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Cattle grazing on freshly applied biosolids in Florida
Cattle grazing on freshly applied biosolids in Florida.

This is Part 2 (read Part 1 here) of an interview with David Lewis, Ph.D., formerly a senior-level research microbiologist at EPA-ORD. He currently serves as director of research for the Focus for Health Foundation. Dr. Lewis was terminated by EPA for publishing two articles in Nature that raised concerns over the 503 sludge rule and is one of the most prominent scientific voices in the growing opposition to biosolids land application. Dr. Lewis’ publications are frequently cited as an example of solid, unbiased scientific evidence of the danger posed by this practice. Dr. Lewis kindly agreed to an interview for MOTHER EARTH NEWS addressing the issue of agricultural use of sewage and industrial sludge, aka biosolids.

Lidia: Dr. Lewis, thank you again for helping to address this issue. I would like to follow up on our previous conversation by asking about your research, and how EPA reacted when you published articles in Nature that raised concerns over the 503 sludge rule. First, what role did citizens impacted by land application of treated sewage sludges play in your research?
Dr Lewis: We studied 48 individuals at ten sludge application sites in the US and Canada, plus five additional cases where an outbreak of staphylococcal infections occurred. We reviewed county land application records and the residents’ medical records. We also collected environmental samples, and used an air dispersion model to potentially rule out exposure to sludge as the cause of adverse effects.

Lidia: Can you give us an example of what you discovered?
Dr Lewis: In a neighborhood in New Hampshire, for example, my coworkers and I found that most, but not all, residents reported burning eyes, burning throat, and severe difficulty breathing. Copious amounts of thick mucus collected in their airways whenever they inhaled dusts blowing from piles of biosolids. The proportions of residents reporting symptoms steadily increased with increasing amounts of time that they were exposed to biosolids; and the symptoms steadily decreased as they lived farther away from the biosolids.

One young man stopped breathing and died as he slept under an open window where biosolids dusts were blowing in and collecting on his bedsheets. We cultured bacteria from frozen samples of biosolids collected at the time of his death, and ran DNA analyses. We found an unusual pathogen was proliferating in the biosolids, which is known to cause sudden respiratory failure and death when inhaled with dust particles.

Lidia: How did EPA react?
Dr Lewis: The head of EPA's Office of Wastewater Management in Washington, DC, and one of his subordinates, met on two occasions with executives of Synagro Corporation. Synagro is the leading U.S. company in the biosolids business. The EPA subordinate requested Synagro’s help in discrediting our research. Synagro emailed him and his boss a white paper containing false allegations of research misconduct against me.

The EPA subordinate and Synagro then distributed the white paper, and Synagro and others published it on the Internet. I filed a whistleblower lawsuit. Then, as part of a settlement agreement, I agreed to transfer to the University of Georgia and await termination. I felt that I had no choice. My career was dead-ended.

EPA discharged me in 2003, and later cleared me of Synagro's allegations. My local EPA director issued a statement, saying: "Dr. Lewis’ involuntary termination over his research articles was not supported by the local lab management in Athens. He was an excellent researcher and an asset to EPA science."

UGA administrators also kicked me out. The Provost told my department head: "We’re dependent on this money…grant and contract money… money either from possible future EPA grants or [from] connections there might be between the waste-disposal community [and] members of faculty at the university."

Lidia: Since you left EPA, what are you doing to stop biosolids?
Dr Lewis: Currently, I chair the science advisory committee for the Autism Policy Reform Coalition (APRC), which is a coalition of advocacy groups. APRC helped raise $128 million in congressional appropriations for research on environmental risk factors that may play a role in the initiation or promotion of autism spectrum disorder. Studies, for example, link autism to pesticide residues on farms. But none of them consider biosolids, which contain far higher concentrations of all of the chemical groups linked to autism.

I’m also co-director of the TOXYSolutions Environmental Justice Project, which is gearing up to fund research on adverse effects of biosolids on human health and the environment. Part of this effort is aimed at developing ways to detoxify sewage sludge at the source. And, we’re working with economically and educationally disadvantaged communities impacted by biosolids to test children and adults for exposure to heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals.

Last, but not least, I’m the Research Director for the Focus for Health Foundation, which posts information about public health and environmental risks associated with biosolids.

Lidia: Finally, how can residents that are opposed to sludge get involved, what should they do to make a difference?
Dr Lewis: Two things: educate themselves, and get the word out. Congress passed Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, but no Clean Soil Act. EPA, which gets its regulatory authority from those Acts, allows municipalities and industrial polluters to discharge pesticides, pharmaceuticals, PCBs and every other toxic chemical in the world into sewers. Then, under EPA’s 503 sludge rule, sewage treatment plants can just add lime and spread every chemical in the world known to cause cancer, birth defects, neurological disorders and a host of other adverse health effects on farms, forests, school playgrounds, golf courses, and any other available tract of land in “biosolids.”

The only thing EPA regulates in sewage sludge is nine metals, nitrogen and phosphorus. Everything else, which EPA strictly regulates in air and water because it’s known to cause illness and death, is spread all around us on land in unlimited amounts!

No wonder our children are developing autism at steadily increasing rates; teenagers are starting to get colon cancer; and more elderly people are getting Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders. We must all spread the word, and tell our cities to stop spreading toxic biosolids. Hazardous chemical wastes must be contained and destroyed—not spread all around us. We have the technology, we just need to use it.

This concludes my interview with Dr David Lewis. I hope that readers found this information useful and will consider sharing it with others who are affected by the agricultural use of biosolids. I intend to focus on various aspects of this issue in my future blogs, the feedback with suggestions on a particular areas than should be covered will be most welcome. I will continue to seek contact with scientists, professionals, volunteers and activists asking them to help all of us to better understand the risks and dangers associated with this dangerous practice.

Photo courtesy of Craig Monk

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 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.


snow on ground.jpg

Climate change seems to impact many of us, but for those who live remotely at a higher altitude, it is very obvious. I feel certain that a climatologist could explain in detail what is happening in our area, but all I can determine is that this year we are a long way from experiencing a normal winter.

Our winter season started out normally with average temperatures and snowfall, but starting in February, everything changed dramatically. The 112 inches of snow that we had already received suddenly stopped and our temperatures rose to the point that we did not have to keep our wood stove going to stay warm. For three weeks, we did not receive any additional snow and it would only go down to the low 30s at night and warm up to the 50s during the day.

In the nineteen winters we have lived here, we have not had anything like this ever occur before.

Normally, we experience more snow than we have received this year. It is like we are in some winter weather time warp with nothing but pleasant weather occurring. Most people would like the type of weather we are currently having, but we need the moisture to supply us water for the rest of the year.

Last year, we had roughly 90 inches of snow in February, according to my rough calculations. This year, we have not had any snow during the month of February. The snow on our driveway has melted leaving our driveway dry and snow free. The snowpack that had  accumulated has compacted and melted down to less than two feet. Where it has melted in many places, it has become ice which makes walking hazardous.

The above photo reveals our outdoor cooking stove which is now above the snow and we usually don’t see it until spring unless we shovel it out to use for cooking a cowboy breakfast.

While this weather is delightful, it is also troublesome inasmuch as I’m used to being outside clearing snow, chopping ice and all the other aspects of winter we are faced with every year. Finding myself in a weather vacuum and not being able to do the chores I need to do because of either the snow remaining on the ground coupled with the nice weather is uncomfortable for me.

What snow that hasn’t melted has now become ice, crusted or is granular and footing is treacherous in those areas. Somehow, it seems ridiculous to put sealer on the woodshed wearing snow shoes plus shoveling it away is far too labor intensive. While the temperature would allow application of sealer the footing and remaining snow does not make it practical. It is easy to become bored with the inability to do needed tasks like gathering firewood, staining or sealing buildings or performing other repairs with the nice change of weather.

While this would not seem to be a problem for many, it is for us, because when living in a semi arid state where our moisture suddenly stops we become concerned. We need moisture for our streams, lakes, wells and reservoirs. We also need it for the necessary moisture to keep our wildfire hazard down.

Last year in February, we received according to my rough calculation 90 inches of snowfall during the month of February, and this year we have had zero inches. Being able to sit outside in our lawn chairs enjoying the warmer temperatures and sunshine just seems abnormal in February.

I hear some very intelligent people say that there is no climate change problem, and yet when I am sitting in the sun in my lawn chair in the middle of winter, I wonder how they can conclude that it does not exist. California is still in the middle of a drought and the East Coast and Midwest are experiencing radical and different weather patterns.

It seems to me that we only have to look around us to see that something is clearly happening. Every day when I turn on the weather news, it seems that we have set a new record for temperature. Here in the mountains, I notice that the songbirds are coming  back and some of our trees are starting to make leaves and it is only February. It has been so warm that I have observed some flies buzzing around outside.

It appears to me that there are some pretty obvious signs that something has or is changing and the normal is now different. I’m not able to predict how this will affect us in the future but clearly we are going to have to plan and change with the different weather pattern if we want to maintain our current lifestyle.

The National Weather Service is predicting snow for us tomorrow, and I can only hope they are right this time because we clearly need the moisture. From everything I have observed occurring around us it seems to me that to deny climate change is very much like sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich. If you don’t see it, then it is not there, but from our perspective this time it is there and it is troublesome and something to be concerned about.

Like most people, we will enjoy this weather while we can. But really, sitting out in our lawn chairs in shirt sleeves during February? This may be one of the strangest of winters we have yet to experience at our elevation. It seems to me that we need to pay very close attention to the scientific reports on climate change.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and living at high altitude go to their personal blog. Read all of Bruce'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.


David Lewis, Ph.D., formerly a senior-level research microbiologist at EPA-ORD, was terminated by EPA for publishing two articles in Nature that raised concerns over the 503 sludge rule. He currently serves as director of research for the Focus for Health Foundation. Dr. Lewis kindly agreed to an interview for the MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog addressing the issue of agricultural use of sewage and industrial sludge, aka – biosolids. He is one of the most prominent scientific voices in the growing opposition to biosolids land application. Dr. Lewis’ publications are frequently cited as an example of solid, unbiased scientific evidence of the danger posed by this practice. Read Part 1 of this interview below and Part 2 here.

Lidia: Dr. Lewis, thank you so much for taking your time to address this issue today. Let’s start with clearing up some confusion with the nomenclature. Is there a difference between “sewage sludge” and “biosolids”? Or it is just a different name for this same thing, which is simply a municipal waste?

Dr Lewis: Sewage sludge is semi-solid organic matter, mostly human feces and animal fats, which settles out at wastewater treatment plants. More than half of the sewage sludges produced in the United States are biologically and chemically treated, usually by adding lime, to reduce odors and indicator pathogen levels. Once treated, the product is called biosolids. It is repeatedly applied to farms, forests, school playgrounds, public parks and other public and private lands at rates measured in tons per acre.

Lidia: Does the EPA’s Part 503 rule, a regulation that’s intended to protect public from potential health dangers of biosolids, deliver on its promise?

Dr Lewis: After promulgating the 503 rule, EPA’s Office of Water reneged on a promise it made to fund EPA’s Office of Research & Development (ORD) $10 million to improve the science. It regulates only nine of 27 heavy metals found in sewage sludge (As, Cd, Cu, Pb, Hg, Mo, Ni, Se, Zn), and no toxic organic chemicals. Many chemicals found at high (ppm) levels in biosolids are the worst of the worst, which EPA lists as priority pollutants. These are the ones we worry about most. They are highly persistent, biomagnified up the food chain, and known to cause adverse health effects in humans and animals.

Priority pollutants include endocrine disruptors, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, plasticizers and other chemical groups that concentrate in animal fats. As the fat solubility of chemicals increase, so does their neurotoxicity. Not surprisingly, exposures to these chemicals are linked to autism, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases and disorders.

Lidia: The concept of spreading the wide array of contaminants, pollutants, pathogens and toxins on the agricultural land – whose idea was it in the first place and why?

Dr Lewis: When EPA was first created, industrial wastes containing such pollutants were discharged into rivers. From there, they were carried away from our cities, and diluted to parts-per-trillion or lower levels in the oceans. EPA’s solution to pollution was dilution. But, with the promulgation of the 503 sludge rule, EPA’s approach changed to concentrating pollutants on land—where we live, work and play—at millions of times higher levels than allowed elsewhere under the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.

Lidia: Isn’t that a contradiction to the mission of the EPA, which after all is the Environmental Protection Agency? This practice goes against the common sense of protecting the environment! But let’s forget the environment for a moment, what about protecting public health?

Dr Lewis: Not to worry, says the EPA, the wastewater industry, and major polluters. They point to a virtual absence of scientific evidence documenting illnesses and deaths in the scientific literature, and assure the public that pollutant-laden dust particles from fields covered with biosolids, and water from biosolids-contaminated private wells, do not cause any adverse health effects worth mentioning. Yet, air and water contaminated with the same chemicals from other sources at far lower concentrations are known to damage the immune system and cause cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders. How can this be? EPA’s answer, believe it or not, is “magic.”

Dr. Alan Rubin in EPA’s Office of Water explains:

Sludge magic [means] there are unique properties in the biosolids matrix that sequester metals [and] organics [and] significantly reduce, if not eliminate, movement of pollutants from the biosolids out to the environment. The processes, some of them are understood, some of them are not that well understood, but the whole thing taken together is called magic.

Lidia: Did he really say – “magic”? So it’s the sludge magic that contributed to the scientific basis of Part 503 rule??? What did the scientific community have to say to that?!

Dr Lewis: Of course, peer-reviewed scientific journals would reject the idea of using magic as a basis for supporting regulations aimed at protecting public health. So, to create a body of “scientific” literature supporting the 503 sludge rule, EPA established a cooperative agreement with the Water Environment Federation, the wastewater industry’s largest trade association, to fund a National Biosolids Public Acceptance Campaign. Under that agreement, scientists at USDA-supported agricultural colleges were funded, while scientists who linked biosolids to adverse health effects were systematically blacklisted, even accused of research misconduct. To support the sludge rule, EPA and the USDA supported skewing, and even fabricating, the data.

Lidia: Do you know any examples of skewing the data used by EPA?....

Dr Lewis: A good case in point is a study EPA funded at the University of Georgia (UGA), which EPA, the USDA, and a National Academy of Sciences panel used to dismiss cattle deaths on two dairy farms where biosolids from the City of Augusta, Georgia were applied. When the study was published in 2003, UGA issued a national press release in which lead author Julia Gaskin stated: "Some individuals have questioned whether the 503 regulations are protective of the public and the environment. This study puts some of those fears to rest.”

In 2008, Nature published an editorial and news article about a federal court decision stating that environmental monitoring data in the Gaskin study were fabricated by the City of Augusta. When deposed about the fake data in a qui tam lawsuit, which the dairy farmers and I filed, Rufus Chaney, the scientist managing USDA’s biosolids program, supported the use of fabricated data:

Question: Ms. Gaskin could have totally made up all that data and you would still rely on it because it was in a peer-reviewed study; is that accurate?

Answer: As long as it—as long as it was in general agreement with general patterns established in hundreds of papers....

Lidia: Dr. Lewis, in the light of those facts you just explained, the fate of the agricultural soils treated with biosolids looks rather grim. The human exposure to the pollutants present in the biosolids will likely increase in the future. What can be done to change that?

Dr Lewis: Soil remains the only part of the earth where high (ppm) levels of even the most harmful pollutants can be released unregulated. Instead of applying them to land, they should be reduced to simple inorganic compounds using new technologies, such as supercritical water gasification. Pollutants with serious adverse health effects should be destroyed rather than releasing them into the environment and regulating only a tiny fraction of them. To this end, Congress should pass a Clean Soil Act, and make polluters responsible for destroying toxic organic chemicals and recovering metals and radioactive elements at the source.

Reference documents supporting this article appear in Dr. David Lewis book, Science for Sale (Skyhorse Publishing, NY. 2014), and other writings and interviews:

How the EPA Faked the Entire Science of Sewage Sludge Safety: A Whistleblower's Story

Dr. Mercola Discusses Biosolids with Dr. Lewis (Full Interview)

Read Part 2 of my interview with Dr David Lewis. We will talk about his research at EPA exposing the harmful effects of biosolids land applications, the reaction of the EPA to his publications, how that affected his professional career and what he did about it. We will also share stories about the extraordinary "ordinary" people opposed to the biosolids agricultural use and how they advocate for our health and the environment.

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 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.


Robin tending to her nestlings

A fantastic side benefit of “going natural” is that the birds benefit greatly. By no longer mowing our lawn and continuing to add more garden beds, we are gifting our avian friends with food and shelter materials. Visit my Paradise pages to view parts of this transformation.

Many goldfinches visit our coneflower (added two years ago) during the temperate times of year. I watch juncos and other colder clime birds supping on the seeds of our leftover flowers and weeds during the winter. Our catbirds delight in the insects attracted by our garden during much of the year. Most of the birds nip off and gather our abundant long grasses for fashioning and adding to their nests when it’s time to rear their young.

In fact, long grasses are a favorite nesting material because they’re pliable, lightweight, and much of it is strong enough to last a season, or at least through one brood of nestlings. Because our long grasses are plentiful, the birds can continue to grab what is needed for continued nest maintenance throughout the season as they rear each batch of nestlings.

Most of us can find at least a little corner of our yard where we can let some grass grow out even if a more manicured yard is our goal. Just remember to keep it free of the ‘cides (pesticides, insecticides, herbicides…) and you’ll be doing a wonderful thing for your local feathered friends.

When I recently pruned my grapevine, I set aside some of the pieces for my own arting pursuits — most of it became fodder for the birds. I brought my vine clippings into the house, where the cats briefly displayed their toddler personalities by claiming the new toy that must be for them. I let the cats play a little and then cut these trimmings down to 4 to 6 inch pieces. They’re perfect for many of my outdoor winged friends to fashion nests—pliable, lightweight, and strong.

Last week, my husband and I had our ears lowered (aka got haircuts) so I asked our hairdresser Jamie for the clippings to add to the stash I’ve been collecting for my wild kin. Since neither my husband nor I use anything harsh on our hair, I knew it was a safe addition. Once cut to shorter and safer lengths, it’s ready for use.

Gathered Materials

Although we don’t launder with fragrances or softeners, I discovered that dryer lint is not a good addition to my pile of donations. Lint breaks down too quickly due to the varied weather conditions and doesn’t last the nesting season. It can leave a hole in the nest once depleted, definitely unsafe for baby birds. If adding lint to your compost pile, remember to bury it so inexperienced birds don’t mistake it for the perfect nesting material.

It’s very important to offer safely sized materials. A good friend was called over to a neighbor’s yard several years ago to help rescue a cardinal. The poor bird’s leg had become entangled in a piece of thread which then subsequently attached to the tree’s bark where it landed. My friend and her neighbor worked carefully to free the bird. Fortunately, this story had a happy ending. We’ve all heard stories where it wasn’t so. When preparing your offering, make sure that anything with great flexibility is small or short enough so it can’t knot easily thereby tangling or strangling a bird.

Birds build their nests in many different places. If you can provide trees or shrubs, this is wonderful. Not all of us have the ability to add these where we live. Even so, you likely have them somewhere near in your neighborhood so you can still put out nesting goodies. Don’t worry if you haven’t gathered anything and you still want to play. Robins love adding mud to their nests. Loosen a little dirt and add a cupful of water and you might make someone’s day.

My favorite places to stash the treasures that I leave out for the visiting birds are in the crooks of branches, in wire baskets and suet feeders, and tucked into a repurposed mesh bag. When using this latter option, be sure to securely fasten the bag and then take it down (once emptied) before it becomes dangerous.

Think of the birds and their behaviors when placing your offerings but remember the activities of any predators. Don’t create a feeding station for the local cats by leaving the materials in areas they can easily access or where their presence might be hidden from view.

Gathering nesting materials to share with the birds is a wonderful activity to do with children and a fantastic way for them to learn about the environment around them. This activity can begin very early in spring when your youngsters begin putting out the materials. They can set up several different stations and monitor popularity and frequency of visitation. During the nesting season, they might spy some of their offerings in the nests around the yard and neighborhood. If they are really enamored watching their feathered friends, they will likely start noticing eating habits and what each variety prefers. Maybe you can research together to find out what to plant to attract a favorite species.


Use these

• Organic (meaning free of ‘cides) pliable, sticks and grasses
• Fur (from brushing, shedding, or shearing; free from chemicals/treatments)
• Down (as in feathers… from pillows or parkas, untreated)
• Short pieces of yarn and threads (preferably from natural materials)
• Small pieces of fabric (free from scents and chemicals)
• Mud (even pouring some water on a bare patch of ground is enough for robins to love)

Don't use these

• Anything that is too long, strong, and flexible that could knot around a bird’s leg
• Things that have a scent, are treated with chemicals, or have had pesticides on them
• Never use fishing line

Catbird with mouthful

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blytheand read all of her 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.


Baylee Drown grew up on a 300-cow dairy farm in Michigan. After finishing her Masters in Sustainable Food Systems, Drown and her partner, Ryan Quinn, were looking for a place to sow their own organic vegetable farm. That opportunity came just over three years ago in the form of a property in Old Lyme, Connecticut, where Quinn grew up. They moved to the area not knowing that already their sustainable farm program was threatened by a Federal plan to expand high-speed rail along the Northeast Corridor, between Washington, D.C. and Boston.

upper pond farm

The historic towns of Lyme and Old Lyme, home to small farms and local ecosystems along the Connecticut coastline, were shocked to find themselves facing the real threat of a new rail project that would traverse the heart of their picturesque town.

Your first thought when considering Old Lyme, may be of a downtown area where historic buildings look out on trimmed lawns, but the area is home to dozens of working farms that supply locals and tourists with fresh, organic food.

Upper Pond Farm, near the mouth of the Connecticut River, is a six acre human-powered organic farm focused on sustainably providing organic vegetables to the surrounding communities. After three years of farming, Drown and Quinn, learned of the proposed rail project just two weeks ago.

At issue is the re-routing of high speed rail lines over a new bridge that would cross the Connecticut River and surrounding marshland, and continue through the center of Old Lyme. This re-routing is one of three proposals put forth by the North East Corridor Future to update the rail service in the Northeastern United States and increase current rail system’s capacity. A fourth proposal is to “do nothing.”

The Old Lyme route would be part of what the NEC Future calls Alternative One, which as of today appears the most likely option chosen. Other Alternatives include building an extensive new rail line that would bypass the coast and pass through Hartford and the University of Connecticut campus.

The proposed rail line came as a shock to the close-knit community of Old Lyme. Few in the town thought their treasured historic community would ever be divided by a high-speed rail line. The issue was so poorly publicized that many, including the farmers at Upper Pond Farm, only learned of it through Facebook just as the original deadline for public comment closed at the end of January. After public outcry, this deadline was extended through February 15th.

Upper Pond Farm is part of a deep agricultural history in this area of coastal Connecticut. Surrounding the farm are other properties which have alternated between being family homes and working farms over the centuries. Respect for the ecological and agricultural history of the area is high in the town, which holds annual cruises to observe flocks of migratory swallows and hosts an annual festival celebrating the local bird of prey, the osprey.

That same migration of swallows is part of the ecological balance that keeps Upper Pond Farm thriving. Before collecting at the mouth of the river, the swallows feed on the bugs and pests in the fields of Upper Pond Farm, helping Drown and Quinn keep their crops healthy. The area’s salt marshes, estuaries, and beaches are delicate and closely-tied with the survival of its local farms.

Drown and Quinn distribute their produce through 60 CSA shares and two local farmers markets. Even if their crops are able to survive the changes in ecology that a new rail line would bring, they worry that the market for their fresh, organic vegetables would be damaged. In a community dedicated to preserving its local agricultural history, Drown and Quinn worry that area residents will leave with the disruption or demolition of significant portions of the historical district, of the Lyme Art Academy, shops, a renowned museum of American Impressionism, and natural food store.

“A project like this undermines why these people are here,” Quinn pointed out, adding that land preservation is critical to the local citizens and a project like this flies in the face of local zoning, and legal protections for the historical district and surrounding marshes.

The issue in Old Lyme is one not uncommon to farms around our country. Ecosystems, local history, and family farms are low on the list of priorities when considering larger highways and faster railroads. For young farmers like Drown and Quinn, finding property and farming it is only the first step in a long journey to preserve the integrity of their land. From Old Lyme to the rest of the nation, the interaction of so-called progress with our agriculture and ecosystems is a constant struggle for local farms.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen currently farms 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Recently she has begun work restoring an old barn and 100 acres of overgrown fields in hopes of farming full time in the future. Find her online at Days Ferry Organics Blog, and read all of Kirsten's 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.



 Photo by Ellison Photography

We share the planet with all life; for we are not here alone. And so our actions and behaviors affect the lives of the other living beings who share the Earth with us…who share your farm with you.  And what happens to them, affects us as well.

In my last blog, I wrote about what the Coyotes on your farm ask of you ~ understanding and allowing them to live stable lives. That understanding helps you to keep your farm animals safe.

But what we often do not think of regarding the stability of wild carnivores’ lives, is how our behaviors might affect their health. We live in a world where poisons have been accepted as the answer for anything in our environment that we wish to rid ourselves of.  There has been no regard for the larger picture of the community of life. Individuals who earn their living as “exterminators” or “pest control specialists” succeed by using dangerous poisons manufactured by large chemical companies. But they are not alone, for anyone can purchase poisons to kill rats and rodents in their environment.  

Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring alerted our society of the dangerous effects of lethal poisons, not only to ourselves and our children but to all other life. Note that our great raptors like eagles were almost lost to us because of the deleterious effects of DDT. Why then are poisons still the answer to our relationship with other lives? Would it be that we do not observe firsthand the suffering it costs?


Photo by Tim Springer

Most people do not observe the devastating effects poisons have on the very carnivores, who are so capable of controlling rodent populations on our planet. Anticoagulant rat poisons (often called second generation) are used freely, and remain in the rodent’s body at high levels, as they slowly bleed to death. While they are still alive, carnivores like coyotes, cougars, bobcats, foxes and birds of prey like eagles and owls hunt for them….and consume them. And with every poisoned rodent a carnivore consumes, the carnivore is slowly poisoned as well.


 Photo by Dean Searle

Carnivores have powerful immune systems that help them live their wild lives, but with the ever increasing amount of poisons in their body, their immune system is suppressed. Diseases they would otherwise be able to overcome, take over their bodies and cause their death.

One such painful affliction we are observing more and more is mange, in which parasitic mites enter the skin and cause intense itching, leading to open wounds and infection. Along with this, the parasites attack their hair follicles and cause the carnivore to lose much or all of their fur. Mange is most often fatal either because of severe infection and/or the carnivore’s inability to hunt due to weakness and suffering, or they freeze to death in the winter. It is a slow, painful death.

Scientists have observed that when carnivores are so sick, they will tend to come closer to human habitation because they may find easier food…for they are too sick to hunt.

You want to have healthy Coyotes and other carnivores on your farm? Allow your carnivores to do rodent patrol!

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 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.


If you want to do something directly helpful about climate change, if you want to improve your family’s diet and health, if you want to increase food security in the region where you live, and if you want to support your local economy and help to create a better way to exist with the earth and each other, now is the time to act.

CSA Signup Day is Friday, February 26. Community farms and farmers (CSAs) need you, and you need them.

If your local farmers are going to be empowered to grow fresh, clean food for your household, and to steward the land in your name according to the highest ecological standards, then you need to stand up, step forward and sign up now.

CSA share - Creative Commons

February 26 has been identified as an optimum date for households and communities to take a stand in support their local farms and farmers by investing in a share of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). If the farmers know now that you are with them, they can move into spring with confidence and with the necessary resources to do their work on your behalf.

With cooperation and financial support up front, community farms can more effectively strive toward urgently practical ideals: drawing people together in healthy free-will association with one another to heal themselves and the land, while bringing forth the bounty and the beauty of the land.

The need for many thousands more community farms is becoming baldly apparent to all but the willfully ignorant. Yet another top-rank study, this one published earlier this month in the journal Nature Climate Change and last month in the open-access journal Environmental Research Letters, warns that delaying action on climate conditions will have a long-term profound impact.

"The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far,” the scientists concluded.

CSA farms are not the full answer to this great challenge, but for a host of reasons they are one critical and intelligent response to global climate and economic realities.

“CSAs are the most authentic connection between a farmer and eater,” according Simon Huntley, the creator of CSA Day and founder of Small Farm Central, a Pittsburgh-based technology company focused on providing web services to direct-market farms.

“For people who want to directly support local farms, CSAs are one of the best options.” according to Huntley. CSA has played a pivotal role in the farm-to-table movement.

In an email exchange with me, Huntley observed: “The second annual CSA Day is off to a great start with 419 farms participating in our directory as of today. It has really taken on a life of it's own and it becomes a moment where farms can ask their members to sign up at this time of year. Getting some capital in the bank to pay for seeds, greenhouse heat, labor, and all of the rest of the expenses of running a diversified small farm at this time of year is essential so farmers can focus on farming rather than worrying about finances.”

On CSA Signup Day many farmers offer discounts and promotions to people who want to support the farm by investing in a share. Then each week through the growing season the shareholders receive a box filled with the food produced at their community farm

CSA Signup Day this year (February 26) is about more than amplifying the numbers and the beneficial impacts of CSA, it’s also a day generally dedicated to the celebration of community-supported agriculture and the basic good it has brought for so many farms, so many families, and so many communities.

Anyone can participate in CSA Sign Up Day by signing up for a CSA on February 26th. For those looking for a CSA farm in their area to join, here are three online directories:

CSA Signup Day

US Department of Agriculture

Local Harvest

Photo of a CSA share courtesy of Flickr/Suzie's Farm, Creative Commons 2.0.

Journalist Steven McFadden is the author of 15 nonfiction books dealing with the land and our lives upon it. His most recent book is, Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones. Links to all of his blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS can be found 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.

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