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

Stevens Point, Wisconsin: Local Food Flavors, Made With Renewable Energy

 Farmers Market in Stevens Point Wisconsin

If Central Wisconsin doesn’t jump top of mind as a hipster eco-travel destination, think again.  This vibrant community brings together a diverse line-up of everything from farm-to-table fare worthy of big city zip codes to the oldest and longest running farmers’ market in the state. Come for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association's Energy Fair, one of the largest sustainability events in the country held every June, and linger for multiple ecotourism experiences and tasty farm to fork dining opportunities.

If you haven’t been to the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) Energy Fair yet, you are in for a sustainability-intensive experience. One year, the event was even powered by renewable energy produced on site despite the rest of the county going without power due to a storm. Today, attendees and exhibitors can plug-in their electric vehicles to solar-powered chargers for free. Held the weekend closest to the summer solstice, this pop-up outdoor event offers multiple workshops in tents covering topics from getting started with solar electric systems to living off-grid. My husband and photographer, John Ivanko, and I first attended the Energy Fair when we started homesteading now over two decades ago. Thanks to this event and the expertise it brings together, we evolved our Wisconsin farm and B&B, Inn Serendipity, to now run completely on renewable energy in addition to other green design elements such as heating with wood.

Today, we are honored to return annually and lead workshops that share our experiences on topics from frugal eating tips from our Farmstead Chef cookbook to supporting others to start food businesses in your home kitchen as we write about in Homemade for Sale. Thanks to our successful lawsuit lifting the ban on the sale of home baked goods in Wisconsin, we also offer bakery items at the Fair, including  John’s hand-decorated “go solar” sun cookies, an Energy Fair crowd favorite.

“The fact that the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair started here thirty years ago sets the stage for the eco-minded entrepreneurial community we have today,” shares Layne Cozzolino, executive director of Central Rivers Farmshed, a nonprofit representing all aspects of the food system in the Central Wisconsin region. “Between the Fair and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point campus attracting eco-minded students who decide to stay, we have a very vibrant population of start-ups that prioritize both stewarding the land, our food systems and community.” 

As with many area ecopreneurs, Cardozza wears multiple sustainability hats and recently launched Siren Shrub Company, her new business venture that produces drinking vinegars showcasing Wisconsin grown flavors like Door County cherries. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is home to the nation’s first conservation education major created in 1946 with the College of Natural Resources and going strong today.

If you’re traveling in for the Energy Fair or passing through another time of year, plan to linger a few extra days to explore and get a feel for this welcoming, eco-minded community. Here are five of our favorite spots to get you started:

Central Waters Brewery

We say cheers to Central Waters Brewery, committed to being one of the most environmentally sustainable breweries in the nation. A 1,000-square-foot solar thermal system provides hot water to heat their 12,500-square-foot facility and provides preheated water to the brewhouse. A 20 kW solar electric system meets about 20-percent of the energy needs from sunshine. Their bar in the sampling room is built out of recycled materials.

Tour the Central Waters Brewery and learn more about the various energy systems they use. Sample their “Shine On” Ale, a special brew commemorating their switch to solar power with a portion of sales going to the MREA. They were the first brewery participating in the Travel Green Wisconsin, an ecotourism certification program in the state.

Stevens Point Farmers’ Market

This year-round market serves as a gathering point for all things local way before modern foodies started flocking to farmers' markets. Launched in 1847, the Stevens Point Farmers’ Market serves as the longest running market in Wisconsin.

Stock up a variety of unique products produced by area food artisans such as Stonehouse Farm Kitchen run by Katja Marquart and Karl Schwingel, crafting fragrant pesto variations made from both basil and other ingredients like garlic scapes. Since eco-minded members of the Stevens Point community often wear multiple hats, Schwingel is also a seasoned green building and solar installer, helping us convert our granary into a strawbale greenhouse over 15 years ago.


Lettuce Wraps at Father Fats Public House 

Father Fats Public House

Father Fats exemplifies how Stevens Point businesses take the expected and add a sustainable, local twist. Father Fats’ menu of small plates which changes nightly at first looks like expected bar fare. However, you quickly realize this is not your expected French fries when you sample owner Chef Christian Czerwonka’s poutin with local potatoes loaded with ham, house pickled red onions and a beer-cheese gravy made with brews from Central Waters Brewery down the road. Their Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps with a sweet chili sauce and crispy wontons are also a big hit.

“Chef Christian prioritizes everything local and designs his menus based on what area farmers grow in season,” shares Sara Brish, Executive Director of the Stevens Point Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s the leadership of community members like Chef Christian with a long-term commitment to this place and the health of our community, that make this area so appealing for folks to also move to and launch their new entrepreneurial start-ups.”

In addition to Father Fats, Chef Christian and his wife, Leah, run a successful line-up of local fare focused restaurants including their newest venture: Chef’s Kitchen, featuring a changing pop-up menu celebrating local seasonal ingredients blended with different global cuisines such as Italian Asian-fusion, Brazilian specialties or a mix of other cultural combinations. 

Artha Sustainable Living Center

Owners Bob and Marguerite Ramlow helped start the Energy Fair and have been instrumental in growing the MREA. They’re true pioneers in renewable energy. Bob Ramlow wrote the book on solar hot water systems, Solar Water Heating: A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water and Space Heating Systems. He has penned articles for Mother Earth News over the years on the topic.

Bob Ramlow installed the solar thermal system at our homestead over twenty years ago that still heats our B&B guests’ showers, compliments of the sun. Artha Sustainable Living Center offers bed and breakfast accommodations that are, of course, powered by solar energy. Breakfast provided for guests are made with organic produce grown in their gardens.

MREA Headquarters

If you can’t make the Energy Fair, you can still visit the MREA any time of year by scheduling a tour of the headquarters building in Custer, Wisconsin, just outside of Stevens Point. The MREA offers property tours that cover how they generate 100-pecent of their electricity from renewable energy systems and incorporate energy-efficient features including passive solar design, energy-efficient light fixtures, roof and ground mounted solar PV arrays, in-floor radiant heat, timber framed lobby and a masonry heater. 

Additionally, the MREA offers various renewable energy workshops throughout the year where you can experience first-hand how solar electric, solar thermal, wind and alternative construction works. For those looking to make a career in this growing field, the MREA also offers one of the country’s top solar training programs.

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.

What to Do When Your Generator Stops Working: 6 Troubleshooting Tips


Photo credit: IStock

Generators can be a handy source of backup power, but there's nothing like the heart-sinking feeling that comes when you try to use your generator as usual, but experience problems.

Here are six troubleshooting tips to try next time your generator doesn't work as expected.

1. Check the Spark Plugs

If your generator won't start, check the spark plugs first and look for signs that they are to blame for the generator's failure. Excessive wear and damage indicate you need to change the spark plugs. Some warning signs of trouble include heavy carbon buildup at the electrode or evidence that the electrode is burned away or otherwise damaged.

If you have recently changed a spark plug and discovered the generator would not start after that, use a spark plug tester to see if the new spark plug is perhaps defective.

2. Restore the Generator's Residual Magnetism

Another common problem associated with generators is that they stop producing voltage. Generators function by moving electrical conductors through a magnetic field created when some of a generator’s output voltage gets converted to DC power and fed through a coil, making an electromagnet.

A small amount of magnetism — known as residual magnetism — gets left over from the last time the generator ran. That magnetism produces a modest amount of electricity that creates a stronger electromagnet.

However, a loss of residual magnetism results in your generator not producing any power on startup. You can restore residual magnetism using a 12-volt generator battery or an electric drill. If using the first method, find the voltage regulator on your generator and unplug the pair of wires connected to the generator brushes. One is usually red, and the other is black or white.

Attach the black or white wire to the generator’s ground battery terminal. Then plug in a light, activate the generator breaker or switch and start the generator. Next, connect the red cable to the red wire on the terminals you removed, and keep it there for three seconds. Finally, remove the wires and replace the plug.

Or, you can use an electric drill to restore the residual magnetism. If you’re using a reversible drill, set the directional switch to the forward position. Start the generator and hold down the drill’s trigger as you spin the drill’s chuck in the reverse direction. This tactic allows the electric motor in the drill to act as a small generator, helping to restore the residual magnetism to make your generator produce power again.

3. Clean the Generator's Carburetor

The carburetor is a generator component that mixes fuel with air when you start the machine. Since fuel and oxygen are two of the things generators need to run properly, any problems related to starting the generator could be due to a dirty carburetor. Commercial generator servicers frequently offer fuel system cleaning as an option clients can avail themselves of to keep their generators running smoothly or customize them to meet defined needs.

Similarly, cleaning the carburetor could fix issues caused by fuel remnants gumming up the generator's components and affecting its fuel intake. After you remove the generator's carburetor and become familiar with its parts, you can treat the affected areas with a specialty carburetor cleaner. Many options come in spray formulas for easy application.

4. Look for Signs of a Pest Infestation or Water Damage

When a generator operates abnormally, it could be due to pests or water getting inside the machine. Those possibilities are more likely if you store your generator outside in an unsheltered, non-enclosed area. Animal droppings inside the generator and gnawed areas are a couple of telltale signs concerning pest issues.

Or, if water is the culprit, you'll likely see excessive moisture inside. It's imperative to see if the water damage affected the generator's engine core or its electrical components. Once you verify which areas got wet, you can start investigating the issue further and determining if you can salvage the generator or need to replace it.

5. Put Fresh Fuel Into the Generator

One of the most common and easy-to-fix reasons for a portable generator that won't start, as well as a larger one, is that there is old gas in the tank.

Some people get used generators from friends or peer-to-peer marketplaces like Craigslist and try to immediately fire them up to test their purchases. Or, they try to start the generator after a season or more of disuse and forget they left fuel in the tank before storing it.

Both of those scenarios can cause the generator not to start because there is sludge in the bottom of the tank and other problems that happen when fuel sits too long in an unused machine. Start by looking at the fuel in the tank and seeing if it appears separated or cloudy. Those are two signs of old fuel.

If fuel is likely the issue, remove the old liquid with a siphon. Then, put fresh gas in the tank and try to start the generator.

6. Understand the Generator's Output and Don't Overload the Machine

When your generator starts normally, but turns off after running for a while, you may assume there's a fault with the machine. Before jumping to that conclusion, though, check the generator's output rating to make sure you are not trying to power too many appliances at once.

Overloading a generator can damage the things you run with it, such as computers. And, overloaded generators can shut off without warning after the circuit breaker trips. Refer to the documentation that came with your generator to get information about its output capabilities, and always be careful not to run too many things at once.

Start Diagnosing the Problem With These Tips

A generator that doesn't work as expected can become a hassle if you get overwhelmed and believe you don't know where to start with trying to fix the problem. By following these troubleshooting guidelines, you can get to work locating the problem and solving it.

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on

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.

5 Simple Ways to Go Greener in Your Home


The need to go greener in your home has never been more pressing. But many homeowners struggle to understand how they can create the change they wish to see. The tips below should inspire you to begin your own journey towards a more sustainable way of life:

1. Go Greener in Your Home with Green Energy

Even it is not possible to install your own means of renewable power generation, you may still be able to afford a small additional cost to switch to a renewable energy supplier for your mains electricity.

Install solar panels to make the most of the energy provided by the sun.

Think about passive solar design – creating more windows on the south side of your home (in the northern hemisphere) and making sure there is plenty of thermal mass (stone, brick, ceramics etc.) to absorb the sun's heat are other ways to make the most of the energy from the sun.

Install a wind turbine.

Take advantage of geothermal heat.

Utilize the power of running water if there is a stream or other watercourse nearby.

Or if you cannot have a full solar installation right now, you may still be able to utilize solar power for some applications in and around your home. For example, you could:

Run outside solar lighting.

Install a solar powered security system (security lighting, alarms and other features can all be run from dedicated solar panels).

Use solar power to run a water feature in your garden, or a pump for an aquaponics or irrigation system.

Purchase another solar powered appliance such as a fan, radio or portable lantern.

Create or purchase a solar oven to cook food without reliance on the grid.

Create or buy a solar food dehydrator to help you store food more effectively.

 2. Reduce your Energy Use

Whether or not you have a full renewable power installation right now, part of the drive to go greener in your home should be reducing your overall energy use. Some ways in which you can reduce your energy use in your home include:

Purchasing the most efficient appliances possible.

Replacing your lightbulbs with low energy LED alternatives.

Improving the insulation in your home to reduce heating and cooling costs.

Switching to sustainable heating or cooling solutions. (For example, using a solid fuel stove run on wood or eco briquettes, or a natural ventilation system.)

Boiling water in a closed kettle rather than in an open pan and placing the lids on pans while cooking.

Getting into the habit of switching off lights and electrical items when they are not in use.

3. Rainwater Harvesting & Water Conservation

Energy is not the only area to focus on when you are working out how to go greener in your home. Another thing to consider is the water that you use.

Rainwater harvesting is one way to become more water wise and to conserve fresh water. You can easily and cheaply place a barrel or water butt on the down spout of your home to collect the rainwater that falls on your roof. This rainwater can be channeled into an irrigation system for your garden, or collected to water plants. That way you can easily create a rain garden. The rainwater can even be passed through a filtration system and used within your home.

In addition to collecting rainwater, you can also go greener by directing grey water from your sink and bathroom to a food production area or to flush toilets. Grey water can also be passed to a reed bed filtration system.

Waste water from the toilets can be managed more sustainably as well. You could consider going water-free in the toilet department and opting instead for a composting toilet.


4. Food Production and Conservation

Growing your own food is a wonderful way to go greener in your home. Even if you do not have a garden you can still grow a range of plants on your windowsills.

Utilizing vertical gardening techniques, you may be surprised by how much you can grow even in the smallest of spaces. Organic growing is a great way to reduce your reliance on damaging agricultural systems, and move towards a greener and more sustainable way of life.

To grow food, organically, if you have a garden, be sure to:

Create a balance in the ecosystem by attracting beneficial wildlife.

Complete natural cycles by returning surplus to the system through mulching and composting.

Take care of the soil through 'no dig' gardening, crop rotation and other sustainable practices.

Whether you are growing food outside or inside your home, be sure to:

Choose heritage seeds to collect and improve the resilience of your plant stock.

Plant“polyculture” rather than planting only one type of plant in each bed or container.

Consider ways to reuse household waste in your gardening efforts.


 5. Reducing, Reusing and Recycling

Growing your own food is one great way to reduce the amount that you have to buy. You can further reduce your food needs and reliance on damaging factory farming and mono-crop agriculture by:

Buying local, organic produce wherever possible. (Remember, try to buy a smaller quantity of a higher quality produce rather than bulk buying rubbish with little nutritional value.)

Consider reducing meat consumption or even going vegetarian or vegan.

Buying fresh, unprocessed ingredients and cooking from scratch.

Reducing food waste through preservation techniques such as pickling, canning and making jellies, jams and chutneys.

Composting food scraps will also help you to grow more of your own food at home, and stop this waste from ending up in landfill.

Energy, water and food are not the only things that you can work to reduce your consumption to go greener in your home. Think carefully before you buy anything new. Select only those things you really need.

Consider reusing old items or buying pre-loved items before you go out and purchase something new. Learning traditional skills such as gardening, cooking, sewing, woodworking and other DIY skills can help you create your own home-made, natural solutions for a range of needs.

Either at home, or using local refuse collection services, try to recycle as much as possible to go greener in your home.

Many of the changes that you can make to go greener in your home are small, but each small step you take will bring you closer to a more eco-friendly, sustainable and ethical way of life.

Save energy bills: Photo credit: image by Solomon Rodgers from Pixabay; Collect rainwater: Photo credit: image by Nadine Monkemoller from Pixabay; Grow green vegetables: Photo credit: image by Couleur from Pixabay

Elena Smith is a gardener, blogger, designer and DIY enthusiast in New Mexico who channels a love of simple and green living into her work. When she is not blogging, you can find her attending to the flowers and plants in the garden. Connect with Elena at and on Twitter, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

Our Common Ground for a Common Cause

Unity in purpose is a strength

One of the values that I have come to greatly appreciate among most homesteaders, no matter where in the world I may be working, is the ability of the people to come together. This is certainly evidenced in disaster strikes throughout the world, but also equally prevalent, even if not as well recognized, in virtually all aspects of life on the homestead. While this in and of itself may not be anything revolutionary or amazing to those who live largely off the proverbial grid, it seems that the world at large these days, would greatly benefit from a lesson or three in civility from among us “more simple folk."

The key to this is generally held to be due to the increased quality of bi-directional communication … people talking … and listening to one another. From a strictly sociological standing, it is reasonable to deduce that given the more infrequent levels of communication between friends and neighbors, when dialog does occur, it retains a greater importance to the individuals involved in the conversation.

Allow for a moment if you will, a personal indulgence and a quote from a rather interesting and seemingly relevant movie, “V for Vendetta”. “Words offer the means to meaning and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.”

Now this seems especially poignant in this day and age, as words are indeed the literal symbolism that we utilize to capture and share the very essence of our humanity. Words are the means we use to determine our common ground and to unite in a common cause. Words are how we identify and define our problems so that we can work together to find solutions, but this only works if we also take the time to listen. There seem to be far too many issues that are used to drive people further apart rather than uniting them in a common purpose and for a common goal.

This may be best exhibited in matters of both politics and environmental concerns, hopefully only one of which will be relevant here. Still, conversations often are allowed to rapidly devolve into arguments … and there is an old adage that warns us, if we allow someone to drag us into an argument, we have already lost. There are a great many points that will be raised on these pages that are somewhat contentious in nature. This is done for a reason and it is the hope of the author that this will in fact serve a purpose.

Diversity can include Commonality

What this is not done for, is to allow people yet another forum to scream “Science Denier” and/or “Alarmist” but rather to seek out the points of contention, define the problems and focus on the solutions from a unified front. It is sincerely hoped that the audience here will actively participate in the ongoing discussions, and bring forth different opinions and views that may otherwise be missed. Without differing and even opposing viewpoints, all that is left is an echo-chamber that solves nothing and seeks only to reaffirm and strengthen the problems, without any need to ever introduce meaningful … much less viable solutions, either locally or globally.

Voices of dissent will not only be welcomed, but treasured in the comments section for all of the articles of this author, so long as they are brought forth and introduced with a modicum of decency and a reason for the dissent. Many objections have been presented for the proposed large-scale food forests and other aspects promoted by the author in her book and other writings. A funny thing happens when reasonable opposing discourse happens though. If the parties to the conversation are emotionally and intellectually honest, it forces people to examine their own personal views more objectively, and also introduces additional factors that may have not even been considered to the same degree. In short, a meaningful dialog takes place in which viable and meaningful solutions are introduced.

Homesteaders and other people who live off the grid or on homesteads, run the entire spectrum of beliefs, from the most paranoid of preppers to the most environmentally awake people seeking out a more organic lifestyle and virtually every aspect of humanity in between. Yet despite their differences, these people continually come together and openly exchange ideas and knowledge about what has worked and what has not … and why. It is in this spirit of a unified purpose that the articles will be written by this author for Mother Earth News. Different opinions and opposing viewpoints are invited and quite welcome here, but please, keep it civil and well-reasoned.

As always, please leave any of your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment section below so that they can be addressed individually, and perhaps even used for consideration in future articles. None of this work would be possible without you, the reader, and as such, your thoughts and considerations are the most important aspect of any articles published herein.

Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo, Whole-System Sustainable Development Expert. Ruth has worked with numerous NGOs, governments and Indigenous communities in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and Vanuatu to implement sustainable solutions. She is the co-author of Whole System Sustainable Development. Ruth enjoys “hyper-realistic” cross stitch and is working with her husband to build a largely off-grid and self-sufficient home where she will raise livestock and garden both flowers and food. Connect with Ruth on Facebook.

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.

Sustainable Lumber Practices and Timber Production

Complying with the Lacey Act is easy 

Editor’s note: In the U.S., Paulownia trees are considered to be an invasive species and potentially destructive without an aggressive management plan. They are not currently legal for export. The information in this blog post is to be considered in the context of regions where Paulownia trees are currently grown, such as in the Philippines.

The nine different variations of the Paulownia tree are considered to be an invasive species in many different locations around the world … and not without some good reason. However, the Paulownia tree also offers a host of benefits that should not be overlooked, either in the monocrop timber and lumber industry, or as part of a larger, more expansive and natural ecological system for natural growth and development. If there is to be a means to an end for the highly destructive illegal logging that occurs around the globe, or even a more viable means to maintain the need for lumber, timber and other wood products, a good part of the solution may in fact be the powerful and productive Paulownia tree.

Present Problems of the Paulownia Presence

The Paulownia tree was dubbed locally as “Sa Cahoy ng Buhay” or “The Tree of Life” when it was introduced as a means to establish the reforestation of Region Two in the Quezon Province of the Philippines. Unfortunately, these projects were not properly managed, but merely introduced and the trees were left to their own devices, with devastating consequences. Entire ecosystems were quickly overrun by the prolific growth of the Paulownia Princessa variety. With a growth rate that rivals that of bamboo and an equally prevalent reproductive rate, the Paulownia Princessa and other variations have truly earned their reputation as an invasive species. Proper management of any and all growth is imperative if these trees are to be utilized to their full potential and serve as part of truly sustainable solutions.

Benefits of the Paulownia Tree

The benefits of the Paulownia tree are far too expansive to cover in a meaningful fashion in any single article, and have in fact filled many a tome to overflowing. While there is certainly not room on this page to cover all of the positive aspects in detail, some of the more beneficial characteristics will be briefly introduced. As such, perhaps enough interest will be generated to allow for the introduction of the Paulownia tree into many existing homesteads and private operations, to begin introducing the tree of life to a larger, more receptive audience.

Pods, seeds and leaves are all beneficial

The leaves of the paulownia tree contain high levels of proteins and other nutrients, and while not quite as nutritionally beneficial as the Moringa Oleifera Tree, do provide benefits to livestock. Among the test results are indications that the integration of the paulownia leaves into livestock feeds help to increase both birth weight and even egg production.

The Paulownia trees thrive where other trees die, primarily due to their ability to absorb the excess nitrates from the soil. This makes them an ideal addition in the areas surrounding plots of land that have been effectively destroyed by monocrop farming.

When the Paulownia tree is ultimately cut down, the tree will grow back on the old stump. This means that the root system stays in place, helping to reduce erosion and other concerns with current methods of timber and lumber production.

Full veneer logs can be grown in some environments in as little as eight years. The trees themselves will grow in different variations in virtually any location of the world, though some will have slower growth rates in harsher climates.

The wood from the Paulownia tree is a light blonde wood, but very flexible and malleable when it is fresh cut, though once dried, it becomes as hard as the venerable cherry wood so popular in the furniture industry.

The malleable nature of the wood in conjunction with its hardness when dried or cured, makes the paulownia wood a favorite among many Asian craftsmen for everything from knick knacks to musical instruments to full home construction.

The nine different variants of the Paulownia tree allow it to grow in virtually any environment, from the harshest of tropics including the Rainforests of Brazil to Indonesia and the Philippines where illegal timbering is actively destroying the environment, all the way to the alkali flats of Northern Nevada and Utah where scarcely anything else will grow well. (Growing times and growth rates will vary based on both variety and environment)

An End to Illegal Timber and Lumber

The illegal timber industry, at least in the Philippines, is largely relegated to the destruction of old growth Teak and Mahagony. The reasons of course, are due to the demands of the wood from these amazing trees, but the costs in both terms of economics and environment are unfathomable. The potential for economic gain is obviously sufficient to put people into a position to risk the legal accountability for their harvest, as evidenced by the ongoing destruction taking place literally all around the globe. Therefore, the solution must be driven by a means to introduce a more sustainable and legal alternative that can be adequately managed in a sustainable fashion.

Such a program can be established with the Paulownia trees, but not without some substantial changes in both domestic and international laws around the world.

How to Integrate the Paulownia for Sustainable Development

Current laws probably need to undergo some major changes, at least if the Paulownia tree is going to assist in the end … or at least to greatly reduce the illegal timbering of old-growth forests. Introductions to illegal timber cutters can easily be made, without any need to reveal past or even current operations. This should encourage active participation, especially when economically viable markets for the paulownia wood are introduced at the same time.

Furthermore, international laws such as the Lacey Act must be reformed, most notably to allow for the legal export of the Paulownia trees, even when they are not specifically grown in plantations solely for export markets. There are substantial markets for the wood from the paulownia trees around the world, and the ease with which veneer grade lumber can be grown means that it will be possible for those currently thriving even in the illegal timber industry, to legally and profitably expand their operations and income without any risk of legal penalties. These markets must be expanded and made available to the people currently in the timber industry, legally or not.

The Paulownia trees must never be introduced into foreign ecosystems without a proper management system in place. However, as a properly managed addition to an expansive and environmentally sustainable development, there is very little that can be said about the Paulownia trees that is not favorable in virtually every aspect of the word … and the wood.

As always, please leave any of your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment section below so that they can be addressed individually, and perhaps even used for consideration in future articles. None of this work would be possible without you, the reader, and as such, your thoughts and considerations are the most important aspect of any articles published herein.

Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo, Whole-System Sustainable Development Expert. Ruth has worked with numerous NGOs, governments and Indigenous communities in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and Vanuatu to implement sustainable solutions. She is the co-author of Whole System Sustainable Development. Ruth enjoys “hyper-realistic” cross stitch and is working with her husband to build a largely off-grid and self-sufficient home where she will raise livestock and garden both flowers and food. Connect with Ruth on Facebook.

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.

Reasons to Keep Honey Bees


Photo credit Richard Blaker

There are many benefits of keeping honey bees other than just honey production. 

Plant Pollination

Honey bees are pollinators.  This means that they travel from plant to plant and collect pollen.  When they travel from plant to plant, they deposit pollen onto the plants.  The transfer of pollen from one plant to another is what fertilizes the plant and allows for reproduction.  Plants can't move, so they often rely on pollinators and wind to move pollen for them.

Honey bees work hard to collect pollen.  Plants reward the bees with nectar.  Nectar is the sugary liquid produced in flowers.  Honey bees drink the nectar and can use it for energy.  Nectar that is not used is put into a special honey stomach where it is stored.

When the bee goes back to the hive, it leaves the unused nectar with worker bees where they transform it into honey. The bee then leaves the hive and goes back out to collect pollen.

Most of the crops that we consume are pollinated by honey bees.  It's estimated that as much as 90% of our food supply is reliant on honey bee pollination.  Even the meat and dairy products that we consume rely on pollination.  Livestock feed is made with cereal grains, grasses and legumes.  All of these plants rely on honey bees and other pollinators to reproduce.

All of the fruits you eat need pollinators to fertilize the plant in order for that fruit to be made.  Vegetable plants, nuts and ornamental plants also rely on pollinators.  Some crops, like almonds, depend 100% on honey bees alone to fertilize them!

Honey Health Benefits

Honey is a healthier alternative to plain table sugar.  Honey has some vitamins and minerals.  It is loaded with antioxidants that are good for you.  The antioxidants found in honey have been shown to

reduce the risk of stroke
lower the risk for heart disease and heart attack
decrease cancer risk
reduce tumor growth in certain cancers
lowers blood pressure
lowers bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol
reduces the amount of triglycerides in the body
reduces the risk of cancer
prevents blood clot formation

These health benefits are too good not to pass up.  It's important to note though that they health benefits are the highest with raw honey, not store bought honey. 

Honey that is purchased in the store is pasteurized.  It's heated up to a high temperature rapidly and then cooled down very quickly.  This process often destroys the parts of the honey that are good for you.  If you keep honey bees, you'll be able to enjoy raw honey fresh out of the hive with all of the health benefits.

Honey By-Products

When bees make honey, they also make propolis, royal jelly, and beeswax.  All of these products have their own unique health benefits that are amazing.  Just like raw honey, they aren't usually available in grocery stores.  If you can find them in a store, they will come with a high price tag.  Raw honey that isn't filtered has all of these components in it.  When honey is pasteurized and filtered, these components are destroyed or removed.

Raising your own honey bees will give you access to all of the amazing benefits of honey, by-products and pollination.  You plants will be healthier and will produce better crop yields.  You'll feel better for consuming it also!

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter.

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.

What is Whole-System Sustainability? Part 2: Economic and Social Sustainability


Photo by Carla Borella

In the first installment of this two-part series, we saw that under the best of circumstances, a singular approach to sustainable development — one that considers only environmental sustainability while missing social or economic sustainability — can produce very little long-term benefit to local residents, human or otherwise.

Under the worst cases, the illusion of sustainability will allow for other areas of the development to accrue in such an unfavorable manner so as to negate any benefits while at the same time, creating additional issues that will have to be addressed at a later date. For any Development to be truly Sustainable in nature, it must be Systemically Sustainable.

Where Part 1 introduced the principles of Whole-System Sustainability and defined its environmental components, this post will dive into two other sustainability considerations that must be considered for any solution to be systemically sustainable: Economic Sustainability and Social Sustainability.

What is Economic Sustainability?

Economic Sustainability focuses not only on economics, but also on matters of finance. The difference  between the twain are subtle and nuanced perhaps, but they remain distinctly different areas of study. The sustainability of any major development is heavily dependent on both the local and domestic economics in addition to the ability for financial growth and development. Economic Sustainability is requisite if the people are to have the opportunity to be self-sufficient, and ideally, productive and contributing members of society. Finances on the other hand, are imperative for the measuring of worth and value, ensuring the potential for growth, and allowing for the foundation or community development to be continually operated without conducting business as if they were forever trapped in some endless (and costly) fundraising telethon.

Economic sustainability is a multi-faceted approach, developing an economically symbiotic relationship between the community economic and financial systems and the individuals within the sustainable community development. Economic Sustainability is defined as the point at which the economic and financial portions of the system are such that economics are capable of allowing the persons within the community development to provide for at least their minimal needs and requirements, while at the same time, the financial system is established to the point that it can ensure growth and expansion.

There are some people in the world who would love to implement a cashless society, and it may sound great in theory … and may even work to a more limited degree in practical application … though likely only at the local level and among smaller, more compact and unified communities. There are in fact, a great many isolated and rural locations around the world who remain virtually unaffected … at least financially speaking, even during the most disruptive government changes. The continuation of their local economics even during times of national or domestic disruption is due to the intimate nature of these smaller and more isolated communities … which also tends to make them substantially more independent. While they may suffer financially, it is unlikely that they will suffer much economically, even with the instability resulting from a complete change of government.

Currency and Money are effectively interchangeable terms in the vernacular of today, though they have very distinct differences that should be understood for any effort at Economic and Financial Sustainability in community developments. Money is something that has an “inherent” or “perceived” value such as gold. Currency should be viewed as a medium of exchange denoting value. Value and Worth likewise, can be viewed as separate terms with separate meetings. While there is an insufficient amount of space in any singular artihighercle to fully explain economics and finance, and it would reduce the readership extensively, let us look at an example in the form of something that interests everyone.

When the monetary system withdrew from the gold standard, a single troy ounce of gold had an approximate value of around twenty US dollars. Today, even with inflation adjusted accounting, the cash (more accurately, the currency) value of the gold is substantially higher. At the time we left the gold standard, the worth of that ounce of gold was enough to purchase two nice, hand tailored, custom suits. Today, the worth of that ounce of gold is worth enough to purchase two nice, hand tailored, custom suits. The actual worth of the gold has not changed even though the cash (or currency) value of the gold is much higher. All of this is incredibly boring perhaps, but must be considered for the overall economic and financial sustainability of any development.

This is seemingly relevant however, given the rise in popularity of alternative currencies and some pushing for a cashless society. To complicate matters even further perhaps, this is as much a sociological issue as it is one of economics and finance. The bottom line however, is that removing the value of everything, means that virtually everything will be worth nothing. While the cashless society may in fact work at the local level, it is not a viable solution for long term, sustainable development. A cashless society most certainly would not work within large, urban population centers, if for no other reason than for sociological concerns. If nothing has any value or worth, what is the damage if property is stolen, or the means of trade? How does one implement a free transaction for the exchange of goods and/or services without any means to determine value or worth?

Photo by sasint

Social (or Sociological) Sustainability

By far, the most often overlooked consideration in regards to viable sustainability, is the introduction of socially or sociologically sustainable standards. Human nature being what it is, this is also a particularly difficult and sometimes objective field of study as well, making it all the more difficult to successfully implement.

Sociological Sustainability is inclusive not only of the basic social aspects of the Sustainable Community Development, but also the availability of basic goods and services to all people equally, including access to safe and secure housing (integrated into society and not isolated based on social standings) and ready access to both short-term and long-term medical and health care and treatment, quality education and equality of opportunity.

Many of the current social “assistance” programs, actually are far more detrimental than they are beneficial. When poor life choices are financially rewarded and wise life choices are financially punished, this should be expected. While this is a very unpleasant topic for some people, it remains exceedingly relevant for any Socially Sustainable development that seeks to be successful in both design and implementation. Living in the bad part of town or on the wrong side of the tracks can frequently lead to an exhibition of bias in the hiring process, preventing an otherwise capable and competent person from gaining meaningful employment. The segregation of many impoverished persons through the introduction of “Section Eight” or other subsidized housing units has proven to be detrimental in a great many ways for the local residents.

Children brought up in these environments often lack viable role models and look up to those who have obtained perceived positions of power within these neighborhoods. Incarceration is viewed by some as a mere right of passage in the modern, segregated societies established through subsidized housing. Their role models tend to be the strongest and most aggressive persons within these largely segregated neighborhoods, generally meaning those who are prone to criminal tendencies in order to supplement the meager subsistence that they receive in the name of “assistance”. In these cases, it is not merely a matter of providing opportunity, but just and viable reasoning for taking advantage of the opportunities that are present.

There can be little doubt that of all things sustainable, sociology and social standards will be among the most important. Without the persons, what is any community? What is the cause of sustainable development if not to improve the life and livelihood of the persons within the development? For better or for worse however, social standards and norms are among the most important aspects, and as such, they will be a major factor in the many articles to follow this one on these pages.

If there is an upside, it is that there are viable and effective solutions to all of the problems and challenges addressed herein … and many more that are far too expansive to be included in any single article. As such, I do hope that you will return and perhaps even bookmark this page so once the problems have been adequately defined, we can focus together on viable solutions rather than dwelling over the challenges we all must face.

Please leave any of your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment section below so that I can address them individually, and perhaps even use them for consideration in future articles. None of this work would be possible without you, the reader, and as such, your thoughts and considerations are the most important aspect of any articles published herein.

Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo has worked with numerous NGOs, governments and Indigenous communities in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and Vanuatu to implement sustainable solutions. She is the co-author of Whole System Sustainable Development. Ruth enjoys “hyper-realistic” cross stitch and is working with her husband to build a largely off-grid and self-sufficient home where she will raise livestock and garden both flowers and food.

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.

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