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


Preparedness and Resilience Complement Each Other

The author’s property has a small ecological footprint and elevated resilience. Photo by Jan Spencer

Two words — preparedness and resilience — have attracted an increasing amount of interest in recent years. They are closely related but seldom identified together.

The Difference Between Preparedness and Resilience

Preparedness refers to being ready when disruption to normal life occurs. Disruptions and disasters can be natural or human caused or in combination, such as floods, fires, power failure and earthquakes. Other disasters can include chemical spills, draught, terrorism, dam failure, social/economic malfunction, sea level rise and more. Climate change is a disruption wild card.

Mainstream preparedness can include stashing food and water at home and having a “go bag” for emergency exit for self or family.

Many cities have programs that can help residents prepare for disruption and disaster with their neighbors. For example, here in Eugene, Ore., we have Map Your Neighborhood, a program with step-by-step “how-to” literature explaining how to organize 12 or 14 nearby homes. Even Neighborhood Watch can boost preparedness. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training offers instruction for light search and rescue, medical triage, community preparedness and more.

Go bag with basic preparedness items. Photo by Jan Spencer

Resilient lifestyles, homes, and neighborhoods can take preparedness strategies to a higher level and at the same time, address multiple social, economic and environmental issues.

Preparedness is a very smart move for individuals, families, friends and neighbors. But it does nothing to address the causative factor of many conditions that contribute to the need to be prepared in the first place. That causative factor is human over consumption of energy, resources and stuff.

Addressing Root Causes of Instability

Our consumer culture is a leading cause of deepening disruptions to life as usual. Human-caused climate change, which is the result of excess carbon dioxide produced by cars, power plants, jet planes and affluence, is already disrupting ecosystems, creating climate refugees, overtaxing river systems, contributing to wild fires and creating more erratic weather. All those conditions are leading to immense disruption to life as we know it. And we are only in the early going.

Ecological Footprints Of Countries Map. Photo by New Economics Foundation

Interest in preparedness can lead to interest in resilient lifestyles. From this perspective, resilient lifestyles require significantly smaller ecological footprints. Resilient lifestyles use less energy and resources and they contribute far less to human caused disruption from the personal scale to societal. But resilient living is not the ultimate goal — that would be sustainability.

What Makes True Community-Scale Resilience?

A resilient lifestyle, moving towards sustainability, would include more people sharing a home and making much less use of cars, jet planes, and motorized recreation. It would have a diet far more based on plants and local agriculture. A resilient lifestyle would make more time available for participation in community affairs.

Prepared and resilient properties would produce useful amounts of food, energy, and water on site, making it less vulnerable to disruption. It would have features such as grass to garden, fruit and nut trees, significant rainwater collection, passive and active solar energy, an ADU and more.

Prepared and resilient neighborhoods would produce more diverse important needs at a larger scale. It’s a place where neighbors actively look out for each other. Neighborhood Watch and Mapping Your Neighborhood can not only look after property and preparedness, but after neighbors meet, they can make more ambitious plans to reduce eco footprints, build community, share skills and resources, plus be prepared and resilient.

A high level of residential cooperation may sound beyond reach, but ask people who live at East Blair Housing Coop in Eugene, N Street Co-housing in Davis, Calif., Enright Ridge, or many other locations all over the world where people practice “intentional” living to build social well-being and reduce the impact on the natural world.

Imagine a group of two, three, five, or 10, neighbors meeting by way of Neighborhood Watch or Next Door and deciding to coordinate and cooperate with each other for their collective preparedness and resilience. Fences could come down, there could be shared child care, shared tools and skills. When people come together for a common cause, they can become an idea factory and come up with healthy plans no one even thought about before.

Mapping Community Assets

A good place to begin is mapping which community agencies and resources exist, including those that work well in other places but may not currently be available near you.

Illustration by Jan Spencer

Neighborhood associations are a natural partner for preparedness and resilience. Many cities have neighborhood programs and in Eugene, where I live, several already have preparedness committees. Those committees could include resilience and permaculture in their educational outreach. Cities could promote permaculture and resilient living.

Imagine schools, faith organizations, businesses, nonprofits, social media groups all encouraging their members to meet, coordinate and cooperate to build prepared and resilient lifestyles, homes and neighborhoods. The long-term goal: to bring about a society and economy that exists within the boundaries of the natural world.

Preparedness is gaining traction near and far as a personal and community concern. Preparedness can be the entry to a more ambitious set of actions that can lead towards resilience, sustainability and reducing the conditions that cause and add to disruption. We have many allies and assets to work with in our own lives, at home, in the neighborhood and in the community.

A preferred future can start with a visioning drawing. Illustration by Jan Spencer

Resources to Get Started

Many individuals and organizations are already moving beyond preparedness. There are many books, articles, YouTube videos, and websites pointing the way towards a preferred future.

You can find links to presentations and podcasts with topics such as eco villages, urban food systems, pushing back on cars, empowering young people, mindful economics, permaculture and much more at www.SuburbanPermaculture.org.

I will leave you here with a 30-minute tour of my quarter-acre property in Eugene produced during a visit from Raintree Nursery:

Jan Spencer has been transforming his quarter-acre suburban property for 15 years. The project shows what home economics and suburbia can look like — taking care of more needs closer to home. Read Jan’s book, Notes from the Suburban Frontier, as well as listen to his podcast, check out his YouTube channel, and find community-building resources at www.SuburbanPermaculture.org. He is available for making presentations about transforming suburbia, economy and culture. Read all of Jan’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.

Global Forces Rile Farm and Food Realities: A Path Toward an Agroecological Future

whirling forces

WorldwideWhirl by Wilgard Krause/Pixabay.com

Colossal forces—social, financial, technical, environmental, governmental, and climatological—are whirling emphatically this year, directly engaging, disengaging, and impacting our farms and food. Each human being on Earth has a stake in how it all settles out. It's that basic.

Among the forces: climate extremes, environmental breakdowns, food security threats, the Covid-19 pandemic, all accompanied by a burgeoning corporate involvement in the realm, including big finance and the advance guard of data-driven AI technologies.

Those forces are met with the soul-yearnings of millions of human beings of all colors, faiths, and nations. They hunger and thirst for a planet-wide realization, a spiritual awakening that results in a sincere, whole-hearted, justice-based reckoning with the critical, foundational matters of our farms and food.

This is no time for co-opted or fake measures, no junk agroecology. Things are real.

The consequential vectors—big money, big tech, big GMO, big chemical, the human beings, and the poisoned politics of our times—are engaged for a defining moment, a moment likely reaching a crescendo in September, in New York, at the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 #UNFSS.

A classic yang-yin polarity thus emerges in sharp relief as we move through critical points on the pathway to the future not just of farms and food, but also of all that rests upon the foundation that farms and food constitute. Mechanical, material, technical efficiency and profit reside in a yang zone, while the yin realm is home to the basic, upwelling needs of every human being for dignity, respect, justice, adequate clean food, a beautiful, sustainable world to live in, and a dynamic active vision that includes the full circle of life.

Vectors of Change

Consider the following vectors of change. They are representative, not comprehensive; yet collectively they convey a useful vantage on the powerful forces now in motion.

  • Hungry World. "Global hunger is chronic, urgent, and set to intensify," said Michael Fakhri, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, in an official report, January 2021.
  • Silent Earthquake. ETC (the international Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration) has published a short YouTube video: Big Brother is Coming to the Farm. In the video they report that "a silent earthquake is fracturing our food systems." These fracturing forces, such as artificial intelligence (AI), are spreading from digital giants in Silicon Valley and Seattle, as well as from shadowy Wall Street asset management companies, throughout the industrial food chain.
  • Organic Standards? With the promise of bigger profits, multinational corporations like Walmart, Target, and Amazon have systematically edged into the field of organic farms and food. Their marketing interest, and the parallel entry of big money into the field, has engendered compromising consequences for the standards the USDA uses to certify something as "organic." Soil-free hydroponic systems are one major issue. Historically, organic food has been grown in healthy soil under a simple philosophy: feed the soil, not the plants. Hydroponics uses no soil, but rather grows plants off the ground with roots in a slurry of "organic" nutrients. Likewise, organic livestock was traditionaly raised in pastures, not in large-scale confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), as is now allowed.
  • Open Letter. Forty-one former members of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) sent an open letter to the sitting Board, as well as to key members of Congress on April 22, 2021. Their unprecedented letter stated that in their view the government's organic certification has been and is being degraded. The letter argued that the erosion of USDA Organic Standards violates the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and is undermining consumer confidence in the integrity of organic food. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack apparently took the letter seriously and responded promptly by meeting online for 45 minutes with former NOSB board members ,and Tom Chapman of the Real Organic Project. 
  • Really Organic. At least two other organic certifications and labels have been developing out of their recognition that USDA certification has been compromised from its original intent and specifications. Take note of the soil-based standards of The Real Organic Project. Note also the Regenerative Organic Certified label (ROC), advanced by the Rodale Institute and Demeter certification, long available for Biodynamic farms and food processors, has also earned wide respect for integrity.
  • Gourmets Go Vegan. According to CBS News, Eleven Madison Park, a renowned fine-dining establishment, has announced plans to operate as a vegan restaurant. In so doing they become one of the highest profile names in hospitality to stop serving animal-based products. This is a trend. Many individuals and corporations in the dining industry are reconsidering their relationship with meat in light of the impact that diets heavy in animal-products have on the environment and on human health. Many of the big burger chains in the Americas are now offering plant-based options to accommodate the growing number of people who have reduced their intake of animal protein.
  • Aplenty Advances.  Amazon.com, Inc. has recently unveiled Aplenty, their new private-label food brand. Aplenty will include hundreds of products. Internet and artificial intelligence giant Amazon is expanding its lineup of house brands amid an intensifying focus by other food corporations on private-label products, which promise larger profits.
  • Sourced for Good. Whole Foods Market, which is now owned by Amazon.com, Inc., has launched the Sourced for Good That's an exclusive third-party certification program which grants qualifying products the Whole Foods seal. The corporation says their Sourced for Good program includes products certified by internationally recognized organizations such as Fair Trade USA, the Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade America, the Fair Food Program, and the Equitable Food Initiative. 
  • Absentee Ownership. Farm land has become an investment darling. Dozens of investment corporations and foreign capitalists have targeted farm land as a valuable commodity, It's put forward as a reliably profitable investment for retirees, banks, and investment houses. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are one particular vehicle. REITs typically purchase farmland, then lease the land to farmers. The relationship between farmer and farmland is thereby morphed. The farmers are employees of a remote corporation. Farming is more definitely a way of business, and less a way of life.
  • CAFOs on the March. Missouri regulators dropped some of the regulations governing CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). That move will grease the skids for more of the huge, industrial animal factories to move into the state. As CAFOs and all their problems proliferate in North America, critics repeatedly point out that regulators are putting corporate agricultural interests above the welfare of the community. According to the EPA, there are now 20,000 CAFOs in the USA, a number rising each year. As has been argued in countless towns and villages, CAFOs do pollute water, soil, and air. They are a form of machine-like animal mistreatment. And they generally debase the quality of life in surrounding communities.
  • Cellular Agriculture. Whole Foods founder John Mackey has invested substantially in food-technology company Upside Foods, a manufacturer of "cultured meats." According to online references, cultured meat and seafood is produced by in vitrocell culture of animal cells, instead of from slaughtered animals.
  • Flaming Bowels. According to a 2021 study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Cleveland Clinic, eating a processed-foods diet that's high in sugar and fat can impair the immune system in the gut. This type of diet causes damage to Paneth cells, which are immune cells that help to regulate inflammation. Via a diet of highly processed foods,  the intestinal immune system experiences a steady flow of burning irritants. That in turn increases the risk of irritated bowel syndrome, and then possibly inflammatory bowel disease. This serious health condition is by now widespread in the US population, along with a host of other diet-related diseases, ranging from diabetes to heart disease and beyond.

While there are a great many vectors at work on our farms and food, this short list gives some insight into what is unfolding. Change is the order of our era. Where will all the change lead? The September 2021 UN Food Systems Summit in New York is poised to engage many of the possibilities and likelihoods. But the process leading up to the summit, and the summit agenda, have drawn profound criticisms.

At the time of this writing it appears as though the yang and yin polarities at the heart of the matter are a million crop rows away from the realm of synthesis.

 Train wrong way

Wrong way train by Lisette Brunner/Pixabay.com 

The UN Food Systems Summit 2021

The public face of the UNFSS appears inclusive and egalitarian: "The need is urgent, and our ambition is high," declares the official website. "The UN Food Systems Summit will launch bold new actions, solutions and strategies to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), each of which relies on healthier, more sustainable and more equitable food systems.

"The Summit will awaken the world to the fact that we all must work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food."

That all sounds great. But many individuals and organizations, having closely monitored the process leading up to the summit, say such statements are primarily lip gloss that disguise reality. They have leveled profound criticisms.

Last Fall over 500 civil society organizations voiced their collective concerns about "corporate capture" of the UN summit. They charged that as a consequence of this, the summit will serve mainly as a forum for corporate greenwashing. They argued persuasively that the UNFSS was on track to gloss over the essential earth-and-justice respecting ways of authentic agroecology. Many of those civil society groups are boycotting the summit The boycott has become a global movement.

The UN Summit won't be setting laws or regulations. That's beyond its purview. But it will be framing the future, and setting a direction. Those outcomes will be highly influential in the coming, critical years for both nation states around the world, as well as for multinational corporations.

Dismantling Democracy

In a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, three scholars (Matthew Canfield, Molly D. Anderson, and Philip McMichael) take a hard look at UNFSS. Their provocative paper, which merits wide attention, is titled UN Food Systems Summit 2021: Dismantling Democracy and Resetting Corporate Control of Food Systems.

They write that the vision of a just, egalitarian, and truly democratic food  system has been routinely undermined by powerful corporate and national actors. These actors have instead promoted international finance, global regulations, and public-private partnerships that push industrial agriculture, high-tech efficiencies, and trade liberalization at the expense of global food security, and the livelihoods of small-scale producers and rural workers. 

The paper's critique includes this resonant charge: "As the world is increasingly cognizant of social and environmental problems caused by the industrial food system, the UNFSS has emerged as an elaborate process to undermine more democratic arenas of global food governance, while reinforcing corporate control over food systems.

An Impoverished View. Members of the international Agroecology Research-Action Collective (researchers, faculty members, and educators who work in agriculture and food systems) joined together this spring to announce their boycott of the UN Food Systems Summit. Their boycott letter states: "...from the start, this summit has been deeply compromised by a top-down exclusion of many food systems actors and an impoverished view of whose food system knowledge matters...This exclusive approach undercuts ongoing work by farmers, farm workers, and food workers worldwide to advance transitions to justice and sustainability. "

Wrong Way Train

The largest international nexus of civil society organizations working in the realm of farms and food is known as the CSM. That's short for The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism and it has a broad constituency. Significantly, CSM, together with Slow Food and hundreds of other organizations, have also declined involvement in the UNFSS process.

They say they have unanswered concerns around undue corporate influence on the summit, and a lack of transparency. They say the summit must have a philosophical grounding in justice and essential human rights, and that it does not. Civil society organizations are striving to articulate to the summit and to the world that these are essential matters for billions of people, and that the UN's food systems summit is not reckoning with them rightly.

As a spokesperson for Slow Food put it, they do not want to hop on a train that is heading in the wrong direction.

Call to Action

The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples' Mechanism for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security (CSM), has issued a call to action focused on the Pre-Summit of UNFSS, a meeting to be held in  hybrid format in Rome from July 26 through 28, 2021.

Reckoning that his UN gathering will likely be decisive for the final direction and outcomes of the summit itself,  CFS is organizing dramatic, and colorful parallel gatherings that are intended to bring wide public attention to the issues at stake.

Taking the Long View

Into the global swirl of forces bearing upon farms and food comes the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), and the ETC Group. Their joint paper, A Long Food Movement: Transforming food systems by 2045, sets out a vision that many millions of people can and should engage.

It's among the few carefully wrought, earth-and-human-rights-respecting visions put forth for agriculture since The Land Institute published its visionary report in 2009, a widely discussed proposal for gradual systemic change known as "A 50-Year Farm Bill."

The new Long Food System paper first considers "what food systems could look like by 2045 if (agri)business-as-usual is allowed to run its course." It then imagines what could happen if, instead, the initiative is reclaimed by civil society and social movements.

Scenario I. In the first scenario, the keys of the food system are even more comprehensively held and controlled by biodigital megacorporations, data platforms, and private equity firms. Thanks to proliferating merger deals, they evolve to become tomorrow’s agri-food giants.

These players advance a range of techno-visions: producing protein in petri-dishes, inventing novel ultra-processed foods, employing AI logarithms to manage farms and manipulate consumer behavior, and attempts to slow down climate change with massive geoengineering projects. With financial and technical might, they thrust their technological visions forward steadily, arguing that these are the most scientific ways to attain resilience against the rapidly shifting climate and its worldwide impact on farms and food.

Scenario II. In the second scenario outlined in the paper, the human beings and organizations of civil society—striving to faithfully represent millions of voices of citizens in fields, processing plants, slaughterhouses, and elsewhere—seize the initiative and develop deeper, wider, and more effective collaborations than ever before.

The paper's authors argue that—from ongoing Indigenous struggles against colonization to the anti-globalization protests that gave rise to the concept of food sovereignty—civil society can be a positive and powerful agent of change.


The paper imagines this scenario via four interrelated pathways of food systems reform and transformation through agroecology—authentic agroecology not the watered-down junk agroecology being promoted by some multinational corporations. Real agroecology offers real, essential, just, and progressive pathways forward. What the authors describe as A Long Food Movement takes time to attain realization.

The definition of agroecology is still in flux. Some in the industrial realms claim the word, using it as a greenwashing cover while employing practices that diverge from the spirit. Our precarious global circumstances call upon us to engage and to clarify the term agroecology so that its principles and practices hold true and helpful meaning, and are not watered down or degraded.

Your Part in an Agroecological Future

In the context of all the factors and forces bearing upon our farms and food right now, it's easy to feel impotent, as if you are only a pawn in a game of global giants. That path leads to surrender and despair. While there is an element of truth in that dimension of reality, it's also true that by remaining informed and taking action for community food security and food sovereignty, you make a positive and necessary difference.

As celebrated agrarian author Wendell Berry has often reminded us, eating itself is an agricultural act. From Systems Theory we know that changing one part of a system—even as small a part as the contents of our cupboards and refrigerators—incrementally brings about adjustment and change in the other parts of the system. It's all connected.

Thus if something like the second scenario envisioned in the Long Food System paper is to be fulfilled—the healthy and just agroecological vision—then it's going to be because enough individuals, households, and communities woke up, took action, and made wise and sustainable changes.

Agroecology is an expression of practical, purposeful, and realistic hope. It's a global vision that has been dreamed and then acted upon by millions of people around the world. But many millions more human beings are needed to take up and follow the vision now. 

Whatever comes out of the UN Food Systems Summit in September, I believe that individual and community actions will continue to grow the vibrant farm and food web envisioned by agroecology. Those initiatives embody the hopes and dreams of billions, literally, of human souls for adequate good food, and for respect, dignity, justice, and a whole planet of abundance and beauty. That vision will persevere, for everyone has a stake in how our farm and food systems evolve.

 Soaring agroecology

Soaring agroecology
Photo by Radovan Zierik/Pixabay.com


Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at DeepAgroecology.net. Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at Chiron-Communications.com and on his YouTube channel. You can read all of Steven's Mother Earth News blog 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.

Native Trees I Chose for My Arid Southwestern Property

 

White Mulberry
Photo by Wikipedia Commons

We recently bought 4 acres with a house near the border of Mexico. It’s a nice house, but the land around the house needs a lot of work. Fortunately, we’re up the task, and even look forward to it. One thing we’re happy about is that we don’t have to do a lot of clearing of the sticker bushes, including mesquite, found elsewhere in abundance. That was already done before we got here. We also were fortunate that the land is not rocky. We wouldn’t have bought it if it were.

What the land really lacks are trees. We need trees for shade, privacy and wind breaks.

Considerations for Tree Planting at Home

What is all too common is people plant their trees too close to the house. They don’t realize how big that cute little tree in the nursery is going to get. We have that problem with a 40-foot Arizona Cypress that is about 3 feet from the foundation of the house. It’s going to be a sad day indeed when we have to cut it down. It was pruned way back on the house side because it rubbed the roof and destroyed shingles and underlayment. Please read up on the attributes of a tree before buying it. Yes, it would be cute to have it next to the house while it’s little but when it’s big you will be sorry.

Another common problem is people choose trees that aren’t suited to their environment. This becomes a problem when the chosen tree needs constant watering or care or it’s in danger of perishing. For example, don’t pick a poplar or cottonwood unless you live next to a water source. Fortunately, there are so many varieties of trees you will be able to find one that you like and instead of being annoyed with it in the years to come you will enjoy it very much.

So, we did our research. We surfed the web. We drove around and did our best to identify what was growing wild or in people’s yards. I got a phone app that identifies the trees I was curious about. This worked really well because I could see a tree in its maturity.  It’s difficult to imagine how big a tree will grow or how it will look when you’re checking out little trees in a nursery.

Native Trees for Arid Landscapes

Even so, I talked to nursery people because knowledge is power and you can’t have too much of it! Now you must know that I’m a big proponent of planting native vegetation as much as possible. For one, natives are adapted to the environment and tolerate whatever Ma Nature throws at them. However, in my research I found that if we were going to go 100% native we would be looking at mesquite, palo verde or locust. These native trees grow wild without any kind of support at all and are adapted to low moisture. Their tiny leaves are perfectly suited to conserving moisture. The palo verde has one more adaptation.

The Palo Verde tree blooms in the spring.
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

The green bark still produces photosynthesis even when the leaves are gone.
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

The bark is green and when the leaves are gone it still makes photosynthesis. How marvelous!  But none of these trees have the dense shade I was looking for. However, all is not lost. I found that there are many trees that do well in this climate, with this kind of soil and, on the plus side, are not invasive. We wanted trees that would grow quickly, too, and, important to me personally, no thorns!

For broad leaf shade we chose male mulberries.

Mulberry fruit make great pies. The leaves make great livestock feed.
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

For wind break, we chose Eldarica pines.

Eldarica pines also known as Afghan pines are fast growing, drought and heat resistant.
Photo from Tuscon Clean and Beautiful

In another blog post, I’ll talk about how to plant your trees for maximum success. I’ll also talk about how to propagate your own trees from cuttings.


Renée Benoit is a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who homesteads a small ranch in the southeast corner of Arizona near the Mexican border. Connect with Renée at RL Benoit, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

An Introduction to Hummingbirds with Carole Turek, Part 1

Purple Hummingbird

Photo by Pexels/josephvogel

I can recall a particular part of my childhood with fondness, sitting on my Grandma’s farmhouse porch and watching hummingbirds swarm her feeders. Seeing a dozen feeders hung spread out on her front and back porch captivated me, and she loved their company every year when they would visit her farm. With her passing, I developed a passion for the amazing birds that kept me connected to her memory. This led me to really research the ways to care for them over the years, from helpful books to watching informative videos, which eventually brought me to stumble across the great resource that is Hummingbird Spot on YouTube.

Hummingbird Spot was created by Carole Turek of Studio City, Calif., after many years of feeding and caring for hummingbirds in her own backyard. While Carole is a practicing physician of over 30 years, a large passion of hers is hummingbirds, and her dedication to their care led her to open the resource hub that is Hummingbird Spot! The YouTube channel features many helpful videos, live feeder and nest cams, and follows her photography journey as well. She is currently on a quest to photograph every species of hummingbird in the world, with 180 of 363 species currently checked off her list.

Carole Turek of Hummingbird Spot posed with her camera on a photography trip
Photo courtesy Carole Turek

If you would’ve asked me this time last year how many hummingbirds species there were, I probably would’ve only said a dozen or so. I was unaware of the wide array of stunning and colorful species that blanketed the Americas. While hummingbirds are unique to the Americas (and sadly not found in other countries), there are so many beautiful species that it is hard to choose a favorite! I personally adore the Rufous-Crested Coquette (particularly the splendid male and his bright orange crown), while Carole tells me she has a particular connection and fondness for the Marvelous Spatuletail, with a handful of trips photographing this beautiful species and another encounter to hopefully come soon.

I have been fortunate to learn so many amazing things from Carole at Hummingbird Spot, and the channel completely changed how I viewed attracting and caring for my hummingbird friends. With a community of nearly 46,700 subscribers and growing daily, I highly recommend giving her YouTube page a view! For me personally, it changed the way I handle my feeders now

Create a Welcoming Hummingbird Habitat

Living in the South, extreme heat and humidity are an issue during the seasonal feeding of our migratory hummer friends. I had noticed mold in the past that formed in the feeders quite quickly but was unaware of the dangers a dirty feeder could pose to hummingbirds. Carole has an important video called “How to Clean Your Hummingbird Feeder” that impacted how I cleaned my feeders. Soap and water were not properly halting growth of harmful things within my feeders, and so I adapted her methods of vinegar or bleach solutions to give them a thorough clean. I also change my feeders and their contents every 2 to 3 days or sooner, depending on weather and how quickly they are drinking the nectar.

I’ve never included unnecessary red dyes in my feeders, and have always used the universal 1:4 sugar to water ratio, but many people are simply unaware of the potential harm of red dyes and have either been taught to make it this way or think it is needed to attract them. The red color of the feeder is enough to get their attention! Store-bought nectar mixes often contain added preservatives to make them shelf-stable, and often the ingredients contain things such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), calcium carbonate, and potassium chloride to name a few. Keep your hummingbirds safe and healthy with the easy and inexpensive water and sugar mixture (1/4 cup white sugar to 1 cup water, learn more about making it from Carole herself!)

Food for the Birds

One interesting fact about hummingbirds she thought would be fun to share with you all: hummingbirds consume insects for protein as a significant part of their diet! It is not all just natural and human-provided nectars, as many people may believe. When asked why we should care about helping hummingbirds and keeping them healthy. Carole pointed out a particularly important point: we owe it to the beautiful species who increasingly face habitat loss (palm oil plantations, industrial construction, and farming to name some of the major contributors- check out her intense quest to photograph the rare Blue-bearded Helmetcrest). They are losing their food sources and homes as humankind expands and disrupts, and the least we can do is provide healthy nectar sources for these beautiful birds.

Carole Turek of Hummingbird Spot, seen here on an expedition to photograph the White-tufted Sunbeam in Peru.
Photo by William Orellana

Make sure to check back for Part 2 of this incredible opportunity to talk Carole Turek of Hummingbird Spot more and educate people on the beautiful world of hummingbirds. You can check out helpful information and resources by clicking on the included links throughout this article. Let us know if you’ve found this article helpful and tell us all about your hummingbird friends if you feed them.


Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising heirloom crops in the Spring and tanning furs during the Winter. Fala also enjoys caring for migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and feeding them during their seasonal returns. Read all of Fala'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.

Reflecting on the Pandemic's Impact for Our Remote Mountain Homestead

 

Winter fog
Photo by Bruce McElmurray

With the Covid-19 pandemic lessening in some areas and a hopeful feeling as more people are vaccinated, this past year has taught us terms like "shelter in place", "social distancing" and "wear your mask". For most it has been a very difficult or inconvenient time. It appears everyone has been impacted in one way or another and most now realize that life probably won’t ever go back the way it was before the Covid 19 pandemic. The impact has touched every corner of the earth and the impact is different depending where we are located. 

Living a Remote Life During the Pandemic

Prior to the pandemic, we chose to live remotely at 9,800 feet of elevation, but the pandemic changed even in this remote location. Living the way we used to live has changed, but the governmental restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic actually made our lifestyle even more conflicted than usual. We didn’t have to be concerned over social distancing, because our nearest neighbor is about one mile away. We therefore had very little interaction with people — unlike those living in a more populated area.

Federal And State Mandates

Federal and State mandates about keeping our distance from others was not an issue for us as we live that way normally. The issue with us was being told by authorities we had to isolate as opposed to it being our free choice. Perhaps the scary part for us was the actual virus itself, where a carrier of the disease could pass it on to others being totally unaware they were even infected. The distrust and fear generated was unnatural for us. It created a social atmosphere for us that made it such that we didn’t know who to trust. Coupled with the rising death toll from the disease it separated us from friends and our normal self isolation was suddenly a mandated and forced isolation.

Government Trust

I recently read that polls indicate that only 17% of citizens trust our government. With all the disinformation that was being distributed throughout the initial phase of the pandemic, that percentage seemed realistic in my opinion. Closing down businesses and places of public gatherings, whether to wear a mask or not or if they were effective or what was effective treatment all served to create confusion with us. We avoided people and trips to town for groceries.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Then we learned that local businesses were allowing us to order supplies online or by telephone and they would bring them out to us in our vehicle. What a life saver that improvement was for us not having to go into a store shopping and expose ourselves to catching the virus. Then we learned we were able to actually have a visit with our doctor over the telephone. We were reluctant to visit our doctor due to the fact that is where people showing symptoms of the virus were going. Now after receiving the vaccinations we are able to schedule appointments for routine tests our physician wanted us to have.

A Baby Step Toward Normal

Later in the pandemic when essential services like dental services and automobile repair facilities reopened, we can again patronize them. We are just now scheduling appointments to get our vehicle repairs done and appointments to our dentist. Some dentists (like ours) took the mandatory shut down as an opportunity to retire. We had to find a new dentist during the pandemic.

Vehicle Repair

Our auto mechanic also changed. If we wanted to wait for our vehicle to be repaired we had to wait outside and no longer had the waiting room available. They came out and got our vehicle, wiped it down, then took it and worked on it and wiped it down again and returned it to us. We just hoped our appointment didn’t coincide with a snow storm or rain while we were waiting outside.

Consequences of a Government Shutdown

Now that we are able to move around a little more freely, we have noticed that many of the businesses we patronized are closed for good. In our small town where we did our shopping, most were able to remain open thanks to delivering services to us in our vehicles. They are owned by friends and neighbors, and when we received our stimulus checks, we shared much with our local businesses. They were there for us in difficult times, and we wanted to help keep them open and stay solvent.

Winter sunrise

Photo by Bruce McElmurray

A Series of Disasters

Two years prior to the pandemic we went through a wildfire which was ranked the fifth worst our state had experienced. In our community alone, 134 homes were destroyed and neighbors and friends were no longer here. We were still dealing with the aftermath of the wildfire when the pandemic again changed everything. Factor in this winter, when we received to date 282 inches of snow, frigid temperatures, and almost continuous strong winds. Our community had to deal continually with heavily drifted roads and our freedom to move about was further impacted. We are now no longer sure what normal is.

Government Action

It would not be fair to reflect on our government's low trust rating and not list the good things accomplished. In my opinion, our governor did a stellar job in keeping us well informed, reminding us of precautions and allowing businesses to reopen whenever possible. Those acts did much to reduce the anxiety of us citizens. Our county health agency also kept us well informed and was available if needed.

Being Proactive

We also took precautions to protect ourselves. We used the mask when we were around others, maintained a safe distance and washed or sterilized our hands frequently. We also had an ultraviolet light and we used an ozone generator on items brought home. There is no scientific proof the ozone machine works on Covid, but there is proof that it works on SARs virus and that was close enough for me. 

Vulnerable And Fearful

Hence our impact was substantially less than most people who had to work from home, lose their jobs, home school or just survive. We felt just as vulnerable as others when our government shut down our way of life and imposed restrictions. Because of where and how we live, we were not impacted as severely as most others.


Bruce and Carol live in the mountains in S. Colorado with their canine family and take measures to protect them from the wild predators that are around. They lead a somewhat different lifestyle and for more on them and their canine family visit their blog site at: brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com/. You can read all of Bruce'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.

Fending Off a Vegetation Invasion: Overrun to Overjoyed

Early stages of a flower glade by Sarah Joplin

Early stages of a flower glade
Photo by Sarah Joplin 

We’ve all had our breath taken away by the truly awesome transformative powers of nature. Think tornado strike images of communities leveled overnight, buildings rendered to rubble, floodwater-made moonscapes or landslides suddenly shapeshifting neighborhoods; habitation buried in an instant. Mother Nature has remarkable powers to envelop, transfigure and destroy.

There are, however, pervasive metamorphoses that nature ushers at a slower, even imperceptible pace. We’re not talking an evolutionary timeline here but rather the steady advance of vegetation deemed “invasives”. These are not dramatic overthrows, but instead quiet assaults that first encroach and eventually overwhelm a landscape. Such is the case with Eastern Red Cedar trees overtaking hardwood forest, underbrush and even pasture land throughout parts of the Midwest and specifically here at Redbud Farm.

Invasives Threatening the Midwest

Invasive species are highly problematic in a number of respects. For instance, according to the Missouri Department of Conversation, a 20% Redcedar overtake reduces forage for livestock and wildlife by 75% in a given area. The expanding reach of these trees increases risk of wildfires; they displace upland game animals, grassland bird species and small mammal diversity as they overrun the land as a monocrop. Further, there is a stark 90% reduction in undergrowth plant diversity in Red Cedar woodlands. With erosion resulting beneath these woodlands, surrounding watersheds have seen up to a 40% decline in streamflow. And Red Cedar is only one of the invasives threatening the Midwest. Others include Winter Creeper, Sericea Lespedeza, Multiflora Rose, Bush Honeysuckle, Johnson Grass and the Common Teasel. These all pose real threats to the environment, the agrarian economy and thus Midwest society as a whole.

When my boyfriend and I arrived in the Fall of 2010 to steward the more than 100 acres of family land largely neglected since my father’s passing 7 years prior, it was showing signs of my negligent absentee land management and upkeep: fence lines collapsing and overgrown, pasture overgrazing by my land tenant, banks of ponds trodden by livestock or breached by floods, and a poorly-maintained barn. All of these were troubling enough, but a most striking presence was the density and expanse of the Eastern Red Ceder groves.

Clearing invasive Eastern Red Cedars along driveway by Sarah Joplin

Clearing invasive Eastern Red Cedars along driveway by Sarah Joplin 

Developing a Farm Invasive-Eradication Plan

My reaction to this imbalance was confirmed when we had the arborist from the Conservation Department assess the property. He found that the top priority of care for the forested 40 acres of the land was to thin if not eradicate the cedars. Red Cedars just don’t play well with others. Instead, they were doing what they do: impeding the health and normal growth of the hardwoods, and contributing to erosion on the hillsides. The arborist took note of a would-be glade edging the driveway entrance which was largely overtaken by the cedars. I commented that my memory of earlier days on the property held a far different vision of this glade area and indeed the woods in general.  Glades are generally found on south-facing slopes and have thin soils with bedrock on or near the surface, typically surrounded by woodland. Ours is an Ozark classic and it was clearly time to mount an assault on these advancing trees in an effort to re-establish an ecological balance.

Our good intentions of limbing, felling and repurposing these trees ourselves in DIY fashion soon proved impractical, even if that was the ONLY project we planned on doing for the foreseeable future. This work is laborious at best and any progress is painfully slow. Mind you, we’ve done our share, but the extent of the undertaking proved daunting. Nevertheless, we shunned the thought of bulldozing. Instead we chipped away (literally, using the cedar chips for mulch) and ruminated on how to proceed.

Several years passed in this fashion, as we undertook refurbishment of the two-story barn, all the while with the cedars growing and slowly spreading. Whereas humans procrastinate, Mother Nature is ever the opportunist. Even when we did manage to cut over 300 seedlings off one hillside, so many that tendonitis ensued, this only represented a mere 3 acres of upkeep and that’s not to mention how quickly they regenerate.  I’ll admit, we were overwhelmed and felt defeated by this growing menace. A number of the trees along the driveway had to be limbed so we could even make it to the house. We were under siege!

Clearing Out Invasive Species

And then opportunity presented itself. In the Fall of 2016, we had a bulldozer at the farm to repair one of the pond dams and decided to undertake a few other earthmoving projects. We had the operator expand a parking and materials area near the barn, cut a pad for a project pavilion we envisioned, and fell a few thorny locust trees (another invasive) that are frankly potentially lethal with their dagger-like thorns. While the dozer operator worked for a day or more, we decided it was time to proceed with clearing at least the entry hillside and would-be glade. In the interim years, we’d envisioned this focal point planted with a thicket of native wildflowers and as a nursery of sorts for regenerating the native oak, hickory and walnut hardwoods.

In what seemed like no time, the 5 or so acres was cleared along with corridors to remove the trees and create a giant burn pile (actually 3) to be dealt with come winter. Suddenly, the contour of the hillscape was laid bare. My boyfriend was surprised at the steepness and undulation revealed while I had my work cut out for me covering the exposed earth with hay and straw and praying that we didn’t get any heavy rainfall to wash away topsoil. Luckily, it was a warm, dry fall. Now it was time to render our vision for the reestablishment of the glade; seeding would happen after the frost.

Where to Find Native Wildflower Seed

There are a number of specialized sources for native wildflower seed. Some options, including at www.americanmeadows.com, www.ufseeds.com, www.naturesseed.com, www.highcountrygardens.com, www.johnnyseeds.com. We opted to patronize American Meadows.

For any vendor that you might choose, speak with them about your project and align your vision with the practicalities of soil type, exposure and rainfall specific to your location, budget, and planting density and you will find the right formula. Our initial mix included winter wheat and red clover which we knew would help hold the soil as it grew in late winter before the flower seeds would germinate early in the spring. The wildflower mix we chose included a variety of 24 different annuals, biennials and perennials. The mystery was what flower varieties would thrive, when they would bloom and what combination of flowers would appear. Hundreds of daffodil bulbs were also planted to enhance the mix. As each season has ensued, the delight of witnessing this growing landscape reshape and determine itself has been a gift.

Poppies and winter wheat by Sarah Joplin

Poppies and winter wheat by Sarah Joplin 

The delightful and unpredictable progression of red clover, poppies, coreopsis, cosmos, candy tuft, echinacea, baby’s breath, flax, gaillardia, sunflowers, bee balm, and ox-eye daisies has been amazing. The bird and butterfly populations have discovered the hill and are thriving. Of course, the deer ate every grain of winter wheat that sprouted. As the seasons have worn on, we’ve had a resurgence of native wildflowers which we didn’t plant as well: mullien, ironweed, queen Ann’s lace, goldenrod and milkweed. Each season has proven unique, the hills alive and ever-changing, always beautiful and providing bountiful food sources for pollinators.

Mowed path flower walk through established glade by Sarah Joplin

Mowed path flower walk through established glade by Sarah Joplin 

To more intimately experience, smell, photograph and bear witness to the evolution of the blooming hillside, we’ve mowed flower-walk paths in varying meanders among the flowers. This allows us to be flanked with color and biodiversity without as much threat of ticks and biting bugs. The spring of 2018 was so spectacular that I just wanted to sit among the flowers and root myself there, bloom with the sun and sleep under the moon. Each time I walk this walk, I’m conscious of the resilience of nature; hardwoods are regenerating and native species, long dormant since the overtake of cedars, are reclaiming the land and asserting their presence.

Spring 2018 Coreopsis and Shasta daisy bloom by Sarah Joplin

Spring 2018 Coreopsis and Shasta daisy bloom by Sarah Joplin

Coreopsis and ox-eye daisies by Sarah Joplin

Coreopsis and ox-eye daisies by Sarah Joplin 

Novelist, activist and farmer Wendell Berry has written that “Humans, like all other creatures, must make a difference; otherwise, they cannot live. But unlike other creatures, humans must make a choice as to the kind and scale of difference they make”.  As I look out across the landscape and note all of the maintenance that has yet to be undertaken, I’m keenly aware of the long vision of stewardship that encompasses understanding, respect, balance and preservation as well as the practicalities of yield, use and enjoyment. It is humbling to look at the farm through these eyes. I acknowledge that, after 30 years of calling the land home, I still have hillsides of understanding to attain. So, season by season, I prudently proceed to apply acquired knowledge tempered by the will of the land.


Sarah Joplin has worked in art sales and publishing for more than 25 years. Having grown up on 50 acres near the Missouri River, Sarah’s extensive travels have made her appreciate her modest farm in Mid-Missouri all the more. Read all of Sarah’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.

Homesteader Perspectives on Snow

 

Timing is important! Perhaps now is not the time to profess the virtues of snow while our state is being hammered with feet of snow as opposed to inches. Adults often see it as something to be dealt with, and children will see it as something to have fun with. Following a year of pandemic, where many of us have sheltered in place, a crippling snowstorm can try our resolve as our current storm is a large one and our governor is once again telling us to shelter in place until it is safe to move about.  

When it comes to shoveling it off our deck and walkways I am still awed with the quiet it produces. It makes me want to sing the song by the Carpenters, whose lyrics go something like this: “There is a kind of hush all over the world tonight, all over the world”. The fresh snow covers the dingy snow and makes everything look new again. Early in the morning I love to go out and shovel as the silence outside takes me into another world where noisy distractions don’t exist and tranquility and peace reigns.  

Homestead Perspectives On Snow

When the sun shines and hits that newly fallen snow, it is like millions of diamonds sparkling around me, and I find myself holding my breath in total awe over the sight. Adults more than not see snow differently than a child sees new snow. Adults sometimes grudgingly see new snow as one more task to accomplish. Children see it as something to play in, make a snowman, go sledding, make snow angels or just have fun in. 

Newness and Silence

New snow makes everything temporarily beautiful. Standing still while the flakes are gently falling around me is so overpowering especially realizing that no two flakes are alike. New snow muffles sound and everything is suddenly quiet, slowed down to where life's struggles and problems are for a moment forgotten.

Ancient Wisdom

Aristotle once said that to appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, you have to stand out in the cold. Now, before the reader labels me a nutcase, let me explain about our snow. We live at 9,800 feet elevation in the mountains and we see snow 6 to 7 months a year. We are out in the cold very often. We can get up to 300 inches of snow some years. We have lived here full time for almost a quarter of a century. We see a lot of snow and this time of year we have snow piles 6 to 8 feet high. I am only a few months short of 80 years old and I am still transfixed by a new snowfall and the silent beauty it produces.

Slow Down and Enjoy Natural Beauty

I am fully aware that I have a lot of shoveling ahead of me but I never hesitate to stop and just appreciate the snow and all it represents. We adults get sidetracked or overwhelmed by new snowfall and the work it entails. I still enjoy sledding down our driveway even though the long walk back up is getting harder and takes longer. I set aside time to have fun and frequently pause to appreciate the wonder and beauty of a new snow.

Nature's Sculptures are Like No Other

In cities where there are many structures that have sharp angles, here in the mountains what the wind does artistically transform the snow into something of beauty. It creates the most amazing drifts that are so gracefully sculpted and designed with smooth, rounded and graceful lines. Like most winter dwellers, when I see a storm headed our way, I say "not again" and do not always look favorably upon another storm. When it gets here, however, I am reminded of  the newness, beauty and silence it provides before I am forced to get down to the grueling work of clearing it.

Awe-Inspiring

There is something refreshing to the soul when experiencing newly fallen snow and the wonderful silence and newness it provides. It reminds me of  standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon where I would talk in a whisper without realizing I was doing it. That is the kind of awe I experience when those flakes gently float to earth and how the snow muffles the sound.

Snow Hazards

I’m also aware of how snow can be frustrating and sometimes destructive. There are avalanches, of course, and sometimes the snow accumulates in feet, and not inches. This will test even the most staunch person's attitude, mine included. Then there are the large clumps of snow that fall off trees when you are clearing snow pathways that always manage to somehow go down your collar which can bring a litany of unpleasant words you would not usually utter.

Snow Benefits

Living in a semi arid state we depend on snow to provide summer moisture. That moisture is needed to keep streams flowing into lakes and reservoirs which provide water for growth, agriculture and our very survival. Sometimes it is hard to keep the benefits of snow in perspective, but I have learned that instead of being overwhelmed with several feet of snow, to divide it into portions. We have received up to 6’ of snow in a single storm but mostly we get 1 to 3 feet at a time. When taking it in segments over time it is not so overwhelming and we don’t over tax ourselves physically.


Bruce and Carol McElmurray live in the mountains in southern Colorado with their canine family and take measures to protect them from the wild predators that are around. They lead a somewhat different lifestyle and for more on them and their canine family visit their blog site at: brucecarolcabin@blogspot.com. You can read all of Bruce'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.







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