Nature and Environment

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

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The Osthoff Resort on Elkhart Lake

What a difference a few miles makes. Just 33 miles northeast of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR held in West Bend, awaits one of Wisconsin’s natural treasures: Elkhart Lake.

There’s no surprise why the community is named after its pristine 292-acre Elkhart Lake, first settled by the Potawatomi tribe, naming the lake after they found it resembled the shape of an elk’s heart. By the 1880s, vacationers from Chicago and St. Louis arrived by train to be entranced by the tranquil and spring-fed azure waters.

The popular Osthoff Resort opened in 1886, with travelers arriving with steamer trunks in tow. Thanks to the preservation of the area’s Old World charm over the years, the Osthoff Resort and many other establishments continue to thrive to this day. At times, I felt as if I was on Mackinac Island with the white facades of the buildings and tidy gardens.

Don’t be fooled by the internationally renowned motor racing also found here. The road races used to snake right through town before being moved to the Road America racetrack southeast of the village. Outside of race times, though, this place is every bit the refuge for generations of families escaping the summertime heat.

So come early or linger for a few days after the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in West Bend and cool off at Elkhart Lake. Explore some of the spectacular natural areas, savor farm-to-table meals or relax at an eco-spa at the Osthoff Resort.

Recreation and Restoration

Thanks to the beautiful glacier-sculpted countryside, there’s more than one way to take it all in. You might hike part of the Kettle Morraine State Park, bicycle the 17-mile Old Plank Road Trail, or ply the calm waters of the lake in a canoe, kayak or on a stand up paddleboard.

Start your exploration of the 30,000 acres of the Kettle Moraine State Park at the Ice Age Visitor's Center. Naturalists there can help you figure out which of the 100 trails might be best for you after you learn about how the glaciers transformed the area. A section of the Age Age Trail in the LaBudde Creek State Fishery Area is but few minutes drive from the village.

 Aspira Spa's meditation room

After exploring the outdoors, leave some time to restore yourself and become “infused with spirit.” That’s the name given to the Osthoff Resort’s acclaimed Aspira Spa. Aspira’s holistic approach to the spa experience — with massages that go by the names of Sacred Waters, Moroccan Hot Oil, Cedars and Chakra Balancing — is perfectly balanced by the soothing feng shui design of the facility itself.

Capturing the healing wisdom from indigenous peoples from around the world, many of the personalized massages and other treatments available also draw from local flora or the lake water.

Start or finish your spa experience in the Meditation Sanctuary, in one of the lounges or the shared lounge with whirlpool. Right down to the provided robes and slippers made with organic cotton, women’s and men’s relaxation rooms and yoga classes, every detail helps achieve inner peace, relaxation and bliss. My deep-tissue therapeutic massage session was just the beginning to my four-hour experience at Aspira. (Spa guests can stay as long as they wish prior to or after their massage or treatment.)

Lodging and Farm-to-Table Cuisine

Overlooking Elkhart Lake, the stunningly remodeled and Travel Green Wisconsin-certified Osthoff Resort provides luxurious all-suite rooms, complete with a kitchen. The resort has taken numerous steps to be energy efficient and reduce waste. Most noteworthy is the on-premise growing fields that supply the resort’s restaurants — and L’ecole de la Maison Cooking School — with fresh produce and herbs.

Besides swimming along the shoreline, kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and other watercraft are for rent. There’s even scheduled bonfires through the week, s’mores included.

Cooking School at The Osthoff Resort 

If learning a new skill in the kitchen while savoring the dishes you create sounds like fun, don’t miss Executive Chef Scott Baker’s 5-hour course on French Cuisine where you’ll be making a roux like never before. The lively course is both hands-on and delicious, where the attentive chef and assistants coach you through the preparation of a delicious meal you share together after the preparations are done.

Despite being a small town of just over 1,000 year-round residents, Elkhart Lake is a tour de force in culinary experiences, perhaps owing this honor to both the generations of families and auto race fans who return every year during the summertime months.

One farm-to-table restaurant not to miss is Chef Lynn Chisholm’s Paddock Club, featuring a seasonal menu seeped in European culinary traditions. Dishes include handmade spaghetti bolognese, Paddock burger sliders topped with short ribs braised in red wine and frizzled onions. Dessert might include a snickerdoodle crème brulee.

Paddock Club's signature burger 

“We buy local produce and stick to the seasons,” explains Chisholm, who has been operating the Paddock Club with some of her family members since 2007.  “We let the ingredients speak for themselves.” They sing, actually, thanks to Chisholm’s abilities as a “culinary translator.” With an open kitchen design for the restaurant, you can watch the action from the bar.

Another solid dining back-up is the lively Lake Street Café, offering creative and fresh California bistro-style fare all made from scratch. You can dine formal with white linen and candles or join the more casual bustle in the bar. John and Lynn Shovan pride themselves both on the quality of their cuisine and the depth and breadth of their wine selections. “Our focus is not on the chef, but the recipes and cooking from scratch,” says Lynn Shovan.

Getting around the historic village of Elkhart Lake can be easily done on foot, where you can browse the gift or antique shops, or pick up a bottle of wine.  Award-winning sommelier and Vintage Elkhart Lake owner, Jaclyn Stuart, can guide your selection of that perfect bottle of wine or some of the many other regionally-made products she sells.

For organic provisions for a picnic, head to SainRx Organic Juice Bar for made-to-order juices, fresh, seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs for sandwiches, or grab-and-go salads.  Finally, the newly restored Gessert’s Ice Cream and Confectionary can help keep you cool with an old fashioned ice cream soda when you’re not splashing about in the lake, just as it has done for nearly a century of summer vacationers.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to MOTHER EART NEWS, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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.


Let’s start with a question for you:What do you know about Cougars?

Actually, even scientists have known little about cougars until very recently. Once the most widespread large carnivore of North and South America, it was driven from its homelands in the eastern United States by the Europeans who settled there. If a cougar was spotted, it was shot. And their major prey, the deer were almost systematically eliminated as well. That was the past.


What About Today?

The Cougars are attempting to return to their homeland in the East. Any number of young males, often only a year or two old, and leaving their mother for the first time, are attempting to head east out of the Black Hills in South Dakota.

The Black Hills was one of the first places the cougars found refuge as they traveled out from their remote retreats in the Rockies.  But as they take their precarious journey to the unknown, all of them have been killed by our species — a repeat of the past. These are all young males seeking a female, but will never find her.

Why? Female cougars tend to stay close to home, near the territory of their mother.

There was one male that somehow against all odds made it all the way from the Black Hills of South Dakota, to Connecticut only to be killed by a speeding automobile. He it is that let us know that they can do it! You can read his story in this marvelous book, Heart of a Lion by the outstanding author William Stolzenburg. What is excellent in this book though is the author’s detailed history of what happened to cougars when the Europeans arrived.

It is so important to have this wider perspective if we are going to hand down to our children a far more respectful relationship with this important carnivore.

The cougars will return, and we have to educate ourselves in how to live and farm with them. Fear and ignorance drove the behavior of those who came before us. Respect and understanding must drive our behavior, for our children are watching us.

A fellow biologist recently remarked concerning the return of the Cougar: “We as scientists must prepare our people better for the cougar, than we did for the Coyote.” Fear and ignorance are very powerful, and in our society today we have the even greater capacity to respond to that fear in a negative manner.

So I encourage you to educate yourself about cougars. Here is a valuable book that I recommend: Cougar Ecology and Conservation edited by Maurice Hornocker and Sharon Negri, and an excellent film showing the Secret Life of the Cougar


One thing that stands out in all the research is the cougar doesn’t want you to see them, and they don’t want to see you. The rapacious killer of children and pets is again that story told in our imagination. Their major prey is deer. That is who they prefer to seek out. So the cougar is badly needed in the East.

How many of you farmers spend thousands of dollars protecting your livelihoods from the deer’s appetite? And how many of you are experiencing deer spreading their brain worm to your hoofed farm animals? Again, I encourage you to visit our new educational website. Seek to have your animal husbandry practices be proactive not reactive.

In closing, Coyote has led the way back for our carnivores who will be returning. Begin to practice with Coyote sustainable animal husbandry practices, but also seek to find a place in your heart where there is room for all life, not just our own.

Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


Read Part 1 of this account here.

Carla Jordan and her family settled in their new house in Spotsylvania, Virginia, feeling safe that the biosolids experience was now behind them.  In 2014, Carla accepted a business manager position at a berry farm in the neighboring Westmoreland County.  The farm was a burgeoning agro-tourism destination; a place where children get to pet friendly goats, pick strawberries, and enjoy breathtaking views of the nearby Rappahannock River.   

Early one winter morning in 2014, the farm was visited by a local resident.  Mr. Tilley, whose house was just down the road from the farm. He explained that he’d overheard a conversation between two congregation members at his church.  One of them was Rodney Rollins, local businessman, owner of multiple companies, including Rollins Soil Enhancement.  Mr. Rollins was discussing a permit he had been granted by the Westmoreland County Land Use Administrator to construct a ten unit outdoor drying/processing/storing facility for Class A biosolids. The permit included manufacturing bagged mulch and topsoil products as well as the right to land apply biosolids on the property.  The facility would be located inside a private, residential neighborhood – Porteus VI, directly across from Mr. Tilley’s house, on the same road as the entrance to the berry farm.


The entrance gate to the residential neighborhood Porteus VI in Westmoreland County, VA. VDOT classified the private neighborhood gravel road as "in poor condition."

 “This sounded an alarm in my mind,” Carla recalls, “I couldn’t believe biosolids were back in my life.” 

This time Carla rushed to prepare a petition for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to revoke the permit.  She created an informational flyer about the dangers of biosolids and outlined the realities of the damage a business like this could bring to the community.  Then she went door to door, asking local residents to read the flyer and sign the petition.  Nearly every person who spoke with her signed the petition.  One of the local residents, Mr. Lawrence Perry of Leedstown, took it upon himself to review the county zoning ordinance.  He concluded that the Land Use Administrator had made a mistake issuing the permit to Rollins Soil Enhancement as a by-right activity on a parcel zoned A1, (agricultural residential).

DEQ received the petition prepared by Carla and signed by scores of local residents, and felt compelled to grant a public hearing on the issue.  The meeting took place that winter.  Many families living near the permitted project were present and one local church brought a bus-load of parishioners.  The board room was packed that night; with so many local residents in attendance, there was standing room only.    

In his opening remarks one DEQ representative stated:  “We are not here to listen to what the public has to say, we are here to provide the information.”  The hearing didn’t go well for the proposed Rollins project.  Residents were outraged at the county government for issuing the permit, for not adequately informing the public prior to the permit issuance and the overall gross abuse of governmental powers.

The Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors, and then the Zoning Board, held public meetings wherein the previous decision authorizing the permit to Rollins Soil Enhancement was deemed voided; on the grounds that the permit should not have been granted under the agricultural clause.  It was determined that this was a precedent-setting case; the new decision would have to be appealed either by Rollins Soil Enhancement suing the county, or the business would have to reapply for a new permit including a land use special exceptions hearing. 

 “Rodney Rollins wants to build ten outdoor units for processing and storage of biosolids in a private, residential area.  The only access to that neighborhood is a narrow, unpaved, gravel road maintained by the homeowner’s association.  Commercial trucks filled with sludge will be going up and down that road for delivery, and the road is not even wide enough to accommodate both a dump truck and an oncoming school bus.  The sludge will be stored and processed in proximity to an in-home daycare.  And local and state agencies are telling us that this is not a public issue; are you kidding me?!” – Carla exclaimed.

She actually researched the width of dump trucks and school buses, and then measured the road; noting that there were no road markings, no signage, no lighting. According to Virginia Department of Transportation the road was listed as being in “poor condition”.

Rollins proposed site

The proposed site of Rollins Soil Enhancement Inc biosolids processing facility in the residential neighborhood of Porteus VI in Westomoreland Co. 

“The road is not wide enough, either a load of sludge or a load of school kids will end up overturned” – she concluded.

Within a nine mile radius of this proposed facility in Westmoreland County, there are seven tourist destinations:  George Washington’s Birthplace, Stratford Hall, Ingleside Winery, Westmoreland Berry Farm, Virginia Nature Preserve and Westmoreland State Park.  Those attractions draw thousands of visitors each season; families come on weekends and school children come in droves.   

The preposterous idea of processing municipal and industrial sludge in this quiet, rural, residential neighborhood, situated on a picturesque historic area of Virginia countryside, continues to be considered by the local and state governmental agencies. The evaluation process, with its various appeals, legal twists and turns, is being funded by taxpayers.  The obvious absurdity of this idea strangely escapes local officials and is given additional credibility by the position of the state DEQ office on this matter.  It doesn’t come as a surprise – the DEQ obtains a permit application fee of $5,000, with an additional $1,000 fee for any amendment to the existing permit.  Afterward, there is a fee of $7.50 per ton of biosolids delivered.  Those contributions go into the budget that finances the DEQ.  It’s no wonder that in the history of biosolids use in Virginia no permit has ever been denied.

Carla has since changed her job.  She lives in Spotsylvania County and is no longer involved in the situation with Rollins Soil Enhancement in Westmoreland County.  However, this precedent-setting case continues.   

The latest news on the Rollins Soil Enhancement biosolids facility is disheartening.  In January of 2016, Rodney Rollins appealed the decision of Westmoreland County Board of Zoning, which had ruled that his proposed facility did not qualify as a “by-right” project on property zoned A1.  He also challenged the right of Mr. Lawrence Perry to have brought the appeal before the Board, because Mr. Perry did not live near enough to the proposed facility and so his quality of life would not have been directly affected.  In reality, anyone living in the state of Virginia should have a vested interest in the outcome of this case; as it could establish a legal precedent with disastrous consequences.    

This time the legal battle could move at a much swifter pace.  The largest waste distributor – Synagro, LLC, is lending its legal power to Rollins enterprise.  Synagro’s well retained lawyers will be assisting with the appeal.  If the citizens lose this case - what will happen in other Virginia neighborhoods?    


1. State Water Control Board meeting details

2. Westmoreland meeting minutes

Photos by Carla Jordan

Lidia Epp is active with a local group of residents concerned about the agricultural application of biosolids, a dangerous practice that devastates farmland. She corroborates with local activists, politicians and scientists to bring public awareness to this issue and advocates for changes in state and federal regulations of biosolids land use. Read all of Lidia's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


Aeolian Sampler

Art by Glenn Wolff from It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes

Pity my neighbor. He’s a foot-soldier in the war against weeds, a Saturday-morning guardian of bluegrass and a Monday-night warrior armed with Weed-be-Gone. He patrols his yard, head bent, weed-digger in hand, ready to pounce on any intruders. "Look!" he shouts, holding up the uprooted foe. There’s accusation in his voice. He blames me for his troubles because I happen to enjoy dandelions and do nothing to discourage them. They’re scattered across my lawn like constellations in a night sky. My kids like to pick them between their toes and rub yellow on their cheeks and say it’s butter.

I wander over to watch him engage the enemy, and notice, drifting with the breeze, the delicate parachute of a dandelion seed. My neighbor stands abruptly, roots dangling from his hands, and unwittingly intercepts the drifting seed. It lands on his head, perky as a daisy, then catches a breath of air and floats past his shoulder and settles among the grass on that rich and pampered soil. It will have no trouble competing down there.

The wind is a tremendous distributor of life, and plants and animals have evolved many mechanisms for taking advantage of it. Dandelion seeds, with their umbrellas of down, can ride a breeze for hours. The tiny plumed seeds of bulrushes and cattails have traveled hundreds of miles over open ocean and colonized remote islands. In summer above the temperate regions just about any cubic mile of sky contains millions of assorted seeds, insects, spiders, and other organisms. Suspended or drifting in the air much the way plankton drifts through the ocean, they fill the sky to an amazing height and can travel vast distances on the wind.

Life Will Find a Way

On the ice fields of Mount Everest, at a height of twenty-two thousand feet, lives a species of jumping spider that is probably the highest permanent inhabitant of the earth. Biologists early in the 20th century were baffled by the spider, because the harsh environment where it lived seemed to offer nothing for it to prey upon. But the spider only needed to wait for its meals to be delivered. Every day, countless flies, aphids, butterflies, moths, beetles, ants, gnats, midges, and mites were swept by updrafts to the top of the mountain and deposited on the ice and snow.

In the 1930s, a pair of entomologists in England launched a box kite equipped with a specimen net  to a height of two thousand feet to see what they could capture. When they brought the kite down they were surprised to find it contained plant lice, flies, aphids, thrips, and parasitic wasps —a total of 839 insects. About that same time, an entomologist in the United States named Perry Glick logged more than fourteen hundred flights in a biplane equipped with screens between the wings. In the sky over Louisiana, at altitudes as low as twenty feet and as high as nearly three miles he collected more than thirty thousand individual insects representing seven hundred species. He concluded that a single square mile of air contains an average of twenty-five million insects, plus uncountable numbers of seeds, spores, pollens, bacteria, and other minute living things. In 1963 biologist L.W. Swan named this airborne bestiary the "aeolian zone," in reference to Aeolus, the Greek god of the wind.

Although most of the animals carried aloft by winds are probably unwilling travelers, many species of spiders use air transportation to disperse their young. On a sunny, windy day a spiderling ready to make its way in the world climbs to the tip of a twig or grass blade, raises its abdomen, and spins a thread of fine silk. When this silken lifeline waves six to ten feet into the air and is caught by the wind, the spiderling  releases its hold and is carried away, ballooning into the sky. The journey it takes can be long and lofty. Spiders on gossamer threads have been captured more than five miles above the ground. Others have descended into the rigging of ships hundreds of miles from the nearest land.  

The caterpillar of the gypsy moth is another enterprising aeronaut that makes good use of the wind. This voracious devourer of oak, aspen, apple, beech, and birch leaves is a true gypsy, sending out a silk strand that catches the air and carries it away. The hairs on the caterpillar's body are hollow, increasing its buoyancy and allowing it to be taken as high as two thousand feet above the ground, and across miles of countryside.

Lying on my back, in the yard, in a circle of dandelion blossoms, I can look up any summer afternoon and see insects drifting past on the wind. I don’t know how far they rise, but I can see the darting flight of insect-eating swallows so high they appear hardly larger than insects themselves. Life swirls and eddies to the very limits of habitation. If the wind blew across the vast and airless space between the planets, surely it would populate the universe.

A spider ballooning 

Art by Glenn Wolff from It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes

Adapted from the national bestseller It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes: Four Seasons of Natural Phenomena and Oddities of the Sky by Jerry Dennis, with illustrations by Glenn Wolff. Jerry Dennis is the author of The Living Great Lakes, A Walk in the Animal Kingdom, The Bird in the Waterfall, and many other books. Visit him at, and read all of his 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.


San Diego Farmers' Markets

Beyond the bicycling, ocean kayaking and whale watching that my family and I enjoyed on an ecotourism sojourn to San Diego (see Ecotourism in San Diego Part 1), the city is home to a couple authentic farm-to-table restaurants and has a few places where you can spend the night in comfortable, and green, accommodations. 

Our family found the abundance of farmers’ markets ideal in preparing our own meals at our rented beach house along the Mission Beach boardwalk, a place that came with three beach cruisers for our use.

Farm Fresh

Surprisingly, the San Diego area is home to one of the largest collections of small farms in any county in America.  Credit this to both the high cost of land and near ideal growing climate – year round. Many farms are able to harvest crops every day of the year, choosing to grow high value food crops instead of commodities. 

As a result, San Diego offers a farmers’ market on nearly every day of the week.  With the robust cottage food laws in California, there’s also an abundance of artisanal food products from hand-crafted breads to desserts, plus plenty of options for gluten-free baked goods (more on this in a future blog!).

Like the various neighborhoods in the city, each farmers’ market tends to have a vibe of its own.  In Ocean Beach, the evening market is as much a party as it is a place to shop for your week’s provisions.  From poi spinners and blues concerts to long-haired hippies walking around in bare feet, it’s a place to chill out. 

Food vendors cooking at Hillcrest Farmers' Market 

At the Sunday morning Hillcrest Farmers’ Market, come hungry; numerous food vendors entice you with unique ethnic dishes, decadent desserts, even smoked fish.  La Jolla’s Farmers’ Market located in this upscale community north of San Diego includes a large area of crafts and art as well as food purveyors, along with farmstands overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables and other items.

There are plenty of culinary festivals, too.  Our favorite was the San Diego Fermentation Festival held at Coastal Roots Farm, north of San Diego.  Under various tents, we packed our own jar of vegetables to ferment, learned more about the rich microbial world of our own bodies from Dr. Rob Knight with the American Gut Project, and sampled and sipped a huge selection of fermented products, from cheese, yogurt and chocolate to wine, beer and mead.

Red Door chef with fresh produce from restaurant's own farm 

Farm-to-Table Feasts

“The menu and cuisine is often chef driven at restaurants, but I believe it should be farmer driven” comments Miguel Valdez, Executive Chef for The Red Door Restaurant and Wine Bar, located in the Mission Hills neighborhood, without a doubt the premier farm-to-table restaurant in the city.  “It should be based on what’s locally and seasonally available.”

It took just a couple bites for us to understand what he means when it comes to the taste and flavor.  We savored his nut brown ale battered radishes with a chipotle dipping sauce, Catalina Offshore fresh catch with fried garden kale, candied carrots and roasted beet puree with micro greens, and garden herbed gnocchi with butternut squash pomodora sauce. (Try it yourself with the chef’s recipe shared in my previous article).

“It’s a new game every single week,” echoes co-owner Trish Watlington, when we toured the roughly half-acre mini-farm that’s based at her home in nearby La Mesa.  She works closely with her chef to harvest more than 6,000 pounds of vegetables, small fruits and herbs every year for use in the creative dishes that Valdez comes up with.  Their menu selections are made from scratch and stock prepared from their vegetables.  Chef Valdez has been known to create noodles from turnips to go with their sustainably-sourced short ribs.  Besides the owners’ farm, The Red Door has more than eighteen local partners they turn to for fish, poultry, meats and a wide selection of other artisanal products. 

We didn’t forget to hit a taco shop to sample “Cali-Baja,” the name associated with the unique fusion of Californian and Mexican cuisine found in San Diego.  Puesto does it better than most, with tacos that sing with flavor and color.  We loved their chicken verde with crispy melted cheese, jalapeno tomatillo sauce, caramelized onion and Serrano tinga verde, avacado and cilantro.   Each taco is made from scratch (it’s worth the wait), with ingredients sourced locally from certified-organic Point Loma Farms, Tuna Harbor Dockside Market for local, freshly caught fish for their ceviche and special tacos, as well as Catalina Offshore for other fish tacos.

Green Lodging

San Diego’s only LEED certified boutique hotel, Hotel Indigo, is located near the hopping Gaslamp Quarter with its restaurants, shopping and nightlife, plus walking or pedal-powered rickshaw distance from other major attractions along the downtown waterfront. The hip hotel sports a couple green roofs, water conservation initiatives and, of course, recycling.

With their electric vehicle charging stations (free to guests), Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa is another option, albeit at the higher end of luxury.  LED lighting is used throughout the lush 10-acre property with ranchero-style buildings.  Water and energy-conserving initiatives employ motion sensors.  Landscaping exclusively uses reclaimed water and removed greenery is mulched.  Even their cooking oil is turned into biodiesel.

For us, being ecotravelers means blending in and living as the locals do.  Walk.  Bike.  Savor a glass of local mead from the Golden Coast Mead (more on these amazing folks in a future blog) as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean.  And what better way to fit in than to rent a beach cottage or house along the boardwalk the stretches from Pacific Beach to Mission Beach.  Ditch the car and hop on a skateboard or your beach cruiser to get around.  

Beach and Bayside Vacations offer a wide range of weekly and long-term rentals that, while not powered by the sun, still afford the opportunity to make your own meals and, for many of the simply furnished units, provides access to free bikes to get around without getting behind the wheel.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


Urban Lumber Co. Team

Starting out as a woodworker making longboard skateboards, Seth Filippo was endlessly searching for new and interesting wood sources to make his products eye-catching and unique. After seeing beautiful trees in Eugene, Ore., going to waste, he realized that the Pacific Northwest had a huge underutilized resource in urban wood.

This in addition to a rising demand for unique and quality lumber from local woodworkers like himself, encouraged Seth to start Urban Lumber Company around this mission: “Promote environmental responsibility and greater awareness of urban forests through handcrafted hardwood design projects.”

In 2006, Seth established Urban Lumber Co. in Oregon as a one-man operation supplying raw lumber and various millwork to local clients. Starting a new business in a slow economy was difficult, but after reading Harvesting Urban Timber by Sam Sherrill, Seth said he learned a lot about the urban lumber industry and has helped lead the cause in Oregon ever since.

“I still feel like a pioneer in an emerging industry,” said Seth. “Educating the public and cities of the benefits of utilizing urban trees has been an ongoing challenge.”

Today, Urban Lumber Co. has expanded to include seven full-time employees at multiple locations across the state and provides customers with natural edged products from locally salvaged urban wood.

Seth and kids in the truck

A Portable Sawmill Provides for Flexibility in Sawing

In addition to hard work and a true passion for reuse and woodworking, Seth says his portable sawmill is an important piece of his urban lumber salvage business. “Our mill is an integral part of the entire operation,” he said. “We cut different sizes and species every day with a different approach to each log.”

Working in cooperation with cities, parks, utility companies, private homeowners and arborists, Urban Lumber Co. obtains trees in urban areas that have been storm damaged, diseased, or wind fallen. After hauling these fallen or damaged trees with their own crane truck, Urban Lumber Co. cuts and dries the wood and creates customized lumber, slabs and even high-quality wood furniture for customers.

“Each piece of wood is unique versus traditional dimensional lumber, making every finished piece of furniture one-of-a-kind,” said Seth. Receiving and keeping material local is a priority for Seth and Urban Lumber Co. Reusing trees from urban areas for products in the same geographic area not only cuts down on costs for transportation, but it is also beneficial to the environment.

“We are keeping a valuable resource, which would otherwise go to waste either in landfills or burn piles,” said Seth. “You can find sustainably harvested or sourced lumber in many places, but it is often shipped for thousands of miles, negating its original environmental benefits.”

Unfinished Table

Building with Local Materials

By utilizing local materials, Seth said that they are cutting down on the carbon footprint. According to environmental research conducted by Dr. Steve Bratkovich and Dr. Sam Sherrill of Dovetail Partners, Inc., salvaging urban trees significantly reduces the amount of carbon that is released into the atmosphere.

Utilizing just 10% of the 1% annual urban tree removal rate could save up to 124.1 million tons of CO² entering the air over a 30-year period. This elimination of CO² is equivalent to removing 732,000 passenger vehicles from U.S. highways every single year.

“Converting a portion of urban tree removals into solid wood products can contribute to long-term carbon sequestration and help mitigate the build-up of greenhouse gases,” the Dovetail Partners report concluded.

Urban Lumber Co. has a wide variety of clients from weekend hobbyists to businesses looking for unique décor. “Our customers value the quality, natural beauty, and the locally salvaged element of our wood products. Each tree has its own story and the wood speaks for itself,” said Seth.

Urban Lumber Co. provides hardwood products such as maple, oak, walnut, ash, and elm as well as softwoods like pine, fir and cedar. Seth and his team have made everything from tables, seating and beds as well as interior projects such as bathroom vanities and kitchen cabinets. Their work can be seen in many places throughout Oregon including small retailers, breweries, restaurants, hotels and even at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium where they built multiple benches, stools and tables for the University’s renovation project.

Finished Urban Table
Urban Lumber Co. is exploring opportunities in architectural products like flooring, siding and reclaimed building timbers. “I would like to see us continually grow while still keeping the quality and service that comes with a small town business,” said Seth. With Seth Filippo at the helm, Urban Lumber Co. is well on their way to making a difference.

To find out more, visit Urban Lumber Company online.

The Wood-Mizer Team includes a diverse group of woodworkers, farmers, homesteaders, arborists, entrepreneurs, and more who are excited to share their knowledge and experiences of working with wood from forest to final form. Since 1982, the team has brought portable, personal sawmills to people all over the world who want the freedom of sawing their own lumber. Find Wood-Mizer on their website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Twitter. Read all of the team’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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


Carla's house

Carla's house in Spotsylvania County. In the lower left corner - Jordan's family dog, Belle. Belle died suddenly of ruptured spleen tumor. The family didn't know their pet was sick till the day she died, it was too late for the vet to save her life.

Carla Jordan is a proverbial “girl next door.” We met at an IHOP restaurant on the outskirts of Richmond, Va. After a couple of cups of coffee, a French toast with strawberries, and small talk about unseasonably cold weather, we were ready to get into a more serious conversation. I’m more of her parent’s generation, and we’d just met; but her easy-going personality made me feel like I’d known Carla for years.

A long-haired brunette with a contagious smile, Carla doesn’t look her age. In her late thirties, born and raised in Virginia’s countryside, except for a few college years at VA Tech in Blacksburg, Carla lived most of her life in Spotsylvania County. She married John in 1997, and the newlyweds lived in Fredericksburg for a couple of years before moving back out to the Spotsylvania countryside. Four years later, her daughter Claudia, and then in 2004, her son John Tyler, were born.

Just months after her son’s birth in 2004, Carla came home one day and was immediately alarmed by a thick, offensive odor wafting from the farmland across the road from her house. Disturbed by the intensity and foulness of the smell, she called her Board of Supervisor’s representative, former sheriff, T. C. Waddy.

Waddy arrived promptly and explained to her that the neighboring farmer had applied biosolids to his fields just that morning. He agreed, the odor was awful, but explained that a farmer has the right to apply this fertilizer to his land. He said nothing could be done.

Concerned about the odor affecting her two small children, Carla spoke out at a Board of Supervisor’s public meeting. She was applauded by the citizens there, but again told that nothing could be done.

Carla's neighbor

Carla Jordan's former next door neighbor, a farmer who repeatedly applied biosolids to his farmland. This is the view from the Carla's front yard.

Illness Visits the Family

She soon noticed changes in her daughter’s health. Claudia became subdued, complained about the headaches, tummy aches, she didn’t want to get up in the morning and lost her appetite. Carla took her to the doctor, but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong.

Maybe it’s a “stomach bug,” Carla was told; it should go away soon. But it didn’t. The doctor finally ordered some blood work. Claudia’s white cell count was elevated, suggesting she was fighting off an infection. However, the doctor couldn’t explain what type of infection it was. The doctor ordered more blood work to be done every two weeks, contending that the white cell count should return to normal.

A month later Claudia’s blood work still indicated an elevated white cell count, and she was still not acting like a healthy child. The doctor broke the bad news — the child may need to be seen by a specialist to begin testing for leukemia.

During this same timeframe, Carla’s husband, John, became very suddenly and violently sick. Carla woke up one night to find John on the floor, disoriented, unable to get up, with an extreme headache and loss of balance. In tears, she called 911.

Several excruciating hours later, doctors at the hospital told Carla that John had acquired a rare viral infection in the brain. They had no explanation for the cause of this infection. Considering the severity of his condition, John recovered remarkably well within weeks of returning home.

Just prior to Claudia’s appointment for leukemia testing with a pediatric oncologist, yet another blood test showed her white cell count finally dropping. She began to recover, regained her energy and appetite.

Finally, the smell of “fertilizer” from the neighboring field subsided. That is — until they sludged the field again in the fall. The whole family again struggled with headaches, nausea, upset stomach and burning eyes. Carla finally put two and two together. She extensively researched information on biosolids and determined the sludge was making her family sick.

The sequence of events was repeated again the following year, in 2005. The neighboring farmer had another load of sludge delivered to his farm, and then again later that same year. Carla and John realized that their family was paying a price with their health for the farming practices next door. The only solution was to move.  They put their house up for sale.

What Is the Law For?

Carla fished out the last strawberry pieces off her plate, and was now waving her fork as an exclamation tool:

“You know, I used to think that the law was to ensure order in a society, to protect the public. Now I know, it’s not. If anything, it only serves or protects “special interest groups.”

Did you know that in a real estate contract, according to Virginia law, a person is obligated to disclose paranormal activity on the property, but nobody has to disclose the existence of a toxic field next to their house? This is insane! I’d much rather have the ghost of a Confederate soldier visiting us at night than have the smell of toxic waste permeating my house and making my family sick!”

They purchased a piece of land next to a historic battlefield area, part of the National Park Land. That was their attempt at protection from biosolids next to the new house. When the family moved there in 2007, Carla and John exhaled; they all could breathe fresh air with the biosolids nightmare now over.

Little did Carla know that this was just chapter one in her personal sludge story — she was about to become an anti-biosolids activist. Read the second part of Carla Jordan’s story here.

Lidia Epp is active with a local group of residents concerned about the agricultural application of biosolids, a dangerous practice that devastates farmland. She corroborates with local activists, politicians and scientists to bring public awareness to this issue and advocates for changes in state and federal regulations of biosolids land use. Read all of Lidia's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

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