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

To Create a Sustainable City, We Must Re-Engineer our Thinking


Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles, I did not have an immediate knowledge of where our food and water came from.  I turned on the faucet for water, plugged cords into the wall for electricity, and went to the store for food. Yes, my city had been engineered for me, and I was just mindlessly playing my role.

At a young age, I felt that there was something wrong with my ignorance. Even worse, no one else seemed to be aware of our unawareness.  Everything came from somewhere else.  One salvation for me was that my mother grew up on a farm, and would tell tales of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl where many people had no food, and some starved to death. My mother’s family were poor by most standards, but they had 51 acres in rural Ohio and they fed themselves and many others. My mother’s stories inspired me to become an ethno-botanist, and to learn about how all plants were used in the past. 

Though I did not pursue the path of “urban planning,” I realized that I had many choices within the framework of my suburban life where I could ecologically engineer my life.

Personal Choices

My first teenage forays were into backyard urban gardening and raising chickens in a tiny space.  I didn’t want to be dependent on commercial fertilizers and bug-sprays, so I learned the ages-old methods of agricultural, methods that people today call “organic” or “perma-culture.”  I learned that anyone could indeed produce at least some of their food in the least amount of space. 

Even in my late teenage years, I had critics who told me it was not practical to grow foods without artificial fertilizers and pesticides.  Really?  I followed the path of Fusuoka and his “One Straw Revolution,” and the Rodale family, and insisted on growing everything with nothing artificial. I learned to keep down the bug population with natural methods that had been practiced world-wide for millennia.  I knew that the so-called Green Revolution, based as it was on petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides was partly a fraud, and was not sustainable into the future centuries.

I continued my botanical studies by learning about the uses of wild plants of the Native Americans. I found to my surprise that all the foods used by the indigenous population could still be found throughout my homeland, though it was necessary to hunt a bit more because of all the houses, roads, and modern landscaping that has taken over the land.  Yes, the engineering of the concrete city has destroyed much of the territory for these native foods, but they were not entirely gone.

I began to eat these wild plants that had sustained people for millennia, and I incorporated them into my regular diet.  When I first began to share with others my excitement of these floral treasures, I  was treated with mostly apathy, sometimes scorn, and even pity.  I was amazed! 

Re-Engineering My Own Mind

In the mid-1970s in Los Angeles County,  I began publicly teaching and writing about the practical skills of self-reliance and practical survival in the city.  I was not engineering the city, but I was working to engineer a new mindset that says we can live ecologically (and economically) in the city.

Today, there is a renaissance and a great interest in the knowledge of our ancestors.  And it’s never too late to begin to seek our roots, and to turn around some of habits of ecological suicide.  I believe that we can solve many of our problems today by looking to the past for some of our solutions.

Here in Southern California, we have barely gotten over a four-year drought, which has finally inspired politicians and water department movers-and-shakers to encourage the millions of people who live here to consume less water.  With water usage averaging about 131 gallons a day for Los Angeles residents, and an ever-growing population of about 5% a year, water must always be a concern, as it will always be for most major cities of the world. 

The mayor of Los Angeles, and water department officials, are encouraging people to tear out their lawns and install drought-tolerant plantings.  I encourage people to go even one step further. Actually, a few steps further.  Yes, learn about the wild plants which are edible and medicinal, and encourage them. They will grow without your care.  And never merely plant “ornamentals,” that is, plants who do not provide food, or medicine, or good mulch from their leaves.  Plant with a purpose to feed your body  and your soul. 

To help irrigate these useful plants, I’m a big proponent of simple grey-water recycling, where your sink and washing machine water are piped into your backyard garden or front yard orchard.  Not every single city dweller can do this, but enough can do it to make a large difference.  Yes, certain changes are essential, such as buying soaps that contain to dyes, colors, or harmful chemicals. Continuing education is a big part of self-reliance and sustainability.  Recycling your grey-water means that you are getting at least two uses from water which previously you used only once.  Practically speaking, for every gallon of water you recycle, you have effective created another gallon of water for your use which does not have to be imported from somewhere else!

With the population of Southern California that continually grows, there is the growing need for more food and more water, as a function of increased population.  This unfortunately means even more land paved over for more houses or apartments.  Thus, the very soil which all ancient civilizations knew was the foundation of a healthy society becomes more and more rare. This should not be the case, even though it seems all but inevitable.

Our very lifeblood is dependent on the soil in so many ways.  Water, food, everything.

However, urban people need to re-learn these very basic ecological principles.  Our very laws, and attitudes – especially in the more-“developed” countries -- work against our long-term sustainability.

Urban Sustainability

Here in Southern California, the green lawn is still the norm in the sprawling suburban flatlands.  Never-ending flows of water (from somewhere) is the expectation.  The mindset must turn around, and it will begin with enlightened individuals who see that inappropriate lifestyles in an over-populated dry terrain are the antithesis of survival. As attitudes change – and slowly they are – the laws of the land need to support the water-wise practices that support sustainability. 

As a lifelong-educator in the uses of common wild plants, I cringe when I see television advertisements for such products as Roundup, and others, designed to kill off the unwanted vegetation of urban gardens and landscapes.  You know, such plants as dandelions and other healthful herbs called “weeds” which they picture in their ads.

To me, a student of the wild plants and the things growing in the faraway and neglected places, using a chemical like Roundup to “clean up” a wild area is a sacrilege.  Further,  bankers and land investors do not necessarily see the land as a source of life, recreation, fulfillment, and community. Rather, increasingly, the desire is to extract the greatest financial benefit from the land. Land that has nothing built upon it is all too often described as “non-performing real estate.”  That is the mentality which has caused the urban sprawl to sprawl even further, while diminishing the very sustainability from the land that we all need.  “Engineering” the city should not be simply building ever-more structures on the diminishing landscape. We should be re-engineering our thinking so we can get more from less, in ways that are both healthful and ecological. 

The Quiet Revolution

I am a pioneer of the path of the green and sustainable revolution.  You won’t find me protesting in the streets for changes, but you might find me in a city council meeting, or in a garden, or in a wilderness area.  I work with people one at a time. I have found that once an individual sees that the so-called weeds in an empty field are actually great nutritious food or medicine, they suddenly take a very personal interest in protecting and care-taking the land. Once individuals learn that the water from their very households can water their own garden and herb-patch, they become quite alert and aware of the quality of any soaps they are using, and they begin to use only those that are biodegradable, as a result of enlightened self-interest.  Suddenly, living an ecological urban life becomes very personal.

There are many paths to urban sustainability. This is the path I have chosen.

Christopher Nyerges works to engineer a new mindset that says we can live ecologically (and economically) in the city. He has taught self-reliance and sustainability his entire life through the teaching of ethnobotany and principles of permaculture. Nyerges is the author of 23 books including Self-Sufficient Home: Going Green and Saving Money, Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City, How to Survive Anywhere, and others. He is the co-founder of the School of Self-Reliance, and works actively with various non-profits for the goals of urban sustainability.

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.

Monitoring Air Quality in Homes and Workshops

workshop photo 

Photo credit: Skitterphoto 

Having clean air to breathe is essential for our health. Maintaining good indoor air quality is difficult under normal circumstances, but when working with tools in your home workshop, it becomes even more challenging. Some of these tools, such as soldering irons, electric saws and sanders, send particles into the air that can have negative health impacts if you inhale them. Monitoring air quality in your home and workshop can help you prevent indoor air quality problems and the potential resulting health effects.

Factors Affecting Air Quality

Many different types of gases, solid particulates and liquid droplets can mix with the air and affect air quality. These pollutants can come from both natural and synthetic sources. Some common types of contaminants include:

Particulate matter refers to tiny particles and drops of liquid in the air, such as dirt, dust, smoke and exhaust. Particles that are under 10 micrometers in diameter are the biggest threats because they can easily enter your lungs and bloodstream.

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals that substances emit as gases into the air. They can come from paint, cleaning products, motor fuel and other products.

Biological pollutants include mold, bacteria, viruses, pollen, pet dander and mites.

Some of these factors, such as pollen, may come indoors from the outside environment. Others, such as mold, may grow inside. Others may come from using certain products in the home. These types of substances and goods may be especially likely to be used in a home workshop.

Glues, solvents, paints and other products may emit harsh chemicals into the air. Some solder includes lead, which is especially dangerous to children. Lead-free solder, however, also releases particulates into the air. Using powered woodworking tools such as sanders and saws releases significant amounts of sawdust into the air.

Health Impacts of Poor Air Quality

Poor indoor air quality can have substantial negative health impacts, especially with prolonged exposure. Breathing in particulates, chemicals and other contaminants can cause acute symptoms such as headaches and throat and eye irritation. Regular exposure over long periods can cause heart and lung problems such as occupational asthma, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks and cancer.

It doesn't take long to start developing health problems from inhaling contaminated air if it occurs regularly. Thirty minutes per day for just 14 days is enough to notice issues arising.

People who work in industries where they get exposed to poor air quality are especially likely to contract health problems related to breathing in contaminated air. While contamination is usually not as concentrated, you may be exposed to it for longer, since Americans spend close to 90 percent of their time indoors.

If you have children or older adults living with you, you will have to be especially careful about air quality. If using potentially dangerous substances in a workshop, make sure to seal your shop off from the rest of the house and have a good source of ventilation to the outside.

How to Monitor Indoor Air Quality

Sometimes, it is obvious when there are air quality issues in the home. You can smell or see many common pollutants. Others, though, you wouldn't notice on your own. That's where air quality monitors come in.

These devices measure the quality of your air and alert you if levels of certain substances get too high. Some include integrated air purifiers, while others only monitor the air and require you to purchase a purifier separately.

Some of the top-rated indoor air quality monitors include:

Foobot measures VOCs, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity. It displays a red light if your air quality gets bad. It has a companion app that lets you analyze your air quality information, and it can connect with a range of smart home devices. It sells for $199.

Dyson Pure Cool senses contaminants in your air, captures them and then releases purified air into your home. You can monitor your air quality with the LCD or the companion app. Depending on the model and size, it goes for between $299.99 and $599.99.

Awair keeps track of VOC, CO2 and dust levels in your air as well as temperature and humidity. It gives you an air quality score out of 100, as well as personalized recommendations on how to improve your score. IT also has a companion app where you can access detailed air quality data and has several smart integrations built in. The flagship model sells for $189.

If you get one of these devices and find your air quality is worse than you like, you can use the information they give you to improve your air quality.

By using these devices, you'll get an idea of what's reducing the quality of your air. You can then decide whether to stop using certain substances indoors, purchase an air purifier or take other steps.

Kayla Matthews is a journalist and blogger with a passion for living healthily and happily. You can read all of her latest posts by following her on Google+ and Twitter. Read all 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.

How Eric Sloane Influenced My Work


Eric Sloane is one of my favorite artists.  His work is primarily line-drawings, and he’s authored such books as A Reverence for Wood, Eric Sloane’s Weather Book, Our Vanishing Landscape, an Age of Barns,  and many others.

Sloane is also a thinker and philosopher, not merely sharing old timey things for their antique value, but constantly trying to share that there was a living character of self-reliance that we have all but lost due to our penchant for modern devices and letting other people do our work for us.

As a would-be artist, I have used Sloane’s images to practice my line art.  I figured, I’m not trying to become another Sloane, but if I could get my level of artistry closer to his, my skill will have increased.  I am still no where close to that level, probably because I simply don’t practice as much as necessary to become a master.

My very first book was Guide to Wild Foods, which took me more or less 4 years to write and then another year for the artist to illustrate it.  I knew that my skill was insufficient for that early book, but 10 years later by the time it was revised and revised, I undertook to draw the plant images for that fourth edition.

Though I have had scant few art lessons, I learned from Sloane that drawing is not so much about the technicalities of drawing, as it is about seeing.  As I drew each plant for my revised book, I had collected a sample of that plant which I set before me.  I would move the leaves and stems this way and that, in order to show all the significant parts of the plant that would help in identification.

Then I would begin the hours-long process of penciling each plant, where I was able to show  both the character of the plant, as well as the essential details. Once I was happy with the pencil drawing, I went over it in black ink, and these nearly 70 images became the latest book. 

I have always liked that version of the book the best, because not only did I entirely produce the book – from typesetting to layout to printer – but it’s my personal art gallery, which contains much of my work in one place.  I would have been proud to give a copy to Eric Sloane should I have ever met the artist.

Modern Technology

But as technology improved and prices for color printing dropped, no one really cared for a botanical book with simple black and white drawings. “Guide to Wild Foods” is currently published in full color by Chicago Review Press, and sells more widely than my line-drawing version ever did. 

I began to think about the artist’s eternal conflict after reading Eric Sloane’s Legacy book.  The conflict is how to retain your impeccability as a true artist, and how to reconcile that with the business world and the need to stay solvent financially.   It was a good business decision for me to turn my “Guide to Wild Foods” book into an all-color book, because far more people are learning about ethnobotany from it now.  Still, it makes me happy to see that my all-line drawing 1995 version can still be occasionally found on Amazon and ebay for the collector who likes folk art.

Though I have always purchased Sloane’s books for the art first, and the writing second, I want to share some of his ideas about writing.

In his chapter “The Adventure of Writing” in “Legacy,” he writes, “Writing is an apparatus for the conveyance of thoughts. Some writers write because they have something to say; others write just because they want to say something. The writer who writes for the purpose of making money should forget it; there are easier ways to make a living. When you chase money, it becomes elusive, but when you ignore it for the love of hard work, money seeks you out like a neglected lover: Payments will come in from stuff you had even forgotten about. Writing shouldn’t be a commercial occupation, because it is a religion and a calling that should never be treated sacrilegiously.”

That’s quite a sentiment, though I doubt those who write (anonymously) copy for web site and advertisement and city brochures will lose sleep over the fact that they are writing for their income, as factotums.  Even I have done plenty of writing such as ghost writing, editing, brochure writing, and web-content where you’d never know it was me doing it. It was honest work that paid the bills.

Still, I think every beginning writing student, whether journalists or those seeking literary careers, should read and study Sloane.

Among his other advice to writers, from his long life of experiences, Sloane adds “Writing to compete (like writing to make money) is both bad manners and bad thinking:  Being yourself and enjoying your writing is paramount.  Nowadays competition is the major philosophy of business, the backbone of the national economy, and the essence of sports.  Competition is the spark of the American way.  Yet, no doctor, inventor, painter, or writer ever reached greatness by means of competition.  The only person that any kind of artist should compete with should be him or herself.  Always trying to do better work used to be the rule of old-time writers, but that was when there was such a thing as indecency and four-letter words were considered crude or rude…. Writing has become a competitive industry instead of an art and a way of life.”

Sloane is forever the idealist, and for better or worse, he lived what he believed. Again, students of journalism, English, and literature should all be required to read, study, and discuss the Sloane doctrine. He concludes, “A writer is not someone who writes as much as someone who thinks, and the writer’s prime reason for being is to help others think.  Teaching people to think is the highest calling of civilization.”

Nyerges is the author of Guide to Wild Foods, and nearly two dozen other books.  He also teaches writing, self-reliance skills, and ethnobotany. He can be reached at

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.

Ecotourism and Nature Travel to the Gulf Shores of Alabama: Part 2

Catching sunset along coastal harbor

Alabama’s Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores are becoming a natural playground. Joined by my photographer-husband John Ivanko during a recent trip here, we discovered so much more than sandy beaches and plentiful sunshine. Sure, we kicked off our sandals, splashed around in the Gulf, and grabbed an Adirondack chair to catch the sunset and count shooting stars at night.

But in Orange Beach, you’re just a few minutes’ drive away from some of the best birding along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s easy to disappear into some of the many natural areas set aside as parks and preserves. As we covered separately, the area is also becoming known as a food traveler destination.

This is the second post, covering our additional ecotourism adventures and several accommodation options, including the new The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a LEED-certified property soon to open.

Hiking, Biking or Yoga in the Gulf State Park

Nestled between the communities of Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores, the 6,150-acre Gulf State Park has it all, pristine beaches, inland lakes, maritime forests and coastal marsh for hiking, biking and even yoga during the annual Awakened Life Yoga Festival in April.

We had a chance to grab a yoga mat and experience a portion of the three-day Awakened Life Yoga Festival. It provides a well-organized portal to experience nature through a yoga lens, offering a variety of offerings for beginners to seasoned yogi, including power to peaceful yoga asana, meditation and kirtans.

Awakened Life Yoga Festival 

“We want to create a unique space where we can bring together an amazing group of teachers, coaches and artists to help folks connect to their own creativity and spirit,” explains Jen Hammond, yoga instructor and the event’s organizer. Need a pick-up after a yoga session?  Head over to Soul Bowlz for their organic acai smoothie bowls made with fresh fruit.

While not in the Gulf State Park, for a bird-eye view of the coastal area as well as an adrenalin boost, Hummingbird Ziplines at The Wharf offers eight ziplines, traversing more than 6,000 feet. In contrast to what’s offered at many of the other shops at The Wharf, Hummingbird’s gift shop even features Fair Trade items.

Cabins at the Gulf State Park

Eco-Lodging at The Lodge

While Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores are populated with high rise condos, a great option if you want to cook your own local seafood in your kitchen while taking in the breath-taking views of the Gulf of Mexico, there are also more quaint beach houses, both reserved through Meyer Vacation Rentals. If you’d rather unwind in the peace and quiet in nature, try the more rustic cabins, cottages or camping at the Gulf State Park. 

Graced by a panoramic view of the beach and ocean, The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a soon-to-open luxury eco-hotel also nestled inside the park, promises to offer one of the most environmentally-sensitive lodging options not only in Alabama, but perhaps the entire US. Owned by the Alabama State Park but operated by Hilton Hotel and Resorts, The Lodge grew out of an extensive collaborative community effort after Hurricane Ivan destroyed the area in 2004. A master plan for the state park was developed that shepherds both the environment and economy. 

The result is a LEED Gold certified high-end 350 room luxury hotel. Each step of the planning and building process involved a commitment to stewarding the ecosystem in a way that still provides the lodging experience Hilton guests expect.

“The community and partners came to a decision early on that this was not going to be another hotel on the beach and we were going to do this right,” explains Chandra Wright, Director of Environmental and Educational Initiatives at the Lodge at Gulf Sate Park.  “For example, we know that sand continually moves and a way to help naturally preserve the dunes was to build in a way that sand can move under the Lodge.  You’re not going to see any manicured lawns anywhere here and instead experience a Lodge right in the middle of an active dune system.”  The Lodge will also be built to withstand a category five hurricane, or “tropical occurrence” as they are dubbed in the local tourism world.

Such innovation requires pushing the envelope within typical Hilton expectations and requirements as well.  You won’t find any single use plastic items on the property, including no straws or plastic bottles.  Guest bathrooms will have bulk dispensers instead of individual shampoo and toiletry containers. 

“What you will see are lots of educational components on why we’re doing what we’re doing throughout the property,” adds Wright.  The Interpretive Center on the property is taking the bar higher and going for LEED Platinum designation, aiming to generate more power than it uses.

The Lodge and all of the increasing eco-experiences and awareness germinating on the Gulf Shores serve as more than a fun vacation destination; they remind both the community and visitors alike that we are all an active, integral part of our landscape and play a vital role in preserving it.

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, 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. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist 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 and millions of ladybugs.

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.

Earth Law Bolsters Bid by Angoon Community Association to Protect and Restore the Natural Environment

Photo by University of Alaska

Source: University of Alaska                                    

For centuries, indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with the ecosystems they are a part of. Rights of nature are in line with indigenous culture’s traditional worldview and conceptions that we are all connected. The Native Tlingit people of Alaska, whose name translates to “People of The Tides,” have called the Southeastern Alaskan shoreline home for thousands of years. Much of their diet consists of local seafood and other native species.

The Tlingit people are facing an issue from the Green Creaks Mining company. Green Creaks is encroaching on natural land in Hawk Inlet by infesting it with their dumping. This infected water disturbs local fauna, and creatures as far as sixty miles away in Angoon, where a large Tlingit population resides. As coastlines recede more of the dangerous minerals from the mining company are breaching further away from its dumping site. We have to re-examine policy to keep up with changing environmental systems. 

ELC is working closely with the Angoon Community Association (ACA) in Angoon Alaska to address the myriad of issues ACA and their environment face. This includes indigenous sovereignty, pollution in Hawk Inlet and gray water in the Chatham Straits. ELC is assisting with amendments to ACA’s tribal constitution, ensuring the recognition of nature’s rights.

The Tlingit people and other tribes banded together to create a coalition to tackle these problems that impact indigenous people’s way of life. The Angoon Community Association tackles the various issues that prevent Angoon citizens from having to say in issues related to their home and surrounding area, along with being a bastion for community outreach. 

“I want to thank ‘Di-kee aan kaawoo’ which translates to ‘Our heavenly Father’ for the opportunity to take care of the resource,” a quote by Frank Jack, Sr., Tlingit Bear Chief and House Master of the Shanaax Hit (Valley House) of Angoon, Alaska.

Earth Law is an ethical framework that recognizes nature’s right to exist, thrive and evolve - enabling nature to defend these rights in court, just like corporations can. When we recognize the importance of ecosystems and species, we can then adopt a more holistic approach to our decision-making around coastal area protections and ensure that the natural environment thrives both now and in the future.

Support This Project

How you can get involved today:

Read more about the Earth Law Center initiative in Angoon

Sign up for our monthly newsletter here.

Volunteer for the coastal program area.

Donate here.

Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature's rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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The Resurgence of Growing Hemp for Industrial Use


Today, many people see industrial hemp as a niche industry, but it wasn’t always that way. In the Colonial era, hemp was a widely cultivated crop, and in some areas, farmers were breaking the law if they didn’t grow it. Hemp was often used as a textile, fiber and paper, and some early drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on it.

Hemp Production Becomes More Difficult

However, by the 1950s, it was very difficult for hemp growers to profit. The passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 hadn’t helped — it required all such farmers to be licensed and pay taxes for the activity. But, the availability of cheap, industrial fibers is what crippled the hemp industry. 

Later, the U.S. government did not differentiate between hemp and marijuana growth, causing growers to deal with tight regulations that hampered or prevented their efforts to produce the crop. Recently, the U.S. Senate voted to legalize cultivating, processing and selling industrial hemp through legislation known as the Farm Bill.

Plus, some U.S. states are giving momentum to a rebirth of the practice of producing hemp for industrial uses.

New York Seeks to Become a National Leader

New York governor Andrew Cuomo hopes his state will become a place others look up to in the realm of industrial hemp production. In 2015, he gave the go-ahead for the Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program. It allowed a restricted number of educational institutions to grow and study hemp.

Two years later, the state got rid of the cap and opened up the program to farmers and businesses. Plus, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to make industrial hemp recognized as a commodity under New York’s Agricultural and Markets Law. He allocated millions of dollars in grant funding to help eligible businesses with the costs of processing hemp, including the purchase of new equipment.

Experts at Cornell University are working to find and breed the types of hemp most suitable for New York's climate. They’re using genomics to speed up the growing process and will expand their techniques to the northernmost and southernmost parts of the state this year. The Cornell University campus was also the site of New York’s first industrial hemp research forum in February 2018.

For 2018, the state has granted 62 permits to New York businesses wishing to grow hemp. As such, the Department of Agriculture and Markets estimates the total industrial hemp production in New York to expand to 3,500 acres in 2018, a 1,500-acre increase from the previous year.

Pennsylvania Also Carrying Out Hemp Trials

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is also trying to bring back industrial hemp production. Like New York, it's running a pilot program that ends the 80-year absence of hemp production in Pennsylvania. The 14 research permits given to a dozen researchers in 2017 resulted in hemp being grown in 13 Pennsylvanian counties.

These Experiments Could Reduce the Country’s Dependence on Imported Hemp

In 2016, there were $688 million in hemp sales in the U.S., but imported material comprised most of it. More than two dozen states legalized hemp production under trial programs such as those mentioned above.

And, if hemp production continues to get support in those places, the practice could substantially boost state economies and spur job creation. For instance, Kentucky has one of the leading hemp industries in the nation. There, the crop spreads across nearly 13,000 acres and gives farmers up to $50 per pound of dried hemp flower.

At the University of Minnesota, researchers began testing hemp varieties and sowing 30-40 pounds of seed per acre and receiving yields of as many as 1,300 pounds per acre. With outcomes like that, it’s not hard to see how hemp production could support producers’ livelihoods.

Tens of Thousands of Uses for Hemp

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service describes more than 25,000 ways to use hemp across nine sub-categories ranging from foods to construction materials. In 2017, most of the value of U.S. hemp imports came from seeds eventually used as ingredients for hemp-based goods. Canada was the largest importer serving the U.S., with 95 percent of the imports coming from that country.

Some Limitations Exist

Although the U.S. hemp market seems promising, researchers caution there are still obstacles to overcome. For example, many questions remain unanswered about hemp grain yield traits, and it'll be necessary to get to the bottom of those to maintain consistently high-quality outputs. 

Moreover, gaps in the supply chain mean that farmers often get their seeds outside of the ideal growing windows, thereby hampering their efforts. Some are also reluctant to scale up their dedication to hemp until it becomes clear that the trial programs will end in full-scale state legislation.

The Future Is Unknown

It seems nearly inevitable that reducing long-standing restrictions in the U.S. would help farmers and consumers alike. However, there’s no way to tell whether the demand for hemp will continue over the long-term and if state legislators will keep supporting it. Despite those uncertainties, some pioneering farmers soldier on and see hope on the horizon.

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.

Ecotourism and Nature Travel to the Gulf Shores of Alabama Part 1

Sunrise over Orange Beach alabama

In Alabama, there’s a narrow strip of snow white beaches that stretch for 32 miles, providing seasonal homes to nesting Loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley and Green turtles. Pods of dolphins frolic just off shore and hundreds of migratory bird species find refuge in the coastal scrub or maritime forests. It’s called paradise by many, eager to walk the beach, crash waves, jump on skim boards or sunbathe. On a map, it goes by Orange Beach or the Gulf Shores.

In nearly every way, the shimmering azure expanse of the Gulf of Mexico captivates with its soothing waves licking upon the shore, gulls arguing over a newfound edible treasure, or the graceful pelicans skimming the water’s surface. Despite the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, or in some ways because of it, these communities have re-emerged as hotspots for an escape into nature.

On a recent trip with husband-photographer, John Ivanko, we experienced Alabama’s wild side on foot, in a kayak, with fishing poles on a coastal safari, and in a warrior II yoga pose. This is the first of two posts sharing the ecotourism adventures to be had, including a first for us, hand-releasing a newly banded migratory bird. As we covered separately, the area is also becoming known as a food traveler destination.

 bird banding migratory birds

Coastal Birding for Birders

You don’t even need to be a seasoned birder to enjoy the experience of bird-banding with the Birmingham Audubon Society. It takes place during the annual spring and fall migration at the Fort Morgan Historical Park, about 30 miles from Orange Beach. This birding hotspot at Fort Morgan, designated as "One Hundred Globally Important Bird Areas" by the American Bird Conservancy, is part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, a network of six birding loops spanning over 200 coastal miles.

“This is the birds’ first stop for food after a six-hundred-mile journey,” explains Brittany Peterson, manager of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and birding expert. “Think about yourself, if you drove that long in your car non-stop without eating or drinking.  It’s a pretty amazing feat that something this small can do that year after year,” she adds as she holds the small Northern Wood Thrush in her hands that was just banded and weighed for tracking research. 

“Now who would like to release him?” Peterson asks.  Hands quickly pop up. The crowd includes both seasoned birders, judging by their gear, hats, pins and patches, as well as those new to catching a glimpse of these tiny but mighty species on their rest break. Everyone was entranced by this rare opportunity to handle and release the banded birds back into the air from their hands. For a moment, you felt a bit like James Audubon himself, the ornithologist and bird illustrator often credited with coming up with the very first bird-banding experiment.

The birding bonanza continues at the over 7,000-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. The name Bon Secour is derived, appropriately enough, from the French words meaning “safe harbor,” with this protected area making up some of the most globally imperiled coastal scrub remaining in Alabama. It sits along the flyway of millions of bird migrants every spring and fall. 

“The spring migration peaking every April offers an amazing amount of bird species all at once that you simply can’t see in one place,” entices Peterson. “With 340 different species recorded at Bon Secour, if you get there at the right time you can check-off your whole species list at once.”

Ecotourism Adventures: Kayaking and Biking

Who can turn down a chance to say you went kayaking with alligators? Guided by Stephanie Williams, a naturalist with Ike’s Beach Service, we paddled across the shimmering waters of Lake Shelby in the Gulf State Park. “While I’ve only seen baby alligators, should you be approached by a larger one, just take your paddle and smack it loudly on the front of the bow of your kayak,” advises Williams with a grin.

While no gators were ever spotted on our trip, our small group of seven enjoyed plying across the waters of the brackish lake, caused by the salt water from the ocean meets the fresh spring water feeding the lake. Instead of gators, we watched as a graceful osprey circled around her nest nearby.

Paddling with a guide offers a backstory to what we were witnessing and, especially for beginner kayakers, Williams navigated the group through a marsh and with the tides when possible. “The first part we’ll be paddling is against the wind, so be prepared to pump it,” encourages Williams. “But we’ll be rewarded coming back with an easy, relaxing ride.” Just make sure you’re in your swimsuit since waves may crest over the front of your kayak.

You can also take in the Alabama Gulf Coast on a bicycle. Stop by Beach Bike Rentals and leisurely explore the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, a 15-mile trail that traverses six different ecosystems.

 fishing on the gulf of mexico with intercoastal safaris

Inshore fishing with Intercoastal Safaris

Hook and cook your dinner of flounder, redfish, pompano, sheepshead or speckled trout, while getting an insightful backstory to the ecology and culture alongside an entertaining side dish of  local flavors of the area with a guided fishing tour with Intercoastal Safaris. That’s what we tried next, as the afternoon heat and humidity started to kick in. It’s Alabama, after all.

“People will call me the best fishing guide all the time, but I’m not a fishing guide,” laughs the warm and friendly owner of Intercoastal Safaris, Steven Lee, self-dubbed “hospitality manager” and owner of the operation. “Really and truly what I want to tell them is we’re a marketing company that happens to excel at hospitality.” Lee went on over 300 guided hunting and fishing trips and pulled together the best of the best practices for his guided and custom created tours, tailored to a variety of audiences and working with a network of over 25 vetted guides in the area. “We’re the top ranked bachelor party outside of Las Vegas,” he adds with a wink while sticking to the nature interpretation and fishing advice with our small group of six.

While the fishing stories and local lore are bountiful on an Intercoastal Safaris cruise, it’s the opportunity to experience the coast from a boat that will truly draw you in. Captain Mike expertly turned our vessel around after he spots a pod of dolphins frolicking and feeding under the Perdido Pass Bridge. Our group snapped lots of photos, since none of us lived where we can get this close to them without being in the Splash Zone of SeaWorld or a zoo.

In true fishing story fashion, we did indeed almost hook our dinner of flounder while fishing off a rocky breaker at Alabama Point. This is, before our line broke. We didn’t feel too bad, since a nearby boat of local fishermen didn’t seem to be doing any better.

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, 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. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist 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 and millions of ladybugs.

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