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

Telluride Bluegrass Festival: Greenest Show On Earth

 

Each year for the past 45 years the town of Telluride, Colorado has hosted a bluegrass festival. When the bluegrass festival started on July 6, 1974, it featured eight local Colorado bluegrass bands. Over the years the Telluride Bluegrass Festival has evolved into one of the best bluegrass events anywhere on the planet. Held around the summer solstice each year, thousands of regulars dubbed Festivarians, flock to the Telluride Town Park.

It’s evident to those in attendance that the best bluegrass musicians on the planet come to this high-country event. This year’s lineup included The Del McCoury Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Emmylou Harris, Sam Bush, and 27 other amazing performers. The quality of the musicians has significantly improved since the festival’s humble beginnings in 1974, but what is just as impressive is the organizer’s dedication to making this perhaps the most eco-friendly festival anywhere on earth.

Fans who loved the mountains and environment already filled the festival by the time Planet Bluegrass stepped in as the organizer in 1989. Over the coming years, Planet Bluegrass would make great strides in making sure the festival’s impact on the environment was minimal. One of the most significant moves to reducing the effect of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival was to limit the number of fans allowed into this town of only 2,000 residents. Telluride sits in a box canyon and has sparse flat ground for thousands of fans. Planet Bluegrass and the town of Telluride got together 20 years ago and agreed to limit attendance. Since that time Planet Bluegrass has capped the crowd to only 11,500 paid attendees and volunteers.

Camp Duktape

The festival still sells out each year since 2010, even though they don’t announce the band lineup until two weeks after ticket sales start. First-time attendees will notice most, but not all of the eco-friendly practices during the four-day bluegrass festival. The most obvious eco-friendly method is the large roll-off dumpster manned by volunteers. Three huge banners above the dumpster indicate which place to put recycle, compost, and landfill items. Volunteers staff the dumpsters throughout the festival to help ensure each receptacle receives the correct things. Food vendors have to use compostable cutlery, bowls, and plates. Combined with food scraps, the compostable service items save a lot of space that a landfill would have received.

Replacing single-use beer, wine, and beverage cups with reusable plastic cups has been one of the best eco-friendly practices. Planet Bluegrass co-founder Steve Szymanski told me “You will find people in the campground with 25 years of cups.” When you make a different re-useable cup that people want to collect, the cups get re-used for years to come. What used to be some 100,000 cups per bluegrass event is now only 8,000 or less.

When I asked Brian Eyster about the Planet Bluegrass carbon credits program at the festival he shared this:

Since 2007, Planet Bluegrass has offset the carbon emissions from all festival operations in Telluride as well as from the largest overall impact (90% of the total emissions!): all travel to/from Telluride by staff, artists, and Festivarians from around the world.  Over the years we have developed a comprehensive analysis of the event's carbon footprint, using extensive surveys about our Festivarians' travel to/from Telluride - flights, driving distances, carpools, etc. In our efforts to support local (and innovative) carbon projects, in 2018 we worked with Telluride's Pinhead Climate Institute to invest $30k in a carbon offsets from a new "regenerative agriculture" project at the May Ranch in Colorado.

Obviously Planet Bluegrass takes being eco-friendly to a very high level.

Another excellent idea to impart a “Leave No Trace” camping ethic is the Campsite Challenge. With 3,600 campers each year it’s important to incentivize eco-friendly camping. Planet Bluegrass sponsors lnt.org (Leave No Trace) organization each year. These dedicated staff and volunteers of LNT are at their tent each day educating the public about clean camping, composting, and other ways to lessen our impact on the environment. The LNT staff inspects the campground each day to award daily prizes to campers that have signed up for the Campsite Challenge. At the end of the festival, the LNT staff makes one final inspection to see how clean the abandoned campsites are before awarding the grand prize. The winner of the grand prize gets two four-day passes to next year’s festival.  The winner also receives a free camping permit valued at more than $700 for the package! Outdoor gear manufacturer Kelty also chips in with a grand prize in the $800+ range for the winner of the Eco-Puzzle.

When I asked Steve Szymanski what other festival promoters could do to copy Planet Bluegrass, he told me “Stop using single-use beer cups and skip compostable cups for re-useable cups instead.” Steve also indicated that each region/market is different and would accept specific changes that other regions wouldn’t tolerate. Changing human behavior is usually best done in small steps. Maybe your local festival could start by adopting the #SipResponsibly movement where plastic straws are only given by request. Over 500,000 plastic straws are used and discarded each day in the U.S.A. alone. Most festivals could reduce their use of single-use beer cups, plastic cutlery, and landfill items if they educate their audience.

The change begins with you, the festival attendee requesting these eco-friendly practices. Consider making these suggestions and volunteering to implement them as Planet Bluegrass does. The volunteers I saw working at the dumpsters all seemed to be having a blast on their four-hour shift. Marketing director Brian Eyster told me, “Most of our volunteers return year-after-year and couldn’t stand missing the festival.”  You could be the voice of change needed to help clean up our country one festival at a time. Please join those of us wanting a cleaner outdoor music event and planet, and when you go, enjoy the show.

Kurt Jacobsohas been a chef for 40 years and, after being schooled in the U.S. Coast Guard, he trained in many restaurants under both kind and maniac chefs. Kurt is starting his fourth year of container and raised-bed organic gardening and is volunteering at Wilbur’s Farm in Kingsville, Maryland, to learn real organic gardening. For this and other recipes using garden greens, and more fresh veggies check out his food blog. For tasty travel ideas check out Kurt's travel blog, TasteofTravel2.com. Read all of Kurt's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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The Natural Collection Through Collagraph Printmaking: Part 1

Drying Prints

I’m always searching for ways to see -- really notice -- the natural world. Some of my most relaxing, meditative times have been in the midst of nature, and paying attention with all of my senses. When I walk outside, I love to feel barks, grasses, mosses, rocks. I enjoy listening to the wind in the trees, birdsong, water lapping on a shoreline. The smells of spring, especially right before a rainstorm, the crisp smell of winter or the fragrance of fresh cut grass and our southern magnolia blossoms.

One way to capture the signs and textures of nature, as well as memories, is to collect all sorts of pieces of the natural world and use them in artful collagraph printmaking plates. Collagraph print plates are made by gluing items to a thick paperboard, cardboard or wood plate to be used in creating prints. I use these plates create artwork, notecards, book covers and writing paper.

Arts and Crafts for Kids

Collagraph printmaking can also be a fun art project for kids to work on. Children love to hunt for pieces of nature. Imagine their delight in creating colorful prints of their treasures. This can be a project just for fun, or it can be used as an educational project, such as leaf identification, shapes and patterns identification or part of a lesson on senses.

Leaves

Collection of Nature

Start by searching for beautifully shaped leaves (especially those with deep vein patterns), ferns, stems, chunks of bark, grasses...anything with interesting patterning. I once created a plate using fresh lavender. Once I started the printing process, the fragrance of lavender permeated the room.

Bark

Beware of using any material that is too thick. For instance, if a thick chunk of bark is affixed to the plate, the thinner materials on the plate will print lighter, if at all.

Also, think about the variety of places where you might collect your materials. In order to use this printing exercise as a way to fully appreciate nature, spend time collecting. Pay attention to this part of the process. Maybe you’ll search for special bits of nature to remind you of a festive family picnic. Collect nature’s remains on your daily walk. Use stems and flowers from a special bouquet. A visit to the seashore might provide a few strips of seaweed and blades of sea grass as a reminder of a relaxing vacation. The possibilities are endless.

Texture

To add to the texture of your plates, save scraps of mesh bags such as those from the grocery store that contain avocados and lemons. Keep a stash of sheets of sandpaper, bits of yarns, fabric swatches, torn pieces of corrugated cardboard -- really, anything with a textured surface. In fact, hold on to cardboard shipping boxes, as the flat sides can be used for the plate to which you will affix your treasures.

Twig

Composition

Next, spread your collection out on a table. Decide how large of a print plate you plan to create. Are you making small notecards or larger art prints? Cut the cardboard plate to fit whatever size your choose.

Rhododendron

Take the time to contemplate and feel the bits and pieces in your collection. How can you put some of your collection onto your cardboard plate to make an interesting composition? What I especially enjoy about collagraph printing is that once I’ve applied paint and have pressed my print, the final product is usually a surprise. So be open to experimenting and the unknown outcome of this project.

I can’t decide which I enjoy more: the process of being present in nature, and finding the patterns and textures to use in future prints, or creating art from nature. In Part 2, we will go step-by-step through the process of creating a collagraph plate and a series of prints from the plate. Meantime, enjoy the process of collecting mindfully.


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Largest Flower Show in the USA in Fredericksburg, Texas

fields of flowers at wildseed farms

The historic Fredericksburg, Texas, community is one of the epicenters for wildflowers, the thriving Texas wine industry and, in the summer, a peachy celebration as orchards overflow with bushels of chin-dripping fruit. In fact, days could be spent enjoying the wildflowers every spring, from the front porch of your cottage or meandering through the middle of blooming field full of them.

My first post covers the cozy lodging and historic roots of Fredericksburg after a recent visit with my photographer-husband, John Ivanko, where we experienced the sense of self-reliance and vibrant community life. From artisanal hand-crafted charcuterie with premium local meats to mom-and-pop bakeries that personally make over twenty different pies daily, the community has emerged as a food travel destination as well. The charming community is a perfect stop if you're headed to the Mother Earth News Fair held in Belton, Texas.

Wildflowers in Texas Hill Country

Want to see the biggest flower show in the country?  Get your free front row seat every spring.  Acres upon acres of Bluebonnets and Red Corn Poppies can be enjoyed at Wildseed Farms, the nation’s largest wildflower farm, with over 200 cultivated acres of wildflower fields at its Texas Hill Country headquarters and more than 1,000 acres in Texas total.  Expect to see also see carpets of wildflowers in the medians along highways leading to Fredericksburg from both Austin and San Antonio, both about an hour and a half away in opposite directions.

“Come for the flowers, stay for the atmosphere,” laughs John Thomas, who started Wildseed Farms over 40 years ago with his wife, Marilyn. It now attracts over 300,000 visitors every year. 

 child walking through field of poppies at wildseed farms

If you’ve ever purchased wildflower seed, it most likely came from this farm. Wildseed Farm sells direct – you’ll find a bounty of climate and habitat specific seed mixes here. It also supplies the majority of other wildflower seed operations. There is no cost to roam Wildseed Farm, with their curated gardens and educational displays on building wildflower habitat. 

“My definition of wildflowers are flowers that grow without the help of man,” shares Thomas.  Dedicated to stewarding the natural ecosystem in which wildflowers thrive, he cultivates a healthy pollinator population on the farm. “We have so many flowers, we need to bring in bee reinforcements,” Thomas chuckles when asked about the 30 hives he brings in annually.

“Wildflowers reflect the diversity of our country’s geography and climate,” adds Thomas.  “Remember to research and plant the right seed mix that is native to and grows well where you live.”

Wildseed Farm offers mixes based on what zone you are in as well as planting advice. In general, wildflowers need full sun, at least four hours of full sunlight a day. Seeds can generally be planted in the spring or fall and need a fair amount of moisture to germinate and may need supplemental watering during that first four to six weeks.

 texas bluebonnet flowers in Historic Fredericksburg, Texas

Bicycling with Blooming Wildflowers

Beyond fields of flowers, the gently rolling topography of Texas Hill Country make it ideal for outdoor exploration. Hill Country Bicycle Works helps put you jump on a pair of wheels to ply the backroads. Owner Lisa Nye-Salladin can get you set up with a bike and personal recommendations on plotting a scenic route with a multitude of paved back-roads.

“Remember the last climb is off your bike,” offers Nye-Salladin with a smile while tapping into leg muscle before another hill climb. This rolling topography of Texas Hill Country offers an ideal way to explore the scenery on bike, one where you’ll both need to work those muscles on larger hills yet still have plenty of energy to take in the beauty, especially during the downhill coasts!

For hikers looking for a workout and panoramic photo opportunities, traipse up to the top of Enchanted Rock, the second largest granite dome in the country and take in the best birds’ eye view of the rolling hills dotted with open oak woodland and mesquite grassland.

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


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Earth Law and Consumerism

Photo by Jack Zalium

Photo by Jack Zalium, Creative Commons

There is a direct link between our consumption choices and the environmental challenges facing us – with consumption accounting for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions.

While some of us fortunate enough to choose the source of our coffee beans and attend farmers markets have started to make the connection between consumerism and the present environmental crisis, there is a still a need for more information about how our daily behavior affects the vitality of the environment.

Over the past two decades, green consumerism has emerged as a new form of consumption, offering a way for consumers to incorporate our political and social values into our patterns of consumption. It also opens up a space for collaboration where individuals, companies and local and federal governments can work together to improve the environment for everyone.

Consumption as Civic Duty

For centuries, consumption has been a topic of conversation. In Ancient Greece, Plato condemned consumption as a threat to the human soul. In many European states during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, consumption was considered a waste of money that could have been used towards local resources. And in his 1759 book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith wrote that humans consistently garner more items in their life because the accumulation of such objects allows for life to be “grand and beautiful and noble.”[i]

More recently, with a recession looming in 2007, President Bush told reporters at a news conference, “. . . I encourage you all to go shopping more.”[ii]

Our New Civic Duty to Be Green

The linking of consumption to civic duty echoed by President Bush is undergoing a transformation from more is better to the idea that consumers can use their specific contributions to the economy to shape the economic and political landscape. The “citizen-consumer” can support their values and the issues they care about by purchasing goods that reflect those same beliefs.

Rising concern regarding environmental destruction led to an expansion of the “citizen-consumer” and a steady increase in demand for eco-friendly products. According to a Nielsen survey from 2015, 66% of global consumers from 60 countries are willing to pay more for goods that have a positive social and environmental impact—up from 55% in 2014.[iii]

What Impact Earth Law Would Have

Earth continues to degrade despite decades of environmental law so the laws need to evolve. Earth Law provides an innovative solution: an ethical framework that recognizes nature’s right to exist, thrive and evolve - enabling nature to defend these rights in court, just like corporations can. Earth law protects nature the way corporate law protects business.

Viewing nature as a resource to be owned and used has contributed to the disconnect between pursuits that are valued by people such as buying a new car or taking a vacation, and the types of behavior that also prioritize the health and well being of the natural environment. Earth Law can bridge this divide by providing stronger protections for nature such that consumer habits, construction projects and transportation balance the needs of nature and humans.

Want to Help?

Act today and join the growing global movement of Earth Law by:

Staying informed of Earth Law Center
Volunteering with ELC
Supporting ELC

Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature's rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Charles Ryan is the Earth Law Economics Associate and a student at the Pennsylvania State University. Read the full version of this blog here.

Resources

[i] Trentmann, Frank. “How Humans Became 'Consumers': A History.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 28 Nov. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/11/how-humans-became-consumers/508700/.

[ii] “With Recession Looming, Bush Tells America To 'Go Shopping More'.” ThinkProgress, ThinkProgress,

[iii] “Consumer-Goods' Brands That Demonstrate Commitment to Sustainability Outperform Those That Don't.” What People Watch, Listen To and Buy, 10 Dec. 2015,


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Earth Law Center Speaking at EARTHx, the World’s Largest Environmental Conference

Jellyfish by Michelle Bender

Photo by Michelle Bender

I’m so pleased to share with you that Michelle Bender, Ocean Rights Manager at Earth Law Center will be speaking at EARTHx in Dallas on Sunday, April 22 (Earth Day). Founded in 2011 by Dallas-based environmentalist, philanthropist, and businessman Trammell S. Crow, EARTHx promotes environmental awareness by curating the world's largest annual forum for sharing the latest environmental initiatives, discoveries, research, innovations, policies, corporate and NGO practices that are reshaping the future.

Michelle will also unveil the first Ocean Rights Framework in the world; The Framework aims to help local communities and environmental organizations to create management plans for Marine Protected Areas that include Earth Law and rights of nature. Mission Blue endorses the Earth Law Ocean Rights Framework.

After eight months of research, writing, gathering global expert input; Earth Law Center has now completed the Earth Law Framework for Marine Protected Areas. Marine protected areas (MPA) are protected areas of seas and oceans that can take many forms ranging from wildlife refuges to research facilities. MPAs restrict human activity for conservation purposes, typically to protect natural or cultural resources and often endangered marine species.

Did you know that the ocean produces half of the world’s oxygen, absorbs and sequesters one-third of the carbon dioxide human activities emit, provides protection from extreme weather events, and provides a source of food and livelihoods? In fact, 20 percent of the human population depends on the ocean for their primary source of protein, and over seven percent rely on the ocean for jobs and income.[1] The ocean also provides key medicinal components and treatments, such as the anticancer drug, Ara-C[2] and an enzyme to treat asthma.[3]

Being near and on the ocean is proven to boost human mental and physical health.[4] For those of us who don’t live within sight of the ocean, we may forget that human life and well-being depend on the ocean (UNEP, 2011).[5] An estimated 50-80 percent of all life on Earth is found in the ocean.

The Ocean Earth Law initiative joins a growing list of wins in the global rights of nature movement. The Columbian Amazon is the latest area of nature to win rights recognition in January 2018. In addition to Ecuador and Bolivia recognizing rights of nature in their national constitutions, three rivers, national park and sacred mountain also hold rights (the Whanganui in New Zealand, the Atrato in Colombia, the Villacabamba in Ecuador, and Te Urewera National Park and Mt. Taranaki in New Zealand).

This initiative supports several other ocean initiatives launched by Earth Law Center which seek rights for: The Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary in Uruguay, the Patagonian Shelf in Argentina and the Puget Sound in Washington State (US).  Earth Law Center serves to connect and catalyze local partnerships, consisting of communities, indigenous groups, and guardians, to create new laws which uphold and defend nature's rights against harm.

Learn more about ocean rights here

Sign up for our monthly newsletter here

Volunteer on the project here

Donate to the cause here

Darlene May Lee is Executive Director of Earth Law Center, which works to transform the law to recognize and protect nature’s inherent rights to exist, thrive and evolve. She works to build a force of advocates for nature's rights at the local, state, national, and international levels. Connect with Earth Law Center on TwitterFacebookand LinkedIn. Read all of Darlene’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Resources

[1] OECD, Marine Protected Economics, Management and Effective Policy Mixes: Policy Highlights, 2 (2016), available at: https://www.oecd.org/environment/resources/Marine-Protected-Areas-Policy-Highlights.pdf (“OECD”); United Nations, Overfishing: A Threat to Marine Biodiversity (Aug. 31, 2017), http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/06/story.asp?storyID=800.

[2] National Research Council (US) Committee on the Ocean's Role in Human Health, From Monsoons to Microbes: Understanding the Ocean's Role in Human Health, 4 (1999), available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK230700/

[3] Nicole Levins, Oceans and Coasts, The Nature Conservancy, (Aug. 31, 2017), https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/urgentissues/oceans/coral-reefs/coral-reefs-and-medicine.xml.

[4] Carolyn Gregoire, Why Being Near the Ocean Can Make You Calmer and More Creative, Huffington Post, Feb. 25, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2016/02/25/mental-benefits-water_n_5791024.html; Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind, Little, Brown and Company (2014).

[5]  OECD, supra at 2.


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Counting Towards Spring

outdoor spring dining

While tulips, hanging flower baskets, hummingbirds, and having lunch outside aren’t here yet, we know they’re coming. 

It’s a ritual.  Breakfast time arrives after chores and opening up the shop, when Mom announces, “Did you hear the trumpeter swans fly over this morning?  Put that on the calendar!”  Up I jump, snatching a pen from the counter.  Amidst notes about the upcoming needle felting class, a doctor’s appointment, and the scheduled delivery of aquaponics lettuce to Northland College, I mark down the observed return of the swans.  I’d heard them too, scooting low over the house on their way dutifully north.

Each year, we watch and make note.  The first robin arrived just the other day, heralding that the snow is not over yet.  “Three snows on the robin’s tail,” the old-timers say.  Some years, it’s been “well, at LEAST three snows…” 

But don’t get glum about not being fully out of the woods with winter yet.  It’s been a beautiful spring—long strings of sunny days with crisp evenings to firm up the ground and our gravel lane.  No huge dump of snow since Birkie season, no torrential rains to cause flash flooding.  The deep snow is slowly collapsing in place, and sometime soon I’ll be able to trounce out to the garden and dig up that bed of carrots mulched last fall for late winter harvest.

I was a little eager to get at those carrots last week, piling all my necessary equipment on a sled (shovel, pitch fork, potato fork, plastic tote) and headed off across the yard.  Crunch, crunch, I kept sinking in over my knees.  When I finally reached where I thought the 100-foot row of carrots should be, there was no discernable markings in the dense blanket of snow.  No mound, no nothing.  Should have put a flag sticking up out of the end or something…a good idea to remember for next year.  So I just started digging.  45-minutes later, I found the bed of carrots, but I was too tuckered out to unearth more than a handful.  I’ll have to try for a rematch once the warm days have shrunk the snow-cover a bit more, and it’s less treacherous to even make it out to the garden.

But these warm, sunny days and crispy chill nights are absolutely ideal for making maple syrup.  In the mornings during chores, I can practically smell the maple sap, even though our trees have stood untapped for years.  Maple season is another way to count the steps towards spring, with its own set of nature markers.  There’s the receding snowline around the bases of the trees, the delicate growth of buds at branch tips, and the songs of returning birds overhead.  Syruping has its end markers as well—the pussy willows pop open and thrust out their yellowy stamens and the spring peepers cry mercilessly from the marshes.

Next in line after that will be the return of the red-winged blackbirds and sandhill cranes.  The farm will come alive with the cheep-cheep of baby chicks arriving in boxes from the Post Office, and folks will start heading north to open their cabins for the summer season.

Then it’s the hummingbirds at Mother’s Day; someone spots the first tiny fawn in the woods; and all the trees leaf out like there’s some big party going on that no one can miss.  There’s daffodils and tulips sprouting out everywhere like hope on stems, and the dandelions parade their golden pollen orbs to the delight of all the buzzing pollinators.

Sugar Time!!

But spring doesn’t start with tulips and green grass.  Spring in the Northwoods has already started—with maple syruping, with the birds returning, with the change in the way the clouds look and move through the sky.  It starts with icy puddles and bare roads and realizing that it’s no longer helpful to use a sled for pulling hay bales around the barnyard.

Springtime in the Northwoods is about weight limits on the back roads, lingering ice patches on the north shadows of buildings, and thinking about raking the gravel out of your yard from plowing season.  There’s mud (oh yes, that old friend) and fresh smells and way more garden work that you feel ready to tackle.  Already, I was able to shovel my way into one of our high tunnels, work the soil, and plant spinach.  It’s not up yet, but I’m keeping the beds moist—hauling the hose stuffed into a Rubbermaid tote into the basement each night so it stays thawed for the next use.

Springtime in the Northwoods is that funny moment when you see the still-white snowshoe hare against a completely brown landscape.  It’s about cleaning out the bird houses before the swallows and bluebirds arrive.  It’s about no longer having to put on 15 pounds of extra clothing before you step outside for five minutes.  And it’s noticing the phoebe back on top of the barn roof, singing his heart out.

The animals notice too.  Soon it will be time for shearing the sheep, massive chicken coop cleanings, and mending fences for pasture season.  The critters big and small are enjoying the longer day lengths, the warming temperatures, and the sense of change in the air.  Belle, our aging guard donkey got to take off her winter blanket.  Water dishes freeze solid less often.  I even got my utility golf cart running this week for hauling water to the Red Barn.

So, instead of being glum because you can’t wear the flip-flops yet or the crocuses aren’t up, savor each step towards spring.  Notice them, count them, write them on the calendar.  Find gratitude in each milestone.  See if it helps to change your mood about the situation.  I like to think that Mother Nature appreciates the attention as she awakens from her wintry slumber.  We’ll keep counting towards spring!  See you down on the farm sometime.

Photo by Laura Berlage

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com


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What the New Steel and Aluminum Tariffs Could Mean for the Construction and Housing Market

The unexpected announcement earlier this month of new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum could impact prices for the U.S. construction, infrastructure and housing markets. Protectionist trade policy, introduced by the White House to boost domestic production and add new jobs, will impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum.

Following through on a key campaign promise and rattling stock markets, this is the latest of aggressive trade policy changes, preceded by the U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Why Tariffs, and Why Now?

Messaging from the federal government initially declared no country, including Canada and Mexico, would be exempt from the tariffs unless the U.S. can negotiate a better deal with NAFTA. The Trump Administration has since announced Canada and Mexico will now be exempt from the tariffs — undoubtedly a relief for Canada, which produces 16 percent of U.S. steel and 41 percent of U.S. aluminum.

Speaking at a White House meeting, Trump said no one truly understands how badly other countries treat the U.S., and that “disgraceful” trade policies have obliterated the country’s capacity to produce vital commodities. "When our country can't make aluminum and steel," he said, "you almost don't have much of a country."

The U.S. is the world’s largest steel importer, and even though it relies on shipments from more than 100 countries and territories, Trump has singled out China previously as a threat to domestic trade and did so once again in his statement.

China accounts for 2 percent of 2017’s steel imports, following Obama Administration-era 2016 trade taxes of various types on imported steel, causing imports from China to drop by almost 66 percent.

Aluminum remains another matter. China is the fourth-largest supplier to the U.S., equaling $389 million in 2016, according to a February report from the Department of Commerce.

The Effect on State Economies, Construction Projects and the Housing Market

As expected, speculation on the domestic effects of these tariffs is flooding the media, and advisers have been bitterly divided over how to proceed, given the potential ensnarement of allies such as the EU.

Industries in the U.S. — namely, automakers, food packagers and construction — have pushed back on the tariffs for months, stressing that not only will they prompt retaliatory trade actions, but without cheaper imports, their costs will increase, eating into profits and forcing prices to rise or workers to be laid off.

The National Association of Homebuilders is among several trade organizations that spoke against the import taxes, claiming higher steel costs will raise construction costs for its members, and then get passed onto homebuyers.

The construction industry, it seems, is still finding its way through the April 2017 tariffs the White House imposed on the five Canadian lumber companies. In retaliation to Canada’s U.S. dairy import restrictions, lumber prices have since increased 31 percent, which, compounded by higher steel prices, could price some homebuyers out of the market.

The construction industry — accounting for 43 percent of all steel shipments in the U.S., including over 345 billion shipments in 2013 of certain steel products — is currently unable to meet demands for housing as it is, and the hike in prices means the shortage of affordable housing has created some fierce competition. Reports include bidding wars on houses people haven’t even viewed yet. Mortgage rates are now rising, and the national average earlier this month was 4.28 percent, an increase of 3.85 percent at the start of 2018.

However, on the flipside, not all building projects use a huge amount of steel. Single-family homes require more wood than metal, and steel and aluminum only contribute between 0.5 percent and 1 percent of a home’s cost. Larger buildings such as flats and skyscrapers will experience more effects from the tariffs.

Scott N. Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, is one individual who support these tariffs, releasing a statement saying, “enforcement action must be broad, robust and comprehensive.” Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio also defended the move, calling the news “long overdue” for steelworkers in his state.

A Summation So Far

Speculation will continue, since no one really knows what’s going to happen and how exactly tariffs will affect the construction and the housing markets. Lumber tariffs seem to have already taken their toll on rural and suburban housing costs, but as it stands, it seems larger projects in cities will experience the direct cost hike of rebar and cladding.

We will know more after the administration has defined tariffs more clearly, once the White House has issued its infrastructure plan and once an infrastructure bill has been passed.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+Facebook  and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Productivity TheoryRead all of Kayla’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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