Nature and Environment

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

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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.



We are exploring the basic nature and culture of land-based people. Clearly, we are all dependent on the planet for providing much, if not all of the requirements for our life in the physical material plane. Our bodies are composed of the material we ingest as food, breath, liquid and sensory stimuli. Our homes and sacred places are located on this planet and are constructed of material that is provided by Earth. The stability of fuel, money and psychological states are directly impacted by how this physical world is manipulated.

With all this instability, many people engage in intense over-consumption or wasteful attitudes toward resources. Other people are hyper-focused on finding another planet or dimension to live on despite being as equally dependent on Earth for their life, family, body and pleasure as anyone else.

Land-based people acknowledge the location of all material experiences as the living Planet Mother. Land-based people celebrate and serve in ways that support Planet Mother in all her transformations. Land-based people exist globally.

Colonization is a fearful pattern to attempt to align the lifestyle of land-based people with poverty. This pattern has come to assault many of the land based people all over the globe. To accomplish this, currency is a necessary invention to assign wealth to an arbitrary symbol.

As land-based people honor and innovate a living culture, specific patterns shape the creative expression of our practices. We have always grown food, cared for trees and fed nearby animals. We have always focused on using our  breathing, stretching, music, dance, and walking as methods of stepping outside of time and ego. We have for eons had sex to reproduce and educated our children within the family.

In the corporate mental structure that dominates the minds of many people, it is a requirement to believe the need for permission. We seek permission to marry, travel, conduct exchange and reproduce. Who do we ask for permission and why?

To lose our connection to the rich fertility of land puts us in a deep, silent subconscious state of fear. That fear of loss, lack and abandonment help to justify the illusion of currency.

Currency is a way of calculating and traveling with your self-worth or personal value. It's much easier to fold some treasury notes and put them in your pocket than to drag hectares of land everywhere you go. Much of the personal value of land-based people is determined by the health productivity and beauty of the land they steward.

How can this be shown to others in a colonized culture that is designed to direct our attention away from nature and the labor of love that people have practiced for generations? Once this sensual loving relationship is severed physically and psychologically then value is attributed to different lifestyle practices and objects, such as the number of college degrees earned, jewelry, vehicles, popularity, political status, and bank statements.

When the way one interacts with the Earth is unrelated to how they are valued in society than the value can be attached to constantly changing symbols that hold no inherent value. These artificial concepts of self-worth can create a culture of competition over false ideas of limited resources and access.

Local food growers transform these cultural ideas when we work to produce food for our families while rejuvenating the soil with nutrients and attention. As Planet Mother accepts our service, she cleanses us of the ego and continues to feed us in a multitude of diverse ways.

This quantum nutrition serves to enrich our experience in her dimension. The practice of caring for the plants that provide the food we eat is an ancient, humbling way of coexistence. The repetition of cultivation can serve as a meditation for decolonizing our life.

Colonization is rooted in our language, dreams, occupations and media. As we document the local food movement from the perspective of committed growers who are operating outside the typical non-profit industrial complex we demonstrate our power.

Land-base people have always been sovereign, enterprising people who create our lives from the love in our being that pours out through our service to the planet that supports our physical life. Planet Mother is the only home we have ever known as humans. Our daily actions deeply affect the environment of this planet. How do you feel about the way you eat?

Attached is a powerful talk by Zarna Joshi of Women of Color Speak Out: Colonialization and Animals.

Eugene Cooke presents the “Grow Where You Are” workshop series and book in partnership with the organization m.a.m.a. earth. After years of working as an independent contractor supporting urban agriculture organizations, Eugene established Grow Where You Are, LLC, to create a structure for the collaborative efforts of local food heroes to yield tangible results. The main hub for Grow Where You Are is the Good Shepherd Agroecology Center in Southwest Atlanta, Ga., where clean food is grown in a system that preserves the ecology and supports the people. Read all of Eugene'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.


The interview below is with Caroline Snyder, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Dr. Snyder was one of the first faculty members in the nation to design and teach interdisciplinary Environmental Studies and Environmental Science courses. Before retiring, she chaired the Department of Science, Technology, and Society. Professor Snyder did her undergraduate work at Radcliffe College and received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1966.

For the past 20 years, Dr. Snyder has researched the politics and science of using contaminated waste, such as municipal sewage sludges, as “fertilizer.” After co-chairing  the N.H. Sludge Management Advisory Committee, she founded Citizens for Sludge-Free Land. She is a charter member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Dr Snyder has testified nationwide on the inadequacy of the current land application policies and the attempts by industry and EPA to suppress negative data concerning this controversial practice and has served as an unpaid expert witness in sludge-related litigation.

In October 2005, her paper, “The Dirty Work of Promoting ‘Recycling’ America’s Sewage Sludge” was published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. The paper was reprinted under the title "Sewage Sludge Recycling Poses a Threat to Human Health" in Garbage and Recycling (Greenhaven Press, 2007). In March 2006, she was invited by KGET-TV of Bakersfield, Calif., as one of three national experts to participate in an hour-long forum on the land application of sewage sludge. In May 2008, Dr Snyder debated Dean Michael Klag of the Johns Hopkins’ Bloomsberg School of Public Health on Democracy Now on a pilot project in low-income Baltimore neighborhoods that recommended adding sludge compost to lead-contaminated front yards to decrease childhood lead poisoning.

 Nicola Valley B.C. anti-sludge protesters

The above photo shows one of three road blocks put up by a concerned group of native and non-native "protectors" (not protesters) in support of the Chiefs' Moratorium against importing biosolids into the Nicola Valley traditional territories. Members of First Nations are playing an active and important role in the anti-biosolids movement in Nicola Valley in British Columbia, Canada.This remote region is a site of biosolids land application for the Vancouver area.

Dr Snyder, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today about your fight against the land application of sludge. What made you decide to tackle the sludge issue?

In 1996, I learned that the New Hampshire Legislature had put in place emergency sludge rules because of a wrongful death case in Greenland NH. Days after, 6,000 tons of sludge had been stockpiled and spread on a 10-acre hayfield in this residential neighborhood, dozens of neighbors got seriously ill. One young man whose open bedroom window was located only a few yards from the treated field died of respiratory failure. Incidents like this were happening in many other regions of the country.

In all cases, the federal and state agencies either did not return repeated phone calls by the victims or denied any connection between the reported illnesses and sludge exposure. In fact, they assured people that spreading sludge on farms was strictly regulated and perfectly safe. I was shocked. It looked like a cover up to protect special interests. Was the government really spending our tax dollars to promote a practice that was making people sick? I needed to know the truth.

What is the role of an activist?

We track sludge incidents in Canada and the U.S. We collect impartial scientific information to counter the misinformation being spread by Government agencies. We  publicize blatant disregard of rules and guidelines and fraudulent practices.  We advocate regulatory reform to protect public health, sustainable agriculture, and the environment. To that end, we provide communities with a Tool Kit they can use to ban or restrict the practice.

Can you give an example of government  fraud uncovered by one of your activists?

In 1998 one of us examined N.H. sludge test results and discovered that these results were routinely and illegally being changed so that Lowell, Mass., sludge, which at that time did not meet the more stringent state rules, could now be land applied in New Hampshire.

What specifically do activists do to educate the public and media about sludge?

We work with other activists, victims, farmers, scientists, attorneys, farm, health, and environmental organizations. We write letters to the editor and op-eds; we appear on radio and TV programs; we issue press releases; we plan public meetings; we testify before legislators; we show documentaries; we take photos and videos; we organize demonstrations.

Who spreads misinformation and why?

Top EPA and USDA managers who wrote the current outdated 503 sludge rule and stake their reputation on those rules.
1. Sludge brokers, such as Synagro, who profit from the practice.
2. Municipalities who need an inexpensive way to get rid of their daily tons of sludge.
3. Every industry in the country that can legally pipe its hazardous waste into sewage treatment plants.

What are effective tactics to fight sludge?

Activists are the ground troops in the trenches. Because we are outnumbered and out funded, some of us resort to guerilla tactics. This is done effectively by small ad hoc anti-sludge groups scattered around the country, appearing and disappearing like mushrooms, difficult to locate and hard  to identify, so that our opponents have no idea who we are, how many of us there are, who our leaders are, where we are, or when we will strike next.

Nicola Valley B.C. activists

Activists in Vancouver at the Regional government meeting - pushing for changes to guidelines around how and where biosolids are applied in BC. The assembly passed a motion to support these changes! (Chief Marcel Shackley of Nicola Valley, B.C., holding the sign front center).

What are some of your successes?

In the last 15 years, we have come a long way. Many towns and counties have banned or restricted the use of sludge. Close to a hundred  environmental, health, and farm groups, spearheaded by the national Sierra Club, oppose land application. Major food processing companies like Heinz and DelMonte do not accept produce grown on land that has been treated with sludge. Today, no community in North America welcomes the arrival of a sludge truck.

What are the three things that outrage you most?

Government agencies are using our tax dollars to persuade farmers, the public, legislators, and the media that sludge is safe, rather than using these funds to explore safer and more sustainable sludge disposal options.

Using the nation’s dwindling arable land as a repository of persistent toxic pollutants. Healthy soil must be preserved for future generations, especially now that climate change weather  impacts many areas that are historically producing food and fiber.

Groups like the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association (NEBRA) that get paid by EPA to preach the gospel of biosolids and that attempt to silence and discredit scientists and citizens who do not embrace that gospel. Research linking biosolids to serious health and environmental impacts is mounting. Yet, sludge is literally forced upon communities. As they have legitimate scientific concerns about the practice, they should be able to ban it.

Nicola Valley B.C. anti-biosolids activist

Trip by a horse, running and boat to the provincial capital in Victoria — to bring the members of Parliament  soil and water - to tell them the story of the struggle to keep those traditional territories toxin free for future generations. Picture shows various members from bands in the Nicola Valley including Chief Sam and Grand Chief Percy Joe.

Photos credited to members of the Friends of the Nicola Valley.



2. Sierra Club profile of Dr. Snyder

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.


Mossy islands

I’ve never been one to enjoy expansive views atop mountains or over valleys. They do catch my eye on occasion—those that are especially ethereal or otherwise eye-catching. Instead, I tend to spend much more time and delight focusing on the micro-world around me.

Every camera I even consider purchasing comes with a macro focus option. I could spend many hours every day dwelling in the up-close and personal spaces around me. In fact, if hiking with another who loves to get to those mountaintop vistas, I prefer to spend a thrilling (yet somewhat dawdling) time pausing here and there for the close-up shots. I’m not a great companion for those who love an invigorating hike up the hill since my ambling gate and constantly stopping for yet-another-shot style can be disruptive to a good heart rate exercise.

I love studying all these things in close detail. They really come alive to me when I see the way their curves create dimensionality. Perhaps my fascination with the micro world around me is a reflection of the way my mind takes notes for future arting. I do reference photographs quite a bit when depicting nature in my work. There is definitely something that activates my drawing juices when looking at nature so closely.

Take Time to Stop and Smell the Roses

I find all manner of fascination around my garden when taking time to look more closely as I work and wander. My artist’s eye captures textures and color subtleties that glancing more casually from afar might miss. My writer’s imagination tumbles around some of these micro-vignettes—creating worlds and stories that it mightn’t have were I to simply stroll right on by those hiding fairy cairns.

My dad was fond of repeating the oft-quoted wisdom, “Take time to stop and smell the roses.” While I don’t come across many roses in my daily adventures, I do take that quote to heart when ambling through our garden or around other favored nature spots. When looking so carefully and intimately at my surroundings, I feel more connected and a part of them. This is grounding for me.

A friend recently challenged me to post one nature photo per day for a week on Facebook. Not surprisingly, I posted some of my micro-views—and I fell in love all over again. My eyes aren’t what they used to be—aging will do that to a being. Even more than before my macro-focused camera is becoming a better way of seeing the micro world around me.

Over-wintered nature art

I found patterns, color variants, and science all around me during that week. Even the dead and over-wintered plants were alive with eye-catching appeal. I smiled as I discovered the purple cone flower from last year was nearly picked clean. I could just imagine how many meals it had provided for our neighborhood avian friends.

One of my favorite finds of the week were the mossy islands that I came across in our Sacred Fire Circle. The rebuilding of this area, with some stones reclaimed last year, is one of the projects on my “Let’s do this soon” list. Another to-do has been added since my discovery of such fun islands of mystery. I will likely relocate these moss worlds to another part of our yard so they can flourish while I shift the seating area back to one that retards the growth of greenery. I can just imagine fairies flitting around from mound to mound—resting between tending to the flowers.

I was surprised by the variety of mosses in this small area. It made me look around for other vibrant spots. My husband even got into the act and came across some lichen growing on an old piece of rope attached to the tire swing our children created years ago. The discovery of this small section had me chasing around Google to identify all sorts of new-to-me plants.

Early Signs of Spring

When taking time to look more closely at this time of year, I find joys in the early signs of spring. I see that the coral bell leaves are turning toward life. I notice a few asparagus poking through the ground. The blueberry plants are beginning to leaf out and the rhubarb is nearing readiness. Unfortunately, those cherry, pear, and peach blossoms that were so pretty a week or two ago may not develop into much since we’ve had a few hard freezes since. We even had a ground-covering snow on April 9th. But the flowers were lovely while they lasted and likely provided a bit of food for some of the creatures that fly among us.

Which do you prefer — wide open expanses or intensely close viewing? Do you stop to smell the roses and truly look at the world surrounding you? What makes your senses come alive while spending time in nature? Can you find more moments during your day to enjoy time like that?

Colorful spring emerging

Photos by Blythe Pelham

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 Blythe, and read all of her 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.


biosolids spreading

On April 1st, which ironically also happens to be April’s Fools Day – a permit was issued for another 10 years’ worth of sludging activities in Louisa County in central Virginia, the region already heavily affected by the biosolids land applications.

The county’s Farm Bureau president gave a short presentation during the permit’s DEQ hearing. He stated that there is no documented evidence of adverse health effects of agricultural application of sludge, hence – no need to worry about such a thing. During those DEQ hearings, no sludge permit request is ever denied; no public questions or concerns are ever really addressed. This hearing was another “dog and pony show”, a hoop Synagro LLC. needed to jump through to gain more jurisdiction over the company’s sludging activities.

The comment by the Farm Bureau president really rubs me the wrong way. Let me tell you why.

The proposed argument, that no sufficient documented epidemiological data on sludge as a health hazard means no danger to human and animal health – is simply absurd. First, there are several publications to the contrary; you can see a small sample in my footnotes.

Second, the deficiency in knowledge doesn’t make us right; usually it makes us dead wrong. Remember the tobacco industry some 20 or more years ago? They were quite busy assuring the public that there is no connection between smoking and lung cancer. All the while countless beagles, rats and monkeys were dying from smoke inhalation experiments in laboratories across the country.

There is no denying it now - or is there? The largest ever legal settlement called “Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement” was signed in 1998.

Beagles in smoke inhalation experiment

Toxic Risk from Biosolids

It is about time to look the truth in the eye regarding the health consequences of exposure to sludge applied on farm land.

Smoking is, at least initially, a lifestyle choice. A rural resident doesn’t have much of a choice about whether to inhale the pathogen-ridden dust blowing from a field of biosolids across the road.

There is no shortage of data pointing to the airborne sludge dust as a source for almost all contaminants, toxins, and pathogens known to man, see my footnotes below. The cigarette-lung disease causation is a very straightforward concept. With the sludge being such a cesspool of any contaminant invented by man, the cause and effect scenario gets more complicated. You can - quite literally – choose your poison.

Except the choice will be made for you by the sludge distributor and it will be based on the source of the sludge. Kind of like second-hand smoke, a child doesn’t choose what he breaths in – Camel or Marlboro, in a household of smoking parents.

Will the folks in Louisa get to inhale a dust from the municipal sludge of the city of Alexandria? Or will it be industrial residuals from the paper mill in West Point? Or maybe biosolids from Tyson Foods CAFOs? What they will be subjected to will determine the set of symptoms they could experience; the severity of symptoms will vary depending on an individual’s  immune system.

An infant or an ailing elderly will respond differently than a healthy 20-year old. How to measure that, how to compare? How to determine what chronic or progressive illness could be associated with what contaminant blown from a sludged field?

Federal Guidelines for Biosolids Monitoring

The issue is a complex one, just like the mix of pollutants that hides in the sludge and the physical health of nearby residents. To make matters even more difficult to sort out, the federal guidelines for biosolids monitoring, the Part 503 rule, calls for a sporadic monitoring of just a few heavy metals, a couple of indicator pathogens and the nitrogen levels.

Numerous recent studies show that number of pollutants, pathogens and toxins detected in the sludge is actually in tens of thousands! All of those are completely unmonitored!

One would think that the state and federal agencies whose goal is to protect and ensure public health would spring into action! But then – take Flint, Michigan….

The federal and state funds should be pouring into research institutions across the country calling for comprehensive and multidisciplinary studies investigating the environmental and public health consequences associated with agricultural use of municipal and industrial waste as fertilizer, right? Wrong! See my interview with Dr David Lewis; the unbiased, non-industry funded research is discouraged at the best, and silenced in many cases, by the very agencies that should be sponsoring such research.

EPA actually devised a plan to bypass citizen’s opposition to the agricultural sewage sludge disposal.

And I can’t stop but wonder – why is that? Could it be that the reason behind it all is simply profit? After all, we all are sludge producers. The growing “supply” of municipal and industrial waste is a liability, a burden to society.

And then somewhere along the way, that burden of what to do with the toxic waste morphed into a commercial opportunity. For the localities accepting sludge for storage, the sludge distributors distributing it all across the country, for the unsuspecting farmers opting for “free natural fertilizer”. I’m sure there are many more players in this game; I’m just not clever enough to think of them. But it seems like a real gravy train for many. Or – a sludge train.

So what about rural residents choking on toxic dust? Well, it is unfortunate; they are the collateral damage. But there aren’t that many of them anyway, those rural communities are only sparsely populated. And remember, EPA has a plan to control that problem!

Or maybe I should “rethink my position”, which was the suggestion given by Virginia’s DEQ Director David Paylor to one committee member at that April Fool’s Day hearing. Roberta Kellam of the Eastern Shore, the sole member of the State Water Control Board, stated that she could not see the beneficial agricultural use of the sludge and expressed concern over the “deficiencies in knowledge” on this issue. She was the only NO vote for the new permit, it was therefore granted and so the sludge train goes on.



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.


Scripps PreserveDon’t let the fact that San Diego is America’s seventh most populated city mask the fact that this metropolis, sandwiched between the Laguna Mountains and sparkling Pacific Ocean, is every bit a nature – and sun – lover’s dream. With temperatures typically in the 70s or 80s and plentiful sunshine, there’s rarely a day you can’t catch the sunset, go for a ocean kayak trip or bike some of the hundreds of miles of bike trails or pathways that weave through the city.

This first of a two-part blog based on my family’s recent wintertime escape in February, highlights the ecotourism adventures to be had, on land, water or, if you’re truly adventurous, in the air.

Marine Sanctuary

We hit the waters of the La Jolla Cove in an ocean kayak on Everyday California’s Sea Cave Excursion. Our 90-minute paddle included a stop at – and inside — the La Jolla Sea Cave known as “the clam,” plus some hang time with Sea Lions and colorful narration by our guide Cara about the natural and cultural history of the area.  The caves are only accessible by water, in a kayak.

“The La Jolla Preserve has four distinct micro-habitats,” explains Kara Drown, as she guides us toward the caves after a stop to talk about the La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Preserve. “We’re paddling through three of them, the kelp forest, sandy flats and rocky reef. The Preserve is a Marine Protected Area that has one of the highest concentrations of sea life anywhere along the coast of California.”

As it turns out, the cove is ideal for kayaking and stand up paddle boarding, with its relatively calm and sheltered waters. Boats are restricted inside the buoys marking the 6,000 acre-wide preserve area of tidal shoals, shoreline and ocean floor.

Whale seen from Hornblower Cruises 

Looking to get further out on the open water and eager to catch a glimpse of the migrating Gray Whales, we embarked with Hornblower Cruises for their afternoon whale-watching excursion.  Once we were out of the busy harbor, Karen Marshall, an enthusiastic docent with the San Diego Natural History Museum and on board our ship, jokingly had the whole boatload of us imitating whale calls like Dory in Saving Nemo, calling out to the whales. It worked.

Besides watching the playful tail-slamming of many Gray Whales, our group was treated to several sightings of two Humpback Whales along with the rare spotting of a huge Blue Whale, the largest of all the whales. As it turns out, the whales are so plentiful here that you’re guaranteed to see them or you can return on a different day with Hornblower to try again for free.

“These whales are truly some of the most magnificent beings on Earth,” shares Marshall, as she showed us sections of a whale baleen and jawbones during our return to the dock.

Terrestrial Playground

There’s plenty to do on land, too. With the weather what it is, walking the miles of coastal beaches, bicycling or skateboarding some of the hundreds of miles of pathways, or hiking inland desert of mountain trails comes naturally.

Our favorite spots were hiking along the Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach as the sun turns the rocky coastline golden. Another standby are the paths in the “knoll” or “cliffs” of the upland portions of the Scripps Coastal Reserve.

Giant Panda at San Diego Zoo 

Among the highlights for many visitors is world-renowned San Diego Zoo, as much a conservation initiative as it is an educational and entertaining refuge nestled right in the heart of the city. This lush 100-acre oasis, spectacularly landscaped, is home for over 3,500 threatened or endangered animals and representing as many as 650 species and subspecies.

Located inside the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, the zoo showcases over 700,000 exotic plants, adding to its biological richness. We brought a picnic lunch and savored it in the cool shade of the fern forest and to the sounds of a cascading river and an occasional distant call from a peacock.

Without a doubt, the San Diego Zoo’s Giant Pandas are a huge draw, and for good reason. Besides their adorable black-and-white-patterned appeal, they serve as one of the faces of the global conservation movement.  It’s estimated that there’s fewer than 2,000 endangered Giant Pandas left on the planet in the mountains of central China and less than 300 in captivity.

So whether for continued breeding or used as leverage to help draw attention and funds to support habitat conservation, the presence of these pandas are a step in understanding the issues they, and many other species, face. The San Diego Zoo as well as the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research are operated by the nonprofit San Diego Zoo Global.

In the Air

Just north of ritzy La Jolla, sits the Torrey Pines Gliderport, America’s top spot for paragliding and hang gliding. For an adrenaline rush without a drop of fossil fuels, you can soar over the side of the cliff, catching a current of air, strapped onto your pilot who steers your parachute or glider over the cliffs and Blacks Beach about two hundred feet below. Paragliding tandem instructional flights last about 25 minutes, and cover your lift off, flight and landing under the direction of a certified instructor.

In our next post, we’d reveal the culinary adventures to be had, and a few places where you can catch some rest that go easy on the Earth.

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 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.


Yellow Agriope Spider In Garden 

I have a long-standing fear and dislike of spiders — especially big ones. Over the years, it has lessened somewhat but was not helped by moving into a house in Golden, Colorado, that was vacant for a year and bred a large number of Black Widow spiders.

I killed 44 of them in a three-month span before eradicating this pest from our new home. You could say I was not a likely candidate for conversion to a spider lover.

I was in the garden one day picking my newest favorite tomato, ‘Juliet’, when I met her. She was striking in appearance and quickly grabbed my complete attention. This was because my hand was dangerously close to the biggest spider I had seen in my four years of veggie gardening in Perry Hall, Maryland.

I pulled my hand back quickly due to the long-standing fear of spiders and considered my options: I could squish the life out of her since she might be a nuisance with her web right in the middle of my favorite tomato plant, or I could leave her alone for now. I decided a stay-of-execution was in order and sought expert advice.

I went inside and grabbed my camera to take her picture to send to the UMD Grow-It-Eat-It plant and garden experts. They would know if this was a dangerous vixen in my tomato patch or a friend to be welcomed.

I sent in the photo and brief explanation of my dilemma and waited for a reply. The reply came back that I had a Yellow Agriope spider, it was harmless, and it would probably be a benefit to my garden. She got her reprieve from death-by-squishing.

Over the next few days, it took intense concentration to avoid her area around my luscious red-ripe ‘Juliet’ tomatoes that were bursting forth in amazing quantities and quality. Several of these yummy red orbs had to be left as they were practically in her dinner-plate-sized web.

As the weeks went by, I marveled at how she seemed to nab at least one of the pesky Japanese beetles per day and that pleased me. When my 12-year-old gardening protégé came over to help for his periodic garden lesson, he got big-eyed and said, “Is it dangerous?” to which I replied, “Only to other bugs, especially Japanese beetles!” He agreed with me that it was fun to watch her and learned to accept her presence in the garden.

Spider Web In The Garden 

As July was coming to an end, I was getting friendlier with her and even named her: Miss Agriope. I started amusing myself by catching and tossing all manner of bugs into her web, thoroughly enjoying the times when with lightning speed she pounced on, wrapped, and bit her easily won prey. She would let it tenderize for later consumption. This game was lots of fun, and she was growing big and fat by now with all the extra food.

August came and it was time for our annual vacation to Alaska. My nextdoor neighbor tends my garden on these trips to the far north, doing a fine job of keeping everything alive, but has a phobia of all manner of stinging bugs.

Looking back, I should have warned my neighbor about this very large and scary spider in the tomatoes. It was probably this phobia that led to Miss Agriope’s disappearance, for when I returned, she was gone from my life.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask my neighbor if she had dispatched my long-legged friend, so who knows what the culprit was, but picking ‘Juliet’ tomatoes would never be the same without my long-legged friend.

Even though she is long gone, I have photos and memories of her scary beauty.  I hope that her progeny might grace my garden. If so, let the summer games begin and look out you Japanese beetles — there’s a new sheriff in town, and she will eat you!

Kurt Jacobson is a food and travel writer with more than 20 years experience as a professional chef, in addition to being an avid amateur gardener. Read more of his writing at Taste of Travel 2 and find his food writing, including recipes, at Fast and Furious Cook.
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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