Tag Archives: environmental

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. 

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.

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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Fresh in February

I bought a head of lettuce yesterday, something I haven’t done for years. We grow our own most of the time and when we don’t have lettuce in winter, we usually can find some other green like fall-planted spinach or wintered-over chard or kale to provide something fresh for our meals.

But yesterday the spinach was deep under row cover and snow. I could have foraged for some leaves but I didn’t want to disturb its sleep. Better to let it rest under its blanket until the snow thaws and the days warm up again.

We also normally have greens growing in our smaller unheated greenhouse this time of year, but that building is being renovated right now. Nothing for a salad is growing in the construction zone. So I went to our thirty-year-old local natural food store and purchased a lovely head of organic lettuce.

The Bluehouse renovation with salvaged glass

We were having a guest for dinner; I had planned to put spinach in the lasagna, as I usually do, and to make a spinach salad with our own sundried tomatoes as well. I could go without the spinach in the former but couldn’t completely give up the latter.  I wanted something fresh, despite February’s chill. Remember American Pie: “February made me shiver, with every paper I delivered”? February is the month that can go either way—sun warmed or frigid cold, on any particular day. We’ve had plenty of snow and low temps so far but not like last year when schools closed because of below-zero temperatures. I grew up here and so did my daughter but never did we get a Too Cold Day off from school.

My mother and me sledding in 1965

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future of farming in terms of efficiency vs ecology. We’ve just lost the fight against GMO crops on our county open space land and pro-GMO advocates and their big backers are organizing to influence the upcoming county commissioners race. Organic farmers and organic consumers are small potatoes, so to speak, in the world of Big Ag. Even the biggest organic producers still maintain a very small part of the overall market.

It’s not just being smaller, though, that makes us less efficient. Being sustainable—and I mean that in the environmental sense, not the co-opted financial sense purported by the ag industry—brings a commitment to ecology that precludes some kinds of efficiencies such as chemical inputs, i.e., synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides.

Another efficiency, monocropping, lessens plant diversity and, even more worrisome, the rush to patent all forms of seeds threatens to diminish even the continuance of plant availability. Loosing diversity will bring untold vulnerabilities to our food systems—think Irish potato famine—as well as increased dependency on food and seed monopolies.

None of that is ecological. Industrial agriculture doesn’t support a balanced ecosystem in which farmers work within natural systems as closely as possible to produce food that is healthy and nutritious while preserving soil, water, and air for future generations. Further, the efficiency imperative puts more and more power in the hands of a few biochemical companies, increasing costs for small farmers that is already driving them out of business. It may increase efficiency—bringing down the cost of raising food but not necessarily of food itself– until the point that vulnerabilities to unforeseen consequences (the rise of resistant diseases, for example) or uncontrollable circumstances (our increasingly volatile weather patterns) overwhelm the system.

It’s complex but thinking about how efficiency and ecology can overlap, both on small, organic farms and in the larger scale of agriculture, is helpful to me. Next week John and I are going to the Colorado Big and Small conference. That says it all. How can the actions of Big not threaten the existence of Small? And can Small become any bigger without subscribing to the problems inherent in Big? We’d all like to think we can work together as “good neighbors,” but the stakes seem to be getting pretty high. I’m just not down with world domination of seeds, no matter how efficient that may seem. We’ll see what people have to say.

February is a transition month. Our small starts in the big greenhouse look good, our members are sending appreciative notes, and we’re excited to get back into the fields.  A new season always brings promise. That’s the encouraging thing about ecological farming. We’ll get our “bluehouse” rebuilt and grow some winter greens; the spring will come around; and we’ll get a fresh start once again.

PS Did you notice that today’s date is palindromic?

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A First Week of Firsts: 2012

The chickens started laying again this week after a couple months off. We got our first egg on Jan 2 and our second egg on Jan 5, quite possibly from the same chicken, but the others should follow before too long.

We don’t light our chicken house because we think it’s good for the hens to follow their natural cycles and take a break when the days get short. I once asked a group of students what natural phenomenon determines when chickens lay eggs during the year and one thoughtful student (whom I imagine was a woman) wrote, “They start their cycles in the spring and go through menopause every fall”! Imagine menopause on a yearly basis! The answer is the amount of daylight but maybe mini-menopause is accurate in its own way.

Another first this week was spotting a bald eagle over the meadow yesterday. I noticed a very large, dark bird flying overhead with a flash of yellow and pointed it out to Peter and John, who were taking stock of our materials pile for an upcoming building project. John said he thought he saw its white head and Peter, a birder, said it flew like an eagle rather than a turkey vulture and that it would have to be a mature bald eagle to have a white head. I’m not sure whether the yellow flash I saw was its beak or the sun on its head but it was a thrill to know an eagle is circling Stonebridge in this new year.

This week has been warm, in the 60s, which is a high temperature for Colorado’s Front Range in January but not terribly unusual. I’ve been wanting to take a little drive in the mountains; with such nice weather, yesterday was the day for my trip. The sky was clear and the afternoon sun on the peaks magnificent. I couldn’t quite capture it because I couldn’t quite reach it—the highway just didn’t take me close enough yesterday. Here’s a pic from the pull-off where tourists stop to take their photos with the Estes Park sign. I thought about erasing the yellow curve markers but that’s the reality of a mountain highway—lots of signs to tell you what to do and how to act in the natural world.

With the warm weather, the ground has thawed a bit so this afternoon John and I dug some leftover carrots for winter meals. They look fresh and will taste good tonight with our lentil walnut burgers.

Walking back to the house, we heard the shriek of red-tailed hawks and then some sounds we hadn’t heard before, like squealing more than cries. We saw a pair of snowy winged red-tails circling each other in what might be a mating dance and then they both dove to the earth, perhaps to “have a moment,” as John said. I don’t know the mating habits of red-tails but I loved hearing their banter on this clear January day.

 

 

Snow comes tomorrow, ending our lovely warm first week. As Front Range farmers always say, we need the moisture, so snow is not unwelcome. John’s laying in wood and I’m taking stock of the New Year, loving the slower pace of a January retired and revitalized for what comes next.

 

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Dig Dig Grow Grow

Our favorite tool around Stonebridge Farm is the hori, a 12”-long,  wooden-handled tool with a sturdy blade that comes to a dull point and is serrated along one edge. Japanese in origin, its name hori hori translates as “dig dig,” and that’s one of the tasks this tool is perfect for in the garden when you need smaller holes for transplanting vegetable or flower starts.

We also love a hori for hand-weeding small emerging weeds, furrowing a line for seeds, or digging out the roots of taller weeds like thistles or mullein. At around $35 apiece, horis are an investment but well worth it. Just be sure to wrap the handle with brightly colored tape in case you lay it down in tall grass. When we head out to the fields with a crew, we always bring our bucket of horis because chances are, we’ll need them, no matter what the task.

A heavy rainstorm delighted us with inches of moisture last night, so today was the perfect time for working in the gardens. I used my hori to dig out clumps of grass in the roses, weed small thistles from the herb garden, and transplant errant shoots of spearmint into a sparse bed that winter temperatures and small rodents had diminished.

Late June is wonderful for taking stock of the fields because by now you can see what has germinated, what needs replacing, what needs thinning, and what needs weeding. All the high summer crops—tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, cucumbers, and summer squash–have been seeded or transplanted into long beds and are loving the moisture from the rain. That means the weeds do too, but at this moment, with everything green and fresh, even the weeds are part of the verdant landscape and seem less threatening now than in July’s dry heat.

I dreamed recently of watching a tiny plant stalk growing outward, unfurling a new green shoot right before my eyes, like a time-lapsed film but in real time instead. I’ve noticed many such signals lately, all telling me that my decision to quit a job I’ve nurtured for 17 years is the right one. At 52, it’s time to take my hori and head to new fields and interests. I’m digging in fertile ground again, not knowing exactly what I’ll harvest but eager to see what will grow here.

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