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

Work Song: An Ode to Land-Based Manual Labor

 The joy of chestnut harvest

The history of manual labor is fraught with inequities, none more glaring than the United States’s imposition of over 150 years of chattel slavery on a proud African people who were stolen from their homeland by the millions and forced to build a white anglo-saxon version of the “new world.” I recognize my privilege in writing this post as someone who has never been coerced into manual labor by force or out of an immediate economic necessity. I’ve also never been told that I cannot aspire to anything beyond manual labor based on my skin color, ethnicity, or degree of physical ability. With my country’s painful history and my own privileged identity in mind, here’s my ode to work and workers:

I am pouring concrete. Two days ago, I made the 7-hour drive from my hometown of Arlington, Virginia, to Shutesbury, Massachusetts. I’m starting my 6-week stay with friend and mentor Russell Wallack, ecological designer and founder of Breadtree Farms. I came up here to plant chestnut seedlings, but now I’m pouring concrete. Russell and his partner, Kate, recently bought a home, and between some serious DIY renovations on the house’s sill plate, orchard planning, and preparation for the newest member of their family set to arrive in early December, their hands are perpetually full. 

So, I’m helping with the renovation, pouring concrete, participating in an elaborate construction project that I would have very little interest in if it weren’t being done by people who I adore. And, yet, I’m loving it. I love manual labor. I loved it on the farm over the summer and I love it now. I know that next to no one looks forward to digging holes, moving rocks, and weeding rows of vegetables by hand out in the sun all day, but hear me out for a moment. The more I look around I realize that my love of work is not unique. Humans were born to work.

Sometimes weeding can be a chore

Weeding can be a chore. 

And not only born to work, but born to work while free, with hands and feet, the hands and feet our mothers gave us. Merriam-Webster defines “labor” as the “expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult,” and there is something ingrained in the human experience that causes people to manufacture labor for themselves, especially when it’s not a part of their daily job. What is this free-time labor creation called in our modern vernacular? Exercise. 

Exercise, a form of self-induced “labor” that has long eclipsed job-based “expenditures of...effort” in the middle-to-upper-class western world since the second half of the twentieth century, is one of the most important elements of holistic health and development. According to the United Kingdom National Health Service, it's medically proven that people who do regular physical activity have: up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer, up to a 30% lower risk of depression, and up to a 30% lower risk of dementia. These statistics make it clear that the human body and mind thrive on the right amount of labor, but our modern concept of “exercise” – and the way that it’s so closely tied to society’s damaging beauty standards – have turned what should be an everyday joy into a stressful act of identity-building that causes people to lose hope. As a result, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, less than 5% of adults participate in the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Consequently, many Americans have all but lost touch with one of the most basic elements of human life. 

Because we were born to move. We were meant for hard work and dancing. The tangible wonder that we crave in life is created with labor and love, and the community farm is the ultimate nucleus of these values. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that our respective connections to labor and local agriculture have diminished simultaneously over the past century. We’ve come to associate the word “work” with sitting at a desk all day and staring at a screen. And, so, “work” is something that many people loathe. We’ve come to know food as something that we buy at the supermarket, rather than something that is grown on community land and in our own backyards. Something we work for. And, so, a rise in chronic diseases has coincided with a prevailing view of agriculture as a profession to be looked down upon. Luckily, most small-scale growers don’t care. They’re not discouraged. They’re moving their bodies everyday. They get to feel the morning dew upon their feet and baptize their knees in soil each and every day. They are some of the only ones who can still drink the autumn rain with unadulterated joy. Our farmers are laboring, they’re dancing on the earth and paying gratitude and painting it with hands and feet to grow and harvest crops. 

And I’m pouring concrete. Russell’s dad, Dan, has done renovations like these all his life. He smooths the dull grey mixture to create a raised platform on which he plans to replace some rotting sill. He talks about the nearby Quabbin Reservoir.

“You know, it’s the water source for all of Boston,” he says. “Built way back in the 1930s. They even drowned a couple towns when that dam was put up.” My high school history comes in handy. I mention how the process sounds similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority and other New Deal Projects. We get around to the Civilian Conservation Corps, and Dan’s face changes. A new sadness comes into it. 

“They used to take people in who had nothing, those CCC camps. They’d shelter them and give them food and work and a little sense of dignity.” He looks up at me from his work, his semi-square eyeglasses have slipped down to the bridge of his nose, making his eyes seem far away. “Where’s that gone today?” I said I didn’t know. 

I think we lost it the moment we lost sight of the value of manual labor in our lives. We lost it when we traded dancing for video games and a little conversation for hours lost in the glow of a computer screen. The good news is that it’s still so close. Our dignity and humanity, our healthy affinity for movement, is one seed, one step, one song away. Let’s join the farmers; let’s move! 

I wrote a little poem to go along with this piece. Here’s Work Song:

Nobody wants to do it
Until the doing starts to course
Through bodies that
Haven’t felt
The contraction of a muscle
Since last weekend’s back spasm,
Or Tuesday’s class,
Or yesterday’s conniption. 

But it feels good;
The doing moves
Like we do,
It makes people who love
Love harder.
It helps lonely people see
Who they were meant to see
Through the branches of persimmon,
Standing tall and still. 

I think today marks out a week since they,
Put their knees in the mud
To dig the hole where it could root
In the vibrating earth
With their now ever-active hands. 

Jonny Malks is a sustainable agriculture student and food systems educator in Virginia who uses the knowledge of how to grow food to build community. Connect with him on Facebook and read all of Jonny’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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Agribusiness Ambassador Attacks Agroecology

good spray 

 Photo credit: GoodSpray media

The U.S. Ambassador to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been using his public office to denounce the clean, sustainable, and socially just initiatives of agroecology while defending the toxic chemicals and processes of industrial agriculture

As detailed in The Hagstrom Report, during a speech last February at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum, FAO Ambassador Kip E. Tom complained about the agroecology movement for rejecting synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and also genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In his Forum remarks, Tom advocated for the agenda of the multinational agribusiness, chemical, and pharmaceutical interests with which he is involved. He asserted that science has proven these approaches to be safe and effective in boosting food production, and he deplored agroecology as both anti-science and anti-progress.

Before his appointment as the USDA Ambassador by President Trump, Tom was the CEO of Indiana-based Tom Farms LLC, which manages some 25,000 acres of land in the US and Argentina. The business is a leading supplier of GMO corn and soy seeds to DeKalb, and also to Syngenta and The Monsanto Company (acquired in 2018 by multinational pharmaceutical corporation Bayer AG).

Of note, as of October 2020 the Tom Farms website still lists Kip Tom as the Managing Member as well as the President of CereServ Inc. Neither the Tom Farms office nor the ambassador's office in Rome responded to inquiries for clarification or comment on this potential conflict of interest.

Savagely Broken Food System

 In criticizing agroecology, Tom said: “We have to wrap our minds around the fact that of the 193 other countries [in the UN], many do not share our basic values and some of our core assumptions."

He's correct about agroecology and some nations not sharing his core values and assumptions. The production and profit values of multinational ag and chemical corporations have contributed to profound imbalances in the environment, in world climate, and in the health and welfare of human beings and farmed animals.  The corporate industrial ag food system that Tom defends has remained determinedly oblivious to the ruination of the sources, and to the chaos of the climate.

The staggering number of fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, glacial collapses, and oceanic dead zones brought about by the steadily intensifying impact of global climate chaos is a clear and present danger. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to these mounting problems. They are not going to disappear if corporate industrial ag keeps churning along, business as usual.

As Amalia Leguizamón makes clear in her book Seeds of Power, while GMO soy has brought about modernization and economic growth in nations like Argentina (where Tom Farms is active), it has also created tremendous social and ecological harm: "rural displacement, concentration of land ownership, food insecurity, deforestation, violence, and the negative health effects of toxic agrochemical exposure."

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Senator Cory Booker (D- NJ) said that the climate crisis, the pandemic, and rising demands for racial justice are all tied to a “savagely broken food system.”

Booker has introduced bills to prevent further consolidation in agribusiness, to incentivize climate-friendly farming practices and to increase support for small farms selling into local markets. He wrote The Farm System Reform Act to bring factory farming under control, and to begin a transformation to a safe and equitable future for consumers and workers alike. He also released recent legislation, the Local FARM Act of 2020, to support local food systems in the current COVID 19 context. Meanwhile in the House, Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree has introduced the Agriculture Resilience Act to support, clean, local agroecological initiatives to help mitigate climate change.

In the context of the debate between the extractive approach of corporate chemical industrial agriculture, and the clean, sustainable, soil-enriching, and socially just approaches of agroecology, Senator Booker has been standing strongly for a healing approach. "We are on the right side of history,” he told The Guardian.

silver - image of organic field

Image credit: David Silver Wikimedia

The Enlightened Approach of Agroecology

 In a bitter irony, USDA Ambassador Tom accused the agroecology movement of being "anti-science." His accusation is stunningly off-kilter coming from a representative of the Trump Administration which has been fiercely anti-science across the board, as for example in its flat rejection of the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change, as well as its vigorous (and tragic) rejection of scientific medical advice for controlling the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Agroecology is an approach to farming, food, and life possessed of depth, breadth, and sophistication. It offers a penetrating critique of the status quo, and a far-reaching, environmentally enlightened, justice-based vision of better ways to care for land, plants, animals, and human beings. While the term agroecology is not yet widely used in the US, elsewhere around the globe it is the common umbrella term for denoting organics, biodynamics, regenerative, and other wholistic, socially-just systems of drawing our sustenance from the earth.

Rather than a mechanistic formula for domination of nature to produce profits for a small group of investors, the core ideas of agroecology arise naturally from living, rhythmic, biological appreciation of the world and the life that inhabits the world. Consequently, the global and national movement toward agroecology recognizes and to employs systems that bring human needs into right relation with the needs of the natural world.

As University of Nebraska–Lincoln Professor Charles A. Francis noted in Agroecology: The Ecology of Food Systems, food systems are vast and fragile and exist in the multiple and interacting matrices of our increasingly complex national and global cultures. Agroecology recognizes farms as ecosystems embedded in broader landscapes and social settings, with which they interact continually and significantly.

In the book’s introduction, Francis writes, “We define agroecology as the integrative study of the ecology of the entire food system, encompassing ecological, economic, and social dimensions.”

While agroecological pathways can be traced to the evolutionary symbiosis of agronomy and ecology, other disciplines such as botany, zoology, sociology, anthropology, ethics, economics, and native wisdom ways are by now also part of the whole. In consilience (or convergence) these disciplines provide a range of insight yielding vantage points for studying the food system, for developing a broader set of criteria for evaluation beyond monetary profitability, and for transforming the farm and food system in a manifestly healthy way.

Open Letters

 In an open letter dated October 1, the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) and the Agroecology Research-Action Collective denounced Tom's attacks on agroecology. The new USFSA letter builds upon an earlier letter released last October (2019) where the organizations similarly called out Kip Tom for trying to block on-going policy negotiations on agroecology in the UN Committee on World Food Security 

The group's 2020 letter states that agroecology is needed now more than ever to stop climate change and to ensure that everyone has access to healthy, nutritious food. They charge that Ambassador Tom is not just attacking the concept of agroecology at conferences, but is using his role as a taxpayer-funded US government official to try to undermine the democratic process of public policy development on agroecology at the UN.

Jennifer Taylor, an organic family farmer, and associate professor at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and one of the national coordinators of the USFSA, said that “agroecological farming systems promote soil fertility, soil and water conservation, biodiversity, healthy environments, mitigate pest damage and climate change."

Taylor noted that organic farmers avoid synthetic hormones and antibiotics, and oppose the use of sewage sludge, irradiation, GMO/genetic engineering materials, and GMO agricultural strategies.

The USFSA repudiated the USDA's decades-long support for extractive, “fencerow-to-fencerow” agriculture and a pro-agribusiness “get-big-or-get-out” policy framework. These policies have pushed millions of family farmers out of business and have polluted and poisoned rural communities.

The USFSA called for systemic changes in U.S. food and agriculture policy and a Green New Deal that centers the needs and voices of frontline communities and is based in environmental and climate justice.

“Ambassador Tom’s disdain for agroecology reveals that he indeed has a minimal understanding of the concept of agroecology,” said Patti Naylor, a farmer from Iowa who represented the USFSA and the North American region at the U.N. Committee on World Food Security.

"All of this is a threat to the power and influence of a global agrifood industry," Naylor said. "The Ambassador’s role at the U.N. is to defend and expand the dominance of the agrifood industry." 

In the 2020 Open Letter, Naylor made a key observation: “The conflict between the corporate model of agriculturebased on profitsand agroecologybased on the human rights, the rights of peasants, the protection of nature, and food sovereigntywill determine the kind of world we will leave the next generations.”

Independent journalist Steven McFadden is rooted in cyberspace at Information about his wider work and all of his nonfiction books is available at 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.

How to Coexist with Wild Animals


We have resided in our small cabin at an elevation of 9,800 feet for over 23 years full-time. We do not have any close neighbors and with an absence of human activity, we do have many animals around us. During that period of time, we often saw deer, elk, bear, bobcat and the occasional mountain lion. We carefully observe their behavior and conduct ourselves accordingly so as not to disturb their lifestyle and maintain a safe environment for ourselves. We also have abundant small critters which can be far more dangerous than the larger predators.


Our experience has not been consistent with all the articles and stories I’ve read about bears. During those many years, we have not had encounters that posed an immediate threat to our safety. When we are out working, we will often be surprised by a bear but we don’t panic or get excited. Instead, we let the bear take time to realize we are not a threat to it. After the bear has evaluated the situation and assured itself there is no threat, it will inevitably amble off. Most of the bear activity is at night, and we only know they were around because of the clawed-up tree stumps, logs and large rocks turned over.

Mother bear with cubs. Encounters have included mother bears and cubs. If the mother bear senses any danger to her cubs, she could become aggressive quickly to deal with the danger. I couldn’t count how many encounters we have had with mother bears and cubs, but some as close as 12 to 15 feet between us. Most of those encounters were where the mother bear would teach her cubs how to avoid humans.

Bear behavior. When the mother bear sits down and uses us to train her cubs, we realize we are simply being her tool and she means no harm. These episodes have lasted for up to 20 minutes. If, however, a bear lowers its head and swings it from side to side, you need to slowly back off and give the bear room. Sometimes they will rock sideways from foot to foot and that too is not a good indication, nor is huffing at you. If they feel threatened, they are very powerful animals and could become aggressive quickly, so we just talk in a calm tone and back away slowly.

Elk and Deer

Elk. Every year, we have large herds of elk around us. We have witnessed some strange activity from the elk that I am at a loss to explain. Each fall, the various elk herds tend to congregate around our property. There can be up to five to six individual herds that all come together for a day or more in the fall during the rut. They all mingle and congregate around our home and then by some secret signal only, they seem to know they break up and go their individual way. The bulls get along with each other and when they leave, they all seem to leave with the cows they came with. We have witnessed this "elk convention" several times and still mystifies us when it happens.

Deer. We have deer around almost every single day when the snow isn’t so deep they can’t function well. The deer are a joy to have around. When I’m outside working, the deer seem to get used to seeing me and don’t run off in a panic. They generally just go on with browsing and don’t pay any attention to me. Early on in our lives here, I was outside picking up branches and a doe with two small fawns would follow me around while I talked to her. Her trust seemed instinctive and that went on for several days. When I was outside a young buck walked right up to me with no fear. I soon realized that it was one of the fawns that were with the doe years earlier. That started a relationship that continued on for many years.


Bobcats and lynx. We rarely see bobcats or lynx as they are very elusive, but we sometimes see evidence of them and their activity. We will see chunks of deer hair, blood or bones that they have left after a kill. These are no-nonsense cats and when we do see one, we give them more than enough room. A 35-pound bobcat is a mighty tough fighting animal and nothing to be trifled with. 

Mountain lions. Much like bobcats, mountain lions are nothing to tempt or trifle with. We have had numerous encounters with some being within a few feet. When an unexpected encounter with a lion happens, that is no time to shrink or panic. Make yourself appear as large as you can and stand your ground. We have had them coil on the ground and hiss and snarl at us with lips curled back showing nasty-looking yellow teeth. Bu by standing firmly in place and facing them, they have, when they see an escape route, bounded off. Fortunately, lions try to avoid humans and while they are around, we don’t see them very often. 

Coyotes and wolves. We often see coyotes and they only seem to want to defecate around the perimeter of our home to mark their territory. They do not hang around and normally are just passing through. We have seen wolves a few times and they tend to avoid people.

Small Varmints

We consider the white-footed mouse and pack rat to be more dangerous than larger predators. Some carry the hantavirus and various other diseases. When their feces dry out and go airborne, if inhaled they can infect people. We spray a 50/50 solution of water and Clorox in areas they frequent, which has been effective. Large predators seem to pose less risk than a tiny mouse or wood rat with a virus molecule that can kill us.

Our 23 years of experience has provided a wealth of knowledge about how to co-exist safely with the wild animals. This has been a fun blog post to write because as I wrote it, I remembered many of the encounters we have had.

Bruce McElmurray homesteads at high elevation in the Southern Rockies with his wife, Carol. For more on their mountain lifestyle and their observances of animals coupled with their strange behavior, visit Bruce’s personal blog site at Bruce Carol Cabin. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Grow Backyard Pecan Trees for Food and Nostalgia

Pecan Trees Offers Beautiful Landscaping - Photo Credit: Pixaby 

Pecan trees offer beautiful landscaping. Photo by Andrea Barstow on Pixabay

The crisp season of fall is always a welcoming time of year. It seems that the hazy, blistering days of summer have expired and been put away, in exchange for the comforts of more traditional, festive occasions. There's promise in the air, which hints at the celebrated season to come. Such gifts of fall include cooler weather,  football games, holidays with great food, family and friends to accompany it with. A slice of pecan pie is also ever popular this time of year.

A Nostalgic Backyard Tree for the Southeast

Growing up in sunny Florida, my grandmother had a backyard full of citrus trees, along with an avocado and pecan tree. My older sister and I claimed the last two as our personal climbing trees. During the fall months, as we played outside whenever we became "lunch-y," as the old folks called it — there was no need to have to stop and go inside to snack. We'd simply snack on the abundance of freshly fallen pecans from the grand old pecan tree.

The popular saying "proper planning  prevents poor performance" can pay to many areas of gardening and agriculture, but is especially true when it comes to planting pecan trees.

I've always felt a little nostalgia surrounding each tree's first fruits of the fall season. For me, it brings back those sweet memories of eating the pecans from my grandmother's house. I even tried planting from the nuts from the pecan tree taken from my grandmother's yard to ours. But I got a grand old oak tree instead. A considerable fair trade from the random acorns and nuts that I scattered through the yard. Yet I always knew there was nothing quite like the simple joy of taking the nutcracker and cracking into those fresh pecans from the backyard pecan tree. To plant a pecan tree and finally get to realize the fruits of one's labor is even greater reward than taste alone.

Pecans Offering Food Sustainance - Photo Credit: Monica White

Growing Pecan Trees

If you're in a region that supports the growth of pecan trees, and you're willing to invest the time and care required, you'll likely reap some of the greatest rewards of the fall season, while enjoying even greater long-term success with growing pecan trees.

Right from the start, one should realize that in order to successfully grow pecan trees, some of the most important set of "tools" at one's disposal will be adequate amounts of patience, planning, water, and space. A pecan tree can grow to become quite large, reaching an average height of around 100 feet when fully mature.

Benefits. Not only are pecan trees an attractive landscape feature, but they provide significant tangible benefits as well. The shade that a pecan tree provides, can greatly increase one's outdoor enjoyment on a homestead property. The tree can provide a comfortable respite of outdoor shade and shelter for people and livestock. In addition to a tree providing an energy conservation opportunity with shaded areas of the homestead being cooler, requiring less air-conditioning usage. And yes, of course, there's the obvious end result of the buttery pecans and their byproducts for homestead or commercial consumption.

Spacing. One of the most critical areas in the success of growing pecan trees, is in the planning and planting. Many may not think of planting small, young trees, at least 70 to 80 feet apart. A fully matured pecan tree's branches extend an average of 35 to 40 feet from it's trunk. When pecan trees are planted too closely, they must be replanted to allow proper spacing between them or other structures. Trees spaced too close also causes misshapen and underdeveloped trees. This replanting can introduce undue stress to a young, developing tree. The stress opens up other possible vulnerabilities, affecting the tree's optimal health and pecan production.

Young Pecan Fruit - Photo credit: Pixaby

Young Pecan Fruit - Photo credit: Pixaby

Planting. Once the planting location has been determined, with present and future structures considered, as well as any overhead electrical wires, etc., the actual planting details should be carefully followed. Specific pecan varieties or "cultivars" are more successful than others and should be carefully considered for your particular region. Some trees are more disease prone and less scab-resistant, depending upon a variety of factors.

Disease. Pecan scab is a fungal disease prevalent to young, developing pecan trees across the southeastern portions of the United States. It's cause is largely due to an abundance of moisture left untreated on the tree's major surfaces. Young trees should be sprayed at first budding, and then continued every 14 to 21 days until mid August. Climate characteristics, such as heavy rainfall the year before, greatly influences scab growth the present year. Pecan scab can be reduced by selecting a cultivar that is scab-resistant to a particular growing area. Young trees should also be kept sanitary with regular water spraying, limb trimming and by avoiding any conditions holding prolonged moisture or ground contact.

Transplanting. Young pecan trees are planted primarily in one of two ways: as bare-root transplants or as container-grown pecan trees. Although the bare-root transplants should be planted 3 feet deep, due to its long tap root, and 24 inches of diameter in width, giving the roots ample spread allowance when the plant is placed in the planting hole. Young container trees follow similar planting methods.

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she's growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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Managing Your Property for Healthy Deer with Dr. Grant Woods, Part 2

grant woods large buck 

Dr. Grant Woods of, shown here with an amazing hit list buck taken in 2016 they called "Handy". His size is an example of letting bucks mature. Photo by

In the first part of this interview series, readers were introduced to wildlife biologist Dr. Grant Woods, founder of who specializes in the management of deer populations and their habitat. Now, learn more about managing a property for healthy deer, along with some other points such as which deer to harvest and basic tips from Dr. Woods himself.

Fala Burnette: Grant, it’s interesting you mention being selective about your trees when managing property for wildlife. This is a great point to save select stands of timber and let them mature. Speaking of the point of maturation, could you tell us a little bit about why letting some of our bucks mature and age could help benefit the herds we manage? How do you determine which deer to harvest versus which to let age out a bit longer?

Grant Woods: I like mature bucks as a hunter and more importantly as a wildlife biologist. As a hunter, I enjoy seeing a large-antlered bucks. Age is the primary factor in a buck's antler size. I also like that mature bucks tend to weigh more than immature bucks and therefore yield more venison. When processed appropriately (deboned and connective tissue removed from each muscle) the taste of venison from a mature buck is excellent!   

As a wildlife biologist I know that mature bucks secrete some different pheromones than immature bucks. It's believed that these pheromones help synchronize when does become receptive, etc.  In addition, the presence of mature bucks and their pheromones suppress fighting among immature bucks to determine the social hierarchy. Fighting is a natural part of immature buck development and determining the dominance hierarchy. However, when there's not a clear dominance hierarchy immature bucks tend to aggressively fight over and over which can result in exhaustion and/or injuries and reduced chances of survival.

Given this it's important for herds to be managed for a balanced adult sex ratio (harvest as many does as bucks) and allow some bucks to mature. It's relatively easy to identify mature bucks in the field. They tend to have a hump over their shoulders, their chest sags below their shoulders and their neck merges with the chest at the brisket. The back and belly of middle-aged bucks will appear straight (flat) and their neck will merge with the chest above the brisket. Immature bucks (1 1/2 years old during hunting season) will appear to have the body of a large doe (not muscular) but have antlers. These indicators are a bit subjective but it seems hunters become very good at estimating the age of bucks on the hoof with a bit of practice!

Speaking of venison, there are some excellent recipes on that I can’t wait to try this upcoming deer season! I’m also very fond of some of the past articles you all have written about trapping predators to help increase the numbers of turkey poults and fawns that survive each year. What other information and videos can we find on your website?

Grant Woods: I’m a wildlife biologist and my wife Tracy, and I live on a farm near in the Ozark Mountains that was overgrazed and the timber was high-graded for decades.  We’ve spent almost 20 years working to improve the habitat for wildlife and restore plant communities while establishing and maintaining food plots where appropriate.

We started producing a weekly video, blogs, and responding to viewers questions on 10+ years ago. The subject of those entries are about what we learned while improving our farm for wildlife and while assisting other landowners with wildlife habitat and hunting technique questions.

We hope the information on our site helps others improve the habitat where they hunt, be a successful hunter, and how to field dress and prepare the game. 

Mr. Woods, thank you so much for sharing with our readers and helping us get to know you, GrowingDeer, and a little more about property and wildlife management. Before you go, what is one quick tip you have for anyone who wants to step up their deer season this year?

Grant Woods: Oftentimes stepping up one's game means revisiting and focusing on doing the basics right. When deer hunting, the basics are knowing where the best sources of food, cover, and water are in the area to be hunted and which resource is the most limited. The most limited resource could be food, water, or cover and often changes at any location from year to year. Then the hunter needs to know how to approach, hunt, and exit the areas without alerting deer. These steps are key to putting plenty of venison in the freezer!

I wish to again thank Dr. Grant Woods for his time and insight put into the interview, and I hope that it will be of great benefit to our readers!

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. 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.

The March Towards Zero Waste

Unilever Zero

With spring around the corner, it’s the when many begin clearing out the clutter which has so easily accumulated through the year. Sometimes it can be challenging to find a home or new use for unwanted items through charities, yard sales, recycling, auction sites, and other means. Many businesses and industries are engaged in an ongoing similar strategic game on a much larger scale. Today, many are working to reduce waste and some have set goals to become designated as zero waste to improve the company’s bottom line, while conserving valuable resources including water, energy, and land.

What exactly does zero waste mean? Many corporations have their own definitions for zero waste which can make things confusing. The U.S. Zero Waste Business council (USZWBC) founded in 2012, observed the issues with not having a certification program for zero waste. “It was like apples and pineapples,” says USZWBC founder Stephanie Barger, Director of Market Development at the Green Business Certification Incorporated (GBCI). “It was all over the place. There really weren’t standards and guidelines on what zero waste meant. That was one of the reasons businesses came to us.” The definition of zero waste for third party certification requires that no waste go to a landfill or incineration facility.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is employing change in helping others protect the environment with a systematic approach that builds on the basics of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to evaluate the entire life cycle of products. This process, called Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) seeks to use materials in the most productive way with an emphasis on using fewer materials and products while reducing toxic chemicals and environmental impacts throughout the material’s life cycle.

In Tennessee, some of the top industrial performers in waste reduction are members of the Tennessee Green Star Partnership (TGSP). The Tennessee Green Star Partnership is a voluntary environmental leadership program designed to recognize industries in the state which are committed to sustainable practices. Through a survey about zero waste, the Office of Sustainable Practices received input from the TGSP partners on what zero waste means to them and their company’s achievements as well as progress toward achieving the goal. They confirmed that the definitions for zero waste are not uniform and many showed interest in learning more about waste solutions. From those responding, approximately half are either zero waste or have greater than 90% diversion. All respondents have waste reduction goals and most have specifically identified zero waste as a priority.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation through the Division of Solid Waste Management and the Office of Sustainable Practices is working to provide a new tool which could be instrumental in helping reduce waste and even assist with the zero waste goals. The Tennessee Materials Marketplace is currently in development and will provide a cloud based program offering a match type service for those needing products and those with products on hand. We will provide more information on this program as it becomes available. We are excited to be a part of the “march” to zero waste.


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Guilty by Misidentification: How to Tell the Difference between Goldenrod and Ragweed

Ragweed in full bloom.

Every fall, a leggy native weed begins to show its true colors. Along roadsides, in ditches, fields, and the edge of woods: goldenrod begins to gleam forth. But alas, there is a smear campaign at work, worthy of today’s political scene.

So what is the lie? That the waving golden tide arriving right about now is to blame for our fall seasonal allergies. Over and over I hear people lamenting the beautiful golden explosion as “ragweed!”

Dear folks, it’s just not true and I am here to tell you why.

Visual Identification of Ragweed and Goldenrod

Above is ragweed, in full bloom.

You will notice the flowers are negligible, tiny, barely noticeable as flowers at all.


This is goldenrod (well one of the many varieties, actually) but goldenrod as we know it, with brightly colored and obvious flowers.


Science Behind Flower Types

In the world of plant science, plants do not develop blooms for us (sorry but it’s true). The flowers develop to help the plant propagate. In the case of ragweed, the method of spreading its pollen (or boy bits) is by wind. Thus, the flowers exist only to get the tiny and easily airborne pollen into the air — and, unintentionally but unfortunately, up your nose.

Goldenrod, on the other hand, is busy at work utilizing a different method. Its pollen is too heavy to spread by the wind, so it needs help. The goldenrod puts a lot of energy into generating nectar and pollen in a gorgeous package to entice their friend and ours: the bee.

Bees pick up the pollen on their bodies and spread it from flower to flower.

Spring, the other season of great allergy affliction, is when tree pollen is on the wind. Now ask yourself, “how often have I noticed maple, oak, and pine flowers?” Perhaps never? That’s because, like the ragweed, the trees distribute their pollen on the wind. The flowers are generally miniscule.

Plants that go to the effort to create attractive flowers do so because their pollen needs help and is, therefore, unlikely to be the culprit behind your itchy eyes and streaming nose.

So stand tall America, vindicate this true native wild child. Goldenrod is an important source of nectar and pollen for migrating birds and insects, it’s darn pretty, and it is not ragweed!

Nicole G. Carlin is a Northwest Pennsylvania homesteader and educator who raises heritage-breed livestock on her 22-acre, restored Singing Wren FarmConnect with Nicole at Smoldering Wick, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

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