Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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Why Everyone Talks About the Weather

It came to me in a flash while getting up before dawn one cold, dry, winter day – Why everyone talks about the weather because,



The human brain has been fine tuned since the dawn of time to be concerned about the weather. Evolutionary biology would suggest that the minds and brains most tuned to the weather were the ones who survived. No rain = no game for the hunter– gatherer. Too much rain flushes your village, wipes out crops. When you are tuned in you follow the heard or move camp before the flood.

Generation after generation attention to the weather was a daily task. Sensing the moisture content of the air, the direction of the winds, the type of cloud formations began to shape the brain into a genetically tuned weather gage as the generations passed.

Weather Prediction

How tuned are you to the world around you, to the weather, to the climate? If there were no weather report and no weather satellites, could you learn to predict the weather? This is a good exercise for the preppers and permaculturists alike. To predict the weather you must study:

• Clouds
• Winds
• Colors in the atmosphere, morning, noon and night
• The light around celestial bodies
• Smells,
• Animal behavior

Clouds at Efffigy Mounds

Back before the internet when we read more books, I remember reading about South Sea Islanders who could predict arrival of the arrival or the great sailing ships three weeks out based on their observations of the waves.

There was a navigator on the Big Island of Hawaii during the 16th century named Paka’a. "Paka'a was trained to read signs and knew how to manage a canoe in the ocean, out of sight of land. He knew how to tell when the sea would be calm, when there would be a tempest in the ocean, and when there would be great billows. He observed the stars, the rainbow colors at the edges of the stars, the way they twinkled, their red glowing, the dimming of the stars in a storm, the reddish rim on the clouds, the way in which they move, the lowering of the sky, the heavy cloudiness, the gales, the blowing of the ho'olua wind, the a'e wind from below, the whirlwind, and the towering billows of the sea"

Some of the first questions I hear every day coming from the other side of the bed are: “is it cold out?” or “is it going to be hot?” or “is it raining?" and so it goes.

Floods and droughts plague us to this day. Now, we realize that our activities affect the weather on a global scale and our survival as a species hangs in the balance.

We need to balance to survive. Read more from MOTHER EARTH NEWS on these topics:

Why Life Exists on Earth: A New Perspective on Carbon Emissions

Zoned Out, Part 2: What's Your Plant Hardiness Zone?.

When to Plant What: Handy Charts for Garden Planning.


Non-Instrument Weather Forecasting

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


solo bumblebee

Sometimes they bumble, sometimes they buzz, but they are all relatively small, fast-flying, and pollen-covered creatures responsible for pollinating three-quarters of all flowering plants in North America. They are our native bees. These native bees, of which there are approximately 4,000 different species, are not to be confused with the non-native honeybee, Apis mellifera, introduced in the 1600s from Europe. Honeybees have been the hallmark of modern industrial agriculture, but are now the subject of population health concerns due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

Unlike Apis mellifera, native bees do not necessarily nest socially or produce honey. They are, however, critical pollinators of our native trees, shrubs, flowers, and crops, such as pumpkins, blueberries, and cranberries, making them a crucial component of North America’s ecosystems. Research on more than 50 species of native bumblebees reveals they also are experiencing a decrease in population and the reasons are not completely clear. Since most of our native bees are solitary, their decline is not linked to CCD but is likely due to habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, competition with other bees, and deforestation. These native bees support the botanical diversity of North America and without them flowering plant populations would plummet, quickly. No pollination, no fruit, nor seeds, means no regeneration of many native plants.

Luckily for bird lovers and gardeners, native bees have one important need in common with our feathered friends--access to healthy native habitat. So, when you are planning your gardens this year, thinking about what would be best for birds, you’ll also be thinking about our native bees.

bees on flowers

You can support bees by:

• Eliminating areas of your yard covered in non-native lawn or plants.
• Adding more native flowering trees, shrubs or flowers.
• Finding less toxic ways to manage your pest problems by avoiding chemical pesticides or using very few chemicals.
• Building a bee-house, or leaving bare ground for bees to nest in.

In return, the bees will continue to provide crucial pollination services to plants we all enjoy. It is estimated that native bees provide about $3 billion annually in pollination services to the U.S. economy. Native bees are truly the unsung heroes of our habitats. Take care of the bees and they will take care of the plants. The plants that life on this terrestrial planet depend on for survival.

Interested In Raising Honeybees? Plan Now.

Raising honeybees, which are non-native but provide excellent pollination and delicious honey, can be a rewarding experience for a home gardener.  Your best bet for ensuring pollination in your gardens is to plant native plants.  However, if you love honey, beeswax, bee pollen, and the joy of watching social bees, raising your own might be a great option.  January, February, and March are the ideal times to plan, purchase, and setup an area for bees.


Many flowers start blooming in late March.  It is best to have a hive ready to go at the beginning of the flowering season to help maximize the bees' chances of establishing successfully. For more information on raising bees and purchasing equipment, visit the websites below. Many of these companies can ship nationally, but purchasing bees adapted to your region is recommended.

Some suppliers sell out of equipment or bee colonies, so consider ordering soon.

1. Northeast: Better Bee

2. Southeast: Miller Bee Supply or Brushy Mountain Bee Farm

3. Midwest: Heartland Honey Bee Keeping Supply

4. Northwest: Ruhl Bee Supply

5. Southwest: Bee Keeping Supply

(This list is not exclusive; search the Internet for more options, locally and nationally.)

To learn more about pollinators, native plants, and gardening, visit us at YardMap or follow us on Facebook.

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


Neighborhood Micro Nurseries

I share this with the hope that others might be inspired to do the same or, if they’ve done this already, to share what they’ve done and how it’s worked.

We are creating two neighborhood micro-nurseries to raise plants that will be shared with neighbors for years to come. This is part of our 'Edible 'Hood' program, which is dedicated to creating a food oasis in our socio-economically diverse neighborhood.

Seed Money

We recently received $1,000 from the Pollination Project to purchase, share, and plant tree guilds in our neighborhood this coming spring. Our first two nurseries are the second phase and natural outgrowth of that gift which will allow us to raise diverse plants including production (fruit and nut) trees, nitrogen fixers, medicinals, insectories, and nutrient accumulators right in our neighborhood. Over time, as we select seed and raise the best specimens, these plants will be uniquely adapted to our neighborhood's environment. Or, as our friend and collaborator Neil Bertrando put it, we are creating “locally adapted genetics”.

Each year we will be able to harvest trees to give away to neighbors thus creating a neighborhood-scale food forest as well as fostering personal relationships, the glue of community. Furthermore, as our nursery and food forest grow and thrive at our urban permaculture homestead, it will serve as a great teaching tool and model for what is possible for others' homes. Little by little, guild by guild, over years to come, we will share plants and permaculture with a diverse urban population.

One nursery will go in our backyard, the other three houses down. With two sites so close together we'll be able to closely monitor and manage the nurseries. The second nursery will be in the tender care of Roberto and Sandra (both experienced gardeners from Guatemala) and their amazing 13-year old son, Jose (who loves to garden and grow trees from seed and pick fruit from trees he's scouted out on his bike and help us dig potatoes...did I mention he's just 13!). Together we'll be on our way to creating a more food, habitat, and friendship-rich neighborhood.

Like the Idea and Want to Help?

After crunching the numbers both nurseries can be started for a total of $400. We started a We the Trees campaign to meet that goal. If we raise more than that, we will purchase more bare root plants to give us a head-start on growth. Monies raised will be used for seeds, bare-root plants, and high-efficiency drip irrigation equipment.

We are partnering with Loping Coyote Farm & RT Permaculture, and River School Farm for this nursery project.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen helps run the Be the Change Project, an urban homestead and learning center dedicated to service and simplicity and rooted in Integral Nonviolence. BTC was inspired by the Possibility Alliance in Missouri and was one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Homesteaders of the Year in 2013. They operate on the gift economy and their homestead, within view of the neon lights of downtown Reno, is electricity, fossil-fuel, and car free.

The photo is of Katy, Susan, Weston, and kids after helping to plant over 100 trees and plants on one property in the 'hood during a work-bee.

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


Bamboo Flooring: The Green Alternative for Your Home

When my husband and I moved to a larger home, to accommodate our growing family, we decided to replace the ratty carpet in all three of the bedrooms with hardwood floors. Hardwood is easier to keep clean, more allergy resistant than the carpeting and we have always loved the beauty of wood. I remember attending a home improvement show and for the first time we heard about the concept of bamboo flooring. Bamboo? We had a discussion with a vendor there and were intrigued, but skeptical. Remember that this was almost 20 years ago, just when bamboo was coming into the flooring market as a viable alternative. I think when people think of bamboo, they don’t think of a strong durable product. People are conditioned to believe that the strong products must come from a strong tree like the mighty oak. Our skepticism was there at the time; we ended up installing beautiful laminate planking with an oak veneer. To this day, they look absolutely beautiful, but sometimes I often wonder about the possibilities with bamboo.

Recently, bamboo flooring has become more readily available on the market. It has been available for about 20 years, but has become more popular and a sought after “green” product just in the last 5 to 10 years. It has developed into a versatile, economical and definitely a green product: helping our earth in a multitude of ways.

First, bamboo is considered the fastest growing plant on earth and can be harvested for use in as early as 5 to 7 years. This contrasts greatly with many of the hardwoods, like oaks, that require 60 years before maturity.

Second, bamboo provides 30 percent more oxygen than a hardwood forest on the same area. It also helps to improve watersheds, prevent erosion, and helps to remove toxins from contaminated soil.

To find out more information about the possibilities, and options available with bamboo flooring I went to a local flooring company in my area: Century Tile. While there, I spoke with a very helpful and knowledgeable salesperson, Sarah Heide. Sarah explained to me the use of the Janka Hardness scale for wood flooring. The Janka scale is the industry standard for gauging the ability of various species to tolerate normal wear and tear. On this scale, Red Oak measured 1290, compared to bamboo which measured 1650. When processed to be used as flooring, bamboo is very resilient and easy to keep clean. The high hardness factor is achieved by adding several, thin layers of aluminum oxide (a tough ceramic coating).

With it’s high ranking of hardness, bamboo flooring is very durable. Yet, drastic temperature fluctuations can cause problems with the wood warping or gaping. Sarah, at Century Tile, explained to me that if a floor is put into a home that is sometimes vacant during the winter months, and the temperature drops dramatically, then this might cause problems with the wood. So when making the decision as to installing bamboo or another type of flooring, usage of the floor should be taken into consideration.

Bamboo is a viable option to traditional hardwoods and helps to provide a green alternative. One would think that since the wood can be more readily harvested that the price of bamboo would be less expensive, unfortunately that is not always the case. Sarah reminded me that the transportation costs from overseas have to be added into the cost of the product. Nevertheless, the cost for bamboo is not too much higher than a high quality hardwood floor; the added durability and longevity might balance the odds.

For more information about bamboo & some beautiful examples of bamboo in the home, check out Bamboo Flooring Facts.

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


Our Be the Change Project is small-scale and locally-focused. We do a lot of gardening, teaching about and tinkering with appropriate technologies, experimenting with simple living, and doing service in our area to help our community thrive. In the past few months we have had the great pleasure of employing two “tools” to help make our dreams of a more connected, more just, more fruitful, and more fun world.


The first is the Kickstarter of the Permaculture world called, We the Trees. Like Kickstarter, Indiegogo or other crowd-funding sites, We the Trees offers a platform to share projects and get funded. The difference is that it focuses on Permaculture or Green-themed projects from raising money to attend a Permaculture Design Course to purchasing a solar oven for a non-profit. An added bonus is that the site was started by friends of ours (one of whom, Christian Shearer, created the Panya Project in Thailand) and any money generated by the site (they take a 9 percent cut, like other crowdfunding sites) supports good people doing good work. We are currently using We the Trees to raise money for our first two Neighborhood Micro Nurseries (look for another blog post about that soon).  Check out our effort at We the Trees.

The second “tool” is not really a tool per se but an organization that provides seed money to small start-up projects.  The Pollination Project gives away $1,000 every day to social change agents whose projects focus on community, permaculture, arts, leadership development, and so on throughout the world.  We found out about them from two friends and since we received a Pollination Project grant for our “Edible Hood Program” another friend of ours has also gotten funded. Amazing!


Check out both of these tools and good luck being the change in your neck of the woods.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen is an urban homesteader who runs the Be the Change Project in Reno, NV with his wife and two young sons.  Their home is electricity, fossil fuel and car-free.  Kyle is also an avid natural builder offering a great three-week workshop this summer. Find out all about it at House Alive.

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


I have read several articles recently from a variety of sources about green living, reducing footprints, and sustainability. Most recently and perhaps most sadly, I read that 2014 was the hottest year on record. None of the articles, however, have mentioned one of the greatest ways, in my opinion, of creating positive change in the world. Voluntary Poverty is a far more fundamental and effective way to decrease consumption and impact while increasing connection and improving life all around. Our family of four lives on about $7,000 a year (less this year) and our lives are more enjoyable, fuller, richer, healthier, more inspiring to others, and more interesting to ourselves. (Note: for comparison, the poverty level as set by the government for a family of four is around $22,000). This is nothing new of course; sages and mystics have been sharing the joys and even the necessity of voluntary poverty and simplicity for eons. This article is simply my two cents as a modern day American.

Katy in the $30 greenhouse.jpg

Voluntary Poverty Has to Be a Choice

Being poor, for most folks, is truly awful. But that is very different from choosing voluntary poverty. Voluntary Poverty needs to be a lifestyle choice rooted in care for the earth and each other with a great awareness of our serious global challenges and our roles in causing them. And, voluntary poverty is for those of us in a position to choose it. For example, my wife and I are white, well-educated, healthy, American citizens who were raised in loving families. In every way in this time and place we have the world at our fingertips - we were born on third base. And, because we know what our American corporate and consumerist lifestyles do to people on the other side of the tracks - be they in our country or, more commonly these days, abroad - we feel a responsibility to choose another path that is as life-affirming and as sustainable as we can make it while still remaining connected and participating in our native culture.

When I bring up voluntary poverty in groups and talks there is often an uncomfortable stirring among the participants. This is to be expected as we have all been raised in a culture of scarcity, where we are expected to be go-getters and not go-givers, where the “American Dream” and our entire cultural myth rests of the pursuit of wealth, comfort, and satisfaction through stuff. Listen to the news and it is plain as day: being a good American means being a good, active consumer. Many others have told how we’ve gotten here much better than I can. What I can offer is what we do as one family in response to the destructive systems all around us.

Creating Contexts

One of the most helpful tools at our disposal is creating contexts or environments that support how we want to live in the world. This is a huge step in that every time you can alter your environment, your foundations, a context, in your life, you no longer have to rely on willpower to push your way towards a life of greater authenticity. Here’s an example I’ve used before: We live without electricity. It doesn’t come into our home. Our meter has been removed. We have created an environment that starts at zero electricity. Why we do this is, on the one hand, to withdraw support from Big Energy (think coal mining, acid rain, oil tankers, wealth inequality, and so on) as well as limit the amount of cheap electric consumer goods (made in China, out of plastic…) that we’d inevitably welcome if our outlets supplied the juice. On the other hand, we are moving towards more and deeper connection with ourselves and with nature and spirit (the seasons, our natural biorhythms, light and dark, long rests in winter, time outside, plants and animals…). Living this way is so lovely I generally choke-up about it when I share this with others. Oh, and we also don’t have an electricity bill. So, without the switch and the plug right there calling me to use them, I don’t. Just by preventing electricity from entering our home we have brought our lives so much more in alignment with our values. For us this means a huge increase in our quality of life and a much lower impact on our precious earth.

The same is true, more so even because it is so foundational, for choosing Voluntary Poverty as a context. We purposefully do not make much money. We could - we’re both college educated and beyond with a variety of skills and long and successful job histories – but we don’t. With our limited bills, money for our gardens and animal care, home upkeep and improvement, educational opportunities, clothes and stuff for our children, transportation (gas if we borrow a car, the occasional bus and train fares…), bike tires, gifts, books…we make and use a little below $7,000 a year. By having less money to live on (and no savings), a host of feedback loops kick into motion. Here’s a list:

• We are more creative with our use of resources. We cannot run to Home Depot every time we need a part so we Scavenge for them, cultivate patience with projects, ask around and rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle creating greater connections at each step.
• We are healthier. We bike, we garden, we don’t stress over jobs, we eat organic food, we play, we cultivate our hobbies, we live much more in tune with the seasons (no electricity), we live more slowly, use the light from beeswax candles, and on and on…
• We are wealthy in time. We have taken up instruments, developed our craftsmanship from pottery to natural building and permaculture. We also spend a lot of time with our kids!
• We are connected in our community. We are free to do our “work” and host community dinners, help neighbors start gardens, offer art classes for kids, make murals, orchestrate community improvement projects, distribute food and clothing, host workshops…We also have a network around our home that can help tend our place (gardens, animals) when we are away. It’s also amazing what shows up when you are available to receive, use, and share it: our little Be the Change project gives away over $200,000 worth of clothing each year from donations from the Common Threads program of the Patagonia company.
• We support the Gift Economy. Everyone loves to share their gifts and once the gift snowball gets rolling it keeps getting bigger and faster.
• We are home a lot! This means time with our kids, with my wife, our neighbors, friends, and folks who drop in. It means connection with land and seasons, too, at a local and personal level.
• We live more sustainably. Less consumption, more food growing, increased soil health and better habitat, less travel, passive solar heating and lighting, masonry wood heater, solar oven, locally-sourced wood, great use of salvaged materials, natural building and renovations using local clay and sand, greywater system, composting, great use of the urban the waste stream…
• Our lifestyles are less supportive of war. Very little of the money we generate goes to the government because we don’t pay income tax. There are estimates that the US government spends nearly half of every tax dollar on war (source: War Resisters League). Also, we use a very small amount of fossil fuels (in motors, from electricity generation, from consumer activity and stuff getting transported to us…) which are so linked to war.
• We are less supportive of extractive capitalism and the inherent inequalities it supports.
• We ask for help as we need it which connects us to neighbors and friends and encourages the gift economy.
• We are freer! We also unschool our kids so can take off on vacations or visits throughout the year.

This is a radical step that is hard to start but, year-by-year, less challenging to maintain. Speaking from experience, it has great rewards that far surpass the material rewards of lots of income. 

If you choose this path, good luck and keep in touch.  It’s nice to have a supportive tribe in such an endeavor.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the “Be the Change Project” with his wife and two young sons in Reno, Nevada. BTC is an urban homestead and learning center dedicated to service and simplicity and rooted I integral nonviolence. They were honored as one of Mother Earth News’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Check out their upcoming three-week cob/natural building workshop at House Alive!

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


Feathers In Car

Below is an excerpt from the opening chapter of Natasha’s book, The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming:

The long, lone road stretches out in front of me and Lucille’s steering wheel feels sturdy under my grip. Dust from the farm road flies off of her windshield and the wind stirs all the beads and feathers hanging from her rearview. We glow together in the light of the setting sun, heading south to the next farm…

...After four consecutive months driving across this country, I have driven almost 15,000 miles, traveled through 16 states, laid my head in 49 different places, interviewed 53 farmers and taken roughly 3,500 photographs. It’s been quite a journey. And it’s not over yet.

I never would have imagined that my desire to dig in the dirt would lead me here, digging instead into the stories of farmers of color across America—Black, Latina, Native, and Asian farmers and food activists. All I wanted to do when this all started [five] years ago was grow food, know exactly where my food was coming from, and live more in tune with the Earth.

But as I began to feel rooted in my life as someone who worked the land, I quickly realized all the cultural and historic baggage that came with that. My father’s ancestors worked in the fields as slaves, in fact they were slaves owned by my mother’s ancestors. I’m literally the product of ownership and oppression reuniting, as if to rewrite the story. So when I ended up in the fields myself, I felt deeply conflicted. It was as if all of my feelings about my family history and this country’s agricultural history were converging at once. It was as if my agrarian story was already written.

The Color Of Food 

Many people ask me what inspired the creation of my photographic storytelling project, now turned book, The Color of Food. My answer always starts off with, “Well, I was just a girl who wanted to farm and then…” And it’s that ‘and then’ which brings them on a very personal journey with me. To these curious folks I always launch into explaining how, after joining the food movement and the beautifully crunchy calvary of organic farmers picking up the pitchfork nationwide, I instantly felt more alive and connected to the earth than I ever had. I had found my path.

But at the very same time, I also began to question whether I, and other people like me, belonged on the farm. As a young woman of color, the food and agricultural industry — crunchy, organic, or not — didn’t seem to represent me, or other communities of color. Nor, for the most part, did the farmer and activist movements working to bring change to the industry. My heart sank with the realization that this was yet another arena communities of color were being excluded from.

But then, within, something lit up. Whenever I pushed seeds into the earth with my hands; when I bit into a freshly harvested tomato from the vine; when I knelt in the sun watching the sweat drip from my brow to the black soil below, I felt a pull to discover a deeper truth. It was a truth that recognized the historical inequities in agriculture and the food system for communities of color, but also carried beautiful legacies resiliently persisting in our communities.

It was a shining promise that if I began to dig with open eyes, I could unearth an agrarian story far different than the one I was seeing for people of color. It was a story where food deserts, farm labor or the history of oppressive sharecropping and slavery didn’t define us. It was a reminder — no, a validation — that stewarding this land and eating the diet of my ancestors was indeed a path laid out for me, for all of us.

This promise of truth tugging at me on the farm is how I ended up out on the road digging for answers. This, I always conclude, is how I found myself living out of a 1990 Oldsmobile station wagon during the second-hottest year on record toting my Canon, pen and notebook around from farm to farm, traveling from the red-clay farms of the Black South to the desert farms of the Navajo Nation.

This is the story of The Color of Food and I hope you’ll join me as I share its lessons, reflections, and inspirations along with my continued experiences as a brown girl farming.

Photo by Natasha Bowens

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

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