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

Ecotourism and Nature Travel to the Gulf Shores of Alabama: Part 2

Catching sunset along coastal harbor

Alabama’s Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores are becoming a natural playground. Joined by my photographer-husband John Ivanko during a recent trip here, we discovered so much more than sandy beaches and plentiful sunshine. Sure, we kicked off our sandals, splashed around in the Gulf, and grabbed an Adirondack chair to catch the sunset and count shooting stars at night.

But in Orange Beach, you’re just a few minutes’ drive away from some of the best birding along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s easy to disappear into some of the many natural areas set aside as parks and preserves. As we covered separately, the area is also becoming known as a food traveler destination.

This is the second post, covering our additional ecotourism adventures and several accommodation options, including the new The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a LEED-certified property soon to open.

Hiking, Biking or Yoga in the Gulf State Park

Nestled between the communities of Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores, the 6,150-acre Gulf State Park has it all, pristine beaches, inland lakes, maritime forests and coastal marsh for hiking, biking and even yoga during the annual Awakened Life Yoga Festival in April.

We had a chance to grab a yoga mat and experience a portion of the three-day Awakened Life Yoga Festival. It provides a well-organized portal to experience nature through a yoga lens, offering a variety of offerings for beginners to seasoned yogi, including power to peaceful yoga asana, meditation and kirtans.

Awakened Life Yoga Festival 

“We want to create a unique space where we can bring together an amazing group of teachers, coaches and artists to help folks connect to their own creativity and spirit,” explains Jen Hammond, yoga instructor and the event’s organizer. Need a pick-up after a yoga session?  Head over to Soul Bowlz for their organic acai smoothie bowls made with fresh fruit.

While not in the Gulf State Park, for a bird-eye view of the coastal area as well as an adrenalin boost, Hummingbird Ziplines at The Wharf offers eight ziplines, traversing more than 6,000 feet. In contrast to what’s offered at many of the other shops at The Wharf, Hummingbird’s gift shop even features Fair Trade items.

Cabins at the Gulf State Park

Eco-Lodging at The Lodge

While Orange Beach and the Gulf Shores are populated with high rise condos, a great option if you want to cook your own local seafood in your kitchen while taking in the breath-taking views of the Gulf of Mexico, there are also more quaint beach houses, both reserved through Meyer Vacation Rentals. If you’d rather unwind in the peace and quiet in nature, try the more rustic cabins, cottages or camping at the Gulf State Park. 

Graced by a panoramic view of the beach and ocean, The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a soon-to-open luxury eco-hotel also nestled inside the park, promises to offer one of the most environmentally-sensitive lodging options not only in Alabama, but perhaps the entire US. Owned by the Alabama State Park but operated by Hilton Hotel and Resorts, The Lodge grew out of an extensive collaborative community effort after Hurricane Ivan destroyed the area in 2004. A master plan for the state park was developed that shepherds both the environment and economy. 

The result is a LEED Gold certified high-end 350 room luxury hotel. Each step of the planning and building process involved a commitment to stewarding the ecosystem in a way that still provides the lodging experience Hilton guests expect.

“The community and partners came to a decision early on that this was not going to be another hotel on the beach and we were going to do this right,” explains Chandra Wright, Director of Environmental and Educational Initiatives at the Lodge at Gulf Sate Park.  “For example, we know that sand continually moves and a way to help naturally preserve the dunes was to build in a way that sand can move under the Lodge.  You’re not going to see any manicured lawns anywhere here and instead experience a Lodge right in the middle of an active dune system.”  The Lodge will also be built to withstand a category five hurricane, or “tropical occurrence” as they are dubbed in the local tourism world.

Such innovation requires pushing the envelope within typical Hilton expectations and requirements as well.  You won’t find any single use plastic items on the property, including no straws or plastic bottles.  Guest bathrooms will have bulk dispensers instead of individual shampoo and toiletry containers. 

“What you will see are lots of educational components on why we’re doing what we’re doing throughout the property,” adds Wright.  The Interpretive Center on the property is taking the bar higher and going for LEED Platinum designation, aiming to generate more power than it uses.

The Lodge and all of the increasing eco-experiences and awareness germinating on the Gulf Shores serve as more than a fun vacation destination; they remind both the community and visitors alike that we are all an active, integral part of our landscape and play a vital role in preserving it.

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

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

Earth Law Bolsters Bid by Angoon Community Association to Protect and Restore the Natural Environment

Photo by University of Alaska

Source: University of Alaska                                    

For centuries, indigenous peoples have lived in harmony with the ecosystems they are a part of. Rights of nature are in line with indigenous culture’s traditional worldview and conceptions that we are all connected. The Native Tlingit people of Alaska, whose name translates to “People of The Tides,” have called the Southeastern Alaskan shoreline home for thousands of years. Much of their diet consists of local seafood and other native species.

The Tlingit people are facing an issue from the Green Creaks Mining company. Green Creaks is encroaching on natural land in Hawk Inlet by infesting it with their dumping. This infected water disturbs local fauna, and creatures as far as sixty miles away in Angoon, where a large Tlingit population resides. As coastlines recede more of the dangerous minerals from the mining company are breaching further away from its dumping site. We have to re-examine policy to keep up with changing environmental systems. 

ELC is working closely with the Angoon Community Association (ACA) in Angoon Alaska to address the myriad of issues ACA and their environment face. This includes indigenous sovereignty, pollution in Hawk Inlet and gray water in the Chatham Straits. ELC is assisting with amendments to ACA’s tribal constitution, ensuring the recognition of nature’s rights.

The Tlingit people and other tribes banded together to create a coalition to tackle these problems that impact indigenous people’s way of life. The Angoon Community Association tackles the various issues that prevent Angoon citizens from having to say in issues related to their home and surrounding area, along with being a bastion for community outreach. 

“I want to thank ‘Di-kee aan kaawoo’ which translates to ‘Our heavenly Father’ for the opportunity to take care of the resource,” a quote by Frank Jack, Sr., Tlingit Bear Chief and House Master of the Shanaax Hit (Valley House) of Angoon, Alaska.

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 ecosystems and species, we can then adopt a more holistic approach to our decision-making around coastal area protections and ensure that the natural environment thrives both now and in the future.

Support This Project

How you can get involved today:

Read more about the Earth Law Center initiative in Angoon

Sign up for our monthly newsletter here.

Volunteer for the coastal program area.

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.

The Resurgence of Growing Hemp for Industrial Use


Today, many people see industrial hemp as a niche industry, but it wasn’t always that way. In the Colonial era, hemp was a widely cultivated crop, and in some areas, farmers were breaking the law if they didn’t grow it. Hemp was often used as a textile, fiber and paper, and some early drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on it.

Hemp Production Becomes More Difficult

However, by the 1950s, it was very difficult for hemp growers to profit. The passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 hadn’t helped — it required all such farmers to be licensed and pay taxes for the activity. But, the availability of cheap, industrial fibers is what crippled the hemp industry. 

Later, the U.S. government did not differentiate between hemp and marijuana growth, causing growers to deal with tight regulations that hampered or prevented their efforts to produce the crop. Recently, the U.S. Senate voted to legalize cultivating, processing and selling industrial hemp through legislation known as the Farm Bill.

Plus, some U.S. states are giving momentum to a rebirth of the practice of producing hemp for industrial uses.

New York Seeks to Become a National Leader

New York governor Andrew Cuomo hopes his state will become a place others look up to in the realm of industrial hemp production. In 2015, he gave the go-ahead for the Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Pilot Program. It allowed a restricted number of educational institutions to grow and study hemp.

Two years later, the state got rid of the cap and opened up the program to farmers and businesses. Plus, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to make industrial hemp recognized as a commodity under New York’s Agricultural and Markets Law. He allocated millions of dollars in grant funding to help eligible businesses with the costs of processing hemp, including the purchase of new equipment.

Experts at Cornell University are working to find and breed the types of hemp most suitable for New York's climate. They’re using genomics to speed up the growing process and will expand their techniques to the northernmost and southernmost parts of the state this year. The Cornell University campus was also the site of New York’s first industrial hemp research forum in February 2018.

For 2018, the state has granted 62 permits to New York businesses wishing to grow hemp. As such, the Department of Agriculture and Markets estimates the total industrial hemp production in New York to expand to 3,500 acres in 2018, a 1,500-acre increase from the previous year.

Pennsylvania Also Carrying Out Hemp Trials

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is also trying to bring back industrial hemp production. Like New York, it's running a pilot program that ends the 80-year absence of hemp production in Pennsylvania. The 14 research permits given to a dozen researchers in 2017 resulted in hemp being grown in 13 Pennsylvanian counties.

These Experiments Could Reduce the Country’s Dependence on Imported Hemp

In 2016, there were $688 million in hemp sales in the U.S., but imported material comprised most of it. More than two dozen states legalized hemp production under trial programs such as those mentioned above.

And, if hemp production continues to get support in those places, the practice could substantially boost state economies and spur job creation. For instance, Kentucky has one of the leading hemp industries in the nation. There, the crop spreads across nearly 13,000 acres and gives farmers up to $50 per pound of dried hemp flower.

At the University of Minnesota, researchers began testing hemp varieties and sowing 30-40 pounds of seed per acre and receiving yields of as many as 1,300 pounds per acre. With outcomes like that, it’s not hard to see how hemp production could support producers’ livelihoods.

Tens of Thousands of Uses for Hemp

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service describes more than 25,000 ways to use hemp across nine sub-categories ranging from foods to construction materials. In 2017, most of the value of U.S. hemp imports came from seeds eventually used as ingredients for hemp-based goods. Canada was the largest importer serving the U.S., with 95 percent of the imports coming from that country.

Some Limitations Exist

Although the U.S. hemp market seems promising, researchers caution there are still obstacles to overcome. For example, many questions remain unanswered about hemp grain yield traits, and it'll be necessary to get to the bottom of those to maintain consistently high-quality outputs. 

Moreover, gaps in the supply chain mean that farmers often get their seeds outside of the ideal growing windows, thereby hampering their efforts. Some are also reluctant to scale up their dedication to hemp until it becomes clear that the trial programs will end in full-scale state legislation.

The Future Is Unknown

It seems nearly inevitable that reducing long-standing restrictions in the U.S. would help farmers and consumers alike. However, there’s no way to tell whether the demand for hemp will continue over the long-term and if state legislators will keep supporting it. Despite those uncertainties, some pioneering farmers soldier on and see hope on the horizon.

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.

Ecotourism and Nature Travel to the Gulf Shores of Alabama Part 1

Sunrise over Orange Beach alabama

In Alabama, there’s a narrow strip of snow white beaches that stretch for 32 miles, providing seasonal homes to nesting Loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley and Green turtles. Pods of dolphins frolic just off shore and hundreds of migratory bird species find refuge in the coastal scrub or maritime forests. It’s called paradise by many, eager to walk the beach, crash waves, jump on skim boards or sunbathe. On a map, it goes by Orange Beach or the Gulf Shores.

In nearly every way, the shimmering azure expanse of the Gulf of Mexico captivates with its soothing waves licking upon the shore, gulls arguing over a newfound edible treasure, or the graceful pelicans skimming the water’s surface. Despite the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, or in some ways because of it, these communities have re-emerged as hotspots for an escape into nature.

On a recent trip with husband-photographer, John Ivanko, we experienced Alabama’s wild side on foot, in a kayak, with fishing poles on a coastal safari, and in a warrior II yoga pose. This is the first of two posts sharing the ecotourism adventures to be had, including a first for us, hand-releasing a newly banded migratory bird. As we covered separately, the area is also becoming known as a food traveler destination.

 bird banding migratory birds

Coastal Birding for Birders

You don’t even need to be a seasoned birder to enjoy the experience of bird-banding with the Birmingham Audubon Society. It takes place during the annual spring and fall migration at the Fort Morgan Historical Park, about 30 miles from Orange Beach. This birding hotspot at Fort Morgan, designated as "One Hundred Globally Important Bird Areas" by the American Bird Conservancy, is part of the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, a network of six birding loops spanning over 200 coastal miles.

“This is the birds’ first stop for food after a six-hundred-mile journey,” explains Brittany Peterson, manager of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and birding expert. “Think about yourself, if you drove that long in your car non-stop without eating or drinking.  It’s a pretty amazing feat that something this small can do that year after year,” she adds as she holds the small Northern Wood Thrush in her hands that was just banded and weighed for tracking research. 

“Now who would like to release him?” Peterson asks.  Hands quickly pop up. The crowd includes both seasoned birders, judging by their gear, hats, pins and patches, as well as those new to catching a glimpse of these tiny but mighty species on their rest break. Everyone was entranced by this rare opportunity to handle and release the banded birds back into the air from their hands. For a moment, you felt a bit like James Audubon himself, the ornithologist and bird illustrator often credited with coming up with the very first bird-banding experiment.

The birding bonanza continues at the over 7,000-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. The name Bon Secour is derived, appropriately enough, from the French words meaning “safe harbor,” with this protected area making up some of the most globally imperiled coastal scrub remaining in Alabama. It sits along the flyway of millions of bird migrants every spring and fall. 

“The spring migration peaking every April offers an amazing amount of bird species all at once that you simply can’t see in one place,” entices Peterson. “With 340 different species recorded at Bon Secour, if you get there at the right time you can check-off your whole species list at once.”

Ecotourism Adventures: Kayaking and Biking

Who can turn down a chance to say you went kayaking with alligators? Guided by Stephanie Williams, a naturalist with Ike’s Beach Service, we paddled across the shimmering waters of Lake Shelby in the Gulf State Park. “While I’ve only seen baby alligators, should you be approached by a larger one, just take your paddle and smack it loudly on the front of the bow of your kayak,” advises Williams with a grin.

While no gators were ever spotted on our trip, our small group of seven enjoyed plying across the waters of the brackish lake, caused by the salt water from the ocean meets the fresh spring water feeding the lake. Instead of gators, we watched as a graceful osprey circled around her nest nearby.

Paddling with a guide offers a backstory to what we were witnessing and, especially for beginner kayakers, Williams navigated the group through a marsh and with the tides when possible. “The first part we’ll be paddling is against the wind, so be prepared to pump it,” encourages Williams. “But we’ll be rewarded coming back with an easy, relaxing ride.” Just make sure you’re in your swimsuit since waves may crest over the front of your kayak.

You can also take in the Alabama Gulf Coast on a bicycle. Stop by Beach Bike Rentals and leisurely explore the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, a 15-mile trail that traverses six different ecosystems.

 fishing on the gulf of mexico with intercoastal safaris

Inshore fishing with Intercoastal Safaris

Hook and cook your dinner of flounder, redfish, pompano, sheepshead or speckled trout, while getting an insightful backstory to the ecology and culture alongside an entertaining side dish of  local flavors of the area with a guided fishing tour with Intercoastal Safaris. That’s what we tried next, as the afternoon heat and humidity started to kick in. It’s Alabama, after all.

“People will call me the best fishing guide all the time, but I’m not a fishing guide,” laughs the warm and friendly owner of Intercoastal Safaris, Steven Lee, self-dubbed “hospitality manager” and owner of the operation. “Really and truly what I want to tell them is we’re a marketing company that happens to excel at hospitality.” Lee went on over 300 guided hunting and fishing trips and pulled together the best of the best practices for his guided and custom created tours, tailored to a variety of audiences and working with a network of over 25 vetted guides in the area. “We’re the top ranked bachelor party outside of Las Vegas,” he adds with a wink while sticking to the nature interpretation and fishing advice with our small group of six.

While the fishing stories and local lore are bountiful on an Intercoastal Safaris cruise, it’s the opportunity to experience the coast from a boat that will truly draw you in. Captain Mike expertly turned our vessel around after he spots a pod of dolphins frolicking and feeding under the Perdido Pass Bridge. Our group snapped lots of photos, since none of us lived where we can get this close to them without being in the Splash Zone of SeaWorld or a zoo.

In true fishing story fashion, we did indeed almost hook our dinner of flounder while fishing off a rocky breaker at Alabama Point. This is, before our line broke. We didn’t feel too bad, since a nearby boat of local fishermen didn’t seem to be doing any better.

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

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

How Illegal Marijuana Farming Impacts the Environment


Photo by Matteo Paganelli

 It may be a while before the United States allows nationwide marijuana legalization, but more than half of states allow using the substance — with legislation dictating whether people in those places can utilize it medicinally, recreationally or both. And the locations where it’s legalized to some degree typically see significant economic boosts, often because of substantial taxes applied to cannabis sales. Arizona legalized medical marijuana in 2010 and earned $400 million in sales. Not surprisingly, California, a state that permits recreational and medical marijuana, received $2.75 billion from sales.

But even as states get such financial incentives from legalization, they must be mindful of the environmental impacts from illegal grow operations.

Illegal Grow Sites Generate Huge Amounts of Trash

As marijuana legalization becomes more prominent around the country, so do unlawful efforts from growers who want to profit by cultivating marijuana on unauthorized sections of property. More specifically, these growers typically focus on public lands — those that belong to all people but ultimately get ruined by the Earth-harming actions.

During the 2017 growing season in Colorado — which usually runs from early summer through autumn — federal and local law enforcement officials uncovered unauthorized cannabis growth operations on approximately 38 acres of public land in the state, and those statistics didn’t include the islands of the Colorado River.

Investigators reported that the aftermath found at the grow sites was tremendous, and clean-up processes required hundreds of hours of work. At sites within the San Isabel National Forest, people found about 5,000 pounds of garbage at each location.

Marijuana Is an Extremely Thirsty Crop

People frequently talk about the water requirements associated with almond farming and wineries — often making eco-conscious individuals think differently about their favorite foods and beverages. It's true that those practices and facilities need intensive amounts of water. However, marijuana crops are especially damaging to areas already affected by extensive drought periods.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley targeted illegal grow sites and found that marijuana cultivators often use means that divert water away from small streams already parched from reduced rainfall in the state.

The scientists pointed out that although California’s native plants adapt to the state’s climate, the combination of drought and illegal marijuana farms could provide excessive stress to already fragile aquatic organisms. They said the region’s rivers and the fish living in them were subjected to 50 years of logging and soil erosion, and the recovery period has taken just about as long.

All that progress could get thrown off track because of the “green rush” spurred by illegal marijuana growing operations that drain water supplies. During a single growing season, cannabis plants could use 3 billion liters of water per square kilometer — more than twice the amount needed for wine grapes.

A Substance Not Without Benefits

It’s important to keep in mind that marijuana offers various advantages, especially for people using it for medical reasons. Research indicates that certain strains could help regulate blood pressure, reduce anxiety, treat disorders that suppress immune system responses and more.

Some organizations, such as the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, encourage members to learn and maintain sustainable growth practices to help the planet instead of harming it.

People who consume or distribute cannabis for medicinal purposes or otherwise could have positive impacts by choosing to do business with companies that follow such standards themselves or work with growers who have made such commitments.

Pesticides Harm Wildlife and Humans

People who grow cannabis illegally often use banned pesticides and hide them in empty Gatorade bottles or WD-40 containers. The people who clean up the sites of busted operations typically find those containers lying around, but not until after the harmful effects of the pesticides within have started taking hold.

According to one study, 78 percent of illegal grow sites on federal public lands showed signs of carbofuran. That toxin, prohibited in the United States, Canada and the European Union, is so dangerous and powerful that people in Kenya use it to kill lions.

When used at growth operations, it enters soil and streams, poisoning animals and plants. When humans walk through rows of plants treated with the pesticide — such as during raids — they may experience symptoms like lethargy and headaches.

Carbofuran is not the only problem either. Investigators detect dozens of different toxicants — human-created poisons — at grow sites and don’t always know which ones were used there upon their initial assessments. In one instance at a location in the Pacific Northwest, 80 percent of birds in an area tested positive for a poisonous substance.

Experts say growers often manage the wildlife population around their cannabis crops by using food like peanut butter as a bait to lure creatures to eat poisons, ultimately killing animals to ensure planting operations stay profitable.

Illegal Growers Focus on Profits Above All Else

The examples above demonstrate how people who break laws and grow cannabis on public lands will stop at nothing to keep making money. Since they don’t care about the planet, it’s up to members of society to stay aware of these planet-damaging tactics and educate others too.

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.

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.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters