Tag Archives: Earth Day

Concerted Efforts Toward the Good

IMG_3271The 48th Earth Day dawned cold and moist, too wet to prepare the beds for brassica transplants. Instead, our Saturday crew worked in the greenhouse mixing buckets of organic soil blend, prepping herb flats, and cupping up tender eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and basil. Busy hands make light work; great conversation makes light work, too. Most of all, working together turns farm work into something more than work, something I would call a “concerted effort toward the good.”

Since the last election, I’ve been struggling with how best to spend my days. Farming, writing, teaching, family ties, and friendship still come to the top, but I know that’s not enough. In these terrible times, real threats to democracy and justice of all kinds face us. Resistance to greed, prejudice, and isolationism must be woven through all I do. So I wake up each morning with this directive in mind: Today, make concerted efforts toward the good.

IMG_3650On the first Earth Day in 1970, my fifth grade class planted a garden of flowers outside our classroom. Each year since then, I’ve tried to mark the day by doing something that gives me hope. Pollution of the planet seemed the biggest environmental threat back then, a problem that seemed surmountable if we worked hard enough to raise awareness and change public policies. Now we know that global warming and climate crisis cannot be solved in one generation’s lifetime.

Still, we have made a start and we won’t give up, even when our government’s hostility to equality and environmental protection threatens to take us backwards. Some people say the only remaining solution to ecological devastation is adaptation. Adaptation, in fact, is already taking place across many species, including our own. This doesn’t mean we can abandon other strategies. Our resistance toward the current government’s policies to reverse social justice and environmental gains is part of our continued work toward regeneration of the earth, its resources, and all the beings that create our vast planetary ecosystem.

IMG_3828When I think of a concert, I think of the joining together of many talents to create something larger than each can make on their own. In this way, “concerted efforts” means actions made in the company of others through collaboration within and across landscapes and ecosystems of all kinds. Where to start with these concerted efforts will depend on the view from each locale. What’s important—what’s absolutely necessary—is to start somewhere by connecting with others who share our concerns.

IMG_3804Spring is a time of renewal and regeneration. Snow melts and fills streams, grass turns green, and trees bud and bloom. At Stonebridge Farm, we plant crops, raise new chicks, and wait for moisture and sun to waken seeds from their winter’s sleep. In A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, I wrote, “Seeds are generative: their work it to extend the generation of plants and the world they feed.”

With regeneration their goal, seeds surely make concerted efforts toward the good as each seed’s efforts are multiplied in kind. Like seeds, we humans must work together to extend the generation of the planet. In the struggles before us, let us be seeds.

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Earth Day 46

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Today is Earth Day 46. Given the state of the planet, I’m not sure whether to celebrate or commemorate the occasion.  Either way, I’d like to share a couple paragraphs from the chapter “The First Earth Day–and Still Counting” in A Bushel’s Worth, followed by a story for Earth Day today. I’ll be reading from Dirt: A Love Story tonight at Wolverine Publick House in Ft Collins at 7 PM. Please join me and authors Laura Pritchett and Jane Shellenberger for Earth Day 46.

The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, was organized by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson to bring national attention to the growing problems of environmental degradation through grassroots actions focused on issues in local communities. On Earth Day, people were asked to demonstrate care for an earth whose gifts of clean air, water, and soil could no longer be taken for grant- ed. Earth Day would not only create awareness of the steadily declining health of the environment, but bring hope of a better future for the planet.

Our fifth grade class decided to join the first Earth Day celebration by turning the hard dirt outside our classroom into a beautiful garden of grass and flowers. All it would take, we thought, were some shovels and a few seeds. On April 22, we showed up with tools—the girls wearing pants, which wasn’t normally allowed—and worked like crazy all day to get that small square of soil ready for the plants we imagined would grow there. Mr. Osborn even let me run the block home for my wagon to haul away rocks and trash. With rakes and hoes in our young hands, we scratched tiny furrows in the soil to plant our hopeful seeds. A little water, a little weeding, and we’d have our first Earth Day garden. At the end of the day, we were dirty and tired, but proud to be part of something bigger than ourselves. . . .

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On that first Earth Day in 1970, were we optimistic or just naive? We didn’t yet now of the much larger environmental problem looming, I think I can say “literally,” on the horizon. I mark Earth Day each year to remind myself how these ideas that were so radical in 1970 are mainstream today, if not yet implemented. In a small step to move outside a framework that privileges humans over the rest of the planet, I’ve decided to quit saying “humans and the environment” (as in, “harmful to humans and the environment”). Instead, I’m going to say “the environment, including humans.”

To remain hopeful, I try to see the world through my grandson’s eyes. At three and a half, he loves animals and playing guessing games with his grandparents. Last week, he quizzed me: “Grandma Kayann, what’s the smartest mammal?”

I went with his favorite first: An elephant?

“No, it lives in the ocean.”

A whale?

“No.”

Then I remembered he’d just been to the San Diego zoo. Dolphins?

Yes! I’d gotten it right, so I thought I’d take the game a little further: What about humans? They’re mammals.

He shook his head. “No, they’re not very smart.”

My daughter and I had to smile at his three-year-old savvy. Even though it seems he’s right, his viewpoint still contains some hope.

Maybe the animals will save us.

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The First Earth Day . . . and Still Counting (with video)

To my readers: If you receive Pearlmoonplenty via email, yesterday’s post did not include the video. Click here to view it at the end of the post. 

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To mark the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970, I participated in a pre-Earth Day program at our local library to promote the Youth of the Earth Festival, a community event organized for the first time last year by the Youth of the Earth Council and Sustainable Revolution Longmont. The free festival this Wednesday at the Boulder County fairgrounds from 4 to 7 PM will include music and dance performances by local schools and youth groups; recycling; storytelling; education about bees, birds, and energy; healthy food prepared by an on-site chef; and games with locally donated prizes.

At the library event, I read my chapter “The First Earth Day . . . and Still Counting” because I wanted to share the early days of Earth Day with the students involved this year. I created a visual background video to show 1970s Earth Day images, as well as more recent photos from our farm connecting that time to the environment today. In the essay, I talk about planting an apple tree in memory of my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Osborn, in whose class I celebrated the first Earth Day, so I included a visual sequence about growing, picking, and pressing apples for cider on our farm.

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Forty-five years isn’t much time to turn around the ecological problems confronting our planet. In fact, today’s it’s clear that the state of the earth is worse than anyone imagined forty-five years ago. It seems we’re facing a tipping point from which we must push harder for the changes needed to adapt and survive. This is no time to abandon hope. It’s only time to hold hope closer as we work together—finally–toward a more sustainable future.

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The First Earth Day . . . and Still Counting

EarthDayGreeleyTribune To mark the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970, I participated in a pre-Earth Day program at our local library to promote the Youth of the Earth Festival, a community event organized for the first time last year by the Youth of the Earth Council and Sustainable Revolution Longmont. The free festival this Wednesday at the Boulder County fairgrounds from 4 to 7 PM will include music and dance performances by local schools and youth groups; recycling; storytelling; education about bees, birds, and energy; healthy food prepared by an on-site chef; and games with locally donated prizes. If you don’t live in our area, I hope you’ll find an Earth Day event near you. At the library event, I read my chapter “The First Earth Day . . . and Still Counting” from A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography because I wanted to share the early days of Earth Day with the students involved this year. I created a visual background video to show 1970s Earth Day images, as well as more recent photos from our farm connecting that time to the environment today. In the essay, I talk about planting an apple tree in memory of my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Osborn, in whose class I celebrated the first Earth Day, so I included a visual sequence about growing, picking, and pressing apples for cider on our farm. applebaskets Forty-five years isn’t much time to turn around the ecological problems confronting our planet. In fact, today’s it’s clear that the state of the earth is worse than anyone imagined forty-five years ago. It seems we’re facing a tipping point from which we must push harder for the changes needed to adapt and survive. This is no time to abandon hope. It’s only time to hold hope closer as we work together—finally–toward a more sustainable future.

If the video isn’t embedded below, click here to watch it.

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Like Roosters

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“I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.”                      –Thoreau, Walden

On a trip to Cuba a decade ago to research sustainable agriculture, I arrived too late at the guest hostel in the southern, rural part of the island to see much of the hills surrounding us with palm trees in a small valley. I got my chance early the next morning when I was awoken by not one, not two, but what sounded like hundreds of roosters crowing all around me. I dressed quickly and went outside to find that roosters roamed freely in this village, strutting as lustily as Thoreau’s chanticleer. Roosters are undoubtedly more intent on alerting other roosters to their territory than on signaling transformation, but in El Valle del Gallo, as I called this place, I witnessed the power of roosters crowing in unintentional symphony at the dawn of another day.

Recently I heard a story on NPR about two women in their thirties who own a small boutique in a Tehran mall.The women’s best-selling items might not seem radical: shirts, mugs, and pillows with roosters on them. Yet these roosters feature feathers drawn from the words of a Persian poem celebrating a new dawn. Like an earlier t-shirt the women offered with the word onid, or hope, the rooster items draw mixed reactions. Some customers don’t believe there’s hope for their country right now, while others want to believe in a new future for Iran.

These women were hopeful because they remembered a more open time in their country; the items they sold offered the possibility of a brighter day. The women’s belief in renewal touched me because I, too, retain an optimism that often seems naïve in the face of the world’s problems, a hopefulness based on the idea of a better future once voiced by young people of the 60s and 70s. “All we need is love,” sang the Beatles, “Love is all we need.”

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In A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, I wrote about the first Earth Day in 1970 and the optimism symbolized by bell bottoms and group efforts to clean up the environment: “Earth Day would not only create awareness of the steadily declining health of the environment, but bring hope of a better future for our planet.”

Our farm was home to a small commune of hippies in the early 1970s. Living in a tipi, bus, barn, and old farmhouse, they raised cows and chickens and sold milk and eggs to the small town nearby.“We didn’t know we were hippies,” they laughed, “until we read about them in a magazine and realized we were hippies too.” I was thrilled to hear that the Paul Butterfield Blues band had jammed in our living room. They showed us vestiges of the work they’d done here at the farm and told us how things had been different back then, including a much smaller farmhouse then we have today.

Their back-to-the-land experiment was short-lived, but their work contributed to the farm’s organic stewardship. Twenty years later, my partner and I started a community-supported farm on the same land. For the last 24 years, we’ve been building the kind of future we’d like to see, one based on a reciprocal relationship with the land and community-based support for organic food production.

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We raise chickens at Stonebridge, but since we don’t breed our own chicks, we don’t need rooster services. Last spring, we bought six chicks that were supposed to be egg-laying hens. From almost the beginning, I suspected that one of the blue-green egg layers would grow up to be a rooster. Its legs were longer and feathers more pronounced than the others; it looked regal, as if it were wearing a pair of 18th-century pantaloons and a tapestry jacket, just the type of braggart Thoreau had imagined. “ER-er-er-ERRR,” it crowed one day as I passed by the coop, making its intentions—and gender—clear. Luckily, our chicken-loving friends were willing to adopt a rooster to replenish their breeding stock.

Ajax the Rooster. Photo by Peter Butler.

Ajax the Rooster. Photo by Peter Butler.

I love my chickens, but since hearing the story about the Iranian shopkeepers and their rooster t-shirts, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the louder fowl of the species. Metaphorically, we need roosters among us to arouse the sleeping into action, voice inconvenient truths, and lead the call for change.

Today, social networking provides roosters more perches from which to crow than in Thoreau’s time. That may not make it easier to be a rooster; as befell ours, the risks of raising an unwelcome alarm will always exist. Still, more roosts means more roosters crowing together about the big things we’re facing like climate crisis, violence in communities and nations, and an ever-deepening gap between the have-mores and the have-lessers.

Roosters may be individualists, but with so many crowing at once, a collective message will surely rise above the cacophonous din. Like the roosters of El Valle del Gallo, we can raise our voices together with hope for change. By pairing personal acts with collaborative action, “hope” can be more than a slogan on a t-shirt. If we care about the future and the world we’ll leave behind, let’s be like roosters and wake each other up.

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Spring Spinach With the Birds

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This afternoon I’m hosting our local women’s group for an appetizer potluck and reading of A Bushel’s Worth. I’m roasting mushrooms with Greek salad stuffing, which means walking out to the garden to pick baby spinach. Our farm season opens in three weeks and the spinach will be much bigger by then. For now, I’m content with smaller leaves, but it does take longer than one would expect to fill a whole bag.

Seems like the bag stays only half-full for quite some time, but I don’t mind. I’m listening to two Western meadowlarks trilling back and forth from the giant cottonwoods along the irrigation ditch. You can listen to one of a Western Meadowlark’s songs here.

I’m originally from North Dakota, whose state bird is the Eastern Meadowlark. My grandmother often noted in her diary when she heard the first meadowlark’s call:

“Wed, April 6, 1983: We walked to the creek and found mayflowers and heard a meadowlark sing.

It took me many years to get used to the Western Meadowlark’s song with its notes ascending and descending in a different order than that of North Dakota’s state bird. But both birds share the complex musicality of their song, more lyrical than many a bird’s call.

As I listen to the meadowlarks’ duet in stereo near the spinach bed, I also hear a pair of Red Tailed Hawks shrieking high above me. I can see them, too, as they circle our west field on the other side of the ditch. But I can’t see the meadowlarks, even when I walk near the trees from which they’re clearly singing. I’m surprised not to find them with their bright yellow breasts. Today, they’re camouflaged by the new green leaves of willows and cottonwoods breaking from winter rest.

On the way back to the house with my bag of spinach, I spot a Downy Woodpecker near the knot in our old crabapple tree. No mistaking this bird’s red head and black and white body. I wish I had my camera as the bird senses my approach and flits off to a higher elm.

Spring has been slow to arrive this year. We transplanted 10,000 onion and leek starts last Saturday, a week later than the previous two years. The next day, a wet spring snow watered in the grass-like shoots. We love our alliums at this farm, depending on them all season and even through the long winter. In three weeks, we’ll harvest walking Egyptian onions for our members, followed by green garlic, garlic scapes, early garlic, and green onions, until the full-sized garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots are ready mid-summer.

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Today, I’ll use the last of the stored shallots in the mushrooms I’m stuffing. You can find the recipe here on our website. I’m looking forward to sharing A Bushel’s Worth with women in our community tonight. I joked that I’m going to read the romantic parts, but, in fact, I’ve decided I will. John and I met in the spring; on our first farm date, we made our first salad together from newborn herbs and greens. Seems fitting to share that memory on this sparkling spring day.

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If you can’t join us tonight, you can view a farm reading of A Bushel’s Worth here, along with great music from Joe Kuckla and Alex Johnstone. Happy spring!

 

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42nd Earth Day and Still Counting

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, I was a student in Mr. Osborn’s fifth grade class at Sherwood Elementary. Earth Day was organized by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson to bring national attention to the alarming state of the environment through grassroots actions. On Earth Day, people were asked to demonstrate care for an earth whose gifts of clean air, water, and soil could no longer be taken for granted.

My fifth grade class (I'm in the lower left hand corner with knee socks)

Our fifth grade class decided to celebrate the first Earth Day by turning the hard dirt outside our classroom into a beautiful garden of grass and flowers.  All it would take, we thought, were some shovels and a few seeds. We showed up with tools—the girls in pants, which weren’t normally allowed—and worked like crazy all day to get that small square of soil ready for the plants we imagined would grow there. Mr. Osborn even let me run a block home for my wagon to haul away rocks and trash. With rakes and hoes in our young hands, we scratched tiny furrows in the soil to plant our hopeful seeds.  A little water, and we’d have our first Earth Day garden.  At the end of the day we were dirty and tired, but proud to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

 

Around the world, 20 million participants representing thousands of schools and communities organized events like ours from planting trees to picking up trash along highways in what Senator Nelson called a “spontaneous response at the grassroots level.” Earth Day proved that many people did care about the environment, becoming a symbol for the new ecological movement that at that point held so much promise.

Today Earth Day and its message of stewardship is still part of many school curriculums. Children learn about the value of recycling, saving energy, and protecting endangered species.  Since the first Earth Day, stricter standards have been passed for air and water pollution, cars have become more fuel efficient, and many contaminated areas have been recovered.  But 42 years after the first Earth Day, we are living that fearful future of vanishing species, toxic food, oil spills, nuclear disasters, and climate change-amplified weather crises.

To celebrate Earth Day’s 40th anniversary two years ago, we planted an Opalescent Apple tree at Stonebridge Farm in memory of Mr. Osborn, my fifth grade teacher who had died just a few months earlier.  Many years will pass before Mr O’s tree bears fruit in the old orchard beyond the barn, just as many years have passed since planting my first Earth Day garden. When I tend that tree, I remember how Mr. O inspired us to care about the natural world by getting our hands in the soil. He taught us the Earth Day lesson of working together to care for our environment by visualizing the world in which we wanted to live. Even though the grass and flowers didn’t survive long in the high traffic area outside our schoolroom, it didn’t matter because the real seeds had been planted in us.

Ecology stickers I've saved from fifth grade

This Earth Day we’ll celebrate by learning to forage wild plants on our farm. Foraging lends a new perspective on so-called weeds by showing us that plants we overlook or eradicate can have value. Similarly, Earth Day teaches us that we need to look more closely at the earth’s interconnected ecosystems if we are to be good stewards of this planet.

We’ll plant an apple tree too, one John grafted from the branch of a blush apple tree in our farm’s old orchard. That tree probably came from a seed planted by a bird or squirrel or apple fallen from another tree. Since apple trees grown from seeds don’t come true to the parent tree, until we grafted it, our tree may have been the only apple like it in the world. Now this second Stonebridge apple will bear more wine-fleshed fruit born of this place and bringing the past into a future we hope promises harvests for generations to come. 

In fifth grade, I believed that solutions to the world’s environmental problems would be achieved in my lifetime. How naïve I was to underestimate the economic forces that value profit over preservation and the lack of political will to challenge them. The view that the earth is only ours for the harvesting has led us to disregard its limitations. We should all participate in “green” efforts to plant school gardens, recycle our cans and bottles, or eat locally grown organic vegetables as ways to honor the earth as our home, yet actions like these alone will not save the planet. The changes needed to stop further ecological degradation are monumental and our individual efforts so small, it’s hard to see how the tiny seeds of stewardship planted 42 years ago can still grow.

Celebrate Earth Day on April 22 this year by planting a tree—and then join others in the insistence that the environment must not only be protected for ourselves, but for generations as far as we can count. Together we must create a new vision that inspires fresh seeds of environmental activism, one that looks not only at individual actions but at collective intervention in the mounting crisis of our only earth.

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Another New Year

Spring has sprung,

The grass has riz,

I wonder where

The flowers is.

                              –Kayann’s 4th grade poem

January 1st is the beginning of a new year when we make promises for the twelve months to come. But spring brings its own sense of renewal. After winter’s chill, I’m always cheered to find the daffodils naturalizing along the ditch bank in bloom again.

 

 

March was warmer this year than usual, with NO SNOW. I’m capitalizing it because I can’t remember a March without snow here on the Front Range. We’ve always had snow in March, and not just snow but BIG snow, with many wet inches blanketing the ground. Sometimes, March snowstorms close schools and airports. On my 50th birthday three years ago, the snow was so wet and deep, everything shut down. I even had to cancel my birthday plans for chocolate soufflé at Le Central in Denver.

With no snow in March this year, we were a little worried about getting the season off to a good start, so snow two nights ago and a few stray flakes and misty rain yesterday were welcome. Even better, the temperatures didn’t fall low enough to hurt the fruit trees that have already started blossoming. Trees in bloom this time of year hold promises for the season. If we don’t still get a hard frost (entirely likely in April or even early May), we’ll have apples for cider pressing this fall.

The old apple in front of the house

This week’s moisture encouraged the seeds John planted last week to emerge in the spring garden. The sugar, snap, and snow peas have germinated well, pledging many pleasant hours of picking in the pea patch to come (try saying that three times). This Saturday we’ll transplant thousands of alliums—onions and leeks—into the moistened beds. Maturing from stout, grass-like blades to round, juicy globes, alliums spend the longest time of any crop in the ground. Once they’re planted, they ground the season with an assurance of dinners to come.

All this generative growth holds another kind of promise, one transacted between farmers and the earth. If we do our part—planting, watering, weeding, thinning, and harvesting–the soil, water, wind, and sun will do the rest. I think we get the better end of the deal. As we start a new season of renewal, let’s work with spring’s optimism toward potent dreams, garden fresh and ours for the growing.

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Bearing Fruit

What’s green, 41, and more important now than ever? Earth Day! 41 years ago today, my fifth grade class joined thousands of people in celebrating the first Earth Day with hope for a better future for our planet.

But in the last 41 years, the health of the earth hasn’t improved and instead is steadily declining toward environmental—and social—crisis. Activists like Winona LaDuke, whom I saw speak last night at our university, are working to stop the devastation through sustainability projects in their own communities that will inspire change in others. LaDuke is a compelling speaker because she alerts people to the urgency of the problems without projecting doomsday fear, but she realizes the difficulty of shifting our economic paradigm to one measured by progress seven generations from now rather than in quarterly profits.

Forty-one years ago, I was lucky to be a student in Mr. Osborn’s fifth grade class at Scott Elementary in Greeley, Colorado. 1969 and ‘70 were challenging times in this country. Amidst the Vietnam War and the dawning awareness of environmental degradation, sometimes the world seemed a pretty dark place.

But in Mr. Osborn’s fifth grade class, we students felt the hopefulness of a world blooming with new and exciting possibilities. Under Mr. Osborn’s gifted teaching, we fifth graders engaged with important social events of the times in our own youthful way. That April was the first Earth Day, and to celebrate this momentous occasion, our class decided to plant a garden and grass outside our building where we then had nothing but dirt.

A few years ago, I made a digital story about our Earth Day project to remember that time as the seed of my own environmental advocacy. You can watch my video “Flowers Are Better Than Bullets” at vimeo.com/kayannshort/flowersarebetter.

After I finished the video, I decided to send it to Mr. Osborn to let him know how much he had influenced my life for the better. I wasn’t certain he was still in Greeley but I found his and his wife’s names in the directory, sent off the DVD, and kept my fingers crossed.

Three weeks later, I got a letter from Mr. Osborn. That was one of the happiest days of my life. I was amazed that he remembered me after 24 years of teaching hundreds of students—but that’s the kind of teacher he was. He made each student feel important because to him, they were. We continued to correspond and I visited him at his home, where he joked in that familiar way about retirement and getting older.

A little over a year ago, Mr. Osborn passed away. To commemorate his teaching of Earth Day lessons, I asked people at his memorial service to plant a tree on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day last year. We planted one here at our farm, an Opalescent apple tree to remember Mr. O, as he was often called.

Opalescent Apple for Mr. O

This morning I walked out to check on Mr. Osborn’s tree and found a few leaves newly unfurling. We had a terribly cold and dry winter, followed by a cold and windy spring, but the Opalescent seems to have come through just fine. Our other apples are slow to bud but that’s preferable to budding too early and freezing from a late hard frost. It will be many years before Mr. O’s tree gives us apples but we’ll wait. Just as he hoped that his fifth graders would one day grow up to care about the world about them, we hope that our work will continue to bear fruit seven generations from now.

It’s not easy to celebrate Earth Day this year as news about the nuclear disaster in Japan, the first anniversary of the BP spill in the Gulf, the approval of new Genetically Modified crops, and contamination of land and water with oil and gas production fill our media spaces. But even amidst this destruction, small plants are coming up in the greenhouse, the trees are leafing, and the air after a rain still smells good. Let’s keep going in the knowledge that the cycles of our seasons will continue and the hope that our best efforts will yield exactly what we need.

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