Nature and Environment

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

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water smart gardeningOf all the water we use at home, an average of 30 percent is used for outdoor activities like watering lawns and washing cars. But in some of the hotter areas and times of year, that number can shoot up to 60 percent.

Tip: Planting a water-smart garden can help you save water when temperatures heat up. Look for low water-using plants and flowers that are native to your region. Unlike some thirstier varieties, these plants require little watering beyond normal rainfall once they are established. Your local garden store or water utility may be able to help you find the right plants for your area, and you can search for native plants in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Native Plant Database. The U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program also has some ideas for you.

Earth Gauge

Image courtesy of U.S. EPA.

(Sources: U.S. EPA WaterSense Program. EPA WaterSense)


growing garlic

In sitting down to write this week’s article, it strikes me that these final days of May are the time for describing everything, and nothing.  Each day a new flower appears, a garden plant gets a little taller, the search for slugs goes on, the birds begin singing a little earlier, the river roars with rain until it calms itself down.  On the other hand, we are waiting, anticipating, working towards many things not yet come to fruition.  Our major projects for the summer are discussed and planned, but not yet begun.  Firewood is ongoing, and mentioned so often anyway.  The garden is seeded and planted - and while it seems to change each day, the story of seeds to sprouts is no doubt amply described each year.  The bold unfurling of beans, the confident eruption of asparagus, the delicate awakening of carrots: I know, easy to describe and not exactly new material.  

And of course the weeds. This is the time of ceaseless growth.  Just as I’ve made it through the garden beds tidying rows and freeing young plants from the competition of grass, thistle, dandelion, clover, and sorrel, it’s back to the beginning, it seems.  

And somewhere in the categorical middle ground between weeds and gardens is our herb plot.  This rock ringed area has hosted a particular duel this spring.  Home to both chives and mint (along with lemon thyme, catmint, oregano, horseradish, lavender, and sage), these two titans are vying for increased spheres of herbaceous influence.

herb garden, summer 2012

Early in the season, chives were ahead in the race for herb garden domination.  Mint - a wild peppermint (my spearmint is much more docile & provincial) - was slower to push it’s way above ground. The earliest round of weeding reined in the chives back to their original plot, eliminating more than a handful of mint weeds along the way.  The aftermath, though, has definitely turned in mint’s favor.  A don’t-take-no-for-an-answer sort of neighbor, this pernicious plant is not only emerging in my paths, coldframe, kale patch, and others, but now also taking on the sorrel, wild strawberries, and brambles that dominate our yard.  

To mark time while this silent but steady process unfolds is our yellow-bellied sap sucker.  Starting at approximately 4:37am, he begins hammering away on, first, our shed roof, then the wheelbarrow propped up outside, then the decorative metal knick-knack tucked in the very same herb garden.  He may not have found his mate yet, but he’s beating a rhythm to which the season unfolds.  As the garden grows lush, plants’ fortunes unfold, the days warm up, and the sun rises earlier and earlier.  The fecundity of spring is bringing us to summer.

Don’t wait any longer - jump start your garden with starts from Beth’s nursery: Choose from select varieties of herbs, flowers, and veggies while supplies last. Garden prep, planting, and weeding services also available. Contact Beth via for your garden and orchard needs.


UN World Environment DayOn May 27, the Rachel Carson Homestead Association and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History are hosting the Celebrate Biodiversity Symposium in Pittsburgh, Penn., to celebrate the United Nations World Environment Day. The founder of biodiversity study, Edward O. Wilson, and other international and local biodiversity experts will be speaking at the event, held at the Carnegie Museum. From the news release:

“Featuring Edward O. Wilson as keynote speaker and including a panel of experts, we can begin with an initial visioning for a New American Dream — one that helps avoid a serious and fundamental breakdown in the Earth’s life support systems.

“The five principal pressures directly driving biodiversity loss — habitat change, over-exploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change — are either constant or increasing in intensity. According to Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, ‘Many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life forms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems from forests and freshwaters to soils, oceans and even the atmosphere.’ 

"E. O. Wilson, two-time Pulitzer prize winner, world-renowned entomologist and one of the scientists who provided research data to Rachel Carson while she was writing Silent Spring, will be joined by Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, Deputy Director of the United Nations Environment Programme North America, Dr. Richard Benedick, U.N. Ambassador (ret.) and President, National Council on Science and the Environment, and Terry Collins of the Institute of Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University at this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

Click to find out more about the Celebration of Biodiversity Symposium or to register online.


Step Forward Paper is a new type of paper made mostly from wheat straw (80 percent to be exact) with the remaining 20 percent made of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood fiber. And Step Forward just got its biggest client: Staples in Canada. (That was easy!)

Guess who is helping Step Forward Paper? Woody Harrelson! You know Cheers, Natural Born Killers and countless other great movies. I had the privilege to interview him about this private venture. He said there is just so much of this leftover straw that it’s senseless not to do something.

Don’t worry U.S., Woody and Step Forward Paper comes in 2013!

“Straw-based copy paper is a great example of an innovative product that uses a byproduct from one industry and transforms it into a solution for others,” says James Tansey, CEO and founder of Offsetters. “Offsetters is pleased to recommend Step Forward Paper as a sustainable choice for businesses and consumers looking to reduce the environmental impacts associated with paper use.” 

Straw Bale

“It’s always been a big concern of mine that paper comes from forests,” says Woody Harrelson, a co-founder and investor in Prairie Pulp & Paper Inc. The two-time Academy Award nominee and longtime environmental advocate, who received an honorary doctorate from York University for his environmental work, said, “Step Forward Paper is a real plus for the forest, and it’s a real plus for the farmers, and it’s going to be great for our future.”

Best Part of All

Offsetters, Canada's leading carbon management solutions provider, released a research report that concludes that Step Forward Paper is one of the most environmentally sustainable paper types currently available in North America. When using weighted ranking system for environmental indicators that places greater importance on climate change, Step Forward Paper is the best-performing copy paper type studied, with the lowest overall environmental impact.

See the Life Cycle Study. 

For the entire story on my site at The Green Living Guy, please click here.


Memorial Day weekend signifies the unofficial start of summer, and in many parts of the country, the arrival of hot weather. According to National Weather Service, heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States. And, the number of heat waves has been on the rise in recent years – the recently released National Climate Assessment found that the number of intense heat waves in 2011 and 2012 were almost triple the long-term average. Heat waves can be particularly brutal in cities, where the surface temperatures of roofs and pavement can be from 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the air temperature on hot sunny days. These hot surfaces contribute to urban heat islands where temperatures in cities are hotter than surrounding, less developed areas. Hot weather and heat waves have a number of impacts, including increased energy use for air conditioning, increased emissions of air pollutants and impacts on human health.

Viewer Tip: May 23 is Heat Awareness Day. This is the perfect time of year to brush up on tips to keep yourself, family members and friends healthy during hot weather. Remember that infants and young children, people 65 years and older, people who are overweight, and people who are sick or use certain medications are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.

  • Seek out A/C: A few hours per day in an air-conditioned building can reduce risk of illness. If your home does not have A/C, visit a senior center, movie theater, library, mall or designated community cooling center. A fan may provide some relief, but when temperatures reach the high 90′s, electric fans do not prevent heat-related illness.
  • Dress the Part: Wear light-weight, loose clothing that is light in color.  Drink plenty of fluids and avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol or lots of sugar, which can cause dehydration.
  • Check Up: If you have a family member, friend or neighbor who is at risk, visit them regularly.  If you see signs of heat-related illness – confusion, hot and dry skin, hallucinations, or aggression – seek help immediately.

National Weather Service issues Excessive Heat Outlooks, Excessive Heat Watches and Excessive Heat Warnings/Advisories to help you stay informed. Learn about these alerts and get more information about heat-related illness and preparedness.

Learn more about extreme heat in this infographic from the Centers for Disease Control.

An Infographic on Extreme Heat.

 (Sources: National Weather Service. “Heat: A Major Killer.” ; Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2.U.S; Environmental Protection Agency. “Heat Island Impacts.” ; “It’s Too Darn Hot – Planning for Excessive Heat Events.” Publication number: EPA 100-F-07-025,; Centers for Disease Control, “Extreme Heat


For anyone who pays attention to even the mainstream news these days, it is becoming painfully clear that our planet’s ability to sustain us, and provide the ecosystem services that we rely on, is becoming severely compromised. From the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, to the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s new initiative, to our own National Climate Assessment, there is little good news on the future prospects of this planet to sustain life as we know it for our children. The smartest people on the planet are sounding the alarm loud and clear and yet it falls mostly on deaf ears, especially in our own country, which leads the industrial world in greenhouse gas emissions per capita.

Challenges of a Changing World

In addition to the challenges of climate change, we face the rapid depletion of easily extracted fossil fuels, agricultural soils, major aquifers, rare earth metals, mined fertilizers and other important resources on which we have built our economic system. Sometimes it can be hard to fathom our collective inaction to radically change our economy to fit within the ecological footprint of the planet, if that is even possible at this stage of the game.

While the feasibility of supporting 9 billion souls on this planet by 2050 is grounds for endless debate, if we care about our children, and theirs, we have no option but to roll up our sleeves and try. Many possible solutions have been identified, but all are far from being deployed at the necessary speed and scale to avert a crisis.

The European Union’s shift to distributed, clean, renewable energy using smart grid technology, EVs, and hydrogen storage is overwhelmed by the burning of coal in developing nations, all hungry for modern convenience, and the staggering lack of climate action in the US.

The Rodale Institute, the carbon farming movement, agro-ecologists, and permaculturists increasingly demonstrate the ability of organic no-till, intensive rotational grazing, perennial polycultures and other low-input systems to rival or exceed conventional agricultural yields, while sequestering carbon, regenerating worn out soil, and most importantly, providing higher quality nutrition. Yet our industrial food system is mired in a genetically modified, chemical and petroleum cesspool that poisons our air and water (and us), while depleting precious soil and other resources at an alarming pace.

While some places like Portland, Oregon are experiencing a revolution in bicycling and public transport, our overall transportation system favors the gas-guzzling automobile, leaving people afraid to ride or walk the few miles to school, work, or the market that compromise most car trips. Public transport is non-existent in most rural and suburban areas, forcing the working poor into poverty just to own and operate a car.

Advances in efficient shelter continue to develop, from eco-friendly, cob, straw bale and earthship homes, to hyper-efficient Passive House, LEED certified, and other high-tech systems. Yet our existing housing stock is oversized, inefficient, and economically out of reach for many, while zoning and other regulations often prohibit tiny houses, clustered development, and other solutions to the housing crisis.

An Ecology-Based Economy

If I sound frustrated, I guess it’s because I am. When solutions to pressing problems are being developed, yet not implemented, while vested interests fight to squeeze every bit of profit from the status quo, and so many of us are just too busy keeping our heads above water to think about it, or just plain fear change, it makes you want to drop what you’re doing and take action. 

Of course this is almost never easy, and even knowing what action to take if it was, is a daunting prospect. And of course there are multitudes of worthy paths, each unique to the person treading it. But act we must. For my part I have joined with many others in my community to work toward building resilience to the unavoidable consequences of our collective actions, while trying to do our part to restore the earth’s ecosystem for those to come. We call our effort the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy, using the word economy to mean both our system of trade and the act of being economical.

We’ve started with some demonstration projects in four areas that we call perennial needs: Food, Shelter, Energy, and Transport. We are also concentrating on building awareness of the challenges and opportunities that face our community, and really all communities in one form or another, as we confront an uncertain circumstance. I hope to explore these issues on these pages in the months ahead, share our journey, and create a dialog so that your communities might benefit from our experience, and we from yours. It will only be through our collective knowledge, ingenuity and perseverance that we will all move toward a future of hope and abundance on this amazing blue planet.

Support Ecology-Based Economic Solutions

We launched a crowdfunding campaign to jumpstart the process but hope to soon be relying on various enterprises to fund the work. The campaign ends in a few days but you are welcome to view it on Indiegogo to learn more or even become a founding supporter.


Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Pisgah National Forest, with the Great Smoky Mountains to the southwest, Asheville, North Carolina, is the perfect basecamp for an ecotour, cultural trip and culinary adventure. Experiencing the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fair held here this past April was just the start for my wife and me.

Because of the abundance of activities and diversity of experiences, don’t even try to cover the city in a day.  Why would you, anyway?  Whether you’re already penciling in the Fair date for next year or plotting a trip to this vibrant and eco-minded city this summer or fall, this blog offers some adventures not to be missed, broken into three distinct days.

Each day comes with a unifying theme:
Day 1: Culture and Nature
Day 2: Eco High Adventure
Day 3: Wellness and Health

Tied to each day, we discovered unique restaurants and accommodations that, each in their own way, set the bar on convivial and eco-minded hospitality.

Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Blooms, on Foot and Segway 

Since Asheville is perhaps most well known for America’s largest private residence, the Biltmore Estate, we started here on Day 1. With the famed Biltmore House, 8,000 acres of forests, splendid gardens and even a winery, leave time to explore.  Much of the grounds were designed by acclaimed Frederick Law Olmstead, the “father of American landscape architecture.”  Due to the size and magnificence of this estate, we broke our visit into three distinct stops.

First up, a tour of George W. Vanderbilt’s French chateau-inspired home, completed in 1895.  Weaving through most of the 250 rooms, our self-guided tour revealed the fascinating history, remarkable furnishings and architectural splendor of the place.  Grab their audio tour for your walk, but leave yourself at least three hours, if you want time to take in the vistas possible from various balconies or windows.

A leisurely stroll through the Shrub Garden to the Walled and Rose Gardens followed our tour of the house.  In early spring, grab a seat in a section of the Walled Gardens containing thousands tulips in bloom.  Not to miss is Vanderbilt’s Conservatory, nurturing exotic orchids, palms and ferns.

Our final stop, a scenic half hour drive away (but still on the estate), is the Antler Hill Village and Winery.  After about forty minutes of instruction and some practice, we departed with our guides, Bob Jackson and Bistra Hristova, on a three-hour Segway tour.  We visited the less accessible western parts of the estate around the vineyards, crossed the French Broad River, and sped through 50 acres of non-GMO canola that gets converted to biodiesel every year for use as fuel for various machinery on the estate.

“Gentle, fluid and slow,” Jackson reminds us, every time we moved along to our next stop.  The Segways, a first for us, provided a motorized and autonomous way to zip around.  Steering them involves leaning forward and backward, or tilting the handle left or right. Completely recharged by a 9-acre photovoltaic array, the Biltmore’s fleet of solar-powered Segways is the largest in North America.

Walking Asheville

Intersected by the Blue Ridge Parkway and the French Broad River, Asheville hosts a cornucopia of culinary destinations – more than 250 independent restaurants at last count – and a thriving artist community where you can visit their working studios or cooperatively operated galleries. The River Art District features more than 165 artists and the Downtown Asheville Art District has 30 galleries within a half-mile radius.  Second only to Miami, the city also proudly preserves its Art Deco architecture from the 1920s and early 1930s.  Time travel at the Grove Arcade, one of the country’s premier public markets from 1929 through World War II; it’s back as a boutique mercantile since 2002. Hop on the 1.7-mile-long “Asheville Urban Trail” for a ramble past various public sculptures, artwork and landmarks.

Laughing Seed Cafe

As America’s first Green Dining Destination, with more restaurants certified by the Green Restaurant Association in one city than any other city in the nation, Asheville’s “foodtopia,” among other things, showcases farm-to-table cuisine long before it became hip and mainstream. 

Leaning toward eating as low on the food chain as possible, we grabbed a seat outside at the Laughing Seed Café for some vegetarian dishes with a fusion of global flavors, like their Asian Fusion, with its organic whole wheat udon noodles tossed in sweet chili-peanut sauce and served over a salad of mixed greens, grated carrots, red cabbage, blanched broccoli, and daikon radish; it’s topped with organic pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Plenty of vegan and gluten-free options here, too.

Across from the entrance to the Biltmore, down a side street, pick up a feast of local goodies from Katuah Market for a picnic. If you’re working up a thrist after all the walking around, grab a nice cold one.  There’s plenty from which to choose.  With eighteen craft breweries in Asheville, this medium-sized city earns the distinction of having more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the country!  Katuah Market stocks most, if not all, of the beers.

Garden Oasis Awaits at Hawk & Ivy Bed and Breakfast

Hawk And Ivy

Tucked into the hillside with abundant organic gardens spilling over with fresh product that owners, Eve and James Davis, turn into scrumptious, homemade gourmet breakfasts served in the dining room of the 1910 home, is Hawk & Ivy.  “I don’t use a recipe,” laughs Eve Davis, as we chatted before breakfast. Could have fooled us, with her savory scones and egg omelette adorned with homegrown edible flowers.

The centerpiece of the quaint and peaceful country estate is a lovingly cared for and productive organic garden.  Annual crops and perennials flowers are interspersed by hundreds of gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries and the like. No wonder birds are everywhere. “I have four or five difference kinds of everything,” says Eve.  “I’m a berry nut.”

While a bit of a journey out of town, it’s worth it. The attraction of this twenty-four acre private nature preserve becomes clear when we perched ourselves on the meadow above the rural retreat. To cool off in the summer, splash about in their pond.  Newlyweds come here to share their vows up on the hill; innkeeper James Davis even officiates some of the ceremonies.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, 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.

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