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Saving Pollinators

Pollinator on thistle

Save the Pollinators-Save Yourself

For about the last 5 years, I’ve been committed to saving pollinators. This is a personal passion. I plant for pollinators, garden (organically), feed birds and try to practice environmentally friendly methods in all things. I’ve protested, signed and circulated hundreds of petitions, attempted to educate others, written my senators and congresspersons, and declared my little plot of existence pollinator friendly/chemical free.

Pollinator Friendly sign

Since starting this article a few days ago, a federal court has ruled the EPA must ban the use of chlorpyrifos (Dow Chemical) within 60 days and remove it from the shelves. A jury awarded "Lee" Johnson nearly $300M in his case against Monsanto (Now Bayer). Mr. Johnson developed cancer from applying Round Up to, of all places, the school district he was employed by.

We have the evidence these are highly toxic carcinogens right before our eyes. Despite experts and evidence confirming this, these companies and the current EPA/Administration continue to defend them as harmless, and have been negligent in informing the public of the serious dangers of these poisons.  They have no place in or on your food, yard, home or school.

When I bought my property, no one had lived on it for many years. My aspiration was to certify it as organic. I caught the neighbor spraying poison in my yard, in my flower beds near the fence and cutting my trees. I was forced to relocate food beds so as to not expose them to chemical drift and to sue the neighbors for the 50 year old trees they cut and destroyed.

The neighbors were angry they were caught, facing numerous felony charges. I decided to settle out of court as a kindness, since I would have to continue to live next to them. I received a small settlement, but it could not undo the permanent damage they had done, nor compensate for the loss of “organic” status or the beautiful trees they destroyed.  They don’t like me and my sea of dandelions, daisies, violets, deadwood and creeping Charlie. Out of spite, they have called the city to complain several times. I am however, not in violation of any ordinance as long as I mow.

Bee on a leaf

Weekly, sometimes twice, the chemical truck pulls up to their door to douse and spray their property and every inch of perimeter. For hours on end crews weed whack, replace sod, and mow over and over every blade of artificially produced toxic green. Their property is sterile, a cemetery sans the stones. Next, the leaf blowers start, deafening the neighborhood for another hour.

I’ve lost several fruit trees and shrubs to their herbicides, defoliants and poisons. One day beautiful, fragrant plants filled with bees and birds stood; the next, drift from their application had completely defoliated them and all in its path. Most recently an apple tree close to the property line was hit. Everything they douse with herbicide along the fence is dead. If it survives and tries to climb the fence, they cut it and knock it down. My attempts at being cordial, explaining the dangers of the poisons they’re using fell on deaf ears. 

Curiously, when I posted “Pesticide Free” and “Pollinator Friendly” signs in my yard (just in case the neighbors or the chemical company did not understand the property line), the chemical company started putting up advertising signs for the company on the curb after they sprayed.

Pesticide Free sign

I cringe every time I see the truck and ponder daily how to keep it off my property. I want to plant other spaces with pollinator plants, but fear drift from their activities will potentially poison my beloved pollinators. I worry anything near the fence line is drawing up poison and will harm the little creatures that feed on it.

 Pollinator on a sunflower

Daily, starting in early spring, I do a bee walk. In the last 5 years I’ve seen a drastic decline in bees, butterflies, frogs, grass hoppers, moths, insects and birds. I’ve found numerous dead birds and other small animals with no obvious injuries and given them a proper burial. I attribute it to poisoning. In spring there are few peepers singing. At night the sound of crickets and peepers is almost silent. Fireflies, rare and transient on special nights congregate in my yard.

Despite a sea of pollinator plants, adequate water, food and sanctuary place, my gardens do not produce like they once did. This year, I am pollinating by hand with a Q-tip.

I am utterly astonished at how many people simply don’t know or don’t care about the issue. When trying to explain, I get many shrugged shoulders and “You’re a crazy hippie!” type comments. I’ve earned the reputation of being somehow eccentric in spite of shared facts and statistics. This attitude is prevalent, even from educated individuals in positions of agriculture, business and government-big agriculture, big business and big government especially.

Dead Bees

Nothing makes me sadder than dead bees. With each year that passes, the death of honey bee colonies increases. Mites, colony collapse disorder and pesticides are taking a toll. Our own government is overturning environmental protections that will most definitely make a bad thing worse. My own community routinely sprays defoliant, pesticides and herbicides. To date, I’ve been told “There’s nothing you can do.”


Humans, bees and pollinators are being poisoned by glyphosate (Round Up), neonicotinoids, chlorpyrifos, chemical lawn treatments, dicamba, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, mosquito sprays, household bug sprays and traps. Pollinators’ ability to forage, collect pollen and remember their path is being impaired by toxins, in addition to an overall decline in their well-being and habitat, if they are not outright killed from applications of these chemicals. It is seeping into waterways negatively affecting wetlands and wildlife.

GMOs seem to be associated with pollinator problems, yet the companies creating them still strongly claim there are no adverse effects although this has not been yet definitively proven nor tested. Many small farmers attest to dead insects and animals being poisoned by them. 

What You Can Do

My heart breaks at the loss of the pollinators and the poisoning of our planet. I grew up in the garden, playing in fields alongside thousands of pollen laden bees, butterflies and numerous other creatures.

Sunflower with pollinators

In the 70’s, the public first learned about the dangers of DDT (developed by the same chemical companies) and it was pulled from the market. I am sickened by these companies and the government turning a blind eye to turn a profit.

It is up to each of us to take a stand, do everything in our power to save, preserve and promote beneficial insects and animals. We need to protect our environment, ourselves, our children and planet from a potentially fatalistic scenario. If the pollinators die, so do you. They pollinate over 1/3 of our food. Without pollinators we will no longer have fresh produce of all kinds.

The ecosystem is out of balance. Each person needs to make a stand and commit to saving pollinators. Ask yourself if you’d rather eat or have an astro-turf lawn.  The idea of a perfectly groomed green lawn of non-native “grass” is an elaborate brainwashing. “Weeds” are food, medicine and a necessary part of a balanced eco-system. Numerous other countries have banned the use of these dangerous products. The United States needs to become one of these countries. Stop poisoning yourself, your food, your children and our planet.

Bee box

Please consider adopting the following measures to help save the pollinators, the planet and yourself:

Stop using chemicals! Go organic! Eliminate all Glyphosate products (Round Up), chlorpyrifos, dicamba, neonicotinoids, chemical lawn treatments and fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical traps, sprays and mosquito treatments. Use non-toxic alternatives.

Demand your lawn service provide chemical free, organic treatments and lawn care.

Write your senators and congresspersons about the issue.

Sign petitions to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals. Start a petition in your community to ban them. Write to the companies producing them about their safety.

Educate your neighbors, relatives and community about the dangers of these chemicals.

Be wary of traps for hornets, pest moths, beetles or other nuisance insects. These trap beneficial pollinators and bees as well as undesirable ones.

Declare your property pesticide free/organic.

Read labels. If a product is a hazard to children, pets or wildlife, it is toxic and should not be applied. Don’t believe claims by the company or representatives that it is harmless.

Support and opt for organic, non-GMO seeds, crops and products.

Create habitats for pollinators.

Don’t buy plants or products treated with Glyphosate, neonicotinoids, fungicides insecticides or herbicides.

Use organic, eco-friendly methods in gardening and lawn care.

Educate yourself and others about the benefits of practicing pollinator friendly methods.

Plant a pollinator garden.

Provide food, shelter and water for pollinators. Put up a bee box. Create a bee bath. Put out sugar water when natural plants are not yet blooming and food is scarce. Feed the birds.

Bee an activist

Become a bee keeper. Keep a hive.

• Plant native plants and trees.

• Don’t use leaf blowers. They are horrible noise pollution and the force created by them can kill insects in their path.

Plants to attract pollinators (nectar & pollen):

• Asters

• Blooming trees & shrubs (fruit, flower & nut)

• Borage

• Clover

• Dandelions

• Hollyhocks

• Hyssop

• Joe Pye Weed

• Lavender

• Liatrus

• Milkweed & Butterfly Flower

• Monarda (Bee balm)


• Solidago

• Sunflowers

• Sweet William

• Thistle

Bee well my friends!

Photos and article by Stephanie Bishop

Stephanie Bishop is an award-winning floral designer, sustainable wedding and events planner, gardener and author in Central Wisconsin. Follow her at Better Path Wisconsin, where she connects like-minded individuals about environmental, social and civil interests, and promotes green, healthy, sustainable living. View thousands of her food, floral and animal images on her Facebook page at Stephanie Bee and browse floral design ideas at Bishop Wedding & Floral Art. Read all of Stephanie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Can We Really Make A Difference?

hands with earth

While interviewing people for my book, Your Own Hands, I asked them all the same question: can we really make a global difference by lobbying towards things like sustainable economy, local production, and reduction of consumerism? Or is our movement destined to remain on the fringes of society?

Xero, an ardent proponent of the DIY culture and anti-consumerism, tells, I've lived in sustainable eco-separatist communities in Europe as well as building and living in treehouse villages back home made entirely from scavenged materials. I don't pay for my food, I either find, grow, or dumpster dive nearly 100% of all my food. I thrive off of about $25 a week. I live in a cabin now with a significant amount of recycled material in it, as well as having a scavenged solar network for electricity. We have a few dozen chickens now and will start raising chicks this spring.

I survive without need for a job, which frees up tremendous amounts of time for projects and further independence. I've taught myself electrical wiring, construction, metalworking, machining, woodworking, and countless other fun skills that help me avoid depending and participating in consumerism.

This is an inspiring example and I do stand in awe of people who have managed to throw off social conventions to pursue a life of freedom and independence, but one does wonder whether this can make a dent in a global consumerism-driven culture. After all, most people can’t, or don’t want to sever all ties with the government, so where does that leave us?

Is the wave of sustainable living, local-centered economy and ecological awareness a marginal movement, or can it actually have a global impact? I’ve heard many people say that we won’t be able to make any difference, because for every conscientious consumer there are a million reckless spenders, and for every organic backyard garden there are a million plastic bags of junk food. Others say that the yearning to return to closer, more self-reliant communities is nothing but hopeless nostalgia of people who have failed to adjust to a modern world.

However, while I am by no means an expert, my outlook is more optimistic than that. If the current economic model is unsustainable – and people who know a lot more than I do have warned time and time again that the wastefulness and debt circle cannot go on forever – eventually the world will have to make adjustments. This doesn’t and cannot mean that everyone will move out of cities or that large chain stores will close down, but the force of necessity will make even profit-driven companies take into account that which people care about. And what is this necessity? Consumer power, which belongs to each and every one of us.

A lot of progress has been achieved in various important instances, such as transparency about food ingredients, fair labor labels, organic produce available to the public, and more. The way I see it, the firmer ecology and sustainability are planted in the public consensus, the stronger their influence on mass economy will be. And this is a quiet revolution that can only happen one person at a time.

From Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

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

Town of Crestone, Colorado, Takes Bold Step by Recognizing the Inherent Rights of Nature

Town of Crestone, Colorado Takes Bold Step by Recognizing the Inherent Rights of Nature

Photo by Fredlyfish4 Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Fredlyfish4 Wikimedia Commons

The Town of Crestone’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution last month recognizing the rights of nature. Crestone, Colorado now joins dozens of communities, cities, and nations around the world that recognize nature’s inherent rights

“We humans can no longer fail to acknowledge, to protect, and to preserve the rights of nature,” said Crestone’s Mayor, Kairina Danforth. “Our community is humbled to join in this clarion call to recognize officially that nature, natural ecosystems, communities, and all species possess intrinsic and inalienable rights which must be effectuated to protect life on Earth.”

In addition to recognizing the rights of nature, the resolution also highlights the long-standing relationship between the Crestone community and its natural environment, which it states provides them with “nourishment, inner peace, and spiritual renewal.” The resolution goes on to state that residents “reciprocate these gifts by serving as stewards of the natural environment.”

In conceiving and drafting the resolution, Crestone consulted numerous experts, including longtime Crestone visitor and “Earth Jurisprudence” advocate Myra L. Jackson, leading rights of nature group Earth Law Center, the U.N. Harmony with Nature program, and the attorney who drafted Santa Monica’s rights of nature law, Marsha Moutrie. Additionally, the local newspaper, the Crestone Eagle, fostered important community dialogue on the initiative. 

Said Ms. Jackson of the resolution, “In a rural town such as Crestone, where the beauty and vibrancy of nature is a transcendent value and prime attractor, recognizing the rights of nature is a way for a municipal government to make visible our deeply felt desire to live in harmony with nature.” Ms. Jackson added that she is working with other towns who are encouraged by Crestone’s success.

“The courage of Crestone’s Mayor and Board of Trustees has lit a fire.”

Crestone is nestled along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which enclose one side of the San Luis Valley—the world’s largest alpine valley and a region renowned for its natural beauty. Crestone has about 150 residents, although more than 2,000 people live in the greater Crestone-Baca area. Over 2,000 people per year also visit Crestone for spiritual enlightenment from the town’s 23 spiritual centers, representing Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Native American traditions, and other belief systems.

Crestone’s resolution builds from the broader “rights of nature” movement, whose premise is that nature must not be considered mere “property” under the law. Instead, advocates believe that nature should—and inherently does—possess legal rights just as humans and other entities currently enjoy. Ecuador and Bolivia recognize rights of nature nationally, as do dozens of local governments in North America.

How you can get involved today:

1. Sign up for our monthly newsletter here.

2. Volunteer for the ocean program area.

3. Donate 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.

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

Spring Wildfire 2018


Over the years I have written several blogs on wildfire preparation. Nothing however prepares a person for the real thing. We just went through the Spring Fire in Southern Colorado. We were evacuated for two weeks and when able to return to our home we were happy that it was intact but sad for the environment and our neighbors. It was the third largest wildfire in Colorado history. The reality of going through a wildfire and writing about one without having that experience is very different. This wildfire burned hotter than anything the fire commander said he had seen in his 30 years of fighting wildfires. It consumed 160,000 acres and reduced 134 homes to ashes within our community.  

Evacuation The Sensible Action

Anyone who has not experienced a wildfire of this magnitude really can’t imagine how the trauma affects your mental status. We had minutes to evacuate which was harrowing in itself, driving out being showered with embers and flames on each side of the road with thick smoke. Then suddenly we were out and headed for a motel room with our three large German Shepherd dogs which were confused and bewildered exacerbating our situation. Our senior canine family members simply did not understand what was going on. They were not interested in food and just wanted to be close to us.

Hot Spots And Food Contamination

When we finally were allowed to visit our property for the first time (a 1 ½ hour visit) after one week, we then had to leave again which confused them even more. I spent my time on our visit putting out hot spots that had not been addressed around our property. In that limited amount of time we had to empty our refrigerator and our chest freezer which both contained spoiled food.    

Misting Systems Did Not Work

In an earlier blog I mentioned a misting system for wildfire mitigation. The misting system worked just fine until the firefighters pulled the plug on our electricity. It seems that is standard procedure so they will not have to work around downed live electric wires. That makes perfect sense to me because the electrical grid had power poles burned off and wires were down everywhere which would make it dangerous for firefighters on the ground. Since the misting system works off our deep well it stopped working when the electricity was cut; therefore it was of no preventative benefit. If we had a backup generator that would automatically come on when power is out it would probably work under those circumstances, otherwise it is a useless investment.

Subtle Mental Issues

We evacuated under scary circumstances and spent two weeks at two different motels. Our fur family was disoriented and upset and as it turns out so were we but we didn’t realize it at the time. It was so subtle that we didn’t recognize what was happening to us. When we returned home we had trouble sleeping, we were unable to focus on a task, we were confused easily and we were irritable. It wasn’t until we figured out that we were super stressed from the situation that we even realized what was happening to us. The more we got into our routine the more we returned to our normal self. The emotional toll did have an adverse effect on us both mentally and emotionally and we didn’t even recognize it was impacting us.

Service Agencies And Outside Help  

The Red Cross, other service agencies, church groups, coupled with our county officials, the firefighting teams and national guard members, were nothing short of phenomenal. The help we received from family/friends that lived far away was also extremely beneficial. Upon permanently returning home however was when the true reality actually set in. Driving to our property and seeing the miles and miles of devastation left us speechless. Our community had 134 homes reduced to ashes with twisted metal roofing piled on top of ashes. The fire was so intensely hot there was nothing left to sift through or recover. Trees had been reduced to black sticks pointing upward; the ground grey/black ash and the smell was arid.

Fire Devil

Less than a quarter mile from our home there was evidence of a fire devil (tornado of fire) which ripped trees out of the ground and broke others off mid-way up.  Our mountain community where trees have slow growth rates was now changed forever with ashes blown by the wind. It was disorienting and coupled with the black sticks that used to be trees and the grey ground, the landscape will be changed for a very long time and now looks like some alien planet.

Mudslides And Other Hazards

Following wildfires - especially in the mountains - come mudslides. Ash and dirt turn into flash floods running downhill when it  rains carrying large rocks and debris where it ultimately affects the roads by causing washouts or piles up. Damage and destruction does not stop when the fire is put out. Trees are burned at the base and are precariously standing until a gust of wind blows them over. There are ash pits that used to be a tree stump or tree roots that burned down into the ground leaving a hole with ash in it.  We now have trees falling every day and it is not safe being in the woods. Some ash pits are deep and we have to be very careful not to step into one.

Conflicting Feelings

We still have our home when so many in our community have lost their homes along with everything they owned. That adds to the mental confusion we have as we are happy and sad all at the same time. I don’t believe that any of us will ever be able to ignore the black sticks that used to be trees or the black/grey ash that washed down the mountain and settled where a clear sparkling stream which held native cutthroat trout once existed. The loss of wildlife and its habitat is mind boggling but some animals and birds have returned and are staying close to our small oasis of green.

Experiencing a wildfire is a very traumatic event and something I hope we don’t ever experience again, even though I realize that is unlikely. Even as I write this there are other devastating wildfires across the western states destroying the environment, wildlife, human life and property. It definitely changes a person both emotionally and their lifestyle; it is a very traumatic occurrence. With the telltale visual aftermath it remains a constant reminder of what a wildfire can do to the environment and us.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and for more photos of the wildfire visit their blog site

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

At the Crux of Environmental and Cultural Preservation: The Tale of a Mayan Village, Part 1


Lake Atitlan view. Photo by Atitlan Organics

This is Part 1 of a four-part series. Part 2 looks at these issues and ideas from the locals’ perspective, and explore more ways that for-profit is better suited to do non-profit work

It’s early morning in Tzununa, Guatemala — a small Mayan village nestled in a valley on the scenic shores of Lake Atitlan. At this early hour, fishermen in handmade canoes have been engaged for a few hours. Some cast line by hand, others check traps buoyed by plastic bottles, some lob handmade nets.

The rising sun colors the eastern horizon an entrancing orange that begins to illuminate a purple sky. Three inactive volcanoes on the lake’s shoreline catch this early light and emerge from darkness to cast their reflections upon the surface. Venus is the last star to fade, leaving the moon alone in the sky. More and more species of birds wake and join a growing chorus.

The lake is placid, the scene ancient. An observer a thousand years ago would have witnessed the same. But in an instant, the morning stillness breaks. The whine of an engine is heard in the distance and grows in volume until it is the dominant sound. The flat lake surface gives way to the lancha boat’s wake. The modern world has awoken.

It’s 6am. The bustle begins. Lanchas with outboard motors will cross the seven-by-eleven-mile waters as long as daylight remains, picking up locals and tourists and dropping them off at various village docks around the lake. At the docks, tuk-tuk drivers in their motorized rickshaws will jockey for positions and compete with good-natured smiles for the $1 fee to carry people and cargo further inland.

Case Study in Cultural Shift

This scene is an apt analogy for what’s happening in Tzununa, which is a revealing case study to contemplate greater changes afoot in the world as modernization and globalized market economies reach the indigenous world. Tzununa, “The Valley of the Hummingbirds,” was until recently a sleepy Mayan village. While the Mayan have held onto their cultural identity in spite of a half-millennium of Spanish colonization, it’s the consumerist coaxing of modernity that now whittles away at their core values.

Central America is home to millions of Maya people. Mayan refers to the indigenous people who have continuously inhabited southern Mexico and much of Central America. Their story of is not the story of a civilization that disappeared. It is story of holding tight to language and tradition despite centuries of pressures to abandon them ever since the Spanish arrived half a millennium ago.

The sophisticated architecture, astronomy, and mathematics of the Maya has been well recognized. But archeology reveals their agriculture was equally cutting edge. “The Maya coped with tough environmental conditions by developing ingenious methods to grow crops” (Mascarello, 2010).

In his book, The Maya, Yale University professor writes that the Maya had, “Really effective farming, in the sense that densely inhabited villages were to be found throughout the Maya area, was an innovation of the Pre-Classic period” (Thames and Hudson, 2011). But as modernity, market economies, chemical agriculture, and factory farms become the norm, what remains of this knowledge is being lost.

Photo by Luke Maguire Armstrong

Permaculture for Community Development

But in Tzununa, what the modern world is taking away it is also bringing back in a surprising way. Here, passionate foreigners have come to call the village home and are finding a balance between permaculture, the local culture, and ecology.

Shad Qudsi from was the first Western permaculture pioneer here. In 2009 he started Atitlan Organics, a small-scale, highly diversified, permaculture-inspired, low-input, direct-to-consumer, downright “ninja farm.” Their main products are triple washed and disinfected salad greens and cooking greens, eggs, chicken, honey, and coffee. They produce pork seasonally, taro root, tree tomatoes, limes, avocados, and loads of culinary and medicinal herbs, selling to over 30 families, 18 restaurants, and about a dozen stores in the  region.

Beyond the small-scale profitable farm, they are active in community service. Most small-scale farmers in the region grow coffee, which is susceptible to both dramatic price fluctuations and to diseases like coffee rust. Atitlan Organics has a project that helps small farmers diversify their coffee fields, using selected varieties of rare, but productive local avocados, along with turmeric, tree tomatoes, and pigeon peas. This combination of plants helps the coffee grow better, while also providing a set of nutrient dense harvests and side streams of income for the local farmer.

Further, they offer international volunteers the chance to come and help small farmers implement these changes, which improves the food security and local economy of Tzununa, while allowing volunteers to learn and leave a lasting positive impact during their visit. A newer arrival to the growing regenerative living scene in Tzununa is Abundant Edge, an organization that promotes Natural Building and Regenerative Design around the world while making their base of operations here in The Valley of the Hummingbirds.

“Here in Tzununa is where we want to attract the foreigners dedicated to permaculture and ecological principles,” says Abundant Edge co-founder Neal Hegarty, an Irishman born on a dairy farm who has worked in farming projects around the world.

Neal was first attracted to Guatemala when he learned of the Mayan system of “forest gardens,” which appeared to the Spanish as unmanaged systems. “It took a long time,” he says, “for people to realize that the local Mayans were farming by working with the fact that ecosystems in this part of the world want to be diverse.” He adds, “The more diverse the ecosystem you are in, the more diverse your productive ecosystem needs to be.”

His business partner, Oliver M. Goshey is a natural builder with experience in 11 countries on six continents. “It’s clear that people are still importing most of their calories,” he says, “This might not be a very good place to grow grain or corn staple crops, but it could be managed to the point where the vast majority of nutrient rich vegetable and animal products come from the valley, including a surplus for export.”

Abundant Edge’s client scope is international, but they are firm believers in thinking globally, while acting locally. They aren’t coming in from the outside to implement notions they’ve merely read about. Here in their Mayan expat village, they have been carefully and slowly learning how to germinate their ideals into positive change.

“It’s unteachable,” says Neal. “You can’t learn it in University. Those things can get you started, but the cultivation of this kind of wisdom is a journey that you have to go through.” Both Atitlan Organics and Abundant Edge hires locals, pays them living wages, learns from them, and intelligently applies their expertise free of cost to endeavors that lift the whole community.

Jose Armando teaches an international volunteer group. Photo by Atitlan Organics

Community Alliances form a Stronger Place-based Economy

They’re in good company on the environmental frontlines of Tzununa. A mile hike up a mountain from the center of town, you’ll find Max, a Californian who has been successfully living off-grid on his land for years, cultivating chickens, vegetables, and peace of mind. Throw in two yoga schools, a spiritual herbal center (The Seed), an ethically run hotel (Los Lomas de Tzununá) that has founded a locally empowered community learning center and is working on a community garden, and you begin to grasp the unique blend of conscious-living dreamers who are putting down roots on these Mayan shores. Everyone is diverse and agenda driven, yet like-minded and collaboratively open company.

“We’re part of a movement whether we like it or not,” says Neal. “We all have to do what we’re best at and work together. This is a game and we have to get good at it. We have to get very good at making big things happen. It’s about doing less work, but more effective work.”

The game in question is a game of human survival and whether or not our current global agricultural paradigm is sustainable. The more we move to densely populated cities, the more global market connectedness causes the food we need to be grown far away, the further we might have to fall.

It’s said that on a long enough timeline, anything that can happen will happen. Some believe when it comes to our food, humanity is playing a game it will eventually lose. Eventually something — war, natural disaster, flood, economic crash, banks too big to fail failing — could happen. And if it does happen, indigenous cultures, crazy hermits in the hills, and ninja farmers not relying on subsidized chemicals to grow food might just inherit the earth.

After all, who’s idea was it to grow the food we need for survival hundreds or thousands of miles away from where we live? If food stopped showing up on the grocery store shelves, most Mayans will be fine. How will Westerners fare? Shad believes small-scale “ninja” farms that use very little industrial inputs are the key to the future of sustainable farming and food security.

He explains, “Farms like Atitlan Organics encourage the development of local economies, while creating buffers that protect small farmers from international factors that are beyond their control. These types of farms also encourage the conservation of natural resources such as soil and water, which enable plants to grow better each year, with fewer and fewer inputs.”

Photo by Luke Maguire Armstrong

Cultivating Traditional Wisdom

Neal sees his own heritage in serious need to reconnect with the lands they live on. “When we talk about indigenous people,” he says, “we’re talking about people who have a wisdom connected to the place where they are. The local people, whether we want to admit it or not, don’t really have that. It was taken from them. A few of them still have it, but the vast majority of indigenous people in Guatemala do not. They farm coffee, which isn’t from here. It’s from Ethiopia. And their diet is dominated by chips and Coca-cola.”

Part of Abundant Edge’s mission is to return to locals that knowledge which was taken away. Shad and Neal spent time working in development, and both found themselves more effective in making the impacts they desired by running for-profit businesses that care and give back to the community.

Neal pursued his Masters degree in international development, but his experience working for charities led him to witness the undesired side effects of the current global development paradigm. No matter how well crafted a program, a program that involves outsiders coming in will always face the challenge of “How do you enact from the outside changes which tend to only take hold when they emerge from within?”

Atitlan Organics and Abundant Edge create the change they want to see in the world by funneling their ideals through a sustainable business model that educates/empowers/ both locals and Westerns, creates more abundance for everyone and operates on sustainable and ecological principles.

“We live here,” says Oliver, “We have made this community our home. With NGOs many projects that get started only take on one aspect of a project, instigation or installation. But we are here to see the projects we implement through because this is our community too. The locals we work with we know as friends. Trust and mutual understanding is built before houses and gardens.”

“Healthy communities, and healthy people,” Neal adds, “These are emergent properties, you don’t have one without the other.”

If this type of work inspires you, visit Atitlan Organics and Abundant Edge’s websites to get involved with their work. And check out The Abundant Edge permaculture and natural building podcast.

Luke Maguire Armstrong has worked in development everywhere from Guatemala to Kenya, Uganda, and the Bronx, N.Y. He lectures on topics ranging from human trafficking, economics, philosophy, creative writing, and international affairs. He is the author of the intrepidly acclaimed travel anthology The Nomad’s NomadFollow him @LukeSpartacus and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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The Death of a Species

ash tree three  

Photo by author - the slow death 

As I look around my front yard, I see what once were many gorgeous Ash trees. Over the past few years, we have watched as each tree has slowly died off. With only a few remaining, it is especially sad, as the few remaining have begun to show the signs of death as well. This past weekend was spent dropping the remaining. With four more to go, it got a bit harder with each cutting them down. Wood is never wasted around here they simply get cut, split, stacked, and dried to finish out their life heating our home. Whether wasted or not I will miss the huge canopies that once shaded a large portion of our yard. So, why are all the Ash dying?

The Day of Reckoning

 Emerald Ash Borer

Photo by Author - The damage 

The imported wood-boring bug called the emerald ash borer has been wiping out ash trees over the eastern half of the United States, and it has now hit us here in North East Ohio. The saddest part is that the emerald ash borer is anticipated to kill nearly 100 percent of ash trees within four to five years. So, what and where did the emerald ash borer come from? The emerald ash borer is an Asian native; first discovered destroying ash trees in Michigan in 2002. It’s thought they may have come over on wooden packaging from its native land.  Dan Herms, an entomologist at Ohio State University who studies the ash borer, called it “the most devastating insect ever to invade North American forests.” It is already the most expensive because it has killed so many urban trees that had to be removed, disposed of and replaced, which has cost billions of dollars, he said.

The Choice

Scott cutting tree

Photo by author - The hard choice to cut it down

The most effective treatment is an insecticide called emamectin benzoate, which can be injected into the trunk of ash trees every few years. It can cost hundreds even thousands to treat the ash trees every few years for an unknown amount of years. It can also cost thousands of dollars to have the trees removed. So, what would you do? It’s a hard choice, the treatment is shown to protect the trees 99% of the time. The unknown factor is how long you will need to treat. No one seems to know when the bugs will either die off or completely move along.  For us we moved here about five years ago we had no idea we had Ash trees or that they were in jeopardy until it was far too late.  We had a local arborist visit us unexpectedly to buy a few chickens. When she left, she stated "those are some gorgeous Ash trees too bad they will be dead soon". I thought it was an odd statement but did not think much of it, until the fallowing spring when the canopies of the trees began to thin. By fall, whole limbs had become barred of leaves. This spring only a few leaves remain on most.

Watching the Slow Death

Have you ever watched a whole species slowly die off in front of your eyes? How about knowing there is literally nothing you can do to stop it? Unless caught pre exposer the chances of salvation are slim to none. Likely infected years before we even purchased the house all we can do at this point is to remove the trees before they cause any other type of destruction.  The last thing we want is the dying trees to fall upon the power lines, a neighbor’s house, or falling on a passing car in a storm scenario. As we removed each tree, we began to replace each with young healthy trees to grow in place of the ash before it. Ironically, ash were planted as a substitute for elm trees, which were nearly wiped off the map after the deadly Dutch elm disease of the 1960s. Trees are needed for so many creatures including ourselves. As they provide us with shade, they also give homes and food for many others. We have chosen to replace each ash with a separate species of tree as to not have a complete wipe out again. Oak, maple, willow, hickory, and cherry are amongst the trees. What will you do with your ash trees? 

The last Ash

Photo by author - Our last Ash, it's already begging to thin. 


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Earth Law Can Help Galapagos Sharks

Galapagos Shark by Chuck Gerlovich

Galapagos Shark, Revillagigedo Islands by Chuck Gerlovich @Creative Commons

Did you know that each year, while there are about 10 fatal shark attacks on humans? In stark contrast, humans kill an estimated 73 million sharks per year? ELC is working with partners the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature on bringing the rights of nature from vision to realization in Ecuador's ocean space. 

The Galápagos Islands are a Haven for Sharks

The highest concentration of sharks in the world can be found in the Galapagos Islands (32 of the 400 known species globally). The Galapagos Marine Reserve, which straddles the equator approximately 600 nautical miles from the coast of Ecuador, is one of the largest marine reserves in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage center.

We’ve recently discovered that the Galapagos harbors pregnant whale sharks (the largest fish in the ocean) and the pups of endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks. The Australian Institute of Marine Science and Pew Charitable Trusts study showed that a single shark could be worth US$ 1.9 million during its life, compared to just over US$ 100 if it was caught and killed.

 Hammerhead Sharks by JcMaco

Hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos by JcMaco @Creative Commons

Threats Facing Sharks in Galápagos Waters

Sharks are under serious threat around the globe. It is estimated that up to 70 million sharks are killed by people every year, due to both commercial and recreational fishing. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified 17 percent of more than the 1,000 species assessed as threatened, according to its 'Red List' criteria. Sharks are caught intentionally or as accidental "by-catch" in virtually all types of fisheries worldwide. The crew of a ship who killed over 6,600 sharks from the Galapagos Reserve was sentenced to prison and fines totaling $5.9 million.

This set an important precedent as the first conviction of an environmental crime in 14 years of Galapagos law and set a precedent for prosecuting shark finning and other crimes against Nature in the Galapagos. While sharks in Galapagos are protected by the Galapagos Marine Reserve, they roam quite far and can be affected by illegal fishing and bycatch in fisheries targeted at other species. 

How Earth Law helps protect the sharks of the Galapagos

Earth Law represents the next evolution of marine protection for the Galapagos sharks. From the National Park established in 1959 to the Galapagos Marine Reserve created in 1998 to now a marine sanctuary established in 2016  “Ecuador creates new marine sanctuary to protect sharks”, 21 March 2016, Galapagos Conservancy,/ Accessed: 7 June 2018 – Ecuador became the first country to adopt Rights of Nature into its Constitution. The Republic of Ecuador, Constitution of 2008.

Earth Law is 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. When we recognize the importance of sharks not just to themselves, but to the marine ecosystems they inhabit – we can then adopt a more holistic approach to our decision-making around marine protections and ensure that the sharks of the Galapagos thrive now and in the future.

Support this Project

How you can get involved today

1. Read more about the Earth Law Center approach to ocean rights here.

2. Sign up for our monthly newsletter here.

3. Volunteer for the ocean program area.

4. Donate 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.

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