Archive for 2011

Food Day: A Worthwhile Observance

Friday, October 21st, 2011

     This Monday, October 24, is Food Day.  The purpose of Food Day, according to its organizers, is to transform the American diet.   It’s a big task, they admit, but an essential one.  ”We want to inspire a broad movement of people all over the country who want healthful, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way,” explains my old friend Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Day’s sponsor.   In other words, Jacobson says, “we want people to eat real.”

     CSPI has worked for decades to educate the public about the importance of building meals around vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.  And the goals of Food Day are to get Americans to cook real food for their families again, to spend less time at the drive-through and more time at the farmers’ market, to celebrate fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and the farmers who produce them. 

     “What we eat should be bolstering our health,” says Jacobson.   ”But it’s actually contributing to several hundred thousand premature deaths from heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and cancer each year.”  Just as important, he adds, “the way our food is produced is all too often harmful to the environment, farm workers, and farm animals.”

     Food Day is about all of us making changes in our lives to support healthful eating and sustainable agriculture.  But it’s also about making societal changes, such as federal policies that support small and mid-sized farms, rather than pouring billions of dollars each year into huge farms that produce monoculture commodity crops.  Farmworkers deserve protection from the harmful pesticides used to grow these vast acreages of commodities.  And ‘factory farms’ that hold millions of chickens, pigs, and cows should be replaced with farms that minimize suffering and avoid the pollution of our soil, water, and air, say Food Day organizers.

     Eaters all over America are celebrating Food Day in some creative ways.  Here are just a few of the planned activities:

  • In Homer, Alaska, local farmers will provide high school students with a lunch of roasted root vegetables.  The lunch will follow a “sensual journey lab” in which students will focus on reawakening a sense of taste in their writing.
  • In Richmond, Virginia, the Uptown Community Garden will host a pot luck.  People are invited to bring a healthful dish prepared from local products, and enjoy meeting others interested in good, local food.  People can also sign up for a plot in the community garden.
  • Missouri State University volunteers in Springfield will coordinate a letter writing campaign calling on Congress to support Food Day principles.
  • At Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Downtown Growers Market, city folk will have the chance to meet some of the farmers who grow fruits and vegetables in Albuquerque.  Visitors to the Market can also meet representatives of organizations working to conserve local agricultural land and to promote more healthful school lunches.
  • Volunteers in Jeffers, Montana will lend a hand in the end-of-season community garden clean-up, plant perennial crops, install signage and bird houses, a toolshed, and more.  Participants are then eligible to attend a community dinner of locally made foods.

     I am heartened by the growing movement to support healthful, locally grown food, sustainable agriculture, and humane treatment of animals.   And I am impressed by the great number and variety of activities planned all over the country in conjunction with Food Day.  To find a Food Day-related activity near you, just visit the Food Day website at  http://foodday.org/participate/  April Moore

my sister, my niece, and I LOVING lunch at a restaurant in Meadowview, VA, which serves primarily locally grown foods

my sister, my niece, and I LOVING lunch at a restaurant in Meadowview, VA, which serves primarily locally grown foods

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

  

All over the country, people will be holding events designed to get all of us thinking about the importance of

Fall Is Coming Along

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

     Fall is here.  The forest near my house is an autumn painting in progress, gaining color every day.

         A couple of days ago, I took a short walk to get a good look at how some of my favorite trees are coming along.  It was a joy to be among them, to look at their leaves, so green and fresh a few short months ago, now so completely altered.

     The red maple outside our bedroom balcony is still mostly green, save for a small, internal pocket of red, red, red.  I am reminded of a teacher of mine long ago, who fascinated her students with her jet black hair interrupted by a sudden streak of pure white.

     But this red maple is so different from the one that leans over our back deck.  The leaves of the tree in back are being consumed by a deep burgundy.  Some leaves have been completely overtaken, and all green has been erased.  On other leaves, a little green is still holding on in the middle, near the stem.  Only a few leaves on the tree still retain most of their green.  On them, the burgundy has advanced no farther than the tips.  But I know what’s coming!

     Then there are the stalwart giants that I love, those chestnut oaks that dominate our forest.  The last to leaf out in spring, they are also the last to shed their leaves in the fall.  Today most of the chestnut oaks’ leaves are still green.  But a few leaves are a dull yellow, well on their way to an even duller brown.  The nearby chestnut oak saplings, however, these masters of camouflage, are completely brown–every leaf and twig. 

     Finally, I take in one of my very favorites–the giant sugar maple farther down the hill.  Looking at the lower branches on a level with my eyes, I see hints of the glory to come, dots of orange speckling the green leaves.  I imagine the spread of these unassuming dots, that will transform the leaves into tongues of orange that will join with its fellows  to form a massive blaze of orange, from the highest to the lowest branches.--April Moore 

a red maple tree, with its swath of red

a red maple tree, with its swath of red

 

the leaf of a red maple, being overtaken by fall color

the leaf of a red maple, being overtaken by fall color

 

 

Goats to the Rescue!

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

     The little bog turtle is threatened with extinction, but it is getting help from an unlikely source–goats! 

     This turtle, which, even when full-grown can fit into the palm of your hand, lives in sunny swamps–marshy places that are filled with low-growing plants and waist-deep mud pits.  These mud pits are actually hidden streams that the turtles use as freeways.  But the fens (spring-fed wetlands) that are home to the bog turtle are disappearing throughout the bog turtle’s range, which extends from Vermont to Georgia and as far west as Ohio. 

     A key reason for these swampy meadows’ disappearance is the rapid invasion of a non-native grass called phragmites.  Phragmites quickly grows into a dense thicket that steals the sunlight and dries out the soil.  Mowing and pulling the weeds by hand have not kept up with the spread of phragmites because it grows back so quickly.

     Now for the good news.  For several years, goats have been ‘employed’ in efforts to control the spread of phragmites in the swamps where bog turtles live.  And these animals have achieved what human efforts could not!     For example, in New York, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to bring in goats to tackle the phragmites in one of the last remaining homes of the bog turtle, the Hudson River Valley.  When the goats arrived, the swamp had become one big, dried-out weed patch, explains Jason Tesauro of EDF.  But the hungry goats ate everything in sight.  A year later, that dry patch was once again a sunny swamp.  And bog turtles returned and began to lay eggs, says Tesauro. 

     While the goats eat native plants right along with the invasive phragmites, the natives bounce back quickly, Tesauro explains.  The invasive phragmites, however, can’t stand constant grazing.  

     Prescribed grazing has successfully restored bog turtle habitat in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, as well as in New York.  In addition to goats, cows and sheep have also been brought in to graze down the phragmites.  It’s a win-win situation.  The bog turtle is an obvious winner, and so are nearby farmers who gain a new source of grazing land for their livestock.

     By the way, if left alone, the little bog turtle lives about 80 years!–April Moore

 

 

a bog turtle

a bog turtle

 

       

      

Big Changes Underway

Friday, September 30th, 2011

     Greetings to all readers of  THE EARTH CONNECTION. 

     I have decided that, starting next week, I will reduce the frequency of my postings from twice a week to once a week. 

     The reason I am moving to weekly, rather than semi-weekly publication, is that my husband Andy Schmookler is running for Congress!  

     I want to spend more time helping Andy in his campaign because we need him in Congress, and because the country needs to hear Andy’s message.  More than anyone I know, Andy deeply understands why our lawmaking process has become so dysfunctional.  He clearly sees the destructive force today’s Republican Party has become, how willing these radicals are to hold a gun to the head of the country to get what they want.  And Andy is frustrated that the Democrats have, for the most part, not stood up to the Republicans.  Nor has the press been telling the public that the behavior we see on the news every night is unlike any we have witnessed before in one of the nation’s major political parties. 

     Andy never imagined he would run for political office, but now, at age 65, he feels he must.  He is stepping forward to do all he can to reverse our country’s downward slide. 

     I believe in Andy and his campaign.  So I am paring back my other activities and responsibilities.  I feel a little sad at the prospect of devoting less attention to THE EARTH CONNECTION than I have.  I love the site, and it heartens me that several hundred people a day read my postings.  

     But I am happy to make this change in my life.  I know that electing Andy to Congress will do at least as much to advance my own environmental goals as my own efforts have.  And I am pleased to report that the campaign is going well.  People are responding enthusiastically to Andy’s message.  

     I encourage you to learn more about Andy and his campaign.  Just click here to visit his website:  http://andyschmooklerforcongress.com/  If you agree with Andy’s message, please forward the link to your own networks.  After all, Andy’s message is one that needs to be heard throughout the nation.  And if you feel motivated to donate, please do!  It takes a lot of money to make a successful run for Congress. 

     So keep coming back.  I’ll be posting a new piece every week.–April Moore

       

An Amazing Little Fish

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

     I just learned a little bit about an amazing fish called the gobiid.  What I read about the little ‘goby’ in David Brooks’ s book THE SOCIAL ANIMAL was so incredible, I went online to learn more.  To my disappointment, however, I found very little basic information about this little fish.  But I will share below what David Brooks had to say about the gobiid:

     “This is a little fish that lives in shallow water.  At low tide, its habitat is reduced to little pools and puddles.  Yet the gobiid fish jump with great accuracy over rocks and dry ridges from pool to pool.  How do they do it?  They can’t scope out the dry patches before they jump, or see where the next pool is.  If you put a little gobiid fish in an unfamiliar habitat, it won’t jump at all.

     “What happens is that during high tide the gobiid fish wander around absorbing the landscape and storing maps in their heads.  Then when the tide is low, they have a mental map of the landscape, and they unconsciously know what ridges will be dry at low tide and what hollows will be full of water.”–David Brooks, THE SOCIAL ANIMAL

     I find it amazing that such a tiny fish (some gobiids are no longer than 4 centimeters) can do such complex mental processing.  We humans assume that our large brains are so much more capable than the smaller brains of so many other animals.  We so often underestimate the complex abilities possessed by many small animals, abilities we humans can barely imagine.–April Moore

a gobiid fish

a gobiid fish

The Tortoise

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

     I recently discovered this poem by D. H. Lawrence, and I find it a perceptive and good-humored portrayal of the tortoise.  Enjoy.–April Moore

TORTOISE FAMILY CONNECTIONS
by: D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

  •  
      On he goes, the little one,
      Bud of the universe,
      Pediment of life.
       
      Setting off somewhere, apparently.
      Whither away, brisk egg?
       
      His mother deposited him on the soil as if he were no more than droppings,
      And now he scuffles tinily past her as if she were an old rusty tin.
       
      A mere obstacle,
      He veers round the slow great mound of her–
      Tortoises always foresee obstacles.
       
      It is no use my saying to him in an emotional voice:
      “This is your Mother, she laid you when you were an egg.”
       
      He does not even trouble to answer: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?”
      He wearily looks the other way,
      And she even more wearily looks another way still,
      Each with the utmost apathy,
      Incognizant,
      Unaware,
      Nothing.
       
      As for papa,
      He snaps when I offer him his offspring,
      Just as he snaps when I poke a bit of stick at him,
      Because he is irascible this morning, an irascible tortoise
      Being touched with love, and devoid of fatherliness.
       
      Father and mother,
      And three little brothers,
      And all rambling aimless, like little perambulating pebbles scattered in the garden,
      Not knowing each other from bits of earth or old tins.
       
      Except that papa and mama are old acquaintances, of course,
      But family feeling there is none, not even the beginnings.
       
      Fatherless, motherless, brotherless, sisterless
      Little tortoise.
       
      Row on then, small pebble,
      Over the clods of the autumn, wind-chilled sunshine,
      Young gayety.
       
      Does he look for a companion?
       
      No, no, don’t think it.
      He doesn’t know he is alone;
      Isolation is his birthright,
      This atom.
       
      To row forward, and reach himself tall on spiny toes,
      To travel, to burrow into a little loose earth, afraid of the night,
      To crop a little substance,
      To move, and to be quite sure that he is moving:
      Basta!
       
      To be a tortoise!
      Think of it, in a garden of inert clods
      A brisk, brindled little tortoise, all to himself–
      Crœsus!
       
      In a garden of pebbles and insects,
      Slow, and unquestioned,
      And inordinately there, O stoic!
      Wandering in the slow triumph of his own existence,
      Ringing the soundless bell of his presence in chaos,
      And biting the frail grass arrogantly,
      Decidedly arrogantly.

 

 

Please Help Humanity Switch to Carbon-Free Fuels

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

This Saturday, September 24, there will be a worldwide rally to demand solutions to the climate crisis. The international organization 350.org is spearheading the global rally called Moving Planet, and citizens in more than 165 countries are organizing local actions to draw attention to the urgent imperative to get humanity off of fossil fuels and onto sustainable, carbon-free energy alternatives.

350.org is calling people to bike, paddle, skate, pogo-stick, or walk to the 350 event nearest them. And why this worldwide rally? Because, states 350.org on its website, “for too long, our leaders have denied and delayed, compromised and caved. That era must come to an end; it’s time to get moving on the climate crisis.”

350.org is trying to get the governments of the world to act on what climate science has made abundantly clear: human activity is putting more carbon into our atmosphere every year than the atmosphere can absorb without changing the climate. The safe maximum amount of carbon in our atmosphere is 350 parts per million (ppm), according to 97% of the nation’s top climate scientists (as reported in the National Academy of Sciences Proceedings).

In 1988, the planet crossed the 350 level for the first time, and carbon emissions have been increasing steadily since then. We are now at 392 ppm, and we must bring that number down to 350 if we are to avert the worst impacts of climate change, scientists warn.

But few of the world’s governments are responding in any meaningful way to the challenge. That means it’s up to us, the citizens of the world, to make our governments do what’s absolutely necessary: to admit that the climate crisis is real and largely human-caused, and to make addressing the crisis a top priority.

Here are 350.org’s demands:

  • science-based policies to get us back to 350 ppm
  • a rapid, just transition to zero carbon emissions
  • mobilizing funding for a fair transition to a 350 ppm world
  • lifting the rights of people over the rights of polluters

Concerned people all over the world are planning events for this Saturday. I am inspired that even in highly stressed Libya, people are organizing for a carbon-free future. Professor Satya Pal Bindra at Misrata University says, “We are making sure that our new Libyan political leaders get the message that our community is aware and getting prepared to move beyond fossil fuels.”

Please add your voice to the call. The United States, the greatest contributor to climate change, is the only nation in which one of its major political parties refuses to admit that global warming is a problem that needs to be addressed. Our political leaders will act only when we, the voters, make them act. Let them hear you.

To find out how you can get involved in a Moving Planet action near you, click on this link:  http://www.350.org/en/about/blogs/moving-planet  Thanks!–April Moore


 

A Chimp Mothers Baby White Tigers

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

     I always enjoy examples of animals of different species forming loving bonds ‘across species lines.’  I am intrigued that some mammals are able to extend their maternal or companionable feelings to other mammals very different from themselves.  

   I thank my friend Sondra for sending me photos of a tender relationship between a chimp and two baby white tigers.  Please click the link below to see the pictures.–April Moore

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article1793366.ece?slideshowPopup=true&articleId=1793366

 

 
 

 


 

 

 


 

 

 

It’s Puffball Season

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

     Fall is here, and I’ve been enjoying one of my annual autumn pleasures–squeezing puffballs.  I’m not too old to delight in watching the brownish ‘smoke’ waft up out of the little hole in the top of a puffball whenever I give it a light squeeze.  

     Lately I have been curious.  Just what are these dry, brown balls emerging from a patch of leaves or clustered on a tree stump, each with a hole in the top?  And what is the ‘smoke’ that so readily emerges from that little ‘blow hole?’  

     So I did a little research.  I learned that puffballs, like mushrooms, are the fruiting body of an extensive underground network of threads called mycelia.  For most of the year, this unseen fungal colony thrives on nourishment from decaying matter.    The puffball develops in the fall for reproduction, as berries and fruit develop in the fall to spread a tree’s seeds. 

     When it first emerges from the ground, a puffball looks very different from the dry, diminished self it will soon become.  The new puffball’s ‘cap’ is a large, cream-colored  dome.  Smooth and damp to the touch, it has as yet no hole in the top.  The puffball’s cap and the stalk that supports it are hardly differentiated.  The cap seems to be a bulging extension of the stalk. 

     A puffball reproduces differently from a typical mushroom.  The gills on the underside of a mushroom cap produce spores (the fungus equivalent to a plant’s seeds) exposed to the air.  But a puffball has no gills.  Its spores develop internally, within the puffball’s dome.   As the spores mature, they combine with tiny threads inside the dome to produce a brownish powder.  Meanwhile, the surface of the puffball’s dome becomes dry and thin.  A hole, known as the ostiole, breaks open in the top.  

     All is ready.  All that’s needed is for some raindrops to hit the puffball, or an animal to scamper past and bump the puffball, or a child to squeeze the puffball to watch the smoke come out.  Some of the millions of spores in the puffball will arise from out of the ostiole to be carried by the wind and dropped somewhere where they might take root.    

     And a puffball spore can take root pretty much anywhere.  Unlike many mushrooms that require specific substrates, the puffball can grow in a variety of habitats–meadow, forest, or lawn.  Just the other day, my son discovered a big, new puffball that had popped right out of a gravel road near our house.  I am keeping a daily watch on this puffball.  I hope I will be able to see it ripen into the dark little sphere ready to waft its smoke upward.–April Moore

 

a puffball that just 'mushroomed' in a gravel road near our house

a puffball that just 'mushroomed' in a gravel road near our house

 

          

 

squeezing a 'ripe' puffball in the woods

squeezing a 'ripe' puffball in the woods

Great News for Endangered Species!

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

     I thank Joan Brundage for bringing the following great news to my attention:    

     Hundreds of endangered animal and plant species are soon to receive important protection. 

     Just a few days ago, a federal judge approved a legal agreement between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the independent Center for Biological Diversity.  The agreement requires USFWS to make initial or final decisions on whether to add hundreds of imperiled plant and animal species to the Endangered Species List by 2018.  The Endangered Species Act is the nation’s strongest environmental law and the surest way to save species from extinction.

     Approval of this agreement is the culmination of a decade -long campaign by the Tucson-based Center to safeguard 1,000 of the nation’s most endangered and least protected species.  “The historic agreement,” says Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center, “gives species like the Pacific walrus, American wolverine, and the California golden trout a shot at survival.”

     Spanning every taxonomic group, the agreement will protect 757 species, including 26 birds, 31 mammals, 67 fish, 22 reptiles, 33 amphibians, 381 invertebrates, and 197 plants.  Species included in the agreement can be found in all 50 states.  The states with the greatest number of endangered species to be protected are Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, with 149, 121, and 115 species respectively.  Hawaii has 70 species slated for protection, Nevada 54, California 51, Washington 36, Arizona 31, Oregon 24, Texas 22, and New Mexico has 18.

     The historic agreement includes almost all of the ‘candidates’ for protection that had been identified by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged with administering the Endangered Species Act.  However, 499 or almost two-thirds of the species included in the agreement were not on USFWS’s list.  This is because, according to many scientists and scientific societies, the extinction crisis is vastly greater than federal programs and budgets can handle.  

     Non-governmental organizations play a key role in identifying species that should be added to the Endangered Species list, according to Greenwald.  “The Endangered Species Act specifically allows scientists, conservationists, and others to submit petitions to protect species,” says Greenwald.  Petitions such as the many filed by the Center for Biological Diversity over the last decade have played  ”a critical role in identifying species in need, and help the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with the ever-expanding task of protecting species threatened with extinction,” Greenwald notes.–April Moore

 

the rare Miami blue butterfly, to be protected under the agreement--photo by J Glassberg

the rare Miami blue butterfly, to be protected under the agreement--photo by J Glassberg

 

          

 

California golden trout, to be protected

California golden trout, to be protected

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