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Celebrating Sustainability with Farm-to-Table Dining & Shopping Local in Healdsburg, California: Part 2

Downtown Plaza in Healdsburg California

The 19th Century Plaza -- rimmed by art galleries, book stores, gift shops, restaurants and tasting rooms -- in the heart of downtown Healdsburg, California offers a shady respite after a bicycle jaunt or winery tour of Sonoma County’s wine country.

Inspired by the idyllic surroundings and Foss Creek that meanders through town are some of the most environmentally hip hotels and creative farm-to-table restaurants in the region, if not the country. Here, sustainability thrives, blending small-town hospitality and charm while still offering the hipster vibe and modern flair you might associate with the urban scene. Outside town, you can take a natural escape to see the magnificent Sequoia sempervirens or hop on a bicycle tour and visit biodynamic farms or wineries.

This is the second of a two-part article of my exploration of Healdsburg, joined by my husband-photographer John Ivanko.

Mateos Cocina Latina Fresh Salad

Farm to Table Dining

Whenever you’re ready to sit down for a meal, Healdsburg offers a sundry menu of farm-to-table fare. We loved Mateo’s Cocina Latina where Yucatán-born chef Mateo Granados blends Sonoma sourced ingredients infused with the vibrant flavors of his homeland. We recommend his nightly tasting menu, where you can have a multi-course menu with optional wine pairing. Upwards of seventy five percent of his seasonal vegetables comes from Mateo’s own Dry Farm Merida’s Garden. Appropriately enough, our multi-course meal started with a freshly-picked salad greens topped with edible flowers.

For a true “art to farm to table” experience, check out Barndiva, a whimsical spot that mashes farm-fresh ingredients with a funky, casual gallery atmosphere. Barndiva’s motto: “Wherever you are, eat the view.” Barndiva serves up the unexpected, from goat cheese croquettes, accented with Healdsburg wildflower honey and lavender, to the largest framed collection of cigarette cards outside of the United Kingdom. The display of these cards is totally worth a look. The cards were designed to build brand loyalty, covering a range of topics with original art pictures, mainly produced in England between 1880 and 1930.

Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen Scallops

Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, overlooking the historic tree-lined Plaza, is guided by the culinary vision of Executive Chef Scott Romano. Thanks to his talent for creating tasty dishes from seasonal abundance, Romano builds the restaurant’s menu around what his farmers bring in. This results in a “quality versus quantity” fine dining. Of course, Romano is happy to make wine pairing recommendations, too. We enjoyed his Pan Seared Diver Scallops, with an unexpected combo of accompaniments including candied walnuts, smoked raisin puree and house-made lardo, a type of salumi.

“We take ‘cook in season’ to a new, higher level here in Healdsburg, distinctly different than any other restaurant I’ve worked in,” sums up the particularly convivial Chef Romano. “Farmers come to my door with something like carrots and I work with them to create menu items that use what they have, rather than me just ordering what I need. It results in fresh flavors you won’t find anywhere else.” Save some room for their desserts; they're like edible masterpieces.

Charlie Palmer Dry Creek Kitchen Dessert 

For the homespun taste of Healdsburg in your home kitchen, check out the recipes shared by area chefs, including a Winter Squash Soup Recipe with Yogurt and Bee Pollen, Wild Mushroom Tartine, and Simple Vinaigrette Salad Dressing from Jordan Vineyard.

Snack & Shop Local in Healdsburg

Healdsburg’s commitment to sustainability can be seen in the array of local shops and flavors to savor in an organic ice cream scoop shop or artisanal bakeries. You’ll likely be drawn Healdsburg’s charming 19th Century Plaza in the center of town when arriving. It’s a welcoming green space that invites folks to linger on park benches and chat, earning Healdsburg the reputation of being one of the best small towns in the country to visit.  

You won’t find t-shirt dives or franchises downtown. Instead, we were blown away by the uniqueness of each locally-owned shop while strolling around the Plaza and exploring the adjoining streets. For those who can’t pass up a bakery, like us, prepare to be impressed. Moustache Baked Goods, run by a sweetly creative team of twenty-somethings, brings farm to table to your cookie. With a goal of sourcing ingredients within thirty miles of Healdsburg, Moustache takes cupcakes to an elevated flavor profile with seasonal offerings such as “The Beekeeper” made with local lavender, honey and Meyer lemons.

Cupcakes from Moustache Baked Goods 

More bakeries? Sure, we say. Don’t miss Costeaux French Bakery, baking up treats like Cinnamon Walnut Bread since 1923. It didn’t take us long to figure out that the platters of morning croissants served at the complimentary breakfast at H2 Hotel were from Costeaux French Bakery. Delivered fresh daily from Costeaux, we felt obliged to indulge in more than one buttery, chocolate croissant.

You had us at “pie bar.” Be sure to stop by Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar, an additional venture of the folks at Moustache, this time focused on handcrafted pie and ice cream featuring – of course – local flavors like Dry Creek peaches and triple crown blackberries from the local, certified-organic Front Porch Farm, which we also toured during our stay.

Craving for something savory? Check out the handcrafted salumi at Journeyman Meat Company, an old-world butcher shop in the Italian tradition. Reaching back to Medieval times, the “Journeyman” name harkens to the European tradition when traveling craftsmen traded their skill in exchange for welcoming room and board. Looking for something uniquely local that travels home easily? Stop by Russian River Tea Company where the cheerful owner, Holly Hunt, will gladly guide you to find your favorite among her many unique, hand-crafted tea blends, including Gingered Pink Peppercorn, one of her best-sellers.

Healdsburg also offers a diverse menu of shops and spots in town to explore. The town boasts two independent bookstores: Levin and Company Bookstore and Copperfield's Books, complete with a resident bookstore fluffy and friendly cat. Pick up picnic supplies at Oakville Grocery, the longest continually operating grocery store in California, bustling since 1881. Art galleries pop up throughout town, along with plenty of wine tasting rooms. If you still need a diversion, stop by the quirky Hand Fan Museum, the first museum in the United States dedicated solely to hand fans.

Out and About on Ecotourism Adventures

While the town of Healdsburg will surely lure you in, be sure to allocate some time to get out and explore the natural settings and more eco-minded businesses in surrounding Sonoma County. Check out our previous post on the inspiring sustainability movement led by area wineries, including Quivira, DaVero and Truett Hurst. Nose and sip your wine while helping healing the Earth.

Healdsburg even blends wine with a workout if you’re so inclined. Join Getaway Adventures Sip N Cycle as they lead you via bicycle down the tranquil backroads with Instagram-worthy postcard views of this fabled wine region. Hosted by award-winning guides, Getaway Adventures takes care of every detail including your bike, a tasty picnic spread and insider navigation to their favorite vineyards for an up close and personal “Grapes 101” course.

Bond with a primeval forest that covered much of the area before logging operations began during the 19th century at the Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve. These stately and magnificent Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the California redwood, stand tall and together serve as a testament to the wonders of the natural world. The grove offers solace and inspiration for quiet reflection, so bring your camera, journal or canvas and paint. Trails range from short flat nature trail loops of less than two miles up to longer back country hiking excursions.

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam and millions of ladybugs.

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.

Sustainable Travel to Healdsburg, California: Staying at LEED Gold-Certified H2 Hotel, Part 1

Living Roof at H2 Hotel in Healdsburg California

Tucked into the rolling hills filled with the vineyards of Sonoma County’s wine country, just off Highway 101 and about a two hours’ drive north of San Francisco, rests Healdsburg, California. Along with the sustainability movement taking hold in the area’s wineries, the downtown H2 Hotel has spectacularly demonstrated its commitment to revitalize, restore, and rejuvenate, championing environmental stewardship in every way, from the hotels’ innovative, artistic and ecologically-focused design to the complimentary refillable glass bottles of water they provide to their guests.

This is the first of a two-part article of my environmentally-mindful exploration of Healdsburg, joined by my husband-photographer, John Ivanko, with a focus on our stay in the H2 Hotel. Part 2 will delve into the delicious farm-to-table dining, ecotravel diversions and the plentiful opportunities to shop local in town.

Eco-Lodging at H2 Hotel – LEED Gold Certified

You know you’re in the right place when you look up and see the wavy roof with thousands of native succulents, such as the tight rosettes of the ghost plant and shrubby Cotyledon, growing on top. Welcome to H2 Hotel, a US Green Building Council’s LEED Gold Certified Green hotel in the center of Healdsburg. There are solar thermal system panels used to heat the swimming pool’s water and a small PV system on the roof, too. Nearly all of the water is cleverly captured on the roof and grounds, filtered and then used for irrigation.

Solar Thermal and Solar Electric Panels on Roof of H2 Hotel

From the moment we walked in, the H2 Hotel captivated us with its innovative design, sense of style, and meticulous attention to detail. Staff are friendly, quick to point out places to go for a hike or bike. There’s nothing cookie-cutter here. Instead, a fountain made with a wall of hundreds of splashing spoons welcomed us in the outside entranceway courtyard, with the spoons clinking from the gentle trickling of water. Another H2 welcome we loved seeing: a rack of complimentary bicycles offered to guests should they wish to ply the miles of trails in the area. We enter the main lobby through glass doors, but glass window walls of the lobby space, dining area and adjacent lounge let sunlight pour in and maintain a sense of connection to the natural surroundings around the hotel.

“Natural light played a key role in the building’s design,” explains Jason Farmer, H2 Hotel’s Director of Sales. “Ninety percent of all occupied spaces in the hotel have a direct view of the outside with double pane windows adding to the insulation.” 

The eco-chic H2 Hotel, opening its doors in 2011, blends eco-conscious and comfy with an impressive 85-percent of the construction building materials coming from reclaimed and recycled content. This adds up to a whimsical, wabi sabi coziness that draws you in and tempts you to lounge in the lobby with a book or a beverage served in glass made from an up-cycled empty wine bottle.

Harvest Table and Chairs from Eggshells at H2 Hotel 

Look closely, for intentional green details are everywhere: flooring recycled from a high school basketball court in the San Francisco Bay area, dining room chairs surrounding a hand-crafted harvest table at Spoonbar made out of chicken eggshells, and cardboard clothes hangers in guest closets. For EV owners staying as guests, there’s complimentary Tesla and Universal charging stations available. A free Ashtanga yoga class is even offered on Sunday morning. What’s missing at H2 Hotel? Plastic, wonderfully so.

Organic Linens in Hotel Room of H2 Hotel 

Each energy-efficient room -- with an indoor sitting area, outside private balcony, tiled spa shower and spacious desk workspace -- is smart card key activated, turning on, and off, all lights and air conditioning.

Sparking and Still Water Bottles at H2 Hotel

Complimentary snacks from local suppliers are restocked daily in the room; old milk bottle-styled water containers filled with sparkling and still water can be conveniently refilled in Waterbar dispensers on each floor.

Lox Cream Cheese and Bagel for Breakfast at H2 Hotel

Every morning, guests are invited down to a made-to-order breakfast of lox and bagel, a unique breakfast salad or egg dishes; with the entrée is a breakfast bar of locally-baked croissants, local and seasonal fresh fruit, yogurt, juice and Flying Goat coffee and tea.

“The original property here used to be a gas station and it was completely contaminated, so it took a couple of years prior to breaking ground, working with various agencies, to clean up the soil and site,” explains Farmer. “When this project started, folks hadn’t seen fish in Foss Creek, which runs through the back of the property, for years and now it’s a vibrant natural habitat.”

“The restoration at Foss creek exemplifies how this community comes together around a common cause,” adds Circe Sher. Her family brought to life a portfolio of hotels, curated to be shining example of sustainability, including H2 Hotel and the new Harmon Guest House just down the street. “The creek had been an afterthought for our community, but we rallied around a new vision and partnered with Riverkeepers to now make it a natural refuge for everyone to enjoy.”

Triple Bottom Line Business: People, Planet and Profit

As we write about in our ECOpreneuring book, sustainability can also boost your economic bottom line. “Because of the investments we made in energy conservation, H2 uses 28 percent less energy than a standard California hotel this size,” beams Farmer. That means more profit.

“Things might have been more expensive during construction, but it is so worth it in the long run,” adds Farmer. That rooftop of drought resistant succulents adds beauty and function and covers two thirds of the building, supporting the grey water filtration system. No trees were cut down to build H2 Hotel as only reclaimed wood was used. All building materials came from a 500-mile radius.

“Our philosophy is to do things sustainably and be a model for people to think about what they can apply in their own homes,” shares Sher. “Simple, smart design goes a long way in both creating a sense of place and beauty and environmental efficiency.”

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chefcookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son, Liam, and millions of ladybugs.

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.

Top Travel Spots to Visit in 2019


One of the best ways to have an escape and create new memories with your loved ones is to spend time traveling throughout the year. Traveling offers the opportunity to discover new locations and try new activities in a beautiful setting. Here are a few of the top travel spots to consider visiting in 2019 when you're looking to book your next vacation.

Savannah, Georgia

Known as a big small town, Savannah is a charming location to explore for its contemporary design and Southern roots. The coastal city sits next to the Savannah River and offers many historic sites that include Bonaventure Cemetery, Wormsloe Historic Site, and the Savannah Historic District. The cobblestone squares, manicured parks, and horse-drawn carriages allow it to feel magical as you spend time in a friendly location where the locals will make you feel welcome.


Singapore is increasing in popularity after the film Crazy Rich Asians became one of the top movies in 2018. The small-nation state features stunning architecture and a lush tropical setting with plenty of palm trees. One of the top places to visit in the city is the Marina Bay Sands Singapore hotel, which features an infinity pool on the roof and overlooks the city. When you want to continue exploring at night, consider taking a night safari at the night zoo where tram rides are available. You can spend time in the lush rainforest while getting a firsthand look at tigers, elephants, and leopards.

Petra, Jordan

According to Architectural Digest, the Petra Museum is scheduled to open in 2019 and offers a look at the rich history of the city. More people are choosing to travel to the Middle East to explore architectural sites and learn more about the history of each country. Petra can be accessed by traveling through a narrow canyon where tombs and temples are carved into the rock and are visually stunning. According to, most of the sites are best accessed by foot although camels, horse buggies, and donkeys are also available. "Petra by Night" is also a must-see for the visual effects that it offers to locals and tourists in the city.

St. Barth's

Known as one of the top destinations in the world that is frequented by the rich and famous, St. Barth's boasts beautiful views of the water with luxury resorts and white sand on its beaches. Visitors can find many different designer shops when you're looking to own a new piece of jewelry or handbag. If you're looking for cruises to the Bahamas, St. Barth's is one of the top locations to explore and offers a laid back culture that makes it easy to feel like you're in paradise.

Some of the top sites to visit in St. Barth's includes Shell Beach where millions of shells have washed onto the shore. Colombier, Saint Barthélemy is also a common place to unwind on the northwestern part of the island where it's surrounded by lush greens. Those who are interested in snorkeling and sailing can visit Île Fourchue, which is an island between Saint-Barthélemy and Saint Martin. It's a quiet location where you can escape the crowds and enjoy a bit of isolation from the rest of the world while lounging in the sun or swimming underwater with colorful schools of fish.

Alsace, France

According to, Alsace is home to romantic villas where some of the finest wines in the world are produced. Maison Trimbach and Domain Winebach can be visited to enjoy world-class Gewürztraminers and Rieslings. The city can even be explored by boat with private cruises that are available.

There are plenty of places in the world to visit when you want to have an adventure and learn more about different countries. By knowing the top hot spots in 2019, you can become more worldly and cultured due to your experiences.

Photo credit: Pexels

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.

Sustainable Transportation and Mobility with Electric Vehicles, Present and Future

Byton M-Byte Concept Electric Vehicle

Nearly every major automotive company is exploring ways to try to catch up with Tesla’s dominance of the luxury electric vehicle category, clearly evident at the annual CES, or Consumer Electronics Show, held every year in Las Vegas, Nevada. I discovered an entire hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center largely devoted to everything auto, or as a growing list of companies like to say, the mobility business.

While tech gadgets and electronic devices are everywhere at CES, the world’s largest electronics trade show has become de facto an auto show – stealing some thunder from the long-standing Detroit Auto Show held the following week. This is largely due to the explosive integration of myriad technologies like cameras, sensors, AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning – plus the connectivity revolution soon to be brought upon by the widespread availability of the 5G network that is touted to increase data flow and information communication by an estimated magnitude of more than 20 times of what’s currently possible with 4G.

So, what’s here and now, and what’s on the not-so-distant horizon? The following are a few of my mobility discoveries, some familiar to many, others still in prototype or displayed as concepts. As an early tech adopter, along with my wife, Lisa Kivirist, we’ve moved to a Toyota Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, as our primary and only car used to get around; our Prius Prime is completely recharged with a 10.8 kW photovoltaic system on site. In reviewing the latest from CES, I’ve focused on the larger transportation tech, since electric assist bicycles and e-scooters have largely become commonplace, especially in many urban areas around the country.

Nissan Leaf e+ Plug-in Electric Car

Present: Nissan Leaf e+

The next generation of Nissan’s Leaf, the Leaf e+ (e-plus), unveiled on the tradeshow floor, featuring an expanded EPA-estimated range of 226 miles, thanks to a new powertrain and 62 kWh battery. With a more powerful 160 kW motor comes greater acceleration than found with the current Nissan Leaf model, still the world’s best-selling electric vehicle. Recharging for the new Leaf e+ is faster, too, with a 70-kWh (100 kW peak) Quick Charging system. The Nissan Leaf e+ is expected to be in showrooms by summer.

Harley Davidson LiveWire Electric Motorcycle

Present: Harley-Davidson LiveWire Electric Motorcycle

Given the interest in building your own electric motorcycle at some Mother Earth News Fairs over the years, perhaps it’s no surprise that Harley-Davidson is going for the green with their new electric LiveWire motorcycle, available later in 2019. Drawing on their expertise, building on their reputation, and leveraging their technology, including their H-D Connect Service which pairs motorcycle riders with their bikes through LTE-enabled Telematics Control Unit coupled with cloud services and connectivity, Harley’s LiveWire electrifies two-wheel mobility like never before. The Harley-Davidson App will display locations to the nearest charging station.

I took my stationary test drive of the Harley LiveWire -- going from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds -- at CES. The bike is sleek and fast, all electric and, therefore, uncharacteristically quiet for a Harley motorcycle. For perhaps the first time ever, you won’t hear this Harley coming down the road from a half mile away. And it’s perfect for new riders since electric power requires no clutch or gear shifting. The 110-mile estimated range on urban roads is enhanced by regenerative breaking.

Present:  Lyft’s Fleet of Self-Driving Vehicles

From autonomous, or self-driving, Lyft vehicles in partnership with Aptiv shuttling passengers around Las Vegas to their visible presence in advertising banners around the city, ride sharing is here to stay, even in taxi-dominated Las Vegas. The Lyft partnership with Aptiv, formerly known as Delphi Automotive, is the largest public commercial self-driving network operating to date, with over 30,000 self-driving rides provided in a BMW 540i, hailed with the Lyft app. Lyft estimates that self-driving vehicles may reduce accidents by as much as 90-percent and reduce the number of vehicles on the road by 80-percent. Since safety remains top priority with Aptiv’s 360-degrees of safety which can see as far as two football fields away, an Aptiv safety driver and operator also sits up front to monitor the vehicle and provide any assistance for those lucky enough to secure a ride in the self-driving car.

Of course, there were plenty of regular ride-sharing services offered at a fraction of the cost of commercial taxis, with private vehicle owners shuttling people around the city, including tech writer Liam Kivirist and myself. We would have jumped at a chance to try out the self-driving vehicle but we’re more than happy to wait until the vehicle itself was all-electric, not the internal combustion engine powered BMW 540i. A bonus: there’s no tip for a self-driving vehicle ride.

Near Future: Byton's Mobile Digital All-electric Lounge on Wheels

The all-electric M-Byte SUV and K-Byte sedan (lead photo), both from Chinese EV start-up Byton, inched closer to reality as a “mobile digital lounge.” Still a concept with yet a vehicle to roll off the assembly line for a customer, Byton’s M-Byte and K-Byte are seemingly designed for those who love touch screens and voice assistants. Byton envisions the all-electric vehicle as “the next generation smart device.”

The luxurious, digital-wonderland of Byton’s K-Byte sedan is matched in terms of performance by a 71 kWh battery with an estimated electric range of up to 325 miles. Despite all the high tech bells and whistles, however, the anticipated MSRP for the K-Byte is $45,000 and expected to be available later in 2019. The vehicles have Level III autonomous functionality, while possessing readiness for Level VI self-driving in 2020.

Bell Nexus Flying Taxi on Display at CES

More Distant Future:  Bell Nexus Flying Vehicle

For Bladerunner movie fans, there are more than the Nexus name to conjure up images of aerial transportation systems free of traffic jams with a vehicle that can go just about anywhere and not require airport security or a runway to get off the ground. We learned long ago, the most efficient and quickest route is usually a straight line between two points. Bell, formerly Bell Helicopters, delivered with its full-size, concept version of a hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL), 5-seat taxi, able to lift off and land on a 40-foot square landing pad.

With six, 90-degree tilting rotors, the Bell Nexus pulls power from a Safran turbine for its hybrid-electric propulsion. “As space at the ground level becomes limited, we must solve transportation challenges in the vertical dimension – and that’s where Bell’s on-demand mobility vision takes hold,” says Mitch Snyder, President and CEO of Bell, in a release. To cut down on noise accompanying traditional helicopters, the propellers are placed inside a tilting duct. With improved battery storage capabilities, the vehicle is expected to eventually be all-electric. The earliest you might catch a glimpse of a Bell Nexus actually in the air wouldn’t be until the mid-2020s.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Bringing Nature (Mealworms) to the Classroom

 “Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature (p.159, 2005)." This is one of my favorite quotes from, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. This book is an important reminder of what many of us have come to accept as fact; the idea that our country’s children are losing touch with the simple wonders of our world. Children are the future of this planet, so their escalating detachment from nature is of great concern—especially in light of the current insect crisis indicating a massive decline in numbers. If we truly aim to help this planet, we must endeavor to connect our youngest population with nature to build a bridge to a future filled with hope.

With this in mind, as the creator of Serendipity (FB Group), I am vested in our members who bring nature to the classroom. We commend the teachers who raise caterpillars with their students; the ones who share the magical world of insects. We are grateful to the teachers who awaken the imagination of the children; the ones who tell the tale of the Monarch butterflies’ long journey to Mexico. Moreover, we are heartened by the educators who create school butterfly gardens; the ones who show students that seeds sprout into plants and hope. With this in mind, today's blog will focus on one group member’s inspirational story; a story of how the somewhat lowly mealworm is able to provide a unique and engaging learning environment, offer amazing therapeutic opportunities—and connect children to the natural world.

Michele Morgan is an Occupational Therapist and Transition Coordinator.  She works directly with elementary and high school students at Warren Woods Public Schools. The vision of their Special Services Department is to create a collaborative environment where all educators embrace every learner to successfully reach their full potential. As a self-described advocate for environmental education, Michele first became interested in mealworms in 2013. The mealworm, Tenebrio molitor, is actually the larval form of a flour beetle. The life cycle is as follows: Egg, larvae (mealworm), pupae, and imago (adult beetle).   

 life cycle

Photo by Michele Morgan depicting the life-cycle of the mealworm.

After introducing mealworms, as an organic food for her own chickens and quail, Michele realized that these creatures could also be used as part of an engaging treatment modality for students with special needs. Mealworms are a good choice for schools: They are cold tolerant, they are easy to breed, and they do not require elaborate care. Moreover, mealworms have the unique ability to digest non-biodegradable expandable polystyrene foam (what we often call Styrofoam). This is a truly fascinating environmental concept well-worth exploring within an educational setting. Armed with her knowledge and several donated plastic bins, the mealworms headed to school with Michele.


Photo by Michele Morgan of the mealworm setup.

Mealworms Transform Styrofoam into Nutrient-Rich Fertilizer

The students began to sort and breed mealworms and they gained many unique learning opportunities in the areas of science, math, and pre-vocational skill development. Through the combined efforts of Michele, and her students, grant money was awarded to support the purchase of technology-driven insect hives (Livinfarms). A 3-D printer has also become part of the mealworm program and has been used to create tools that fit the needs of the students. The mealworm program results in skill-set growth with students reaping numerous therapeutic benefits including sensory stimulation. Also, of great importance is the connection the students form with the insects; and the hands-on knowledge they gain about environmental issues and creative solutions. One example: The students transfer Styrofoam from the cafeteria to the mealworm habitat as food. Days later, the children see that the Styrofoam has been consumed and has become nutrient-rich fertilizer in the form of frass (excrement of insect larvae). 

Mealworms feasting on Styrofoam

Photo by Michele Morgan of mealworms feasting on Styrofoam.

Mealworms Provide Therapeutic Benefits

At an elementary level, students in special education develop upper body strength and stability, as they kneel to explore the mealworm habitat. They gain fine motor-skill dexterity as they sift through the bedding; and sort the beetles, mealworms, and pupae. The high school students gain important real-life experience as they prepare to navigate the transition from school to adulthood and real-world employment. The high school students collect the mealworm frass, monitor habitat conditions, feed, sort, weigh, and package the insects for local feed and pet stores. The mealworms the students raise serve as food for reptiles, hedgehogs, and chickens. The mealworms also become food for many species of songbirds; like the ones that frequent our own backyard habitats. Without doubt, the program teaches students about the viable side-businesses, or micro-enterprise, associated with mealworm farming.


Photo by Michele Morgan of a custom 3-d printed sorting tool made to use with students with sensory issues and to help accurately size and sort worms.

Environmental Education: Changing the Way Children Think & Connecting Them With Nature

When Michele Morgan brought her mealworms to school, she offered children a very important gift. Not only do these students have unique opportunities to acquire academic learning, gain life skills, and make therapeutic strides—they also gain an understanding and lasting respect for the environment. At this time, in addition to mealworm farming, Michele’s students are breeding night crawlers (Lumbricus terrestris) in a commercial wigwam. The students in pre-vocational classes use the worm castings to fertilize houseplants at multiple buildings throughout the district. The worms are fed scraps from the commercial foods department. Furthermore, the students are growing herbs and managing an aquaponics system that combines aquaculture and hydroponics for a reduced-cost alternative to indoor gardening. Like many of us, Michele has her eyes on the future and continues to look for new ways to bring nature to school. Currently, Michele is planning to work with students to start native nectar and milkweed plants from seeds. Her goal is to add these beneficial pollinator plants to district garden beds; and to share the plants with families and other interested gardeners.

When I created Serendipity, my goal was to encourage others to connect with nature and discover the simple joys of a garden. I believe we cherish and save the things we love, so I hope others discover the beauty of insects, pollinators, birds, plants, and wildlife.  As a group we encourage others to become involved in their own unique way. I am optimistic that Michele’s story will inspire positive change, raise awareness, and remind us of the importance of sharing nature with others—and most importantly remind us that connecting children with nature benefits the child’s health and well being—and provides great hope for our planet’s future.  

Join us at Facebook to learn more about creating backyard habitat for wildlife, the benefits of native plants, host plants to attract butterflies , water features for the garden, planting for regional birds, and many other interesting topics.  

References and Additional Resources

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.

7 Tips for Winter on the Homestead


Photo Credit

The colder months aren't kind to those who don't prepare. Throughout the winter, you have to ensure your homestead is safe, secure and protected while preserving your own health and happiness. Balancing these responsibilities is often challenging, but with a little help, and some simple advice, you can weather any storm.

In this article, we'll provide seven tips for winter on the homestead, including ways to manage inclement conditions so you can maintain both your property and positive attitude. As you implement some of the suggestions below, you'll find that winter isn't an obstacle to overcome, but an opportunity for growth and self-exploration.

1. Use Free Time to Improve Your Web Presence

Today's social media platforms allow users to connect with other likeminded individuals who share their passions and interests. Sites like YouTube, Instagram and Facebook provide a place where you can meet new people. More than that, they serve as avenues to diversify your income and make money on the side.

When you share your skills and abilities in video format or blog about your daily life on your homestead, it catches the attention of those with a curiosity for your niche brand of content. Over time, as you develop your web presence and gain a following, you'll enjoy passive income from advertisements and donations.

2. Purchase Clothing on the Basis of Materials

The price of clothing isn't always indicative of its practicality. You might pay more for expensive clothing, but if it's composed of mid-quality materials, you should purchase something else. As a general rule, it's always better to buy clothing based on the materials rather than the perceived value of more expensive items.

To provide an example, a standard pair of socks made from alpaca fleece is superior to more expensive, "high-quality" socks made from sheep's wool. Before you purchase your winter clothing, it's best to assess the benefits of the material instead of deciding on the pricier option with an assumption of its value.

3. Plan Alternative Routes for Safe Transportation

You likely have one or two routes you travel to enter and leave your homestead. In the event of a snowstorm or heavy rain, these routes can freeze over, and if the weather is persistent, you could find yourself trapped. These not-so-uncommon situations endanger your safety and the safety of your family.

To prepare for a winter off the grid, you have to account for any and every potential risk. Take time to learn your area and scout any alternative routes of transportation you can depend on in the event of an emergency. Find ways to access supplies without your primary vehicle, and plan ahead.

4. Create Additional Storage Space for Supplies

On the subject of emergency procedures, it's advisable to create more storage space to keep additional supplies. If snow or ice makes your standard routes of travel inaccessible and you have no alternatives, you'll have to depend on what you've stored in the weeks before the blizzard passed through.

The advantage of having extensive acreage is the available space you have at your disposal. Consider constructing a storage shed to shelter the wood you've chopped, fuel for your generator and other necessities that will keep you secure through long periods of isolation when communication is compromised.

5. Rent Heavy-Duty Snow Equipment Like Skid Steers

With the size of your property, shoveling your walkways and driveway of accumulated snow is a labor-intensive task. It's nearly impossible without access to the proper equipment, but purchasing machinery like skid steers is often expensive. Fortunately, you can choose to rent them on a day-by-day basis.

The average rental costs of skid steers in 2019 will likely fall within the limitations of your budget, and you should browse the available rental services in your area. Skid steers rentals cost between $150 to $500 per day, though pricing is liable to change depending on the attachments you choose.

6. Educate Yourself on New Topics and Pursue Interests

As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, it's easy to fall into a pattern of inactivity. You might struggle to rouse yourself from bed in the morning, and simple chores that never troubled you could feel frustrating and bothersome. Winter is taxing on mental health, and it's essential to stay occupied.

To make the most of your time, engage in different activities to keep yourself alert and productive. Educate yourself on new topics, refine your skills and pursue interests and hobbies. You can learn to cook recipes you've never tried before, try your hand at creating herbal remedies or make your own soaps or lotions.

7. Take a Well-Deserved Vacation

If you can't remember the last time you took a vacation, you deserve a vacation. You likely spend most of your time on your homestead, tending to your plants and animals, and while this is necessary to sustain your lifestyle, there's an enormous world you've only seen a fraction of. Everyone needs a little rest and relaxation.

In truth, acknowledging when you need a break is just as important as working. Among all the ways you can spend your winter, you might find that a vacation is the most conducive to your productivity. After you've returned to your property, you'll approach your tasks with renewed vigor and energy, ready to take on anything.

Stay Warm Throughout the Winter

You can make the most of the colder months by following any of the suggestions above. Whether you decide to improve your web presence, create extra storage space on your property or embrace new hobbies and interests, you'll ensure you're spending your free time in a positive way.

Just remember to stay warm and remain optimistic. When spring flowers begin to bloom, you'll feel grateful for everything you've learned and enjoyed over winter.

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on

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.

Homes and Walls

A new home that is built to look old. (photo unknown)

There is an old spirit that lingers in the air of an older home. Especially hand- hewn logs milled from the sweat and soul of pioneers long gone, the craftsmanship and passion of workers who labored for dignity more than money.

We live in a log home. The picture you see here is not our home, but I can imagine the laughter and the life stories these log walls could tell. Those stories cling to the walls like a ghost, always there always silent but always speaking.

When I first found my log home, sitting on a hill surrounded by seven acres of woods and rich Kentucky land, I stood silent when I entered the first time. I could almost hear the laughter of the child that grew up there, the breakfast talk over coffee between the original owners. The joy and the sadness of the life this home nurtured.

I wrote a song about the stories the log walls held in that cabin, now my home, preparing to absorb my life and my stories. If you're interested, you can hear the song:

New homes don’t have that spirit. New homes are built for the convenience of the builder and not the families who will live there. New homes are built for money not for dignity.

If I was ever to build a new home I would want it to look old.

Among the throngs of artists in the music world, few have elevated “dreaming” to such a high art form as folksinger Michael Johnathon. He has a successful career as a touring songwriter, author of four published book, playwright of the Walden Play performed in 42 countries, composer of the opera, Woody: For the People, organizer of the national association of front porch musicians called SongFarmers, and as the host of the live audience broadcast of the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour with a radio audience with over two million listeners each week on 500 public radio stations, public television coast-to-coast, American Forces Radio Network in 173 nations and now on the RFD-TV Network nationwide. His latest album release is DAZED & CONFUZED and his fourth book will be released June 2019.

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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