Archive for June, 2011


I am away from my desk attending a family reunion.  To get to bucolic Monticello, Illinois, I have driven through countless miles of land that was once prairie and then small farms and is now an endless stretch of massive sterile mega-fields servicing agribusiness.

  While I am reconnecting with friends and family, and you are going about your daily life, decisions are being made in Washington that will affect our small family farms, our food and our health.  All of us who care need to Protest these Cuts

If you can, DO IT TODAY.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has declared June 28 to be the National Day of Action.  The number of us who value local food production is growing.

Let’s let them hear us.

June 28, 2011 at 8:05 am 2 comments


As former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said:

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Well, it’s a fact that most scientists believe that climate change is occurring.

So which news outlets get it right and which get it wrong?  According to a brand new World Public Opinion Poll , which is a project managed by the program on international policy attitudes at the University of Maryland):

87% of regular public broadcasting viewers have gotten an accurate message and believe it to be true.

But only 40% of regular Fox news viewers believe what the majority of scientist believe to be true.

Science news has always been under reported, and in the current news climate – with newspapers folding, and commercial television news abysmally skewed — public broadcasting is our last best hope of finding out what’s we are learning about our world. (more…)

June 24, 2011 at 12:16 am Leave a comment


Do you see all the signs that climate change is coming at us like a freight train while society dawdles and denies?

If you fear for the future, and sometimes feel almost paralyzed by the magnitude of the menace, then The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding is the book for you.

Gilding has served as head of Greenpeace, has build companies and been consultant to big corporations and is now based in Cambridge University’s Programme for Sustainability Leadership, and his experience has given him hope for the future.

The subtitle of his book is Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring on the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.  That sounds positively upbeat, doesn’t it?

Gilding believes we are rapidly coming to the tipping point where growth will not be possible any longer.  The resources are running out.  He also believes it will not be too much longer before the majority of people in the world grasp that we need to mobilize our efforts to get carbon emissions down to a less damaging level in the environment.

He feels the beginnings of that new infrastructure are already starting to emerge.  It’s bigger than we think because the media is largely ignoring it.  A new non-growth way of doing things is beginning to form, and when the time comes, will go rapidly to scale.  There are many movements already gaining momentum.  And as more and more people join, the balance will tip.  (Hopefully in time) (more…)

June 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm 7 comments


We are not going to make it to the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair  this year because it conflicts with a rare reunion of my far-flung family.  I will miss it, and I will especially miss attending the workshops on compressed earth blocks by Midwest Earth Builders.

Looking through the Energy Fair Workshop Guide,  I see there is going to be a class called Compressed Earth Wall Systems, which says compressed earth blocks can be incorporated into both new and existing structures to provide thermal mass heat storage.

An example of Midwest Earth Builders work.

We are still planning to build the walls of our house with straw bales, but our passive solar design will  soak in the sun on winter days.  We plan to have a concrete floor for that solar power to soak into and also a wall dividing the kitchen from the sitting area positioned to also soak up even more  sun.

I am a believer in slow building.  If you are going to build non-conventional, you should not rush into it.  The information is all out there, but it takes a while to discover all the materials and techniques you will want.

More Midwest Earth Builders brick in action.

After six years of planning, we are getting very close.

But until this week we were thinking that the thermal mass wall in the main living area would need to be rock that takes a lot of energy to get out of the ground, cut into shape and move to our site and also require people experienced in laying a stone wall to build.

Our other thought was that the wall could be made of reused brick.  I’ve seen some lovely old brick that would make a gorgeous wall, but I’m not a brick layer, and that heavy brick would still have to be hauled to the house site.

Now we are very excited about compressed earth brick. (more…)

June 17, 2011 at 12:22 am Leave a comment


When you walk into a flower shop, does it smell like funerals to you?

It does to me.

Whose funeral?

Nobody we know – just thousands of workers in places like Columbia and Kenya who labor long hours handling heavy bunches of blooms soaked in pesticides. Then those same workers go home to lakes and streams polluted by pesticide runoff  from the flower plantations, and lowered water tables in drought-prone places while the pretty flowers get all the water they need to grow fast and stay fresh.

Then those flowers are packed in refrigerated trucks and driven to refrigerated planes, then back to refrigerated trucks so we can pick up a cheery bouquet with our groceries.

Donald Pols, a campaigner with Amsterdam-based Milieu Defensie, says “a flower is basically a bundle of water and energy, and it is criminal that we import them just for our luxury from a drought-prone continent like Africa. Just for our luxury we are driving people further toward poverty and water shortages, and contributing to climate change.”

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Your farmer’s market is bursting with blooms right now. And they probably cost less. They are certainly fresher.  They smell like summer and laughter.  They will brighten your life without darkening someone else’s.

Even better, get acquainted with your native flowers.

Plant them.

Give your local pollinators a thrill. Keep something blooming in your yard all growing season long. Bring in a few blossoms to brighten your interior.

Dry some for the winter.

Photograph your favorites and frame them.

Not all flowers smell like funerals.

What’s your favorite flower fix?

June 14, 2011 at 12:11 am 9 comments


After losing our entire first tomato patch to deer last summer, we are focusing our energies on preparing some ground for a future fenced-in garden with cover crops.  Last fall we rototilled a bit of land and planted the area in winter rye.

This spring at the Midwest Organic Farming Conference  I learned that we needed to build a crimper to turn the rye into mulch and then plant a legume into that crimped rye.

This spring that winter rye jumped out of the ground.

I was told that crimping is the best way to kill the crop and make a mulch that won’t blow away.  Organic farmers pull roller crimpers behind their tractors in no-till agriculture.  (see my blog on what I learned about cover crops and crimping here . (more…)

June 10, 2011 at 12:35 am 23 comments


Remember 2006 when suddenly everyone was afraid to eat spinach because there were reports of contaminated greens in a couple of taco restaurant chains.  It turned out to be contaminated iceberg lettuce that caused at least 276 cases of illness and 3 deaths.

How much good produce had to be thrown out because people were rejecting vegetables then – when they should have been boycotting their CAFO (concentrated animal feeding organizations)-grown meat.  Providing cheap meat is a very toxic process.

Our need for so much meat is poisoning us. (photo credit: )

Here we go again.  This time in Germany where some infected vegetable matter, originally thought to come from sprouts, have killed 22 people and infected at least 2,200. (more…)

June 7, 2011 at 12:31 am 9 comments


I had an article published in Isthmus this week that I’m very proud of and excited about.  Citizen science is a topic near and dear to my heart.  These are the people like you and me who are going to make a real difference in the world.

A full moon rises over Owen Conservation Park on Madison’s far west side. The air throbs with the mating calls of chorus frogs. A pair of mallards try to corral their ducklings skimming through the rippling reflections on the surface of the pond. Barely visible, bats cut through the cooling air to scoop up the insects that have been drawn here by the pond and the street light.

It’s twilight, that moment Rod Serling called the middle ground between science and imagination. For Andria Blattner, whose attention is clearly divided between the rising moon and the sophisticated equipment in the rear of her gray Subaru Outback, it’s the science that has brought her out to the park as darkness falls. She’s come to count bats. (more…)

June 3, 2011 at 12:14 am 9 comments

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