit: Aaron Burden from Upsplash  

Strategy #6: Find a Community Space

Look, maybe you don’t have any space to add a pollinator garden in your lawn. But nothing is stopping you from getting creative and finding other places to plant food for pollinators.

It’s true, almost every neighborhood has a community garden. You could speak with them about planting seeds or bulbs in any unused space, or rent a plot to create your own pollinator garden.

Additionally, you can also spread wildflower seed along roadways, at your local park, or anywhere you find untamed land! Wildflower seed is cheap, and easy to plant. During the rainy parts of the year, you can just throw some on the ground, you will be surprised just how many sprout up. If you aren't sure what to plants to try, borage is a great pollinator-friendly flower that you can use almost anywhere!

Strategy #7: Spread the Word

I know it’s a lot to keep up with, but the more we spread the word about these important issues and remind others about them. The quicker we can take a turn in the right direction. In my experience, it’s best not to focus on the issue, but propose realistic solutions that anyone can follow.

Often the best solution is the one you can implement yourself. Wildflower seeds and bulbs are affordable, and make great gifts! Buying some for your neighbor, friends or family as a gift may just be the best way to get the message spread, and feed many pollinators along the way! 

What Inspired This Article?

For the last few years I was in upstate New York and pollinators were prolific there, but after moving to NE North Carolina I was confronted with a different scene. After this move, I was reminded of the importance of pollinators once again, and the diminishing space the have to live.

You see, where I lived in New York there was no shortage of native and even invasive flowers for pollinators to feed on. Living on a bit of land and utilizing strategy #5 I simply let much of the lawn grow wild. Though I did throw some seeds in the mix, most of it was already there ready to come out.

Soon the yard became full of Queen Anne’s lace, chicory, red and white clover, black-eyed Susans, Shasta daisies, sun artichokes, fleabane and more. Needless to say I had some happy bees and butterflies.

But, when I moved to NC, the shortage of pollinators and food for them became abundantly clear. For me, the clearest example was seen in my vegetable garden. My cucumber plants were healthy and growing up the wall of my house. They were so tall that they were growing onto my roof. But, they hardly created any cucumbers, and there were no pollinators in site!

This was a very new experience for me, and it reminded me of the importance of saving the pollinators and continuing to establish pockets of pollinator-friendly plants throughout suburban and even rural communities.  

What’s the Bottom Line?

Using these strategies collectively we can begin to re-establish the much needed habitats our pollinators are looking for. I surely did not get a chance to mention all of the ways you can help establish pollinator friendly gardens. If you are interested in learning more, landscape design blogs can be a great place to find inspiration. Saving the pollinators will be a long process, but together we can get it done!

Douglas Dedrick is landscaper, documentarian and environmental law writer. When he’s not looking for things to investigate, he is usually writing articles about lawn care. Connect with him at Healing Law, and read all of Douglas’ MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Responding to Eco-Anxiety: Educating the Next Generation Back to the Land

Bea Picking Tomatoes 

A few weeks ago, the world learned the Amazon rainforest, affectionately referred to as "the earth's lungs" is burning at an alarming rate. Upon hearing this news, I caught myself spiraling down into a dark place, feeling hopeless about the future of Gaia.

Sadly, after a growing season that started with torrential rains and rolled into months of urban drought, our little urban farm in Columbus, Ohio is offering a clear analogy to the climate crisis. The soil is dry despite my best efforts to keep it watered and the rats are stealing the last few tomatoes. Our farm, a place I can usually turn to at a moment’s notice to immerse myself in beauty and to do something meaningful, has become another site for my eco-anxiety.

Psychologists define eco-anxiety as “the overwhelming and sometimes debilitating concern for the worsening state of the environment.” Eco-consciousness led me to begin farming, could eco-anxiety propel me to keep going? Or would it cause me to give up?

Caroline Hickman, a psychologist who works with the Climate Psychology Alliance, works with adults and children to better understand and address eco-anxiety. When asked recently on the podcast World Affairs what advice she would offer those of us feeling anxious about climate change she replied, “I hope you do feel some eco-anxiety because that’s the price you pay for being alive and awake in the world and in connection with yourself and others and the reality we’re facing.” She went on to add “Feel enough to take action but not too much that you collapse into despair.”

I admit I have been despairing more than a bit lately. But Hickman reminds me I need to take a moment to celebrate the small differences I have been able to make. Because, while it’s increasingly clear we can’t control legislators in Washington, we can control ourselves. I need to recognize I’m making a difference everyday, on my own backyard farm.

As a teacher turned small scale urban farmer, I provide value-added products in the form of experiential education. Each season hundreds of people visit my postage stamp-sized farm and bear witness to an alternative reality. They learn about small scale urban agriculture and how farmers like me are rebuilding local food systems. I work with my CSA members to grow nutritious and delicious food to feed ourselves. Local garden groups visit to get new ideas for crops that grow well in our area and how to extend the growing season. And kids come with their teachers, scout leaders, and on their own to dig in the dirt, plant seeds, see how their favorite vegetables grow and taste new ones.

For the past three seasons I’ve hosted a kids garden club sponsored by my local farmers market.The kids think differently about where their food comes from after growing their own and selling it at the farmers’ market. They see firsthand the impact a dry season and invasive insects can have on crop yield. And they experience the joy of digging up earthworms and the satisfaction of feeding seeds from sunflowers they’ve grown to the chickens.

Parents often accompany their children, increasing the impact of the program. In addition to visiting my farm each week, we venture out to other urban farms throughout the city. Through these experiences they are exposed to the idea that growing food for other people, on small allotments of land, is a real possibility that can make a difference in people's lives and change the way we relate to the environment around us. 

Leo with potatoes

In addition to formally organized programs, people reach out to me informally to schedule farm visits. A few winters back a young man contacted me. At the time, Leo was a freshman at The Ohio State University which is just down the road. He had fond memories of gardening with his parents and was looking for a place to fill that void. I told him to get back in touch with me in a 6-8 weeks once the soil thawed. All my prior experience with adolescents and communication told me I wouldn’t hear from him again, but he remembered. Then one day he showed up on his skateboard. He’s been back a few times and even sent his sister and some of her sorority sisters over when she came to the city for school last year.

As I’m sure MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers are well aware, kids around the world will be skipping out of school today to raise awareness of our climate crisis. My almost 9-year old daughter will be among them, and I’ll be standing with her.

While I’m not convinced protests like this make much concrete difference, regardless of the issues they address, I still find myself drawn to them. I’ve brought my daughter to a number of rallies over the past few years. This time she’s bringing me.

And, when the kids at the rally ask me, “Are you doing all you can to help to slow our reliance on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions?” I’ll have an answer. While I don’t yet drive a hybrid vehicle or have solar panels on my house, I’m making a small but beautiful difference everyday.

Jodi Kushins owns and operates Over the Fence Urban Farm, a cooperatively maintained, community-supported agricultural project located in Columbus, Ohio. The farm, founded in 2013, is an experiment in creative placemaking, an outgrowth of Jodi’s training as an artist, teacher, and researcher. Connect with Jodi on Facebook and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Reflections on the Change of Seasons

 

Living in the Northeast part of the country, it always seems like we just pass into one season and suddenly, it’s time for the next.

In Maine, winter is our longest season. Last year, October 31, it snowed. Here on the coast we didn’t accumulate a lot over the next 20 weeks. For us it was layers of ice that held on with a frigid grip. Even the old timers were grumbling. After weeks of skating from milking barn to chicken coop to wood pile, I decided to buy a pair of ice cleats for my boots. There were none to be found. I’m hoping this year is not a repeat performance.

Spring, a cold, wet version of it, lasted almost until the fireworks were shooting off over the harbor. Then overnight, summer arrived. People sprung into action. Boats were readied and dumped overboard, chairs were thrown out on the lawn, gardens were planted, the mowing started and visitors arrived. The week of the 4th of July, it was like a switch was flipped and suddenly the atmosphere was buzzing. The reverse happened Labor Day. In Maine, each summer day is savored knowing tomorrow, it could all be over.

Last year, once summer waned, I anticipated painting porch decking, getting new screens in, touching up outside trim boards on the eves. But farm chores needed doing, animals needed breeding and shearing, gardens and pastures needed cleaning up and putting to bed. I left the painting and screens for what I had hoped would be a late fall. Then it snowed, turned cold. The screens and paint tins were tucked away. Fall is here again and the screen roll sits waiting shrouded in it’s plastic sleeve, the trim boards primed. Hope springs eternal!

Once the days start to shorten, the sun lays low in the afternoon providing the most exquisite shadows of ordinary things. The pace changes. The garden is bursting, flowers are still in full bloom, goldenrod is raising it’s yellowy head, framing the girls grazing in the pasture, apples are beginning to sort themselves out, dropping off the smallest, weakest ones to be collected in tin buckets for evening treats in the barn. The air is cooling, morning dew on the puppy’s paws is almost chilly. At dawn, after a first cup of coffee while listening to the mornings news, the kitchen thermometer reads 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

I notice these things now and am happier with the noticing of them. The gurgling of the pond outside the screened door. The kerplunk of an apple falling to the ground off the gardens edge. Dragonflies, buzzing in the late afternoon sun, like tiny drones, scoping out late day snacking possibilities. Hens, arguing over a newly found beetle in the grass. Just days ago, I was noticing how much more traffic there was going down to the village, how crowded the general store was in the morning with summer visitors, how few, if any parking spaces there were at the dock.

I’m glad to live in a place where the seasons dictate our days. I’m even happier to be able to appreciate the rhythm of it all. It’s the sounds of lobster boats steaming out for the days catch, the warning signal of the Marshall Point Lighthouse on foggy days, the banter of the fisherman  filling their cups with steaming hot coffee in the general store, the call of the Canada Geese starting their southern journey, that are my clock and calendar. I know it’s the beginning of summer when Village Ice Cream opens, autumn has arrived when there’s counter space in the Port Clyde General Store, winter is set in when lobster traps are stacked in the dooryard and spring is around the corner when boots are coated to the ankles after walking with the girls out to savor the first green sprigs in the pasture, signaling “mud season”. As sure as there’s a mud season, there’s bound to be spring right behind it. I’ve come to rely on the rumbling of boat motors and fog horns, geese honking and boat whistles, the slam of the ice cream shop screen door and soft cries of goat kids leaving their Mother’s womb, to let me know which season it is and to appreciate the changes that inevitably come.

Dyan Redick is an artisan cheesemaker, writer, and fiber artist is coastal Maine where she operates Bittersweet Heritage Farm, a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farmstand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat’s milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes her fancy. Follow Dyan on My Maine Farm Girl and Instagram.


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